Thursday, October 27, 2011

The most personal thing to write about

I've been putting this off and putting this off, since it's one of those topics that's incredibly tricky to write about. But the further away from it I move, the more I realize it's one of those things that should be talked about. Even if it's for no one's sake but my own.

I quit my job.

My last day was almost exactly three weeks ago, and no, I didn't switch jobs. I quit without a backup plan.

There are a whole host of reasons why I decided it was time, but the real thing it came down to was that I wasn't happy. Me. My needs weren't being met.

I think part of what makes this so tricky to write about is that anyone who works in a field like librarianship is so customer focused. Everything is about our communities and meeting the needs of others. That's precisely WHY we get into the field as it is. We want to help other people and we want to do things that other people ask of us. We want to offer them the resources we can because we have the knowledge to do so. We want to provide programs that meet their interests because we have the skills to do so. We want to connect them to the world because we ourselves have made these connections, and really, there's nothing more exciting than watching someone else feel that spark of understanding, of curiosity, of excitement.

Librarianship is a giving field.

With how much we're dealt as a field when it comes to budgets (that is to say, we get none, and then it gets slashed more), when it comes to staff (we get none, and then it gets slashed), and salary (laughable at best, then it gets slashed), we still rise above it. We can run crazy good programs on shoe string budgets. We can count on colleagues to help us figure out a way to run a crazy good program on no budget because as a field, we thrive on sharing. It's the spirit of librarianship.

We drive ourselves to constantly outdo ourselves. We keep statistics and measure ourselves against ourselves. We look at holes in services and figure out ways to fill them in. We look at our community and figure out where what we do in our buildings can be pushed and brought to other places where the community could benefit. We build programs to bring in every age group we can imagine. We keep our collections up-to-date and we keep tabs on what's coming down the pipe so that we stay on our game. We want to keep our customers happy.

One thing we lose in the process though is ourselves.

We're all giving people by nature. That's why we dive into the field and that's why we strive to keep doing better all the time. That's why I don't know a good librarian who doesn't work 40 hours in the building and another 20 or 30 at home, reading, networking, planning programs, researching, developing, and much much more. All for their job.

We beat ourselves up over the things we can't control. If we aren't getting enough people in the door to our program, we blame ourselves. We could have done more promotion. Could have jumped on an idea quicker. Could have made the program stronger. Could have written that grant application better. Could have recruited and trained more volunteers. Shouldn't have missed that book in that series when it came out.

But do we ever step back and think -- is this making me happy and satisfied? Am I being fulfilled?

It was too easy for me to come home after a day at work, one where I'd easily have done 3 outreach story times, emailed with various teachers about collections or program plans, put together ideas for the next day's program for middle schoolers, done a 4-hour long shift on the reference desk, shelved, and feel like I accomplished nothing. Or worse, feel like I'd accomplished all of the wrong things. It was so easy to beat myself up, especially when I saw or heard things around me. You know what I'm talking about -- the grumblings you hear through the staff grapevine or the community members who'd come into the library and suggest that there be more programs at night, on the weekends, that there be more offerings for one age group. It was so easy to take those things to heart. To want to deliver. To never, ever feel good enough because I was only providing 3 story times at the schools a week, a weekly program for one age group or another, keeping my collection in tip-top condition, performing outreach, keeping an active teen book club fresh and fun, and so forth. I could do more! I could offer more! I should offer more because my community wanted it and isn't my job to serve my community? I'm a failure because I'm not doing everything I can.

I forgot I'm only one person.

But then there's the perennial argument: recruit more volunteers! Get more staff to help out with programs! And those are things I did and thrived on doing. I could do that. The more volunteers, the easier it'll be. The more staff that helps, the easier it will be.

Yep, the easier it'll be to offer more. And the easier it'll be to forget that training and supervising takes time and energy. And it requires being even more conscious and prepared for everything coming up than doing it solo. And sometimes, it means people who shouldn't get chewed out about the stupid things librarians get chewed out about DO get it. Knowing your summer intern got yelled at by a parent because our library couldn't offer every kid at a big program a glue stick of their own sucks. It sucks more than when they yell at you, the librarian. You're not only not doing enough now for your community, but you're not doing enough for your own staff.

You're not taking care of yourself in the process at all.

Offering a million programs is great. I was offering a million and a half as the only staff person for youth in my library. It never felt like I was good enough. I could do more. I should do more. I'm told to do more. I'm told I'm not doing enough. I'm not giving up enough. As a newbie librarian -- I'm 27, librarianship my only career, having gone for my MS as soon as I finished undergrad -- I felt I had a lot to prove. I wasn't trying to prove anything to myself, but rather, trying to prove myself to my job, to my community, to the field as a whole. I was justifying coming home feeling crummy every night with the notion that it was just how it was. It was going to be hard and unsatisfying sometimes. It's easy to run yourself into the ground. Especially when you're new and unestablished. Especially when people are skeptical of you. If, for example, you've entered into a position after someone who left a legacy. Who people loved because of what they brought to the job. To what they brought to the staff. You feel like you need to fill that hole and then do it even more. Because that's how you establish yourself in a job, right?

You can love something you do and still forget you're not loving your job.

After summer reading this year, I felt let down and unsatisfied. I wasn't getting what I needed to be getting. I didn't feel like what I needed to be doing was being done, and I came to realize that this wasn't the right job for me. I wasn't fitting into the hole that I felt I should be. I was wearing myself thread bare with little satisfaction. Pressure inside and outside made me work harder and longer, but I wasn't feeling happy. I wasn't finding the challenge something worth pursuing. Instead, every day became another thing to get through. Another obstacle in the way of a weekend of reading which, you know, is another way of saying more work.

I worked hard to build my own knowledge, my own connections, establish a wealth of ideas worth trying. I was lucky -- I got to try them. I was in an ideal situation where nearly any and all of my wacky ideas were not only not laughed at, but they were implemented. It never felt good, though. It never felt like it they were mine or that my knowledge was valued for what it was. I don't expect parades, but not as much as a thank you for programs, for the hours of toil and worry and stress, it hurt. It hurt a lot.

I took it took personally.

I didn't take it personally enough.

That breaking point made me realize it was time to go. That jumping out while I still had most of myself in tact was what I needed to do to be happy and satisfied.

It wasn't easy.

More than one person got the oh-shit email from me.

More than one person told me I made the right call.

Three weeks later, I'm still wavering on whether I've dove into the crazy end of the pool or not. But I do know one thing, and that's that I don't feel awful at the end of the day, even if I've not achieved anything. Even if I'm not working. Even if I know that finding a job that fits my needs as a librarian might be challenging. What I've walked away with is an intense understanding of what I need in a work place. It's so easy to ignore our own needs. It's so easy to ignore our own happiness and need for fulfillment in the name of serving others. In the name of the idea that it's just how it goes. That work is work and isn't meant to be a place where we're going to be satisfied and happy.

I beg to differ.

I love librarianship. I love working with teenagers. I want to continue on that path specifically. But I need to find that place where what I bring -- my knowledge, my skills, my talents and my passions -- meld with what the library/community needs are. I wasn't melding in my last job. I was coming home fatigued, not energized.

I want to be energized by what I do.

This is the world I know I do well in and in which I can thrive. It's a field where there is much to do and explore. A field where what we bring as individuals matters a LOT more than we're ever admitting. It's a field where you can go on and on and do any and everything.

Stepping away from a job was the scariest thing in the world. Admitting it this openly was the second scariest. I've always been a hyper-involved person. Even in this sabbatical of sorts, I'm keeping myself busy in the librarianship world. Last week, I submitted an article with a colleague to be published in February's issue of VOYA. I purchased my tickets to attend ALA in Dallas this winter, and I'm presenting at ALA Annual this coming summer in Anaheim. I've also got plans to put together a proposal for Yalsa's Lit Symposium next fall. I'm always willing to go the extra ten miles for anyone.

Except myself.

I'm going to write more about this in the next few weeks, pointing out the triggers that made me realize it was time for a change, hoping it helps anyone else who might find themselves in that position. I realize, too, that there's an opportunity to talk about what would have made this work better for me, and there's certainly the knowledge that in posting this, I'm putting myself out there to be asked what I've learned from the experience and about myself. These are all things I've mulled over for months, and, I think, things worth sharing. When we own our feelings, it makes them easier to talk about and distill them into knowledge.

After crying on your shoulders, seeking your ever-brilliant advice, and sometimes annoying you to no end with my near-daily crises, a huge thank you goes out to those of you who know who you are. Without your pushing, without your encouragement, I could have never made the plunge. And as much as sometimes the days have sucked and as much as I know more days will suck hereafter, I'm -- for the first time in a long, long time -- happy. I have the best network of colleagues, both those in librarianship and those outside it, I could ask for, and for that I know I'm lucky.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Falling into Art

This fall for programming, I decided I wanted to reach out to a new group that wasn't being reached as much as I'd like -- the preschool to 2nd grade demographic. This is a fun age to work with, as these kids love trying new things. I thought long and hard about what sort of programming would work well for this group; I'd had luck with our stand alone programming, such as our Princess Tea and our Superhero Party, but I wanted something more regular.

Then it hit me: art! We're not talking about crafts here. We're talking art. The kind parents hate doing at home because it's so messy. Since we're a library, and we're used to messes, this seemed like the perfect outlet for these kids to express their creative urges. I wanted more than simply projects, though. I wanted this program to be about tactile experience, too. I wanted to give kids a ton of different options for creating and I wanted it to be done through means that would be unique and develop some of those fine motor skills that are so important at that age. Of course, these programs translate well for older kids, too, and at my library, sometimes big brothers or sisters have stopped in with their younger siblings, and they've found making art just as fun as the little ones.

I bought a few key supplies before fall and winter programming began to prepare for this program, and I made sure on all of our advertising that it mentioned these art projects can get messy and to dress for it. I've had no complaints about that, and by purchasing large, pump-lidded paints (pictured above and purchased through Discount School Supply), as well as large plastic lunch trays (also through Discount School Supply), I've ensured that what could turn into a very messy project is actually very manageable. Washable trays keep tables from becoming makeshift art pieces quite nicely.

In the program, I like offering more than one project, allowing kids to do any of them they like or all of them, too. If you're looking for a fall project, here's what we did earlier this month!

I focused all of my ideas on leaves this month, and the day of the program, I went for a walk up and down the street where my library was, picking up leaves in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Though I felt a little like a crazy lady picking up leaves from people's yards, no one looked at me twice. Perhaps I've a reputation. Alas, as you can see above, I filled a small storage tub with them. Cost? $0.

Then I set up two of the three projects at one table:

I spread a pile of leaves down the center of the tables, with a project on either side. On the right, this:

Leaf rubbing! I pulled out a box of our crayons and made an example of what leaf rubbings looked like. This is a satisfying project for kids because they get to be a little messy with coloring and still enjoy seeing something that looks like a leaf. It's one they can make into something really artistic and it's one that they can simply enjoy doing without a plan in mind. We had a little of both.

On the left side of the table, this project:

Leaf collages. The kids were able to put leaves into any shape or design they wished to (and some simply piled them one on top of another) and then I put down a piece of contact paper to keep them in place. The nice thing about this project is that the leaves will stay nice for a long time, making it a piece of art they can hold on to for a long time. Supplies needed? Scissors, contact paper, and construction paper. All of those are things probably hanging out on a shelf in your supply area for free.

On the other side of the room, I set up our other project -- one that required the lunch trays, clothes that can get messy, and ample paper towels and hand wipes for the kids (and parents, too):

I pulled out a pile of paper plates, some paint brushes, a couple cups of water, and, as you can see on the far right, the remaining box of leaves. The third project was making these:

Leaf prints! For this project, the kids pulled out leaves, painted them however they wanted to (yes, right on the leaf) and then pressed them down on the paper. While the kids were doing this, I kept trying my hand at it, as my example didn't seem to do much to show the veins of the leaves. I eventually found -- thanks to the help of kids who were much smarter than me -- that painting the back side of the leave would highlight the veins a lot more. Lesson learned.

This simple-to-assemble program was a big hit, and even after some of the kids finished all of the projects, they went back and made second and thirds of some of them. The cost is little more than picking up the leaves, and we probably have plenty of those to spare this time of year.

These programs are great for the family, as often this age group wants a little help from mom and dad. But what I think is important to remember in doing a program like this is less about making the right kind of art piece and more about experiencing the process of making art. As you can see, my examples are extremely simple and even, if you will, lazy. I don't want the kids or parents to feel like they need to make things the way I do. Art is about expressing as you want to, and while kids are usually so eager to do that, it's often parents who insist on making things like examples (storytime crafters are probably familiar with this phenomenon). In these projects specifically, there are so many sensory elements to the art, and I think it's important to step back and let the art come to the kids. If they want to just paint a leaf and not press it, let it happen. If they want to just paint and not bother with the leaves? Let it happen.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Teen Read Week Program Idea

I had this crazy Teen Read Week program idea back during summer reading, and while I am sad I won't be running it, I wanted to pass it along for anyone looking for something exceedingly simple and quick to put together, especially if you're doing a last minute scramble.

If It Floats Your Boat is the name of it, and it's as straight forward as it sounds: feed your teens root beer floats. Buy some vanilla ice cream and root beer (or cream soda, red pop, etc.) and set the supplies on the table. Let the teens have all access.

In the mean time, pull together a pile of books -- both those that are new releases and those that might be lagging a bit on the shelves. Hop onto YouTube and build a play list of book trailers for those books. Put them all together so they'll stream one after another, then pull down your big screen and let the program be just that.

Is it subtle? Sure. Is it also straight forward book promotion? You bet. And the best part is that with the draw of free ice cream and root beer, you might bring in teens who would otherwise not go to the program. Since you're not putting together book talks yourself, nor are you pressuring kids to read or check out certain books, you might just capture their interest, even if by accident. For your big readers, what could be better than hearing about a bunch of good books, eating ice cream, then being able to check them out right away? It's all about whatever floats their boats!

The only tip is to make sure you pick good book trailers. It might take a bit of time on your part to pull the strong ones -- the ones that capture audience interest immediately and get to the point fairly quickly (under a minute usually) -- but the easy and low-cost aspects of the program should make it worth it. Bonus: it fits "Picture This" as a theme quite well.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Book listing

I'm back from my (extended) hiatus with a ton of new content -- soon. I'm in the midst of an exciting career shift and have a ton of stuff to talk about. Next week, I'll be back to regular postings about programming for kids and teens.

In the mean time, I wanted to share a link to some of the book list/display ideas I've been building up at my book blog. Head over today to check out a book list perfect for this year's "Picture This" Teen Read Week theme, to celebrate birthdays, war, and more. You're welcome to borrow the lists for your own use, though credit is appreciated.

Coming soon: successful story times, preschool art-not-craft programs, teen lock ins, and more!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Exciting News!

It's been quiet, but that'll change soon. For now, though, I've got exciting news -- Jackie and I were among the small number of folks who had our ALA 2012 Conference Proposal accepted. We'll be presenting on passive programming for teens in Anaheim next summer! Ever wanted to know how to get your teens to participate in library programming? We promise fun and subversion.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

On hiatus

Celebrating the end of summer with a couple weeks off blogging, since I'll be traveling out of the country, not answering my phone, and not thinking about libraries. Be back in September!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Flannel Friday: My first entry!

I'm super excited to be able to participate in my first Flannel Friday! As I've been busily prepping for my outreach storytimes for the fall, I've been pushing myself to strengthen my storytelling skills. Last year, I was thrown in without any real preparation or training, and I was horrified. Looking at a room of 40 4-year-olds terrified me, and I was worried my singing would break the windows.

But by the end of the school year, I was so comfortable I was able to do a lot of my storytimes on a whim. And now, I know I can improve by singing more, offering more interactive stories, and by creating flannel stories.

Here are two I plan on using in my first two story times this fall.

Five Little Owls
I got this idea from one of the other participants in Flannel Friday. I made up six owls in the event one goes missing or gets destroyed -- my Little Mouse game last year suffered from a broken tail because my kids loved giving him hugs every time he came with me. I'm using 5 Little Owls with my farm themed story time.

I'm doing a robot themed story time, and I thought it would be fun to have the kids each get a piece of felt and build a robot on the flannel board. This is what mine looked like, but I know it'll look different when the kids make the bot themselves, and that's the fun of this one. All of the pieces are so interchangeable that I'm eager to see what they create.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Summer Reading 2011: Lessons Learned & Improvements for 2012

Despite how completely burned out on summer reading I am, as soon as the program ended, I began to brainstorm how I could improve it for 2012. I figure the sooner I think about the things that didn't work as well as I wished (or worked well and I could push more), the more likely I'd remember when I start planning for 2012's program.

As I began thinking about the things I wanted to improve, it struck me as worthwhile to blog about it, in hopes of not only remembering these things for the future, but also as a way to garner ideas from others who might have ideas I could implement into my program. I'd love any thoughts you have or any things that worked particularly well at your library. Moreover, I'd love to see other people's ideas for improving their programs, too, as it can only help us all brainstorm new possibilities. We learn as we go, and what better way to learn than to share what did and didn't work, no matter how big or small the thing.


  • One of the things I did was send a weekly email to the staff on Friday mornings, updating them on what events happened that week, what the attendance was, where we were on our registration numbers, and then a list of reminders for questions that popped up. I also included a run down of the programs coming up the following week. Many staff printed these out to have the notes, and I think continuing this will be hugely helpful.
  • Although I had all of my summer reading materials prepared well in advance of summer, I think being prepared even sooner than April will be helpful. The more I can talk about the process at our monthly staff meetings, the more staff will be prepared to answer questions, find materials, and handle being slammed right at the beginning of the program with eager kids.
  • Along with that, I would like to have all my shirts and prizes ordered sooner. I think I had them done in April this year, but by March would be great. That's when I wrote out my first donation letters, and it would be nice to be ahead of the game before then.
  • One of the big things I've been thinking about is the length of the program. We're 8 weeks, which I think is a good time frame. But seeing how insane we were the first week when it came to registration, part of me wonders if it would be worthwhile to make our program a week longer and do no programming the first week. That way, all of the kinks in registration are worked out before we're slammed with eager kids for programs. I'd also like to end our program before August, as I think dragging into the first week of August made it a little too long. This is dependent, of course, on the school schedule.
  • A simple change: having a spot on the reading logs for the kids to put their names. I made all of our reading logs this summer for all our age groups (we don't have a pr department), but I completely forgot to put a line on there for kids to put their name. Most were smart enough to do it themselves, but that little detail will make a difference next year.
  • I'd also like to simplify information collection at registration. This year, we took names, phone numbers, school, grade, and shirt size. We really don't NEED shirt size, since the shirts are all ordered in advance of registration, and I took it mostly as a way to determine how many shirts/what sizes to order for next year. Buying hundreds of t-shirts without a clue how many sizes we'd need was hard, but I don't think I'll need to collect the information again. This should make registration just a little quicker, since this is the question that trips many up. Note: we do not collect library card information, and I think this is very important. I realize not all libraries are lucky enough to be open to all, regardless of card status, but this was one of my biggest selling points to kids during my school visits. I don't want to put any hurdles in the way of kids, and I will continue to keep it this way.
  • One of the suggestions from my volunteers was to number our registration cards so that when kids are turning in prize slips into drawings, rather than have to fill out their names and phone numbers (which takes time), they could just be appropriately numbered. I love how simple this idea is, and I'll definitely be implementing this.
  • I had a 4th grade summer school teacher ask about running the program with her class, which got me thinking I could easily get the summer school kids involved in the program. If I made up classroom kits, the entire program could be run in the summer school, with the teacher providing the kids with prizes and incentives they pick up when they check in with us. This gets more kids involved and encourages them to read while they're in summer school.
  • I planned my numbers based on last year, which left me short on teen shirts. I'd order more shirts next year, and I would order a lot more of the registration bags we give everyone who signs up. The kids use those things like crazy during the summer, and I had many break their bags from such use. Having spares would be helpful for those kids who lug home so many books.


  • One thing I never did this summer was contact the local media with our events, which was a pretty big oversight. I was lucky to gain a little post-event coverage in a local paper because one of the parents who attended was a reporter, but this is something I want to be more savvy with in the future. An easy way to remember to do this is to send a weekly bulletin to my local papers, much in the way I did for the staff this year. Where with the staff I sent a weekly update on what our programming numbers were and what the upcoming events for the next week were, I would simply copy and paste the upcoming events into a separate email for the newspapers. Little extra work involved, but the potential for a little press is huge and it might help our attendance and our reach a bit.
  • For the teens, I made a blogging, Facebook, and GoodReads posting schedule. I didn't quite stick to it as rigorously as I could have, and I will in the future. I ran specific kinds of posts during the week, so on Mondays, I posted upcoming events on Facebook; Wednesdays I posted teen book reviews (which I received throughout the summer) or other teen-centric lists (like their favorite summer reads or favorite tv shows, which were things they told me about on the back of their reading logs); and Fridays I posted book lists of some sort. I wasn't as good about updating Facebook as I wanted to be, so it's a goal to continue that. I had planned on updates M-W-F, but it ended up being more of an update-when-I-remembered system. And as far as GoodReads, that was pretty much non-existent in updates. I have a few teens who use it regularly, and I wanted to be better about it for work, but I wasn't.
  • One of my staff members updated a whiteboard each day with what the program was. I think what I'll do next year is give a staff member the duty to do this, as well as to create fliers for the week's programs that can be displayed in the children's and teen area. We had a weekly program sign on our outside doors, but more take-aways could be helpful in the service areas. While each kid who registered received a pamphlet with all of our programs, having more of those would likely be valuable, too, especially since I only had enough to give to those who registered for the program. Our programs are open to all, regardless of summer reading participation, so having more publicity available to everyone would be nice.

Reading Component

  • I will definitely be keeping our pre-readers program going. I am eager to plan out more ways to incentivize this program. I want to find more prizes for them to purchase in the prize store we run, as I focused this year on more weekly raffle drawings for them. I did their program with literacy activities, rather than straight time-counting, and I think I would do this set up again.
  • At my former library, I ran a 4-week guys read program for middle school boys, and I would love to do this again. The bulk of my tween attendees were middle school boys, and many were rabid about reading. I think I could run a program easily, and it would be beneficial for them in a number of ways. It would be easy to sneak this into the program, offering it as a brown bag lunch sort of program at the beginning of summer.
  • I'm going to keep counting time, but rather than let kids time out on their reading logs, I'll let them keep reading as long as they want to. They'll be able to get a second, third, fourth log to keep recording reading time and earning prize.
  • I didn't switch our book displays at all this summer, and it's something I would like to do more of. It's an easy one to implement.
  • Abby kept track of her summer reading on a big log for all of her kids to see, and I think I'd like to do the same thing and have staff jump in, too. It'd be fun to see how much we read along with the kids.

  • I will be bringing back the mobile collection for teens, I think, but I am going to advertise it a lot more. It's such a nice bonus to our program, and the reach could be a lot greater than it was. It'd be easy to talk it up more during classroom visits, as well as include relevant information on our promotional materials. If I could make inroads with any of the summer school teachers, too, that would definitely help. The other thing I'd change up -- and the credit to this idea goes to my intern -- is that I'd change the books in the mobile collection every time I went. Rather than have all 80 or 100 available from the start, switching up the books every week would breed excitement. For the students who had library cards, this could be a good point of connecting them with materials from our in-house collection they want to really check out (rather than check out via the system I used for the mobile collection).
  • For the teens, I had one activity sheet full of mini passive programs that they could do to earn prize money. I had weekly lists for the kids. The system was silly and not really the best method to let kids earn more prizes. Next year, I'll do for the kids what I did for the teens -- not 8 sheets, but one sheet total. This will let them work at their own pace, and it ensures it'll be better promoted, since I can pop it into the registration bags, like I did for the teens. There's less worry about missing a week, and there's more potential for completing the activities. Since activity completion is recorded on our registration cards, a kid losing his sheet isn't a problem because we know how much that person had completed.
  • Speaking of the activity sheets, I'd emphasize these more. A lot of the activities were summer reading theme based, so kids were reading books about different continents, trying foods from different countries, and making different cultural crafts. It was a way for the kids to learn and explore without feeling like homework or pressure, as many of the activities were reading based and thus, could be counted on their reading logs.
  • I want to bring back more story times. We had one this summer, but I think we need to go back to two per week. I'd stagger times a bit so that our morning story time wouldn't discourage people from coming back in the afternoon for a program. Perhaps putting both storytimes on Friday, one right after the other, would be the way to go for this. I'd also like to offer my outreach storytimes where possible. Getting to the kids in the summer is as important as during the school year, and it's a way to promote our services. I just need to find the time to do it, is all.
  • Although Lego Club did fine during our early afternoon slot, I think going back to a later time (say, 3 pm, rather than 1:30 pm) would be better. One of my school year regulars could never make it because his parents worked, and I think the time chance could bring a bigger attendance.
  • One of the passive programs I did was let kids guess how many pieces of candy were in a water bottle each week and the kid with the closest guess got the keep the candy and water bottle. This was a huge success, and it was super easy to set up and implement (and really was not that pricey). I plan on continuing it, but next year, I'll be better about putting up signage each week that shares what the previous week's real answer was and who the winner was. I was asked this a lot, but I didn't follow up with it this year. But next year, it's a simple thing I can do alongside my other Monday morning routines.


I think when I recover enough from summer reading, I'd like to post about prizes in general, but I have a few things for sure I want to change.
  • Universal prize dollars. This year, I had three prize dollars for the three different program levels, but that seemed silly. It'd be a lot easier to have one standard prize dollar.
  • Speaking of prize dollars, I would copy a LOT more than I did this year at the beginning. We're talking thousands. Putting all of the extras in a box in the back would save the hassle of the "oops, we're out" when I'm in the middle of too many things to make copies. If we end up doing too much and having left overs at the end of the program, it will just become scrap paper. Not a huge deal to over do it, rather than under do it.
  • In the event of being under prize moneyed, I'd put the master copies on the staff computer on the desk top so that whoever is on desk when the prize money runs out can print it themselves. I didn't think of putting all of the program master paperwork on the staff computers, and it's such an easy thing. Letting the staff be more self-sufficient will save me and them a lot of stress.
  • We have three types of prizes: a twice-a-week prize store, where kids can exchange their prize money for prizes (almost all purchased from Oriental Trading); a weekly prize raffle that kids can drop their prize money in for a chance to win a bigger prize (that's usually what businesses have donated, including tickets to sporting events, Noah's Ark, etc); and a grand prize for someone to win at the end of summer (which everyone gets an entry in whenever they complete a certain number of hours read). I was really let down in the number of entries from the kids in the great weekly prizes, and honestly, I think I'll nix it next year. I think adding more to the prize store will be better and less confusing for everyone. It's also a bit of a cost savings, which always brings me a little joy.
  • That said, the entries for the teen weekly prizes were excellent, and I will definitely be continuing that set up again, perhaps adding more/better weekly prizes for them. I lucked out in that they were very eager for our grand prize this year (a netbook) and many used their prize money as extra entries in that.
  • Speaking of teens, I think I'd like to do a special lock in or pizza party for those who complete the entire program. What a fun way to celebrate with the group, and I think it would encourage more to finish and turn in their logs -- one of my teens read all 50 hours, but she never actually turned in her reading log nor earned her prizes because of it. A final invite-only event could be incentive for a number of these kids.
  • I'd keep my prizes staggered like I did. For every 10/15 hours read (kids/teens respectively), they earned coupons good for local businesses/establishments that included pizza and custard; for every 25/30 hours read, they earned a summer reading t-shirt with the summer reading theme; and for every 40/50 hours read, they got a free book. It made giving the tshirts out fair and served as a way to advertise our program, as well. And who can deny how important it is for those who read to be rewarded with a book?
  • Tween programming will never, ever go away. What a wonderful, exciting, and well-attended series of events. We'd never served this group specifically at the library, and doing it mattered. These kids were there every week, and every time they saw me in the library, regardless of what day it was, they asked when the next program was.

So these are the things -- many simple -- that I'm going to change in the future. I'm sure as I start planning for summer 2012, more things will come up, as will comments from patrons and kids who come in during the year.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Summer Reading 2011: The Final Frontier

Summer reading's finally over, and I've done most of the tabulation for participation and program attendance. We have a slack week between when we end and when we really end (which gives stragglers a chance to collect prizes), so my numbers are based on the numbers before slack week, which is good enough for me.

I'm thrilled with increases just about everywhere, and I have so many ideas for improving the program next year. I'm saving up my post on that for later this week.

Our library serves a population of about 14,000, with a wide geographical reach (a lot of it rural and without any public transportation). I'm the only youth services librarian, but I was so lucky this summer to have an intern help me out nearly 20 hours a week, as well as an adult volunteer who helped out about that much, and I had 2 members of our Friends of the Library who helped in running our twice-a-week prize store.


We had a total of 532 under the age of 19 register for the program. That broke down as 78 pre-readers, 240 youth between 4 and 12, and 114 teens. That surpassed last year's numbers, which had 520 registered, with 45 pre-readers, 413 youth, and 62 teens. In 2009, 509 registered, with 39 pre-readers, 400 youth, and 70 teens.
For the pre-readers, we had 45% of all the available activities completed by participants (I took the number of participants by the number of total activities to get that number). More than 50% of those who signed up came back to check in, which is an excellent return rate. 30% of the pre-readers completed the entire program. All together, this group completed a total of 1,055 literacy activities.
For the youth, we had 31% of all the possible hours read by participants (I took the total number of participants by the total number of possible hours to get that number). 21% of the youth checked in their logs, and 16% completed the entire program. All together, this group read for a total of 2,597.5 hours this summer.
For the teens, we had 33% of all the possible hours read by participants (I took the total number of participants by the total number of possible hours to get that number). 50% of the teens checked in their logs, and 20% completed the entire program. All together, this group read for a total of 1,885 hours.

The teen mobile collection, which ran twice a week during lunch hours at the high school, we had 12 teens sign up for the reading club, and we circulated 25 items.
This summer, we offered 16 all-ages programs, 7 tween programs, 9 teen programs, and 10 story times. We had a total of 42 programs that brought out 1,342 attendees. Last year, by comparison, there were a total of 51 program and a total attendance of 1,464. Last year, there were two story hours offered, and if you take out the story time sessions for both this year and last year, we had a total of 1,200 attendees at our programs, compared to 1,121 last year. It makes me think if we had offered two story times like we did before, we'd have easily beat last year's attendance numbers, but I'm thrilled with how high program attendance without story time included was.
By comparison, in 2009 thee were 50 programs total for an attendance of 1,706. Taking out story times, which were offered 5 different times during the week (including two as outreach), there were only 10 programs and an attendance of 831.
I broke out teen programming into another category, as well, and we had a total of 9 programs this summer for teens, with an attendance of 117. Last year, there were 3 teen programs, with 21 attendees. In 2009, there were 3 programs offered for teens and 15 attended. Our numbers here have skyrocketed. I think the idea that "if you build it, they will come" is true, and I think getting into the schools a lot has helped greatly. We also had 8 teens sign up for library cards this summer, which is a great number to see.

Other thoughts

When the program ended, the first thing I did was open up a document and begin planning out improvements for next year. I've got a handle on what the scope of the program is, and I have goals for where I can expand. As much as I'm completely burned out and over summer reading (and eager to get rid of our decorations, prizes, fliers, etc.), I'm also a little excited about planning ahead.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Lego Club: A How-To Guide

I've been asked how I run Lego Club at my library, and while I don't think I do anything radically different from other libraries, I thought I'd share what I do and what I've sort of adapted over the course of this fun program.

Getting a Lego Club Started

The very first step in getting a Lego Club started is...getting Legos. Anyone who has ever purchased Legos knows they are not inexpensive. I was lucky because in my storage closet at work, I found a small starter box of Legos. But I knew that small box would in no way cut it.

I didn't want to spend too much building the collection, so I turned to the community. Through our monthly newsletter and in in-library advertising, I asked for donations. I got a couple enthusiastic responses from the start, and I collected another small lot of Legos. Again, it wasn't quite enough for the club I envisioned. I turned, too, to my friend Brian, who is a huge Lego enthusiast, and he hooked me up with another donation. But still, I knew I didn't have enough, so I had to figure out where to buy some Legos with a tight budget.

Enter MegaBlox.

MegaBlox are sold in 1,000 piece kits and they work with regular Legos. They happened to be on sale at my local box store, and I picked up 2 kits for $40. I also bought a couple packs of mini-figurines and with what I'd collected, I just hoped for the best.

Lucky for me, after the club met a couple times, we began ROLLING in donations. I mean it when I say I have 3 huge Rubbermaid tubs full of Legos. I have tons of cool pieces, and I have tons of the bases and figures. When word got out about the club and the kids started showing off their works, people began bringing us so many Legos, I almost had to start turning them away. It was fantastic.

The Club Set up

I run my club twice a month after school at 4 pm for one hour (I made adjustments in the summer). I began the club thinking each week I'd come up with a theme for the kids to build on, but in the end, I scrapped it. My kids were interested in building whatever they wanted, and who was I to stop that creativity?

In setting up the room, I put out 3 or 4 tables to build on, but I put them on the sides of the room and leave the center of the room completely open. I lay down two large table cloths (the heavy duty kind) and dump the Legos onto the table cloths. This lets the kids dig and explore all they want to -- which for some kids, is the entire point of Legos -- and then at the end, clean up is as easy as getting the pieces onto the table cloths, folding them up, and dumping the Legos into the container. Painless.

As the kids finish their creations, they come up to me and tell me what they made and what they're calling it. My first couple of meetings, I had the kids share with everyone what they made, but I found out they hated this, and some didn't want to talk in front of the group at all. So, I decided they could come talk to me and just me. When they tell me their creation's name, I write it down on a small piece of card stock, along with their first name, and then they are free to put the creation anywhere on top of the shelves in the children's area they wish.

When all of the kids have their creations up, they can wander and see what the other kids made.

After Lego Club

I leave the kids' Lego creations up until the next Lego Club. The day of the next club meeting, I take them apart and they get to start all over again.

Lessons Learned

Honestly, this is an easy to run program and one that, despite some initial costs, is cheap. Anyone can supervise it, and I've toyed with the idea of having it become a volunteer-run program.

I began the program by limiting it to those in 2nd grade and older, but I kept getting younger kids who wanted to participate. And you know, I let them. Whenever parents bring their kids, I say that the only age requirement is that the kids are able to play with regular Legos themselves. Most of the time, the littler kids come with parents who stay and play with them. I love this -- I believe Lego Club is one that is really a great family program, as so often, the parents come and play with the kids. Seeing dads with their sons is wonderful.

Which brings me to this: it's a big boys program, but not all boy. If you can, get ahold of brightly colored, pink, purple, and neon colored Legos, too. We have a pink kit, and in it were flowers, birds, and other little things that both the girls and boys have loved using. I would say bulk up, if you can, on mini figures for your Lego collection, since those are the most popular things in my sets.

When I began, I thought that having a lot of bases to building would be important. It's not. If you don't have many, you will be just fine. The kids are so imaginative and creative that they will make something from nothing. And the stories they will tell you about what they make are fascinating.

In room set up, I discovered some kids are going to gravitate to using tables and chairs, but most of mine prefer to lie on the floor in front of the Lego platter. They help one another find pieces they need, and they're cooperative in sharing. The social skills they learn here are important, and the bonding they have over the activity is one that's not easy to replicate in many other youth programs. One thing I do is provide buckets -- I have some from the Legos themselves -- and the kids who want to collect Legos to build on a table can use one of those to scour the pile then build elsewhere.

I average between 18 and 30 kids each time I run the program, which for a twice a month program that requires nothing of me other than setting out Legos and taking them down, is a great turn out.

You can make this program as challenging or not challenging as you wish, but I prefer to keep it really laid back. My kids have enjoyed it greatly, and everyone loves to look at the Lego creations the kids make. I think putting the things on display is key to a successful Lego Club: it gives the kids a sense of accomplishment AND it's perfect advertising for the next club. I do think I am going to invest in a bag of Duplos though to have out in our children's area for anytime use because the kids who look at the display have a tendency to want to play with the items. Alas. I don't yell at them about it. It's natural curiosity.

I did have one tricky incident in Lego Club that's worth noting. I mentioned that I got a lot of really good mini figs through donation; apparently, they were SO good, that one of my kids pocketed a handful during Lego Club and took them home. Fortunately for me, his mom brought it to my attention and made him bring them to me and apologize the next week. It was a hard lesson for him, and I think it's one to just be aware could happen. I don't operate with that on my mind, but it is a slight possibility. Speaking of the mini figs, I had a mom and her kids want to buy a few pieces off me, too, since they loved what I had received so much. I didn't sell them, but instead, I directed her to a couple websites that might be able to help her. In short: be familiar with where you can acquire Star Wars and other popular figures.

Bonus: this program works for teens, too! My teens are rabid about Legos. So there you go!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Planning for Fall

One of the truths of youth librarianship is that there is never a break. In the midst of summer reading, you have to plan out fall and winter programming to get publicity rolling enough in advance and to start thinking about using whatever you have left in your budget. Plus, as soon as summer reading's finished, you want your kids to know what's coming up in the fall.

I've been planning and brainstorming for a month or so about programs for the fall, and last week, I turned in my final plans and ideas, and I thought I'd share them, perhaps spurring some ideas for others who are scrambling or for those who can offer me some tips and ideas in advance.

First and foremost, we're offering up two story times again, one for toddlers and one for preschoolers. I don't do in-house story time, but I will be doing outreach story time again. So far, I'm going to the elementary school 4K classes again twice a month, and it's likely I'll be doing the same with one of the local parochial schools. I love getting out and reaching the kids in the classroom, and I'm excited for a couple weeks to plot out my themes and pick out my stories and crafts. I'm going to try a bunch of new ideas and techniques this coming year, especially since I'm now a storytime veteran, rather than a storytime newbie. I don't feel like I'm going in blind and clueless now -- I've got it down, and I LOVE the preschool/4K age group. They're fun to see regularly.

We're offering Lego Club again on Monday afternoons twice a month. I think this year will be a great start, since the kids are already familiar with it, and I'm debating whether I want to mix it up with offering themes/challenges or if I want to keep it as it is, which is a complete free build.

I'm starting up a new program this fall that I am extremely excited about. I planned it without funding in mind, but I did receive a small grant from Kohl's, and the funds will go toward it. It's my Exploration Art Studio, geared for preschool through first graders. The goal is to have an open art studio for the little kids, where we'll offer 2 or 3 different art stations and ideas, and the kids can get messy. It's once a month after school. For our first session in September, we'll be painting with glue and making sticky collages; in October, we'll be doing nature weaving, leaf rubbings, and other nature art; in November, we'll be having a huge Play Doh creation session; and in December, we'll do rock painting, food painting, and bubble painting.

We have three sorts of age groups for stand along programming, and that's all ages, tween, and teen. We're offering something for every group every month.

All ages

For September, we're doing a stuffed animal sleepover on a Thursday night, so our patrons can pick up their animals the next morning, which is when our preschool story time is. They'll come in their pajamas for a night-themed story time, then we'll make a small craft, followed by a night in the library (with photos!) for their toys.

October means we'll be doing our pumpkin carving program again, and this time, we're doing it so that we clean out the pumpkins during the day before hand (when the kids don't have school) and then the carving will be the day after (another day off school for the kids). I'm hoping this cuts down on a late night at the library and entices a larger group of kids helping clean out the pumpkins.

In November, we're going to do Giant Monopoly again. I did it in the spring to a good size group, and they were super eager to keep playing. I figured since we have all of the pieces, we might as well do it again. It's a free and easy-to-run program, and one that's a lot of fun.

In December, we're switching things up. The idea of doing a gingerbread house making program turns my stomach a bit after last year. It's SO costly and labor intensive, and I really don't care for it. Instead, we're doing the traditional program of bringing Santa to the library for pictures, and while that's going on, we'll also be making ornaments for the kids to keep and ornaments they can hang in our trees outside the library (oranges and pine cones to attract the birds).

I've become quite serious about the idea of giving kids things to do during their school breaks, since it's when they ask for things to do (and when they tend to get dropped off at the library), so I'm also offering a pizza and a movie during the holiday break. I'm not sure what we'll watch yet, but that's one of those things I can figure out a couple weeks before and be fine.

Tween Programs

After having such great turnout and excitement for this programming during the summer, I'm continuing it in the school year once a month. All of these programs involve making something, which is what this age group LOVES doing.

In September, we're making wrapped bracelets and marble magnets to celebrate school being back in session.

October is when we'll be combining our tween program with a teen program, and we'll be having a Monster Mash. We'll make monster bookmarks, monster tubes, and felt monsters. The kids will be able to make one or all of them.

I'm actually mixing it up in November and doing something wild: steal bingo. They'll play a normal game of bingo, but instead of picking out a prize, they'll pick out a mystery present that'll be wrapped. A lot of them will be weird things from the dollar store or left over summer reading prizes. After playing for a while, the kids will all open their prizes, and then the fun begins -- we'll keep playing bingo, but this time when someone wins, they can steal a prize from someone else. It should be a blast, since this age group sees this as fun instead of competitive.

December's program will be a recycle. Since our duct tape program was so popular this summer, we'll be doing it again. It'll be right before Christmas, so we'll make duct tape presents, naturally.

Again, since I want to offer something during the winter break, we'll be doing an additional program in December for tweens (and teens): bleached shirts. The kids'll bring a dark shirt, and we'll provide some creative ideas and bleach pens. Easy and fun.


It feels like I offer a lot of teen programs, but that's because the book club meets 2 or 3 times a month in addition to other programs. This fall/winter, we'll be reading I am J, Clarity, Rot and Ruin, Glow, Want to Go Private, Small Town Sinners, Between Shades of Gray, Brooklyn Burning, Divergent and My Beating Teenage Heart. I think it's a great mix of mystery, paranormal, realistic, dystopian, and historical, and they're all titles my teens were eager to dive into.

In September, we're doing a lock in that my teens have pretty much planned out for me. We'll be doing some craft-y stuff (non-pressured at tables they can choose from if they want to), gaming on the big screen, music, food, a pinata, and we'll also be doing cover redesigns. I cannot wait to talk about that because my kids came up with the idea. Oh, and we'll also be giving Justin Bieber a makeover. Ahem.

In October, we'll be celebrating Teen Read Week by having a week-long contest for the teens, and we'll be offering programs that include the Monster Mash (with the tweens), Pizza and a Movie (we'll be watching I am Number Four and serving pizza since one of my regular teens is obsessed with this book), and perhaps the program I'm most excited for, which I'm calling If It Floats Your Boat. We'll offer up stuff for making root beer floats and playing book trailers on loop. They can enjoy a treat and pick out books without any pressure.

November's program is going to happen on 11/11/11 and it is -- wait for it -- Minute-to-Win-It. My teens loved the Death by Chocolate Party, and when I proposed this idea, they were equally as excited. Wacky minute long challenges in the library? Who could resist it?

In December, the teen program will be the same one as the tween program with bleach tee creation.

Volunteer Fun

Both my tweens and teens will be able to help out with pumpkin cleaning, which I am billing as a program itself. They'll get pizza and pop and help gut pumpkins all while earning volunteer hours. I did this last year, making it sound more like a program than a volunteer event, and I had a good turn out. I'm hoping by doing it on a day off school for the kids and advertising it in advance, we'll get a bigger turn out and it can become an event itself.

I can't wait to put these plans into action, as I feel like the line up of programs is really strong. And if you're curious, I have started plotting out next year already, too, and I'm super excited about those as well. Now that I've been in the job for a year (and in the field for three now!), I feel like I'm beginning to get a good grip of what works and what doesn't work. I'm also able to gauge what my skills are and whether I need them or not to make something happen -- see the Superhero Party, where I had no idea or background whatsoever and feel like I put together something fun and exciting for the kids.

What's on your plate for the fall/winter? Anything you're excited about? I'd love more ideas, so spill 'em if you've got 'em!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Week 8: The Last Week of Summer Reading

The end has come! As of today, my Summer Reading Club is over -- and it's been exhausting and exhilarating and every other emotion possible. We had our last couple of programs, and we're opening our prize store one more time on Saturday next week for kids to pick out prizes. Because of that, I don't have my final registration or completion numbers yet, but I will next week and I'll be posting a huge final rundown of the entire summer, including my plans for improving next year's program.

This week though, we had a couple programs.

Monday was Lego Club, as has been all summer long, and we had one of our bigger turnouts, too. We had 24 show up, and almost every single one was a boy. I love this. It's such a perfect group for boys, and they're all so nice to one another while they're there.

Tuesday, which is our usual all ages programming day, was a non-programming day for me. I used the opportunity to take inventory of all my programming supplies for the fall, since I'm already figuring out what I need. I got a $500 grant, and I plan on using it to bulk up on art supplies for a fall program I'm going to try out. It was a nice, zen activity to do, and I'm eager to finish this job up in the next week or two. I thrive on cleanliness and organization, so the mess that came with summer has been begging for that attention.

We made up for our no program Tuesday with our big end-of-summer program on Wednesday. Jennifer had suggested we do this program early in the year, and it's one I was so pleased with that I would consider doing again in a heartbeat. I'm not much of a name-the-performer person on this blog for many reasons, but I definitely will say that any library who can, should consider bringing out Dino from Nature's Niche for a program. He brought out a ton of live exotic animals and presented about the animals, how he came to rescue them and rehabilitate them, and he really engaged the kids in the program. They got to be involved, and they got to touch or hold nearly everything. We had over 85 kids show up for the program -- all ages -- and we drew in a lot of people who just happened by the library that morning, which was wonderful. Not only did he engage the kids, his program was longer than most. It went for nearly 2 hours, which was huge bang for the buck.

After the program, one of the dads I knew from Lego Club came up and told me he didn't even think to bring his camera and write about this for the paper. But he gave me his email, and we'll get a nice little piece in the local paper about the program, too. That was one of the things I didn't think enough about this summer and one of the changes for next year. Alas -- I got some fantastic pictures of the kids with the animals, and I'm thrilled the community will get to see some of them. The ones here are of a Madagascar Hissing Cockroach (my favorite animal of the day which, indeed, I did pet!) and my second favorite, the little alligator who liked being held like a baby. He apparently feels very soft, except if you rub his tail the wrong way. That apparently feels like a razor blade (I let the kids enjoy that one, so I didn't get to confirm this first hand).

Thursday, we had our last teen program of the summer, which was a teen Lego Club. We had a low turnout for the program, and none of the kids who were begging me to run this program for them showed up. It happens. But the boys who did come had a good time, and their conversations were hilarious to listen to. And surprisingly, they made less violent Lego creations than the younger kids usually do.

Friday was a no program day, but since I worked the reference desk half the day, I got the chance to check kids in and dole out prize dollars. It was fun to reward the kids who worked hard all summer, and I actually got a compliment from one of the parents saying how fun the program had been and how much her kids enjoyed it. After a summer that feels like it drags and feels like it's one disaster after another, hearing that from a parent really felt nice. She'd approached me before about my style of programming and how different it was from my predecessor and from the people in neighboring libraries, and her kids liked how laid back I was. Refreshing!

In my down time this week, I did a lot of brain storming on improvements for the next summer reading club, and I can't wait to share them, along with my final numbers. I already know my teen programming attendance has increased significantly from the part two years, though this year it seems my all ages programming numbers have dropped a bit (though their registration numbers are the same). I think there's a few reasons for it, which I'll hit upon next week.

That said, this has been one huge sigh of relief. I'm so glad the summer reading program is over, and though this has been my third summer reading club, this felt like the most challenging because I was taking care of the entire youth program, from birth to 18, rather than from 12 to 18. And honestly, I've begun to question my own feelings about summer reading clubs in general. That's not to say I don't think it has a value, but I think that sort of gets diminished in the everyday management/administrative aspects of the program. It's given me a lot to think about for doing some new things in the future, that's for sure.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Teen Displays!

Since summer reading is so close to done and I'm tired of looking at the same displays in the teen area, I decided to switch it up this week. I made a huge display space earlier this summer, and I decided to utilize it for two displays this month.

First up, my display on books that feature food in some way:

I've got sweets, coffee, scones, cheese shops, and even some non-fiction about cooking well. I plan on posting a lengthier book list on this topic over at STACKED in the next week or so, since there are a ton of books that fit. I did make myself laugh a little as I stood in front of the Sarah Dessen titles and tried to remember which was the one that featured the catering job -- I think I've read too much Dessen if I'm so familiar with that small plot detail (for the record, it's The Truth About Forever, probably my favorite of her books).

Then, to celebrate August as happiness month, I thought it would be worthwhile to do a completely color-filled display:

It's books that have yellow covers, and there's no other connection among them. I love my sign, where I was able to put the name of the display ("August is get happy month. Brighten your reading all month long.") as the smile. It really is the little things.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Summer Reading Club: Week 7 or - ONLY ONE WEEK LEFT -

See that drink there? I am waiting until the end of this week to indulge in a few because that means summer reading club is over and it's time to celebrate. But for now, here's how week seven stacked up.

We didn't get any new teen sign ups this week, so we're still at 114 teens participating this year in the summer reading club. I got a stack of registrations this week from one of the summer school teachers who had her class participate (something I think I might try more thoughtfully next year to do), and we're up to 335 youth signed up. We had another pre-reader sign up, and we were at 79 for that group. That brings us to a total of 527 participants for summer reading club. For what it's worth, I planned for 100 teens and surpassed that, and I planned for 45 pre-readers, and I also surpassed that. Color me thrilled. I'm more eager to see completion rates, which I'll know at the middle of the month.

Monday we had our regular Lego Club, with 15 people coming out. We had no internet for a period of time on Monday, and part of me wonders if that's part of why attendance for Lego Club's been down the last couple of weeks (we were internet-down last Monday, too).

Tuesday, which we called International Day, was a shot in the dark for me. I gave the responsibility for the program over to a coworker before summer started, and when she left for a new job, it was given to another coworker. I was in the dark mostly about what the plans were, but I trusted it'd work -- and I got quite an interesting shopping list of supplies, which in the end, only one of the things ended up being used (but we can always use tissue paper and gold wrapping paper later, at least). My coworker took the kids on a trip to England, where they got to learn a bit about the royal family, played a game of trying to make the soldier laugh, and then she took them to Peru, where they learned about the government, the rain forests, and the Inca. They got to make these beautiful Incan fans as their craft at the end. It was a nice program and kept the kids interested, and we had 54 come out. I was thrilled we could do it outside since the weather finally cooperated. This was the program where my intern finally understood what the strange stress of being a librarian was like -- as much as it's sort of a strange thing to say, I feel like this was an important moment for her to experience. I had gone inside to take care of something, and she was dropped into the program, wherein a mother approached her and another coworker and complained that we didn't have enough glue that worked for all of the kids. That was the straw, folks, but it was an important one to learn: you're never going to make everyone happy, and the things people will complain about are bizarre (because really, my small library having over 50 working glue bottles so each kid can have one . . .).

Wednesday was our last official Tween program of the summer, and when I told the kids that, they were really upset. They absolutely loved having a program of their own, and they have been rabid about making things. Perhaps it was the insanity of summer hitting me, but my program was Potato Art -- I gave the kids potatoes and knives and let them make stamps of the potatoes. Did you read that? I gave the kids knives. We only had one small nick, and the girl who did it was kind of the one I'd expect it from (and she was fine, bandaged it, and kept on carving). They had more fun carving designs than painting, which leads me again to think I could just hand them anything and they'd keep themselves entertained for an hour. We had 15 tweens out for the program.

Thursday was our last teen book club of the summer (officially -- the regular school-time program picks up again on the 18th) and this was where we did the thing with the balloons. So funny story: just earlier that day, my intern and I were talking about success with teen programming, since I'd seen it come up on one of the YALSA list servs. I told her I think any book discussion with at least 2 people is a success, and programs that bring out 5-7 are good, and anything above that is total gravy -- I've had a gravy of a summer, as it turns out, but more on that in a later wrap up post. I bring this up because this week's book club was on the small side, but it was just as successful to me as if we'd had 10 or 12 out, like we've had at some other book club meetings.

The summer mobile collection had its last day on Wednesday, and in the end, we checked out nearly 30 books, and we signed up 15 kids for summer reading club. There were also 21 entries into our prize drawings, meaning the kids were using it to do the program quite well. Though the numbers sound low, I'm quite impressed. We had no advertising of the mobile collection, and it gave me a real jumping off point for the future. Incorporating this sort of program is something I want to do more of, and I think I have reason to do so. Especially when it comes to getting kids participating with the library and getting our faces out there. I feel like I got to meet a lot of my patrons this summer through this program, which is important with this age group. This is something I'm going to talk more about later, too.

I just have to make it through this week, and I will be so, so happy. Plans for this week, besides surviving, include cleaning my office out and going on a shopping trip for supplies to replenish the waning stuff (and cash in on back-to-school sales).

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Teen Book Club: Up, Up, and Away!

No one would suggest I run a conventional teen book club, and that's one of the things I'm proud of. I know teens like to be silly and do fun things, and it's not always necessary to sit and discuss a book in depth. I've done book club using Legos and using Play Doh and making Post Secret cards.

While I was reading this week's book, which was Nova Ren Suma's June release Imaginary Girls, I was thinking about how I could run with something in the book and twist it enough to make it an activity for book discussion. What kept coming back to me was the imagery in the book, and one image that kept coming back to me was one in which the main character's older sister writes a series of demands on balloons that she ties with red ribbon. She lets them go and because of her magical powers, people do what the balloons say when they find them.

So I thought....why can't we?

I decorated our meeting room with colorful balloons that were tied with red ribbon.

I was impressed with how close the blue balloon matched the book's cover color.

Then when the group came in, they began writing their little demands/wishes onto the balloons with permanent markers.

Then we untied them from the backs of the chairs (proof the ribbon is red here!). I told everyone we had a place to take the balloons. I got some amused looks at this point, but then everything clicked into place when I led them outside.

One of our group members is wearing sunglasses in this photo, which, if you've read the book, you know fits the story so well. But, here's the pile of balloons. We wrote on each and every one of them. The wishes ran from things like wishing one of our group members would never stop talking, to receiving a pile of books in one's room, to having a cheesecake delivered to the library, and mine, which was having someone bring me $22 in $2 bills only.

Then we each took our balloons from the ground, and it was time to let the demands find their new homes.



And away!

This was a fun activity, and it was definitely a way to tie the story to the discussion quite easily.

As you probably saw in the first picture, we also pulled down our big screen and had a chat with Nova Ren Suma herself. I've had a lot of people ask how I do our author chats, and really, it's simple. I get in touch with the author a month or more in advance and ask if we can chat. Our chats are about 20 minutes long, and as of yet, we haven't done a Skype chat (we will come fall). Instead, we've used Chatzy to set up private chat rooms and type to talk. It's free to set one up, and you can email the link to the other party. What I like about this set up is that coming up with questions can be done on the spot, so the conversation can build as it flows naturally, and it allows us to chat between typing. There's not pressure on the teens to come up with something on the spot, and there's less pressure to be completely focused on the chat. Plus, when you let the teens type, they get to talk to an author themselves! It's a huge thrill for them, and it's fun to connect them with the people writing books for them.

So after our balloon demand release, a short book club discussion about characters and setting, and then a chat with the author, we'd used up an hour and a half and had a LOT of fun.