Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Oakland, here I come!

I'm excited to be part of the great migration of youth services folks headed to Oakland, CA this week for the 2014 ALSC National Institute.  When I attended the 2012 Institute in Indianapolis, I met a ton of great people, attended some sessions packed with great ideas, and overall had a great time. So I'm very much looking forward to what the next few days have in store for me at Institute!

While in Oakland, I'll be giving two different presentations. First comes "Thinking Outside the Storytime Box," which is a session with Amy Commers, Mel Depper, and Marge Loch-Wouters. We'll be exploring a range of preschool programming options that go beyond traditional storytimes, including the early literacy rationale behind them and resources for folks looking to add these programs to their library's offerings. The second session is "STEAM Power Your Library," where I'll be talking about ways to implement STEAM programs and other activities in library services for preschoolers and school-agers.

And don't forget Guerrilla Storytime! Kendra Jones and I will be facilitating a Guerrilla Storytime between 8 and 9 a.m. on Thursday morning, which is also the registration timeframe. So get registered first thing, then come participate in a great Guerrilla Storytime event! That event's recap will go up on the Storytime Underground page sometime next week.

I'm really looking forward to attending sessions, too, both by library colleagues and from a number of great authors and illustrators. It's my plan to recap all my big takeaways from the Institute next week here on the blog, but if you're looking for realtime updates, you've got a few surefire strategies:

If you, too, are headed to Oakland, I can't wait to say "hi" and chat IRL. Safe travels, everyone!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Just Thinking About Collections

As a new youth services hire at my library, and as a person who will be doing a lot of selection and management for the youth collections, I've been thinking a lot about the youth services space and the materials contained within. I'm trying to acclimate myself to the layout of the space so that, when I'm working the youth services desk, I can actually help customers find the materials they're looking for. I'm also trying to get a good grasp of the types of things offered in the collections; this context is a major means to understanding my collection development responsibilities.

As I've been exploring the stacks, searching the catalog, and talking with colleagues, I've been asking myself a bunch of questions. And then, somewhere in the middle of asking myself these questions about a collection and space that is new to me, I realized that I probably should have been asking myself these questions, and asking them regularly, at my last library job. Which leads me to sharing my questions here on the blog, in case the nudge to think about your collections is something you might need right now.

Here are the three sets of questions I've been asking myself and my colleagues (many times per day, and about many parts of the collections):

1. Why is the room layout the way it is? What's the reasoning behind having certain materials where they currently are?
As I've asked myself this question, I've encountered a range of responses--all of them legitimate, and some of them indicative that, perhaps, adjustments could help better utilize space or freshen things up. As a hypothetical example, consider a youth services room in which easy readers are in location X. Are they in X because they're a high-demand item and X is a high-traffic area? Or are they in X because they've always been in X? The former scenario might indicate a good location for these, and possibly other, high-demand materials. The latter scenario, however--the "because it's always been done this way" scenario--that's the moment to make a mental note that it would be possible to adjust this section.

2. What are the highly-used collections in the department? What about the least-used?
When it comes to determining what's highly-used, I like to combine both anecdotal evidence from staff as well as circulation data from the ILS. Both types of data are valuable for thinking about how collections are being used. It's probably in the library's best interests to make all of these high-use items as easily accessible as possible, since so many folks are utilizing them. As for those least-used items, learning what they are helps me recognize a) an area where I may not need to spend as much money, if it's a dying collection; or b) an area where I need to invest more time in selection and weeding to freshen things up. Either way, those least-used pockets of the collection deserve a mental note as places with potential--whether that's potential for improvement or change can be determined later.

3. What's the weeding strategy?
Honestly, I think this is a HUGE question, even for those who consider themselves expert weeders. If there isn't a formal system or strategy, consider ways to implement one that would create positive benefits to the collection. And if there is a system, think it through and evaluate: Is it accomplishing its goals? Where might it be tweaked, improved, or better systematized? Weeding strategies are vital to the health of any good collection, just like pruning plants, and I think this is the question that needs to be considered most frequently.

Asking these questions has given me a lot of context for think about our space, collections, and how I can help manage them. And thoughtfully considering the range of answers to the questions has given me tons of fodder for thinking about how to progress in the space and collections.

I'll be adding a recurring event to my calendar in order to prompt myself to consider these questions every few months. Not only will coming back to these questions help me understand the snapshot of where our collections are at that moment in time, but they'll help me more successfully plan for the future of serving our customers as well.

*Please sing the title of this post to the tune of "Tomorrow" from Annie

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, from guest blogger Ted McCoy

Today's guest blogger is Ted McCoy. I first met Ted at the 2012 ALSC National Institute in Indianapolis, where he won a sweet red plush hand chair as a door prize. Since then, I've come to consider him one of the top youth librarians when it comes to thinking about transformative storytimes and other library services. I'm beyond pleased that he's willing to share some of his great work here. Today he's sharing his summer outreach storytimes, which are incredibly community centered and responsive to the needs of his audience. Take it away, Ted!

This summer my library partnered with the amazing organization Food, Friends & Fun to provide weekly outreach storytimes at two neighborhood parks where kids 0-18 could get free lunch during the summer. Doing this type of outreach was one of the first things I brought up in summer reading planning. If we weren’t going to be providing kids with much-needed summer lunches on site, it made sense to work with organizations that were doing it, strengthening our connections with local partners and learning how to better serve children and caregivers in our community. We want to reach as many kids as possible during the critical summer months, and going to local parks seemed like a great opportunity to reach kids who might otherwise not have access to library services.

We entered the process a little late, so a couple of really good ideas got discussed but ultimately shelved. I had tentative plans to bring honor system collections to both sites, something similar to what Santa Cruz Public Libraries do with their Teen Self-Help Collection. Because we were at different sites, these collections would need to be mobile; I wanted to base our approach to mobile outreach collections in part on Oakland Public Library’s awesome Bike Library. Deadlines and funding kept us from moving beyond the discussion stage on this. We also looked at the possibility of checking out library materials at summer lunch sites, but untenable logistical hurdles cropped up here as well.

We ended up with three librarians doing outreach at two sites for the entire two months. I was able to go to both sites all summer, which was awesome. We read a lot of stories with a bunch of kids. Like, a lot. But we also talked to them and their caregivers, listening to what they wanted in terms of relevant library collections and services. We got harassed by bees pretty much constantly. Oh well, the rough with the smooth.

So here’s what I learned about outreach storytimes:

There's no such thing as a comfort zone

As cool as doing this outreach was, we pretty much started in unchartered territory. Food, Friends & Fun had never partnered with our library before. Their onsite staff was minimal so we were responsible for doing our thing, soup to nuts. These sites were good-sized city parks, each with basketball courts, jungle gyms, and (most distractingly) awesome splash pads.

To find our place, we really had to put ourselves out there. A lot of this was introducing ourselves to kids and families and offering to read stories with them. Scratch that. It was almost entirely introducing ourselves to folks and developing relationships. Shyness was not an option. We’d ask if kids wanted to read some stories, and it was OK to hear “no.” We couldn’t get comfortable or expect people to come to us, nor could we expect to be people’s first choice with all the aforementioned basketball courts, jungle gyms, and splash pads. Especially not with the splash pad.

Brief aside: because it was just me and another librarian (and often just me) with my bag of books, I briefly contemplated some sort of attention-grabbing gimmick: a crazy hat or something. I thought better of it (mercifully) and, after raiding our supply closet, instead constructed the Mystery Cylinder, pictured below.

We could use the Mystery Cylinder to choose books to read when we had a big group together, since there was no way to choose something to perfectly match everyone’s tastes. I found myself occasionally nudging the results in a certain direction, but it was overall a success and I can’t wait to use it with a more targeted audience.


Singing books were among the summer’s most popular, and especially Abiyoyo and Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. I read/sang Pete the Cat maybe 20+ times, slightly more than once a storytime. Because we read with several groups over the course of an hour, there were lots of chances for folks to request it.

While these were outreach storytimes, attention spans were shorter and groups were diverse, age-wise. I tried some songs and action rhymes my first day, and the kids were not into it. Singing books were a huge hit, though, so I used them throughout the summer to regularly incorporate singing into the mix.

Sometimes you're just there to have a conversation.

Occasionally, kids weren’t really feeling storytime. During that downtime, we would chat about books and other things they like. Other things being mainly Minecraft. This was an important time for them, making the outreach a two-way street, and getting their feedback about materials and services they would like to see. But I had to eventually institute unofficial “Minecraft conversation limits” or it would consume the entire hour.

When a story goes doesn't click, bail ruthlessly.

This is pretty standard storytime operating procedure, but reading with groups of kids aged 2 to 12 really sharpened my “ditch a book that’s bombing” instinct. With outreach in the park, it’s only natural that kids will get distracted and wander off. I’m absolutely fine with that. But if someone wants to read stories, it’s up to me to make sure I am not offering something low-interest or unengaging.

You can never have enough books, especially ones that mention "butts" or "underwear."

This follows logically from the previous point. Every week I brought a massive bag of books, and every week I had a pile of at least a few books beside me that had failed to connect with the kids. See also Chicken Butt!


So in conclusion, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite outreach storytime titles from this summer:

Chicken Butt! by Erica S. Perl - This long-standing outreach storytime favorite continues to come through time and time again. I have to thank Ms. Helen from the Oakland Public Library Main Library Children’s Room for clueing me in to Chicken Butt! when I was still in library school. It has never let me down.

What! Cried Granny by Kate Lum - This cumulative tale may be one of my favorite storytime books, ever. It works with preschoolers, but seems to resonate with early- to mid-school age kids, which makes it invaluable for diverse outreach settings. It also deals with sleeping over at grandmother’s house, a theme that school age audiences connect to. I will be always be grateful to the amazing Jim Jeske at San Francisco Public Library Children’s Center for showing me this when I was interning there.

Little Red Hot by Eric A. Kimmel - Paired with Red Riding Hood, this fractured fairy tale offers a lot of opportunity for laughs. I can do a passable Texas accent, which helps when reading this one.

Red Riding Hood by James Marshall - I am very pro-fairy tale, though I acknowledge you have to be careful when it comes to outreach storytime. Marshall’s version of Red Riding Hood retains a strong narrative but is short enough to work with older kids in an outreach setting. Like I said, we read it paired with Little Red Hot on multiple occasions.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean - I think I’ve covered this one pretty well anon.

Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger - Another chance to sing, as well as read a great folk tale with a cool monster.

Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard - I like reading mysteries with older kids, and Miss Nelson is Missing! has a good narrative and enough humor to work well with older (and even some younger) readers in an outreach context. In a more structured outreach setting, I’ve done a reader’s theater version which works as well.


Ted McCoy is currently a Children's Librarian at the Springfield (MA) City Library. He conducts Tiny Tots infant/toddler storytime and ongoing school-aged STEAM programming. He can be reached at emccoy(at)springfieldlibrary(dot)org and @ted_mccoy on Twitter.

Mystery cylinder photo provided by the author.

Friday, September 5, 2014

On New Adventures

A lot happened in my professional life this summer. About two months ago, I was offered a position with Skokie Public Library in their newly-created Learning Experiences Department. It was an opportunity the likes of which I had neither anticipated nor expected at this stage in my career. So I submitted my resignation from my job in Missouri; went into crazy planning mode to ensure that my now former department would be good to go once I left; ran an unconference; and moved to Evanston, Illinois.

For two weeks now, I've been the Youth & Family Program Coordinator with Skokie Public Library. My job is part collection management, part program coordination, all thinking about how the library can continue to meet the needs of young customers and their families, even as those needs are continually evolving. It's a marvelous new adventure.

And with new adventures come new goals. At the beginning of this year, I shared my 2014 storytime goals, which I'd been documenting here on this blog. Since my professional responsibilities in my new job are significantly different than those I had in January, however, I've been rethinking and adjusting my professional goals. One big goal adjustment has to do with this blog.

Specifically, I'll be posting with less frequency. My goal is to post once per week. This reduction is a result of several factors, including the fact that since I am new to my job, I don't yet have a full grasp of what I'll be doing that might be of interest to readers. And I don't want to waste anyone's time by posting content that's not useful!

While I'll be posting new content here once per week, I'm also working on lining up guest posts. There are so many amazing things happening in librarianship, you guys, and I consider it a privilege to be a platform for other folks to share their ideas outward. So look for those posts in addition to my own. (And if you're interested in sharing a program or idea as a guest blogger, shoot me an email at amy.e.koester(at)!)

It's a time of transition around here, folks. I am grateful for your patience over the last month and a half while I was away from the blog, and I appreciate your support as I find a new normal for this space. I love being able to share with you, and I look forward to discovering what that looks like going forward.


Oh, and I've had a ton of people ask me if I'll be changing the name of my blog because I no longer live and work in the Show Me State. Nope! I'll continue to be the Show Me Librarian. After all, this blog has been all about showing people what I've been up to at my library, and that's not going to change.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Recapping the 2014 Midwest Youth Services Unconference

On August 20, youth services staff in Missouri and the surrounding areas convened for the 2014 Midwest Youth Services Unconference, the first of its kind in the region. I shared a bit of info about the unconference model in my post announcing this endeavor, so check that out if you'd like a brief synopsis of the unconference idea. Today, I want to recap the actual event.

First, though, let me share why I wanted to put all the time and work into offering an unconference. I firmly believe that every person who does youth services work in any capacity has expertise that they can share with their colleagues. We all have LOTS that we can learn from one another. So often, I've seen youth services practitioners who don't get to go to conferences or lead trainings feeling like their work isn't particular important, or that they don't have anything useful that they can share. I find that viewpoint incredibly sad, not only because I categorically disagree but because our current landscape of professional development can contribute to those feelings of "just": "I'm just a storytime leader" or "I'm just part time" or "I'm just doing something similar to what I read on a blog." Don't sell yourself short; there are no "justs" about this work. If you do it in any capacity, you have experience and knowledge to share that can benefit the entire profession. And, from what I've seen, unconferences empower all staff--at every level--to recognize their expertise and start sharing it confidently. That's powerful.

Let's talk the 2014 Midwest Youth Services Unconference!

We had 61 library workers who attended the event in total; that number included library school students, part-time reference assistants, librarians, a few branch managers, and a handful of folks in other positions. There was a range of experience and subject area expertise present at the unconference, the ideal combination (if you ask me) to promote quality sharing and peer learning.

The unconference day included plenty of breaks, a.k.a. opportunities for networking and further informal learning. These breaks provided buffers between sessions: time to explore the beautiful Spencer Road Branch Library in which the unconference took place, and moments to collect thoughts and make new friends. For the full schedule breakdown, check out this link.

Attendees voted for session topics from
this list of suggestions, compiled via the
shared idea document all registrants
Attendees voted on 10 session topics to take place over the course of 4 time slots; that meant that full-day attendees were able to sit in on 4 different sessions of their choosing. Each session had a volunteer facilitator, who kept conversation moving, as well as a recorder who captured all of the learning shared in each session. For a more detailed description of these roles, including a few strategies for facilitating, check out this doc.

Because all session learning was captured, I am pleased to say that anyone--ANYONE!--can access the session notes for these most excellent topics:
You can find more captured learning by checking out the Storify of the unconference hashtag, #stchlibuncon. Also, please note that these were the session topics offered because these were the topics that attendees indicated they most wanted to participate in, first via a shared document to suggest session topics and then through voting on the morning of the unconference. Every unconference will offer different sessions, because every unconference will have a different pool of attendees. The idea is that sessions will be relevant to attendees because they choose what topics are most important to their work.

This is what unconference sessions look like.

We capped off the day with door prizes and sharing a link to the attendee survey, which is currently indicating that the majority of participants found the unconference peer-learning style beneficial. Many folks are stating that they left the unconference that ideas they could put to use in their work the very next day. And, much to my happiness, a significant number of attendees have indicated on their surveys that this was the first conference-style professional development they've ever attended. Considering that broad range of impact, the planning that goes into an unconference is well worth it.

Let me share a few logistical pieces:

Why, yes, the unconference rooms were
named after places in youth literature.

  • We chose the date and location of the unconference about 9 months in advance. That allowed us to book all necessary meeting rooms at the host library.
  • I built a website for the unconference, which was populated with basic info as well as FAQs once folks starting asking questions.
  • We started promoting the unconference 3 months out, then at one-month intervals until the day of. Most folks indicated that they found out about the unconference through listservs, so make those babies work for you!
  • We firmed up lunch options about 3 weeks before the event. We offered 3 options: BYO, self-led off-site, or catered lunch (which attendees selected and paid for at the check-in table on the morning of the event).
  • We tried to facilitate carpooling for registrants who were interested, but not many were. Unless the unconference would be taking place in a relatively remote location, I'd probably skip this option next time around.
  • I organized registration through a Google form I created. I checked the form's responses every few days and then emailed new registrants to confirm that they were signed up and to share some basic info.
  • Everyone who registered for the event got access to a shared document where folks could indicate the sessions they were interested in attending as well as if they'd be comfortable facilitating sessions on any topics.
  • On the day of the event, I didn't actually attend sessions; instead, I handled all of the operations and bounced from room to room as time allowed. My day included the following: a) finalizing room setup and room signs about an hour before the event; b) checking folks in (with the help of excellent colleagues who handed out name tags, collected door prize slips, and took lunch orders); c) answering directional questions; d) serving as MC; e) facilitating voting on session topics and setting the day's schedule (with help from Green Bean Teen Queen); f) reminding facilitators and recorders of their duties; g) uploading session notes to the unconference website after each session; h) getting catered lunches organized after they were delivered on site (with assistance from colleagues who kept us in tea, coffee, soda, and snacks all day); and i) pulling names for door prizes. It was a busy day, but I met so many wonderful people.

And now for the part where I say "Thanks!"

Thanks to (L to R) Angie, Erin, and Melanie, my
wonderful (now former) colleagues, who were integral
in getting the unconference to function on the day!
A BIG thank you to everyone who helped the 2014 Midwest Youth Services Unconference come to fruition. In particular, I want to give shout outs to the following folks:
  • Angie, Erin, and Melanie, my wonderful coworkers from the Corporate Parkway Branch Library, for making sure everything ran smoothly and that I didn't go bananas from overstimulation on the day of the unconference.
  • Maggie, Jan, Marla, Matt, and Beth in Children's Resources & Marketing at St. Charles City-County Library District for helping will all manner of logistical arrangements (and the all-important snacks).
  • Maggie Melson and Karen Guccione-Englert at St. Charles City-County Library District for being sounding boards as well as offering encouragement (and on-site storage) throughout the whole unconference process.
  • Sarah Bean Thompson and her cohort from Springfield-Greene County Library District for volunteering throughout, even when I didn't realize I needed volunteer help.
  • Anne Clark for sharing insider info about how she and her co-hosts ran the MI KidLib unconference. If you're interested in seeing the basics of how they ran their unconference, check out Anne's post at so tomorrow
The 2014 Midwest Youth Services Unconference wouldn't have worked nearly so well without you.

And if you've got questions for me, please ask away! You can contact me at amy.e.koester(at)

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Want my job?

I've got some professional changes coming up, friends. Next week, I'll be relocating to the Chicago area to take a job in the Learning Experiences Department at Skokie Public Library. I'm excited about the change, but more on that later. It's not the main point of this post.

This post is to let you know that you can apply for my current job.

I've been at the Corporate Parkway Branch of the St. Charles City-County Library District for three years now, and it has been an outstanding first professional position. I could not have been more fortunate to start my career under a tremendously supportive branch manager, with an outstanding branch staff, and with the guidance and friendship of colleagues spread across all branches of the library district. Seriously. I would not have been able to be the Show Me Librarian without this job.

So if you're interested in a branch children's librarian position, take a look at the listing. It's open until August 31. And if you choose to apply, good luck!


Note: I'm sharing this job posting because I want as many people to see it as possible--I want the best possible person to take over in my great branch and continue serving an unbelievably wonderful community. I will have no influence on the hiring decision.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Excellent Explosions on the ALSC Blog

I shared a recent preschool science program, Excellent Explosions, on the ALSC Blog last Friday. It was such a hit, I wanted to make sure to link to it here, too!

Grab some common grocery store items and start making explosions with your preschoolers!