Sunday, October 4, 2015

Star Wars Sticky Note Mosaic Murals

We celebrated Star Wars at my library this weekend. It was my first time being immediately involved in a big Star Wars program since my spring break programs in my former job, and while my current library has celebrated Star Wars for a few years now, the goal is to always add some new elements to the festivities. Of course we had some of the expected: trivia; a light saber craft; and a seek-and-find scavenger hunt. We also repeated using the green screen in our youth Digital Media Lab to take family photos and insert them into Star Wars backgrounds.

What was totally new this year, however, was the main activity taking place in the BOOMbox, our STEAM space: Sticky Note Mosaic Murals.

My colleague Amy Holcomb, who runs the BOOMbox, emailed me a few weeks back with a news article about a paper company that created such murals on their office walls. I looked at those pictures (and looked harder), and from there I created a 25-by-25 sticky note grid template in Excel, on which I designed Darth Vader and Yoda images. The individual grid templates are pictured below if you're interested.

To make this activity work, one of my program assistants broke each 25-by-25 mural into 5-by-5 squares; these squares each had a designated spot on a grid, allowing a child/teen to take one grid square "map," gather their requisite sticky notes, and place their sticky note mosaic squares into the proper section of the full grid, which was measured out with string and tape on the glass BOOMbox windows. We had a grid on one window for the Light Side of the Force, and another on the opposite window for the Dark Side. The grid square "maps" are linked here if you'd like to use them to do this collaborative mosaic wall activity yourself (Light Side link; Dark Side link).

To create both the Vader and Yoda mosaic murals, you will need:
  • 7.5'x7.5' wall or window space for EACH mural
  • string, tape, and a measuring device to mark out your full grid, as well as paper or sticky notes to label the rows and columns (picture of the grid set-up below)
  • Sticky notes for Yoda: 295 blue; 219 green; 54 yellow; 34 orange; 16 gray; 7 black
  • Sticky notes for Vader: 304 black; 243 blue; 78 gray

As kids and teens came into the BOOMbox for the activity, they could choose if they wanted to help with the Light Side or the Dark Side. From there, we gave them a grid square map that would be within their reach--that is, lower squares for shorter, younger kids, and higher squares for taller teens. We were able to help explain the map-to-wall process as needed, but most kids jumped into the activity with a decent understanding of how to read their maps and add to the wall.

Our Vader mosaic mural in progress.
Note: because of the height at which our windows begin, I chopped the bottom row off of both grids for our particular activity. Were we to repeat this activity on a bare wall, however, I'd start with the bottom of the grid touching the carpet and build up from there. I just didn't want the grid to get too high for our activity--no ladders allowed.

Kids really liked this activity, and their caregivers got pretty excited about it, too. It was great fun to overhear conversations about what kids thought the murals would be while they were in early stages--each mural got pieced together one square at a time, making it a cool puzzle to solve.

Once our mosaic murals were completed, kids were welcome to come in the space to admire them and to create origami Yodas under the gaze of sticky note Yoda himself. Quite a fun way to weave our current BOOMbox theme--textiles--into our larger Star Wars Extravaganza!

Have you done any of these cool sticky note murals before? Care to share your plans?

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Upcoming Workshop in South Bend, IN, on Unprogramming & Maker Activities for Youth

Later this month, I'll be taking the train back home again to Indiana--specifically, to South Bend, Indiana, where I'll be offering a workshop for the St. Joseph County Public Library. SJCPL has opened the workshop to folks outside of their library system, too, so if you're from northern portions of my home state (or southern bits of Michigan, even) and are interested in new ways of thinking about youth programming, come on over!

The kind folks at SJCPL have put together a flier, at right (click on this link to see it larger), with all the relevant details, which I'm also sharing here:

Unprogramming & Maker Activities for Youth
Thursday, October 15, 2015
10 a.m. - 1 p.m.
Main Library, Humphreys Media Room (304 S. Main Street, South Bend)

Participants will be able to receive 3 LEUs for the workshop, which will include a hearty mix of some of the theory behind programming for youth, sample programs and activities, and hands-on experiences to get everyone comfortable with the unprogramming and maker concepts. If you've been looking for ways to invigorate your program calendar, or if you simply like getting to learn and swap ideas with colleagues IRL, email the workshop organizer, Theresa Horn, at

Monday, September 14, 2015

Librarianship on YouTube: An Intro to Media Mentorship

Last Friday, I made a virtual appearance in New York. It wasn't a webinar--I wasn't available to do a live talk at the time the requesting librarians had specified. Instead, I put together a video on the topic they'd asked me to discuss: media mentorship.

Now, there are plenty of resources online pertaining to media mentorship--no small amount of them through ALSC, available here--but I, too, often prefer to listen to someone talk about a topic rather than just read about it. So here it is: a video that introduces the concepts and implications of youth library staff as media mentors. If you've been looking for an intro but don't have an hour to dedicate to a webinar, this 17-minute video might be for you.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Equity for Learning: Notes from the Public Libraries & STEM Conference

I'm back again to share my last big takeaway from the Public Libraries & STEM Conference, which I attended in August. As I've mentioned earlier, the conference was small and thus very concentrated. That meant tons of robust ideas throughout the entire 3 days, with lots to chew on and mull over. I've already shared a few takeaways with regard to training and collaboration; today I want to share what I heard, discussed, and thought about programs/services and equity.

To quickly reiterate, one of the major goals of the conference was to help define a new 21st Century vision of STEM in public libraries. For me, it goes without saying that anything having do to with the 21st Century is going to necessarily have a massive amount of thought around how diversity fits in. Our country is getting more diverse, the wealth gap grows, and as public-serving institutions we need to take that into account in what we do and offer.

My three major takeaways from the conference had to do with training (blog post recap here); collaboration (blog post recap here); and equity, which is the topic of today's post.

Susan Hildreth, from IMLS and a fellow of the Aspen Institute, gave a keynote address that focused on the outcomes report of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries. The report emphasizes that the future of libraries is intertwined with the library acting simultaneously as people, place, and platform. Libraries are the individuals who make it up and live its values; libraries are the physical spaces they are and offer; and libraries are a platform for those we serve and what they care about.

A problem right now, says Hildreth, is that many of the people we purport to serve do not see us in this way. They may see us as outdated, as so many alarmist "The library is dying because who needs books anymore?!" articles will lead people to believe. They may see us as irrelevant to them and their needs because of their preconceptions about what we do and do not do, whom we do and do not serve. That's a problem, in no small part because we do do so much more than the general consciousness understands. So, says Hildreth, "We need to invent a new nostalgia for libraries, because the existing one is really hurting us." It is up to us to iterate and prove what we do now, whom we serve.

To do that as a profession, Hildreth says, we need to do a few key things. We need to align ourselves with community goals. We need to have sustainability in our communities. And we need to cultivate leadership so that we will institutionally continue to challenge what we are and what we can be.

In terms of relating to our communities and aligning with their goals, I found one particular statement from Lee Rainie at the Pew Research Center to be indicative of the momentum we can seize. According to Pew and its 2015 report which will be publicly released imminently, Rainie said that there is a clear trend of the public favoring making community and learning spaces in libraries by moving some materials out of public view. Think about that. The public is okay with us relocating some materials--not totally getting rid of them, but relocating them--in order to create spaces for community engagement and learning. Frank translation: THE PUBLIC IS COOL WITH US BEING NOT JUST ABOUT BOOKS. Take that, alarmist articles. So how do we respond?

In terms of the learning experiences and programming we offer, we need to recognize that learning is inherently social. People do it together, they do it on their own time, they do it for their own interest and motivations. And they do it in any number of ways.

We at the conference were encouraged to think about this through John Seely Brown's model of the whole person. A whole person is comprised of three parts: a person who knows; a person who makes; and a person who plays. Libraries have arguably always been pretty good at serving the person who knows, but what about those makers and players? Are we serving them? How? And, most importantly, are we actually serving every whole person, or are we primarily serving the whole persons who fit our notions of an exemplary library user?

By and large, I think that libraries--whether intentionally or not--serve a "typical" patron. But this typical patron is not representative of the breadth and diversity of our communities. It was published after the conference, but this piece "Why We Need Diverse Libraries" by Rachel Smalter Hall comes right out and says that libraries are often biased toward serving one type of patron, at the expense and disservice of everyone else. This is where equity starts to come into play.

How can we begin to really reach these underserved communities and underrepresented populations in our service area? According to Maddie Zeigler, an educational consultant to moderated a panel at the conference, we can start to do so through programs that satisfy a few key components. We can build trust with our communities through planning programs with them, as opposed to strictly for them; who better to know what they want and need than them? We can offer family events which allow entire families to participate together, a model that is much more culturally inclusive than a drop-off-your-kid-and-come-back-later model. We can articulate the educational value of our programs, which in turn can equip families of all backgrounds to determine what they want their kids involved in based on the benefits to them. We can also make programs culturally relevant and personally meaningful; why on earth would we ever expect a kid to engage in a program that doesn't interest them, and why would we expect all kids to have the same interests? And finally, we can anticipate and troubleshoot the myriad barriers to participation that many families experience when it comes to library programming. Do you find yourself saying that you only reach a certain population of your community in your in-library programs? That means there are barriers to participation to address.

With these general strategies in mind, it is important to recognize that there is an additional component when it comes to reaching elementary and teenage kids. In order to have positive, productive learning experiences at the library (or in any setting), youth need to be able to pursue their own interests. That means that programs and services have to in some way touch on or include those interests. Youth also need to be a part of creating their programs and program outcomes. I think this goes a step beyond the traditional Teen Advisory Board model, in which teens help come up with program topics that the librarian will inject into a standard program format. Instead, this refers to full-on connected learning, in which learning ties to the unique interests, peer interactions, and academic success of each youth. Connected learning works because youth help set the topics, and the format of programs, and the intended outcomes. It allows everyone to engage, and for everyone to experience positive impact.

The end goal of equity in programming means that we transform some of our own institutional expectations for what our programs do. Instead of offering programs that are nice for our communities, we offer programs that are necessary. Instead of talking about program success, we talk about the significance that the program brings to the lives it touches.

While nice and successful are great things to be, necessary and significant speak to the fundamental importance and value of libraries. That's what I want to be doing. What about you?

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Training for Learning: Notes from the Public Libraries & STEM Conference

In the latter half of August, I spent several days in Denver, CO, for the inaugural Public Libraries & STEM Conference. It was a new and relatively small conference--grant-funded and led by folks at the Space Science Institute and Lunar & Planetary Institute, with around 160 total participants from public libraries, STEM organizations, institutions of informal learning, and library thinkers and researchers. I was able to attend as representative both of ALSC and of my own library. I'm grateful for that opportunity, because I really learned a TON. Rather, perhaps it's more precise to say that I heard from many smart and inspiring people, which has left me we lots of little nuggets and bigger ideas to chew on. Either way, I want to share some of my biggest takeaways with you.

The conference logo aimed to combine a compass and a road leading to the horizon--a great visual metaphor for finding direction on the pathway of STEM in libraries.

One of the major goals of the conference was to "Help define a new 21st Century vision of STEM in public libraries." To that end, there was a lot of talking about what libraries are currently doing; what STEM institutions are doing; trends in libraries in general; and what libraries are best equipped and poised to do in this realm.

I had three major takeaways (each with minor components, which I'm discussing in each of three posts):

So let's start with a few givens, several of which John Falk from Oregon State University shared in his opening morning keynote. First, there are over 17,000 libraries in the United States. (An oft-quoted sound bite is that this is a greater number than there are McDonald's restaurants in the U.S., with libraries having around 3000 more locations in this country.)

That's a lot of libraries, as and Lee Rainie from the Pew Research Center shared, we're right up there with firefighters and nurses in terms of community figures with the most public esteem and public favor. So people are favorable toward all those libraries we have in the U.S.

Falk also pointed out that research indicates that the primary reason people engage in STEM learning is to satisfy their personal interest and curiosity. So STEM learning is largely self-motivated, because people have an interest or something they are curious about. Libraries are an excellent place for this, as more and more learning is taking place outside of formal school contexts. Falk quoted that about 3% of a typical American's life is spent in formal schooling--and 97% spent elsewhere. If the library is one of the places that make up "elsewhere," and people are interested in STEM, it would seem to follow that libraries as places for STEM is a serviceable idea.

And this is something that conference organizers and attendees have seen. STAR_Net, a community of practice for libraries doing STEM, did a national survey to see what the state of the field is in this specific area. What they found ties in many ways to preparation, training, and support for the staff who will be implementing STEM in various ways in their libraries. With regard to programming, this survey found that lots of practitioners are looking for off-the-shelf program resources that they can immediately adopt and adapt for their libraries. In terms of training, these same staff are interested in both online and in-person training opportunities to gain content knowledge as well as confidence to offer STEM learning in the library. And finally, it found that staff would like a clearer pathway toward collaborating with community partners when it comes to STEM.

In exploring the survey responses and data from interviews, what becomes more clear is that people say they want more how-to resources. But that statement is just part of the issue, the easiest bit to articulate. The resources are just the front end of the equation; the rest is having interaction with peers and colleagues who can help put those resources into context and practice in practical ways. It's the difference between having a resource manual alone or having a manual and a colleague to go through it with you.

For libraries, STEM practitioners, and folks invested in informal learning in general, this means that we need to refocus some of those energies that we've all been putting into developing our own unique resources. There are plenty of resources available, and the trend of all libraries wanting to create their own from scratch is an instance of reinventing the wheel. A better use of time and energies would actually be to create connections between people and resources that already exist--letting practitioners know what is already available to them rather than asking someone to start from square one.

This comes down to people. What can people do to share what they know, the resources they've created/found/used? David Lankes spoke in his keynote about how libraries themselves are just buildings; as a concept, they are abstractions and thus cannot do anything or have an impact. It is the people in libraries, however, who are real and who can do things and who can create impact. So it's up to people. If practitioners and would-be practitioners of STEM in libraries need to be connected to resources to learn and gain confidence, then it can follow that libraries are the best positioned to help meet this need.

So perhaps my biggest takeaway on this point of training and informal learning is really more of a question: To what extent is it the responsibility of libraries with successful STEM models to train the rest of the profession, especially those without easy access to professional development? If I'm already doing STEM in the library, and as such have garnered experience and created and gathered resources, in what ways it is my responsibility to share my experience and resources with those libraries who haven't had that opportunity, or who are craving more training and context? If we have it, shouldn't we share it? If training as needed, and it is within our capacity to train, shouldn't we train?

I'm inclined to say "yes" to this question in general, although at some point questions of capacity and institutional priorities come into play. But as a general ethos, don't you think our training one another when it's within our power is a good--and in some ways progressive--concept?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Exploring Water & Dissolving in Science Club, Jr.

I led my final Science Club, Jr. program of the summer last week. The program has gotten such a great reputation that we had a huge combo crowd of folks who had registered in advance and folks who showed up day-of with a big interest in participating. And while I need to work with my fellow youth programming staff to work out the finer points of our registration/latecomers/walk-ins policies, I was glad to be able to allow 15 families--not just kids, as per usual--to participate. It was crowded, sure, but everyone was happily engaged in doing science.

In this particular program, I wanted for us to explore some of the properties of water. Or, more specifically, how some substances will or won't dissolve in water. To kick off our program, we shared a read aloud of The Gingerbread Man. This picture book choice may seem odd at first glance, but recall the story: the gingerbread man meets his ultimate demise because he must trust a fox to carry him across a river--a river which would cause him to fall to bits should he try to swim.

Photo by Skokie Public Library (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

So we read the story, then we talked about what we observed happening. I was interested to discover that, when we started talking about why the gingerbread man couldn't swim, many children said that if he swam he would have melted. I would not have anticipated that bit of kid logic, although it of course makes sense to me in hindsight. This reasonable misconception opened the door for us to talk about what the word "dissolve" means and to practice saying it.

Photo by Skokie Public Library (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
After we had the nuts and bolts of the concept of dissolving substances, we moved to our hands-on experiments. Each station was prepped with the following:
  • a bowl of water
  • a small cup with salt
  • a small cup with fruit punch powder
  • a small cup with a few Skittles candies
  • a small cup with a piece of graham cracker
  • a popsicle stick for stirring

Before we really got to experimenting, we talked about how we could tell that the liquid in our bowls was water. This line of questioning helped reinforce that scientists never drink or eat a substance that they don't know what it is. It's never to early for science safety skills!

The first phase of the experiment was for kids to dump the cup of salt in the water and observe what happened. Kids were invited to stir their mixture with their popsicle sticks if they so desired. End result: the salt dissolves!

Phase two was dumping the fruit punch powder into the water to observe what would happen, again with optional stirring. This time around, only some of the substance dissolved. We were able to tell some dissolved because the water turned the color of the powder, but we could also see some undissolved powder on the bottom of the bowls. This allowed us to introduce the concept of saturation, when no more of a substance can dissolve in a liquid.

Advice: if at all possible, dump the bowls and refill with fresh water at this point.

Photo by Skokie Public Library (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Phase three was placing the Skittles candies in the bottom of the bowl. We just observed to start off, watching what happened to the colors of the candies as they sat in the water. The colors will bleed from the candies, ultimately leaving a white candy at the bottom of the bowl. Before giving everything a stir for good measure--because who can resist, really?--we talked about reasons why the color might come off but the whole candy might not dissolve.

Our fourth and final phase of the experiment was the graham cracker, which most closely resembled the gingerbread man of our story. Once again, after placing the graham cracker in the water we observed. Kids were interested to see how the graham cracker became visibly soggy before ultimately coming apart in pieces. I heard some great parent/child conversations about what this experiment suggests about dunking cookies in milk at home.

All in all, this was a great program--not too messy, easy for antsy young scientists to do the activities more quickly with their caregivers as desired, and a concept that kids encounter but didn't necessarily have the vocabulary to explain. It was a great summer for Science Club, Jr.!

Monday, August 3, 2015

9 Weeks of Pop-Up Programming for Summer

This summer, we offered weekly pop-up programs in the main entryway to the youth services department at my library. We changed up the activities each week and harnessed the power of summer teen volunteers to keep the pop-ups running smoothly. Full details ahead!

What activities did we offer?
Over the course of our 9-week summer reading program, we offered the following activities:
  • Monster page-corner bookmarks
  • Catapults
  • Card Making
    • Materials: assorted colors paper and card stock, assorted die cuts, markers, glue sticks, and joke books
    • How-to: Invite kids to make cards for time-appropriate occasions; for us, that was Father's Day and/or graduations. We also had plenty of joke books on hand for kids who wanted to just make "anytime cards."
  • Fingerprint Art
  • Origami Dinosaurs
  • Balloon Rockets
  • Postcard to an Author/Book Character
    • Materials: postcard-sized paper and markers
    • How-to: Encourage kids to write a postcard to their favorite author or book character. If you're able to, take photos of the kids' cards and tweet them at the authors and/or publishing houses.
  • Planet Buttons
    • Materials: button maker with appropriate button-making tools and materials as well as images of the planets sized to fit the button maker
    • How-to: Encourage kids to choose their favorite planet (we did this activity to celebrate New Horizons and the first clear photos of Pluto) and then make a button to share it proudly.
  • Optical Illustions

When did pop-ups take place?
Based on the calendar of scheduled programs and a rough guess at general patterns of foot traffic in the summer, we opted to offer pop-up programs on Thursday afternoons for approximately 90 minutes. After a few weeks of running the pop-ups from 4-5:30, with seriously dwindling numbers for the last half hour, we adjusted the time to 3:30-5 p.m.

Who ran the pop-up programs?
While I (or another staff member, the week I was out of town) was present in the youth department for the duration of the pop-up programs, a team of teen volunteers actually facilitated the pop-up activities from start to finish. I had a team of 5 teens who took turns rotating roles: one would be designated in-charge; one would make sure to take count of participants; one would move about the department to alert kids and families that an activity was taking place; and everyone would assist kids in completing the activity.

Who was the target audience for the pop-ups?
We wanted to offer activities that were accessible to children ranging in age from preschool through early junior high. Recognizing that that is a really huge range in age and ability, the litmus test for a program activity was whether a first grader might be able to complete the activity on their own/with little mediation. The volunteers were more than happy to assist kids who needed it, but we didn't want activities to be frustratingly complicated.

How were the pop-up activities received?
Really well! While there were some fluctuations in the number of attendees from week to week, we had a solid number of participants for every activity, and always a handful of kids at minimum who expressed really enjoying the activities.

Would we offer summer pop-ups again?
You bet! For next summer, I'll be considering not only what activities might be well suited to pop-up times, but also the best possible strategies for staffing them (volunteers? or part-time programming staff who can spend some work time making activities as well as leading them?) and when we offer them (scheduled? or truly pop-up, when we see lots of bodies in the department but no program on the calendar?). Lots to think about, including potential implications for school-year pop-ups.


What have been your most successful pop-up programs and activities for kids?