Thursday, October 23, 2014

What Does a Balanced Program Calendar Look Like?

File this under "Things I'm Thinking About Because I Just Started at a New Job, But That All YS Folks Should Consider at Least Annually."

One of my responsibilities in my new position is coordinating programs. Right now, we're on a quarterly program calendar; we're always planning programs in three-month chunks. I coordinate programs led by youth staff; digital media specialists; our experiential learning librarian; our special needs lead; and featured/hired performers. Since we're a standalone library, all programming happens at our one location. Which means there's a lot of coordinating that goes into finalizing any quarterly program calendar.

So what does a blanked program calendar look like? When you're combining so many contributions, so many spinning gears, how do you make sure you're hitting all the right spots, and how do you identify what you may be overlooking? Let me say that I make no claims to have perfected a balanced program calendar--especially at a library I'm still getting to know. But I have been thinking about it a lot, and I think that a balanced program calendar will take into account the following:

1. Your institution's strategic goals and/or annual objectives.

What is your institution striving to achieve? Are you seeking out a specific audience of new program participants? Are you looking to support curricular mile markers in your community? Do you have a quantitative goal for increasing programs, or program attendance? Goals and objectives can be whatever you and your institution have decided, but they need to be kept in mind throughout every program planning cycle.

2. The age range(s) you serve.

And not just the age range you currently serve with current programs; in many cases, the programming scales are heavily tipped toward early literacy (an excellent program category) but with minimal, or no, school-age offerings. Consider the full range of people you serve in your department, or ideally want to serve. And remember: the caregivers in your department count, too.

3. Developmentally Appropriate Programming.

I'm delving more deeply into this particular subject in coming months, but it's safe to say at this point that not every program is appropriate for every age. And by the same token, if the Percy Jackson program you offer for grades K-5 is only attended by K-3, then you're actually not meeting the program needs of those older elementary kids. Consider what is appropriate for specific ages, based on your childhood development expertise, when you plan a program; and then consider that program's reach after it's been offered. I find that it's particularly important to be reflective about programming when it comes to the age of kids we serve, because who we think will attend a program can often be different from who actually attends a program. And that often leaves the kids at the old ends of age ranges without much to do in the library.

4. Literacy (broadly).

I can go on and on and on about how literacy in library services for youth doesn't refer exclusively to early literacy. There are so many types of literacy, and they are appropriate at different ages and stages of learning. What types of literacy do you want to promote? Reading? STEAM? Digital citizenship? Social literacy? Be thoughtful about what types of literacies you want to help kids develop, and integrate those into your program calendar. NB: They don't have to be standalone programs; you can integrate pretty much any type of literacy into existing programs with a bit of research and planning.

5. The special needs programming your community needs.

I will never purport to be an expert on special needs programming, but I do know that every community needs something unique when it comes to special needs programming. Talk to schools, parents, your special needs librarian, etc., to suss out what types of special needs programming will be most utilized by your community. Remember that all ages of children with special needs can benefit from special needs programming, and also that there are huge benefits to programs in which children with special needs are alongside typically developing children.

6. Staff sanity.

A balanced program calendar can only truly be balanced if the staff providing the programs don't feel crushed and stressed by what's being asked of them. Talk to program providers. Talk to desk staff who are covering the front lines of service while programs are happening. Yes, programming usually means that there are some days and times that are more hectic than others; but it doesn't mean we all have to be running ragged all the time. Consider when thoughtful breaks from regular programming, like storytimes, may be useful for staff, and also consider what alternative activities you can offer in these breaks. Be creative in what you offer, but be kind to staff, too. A balance program calendar is one that is sustainable.

7. Major initiatives.

These may be big projects specific to your library or system. For instance, every January and February, we take part in a community-wide initiative called Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township, which requires a fair amount of special programming on our part. These types of projects definitely need consideration for a balanced program calendar.

Remember state and national initiatives, too. There's Take Your Child to the Library Day (beginning of February); World Read Aloud Day (beginning of March); National Libraries Week (April); Día (end of April); Star Wars Reads Day (October); and many more. Make a longterm calendar that includes these annual initiatives so they never sneak up on you, then choose the ones that best fit with your library's goals and mission to celebrate and program around.

8. Timing.

I feel like this last point is fairly obvious: you don't want all of the programs happening at once, nor do you want there to be huge swaths of time in which nothing is happening. Take into consideration school breaks when you schedule programs. Take into consideration what else is happening in the library and in the larger community. Take into consideration the schedules of working parents. Take into consideration staff schedules. In short, be incredibly intentional about timing.

~~*~~

These are the major things I'm currently considering when it comes to a balanced program calendar. I feel confident that these considerations will evolve and grow as I become more familiar with my new position. Also, summer is its own can of worms in most libraries. But for now, these eight points are helping me to think about programming in a way that is balanced for our community's needs.

What do you consider what it comes to creating a balanced program calendar?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Elsewhere Online

If I may, I would like to direct your attention to two pieces of writing that have gone live in the past few days.

First is my latest, and last (for the foreseeable future, at least), STEAM post for the ALSC Blog. In this post, I'm exploring the idea of pop-up programming on a STEAM theme. The concept of pop-up programming for youth has been on my mind a lot since beginning my new job, and I can pretty much guarantee that the topic will show up on this blog again in the not-too-distant future. Until then, I invite you to think about STEAM pop-ups with me.

Second is chapter one of the Little eLit book project, Young Children, New Media, and Libraries: A Guide for Incorporating New Media into Library Collections, Services, and Programs for Families and Children Ages 0-5. Cen Campbell and I wrote this first chapter, titled "New Media in Youth Librarianship," together, and its release marks the first publication for this title. Subsequent chapters will be released serially on the 15th of each month, one per month. When all chapters have been published, the chapter authors and I will make any necessary changes (this is a constantly-evolving topic); add our appendices; and publish the whole thing in one PDF ebook volume. There's even talk of some bound print copies. For now, however, there's this first chapter. We hope you enjoy it and look forward to the rest of the book.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Unprogramming and Blogging at the Missouri Library Association Conference

At the end of last week, I drove back down to Missouri for the 2014 Missouri Library Association Conference. I was slated to present twice on the last morning of the conference, each time with a former colleague.

My former branch colleague, Angie Soetebier-McDonnell, and I gave a presentation on our experiences with unprogramming within our branch. Angie still focuses primarily on teen services at the branch, and while I worked there I did lots of school-age programming in addition to other responsibilities. After Marge Loch-Wouters and I developed the concept of unprogramming (unpacked in a series of posts beginning here), Angie and I talked about it at length. It's a programming philosophy and strategy that minimizes library costs--staff planning time, purchasing supplies, etc.--while engaging youth participants at least as much, if not more than, traditional programs. That's what Angie and I presented: ways to use unprogramming in lots of youth and teen library contexts, as well as a number of program examples. Our slides are below.




The second presentation was with Sarah Bean Thompson. We cheekily gave the presentation as the Green Bean Teen Queen (Sarah) and the Show Me Librarian (me), because those are our blog aliases--our presentation was all about getting started blogging. As Sarah and I crafted the presentation, we reflected on our own experiences with blogging and thought what a new blogger might need/want to know. The result is the "First-Time Blogging in 10 Steps" list that we discussed, step-by-step, in our session. The full slides are below, including lists of exemplar blogs on the final few slides. If you've got any questions about blogging--or about writing guest posts--please feel free to contact either Sarah or myself! It's an offer we extended to our program audience, and we're happy to extend it to you, too.



~*~

Thanks to the organizers of the 2014 Missouri Library Association Conference for your work and hospitality!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

A Tale of Two Conferences: or, why it's important to talk to people in professional settings

I recently returned from the 2014 ALSC Institute in Oakland. It was a great conference, with tons of thoughtful presentations, insightful ideas, and engaging conversations with colleagues. One thing that really struck me after the conference, however, was a statement I heard from a number of friends and colleagues: "Wow, Amy knew everyone at the conference."

My response to that statement, if I may, is a story.
It's 2011. I've just graduated from library school, I have a temporary reference assistant job but am looking for a full-time professional position, and I head to New Orleans for the ALA Annual Conference. While there, I attend a ton of sessions to learn about programs in public library settings; I would love to talk to several of the presenters about their sessions, but I'm too intimidated to say more than just "thank you." The only non-program event I attend is a resume and cover letter review. I mostly explore New Orleans on my own, and my one "social" event is having dinner with friends from library school. I don't dare venture outside my comfort zone. 
Fast forward to 2012. I have a professional position, which I'm sure does something to add to my general level of confidence in professional settings. I go to Indianapolis for the ALSC National Institute, and as I drive to Indy, I have a little talk with myself: "Amy, you're going to be surrounded by youth librarians. If any group of librarians could be 'your people,' these are your people. Make a point of introducing yourself to at least three new people every day, and don't eat any meals by yourself. Make some friends." 
So when I arrive in Indianapolis, I go to the pre-Institute Happy Hour. I didn't know anyone, and at first it's awkward, but after the first minute or two, I introduce myself to my table mates and we get to chatting. Many are longtime ALSC members, but others are relative newbies like myself. We have a good evening, and as a result I see some familiar faces at the opening address the next morning. 
I attend sessions, and when I really like an idea or want to know more about a presenter's content, I go up to the presenter after the program, introduce myself, and talk to the person. They are universally gracious and happy to chat more about the work they love. It's like talking to a fellow enthusiast, not like talking to an expert who sees me as a novice. It's always a level conversation. 
I attend ALSC 101 and participate in their icebreaker bingo game. The game is all about rapidly meeting new people, and when there is time following the formal ALSC 101 content about committees, etc., I stick around with a group and chat with people more in depth. I talk to tons of people, all of whom are happy to talk about libraries and kids. Through no planning or design, I also talk to a few ALSC Board members, who are very welcoming. I talk to the current ALSC president, who politely inquires about my committee work. (I'm fairly certain this particular conversation led to my appointment to the Newbery Committee.) 
I talk to people. I sit with people. And I make connections that are rejuvenated at future conferences. I may not keep in touch with every acquaintance throughout the year, but when we see each other at conferences, we chat about work and life. We have a professional relationship.

These two conference experiences--2011 in New Orleans and 2012 in Indianapolis--were so wholly different for me. And, honestly, I think the major difference in my experience comes down to my willingness to introduce myself and join a conversation. I was not a person who ever felt comfortable doing that, but for one conference, it's what I did. And you know what? All it takes is introducing yourself and talking with people at one conference, and then you'll have familiar faces at conferences ever after. Everyone starts off as the person who feels like an outsider, but once you've talked to people, you are never that outsider again. You have a network.

So, if you're still reading, and you are one of those people who sees someone at a conference talking with bunches of people, these are my four tips for conferencing:
  1. Introduce yourself and join the conversation. Does that feel awkward and imposing to you? It's not, because a) introductions are NEVER as awkward as having no idea who a person is; and b) conversations happening at public events are definitely public. Trust me, if a conversation is meant to be private at a conference it's not taking place in a space where others have an opportunity to join. So go up to a group, introduce yourself, and then participate in the conversation.
  2. Presenters are people too. So are board members, conference organizers, etc. Do you like to hear that someone enjoyed your work? So do they! So if you found a presentation or speech interesting and want to know more, approach the person. They will almost definitely be happy to have the conversation. And if they happen to be busy in that particular moment, they'll likely give you their card or contact info to continue the conversation later. Related: If someone gives you their card, it does actually meant that they are open to an email exchange.
  3. Sit at that table. If you're at a conference where there's a large banquet-style meal without assigned seats, finding somewhere to sit can feel stressful. Don't let it get to you. Instead, find a table with an open seat--possibly one where it looks like table mates are already chatting--and ask if you can join. Once you've joined, introduce yourself and joint the conversation (do you sense a theme here?). If you're at a conference where attendees are left to get meals on their own, find a group and suggest all getting a meal together. You can get separate checks, and then you can have conversations over dinner that leave you with familiar faces for the rest of the conference. Dining mates can turn into colleagues, friends, and collaborators, but not if you're dining alone or in silence.
  4. Go to ALSC 101, or whatever your division's equivalent is. Organizers of these introductory sessions realize that conferences are overwhelming and socially intimidating for many new attendees. Heck, they can be overwhelming and socially intimidating for seasoned conference-goers. So they offer these events that are part information, part structured social time. You know how you offer icebreaker activities in your programs for school-age kids and teens? Yeah, librarians benefit from those activities too. So attend, participate, and meet people who have professional interests that align with yours. That's the way to make colleagues and connections in this profession.

One reason I love going to conferences is because I get to see inspiring colleagues and friends whom I otherwise only follow from afar--Twitter, ALSC Updates, etc. So, yes, I talk to lots of people at conferences, because I find that to be the most rewarding part of my attendance. But I didn't always experience conferences that way. It's all because I decided it was important to talk.


Thursday, October 2, 2014

Make Your At-Home Storytime Kit! A Joint Kids/Caregivers Event

Before I left my job in Missouri, my adult reference colleague Michele Nolan and I were planning our second joint kids/caregivers programming event: a Make Your At-Home Storytime Kit. The premise: while kids were on one side of the partitioned program room doing storytime and open play with me, caregivers were on the other side with Michele making supplies for an at-home storytime kit. The activities were planned, supply lists were made, and... then I left.

But, oh, did I work with some amazing people in Missouri, because my colleague Erin stepped in to lead the storytime portion while Michele directed caregivers, and the event went on without a hitch. Full details, according to Michele:

My adults consisted of parents, caregivers and grandparents. So, while Erin kept the children busy, I then had the adults make their own "At-Home Storytime Kit" that consisted of materials for "Read," "Talk," "Sing," "Write," and "Play," in addition to mentioning how "Math" can be incorporated into any and all of these activities. I had 12 adults signed up with 10 that showed, plus a mom with her kids that asked if she could join in. Even though I physically had 11 at the end of the program I had a few (3) people ask if they could take an extra set to share with others.

And in case you have any doubts whether this type of event would be meaningful for the caregivers, here's the participant feedback:
  • "Really enjoyed having the materials and explanation on how they work with a child's learning."
  • "I wasn't sure at first how this was going to work out with bringing the kids, but it is great knowing that they have an activity for them also."
  • "Have been looking for new and fresh ideas."
  • "Originally came to make this for my daughter to use with her kids, but instead am going to keep it at my house so the grandchildren have something that I can interact with them."
  • "Really glad I signed up for this."
  • "Wasn't exactly sure what I was signing up for, but am glad I did."
  • "Hope to see more of these type of programs."
Success! A resounding success, with caregivers actively engaged in creating early literacy activities to use with their children outside of the library! Woo hoo!

And lastly, the full activity breakdown.

Read - Make a Photo Book
     Caregivers used empty CD sleeves, key rings, paper cut to fit the sleeves, and writing utensils to create a blank book for them to fill in with their child. The premise was to add pictures (drawings, photos, or both) and words together at home.
     Early literacy message: “Creating a book full of images your child recognizes is a great way to build a love of books and reading. You can write words that describe the pictures, talk about the pictures, and create your own stories as you read the book together.”

Talk - Three Little Pigs Puppets
     Using cut paper towel rolls, pig and wolf templates, scissors, glue, and coloring utensils, caregivers created puppets for each character in the story of the Three Little Pigs. Also included was the text of the story for those who needed a refresher. The premise is to then tell and retell the story at home with their child.
     Early literacy message: “The more words a child hears everyday, especially when they are spoken to and with the child, the better. Telling and retelling favorite stories is a wonderful way to pack lots of talking into a fun reading experience.”

Write - Shape Drawing
     Caregivers poured white glue and a bit of food coloring into plastic zipper-top bags, which they then sealed with duct tape. The premise is to encourage children to use a finger to write/draw shapes and/or letters in the goo through the bag.
     Early literacy message: “In order to learn to recognize and write letters, children first need to be able to recognize and draw shapes. Drawing shapes on paper or in a fun substance both helps develop shape recognition and strengthens finger muscles which will be used to hold writing implements.”

Sing - Song Cube
     Empty cube-shaped tissue boxes were wrapped in colorful paper, after which caregivers added images to each of the six sides to represent six common children's songs. The station also included a lyrics sheet. The premise is to roll the cube and then sing with their child the song that goes with the image facing upwards.
     Early literacy message: “Singing songs and nursery rhymes is a great way to help your child hear all the different sounds that letters and words can make. The more sounds they hear in their youth, the easier it will be to sound out words as they learn to read.”

Play - Little Mouse, Little Mouse
     Caregivers used a house template drawn along the bottom of file folders to create lift-the-flap houses. They cut out the houses and colored them different colors, then colored and cut out a small mouse, too. The station included an instruction sheet for this activity, where the caregiver hides the mouse in one of the houses and says with their child, "Little mouse, little mouse, are you in the *color* house?" until they find where the mouse is hiding.
     Early literacy message: “Playing helps children learn and internalize facts about the world. By playing together with your child, you are helping them to work out how the world works while also having fun together.”

Sunday, September 28, 2014

STEAM & the Makerspace: A Presentation for Montana

I was in Montana this morning to give a workshop titled "STEAM & the Makerspace" through the Montana State Library. I talked about lots of programs and activities in the workshop, and this blog post shall serve as the landing page for finding links to everything I talked about. Thank you, Montana, for inviting me to visit your beautiful state. I very much enjoyed the excellent conversations I had with your library staff!

Without further ado, the resources.

STEAM for Preschoolers


STEAM for School-Age


Maker Activities


Go-To Blogs


Go-To Websites


Funding Resources


Further Reading






Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recapping the 2014 ALSC National Institute #alsc14

As previously mentioned, I spent the latter half of last week in Oakland for the 2014 ALSC National Institute. It was a grand old time, folks--easily one of the top conferences I've attended, if not the top. There was learning, there was presenting, there was networking, there was cavorting in Fairyland... What youth librarian could ask for more? I want to do a bit of recapping of the conference, first of my biggest takeaways as a participant, with my presentation details following.

Conference Takeaways

The conference was positively brimming with gems of information and ideas, but for the sake of everyone's sanity, I'm going to condense it all down into three main takeaways that have been resonating in my brain since the weekend:
  1. Discerning tweens deserve responsive programming. Ernie Cox, Iowa school librarian extraordinaire, talked in this session about how he chats with his 5th- and 6th-grade students each year when they return to school to see what they've been up to and what they're interested in. He then uses those conversations to inform his programs. Example: tweens were talking lots about using Instagram, so he crafted some programs on creating photo collages in apps. Tweens participated in and enjoyed the program because it was directly responsive to their interests. So simple, yet profound: don't assume you know what programs tweens want; talk to them about their lives and go from there.
  2. We need to remind ourselves that inspired collaboration is a two-way street. Many libraries are great at forming impactful partnerships, but are we always looking to be equal partners? Or have we gotten to a default position of "we know what's best, so this is what we'd like you to do in this partnership, thank you very much"? The myriad examples of collaborations that this panel shared reinforced this point that, in good collaborations, we're not the only experts at the table. And there will be many times when we defer to the expertise of our partners instead of insisting things be done how we envisioned them.
  3. "So often, the books we call 'diverse,' kids just call 'books.'" -Tim Federle As I take on a much more substantial materials selector role at my new job, I'm thinking a lot about the need for diverse books in collections for youth. Tim Federle's statement, however, put something in direct perspective for me: It's my job to think about diverse books. It is not kids' job to think about that. Rather, it's my job to find these materials and then get them in the hands of readers just like I would with any other great titles. The critical concern and consciousness needs to happen on my end; we as professionals need to reflect on and modify our tried and true practices as necessary; but, ideally, to readers, nothing about their fundamental library experience is changing.
As I said, these are just three of a plethora of great takeaways from even more excellent sessions. If you want to see all of the handouts, slides, etc., from the educational sessions at the Institute, head to the handouts page.

Me, Marge, Mel, and Amy, post-presentation. Whew!

Thinking Outside the Storytime Box

The first of two educational sessions I led at the Institute was a collaborative effort with dynamic librarians Amy Commers, Melissa Depper, and Marge Loch-Wouters, and it was about two years in the making. Let me explain. Just about two years ago, the four of us started engaging in a spur-of-the-moment Twitter discussion about programming for preschoolers beyond traditional storytimes. We enjoyed the conversation so much that we moved our thinking to a Google doc so we could keep things going. From there, it seemed like a no-brainer to submit our thinking as a program proposal; we could figure out details later.

Fast forward to the Institute, where were started our presentation with some reasons why a library might want to think beyond storytimes when it comes to the breadth of programming for preschoolers. From there, the presentation covered 9 different specific examples of alternative preschool programs. After Amy, Marge, or I outlined what each program looks like and entails, Mel swooped in as only Mel can do and was the perfect combo of energetic and persuasive while sharing the rationale behind offering each of these types of programs. One of my favorite examples is how, after I talked about preschool obstacle courses, Mel shared some research that emphasizes how an obstacle course program is what age-appropriate writing skills look like.

The audience chimed in with lots of outstanding program ideas, too; you can find many by searching Twitter for our presentation hashtag, #unboxST.

If you'd like to see the handout with links to write-ups for the 9 programs we discussed, as well as to Mel's research and our Pinterest board, click here. Our slides are below.



STEAM Power Your Library!

The second of my two presentations was all about STEAM--programs & services for both preschoolers and school-age children. I gave some context for thinking about STEAM, what it means, and why it fits into library youth services. From there, it was rapid-fire idea sharing. I outlined examples of preschool and school-age programs and activities on each of the five STEAM content areas (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math), then moved into some discussion of other STEAM services like displays and readers' advisory. The whole session wrapped up with an exploration of some go-to resources for program planning and use as well as funding. It was an hour-long introduction to STEAM. (Apologies to all the attendees who had to deal with all the science puns that just flew out of my mouth in the sessions.)



And don't forget Guerrilla Storytime!

Kendra Jones, fellow Storytime Underground Joint Chief and my once and future conference roommate, and I hosted a Guerrilla Storytime on the first morning of the conference. Make sure you click over to the recap, where we captured all of the great ideas that participants shared--in text AND video. It's a multimedia world, y'all.

~~*~~

Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU to ALSC and the local arrangements committee for putting together such an outstanding professional development opportunity. It was absolutely top-notch, and I'll be reflecting on the conversations I had there for a long time to come.

Now tell me, how was YOUR conference? I'd love to hear in the comments or on Twitter.


Whimsical adventures (and a
toothless lion) at Fairyland.