Monday, October 3, 2016

The Civic Lab: Skokie's Civic Engagement Library

Civic engagement is on our minds at my library. Not just because this is an election year--although that certainly adds a layer to the conversation and mood around civic engagement in our community. Civic engagement has been on our mind for several years, and it's informed public programs and initiatives as well as discussions around our strategic plan. We've seen teens and adults having conversations about issues and things they see in the news, and children and their parents trying to figure out how to process those same issues and news items. After seeing The Uni Project in New York, this idea of civic engagement in the library seemed to coalesce for us around the idea of a mobile, pop-up space. And so after a few months' discussions, followed by a few weeks of planning and resource-making, we debuted our civic engagement space at the end of August.

Welcome to the Civic Lab at Skokie Public Library.

The Civic Lab is a mobile, pop-up library with resources and activities. Its first appearance is situated in the library itself--specifically, in our Boutique space, which features seasonal and themed collections throughout the year. The Civic Lab as a concept is meant to offer information and thought-provoking activities meant to support dialogue and engagement on issues that affect our community. For this two-month residency in the library, the Civic Lab is exploring six main issues of impact and importance to our community: Black Lives Matter; climate change; immigration; income inequality; LGBTQQI; and reproductive justice.

This debut Civic Lab includes elements of collection, activities, and facilitated programming.

Six micro-collections comprise the bulk of the materials available in the Civic Lab. Each of our six focus topics is supported by six core resources: two for adults, two for teens, and two for children and families. These lists have been carefully curated, with library staff in nearly every department having input. We've curated these lists not to be neutral, but rather to provide introductions and perspectives on our six topics. Lists for further reading--which also live on our library website--provide even more choices for exploring a topic. All the core resources, further reading, key definitions, and conversation starters appear on handouts in the space. They're also available here:

We're rotating some of the interactive components of the exhibit so that each of our six topics has an opportunity for closer focus and engagement over these two months. On one wall of the Civic Lab, we pose a general question relating to that featured topic; when we opened with the Black Lives Matter focus, we asked: "Has the Black Lives Matter movement challenged you to think about racism in Skokie?" The question sits atop a large board for voting, with bright-colored sticky notes ready to be placed on the sections for "Yes," "No," or somewhere in between. Pencils in the space allow patrons to write any comments on their sticky notes, too; and the longer the Civic Lab is up, the more comments people are sharing.

This type of voting component is taking place on a display unit in our youth services department as well. While the questions may be phrased differently for kids and families to be developmentally appropriate, they get at the same ideas and concepts.

We've also set a kitchen table of sorts in the Civic Lab. With boxes surrounding the table for sitting, and a box atop the table with conversation starters on it, the table is meant to be a place to stop and have a kitchen table conversation about these issues. We've left postcards on the table as well, encouraging patrons to share their thoughts--with a friend or family member, or just with the library in general--by writing them down and placing their postcard in our mailbox. These conversation starters are also the basis for some of our facilitated conversations taking place in the Civic Lab--more on those types of programs later.

Today I wanted to share an overview of this first appearance of our Civic Lab. I'll be back in a few weeks to talk about some of the programming elements that accompanied this first iteration, and in coming moths I'll share details about additional instances when and where the Civic Lab pops up. In the meantime, explore the resource lists we've created; have a conversation with a friend or colleague around a topic of import to your community; and make a point of recognizing instances of civic engagement in your library practice.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Take the Our Voices Pledge

Over the past few months, I've been part of a dedicated and inspiring team of individuals from multiple corners of the book ecosystem. We're the Advisory Council for the Our Voices, which launched today, the start of Banned Books Week. I'm incredibly proud of the work we're setting out to do, which will ultimately include an initiative to connect small, independent, and self-published content creators in the Chicago region to libraries and readers.

What's gone live today is a pledge, which I encourage you to read and consider; to take; and to share with your friends and colleagues. If we want a more diverse, representative body of quality content for our communities, it's up to each of us to work toward that goal.

Please take a few minutes this week to peruse the Our Voices website and to take the pledge!

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wrapping up Summer Reading with a Field Day

We wrapped up summer reading at my library 10 days ago after an eleven-week program. Our reading clubs committee, which comprises folks from youth, adult, programming, and marketing, created our own theme: Camp Curiosity. We had all things camp- and outdoors-related this summer, so it only seemed fitting that we'd match our summer reading finale with an outdoorsy-flavored event: an all-ages Field Day.

On a sunny, not-too-hot Sunday afternoon, we spilled out onto the Village Green adjacent to the library for our Field Day festivities. Almost 200 people, mostly families, participated in the range of activities available over a two-hour span. Here's what we offered.

Self-Paced Field Day Activities

The majority of our activities at Field Day were self-paced, with each activity set out at a station that families could approach as they pleased:

Compass and orienteering mini-workshops from L.L.Bean - The L.L.Bean store at the mall in Skokie was hugely supportive of our summer reading club this summer, and the manager brought one final activity to the Field Day. He set up a table with maps and compasses and gave at least a dozen mini-workshops on orienteering for folks who were interested. This activity spanned all ages quite easily.

A community mural - Our staff artist, who works in the youth department, created two large-scale line-drawing murals on white foam core: one showed a daytime outdoor image, the other a nighttime one. The tone aligned with our summer reading Camp Curiosity theme perfectly, and Field Day attendees were invited to grab some markers and help to color in the murals. This activity had lots of sustained engagement from kids and adults who wanted to get their large-scale coloring on.

Chalk art - We blocked off the driveway between the library and the Village Green, giving the event a bit of a block party feel. Kids got creative in adding chalk art on the drive. It was great to be able to redirect young kids to the chalk art--if they were too young for the community mural (i.e., would scribble rather than color), they could do as they pleased with chalk on the ground.

Jumbo lawn games - We brought out our sets of giant Jenga and giant dominoes for families to play with. Bonus: kids too young for Jenga are pleased as punch to use those Jenga blocks for stacking and building, too.

Read-outs - One of the features of Camp Curiosity this summer was the Tuesday afternoon read-out, when teen volunteers took out camp chairs and a selection of books to the Village Green to encourage people on their way into, out of, or near the library to stay a few minutes to read and chat with neighbors. We brought out the chairs for a final read-out at the Field Day.

Inflatable obstacle course - This is the component for which we hired folks for the Field Day: we rented a giant kids inflatable obstacle course and two attendants to staff it. Kids of every age were happy to kick off their shoes and try the obstacle course, with nearly everyone going through many, many times. We will be bringing these folks back for future events--such a huge hit.

Group Field Day Activities

A few of the Field Day activities were scheduled so that all interested folks could participate together:

Group photo - It's tradition that anyone who completes the summer reading program gets a t-shirt. This is longstanding tradition--we see patrons of every age wearing their summer reading shirts from years past pretty much on a daily basis. Our staff photographer snapped a photo of the folks at the Field Day who wore their shirts (including a few family members who forgot theirs at home).

Balloon toss - Field Day participants paired up with partners for this event on the patio of the Village Green. All pairs stood the same distance apart, and each pair got a water balloon. Then, one by one, each pair tried to toss their balloon from one partner to the next. If the balloon popped, the team was out. Teams remaining after each round took giant steps back and repeated the process until a single pair was left victorious. We did three rounds of the balloon toss.

Ice pops - Even though it wasn't an extremely hot day, it was still warm, and the sharing of ice pops was quite welcome by attendees and staff alike. We brought out a cooler with the ice pops and folks could come select the flavor of their choosing from one of our staff.

Water balloon fight - We hadn't advertised that there would be a water balloon fight--we weren't sure how many folks would show up, so we modestly stuck with the balloon toss as the main event. After three rounds of the balloon toss and we still had about 120 balloons left, however, we gathered interested folks for a water balloon fight. We had two rules: 1) no throwing at faces, and 2) if you throw a balloon, you help pick up the pieces when the fight is over. Each participant got two balloons, and on the count of three, we had a quick, damp little battle.


So that was our Summer Reading Finale Field Day. In comparing notes after the event, several of my colleagues and I reflected that we had a particularly high number of positive comments from families about this event. They were singing the praises of the Camp Curiosity program, but they were also massively appreciative that they could attend the Field Day. It seems that, in an age where almost every public event involves the temptation to spend money (that cotton candy booth at the fair is there whether you want to spend money or not), families really appreciate getting to attend something fun and totally free.

We are happy to oblige.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I'm Taking the Pledge #Libraries4BlackLives #M4BLPledge

As a librarian, I find it is insufficient to simply espouse equality and equity. I must do more with the knowledge and resources I help to steward. As a librarian, I must advocate for opportunities and social justice for all whom I serve. The implication of that statement is that, when I see systemic barriers to opportunity, systemic denials of social justice, I must advocate for better. I must do better. I must speak out about the inequities and injustices I see working against members of my community, and I must work hard to dismantle them. I cannot merely pay lip service to these ideals. I must commit myself to living them.

Screen grab from
And so I am answering the call to action of #Libraries4BlackLives. I am taking the pledge for the Movement for Black Lives. I am looking to resources curated by the librarians behind #Libraries4BlackLives and crowdsourced by library workers also committed to ensuring that Black lives are afforded the same opportunities and dignities so freely given to others.

It may seem that, as a White woman coming from a position of White privilege, I do not have to do these things. On a surface, survival level, our society confirms that is true: no harm or injustice will come to me if I choose to remain quiet. But the Black members of my community will continue to come to harm and experience injustice if I remain quiet, and if all other White library workers remain quiet. Black lives will continue to come to harm and experience injustice because that is the effect of the systemically racist society in which we live and work. It is a moral and professional imperative that I do not remain quiet and do nothing. Staying quiet and doing nothing is directly antithetical to the values of libraries to serve and support all members of our communities. Serving and supporting all members means recognizing when voices are systematically marginalized and doing something to address that inequity.

I urge you to reflect on your values as a person working in libraries.

I urge you to recognize the vital necessity of the Movement for Black Lives, and to explore the resources curated by #Libraries4BlackLives as a starting place for working to do better.

I urge you to join in answering the call to action and taking the pledge.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Librarianship on YouTube: All the Summer Reading Hype!

It's early July, which means we're in the trenches of summer reading. The people! The reading recommendations! The sign-up questions! THE HOARDS OF PEOPLE!

It's a glorious time for public libraries, but it can also be overwhelming. Which is why I think S. Bryce Kozla over at Bryce Don't Play is mix of fairy godmother and evil genius for coming up with the idea of asking libraryland folks to make summer reading hype videos for her staff. And she's a benevolent fairy godmother/evil genius for encouraging those of us who made videos (even poorly-shot and frighteningly-edited like mine) to share them with all the people. The goal: assert that, even if it feels like you're drowning under mountains of summer reading swag, 1) YOU ARE NOT ALONE and 2) YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

So here's my entry in the summer reading hype video category. The full title, which YouTube seemed not to like because of a pesky thing called a "character limit," is 5 Things Leslie Knope Taught Us That Can Help to Power Through an Amazing Summer Reading Club (or any other big program, initiative, presentation, unity concert, or binder project on your to-do list).

I highly recommend looking through Bryce's original post to see all the glorious videos from across libraryland, with new entries being shared weekly. And if you feel inspired to make your own, DO IT! It's strangely cathartic.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Storytime in the Wild

Over the past year or so, we've been putting a fair amount of intention behind the partitioning of our youth department into spaces designated for specific age ranges. Part of the impetus for this delineation of space is to ensure that all ages of youth who visit have an area to go to that is suited to their developmental needs and has materials and other items that are appropriate to them. One prime example is the Little Learners area, which is designated for youth ages 4-7--prime early and emerging literacy years. I've written before about the themed pocket collections we've developed for this space, and major programs we've hosted have often had elements take place in this area, too (think our Family Science Expo and Curious George Birthday Party, both huge events). This summer we've started doing something else in the space on the regular: storytimes.

I like to call this kind of initiative going out "in the wild" of the library--those spaces where people are every single day, but don't often have a formal mode of interacting with the space. It's our goal that, in offering age-specific programming in these age-delineated spaces, we're helping patrons develop a level of familiarity with the areas we're tailoring to them. It's a work in progress, but we're seeing these types of repeated program offerings reinforcing the models of use we optimally want to see.

When it comes to offering storytime in our Little Learners area, it means making slight furniture adjustments within the somewhat-partitioned area we've already got. The space is generally blocked off from the main thoroughfare of the library by a set of zig-zag shelves (on which we display our Little Learners take-home backpacks on one side, and most wanted picture books and readers on the other); there's still plenty of room to accessibly get into the space, but there is a visual sense of distinction. There's also one of the themed bins that helps create a lane along an architectural wall. Usually, there are two tables with kid-sized chairs in the space; for storytime, we orient those tables and chairs so they're facing a set of display shelves beneath a colorful mural--a perfect backdrop for a storytime leader. Kids have plenty of space to sit on the carpet in the front, and there are chairs for caregivers. Anecdotally, I think that caregiver participation is perhaps higher than we see in larger storytime spaces simply because the area is so cozy. The end result is a storytime that is engaging and inviting--anyone walking by can see and join if they want--while also introducing families to a space created specifically for their use with their kids ages 4-7.

We've been making other experiments in bringing programming into the wild in the past few months, too, with particular adventures this summer. I'll report back with more later on!

Until then, I'm curious: how do you think about taking programs into the wilds of the library, if you do so at all? Have you found it works better with certain programs with others? Certain ages?

And in case you're mostly curious about my storytime...

We read:
  • The Crocodile and the Scorpion by Rebecca Emberley and Ed Emberley
  • There's a Nightmare in My Closet by Mercer Mayer
  • Mix It Up! by HervĂ© Tullet
  • That Is Not a Good Idea! by Mo Willems
We sang:
  • "Open, Shut Them"
  • "Herman the Worm"
  • "Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree"
  • "If You're Happy and You Know It"

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gratitude Graffiti at the Library

Back in January during my library's annual staff day, my department spent our meeting time giving spark talks--high-energy, three-minute pitches of ideas that we think are cool and that the library could consider adopting. My coworker Rachel pitched the idea of "gratitude graffiti"--a visual, crowd-sourced community art project in which people express their thanks. She cited some examples where communities do gratitude graffiti around Thanksgiving.

My department absolutely loved the idea, and we wanted to implement much sooner than November. Instead, we chose to make the Gratitude Graffiti project one of the cornerstones of our 2016 National Library Week celebrations.

We celebrated National Library Week from April 10 through April 17, or Sunday to Sunday. During that week, we identified 14 different library programs for a range of audiences as well as 2 high-use spaces for the project. Staff took our Gratitude Graffiti supplies to each of those programs and spaces. Supplies included a black foamcore poster board with signage explaining National Library Week; an assortment of metallic markers to write on the board; and an array of cookies (kosher) and dates as a thank-you treat for participants. Basically, our goal was to give library users the means and opportunity to express a thought of thanks for what the library adds to their lives.

To say we were blown away by the enthusiasm and responses we received is accurate. Patrons were consistently thrilled to have a chance to share a bit about what they love at their library.

We had community college students who excitedly took a break from their quiet study on the second floor to doodle and say "thank you" for the consistent and comfortable space.

We had teens who got into deep conversation about gratitude following the prompt of sharing on the board.

We had a teen at an author visit express her appreciation for the fact that she can always find books with girls like her--from biracial backgrounds--at our library.

We had school-age kids happy to state the activities they love having available to them at the library: science, art, reading, friendships...

We even had a three-year-old storytime regular who was so excited to share what she loves about the library, she wrote her first letter ever on the gratitude graffiti board. That's huge.

That's what the library can inspire in the people who visit.

So here is my takeaway, and my challenge and question to others: We know, anecdotally, that the library is a place that is valued and appreciated in the community, but we don't always give our patrons opportunities to express that value and appreciation. Comment cards tend to end up about complaints, but we don't always have great methods for capturing the good and the positive impacts the library has. Then, with a relatively low-stakes initiative like the Gratitude Graffiti project, we get to see not only what we add to peoples' lives, but we can see that they're thrilled to share their appreciation with us. It's like they've been waiting to share their feelings but never found the right moment until we asked.

How do you ask? How do you give your patrons opportunities to share beyond the everyday options? Because if there's one big thing we learned during our Gratitude Graffiti Project for National Library Week, it's that patrons are as happy to give gratitude as we are to receive it.