Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Book Review: More Happy Than Not

This review marks the fourth and final in a series of posts on books I'm looking forward to in 2015.

The Stats: More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera, released June 16, 2015 from Soho Teen

The Synopsis: Aaron Soto considers himself generally happy right now. Sure, it's been a really difficult year--his father's death, his own attempted suicide--but now he's got a great girlfriend, he's getting along really well with his friends, and he's just met this new kid in his Bronx neighborhood, Thomas, who seems like he's going to be a great friend. So, yes, Aaron is happy. That is, until his happiness starts to come apart at the seams. Is he really happy? Is the past six months of his life the same six months that he remembers? And what are these feelings he's starting to feel, and how can they possibly fit into the machismo culture he's grown up in?

The Review: Holy smokes, does this book pack a serious punch. Punches, plural, is more like it--there's the matter-of-fact setting and characterizations that make up all of Aaron's world. There's the theme of self-discovery that escalates to jaw-dropping, plot-shocking proportions. And there's truth in every single moment of it, which maybe packs the most emotional and profound punch of all. Readers will find themselves considering the book's sci-fi-lite memory-altering procedure so they can experience it all anew.

Why I can't wait: I NEED TO TALK TO TEEN READERS ABOUT THIS BOOK. I'm really glad that Soho Teen has so obviously embraced Silvera and his storytelling--it's the best possible tie-in to the current #WeNeedDiverseBooks project, real stories about real people. But to me personally, it's a book with a setting, a voice, a premise, and a plot twist that I never saw coming. As soon as I started reading, I knew More Happy Than Not is exactly what's needed in YA right now.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Review: Under a Painted Sky

This review marks the third in a series of posts on books I'm looking forward to in 2015.

The Stats: Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee, released March 17, 2015 from Putnam Juvenile

The Synopsis: Samantha and her father are the only Chinese family in St. Joseph, Missouri. She's long wanted to return to New York City, where she grew up, but her father has his sights set on California--it is the era of the gold rush, after all. After a series of terrible events, Sam finds herself on the run with an escaped slave, Annamae. Together, these two bright, strong, complicated girls make their way along the Oregon Trail, aiming to conceal their identities as they cross the dangerous countryside and head for the freedom and resolution they both crave.

The Review: Under a Painted Sky is a darn good story. It's filled with well-drawn, memorable characters who encounter their fair share of anxiety-inducing drama, but Lee is so deft a storyteller that it all works quite well and doesn't feel contrived. If this title and 2013's One Came Home are the harbingers of a great new surge of westerns with sassy lady leads, readers are in for a serious treat. My library has a specific section for junior high fiction, and this title will be a perfect fit for that collection.

Why I can't wait: It's diverse without the diversity ever feeling forced or tokenistic. It's feminist without ever smacking readers upside the head with it. It's a western set on the Oregon Trail, and it's a story about a group of teens juggling dreams, secrets, and survival. Is there anything not to love in that premise? I'm hand-selling this one 'til the cows come home.

Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Book Review: Astrotwins -- Project Blastoff

This review marks the second in a series of posts on books I'm looking forward to in 2015.

The Stats: Astrotwins -- Project Blastoff by Mark Kelly and Martha Freeman, released March 24, 2015 from Simon & Schuster

The Synopsis: Twins Mark and Scott are on their summer vacation in the 1970s, and they can't seem to stop arguing and getting into trouble. That is, until their grandfather suggests they come up with a project and work together. The twins gather a group of old and new friends--including, gulp, GIRLS--in pursuit of their secret project: building and launching a rocket into space.

The Review: Astrotwins is a fun read for the third- to sixth-grade set, part realistic/historical fiction based on Kelly's childhood and part adventure/science fiction (just at the end). In addition to its can-they-do-it storyline, the book also includes some simple and factual descriptions of some of the math and physics that go into rocketry and space travel. While these scientific bits may seem a bit didactic to the adult reader, I think kids will mostly find them a useful explanation of what the twins and their friends are learning and building. While it's ultimately science fiction, this is a strong introduction to the realities of how space travel works.

Why I can't wait: I am all about STEAM, sure, but I am especially all about that space. I love that this book is co-authored by a real astronaut who quite obviously thought about being an astronaut when he and his twin were around the same age as the target reader for this book. We need books--stories, non-fiction, all of it--that emphasize how wondrous, exciting, and realistic science careers are. And think about this: NASA has set the goal to put people on Mars by 2035; that would mean that the kids in your library right now would be around the right age to qualify for the first manned mission to Mars. Wow.

Digital review copy provided by the publisher.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Book Review: Completely Clementine

This review marks the first in a series of posts on books I'm looking forward to in 2015.

The Stats: Completely Clementine by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Marla Frazee, released March 3, 2015 from Disney-Hyperion

The Synopsis: Clementine is about to wrap up her year in third grade, a transition that she doesn't quite feel ready for. Meanwhile, her mother is close to giving birth to her new sibling; she's giving her dad the silent treatment; and her best friend Margaret is a bit wedding crazy. That's a lot for a girl to handle during the last week of school!

The Review: True to form, Clementine rocks her kid logic and her prone-to-light-mischief flair. Pennypacker has a knack for capturing the day-to-day interactions and concerns of childhood without making them feel mundane or inconsequential--in fact, she's great at getting her readers to feel 100% on Clementine's side, no matter what. This final book in the series is no exception. Frazee's illustrations weren't final in the galley I read, but the rough sketches look to be spot-on, as always.

Why I can't wait: I love Clementine. I know there are some who find her a bit cloying, but I love that she has such a strong personality. Her best friend Margaret has a strong personality, too. And, basically, I love realistic fiction for girls that depicts female protagonists with strong personalities, because so many young girls have strong personalities, too. It's quiet feminism--"These characters are their own unique people with concerns and missteps and triumphs, and so are you, reader!" Plus, this is the final Clementine story in the series, and wrapping up a great series is always excitement-worthy.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Family BristleBot Challenge

On Saturday, I collaborated with my new coworker Amy Holcomb on our first family mission/challenge program offered in conjunction with our new STEAM space at the library. More on that later, but for now, a recap of this excellent, hands-on STEAM program!

Family BristleBot Challenge


Amy, one of our program assistants, and I got school-age kids and their caregivers in our multipurpose program room, which boasted plenty of space for one supply table and four building tables. As part of our introduction, I started to get kids thinking about the components that a robot, like a BristleBot, might require. We talked about power sources, circuitry, motor, and body, with lots of good participatory guesses from kids as I posed questions. Then Amy led the kids through a visualization of how circuits work, allowing attendees to really grasp the concept.

After that introductory info, we set families loose to build, test, and tinker with their BristleBots. We had created two large (2'x3') posters explaining the component parts and assembly steps for the BristleBots, which provided clear visual instructions as families got to work. Kids came through to collect their supplies, then headed for one of the four building tables to do their work.

To make a BristleBot, you need the following supplies:
  • a toothbrush head (we left part of the neck on many of ours to allow for easier grasping for hands with still-developing motor skills)
  • battery
  • vibrating motor with attached wires
  • double-sided sticky tape (2 pieces)
  • permanent markers to decorate the bots

To build a BristleBot, follow the following steps:
  • Gather your equipment.
  • Decorate the toothbrush head.
  • Place a piece of the sticky tape on the head of the toothbrush.
  • Attach the battery to the sticky tape, ideally with one of the wires touching the bottom of the battery (this will be more secure than adding the wire after the fact).
  • Use another piece of sticky tape to attach the motor to the top of the battery, ideally with the remaining wire touching the top of the battery (again, for simplicity's sake).
  • The motor should now be vibrating; if it is not vibrating, check to make sure that a) one of the motor wires is touching the bottom of the battery while the other is touching the top, completing the circuit; and b) the moving part of the motor is not obstructed.
  • Set the BristleBot on a flat surface, bristles down, and watch it move!
  • Tinker with the design to make the bot behave how you want it to--race in a line, turn in circles, etc. Intentionally manipulating the bot's design is a simple form of programming!


Families spent about 40 minutes building and tinkering with their BristleBots before we lined all the tables into one massive line and let all the bots loose at once. What a great creative challenge!

Kids (and their caregivers) got really into the task of tinkering with their bots over the course of our hour-long program, testing new designs and helping one another troubleshoot. That's the perfect type of STEAM thinking we're aiming to promote with these types of programs--the wonders of building, creation, tinkering. And knowing that science is so much more than something you encounter in a textbook.


If you're interested in another take on a BristleBot program, check out Anne's at sotomorrow--she used a kit to supply all her program materials, making the maker program process even more straightforward.

Also, as an aside, it feels so great to be offering programs again. The past few months, while gratifying and filled with lots of new-job learning, were definitely marked by the fact that I wasn't programming.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Librarianship on YouTube: Advocacy!

Earlier in the autumn, I put together a video on advocacy for Marge Loch-Wouters to use in her online course on children's and young adult library services. I feel strongly about advocacy--multi-faceted advocacy. I think it's important that we prioritize advocating for children in any venue we can; advocating for the value youth services adds to any library; and, also, advocating for ourselves as professionals with needs for training as well as work/life balance.

If you're interested in hearing what I had to say as an introduction to advocacy, check out the video below.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Resources on Race in the Children's Library

It's time I share the resources I've been gathering for a community-wide initiative on race that will begin in January. I could sit on these resources for another few weeks, but as racist vitriol and privileged ignorance have reared their ugly heads in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision--even within our professional community with our mission to serve the public--it is clear to me that anyone who wants resources for helping the children and families they serve deal with these issues should have them immediately, and within easy reach.

Because these racial "tensions" (condescending term for it, media) are not new. True, they are getting more press time now--because too many oppressed voices are speaking up for the media to continue to ignore the realities of race in this country, which means higher visibility, which means more opportunities for children, young children in particular, to encounter these issues without context or emotional support. But as I said, these issues are not new. And many children have been living them their entire lives. And so we, as public libraries, need to support all members of communities by a) knowing these resources, b) having these resources, and c) sharing these resources.

Be an ally.

If you have additional resources you think should be added to this list, or find any of the resources I mention problematic, please share in the comments or shoot me an email. I am trying my best, but I recognize I come from a background of profound privilege and have a long way to go to even start to be a strong, fully-informed ally.

Picture Books to Share with Youth to talk about Race

  • The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
  • Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs
  • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
  • The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
  • I Have a Dream by Kadir Nelson
  • It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
  • Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly
  • The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
  • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson


Picture Books on Social Justice


Books to Share with Older Youth to talk about Race & American Racial History

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Party-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Peña
  • My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman
  • The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
  • Jump into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall
  • Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia


Resources for Talking to Kids about Race (for library staff, caregivers, and parents)


Why bother talking to young children about race in the first place?

  • The way that children's brains make synaptic connections is by categorizing, and one of the most superficial types of categorization they do is what things/people look like. Acknowledging that yes, different people look different, but that does not define who they are or what they are like, is developmentally appropriate and recommended by child psychologists and child development experts.
  • Even if we assume that children are making neutral categorizations of racial difference on their own (which is a huge assumption), we live in a society that does not promote equal or equitable portrayals of all races. Left undiscussed, research shows that children default to negative stereotypes of race as they see perpetuated in the dominant culture, in media, and even, in some instances, at home. Talking about race in a simple, age appropriate, non-prejudiced way prevents these negative stereotypes from being the only contextual information young children have about people who look different from themselves.
  • All children need to learn that race does not define people, and generalizations about a person based on their race are unfair and untrue. White children, who by virtue of their white privilege have probably never encountered a situation in which they were unfairly discriminated against because of their race, need to learn that prejudices exist and are wrong. Non-white children also need to hear that prejudices are wrong. These children have probably lived innumerable personal experiences of racial discrimination, and they need to hear that the prejudices informing their oppression are wrong and not true so that they do not internalize negative stereotypes as part of their self image.
  • Children's literature is rife with negative stereotypes of non-white persons, and that's in instances when the cannon has even bothered to try to represent diverse voices in the first place. Race needs to be a continual topic of discussion so that children's encounters with racial stereotypes in books and the media are not learned as fact.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Heroes! A Workshop

"Greetings from Wisconsin" by flickr user
Boston Public Library (CC)
Today I am in Madison, Wisconsin, for the South Central Library System's Summer Library Program Workshop. When it comes to their summer library programs (SLPs), Wisconsin libraries use the CSLP theme--which in 2015 is "Every hero has a story." So, yes. An entire hero-themed presentation!

The workshop organizers contacted me to talk about programming through the lenses of Unprogramming and STEAM/maker philosophies, which I did with examples and time for participants to brainstorm with their peers. We wrapped up the morning workshop by exploring a range of SLP alternative options. That's right; SLP doesn't have to be just about reading for prizes any more.

I'm including here the range of resources I shared on the workshop handouts I created--there are so many great programs and SLP variants, and having time to peruse them before summer planning begins full force could be helpful. So, for your reading pleasure...

On Unprogramming:

On STEAM & Making:

On SLPs:

And, last but not least, the slides from the workshop. Based on the plethora of excellent superhero-themed, Creative Commons-licensed images out there, this is probably one of my favorite slide decks. Most definitely my favorite title slide. Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review (sort of): Sydney & Simon Full STEAM Ahead!

Sydney & Simon Full STEAM Ahead! by Paul A. Reynolds, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, is easily one of my favorite books out this year. I think it's truly an outstanding beginning chapter book--it's got one central premise that we never lost sight of, but will interesting plot developments and twists throughout to keep everything interesting. That is, beginning readers are going to succeed not only in reading the words, but in comprehension, too. It's a very well put-together book.

I love it perhaps even more, however, because it's a truly versatile book. I can hand it to all sorts of customers in a readers' advisory interview (and have done, to great success). Here's a list of just some of the readers' advisory scenarios in which a child and/or caregiver left excited to read Sydney & Simon Full STEAM Ahead!:
  • "Do you have any books with twins?"
  • "I'm looking for books with science in them."
  • "I want my child to read something where the characters only use screens sometimes, not all the time."
  • "My child and I are talking about problem-solving. Do you have any stories on that topic?"
  • "I really like experiments and what to read a book with them in it."

Now please keep in mind that, when all is said and done, I don't spend much time on the youth information desk here at my new job. So for this book to come up so frequently, and for so many customers to leave happy to have found it--that, I think, is an indicator of a great book.

And I'm not just saying that because I love anything having to do with STEAM content areas.

This title has been hugely popular in my library in the two months we've had it. I, for one, hope this is just the first in a great new series that will entice beginning chapter book readers with both fiction and non-fiction persuasions.

The Stats: Sydney and Simon: Full STEAM Ahead! by Paul A. Reynolds, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, released September 9 from Charlesbridge

N.B. I reviewed this title for School Library Journal this summer, but after seeing just how many families are picking it up at the library, I wanted to share it here, too.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How do we frame the library for our communities?

How do we from the library for our community so that the community knows the library is for them?

When I read this week’s post on Museum 2.0--one of my favorite blogs to read these days--I was struck by Nina Simon’s closing question:

The metaphor for traditional art museums is the temple. Beautiful. Sanctified. Managed and protected by a league of committed, anointed ones. 
What is the metaphor for participatory arts? Is it the agora? The town square? The circus? The living room? The web?

And it got me thinking: how do we frame libraries for our communities? What impression are giving them of what a modern library provides?

The fact that Justin Hoenke posted a photo essay about the 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Library just a few hours later felt particularly serendipitous, because it put a major idea into stark focus. That idea: the public perception of the library often does not match the reality of the modern library, and we need to work on communicating what, in fact, the modern library is and can offer.

What words do you hear folks using to describe public libraries? “Repository” is one that I still hear pretty frequently. And have you heard anyone refer to it as the “lending library” recently? I have. And while libraries do still lend, that’s only part of the picture.

Unfortunately, the zeitgeist just keeps touting this idea that libraries are dying--because these (overwhelmingly white, higher SES, male) “thinkers” loudly proclaim that people don’t need physical places to get their physical books in this day and age. And despite the fact that this reductionist view of libraries has been rebutted by folks who know what’s what, it’s still a pervasive image problem.

People still see us as that place with the books. And we definitely feed that perception--my guess is, nine out of ten of you are at libraries whose logo somehow incorporates a book. We’re not representing the wholeness of what we offer our communities. Examples: not a day goes by that I don’t hear “You guys have DVDs?” or “I didn’t know you offered programs like this!” And as long as that’s the norm--library as repository for books--maybe we do have a problem. I don’t know that can we realistically expect our communities to engage in all the wonderful things we offer if our image is still so tightly tied to books.

So how do we better frame libraries for our communities? How do we effectively convey all that we offer? What words do we use?

Is it about learning experiences? Is it about discovery? Is it about knowledge? How do we connote all that we are in an accessible phrase?

The library is a _______.

I don’t know that I can adequate begin to fill in that blank from my perspective within the library. To me, “library” really does mean all the wonderful things that the modern library offers. How, then, do we come up with a statement, a frame, a metaphor that ensures everyone in our communities can be initiated into what our libraries are?


Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Youth & Family Program Coordinator

It's been eons since my like "Day in the Life" post, and I thought now would be a good time to share one, what with my working a new job and all. The day below is from earlier this week. How've you been filling your days this autumn?

8:30 a.m. - Arrive at the library and get the youth services program room set up for the morning. Then I run up to my third-floor desk to stash my stuff.

9:00 a.m. - Weed the juvenile fiction shelves. This has been an ongoing project this month, and the shelves are looking so much better.

9:45 a.m. - A colleague from the city arrives in preparation for our 10:30 activity...

10:30 a.m. - Multicultural storytime photoshoot! This isn't a traditional program but rather an opportunity for families to participate in a few multicultural activities as part of a promotional campaign. That said, as far as kids are aware, it is pretty much a storytime. We sing songs, read some stories (including My Mother's Sari with the assistance of scarves--highly recommended), dance to some ukulele tunes, and then head to the craft room for some activities. Caregivers are wonderfully engaged with their little ones throughout.

11:45 a.m. - After cleaning up after the photoshoot, I head up to my desk to process a few patron requests for purchase. A few things slipped through the cracks between when my predecessor left and I started, so I'm anxious to get those fiction orders filled.

12:15 p.m. - Gather research for a project I'm working on that will help inform whether we're really meeting the programming needs of kids of every age. What resources do you use to make sure your programs are beneficial for your target audience?

1:15 p.m. - Lunch! It's leftover risotto and a good galley on this particular day.

1:45 p.m. - Run down to the youth services desk to pick up a cart of picture books to be weeded. One of our interns has started a project for culling the oodles of copies of formerly-super-popular picture book characters, and I double check this work and then get the copies reading for withdrawal.

2:15 p.m. - Create a weeding list for picture books in the general collection. Those shelves have been looking particularly packed, making them hard to browse and quite messy as multiple copies come off the shelf anytime you remove a book. I fiddle with the parameters of my weeding list--still getting used to a new ILS.

2:45 p.m. - Start plotting our youth spring program calendar. When it comes to multi-month, multi-program planning, I work best with a paper visual.

3:15 p.m. - Research area performers who might be good for spring programs.

4:00 p.m. - Enter the March/April storytime session in our online planning calendar. The session will be five weeks long, with the following every week: 1 baby time; 2 one-year-old programs; 2 Time for Twos; 2 preschool storytimes; 1 Little Learners program (for older preschoolers); an all-ages time; and social Together Time.

4:45 p.m. - Check my calendar for the next day's activities, including making sure I have prepped what I need for meetings.

5:00 p.m. - Head home.


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.



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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.

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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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

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