Saturday, August 30, 2014

Recapping the 2014 Midwest Youth Services Unconference

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

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

Let's talk the 2014 Midwest Youth Services Unconference!

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

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

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

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

This is what unconference sessions look like.

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

Let me share a few logistical pieces:

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Want my job?

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

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

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

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


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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Excellent Explosions on the ALSC Blog

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

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

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Thrive Thursday August Round Up!

Merlin's beard, you guys! The participants in this month's Thrive Thursday roundup have so many outstanding ideas for school-age programs and activities, all of which are that magical combination of interesting and engaging. And, cherry on top, these colleagues are happy to share their successes so that other librarians might not have to reinvent the wheel in order to offer a range of school-age programs. I love this profession.

Before I give you the round up of awesome programs, remember that you can look through past round ups at Thrive After Three. You can also stay engaged with the Thrive Thursday community between round ups by following the Pinterest Board and Facebook group!

And now for those glorious ideas:

Nikki at heytherelibrary offered a program that was all things caves, from cave paintings to exploring caves as habitats to making hats. Very cool.

Over at In short, I am busy, Jennifer and her kiddos enjoyed a Mad Scientists Club titled "What Floats? What Flies?" Here attendees made and then tested both paper airplanes and craft boats. Great STEAM program, ahoy!

Lindsey of the Jbrary duo put together a round up of all the book character parties she's done, seen, or heard about on the interwebs. If you're always scrambling to find ways to program around that large costume character you've ordered, look no further.

My fellow Missourian and Cubs fan Sarah of GreenBeanTeenQueen offered a somewhat impromptu, but fully heroic, Batman Day at her library. I'm more of a Marvel girl, personally, but I think her program is sensational.

Lisa at Thrive After Three has been knocking it out of the park with science programs this summer, all accompanying the CSLP theme "Fizz Boom Read." One program in particular is especially egg-celent...

No decoder ring necessary to read all the bits and details about the Spy Night hosted by Angie of Fat Girl Reading. Stealth skills optional.

Awnali at The Librarian Is on The Loose recapped her Big Nate program, which looks like it would be terrific fun for all those Big Nate fans. The program--or, I think, unprogram--offers self-guided stations so every kid can get what they want out of the program.

Over at The BibliOBrien Blogs, Alison has been sharing her series of programs based on NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement Mission. The linked program included an activity to build a hurricane-resistant structure. What a great way to showcase that science is interesting and relevant to life.

The titular Kelly of Ms. Kelly at the Library has two excellent school-age science programs to share this month:

Bryce of Bryce Don't Play talked about her library's new weekly series to help with the summer day camp craziness. Her program is based all around Sasquatch, and she also hosted her colleague Lindsay's light painting program in the same series. What lucky day campers they have up there in La Crosse!

Looking for scavenger hunt ideas that get kids moving about the library? Catherine at Z Before Y has you covered.

Over at The Neighborhood Librarian, Brytani detailed her Harry Potter Birthday Party, which she offered a whopping three times. That's a lot of butterbeer. Fifty points to your Hogwarts house, Brytani.

Kary Henry shared a program description as opposed to a whole blog post. It's enough to pique interest and inspire you to take her ideas and run with them, that's for sure!
I co-hosted a STEM program on Illinois mammals to go with our Paws to Read SRP theme. We borrowed a kit from the IL Department of Natural Resources full of pelts, skulls, replica tracks and replica scat. Young patrons, ages 5-9, and their grown-ups, went from station to station with a passport, where they could record information and draw pictures. Mid-way through we read a book, and to finish we played a True/False game with facts about mammals.

And, if I may humbling share my own program, I will direct your attention to an Origami Hour program I offered in July. It required minimal setup and materials, utilized plenty of library books, and was engaging for kids at every level. I loved seeing the kids' origami creations at the end.

That's the August round up for Thrive Thursday! Make sure to watch Ms. Kelly at the Library for information about the September round up, and keep writing about your programming for school-agers! We all love it when you share.