Sunday, September 28, 2014

STEAM & the Makerspace: A Presentation for Montana

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

Without further ado, the resources.

STEAM for Preschoolers

STEAM for School-Age

Maker Activities

Go-To Blogs

Go-To Websites

Funding Resources

Further Reading

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Recapping the 2014 ALSC National Institute #alsc14

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

Conference Takeaways

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

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

Thinking Outside the Storytime Box

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

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

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

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

STEAM Power Your Library!

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

And don't forget Guerrilla Storytime!

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


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

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

Whimsical adventures (and a
toothless lion) at Fairyland.

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

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, from guest blogger Ted McCoy

Today's guest blogger is Ted McCoy. I first met Ted at the 2012 ALSC National Institute in Indianapolis, where he won a sweet red plush hand chair as a door prize. Since then, I've come to consider him one of the top youth librarians when it comes to thinking about transformative storytimes and other library services. I'm beyond pleased that he's willing to share some of his great work here. Today he's sharing his summer outreach storytimes, which are incredibly community centered and responsive to the needs of his audience. Take it away, Ted!

This summer my library partnered with the amazing organization Food, Friends & Fun to provide weekly outreach storytimes at two neighborhood parks where kids 0-18 could get free lunch during the summer. Doing this type of outreach was one of the first things I brought up in summer reading planning. If we weren’t going to be providing kids with much-needed summer lunches on site, it made sense to work with organizations that were doing it, strengthening our connections with local partners and learning how to better serve children and caregivers in our community. We want to reach as many kids as possible during the critical summer months, and going to local parks seemed like a great opportunity to reach kids who might otherwise not have access to library services.

We entered the process a little late, so a couple of really good ideas got discussed but ultimately shelved. I had tentative plans to bring honor system collections to both sites, something similar to what Santa Cruz Public Libraries do with their Teen Self-Help Collection. Because we were at different sites, these collections would need to be mobile; I wanted to base our approach to mobile outreach collections in part on Oakland Public Library’s awesome Bike Library. Deadlines and funding kept us from moving beyond the discussion stage on this. We also looked at the possibility of checking out library materials at summer lunch sites, but untenable logistical hurdles cropped up here as well.

We ended up with three librarians doing outreach at two sites for the entire two months. I was able to go to both sites all summer, which was awesome. We read a lot of stories with a bunch of kids. Like, a lot. But we also talked to them and their caregivers, listening to what they wanted in terms of relevant library collections and services. We got harassed by bees pretty much constantly. Oh well, the rough with the smooth.

So here’s what I learned about outreach storytimes:

There's no such thing as a comfort zone

As cool as doing this outreach was, we pretty much started in unchartered territory. Food, Friends & Fun had never partnered with our library before. Their onsite staff was minimal so we were responsible for doing our thing, soup to nuts. These sites were good-sized city parks, each with basketball courts, jungle gyms, and (most distractingly) awesome splash pads.

To find our place, we really had to put ourselves out there. A lot of this was introducing ourselves to kids and families and offering to read stories with them. Scratch that. It was almost entirely introducing ourselves to folks and developing relationships. Shyness was not an option. We’d ask if kids wanted to read some stories, and it was OK to hear “no.” We couldn’t get comfortable or expect people to come to us, nor could we expect to be people’s first choice with all the aforementioned basketball courts, jungle gyms, and splash pads. Especially not with the splash pad.

Brief aside: because it was just me and another librarian (and often just me) with my bag of books, I briefly contemplated some sort of attention-grabbing gimmick: a crazy hat or something. I thought better of it (mercifully) and, after raiding our supply closet, instead constructed the Mystery Cylinder, pictured below.

We could use the Mystery Cylinder to choose books to read when we had a big group together, since there was no way to choose something to perfectly match everyone’s tastes. I found myself occasionally nudging the results in a certain direction, but it was overall a success and I can’t wait to use it with a more targeted audience.


Singing books were among the summer’s most popular, and especially Abiyoyo and Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes. I read/sang Pete the Cat maybe 20+ times, slightly more than once a storytime. Because we read with several groups over the course of an hour, there were lots of chances for folks to request it.

While these were outreach storytimes, attention spans were shorter and groups were diverse, age-wise. I tried some songs and action rhymes my first day, and the kids were not into it. Singing books were a huge hit, though, so I used them throughout the summer to regularly incorporate singing into the mix.

Sometimes you're just there to have a conversation.

Occasionally, kids weren’t really feeling storytime. During that downtime, we would chat about books and other things they like. Other things being mainly Minecraft. This was an important time for them, making the outreach a two-way street, and getting their feedback about materials and services they would like to see. But I had to eventually institute unofficial “Minecraft conversation limits” or it would consume the entire hour.

When a story goes doesn't click, bail ruthlessly.

This is pretty standard storytime operating procedure, but reading with groups of kids aged 2 to 12 really sharpened my “ditch a book that’s bombing” instinct. With outreach in the park, it’s only natural that kids will get distracted and wander off. I’m absolutely fine with that. But if someone wants to read stories, it’s up to me to make sure I am not offering something low-interest or unengaging.

You can never have enough books, especially ones that mention "butts" or "underwear."

This follows logically from the previous point. Every week I brought a massive bag of books, and every week I had a pile of at least a few books beside me that had failed to connect with the kids. See also Chicken Butt!


So in conclusion, I wanted to share a couple of my favorite outreach storytime titles from this summer:

Chicken Butt! by Erica S. Perl - This long-standing outreach storytime favorite continues to come through time and time again. I have to thank Ms. Helen from the Oakland Public Library Main Library Children’s Room for clueing me in to Chicken Butt! when I was still in library school. It has never let me down.

What! Cried Granny by Kate Lum - This cumulative tale may be one of my favorite storytime books, ever. It works with preschoolers, but seems to resonate with early- to mid-school age kids, which makes it invaluable for diverse outreach settings. It also deals with sleeping over at grandmother’s house, a theme that school age audiences connect to. I will be always be grateful to the amazing Jim Jeske at San Francisco Public Library Children’s Center for showing me this when I was interning there.

Little Red Hot by Eric A. Kimmel - Paired with Red Riding Hood, this fractured fairy tale offers a lot of opportunity for laughs. I can do a passable Texas accent, which helps when reading this one.

Red Riding Hood by James Marshall - I am very pro-fairy tale, though I acknowledge you have to be careful when it comes to outreach storytime. Marshall’s version of Red Riding Hood retains a strong narrative but is short enough to work with older kids in an outreach setting. Like I said, we read it paired with Little Red Hot on multiple occasions.

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin and James Dean - I think I’ve covered this one pretty well anon.

Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger - Another chance to sing, as well as read a great folk tale with a cool monster.

Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard - I like reading mysteries with older kids, and Miss Nelson is Missing! has a good narrative and enough humor to work well with older (and even some younger) readers in an outreach context. In a more structured outreach setting, I’ve done a reader’s theater version which works as well.


Ted McCoy is currently a Children's Librarian at the Springfield (MA) City Library. He conducts Tiny Tots infant/toddler storytime and ongoing school-aged STEAM programming. He can be reached at emccoy(at)springfieldlibrary(dot)org and @ted_mccoy on Twitter.

Mystery cylinder photo provided by the author.

Friday, September 5, 2014

On New Adventures

A lot happened in my professional life this summer. About two months ago, I was offered a position with Skokie Public Library in their newly-created Learning Experiences Department. It was an opportunity the likes of which I had neither anticipated nor expected at this stage in my career. So I submitted my resignation from my job in Missouri; went into crazy planning mode to ensure that my now former department would be good to go once I left; ran an unconference; and moved to Evanston, Illinois.

For two weeks now, I've been the Youth & Family Program Coordinator with Skokie Public Library. My job is part collection management, part program coordination, all thinking about how the library can continue to meet the needs of young customers and their families, even as those needs are continually evolving. It's a marvelous new adventure.

And with new adventures come new goals. At the beginning of this year, I shared my 2014 storytime goals, which I'd been documenting here on this blog. Since my professional responsibilities in my new job are significantly different than those I had in January, however, I've been rethinking and adjusting my professional goals. One big goal adjustment has to do with this blog.

Specifically, I'll be posting with less frequency. My goal is to post once per week. This reduction is a result of several factors, including the fact that since I am new to my job, I don't yet have a full grasp of what I'll be doing that might be of interest to readers. And I don't want to waste anyone's time by posting content that's not useful!

While I'll be posting new content here once per week, I'm also working on lining up guest posts. There are so many amazing things happening in librarianship, you guys, and I consider it a privilege to be a platform for other folks to share their ideas outward. So look for those posts in addition to my own. (And if you're interested in sharing a program or idea as a guest blogger, shoot me an email at amy.e.koester(at)!)

It's a time of transition around here, folks. I am grateful for your patience over the last month and a half while I was away from the blog, and I appreciate your support as I find a new normal for this space. I love being able to share with you, and I look forward to discovering what that looks like going forward.


Oh, and I've had a ton of people ask me if I'll be changing the name of my blog because I no longer live and work in the Show Me State. Nope! I'll continue to be the Show Me Librarian. After all, this blog has been all about showing people what I've been up to at my library, and that's not going to change.