Sunday, December 4, 2016

In the Civic Lab: Let's Talk About Standing Rock

When we started the Civic Lab at the end of this past summer, we knew one of our major goals would be to engage our community in conversations around current events and issues in a landscape with disappearing local news sources. Like many libraries and other institutions dedicated to access to information, we've felt this particular goal explode in import over the past few weeks. Or, rather, it was always important; the past few weeks simply cast the need in a more urgent light. To that end, many of our staff are scouring news and current events to think about topics about which our community can discuss and learn.

This past week, we focused on Standing Rock.

This pop-up of the Civic Lab had a simple statement to bring people to the space: Let's talk about Standing Rock. I worked with a coworker (who is a bookmobile librarian and a philosophy professor) who had gone out to Standing Rock in early November; with lots of input from his experience, research, and resources, we determined that our pop-up would explore three core questions:
  1. How do the collective economic gains of the Dakota Access Pipeline weigh against its environmental impact, both actual and potential?
  2. To what extent should the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock be considered in the context of the history of interactions between Native Americans* and the United States government?
  3. How should the government respond to the presence of water protectors?
It should be clear from these core questions that our goal was to provide all of the information, resources, and perspectives our patrons would need to be able to make an informed opinion of their own.

To that end, we gathered and curated a number of resources. These included:
This Civic Lab installation popped up for community conversation last Wednesday evening for 2 hours. In that time, we had some really outstanding conversations with patrons ranging from junior high-age through seniors, and all across the political spectrum. Those participants also ran the gamut in terms of previous knowledge they brought to the conversation; plenty had known nothing, while a small handful were already up on many of the details. While several patrons did feel the urge to identify themselves politically, none of the conversations were overtly political; rather, everyone seemed really eager (and relieved) to have conversations about issues rather than partisan posturing. Only one of our conversations lasted fewer than 10 minutes--that's the level of engagement we're talking about.

This photo from the library's Instagram account shows the
Civic Lab pop-up space and several of the participants.

Through the course of our conversations, we learned that 35% of the folks who stopped to talk had not heard of Standing Rock before they came to the Civic Lab. About 30% of the participants took copies of resources with them and/or expressed a desire to share what they were learning with others; one gentleman snapped some photos of resources to share on his Facebook page on the spot. And, when all was said and done, about 80% of the people who stopped to talk about Standing Rock indicated that they had learned something in the course of the conversation.

What we're learning in these Civic Lab pop-ups is that our community is really interested in having thoughtful and resource-based conversations about topics--both ones they've seen a bit on the news, and ones that are totally new to them as well. Are you finding this in your communities as well?

We're also learning that many patrons want to know when these pop-ups will be happening; they want to be sure they plan to come participate, and a few even said they'd do some advance research to come better prepared. These pop-ups thus far have been true pop-ups in the sense that they aren't advertised anywhere; staff know when they're happening and on what topics (so that we can plan), but patrons participate only if they happen to be in the library when the Civic Lab appears. We're going to change that model in coming weeks; while we want to retain the flexibility to pop up around topics as they emerge, we'll take steps to advertise pop-ups on our website and events calendar (and, potentially, via social media if the topic warrants). If the people in our community want to have these conversations, we certainly want to give them tools they need to do so.

Right now we're in planning stages for what's next for the Civic Lab. Staff are scouring the news and thinking about models for civic engagement that may resonate with our community. As we reflect and plan, I'd love to hear how you're thinking about civic engagement in your own libraries.

*You'll note that we used the term "Native Americans" rather than "First/Native Nations" in referring to indigenous groups participating in the Standing Rock action. We used this terminology because it was the express preference of the water protectors my colleague stood alongside when he was at Standing Rock.

**The #StandingRockSyllabus from NYC Stands with Standing Rock was incredibly valuable in allowing us to curate the content for the Civic Lab; if you've not yet explored it, I recommend you take the time to do so. We also looked to a variety of news sources--big networks and national papers as well as the international coverage and, particularly importantly, coverage from within indigenous communities. 

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Pop-Up Stories & Discussion in the Civic Lab

In this first iteration of our Civic Lab here at my library, most of the modes for participation are passive: voting on the major question, browsing the resources, and reflecting on or responding to the conversation starter questions. This first appearance of the Civic Lab has been largely unstaffed--which is decidedly different from how we plan to proceed when we get to round two.

But there has been a specific active component for youth in conjunction with the Civic Lab's debut: pop-up stories and discussion.

I facilitated each of these pop-ups, one for each of our six topic areas. During the days we were focused on each topic, I grabbed the picture book from that topic's micro-collection and headed into the youth services department. I looked for the areas where kids were playing or hanging out, then introduced myself and invited them to participate in one story with some talking afterward. As is usual in our busy library, only a handful of kids were willing to put down the activity they'd been engaged in to participate--but that's fine, as it ensured our groups were small and cozy, better for thoughtful shared reading.

Then, when we were settled around a table, or in a circle on the floor, I'd open the book and start to read. Depending on the particular title, we might immediately start talking about what we saw in the pictures, or words that we were hearing in the story that weren't familiar. The goal of the pop-up stories was to engage kids in the focus topic in a developmentally appropriate way; and in many instances, the reading was the first encounter with the topic. It felt important to share the story together and to think about it, to ask questions and to encourage kids to ask them, too, and to respond with information, or more questions, when appropriate.

Here are the books we discussed:
  • I, Too, Am America by Langston Hughes, illustrated by Bryan Collier (Black Lives Matter)
  • Where's the Elephant? by Barroux (Climate Change)
  • Two White Rabbits by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, translated by Elisa Amado (Immigration)
  • Yard Sale by Even Bunting, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (Income Inequality)
  • Donovan's Big Day by Lesléa Newman, illustrated by Mike Dutton (LGBTQQI)
  • My Body Belongs to Me: A Book About Body Safety by Jill Starishevsky, illustrated by Angela Padron (Reproductive Justice)

My favorite, and probably most successful, of these pop-up stories and discussions was with the title Where's the Elephant? In that gorgeous picture book, kids are asked on the first, lush spread to try to find the elephant, snake, and parrot. It's a familiar type of book-sharing for kids--the seek and find. They get really into it, applying laser focus to each spread to find those animals. It gets easier and easier to spot them on each spread, as with each page turn, more and more of the lush forest in which they've lived is cut down. Eventually, the animals are hiding among houses, not trees, until finally they end up in the zoo. Easy to spot? Absolutely. And that visual storytelling makes it so impactful to finish the book and ask the kids, "So what do you think the story was really about?"

Spread from Barroux's Where's the Elephant?

Spread from Barroux's Where's the Elephant?

Where's the Elephant? spurred great conversations about how humans impact our environment, and how that has effects on other living creatures as well as on ourselves. It was a unique approach to the larger topic of climate change, which ties back to humans' impacts on our world. The simple story gave kids a frame for thinking about the topic.

I think this type of activity could be easily replicated outside of a larger initiative like our Civic Lab. A storytime leader could easily add one of these picture books into storytime and have a quick little chat after the story. If parents are present at the story sharing, the story gives them the opportunity to think about how they might have that conversation with their kids. We've anecdotally found that parents do want to talk to their kids about these major topics in the world, but they don't always know how to go about doing so. Sharing stories that connect to major topics can show parents that there are resources to support those conversations, and that their library is a place to go for those resources and for their own support.

Sharing these types of stories gets us engaged in conversation with each other in ways that build community bonds--whether among a family, a neighborhood, or an entire community. Give it a try.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The Civic Lab: Skokie's Civic Engagement Library

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

Welcome to the Civic Lab at Skokie Public Library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Take the Our Voices Pledge

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Wrapping up Summer Reading with a Field Day

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

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

Self-Paced Field Day Activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Group Field Day Activities

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

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

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

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

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


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

We are happy to oblige.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

I'm Taking the Pledge #Libraries4BlackLives #M4BLPledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Librarianship on YouTube: All the Summer Reading Hype!

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Storytime in the Wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

Gratitude Graffiti at the Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, April 15, 2016

Community Aspirations for Strategic Planning

We've just wrapped up the strategic planning process at my library. It was a robust multi-month process, and we absolutely wanted lots of patron and community feedback to inform the direction of the library. To help the strategic planning team to position the library in a future that our community actively wants for our village, we wanted to hear their thoughts about where the community should go and what it should have--library included.

Around the time we were mulling over ways to generate community input, I was reading a book that included a quick mention of a Japanese festival, Tanabata. One of the customs associated with this holiday is the writing of wishes on tanzaku, small pieces of paper, then either setting the paper afloat on a body of water or tying it to the branch of a wish tree. I found this image of people--neighbors who share spaces but may not know one another--all sharing their wishes communally to be incredibly beautiful. How might we embrace this idea in a manner that would get patrons sharing their wishes for our community?

This community aspirations board was in our east
side  checkout area. It looks sparsely populated
with stars-- but that's just because I only took a
picture on day 1, then forgot to take more photos
when I was culling stars for the report to make
more space for input.
Cue our community aspirations boards. Since we wanted folks to share their aspirations--their wishes--we decided to go with a "wish upon a star" theme: a big nighttime starscape on foam core with a sign reading "Wish Upon a Star: Wishes for Skokie." Our graphics department made two of these boards, and we placed one at both of our checkout locations (which are on opposite sides of the library, together in the paths of everyone who uses the library). Next to each board was a table area with colorful star-shaped sticky notes, writing utensils, and a simple sign entreating folks to share their aspirations for Skokie on a star.

We chose this type of flat format for feedback because it could fit into the high-trafficked checkout areas without causing physical obstructions. And we opted for colorful visuals because, as we had hypothesized and as was confirmed by participation rates, when patrons see the colorful notes, they want to add their own to the board. We found that the more wishes that were on the board, the more people were inclined to add.

We left the community aspirations boards up for about three weeks, and some colleagues and I would periodically remove some stars and record the wishes on them for our final report. Over those three weeks, we had over 400 responses. These came from children through seniors and everyone in between. As you might imagine, some were more legible than others.

Now, if you want to do this type of patron-sharing project, you could certainly stop here. You can read the comments on the boards themselves and get some great ideas about what your public wants for the community they live in. Since we wanted this information for strategic planning, however, I put together a report of all the contributions. This involved coding the responses for themes so we could see what particular aspirations seemed most widely shared. The coding process required throwing out some of the contributions; I'm talking about the stars on which folks had written "poop" (there were at least a dozen); where young children had simply scribbled (we appreciate those thoughts and only wish we could translate!) or practiced their names; or where the comments didn't really fit into the category of realistic wishes from which we could suss out deeper aspirations. My favorite of this third type came from a four-year-old: "I wish Skokie was made of waffles." I hear you, Sadie.

We ended up with 363 viable aspirations that were coded into about 28 categories, then analyzed for frequency.

Far and away the aspiration for Skokie most frequently expressed in this project was for resources--both specific types of library resources and other types of resources in the community. To me, that indicates that lots of people in our community know what they want, but they may not know where to find it. That's something the library can certainly help with.

Food, play, and coffee were in the next tier of most-cited aspirations. While some of the comments about food had to do with food security, at least half of them were referring to spaces that were inviting and affordable to eat with others. Combined with play and the high desire for a coffee shop near the library, one interpretation of this grouping of aspirations could be that folks want spaces were they can be and play as individuals and as families who are part of a larger community. Again, this is a value that I think a library can be well-situated to embrace and promote.

We learned a lot from this community aspirations board project, and it certainly informed how the core strategic planning committee thought about what the community wants from us and from the place they live. We exist for them, and so we wanted to know what they want. We heard. And I encourage you to think about ways to get your patrons to weigh in on the type of community they want to live in so that you can think about how the library fits into that vision.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Unprogramming on FYI: The Public Libraries Podcast

Earlier this month, I chatted on the phone with Kathleen Hughes from PLA about the programming strategy developed by Marge Loch-Wouters and myself, unprogramming. That conversation was edited into a podcast. Like the kind you can download and listen to in the car or on the train. Super cool!

Check out my interview on FYI: The Public Libraries Podcast here, and definitely subscribe to the podcast using whatever platform you typically use for podcasts.

And if you're interested in reading more about unprogramming, here are some resources all gathered in one place:

Blog Posts Explaining Unprogramming, from Marge Loch-Wouters and Myself:

Write-ups of Some of My Unprograms

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Many Tastes of Salsa

Every winter/early spring at my library is marked by our participation in a community-wide initiative, Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township*. This year, the initiative is called ¡Viva! and the overall goal is to explore and learn about the diverse Latino cultures and experiences in our community.

Latino culture is not monolithic--there are myriad cultures, traditions, allegiances, and values underneath that larger term. And so in creating a program for youth that could begin to reflect this reality of nuance and multiculturalism, we looked to a concept shared by all: food. Here's the program that resulted.

The Many Tastes of Salsa

Photo by Skokie Public LibraryCC BY-NC-SA 2.0
I kicked off this program (aimed at elementary-age children and their families) with a bit of introduction. I asked attendees what types of foods they really like, what foods and flavors make them think of home and family. This line of conversation set the stage for the read-aloud for the program: Salsa: A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta. The gorgeous text, accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Duncan Tonatiuh, is the story of one child's family traditions around salsa--of making it every weekend, and of dancing to salsa music during the process. The short, lyrical book provides a basic introduction to what salsa is and how it is made, and along the way the reader/listener gets to learn the family and cultural significance of the dish in the child's life.

After the read-aloud, I projected some images onto our big screen to show many of the common elements and ingredients of making salsa. We talked about the common tools--molcajete and tejolote--and most common ingredients--tomatoes, onions, chilies, lime. Then we also explored other ingredients that go into the salsas of folks from different geographic and cultural Latino backgrounds. We talked about difference in spiciness; tomatoes versus tomatillos; additional flavors like garlic, corn, and fruit. We talked, in short, about how different folks have different go-to salsas, and how a single type of recipe can be adapted and embraced by lots of different people.

Photo by Skokie Public Library, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Then the largest chunk of the program, and the part during which there was most natural social discussion: the salsa tasting. One of the major benefits of living in an area as diverse as Skokie and its surrounding towns and cities is the availability of great foods. For our tasting, we used a range of types of salsas, all made in-house by a local international produce shop. Using Chicago-made tortilla chips, kids tried a mild red salsa; salsa roja, with a bit more heat; a salsa with corn and beans added in; salsa verde made with tomatillos and dried chilies; a mango salsa; and a hot red salsa.

Photo by Skokie Public LibraryCC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Now, if you've never done programs for kids that involve food tastings, let me tell you two things I've learned: 1) kids who attend are by and large willing to try just about any foods; and 2) breaking bread--or, in this case, scooping salsa--together is the single best way I've found to nurture comfortable, kitchen table-style conversations among kids in the library. This program was no exception. Some kids came knowing a friend or a family member, but once the food was out at the tables, everyone was congenially talking to their tablemates--about favorite foods, family traditions, preference for spiciness, etc. Food can facilitate those social connections by providing us with shared experience and an opening for talking about something we have in common.

So that was the program: an exploration of how different cultural groups within a larger cultural identifier embrace a food and make it their own. Our conversations were rich, and our taste buds satisfied.


*For a bit of quick back story on Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township: Skokie is extremely diverse (think 70+ languages spoken in our elementary schools), and the community currently includes, and has historically included, high numbers of immigrants. About 25 years ago, members of the community put together an annual initiative called the Festival of Cultures to celebrate this diversity. More recently--in 2010--community leaders wanted to add a large community initiative that would have more of an education component. That is, where the Festival of Cultures celebrates all the community's diversity, Coming Together focuses on an ethnic or cultural group with a major presence in Skokie to allow all community members opportunity to learn more about that group--their neighbors. 2015 was something of an outlier year, where instead of focusing in on a single culture or cultural group, we tackled race.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Librarianship on YouTube: How to Make a Volcano

Right now and through the month of April, we're exploring all things earth science in the BOOMbox. That means rocks, natural disasters, ecosystems... all sorts of exciting natural phenomena that are ripe for exploration. One of the hits of the BOOMbox: Earth rotation thus far has been our weekly Monday afternoon microworkshop on volcanos. Who doesn't love a good eruption?

You can find the basics of the microworkshop on the help site for the BOOMbox (click here). And if you want to make your very own volcano, just like ours? Well, lucky you--here's a video that shows you how to do just that, complete with elephant toothpaste eruption.

Don't forget to click through to this volcano frame template if you want to follow along--or feel free to build a volcano that satisfies your own craftiness!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tabletop Coding, plus more resources for coding with kids from WisCode Literati

I'm a fan of coding and other computer science activities in libraries--and I hope more and more folks will be inspired in this area, too, what with President Obama requesting $4 billion in the next budget specifically for K-12 computer science (CS) education. I love that coding activities are simultaneously versatile and engaging. Also, there's some indication that those activities kids intentionally spend time on are the ones preparing them for future jobs we have yet to even imagine. That's a strong argument for making sure CS and coding are part of library offerings, if you ask me.

In my relatively short career thus far, I've had the opportunity to work in libraries with both limited and advanced tech materials when it comes to kids' programming. What hardware a library has access to certainly factors into what type of computer science programming they can offer, but hardware doesn't have to be correlated with your intent to program around coding. We can get kids started with fundamental coding concepts in plenty of no- and low-tech ways.
All you need for a simple coding
activity is a grid board, some
tokens, and blank index cards.
With that in mind, I put together a Tabletop Coding activity for elementary ages and older. I've offered it as one of a range of stations on our Afternoon of Code here at Skokie, but it can also be a standalone pop-up activity, a competitive program--you name it. The materials are simple: a gridded game board, like for chess or checkers; a few game pieces or other tokens; and 20+ blank index cards, plus a writing utensil. With these simple materials at your fingertips, you can get kids in the mindset for coding. Full details on running the activity are here.

You see, rather than specifically share this full program activity how-to here on the blog, I wrote it up for a tremendous, free coding resource made by and for librarians: WisCode Literati. Their website hosts a growing number of CS activities, called "kits," that cover the full spectrum from no-tech to high-tech activities. Basically, there's something there for every library to offer, regardless of the tech you have at your disposal. Each activity has a thorough description, most often with helpful pictures, to get library staffers at a point where their comfort level matches their enthusiasm for offering coding activities. You should check out all of the great program and activity ideas, all of which have been vetted by librarians.

What are some of your favorite coding resources?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Librarianship on YouTube: Milk Planets

Today is the third annual Family Science Expo at my library, and I'll be running one of the staff-led activity stations from our craft room. What type of science will we do in there, you ask? We're doing simple chemistry by making milk planets--colorful, milky reactions that end up looking like gas giants!

Watch the video below to find out how to do this simple activity yourself using some basic household materials.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Let's Talk! Babies Need Words Every Day - The Blog Tour

Hello, friends and fellow literacy warriors! I'm pleased as punch to be participating in Day 1 of the Babies Need Words Every Day Blog Tour.

In case you'd like a refresher, Babies Need Words Every Day is an ALSC initiative with the impetus to help libraries help families to reduce the 30 million word gap--that is, the massive gap in the number of words that a typical child from a lower socio-economic status (or SES) household hears as compared to a typical child in a higher SES*. And ALSC, with the hard work of their Early Childhood Programs & Services Committee, created 8 beautiful posters (in both English and Spanish) that cheerily invite parents with young children to engage in talking, reading, singing, and playing that will, as a result, facilitate a greater sharing of words with their children.

It's my pleasure today to talk about one of the posters focused on "Talk." And boy am I happy to do so, because my favorite early literacy messages of all time--in storytimes, in parent engagement programs, and to early childhood educators--are about all of the amazing things we can help children accomplish simply by talking to and with them. When we talk to and with children, they hear and learn new words. They are introduced to new concepts. They become able to piece together facts that they understand separately to form a fuller picture of the world they inhabit. They become able to make analogies to understand both concrete and abstract concepts. And they develop the tools to express themselves. All such major milestones in literacy development.

Did you know that "talk" doesn't necessarily get a huge amount of play in today's early childhood education landscape? A recent article in The Atlantic talked about the differences between typical preschool programs and the really high-quality ones--and illustrated that high-quality interactions do not have to be synonymous with high-cost programs. Whereas many programs focus on learning words for the sake of learning words, the best embrace the learning that comes from free talking and conversation:
"The real focus in the preschool years should be not just on vocabulary and reading, but on talking and listening. We forget how vital spontaneous, unstructured conversation is to young children’s understanding. By talking with adults, and one another, they pick up information. They learn how things work. They solve puzzles that trouble them." -Erika Christakis
So when I talk to caregivers about the importance of talk, I emphasize talking for the sake of learning--conversation for the sake of concept-building. Parents, especially those with very young, pre-talking children, can feel awkward talking to their little ones. Many think it feels silly to chatter on with and ask questions of their infant, especially anywhere in public. But it's so beneficial! I am always emphasizing the simple, language-building ways that a parent can talk with their child. That's one reason why I love the koala poster you see here: it's got a simple, adaptable rhyme. When a parent receives or sees this poster, they can learn the rhyme: "Way up high in the apple tree / Two little apples smiled at me / I shook that tree as hard as I could / Down came the apples / Mmmmmm--were they good!" That's a fun, simple rhyme to get a conversation started, say, at the grocery store. But it's also a template for more conversations. Substitute apples for your child's favorite food when you say the rhyme. Talk about things that grow on trees and where other foods come from. Talk about why things fall down. TALK!

I encourage you to encourage the caregivers in your library and your community in the same ways. Print off the posters that you think will most appeal to your community (who wouldn't love the gorgeous artwork by Il Sung Na??). Hang them in your library, or hand them out at storytimes. At the very least, challenge yourself to have a conversation with caregivers about each of the practices emphasized by Babies Need Words Every Day.

Families need library workers who know that babies need words every day. Be that library worker! Check out all of the stops on the Babies Need Words Every Day Blog Tour for lots of resources and ideas.

How do you talk about talk in your library?

*Yes, it's true that bridging this gap alone will likely not completely solve all the problems--those 30 million fewer words are likely a correlation to a lower kindergarten readiness and reading achievement, not a causation. But study after study shows that efforts to increase early literacy through talking/vocabulary/background knowledge are, in fact, successful. The way I see it, Babies Need Words Every Day is an awfully impactful, low-effort tool to help us do just that.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Early Elementary STEAM: Vegetable (& Fruit) Prints

We have two-month program cycles at my library, and during each cycle, we aim to have formal, registered STEAM program opportunities for each of the age ranges in my purview as Youth & Family Program Coordinator--that is, preschool, early elementary (K-2nd), and older elementary (3rd-5th). When we can, the other youth programming staff and I like to tie in the themes and concepts in these age-specific programs to align with the theme in the BOOMbox, our STEAM space. The following program activity aligned with our recent Textiles rotation, where folks of all ages explore sewing, weaving, prints, dying, knitting, batik, and more.

Vegetable Prints

Target age: kindergarten through second grade (our room fits about 16 comfortably)
Key concepts: print-making; visual thinking; shapes of fruits and vegetables from different perspectives
  • tempera (or other washable--trust me, this gets messy) paint, in an assortment of colors
  • vegetables and fruits of different types, sizes, and shapes (for the best result, cut them into halves/pieces at least 6 hours in advance of the program to allow the exposed edges to harden a bit)
  • heavy paper (like construction or watercolor paper) and/or fabric squares
  • trays to hold the paint
  • paintbrushes
  • cups with water to rinse brushes
  • paper toweling for blotting wet brushes

Once kids were settled into our craft room for the program, I encouraged kids to put on painting smocks in anticipation of the mess. Then I prompted them to look at the materials on the tables. What did they see? Could they identify the different fruits and vegetables? Could they make any guesses at what we'd be doing with the materials in front of them?

After kids were clear that we'd be exploring print-making with paint and natural materials, we talked for a few minutes about what different shapes, patterns, and prints the different fruits and veg would make if painted and applied to the paper/fabric in different ways. I encouraged kids to pick up the veg pieces to look at them from different perspectives, trying to imagine the prints each side would make.

Then it was time to make some prints! We started off with everyone applying paint to their chosen fruits and veg using the paintbrushes, but after a while most kids defaulted to dipping their natural materials straight into the paint. (Told you it would get messy!)

We did this as a 45-minute program, and an integral part of using that full time frame was having multiple surfaces on which the kids could make prints. Everyone started off with a small sheet of paper to get a hang of the technique, then after maybe 10-15 minutes they each got a larger sheet of paper to plan out a larger, more intricate print (if they wanted). We talked about patterns and repetition, color choices, and other factors that print-makers consider at this point. Then, the final 15-20 minutes were spent with kids diligently creating a final print on a piece of muslin fabric. The idea was for the dried fabric to serve as a wall or door hanging, so we attached dowels with string to the top of each child's fabric so that the finished print could be displayed more easily.

It was so interesting to me to see how different kids really connected with different aspects of this activity. Some were totally into color mixing, while others favored a consistent palate. Some wanted to get the full effect of a single veg or two from every angle (a sort of natural cubism), while others wanted to explore every single shape and texture available. By the end, one or two kids even started repurposing the veg as paintbrushes, using them to draw and write on their final prints. Simple activity, so many possibilities!