Friday, February 28, 2014

Re-Thinking SLP

In thinking about how to balance the programs we offer, the class was asked to share an example of how they changed a program, grew it or adapted it to create a better balance. This is one in a series of posts in which class participants responded to the prompt: Share an example of a way you evolved a program that led to a more successful outcome.

Tara has just started doing SLPs and wanted to morph it from everyone just reading into something that fit the needs and interests of different age groups..

When I started the program was set up so all kids who could read on their own up to age 18 were able to read as much as they wanted and receive "stuff" at the end of 6 weeks. They kept track of their progress on sheets from the manual and used coordinating stickers. I decided that I wanted there to be different levels to the SRP. So I began making my own sheets for how the kids could keep track of their reading. 

Birth to age 5 kids were given a sheet with the option of reading or doing a list of activities. After the kids completed so many activities or readings, they could bring the sheet in to receive a small prize (prizes included pencils, notepads, small stuffed animals, etc;  we also had coupons donated by businesses if the parents want them to have them - our local businesses have been great supporters). After they completed an entire sheet of them, they could bring it in to receive a new book. I had purchased books that were leveled readers that they could choose from or board books for the littlest. 

The 6- 11 year olds completed their reading logs based on the twenty minute a day guideline with four stopping points for them to receive prizes. They too received new books when they reached the end. All the children in both age groups that completed the required goal by the end of the program had their names put in for a drawing for each age group to win a grand prize. Last year we were able to give away movie tickets, a free meal to Culver's, a gift card to Walmart to the winners. 

The teen group was 12 & up and they were challenged to read against each other -  the top two who read the most had their names put in for a grand prize and a runner up prize. Teens could also win weekly if they wrote book reviews. All of it seemed to do ok, but some griped because compared to previous years they had to work a bit more for prizes. I really wanted to have them do things that support reading and earn prizes that are more than plastic.

This year we are actually thinking of changing the teens to do a bingo board instead and doing more with facebook, twitter, and other social media to get teens to participate. Whether it was more successful I'm not sure since last year was my first SRP year I'll have to wait and see how it compares to this year. 

Graphic courtesy of the Collaborative Summer Library Program

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A Delicate Balance

In our discussions on program planning we discussed ways in which we create a balanced offering of programs for many different age groups that we serve. Here's what the class had to say:

  • I was lucky enough to attend an Unconference in my state and the number one thing that struck me was how different each library community is. What works for one will not work for another. Knowing your community and how best to serve them is key and definitely one definition of "balance."
  • The first strategy I use is to listen to our library's customers. and We look to our library users...what do our families want.
  • Another strategy would be to have understanding staff who are flexible and willing to adjust their schedules and duties to help out. Not always easy to do but nice when it happens. 
  • We look at past statistics and what our patrons want and that is how we decide which programs should go in which time slot.
  • Since we are a small community and library I try to make the programs so that many children of different ages have something to do. Even my storytimes vary some in what I do to incorporate babies to preschool because we just don't have enough of any age to focus on just one age.
  • I think we follow the model of many libraries - more preschool programs during the school year, more school age programs in the summer.
  • Is balance knowing your community, experimenting with possibilities, recognizing your successes and evaluating your failures and finally knowing when to throw in the towel? If so, than that's where I am at.

We also shared some documents for planning and keeping track of how we're doing.

Planning with a Master Info Samples
Seasonal Calendar Sample
Monthly Stats Tracking Sheet sample

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

TLC for the Librarian

It's easy sometimes for our work to start showing up in our home life. One discussion thread in our consideration of program breaks had us literally putting on the "brakes". We had some strong things to say about taking care of ourselves:
  • When you are that sole provider of services you have to take some care for you - and breaks can provide that breather, that time to re-charge, re-assess or simply put time into other pressing concerns.  I think alot of us got into library work not just for love of books and reading but also for more altrusitic reasons of helping people, supporting literacy and knowledge in our communities. There is sometimes a tendency to give and give and give without regard for ourselves. That's where burn-out can become a problem - or taking the job home into our lives to "just get a little more done"
  • I have a mandatory rule for myself, that I will look at no emails, texts, NOTHING, regarding work, when I am off.  I was widowed with three children when I began here, and when I got home, demands on my time and attention were high.
  • I am now a newlywed, and though mine are all grown and on their own, my husband deserves more than a burned-out drone each evening/weekend.  I do try to encapsulate the day in the first few minutes we are together again, but then, that is it. 
  • I spent about 3 months of having my work email attached to my personal phone. It was a horrible 3 months of me feeling like I was working all the time. I've always had mixed feelings about work from home. If I put together elaborate felt boards and plan programs and prep crafts on my own time, am I not giving our patrons a false sense of the value of their tax dollars? Will they come to expect a level of programming that is not financially sustainable and realistic? 
  • I think that when we volunteer our time to our careers, we are not giving our boards and communities a realistic idea of what it takes in  expenses and staff time to do our jobs. We also set up unrealistic expectations about what we actually do for our paid time. 
  • You made a very important point about taking time for your family. Because my husband is usually pretty busy, when he is home I try to not do any work at home.  It is amazing though how ideas will just pop up in your head while taking showers, etc. I commute and often ideas/work-related issues just pop up.  The only bad thing is I can't write them down while driving! (note: here someone suggested calling yourself and leaving a message on your phone!)
  • This is always hard one for me. I like to put on a high quality program so I would keep adding to the program up to the day of the program. But it became stressful for me and I took work home with me often because I wanted to have everything done just right and I enjoyed too alot of the hands on work. I had to let go and delegate jobs to other co-workers, call library volunteers and lighten up. For me the balance is it's okay to have a good program instead of a GREAT program and not me such a perfectionist. It's better to have a happy, fun loving children's librarian than a nervous up tight one.
How about you? Can you leave work at work and make time for yourself?
Image: '75/365 Hugs are Healing' Found on

Monday, February 24, 2014

Beg, Borrow or Steal?

A comment on one of our discussion threads got me thinking: Thank you.  I have just now committed a crime.  I have officially "stolen" your program name.  My "Drop in Craft" is now "Art a la Carte." Thank you very much!!!

Ah, stealing. What a scary word! I had to look it up just to calm myself down.

Steal: verb (used with object), stole, sto·len, steal·ing.
1. to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by forceA pickpocket stole his watch.
2. to appropriate (ideas, credit, words, etc.) without right or acknowledgment.

(This definition was stolen from

When I started my current job as Early Literacy Lady, I had no prior programming experience with young kids. I worked with teens at my last library and did lots of perler bead/duct tape/Wii Sports programs, which equals choking hazard/sticky hair/booger encrusted controllers for the younger set. I was worried. Even though I consider myself a very creative person, I was terrified that I wouldn’t have any new ideas to give to my little patrons. I didn’t want to be stuck in a hell that was Open Shut Them on loop, so…

…I started researching, because LIBRARIAN. There are loads of books, websites, blogs, magazines, wikis, library resources, etc., dedicated to early literacy and early childhood development. I thought to myself, “Isn’t this stealing though? Taking someone else’s idea? Will people think less of me? What will my Director say? Will (insert blogger’s name) hunt me down and take my ripped-off flannel board away?!” Cue hyperventilation.

I asked my then-supervisor what she thought. I can clearly remember her saying, “Oh Michelle! In libraries we don’t steal we borrow! Every librarian does it. Teachers are totally different; they keep their good stuff for their own classrooms. Librarians try something and tell EVERYONE how great it is!”

Oh. Okay. AWESOME.

(P.S. Sorry teachers. I don’t know if all of that is true, but Teachers Pay Teachers? Hm…)

Since that fateful day in September of 2012, I have borrowed so many ideas I don’t even know what’s mine anymore. I still think of great ideas in the shower, at 2 AM when I can’t sleep, and while driving. For the most part however, I find a read-aloud book that I really like and Google the daylights out of “activities for (this awesome book)” or “fingerplays (theme).”

So borrow and give freely! I started a blog so people can borrow my ideas as well. I told the aforementioned commenter that stole my program name to take it! As long as kids are reaping the benefits of all our ideas, then I say share, share, share! No need to hide them under a bushel…let them shine!

This post was written by librarian/student Michelle Peltier who blogs at  Michelle is the Early Learning Specialist at Mooresville Public Library in Mooresville, IN. She's a mom, artist, wife, librarian, and generally awesome, not necessarily in that order!

Graphic courtesy of Pixabay

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Gimme a Break

There was lively discussion on how the class felt about building breaks into programming cycles. Some students take breaks ranging from two weeks to six weeks periodically throughout the year. Some follow the school calendar for breaks (more programs during no school times). Some feel that routine for families is important and seldom take breaks.

Many people mentioned that they get pushback from patrons when they either decide to take a break in a long series of programs like storytime OR if they decide to skip a year and not always offer the same "big" program (think Valentine Day party or Dr. Seuss Birthday or Gingerbread House Making). Still they felt breaks were worth the reaction for what they offered staff - a chance to catch a breather and plan; opportunities to attend conferences; time to do outreach; a chance to take vacation and unwind!

Many felt badly when families come in during a break expecting a storytime. One strong champion of breaks shared that they always put out some DIY crafts the first week into a storytime break and that helps to ease families through the no-storytime break. At our library we offer Book Bundles, a passive program like Smart Cookie Club and encourage families to get involved in 1000 Books Before Kindergarten.  Others explain to families that library staff need to spend some time learning themselves or serving other ages and that also helped the disappointed families.

One classmate reported that she took the idea of taking breaks in programming to her director and successfully convinced the director to support her incorporating them into their program planning.

Some comments::
  • Breaks give us time to recharge and reevaluate. It’s time to try new things: puppet practice, new feltboards, learning new technologies. In our community, if we offered programming for 0-5 year olds every single day we’re open, people would come. They are definitely disappointed when we take breaks, but I really do think they understand why staff needs the time. 
  • I think the break issue is related to the general issue of self-care vs. I-can-take-care-of-everyone-all-the-time martyrdom that many parents face (moms especially).
  • So I guess in all I try to include some breaks to regroup and try to get ahead on some planning. Being that a lot of us I think do this on our own I think we need it, especially if this isn't the only part of our job, if you need to weed books, purchase books, help out with the other parts of the library etc. you almost have to include a break somewhere.  
What is your break experience like?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Where's the Money Coming From?

This week, as we explored whether money is the determining factor in program success, the class shared the many ways they find funding or press the creativity button:

* Small grants
* Generous donor
* Business donations of food or coupons
* Friends of the Library
* Lions Club or other local service organizations
* Endowment funds
* Regular library budget funds (my personal favorite)

In the end the class had some strong feelings about the relationship of money to program success:
  • Money is nice – I certainly wouldn’t turn it down if offered – but staff creativity and enthusiasm are the real keys to successful programming. An idea that grabs participants’ interest and imagination is just as likely to cost little-to-nothing as $20.00.
  • There were times when we had some money for programs and times when we did not. It's seems like that the times we didn't have alot of money our creativity was high. Our library is in a small town so we are able to find somebody who knows somebody that could do a program for us for little to no cost. One past SLP I was able to get all 8 weeks of programming with community members. It is nice to have money to purchase supplies and upgrading existing programs but I think you can put on quality programming with what you have already.
  • I don't think there's any correlation between good programs and amount spent. I have planned programs that cost anywhere from $0-$500. Just because something is more expensive doesn't necessarily make it better or worse. Also, we’re LIBRARIANS! Resourceful people! I have made whole programs around a theme (free), books (free), paper (cheap), cardboard (free), and online content (free).
  • For years, our only reading incentive in the summer reading program was the honor of being the first person to read a brand new library book. After reading a predetermined number of books, the child could choose a new library book to read. We would place a bookplate in that book that said "Child's Name" was the first person to read this book, with the date. Still have patrons who occasionally come in to look for "their" book. Since the incentive was from the book budget, there was no cost at all for SRP prizes.
  • Does money guarantee the success of a program? No, not any more than if the reverse was true...does a free program guarantee success? Of course not. And yet, some of our most successful programs have been cheap, if not, free. We should not be looking at the funds we have available and then find a program to spend the money on. We should find or prepare programs that we believe will have appeal to our customers, then find the necessary funding.  
  • Perhaps because our budget has never allowed for much money in the programming line item I have grown used to tailoring programs that are not dependent on expensive support to succeed. This may limit us to some degree. Ultimately however kids don't remember what was in the goody bag at the program, they remember what they made or did or the fun they had doing it.
Graphic courtesy of Pixabay

Friday, February 21, 2014

Re-purposing Program Supplies

We are having a interesting set of discussions this week on whether money is the most important factor in driving program success.  One part of the discussion involves the wealth of program supplies we tend to accumulate over the years. Here are a few great ideas from the class on what to do with them!

  • Never throwing anything out helps, too. Successful programs can develop from a stray thought and a well-stocked supply cabinet/closet/room. Years ago, we spent $20 on a huge supply of mat board scraps from a framing shop; we are still using them for so many crafts, such as bases for Box Cities (or its companion, Build a Castle).
  •  In fact, one of the most popular events the last library I worked for put on was a seasonal “craft day” where we set out different crafts left over from past programs. Each child got a set number of tickets to “buy” different crafts. Children could select crafts, two at a time, they wanted to make. The library also provided all the materials necessary to make each craft (glue, crayons, scissors, etc.) at tables so that everyone could select their crafts, spread out, and create.
  • We end every SRP with a Craft Smorgasbord Night, which is, you guessed it, stations set up with leftovers, and the kids can move around and do as many as they want!  They LOVE it ,and never complain that they "already did that one before."  Talk about a cheap, fun, non-labor-intensive program!  It is my favorite, but then, I am a tight wad!  :-)
  • I started a program called Art a la Carte for the same reason. When I started at my current job, there was an enormous amount of leftover craft materials. I used what I could in storytimes, but if there weren't quite enough kits for 3 storytime offerings/week, I would offer them in the Art a la Carte program and they would be snapped up. I'm now investing in supplies vs. premade kit materials and doing more open ended projects that require less time and energy on my part. Process not product!  It's totally self-directed. I lay out a "buffet" of supplies and let patrons go at it. It's also for all ages, not just K-6, so I have parents bring in their little ones, teens, and even adults rifling through stuff to create something. It's AWESOME. :) The only prep work I have is to get the stuff out and make sure if there's any chance a super mess could happen that I throw tablecloths on the tables!
  • Our team as a whole is very creative when it comes to saving money and making things out of what we have. I can get very crafty to come up with crafts, or sometimes for storytimes, I go through the closet, see what we have, come up with a craft and base that days theme on what i came up with.
How about you? Do you find another purpose for all those odds and ends?

Graphic courtesy of Pixabay

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Aieeee! Program Challenges

While programming can be great fun, it also has it's share of frustrations and challenges.  This week, we shared not only what we love but also the darker side of our program work - the things that can be discouraging.

These include:

  • lack of transportation - kids are dependent on adults to get them to the library
  • attendance uncertainty- either no one or waaaay too many people
  • lack of time - juggling so many responsibilities, it is difficult to devote sufficient time to planning
  • families having so many options available, they are "over-programmed"
  • lack of adequate funding and tireless fight to secure it
  • lack of dedicated programming space
  • lack of appreciation (your prizes aren't good enough...even when books are the prize!)
  • politics of borders and fees - families who are in other districts/systems not able to access your services without paying a fee
  • changing demographics - declining child population
  • economic struggles of families - many families are struggling and while the library is free, gas isn't
  • PR efficacy - the word isn't getting out despite traditional AND creative PR work
  • cost of outside performers
  • burn-out
  • how to reach out to non-library users
  • administration/board not supportive
  • colleagues who don't program because they aren't interested or have given up
As we shared our frustrations, classmates also shared support and suggested possible solutions  (like partnering with schools and after school care programs, outreach, working with buses, ideas for PR). And just about everyone felt strongly that the positives far outweigh the negatives in their programming work.

Do these difficulties sound familiar?  What do YOU struggle with?  Leave a comment and let us know!

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why We Love Programming!

Welcome to our new blog on programming with children!

The content of the blog will primarily be synopses of discussions, resources shared by students and content based on other coursework in Power Programming for Children - on a Budget, a six week spring 2014 UW-Madison online course.  About half our students come from WI while others are from KY, WA, IN, KS, IL, MN, NE, MI and points in between - a great cross section of experience - and experiences. We hope it will serve both as a touchstone for folks in the course and a help to readers in the larger blogosphere!

This week, we are exploring what it is about programming work that keeps us coming back for more.

This is what class participants are sharing about where they find their happiness in programming:
  • planning and thinking about programs - the scope for imagination is great fun and the work environment of a library in which to plan--what could be better?
  • a system level consultant loves working with many different librarians sharing many different ideas. It gives her time to explore and discover many new  blogs and ideas about youth services.
  • seeing the response of children and the dedication of parents who might make a double trip to the library so both a preschool child in storytime and a sibling in school get to experience the library.
  • getting to know the kids and families more deeply and the element of creativity that enters into creating programs.
  • knowing that early literacy components in preschool programming will result in better informed parents/caregivers and better outcomes for the tots.
  • the joy of kids and parents attending the program re-energizes!
  • using creativity to highlight books and get kids reading is challenging and fun.
  • the moment when you see the kids truly connecting with the library and what you are doing in a program
  • when the kids view the library as a fun place
  • having the programming pieces fall together - great idea, low/no cost, good attendance, appreciation from kids and a photo in the paper the next day.
  • seeing kids come back when they are older and help with programs or as adults to say hi
  • getting a plate of thank you treats
How about you? What gives YOU programming happiness?

Graphic courtesy of Pixabay