Friday, February 20, 2015

Take a Break 1

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We spent some time discussing creating balance and structure in our program planning. One aspect of the discussion involved the efficacy of taking program breaks. Should we? Shouldn't we? And if we do, what  is our experience - and our patrons' responses? Here's what the class had to say:

- ... in my previous library, the children's librarian offered storytimes in semesters. Spring, Summer, Winter and Fall. She took 2-3 weeks off to do school visits, prep and refresh for the next 'semester' and take vacation time. In the beginning, she was worried about taking breaks so would just put some crafts out in the storytime room just in case families showed up for storytime. But over time parents learn and adapt. Besides, Parks and Rec doesn't offer Pilates or water aerobics 52 weeks a year so I don't see why libraries should feel they have to?

I actually like the idea of setting out some crafts in the storytime room when storytime is on break. While it wouldn't be a full break then, it would still give families something to do in the transition.With the internet, it's so easy to find super simple crafts these days. 

I don't think it's always that the librarians feel they have to offer programming all the time as much as it is a board or community misunderstanding. In my old library, my director felt strongly that breaks of any kind in programming were bad for the children and the families in our community. Her only exception to that was the week between Christmas and New Year's because we weren't open most of those days anyway. It got to the point where I wasn't allowed to take vacation on days when we had programs, and we had programs every day I worked, so I went to the board for some help. It turned out that she was telling me I had to program every day and couldn't take breaks because that's what the board was saying. I talked to them about burn out and the need to plan programs in advance, and they realized that breaks weren't such a bad idea. I still didn't take many breaks, but we followed the school calendar for programming, with an 8 week summer reading program as well. It worked well for that community.

I usually take a 2 or 3 week break before Christmas through the New Year. Parents are so busy right before the holidays and the weather is usually iffy right after so it works great. I also break the story time off at the end of April and take the month of May off-for preparing for the summer reading programs and then start story time up in June. Also we usually take August off from story time- staff vacations, family vacations etc are that month and then we start up when school starts as families are back on a schedule. I haven't had any complaints about the breaks.

When our Youth Librarian quit, we took about a 5 month break. We just started programs again Monday night. I think for us it was a wonderful thing. This gave us time to rethink the way things were going and also to think of new programs as well. I understand that sometimes it's difficult to take breaks. Sometimes it's tradition and sometimes it's expectation. However, I'm only 26. I plan to do this for many more years and so I know that breaks are important. We do three weeks of storytime and then week off. We also switch between toddlers and preschoolers. I also don't think it's a bad idea to throw in breaks close to holidays when you know everyone will be busy or out of town. I intend to incorporate breaks for my own sanity to be honest.

It is hard to take breaks.  I guess I'm afraid that if I lose momentum, the parents will forget all about us and never come back!  But seriously, I am afraid to take breaks.  However, this year around Christmas,  I actually took 10 days off to spend with my family.  And, knowing that, I started our preschool programs a week later than usual in January.  The outcome?  I came back refreshed and ready to go, and, believe it or not, all the parents came back with their kids, too! :) I used to feel obligated to have one or two programs over Christmas break to give the kids something to do--not anymore.  I realized that by taking a break I'm doing right by the patrons, because Ms. Jen comes back rested and ready to work.  I'm glad I tried the longer break this year, and will definitely do it again next Christmas.

I think the practice of taking breaks goes back to the question of why do we program? If we are programming to entertain, breaks would be devastating. Take a break in this scenario and the audience might leave for somewhere else. If we see programming as a way to engage patrons in discovery/literacy/reading support, a break just means inviting the patrons the do this discovery/literacy work on their own. When we look at why we program and examine other reasons we might use to approach programming and what that model might look like it opens up the possibility of more balance. When I first started out as a librarian, I had fears of "The No-Returning-Patrons". Through experience I discovered, this simply didn't happen. Even when I worked in a metropolitan area with seven libraries in seven contiguous but independent communities (each library was within 1-3 miles of two-three other libraries!), breaks didn't drive our patrons away. They always came back. It taught me that my anxiety over this issue was mostly an illusion. And it gave me the knowledge that I could achieve a better balance with my other duties and home life to make sure I still had a variety of offerings without running like the Energizer Bunny (TM) throughout the year!

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