Beyond Rhymes: 5 Take-Aways for Better Programming

I wanted to share with you an excellent professional development experience I just had, the Beyond Rhymes webinar series from Infopeople. Presented by Patrick Remer and Heidi Dolamore the series encouraged youth services librarians to work with their administration and think strategically to offer the best storytime experience to their patrons.

With the abundance of easily accessible resources online for the content of storytime it was a pleasure to have a team of presenters take a different look at storytime.

I wanted to break down what my takeaways are because I think there is a lot of inspiration and motivation to be had there. This is one more piece of how my hiatus is changing the way I will do my next job.  As I said these are Heidi and Patrick’s ideas. I’m just reflecting on them and putting them in a place I’ll be able to re-visit from time to time.

1. Start with setting goals and priorities. What does your department want to accomplish? What impact does your library want to have on the community? Is there an age group you want to reach?  A percentage of your population? You need to know the answers before you start. Then when faced with a decision to make or priorities to set you can go back to those goals. Every decision you make should serve those goals. Working with administration to set these goals is important and brings us to the second truth.

2. Big outcomes take buy-in and participation from everyone, not just the youth librarian. Once you know what you want to accomplish and your administrators are on board then it is time to bring in the rest of your staff in. In Heidi and Patrick’s libraries all staff are aware that storytime is an organization-wide priority and they all have roles to contribute to that. This is both a a great example of teamwork and internal advocacy. Some staff might be involved more directly in storytime than others, but everyone is on the same page on the program because they understand why it is a priority.

3. “We can’t do that because” is not an answer, it’s an opportunity for problem solving. Space, resources, and staffing are some of the typical road blocks to presenting all the programs we would like to offer. Working as a team to come up with creative solutions such as moving storytime to a larger space or training additional staff to present storytime become more realistic when everyone knows it is a priority in service to the organization’s goals.

4. Decide who your audience is and then design your programs to reach them. Too many times we have a cool idea or opportunity for a program and then go searching for an audience. Then we wonder why we are sitting in an empty room.  I think this is a great lesson no matter what age group you are working with. A wonderful example of this are the Black Storytimes (and storytimes in several other languages) offered by Multnomah County Library.

5. Be welcoming and accessible in your space, publicity, and policies. Do an audit of your space, including one from the point of view of a preschooler. What looks like a small shelf to us may be a huge barrier that cuts off a large part of your space to a three year-old.

Look at your publicity. Does it use a lot of jargon like “lapsit”?  Don’t assume everyone knows what storytime programs are, providing more information could bring in a wider audiences.

Think about your policies. Is your schedule hard to follow? Do you limit size? Some creative thinking might remove these barriers to participation. How can you bring the storytime experience and it’s  benefits to the highest number of patrons?

8 Signs You Don’t Belong in Youth Services

stop-sign

Given the library job market and youth services being a typical entry level position we occasionally see people that really shouldn’t be here. All of us can use a reminder of what kind of attitudes lead to success or failure. This post is inspired in part by Marge’s Top 12 Ways to be a Bad Selector and part by More Than Dodgeball’s post Pizza Church.

You might try a different specialty if:

You do all the talking and none of the listening where patrons are concerned.

If you truly want to offer great customer service to your patrons you need to listen to them. Do your best to offer them the programs they are interested in at times they can attend.  Provide the materials  THEY find useful, entertaining, or informative.

You consider enforcing library policy, and sometimes additional rules you’ve created, your #1 priority.

Structure and consistency is important, but if this becomes your main function you will make everyone miserable including yourself.  Don’t have rules for the sake of having rules. Is the behavior actually unsafe or dispruptive (actually disruptive to users and not just annoying to you)?  Who cares how many people are sitting at a table if they are safe and relatively quiet.

You make assumptions.

If you put kids and teens in neat little boxes based on first impressions you will never build authentic relationships with young people. Teens and children, being individual humans and all,  are more than one thing.

There will always be the super needy kid and the perfect volunteer, but if you spend all your time with them you are missing out on other relationships. Teens especially are trying on all sorts of identities which creates wonderful opportunities for us to provide information if we’re paying attention.

If you are shy and find it hard to break the ice be seen at a football game or school play. Kids and parents will notice.

You only offer one level of engagement.

I’ve seen it both ways. On one end of the spectrum you have the those that offer only traditionally educational and book related programs. On the other end either the bar is lowered because of assumptions about your patrons, or the librarian is stat-padding by offering only casual fun programs.

Instead of this we should be offering a range of engagement to meet our patrons where they are. Just like YouMedia programs have students go from “hanging out” to “messing around”, to “geeking out” our programs can offer points of entry at various levels and encourage young people to be more involved.

You don’t read widely. 

This one just blows my mind. There are plenty of types of librarianship where you don’t actually have to be an avid reader, but youth services isn’t one of them. Read good books, read popular books, read books you wouldn’t normally pick for yourself.  You will never be good at your job if you don’t know your collection.

Your degree was the end of your education, not the beginning. 

Let’s face it, most of us had a handful of youth services classes in library school if that. Even the best professors (shout out to Dr. McKechnie) can’t teach us everything we will ever need to know. Technology evolves, best practices change, and publishing trends come and go. To give our patrons the best service we need to keep learning and improving.

You think children’s and teens’ culture is beneath you. 

Contempt for those you are supposed to be serving is not attractive. Information needs come in all varieties including the birthdays of One Direction. Marketing your programs and collections means tapping into things kids love. On the other hand if you don’t mind an excuse to watch a little Disney Channel now and then you might be in the right place.

You were looking for a desk job. 

Youth services is an out on the floor, visit the schools, shake your sillies out kind of job.  You need to be visible and enthusiastic in your library and your community. This of course refers to a sit-on-your- ass attitude, not actual physical differences.

Do you disagree? Have one I missed? Want to write a guest post going into more detail on one of these?  Speak up.

Beyond Bookmarks: Ways to Promote Databases and Electronic Resources to Youth

As Youth Services Librarians we are very good at promoting books to kids. We booktalk, create displays, offer programs, and compile lists. When it comes to marketing our electronic resources we can struggle a bit without the tangible object to hand young people and their caregivers.  Here are a few ways to market these expensive and often under used resources.

Mini Cards

Less can be more. What do teens really do with fliers? Leave them on the table? Toss them? Wait till they become a clump in the bottom of their school bags? Why not try something they can slip in their wallets or in with their library cards? Create mini-cards the size of business cards featuring the bare essentials of a single database or online service like tutoring, Tumblebooks, Freegal, or Zinio. Focus on promoting just that one resource for a while and then make up a new batch.

Speed dating

The basics of the Book Speed Dating program can easily be adapted for databases. In this case it would likely be easiest to have participants rotate computer stations, each pointing to a different database, every 5-10 minutes depending on the age of your patrons and how much time you have for the session. You might consider doing this as a class visit and having a worksheet with one question to be answered by each database just to keep things on track. Leave time at the end for a bit of discussion.

  • Had they ever used a database before?
  • What could they use for a current assignment?
  • Which database was easiest to use? Why?
  • What kind of material were they surprised they could find in the database?
  • What advantages do databases have over Google? (You may have to prompt)

Targeted Marketing

When we promote our databases and other online resources we need to think both inside and outside the box. Sure, you’ve told the high school guidance counselor about  online tutoring, but what about the coaches? They have access to kids who need to keep their academics at a certain level but are very busy and are often not the kids you see in the library after school.

What student clubs or community groups might be interested in Learn 4 Life classes? There must be teens in your community who would like to learn Java or digital photography for free!

Obviously the foreign language teachers should know about Mango Languages and the like, but how about the local youth pastor that plans international mission trips?

What groups in your city would benefit from test prep resources like Learning Express? Can your mini cards be passed out when the Urban League does college tours? These are just a few examples. I’m sure if you look around your community you can think of more.

Contextual Promotion

Make information about electronic resources available at the point of need. In other words do your best to integrate pointers to your electronic resources in your physical collection. CultureGrams bookmarks on the shelf near the geography books, Freegal mini-cards near the CD collection, pointers to test prep materials displayed with the college guides all have a better chance of success than the same information sitting on the circulation or reference desk.

Think about your displays. Place subject specific resource guides or posters pointing to specific electronic resources in sign holders as part of your display. You could even make dummy book covers with the title of the database and access instructions.

In most schools certain grades do the same type of projects every year. Talk to teachers and make notes of when demand for certain materials increases, be sure to focus promotion on related databases during those times.

Showcase

Bring your databases front and center by working with your web team to reduce the number of clicks to get to the start pages. At the very least link a few popular choices from the main youth pages.

Set a goal to find ways to use or demonstrate a certain number of resources during programs.

Post “Did You Know?” fun facts on your bulletin boards or social media accounts with links to the database the fact comes from.

Create a database trailer (like a book trailer) highlighting the types of information found in a specific database.

The Subscription Box Trend? A Library What-if

mystery_box

If you hang around Pinterest or any kind of child or parenting websites you’ve probably noticed a hot new trend for parents with disposable income: subscription boxes. Parents sign up and pay and every month or so a new box comes in the mail filled with things for their child. There is a huge variety in content from organic bath products, to clothing, to craft kits.

So, if this is a big thing how can we make it work for libraries? Imagine if parents could come in each month and pick up a packet of early literacy ideas for their child’s age and then select books from a coordinated display. I’m not saying we have to include expensive activity materials, although the possibilities of grant funding would interesting.

Maybe the packet includes a tip sheet, a book list, and things that could be cut out like 5 little duck finger puppets. Maybe we could include something like Amy’s Early Literacy Calendar.

What if we partnered with a local hospital or public health organization to include developmental milestones and health and wellness tips along with our literacy message?

What if we did the same monthly concept for older children, but instead we featured an author each month?  The parent would pick up a bunch of activity sheets and expansion ideas to go with our featured author whose books would be highlighted. Send families home to make paper for Denise Fleming month, or help kids learn to draw their own cartoons for a Mo Willems packet.

What if each month was a different country or time period with a book list, database links, multi media links and enrichment activity ideas?

What if we had monthly or quarterly packets for high school sophomores to get them prepared to think about college? What if in that case we could offer some kind of web based guest speaker series so teens could tune in any time that month to learn about things like FAFSA, test prep, campus visits and other related topics?

What other ways could we take the subscription concept and make it work for us?

How to Burn Out as a Youth Services Librarian

burnout

It happens to the best librarians, sometimes you just don’t have any more to give. Here are some thoughts on what leads to youth librarian burnout and hopefully it can be prevented.

How To Burn Out:

1. Adopt every controversial library and kidlit issue on a personal level.

We should know what is going on and, of course, we need to advocate for our kids and teens. However, it seems like there is a new library controversy every week and that’s not even counting the internal drama at our places of work. We need to ignore some of it. Just don’t click the link. Youth Services librarians will still be around when everything else turns to ash. We can probably spend less time validating our existence to other librarians, since the PEW study makes it clear our patrons totally get it.

2. Compare your collections, services, and programs to other libraries constantly.

There is nothing wrong with learning from each other, it’s one of the things I think youth services librarians do really well. On the other hand, comparing ourselves to better funded, staffed, or located libraries or libraries with a very different patron base then our own just leaves us feeling inferior. Take a minute to celebrate what you are doing for your community. When you envy another library program consider how your resources and patrons differ. It might be good but it might not be possible. It might not even be what your patrons need. On the other hand, if they match up then go for it!

3. Be so focused on the big picture and/or administrative issues that you don’t get to actually interact with patrons.

If you love being a librarian because you enjoy working with kids and/or teens and helping them get what they need then make sure to make time for doing that. Especially as we become coordinators or managers it’s all too easy to spend our days on meetings, training, budgeting, and other things that don’t have the same magic. Find a few hours to be on the reference desk, work an outreach event, or offer to do storytime next week. You’ll feel much better.

4. Say yes to everything.

We want to help people. We want to serve our patrons. We want to be visible members of the community. That’s all great but if we say yes to every outreach event, group program request, partnership suggestion, and grant-writing opportunity we can’t possibly do all of them well. Work with your supervisor to prioritize these opportunities so they fit your library’s goals. Maybe you can even connect some of those groups to each other so everyone wins.

5. Judge yourself by program numbers alone.

This is an easy trap to fall into. Big splashy programs with big numbers are easy ways to show our impact to administration. They make great blog posts, tweets, and conference programs but what percentage of your patrons does that measure? Don’t forget about all the other ways that we serve people. The biggest impact you made this week might be the struggling reader who finally finished a book you helped them find, or the middle-schooler that passed algebra because you showed him how to use online tutoring.

6. Read only what you “should” read.

Sure, it’s not all about books but most of us do this because we love books to one extent or another. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of reading the “big buzz books” or the “starred review books” or what you need to get done for programs and forget to make time to read books because you actually want to read them. At some point our reading slows down, then we feel guilty for not reading enough, and that makes it even worse. Read for fun. You never know when that will be the perfect book for work anyway!

7. Do everything yourself.

Yes, we know best but sometimes we need to delegate. What jobs can be left to a volunteer? To a paraprofessional? What book can we skip and just read reviews instead? It might not be as perfect as if we did it ourselves, but it will be done. If it doesn’t make a difference in service let it go. Don’t forget that your assistants/clerks/volunteers can’t develop skills if they are never challenged.