Dinosaurs @ Your Library!

Last summer we repeated one of our popular standalone programs – DINOS!  It had been a few years since we did this program and, as many of you know, I recycle these themed programs at least every 2-3 years.  (unless it’s something very pop culture-y that has dated.  But that’s a rarity.) Since last summer was all about Jurassic World this felt like a good time to bring dinos back.  I also like this theme because it’s somewhat generic and not tied to a specific property, which I think you should ALWAYS throw some non-property related events – it makes you feel less like some kind of marketing firm. So, this time we made it an evening event.  Again, I’ve written about how I think it’s very important to have evening events – even when they stretch staff – so that working families can make it.  Dino Night was a huge success. Here’s how we did it.

15 minutes of story and intro

We made a giant pile of fiction and non-fiction dinosaur books to have out for patrons to check out – which we do for all these events … if you’re not here for the book what’s the point? But I chose to read When Dinosaurs Came With Everything by Elise Broach,  delightfully illustrated by David Small. This is a slightly longer picture book that requires a little more imagination, has very silly pictures, and makes grown-ups have to deal with dinosaurs for making their children suffer through errands.  What’s not to love?


We also threw in a staff sing-along of Five Little Dinosaurs– which is basically Five Little Ducks but WITH DINOSAURS.  Instead of mother duck calling “quack quack quack”, mother dinosaur calls “roar, roar, roar” – and of course the crowd must roar along with us or else the little dinos will never make it home.  They loved this! We made one verse “flap, flap, flap” for the flying dino and the chance to flap our hands!  Here’s my awesome staff in action calling those dinosaurs home.

dino yell

Melissa made foam dino feet – which I chose not to wear because I would have literally tripped over them and cracked my head open in 2.5 seconds.  But they were easy to make, so you could make them as a costume and they COULD be a cute craft – but we didn’t have enough foam and we really didn’t want to sit with each kid measuring their feet one by one.  (we like to keep it fast!)

dino feet

45 minutes of craft and games

Of course we had a scavenger hunt (dinos, dino hunt leaders, feathered dinos) as ever.  We print out ten images, tape them up around YS, and send kids to find them with a look and find sheet. Always a huge hit and a good way to split up the crowd.

DINOSAUR MASKS! Kids colored their dino masks and then attached them to popsicle sticks using glue dots (two must haves: putting the masks on popsicle sticks is such an improvement over trying to get them around kid’s heads with string and glue dots over glue sticks are the ultimate.) Fun stuff.  Note: we do lots of masks and headbands/crowns as crafts.  Do kids ever get sick of them?  I don’t think so.  They are such a fun prop and they encourage the best imaginative play.  It feels like a fun costume, even, and it’s a good take home.  I highly recommend them as an activity. Here’s one of our favorite library patrons with his mask.

dino mask

DINOSAUR EGGS! This was a fun, easy craft that also used up a bunch of our brads, whooo-hooo! Kids liked having a craft that moved, so that was neat to see.  And getting to put the brads in required a little more hand-eye concentration and parental involvement. Using this idea, we found an egg template and some cute little dinosaurs and let kids go at it. They colored their eggs, used the brad to attach them, and glued in their dinos.  Here’s a delightful kid made example with, yes, an upside down dino.

dino egg 1

dino egg 2

DINOSAUR TAIL KNOCKDOWN! The site with the egg craft also had an amazing idea for making dinosaur tails using stuffed garbage bags.  Well you know I wanted some of that! Melissa, as always, experimented until she made it work.  Our tails have pool noodles inside (ah, the handy stuff we have around in a YS department) as well as plastic bags, which gave them a little more backbone. Here’s Dillon and Melissa modeling them. (note we decorated ours)

dino tails

At this station, kids strapped on the tails and tried to knock over trees. (coffee cans and Pringles cans, some of which were weighed down to really make it hard.)  This station was a hoot, of course.  The problem was the really littles struggled under the size of the tail … which just made us insist they have their GROWN-UPS try it on for a swing.  Which … yes. The kids loved it and tripped themselves in circles to get to the trees.

tail action

DINOSAUR TOSS! This was a simple modification on one of our popular bean bag toss stations (another station we have often – this works because kids across ages/mobility levels can participate in their own ways and it’s easily modifiable.) Basically, we printed out some dino pictures and made circles according to their size and put points on them (the smaller the dino, the smaller the circle and the higher the points) and let kids toss away and try to get the beanbags in the circles.  We also had facts about the sizes/species of each dino, which was fun to add in.

dino toss

And that’s it!  Two crafts, two activities, one scavenger hunt, a storytime and song, and a big giant pile of books.  We had almost 100 people attend – including whole families because it was a night event – and all ages from 3-4 year olds all the way up to 11-12 year olds.

I am SURE we’ll do a dinosaur event again.  Since it’s not tied to a specific property and it’s a perennial topic of fascination for kids, it makes for a great program. We didn’t repeat any of the activities from the last time and we probably wouldn’t have to the next time – there’s just so much to do with dinosaurs! (trivia of some kind?  sensory bins to dig through?)

Do you have any questions?  Do you want to borrow any of our templates or have any questions about our event? Have you had dinosaur events or activities at your library?  What worked and what didn’t work?  What ages came?  Let’s talk all about it!  Leave me a comment here or chat with me on Twitter. (and thanks to everyone on Twitter who voted in my poll to make this my next blog topic! I always like knowing what kind of content you’d like to see here, so definitely let me know!)


How We Do Library Tours (Grades 3 & 4)

We did it!  We finished another school year of library visits and tours! Lessons were learned, improvements were made, and tons of kids, teachers, and parents visited our main library and our branch library for tours and outreach. I previously wrote up the process of how we do tours for our K-2 visits and people have found that post really helpful so I decided it was FINALLY time to write up the next entry in the series.

I’ll go over some of the basics, but a lot of that is covered in my K-2 tours post, including all of my amazing inspirations (check the comments there’s great stuff there too!) so definitely go over there and take a look.

Nothing has made my life – and my staff’s lives – easier than getting our tours down to a routine! This is the #1 thing I’d like to stress about however you want to handle tours: make it routine.  Get to the point where you can pull out a standard tour schedule without blinking.  It will make you more receptive to saying SURE YOU CAN COME without panicking about it and it gives an overall much better experience.

My main disclaimer, as last time: yes, our tours take a lot of staff.  (in fact, we have them down to such a routine that now our biggest problem is figuring out the scheduling parts.) But we get a lot of yield out of that staff.  The majority of these tours are the entire grade from a local elementary school, 2-3 classes of kids. That means it’s usually 45-65 kids plus a minimum of 12-15 adult chaperones. That’s a big program so it warrants a big staff investment.

We make great contact with the schools and help encourage visits through our Celebrate A Grade Initiative. Our 3rd-4th grade tours have lots in common with our K-2 tours – but we gear up everything for our older kids, especially the skills lessons.

As with the K-2 we invite the 3rd & 4th grade classes/grades to visit for one hour.  In this hour we rotate through three stations, each lasting twenty minutes.  Most often the classes/grades come in groups of three, which make this rotation simple but if they come in groups of two, we rotate them through the first two stations and then have a big storytime as a final activity.

Here are the three stations we’ve created for the 3rd & 4th grade tours.

Tour! Since these kids are older, we give them a slightly more in-depth tour.  Some of their favorite things are: going outside to see the book drop, seeing the inside book drop and where things end up (notice a trend), hearing about and seeing the hold shelf, and hearing about our circulating art collection. (We check out framed paintings – kids love knowing about this.  So, if you have a cool/unique collection, think about adding it to your tour!) We usually spend this part of the tour talking to them about how the library works/touring the adult department. (Our children’s department is on another floor, lucky us.) I have thought about adding in a tour of the kid section, but they enjoy the larger behind the scenes picture of the WHOLE library and I think that’s important to learn about. But we shall see!

We also have an art gallery on the third floor and when there’s a kid friendly show up there we sometimes take kids on a tour of that instead.  They like hearing about how many people visit the gallery and what it means to have a gallery inside a library.  And they love getting to go through the exhibits. They have come during Youth Art Month when the gallery is all art from local students and when the local photographer’s club have their work up and those are two favorites.

Dewey Decimal Activity! This is the simple craft (color your owls) station for K-2.  But we think the 3rd-4th graders are ready for some Dewey Decimal lessons. We start by watching this Capstone video about BOB THE ALIEN.  The kids freaking love Bob the Alien because … we have no idea! This video is slow enough to read along out loud and since it doesn’t have commentary, we can add our own extra info. There’s even a book about Bob, should you be so tempted and want to use it as part of your tours. (note that’s a whole series from Capstone covering book/reading topics, so it could be of use in school libraries/tours.)

After watching the video, the staff member running this station talks a little bit about the Dewey Decimal system.  Usually we’ll talk about how learning Dewey is sort of like learning a new alien language … but with the numbers and letters we already have! Then we all hop up to do an activity.

My amazing colleague Melissa came up with a fun activity where the kids become books and put themselves in order. We usually start by just alphabetical order, which they are used to.  They make a line and call out all their names and they love it. THEN they get …. their own book spines.

spines 1

Melissa originally just printed out slips of paper for this activity but … REPEATABLE ROUTINE! Instead, these are laminated and taped onto big Popsicle sticks, so we can use them over and over again.  And the kids love them, of course.  We have 30 – more than we need for any one class but it’s always good to have some extras. They are real books from the collection, which we make sure to mention. We always slip in some high interest titles: oooh, you have Minecraft books?  COOL! Here’s an up close:


This activity makes the kids work together and pay attention to detail. They also get to see that Dewey means more than just the first three digits. We tell them that they are books and they must make sure they are in the right order so people can find them to check them out and this makes them giggle but also think seriously about why it matters where books are. It also gets them moving, gets them talking and working together, and helps them pay attention to the Dewey Decimal system in a hands on way.

We have an answer guide to check their work, which we have them call out, and that makes it easy and quick to check their work.

check sheet

Their take home for the visit is a Dewey Decimal bookmark.  We buy the oversized Dewey bookmarks from Upstart and the kids really love them.  They’re worth the money.

dewey 2 dewey 1

Storytime! We like to have a story as a part of all the tours for K-4th. (for the upper grades we do booktalks – more about that in the next post!) I mean…it’s a library tour.  Much like the K-2, we use this station as a chance to talk about what they can do/find at the library : things like where they can talk loudly and play games and where they have to be more quiet to study and work.  We talk about looking for people with nametags to help, how they can read anything they want and we have so many cool things (video games, magazines, computers to game on if your parents say it’s OK, tons of comics and manga) And even though they are older, we still sing some songs, which they get into even when they are sure they won’t, of course.

We can do longer books with more imaginative play/word play with this group, so we have three main choices we rotate through, all of which I highly recommend!


Quiet! There’s A Canary in the Library by Don Freeman. Yes, this old classic! This Don Freeman classic from the late 60s is about a girl imaging how if SHE ran the library, she’d have all the animals come in and it’d be just great…until…maybe… I like this one because we can talk about what you would do in your library and some of the rules about how we use our library.  Also, the older kids get that this is her using her imagination, which is a good bridge for talking about how stories and libraries let us imagine all kinds of wonderful things.

library book for bear

A Library Book for Bear by Bonny Becker. Bear doesn’t want to go to the library with mouse.  He has seven books at his house, he doesn’t need any more! But maybe he can find some treasure at the library.  The kids love grumpy old Bear, his love for pickles, and the scene where he gets to SHOUT. (lots of fun to read.)  Gives us a chance to talk about how you can find a book about every thing you might be interested in and, yes, even programs that are just perfect for you. (And this is just one book in the series about Bear and Mouse, so we can talk about series books too.)


No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou by Rhonda Gowler Greene.  Pirate Pete wants the treasure hiding in Seabreezy Library, but Library Lou says she’ll only help him figure out the map if he learns her code…it’s full of strange symbols and letters besides X. There might even be a clue in all those books on the shelves. I HIGHLY recommend this slightly longer book for the older kids. I just did it with about to graduate 3rd graders and they were with me every page. It’s told in rhyme and is, of course, about a pirate who learns to read (and then works his way through subject areas/genres) and comes to love reading.  Lots of chances to talk about how the library works/different kind of books and for the kids to figure out what’s going on and a sing-song pirate speak is fun to read. Also, I dig that he does not marry the librarian at the end.

The other thing about all three of these books is that if you have younger 3rd graders, older 2nd graders,  not enough time to do the Dewey Lesson (or they already cover that at school etc) you can easily make the third station crafts connecting back to the books .  We’ve done color your own pirate/bear bookmarks, respectively, to go with these and they were hits.

As I said – we do still do a song or two with these kids so besides opening with something to warm them up, I like to close with everyone standing up, shaking a little bit, and then doing Form the Orange, which even if they know it, sends them into fits of delight. Sometimes we also do this version of Put Your Hands Up High (thanks to Jbrary!) which also cracks them up and can then be done again in slo-mo (a favorite) or super fast.

And that’s about an hour!  We had a great year with the older kids touring and, again, having it all down to a routine has really made it a breeze setting one up.  Once we got the Dewey station set up with more solid props, that just added to the overall experience. Teachers, parents, and kids definitely notice that we’re prepared and I think it absolutely makes them feel more welcomed and excited about the library.

I’ll hopefully have one more post in this series, covering what we do for the upper elementary (and sometimes even middle school – the entire 7th grade of our town usually stops by once a year, oh boy!) but in the meantime, I’d love to talk tours with YOU!  How do YOU do tours and class visits?  What works for you?  What have you had to discard?  How often do you get class tours from your schools? Tell me all about it in the comments – and if I left out anything you’d like more info about in this post, let me know – or chat with me on Twitter.


Rainbow Fairy Magic @ Your Library

In a way, this event exemplifies everything I think these one day stand-alone programs can be: no matter what you might see, you don’t have to spend a TON of money and endless staff hours creating something that looks like it came out of a party planning book.  You don’t have to limit attendance just so you’ll have enough dowels or can provide elaborate party favors as if at a children’s party.  We invite everyone in and work with what you have! You can have events like this on small budgets, using upcycled material or cheaper supplies like … sequins.  It’s not about making it look like Pinterest or Martha Stewart.  It’s about opening up the library as a place for families to create and make and showing kids, with no judgment and great enthusiasm instead, that we have piles and piles of the books they love and know about ones they haven’t even heard of yet. That’s the most important part and it’s worth everything.

Which one is your favorite?  I think mine is Lara the Black Cat Fairy because FOR SOME REASON this is in the Magic Animal Fairies series even though black cats aren’t actually magical and the other fairies in that series are, like, unicorns and phoenixes! And how is there even also a series about PET fairies.  I mean …

Well, I guess that sums up why we decided to have this event.  Because we have shelves of the darn things, because kids check them out in stacks literally up to their eyes.  Because they are great safe chapter books that build confidence and passion in kids which helps them become dedicated readers. BECAUSE RAINBOW MAGIC FAIRIES, come on.

This was one of the VERY FIRST programs we ever did as a single stand-alone the summer we started making a big switch to them.  THAT turned out to be one of our greatest learning experiences – we scheduled it for two hours and we quickly learned that’s FAR too long for these events!  We scaled them down to an hour after me and my co-worker Melissa spent 2o minutes dancing in a circle doing a song Melissa made up on the spot (“The Fairy Hokey-Pokey” –  put your wings in, put your wings out!) to kill time. So, since it had been a few summers, we decided repeating Rainbow Magic Fairies as a stand-alone was OK.  Here’s what we did!

20 minutes of story

birthdayAs you probably know, all of our events start off with a story.  It’s why we’re all there, after all, and it gives us a chance to come together as a group and talk about books and all the neat stuff the library has. When it comes to bigger properties/characters, I like to focus on a SPECIFIC title because it makes it easier to tie everything together and really focus on something.  We lucked out with Rainbow Magic Fairies because at last there are beginning reader titles!  Jackpot for reading out loud, baby!

I chose The Fairies’ Birthday Surprise because … uh they make a cake in it? I knew we could have an easy/all ages craft station for a cake. And I loved that at the end, they cut into it and it was ALL colors, wheee! Simple predictive text that satisfied the kids when the inside of the cake was revealed. (if you don’t have these readers, there’s five all together, I highly recommend them and they’re worth every penny of the library binding.)

40 Minutes of Activity

At almost all of our events, we include a look and find scavenger hunt around the youth services area.  This is a good way to keep our active kids moving and it splits up the crowd.  We print out 10 images related to our theme and hang them up around the library and send kids out with a sheet to look and find for them.  I always recommend having this as an activity – it’s simple and the kids loooovveee it.  We chose the seven fairies from the book and three ingredients to make cake (see the theme’s usefulness?)

We also usually have some kind of activity station – a bean-bag toss or knock-over or a balance relay but we decided the look and find would be enough for this one. (especially since there was no mention of Jack Frost in this reader, but if you did a knock-over station, it’d be easy to do Jack Frost/icicles as targets.)

We had three craft stations and a photo booth (we love photo booths, if you have the space I always recommend throwing one up, it’s a great way let patrons share/spread word about your events FOR you.)

Station One: load up muffin tins with pony beads – make sure you have some cool ones mixed in like pastels and glow in the darks – and have the kids make themselves rainbow necklaces and bracelets as their hearts dictate.  This is always a popular station. It’s also gotten a lot easier since my colleague Melissa came up with the genius idea to set it down on the floor.  No more kids crowding around a table as pony beads roll to the ground  and then they chase after then.  Now we all sit down on a sheet (to contain them all) and relax and bead.  Super-easy change that makes a big difference, even in the vibe.

rainbow beading

(yes there are boys down there beading because of course there are, because of course they came, because all kids like beaded bracelets and did I mention there were glow in the dark beads?)

Station Two: make your own wands. BUT we never do registration for our events, so we’re never sure how many people will show up. So I wasn’t going to invest in a ton of dowel rods to make wands, which is a common thing you see.  Besides, we have tons of material (specifically calendars – I love old calendars!) waiting to be recycled so why not use those?

We let kids choose their own pieces of calendar paper and then, starting at a bottom corner and rolling tightly, we rolled it into a wand.  If you look at this tutorial, we used these basic instructions.  We used glue sticks instead of two side-tape and we stopped at the part where she starts hot glue-gunning.  Using the calendar paper was decoration enough.  We used some of our fancy scissors to cut other calendar pages into rickrack and included some strips of ribbon which we let the kids glue inside to give them something fun to swish around.  They loved it, of course. Lots of swishy.  The stiffer calendar paper made the wands more substantial, which lead to a lot of fun.  And since they weren’t stereotypical princess wands, everyone felt comfortable making them.  Most of the pics we got of them were actually in action, but here’s an OK shot of one. (note beaded necklace)

rainbow wand

Station Three: here we are, back at the theme with a decorate your own cake! I found a free coloring page that looked like a delightful, giant cake and we put out sequins, more of our homemade rickrack, colored pencils, and crayons and let the kids go to town.  If you look at the little girl in the Hello Kitty shirt you can see a pretty typical cake in process.  And if you look to the back at the little boy in the stripes is literally pouring an entire container of sequins on his cake.  He couldn’t even pick it up.  Ah, library magic!

rainbow cakes

I also put out some Rainbow Magic coloring pages at this station, since it felt like a good place to have coloring and creating.  Here’s what the cake I chose actually looked like – the layers made it perfect for decorating and it EVEN looked a little like the cake in the book! color cake


We had about 35 kids and assorted grown-ups attend and everyone loved it.  I made a big display of FOR FANS OF RAINBOW MAGIC! books and they all got checked out. We’d definitely do it again, but we might wait a summer or two to put it back in rotation.  As per usual, it could have never happened without my fantastic staff, who dressed up and were game for everything! (and yes, in case you can’t tell, I am obviously wearing wings.)

rainbow staff

Are there any questions about our event I didn’t answer?  Let me know!  Have YOU had a Rainbow Fairy Magic event at your library?  I’d love to hear all about it!  What books did you read?  What crafts did you make?  How did your patrons react?  Did you make a read-alike table (what could read as wonderfully as these masterpieces?) and if so, what other books did you share?  I want to hear all about it, so share in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action PlayPacks


Previously in this series
Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Adding Passive Programming & Tracking
Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Two: Those Darn Prizes 


No more cheap plastic crap!  No more cheap plastic crap!  Keep saying it to yourself (and your administration!) until it is imprinted on your brain.  Your summer programs don’t need it, your patrons don’t really want it, and everything will be so much easier once you get rid of it.

We still give away what you might think of as small prizes – but they are items that can be OF USE. Everyone likes that.  Pencils, bookmarks (especially the scented kind), erasers, earbuds, lanyards.  For the littles we always have some stickers and that’s about as close to “useless” as we get.

That was a great first change.  But I knew we could do more.  So the second I saw the amazing Abby‘s post about switching over to Science Activity Packs as prizes, I new that was a change we were making for summer 2015.  FINALLY a chance to give kids a prize that could encourage play and learning and activities.

I took several of Abby’s wondrous ideas and added some – especially more focused on art and creation so STEM wasn’t the only topic.  I also added some choices for younger kids. As I covered in part two of this series, we revamped our summer program to have levels and goals. We decided that kids would earn these packs after finishing their reading goal.  That was 25 hours of reading for a Super-Action PlayPack.  That seemed like a reasonable number to test this out for the first year.  To add to the fun, we made a menu of their choices for the kids to pour over. Let’s take a look at the menu and inside our Super-Action PlayPacks!

board 1
board 2

board 3

As you can see, we had six choices.

Our far and away most popular choice was CREATE A CHEMICAL REACTION. It was inspired by my boss’s copious tiny water bottle habit and the amazing experience we had during a special Toddler Science Time. All it cost us was the Alka-Selzer!

fizzy 1

fizzy 2

The kids also loved WRITE YOUR OWN COMIC.  We found some comic templates and bought a case of colored pencils. This was a big hit, especially after our summer Comix Club.


One of the packs for the younger kids was PLAY A MATCHING GAME.  I bought some superhero/ine clip art from Etsy and printed out sets of my favorite matching cards and put them together as sets for kids to play memory games or pattern matching.  Parents mentioned liking these to have “games to go” on hand.



Another choice for the younger kids were sets of superhero/ine finger puppets that we bought from the Upstart catalog as PLAY WITH FINGER PUPPETS. These weren’t as popular as I thought, I think because it was an abstract concept.  If we brought them out and played with them, kids wanted them – but otherwise, it was hard to show them in action. We’ll probably end up using these in a program and not recycle them into a PlayPack. They were super-cute though!



A choice that we thought would be for the littles but then surprised us with its popularity  was MAKE A TEXTURE BOOK.  Along with the classroom pack of colored pencils, we also bought a classroom pack of crayons so they were all fresh and new and then made a little booklet of paper.  So many of the kids wanted these and they were packs we saw getting played with RIGHT AWAY as kids started texturing around the library.



This program went up to kids in 5-6th grade, so we wanted to make sure there was stuff for them too.  (like the comic book pack.)  Our older kids are into origami and we had tons of origami paper hanging around, so we had FOLD AN ORIGAMI ANIMAL. The older kids were definitely drawn to this too.



Another all ages appeal pack was BUILD WITH MARSHMALLOWS.  This was just toothpicks, which we had tons of on-hand, and a few packs of marshmallows.  We had to make sure they were sealed up tight. The good part about these was some of the older kids really dug them.  The bad part was most of the younger kids just wanted to get some gross half-dried marshmallows, haha.  So … we probably won’t be doing this one again.



We didn’t have any MAKE A BALLOON ROCKET left!  But to create them, we just followed Abby’s instructions.  Of course the kids LOVED this one.  We bought kite string and non-bendy straws, which was a great decision … but I would have spent more for the “longer” balloons.  And make sure your balloons are new, haha, we used older ones and many were dried out!


  • This was too much fun!  Talk about people not missing cheap plastic tchotchkes! Kids felt like they were getting a REAL TOY and parents loved that it wasn’t another piece of junk to throw out after it broke on the way to the parking lot. Kids definitely wanted to earn more than one.
  • Each pack was in a self-contained Ziploc baggie, so there were no pieces falling out or anything of the like.  Then they were stacked up, by group, in a single storage bin behind the desk.  When a kid chose from the menu, it didn’t take us too long to find one to fish out. You could separate them out further though, if you had the space or were worried about the time commitment of finding one.
  • We made 25 of each pack to start off with, decided we were just going to have to see what was popular and refill from there. We only had to refill two or three one time over the two months of the summer because, well, kids liked the choices.  (most popular: Create a Chemical Reaction, Make A Balloon Rocket, and Write Your Own Comic.) Our delightful student interns assembly-lined the packing over the course of a day, but this would be a great volunteer task.
  • It wasn’t SUPER cheap – we did have to make a few big investments like the class-packs of crayons and colored pencils, but we’ll use those for lots of giveaways and even some programs. And there were other things: the kite string, the Alka-Selzer, the finger puppets.  BUT we had other stuff on hand – the bottles, the origami paper.
  • Overall, it was a great value because it was easy to replicate on a big scale once we made an initial investment.  And it was SURELY worth more than buying 700 sticky hands from Oriental Trading!!
  • We did not have this option for our middle/high school program.  The end of their reading goal was a free book.  I don’t think we’d have the budget to invest in packs that would interest them and they were happier with books anyway!

We’ll definitely be bringing the PlayPacks back (maybe with a less superhero/ine oriented name?) even if we make some changes to which activities/packs we have available. And we might even make it so the kids can earn more than one.  We’re doing MUSIC as our theme this year (since I hate that stupid sports theme) so we might add something related to music – and that’s another bonus, you can customize these by program theme.  I got some great ideas from searching for BUSY BAG ACTIVITIES on Google and Pinterest and many parents recognized the “play and go” packs as these kind of activities and they LOVED it.

What do YOU think about activity packs as an incentive or supplement for your programs?  How are ways you might use it in your program in summer or year round? Do you have a take-home component that your patrons love? What kind of activities, games, or experiments do you think your patrons might like for this kind of incentive?   Do you have any questions I didn’t answer here? Let me know about it all here in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Two: Those Darn Prizes


Also in this series: Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Adding Passive Programming & Tracking

Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action Play Packs


It is the eternal question of youth services in a public library.  What the heck do we do about the darn summer reading prizes? How do we stop kids from cheating?  WHY are we even giving prizes?  Why do we have so much plastic crap?  How can we get kids interested in the program without incentives?  How do we stop parents from cheating?

Yes, if you do youth services in a public library of any size, you have asked yourself these questions over and over.  And I truly believe there is no one answer. More than that: I truly believe that you can keep trying and finding new answers and tweaking it. You are NOT locked into “that’s what we’ve always done” or “people will hate the change!” Will it be hard at first?  Will there be bumps?  Will you get a few complaints?  Sure – maybe.  But for one: that’s no reason not to make a change.  For another, believe me, for the most part people are just happy to have a fun, free program to participate in with their kids and kids LOVE new stuff.

We’ve been making tweaks over the past few years as I strove to move our program away from the curse of CHEAP PLASTIC CRAP that instantly breaks, costs too much money, and has never motivated a single kid to read one single thing. Because of this, I like to think about our program as a work in progress.  This has really helped ease my anxiety about things: we can try things out!  We can learn!  We can change!

We still use paper logs.  I think this needs to be addressed up front.  We just don’t have a high enough population or summer participation to warrant the cost right now of switching over to software that keeps logs and tracking online. I hope that in years to come, this software will become cheaper (and, errr, a little easier to use) and we can switch over, but for now we’re still using paper tracking.

In 2015 we made our most radical overall yet: changing the entire program to incorporate MORE than just reading. I had been wanting to make this move for some time and I finally realized it was time to take the jump.  I want to thank all the librarians who have shared their MORE THAN READING programs, not only did it give me an outline of what I wanted, it gave me the courage to make the change.  You should start with their amazing, wonderful blogs, as I used them as inspiration’templates.

Summer LIBRARY Club from Library Bonaza

Summer Prizes – Goodbye! from Tiny Tips for Library Fun

Summer Reading Booklets from Hafuboti

I loved all the elements I saw there (and in other places) but I realized I had two major problems that had kept me from trying to make these shifts.  I think if you live in a smaller town, you might have similar problems.

  • We don’t have anything like a minor league baseball team or a water park or anything I have seen as a giant “experience” incentive in other programs.
  • My library is part of the county government and, as of now, we’ve run into many bureaucracy problems about getting local coupons and discounts. There’s just SO MUCH red tape about it.  Sigh. And many of these programs use these coupon books as a key component and incentive.

But then I realized instead of thinking about the things we DIDN’T have to build a new program based on experiences and not just checking off “I read ____ minutes” boxes, I should look at what we DID have and build around that.

  • We have a generous Friends organization!  So I bought a lot of cool, new, high interest books from Scholastic FACE to give away as prizes – and we set up one of our program rooms as a bookstore for the kids. (Sadly, our town doesn’t have a bookstore anymore, so kids might not always get the chance to have the delight of browsing a bookstore.  But one fun thing we could do was create a similar experience.
  • We have the Aquatic Center – and they not only part of the county but part of our same division.  They love to cooperate with us by giving us children’s passes as a way to encourage whole families or groups to come.

I figured I could use those to create something that would work for our library and our community.  The next step was setting some goals for what I wanted to new program to achieve and WHY.  I think that’s very important before you begin ANY program revamp. It gives you focus and drive.

Our NEW summer goals:

  • Make the program include more than just reading – but keep reading a key element.
  • Add in something for actually showing up to the library. We want to get people in doors and at programs – so why not have the program reflect that?
  • Have it easy to adjust to individual needs, i.e. make it as customizable as possible.

To me, one thing that would address all of these goals was to ADD LEVELS.  That had elements of gamifcation on a level I liked. In this new configuration, patrons could choose to participate as they wanted.  They could try to finish ALL the levels to earn a trip to our “bookstore” and pick out a free book (they also got a plastic bookbag and some scented bookmarks) or they could just finish one level and get the prize for that level. 

At this point, two great things happened – we had Rebecca’s amazing superhero art to use and we had awesome in-house design skills.  Kate is a former full-time librarian at our library in both circulation and reference but she went to on-call/substitute status when she had her baby.  She’s AMAZING at design. (you can find her Teachers Pay Teachers page here – she’s just launching so you’ll want to follow her NOW.) She took all of my half-formed ideas and created something totally cool. Why don’t we take a look??!
Kid 2

Kid 1

Worth noting:

  • Instead of NUMBERING the goals (What order do we do these in?  Can I start on #3 before I finish #2??) we named them after fictional superhero/ine locations. (and heck yeah we used Themyscira, the island Wonder Woman is from.)
  • For many years our paper logs were 8 x 11.5 sheets of paper – we folded these so they made small “booklets” with SpiderKid on the front. This made it feel more like a game piece and more personal “that one is MINE!” over just a sheet of paper. And it let us tie the passport theme with the locations.
  • The reading goal prize for kids is “A Super-Action PlayPack.” What’s that, you ask?  Here’s the post all about Super-Action PlayPacks!

Kids and parents LOVED the booklets.  I talked in my first post about re-vamping the program about how we added sticker collages to reflect weekly visits – these were tied to the passports.  They got a stamp in their booklet under the Asgard goal and then went and put their sticker up. This was practically prize enough and kids LOVED collecting the stamps. BUT we still gave away “small prizes.”  I think this is a way you can bridge “but how will we survive without any prizes? Patrons will complain!” with “Ugh, no more useless junk.”  

It can be transitional OR you can change what you give-away as “small prizes.”  One of our greatest changes was letting go of stuff like sticky hands, slinkies, plastic animals and the like and moving to things we can feel OK with as “small prizes.” That means bookmarks, pencils, stickers, and erasers.  That’s IT.  Things that can be of use to children, things that are connect to the library.  No more junk!

The Asgard goal meant: get a stamp in your passport, put a sticker up on the weekly collage, and get whatever the small prize of the week was. (another big help was rotating the weekly prize and keeping it to just one thing per week.) You needed to do that at least five times to complete Asgard.

Also helpful: setting specific times for the “store” to be open.  We gave everyone a whole month to come shop and the opening day wasn’t until after the first month of summer activities had passed.

We wanted to do something very similar for the teens.  So, again using Rebecca’s art and Kate’s design skills we made them DOSSIERS instead of passports.  (Shout-out to a log shared by Andrea Scherer in Storytime Underground, we modified that to get our superhero/ine symbols for the reading objective.) Teen 1

Teen 2

You’ll notice that we just had a few tweaks but kept the format very similar.  But we used different words: objectives instead of goals, dossier instead of passport. Teens earned the same things: passes to the Aquatic Center, a free book, and small weekly prizes for visiting the library. Their weekly prizes were erasers, earbuds, bookmarks, and puzzle cubes, and lanyards. (my gosh they loved those stupid lanyards!) They also got a big “end of summer” treat – finish all the goals and they could come to our after hours lock-in.

Teens definitely had a harder time managing to remember to bring the log – which is of course a consistent problem for teens. I know that’s something we have to work on and for this summer,. I’m definitely considering keeping ALL the teen’s paperwork AT the library.  It might be worth it.

And yes, we had an early literacy component too!  Previously, our early literacy element was for 0-5 but I could definitely feel parents (and even the kids) of 4-5 year olds being restless.  It felt much more natural to set the literacy goals for 0-3 instead.  They worked with the board all summer (we let them put up stickers on the attendance collage too because hey, why not! Another fun way to make them feel included) and got a bag full of early literacy goodies when it was done: a song book or board book, a pass to the Aquatic Center, some crayons and paper, a bib, and some bubbles. Baby Board 2

Baby Board 1

Overall: we definitely learned some lessons!  We needed to be more precise in our wording in places.  We struggled, as always, with kids and parents losing their logs. But guess what?  No one complained about how it “used to be.”  No one wanted the junky prizes back.  Yes, some people wanted to be out of town all summer and still participate and we explained that they were welcome to do that and still get two levels of prizes. That was an actually justifiable answer, when it came right down to it, even if it wasn’t always the one they wanted to hear.

I think we turned the program into a true Summer Library Club, not just a reading program of checking off minutes and getting tiny whats-its for every box.  And we have more work to do – but now it all feels so much more possible.

How have YOU changed and re-imagined your summer “reading” program?  What do your patrons respond to? How do you manage lost logs if you still use paper – do you have a brilliant solution I’m missing?  What fun things have you done to re-imagine what your program can be for your community?  Do you have any questions I didn’t answer here?  Let me know about it all here in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


How We Do Library Tours (Grades K-2)

One of the questions I see come up most often online is “how do you do library tours?”  And I understand why because I struggled with this too. How did we make classes visiting our library an actually productive experience instead of just come check-box for teachers to kill an hour? I did a lot of thinking about this and, as always, I sought out the experience of my awesome colleagues.  The incomparable Bryce‘s writings about class field trips was essential to my thinking. To begin, read some of Bryce’s writing on this Preschool Field Trip Adventure and Tour It Like You Mean It are two of her best.  The fantastic Dana and Lindsey at Jbrary have a round-up of posts about tours which is also super helpful.

I also realized we needed a change in how we did tours and class visits because we were seeing an increase in them during the school year – and that was GREAT.  And, in fact, I wanted to boost those numbers even more.  I’ve written about our Celebrate A Grade initiative before and it is a big driver to motivate teachers to bring in their classes for visits.  Since I am regularly sending e-mails inviting teachers and classes to tours, I felt like that was a commitment I was making to ensuring the best experience.

Now, we have tours down to a routine.  That means we can pull them together without a huge investment of staff time or panic.  It means that we deliver a consistent experience across the board and everyone feels more comfortable with tours, which means less stress!

Here’s my major disclaimer: we do these tours with a lot of staff.  Well, sometimes we can do them with just two of us but sometimes it takes four of us – and that’s not counting whoever has to cover the desk (assuming they are visiting when we’re open to the public.) Why so many people?  Partially because we want the tour to run as smoothly as possible but also because we have an entire grade visiting us.  Our town has five elementary schools and each grade level has 2-3 classes.  Often, they all come together.  With that many kids – between 35-60 – having more than one staff member gives us the ability to break them into their classes and really give them an hands-on tour. So, I’m not claiming this is the ONLY way to do larger groups but for us it’s certainly been the most efficient for us. It’s worth the staff time investment!

As I mentioned, most of the tours come by grade level.  We very rarely have mixed grade levels coming for tours. I realized we could standardize a program by grade. We came up with three basic tour plans: K-2, 3 & 4, and 5 & 6. This blog will go over our outline for K-2, but I plan to post the plans for all our tours.

So, how does a K-2 tour go?  Here’s our plan!

  • All tours are made up of three stations: a story, an actual tour through the library, and a craft. This gives the kids a chance to move around (too much sitting in this age group is a killer), engages all different kinds of learners in an activity they’ll connect with, and gives the kids a chance to see lots of different elements of the library.
  • We ask teachers to plan for an hour at the library – which gives us 20 minutes to rotate through each of the three stations.
  • If the teachers have two classes in their grade level, we do the tour and story separately and then come together to do the craft in the final 20 minutes. If the teachers have three classes in their grade level, we just rotate one by one through the stations.
  • We try to keep the tour part for the K-2 level fairly simple.  For the older kids we talk more about the mechanics of the library.  For the K-2 tours we focus more on where their collections are located, where they can sit and play/read/color, where they return books.  This is basic intro to your library 101.
    midnightAt the story station we read the book The Midnight Library by Kazuno Kohara.  This is the perfect book for this age group, not too long but still with lots of funny parts. AND it’s another great intro into what the library does/what you can do when you visit the library (there are areas to be louder and areas to be quieter, you can get a card to take books home, the librarian can help you find the just right book!)  We count the assistant owls, laugh at the funny voices of the animals, notice the details. The story station is also where we spend a little bit of time talking about how glad we are they are here visiting, how we want them to come back to see us.
  • At this station we also take some time to learn a song/rhyme or two.  It both helps the kids focus and burns off a little energy which gets them ready to sit and listen to a story. The teachers really like this part too and it makes the kids more comfortable with you.
  • The craft station is … make your own owl assistant!  We have created a simple owl for the kids to color and we make them into lanyards.  This also gives them a fun thing to take home.  We’ve seen so much creativity when the kids are let loose on the owls.  Sometimes they add books for the owls to hold – since they’re library assistants.  Sometimes they make it night behind them – since that’s when they work in the library.  I’ve seen owls with muscles, owls in trees, owls in dresses, and even a demon owl.  If the kids finish coloring, we suggest they draw a picture on the back of something they love to do at the library.  Let’s have some adorable pictures!


tour 3

Want the template for the owl?  (We get four on a page) Download it here from Google docs or leave your email in the comments and I’ll send you the word doc.

And that’s just about an hour.  As they are finishing their coloring we call attention back to us and thank them for visiting us and ask them to come back and see us and generally do a wrap-up/thank you/goodbye cheer.

We get great feedback from these tours: teachers compliment us on how well run they are, kids often come back and shout DO YOU REMEMBER ME? I know that me and my staff certainly appreciate how much easier to manage, organize, and implement the tours are.  We stress a lot less over them now because we know what works and we know how to set it up and what we’ll need to pull one off.

We’ve already had five visits this year (many of which were due to the fact we built a new branch library – so it was even more helpful to have this plan down to a routine!) and I’m looking forward to even more as the school year goes on.

In my next posts for this series, I’ll write about our plans for the other grades

How do YOU do tours and class visits?  What works for you?  What have you had to discard?  How often do you get class tours from your schools? Tell me all about it in the questions – and ask about anything from this post you want more info on – or chat with me on Twitter.


HomePages – Homeschooling Book Club

Like many of you, I want to provide the homeschoolers in my community with programming relevant and interesting to them.  Many homeschoolers are heavy library users so it made sense to design a program for them.  Anyway, we’re always looking for more school year programs for school age kids so why not use this demographic?

As always, I looked to my friends and colleagues for inspiration!  Abby has the smartest blogs about programming for her homeschoolers and the many different things her library has tried and what they’ve discovered each time. Please take some time to read her blogs tagged homeschool.

One thing I decided early on was that I wanted to build the program around books.  There are so many things you can do for homeschoolers, but books seemed like a thing that could really promote the library’s strengths and offer something unique to draw this crowd in.

Hence: HomePages!  I also had a specific vision I thought could make HomePages unique: we would read and discuss the same book and … it would be a Newbery winner.  This is another draw to many homeschoolers: literary merit!  Children’s classics! Also as a side benefit there’s lots of Newbery winners in print so if a family wanted to buy their own copy (again, many homeschoolers build home libraries) it was easy and cheap to lay hands on one.

We tried this out for the first time a few years ago and it was a moderate success.  I geared it towards the tween crowd (since teens are invited to regular teen programming like our teen advisory group) and really aimed hard for that 8-12 year old crowd.  It worked … mostly.  But once a few families drifted off, the program floundered.

After some moderate interest from patrons, I decided to start it again.  But with some modifications with the hope we could get more patrons interested and keep coming.

  • Rotate Newbery winners with Caldecott winners.
  • Open the Caldecott sessions to 6 year olds.
  • Combine the Caldecott sessions with hands-on art in the style of the winning illustrations.

This was an instant shot in the arm! Parents loved that they could bring younger kids every other months which made them more understanding of the months where we had only older kids.  The older kids loved having their own book club sessions. And all the kids loved making the art and connecting it with the style of art in the books.

We did Snowflake Bentley and did styrofoam printmaking. We did Joseph Had A Little Overcoat and created mixed media collages. We did Knuffle Bunny and made our own scenes mixing photographs and illustrations. We did The Snowy Day and created cut paper collages.




Note I say “did” instead of read – that’s another idea I had to enhance the process. Instead of all trying to read the picture book before hand or just having it read by staff, we watched the amazing animated versions from Weston Woods and Scholastic Storybook Classics series, which turned out to be  a great use of these DVDs and a fun way to highlight that collection. We often paired that with some videos about the artist’s process or interviews with the artist so kids could see the illustrators were REAL PEOPLE WHO DID REAL ART – just like them!

For the Newberys, I tried to mix it up, especially with titles they might not have read before.  Last year we read Adam of the Road, Dear Mr. Henshaw, Mrs. Frisby & the Rats of NIMH (the perpetual favorite, you guys), Sarah, Plain and Tall and Thimble Summer.

Attendance wasn’t always great.  Sometimes the Newbery sessions would only end up with 4-6 kids. The Caldecott sessions ALWAYS got higher attendance than the Newbery sessions.  But I was (and am) still committed to making the Newbery sessions an important part of the program as a whole.  I love the way patrons get involved during the Caldecott sessions, I love the connections with art and illustration we make, I love sharing picture books, I love the age range.  BUT.  I love the book discussions that happen around our Newbery choices, I love have something that really is JUST for those tween kids, I love the Newbery books introducing these readers to new genres they may never have explored on their own.  It’s worth keeping and we’re not abandoning it!

We just launched this year’s season!  I definitely think we’ve got lessons to learn and I have ideas for how to grow the program this year too!

  • We’ve gotten great response from a local Facebook group of homeschoolers.  I highly recommend you check to see if your community has something like this.  BUT I’d like to work harder on reaching out to the crowd not on Facebook, so I’m collecting email addresses AND urging all the families to pass along our info.
  • We’re going to do more IN HOUSE advertising – not always the greatest for reaching new people, I know, but I think we could hit a demographic of heavy library users who are homeschoolers who might not be on Facebook or are new to town/homeschooling.
  • More promotion of HAVE YOU READ IT YET? DON’T FORGET! during the Newbery months not just right before the club meets to help keep parents and caregivers on track.

I also decided on all our of choices ahead of time and worked rough ideas of what kind of art project we would be doing for each, which has helped a little. (and made sure we have all the DVD versions!) And we made this year’s flyer have the WHOLE YEAR of selections to give parents a little plan ahead time too.

HomePages flyerOverall, this has been a great program for homeschoolers and our own programming for this age range.  It doesn’t take a lot of time to plan or pull off and most of the art projects use things we already have on hand. I think it’s encouraged more homeschool engagement with the library – lots of the parents sit around and chat outside the programs and I know they appreciate having the space and a chance for the kids to socialize and learn.  As I suspected, the parents love that it’s based around literature and they’ve come to really trust us as experts, which makes connections with them about all their learning needs much easier!

If we continue to get steady numbers this year, I’m definitely thinking about expanding the types of programs we offer during the school year for this demographic (maybe more STEM and research based kinds of thing like Abby has tried) and MAYBE even try to run some during after-school hours to build on the homeschool base but mix it up too!

Do YOU have programming for homeschoolers at your library?  What kind of programs have been really big hits? Have you had programs, like ours, that floundered and then got restarted?  What worked and didn’t work each time?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences of programming, collection development, and working with your homeschool community! Leave me a note in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Paperbag Theater @ Your Library


One of my co-workers called this “the perfect library program” and I have to agree!  It’s also SUPER SIMPLE and BASICALLY FREE and has a huge age range appeal.  What’s not to love!?

We opened a new branch library after years and years of planning. (My library system only has two locations – our larger main location where I work most of the time and our smaller branch library in the town at the bottom of the hill, about 15 minutes away.) It’s an amazing, open building with tons of new shelf space and an amazing stage area for reading and storytimes.  It’s located right next to the youth activity center, a playground, and a skate park.  As you can imagine – that means we CAN’T WAIT for tons of kids to visit the library.

As part of our opening – right after our summer programs ended – we added a special week of programming at the new branch library as a way to get people from both towns through the doors.

One of the programs I desperately wanted to add since we have A STAGE now was a paper bag theater.  I came on this idea after our Mo Willems program this summer.  (more about this soon!) Our Elephant and Piggie station was making Elephant and Piggie paper bag puppets (this is a very popular craft!  You can find some templates at this blog) and seeing how the kids interacted with them.  They LOVED making them talk to each other and telling stories with them.  I thought  – how simple and how fun.

When I saw our new library had a great stage area, I knew this was meant to be a program.


  • Buy a bunch of regular sized paper bags.  You could go look for colored ones or white ones, but we used the piles of brown paper bags we already had on hand.
  • Find some paper bag puppet templates you like.  These were easy enough to find on Pinterest.  (Check my Pinterest page) We decided we wanted to do ALL “color your own” but there are plenty out there that are already colored if you want to skip that step/have some of those on hand. We decided on a sea turtle, two dinosaurs, and an octopus.  (We had Elephant and Piggie and some parts to make monsters – left over from our monster party earlier in the week – but the kids weren’t as interested.)
  • Make some cool examples. (KIDS NEED TO SEE WHAT YOU MEAN!)


(my ever game student interns)

  • Build some kind of stage. Originally I thought of making something out of some large boxes … but I felt like those might be too stifling.  Ideally, I wanted this to be a program for older kids (ages 7+) so I didn’t want them to feel stuffed/squished/baby-ish.  Instead, my co-worker Chelsie found a pattern for some simple “stages” made out of butcher paper.  Basically, you just cut squares out of the butcher paper and could decorate it as you wished, then hanging it up where you wanted the stage to appear.  Perfect.  We made three.

That’s it!  That’s all you need.  Get some scissors, colored pencils, and glue sticks and you’re ready to go! (we chose colored pencils because we thought they would give the coloring more definition and again, seem “older” – but you could easily use crayons and/or markers too.)


Low and behold when we got to the library we discovered that in the all-purpose program room they had …. taken the doors off and the shelves out of the three HUGE cabinets in the room.  It was almost like they knew we were coming. (they were really fixing some things but what a divine coincidence!) Chelsie immediately knew that instead of worrying about how we’d hang things up on the stage we could just use these perfectly sized cabinets now with now shelves!  So, the stages were hung!


(see how there’s a little room to the right for kids to get inside?  It’s like they were built for this, I say!)

We chose to read stories that had lots of dialogue and could be “performed” by two library staff members.  This was fun and got them excited about acting out their own stories.

Perfect reading choices: any Elephant & Piggie book, This is Not My Hat and I Want My Hat BackYo! Yes? and Ring! Yo? or Good News, Bad News by Jeff Mack. (I am sure you can think of other great examples with two characters having conversations!)

Then we let the kids loose to color and create their puppets.  We encouraged them to make two for dialogue and they all seemed on board.  If anything, they rushed through to get to the dialogue, so I’d watch that and encourage they take their time to make them look great.

Then they went inside and the fun began.  My co-worker Melissa called out some prompts for them when they got stuck – “The turtle is angry with the T. Rex, what does he say?”  or “The Octopus lost something and needs the dinosaur’s help!” but once the kids started, the giggling and the conversation flowed.

two turts

dino turt

dino roar

turtles talkin

I MEAN WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE.  The kids didn’t want to leave as we were cleaning up and every single one took their puppet home to play with some more. Afterwards, Chelsie did say it was “the perfect library program” – and I knew just what she meant.  It involved creativity and re-telling stories and acting them out to understand what they’re about. It connected directly with stories and play and it was FUN!

We also were SO EXCITED to get an older crowd (we have tons of successful programs for 0-6, so whenever we can get the 6-12 year old school age crowd into a successful program they’re really into it just feels great.) who really got to play and work their imagination muscles during the program.

We’re definitely going to do this one again and I can’t recommend it enough – you could even make it themed around books, a seasonal program, or any specific theme.  It was more about getting kids to play and imagine than about one specific puppet. It was cheap, easy and quick to implement, and fun! A dream library program!!

Have you ever done a program around creating simple puppets?  Do you have a puppet theater or stage at your library?  How do you see kids playing with it?  I’d love to hear your thoughts/inspirations.  Leave me a note in the comments or chat with me on Twitter!


Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part One: Passive Programs

WE DID IT.  We survived summer!  Ah summer! The most exciting and exhausting time in a public youth services librarian’s life.  Even when you’re pulling your hair out, every day has a moment or two that reminds you why you’re doing this whole thing.

This summer I decided I wanted to make some BIG and fundamental changes to our library’s offerings.  This included through programs and through the traditional reading program.  Over the past few years, I’ve been making incremental changes so this just seemed like the next step. We learned a lot of things, had some successes and some failures too and it’s just made me EVEN MORE HUNGRY TO CHANGE. I decided one of the best ways to reflect on all this was to write up some accounts of the changes we made and this is the first of the series.

You can find the other entries here: Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Two: Redesigning the Logs & Fixing The Prize Problem and Re-Vamping Summer Reading, Part Three: Super-Action Play Packs (prizes)

I wanted ways for EVERYONE who came into the library to participate and to have something to interact with.  One of the first things we added this year was the WEEKLY SHOWDOWN.  This was passive programming of the simplest kind and it encouraged the MOST fun conversations and engagement across all ages. Whole families participated, the kids who are on the computer every second participated, little kids and teens, everyone loved this. What’s Weekly Showdown?  All we did was decorate the large area across from our desk and, every Monday, put up two blank pieces of paper and a VERSUS for people to vote on.  Let the fun ensue!

Here’s the categories we used:

Weekly Showdown

Shout-out to Robin Marwick for some of her great suggestions!  I tried to avoid pop culture ones because I wanted it to be something for all ages/backgrounds.  No one seemed to mind! (and yes, that’s 957 votes which is AWESOME.)

Here’s what the whole display looked like:



Note the clever reference to Highlander, lol. As you can see, it looked like a lot of fun and encouraged everyone to participate.  We posted images of each competitors at the bottom of each sheet and tried to do a rough count every Monday.  We were always right?  Of course not, but we got a good base figure of how many people participated every week – a great addition to our “who REGISTERED??” ritual of summer.  It was fun to see patrons debating and whole families encouraging each other to look at what was new.

We also have a weekly challenge.  When kids/teens complete the challenge, they earn a piece of taffy.  As you might imagine, they will do anything for a piece of taffy!  So we try to make the challenges fun: put out a sign language book and have kids learn a sign and show it to the librarian, put out a pair of dice and have the kids record how many times it takes them to roll a number higher/lower than their age.

And of course – lots of chances to MAKE ART AND CREATE STUFF.

Two of our biggest hits this summer were squiggle pictures and complete a picture.  These are familiar activities in classrooms for early finishers or to develop creativity.  Why not bring them to a library?

There are lots of resources online, but this was my favorite example of squiggles pictures, which we printed out on cardstock.  We went through HUNDREDS on them in the course of a week.  Kids and parents just kept wanting to create with them.  Here’s a look at some of what they created:



The “complete a picture” design I chose for this summer was from one of my favorite sites that’s full of great printables, Picklebums. I chose WHO BELONGS TO THESE LEGS for robots.  As you can imagine, we got a ton of great responses.  Like the squiggle pictures, this was an activity that all ages could do. Note the different skill levels in these two pictures:


And finally, my new favorite addition of the summer!  I read about Marge’s library building a sticker robot based on visits and I knew I wanted to do something similar.  Again – it was tied to the idea that we would work on making coming to the library – JUST PLAIN COMING TO THE LIBRARY – a fun/incentive.  (Another post in this series will look at the other changes we made to the program including YES the “prize dilemma”)

We are lucky enough to have a neat display space – an art gallery with great display boards.  We made eight themes for the eight weeks of the program.  They had themes like JUNGLE – PLACES TO GO – FIREWORKS and we used corresponding stickers we had left over from Oriental Trading and some I bought from Lakeshore Learning.  It really wasn’t that expensive and we cleared out a lot of old, musty stickers. Every time a kid came in with a reading log, they got to put up a sticker on the weekly collage.  As you may guess, the kids loved doing this and we always made a big deal about it. Not only did they love it, but it was (another) informal way for us to track who was coming in.  AND it was cool decoration. What’s not to love? Like the voting, we didn’t get it right every time, but there was a measure.  Here’s a few looks.





(note that kids chose on their own to make a school of fish who were being fed by multiple fish food bottles. Also see how we ran out of fish and had to just add other stickers in.  Big ocean this week!)

We also decide to have one for the middle and high school kids too.  It didn’t change every week but they LOVED doing it.  BECAUSE OF MUSTACHES.




Over the course of eight weeks we had close 1,000 returns.  A great stat, yes, but also something more than just “how many completed? how many finished?  how many walked off with a log?”  Well – we can collect that too but now we know that over eight weeks we had almost 1,000 visits to the library.  THAT’S a number that tells the REAL story of what summer at the library is.

These passive programs were great additions and helped me achieve goals on several levels:

  • engage new library visitors.
  • show a more accurate picture of what summer is like at the library.
  • add something to summer events without adding a lot of staff time and effort.
  • have a way to informally track summer participation and library visits.

And, oh yeah, it was a ton of fun. Can’t forget that part!

Have you ever done these kind of passive programs?  What ways do you think they could work in your library as part of summer or any time programming?  What additions can you think of for any of these programs or displays? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or you can chat with me on Twitter.

(and stay tuned for more posts in my re-vamping summer series!)


Proposed Program: STEM Meets Diversity

I was brainstorming for summer reading when I came up with this program.  A lot of the inspiration came from What Color is My World? The Lost History of African-American Inventors by Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Raymond Obstefeld.

color my world

This book traces the history of several African American inventors who are not widely known.  As I was thinking about creating a STEM program for the summer I thought … why not make the STEM program based on the work of real scientists? (yes, this thought was helped by the fact my town is filled with ever so many real scientists and many kids here have scientist parents.  As they always say: the best place to look around for ideas is your own community!)

This could help the kids, especially school age kids, put the experiments and science into a real world context – hopefully making a stronger and more lasting impact on them. As you may know, I love putting things in a real world context as it is a way to show kids that learning really is all around them and extending learning beyond the library and beyond library programs.  So connecting STEM programs to actual scientists and actual discoveries and actual inventions seemed like the perfect fit.

And once I thought of that … I instantly thought of this book.  What if we created a STEM program that was based around real-life inventions and scientists … of color.

Some advantages:

  • kids probably won’t be familiar with these scientists and their work, so you’re not just repeating things about Newton they’ve heard twenty times already. New!  Exciting!  Interesting!
  • you INSTANTLY have another diversity program that also covers STEM programming: two areas most libraries are looking to develop in.
  • it’s chance to take on STEM in a new way  – when I was creating our ScienceFest week of programs, I found a lot of the same stuff.  WHICH IS AWESOME but this is a way to approach STEM from a whole new direction and expand STEM to cover history and biography too.
  • I relish any chance I have to educate caregivers too – this could be a great chance to explain to caregivers WHY you are having this program, HOW they can help have conversations with their children about diversity and discovery. We can be the facilitators and leaders in these conversations about diversity and this program, which will have hands on experimenting and FUN is a perfect gateway.

Here are a few inventors and experiment pairings:

And those are just a few – I am sure there are tons more.  My original idea was to call the program Colors of STEM, but when I thought of also adding (white) women who were lesser known inventors I realized it didn’t quite fit.  So, I don’t quite have the right name yet: maybe something about discoveries or diversity or broadening your STEM horizons.  I also thought you might do this thematically by month – so you could have Great African-American Inventors in February or Women Inventors in March.  That would be another way to make those celebrations and displays get active in your library.

So what do YOU think?  Have any great names for this program?  Have some good ideas of  inventors/projects you think could go together and fit the theme?  What are some ways you could expand your STEM programming to be more diverse or more real world relevant? Comment here or chat with me on Twitter

Oh and one thing I definitely know – you could wrap the series up (especially if you do it in summer…) with a water gun party. After all Lonnie Johnson, inventor of the Super Soaker, is African American! 🙂