stop stressing yourself out — themes are overrated

You know, when I first started doing preschool storytimes, I worked like crazy to pull together books that were all themed and a craft that tied into that theme, songs that worked with the theme, and a few rhymes or puppet that fit into the theme.

But you know what I’ve realized? The kids don’t really care.

They are just so thrilled to hear stories and sing songs together. Never once has a child critiqued my storytime choices and told me that a book didn’t fit into the theme.

Storytime “themes” should be approached the same way that an episode of Sesame Street works – you can have a letter or number of the day, but honestly everyone just wants to hear the main theme song, the counting song, and they like to hear a few new stories.

I think some of us, especially librarians who are not Children’s Librarians or who studied early literacy, but have become storytime gurus through happenstance, become obsessed with themes and it makes these weekly programs eat up far too much time and brain power, considering how much other stuff we have to do around the branch. Personally, I do at least one children’s program every week. I also work the desk at least 2 hours a day, though usually 3 hours if staffing is weird. I want to host more programs for teens. I want to weed my collection. I want to create displays!

So instead of sweating over storytime themes, I now just pick out some of my favorite books from the storytime shelf, pick one that I like enough to make it the craft (since most authors have websites now with easy craft ideas) and have a selection of songs I pick from so that the kids can learn the songs with me.

It has made my life far less stressful. I did the Babies program for 2 months and I only switched up a few things the entire time, mostly just going back and forth between the same three sets of rhymes or fingerplays. The babies and parents loved learning the rhymes with me. I’m now doing the Toddler program and going about it the same way, except with a few more books in the mix. But I am going to use the same rhymes and songs and watch as the kids learn them with me.

Summer Outreach to Middle Schools – GIFtalks!

One of the lovely bloggers at Teen Services Underground (which, if you are not a member, you should be!) linked to this post about using GIFs with booktalks.

I had signed myself up for several school visits at the end of the May and start of June so I was really excited to see this idea (I didn’t even know you could use GIFs in PowerPoint – this feature will be abused from now on, whether I’m talking to 5th graders or our library staff). I had my booklists, created from titles my coworkers and I had enjoyed plus ones that were well reviewed in School Library Journal and a few I just knew about from word of mouth from our regular teen readers.

My presentation was about 45 minutes long. The first 20 minutes was my basic Summer Reading Club plug, talking about programs we would have going on all summer long and reminding them that the public library is a place that is totally FREE to get into and also has air conditioning. I didn’t pretend like it was the only place they should want to be this summer. That’s ridiculous. But I pointed out that there were going to be summer days when they would need another activity because of weather or being stuck at home. I kept the presentation light and funny and told them how easy it was to get a library card.

After we got through that, I did booktalks for about 30 minutes. I broke them down into vague genres and did about 3-4 books per genre, with a GIF behind me while talking. The kids were on the edge of their seats when I would change slides, standing up to see what characters were up there.

ANYWAY, I haven’t seen any statistics yet but I have seen a lot of older kids and teens sign up for our program and so many have come in to get the books I talked about. And just as many have said “Hello” to me when they visit, which just makes me feel like a rockstar.

So I can totally vouch for this. If you want your Readers Advisory to be a bit more fun when you visit schools, this is a great way to go, especially when talking to a large audience. My groups about 100 kids each and I was impressed by how closely they listened. I talked to over 1000 kids in about 3 weeks and it was amazing to hear them say they wanted to read something I had suggested!

If you want to see my presentation, you can download it here!

books read in April

Read. Watch. Blog

Wow, this is embarrassing. The story here is that I have two adult books I am currently in the middle of. I’m still working on Silence of the Lambs and then a week ago Dead Wake arrived for me so I dropped everything to read that, only to find myself losing interest and going back to Lambs. But not quick enough to finish it before April 30! So my “read” list for April is kind of sad. But at least the two books I did finish were fantastic!

El DeafoEl Deafo by Cece Bell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this graphic novel memoir about Cece Bell’s hearing loss as a child. Even if you have perfect hearing, you can relate to Bell’s story, her nervousness about trying to fit in, about not wanting people to treat her differently and managing friendships and relationships in middle school. Her…

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World Puppetry Day program

I’m a fan of puppets. I grew up watching Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, and The Muppet Show.

Oh who am I kidding, I STILL watch Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock and The Muppet Show!

So when my friend mentioned World Puppetry Day, I jumped at the idea of having a program at the library to talk about the different kids of puppets.

Blatant self promotion #muppets #puppets @aacpl

Our program attendees tend to run on the younger side, so even though we promoted the event for school aged children, we tried to make sure we had enough crafts to work for all ages.

We started off the program with a short talk about the history of puppets and went over from puppet related vocabulary, defining each kind of puppet. We described each puppet and asked the kids if they could guess the name of the puppet based on the description (This puppet uses a rod to control it’s arm, what would you call it? A rod puppet! Correct!). We showed them examples of store bought puppets and then also an example of a simple puppet you could make at home.

After that, I played a few clips of famous puppets and puppeteers. I made a quick YouTube playlist with some favorite clips and asked the kids what kind of puppet was being used (I didn’t play any of the clips in their entirety).

Then it was craft and play time! We brought a few puppets down from our Storytime collection and set them up on a table with a sheet, creating a makeshift stage area. We had print outs of knock knock jokes and the kids used them as scripts as they played with the puppets (at least, initially, then they went off into their own little games).

For puppet crafts, we had three different activities ranging in difficulty. If you can get your hands on the awesome book 10-Minute Puppets by Noel MacNeal, it is a great resource with lots of printables and inspiration for a program like this.

For the older children, we had the parts for the Elephant Rod Puppet already cut out and with holes punched sitting on a table. We used a thick cardstock for this. You will also need some straws, tape, and the gromits for the moveable parts.

On another table, we had butterfly shadow puppets. We made lots of butterflies, cut out from many different colored construction paper. Scissors and hole punches were on the table so the kids could create holes in the butterfly and then some colored plastic sheets that they could use to cover the holes. They taped a straw to the back and created their little works of art!

Puppet program was very fun! More photos soon. #puppets #librarian

The last table had a craft for very little ones, a frog finger puppet that could be colored in. Two hole were cut into the bottom for “legs” created by the child’s fingers.

We set up the branch projector so the kids could test out their shadow puppets. They loved seeing the shadows on the wall (though don’t ask me why I went with Notepad instead of a blank PowerPoint slide…next time!)

While we only had 9 children show up they were VERY enthusiastic. They did all of the crafts, played with the puppets we brought down and talked to us about the puppets afterwards. One little boy wanted to create his own puppet (he wasn’t into the butterflies) and we gave him some plain white paper. He proceeded to draw a character from the Sonic the Hedgehog series and then he poked holes in him and used the colored plastic to create his own unique shadow puppet!

We’re already discussing next year. Of course, after we started to advertise the program we were approached by two different people asking about helping out with it. We are hoping they are still interested next year because we really didn’t have time to incorporate them into the event this time around. But we hope this can be an annual event, maybe even more elaborate each year with crafts and activities for older children and teens.

Shadow puppets! #puppets #librarian

in defense of simple crafts

Sometimes the simplest craft gets the kids talking. I had them draw where they would drive in their cars. #librarian #storytime

Back when I first started doing preschool storytimes, I used to do somewhat complicated crafts.  Lots of cutting out pieces and having the kids glue them a certain way. This was back when I worked at a smaller branch and only did storytime for one month and then had a break with lots of free time to plan.  Now I work at a much busier branch and our system has adopted a year-round Early Literacy Program calendar, which means every single week I am doing some sort of children’s program. Combine that with working on the desk (programming increased, staff did not, we actually lost one person and we are a very sparsely staffed system anyway) and it leaves very little time to create elaborate crafts.

Our preschool storytime groups average at least 30 kids each week.  That is a lot of kids and limits the kind of hands on crafts you can have. You have to keep it simple to make it easy to set up and take down. You have to keep it simple so you can maximize the minimal budget set aside for supplies.

I started taking advantage of our die cut machine.  It is very simple to crank out 40 bears, cars, crowns – whatever. At first, I felt very guilty, like I wasn’t putting enough in to the craft. I would look at other storytime blogs for inspiration and see crafts that involved lots of intricate pieces that had to be cut out by hand or purchased at the craft store and I felt like my glue and color crafts made me look like a lazy librarian.

But that is not true.

I really think the kids enjoy the simple crafts more and that they get more out of them.  It gives them the freedom to use their imaginations.  When I had my more complex crafts, I found that the parents were obsessed with the kids making it “right” instead of the child just having fun. I also found that the more complex the craft, the less time they spent on making it. They would glue the pieces where they had to go and then be done.

My craft today was very simple. We did stories about transportation and I had cars for the kids. They used gluesticks to attach the car to a piece of paper and then colored where the car was going. The kids worked on their projects for a solid 10 minutes, some more elaborate than others. As they colored, I took the time to walk around to each child and ask them about their car, where it was going and the colors they had used on the paper. The children were very eager to talk to me about their cars and would come running up to share their pictures with me an explain everything on the page.  One car was going to school, another had a rainbow on the door, and there was even a car parked outside a bakery (that girl was after my own heart).

So when you are sitting there, trying to figure out what craft to do for your preschool group, don’t obsess over whether the 300 little bits of paper you have to cut out will impress the parents. Think about how this craft will expand the child’s mind. Think about the early literacy skills they can pick up just by coloring in a car and telling you about how they have to drive to school. The more you encourage them to talk and share, the more positive experience they will have, and isn’t that what we want to create? A positive experience with reading, books, and the library.

fun with iMovie – before after library remodel video

My library will reopen to the public tomorrow after a MONTH of interior remodeling. It has been a wild and crazy experience being a part of this process. We had many days of laughter, grumbling, some interesting fumes and lots and LOTS of donuts!

Anyway, to kill time on Friday as we waiting to be trained on some new equipment, I threw together a quick Before/After video that **hopefully** we can run on our 40″ TV we have set up in our lobby area now to help patrons visualize what we used to look like just a few weeks ago. It was quite an impressive change, physically and also mentally because the flow of the entire building has been overhauled. It will be confusing for awhile, but I think it turned out well.

If you are curious, here is the video!

What I Do as a Librarian

LifeHacker recently posted an interview with a Associate Director of the Baldwin Public Library in Birmignham, AL.

One of the things I love about my profession is that it is different for everyone, all over, because all libraries, even all public libraries, are run differently. It is also one of the most confusing things because even if you are talking to a fellow Librarian…you spend a LOT of time explaining what you do because it’s different from state to state, county to county, township, street…seriously, it’s confusing.

So I’m going to do the interview with myself! And I urge ALL Librarians to do the same! And if you can think of a cool hashtag so we can share this around the Internetz, let me know!

Introduction: I am currently a Librarian at a very busy community library that is part of a county public library system. I have been a full-time employee of a public library for almost 9 years. I started a a part-time substitute, became a full time Library Associate in 2006, decided I liked the job well enough and got my Masters in Library and Information Science from Drexel University (all online while working full-time) in a little over a year. I worked a year as a Young Adult Librarian, but decided I preferred being a Generalist.

What drove you to choose your career path?
I worked as a Page (shelving books) in my local library all through high school and college. I actually had no intention of making libraries my life. I bounced around a little bit doing odd jobs, but then I realized I really liked helping people find information. I always say my epiphany came while working at a radio station, realizing how badly I wanted listeners to call in and ask me questions about the songs that were playing. It also helped that the staff at my local library were always very nice, very supportive, and have a work environment that made all others pale in comparison. After working in retail and entertainment, I longed to go back to a place where people weren’t getting fired on a daily basis.

How did you go about getting your job? What kind of education and experience did you need?
All of this varies from place to place. One of the great things about the county I work in is that you can get hired full-time as a Library Associate if you have your bachelor’s degree IN ANYTHING. I was young and not ready to commit to a job forever, and it was nice to go full time and see if it was actually what I wanted to do. To move up in the career though, one needs a Masters degree. Most libraries require one if you want to become management of any kind.

Did you need any licenses or certifications?
Not for my library system. You actually get certified later as part of the Library Associate Training Institute, which gives you a sort of Librarian-ing 101 crash course over 6 months and then you qualify for the Teacher’s Pension. Then over the course of the next 5 years, you have to get 90 hours of training. Which really isn’t too hard to do now that there are webinars that you can complete from the comfort of your desk.

What sorts of things do you do beyond what the average person might expect?
We are computer, tablet, and eReader specialists now. Libraries are about Information and we have to know about Information in all of its forms. We help our patrons with their devices, we help them understand how the Internet works, we teach them to navigate databases full of articles. I think a lot of people assume we are just book fanatics, but that is untrue in most cases. We are Information junkies. (though we DO love recommending books, and for some reason people are surprised when we do that!)

What misconceptions do people often have about your job?
That we are volunteers (the pay is low but not THAT low!!!). That we read books all day (some people don’t even read books!). And those of us that are into Readers Advisory (aka book reccommenders) are going to push your child to read a classic — we know full well they will enjoy ‘Captain Underpants’ way more and we are going to give them that because we want to encourage a love of reading, not reading as punishment.

What are your average work hours?
Since my library is open from 9am-9pm Mon-Thurs and 9-5 Fri/Sat, to make it fair we split the nights and weekends among the group. I work two day shifts (8:30-5), two night shifts (12:30-9) and then we alternate weekends. Of course, these hours are filled doing MANY different things.

What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
First and foremost – be a part of the team, be a positive person, support your coworkers. That may sound like hard work, but you will find life to be a lot easier. I have been very lucky with my coworkers over the years.

Second – while you should respect your manager/their manager/their boss, they are just people. Don’t be afraid to give honest feedback on projects or share you ideas. Complaining to the wall will not get you noticed, gossiping amongst your coworkers will only get you riled up. Talk to management. Heck, even if they say no, you can’t say you didn’t TRY! (and I’ve said that sentence several times to my manager and she’s fine with it).

When it comes to helping people find books, I love GoodReads. I have tons of friends on there who read all the stuff I don’t and it’s a great way to learn about new books. I also skim Library Journal and School Library Journal regularly for booklists and program ideas.

What do you do differently from your coworkers or peers in the same profession?
We are Generalists in my system. We don’t have “adult” or “teen” or “children’s” librarians in our branches. Honestly, I think it’s all because of budget cuts from long ago when positions were cut and they had to make do with the bare minimum. To staff specialists, you end up doubling your staff size, especially in a busy library. Usually, someone steps up and becomes a defacto specialist (you learn your coworkers strengths and turn to them for help). This has pros and cons because it means you get to do EVERYTHING and know ALL THE THINGS but it also means you have to do EVERYTHING and when you are trying to do programs for all ages, you end up getting very tired very quickly.

What’s the worst part of the job and how do you deal with it?
The original interview said “bodily fluids” and I would have to agree. You are in a public building and people from all walks of life come in. You have to be prepared to handle different situations. Depending on the location of your library, you may have different issues to deal with, but they all have issues. Again, having a good set of coworkers that you trust makes handling sticky situations easier because you know you can look to them for help and backup. Never go in alone, no matter how little the issue may seem.

Do you have any advice for people who need to enlist your services?
Be specific about what you want. The more information you can give me, the more chance I have of finding you what you need the first time.

Also, you don’t have to apologize for asking me a question, it’s what I do!

What kind of money can one expect to make at your job?
Not a whole lot, unless you become the big boss. But it’s enough to get by and enjoy a comfortable life. I mean, you’re not going to buy a mansion, but you can definitely afford a little home. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a range of about $33,000 to $85,000 per year.

How do you move up in your field?
Work hard, take part in Committees or Taskforces or whatever your library system calls them. If you can speak at Statewide events and get your name out there, then you are far more desirable when it comes to management positions.

What do your patrons under/over value?
They undervalue the information resources available via our website. I try to explain databases and how to search them all the time to parents, but they see me looking at a computer and assume I’m on Wikipedia. They have no idea the wealth of legit information available online that can help them find reputable sources for citing in their research. And I guess on the flipside of that is that they overvalue physical books when better info can be found elsewhere. And they undervalue the Librarian’s ability to find them the best information they can.

I think there’s an undervalue for programming too. We offer a lot of programs for all ages and it’s all free. Libraries are one of the true shared spaces left in a community. We are not owned by any religion or political group. We have events designed to bring people together. Storytime programs that promote early literacy, clubs for teens that give them a safe space to be themselves, and free classes for adults to help them improve their computer skills or investigate new hobbies. Where else could you find these things FREE of cost and without an ulterior motive?

What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession?
Because of the economy, the library world has been a scary place recently with budget cuts, furloughs, and other threats to our funding. I know I have been very fortunate, working in a state that values public libraries enough to not cut them completely and working at a branch that is in a very library friendly neighborhood. If you really think you want to work in a library, I would suggest finding some kind of part-time job to get you in to really observe what it’s like. You’ll find that we spend a lot of time using technology so if you are not comfortable playing with computers, tablets, video games, and other electronics, this might not be the place for you.

Though you may still want to stock up on cardigans because who knows what temperature the building will be!

Toddler Time – Construction, Cars, and Colors

Today’s Toddler Time was a bit last minute as I agreed to help out to spare a co-worker who was coming down with something and had barely survived the Babies program the day before. But I had a few books I had been wanting to test run so even though the book had a hamster in it, the children were the real guinea pigs (see what I did there?)

I went with a vehicle theme which also turned out to naturally have a color theme built into it! For fun, I threw together a quick flannel board because nothing is easier (and kills time) than talking about a flannel board.

We identified the color of each garage as I placed them on the board, then we matched the cars to their appropriately colored garages (I made a joke about double parking because why not?) and then we counted how many cars we had. Then we sang them a song that I found on the same site I found the inspiration for the flannel board:

Sung to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Cars are sleeping in their homes
Tired from the busy day
To the shops, and to the school
To the park, and to the pool
Cars are sleeping in their homes
Tired from a busy day

I also managed to dig deep into my memory and access the Car Car Song, which I used to sing with my brother when he was little. We learned it from the Kidsongs VHS but apparently that is a tweaked version of a Woody Guthrie song (my mom knew it as a Peter, Paul and Mary song). ANYWAY, it was a fun action song to get up and sing and help keep the wiggles at bay.

Here is the basic outline for the rest of the program:

Opening Song: Clap Along With Me/Open Shut Them

Construction by Sally Sutton (text recognition – point at LOUD words)

Stanley the Builder by William Bee (identify colors)

SONG: Take You Riding in my Car Car (have kid stand up and do actions)

My Car by Byron Barton (vocabulary word of the day – pedestrian)

FLANNEL: Cars and their garages (identify colors, matching, counting)

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems (have kids say “NO!” to Pigeon)

Freight Train (big book) by Donald Crews (train noise – chugga chugga woo woo)

FINALE: If You’re Happy and You Know It!

Take Away: Car coloring sheet with song lyrics on the back