Monday, April 14, 2014

Egg Hunt: A 30 year tradition in New Albany, Indiana

Though libraries continue to change and grow (as they should!), there is something special about the traditions that it can inspire, especially when children grow up with the library and then bring children of their own as adults.  The New Albany-Floyd County Public Library has an interesting way to keep track of their generations of patrons.  Easter Eggs.  Abby Johnson is the Children's Services Manager in New Albany and gives some insight to their 30 year tradition.  

Tell us about the program. 

Our annual Egg Decorating Workshop has been held at the library since 1985. We invite families to come to the library to decorate blown-out eggs. (Blown-out eggs have the inside parts blown out so that they can be preserved forever… or until they break.) We ask each child to bring two blown-out eggs: one to take home with them and one to donate to the library’s collection. Of course, we provide extra eggs in case someone’s breaks or anyone forgets. The library provides egg dye and all kinds of odds and ends for decorating the eggs. It’s a great way for us to get rid of leftover craft supplies and I think it’s neat that you can tell by walking through our department what extra supplies we had each year. There might be a stretch of glittery eggs followed by eggs decorated with lots of yarn followed by 
eggs with lots of feathers.

Why do your patrons need or look forward to this program? 

Our free Egg Decorating Workshop has become an annual tradition for many families, so it’s great that the library can have a role in establishing fun traditions. If families donate eggs to our collection, that’s something they can look back on each year to remember the fun they had. We keep a binder with the names and years for all of the eggs. The eggs are hung on numbered rods, so we can easily look up and find someone’s egg, even if it’s been years since they did one. 

This program also satisfies a need for creative programs for children. We set out a variety of materials and allow children and families to use their imaginations to decide how to decorate their eggs. So often crafts for children are limiting by providing specific instructions or maybe a sample, dictating the “right way” for their product to look. Children need opportunities to express their creativity, which this program provides. 

What are some of the challenges to set up the program? 

In the past, our biggest challenge was providing extra blown-out eggs in case of breakage or drop-ins. This year, we discovered that you can buy plastic eggs at big box stores like Wal-Mart, so that’s really cut down on our staff time invested in the program. The eggs don’t work as well with the dye, but you can use markers, crayons, and glue on them, so children can use our other supplies. 

Another challenge is keeping the eggs safe and putting them up each year. Families always ask us how we put up the eggs. “Very carefully!” we say. The strings are hot-glued onto the eggs and the rods and each egg and rod has a number so we can keep them in order when we put them away. We hang the eggs up every spring, usually a few weeks before our program and leave them up until several weeks after the program. If we have anyone come in to do work on the ducts or lights we have to be proactive in offering to move eggs to keep them safe. 

What would you do differently or like to change about this program? 

Really, it’s a program we’ve got down to a science after so many years of doing it. Although there’s a bit of prep work with putting the eggs up and getting materials together, it’s really an easy program to run. My one worry is that we may someday be in a space that doesn’t have a drop ceiling (allowing us to display the eggs), but we’ll deal with that when we come to it! 

What's next?

Oh, not much… just gearing up for SUMMER READING! ;-)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Maximum Mileage: The Bike Rodeo at Lewis & Clark (MT) Library

Sure, you can use your bookmobile to pass out books.  But why not use it to get kids riding bikes too? Here's how one library used bicycles and bookmobiles to get maximum mileage out of their programming 

Bretagne Byrd is a Bookmobile Librarian for Lewis & Clark Library in Helena, MT. She is passionate about library outreach and bringing services to the underserved, the more creative the better. Outside of the library world she spends her time running, biking, and climbing. 

Tell us about the program. 
A Bike Rodeo is a safety course set up to teach participants how to safely ride a bicycle on a road, with obstacles, with other cyclists, and how to correctly signal. The Lewis & Clark Library Bookmobile has about 30 permanent stops all over Lewis and Clark County in Montana. The bookmobile partnered with the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department, Safe Routes to School, Bike/Walk Helena, and the Helena Bicycle Club to bring Bike Rodeos to bookmobile stops. The first one was held at Leisure Village, a trailer park community, and had about 25 participants and 12 volunteers. As a participants showed up to the Bike Rodeo they headed straight to the bookmobile to get signed or turn in a signed Safety Release Form. Next, they were directed to the bike mechanic where a local bike shop owner looked over the bikes and made sure they were ready to ride. The next stop was the helmet station where if you had your own helmet it was inspected for fit. If you did not have a helmet there were free helmets until we ran out. Finally participants made it to the course. The course was drawn on the pavement in a lot that was away from any traffic. The course was made up of stop signs, people pretending to be cars, and tricky obstacles to ride around. At the end of the course was a skills area where kids could practice riding in a straight line, between cones, and sudden stopping. Participants could keep riding the course until we closed. Each section of the course focused on a certain riding skill, such as, waiting for traffic to pass or correct signaling at a stop sign. The program lasted about two hours, and at the end each participant received free safety cycling material and a free chapter book from the library.

Why did your patrons need this program?
This particular program was held at Leisure Village, a trailer park community, which has over 300 homes with an average of 3 or more people per household. This community is located less than a half mile from an Elementary school. A paved walkway was constructed last year from Leisure Village to the Elementary School to make it safer for children to commute (walk, bike, or skate) to school. Without the walkway the commuter option is to walk alongside a highway with a high speed limit. The bookmobile has a bi-weekly stop at Leisure Village. One of the goals for each bookmobile stop is to encourage a sense of community involvement with the library and patrons. Many patrons at this stop have transportation obstacles and Leisure Village is about a 15 minute drive from town (library, shops, downtown) so we bring the library to them. This is often the first access patrons have to library services. The lack of transportation, need for library services, and the goal of involving the bookmobile at a community level led to the creation of the Bike Rodeo library programs.

How was this program challenging to the librarians?
Challenge 1: Establishing a connection with organizations.
As an Outreach and Bookmobile Librarian I often get the question, why is the librarian/library here? The fact that this question comes up so often is sad, but I take it as an opportunity to demonstrate library resources, how the library is a fundamental part of the community, and the access that the bookmobile has to people that no other organization has. Libraries are becoming more visible as a vital part of communities. We have resources, most of the time free, that many people are unaware that they exist. Making the library a strong and efficient part of everyday life for patrons is essential to community growth.

Challenge 2:  Partnerships with many organizations and keeping everyone happy with the program.
With this program I partnered with the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department, Safe Routes to School, the Helena Bike Club, and Bike/Walk Helena. There are many opinions with a room full of organizations.  There was also the task of organizing volunteers through these organizations. It was challenging to keep everyone on the same page, and get all the volunteers informed as to their jobs. The way we dealt with this challenge is to brainstorm what worked and what didn’t. With this list we ditched several attempts at organization that failed and improved the things that did. We now have a volunteer list and one person in charge of contacting people.

Challenge 3: Bike helmets.
This program is teaching bike safety to participants but many (about 75%) of participants barely had a bike and did not have bike helmets. We saw that the ones that did show up were too big or broken. With this bookmobile stop, I explained the lack of funds for helmets. Luckily, the Safe Routes to School group was able to fund the purchase of free helmets for participants. Unfortunately, the funding for helmets is not sustainable and the group was not satisfied without a measurable outcome of giving away free helmets. For the next Bike Rodeo we came up with a sustainable solution! We have access to a group who will provide helmets for use during the Bike Rodeo for free. With reusing helmets for the program also came the problem of sanitation and cleanliness of so many people using the same helmets. To solve this problem we are purchasing bandanas as free giveaways for the participants to wear under the helmets during the program. We clean the helmets too!

What was risky about your program and how did you address that risk? 
Risk 1: No one would show up or want to participate.
This is always a worry with any program but we advertised well in the area, had plenty of food for the kids to munch on, and set up a very visible area to attract possible participants.

Risk 2: Working with extreme poverty and not a very safe area.
To work with this risk we scheduled the Bike Rodeo during daylight hours, after school, and hopefully when parents can attend with their children. Each participant needed a signed Safety Release Form in order to participate in the Bike Rodeo. The Bike Rodeo has safety issues involved with riding a bike so the Safety Form covered the library and insured some Parent/Guardian involvement. We also had volunteers who worked together in pairs; no one was left by themselves. Our setup was also very visible and out in the wide open, which also is a useful form of self-advertising.

How did you get ready for the program?
We had monthly meetings before the first Bike Rodeo took place to divide work between the organizations. The safety course was established and built, which included designing, making, and painting obstacles for the course. We also had to organize the volunteers and make sure that we would have enough people to run the course. We ran advertising for a month before the event to encourage participation. The day of preparation included setting up a food table, Safety Form registration, bike mechanic area, and the Bike Rodeo course. We ran a couple sample course run-throughs and made sure each person knew the responsibilities of their area.

What would you do differently if you had another shot? 
Luckily, we have the chance to continue the bike rodeos this coming spring with about 5 bookmobile stops. We are going to try and go green with two large containers of water and encourage participants to bring their own water bottles, to cut done on the use on plastic water bottles. We are also going to have a run through with volunteers before the first Bike Rodeo so that everyone already knows where they will be and what they are supposed to do. Another thing we are doing this year is establishing the best physical space for the Bike Rodeo to be held at each stop. This requires going to each place, talking with people in charge, and finding a large enough area. Overall, I think the Bike Rodeos will be better after each one we hold. If something doesn't work or becomes a problem, we fix it.

What’s next?
Helena, MT lies along the Continental Divide Trail that many cyclists attempt to ride in one season without any outside support. While the cyclists are passing through Helena they gather at the bike shop, brewery, and usually stay in town for a bed and a shower. Professionally, I believe that Public Libraries have so much to offer the transient and as a past Appalachian Trail hiker I used public libraries all along the East Coast as my means of communication with family, information, and a dry place to stay for a bit. The hope is to partner with some organizations in town to park the bookmobile, maybe outside the bike shop, to offer use of the computers, information, and a general welcome to our town. This program would not only create a great public library experience for the bikers traveling through our town but also showcase something spectacular that happens in Helena. Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Rite of Passage: NYPL's partnership with Passages Academy

How do you make readers out of people who can't get to the library? If you're a superhero librarian like Lindsy Serrano, you go where you're needed. Lindsy (who is an editor of this blog) and her colleagues at the New York Public Library got out from behind their desks and brought the idea of literacy into the juvenile corrections facilities in their library district.

Lindsy is a Senior Librarian for NYPL and explains below some of her strategies for reaching kids that not many people have taken time to reach. She also blogs at

Tell us about the program.
Starting in 2006, I was in a group of librarians at the New York Public Library (NYPL) that participated in a formal outreach program with Passages Academy, a multi-site correctional school run by New York City's Department of Education (DoE) and Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) . The librarians who visited Passages were usually working in the Bronx and Brooklyn, where Passages Academy sites were located. They were also trained as Young Adult librarians. We visited about once a month to talk to Passages students about the public libraries and what we had to offer, we also did book talks and were able to bring in books for the students to keep. Each librarian had their own programming style. I liked to play games like Pictionary and Charades and I would always save discarded books in good shape to give away to the students as well. Other librarians had the class become an impromptu focus group for YALSA's Quick Picks committee or had writing workshops.

Why did your patrons need this program?
In New York City, over five thousand young adults are taken into custody by the DJJ. While in detention, they do not have easy access to books, and literacy is not always a priority. I found it interesting that prisons for adults must have libraries in them but they are not required for juvenile detention centers, especially when studies show that a higher literacy rate will play a vital role in an incarcerated teen's rehabilitation process. It was very important for NYPL to visit, to give them access to books that they might not already have, support the increidble work that the school librarians already did, and to make sure students knew that the library was available to them after their release.

What were some of the challenges for the librarians during the program?
Librarians faced similar challenges that you would have in mainstream high schools, things like unruly students and difficult teachers, but there were also some challenges more specific to the space. One of the biggest challenges was dealing with the security system. The DoE and DJJ didn't always agree about the importance of a visit or communicated with each other about upcoming events. Because of this, just getting into the facility was a challenge. Sometimes security guards would not know about your visit and not let you in, or make you late for your classes because they had to wait for permissions from school administration. Sometimes you would get to the school and find out that you needed extra ID or there was a new security protcal that you didn't know about. It was also hard to bring the books in for the students sometimes because different sites had different rules about what their students could possess. Some places allowed paperbacks but no hardcovers, some didn't allow anything at all. Once I brought library cards for the students to keep but couldn't give them out in fear of them being turned into a weapon. So there were a lot of challenges! And really, the only way to avoid these challenges would be lots and lots of preparation, much more than you would do for normal outreach. I would get the school librarian to work with me to make sure I was on the roster of who was coming in, and I would double check to see what I could bring in. Sometimes I would even ship the books I was going to give away to the school ahead of time so I wouldn't have to carry it all on the day of the event.

What would you do differently if you had another shot?
The main things I would do to make this partnership better would be to make program even more consistant, and try to make it a part of the library's already established Correctional Services Program, with mainly works with Rikers' Island. Working with Passages Academy meant trying to balance the needs of both the DoE and the DJJ so being a part of a formal department would have been very helpful when trying to book visits. I would also have loved to do larger scale programs at Passages, such as author visits or arts programs. The amazing school librarians that work at Passages do a wonderful job and I wish we could have supported them more in their work.

What's Next?
Working with Passages was such a great experience, and I know that librarians are still doing wonderful outreach when their branch allows it (I am no longer doing outreach at Passages because I transferred from the Bronx). I am currently working on a DIY author series, where craft book authors visit the library and talk about publishing their books while they teach us a new skill (knitting, embroidery, calligraphy, etc)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

"Books and Butchers" at the Johnson County (KS) Library

The thing I love the most about libraries is how the materials can offer a start in trying something new, anything from cooking to sewing to gardening and beyond. The staff at the Johnson County Public Library (JCPL) took this idea way beyond with a program last November called “Books and Butchers.” 

John Helling is the Associate Director for System Services at JCPL (and an editor for this blog) and carried this program from its idea to a crowded room of 80 patrons and one half a pig. He sits down with Deprogramming Libraries to tell the story of when a butcher came to the library.  Find more of his writing in his book.

Tell us about the program.
"Books and Butchers" was a hog butchering demonstration that took place in our Central Resource Library where we had actual butchers take apart an actual half-hog.  They explained the process to the crowd, who were free to interject with questions whenever they wanted (there were a LOT of questions).  Over the course of the demo, which took about two hours, they talked about things like organic farming, the importance of eating locally raised meats, bioethics, how one goes about becoming a butcher, and also things like how to cook the different cuts of meat they were making.

The library staff had created several book displays that were set up near the event with a super wide variety of titles and topics, so no matter where the conversation went we were able to point patrons to a book that would let them further explore whichever facet of the program they found interesting.  There were cookbooks, farming books, history books, books about food scarcity, books that told you where to find good barbecue...everything.  We even put out Charlotte's Web.

Why did your patrons need this program?
We wanted to demonstrate to patrons that the library was a place where you could experience things, and also to make the subject matter of our books a little less abstract.  In other words, we wanted to decrease the distance that people experienced between the subject of a book and its real-life incarnation.  The hope was that hog butchering might attract people into the library who weren't already library users, and that we could show them that there was something relevant here for them.

When I was a librarian in rural Indiana, I remember there was a couple who used to drive 20 minutes or so to the library.  The woman would come up and browse for a bit, check out her books, and then go outside to her husband, who would wait in the truck for her.  Clearly, he had decided at some point that there was nothing for him in the library, and that sitting in his truck was a better use of his time than coming inside.  This has (obviously) remained with me, and I'm always thinking about ways to get the attention of people like that.  You have to be big, bold, and dramatic about it I think.

What was risky about your program and how did you address that risk?
Butchering a hog in a library is not something that many people saw a point in.  A lot of people thought (and, to be clear, this is a completely legitimate argument to make) that we would be better off spending our time and energy on, you know, NORMAL stuff.  Getting people to pick up books by showing them a hog being butchered is a bit like trying to shoot the moon - it's a high-risk, high-reward proposition.  If it goes poorly, good luck trying to get approval for your next idea, unless your next idea is something totally bland.

We tried to mitigate that risk by planning the thing to death.  We had our Marketing department come up with talking points for the program so that we could easily explain it to skeptical patrons (or staff, or board members).  We had our Reader's Advisory Coordinator put together a thorough and amazing list of titles that proved the program's relevance to our collection, and we used that list to create the displays for the program itself.  Essentially, we tried to anticipate every question or doubt that someone could have about the program and address it before it came up.

How did you get ready for the program?
We had a lot of conversations.  No one was really sure how to make a hog butchering work as a library program, because no one had ever done it before.  Even the butchers were a bit skeptical at first.  Basically, everybody involved was stepping out of their comfort zone and trying something new, so we had to be sure that everyone had a chance to ask all of their questions and wrap their minds around the idea.  For what was essentially a pretty simple program (an outside presenter coming in and doing their thing), we probably had a six- or eight-month planning period.

We're also very lucky to have a very good in-house Marketing department, so we were able to talk the program up in public before we had it.  We advertised for it all over the place, in print and on the web, and even went so far as to have special napkins printed that we used during the event.

What would you do differently if you had another shot?
About the program itself, not a whole lot!  We were very pleased with the results.  Approximately 80 people showed up and they were extremely engaged; from the very beginning the crowd was asking questions and didn't really stop for the entire two hours.

We could have improved several of the tangential aspects of the program though.  For example, we could have counted how many books were checked out from our displays, and noted which titles people took.  We didn't do that.  We could have put a librarian up on stage with the butchers, suggesting specific titles for further reading that went along with whatever question the patron was asking.  We could have had the butchers create a list of their favorite books in advance, and had them on hand for patrons to check out.  We could have live tweeted the event to draw more "day of" attendees.

We also talked about doing different versions of the event.  Maybe at Thanksgiving the butchers could come back and show patrons how to properly carve a turkey.  Or maybe we could turn it into a series, and follow up by inviting a chef who could talk about how to create recipes.

What's next?
Oh man, so many things.  Our library is full of so many smart, motivated people.  We're expanding our MakerSpace, we're doing a series with author Tanner Colby about the history of racial segregation in Kansas City, we're expanding our popular early literacy program called 6by6 into Spanish...and tons of other stuff.  Keep an eye on us.