In an earlier post, I anticipated happily the arrival of the new version of Every Child Ready to Read. And sure enough, the new approach to presenting early literacy parent workshops, with its emphasis on the 5 activities parents can do with their children from birth to get them ready to read, is a vast improvement.
We just got the packet of materials in late June, and I spent July training small groups of children’s librarians at our 72 branches and Central Library on the new product, with two more groups to go in August. Though we haven’t yet had the opportunity to give the new workshop to parents, our children’s librarians are enthusiastic about the attractive, interactive, and flexible new presentation.
Here’s what we like:
- The slides are attractive, with photos representing many different ethnicities
- There are very few words on each slide, and very little jargon
- The talking points (no script – hurray!) allow the presenter to vary the length of the presentation, to spend more time on some slides and less on others, and in general to adapt the presentation to the needs of the particular audience
- There are 3 distinct segments to the presentation – info on the 2 categories of skills needed to learn to read; the 5 activities that strengthen these skills; and how the library can help parents reinforce the skills
- There are plenty of opportunities to talk about books and to interact with parents or ask them to participate
- The emphasis on the 5 activities is empowering – most parents do talk, read, write, sing, and play with their kids, and have lots of examples to give
- The accompanying handouts for parents are great (though a bit wordy)
- The workshop is so simple and straightforward that librarians feel ready and eager to take it out into the community to parents
Here are some problems:
- Though I preordered back in April, I didn’t receive the packet of stuff until very late July! If I hadn’t gotten my hands on the packet at ALA in June, I wouldn’t have been able to start training my staff in July. So now I have 2 packets…
- The PowerPoint slide presentations are great, and there are several to choose from, including one just for training staff. But – our branch librarians, who are mandated to go out into the community and give these presentations to parents who may not be library users, don’t have laptops/tablets and portable projectors at their disposal! And it’s the rare Head Start or daycare center that has this kind of equipment. So I’m getting laminated 11” x 17” versions of each slide made for each branch, with the talking points on the back, so that librarians will still be able to use these great visual aids if they want. Mind you, the entire workshop can be done with no slides at all – but the slides are helpful.
- The ECRR products are only available in English! This is a major problem for us and for most library systems, I’m betting. I’ve heard that a Spanish version is coming, but we’ve had to go ahead and get the handouts and so on translated in-house.
- The ECRR website has no information for parents; it’s basically just a place to get background information and to order the (not inexpensive) packet. It would be great to have a pdf of the parent brochure and handouts on the website, at a minimum
- Folks aren’t super-crazy about the poster
But overall, we’re thrilled.
One of my favorite books about our field is Library Work with Children, reprints of papers and addresses by children’s librarians, selected and annotated by Alice I. Hazeltine and published by H.W. Wilson in 1917.
From programming to discipline to reference to “values” – it’s all here, the work we’ve been doing for over a century. It’s clear from these essays that children’s librarians have been passionate, opinionated and outspoken from the very beginning.
Take “Story Hour.” Way back in the dawn of children’s librarianship, this meant something far different than it does now. If you could step back in time to 1905 or 1930 or even 1965, you’d see a group of kids, most of them no younger than 8 or 9, seated around a librarian. This librarian would be telling a story. Not reading a story – telling it. It might be a Hans Christian Andersen tale, a Greek myth, or a legend of King Arthur or Robin Hood. The librarian may be using an adaptation she borrowed from another storyteller or she may have adapted it herself. She probably spent many hours learning the story and getting her delivery just right.
It’s likely, especially in New York City, that she lit a candle at the beginning of her story session. At the end, she or a child will blow it out, and children who remained silent and still will get their wish granted.
While library storytelling had started as early as the late 1890s, this form of Story Hour first took hold in a big when Anne Carroll Moore heard Marie Shedlock tell stories in 1902; she, as well as other librarians, was enchanted by the magical spell the stories cast over children and by the way they flocked afterwards to the books upon which the stories were based.
Within a decade or two, most large library systems and many small ones offered Story Hour series. It was generally accepted by most librarians that this was a valuable library service, as it broadened a child’s interest in literature, led them to the best books, introduced them to cultural works with which they should be familiar as American citizens, strengthened English skills, and (last but not least) was hugely entertaining for the kids and rewarding for the children’s librarians.
Children’s librarians had lofty goals in mind with their Story Hours. In 1905, Edna Lyman Park of the Oak Park Public Library, wrote:
And what is the use of story telling? Is it merely to amuse and entertain the children? Were it simply for this, the time would not seem wasted… The story hour is intended to…give the child a glimpse beyond the horizon which hitherto has limited his life, and open up to him those vast realms of literature which are a part of his inheritance… To arouse and stimulate a love for the best reading is then the real object of the story hour.
Not everyone was so enamored with the idea of telling stories in libraries. In 1908, John Cotton Dana, then Librarian of the Free Public Library of Newark, wrote in Public Libraries, “Story-telling to groups of young children is now popular among librarians. The art is practised [sic] chiefly by women.” After this sneer, he goes on to summarize the reasons for this popularity (“It must be a delight…to feel that you are giving the little people high pleasure and at the same time are improving their language, their morals, their dramatic sense, their power of attention and their knowledge of the world’s literary masterpieces.”). But…:
A library’s funds are never sufficient for all the work that lies before it. Consequently, the work a library elects to do is done at the cost of certain other work it might have done….Now, the schools tell stories to children, and it is obviously one of their proper functions…It is probable that the schooolmen know better when and how to include story-
branch GAB sign
There comes a time when any library, whether it’s one branch or a whole system, needs to reassess the way it does things, whether it’s something specific (storytime or visits to schools) or broader in scope (programming for families with young children; outreach).
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, especially when that rut is a particularly pleasant and apparently popular and successful one. Even when things aren’t going as well as one would hope, it can be hard to see beyond “that’s the way we’ve always done it” to figure out how improvements can be made.
I’m at that point with a program that we’ve offered at our 72 branches and Central Library for over 20 years, in which adult volunteers read to children, one-on-one or in small, informal groups, at the library.
First called Grandparents and Books because we focused on the intergenerational benefits of pairing older adults with kids, the program now goes by the name GAB, as we now welcome all volunteers ages 21 and up. You can find more information on GAB at this blog post.
It’s helpful – in fact, it’s vital – to ask “why do we offer this program? What are we trying to achieve? What outcomes do we want?” This can help evaluate current practices and plan programs that are more purposefully geared to library goals.
GAB has many great elements and benefits:
- It’s a popular library volunteer program; although we do have plenty of people who drift away, many of the volunteers remain for at least 5 years and dozens have been with the program for more than 15 years
- Adults reading aloud to kids at the library is right in line with two of our library system’s big goals – to Invest in New Readers and to Help Students Succeed. After all, reading aloud is well-documented to strengthen early literacy skills in pre-readers and to create enthusiasm for books and reading in beginning readers.
- Our volunteers, wearing their cheery aprons and reading to kids in the children’s area, add a welcoming and cozy personal touch to our busy libraries.
I’m convinced that this is a program that is worth continuing, for these and many other reasons. But an evaluation and overhaul of GAB is overdue. Here are the things that I and my staff will be pondering over the next few months:
- The name “GAB” – Now that we don’t use “Grandparents and Books,” the name is meaningless. What shall we rename it? What are the repercussions of changing a name that so many folks (including our long-time donors) recognize?
- How can we recruit and retain volunteers in all branches? Currently we have volunteers coming out of our ears in some communities but no volunteers in others. Clearly we need to improve in this area.
- Staff buy-in – We’ve had plenty of turn-over and turmoil among our librarians, thanks to staff shortages caused by the economy, and some librarians that administering the GAB program is an added burden. More training and support could help convince them of the worth of the program
- Evaluation – We’ve conducted plenty of surveys with our volunteers and we know they feel strongly that they are helping individual children as well as the library and the community. Volunteers report that they feel this is a valuable program that makes them feel great. But what about the kids and families with whom th
I learned many excellent and useful things in my Library School (which was UCLA’s then-named Graduate School of Library and Information Studies), but there were no courses on:
Creating easy and fun crafts out of manila folders, paper plates, round colored labels, toilet paper tubes, or the round metal tops of frozen juice cans.
Figuring out respectful and kind ways to prevent a person with personal hygiene issues from emptying out an entire section of the library.
Removing all manner of graffiti from all manner of surfaces.
Finding and keeping good Friends - and gently tempering the enthusiam of those Friends who take their role rather too seriously.
Discovering the best products for cleaning books and DVDs/CDs.
Maintaining a bland and attentive expression while a patron explains why he shouldn’t be charged a fine for a book his dog ate or decries the library policy of requiring picture i.d. to get a library card or loudly questions why we allow anyone under the age of 18 into the library.
Luckily, on-the-job training provided me with an expertise in all these crucial library matters - and much, much more! (Go ahead, ask me how to entertain a packed roomful of squirmy toddlers and their parents who were expecting to see a professional and very popular children’s musician - who you just discovered has double-booked and won’t be coming).
Library School didn’t teach me about all the joy and wonder of working in the library, either - that was a happy discovery I made early on and that keeps surprising me even now.
We all know it’s going to be a Hard Year. Even as more folks rediscover the library – “what, you mean I can read books and watch DVDs for free??” – our budgets are being cut. Libraries will have less money to buy books and other materials, to provide programming, and even to hire and maintain staff.
It’s a bad situation. But like Michael Rosen’s bear hunters, we’re not scared! We can’t over it; we can’t go under it. Oh no - we’ll have to go through it! But it’s not so bad, really. In fact, we have a golden opportunity to take a deep breath, look around, and then get back to basics.
Problem – less books: We won’t be able to buy as many books and materials, and yes, it’s going to be frustrating and even downright heartbreaking to miss out on so many of the new titles being published. We’ll have to use electronic sources to supplement our out-of-date nonfiction and we may not have enough copies of that hot book all the kids are asking for. We will have to make tough choices about what to purchase.
Golden opportunity: This is the perfect excuse to read or re-read some of those older books, perhaps those long-neglected Newberys or that popular fantasy series or even some old chestnuts. We all have a long must-read list, but if you’re like me, you read the newest stuff first (must stay au courant, after all). But if the new stuff isn’t streaming in due to a reduced budget, then it’s time to revisit all the fabulous books that have been sitting on your shelves all along. And if you fall in love with a golden oldie, you’ll be able to booktalk it that much more effectively.
This is also a good time to assess your library collection. Weed out the dross and creatively display and promote the great stuff that is left. Your collection might be smaller and not quite new at the end of this year, but it will be a honed and well-used collection.
Problem – less money for programming: It’s likely that our budgets for performers will be cut. Sure, sometimes Friends money and other private funding sources can come to the rescue, but remember that these hard times have hit everyone. There will simply be less money to go around. No more magicians, no more professional puppeteers or musicians – how will you lure your young patrons to the library and entertain them once they’re there?
Golden opportunity: There’s nothing like having to go back to basics to get those creative juices flowing! Ask any old-timer about shoestring programming and you’ll get scads of ideas on How to Give Good Program on a budget. Read frog books, booktalk some origami books, help kids make and decorate origami jumping frogs – and then have a jumping frog contest! Invite your local firefighters to the library – they can read some books, talk about fire safety, and let you try on their 40-lb uniforms and equipment. Kids and parents alike will be thrilled and it won’t cost you a dime. And don’t forget good old-fashioned story times and puppet shows. There are plenty of books and resources out there – no one needs to reinvent the wheel. And it doesn’t need to take huge amounts of time and effort, either.
Instead of running around like Chicken Little, worrying that the sky is about to fall, we can be brave and intrepid bear hunters, swishing through tall grass and splashing through the mud. Revel in overcoming adversity! Times are tough and getting tougher, but our libraries are still full of amazing books and (most importantly) amazing Children’s Librarians.
To inspire you, here is the ever-effervescent Michael Rosen himself!
During the week of March 9 - 13, please come visit Share a Story - Shape a Future. Each day, a different blog host will feature links to blog posts on a variety of topics having to do with children and literacy. Here is the schedule as of today, but please check the event blog for updated information, as the event is growing by the day.
Day 1 - March 9: Raising Readers
hosted by Terry Doherty at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, the Reading Tub blog
Day 2 - March 10: Selecting Reading Material
hosted by Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone
Day 3 - March 11: Reading Aloud - It’s Fun, It’s Easy
hosted by Susan Stephenson at the Book Chook blog
Day 4 - March 12: A Visit to the Library
hosted by Eva Mitnick at Eva’s Book Addiction blog
Day 5 - March 13: Technology and Reading - What the Future Holds
is hosted by Elizabeth O. Dulemba at Dulemba.com
There will be plenty of giveaways, contests, and links to cool stuff, and most of all - inspiring and insightful posts by children’s literature bloggers. Guests will be invited to share their own knowledge and love of reading as well. Please tell parents and teachers and fellow children’s librarians about this blog event. See you then!
I just finished reading The Child that Books Built: a Life in Reading by Francis Spufford (Metropolitan Books, 2002). In it, a self-described book addict details the intense and visceral thrall in which books have held him since the age of six. Books, and his relationship to them, made him who he is.
Spufford’s particular love of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, which transported him as no other books could, is echoed by Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: a Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), in which Miller explores the Narnia books and her own childhood obsession with them in detail, trying to figure out why and how they affected her so profoundly.
Frances Clarke Sayers, children’s librarian extraordinaire at New York Public Library, UCLA, and many other institutions, wrote and spoke eloquently about the power of children’s literature. In her speech “Of Memory and Muchness,” given in 1956 at a California Library Association conference and published in Summoned by Books, she makes a strong case that children’s literature is important not just because “the good life, at least inwardly lived, is assured to the child who loves reading” but because children’s books are amazing enough in themselves to have a deep and lasting effect on their readers. Sayers cites numerous luminaries, including C.S. Lewis, who name particular children’s books as the awakeners of deep and powerful thoughts and emotions.
Any of us who read intensely as children can attest to the importance that books have had in our lives. But what about people who don’t find that connection to books in childhood? I know many adult readers who didn’t discover their love of books until they were 12, 14, or even older. Is their connection to books any different than mine? And of course many adults never discover the pleasures of regular recreational reading at all. If my passionate childhood reading shaped my very being and the way I still approach both books and the world, then what is it like to be a child who doesn’t read - and how does not reading affect the adult this child will become?
According to a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation called “Generation M,” kids ages 8 to 18 only read 43 minutes a day (as opposed to almost 6 ½ hours a day using media – mostly television). Literacy rates are abysmal. About half of all 9-year-olds read for pleasure almost every day, according to the NEA report “To Read or Not to Read,” but that figure goes down to 22% by the time they are 17. I sometimes think that reading for pleasure is a dying pastime, reserved for a few unusual children who become unusual, possibly even freakish, adults. However, this same NEA report makes clear that reading well can lead to great success in life, whereas not reading proficiently often dooms people to low-paying jobs and worse – only 3% of the current prison population reads at a proficient level.
Children’s librarians today are well aware of their mandate to, as Sayers says, “bestow upon the young, while they are still aware of the wonder of life, one of the greatest of gifts – the gift of a love of reading.” And we do this however we can, using all the persuasive powers at our disposal – fabulous storytimes for little ones and their parents, dramatic read-alouds for school-aged kids, exciting programs, plenty of booktalks, and most of all the books themselves.
Sayers would certainly say that it is the “good” books that will bring about that life-changing experience that she, Spufford, and Miller all write about. I think she’s right. But I’m not sure that books that are less than stellar – paperback series, books with goofy bathroom humor, and so on – are actually harmful to kids, as so many librarians, parents, and teachers have felt for at least a century and still sometimes feel to this day. Books that are fun to read make children want to read more. The more children read, the better they get at it. The better they get at it, the more they want to read. It’s a lovely ever-rising spiral.
Give children books. If they don’t like reading, convince them that it’s only because they haven’t found the right book, and then find that book for them, whether it’s a joke book, a graphic novel, a series paperback, a book about mummies, or a Newbery winner. If it doesn’t click, try another. And another. Know the books. Know the children. Keep introducing them to each other. Never give up. Reading is vital. Children are worth the effort.
Not every child will become an avid reader. Perhaps most children will never experience the deep pleasure of immersing themselves in literature again and again. But if we don’t assume that any child might become not just a reader, but a Reader, then fewer children will. Every child deserves to the chance to forge a life-long love affair with books. It’s not essential to their well-being, not essential to their becoming fine, successful adults. But Spufford, Miller, Sayers, and I (and you too, I bet) know that a childhood, an entire life, enriched by books is a rare and wonderful life indeed.
We’ve visited schools, contacted neighborhood organizations, spread flyers throughout our branch and the community– all in the hope of spreading the word about the library Summer Reading Club. And somehow, I think we don’t need to worry about poor turn-out this summer.
Although there are many valuable reasons we offer Summer Reading Club – to introduce children to the joys of reading for pleasure, to expose children to free cultural programs and events, to encourage children to read enough to keep their skills honed and ready for school in the fall – one of the most important reasons, at least in my neck of the woods, is to entice children and their families who perhaps have never visited the library before.
Somehow, I suspect this will be a banner year for those first-time patrons. We’ve all heard how library use goes up as the economy tanks, something we’ve seen with our own eyes as our branches have seen record library card registration, circulation statistics, and computer usage. Folks are using our libraries to look for jobs as well as to borrow books, magazines, and DVDs for free and take advantage of our free wireless networks. We’re the best bargain in town.
We may also be one of the only games in town this summer. The massive school district that serves most of our kids has cancelled all summer school for elementary and middle school students, and our parks, pools, and recreation centers are cutting back on hours. Fewer families can afford expensive camps, private lessons, or even entertainment like the movies or the zoo. What’s left? The library!
We’re free, we’re air-conditioned, we’re full of wonderful resources – and boy, are we going to be busy this summer. Even though many of us will offer reduced hours this summer, the hours that we’re open will be packed with families seeking our books, movies, programs, not to mention our cool and comfortable children’s areas.
This might be an alarming prospect to branches that are already packed every summer. Will we have to keep an eye out for the fire marshal, who would not appreciate our overcrowded community rooms? Will the seating in our children’s area be filled to capacity? Will fights break out at the computer terminals?
It will be helpful to figure out strategies now that will not only help us deal with the crowds but turn them into wonderful opportunities for sharing books and information with kids – and simply getting to know them. For instance, it may well be that Big Programs (like a magician or live animals) just aren’t feasible this summer unless there is a huge room or auditorium to contain the crowds that are sure to turn up. If a Big Program has already been scheduled, maximize your space by removing all chairs except those against the back wall and seating your kids on the floor. Be sure to use masking tape to delineate aisles that must be kept clear for safety. And when the room has been filled to capacity, it may be necessary to turn people away. Give them a bookmark or stickers as a consolation prize and make sure to remind them to join the reading club.
And what about those kids who crowd into your children’s area every day and get squirrelly while waiting their turn for the computers? This is your captive audience, the kids to whom you can demonstrate the boredom-busting power of books. Become master of the impromptu program by stocking your information desk with books and art supplies. When the kids start getting antsy, bring over some drawing books, paper, and pencils - instant art program! Or bring over some scary stories or some joke books and start reading them aloud – instant story time (and one that is guaranteed to become an interactive book club as kids start sharing their own favorite jokes and scary stories)! Bring over some origami books and paper and encourage them to see who can make a paper frog that jumps the farthest – instant craft program! Sure, this takes a bit of your time away from the information desk and might create a little noise – but it’s much more constructive than having to shush bored, misbehaving kids or toss them out of the library on a regular basis. Getting to know these kids and encouraging their appreciation of books - whether it’s Newbery winners, graphic novels, or books about boogers - will make it more likely that these kids, many of whom are new to your library, will come back during the school year and for the rest of their lives.
We will feel stressed out and overcrowded this summer, no question. But we will also have a renewed certainty that the library is a vibrant and essential institution, one that not only survives but actually flourishes in hard times. Take a deep breath, put on your best smile, and get to know a LOT of kids this summer!
I’m back home after a whirlwind of a long weekend in D.C. and it’s strange indeed to be wearing a sweater against the cool and overcast weather here in Venice, CA after that astonishing and record-breaking D.C. heat.
Here’s a report on the first ALSC program I attended this weekend. Please find handouts and more information under the program name on this page.
Taking Libraries into the Community: Beyond Brick Borders:
Presented by Shawn Brommers of South Central Library System in Madison, Wisconsin; Mary Fellows of the Upper Hudson Library System, and Evelyn Walkowicz of the Henderson District Public Libraries in Las Vegas, NV.
Ms. Brommers discusses a variety of community programming, including:
- Motheread/Fatheread – literacy program using children’s books to teach adult (parent) literacy; for example, working with incarcerated dads.
- Reach Out and Read – bringing books and early literacy info, through pediatricians and clinics, to new parents
- Think Outside the Book – book discussion and civil participation
- Book vs. the Movie – teens read a book, then as a group, watch the movie and discuss the differences
- Reel to Real – librarians trained to facilitate discussions and go out to senior citizen centers to watch certain public television shows and then discuss them. The public television station provides guides, etc.
Ms. Fellows told us about the “Community Relations Challenge” she issued to the library systems under her jurisdiction, during which they were required to fulfill such tasks as:
- Contact two community organizations and explore informal partnership possibilities
- Get one organization to advertise the Summer Reading Club on its website, and vice versa
- Get five prizes from local businesses (give businesses feedback – photos, etc – to show how their gift was received; ask for specific things; develop script detailing what the SRC is and what this will do for business, ie how many kids will be reached, etc)
- Encourage social media – Facebook page, blog, etc
The result was that these library systems made strong and hopefully lasting ties with organizations and businesses in their communities, gaining both added donations and added visibility.
And Ms Walkowicz told us of HDPL’s efforts to revamp its early literacy services, beginning by asking the crucial questions:
- What do we do? Why do we do it? Who are we doing it for? Are we doing it well? Could we do anything better?
- Henderson determined that while their storytimes were successful, they could do better at modeling and promoting early literacy techniques; storytimes needed to be evaluated more rigorously; and the library needed to reach out more to the underserved.
- As a result of this close self-evaluation, “Bright Beginnings” became a focused and highly effective early literacy program that reaches out to more families than ever before.
The programs were all inspiring and seemed in most cases to be the sort that could be replicated, to a greater or lesser extent, in most libraries.
What did I take away? It’s crucial to take a good, close look at one’s mission statement, goals, and objectives before one embarks on a new program, large or small. And don’t forget to assess those programs and services you already provide – there’s got to be a better reason for their existence than “we’ve always done it that way” or “the patrons like it”! Finally, always include plans for both partnering with o