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1. Interview with Author Bridgette R. Alexander

Author Bridgette R. Alexander reflects on the mystery genre, her first book in a new series, Southern Gothic, and the influential impact of librarians and libraries. I received a complimentary copy of Southern Gothic: A Celine Caldwell Mystery in preparation for this interview.

How would you describe your novel Southern Gothic: A Celine Caldwell Mystery?

It’s intriguing. It’s passionate. It’s a contemporary urban Nancy Drew meets The Da Vinci Code. Southern Gothic introduces the reader to Celine Caldwell and the world of fine arts. Celine attends a private school on the Upper East Side, but more importantly has an internship in the Archives Department of the mighty Metropolitan Museum of Art, where her life suddenly changes with an explosive uncovering of an art theft; and in which her mother, the powerful curator of modern art at the Met, is accused of stealing paintings from her upcoming exhibition.

(Photo provided by Susan Raab, Raab Associates, Inc.)

(Photo provided by Susan Raab, Raab Associates, Inc.)

How did the idea of the character Celine Caldwell develop? What inspired you during your writing process for Southern Gothic?

I wanted to bring children and young adults into the high-end world of fine art. I had studied art history as well as worked as a professor of art history. I’ve been in the art world for over fifteen years in various capacities. Throughout my years in the visual arts, I’ve always dreamed of sharing a lot of what I’d experienced with younger people. The art world has been very, very good to me; and I’ve always wanted other people to experience the same as I, or actually even better than I have, experience. So I created a character, a girl born in the world of art whose life would be deeper and richer for the reader to explore the inner workings of an encyclopedic art museum, a world-class auction house, and give them the experience of spending time in the homes of private art collectors; all the while seeing these worlds through the eyes of Celine, a young, fresh, impressionable person.

Some reviewers have compared Celine Caldwell to a modern Nancy Drew. How would you describe her to the librarians interested in sharing your book with young readers?

She’s curious. She’s intrepid. She’s a never-back-down type of girl, yet at the same time, she is very vulnerable. She has a high emotional I.Q., and at the same time, she’s very much like the modern day teen.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art plays a central role in Southern Gothic. What is your background with this famous institution?

While still an undergraduate in college, I took about a year off to get a job and save money to return to school. I didn’t want to incur a lot of debt. I moved to New York City and took a job working for a non-profit organization called Emmaus House of Harlem. I worked for the founder and director, the late David Kirk. At Emmaus House I taught a G.E.D prep course and a lifestyle class for residents. These were formerly addicted individuals who through Emmaus House would be returning to their homes and families with employment training, education and life skills. I’d been working there for about a month and the first Saturday the residents were allowed to have their children visit them for the weekend. The children would spend the afternoon into early evening reconnecting with the parent(s).

I was struck after that first Saturday with wanting to provide resources for those children, so they would have a different future than their present lives. I came up with an idea to create what I would later call an arts-integrated curriculum for those children. I connected the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s education department told them I was interested in connecting them with the Met program by getting a lot of materials and access to the Museum for me and for the children. That was my first public art education course.

What has been the most surprising feedback you have received from a reader about your book?

People in general love Celine Caldwell, but what I’ve been the most surprised by is the reaction about how much they have been excited to learn about art and its history. I say surprised, even though I am an art historian, because I never want to be heavy-handed or didactic as a scholar. I want people to be enthralled and engaged by the world Celine lives in and a major part of that is fine arts – the paintings on the walls and the experiences she has. I want people to be excited and inspired…that seems to be happening!

Has your book been marketed to a target audience? Would you consider this book to be a young adult novel that appeals to older children as well?

Certainly. Southern Gothic and the Celine Caldwell Mystery Series are targeted to people between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. Although, we’re finding a good number of readers that are much older than teens, from 21 on up. Southern Gothic has a great deal of elements in it that can be highly appealing to young adults – they can absolutely connect to the protagonist, Celine Caldwell a girl trying the best that she can to navigate herself in the world that her parents placed her in once they got divorced. She also has such a loyal and strong group of friends, and I think that is an element of the story resonates with a lot of readers. Additionally, there are several other aspects to Celine’s life that I believe readers connect with; such as her forging her independence and gaining her own voice in her work as an intern at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That job offers Celine the opportunity to move about the world within the museum as well as meeting the people that she will encounter in her quest to discover the truth to solve the mystery in the story.

Why is the mystery genre relevant to children and teens? What connected you to this genre as a writer and what does its future look like to you?

I think children and teens connect to the mystery genre because there are a lot of unanswered questions that by the time you reach 10, 11, 12 or 13, you begin to seek out answers to. For me, it seems like a perfect fit. For me, mysteries represented the very nature of life itself. There is the beginning where you are met with some ease and then suddenly, a bit of an upheaval comes along and sort of unhinge everything. With that comes a discovery, a renewal…it’s utterly remarkable. I’ve always loved the thrill of mysteries and knowing that with everything in life, you have to go beyond the surface.

For children and teens, mysteries are a great genre. In your early years of life, you accept what’s been presented to you; as you get older, you start to question – or, at the very least, you realize that there is a much larger world outside your home and neighborhood and you’re beginning to be exposed to bits and pieces of that larger world. Mysteries are at once exciting and scary, just as life is for young people discovering the bigger world for the first time.

What should the role of children’s librarians be in encouraging children and youth to explore various genres and subjects?

That’s a great question. The librarians I was fortunate to have growing up as an early and teenage reader, engaged me by drawing on various interests I had in subjects and showing me how to explore those subjects through the books they’d find for me. I think it’s vitally important for a librarian to be the guide, to introduce new, exciting, scary, different subjects; and many types of books to children and young adults. The role of librarians can be a lot more fluid than an actual teacher. The librarian has the space and hopefully, the inclination to be the conduit between a child and the world.

How has your experience in libraries influenced your life as a reader and author? 

(Photo of Bridgette R. Alexander Photo by Sophy Naiditch)

Photo of Bridgette R. Alexander
(Photo by Sophy Naiditch)

Where the classroom introduced me to the world, the library became a guide helping me to navigate the world. The main Chicago Public Library back in the late seventies and early eighties was on Michigan Avenue occupying the same building as the Encyclopedia Britannica. I spent a great deal of time reading almost every book I could read. I attended, Whitney Young Magnet High School (during the same years as our first lady Michelle Obama). I had an amazing Economic and Society teacher, Mr. Minkoff.

In this class, he taught us about the development of and the histories of the stock market and US industries, such as the railroads and banking; and we learned about early wealthy American families such as the Vanderbilts, Rockefellers, etc. He talked about these subjects in such an exciting way that it captured me wholeheartedly.  I would ask him a thousand and one questions about these people and, at one point, he suggested I go to the library — not the school’s library, but the main public library in Chicago. So I did. Sharing with the librarian there what I was looking for, she asked me why was I interested in those people and in that time period. I told her. And she led me to the library stacks and particularly to the areas where books on these subjects were and pointed to about five or six different titles and said, “here the world is yours.”

From that day on and for about another three to four years, I read everything about American industrial might. Later, I added in almost every biography of the Kennedys and all the individuals of the American political movements. I read so much and received so much guidance from the Chicago Public librarians at the main branch, that by the time I arrived at college, what I had read served as a strong foundation for my studying art history, philosophy and also some political science. In Chicago, we also have the cultural center that’s a part of the Chicago Public Library system. The Cultural Center houses everything in the arts: music (both popular and classical), visual arts, dance, opera; you name it – and biographies of artists and historiographies of genres. I devoured it all.

A librarian there gave me access to listening to old recordings of Leo Bernstein, Barbra Streisand, even Annie Lennox long before she became a member of the Eurhythmics. Another time in Mr. Minkoff’s class, we had to watch a CBS broadcast mini-series starring Henry Fonda, called “Gideon’s Trumpet” by the author Anthony Lewis. We had to write a paper about the television movie, which was based on the US Supreme Court case that ruled criminal defendants had a right to an attorney even if they could not afford it. Well, back to the library I returned to find out everything I could about this landmark case, and this time in the law section of the library.

The library has been and still is an integral part of my intellectual life!

What inspired you to write a series? What additional projects are you working on at this time?

My desire is to explore with readers the full spectrum that is the arts – visual art and culture, opera, the ballet and symphonies. Currently, I am preparing to release the second book in the series, Sons of Liberty; the third book in the series, Pasha will follow. Then I have a lot of ideas for the next nine books to follow that. Also, starting next month in June, I will be on a multi-city book tour that begins in Beverly Hills, California and then moves up the coast to Northern California. And in August I will be launching the Celine Caldwell Arts Council, which is a national initiative that I’m very excited about.

Thank you for sharing details of your new book and the role libraries and librarians have played in your life!

The post Interview with Author Bridgette R. Alexander appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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2. Transforming Ideas into Reality

As I attended the North Carolina Library Association’s (NCLA) Executive Board Meeting this past week in Black Mountain, NC at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly, (https://www.blueridgeassembly.org/) I was struck by the passion of my colleagues from across the state who are committed to improving the lives of our library patrons and communities by brainstorming new ideas to encourage change. As Vice Chair/Chair Elect of the Youth Services Section of the NCLA, I’m excited to see how these ideas bring growth and new possibilities. It makes me consider how ideas are able to move beyond the planning stage to become fully fledged concepts, whether these ideas take root as a project within our individual libraries or grow to strengthen the existing work of our professional associations. Passion, people, and purposeful promotion are all necessary to take those valuable ideas beyond board room discussions and move them into practical implementation within our communities.

How do we get those lightbulb moments to turn into reality? (Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

How do we turn ideas into reality?
(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

The Power of Passion

As we all face more and more commitments, it is critical that our efforts are targeted to the services that truly matter. When we are passionate about an idea, we are more likely to stay connected to ensure its successful implementation. Self-motivation is key to develop our passion into a purpose. This passion is necessary to ensure new concepts move forward from an individual’s idea to an organization’s goal. Passion appears to be at the heart of our successful initiatives, such as evidenced by our LibrariCon attendance. LibrariCon is our Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center’s annual anime/graphic novel/sci-fi mini convention featuring anime viewing, panels and forums, Artist Alley, Chibi Corner, Manga Lounge, Cosplay Runway, and more. As we prepare for its 10 year anniversary celebration, this event has evolved into a destination experience for our customers due to the passion and dedicated commitment of library staff and volunteers.

The Need for People

Working with people help our ideas to soar (Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Connections with people help our ideas to soar.
(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

No matter the passion, great ideas need a team of people to make them a reality. Whether it’s a committee coordinating a conference or introducing a new service to a pre-existing summer reading program, it is necessary to bring more staff on board to assist with the details of any project. Internally, our system’s recently formed Youth Services Advisory Council (YSAC) serves as a forum for members of Administration and Youth Services Managers to discuss current issues in our field and to form sub-committees on various projects to ensure ideas are reviewed. Through staffers’ commitment to move youth services forward, we have developed innovative ideas to enhance our children’s summer reading program, have planned early literacy centers at our branch locations, and have streamlined festival programming.

Purposeful Promotion   

All the ideas in the world won't be realized without purposeful promotion (Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Promotion develops individual ideas.
(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Promotion and purpose go hand in hand in ensuring the best ideas are strengthened and receive necessary support when evaluated. It’s necessary to examine our current projects to guarantee our library’s mission and vision are best supported by our current work. Sometimes the need to create new ideas helps to ensure our library’s goals remain relevant as our communities’ needs change. When we realized some of our families would appreciate a twist to the traditional story time routine, youth services staff developed a vibrant partnership with our local parks and recreation department to combine movement with stories and music. Advertised by word of mouth and through our system’s internal Community Relations Department, this vibrant series of story times has become a valuable addition to our busy programming schedule, successfully served by strong promotional efforts.

A passion, people, and promoting for a purpose are all necessary to make our best ideas bloom into reality. What ideas have you been excited about seeing develop into fruition? What tips have you learned to make your concepts connect? Please share in the comments below!

The post Transforming Ideas into Reality appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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3. A Tisket, a Tasket, Put Training in Your Basket

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

A children’s librarian’s basket of professional responsibilities often overflows with programming demands and story time schedules. Initially, it may appear impossible to carve out time for training amidst preparing for the next presentation or serving the latest day care, but it’s valuable that we recognize how critical regular training is to our effectiveness in reaching our communities. What training do you hope to add to your basket of professional development? Summer reading workshops, departmental classes, and powerful partnerships will aid us in meeting staff needs.

Sweet Summer Reading

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Fairly soon, a youth services librarian’s busiest time of year will be upon us: the season of summer reading. To encourage and equip staff to meet these demands, the State Library of North Carolina offers summer reading workshops. These one day events provide a variety of sessions for staff serving tots through teens. Some course offerings focus on program logistics, such as how to develop a baby summer reading program, and other sessions highlight a specific type of programming related to the summer reading theme. A popular workshop component includes the summer reading showcase and features professional performers who share their shows with librarians interested in booking these performances for their libraries. These summer reading workshops serve as a valuable training staple for youth services staff within all sizes of public libraries across our state.

Internal Offerings

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Internal training is another valuable resource to place in our professional basket. Whether training is seamlessly introduced through one-on-one instruction or small classes, system-driven training remains critical when determining the effectiveness of staff’s interaction with the public. In addition to two mornings of professional development and classes offered throughout the year, our library gears biannual training specifically toward the needs of youth services staff. Staff suggestions during our Youth Services Advisory Council meetings give youth services managers the forum to provide recommendations of future training topics to strengthen their skill sets. Our spring youth services training will focus on coding programs to enhance staff comfort so we may increase these program offerings for children and teens at our various library branches.

Powerful Partnerships

Youth services partnerships, whether they are with local agencies or other library departments, frequently identity training needs. Conversations with other professionals serving children and teens offer chances to brainstorm, collaborate and to recognize areas of concern within our communities. One example of this partnership is the library’s involvement with the Child Advocacy Center. The Child Advocacy Center provides Darkness to Light training for library staffers who provide youth reference services to assist our employees in recognizing the signs of childhood sexual abuse and to minimize the opportunities for trauma.

Training experiences, found through summer reading workshops, departmental classes, and valuable community partnerships, provide a plethora of rich resources to aid in staff development. How does training strengthen the skills of staff in your communities?  What type of training do you want to place in your professional development basket? Please share in the comments below!

The post A Tisket, a Tasket, Put Training in Your Basket appeared first on ALSC Blog.

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4. Interview with Author Julie K. Rubini

In her latest work for young readers, Missing Millie Benson, author Julie K. Rubini discusses the influence of Nancy Drew’s most prolific author. Rubini also describes her family’s efforts to celebrate children’s books through Claire’s Day, in honor of Rubini’s late daughter. Recently, Ohio University Press sent a free Advance Review Copy of Missing Millie Benson to me in preparation for this blog interview.     

Author Julie K. Rubini (Image provided by author Julie K. Rubini)

Author Julie K. Rubini (Image provided by author Julie K. Rubini)

  1.  Please share about your background as a writer of children’s books.  How have public libraries and reading impacted your professional and personal life?

I have loved both reading and writing since I was a child. As I lived out in the country, the Lucas County Public Library’s bookmobile was my gateway to worlds beyond my backyard. I would fill my bike’s basket up from the mobile collection every week. Reading encouraged my writing in a variety of forms, from essays, to short stories, newsletters, and eventually children’s books. Public libraries have always provided answers for me. Whether for personal enrichment and growth, for research, for a story, or for countless books shared and enjoyed with my children over the years, libraries offer guidance, entertainment and sanctuary.

  1. What makes Nancy Drew so appealing to this day?  Why were you interested in capturing the life of Millie Benson, who wrote twenty-three of the first thirty books in this series?

Nancy Drew is independent, smart, and relies upon her own instincts to solve mysteries and to get out of challenging situations. I would like to think that we all aspire to be as such. I know I do. I was blessed to enjoy much of the freedom that Nancy experienced as a child. Sans the roadster! I’ve always admired Millie from a distance, and saddened that I never took the initiative to meet her. I loved her stories in The Blade, and tales I would hear from others about her. Writing and sharing her story offers readers, who, like me, never had the chance to meet her, come to appreciate Millie’s own independence and indomitable spirit.

  1.  How did libraries shape your research process as you prepared to write this book?  What was the greatest challenge in finding your information?

I had great assistance from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, both staff at Main Library, as well as the Maumee Branch. I have the advantage of knowing our awesome library staff through my work with Claire’s Day, the children’s book festival we established fifteen years ago in honor of my late daughter. However, even if I did not have that relationship, I’ve never met a librarian who isn’t happy to assist in a research quest! This was the case with the New York Public Library, where I had the opportunity to spend time in the Stratemeyer Syndicate records in the Archives and Manuscripts division. I literally pinched myself while I was there! I had this incredible feeling while researching, that I was doing exactly what I was meant to do as a writer. I am naturally resourceful (and I don’t mean to sound arrogant in the least bit!) and determined. The greatest challenge, if one would call it that, was how to access information. Source notes from previously published works related to Nancy Drew were very helpful, as was staff both in Ohio and NYC to bring the pieces of the mystery in researching Millie’s life together.

  1.  What fun facts do you recommend children’s librarians share with young readers when they highlight this book in their collections? 

Great question!  I will offer them in chronological order:

Millie had her first story published when she was fourteen years old.

She was the first person to obtain a Master degree in Journalism from the University of Iowa.

Millie wrote twenty-three of the first thirty Nancy Drew Mystery Stories.

Her writing career included penning one hundred and thirty five children’s books, and serving as a newspaper journalist for fifty-eight years.

Millie loved aviation and obtained her private pilot’s license when she was sixty-two years old!

She applied for the Journalist in Space Program when she was eighty-one!

(Image provided by Ohio University Press)

(Image provided by Ohio University Press)

5.       Within Missing Millie Benson, “Did You Know?” sections add additional context to chapters.  “Extra Clues” includes even further information regarding Millie and this rich time period.  Why is it important to include this level of documentation in a work for younger readers?

The special sections included within Millie’s story hold true for each of the books in the Ohio University Press Biographies for Young Readers series. I am grateful that these sections are included within the text. I believe that readers will enjoy learning a little more in-depth information about Millie’s life. Perhaps all of the information contained within will spark interest in readers to learn even more about dime novels, Nancy Drew, the Gallup Poll and famous aviatrixes! I know when I read a book, content often encourages as such. After enjoying the novel, Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, I researched books on real American women involved in the French resistance. That’s just how my brain works.

6.       Please share more about Claire’s Day, the children’s book festival you and your husband founded in honor of your late daughter.  Why did you choose to highlight children’s books and what has been your proudest moment as this festival has progressed?

Claire was just ten years old when she died in 2000. She loved to dance, sing, play with friends, organize games with her younger sister and brother, swim and tell stories. Above all else though, she loved to read. She would often be late for dinner, as she had “just one more page to read” and tried to use reading as an excuse to get out of chores. Sometimes it worked. We felt compelled to remember her in a way that was true to her, and our thoughts always came back to books and reading. Six months after she died, while on a flight to a family wedding, I found an issue of Time in my seat pocket. I discovered an article about then First Lady Laura Bush (I’ve always been a fan!) and the Texas Book Festival. I loved that the festival featured Texas born authors and benefitted Texas libraries. I turned to my husband sitting across the aisle, and with tears in my eyes, I told him that I had discovered what we were going to create in Claire’s honor. Claire’s Day was born.

Proud C.A.R.E. Award Family with Brad Rubini, Claire's dad (Image provided by Patricia Ball of River Rd Studio)

Proud C.A.R.E. Award Family with Brad Rubini, Claire’s dad (Image provided by Patricia Ball of River Rd Studio)

As Claire was a child, it was apparent we should focus on children’s book authors and illustrators. Initially we featured picture book writers and artists, and eventually expanded to include middle-grade and young adult. We are both proud that the organization merged with Read for Literacy this past year, which allows me to pursue writing opportunities and revisit several partially completed manuscripts. The merger will also support our continued growth established over our fifteen year history. Claire’s Day isn’t just a day any longer!  We support a week of literary experiences, including school visits by our participating authors, and Claire’s Night, a fundraising reception for adults the evening prior to the book festival. Most significantly, a highlight of the day is the C.A.R.E. Awards (Claire’s Awards for Reading Excellence) given to children nominated as being most improved readers in their schools. Each nominated child receives a certificate as well as a coupon to choose a book from the selection Barnes & Noble makes available by our guest authors and illustrators. In 2002 we gave 25 C.A.R.E. Awards. This past year we recognized 800 children!

7.       In your author’s note, you share that you invited Millie Benson to attend Claire’s Day. Please share more about your connection to this author.

I wrote to Millie, inviting her to attend our first Claire’s Day. She responded with a phone call. I was not at home when she left her message, but I recall her sweet, feeble voice on my answering machine offering her condolences, her admiration for what we were doing in Claire’s honor, her wishes for great success. She was in poor health and did not make any public appearances any longer, however, so would not able to join us. Millie died just ten days after our first Claire’s Day. As I learned more about Millie, I found myself identifying with her carefree childhood filled with reading, and her desire to write from a young age. I could relate to her pain through her losses, and her way of dealing with it all…by doing.

  1.  Why is it important that children’s books are celebrated in this way?  How can public libraries ensure children’s books receive the recognition they deserve?

Children’s books and their creators should be celebrated, and I believe our avenue in doing so offers many learning opportunities to children, as well as adults. I’ve learned that children’s book authors and illustrators are just people too, incredibly talented mind you, but much like you and me. Successful children’s book authors and illustrators are as such because they dedicate every day to their craft. Writing and illustrating children’s books takes time, talent, and resources. Anything a library can do to support authors and artists, whether by featuring them in programs, or highlighting their books is always appreciated.

  1.  Why did you decide to partner with your public library on Claire’s Day?  What guidance can you provide children’s librarians who may wish to recognize families who have lost a child?

We visited our Maumee library branch at least weekly when our children were young. I remember making a rule that each of our three children could borrow as many books as they could carry! We read to them every night before bed, and I would read with them during the day. As they each became independent readers, they read on their own quite a bit. It was only natural to consider the library as the setting for Claire’s Day. The library building is beautiful, the grounds are large and lovely, and the staff incredible. It was and is our library. Every year Claire’s Day has given $2500.00 to the library system, earmarked for books written or illustrated by our upcoming authors and illustrators. This way educators and families have access to the books prior to the festival. Every book purchased by the system through this grant notes that it is a part of the collection as a result of Claire’s Day, in honor of Claire. Purchasing books for the system in honor of a child gone too soon is a lovely sentiment for a family. Or, recognizing children who have worked so hard in improving their reading skills by giving them a book in honor of the child is pretty impactful too.

  1.  What advice would you have for children’s librarians interested in beginning their own community celebrations highlighting children’s books?  What do you wish you knew when you began your work on Claire’s Day, almost 15 years ago?
Members of the Rubini family participate in one of the earliest Claire's Days (Image provided by Patricia Ball of River Rd Studio)

Members of the Rubini family participate in one of the earliest Claire’s Days (Image provided by Patricia Ball of River Rd Studio)

Wow, great question. As Brad and I formed the organization and then approached the library, I’m not quite certain how to answer that. I will offer that without the assistance of our volunteer committee members, we would never have turned the page from concept to reality. I would look to community volunteers who are passionate about supporting the library and reach out to them to assist in organizing a community celebration. We have many organizational documents created throughout the years, including a task list should any libraries be interested!

It would be our hope that perhaps Claire’s Day, or even the C.A.R.E. Awards could be established in other libraries around the country. It could be fairly easy to do. Start small! Invite a children’s book author/illustrator to present a program and sign books following! What I didn’t know then was what an incredible impact we would have on children and families in the community. I’m humbled by the support of the community, and the recognition in various forms for our efforts. I’m not certain I would have wished for anything other than what I have received through this process. Deeper bonds with my family and friends, new friends who lent their time and talents to the cause, and ultimately connections with established children’s book authors and illustrators have helped guide me on my path as a published children’s book author.  Claire would be amazed and proud.

Thank you for sharing your writing process for Missing Millie Benson, your connection to public libraries, and your inspiration regarding Claire’s Day!


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5. A Fresh Start for the New School Year

With our summer reading club winding down tomorrow, August 15th, now seems like a perfect time for us to focus on some new goals as kids return to the classrooms. What ideas do you have to improve your programs, services, and library spaces during this next school year?

Out with the Old           

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

During our busy summer it can be nearly impossible for us to organize everything we need as we scramble from one program to the next. It may not appear as exciting as some of our other tasks, but organizing our offices and closets during this time of transition after summer reading and before the school groups come rolling in can prove tremendously helpful. We complete an inventory of our closets and find some previously hidden treasures that could work perfectly as a prop for story time or an innovative craft. This also helps us save a lot of time when we have things better organized so we can best access our materials, and we use this time to order more supplies to ensure our closets are better stocked when we have those last minute programs we need to put together. Are there any special projects you are taking on to ensure your work space is better organized moving forward this school year?

Examining Our Early Literacy Efforts    

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Our focus this fall is to streamline our efforts with our early literacy programs and services. Our December youth services training will review the latest edition of Every Child Ready to Read to ensure our new staffers have the skills and confidence to encourage parents and caregivers to participate in early literacy activities with their children at home. We will examine the agencies already available in our community to determine how they provide programs and resources to our children and their families. It is important for us to consider how to reach out to the customers walking through our doors as well as the day cares, preschools, and hospitals we may partner with in order for us to better serve our patrons. What projects or goals do you have to improve your services to your customers as we transition into this new school year?

Summer Reading Brainstorming                 

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

As soon as we complete one year’s club, we begin to focus on the next. The ALSC Blog has been a valuable resource for us as we read the creative ideas from librarians across the county interested in innovative ways to increase participation and get children excited about reading all summer long. We will review our prizes and programs to consider how to best reach our audiences next year. When we give our summer reading program the emphasis it deserves by debriefing our previous program and planning the next early in the year, we work to ensure our next year’s program is as successful as possible. It may seem light years away from now, but June and the start of our next summer reading club will be here before we know it. What ideas do you have to enhance your summer reading program for next year?

August is a month full of transitions from one busy season to the next. We will focus our efforts on decluttering our spaces, enhancing our early literacy efforts, and beginning our initial planning for next summer’s reading program. What plans and ideas do you hope to complete during this new school year? Please share in the comments below!



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6. Interview with Author Michelle Houts

Michelle Houts, author of Kammie on First: Baseball’s Dottie Kamenshek, shares how her book highlights Kamenshek’s life of integrity alongside her professional achievements.  Houts, also the editor of Missing Millie Benson by Julie K. Rubini, reflects on the role nonfiction plays in shaping children’s reading interests and how librarians serve these readers, researchers, and writers.  I received a complimentary copy of these two books in the Biographies for Young Readers series published by Ohio University Press before this interview.     

Author Michelle Houts (Image provided by Ohio University Press)

Author Michelle Houts (Image provided by Ohio University Press)

1.  How did you first learn about Dottie Kamenshek, the famous baseball player loosely based on Dottie Hinson from the popular movie A League of Their Own?  What inspired you to write your book for young readers, Kammie on First: Baseball’s Dottie Kamenshek?

I first read about Kammie in a one-page entry in the book Profiles of Ohio Women. As soon as I read about her, I knew she would be a perfect first subject for the new biography series Ohio University Press was planning. She was a pioneer in women’s sports, a humble leader, and an outstanding person, on and off the field.

2.  Kammie on First is the first book in a new series, Biographies for Young Readers.  What unique challenges have you found when writing this type of nonfiction for children?  What makes biographies a unique and valuable resource for children to access in a public library?      

After three fiction books, I was so excited to be writing biographical nonfiction! That’s because I can remember selecting from the biographies section of my own local library. I loved those matching books about different historical figures. I wanted to replicate that excitement I felt, but I wanted the books to have an altogether different look and feel. The books I remember had a few line drawings, were text-heavy, and somewhat drab in their appearance. I was challenged to create a narrative arc in this new series and create a book that was factual and interesting all at once.

3.  What intrigued you most about the life of Dottie Kamenshek as you learned more about this athlete? What have children found to be most intriguing about her life after reading your book?        

Kammie on First: Baseball's Dottie Kamenshek by Michelle Houts (Image provided by Ohio University Press)

Kammie on First: Baseball’s Dottie Kamenshek by Michelle Houts (Image provided by Ohio University Press)

 Dottie was two things: a stand-out athlete and a humble leader. Sometimes it’s hard to find both those qualities in one person. Most young readers are fascinated by the fact that Dottie and her contemporaries played baseball in skirts, even if that meant sliding injuries were common. The readers are getting a history lesson about life in the 1940s and early 1950s when we begin to discuss the reasons the AAGPBL players wore skirts, had chaperones, and went to beauty school.

4.  In the author’s note from Kammie on First, you share a childhood memory about listening to baseball on the radio. How do you believe children’s memories shape their reading interests?  What should the role of children’s librarians be in encouraging these interests?

 What a privilege and responsibility librarians have when it comes to young readers! To be able to converse with a child, detect what sparks his or her interest, and to then suggest a great book is nothing short of magical. I’m not sure it’s children’s memories as much as their experiences that shape their reading interests. A positive experience with one book can lead a child to quickly choose another in the same genre or on the same topic or by the same author. I recall that as a child, once I’d found mysteries, I had to read every Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden book I could get my hands on.

5. How have public libraries impacted your process of gathering research? What do you believe the role of librarians is in providing accurate information for children and teens?

Since Kammie on First was my first nonfiction title, I started into my research alone and uncertain. It didn’t take long before I found the first research librarian eager to guide me along the path to discovering more about Dottie. Dottie had passed in 2010. She had never married and had no children. She was also an only child, so I would find no siblings or nieces or nephews. With the help of those well-versed in research methods, I was able to find her school yearbook, some early pictures, and eventually, two first cousins. I’m quite certain that libraries provide many children with their first experiences in research – how to look something up and discover more information. It’s a skill they’ll use their entire lives, and they most often learn it from a librarian.

6.  Kammie on First features a great variety of photographs to provide a snapshot into the life and times of this era.  Are there any particular images from your book that you recommend librarians share with a young audience when highlighting this athlete’s life?

 Students always seem to gravitate toward the picture of Lois Florreich being treated for a sliding injury. To me, it speaks to the fact that these women weren’t just out having fun. They were professional athletes, giving it everything they had, and sometimes enduring painful injuries. That’s a photo that tells a great deal about the grit of all the women who played in the AAGPBL.  My favorite picture of Dottie is one of her signing an autograph for a young girl outside the locker room. Even though they are both looking down, you can see that Kammie and her young fan are smiling. It was an important moment for both of them, I’m sure.

7.  How have public libraries shaped your experience as a reader growing up and as a writer today?

 I grew up in Westerville, Ohio, where we had – and still have – a fantastic public library. I can still tell you the exact shelf location of the first book I could ever read alone (I actually believe I had memorized it, but I was convinced I could read!) and the exact shelf that housed the Little House series, which I read through more than once. Going to the library was always a treasured experience as a child. I believe exposure to all kinds of stories at a very young age has really shaped the reader and writer I’ve become today.

8. How can librarians best promote nonfiction books to young readers?

Ah, well, it seems suddenly nonfiction is no longer playing second fiddle to fiction in a lot of situations. I think newer, narrative nonfiction reads more like fiction. I like to tell about how I was so engrossed reading Candace Fleming’s Amelia Lost a few years ago, that a small part of me forgot I knew the ending! As I read, the suspense was real, even though I knew the outcome of Amelia Earhart’s story. That’s what good nonfiction does to a reader. I think that if librarians are promoting great nonfiction right alongside fiction, the stories themselves will grab the reader and send them back for more.

9. What advice would you give to young people interested in a career in writing biographies? How can children’s librarians best support young writers?

 To the young writer, I would say, “Be observant. Be inquisitive.”  Great stories are all around you, and they don’t all belong to the famous. Your elderly neighbor, your teacher, even a classmate may well have had some amazing experiences worth sharing. Ask if you might tell their story and write it down. To the children’s librarians, I would direct young readers first to a book, but then also to the author or illustrator. Helping children realize that behind every book is a writer and sometimes an artist, and always an editor, just might lead a young person toward a career they will love.

10. The next book in the Biographies for Young Readers series,  

Missing Millie Benson by Julie K. Rubini (Image provided by Ohio University Press)

Missing Millie Benson by Julie K. Rubini (Image provided by Ohio University Press)

Missing   Millie Benson by Julie K. Rubini, chronicles the life of the author who wrote twenty-three of the first thirty books in the Nancy Drew Mystery series.  As you are the series editor, did Nancy Drew’s adventures resonate with you as a child?  Why do you think they are relevant to young readers today?

 When Julie Rubini approached the publisher with her proposal to write about Millie Benson, I was on board from the beginning. Nancy Drew has withstood the test of time. I’m amazed that young readers still know this fictional character. It’s very interesting that most of the qualities we love about Nancy are qualities Rubini found in Millie: independent, determined, confident, and hard-working.  Those qualities, whether they be found in fiction or in real people, will never become irrelevant.

Thank you for explaining your writing process and for sharing your perspective on the role libraries play in serving young readers, writers, and researchers!

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7. My Summer Wish List

Olaf, in Disney’s Frozen, is famously and surprisingly infatuated with all things summer. Children’s librarians, on the other hand, seem a natural fit to be preoccupied with these warm months ahead. As our busiest time of the year is on the horizon and our summer reading program begins in just a few short weeks, I’ve created my own wish list of my hopes and dreams for this year’s summer reading program. While it would be nice if our programs and prizes brought in the kids in droves just like that Disney blockbuster hit, I’m setting my sights on more realistic milestones to gauge the success of our program. So without further ado, here’s my summer reading wish list for 2015.

Marketing Magic   

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

We’ve always targeted the schools with summer reading publicity, assemblies, appearances on morning announcements, and promotional summer reading DVDs.  This year the print publicity students receive not only highlights our upcoming programs but also includes a reading log for children to record their reading over the summer.  In previous years, we’ve required participants to wait to begin the summer reading program until the children or their adults receive the reading record in person in the library.  By providing kids with the reading records early while they are still in school, we hope this will jump start their reading. As children will have their physical record in hand, this will hopefully serve as an encouragement and reminder to their parents to bring their kids to the library to collect their prizes. My first wish is that our enhanced promotional efforts with the schools increase our overall participation.

Older and Involved

Our children’s summer reading club begins for children from birth through fifth grade, with those children who have completed fifth grade having the option of completing the children’s program or joining the teen summer reading club instead. Unfortunately, we’ve observed less interest and participation with those kids in the children’s program once they have reached the upper elementary grades.  Our programs on superheroes and spy camps should be hits with the older kids, but we also hope some of the other changes we have implemented, such as adding a pick a prize option to allow children some variety with choosing their prizes and a wider selection of books for children to choose from when they receive their third prize, will add appeal to the older end of our age range. My second wish is that all our children, regardless of their age, are enthusiastic and engaged with our program this summer.

The Individual Impact            

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

It’s easy to be sucked in by the numbers and get stuck on those statistics.  This year, my greatest wish is that I am able to see the individual connections we make with children. I hope I observe how our summer reading participants relate to the books they are reading and how reading resonates in their lives.  Even with the hustle and bustle of the summer, I hope we all can take just a moment and acknowledge how our summer reading reaches each and every one of our participants, instead of rushing from one group to the next. My greatest wish is that I remember that this individual impact is what our work is all about.

My summer wish list includes my hope that our promotional materials increase our participation, that our older kids are as excited about our program as their younger siblings, and that we are all able to stop and recognize the summer reading program’s individual impact on our participants.  I hope at the beginning of the fall it will be evident that these wishes came to fruition, and if they didn’t, we’ll develop new goals in mind to enhance our program in 2016.  What does your wish list for your summer reading program include this year?  Please add your wishes in the comments below!


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8. Spring into Summer Reading

With summer just a few weeks away, our focus is on our upcoming summer reading program for children.  How can we best ensure children are engaged and actively involved in our program?  This year we are trying a few new ideas to encourage participation for our younger readers.

A Little Recognition

This year we are returning to offering certificates for children who have reached a certain milestone of participation within our club.  Our Community Relations Department is creating these certificates for children to receive after they have read for twelve hours during the summer, in addition to receiving a free book for reaching this mark. Do you use certificates as a way to recognize participation in summer reading?

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Write it On the Wall

To tie in to our superhero theme this summer, our Community Relations Department is creating a super reader banner for each of our eight locations.  For those children who have reached the twelve hour mark for reading this summer, cut-out images of superheroes will be available.  Children will have the opportunity to write their names on one of these images and place it on the super reader banner.  We hope this will encourage children to find pride in their participation and that they will be encouraged to return to the library to find their name on the banner during repeat visits.  These super reader banners will be prominently displayed in our library locations and will help us promote our summer reading program to more participants as we market this program. Do you publicly acknowledge your youngest participants in any specific way?

Pick Your Prize

While we hope the opportunities for children to receive a certificate and recognition for their summer reading accomplishments will encourage future participation, we also have the goal that children will find more ownership over their reading by choosing their own incentive.  For their first and second prize this year, children will have the opportunity to select a prize from a range of options. We hope that giving children some ownership over their choice of incentive will appeal to our diverse and wide age range of summer reading participants, and that this opportunity will encourage their interest in participating in summer reading in the future.   How do you encourage your young participants’ involvement over their summer reading incentives or experiences?

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

This year we are hoping that our ideas to encourage individual achievement, recognize their participation, and encourage ownership in choosing their incentives will inspire increased engagement and participation in our summer reading program for children.  Please share your ideas to engage your children and encourage participation in this year’s summer reading program in the comments below!

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9. Winning Traits

Skill in presenting programs, an understanding of child development, and a love for working with young people are all traits required for staff working in youth services. There are other important traits which outstanding youth services staff must possess. When the time comes to replace a member of this department, what skills, characteristics and strengths do you seek? What do you admire in your colleagues?

It is true that youth services staff must have the special ability to connect with young people and their caregivers, but there are other characteristics that are necessary for staff to be the best team players they can be and for them to have the most positive impact on the team. A positive mind set, a strong work ethic, and problem-solving abilities are qualities that make staff excel.

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

For a positive mindset to truly make an impact in the workplace, it must be all encompassing and not selective. I’ve seen the most successful staff not only exude that warmth and their encouraging manner to customers of all ages, but to staff members at all levels as well. Not only do staff that are the most positive become the most productive in the workplace, their uplifting attitude often spreads to those around them. Positivity is a choice with healthy and long-lasting consequences. How have you found staffers’ positivity to benefit you and your work team?

Youth services staff also work hard! The physical aspect and the emotional energy they spend on presenting programs and engaging their patrons often knows no bounds. Typically, the amount of programming they produce is exhausting and the scope of the audience they reach is expansive. Staffers must have a strong sense of the importance and the efforts required in their position for them to most successfully complete all the demands their work requires. How do you see your colleagues’ work ethic impact the productiveness of your library system?

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Youth services folk often have the uncanny ability to excel in problem-solving and the knack to think outside the box on any given issue. Do your supervisees or youth services colleagues easily see challenges that can be overcome or obstacles that hinder their growth? Perhaps youth services staff are so solution-driven because they fully grasp the significance of their work and the powerful impact they have in shaping young people’s lives. How do you see youth services staff being able to turn life’s headaches into highlights?

Our field is filled with youth services professionals demonstrating positivity, a strong work ethic, and problem-solving skills. What are the other characteristics that you see that are necessary for staff holding youth services positions in your libraries? What traits in your co-workers or supervisees are required to build the best possible team? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

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10. Dreaming of Spring

The weather outside is frightful.  In southern North Carolina, we have dealt this week with an ice storm and power outages. While this winter weather in no way compares to the months and months of freezing temperatures and blizzards in the Northeast and Midwest, it is safe to say that many of us all over the country are sick and tired of winter by this time of year. We long for warmer temperatures and blooming flowers.  We long for spring.  At work we are also anticipating the change in seasons as we prepare for all of the special programs we offer during the next few months. What special events or services are rolled out during the springtime at your libraries?

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Spring in many ways allows us the time to finish our last minute plans for our busy summer reading program. We promote our summer reading schedule to the schools in May and are fine-tuning our programming plans during these last few months.  Is spring your busiest time of year as you prep for summer reading or do you complete most of your program planning right before the programs begin in the summer? How will these next few months get you best prepared for summer reading?

Spring is also a special time of year for us as we participate in system-wide festivals.  We anticipate the spring season with a Storytelling Festival at all eight library branches at the end of February. At the conclusion of the Storytelling Festival, we turn our attention from storytelling to science. During two weeks in April, library staff present interactive science programs as part of the North Carolina Science Festival.  Spring is associated with science in our state. What special festivals, programs, or services are associated with spring within your library system?

School partnerships are also an important focus for public library staff during the spring.  The highly popular Battle of the Books Competition is gearing up with county contests. Library branch staff have connected with public school teams to practice questions with students to help them prepare for their upcoming competitions.  Other public library staff serve as judges or volunteer in various roles during these all-day events.  Are there any special collaborations you enjoy with your school systems during these spring months?

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

In our library, spring is associated with summer reading planning, festivals, and special school partnerships.  The cold, dreary weather may still be upon us, but starting this discussion may help us leave the ice and cold behind as we imagine warmer days ahead. What services or programs will be the focus at your library when the season changes? Please share your plans for spring in the comments below!

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11. Interview with Author E.K. Johnston

THE STORY OF OWEN (Image provided by Lerner Publishing Group )

THE STORY OF OWEN (Image provided by Lerner Publishing Group)

E.K. Johnston has set her fictional world on fire in THE STORY OF OWEN: DRAGON SLAYER OF TRONDHEIM.  Receiving recognition as a finalist for the 2015 William C. Morris Award, the author discusses the relationship between libraries and young readers.  She gives us a glimpse into her latest novel, PRAIRIE FIRE, scheduled to be released next month. I received a complimentary copy of THE STORY OF OWEN before participating in this interview as part of a blog tour.   

THE STORY OF OWEN has broad appeal for readers with varying interests. How do you briefly summarize this book for the audience not familiar with these characters and their adventures?  

I usually tell people that THE STORY OF OWEN is about a dragon slayer from Southwestern Ontario, who moves from Hamilton to a small town called Trondheim, and has to adjust to slaying dragons in a rural environment. You know, passing algebra. Getting his driver’s license. Not getting lit on fire. The usual stuff.

Many professional reviews have noted your skill in world-building.  What advice do you have for young writers on how to best develop rich settings?

Steal. Borrow. Incorporate. Whatever word makes you the most comfortable, do that. I took real events, real places, and, despite my editor’s initial impression of Lester B Pearson, real people, and then I added a dragon. The key for me was always to give the reader the actual world…and then light it on fire, and I think that applies to world building in general.

The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association (ALA), selected THE STORY OF OWEN as a finalist for the 2015 William C. Morris Award; according to YALSA, this award honors the year’s best books written for young adults by a previously unpublished author. How did you find out this news? What was your reaction?

I was at a friend’s house, another author actually, baking Christmas cookies when my cell phone rang. I don’t usually leave my phone on when I’m in company, but I was expecting a call from my sister, so I had it with me. It was our agent, and there was certainly some dancing in the living room! And then, you know, we had all those cookies on hand anyway…

E.K. JOHNSTON  (Image provided by Lerner Publishing Group )

(Image provided by Lerner Publishing Group)

This book appeals to readers served both by ALSC and YALSA.  Did you write THE STORY OF OWEN with a specific audience in mind, or did the age of the potential reader not influence your process?

I didn’t have a specific audience in mind when I wrote, so no, the age of my potential reader didn’t influence me. I was a pretty voracious reader as a kid, and often read books that had things I didn’t understand in them, and loved them anyway, because the story was good. If I aimed for anything, it was probably that.

Why are awards and professional recognition valuable?  How can libraries best promote books for young readers?

Well it certainly helps to bolster my spirit on bad writing days! But in all seriousness, recognition is fantastic because when more people talk about a book, more people buy and read it. That is huge, and I am profoundly grateful for it. I think that sort of communication and accessibility are key parts of what libraries are great at.

How have libraries shaped your life as a reader and a writer?

I did a lot of my reading in libraries. At school, it was because I didn’t want to go outside for recess. My hometown library was also air conditioned, which my house was not. I could read whatever I wanted at the library, whereas at home my parents kept an eye on what I was reading (Mum wanted me to read kiddie CanLit. I wanted to read pretty much anything OTHER than kiddie CanLit). When it comes to writing, libraries are a great place to work and find resources.

Which books were influential to you as a child and teen?

As a child, The Hobbit, Heidi, and The Chronicles of Narnia were the biggest, but The Lord of the Rings, Anne McCaffery, David Eddings were close runners up! As a teen, I read a lot of Sci-Fi, including every Star Trek tie-in I could get my hands on. I didn’t read Tamora Pierce until university, somehow, but she is tremendous.

PRAIRIE FIRE (Image provided by Lerner Publishing Group )

PRAIRIE FIRE (Image provided by Lerner Publishing Group)

Owen’s next adventures are explored in PRAIRIE FIRE, scheduled to be released on March 1, 2015.   How did the experience writing PRAIRIE FIRE compare to your process of writing THE STORY OF OWEN?     

Writing PRAIRIE FIRE was a little easier, because I already had everything I needed. I had “seen” the ending before I ever started writing OWEN, and I knew a lot more of the plot. The hard part was crowd management. There are a lot of two person scenes in OWEN, and a lot of 14 person scenes in PRAIRIE FIRE.

What writing projects are you working on at this time?  What battles are next for Owen?

Owen’s battles are over, sadly. PRAIRIE FIRE has them until just before Owen’s 20th birthday, and then it’s not a YA novel anymore. It’s up to fic-writers now! I am working on a couple of other projects, though. One, out in the fall, is a re-telling of THE 1001 ARABIAN NIGHTS (“re-telling” might be a strong word). I am quite excited about it.  

Thanks to E.K. Johnston for sharing these delightful details about Owen’s adventures and her valuable feedback on the role of libraries!

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12. A New Year Brings New Possibilities for Summer Reading

Ringing in the New Year often means a time of personal reflection, but it can also be a perfect time to create professional goals and to strengthen our work objectives.  While it may be months away, one of my library system’s 2015 goals is to review our current summer reading program and to consider some new ideas for this club. Administrative and youth services staff have collaborated on how to best see these ideas through to fruition. For us, the year 2015 is all about impact. How can we ensure our summer reading program makes the most powerful difference in our community?

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Focus on the Journey, Not Only the Destination

Our traditional summer reading program has focused on specific reading milestones that children must reach to receive individual prizes. In 2015, we will consider our summer reading program to be more of a journey instead of a destination. Once children have read the number of hours they need to collect all their prizes, we will encourage them to continue reading throughout the remainder of the summer. For their additional efforts, they will receive a certificate and their name will be placed on our summer reading superhero display. What suggestions do you have to ensure your participants continue reading during the entire duration of your program?

Game Sheets Galore                 

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

During our summer reading club in 2014, we transitioned completely to an online program. While our traditional club will stay online in 2015, we have also created printed game challenge sheets. Participants will complete 24 of 25 reading or pre-reading activities to receive a prize. One of the game sheet activities encourages children to register for our online summer reading program.  These game sheets will also allow children to set whatever reading goal they would like as they complete the instructions, “Read for _____ minutes,” as part of their reading challenge. In addition to our online program, these game sheets will encourage our participants to celebrate their reading success this summer.

We are encouraged that these changes to our summer reading program will strengthen its impact in our community.  What changes to your summer reading program will you implement in 2015? What new services or programs are you exploring during this new year? Let’s get the ball rolling on discussing our new goals for our libraries!  Please share your ideas in the comments below!

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13. October Means Fall Leaves, Halloween, and Summer Reading?

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

We often think of autumn as a time with cooler weather, changing leaves, and upcoming holidays on the horizon.  This October our thoughts are not only on all the fun fall has to offer, but the opportunities the upcoming summer season can provide.  Our library staff is currently assessing our summer reading services and evaluating the reasons behind why we do what we do.  During this autumn, we will examine many of the logistical aspects of our summer reading plans to ensure we offer the very best program for children and their families.  What plans does your library have to alter your reading program once summer rolls around?

What’s In a Name?

For many years, our Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center in North Carolina has referred to our months of summer reading programming as our summer reading club, or more informally as SRC. During the summer, we offer many special programs and also have the opportunity for children to be read to or to read independently to receive prizes during the summer.   This year we are evaluating the name of our Summer Reading Club to see if it best suits our library’s mission and goals.  Should we consider these special events to be part of a larger summer reading program, or do we consider our summer reading extravaganza to be a club that our young members can join?  In some library systems, SRC refers to a summer reading challenge where library staff asks participants to take a more active role in setting their own reading goals. What name do you give to summer reading in your library system?

The Art of Measuring

Perhaps you measure the success of your program by the number of library visits a child makes over the summer or the overall circulation figures within your children’s department.  Maybe you encourage your young participants to read so many minutes or a certain number of books, or your library encourages children to set their own individual reading goal. In the past, we tracked how many hours children read as a marker of success as children received different prizes for reaching each predetermined goal set by library staff. We are now considering providing an option where participants can set their own reading goal after they finish our traditional reading program.  Additionally, we are examining the incorporation of an Every Child Ready to Read component where young children may participate in family activities with their parents or caregivers to enhance their summer reading experience. How do you plan to measure the success of your program this summer?

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

A Plethora of Programming

Programming is essential to the value of our summer reading club.  In addition to our regularly scheduled story times, we offer various special programs and events to draw in large crowds during the summertime.  Some of these programs feature interactive art or science components while other events may feature special speakers, guest programmers, or costumed characters. This year we are discussing the idea of offering special mini-festivals at our various locations.  These festivals would incorporate some individual differences to distinguish the festivals from one another and to encourage customers to attend festivals at more than one location; this special programming would be tailored to meet the needs, interests, and resources available at our individual library branches. These festivals would also increase the opportunities staffers have to work with one another from our various branches.  Providing mini-festivals in addition to our regular programming could very well create a new opportunity for us to enhance our summer reading schedule.

We are still in the beginning steps of our summer reading plans for 2015.  There is so much value in assessing how we can maximize our summer reading experience for children and their families when June arrives. As we consider how we will name our summer reading events, measure our success, and examine some options for innovative programming, it is exciting to think of all the options ahead for an amazing summer reading experience. What new summer reading plans are you considering?  Sharing your thoughts may spark new practices or programs in other libraries.  Please add your ideas to the comments below!

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14. Interview with Author Dori Hillestad Butler

    Ghosts add spooky suspense in this new mystery series, The Haunted Library, written by Edgar Award author Dori Hillestad Butler and illustrated by Aurore Damant.  In this interview, Dori Hillestad Butler shares the role libraries have played in shaping her work and the background behind these haunting books for young readers.  I received a complimentary copy of the first two books in this series before this interview.   

  1.       As children’s librarians, we often share just a little bit of detail about books with audiences to get them interested in checking out material.  What information would you share with children interested in learning more about The Haunted Library series?             

    Author Dori Hillestad Butler  (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

    Author Dori Hillestad Butler
    (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

It’s a series about a ghost boy named Kaz and a “solid” girl named Claire who work together to solve ghostly mysteries. Each book is a stand-alone mystery, but as the series goes on Kaz and Claire are also trying to find Kaz’s missing family. Kaz was separated from his family when their old haunt was torn down. The books are a little bit scary, not too scary. The ghosts aren’t dead people. They’re more like transparent people with superpowers.

  1.       What role did reading play in your life as a child? What types of books did you most enjoy?

I was a huge reader. I didn’t spend a lot of time with other kids outside of school. I spent most of my time curled up with a good book. I most enjoyed realistic fiction and mysteries.

  1.       What have you appreciated most about libraries throughout your life? How do you believe youth services librarians can best develop this appreciation in children?
The Haunted Library Book # 1 (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

The Haunted Library Book # 1 (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

If you’d asked me this when I was a kid, I’d have said, “all the books!” I couldn’t buy a lot of books when I was a kid. But I could take home as many as I wanted and keep them for two weeks and then bring them back and get MORE. How cool was that? But when I think about what it is I appreciate about libraries as an adult, I guess it’s still a variation on “all the books.” As an adult, I understand the library’s role in a community much better than I did when I was a child. A good library serves the needs of EVERYONE in the community. That doesn’t mean that every book in the library is one *I* want to read, but rather everyone in a community should be able to walk into a library and find a book they want to read. Given what a diverse nation we are, that is a pretty incredible thing. I think youth services librarians can help children develop an appreciation for libraries by showing them this diversity and reinforcing the idea that it doesn’t matter who you are, the library has materials for everyone.

4.     Youth services librarians see that many children gravitate to books that are part of a series as they build confidence in their reading abilities. What type of child reader do you think would most enjoy The Haunted Library series?

Kids who love ghost stories, of course. But I think the series might also appeal to reluctant readers, kids who don’t like to read. At least I hope it does. Ghosts are a high interest topic. I’d also like to see librarians hand a Haunted Library book to a kid who feels he’s not good at anything or a kid who’s really struggling to learn something. Kaz, the main character in The Haunted Library, is a ghost who struggles to learn his ghost skills. Even his little brother knows how to glow and wail and pass through walls, but Kaz struggles with every one of these skills. But he keeps working on his skills and as the series progresses, he has some success.

  1.        Your Ghostly Glossary defines some pretty spooky and cool ghost behaviors and could be used as a way for librarians to introduce this series to children.  How did the idea to include a Ghostly Glossary come about as you were developing these books?

 I planned on a ghostly glossary right from the start. I knew I was going to create a ghostly world and my ghostly world was likely to be different from other authors’ ghostly worlds. I knew I would invent vocabulary. The glossary grew out of that. I also like to think it’s a FUN glossary. And I know sometimes kids think glossaries and dictionaries can be boring. I want to demonstrate that glossaries (and even words themselves!) are fun and interesting.

  1.       Children’s libraries offer reading material in a variety of genres.  What role do you believe mysteries play in developing children’s reading interests and abilities?          

Mysteries reinforce problem solving skills. Readers learn to read carefully so they don’t miss any clues. They observe. They sift through the evidence and use logic to form hypotheses. And then they keep reading to find out whether they’re right. I think mysteries are a good way to reach the reluctant reader, too. Mysteries tend to have fast-moving plots. And readers feel “smart” when they’re able to solve the mystery alongside (or even before!) the protagonist.

The Haunted Library # 2 The Ghost in the Attic (Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

The Haunted Library Book # 2
The Ghost in the Attic
(Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

   7.  What makes ghosts so appealing to this young audience?

Because kids like to be scared…in a controlled environment. They feel brave when they read a scary ghost story, but they’re in control of the reading experience. They can put the book down whenever it gets to be too much. And then they can pick it up again when they’re ready for more.

8.     Have you met any children who believed there was a ghost in their library?  How do you believe libraries can best build children’s imaginations and develop their curiosity?

No, I haven’t. But if I did, I would ask that child to tell me all about the ghost. Who is the ghost? What does it look like? Where did it come from? What does it want? I think one way to build a child’s imagination and develop their curiosity is to ask them lots of questions, encourage them to ask questions, and show that you’re interested in what they have to say.

  1.       What advice would you give to children interested in becoming young detectives like Kaz and Claire?

To read LOTS of detective stories. There are so many good ones out there. Read Encyclopedia Brown! What’s great about Encyclopedia Brown is there are many mysteries to be solved in each book, and budding detectives can try and solve the case on their own before they turn to the solution. I’d also steer them toward some good nonfiction books about crime solving. In other words, I’d send them to the library!

10.  What adventures are next for this dynamic duo? Are there other children’s books you are working on at this time?               

(Image provided by the Penguin Group)

(Image provided by Grosset & Dunlap)

The Haunted Library #3: The Ghost Backstage comes out in October. The Haunted Library #4: The Five o’Clock Ghost comes out Spring 2015. The Haunted Library #5: The Secret Room comes out Summer 2015. And The Haunted Library #6, which is still untitled comes out Fall 2015.

Thank you for sharing these ghostly details about your new series and for your thoughtful perspective on the value of libraries for children!

Thanks again to Dori Hillestad Butler for appearing. For other stops on The Haunted Library Blog Tour, please check http://www.kidswriter.com/blog/.

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15. Youth Services Basics: Cross-Training by Building Confidence

Are staffers outside of youth services ever responsible for staffing your children’s desk in a programming pinch?  Would employees outside of your department feel comfortable and confident in providing this service or would they feel stunned like a deer caught in the headlights?

At our community branch library, information services staff members also staff our children’s services desk, and we receive a great number of children’s reference questions at our adult information services desk.  Staff members outside of youth services must be familiar with the needs of children and those that work with them. Being cross-trained to provide customer service to customers of all ages is a necessity, but how do we ensure that staffers receive the training necessary to handle the unique needs of our young customers?

My colleague recently presented training for library staff outside of youth services. Not meant as a substitute for advanced youth services training in reference or readers’ advisory, this overview highlighted many of the traditional questions staffers receive when they work in the children’s services department. This training served as a perfect introduction for those employees who may occasionally need to staff this service desk.

Where are the BOB books?     

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

During this youth services basics training, my colleague used questions that have been previously asked by customers as training examples. Just as when working in the information services department, training participants realized that questions are often not as simple as they appear.  The question, “where are the BOB books?” is a perfect example.  The answer could mean numerous things in our library system, depending on the needs of the library user, and could include a request for a standard beginning reader series; it could also serve as a request for the TV inspired books based off the popular Bob the Builder character, or the extremely popular Battle of the Books (BOB) competitions sponsored by our public school system.  Understanding how this one type of question, “where are your BOB books?” could mean various things to different people, was rated by attendees as one of the most valuable pieces of information they learned during the training.

Let’s Take a Tour

As part of the training, participants toured our children’s department at our Headquarters Library.  This touring component provided staffers with a close and personal look at our collection and was helpful to staffers from each of our branches as our youth services departments are structured similarly in each of our eight library locations.  By including this hands-on training component, participants were able to view exactly where items were located, from the juvenile biographies placed at the end of the children’s nonfiction collection to the difference among board books, picture books, and beginning readers.  Knowing our collection is critical in providing excellent customer service, and this tour helped our trainees gain confidence in providing that service for our young patrons.

Priorities of Programs and Services

Questions about children’s programming, and the specialized services offered within the children’s services department, are often questions asked by patrons.  Adults may frequently register their children to attend special programming, request information on how to duplicate the story time experience at home, or request tutoring resources. Staffers must be able to quickly address these questions while also being aware of the unique services offered within the children’s department, such as our picture book bundle service, where customers may check out a group of books organized by a specific theme. Children’s unique interests and needs must be understood by all staff, not just those librarians specializing in children’s services.

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

This training helped staff members without a background in children’s services to gain a better understanding of the interests and needs of our young patrons. Our goal is to prepare our colleagues to feel as comfortable and confident as they can when working with children and their families, instead of feeling caught like a deer in the headlights! What topics do you believe are important to introduce to staff members outside of your department if they were to staff your children’s desk? How do you ensure staffers are most effectively able to reach out to your customers?  Please share in the comments below!

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16. What Do We Do With August?

The month of August is a hybrid of sorts as we transition from our summer reading program to the traditional activities planned for the new school year.  When August 1st rolls around, do you breathe a sigh of satisfaction after the completion of your successful summer reading club, or do you still have weeks and weeks left of the summer rush before the children return to school? What does your library do with August?

Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com

These last few weeks of summer  (Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

To Continue Summer Reading or to Conclude Summer Reading: That is the Question

In years past, our summer reading program ended on July 31st.  While June and July are much busier months in terms of the foot traffic we receive, there are still weeks left to most children’s summer vacation.  This year we extended our summer reading club to August 15th to allow children and their families more time to participate in our reading program and to collect their prizes.  What is your last day to conclude your summer club?

Less Programs, More Planning

Is there any break on the horizon? Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com

Is there any programming break in August? (Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Our weekly scheduled story times take a break after July 31st until the 1st of September.   While we do temporarily discontinue our weekly story times, we offer the occasional preschool special, school-age program, or teen club to bring people into our libraries.  With more flexibility in scheduling due to less programming, staffing the desks becomes easier even with staff members on vacation.  We also focus our attention on our fall programming sessions, so we are able to hit the ground running when our story times resume and our special programs increase.  Is your August full of story times and outreach visits, or do you completely break from programming to best prepare for the fall?

Taking Training

It may be close to impossible to take training or make assessment a priority during those busy summer reading club months.  August is a time for renewal in terms of staffers’ professional development and is an opportunity for many of us to take in-person training, webinars, or self-paced study. It’s a necessary step for us to consider how to best enhance our own career development and also to assess the direction of our children’s libraries.  Is August a traditional training month for you, or do you focus on children’s services trainings during another time of the year?

Expanding the Vision

August is a time to recharge, to assess our services, and to plan for the fall ahead of us.   It’s an opportunity for us to consider major system initiatives and how to best streamline our efforts.  We are now working on our plan to partner with other county agencies through the Eleven Days of Love Drive for pet-supply donations.  We will include pet-themed elements in our programming as part of this collaboration.   Are there any programs or services at your library that you will implement in the future that you plan now before the kids return to school?

Within our individual libraries throughout the country, there is tremendous variation with our involvement in summer reading clubs and children’s programs during the month of August.  In your library system, August may provide the time needed to assess, evaluate, and focus on youth services training, or it may be a major programming month with a summer reading finale still on the horizon.   Please share how you address programs, services, and training at your library during the month of August.  Let’s begin a conversation in the comments below!

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17. Jumping into June

June is merely a few days away, and for many of us, this brings the start to our most anticipated time of year: summer reading club. What plans do you have for yourself and your libraries to make this the best summer reading program yet?  At our community branch library, we have some goals that will start our summer reading club off on the right track.

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Jump into it – Our summer reading program is the busiest few months of the year for us and demands our full attention.  During these final days of May, we focus on preparing and finalizing our other projects. We have a branch staff meeting with all our employees from every library department within our building to review the logistics of our summer reading club. Our summer reading program is also presented to all staff in our library system during our Staff Development Day. By discussing the logistics of the program at staff meetings, we are able to best promote our services to our customers, and we can jump forward into implementing these summer activities on the first day of our club. When we all focus our energy and resources on our summer reading program, we ensure we have the best club possible for our customers.

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Understand the purpose – We know that summer reading matters! In our competitive society, however, it’s easy to focus on the figures associated with children’s summer reading programs without always incorporating the valuable reasons behind why we do what we do. One goal we can take to heart is to communicate our mission to those in our communities who are unfamiliar with all we have to offer. We make sure that all staff members, especially circulation staffers, are familiar with the details of our summer reading program so they can share the value of our club with customers as soon as they enter the library. When we share our work with others, whether it is through the briefest conversation with a patron when he or she is checking out materials or reaching hundreds of people during an outreach event, we can emphasize the value of our summer reading clubs to those around us.

Need to make the most of it – We plan our summer reading programs months ahead of their scheduled dates to ensure we are able to fully publicize our club. By organizing and coordinating our hundreds of children’s story times and events, we are able to maximize the various activities we offer during our reading program. By having this fully functional schedule of events planned months in advance, we are able to serve those day cares and camp groups who need to schedule their programs early due to their own publicity and transportation needs. All this prep work we complete ahead of time will help us meet the demands of our summer rush at the library and to fully enjoy all the hustle and bustle that this time of year has to offer.

Expect the unexpected – If there’s ever the time to expect the unexpected, summer is that time. As customers’ scheduling needs change, it’s easy to feel stuck to our previously well-developed plan. A little focus on flexibility is critical as we promote summer reading to our patrons. How do we minimize the chaos that inevitably comes with unexpected groups and congested libraries?  We have staff members scheduled as rovers who are able to provide additional support to patrons, so customers receive the assistance they need when they are browsing the collection without joining the line at the reference desk.  Staff members can also be called from the office area to help when needed. Going with the flow and adopting an open mindset is the key to ensure we best adapt to the needs of our patrons.

What are your plans as you transition into summer reading club and jump into June? Please share in the comments below!


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18. Tis the Season . . . For Spring Cleaning

Spring can mean many things to different people: warmer weather, flowers in bloom, and spring cleaning. While these first two thoughts are a reason for me to anticipate the end of winter, the thought of spring cleaning can fill me with dread. How can we maximize our space by minimizing the hassle?

Photo Courtesy of Thinkstock.com

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

At our community branch library, space is at a premium. We have to regularly sort and review whether we need items because we simply don’t have the space to keep it all. Is there a way we can minimize the huge burden of spring cleaning?  How do we ensure the materials we need stay at our libraries and the clutter stays out?

A Little Goes a Long Way

One tip I have tried is to spend just 15 minutes organizing during each work day. This has worked best for me as one of the last minute tasks I complete at the end of my shift. Of course, other situations could end up taking priority, and organizing may fall to the wayside.  However, when it’s feasible to incorporate a little organization into my daily time at work, it’s an opportunity to clean up these final projects and to focus on a plan for the tasks that need to be accomplished tomorrow. Trying to put this tip into practice can go a long way toward minimizing the overall clutter within the library.

Think Outside the Box

Sometimes storage space is simply what is needed most at our location. Whether it is finding room for craft supplies, programming books, or puppets, it may be that we have de-cluttered as much as we can and simply need to find a space at our work for housing the items we use most frequently. This may cause us to re-envision the function of the spaces we have within the library. At our community branch library, we had a significant need for storage, but our kitchenette was not frequently used. We changed our kitchenette into a staff closet and now use this space for holding programming materials.

Scheduling is Key

While each staff person ensures his or her desk space is organized, we also have staffers responsible for reviewing the storage needs for our shared office space. While this responsibility may alternate between team members, it helps that one employee is responsible for ensuring the staff closet remains organized and stocked with the items staffers need. When we maintain a schedule for organizing these shared spaces, we ensure that major spring cleaning projects are not as overwhelming as staffers work to keep these areas free from clutter on a frequent basis.

Photo Courtesy of Thinkstock.com

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

With a shared, and often small, working space, it’s a necessity that our libraries are as organized as possible.  By keeping up on de-cluttering throughout the year instead of just during this season of spring cleaning, we can take away some of the overwhelmed feeling often associated with these projects. We could all use help when considering how to best maximize the use of our work space. What tips and techniques have been effective for you and your co-workers as you work to organize your libraries? Please share your ideas in the comments below!


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19. On the Twelve Days of Christmas

On the 12 days of Christmas, my library system gave to me:

One new library catalog

Two busy self-check-outs

Three new children’s tables

Four prizes for summer reading

(image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

Five book displays

Six wonderful weekly story times

Seven freshly painted walls

Eight interesting book series

Nine outreach events

Ten chairs in our conference room

Eleven special preschool programs


Twelve happy children (and many, many more!)

While some of these numbers are only a brief representation of the total figure, other quantities are right on target.  Regardless of the number, all of these examples are just some of the gifts I received while working at our community branch library in 2013.

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

(Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com)

The highlight, of course, was sharing time with the people, both customers and staff members, I have been blessed to work with this year.

What has been the greatest gift you have received at work this year? What upcoming opportunity are you most anticipating in 2014? Please share in the comments below!

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20. Do Deadlines Drag You Down?

Have you ever had this following conversation with yourself as you thought about your upcoming week at work? “Okay, so I have six programs this week, and I should have checked out that new book I wanted to use with that group.  It’s probably already checked out by now. I have those three reports due by tomorrow and that mandatory meeting that will last all day. I have the article due next week, but I won’t have time to work on that next week, so I have to somehow find that time this week. There were those four emails I read right as we were closing, but I need to learn more about that project before I can respond  . . .”

It’s easy for our thoughts about our work to be more focused on our deadlines instead of the difference that we can make. Of course, deadlines are a necessary part of our work and are a good measure of how much we can accomplish and contribute to our profession. The trap that is easy to fall into, however, is measuring the success of a week based on checking off those deadlines from a to-do list instead of focusing on the real reason behind the work we do at our libraries.     

Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com

Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com

 Clearly, we’ve dedicated our professional lives to working with and for children and their families for the positive difference this can make. How can we remember to get out of the deadline-driven slump and focus both on those tangible and intangible reasons behind why we do what we do? At our recent North Carolina Library Association Conference I attended last month, I brainstormed some ways to make sure I focus first on the difference and then on the deadline.

1.       Participate in the Profession

It’s hard to think that when we have a bunch of projects due or programs to plan that this is the time to participate even more in our profession. The truth is that it is all too easy to be constantly focused on the next monthly report or spending the budget before the end of the fiscal year.  It is easy to forget the big picture of why that report and that budget matter. Volunteering to serve on an internal committee or stepping up as the youth services representative can help us to focus on the impact of our work and is also a small step in us controlling the direction of our work instead of letting our deadlines always drive us.

2.       Continuing Education Continues to Matter

It is easy to fall into the daily grind of work.  Participation in continuing education opportunities, whether it is through a conference or planning training for other branch staff, encourages us to become more invigorated about our work. Hearing about another library system’s best practices can motivate all of us to focus on the positive impact of one of our programs or library services. Reading blogs and professional journals can inspire us to think of that next great idea. It’s easy to want to let these professional experiences fall by the wayside if we are overwhelmed by our current workload, but the benefits of participating in these types of opportunities serves to motivate us in the long run.

Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com

Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com

  3.       Talk It Up

I’m sure we’ve all heard that comment from an oblivious stranger, “You went to library school? They have a school for that?” All those moments when we share about the reality of our work with those that haven’t had a chance to experience all that libraries have to offer is an opportunity to share the impact of what we do. When we discuss the benefits of our latest program or service, whether it’s with a library customer we have just met or a longtime family member or friend, we affirm the real reason behind our work.

Deadlines have a definite purpose in our careers, but they should not define it. What tips have you learned to remember to focus on the bigger picture and not to get bogged down by those deadlines? Please share in the comments below!

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21. How to Best Serve Parents of Our Young Patrons

 When my husband and I were blessed by becoming first time parents, I was able to see from a personal perspective just how our library system excelled in meeting the needs of caregivers to young children. As I visited the library as a patron with my daughter, I tried to turn away from evaluating the story time as a manager and instead, enjoyed that program as a parent.The question for us working in public libraries is this: are we as children’s librarians giving the caregivers who walk through our doors the same welcoming smile and nonjudgmental attitude we give our youngest patrons?  If the answer is “yes,” do our libraries’ policies and procedures reflect this same view?   
Do we recognize this patron from our libraries? How may we best provide support to this customer?

Do we recognize this patron from our libraries? How may we best provide support to this customer? Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com

At our library system, we do not have age restrictions for our regular story times and do not require registration for these types of programs. While we communicate that story times are geared for a specific age range, we welcome everyone, thus allowing those parents with children of multiple ages to attend.  With no registration required for our story times, this encourages our parents to drop by when it is most convenient for them.

We have also introduced laptops that customers may use within the library. The adults frequently use these computers while in the children’s department. This allows them to get the work they need to do accomplished as well as the chance to spend that time with their child. Thirdly, we have also trained staff on the rights of those who choose to nurse in public. By ensuring staff are trained on how to respect these customers’ choice, we minimize the chance patrons will feel uncomfortable caring for their child in the library.

How can we best assist parents who struggle to juggle it all?

How can we best assist parents who struggle to juggle it all?  Image provided by Thinkstockphotos.com

Becoming a support to parents does not need to be at the expense of your other customers, your time, or your staff. Simple ways in which we approach caregivers can have a tremendous impact.  The suggestions above may not be the best choice for your community, but you may have developed another procedure or policy to support those parents you serve.

As a parent to a young child, I know I will continue to gravitate toward activities and places that are the most welcoming for my daughter and me to share together. Our library system is at the top of those destinations on my list. How do you provide an encouraging place for caregivers in your community? What have you most enjoyed about experiencing the library from the patron’s perspective, as a parent, a caregiver, or a grandparent? Please share in the comments below!


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What can you do when you find yourself working in a smaller library branch with a population that has outgrown the building? This was our situation at the Hope Mills Branch Library, one of eight branches of our Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center. Our customer base continued to grow (a wonderful problem to have,) but unfortunately, there was simply not any additional space in our building for us to expand. By thinking outside the box, we were able to make some creative changes to help meet the customer demand at our location, and we did it without adding a floor or expanding our building into the parking lot.  

New seating provides room to read and study. (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center.)

New seating provides room to read and study. (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

The majority of our renovation occurred over a two week period, and we reopened to the public on August 26. The project was funded in part through a Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant in partnership with Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, NC. What did our plan include? We tore down a wall to expand the space available to us for computers and shelving, and the adult computer lab, previously held in an enclosed room, was turned into staff space. We brought the computer lab out into the collection. While this plan demolished one of our individual quiet study rooms, we were able to keep one of our enclosed study carrels.   

Adult Computer Lab

Adult Computer Lab
(Photo courtesy of Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

 The size of our staff had grown, but our building had not grown with it. The youth services department had moved into the conference room several years ago because there was not enough room in our general workroom for the number of staff working at our location. After these renovations, we were able to add the conference room for both customer and staff use, and the youth services team moved into the old computer lab room. A large archway was formed out of the wall separating the circulation/information services office from the youth services office,and these areas are now connected.

This new archway connects our two offices. (Photo courtesty of Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

This new archway connects our two offices.
(Photo courtesty of Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

The entire library branch also received fresh paint, smaller seating areas to allow for individual spots to relax and read, and the children’s department received a beautiful, brand new service desk.  What has the public’s response been to our renovated look? 

“Whoa!” “There’s a new desk! And tables!

“I like the computer lab out in the open. It is more comfortable.”

 “I never realized until now how lucky I am to live within walking distance of such a community asset!  I guess I just took you guys for granted!”

“I missed all of you – you’re so nice here. Hope Mills is lucky to have a beautiful ‘new’ library!”

“This looks great and so much roomier!”


The new children's desk  provides shelving for board books. (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center.)

The new children’s desk offers shelving for board books.
(Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

  “This furniture is comfortable.”

“Thank you for getting the conference room back.”

 “The children’s room looks so cheerful now!”   

Children's furniture offers space for new computers.

Children’s furniture provides space for new computers. (Photo courtesy of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center)

Without building a brand new facility, we were able to address the concerns we faced while improving our library branch for our children and their families. How have you addressed space restraints in your library?  Please share in the comments below!



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23. Join the Celebration

Celebration is central to the human experience.  Whether it’s career planning or family planning, the library provides resources for customers to celebrate the milestones in their lives.  Our branch recently experienced an impressive occasion of its own.  The Hope Mills Branch of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center in N.C., celebrated our 20th anniversary last month!  We brought in the crowds with our story time starring Spot the Dog. Participants enjoyed activities and books based on Eric Hill’s stories. Children and their parents clamored to capture their picture with the golden puppy. 

Our afternoon K-9 Crime Fighters program brought in a representative of the K-9 unit from the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department and his service dog.  A packed audience of kids of all ages and their parents asked a bunch of questions (“Can your dog sniff through walls?”) and enjoyed the dog’s energetic game of hide-and-seek as she searched for objects under our puppet stage. Library director Jody Risacher provided some celebratory remarks, and our program concluded with refreshments in our lobby. 

Our branch’s next milestone (our 25th anniversary in June 2017) may still be five years away, but that doesn’t mean we won’t find additional reasons to celebrate! While this was only a day of festivities, it’s clear that our customers have many reasons in their own lives to celebrate throughout the year.  The library is often at the heart of these occasions.  

Hope Mills Library Celebrates 20th Anniversary

 In addition to preparing for life’s pivotal milestones, there’s also reason to celebrate when customers receive the benefits of the day-to-day services we provide. The impact of these services is life-changing.  We provide customers with their first library card. Many of our youngest customers are introduced to reading through attending branch programs and checking out books. We encourage an entire season of celebration through our Summer Reading Club. These milestones, of course, don’t pertain solely to our youngest customers. We assist adult patrons to secure a better future through providing them with computer instruction and assisting them with locating resources to strengthen those resumes for job interviews.

Here are a few examples to demonstrate how the library positively influences these important occasions in the lives of our patrons.  I’m sure the sentiment of these scenarios will be familiar.  

*A child received her first library card from staff. The youngster’s father is deployed, so her mother took a picture of her daughter checking out books using her new card. The daughter was so pleased to be able to share this milestone with her father, even though he is serving the country overseas.

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24. Defending the Puppets: It’s as Easy as Your ABCs



“Oh, how sweet,” said the person I had just met. “You have a background in children’s services.  It must be nice to play around with puppets all day.”  This off-hand comment really struck a chord with me. Yes, programming is fun (at least it should be.)  It’s also an essential role of the job of a youth services librarian, working with purpose behind the practice. 

The high-energy antics (as well as those incredible voices) of a puppet show may be viewed by colleagues from other departments and those customers outside of our profession as simple play.  In youth services, however, the reasons behind why we do what we do (how interactive library programs for children develop essential literacy skills and promote a positive association with books and libraries, to name a few) is, as we know, a life-changer. How can we best get our message across to those who think our work is merely “child’s play?”  We can start by simply sharing our ABCs. 

A stands for Advocacy.  As librarians working with children, we can promote the benefits of our work with passion, but we have to learn the language of those around us.  If a customer expresses concern about preparing her daughter for school, we can discuss how our programs develop school-readiness skills. If our supervisors value statistics, we can frame the conversation around our high picture book circulation or our programming figures from the last quarter.   Advocating for children’s services doesn’t only have a role in formal presentations; the opportunity presents itself at the most unusual times, often during a brief exchange with a customer or a quiet moment before a meeting begins.

B stands for Books.  Books are at the heart of our profession.  Parents, and library staffers in other departments, may be so inundated with the influence of standardized testing that they fail to realize the role readers’ advisory can play in assessing children’s reading interests and abilities.  When we promote books, we promote our departments.  We can connect books to every aspect of our programming and puppet shows. Working in customer service, whether staffing a desk or engaging in proactive reference, allows us to answer questions and connect the right book to each reader. As youth services librarians, we can also offer training to our colleagues from other departments on readers’ advisory for children and teens.  Providing these trainings and workshops to staff outside of youth services ensures all our staffers have some understanding of the theory and hands-on training required when working with youth.

C stands for Collaboration.  When we partner with other library departments, we offer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the work required in youth services.  This collaboration can take many forms; invite other departmental staffers to shadow a youth services staffer for a day and speak up at library meetings to ensure children’s initiatives have a voice.  In our Hope Mills Branch of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center, we include departmental staff from all areas to assist with aspects of programming, under youth services staffers’ direction.  We also cross-train employees to staff both service desks at our community facility, providing information services staff an opportunity to work the Children’s Desk, and youth services staff frequen

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25. Kick-off or Race Straight into Summer Reading Club?


Race into Summer Reading Club

 As we inch closer and closer to those hot summer days, I’m sure many of us around the country are gearing up for months of intense crowds and extensive programming. At our eight branches of the Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center in Fayetteville, NC, we prepare for eight weeks of story times and special programming, and of course, our annual Summer Reading Club.

In previous years, we’ve organized a Summer Reading Club kick-off program for our participants, highlighting a professional programmer outside of our library system; many years we’ve featured a musician or magician to relate to our theme. Due to the content, some of these programs have been geared for children already in elementary school; many have been advertised as appropriate for all-ages. 

  This year, however, we’re making some changes. Instead of focusing on a kick-off event to celebrate our festivities this summer, we are turning toward more staff and community-driven programming at our individual locations. By forgoing the kick-off special, we are able to retain our funds for future projects and can tailor our individual programming schedule to best meet the needs of each individual branch.

Our Summer Reading Club registration still follows a traditional format as in previous years. Children from birth through fifth grade receive a reading record and keep track of every 20 minutes they read or that someone reads to them. Kids receive prizes for 4, 8, 12 and 24 hours of reading. Programming counts, too; if children attend a story time or special program, they count that time toward their reading goal.

Individual library branches plan their series of special programming for the summer, but we also rely on coordination and collaboration of our children’s programs to best utilize our time and resources as a system. We regularly partner with local community agencies; we’ve scheduled programs with a K-9 unit from the sheriff’s department and a representative from the All-American Fencing Academy. 

How has your Summer Reading Club adapted throughout the years? Does your system gear up for your summer programs with kick-off events or have those fallen by the wayside in light of your community’s needs? Which approach do you think is more effective: starting your Summer Reading Club with a kick-off presentation or beginning your summer activities with traditional story times and programs? Please share your thoughts about how you kick-off or race right into summer reading at your library!

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