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1. Learning from SRP 2012

Every kid in our SRP received one of these highly coveted bags.

Our Summer Reading Program ended August 11 after 9 wild weeks.  Almost all the children’s librarians at our 72 branches and Central Library reported record numbers of kids registering for the club and attending events.  Was it the heat?  The lack of summer school?  The awesomeness of our SRP?

Now is the time to evaluate the summer, reflect on our successes and lessons learned, and start planning for next year.

Here’s how we’re evaluating our SRP:

  • Counting registration numbers – While they don’t tell the whole story by a long shot, they can be quite revealing.  Ours zoomed up this year, hurray!  And many were first-timers, as we discovered from our surveys (see below).
  • Counting minutes read and books read – We just started doing this last year.  While the success of a program doesn’t necessarily hang on how many minutes were read, our administration, board of commissioners, city council, and donors sure like to hear this information.  After all, we’re combating “summer slide” with every minute kids spend reading.
  • Counting number of kids still participating at the end of summer – Every child, no matter how much he or she reads, is eligible to enter a drawing at the end of summer to win a trip to Disneyland.  Comparing the number of prize entries to the number of registrations is fascinating and frustrating.  How can we keep more kids interested and engaged all summer long?
  • Surveying kids – We contribute to the California Library Association’s Summer Reading Outcomes Project, so we use the project’s survey (with some tweaks) to learn what kids think about the SRP and the library.  This data is pure gold!
  • Measuring the success of our outreach efforts – Each of our children’s librarians comes up with a customized plan to woo non-users to their libraries, targeting a specific group and setting goals.  Were they achieved?  How can we be more successful at attracting new families to our libraries?
  • Surveying children’s librarians – No one can tell Youth Services more about what worked and what didn’t than the folks running the program on the front lines.  We solicit information, advice and great ideas on all aspects of the SRP from our children’s librarians at the end of every summer.

We are collecting and compiling all this data now.  Imagine the thousands of surveys and prize tickets piling up in the Youth Services office!  And think of the juicy data we’ll get from it all.

After we compile it, we’ll create and submit reports, meet with our 2013 Children’s Summer Reading Program Committee – and start planning next year’s program, which will be (as we vow every year) LAPL’s Best Summer Reading Program Ever!

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2. Not a Box

Apps are cool but boxes RULE!

What has been the surprise hit this summer at the Children’s Literature Department of the Los Angeles Public Library’s Central Library?

A box!

Children’s librarians painted 3 sides of a very large box with a dinosaur, an astronaut, and a rocket ship, all with holes cut in them so kids can get in the box, poke their faces through, and Dream Big.

Simple?  Yes!  Incredibly fun?  Heck yes!  Check out this gallery of dinosaurs and space explorers.

Even this mild-mannered librarian indulged her secret desire to be Big and Fierce.  Grr!

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3. Here we are now: engage us

Across the country, public libraries have come to the realization that we’ve been giving an entire segment of our service population short shrift in terms of programming.

Yep, I’m talking about those kids who are too old for storytime and and too young for teen programs – the tweens!   Definitions differ, but let’s say they are between 8 and 11 years old.

We’re good at providing books for this group, and that certainly benefits the readers among them, as well as kids doing their homework.

But when it comes to providing enticing year-round programs – well, we sometimes neglect this age group.

There are plenty of articles, webinars, conference sessions, and blog posts about tween programming; anyone looking for great ideas will find plenty of them.

But what I’m pondering is how to fit tweens into our overall library mission in order to ensure that service to this age group becomes and remains an integral part of what we do.

Here are my questions and musings:

1. Who will provide the service – the children’s librarians or the YA librarians?

Really, it could be either one.  A 9-year-old is too old for traditional “kid programs” and is starting to think that the teen programs look much cooler – but she probably still reads books from the children’s collection.   So why not make Tween programming a collaborative effort between children’s and YA librarians?

2. How will tween programming fit into our library goals?

Two of the big initiatives at my library system (Los Angeles Public Library) have to do with “investing in new readers” and “helping students succeed,” geared at little kids and teens respectively.  So where do tweens fit in, since they’ve already learned to read but probably aren’t ready for (or interested in) our study skills workshops?

Tweens, like teens, want a meaningful relationship with their library.  Sure, they want to be entertained, but more than that, they want to be engaged.  And engagement means active participation, and active participation leads to creative thinking and leadership opportunities.

Creativity and leadership!  These are qualities that certainly contribute to school success.  And studies have shown that kids who use the library regularly tend to do better in school.

3. So how do we keep tweens from drifting away from the library during the years when they’re too old for storytime and too young for teen programs?

Engage them, engage them, engage them!

  • Ask them for their input – start a Kids’ Advisory Group (Port Washington has one!  Anyone else?)  Give the group some real decision making power – how should the summer reading club be run?  What kinds of programs would they like?  Should kids be allowed to work or read off fines?  They could even draft a Kids’ Library Bill of Rights!
  • Give tweens a forum.  Like teens, tweens like to share opinions, so why not let them blog for you?  Check out Ernie Cox’s ALSC Blog post on the topic.  Or even a branch newsletter would be fun.  Let the tweens help you create it.
  • In general, adding transliteracy* or science elements** to programming are not only extremely fun and engaging for tweens (and librarians), but they also strengthen vital 21st Century skills – and that’s sexy to stakeholders and donors.
The main thing is that we shouldn’t ignore tweens – but we shouldn’t haphazardly create programs for them

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4. Dream projects

My library system is considering offering Innovation Mini-Grants to librarians (children, YA, and adult) who have a fabulous idea for a program or service but need some funds to cover equipment, materials, and supplies.  This would be similar to the California State Library’s “Pitch an Idea” – but the amount of money awarded would smaller, up to $1500 or so.

The idea behind these mini-grants is that truly relevant and creative ideas tend to come from the front lines, not the administrative offices, of library systems.  If we provide money and encouragement (and clear away the red tape), we’ll be creating fertile ground for exciting experiments that would never happen if we relied on top-down innovation.

I’m ineligible for these internal mini-grants, since I don’t work with the public directly (yep, I’m one of those behind-the-scenes middle managers).  But oh boy, that hasn’t stopped me from dreaming about what projects I would do if I were a children’s librarian in one of our 72 busy branches or Central Library!  Here are a few ideas, all tied at least tangentially to the Collaborative Summer Library Program theme “Dream Big – READ”:

  • I’d partner with a local organization that promotes educating youth about digital media to offer a free series of library workshops on “Dream Your Library.”  I’d provide a handful of cheap video cameras and maybe some video editing software, plus the room for the workshop; my partner would provide staff or volunteers to teach kids ages 9 to 12 how to shoot and edit video and photos.  At the end of the series (4 weekly sessions, maybe?), the kids will have made one or more collaborative multi-media projects on their dream of a perfect library, which we could put on our website for all to see.  Inspiration – Mobile Stories at the San Diego Public Library (among many others)


  • I’d create a series of preschool STEM Storytimes, each with a special kit that would include not the books for that particular theme but also a manual for the storyteller, craft supplies, and materials for experiments and activities.  Themes could include Colors, Patterns, Growing Things, Sticky Stuff, and many more.  Kits could be available not just for children’s librarians but could be lent out to preschool teachers and daycare providers as well.   Inspiration – there are plenty of great models, but to name just a couple – the Exploration Kits at the Urbana Free Library and  Mother Goose Programs kits . (oh, were you wondering what the “Dream Big” connection might be?  There could be a kit about space and the night sky!)
  • Oh, and I’d love to put together a partnership between the library and an organization serving teen parents in order to start a series of early literacy storytimes especially tailored to teens (like San Diego Public Library’s Cuddle Up and Read, among many others – check out an archived version of a webinar on this program).  We could call it Dream Babies… okay, that’s a bit weak – but I’m sure there’s potential there for a great dream connection!

As you see, none of these programs are super-new ideas; they’ve been done before.  But they would be new to my library system – and giving an energetic and committed librarian the means and support to offer a new program at the local level might be just the beginning of a system-wide program that would have an impact throughout ou

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5. Volunteers – in their own words

Library volunteers come in all ages, and they do everything from shelving DVDs to holding book sales.  It takes time to train and manage them, but the pay-off is vast.

We’ve had an amazing volunteer program at our library for over 20 years.  The idea is simple – we train adult volunteers to share books and stories with kids at the library.  First called “Grandparents and Books” because our volunteers were older adults, it later became just GAB when we began welcoming younger adults as well.  This July 1st, we’re changing the name again – to Storytelling and Reading, or STAR – so that the theme of the program will be more immediately apparent.

Whatever the name, it has been a spectacularly successful program, and this is due almost entirely to the enthusiasm and passion of our volunteers, many of whom have been with us for 5, 10 and even 15 years.  Every year we ask our 200+ volunteers to fill out a survey – and every year I’m struck anew at their dedication as I read their comments and suggestions.  Here are what volunteers have to say in this year’s surveys, which are still coming in daily.

They see the STAR program as a way to introduce kids to the joy of books, reading and libraries, saying:

“I think children see the pleasure that the reader… takes in reading the books and that pleasure is contagious.” (Susan D., age 63)

“(The program) helps children to read at their own level and they are not pressured.” (Ernestine S., age 84)

“Even the very little ones love to hear a story and point to objects on the pages.” (Carolyn Z., age 78)

“It is very rewarding to see the growth in both interpersonal skills and participation skills of the children… I have often heard from the parents that they are getting the personal attention and interaction time at the GAB storytime that they don’t get at school.”  (Donna G, age 63)

“GAB introduces children to reading in a fun way… There are no rules or requirements – kids get to choose the books they want to read, purely for pleasure and entertainment.” Maria F, age 27)

The volunteers also feel that they are participating in an activity that makes a difference in their communities and is rewarding and fun in itself.

“It’s my playtime… The children are radiant and open to  new adventures.” (Irving H., age 92)

“The experience of having worked as a GAB volunteer has brought an immense sense of fulfillment and accomplishment.” (Lloyd L., age 70)

“I give my heart and soul to my reading with the children.” (Cindy W.)

“It is so rewarding to give back to my community by helping tomorrow’s leaders learn to love reading.” (Florence B.)

“I just turned 80 years old; working with children has always been a part of my life and is now an essential to keeping me young, alert, and alive.” (Barbara A., age 80)

They also comment frequently on the helpfulness and friendliness of library staff.  Any less than positive comments tend to have to do with a lack of kids during their volunteer shift or with the necessity of competing with those ubiquitous library computers.

What is clear is that this program – as with all good library volunteer programs – is important for several reasons.

First, it provides a vital literacy service for the children and families in our communities by offering fun, one-on-one reading time with a caring, safe adult at the library (and yes, we do carefully screen and train our volunteers).

Second, and just as important, it offers a service to adults in our communities by offering a way for them to give back to their communities by sharing their passion for reading and their respect for children.

And third, as you could tell from that tiny sample of comments,

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6. Maintaining that magical #ala12 glow

The lovely thing about ALA being in Anaheim this year is that so many of our LA Public Library children’s and YA librarians got to attend, many for the very first time.  They attended sessions from morning until dinnertime, walked the exhibits until their feet ached, and came back with what one YA librarian called That ALA Glow.

LAPL children’s librarians full of ALA Glow at the Newbery/Caldecott Banquet

So now these librarians are filled with enthusiasm and fabulous ideas.  But as I know well, this doesn’t always translate into big change at the library.  Sure, you might incorporate some ideas you gleaned at ALA into the storytimes and displays at your own branch – but how do you spread these great tidbits to your fellow librarians?

And more challenging – how do you convince the Powers That Be to implement (or even consider implementing) a terrific program or service that you think would work superbly at your library system?

This has always been the flip side of ALA Glow to me.  You come back buzzing with inspiration but then realize “They’ll never let me do that” or “That’s way too radical for our hide-bound library system.”  You write a fervent conference report that you suspect gets filed in a drawer unread.  And you fear that Nothing Will Ever Change.

This year I’m determined not to let that happen.  I’ve asked all the youth librarians who attended ALA to tell me what most excited them in these two categories:

  1. Ideas and inspiration that other librarians could quickly and easily implement in their branches (example – incorporating science concepts into storytime or offering a fun and participatory type of passive programming for teens).
  2. Larger programs and services that would take a certain amount of coordination/support/funding – and most of all, approval from the powers that be – to put into place.

I’m inviting ALA attendees to share their favorite ALA ideas from category 1 at future staff meetings, so that all their peers can benefit from the treasure trove of niftiness that is ALA.

For the 2nd category, I’m collecting those Big Ideas.  There will probably be several that float to the top (already, I’m hearing a great deal of interest in the idea of circulating toys).  I think it would be fascinating to assign to several ALA attendees the task of putting together a presentation on these topics for their fellow children’s and YA librarians, and then get into small groups to discuss each topic.  What are the possible benefits to our system and our community?  What are potential pitfalls?  What departments and staff would need to be involved in the planning and implementation?  How could this be pitched to Administration?  Does it make sense to do this as a pilot program, and if so, how many and which branches should be involved?

Not only would lots of important ideas be generated, but librarians would be practicing thinking about Doing Things Differently.  And if it looks like any of these ideas has enough in its favor to go forward with it, there will be some librarians – ALA attendees but also those who stayed behind – who are excited about the prospect of implementing it.  What I’ve learned and am still learning as manager is that the best and most relevant ideas are generated by the folks who will actually be making them happen.  ”Staff buy-in” is a lovely thing, but even better is “active staff input and collaboration.”

So yeah – I’m hoping we can keep shimmering with ALA magic for months and years

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7. Mixing business and pleasure

One reason to love the exhibits

Could there possibly be  another profession whose members throw themselves into their jobs with as much zest and joy as librarians do?  Every ALA conference I attend convinces me that we are truly blessed among all professionals.

My first ALA was in San Francisco in 1987 — I was a new college graduate and had been accepted to what was then known as UCLA’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science.  My mom is a librarian and I literally grew up in libraries (was even brought to a few library school classes at Berkeley as an infant), but I had never encountered librarians en masse.

The tote bags!  The swag!  The sensible shoes!  The sheer enthusiasm of everyone I talked to!  I was hooked.

Countless ALAs later, I’m still hooked on the excitement of our annual conference.  Even after more than 20 years, there’s always something to learn and plenty of inspiration to be gleaned.  But I have learned that it’s not all about taking scads of earnest notes.  Nope, the bits of madcap craziness are just as important, not to mention the opportunity to play tourist in the host city.

Here are the highlights of this year’s ALA, from the sublime to the ridiculous:

Bugs and Bones!   Before stepping foot in the Washington Convention Center, I spent Friday morning in the National Museum of Natural History, holding a Madagascar hissing cockroach in one hand (it didn’t hiss or even scuttle) and an elegant and serene giant grasshopper in the other.  Next came an exhibit called Written in Bone, about what forensic science tells us about the brutal life of colonists in Virginia and Maryland.  Fascinating!  The dental issues alone are shudder-inducing.

Teens and 2.0!  As a brand-new YALSA member, I relished the opportunity to spend 4 hours with Dr. Eliza Dresang, John Green and David Leviathan, Dr. Kristin Purcell of the Pew Internet and American Life Project, and a whole host of awe-inspiring YA authors and librarians.  It was a just-right mixture of theory, research, and practice, and I’m more of a convert to 2.0 in libraries than ever.

Ice-cream!  Not that I’ve ever needed an excuse to eat ice-cream but the combination of hot weather and traveling seems to make it not just a privilege but a right.  And how delightful – both Georgetown and Dupont Circle supplied me with home-made ice-cream shops.  Bliss…

ECRR update!  Well, not exactly.  The New and Improved Every Child Ready to Read product won’t be officially unveiled until the ALSC Institute this September, and the presenters were a might cagey about giving any secrets away.  However, it sounds like it’s going to be great!  For all those for whom “phonological awareness” does not roll easily off the tongue, rejoice.  There will be much less jargon and much more emphasis on these 5 strategies for parents of young children – reading, talking, singing, playing, and writing.  And that’s not all!  All those elements we’ve wished for – more interactivity in the workshops, talking points rather than scripts, an emphasis on the physical environment in the library and in the home, sensitivity to the diversity of our patrons, and

more – will be included.  I can’t wait!

Best view in DC!  And no waiting, no crowds, no fee.  Where?  The Old Post Office Tower.  Plus there’s a food court.

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8. Creating a new crop of Library Kids

Summer is two whole months away, and yet I’ve been wallowing in all things Summer Reading Program 2011 since the end of last summer.

Really, our planning began while last summer’s program was still in full swing.  We knew we wanted to make some big changes, so my Youth Services office cast a keener-than-usual eye on the goings-on in our 72 branches and Central.  What was working?  What wasn’t?  What great ideas in individual branches should be implemented system-wide?

We looked at counting books vs. minutes, when and if to offer incentives (and if so, which ones?), contests, online products, raffles, programming, and dozens of other elements.

When the program was over, we asked our Children’s Librarians to submit reports soliciting their opinions about the 2010 program and soliciting ideas for the next.  And after the CSLP manual and graphics were released in October, we invited discussion on our internal wiki.

As the result of all this, we designed what I hope will be a program that is fun and inspiring for kids and families, but not too onerous for staff to administer.  But the details of the program aren’t what this post is about.

Like most library systems, we do a pretty good job of offering a great summer reading program to our patrons.  Last year, the kids who signed up let us know, via survey, that they love participating.  However, those kids were mostly the kids who came to our library every summer – and throughout the year.  They’re the Library Kids!  And I’m glad they love us, ’cause we love them.

But I can’t stop thinking about all the other kids out there in our city, the vast majority of whom do not join the summer reading program (or come to the library regularly, for that matter).  How do we get to them?  How do we encourage them to come to the library over the summer?

All our children’s librarians promote the summer reading club in the local schools they serve, and we let organizations and school district administration know as well.  And we do attract a small number of first-time library users to the summer reading program every year.  But not enough.

That’s why I was so thrilled with the California Library Association’s California Summer Reading Outcomes Project.  There are two outcomes, but the second outcome is particularly dear to my heart:

[Desired number] of [underserved target group] participate in the summer reading program.”

That sounds like an output rather than an outcome, but the idea is that this is a change in behavior in the targeted group.

Just as important is the fact that this means a change in the library’s behavior as well.  Each children’s librarian must:

  • Think about their communities.  Who is participating in the summer reading program?  More importantly, who is not?
  • Identify an underserved group that they want to target.
  • Decide what the goal is in terms of how many of the group will participate in the summer reading program
  • Create an outreach plan to entice that group to come to the library

Some examples:

I would like to sign up at least 20 4th and 5th graders this summer, because I’ve had hardly any older kids the last few years.  I’ll create fun activities with tweens in mind and will visit 4th and 5th grade classrooms in June to promote them.

I would like to sign up 10 Spanish-speaking families with children under 5 years old, because I see these families in the library but they don’t participate much in organized activities.  My early literacy reading club materials and flyers will be available in Spanish, and I will make sure to offer Spanish

3 Comments on Creating a new crop of Library Kids, last added: 4/23/2011
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9. Series build community

Hiking to the far end of the convention center #ALA11 raised my first blister of the conference yesterday evening, but it was worth it.  3 writers and 1 editor of series books for kids and teens shared why they (and we!) heart series books.

Booklist Forum – “Keep ‘Em Coming: Fiction Series Creators Talk Shop”
Lauren Myracle, Dan Gutman, Jonathan Stroud, David Levithan
Some tidbits:

Lauren Myracle: 13 plus 1 – title came about because Barnes and Noble said that if it was called Fourteen, they’d have to put it in the YA section.  But they were FINE with “13 plus 1″!  Go figure.

Did everyone know this but me? – Emily Jenkins (Toys Go Out) and E. Lockhart (Boyfriend List) are the same person!  No wonder I love all those books.

Dan Gutman – hllarious on the topic of all the permutations of the Weird School series, which “are all exactly the same!” despite the different series titles.

Jonathan Stroud doesn’t seem at all like Bartimaeus – at least as a speaker, he’s more an Arthur Dent type.  Unlike Myracle, who enjoys hearing what fans love about and want from her series, Stroud finds it a bit dangerous – sounds like he’d rather not be swayed by them.  About those footnotes – he says they’re a “cul-de-sac down which a reader can go, if he wishes, get a cheesy joke, then come back to the story.” 

The first series Levithan edited (as a 19 year old!) was The Baby-Sitters Club – imagine him on the subway, poring over Baby-Sitters Club paperbacks with a highlighter.  During Scholastic’s “live chat” with all the Babysitters, David Levithan was the one answering the questions from all those pre-teen girl fans.  “What are you wearing, Mallory?” “Capris, of course!”  Animorphs was another series he worked on.  Believes that digital publishing will look like paperback series publishing did in the 80s and 90s.

All panelists made the point that series build strong readers, build a tie between readers, characters, and the author – and most of all, they build a close-knit community of readers and fans.

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10. Swag bags for the soul

We love our ARCs, pens, posters, buttons, and endless vendor bags, but it’s the intangible goodies that mean the most at #ALA11.

Grand inspiration, practical ideas, and poignant moments – these are what I hope to take away from ALA, whether they come from a session, the exhibit floor, or a conversation with a colleague.

To name just a very few of the nuggets I’ve tucked into my brain:

  1. Dr. Robinson’s thoughtful description of the range and common features of Autism Spectrum Disorders, and her valuable advice to build relationships with the parents and caregivers of kids with ASD, to get to know the kids, and to remember that non-verbal does not mean unintelligent and that kids with ASD do want human connection – it’s just a lot harder for them.
  2. I’ve got new energy, information, and motivation to go back and improve our early literacy services, our teen web, our e-media for kids and teens, and more.  Though maybe not all at once…
  3. The ALSC Awards Banquet offered many amazing moments – but man, when Erin Stead quoted from The Velveteen Rabbit… there wasn’t a dry eye in the ballroom.

It’s not all about the intangibles, of course.  I’m bringing home a lot of Mardi Gras beads, too!


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11. A little nosiness now; effective planning later

Baldwin Hills Branch display

Like Kelley and the folks she links to in her intriguing post on Technology and SRCs a few days ago, I’ve thought about library summer reading programs quite a bit over the years – first as a children’s librarian on the front lines and now as manager of Youth Services for my system.

Really, it’s been about a search for meaning.  Why do we do it?  Is it doing what we hope it’s doing?  How do we know?  Yes, there’s the Dominican Study – but I need more!

My own questioning aside, our summer reading program is here to stay, and this year we have done away with cheap gewgaws and are focusing on books as prizes, plus chances to win system-wide prize drawings, based on minutes read (for grades K-5) and early literacy activities completed (for ages 0 – 4).

But…!  The fact that we took a new approach this year, plus our lack of data from previous years, meant that planning our 2011 program was fraught with uncertainty.  We had statistics from previous years on:

  • How many kids signed up (by branch and system-wide)
  • How many programs we offered and how many kids/adults attended them

And that’s it!

Our branches did collect  information, via paper sign-up sheets, on age, grade and school – but we never entered that information from our 72 branches and Central Library into any kind of spreadsheet or database, so in essence it was unavailable to us.

So we knew approximately how many game boards to order – but not how many should be preschool and how many should be school-aged (this year, for the first time, we have a different game board for those two age groups).

And because this was the first time we were presenting a program based on minutes read, we had no stats or experience to tell us when or how kids should earn their free book.  We also didn’t know how many books we would need, nor how many for each age group to buy (board books, picture books, IRs, chapter books).

And those are just a few of the issues we had to muddle through.  Although we are happy with our program all in all, let’s just say that Mistakes Were Made (okay okay, I made mistakes).

Next year, we’ll be set!  Like Marge of the Tiny Tips for Library Fun blog, we’re collecting information as kids register – in our case, using Evanced as our method of logging, compiling, and crunching it.  At summer’s end, we’ll know:

  • How many kids signed up, broken down by age, gender, branch, and zip code
  • How many kids (approximately) received free books (and therefore, we’ll know how many kids read at least 8 hours)
  • How many minutes were spent reading (for this year, just a total – but next year, we hope to break it down by kid, by branch, and so on)
  • How many kids finished the program (in other words, read the entire 15 hours on the game board)

And of course we’re distributing a survey to kids, and will glean lots more information from that.  Why?  We need to know what kids did in the program AND what they thought about it (and the library), both to measure outcomes and to help plan next year’s program.

4 Comments on A little nosiness now; effective planning later, last added: 7/25/2011
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12. ECRR2 – ready to roll!

In an earlier post, I anticipated happily the arrival of the new version of Every Child Ready to Read.  And sure enough, the new approach to presenting early literacy parent workshops, with its emphasis on the 5 activities parents can do with their children from birth to get them ready to read, is a vast improvement.

We just got the packet of materials in late June, and I spent July training small groups of children’s librarians at our 72 branches and Central Library on the new product, with two more groups to go in August.  Though we haven’t yet had the opportunity to give the new workshop to parents, our children’s librarians are enthusiastic about the attractive, interactive, and flexible new presentation.

Here’s what we like:

  • The slides are attractive, with photos representing many different ethnicities
  • There are very few words on each slide, and very little jargon
  • The talking points (no script – hurray!) allow the presenter to vary the length of the presentation, to spend more time on some slides and less on others, and in general to adapt the presentation to the needs of the particular audience
  • There are 3 distinct segments to the presentation – info on the 2 categories of skills needed to learn to read; the 5 activities that strengthen these skills; and how the library can help parents reinforce the skills
  • There are plenty of opportunities to talk about books and to interact with parents or ask them to participate
  • The emphasis on the 5 activities is empowering – most parents do talk, read, write, sing, and play with their kids, and have lots of examples to give
  • The accompanying handouts for parents are great (though a bit wordy)
  • The workshop is so simple and straightforward that librarians feel ready and eager to take it out into the community to parents

Here are some problems:

  • Though I preordered back in April, I didn’t receive the packet of stuff until very late July!  If I hadn’t gotten my hands on the packet at ALA in June, I wouldn’t have been able to start training my staff in July.  So now I have 2 packets…
  • The PowerPoint slide presentations are great, and there are several to choose from, including one just for training staff.  But – our branch librarians, who are mandated to go out into the community and give these presentations to parents who may not be library users, don’t have laptops/tablets and portable projectors at their disposal!  And it’s the rare Head Start or daycare center that has this kind of equipment. So I’m getting laminated 11” x 17” versions of each slide made for each branch, with the talking points on the back, so that librarians will still be able to use these great visual aids if they want.  Mind you, the entire workshop can be done with no slides at all – but the slides are helpful.
  • The ECRR products are only available in English!  This is a major problem for us and for most library systems, I’m betting.  I’ve heard that a Spanish version is coming, but we’ve had to go ahead and get the handouts and so on translated in-house.
  • The ECRR website has no information for parents; it’s basically just a place to get background information and to order the (not inexpensive) packet.  It would be great to have a pdf of the parent brochure and handouts on the website, at a minimum
  • Folks aren’t super-crazy about the poster

But overall, we’re thrilled.

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13. Librarians then and now – passion and questions

One of my favorite books about our field is Library Work with Children, reprints of papers and addresses by children’s librarians, selected and annotated by Alice I. Hazeltine and published by H.W. Wilson in 1917.

From programming to discipline to reference to “values” – it’s all here, the work we’ve been doing for over a century.  It’s clear from these essays that children’s librarians have been passionate, opinionated and outspoken from the very beginning.

Take “Story Hour.”  Way back in the dawn of children’s librarianship, this meant something far different than it does now.  If you could step back in time to 1905 or 1930 or even 1965, you’d see a group of kids, most of them no younger than 8 or 9, seated around a librarian.  This librarian would be telling a story.  Not reading a story – telling it.  It might be a Hans Christian Andersen tale, a Greek myth, or a legend of King Arthur or Robin Hood.  The librarian may be using an adaptation she borrowed from another storyteller or she may have adapted it herself.  She probably spent many hours learning the story and getting her delivery just right.

It’s likely, especially in New York City, that she lit a candle at the beginning of her story session.  At the end, she or a child will blow it out, and children who remained silent and still will get their wish granted.

While library storytelling had started as early as the late 1890s, this form of Story Hour first took hold in a big when Anne Carroll Moore heard Marie Shedlock tell stories in 1902; she, as well as other librarians, was enchanted by the magical spell the stories cast over children and by the way they flocked afterwards to the books upon which the stories were based.

Within a decade or two, most large library systems and many small ones offered Story Hour series.  It was generally accepted by most librarians that this was a valuable library service, as it broadened a child’s interest in literature, led them to the best books, introduced them to cultural works with which they should be familiar as American citizens, strengthened English skills, and (last but not least) was hugely entertaining for the kids and rewarding for the children’s librarians.

Children’s librarians had lofty goals in mind with their Story Hours.  In 1905, Edna Lyman Park of the Oak Park Public Library, wrote:

And what is the use of story telling?  Is it merely to amuse and entertain the children?  Were it simply for this, the time would not seem wasted… The story hour is intended to…give the child a glimpse beyond the horizon which hitherto has limited his life, and open up to him those vast realms of literature which are a part of his inheritance… To arouse and stimulate a love for the best reading is then the real object of the story hour.

Not everyone was so enamored with the idea of telling stories in libraries.  In 1908, John Cotton Dana, then Librarian of the Free Public Library of Newark, wrote in Public Libraries, “Story-telling to groups of young children is now popular among librarians.  The art is practised [sic] chiefly by women.”  After this sneer, he goes on to summarize the reasons for this popularity (“It must be a delight…to feel that you are giving the little people high pleasure and at the same time are improving their language, their morals, their dramatic sense, their power of attention and their knowledge of the world’s literary masterpieces.”).  But…:

A library’s funds are never sufficient for all the work that lies before it.  Consequently, the work a library elects to do is done at the cost of certain other work it might have done….Now, the schools tell stories to children, and it is obviously one of their proper functions…It is probable that the schooolmen know better when and how to include story-

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14. Renovating beloved programs

branch GAB sign

There comes a time when any library, whether it’s one branch or a whole system, needs to reassess the way it does things, whether it’s something specific (storytime or visits to schools) or broader in scope (programming for families with young children; outreach).

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, especially when that rut is a particularly pleasant and apparently popular and successful one.   Even when things aren’t going as well as one would hope, it can be hard to see beyond “that’s the way we’ve always done it” to figure out how improvements can be made.

I’m at that point with a program that we’ve offered at our 72 branches and Central Library for over 20 years, in which adult volunteers read to children, one-on-one or in small, informal groups, at the library.

First called Grandparents and Books because we focused on the intergenerational benefits of pairing older adults with kids, the program now goes by the name GAB,  as we now welcome all volunteers ages 21 and up.  You can find more information on GAB at this blog post.

It’s helpful – in fact, it’s vital – to ask “why do we offer this program?  What are we trying to achieve?  What outcomes do we want?”  This can help evaluate current practices and plan programs that are more purposefully geared to library goals.

GAB has many great elements and benefits:

  • It’s a popular library volunteer program; although we do have plenty of people who drift away, many of the volunteers remain for at least 5 years and dozens have been with the program for more than 15 years
  • Adults reading aloud to kids at the library is right in line with two of our library system’s big goals – to Invest in New Readers and to Help Students Succeed.  After all, reading aloud is well-documented to strengthen early literacy skills in pre-readers and to create enthusiasm for books and reading in beginning readers.
  • Our volunteers, wearing their cheery aprons and reading to kids in the children’s area, add a welcoming and cozy personal touch to our busy libraries.

I’m convinced that this is a program that is worth continuing, for these and many other reasons.  But an evaluation and overhaul of GAB is overdue.  Here are the things that I and my staff will be pondering over the next few months:

  • The name “GAB” – Now that we don’t use “Grandparents and Books,” the name is meaningless.  What shall we rename it?  What are the repercussions of changing a name that so many folks (including our long-time donors) recognize?
  • How can we recruit and retain volunteers in all branches?  Currently we have volunteers coming out of our ears in some communities but no volunteers in others.  Clearly we need to improve in this area.
  • Staff buy-in – We’ve had plenty of turn-over and turmoil among our librarians, thanks to staff shortages caused by the economy, and some librarians that administering the GAB program is an added burden.  More training and support could help convince them of the worth of the program
  • Evaluation – We’ve conducted plenty of surveys with our volunteers and we know they feel strongly that they are helping individual children as well as the library and the community. Volunteers report that they feel this is a valuable program that makes them feel great.  But what about the kids and families with whom th

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15. Library School is great, but don’t forget that on-the-job training

I learned many excellent and useful things in my Library School (which was UCLA’s then-named Graduate School of Library and Information Studies), but there were no courses on:

Creating easy and fun crafts out of manila folders, paper plates, round colored labels, toilet paper tubes, or the round metal tops of frozen juice cans.

 Figuring out respectful and kind ways to prevent a person with personal hygiene issues from emptying out an entire section of the library.

Removing all manner of graffiti from all manner of surfaces.

Finding and keeping good Friends - and gently tempering the enthusiam of those Friends who take their role rather too seriously.

 Discovering the best products for cleaning books and DVDs/CDs.

 Maintaining a bland and attentive expression while a patron explains why he shouldn’t be charged a fine for a book his dog ate or decries the library policy of requiring picture i.d. to get a library card or loudly questions why we allow anyone under the age of 18 into the library.

Luckily, on-the-job training provided me with an expertise in all these crucial library matters - and much, much more!  (Go ahead, ask me how to entertain a packed roomful of squirmy toddlers and their parents who were expecting to see a professional and very popular children’s musician - who you just discovered has double-booked and won’t be coming).

 Library School didn’t teach me about all the joy and wonder of working in the library, either - that was a happy discovery I made early on and that keeps surprising me even now.

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16. When Times are Tough, Children’s Librarians Get Tougher!

We all know it’s going to be a Hard Year.  Even as more folks rediscover the library – “what, you mean I can read books and watch DVDs for free??” – our budgets are being cut.  Libraries will have less money to buy books and other materials, to provide programming, and even to hire and maintain staff.

It’s a bad situation.  But like Michael Rosen’s bear hunters, we’re not scared!  We can’t over it; we can’t go under it.  Oh no - we’ll have to go through it!  But it’s not so bad, really.  In fact, we have a golden opportunity to take a deep breath, look around, and then get back to basics.

Problem – less books:  We won’t be able to buy as many books and materials, and yes, it’s going to be frustrating and even downright heartbreaking to miss out on so many of the new titles being published.  We’ll have to use electronic sources to supplement our out-of-date nonfiction and we may not have enough copies of that hot book all the kids are asking for.  We will have to make tough choices about what to purchase.

Golden opportunity:  This is the perfect excuse to read or re-read some of those older books, perhaps those long-neglected Newberys or that popular fantasy series or even some old chestnuts.  We all have a long must-read list, but if you’re like me, you read the newest stuff first (must stay au courant, after all).  But if the new stuff isn’t streaming in due to a reduced budget, then it’s time to revisit all the fabulous books that have been sitting on your shelves all along.  And if you fall in love with a golden oldie, you’ll be able to booktalk it that much more effectively.

This is also a good time to assess your library collection.  Weed out the dross and creatively display and promote the great stuff that is left.  Your collection might be smaller and not quite new at the end of this year, but it will be a honed and well-used collection.

Problem – less money for programming:  It’s likely that our budgets for performers will be cut.  Sure, sometimes Friends money and other private funding sources can come to the rescue, but remember that these hard times have hit everyone.  There will simply be less money to go around.  No more magicians, no more professional puppeteers or musicians – how will you lure your young patrons to the library and entertain them once they’re there?

Golden opportunity:  There’s nothing like having to go back to basics to get those creative juices flowing!  Ask any old-timer about shoestring programming and you’ll get scads of ideas on How to Give Good Program on a budget.  Read frog books, booktalk some origami books, help kids make and decorate origami jumping frogs – and then have a jumping frog contest!  Invite your local firefighters to the library – they can read some books, talk about fire safety, and let you try on their 40-lb uniforms and equipment.  Kids and parents alike will be thrilled and it won’t cost you a dime.  And don’t forget good old-fashioned story times and puppet shows.  There are plenty of books and resources out there – no one needs to reinvent the wheel.  And it doesn’t need to take huge amounts of time and effort, either. 

Instead of running around like Chicken Little, worrying that the sky is about to fall, we can be brave and intrepid bear hunters, swishing through tall grass and splashing through the mud.  Revel in overcoming adversity!  Times are tough and getting tougher, but our libraries are still full of amazing books and (most importantly) amazing Children’s Librarians.

To inspire you, here is the ever-effervescent Michael Rosen himself!

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17. Share a Story - Shape a Future - a literacy blog event

Share a story - shape a future

During the week of March 9 - 13, please come visit Share a Story - Shape a Future.  Each day, a different blog host will feature links to blog posts on a variety of topics having to do with children and literacy.  Here is the schedule as of today, but please check the event blog for updated information, as the event is growing by the day.

Day 1 - March 9: Raising Readers
hosted by Terry Doherty at Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, the Reading Tub blog

Day 2 - March 10: Selecting Reading Material
hosted by Sarah Mulhern at The Reading Zone

Day 3 - March 11: Reading Aloud - It’s Fun, It’s Easy
hosted by Susan Stephenson at the Book Chook blog

Day 4 - March 12: A Visit to the Library
hosted by Eva Mitnick at Eva’s Book Addiction blog

Day 5 - March 13: Technology and Reading - What the Future Holds
is hosted by Elizabeth O. Dulemba at Dulemba.com

There will be plenty of giveaways, contests, and links to cool stuff, and most of all - inspiring and insightful posts by children’s literature bloggers.  Guests will be invited to share their own knowledge and love of reading as well.  Please tell parents and teachers and fellow children’s librarians about this blog event.  See you then!

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18. Books read in childhood change lives

I just finished reading The Child that Books Built: a Life in Reading by Francis Spufford (Metropolitan Books, 2002).  In it, a self-described book addict details the intense and visceral thrall in which books have held him since the age of six.  Books, and his relationship to them, made him who he is.

Spufford’s particular love of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books, which transported him as no other books could, is echoed by Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: a Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia (Little, Brown and Company, 2008), in which Miller explores the Narnia books and her own childhood obsession with them in detail, trying to figure out why and how they affected her so profoundly. 

Frances Clarke Sayers, children’s librarian extraordinaire at New York Public Library, UCLA, and many other institutions, wrote and spoke eloquently about the power of children’s literature.  In her speech “Of Memory and Muchness,” given in 1956 at a California Library Association conference and published in Summoned by Books, she makes a strong case that children’s literature is important not just because “the good life, at least inwardly lived, is assured to the child who loves reading” but because children’s books are amazing enough in themselves to have a deep and lasting effect on their readers.  Sayers cites numerous luminaries, including C.S. Lewis, who name particular children’s books as the awakeners of deep and powerful thoughts and emotions.

Any of us who read intensely as children can attest to the importance that books have had in our lives.  But what about people who don’t find that connection to books in childhood?  I know many adult readers who didn’t discover their love of books until they were 12, 14, or even older.  Is their connection to books any different than mine?  And of course many adults never discover the pleasures of regular recreational reading at all.  If my passionate childhood reading shaped my very being and the way I still approach both books and the world, then what is it like to be a child who doesn’t read - and how does not reading affect the adult this child will become?

According to a 2005 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation called “Generation M,” kids ages 8 to 18 only read 43 minutes a day (as opposed to almost 6 ½ hours a day using media – mostly television).  Literacy rates are abysmal.  About half of all 9-year-olds read for pleasure almost every day, according to the NEA report “To Read or Not to Read,” but that figure goes down to 22% by the time they are 17.  I sometimes think that reading for pleasure is a dying pastime, reserved for a few unusual children who become unusual, possibly even freakish, adults.  However, this same NEA report makes clear that reading well can lead to great success in life, whereas not reading proficiently often dooms people to low-paying jobs and worse – only 3% of the current prison population reads at a proficient level.

Children’s librarians today are well aware of their mandate to, as Sayers says, “bestow upon the young, while they are still aware of the wonder of life, one of the greatest of gifts – the gift of a love of reading.”  And we do this however we can, using all the persuasive powers at our disposal – fabulous storytimes for little ones and their parents, dramatic read-alouds for school-aged kids, exciting programs, plenty of booktalks, and most of all the books themselves. 

Sayers would certainly say that it is the “good” books that will bring about that life-changing experience that she, Spufford, and Miller all write about.  I think she’s right.  But I’m not sure that books that are less than stellar – paperback series, books with goofy bathroom humor, and so on – are actually harmful to kids, as so many librarians, parents, and teachers have felt for at least a century and still sometimes feel to this day.  Books that are fun to read make children want to read more.  The more children read, the better they get at it.  The better they get at it, the more they want to read.  It’s a lovely ever-rising spiral.

Give children books.  If they don’t like reading, convince them that it’s only because they haven’t found the right book, and then find that book for them, whether it’s a joke book, a graphic novel, a series paperback, a book about mummies, or a Newbery winner.  If it doesn’t click, try another.  And another.  Know the books.  Know the children.  Keep introducing them to each other.  Never give up.  Reading is vital.  Children are worth the effort.

Not every child will become an avid reader.  Perhaps most children will never experience the deep pleasure of immersing themselves in literature again and again.  But if we don’t assume that any child might become not just a reader, but a Reader, then fewer children will.  Every child deserves to the chance to forge a life-long love affair with books.  It’s not essential to their well-being, not essential to their becoming fine, successful adults.  But Spufford, Miller, Sayers, and I (and you too, I bet) know that a childhood, an entire life, enriched by books is a rare and wonderful life indeed.

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19. Plenty of kids means plenty of opportunity this summer

We’ve visited schools, contacted neighborhood organizations, spread flyers throughout our branch and the community– all in the hope of spreading the word about the library Summer Reading Club.  And somehow, I think we don’t need to worry about poor turn-out this summer.

Although there are many valuable reasons we offer Summer Reading Club – to introduce children to the joys of reading for pleasure, to expose children to free cultural programs and events, to encourage children to read enough to keep their skills honed and ready for school in the fall – one of the most important reasons, at least in my neck of the woods, is to entice children and their families who perhaps have never visited the library before. 

Somehow, I suspect this will be a banner year for those first-time patrons.  We’ve all heard how library use goes up as the economy tanks, something we’ve seen with our own eyes as our branches have seen record library card registration, circulation statistics, and computer usage.  Folks are using our libraries to look for jobs as well as to borrow books, magazines, and DVDs for free and take advantage of our free wireless networks.  We’re the best bargain in town.

We may also be one of the only games in town this summer.  The massive school district that serves most of our kids has cancelled all summer school for elementary and middle school students, and our parks, pools, and recreation centers are cutting back on hours.  Fewer families can afford expensive camps, private lessons, or even entertainment like the movies or the zoo.  What’s left?  The library!

We’re free, we’re air-conditioned, we’re full of wonderful resources – and boy, are we going to be busy this summer.  Even though many of us will offer reduced hours this summer, the hours that we’re open will be packed with families seeking our books, movies, programs, not to mention our cool and comfortable children’s areas.

This might be an alarming prospect to branches that are already packed every summer.  Will we have to keep an eye out for the fire marshal, who would not appreciate our overcrowded community rooms?  Will the seating in our children’s area be filled to capacity?  Will fights break out at the computer terminals?

It will be helpful to figure out strategies now that will not only help us deal with the crowds but turn them into wonderful opportunities for sharing books and information with kids – and simply getting to know them.  For instance, it may well be that Big Programs (like a magician or live animals) just aren’t feasible this summer unless there is a huge room or auditorium to contain the crowds that are sure to turn up.  If a Big Program has already been scheduled, maximize your space by removing all chairs except those against the back wall and seating your kids on the floor.  Be sure to use masking tape to delineate aisles that must be kept clear for safety.  And when the room has been filled to capacity, it may be necessary to turn people away.  Give them a bookmark or stickers as a consolation prize and make sure to remind them to join the reading club.

And what about those kids who crowd into your children’s area every day and get squirrelly while waiting their turn for the computers?  This is your captive audience, the kids to whom you can demonstrate the boredom-busting power of books.  Become master of the impromptu program by stocking your information desk with books and art supplies.  When the kids start getting antsy, bring over some drawing books, paper, and pencils - instant art program!  Or bring over some scary stories or some joke books and start reading them aloud – instant story time (and one that is guaranteed to become an interactive book club as kids start sharing their own favorite jokes and scary stories)!  Bring over some origami books and paper and encourage them to see who can make a paper frog that jumps the farthest – instant craft program!  Sure, this takes a bit of your time away from the information desk and might create a little noise – but it’s much more constructive than having to shush bored, misbehaving kids or toss them out of the library on a regular basis.  Getting to know these kids and encouraging their appreciation of books - whether it’s Newbery winners, graphic novels, or books about boogers - will make it more likely that these kids, many of whom are new to your library, will come back during the school year and for the rest of their lives.

We will feel stressed out and overcrowded this summer, no question.  But we will also have a renewed certainty that the library is a vibrant and essential institution, one that not only survives but actually flourishes in hard times.  Take a deep breath, put on your best smile, and get to know a LOT of kids this summer!

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20. Taking Libraries into the Community: Beyond Brick Borders

I’m back home after a whirlwind of a long weekend in D.C. and it’s strange indeed to be wearing a sweater against the cool and overcast weather here in Venice, CA after that astonishing and record-breaking D.C. heat.

Here’s a report on the first ALSC program I attended this weekend.  Please find handouts and more information under the program name on this page.

Taking Libraries into the Community: Beyond Brick Borders:

Presented by Shawn Brommers of South Central Library System in Madison, Wisconsin; Mary Fellows of the Upper Hudson Library System, and Evelyn Walkowicz of the Henderson District Public Libraries in Las Vegas, NV.

Ms. Brommers discusses a variety of community programming, including:

  • Motheread/Fatheread – literacy program using children’s books to teach adult (parent) literacy; for example, working with incarcerated dads.
  • Reach Out and Read – bringing books and early literacy info, through pediatricians and clinics, to new parents
  • Think Outside the Book – book discussion and civil participation
  • Book vs. the Movie – teens read a book, then as a group, watch the movie and discuss the differences
  • Reel to Real – librarians trained to facilitate discussions and go out to senior citizen centers to watch certain public television shows and then discuss them.  The public television station provides guides, etc.

Ms. Fellows told us about the “Community Relations Challenge” she issued to the library systems under her jurisdiction, during which they were required to fulfill such tasks as:

  • Contact two community organizations and explore informal partnership possibilities
  • Get one organization to advertise the Summer Reading Club on its website, and vice versa
  • Get five prizes from local businesses (give businesses feedback – photos, etc – to show how their gift was received; ask for specific things; develop script detailing what the SRC is and what this will do for business, ie how many kids will be reached, etc)
  • Encourage social media – Facebook page, blog, etc

The result was that these library systems made strong and hopefully lasting ties with organizations and businesses in their communities, gaining both added donations and added visibility.

And  Ms Walkowicz told us of HDPL’s efforts to revamp its early literacy services, beginning by asking the crucial questions:

  • What do we do? Why do we do it? Who are we doing it for? Are we doing it well? Could we do anything better?
  • Henderson determined that while their storytimes were successful, they could do better at modeling and promoting early literacy techniques; storytimes needed to be evaluated more rigorously; and the library needed to reach out more to the underserved.
  • As a result of this close self-evaluation, “Bright Beginnings” became a focused and highly effective early literacy program that reaches out to more families than ever before.

The programs were all inspiring and seemed in most cases to be the sort that could be replicated, to a greater or lesser extent, in most libraries.

What did I take away?  It’s crucial to take a good, close look at one’s mission statement, goals, and objectives before one embarks on a new program, large or small.  And don’t forget to assess those programs and services you already provide – there’s got to be a better reason for their existence than “we’ve always done it that way” or “the patrons like it”!  Finally, always include plans for both partnering with o

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