Gird Your Loins: Summer Reading Begins!

As I was making the daily schedules this week for our children’s department, I wrote the phrase “Gird Your Loins: Summer Reading Begins” across the top.  Highlighted in yellow.

In our library, Summer Reading sign-up is no joke.  It is a level-five, all-out, nonstop event that is both physically and mentally demanding.  Case in point: yesterday we signed up well over 200 kids within the first six hours!  And we don’t expect that rate to slow down until at least the end of the week.

This onslaught- that has us speaking ourselves raspy after hours of talking about books, prizes, and passports, this torrent of activity that has us sneaking a quick lunch on the fly before jumping back into the fray alongside our comrades, this circuslike atmosphere that has us gasping for breath at the end of our day- this is the fruit of our labors from the past few weeks.  Believe it or not, this is exactly how we like it!

Since May, the Children’s Library team has been visiting every class, every child in town in order to get them riled up and excited beyond belief about Summer Reading.  Imagine that.  Mere days after school lets out, instead of riding bikes, or heading out to the beach, or playing a round of Wii, or signing into their Poptropica accounts, hundreds of children and families flock to the public library to sign up for a program that celebrates reading.  I’ve witnessed children literally running (running!) into the library, crowding around the info desk, tiny hands wringing in anticipation.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll sign up hundreds of kids, give out hundreds of free books, award dozens of cool prizes, and recommended tons of truly awesome summer reads.  And while statistics, sign-up numbers, and door counts can give us definitive proof, our sure sign of success is simply leaving each day totally exhausted and bleary-eyed.  When we librarians are all tuckered out and need a nap, it’s been a job well done!


Good Children’s Spaces = Better Behavior

I’ve been doing a lot of brainstorming lately about library spaces for children and using space, as opposed to rules and policies, to keep children, grownups, and staff happy.  Keeping the 10 Commandments in mind, I think great children’s libraries should be engaging, stimulating, and empowering.  They should encourage exploration and be continually evolving- and surprising!- spaces.

There should be distinct pockets and “nooks” for both quiet and noisy activities. Babies and toddlers should have soft, carpeted areas with manipulatives and objects to investigate. Older children should have access to computers for both homework help and fun stuff like gaming, social networking, podcasting, and video production. Ideally there would be areas for parents and caregivers to curl up with their children to read a book together as well as spaces for children to work in groups on special projects.

I’m in the process now of trying to create such zones in my library.  As more and more babies, toddlers, and preschoolers begin sharing the library with schoolaged children and tweens, it’s hard and sometimes unreasonable to maintain blanket rules.  And difficult to have 21st-century activities integrate seamlessly into 18th-century buildings.  Should a 2-year-old be expected to use the library as quietly as a 12-year-old?  Should tweens only be able to use the computers one at a time- even if they are working on group projects?  Such policies do not reflect the changing needs of today’s young users and the ways in which different age groups use the library. 

As I begin the process of scouting out possible “nooks” in my own library, I’m trying to keep in mind not only what will work today for our users, but how this space can evolve and adapt to the community of users as they grow, as technology changes, and as populations shift. 

Although, at this point, I’d be happy to start off with a rug and some cushions!  Baby steps.

A Shhhhhh-Free Zone: Is it Possible?

In a public library serving a diverse population consisting of both children and adults, the issue of noise level inevitably comes up.  As a children’s librarian concerned with creating a space that both inspires creative exploration and in-depth learning, I sometimes find it hard to strike the right balance between tomb-like silence and a marching band practice.  I like to think the children’s room should ideally have a “constructive hum.”  But add crying babies, the pitter-patter of toddler feet, beeping computers, and the ambient noise from passing fire engines and nearby construction zones, and it becomes hard to keep things to a low roar- nevermind a “hum.”

Generally, I don’t have a problem with noise.  If a baby is entering their babbling phase and needs to repeat “ba! ba! ba! ba!”, or a toddler wants to bang a board book on the floor, or a child is starting to read aloud for the first time, or a group of 5th graders are collaborating on a project, I don’t think the librarian should be concerned with shushing them.  All of the above are learning activities- essential to the development and stimulation of a child’s growing mind. 

And yet, very often, librarians do just that. Even me. And while a child having a temper tantrum is quite different than an impromptu read-aloud, I nevertheless find myself shushing kids when I wish I could just soundproof the room and let them be kids. While keeping everyone- including adults trying to find a bit of peace and quiet- happy and comfortable, is a Shhh-Free Zone possible? Being that my own library is over 100 years old, has an open stairway, and has absolutely no carpeting and lots of wood- it’s a virtual echo chamber. Carnegie Hall envys our acoustics.

So, I ask you smart, creative librarians out there: what is your noise policy? In a perfect world, all children’s rooms would be separate and soundproofed and ideally have distinct sections for babies and toddlers, beginning readers, and older kids. In lieu of perfection, what solutions have you found? Can shushing ever be wholey abandoned? Or are we doomed to forever hold our fingers to our lips and remind our little users about “library voices”?

New Literacy Playground in Toronto!

via Walter over at The Monkey Speaks.

The new children’s area of the S.Walter Stewart branch of the Toronto Public Library is designed around the 6 Pre-Literacy Skills developed by the Every Child Ready to Read program.  The new space features an indoor “literacy playground” equipped with a wall of blocks, a puppet theater, toddler computers, and giant books.

Leave it to Canadians to come up with something this awesome, eh?