The Perfect Storm for Summer Reading

I’m about to talk about the craziest week in my librarian life, but in order to do that, let’s just do a small recap of my position and duties. I’m the sole librarian for two small libraries in a rural system of seven branches. Everyday, it’s me and a branch manager making things work at my branches. If one person has to be out for illness or some emergency, we have to ask for help from the other branches. Sometimes it works out, but sometimes I wind up holding down one of the branches by myself. So there’s that.

I’m only sharing the following because truly, I think rural librarians need more support and recognition in libraryland than they receive. I’m not the only person with these struggles. There are a lot of unsung heroes out there making things work with minimal back-up and resources. Plus, I haven’t seen many in the blogosphere. So here I am, talking about it.

This week was the second in our summer reading program, and I had a few programs planned. One was Mission to the Moon, which turned out to be a very popular concept. I had a few summer camps/schools interested in coming to it and to accomodate everyone, I asked them to come at separate times than the general public. One group, set to bring 50, was asked to split in half, too. It meant that I would be doing the program 5 times this week (the general public in my primary branch, in my secondary branch, and then the three special times), but I planned ahead and thought I’d come up with a way to manage it all. It was an unprogram, after all, so once things were set-up, it would be a matter of just taking care of one station, and making sure they rotated successfully through a couple of others.

On day one, I had a summer camp surprise me by joining the general public for the program. It brought the kid count up to 54, and that was not a nice surprise. I thought on my feet and divided the group into three smaller groups so that they could rotate together in those smaller groups. This was not easy, but it worked. Later, I heard from the director of the camp and learned that she wanted to come every week. I explained that she could join the public for performances, but not for programs that I would be running. It was tough explaining to her that I was the only person scheduled to help with programs and that 50 kids was too hard to manage alone, not to mention that it required a lot of set-up and budgeting. I also have a couple programs in the future that are limited in attendance and require registration. She wanted to sign up children from her group, nearly filling all of those spots.

Have you ever encountered this person? The camp director who thinks there’s no difference between bringing a group and parents/caregivers coming with children? In a way, I sympathized with her. The parents of her kids are also tax payers and those kids are equally important to me, even if they aren’t. However, camps and summer schools have their own sources of funding, so I think it’s entirely within reason to say, “No, it’s possible for you to find other activities that are just as enriching. I’m prioritizing the kids who aren’t in camps or summer schools because they’re more likely to have less summer enrichment.”

On the day that I was set to do this program in second branch, I learned that the date had been mis-advertised and families were expecting to come to it the next day. It was very frustrating. In my system, the librarians send program dates and descriptions to an information officer for PR. I caught the mistake in her draft, but it’d been misprinted anyway. The only thing I could do was put up a sign saying that it had been cancelled at that location, but kids could come to the one at my primary branch (for the sessions with my other groups). As a result, no one from that branch came to the program.

On the same day, I also came down with a cold. I mean, when it rains, it pours. Amiright?


I knew calling out was not an option because our staff system-wide was already stretched thin and two groups were still counting on me for the program. I called the group leaders and explained that for the moon program, I would need to do set-up that required A LOT of touching things the kids would touch. However, I could do a storytime and tour without much touching at all. The first group opted for the storytime because they were bringing preschoolers anyway. The second group had school-aged kids, so they still wanted the moon program.

During that phone call, I also found out that the second group had almost doubled in size, from 50 kids to 94. My heart stopped. I thought to myself, “I made 50 work before, maybe we can still do this.” Which is crazy talk. 50 kids when you’re well is too many. 50 kids when you’re sick and then another 50 kids right after is insane. I knew I had help coming to the branch for a few hours while the program was running, so I decided to call on my teammate for help, leaving the other person to hold down the library until it was over.

The storytime in the morning was easygoing, even with the sniffles. I took a break afterward to eat and felt in serious danger of falling asleep, so I went for a walk to keep myself awake and moving. In the afternoon, my first group arrived. 50 kids grades 3 and up stormed the library and everything exploded. There were two helpers who were not much help in keeping them organized and orderly. I broke up a fight, found a handful of broken glue bottles, and my tablecloths were ripped. To add to the chaos, the kids were having real difficulty understanding where they should have been and the younger group came in right on top of the older crowd for awhile. Finally, we herded out the older kids and brought in the younger ones who were k-2. They were much easier to handle with no fights, more interest, and less destruction. When that group left, I felt that everyone had a good time and learned something, but I wasn’t sure it was worth the damage to my sanity and supplies. That question still lingers for me.

So there it is. The perfect storm of summer reading worst case scenarios. Now here’s what I learned and what I hope other librarians in similar positions can take from this:

  • I should be a lot kinder to myself in planning programs. There really is only so much that one person can handle in a week and I figured that out the hard way this week. Yeah, I made it happen and we had big stats because of it, but I will be spending my entire weekend taking naps and drinking hot tea and probably playing video games in bed. There is nothing wrong with saying no so that you can pace yourself.
  • Quantity is sometimes the opposite of quality. Throughout this week, I wondered if I could be doing a better job with less kids. I have to tell you, right now I don’t feel like reaching more kids is the same as having an impact on fewer.
  • When something is free and doesn’t require registration, people can, and sometimes will, think they don’t have treat it with as much respect. I felt like most of the group leaders could have done a much better job of managing the kids and helping us protect our supplies. The directors were grateful to us, but…was that just because we’d given them an easy way to kill time?

Next year, in order to avoid this whole mess, I’m going to have a few dates planned when I will be willing to book groups for programs specifically designed for large attendance. I will ask for additional help to be sent from other branches on those days so that, if need be, I can call on my teammate to help me manage any extras. I’ll make sure the group leaders know that I expect them to help, and if they don’t, they may not be allowed back.


2 thoughts on “The Perfect Storm for Summer Reading

  1. Brytani, GREAT problem solving as you plan for what to do to avoid that week from hell. We have ALL been through this stuff. The successful survivors are those who figure a way to do it better and gentler for themselves and the kids. It is perfectly ok to give groups their own time AND to limit how many times they can come in a summer for a program to create positive outcomes. Glad you made it!!

  2. Thanks, Marge! Just one more big program for a summer camp this year and I have a few weeks to prepare. Phew. I can do this!

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