Expanding on Storytime with the Book Genie!

I have a strange set-up for Little Learning Party, my weekly mixed-age storytime. Here are some reasons why:

  • It takes place before hours, at 11 am on a Tuesday. That means that, although I arrive at 10 am, if a parent tries to call that morning to confirm the details of storytime, we’re not answering the phone yet. Also, our doors are locked remotely by controlling magnets that run through the frame. We do not physically lock or unlock them–our partners in City Hall control it all. If a parent arrives at 10:59 and tries to enter through the side of the building where parents have not lined up, they won’t be able to get in and they will likely think it’s not happening and leave.
  • Tuesday, as it happens, is my first working day each week. Adding that storytime takes place before hours, this means that it’s the very first thing I do every week. I have one hour to get ready, so I have to make sure as much as possible is ready the week before, and that is easier said than done, my friends.
  • At least once a month, I have a meeting to attend at 8:30 am on Tuesdays. On those weeks, I leave the meeting at 10, speed over to my branch, set-up for and lead storytime, work through the busiest day of the week, and leave when we close at 8 pm.

So…this set-up is not my favorite, but I put up with it because my storytime, I think, is very well attended for a small branch in a small town, and I’m just anxious about messing with that. (Our population is around 25,000, this branch is just under 3,000 sq. feet, and I typically have between 20-30 people). In light of all of this, offering even more for these families might seem a little over the top. And, truthfully, it is.

BUT! It’s also super rewarding and the best part of my week. So I soldier on.

Since storytime is before-hours and at a time of day where lots of younger children are struggling against hunger and impending naps, it’s often awkward for parents and grandparents to stick around after storytime to wait for the library to open. Mostly, only one or two families ever accomplish this feat, and I thought, “I could do better for them.”

So I started a book-bundling service that I call the Book Genie. I’ve been piloting this program for a few weeks now, so I’ve gained some wisdom and hindsight that’s been helpful.

Here’s an overview:

Parents and caregivers have the option of filling out a slip that briefly describes their children’s ages and reading preferences. Currently, I have eight general and popular themes for them to choose from. They can circle as many themes as they want. There’s also a line at the bottom to include special requests and other notes.

bookgenie

I collect the slips and, over the next week, I select seven books for them to check out and take home (unless they note that they want more or less). I keep them in little stacks on an empty cart behind my desk because I have a tragic lack of storage space. I leave the slips in the stacks so that I can just carry them to a table for storytime and have the child’s name along with what they asked for handy. I do check them out to the child or caregiver before storytime so that there’s zero need to wait for the branch to open.

bookgeniebundles

To make sure that I don’t give the same child the same books back to back, I take photos of the stacks and compile them into a list in Evernote that I organize by weeks. It says something like, “Kevin, 5/4, dinos and cars [picture].” This feels like a crude system but I’ve found it slightly faster than typing in each individual title and I like the visual reference.

bookbundle1

Of course, when I’m selecting books, I’m thinking about what’s appropriate for the child’s age along with what I know about him/her from storytime. I’ve known a lot of my kids long enough that I can predict what titles will be a hit with them. I keep that information in mind when selecting.

Things I’ve learned:

  1. This service has always been about getting books to the kids who have a hard time returning to the library later. For many of my families, storytime is the only time that they can visit, but for a handful, it’s easier to return some other time and pick books together. After my second week, I got a little blowback from grandparents who didn’t like the books I picked or the system I had in place. At first, it ruffled my feathers, but after some reflection I realized that these are people who just have more time to select books together with their child and that’s why they’ve learned to be more selective. I cannot top a caregiver’s close knowledge of their child’s needs and preferences, but I can make it easier on others who wouldn’t have books without me. So this is not for everyone. Pickier families will have a better experience skipping this and I think it’s okay to say that (in a nice way) if anyone wants to criticize.
  2. This probably should have been obvious to me, but I needed to have instructions and rules posted in the area where they fill out the slips. When I introduced the Book Genie, I just went over it verbally at the beginning of storytime and let parents and caregivers help each other by word of mouth. That model was going okay, but I quickly found a need to express my limitations when parents were wanting to swap books with each other (that were already checked out) while I was still setting up for playtime or helping with crafts. It was too much for my brain to handle. Now I have rules posted to make it clear that they get what they get and they don’t throw a fit, at least until I’m all done cleaning up and back at my desk.

bookgenierules3. This is a great way to increase your circulation and card memberships. My enrollment in this varies from week to week, but regardless, the increase in circulation is a big perk. Also, once parents and caregivers realized their kids could have cards, several of them joyfully signed up their children. Those kiddos are such proud owners, too! They got their card from someone they know and trust rather than a random circulation assistant, so their connection is that much stronger.

4. You need to plan the time it takes to check out the books and set them up in your prep time for storytime. If I have ten kids participating, I check out 70 books and carry them in neat stacks into the storytime area for set-up. That adds at least 20 mins to my prep time.

It’s been quite a learning experience and I’m sure I’ll still be making adjustments for awhile yet. Are you expanding on storytime with special services? Tell me all about it!

Feel free to steal any of this. I can easily email the files to you for the forms. Just leave a comment for me with your contact info, I’ll email them ASAP, and then delete your contact info from the blog.

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