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How I Partner with Schools

Having now worked in four different libraries and for five different communities, if there’s one thing I know, it’s that school partnerships can really be difficult to obtain. Currently, I’m very lucky to work for two communities that have really opened up to me without much arm twisting or teeth pulling angst. I have great relationships with four schools at this point and have been working with each of them in some capacity for the last year. I know how rare it is to have such luck with schools, so I wanted to just share the one thing that’s really made all the difference for me.

For me (and again, I know it’s not always this way for everyone), it’s been simple.

Ready?

I just find ways to be around.

I started my position in the middle of the 2013-2014 school year. My predecessor had already done a great job of reaching out to local schools and hosting Battle of the Books practice competetions. This is a great program to offer, if you’re up for it. Personally, I recoiled from the idea of carrying on that tradition because, while I don’t mind being the center of attention for a storytime or other fun, energetic activities, I could not get into standing in front of an audience, reading and repeating questions and enforcing rules.

(And on a tangential note: If you don’t feel excited about a successful program that someone before you hosted, I think you should forgive yourself a little and let it go. If you don’t love it, you’re not going to do it with the same energy and joy and you’re going to miss out on sharing something that you love. It’s better to pass on your passion for a program to 10 kids rather than your ambivalence to 100.)

When the 2014-2015 year rolled around, I was determined to go out and meet some local school librarians. The week before school started, when teachers and faculty are getting set up, I visited 6 schools and simply introduced myself to their media specialists. I chatted with them about their media centers, how much I loved what they were doing, got excited with them about our common geekery, and I made sure to tell them that I would be thrilled to help with any projects they might be undertaking. I didn’t push any information on them. I just wanted to share a fun moment.

Almost every month afterward, I targeted a school and I would just drop by with some quarter sheets advertising our programs and I’d do the same thing as the first time.

Within a few months, a couple people started asking for help with things. For instance, one school librarian asked me to collect donations for her makerspace. Others just wanted some information like resources for new songs and fingerplays or help with finding performers to bring in. I’ve arranged for them to borrow iPads from our tech lab and installed apps they need.

After several months of literally just showing up unannounced and being happy to help, I’ve seen some great progress. Going into the summer, I’m speaking to every student in those four schools I mentioned. I’ll be meeting their classes, telling them about summer reading, and sending them home with a library card application and schedule of events. Before school dismisses for the summer, I’ll be picking up any card applications they’ve been able to collect and then I’ll have library accounts prepared for them when they visit us. I’m also invited to the open house for one of these schools and I attend staff meetings at another. One school (within walking distance of the library) plans to bring all their grades to our branch once a month next year. I mean, how cool are school librarians?

schoolbooks

(If you’re looking for some read alouds for your class visits, here’s a stack that’s worked wonders for me.)

And if you’re thinking you might not have time for this, believe me, I understand. I have a hard time making it work myself, but the rewards for those 30 minutes I take to stop by a school are amazing. Let me leave you with one last story.

One particular school librarian was clearly just humoring me when I would stop by. At one point, she told me that, “unlike the public library” her job was “different everyday” and she frequently referred to me as an “adult librarian.” After helping her with a couple projects through the year, she contacted me in the spring to talk about the possibility of combining our summer reading programs. Despite the icky feeling I had about her perception of my job, I really admired her work and thought she had an incredible summer reading program, which was typically a lot more popular than ours. She hosted weekly family nights at her media center and even drove a bookmobile to trailer parks and low-income housing. This year, her funding was stripped, but she knew exactly what to do. She asked me to provide the programs and space with her staff to help.

We made plans to keep my smaller branch open later to accommodate more kids, brought in newer, bigger shelves to store more books, worked with the City to provide more space for us, and I’ll be training her volunteer staff to use our software and help close the branch. We’ve worked hard to make sure that every student in her school has a library card and we’ve brought every class on a walking field trip to the library for a tour and a talk about summer reading. After a month of tours and watching me interact with the kids, I overheard her tell a child that I was the “children’s librarian.”

I silently walked to the back and did a wild victory dance.

Channeling my Beyonce.

Channeling my Beyonce.

To date, we’ve added 56 new kids to the public library and the applications continue to roll in. We’re so excited to keep up the momentum, and another elementary school heard about this and is considering doing the same next year.

Guys, take 30 minutes and just be around.

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Scenes from Outreach Storytime

Most Thursday mornings, I roll out of bed and get ready for doing a storytime or two inside the daycares of my secondary community. I’m the only library staff person doing any storytimes as outreach at the moment, and it wasn’t automatically required of me. For months, I tried doing in-house storytimes at this branch, but never had anyone attend. After summer reading came and went, I decided it was time to do something different.

By this time, I’d been working for this community for around seven months, but I’ve only ever spent one day a week at this location. The other four days are spent at my primary location, about six or seven minutes away. When I do come to this branch, I typically repeat some of the programs I’ve done over the week at my other branch. It saved me some time to do this, but the more I get to know this town, the more convinced I am that these two very close towns are not very much alike.

In my primary town, the economy is slowly growing, with the biggest job providers being furniture factories. (In fact my library here is a renovated factory building.) There are a couple upscale areas to live (by local standards) because it’s turning into an almost-suburb of a nearby city. Still, there’s a fair amount of agriculture around the outskirts of the town and it remains small enough that it’s almost completely walkable. It’s doing a good job of attracting upper-middle class families with new parks, nice schools, and a few cute shops downtown.

My secondary community is facing a pretty severe economic downturn. It’s more rural than the other, with an economy based mostly on agriculture and hard labor. The town is just a few streets with most of its shops and restaurants on one stretch of road. A couple manufacturing companies, big job providers for local citizens, recently shut down, leaving people scrambling for stability. My teammate at this branch is seeing a lot of families move away for jobs and as you drive or walk around town, you can’t help but notice an inordinate amount of homes and offices for sale. I see the impact of the economy in lots of ways, but with parents now forced to work odd hours or multiple jobs, I thought it was clear that I needed to start doing some outreach.

I had some time after doing storytime in one of the poorer centers, so I took some photos of scenery that surrounds their building. These are all within around 300 ft of the place.

tractor

This field surrounds the daycare on all sides.

road ends

Literally right down the hill from the daycare, the roads stop being maintained and lawns and fields turn to wild brush.

boarded

What seems to be a boarded up repair shop.

sawmill

The daycare is actually about a 1/4 mile from this sawmill.

When I was reading Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance: Poverty, Literacy, and the Development of Information Capital by Susan B. Neuman, I was struck by her analysis of environmental print in a rich and a poor community. In the wealthy part of town, kids would be able to walk down the street and see bright signs for businesses aided by illustrations that helped you understand its purpose (a loaf bread for a bakery, for instance). They had lots of places to see words and this could help them better understand how important reading is. In the impoverished community, words were scarce. There were few businesses and even fewer restaurants, so there just weren’t a lot of ways for children to make literacy connections by just observing their environment.

If the kids in this daycare could go for a walk one day, what kinds of connections would they be able to make?

I don’t mean to judge this daycare, or the families with children here, or even the community itself. No one is to blame. It’s just something that occurred to me and I couldn’t help wondering if there’s something I can do to help create a more engaging space for them. Some thoughts that popped into my head are partnering with the town to create a storywalk, inviting farms to post pictures of their crops throughout the season, labeling them and even the tools they use. It’s all a little wild for a librarian, but who knows what ideas can become a reality until we decide to try?

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Outreach for SRP Sign-ups

My primary library has the best location for becoming a summertime hotspot. It’s next to the only public park in the area with a free splash pad.

Yeah.

So, with the last day of school being yesterday, I decided I would set-up a table near this splash pad and rope a few kids into summer reading. I planned ahead by reading what some other librarians are doing for this kind of outreach. (Bryce Don’t Play has a great write-up on some ways to make outreach more exciting and so far, she’s having some great success with this strategy. Reading with Red also talked about a community baby shower, and that reminded me of Abby’s adventures at a baby fair.)

I’ve personally gone 100% away from setting up tables to sign up for library cards. It’s too time consuming for something that, in my experience, doesn’t usually pan out. You can tell someone they need library cards, and they believe you because they’ve heard somewhere it’s important. Then once they have one, they have no idea what they can achieve with it, so they never come and use it. Even if you try to explain everything, you’re often too embroiled in keying in information or responding to multiple people to really get them saying, “hey, I need to go here after work or on my weekends.”

Instead, I focus on having some fun activity to draw kids to me (like Dr. Seuss Twister) and then I talk to parents about all the things the library offers. Kids get excited and that makes parents way more likely to come. This time, the activity was already there so I needed some goodies that the kids could use at the park. I went to the dollar store and picked up a small basket of water toys. I also took sidewalk chalk with me since there’s a shady concrete area next to the splash pad.

parkoutreach

I set-up just before the splash pad opened so that I could work the crowd that gathers while waiting. This is where I got most of my sign-ups. Once the splash pad was up and running, few kids or parents were interested in me, even with toys. I was determined not to look like someone who was selling something, so I didn’t approach people watching their kids. I had a bright, attractive table, so I let that work for me.

In a couple hours, I got 9 kids. I saw maybe 20 kids playing in the splash pad, so honestly, almost 50% doesn’t feel too bad to me. It’s also 9 kids that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t go.

In the future, I won’t be doing toys again, though. It’s too hard to take them back when it’s time to pack up, and they seem to walk away. Instead, I think I’ll do snacks.

 

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How to rock an entire elementary school

A few weeks ago, I picked up a distress call from a co-worker. An elementary school in my community had asked her to present Summer Reading to each grade, but then needed to reschedule, leaving her unable to cover the new date. I told her I would do it and together, we tried to piece together clues on what the school librarian could have meant by “present to each grade.” She’d given us a block schedule, showing 40 minutes for each grade level, but what would that look like? Would I be in the library with an activity, ready to talk while they browsed? Would I be going to each classroom and giving a brief chat in each? I finally got some clarity a day before the event, when the school librarian returned a frantic and confused phone call. “Uh, so, it’s the day before the event and I’m still not sure exactly what’s expected of me…help????”

Turned out, I was meant to present for 40 minutes to an entire grade level, seated and prepared to be amused.

I was going to present a 40 minute SOMETHING 6 times back to back.

Final Exams According To "Parks And Recreation"

 

So, naturally, I banged my head on the desk and went to my supply closet/office and stared into the shelving, hoping that an idea would come to me.

My inner pep talk went something like this:

“Okay. One of two things is going to happen. You’re either going to be the winningest librarian that ever lived tomorrow, or you’re going to fail miserably. If you’re a hit, your summer reading stats should be amazing. If you fail, so what? You’ve failed before and you’ll fail again and you always learn the most from blowing it. Either way, you’re going to Coldstone on the way home and ingesting an outrageous amount of calories. I’m talking UNGODLY calories.”

Then I made some plans. K-2? Walk in the park. I picked some popular picture books and planned a storytime that could be done a cappella.

 

Here’s what I wound up with for K-2:

Talk briefly about summer reading–the goals, the prizes, the programs

If You’re Ready for a Story song

Pete the Cat: Rocking in my School Shoes

When Cows Wake Up song

Don’t Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late

Bananas Unite dance

Open, Shut Them (fast, faster, super sonic speed)

Splish, Splash, Splat

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (fast, slow, fast)

(After Kindergarten came through, we figured out we needed another book. I dashed into the library and grabbed Pirates Love Underpants, then we added a round of Simon Says to lengthen the presentation.)

 

Grades 3-5 were much harder. I decided to focus on booktalks, read-alouds, and games.

Here’s 3-5:

Grade 3: 

Talk about SRP
BOB (Battle of the Books)
Booktalk Nancy Clancy, Zeke Meeks, and 13 Story Treehouse
Read aloud from 13 Story Treehouse
Simon Says
Half-Minute Horrors
story cubes
Grade 4: 
Talk SRP 
BOB
Booktalk Bobby vs. the Girls, Floors, The Classroom
Read aloud from 13 Story Treehouse
Simon Says
Read aloud from Half-Minute Horrors
story cubes 
Grade 5: 
Talk SRP 
BOB
Booktalk Among the Hidden, Floors, and The Book of Elsewhere
Read aloud from 13 Story Treehouse
Simon Says
Read aloud from Half-Minute Horrors
story cubes
If you’re wondering what the story cubes activity is, here’s the skinny. It’s a game where you roll a series of dice with symbols and combine them to make a story for the pictures.
While I was staring into the storage shelving, I saw the game and realized that I have a giant inflatable die. I taped clipart symbols to each side of that giant die and tossed it into different parts of the crowd to make an interactive story-building activity. The kids LOVED this. I was so worried that they would fight over the die, but they did great. To control the chaos, I controlled the narrative. They would show me what was on top of the die when they caught it, and I would make up the next segment of the story from that. If I got stuck, I’d ask what should happen and they’d raise their hands to help me out. There was some shouting, but it was under control.

I’m kind of proud for pulling that out of the air. 😉

The day of was exhausting. If there was a word that could describe the feeling of imminent death and the serious case of lock jaw that ensued, I’d use it. Speech-doom? Introverts’ peril? Here’s what I appreciated about the experience, though. I got to learn all about the struggles of a local school librarian and I think that connection was invaluable. It made me so much more confident in my ability to handle…just about anything libraryland can throw at me. (I mean, for librarians, this kind of event is the gauntlet. And I did it!) It also proved to my team that I can be trusted with big things and provided a model for having a huge impact with little concerns for staffing and branch coverage. I requested to have a partner if I was ever sent back for an event like this, but even sending two people to cover an entire elementary school is conservative for outreach, I think.
What I didn’t like as much? It’s been almost two weeks and I’ve only seen about 10 kids from the elementary school come in to sign up. Now, they could easily be going to other branches or just waiting for school to end. I can’t lie, though. I was expecting droves.
PS, 13 Story Treehouse is the PERFECT book to read aloud to a crowd because it can be done storytime-style with the book facing the kids and showing them all the great illustrations. Every kid I’ve seen from this school has asked for it.
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A School Librarian Asks Me to Be Cool

When I was still in training, a school librarian came to an event at the library and asked me and the former librarian to participate in a Read Across America event at her school. Hooray for being approached by other librarians!

So I got in my car on my day off and went out to the school to hang out with the kids. Since it was going to be just me at the event, I had to make a quick call. Do I attempt to sign people up for cards while also trying to keep kids amused with the game I brought? Or do I just have a parent fill out a form so that I can set-up the card back at the library and play with the kids in the meantime? I went with the second option, which turned out to be for the best. We had around 70 kids come by, 52 of whom wanted to play Dr. Seuss Twister with me. If I had been trying to key in card information, I would have been very overwhelmed and probably would have missed the opportunity to have fun with the kiddos.

dr. seuss table 2

 

dr. seuss twister

I took goodie bags/prizes with me for anyone who played Twister. Whether they won or not, I let them pick between either a glowstick bracelet or a little bag of Dr. Seuss goodies. (Target has a great deal on 15 glowstick bracelets for a $1.) Dr. Seuss Twister entailed finding rhyming Seussical words and then writing one on the spinner and the other on a circle. I printed and taped down my words so that I could re-use the game with different words or none at all.

Since these were elementary kids, some of the younger ones needed a little help, but I was quick to give hints and very forgiving when a child toppled over or couldn’t reach. Since there were so many kids, I let each set of kids go through a few words each before giving them their prize. Fun was had by the smallest and biggest alike.