Totes and Quotes: a craft to go with any book club

This year, our library system participated in the Big Read and our county-wide book selection was To Kill a Mockingbird. We end the program this week and with a wide variety of programs ranging from a jazz concert to movie and documentary showings, we’ve had some great participation from our patrons and communities. I hosted three programs at my two branches:

  • A showing of the documentary Hey Boo
  • A book discussion with coffee and card games from the 1930’s
  • A craft program called Totes and Quotes where we decorated tote bags and coffee mugs with quotes from the book.

Today, I’ll share what you need to host a Totes and Quotes program for your adults. It’s a great way to extend on the experience of any book club and it has wide appeal for different ages. You could probably also do this with teens.

First, you may want to search your local dollar and discount stores for plain white mugs and canvas tote bags. I got mine from Wal-Mart and my local Dollar Tree. Locating and pricing them ahead of time will help you come up with a budget and decide how many materials you can provide.

Here’s the material list I used:

  • Plain white ceramic mugs
  • Canvas totes
  • Fabric-friendly paints
  • Variety of brushes including circular stampers and fine brushes for lettering and stencils
  • Mod Podge
  • Stencils of modern flowers, vines, and swirls
  • Printed images of mockingbird outlines that I cut out to make mockingbird stencils (free)
  • Painters tape for those who wanted their stencils taped down
  • Oil-based markers for writing on mugs (more permanent than Sharpies)
  • Hand sanitizer and/or rubbing alcohol
  • Printed sheets of quotes




I found it was really useful for this program to explain to participants as they were registering that this was process art, like making a painting, and wouldn’t have simple steps to follow for a set outcome. Some of our patrons are used to programs where crafts are made by following an example with provided materials and products are pretty much the same. Those people may have been uncomfortable with this program where they would need to imagine what they wanted and free hand most of the work. My experience with adults and art in library programs has taught me to think ahead about who programs appeal to and how to explain expectations.

I started out by explaining how to use everything on the table. I introduced people to the paint pens, Mod Podge, and which brushes were best to use with the stencils. When it seemed like everyone understood the materials and how to use them, I just sat down at the head of the table where I was sitting with the other 5 participants and started planning aloud with the people around me.

I started by picking my text and the sort of imagery that would go with it. I imagined my lettering and picked where elements would be on my bag. As I began, I encouraged the other participants and helped them plan, too. I gave them feedback and reassured them that no craft or artwork is perfect, but it’s all about the experience of making. My elderly participants struggled most, but shortly after they began, I could see them enjoying themselves more and more, even as they were making mistakes. I helped everyone correct anything they didn’t like by covering it with a stamp of paint or turning things into flowers.

One thing I learned is that your younger participants will know what you mean by putting a quote on a mug or a bag. They’ll understand that the idea is to play with the lettering and use the words to make art. Your more elderly participants may not. They may take it more literally, and I think this is probably a divide in where these different generations find ideas for crafts. Those who surf Pinterest have seen typography and posters a lot. Looking back on it, I wish this had dawned on me beforehand and I wish I would have printed some images of quotes on coffee mugs or posters.

otherbag  mybag

See what I mean?

The oil-based paint pens go on smoothly on ceramic mugs and mistakes are easier to remove there with hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol. You can also apply small stencils to mugs, but words take a smooth hand. Your elderly patrons can always opt to just draw or decorate with stencils on their mugs if they have a hard time with lettering.

If either are going to be washed in a washing machine or dishwasher, advise your participants to add a layer of Mod Podge when their design is dry. It will dry clear and help protect the paint from washing off or peeling.

Your mugs should be baked at home at 350 degrees for 30 mins and allowed to cool slowly in the oven. I typed and printed these instructions, attaching as a tag to each mug with a string.

That’s it! Ta-da!



Success and Meaningful Work

I wanted to pause from my usual focus on youth programs and talk about something else that’s on my long list of responsibilities. Around 85% of my week is spent at a public service desk and most of my patrons know that even if they see me hammering away on the keyboard or on the phone with a co-worker, they can come ask me for help and I’ll put down what I’m doing. I also try to encourage patrons who need help understanding something new to set up a one-on-one appointment with me so I can dedicate some time (always at least an hour) especially to meeting their needs.

This service is something I report along with all my usual program numbers, because it is just as essential. On top of needing to fill quotas for providing x amounts of programs each year, I also have to report “success stories” for each quarter. Success stories, as far as our budgeting office is concerned, is any story that would make someone feel good about library services, but everyone over-analyzes this very general directive. Whenever the reporting period rolls around, you can bet all the librarians are calling each other and our supervisor like, “is this a success story?”

In talking with my two teammates, we always have really interesting conversations about these stories we’re submitting. In truth, we feel our impact is really hard to measure. Let’s say we help someone all the time with online job applications and one day we learn that he got a job. Did we touch that application? Did we pass on necessary skills? If a kid in storytime has slowly started to participate more in the activities, does that mean I’m doing a better job of connecting with him? What about all the people we know who live on the fringes of society? All the women who come to us from shelters, all the patrons who are mentally ill, everyone we know on permanent disability…these people are unlikely to have big life changes that we can talk about in a story, but they’re enjoying a place of equality and respect every time they come into the library.

It’s these people that society ignores that we want to talk about most. We talk about them every day between their visits and have come up with special strategies for helping them. We see them as being just as important as every kid who reports better test scores after the summer, but our work with them is so much harder to describe.

Last week, I had a one-on-one session with a man who is…not neurotypical? I’m nowhere near qualified enough to give you a diagnosis for him, but he is just a complicated, thoughtful, very kind and creative man. I’ve only seen him a couple times at the library, but he always remembers me and details from our last conversations. He creates art and comics and loves to share them, but his humor is hard to grasp. He’s very organized and has invented all kinds of little tools and accessories from things most people disregard. His favorite place to feel creative is at a local fast food restaurant. He’s intelligent and interesting, but he’s not easy to understand. He lives in his head and it’s difficult to help him translate what’s there in a way that makes him more socially relatable. So when he asked me to help him start a Kickstarter campaign to fund printing a collection of his comics, I knew it was going to be a lot of work.

I cleared an afternoon, and I’m so glad I did, because it took almost three hours to help him understand the prompts and help him communicate what he wanted and how we would accomplish this task. Along the way I kept fighting the feeling that I was fighting a losing battle. I had a feeling even as I was helping him figure out what to say and how to say it that weren’t many people who could understand his project, and it was even less likely that someone would decide to give him money. What kept me going was how motivated and inspired he seemed. He had a purpose in this project and he was, in some way, opening up and inviting people to see him and what he’s capable of.

So afterward I had a few minutes to check in with my teammate and talk about all those complicated feelings. I told her that I was pretty sure it wasn’t going to work for him, and it made me feel like it’s hard to justify three hours spent on a project that might not amount to much. I couldn’t help feeling that it was just so important, though. She didn’t have a wise answer for me either, but she said she agreed somehow.

Later that night, when I was telling my husband about it, he chuckled and said it was probably a waste of my time. (I can tell you with no degree of doubt that he would do the same, by the way.) I couldn’t disagree, but I told him that I think everyone needs a place and a feeling of acceptance and purpose, and I thought I provided that for a few hours. In so many ways, that’s just as important as getting kids excited about reading.

As librarians, we wear so many hats, and the things we find meaningful are diverse and surprising. We can’t always be reduced to a statistic or percentage or dollar amount, though that’s certainly what we’re encouraged to do when our funding is questioned. I wonder how we tell these stories of lost and ignored people.


Mom’s Night Out: Spa Party

I have a hard time planning adult programs that will actually draw adults. I understand this to be a common plight among small libraries, so I try not to be hard on myself when I have only a few people come or maybe even no one. I’ve been experimenting with partnerships like the one I have with my county’s young professional organization. This partnership is going really well, by the way, and I’m only now realizing I haven’t updated anyone on the topic.

I’ve also been intrigued by the idea of offering a program just for parents, no kids allowed. Miss Michelle at MPL wrote about her Mom’s Night Out and it was just the incentive I needed to try it out.

I planned a spa party for moms in January because, let’s be real, everyone needs help moisturizing in the winter. I planned to make bath bombs, a facial mask, and a sugar scrub.

I also made sure to get our PIO on board with advertising the program. She got the info out through every media source we have.

We had 12 people sign up and buying supplies for this many people cost me around $40. The trickiest ingredient was the citric acid I needed for the bath bombs, as it usually comes in small amounts and the recipe calls for a lot of it. I wound up ordering a few packs off Amazon.

On the night of, I setup three stations with the one for bath bombs being the longest. It took a lot of ingredients and if we had more than a few people at the station, they would need the space to pass the ingredients around.

bath bombs

I put a couple copies of instructions for mixing on each table because I thought the ladies might have more opportunity to chat if it was self-directed. I also made copies of each recipe for them to take home at the end of the night.

sugar scrubMy serving bowls, measuring options, and utensils were a little rag tag but I had just enough to make everything work. I had some plastic bags and some dressing containers as options for people to take their products home.

maskOnly three people actually came to the event, and who knows why. Maybe it was hard for moms to find babysitters or maybe they just forgot about it. The ladies that came had a good time. Their favorite was the sugar scrub, but we had a hard time getting our bath bombs to clump by following the directions. Instead, we sprayed in a little more water than the recipe called for and then had success. The mask was a little clumpy and we were all skeptical about putting something that contains honey on our face. Since then, though, I’ve used that mask and it’s been perfectly fine for my sensitive skin.

If I had to recommend any changes, I would say switch out the bath bombs for another activity. It was the most expensive and hardest to scale for a big group.

Did this post help you? It took around 2 hours of my personal time to share with you. If you would like to send me a dollar for my time, I would not be opposed. 


Game Of Thrones Un-Book Club

In my last post I described my efforts to produce programming that I think Millennials could enjoy. While brainstorming ideas over the summer, I came up with two: a Pinterest Party and this Game of Thrones Un-Book Club. While thinking about activities that I might include, I had this thought: what if I went about an adult program in the same way as a kids’ or teen program? Which is crazy talk, of course. Adults want to be treated in the same way, but…in theory, there were lots of ways to make staple activities of youth programs into more mature activities for adults.

For instance: themed snacks.

GOTfoodIn this incarnation of a classic station, I just went with more mature foods. Red velvet cupcakes were labeled, “Red Wedding Cupcakes,” lemon cookies were labeled, “Sanza’s Favorite Cookies,” and those mini-pastries were called, “Joffrey’s Humble Pies.” (Because it’s a pie that kills him. Get it? I’m awesome.) Sparkling red grape juice was also served.

On the edge of table where you enter the programming area, I laid out a sheet of names that I got from a GOT name generator.

GOTnamesOn two iPads, I brought up a website for a “Which House are You?” quiz.

Finally, I had a long list of quotes from the books and the show that could be used for guessing which character said it.

I was really looking forward to just geeking out over some simple activities and snacks, but, sadly, no one came. It happens a lot with adult programs at my branch, so I wasn’t shocked and I chose activities that wouldn’t take much time to prepare because of this possibility.

I hope someone may be able to use the ideas.


Bring on the Young Folks

I’m a millennial and I struggle with the knowledge that others my age don’t visit physical libraries very often. Obviously I’m biased, but I think libraries have a lot to offer my peers in terms of acting as a community center, connecting them to professional development opportunities, and broadening their horizons with programs on new topics. I have another motive for wanting to see more of my peers in libraries, though. I’ve moved five times in the last five years, and the more I get to know other young professionals, the more I realize this isn’t at all uncommon for people just beginning their careers and adult lives. With twentysomethings living increasingly nomadic lives, it’s so hard for many of us to make friends.

And that selfish reason is probably one that most of us can relate to. For any adult working full time, nailing down a place where you can bump into like-minded people is no easy task.

So, yes. Bring on the young people at my library.

In trying to accomplish this, I’ve experimented with a few different methods. First, I tried just throwing out a topic I thought most of my peers could get behind. I tried a Trivia Night and a Game of Thrones party (the latter I can write about later). No dice. From these failed programs, I learned that I am seriously hindered by my inability to post to social media about programs. (A policy story that I won’t get into.)

But then I got a great opportunity when the county manager put together a young professionals group. Seeing this as my shot at the big leagues, I stepped up and immediately offered to host a book club on behalf of the library.

please gifThe coordinator said, “whoa, now. Let’s meet everyone first and talk it over.” So I used some of my excessive comp time to go to a Happy Hour where we could all meet each other for the first time. Honestly, I thought I was going to have to butter people up to get them interested in a book club, but I was so joyfully surprised to find that they all loved books. And not just any books. INTELLECTUAL NONFICTION.

World, did you know that intellectual nonfiction is my jam?!

So the cosmos granted me a wish and we picked a book that same night. I also offered to host a mixer for another night where we could play a version of speed dating that I call Flash Friending. (Leave me a comment if you want some details about how to do this.) Men rolled their eyes, but the ladies in the group liked the idea.

To date, I’ve hosted the mixer and will be hosting the book club next week. And you know what? Guys liked Flash Friending, too. *reciprocal eye roll* The group is growing slowly and we have an increasing number of book choices on our list for future book clubs. Others are starting to offer hangout sessions, too.

I haven’t had any luck offering to host these programs inside the library, but my director is gracious and allows me to count programs done in restaurants as outreach as long as I’m not drinking. I’m hoping that one day I can get some of them into the library since my branch is particularly swanky and probably not what they were imagining. (It’s a renovated factory building and we’re on the top floor, overlooking the railroad tracks and new city park.)

So I guess the take home message is, if you want more millennials in the library, starting with a young professionals group isn’t such a bad idea.