Tag: Madame Storyteller

How to Win Friends and Make Sure Everyone Knows You at Work

At three jobs I’ve made a small but substantial investment in chocolate and hard candy.  At the financial firm it was in a small jar on top of my desk, most recently here it’s in a desk drawer–as small children are likely to walk in and I’d rather they not help themselves.

Everyone who works in the building, we proved during a staff scavenger hunt last September, knows where “Abigail’s Chocolate Drawer” is and knows they are welcome to come get a piece during a bad day, when in need of a break or reward, etc.

I do this for multiple reasons.

1) I like chocolate. It means I have a steady supply. Having it always available takes the binging out of it and I’m more likely to just have “a” bite sized piece of chocolate rather than snarfing down a king-sized Snickers. 

2) Other people like chocolate. How easy is it to make someone’s day better with a little square of chocolate? I also usually have some kind of hard candy in there for the non-chocolate-noshers.

3) It provides a positive reason for people to stop by and see me.  As I said, everyone in my building knows where the chocolate is and it’s a good reason to head back to the children’s area (we are kind of off in our own little corner).  Madame Director makes ventures, Madame Storyteller always knows where her favorite type of bite-size candy bar is, Our Lady of the Business Office has been seen.

4) It means access to chocolate without the temptation of it being in their desk drawer. I can go several days without breaking into the chocolate stash. Others have said if they kept the chocolate by them it’d be gone. But since it’s not officially “their chocolate” they can limit themselves to an occasional piece. 

And this for maybe an occasional $15 investment we get peace, sanity, goodwill, and chocolate. 

I get and certainly accept bags of Dove, Hershey’s minibars, etc etc….pretty much anything but Hershey’s Kisses, which no one but the teens seem to like.  (Though I’m not above bribing tweens and teens for good behavior.)

Wee Reads: Week One

One of the things I’ve had parents ask for was something for children who are emerging readers. As I see it, it is not enough to hit the pre-literacy, we really need library programs and services to capture those kids who are just tackling reading on their own. English isn’t an easy language to learn or to read. It’s a mix of rules and exceptions, phonics and sight words, sounding it out and “why do you pronounce it that way?”

So this spring, with Madame Storyteller’s blessing, I put out the idea of an older kid’s evening storytime. I planned for 12 kids and hoped to at least half fill it. The response was gratifying–we closed out the “waiting list” at 16 (NO MORE, I announced). The children are between 4-7, with the majority 6-7. Little siblings, though not completely forbidden, are really strongly discouraged.    

For three weeks the youth services aides tackled creating picture boxes for me. I’d picked up 20 8x8x8 boxes a few months ago and I raided the never ending stash of donated National Geographic Magazines. I told the aides I wanted the boxes covered with pictures on all sides.They did a beautiful job. 

There are 20 different brightly covered boxes.

Starting 15 minutes before storytime (now that I’ve told them about it) and through the first five minutes of “actual storytime”…I invited the kids to grab a box and tell their grown ups a story about the pictures they saw. The kids engaged very quickly with it, as did the parents. I think over time it will go even more smoothly as they come up with wild and crazy stories based on tree frogs, pyramids, buildings, and wild cats.  

We did a hello song.  Always a good way to draw focus.

Then, I got to read them a book I’d never be able to read to my 3 year olds (Wednesday starts my regular Pre-school storytime too):


The Book That Eats People
by John Perry

It’s a lot longer than my usual pre-school books, but this crew can handle it.  And while the dark and sinister is giggle worthy, rather than nightmarish. It’s a phenomenal read aloud. 

Then I pointed out a whole slew of Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie books that I’d brought in for the kids to grab. Often parents are looking for “the good easy readers” and I have the chance here to highlight authors and bring in some classics.

For tonight’s selection, I read:

I Will Surprise My Friend!
by Mo Willems

I don’t think I could ever live up to the reading I’ve seen the author do of Pigs Make Me Sneeze but the kids, fortunately, are not judging my reading against his. 

And this is a separation storytime, which most of the parents have been pretty excited about (“Ten minutes to go look at adult books all by myself? Really? Sign me up!!”).  So after those two books I shooed the parents out of the room. We only had a little anxiety about staying in the room with a book that eats people. I put my chair on top of it so it wouldn’t eat anyone.  (We counted 3 times to make sure the book hadn’t eaten anyone.)  

During this ten minutes I’m going to do a short activity and then read to the kids from a chapter book. I’m staying away from crafts and snacks, though not entirely ruling either out either. This week’s activity was ribbon dancing (ribbons taped to straws) and we started Knights of the Kitchen Table by Jon Scieszka. I only had time to get through one chapter, but that’s okay.  What was important was that they listened–clustered around and nearly right on top of me.

We finished by scooping up carpet squares and grabbing Mo Willems books and then our Read to Rover program followed hard on the heels of the storytime. Several of the kids headed out to the children’s area to wait their turn to read aloud to a dog, and I saw one boy painstakingly reading aloud an Elephant and Piggie book.

Can’t wait to see how next week goes!

There’s Got to Be More to Youth Services….

Madame Storyteller and I were recently in a discussion about continuing education, particularly as it related to youth services. This was part of a larger discussion with coworkers and someone from our system about what is needed and can be provided in terms of local continuing ed. It allowed/caused me to raise a point that I see as a major issue in youth services.

Essentially the professional literature, classes, continuing education, and conference presentations we’re seeing can be boiled down to three categories:

1) Preschool Storytime and Early Literacy
2) Summer Reading Program (See link for Madame Storyteller’s wisdom on this)
3) Teens and Gaming

I’m not trying to devalue any of these. They are all important aspects of what we’re doing, service we’re providing, youth we’re reaching.

But it also means there are huge gaping holes that are going by the wayside. Broad sweeping statement, no? Let me point out some issues I’m seeing–keeping in mind that these are not one-size-fits-all at your public library.

What I’d like to see
addressed by continuing ed, conference sessions, etc.:

1) Our public library “children’s” websites are primarily for adults.

  • Adult librarians are writing for adult parents with the assumption that that’s who will be visiting the website. They will but parents can navigate through something intended for kids. If we used that logic, we wouldn’t decorate our children’s spaces in bright colors, with low shelves and seats, child friendly signage, and puzzles.
  • Kids are incredibly perceptive and recognize something intended for them isn’t really written for them or is written in that condescending cutesy “look at me writing for kids” tone. They’ll see, they’ll leave, and won’t come back.

2) We aren’t programming for emerging readers.

  • I know, they’re all in daycare, preschool, K4–but I have had multiple parents ask me for something to keep those early readers going. When I asked one of the professional lists I’m on if anyone else was doing emerging literacy (as opposed to pre or early) storytimes, I was met with a resounding “not here.” I felt like the little red hen…
  • We make an enormous push for pre-literacy and early literacy and then we drop off at that pinnacle moment when the child is finally starting to read. *headdesk*

3) There is a gap of about ten years between leaving storytime and becoming a teen–hundreds of educational milestones, thousands of great books–and we’re missing out on it.

  • But the elementary students have school media specialists: I hear the cry. I’m not disparaging those working in schools: not the work they do, not the value of their work, not the difficulty of it in this economy and the current test-prep focused educational mindset. I’m disparaging public librarians who are resting on the laurels earned by SMS hard work. And let’s be realistic: increasingly children don’t have a SMS to turn to at school.
  • How much time are those school media specialists still allowed with the kids and what do they have to get through in that time? One of my regular moms is a middle school English teacher and she was telling me about working with her SMS to get the kids to create indexes to meet a state standard. The year I was at a public elementary school with a library we spent perhaps 20 minutes a week there. In junior high and high school I was allowed in the library on special research visits only. The libraries were closed at lunch and before and after school. The only extended period I spent in a school library was during a six week session my senior year that I was excused from a class for an independent study. In that six weeks, I can count on one hand (possibly on one or two fingers) the number of times the librarian did anything other than ignore me.
  • Private schools may or may not have a school media specialist or even a library. They eliminated the one in an “elite” Massachusetts school last year.
  • There are an increasing number of students, I think, being home-schooled or attending an online school.
  • Kids need exposure to books and resources outside of a classroom/school setting. Forcing their only association with reading and information seeking to be school work makes it a non-fun activity immediately.
  • Public librarians have a lot more programming freedom, depending on budget. I know everyone is strapped for cash, but generally public libraries aren’t restricted by curriculum too.

4) Teen librarians are being expected to pick up the slack where youth services are failing in outreach and keeping young readers engaged.

  • There. I said it. I think there is a failure on the part of many working in youth services, presenting at conferences, teaching new librarians, and leading continuing education to focus on actively recruiting, working with, and reaching out to elementary students. Contrastingly there is a strong expectation that teen librarians will “get the teens back in the library.” Rather than giving our teen librarians a solid base to start from, we’re requiring them to try to appeal to tweens and teens mostly ignored since they left preschool storytime.

What I think we need?

1) Children’s library websites written for kids ages 6-12. As much as possible, we should get feedback from those kids as to if the site is helpful and where we can, we should let them be a part of it. We, the adults writing the site, need to remember the different voice and vocabulary we use with kids, certainly not talking down to them but changing the tone from how we might speak to their parents. Let’s convene a panel and talk about what kind of language works best on a truly kid-focused website or a have an afternoon writing workshop on blogging for kids.

2) Even if we’re not seeing the rate of return that we get for the two year old storytime, it’s no reason to slack on helping early readers. If not regular programming, occasional. If not active programming, passive. Would it be that hard to introduce word cards into the room and encourage parents to work with their kids on sight words while they are at the library? Could we gather and figure out how to grow storytimes where the kids talk back in complete sentences?

3) Let’s increase the focus on elementary students at our conferences. Let’s have sessions on helping parents see how important continued library visits are as their children become increasingly overscheduled. Let us convene panels on the best non-fiction series that are coming out or where to find foreign language materials. Who will lead the forums on how best to explode things in your library without your maintenance crew or director having a coronary (**ahem** Madame Storyteller and Our Lady of Programming, I’m looking at you /**ahem**)? Rather than talk about summer reading, let’s have sessions on year round reading; how to overcome the September-back-to-school slump; best books for homeschoolers; and how to pair with your school media specialist and elementary school teachers rather than to be independent of him/her.*

4) Our professional magazine covers can be devoted to something other than teens and gaming in libraries. Really.

5) You already know I think age parameters are not evil. And I know this isn’t always an option. I worked at CPL and had to deal with the 9 year old who had to babysit her 6 year old twin cousins and 3 year old brother; I did “storytime” for 75 children between the ages of 1 and 7 and all of the older siblings who tagged along. But let’s find, create, and share programs that we can’t scale down or force to become “family” programs where the elementary students are relegated to helping the toddlers. Something other than book groups.

6) Adult Services needs to step up too. Families as a whole need to see the value in libraries. If the parents don’t see reason/need/value, it’s hard to get them to come or to bring their children. They need to see how libraries can help them grow too. But that could be a whole different blog post.

Doing it Right

I was recently pleased to see that ALSC seems somewhat aware of this issue. I got their winter online courses and the majority are focused on elementary age children. So I’m not the only one thinking this. And there are many librarians who are stepping up, reaching out, and scoffing at my list. Are you presenting, teaching, and writing?

Wow…you made it this far. Okay. So prove me wrong, would you? Email me your fabulous children’s websites, your amazing articles, and your programming lists that show tons of focus on elementary students and emerging readers. I know Abby has some strong kids reading groups–who else is out there? Let me shine the spotlight (okay, fine, the flashlight) on what you’re doing so others see.

And kill the summer library program panels.

*Alright, pipe dream. But hey–wouldn’t it be nice if we could get to those elementary teachers BEFORE they assign everyone to read the same two books?

Mixed Management…

Jenica has a very thoughtful post about management, and the general attitude of library professionals towards management and managers. The attitude is skepticism, fear, mistrust, anger, and general frustration and she makes some excellent points about the comments that have been made to her since taking on a directorship for one of the SUNY schools.

The comment that best struck me was the “don’t forget where you came from.” Her answer is somewhat indignant and rightly so. And while I don’t expect her to overnight turn into someone completely incapable of remember how to answer a reference question, it pointed out something that I have witnessed with managers and educators within the library profession. When moving into management or education, it seems to become beneath many to actually perform the everyday tasks called upon by the majority of your staff or students.

I have had the unfortunate experience of watching a reference librarian I respected advance to the directorship of a library. The power went to her head and I’ve watched her not only find the work of the library beneath her, including the work that falls into her job responsibilities, but also run off the good people who worked for her. It’s become a toxic environment where the focus seems to have become building her legacy, as it certainly doesn’t seem to be patrons, materials, staff or anything else. I’ve met managers who were firmly of the belief they should only ever work bank hours and certainly never on a public service desk (not because they were needed elsewhere–but because it was beneath them, keep that in mind). But then, I worked for a system that adamantly argued that I as a professional wasn’t to shelve but conversely the pages who only shelved weren’t allowed to do a “shelf check” for an item for someone from another location. If that isn’t convoluted and setting people up with a “beneath me” mindset, I’m not sure what is…

And then there’s the story that hit a week ago from Tulsa–where the Library CEO has had her position restructured so that she has no day-to-day responsibilities in the building and gets to work from home two days a week–with the same pay. They say it’s having an effect on employee morale. Without day to day responsibilities in the building, or even having a presence in the space, it’s rather unclear how the CEO is planning on staying aware of what is going on and what the needs of her staff are.

But for the ones that scare me to pieces, there are managers I have to point out my admiration for.

At present, I have the pleasure of working both with Madame Storyteller and Madame Director–neither of whom despite their lofty titles and extended experience–find shelving and checking out books beneath them. Granted, shelving isn’t the everyday task of these two women, who have a lot of other things on their plate, but Madame Director takes a shift on the circulation desk nearly every week. It’s one of the best places to catch her when I need something signed, because for those two hours, I can guarantee she’ll be pretty much in one spot. But it also shows to our aides and the other managers that she values that work just as highly as any other professional work, and it’s noticed and appreciated.

And there is a branch manager at CPL that I would have stayed for, had they let me work for her. She has the management of a west side branch and works, works with and for her staff, and is pretty awesome. As a result, people really want to work at her branch.

We do need a shift in our view of management, on that I agree with Jenica. But we need to find a way to highlight the managers who are doing it right, doing it well, and training other good leaders–as opposed to those who are most concerned with getting things out of it only for themselves, such as those banking hours and relief from the ref desk. Myself, though management wasn’t my initial goal on entering the field, I see it as somewhere I’d like to go. I’ve managed people before and it’s one of the few promotional paths available to me. I just have to remember what the Incredibly Patient Mother taught me about management long ago: one leads by example and a good manager won’t ask you to do something he or she won’t do*.

*with the caveat of course for things one physically can’t do or don’t have the appropriate training to do