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Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How to be an Organized Youth Librarian, One Spreadsheet at a Time! Part 1

Hurray! I am most pleased to announce that I am ready to share some of my secrets to organizing the madness of summer reading statistics and storytime planning with you! Best of all, I am about to share my worksheets, which are free to access, copy, and download! 

Secret 1: Spreadsheets! You probably already use them, and perhaps you do so very effectively. If so, I am so happy to share that joy with you! If you have trouble using them or have given up on them entirely, might I suggest you try mine as at least a starting point, and go from there? 

To get you started, try this spreadsheet for keeping track of summer reading registrations, attendance, awards, parties, and more: Summer Reading Records

All of the instructions are included within in the spreadsheet. 

Try this spreadsheet to keep track of summer reading donations and expenses: Summer Reading Budget

Do you need help preparing for storytime (or other programs)? Here is a spreadsheet pre-filled with craft supplies to help you easily plan for crafts, books, and songs! Hope you enjoy it: Storytime Planning Sheet

Please let me know if you have questions and of your successes with my spreadsheets. Thank you for reading, and best of luck in all your programs!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Party Planning in 3D, Free!

Most of my fellow public youth librarians are beginning to plan summer reading events, and some of you, like me, may quite enjoy opening your programs with a big, blow-out, everyone-goes-home-happy, kick-off party. My first kick-off party was a load of fun but began with two enormous issues: 1) The party was held outdoors and an enormous thunderstorm was on its way. 2) Our hosts brought the tables and chairs they'd promised about 30 minutes into the event. Fifteen stressful minutes of scrambling every which way with boxes and tubs later, we started the event 45 minutes late. At least most of our attendees had already registered by then, which my staff member and volunteers graciously did working out of tubs and on clipboards on a paved walking trail. It was a very hot and humid day.

Last year, I got much smarter and scheduled my party indoors, at a facility we had used previously without problems. 31 more people showed up than the previous year, more volunteers came to help, and we offered many really fun activities, in addition to a new feature: the baby & toddler play circle. Let me tell you now, the party was awesome!

So here are a few tips and tools I used to plan and will use this year as well.

This site: offers a fantastic, free-to-use room designer tool. You can add shapes, pre-made images, and various custom settings to help it properly resemble both the space you'll be using and the items you plan to arrange in it. Here's a cropped screenshot of my plan from last year's block-themed party. I used the car to represent the table with block parts that had wheels and challenges for building with them, books to represent my "book towers" activity table, various shapes to resemble my cardboard box-building activity, and so on. After completing the initial design, I cropped a screenshot of it and used publisher to design instruction sheets for each of my volunteers, with the table they'd be working at numbered, their name labeling it, and full written instructions for them to follow on the back. This worked out really well! When volunteers arrived, I handed them their map/instructions, asked them to read it, and got back to setting up. If they had questions, at least I had something to refer them to if I was busy.

Another trick I used was to number each area and put that number on each item/tub/box I brought to the party, so any volunteers helping to unload could take the items to the correct section. I own many clear plastic display sign holders and the first thing I did upon arrival at my venue, after setting up the tables and chairs, was to place the sign for each section with the appropriate number on that section's table (or on a post nearby in the toddler play area). 

Something I learned from ComiCon: Game tables at family events are wonderful! I brought board games from home and the two tables I used for them were full most of the time with families playing together. 

Also, never underestimate how much fun little kids can have with cheap plastic pools! I bought these for my new baby-toddler play circle idea last year and used them both for "swim" storytime and for block-holders during the kick-off party. The kids had so much fun, and I was only out 10 bucks. The little slide only cost me $2.00 at a yard sale.

Painter's tape can be awesome for laying down lines for games and activities, and it worked wonderfully for our activity in which the kids had 2 minutes to build something using recycled containers, based on a challenge card. Bonus: the activity materials didn't cost anything!

If your library is too small to hold a huge kick-off party, ask around town to local schools, colleges, churches, etc. You may be surprised at the generosity you find. When I first broached the possibility of holding summer reading performances and parties at our community college, one board member scoffed saying, "Yeah, if you want to pay $500 for it." When I contacted the college, I was absolutely shocked and delighted to learn that they let non-profits use the space for free, and even provide podiums, sound equipment, and projectors if needed. Now we hold all of our huge events there whenever possible, thus allowing us much more planning freedom.
Now: A word on snacks. Most of my summer reading food is free. A local grocery store gives us several cases of bottled water each year, a local gas station gave us several bags of ice a couple years ago, and tons of the participating families are happy to pitch in by buying fruit & veggie trays, cheese & cracker trays, and loads of pre-packaged snacks. We even had someone donate a huge pre-made sandwich tray last year. For our teen program, the middle school's very involved parents group donates a portion of its funds to a local coffee shop so the teens can meet there over free treats. My dad's saying has always been "Full bellies are happy bellies." Because he is very right about that, I try to keep my summer reading families well-fed, and they are more than happy to help do so. I did make or buy and bring a few treats to the kick-off party, though. Too bad I forgot to take pictures when my chocolate LEGO men were all there!

One last word on planning: You can never start too soon, and often the best ideas come when you're elsewhere or busy. So I save such ideas by starting an email to myself and replying with new ideas every time they pop into my head. Last year, I was sitting by the public pool one evening watching my girls swim, when a flood of ideas for an upcoming summer reading event washed over me. I picked up my phone and starting typing them in before they could escape. Soon I had lists and paragraphs of brainstorms, many of which I used later to plan my fairie & dinosaur garden party and my robot-making party.

Happy party planning, and feel free to ask any questions or let me know how it went!

Friday, September 15, 2017

Snacks at Storytime

Are you looking to increase your program attendance at events such as storytime or summer reading? Consider snacks. I know there are plenty of reasons to squash the idea: budget, messes, pests, allergies, etc. Here are some reasons to find a way to rise above all of those and add snacks to at least some of your children's activities.


Being a parent or grandparent is tough! One of the most difficult things to do with a toddler is keep them happy when it seems they are ALWAYS hungry. Many educational programs not only ignore this developmental fact, but also prohibit outside snacks from being brought in. So what happens when a 2 year old is getting a bit bored with the stories or the crafts? They start thinking about their grumbling tummy, and then starts the chorus of wails and shushes. Enter a program during which snacks are offered for FREE. Having a donation jar next to the snacks or asking parents to donate (we have a steady stream of donations coming in all summer long for summer reading programs) is also possible if budget is the primary concern. Many parents have commented on their joy and relief that snacks are provided at our library's programs, and some of my families who have moved to other towns have complained when they discovered their new libraries did not offer snacks.

Fresh Possibilities

Do you have a rotating storytime theme collection and are some of your families (or are you) getting just a bit burnt out on the same old, same oldness of it? So, you don't want to scrap years' worth of books and craft ideas/supplies you've amassed. Enter the snack craft. You can keep your theme, stories, and your regular craft the same while offering something new as well. Here are a few of the snack crafts I have offered in the past. The kids have loved them all. You can also make food that's not for eating a part of your activities. My sensory spaghetti bowl and spice painting were enormous hits! Think outside the box and use Pinterest to find a lot of fabulous, themed ideas.


Sometimes, ending storytime is awkward for me. Adults stand around talking and kids play at my play table or with their crafts while I clean up, but then as parents begin trying to make the kids leave, some don't want to go. Snacks have been enormously helpful here, as I often have a few leftovers and can help give the kids an incentive to leave by handing their parents a few leftover treats (with the parent's permission, of course) for them to have later. It gets them looking forward to what might come next.


If you, like me, work in a city with an abundance of low-income families, you know there are plenty of hungry families who come to the library. These families NEED library programs to help their children have the best opportunities possible, and what better service can we offer them than food in their bellies while they learn and expand their minds? Although my snacks are not always healthy, I try to keep the balance leaning heavily toward the healthy side, or to offer a sugary snack alongside a fruit or veggie. Regardless, a child with a treat in their bellies will often listen and behave much better than a child whose blood sugar has dropped or whose tummy is rumbling. 

Tiny Siblings

I do not place any age limits on storytime. Every child of any age is welcome. I have had them a few days old up to age 16, and I always try to adapt to my audience when everyone has arrived. Some children may distract others by noise or constant movement, but I see that as an opportunity rather than an inconvenience. How else can the little ones learn how to sit still, listen to stories, or take turns talking than sitting in a classroom-type setting and seeing older children model that behavior? Plus, they are hearing books read aloud, which can only benefit them.

When it comes to craft time, though, there are always some kids who want nothing to do with the craft or activity and who (if not forced to sit at the table with the family) will run wild around the room or throw a tantrum that makes you long for earplugs. My solution? You guessed it. A snack. I always keep a few goldfish crackers or graham crackers or raisins on hand so that even if that week's snack is not one-year-old or seventh-month-old friendly, I will have something they can eat. The snack saves all of us a world of irritation. While the older sibling is contentedly gluing colored tissue squares to the turtle's back, the younger one is happily popping one Cheerio at a time into their mouth. The mom looks from one to the other and smiles. I revel in the knowledge that they will all have a happy memory that will bring them back again and again. 

Still not convinced that snacks are the way to go? Here are my answers to the other common complaints:

Messes: I LOVE my little rechargeable vacuum cleaner for small messes, and there are many inexpensive options for these. If you choose snacks that are fairly clean and dry with minimal crumbs, this type of vacuum should be sufficient for nearly everything, and will not take long to clean up after.

Pests: We have dealt with mouse problems a few times, thankfully not in story time snack storage but in personal snack storage areas of the library. My solution? A heavy duty, sealed plastic tub designated for storytime snacks. Cleaning up after programs and taking out any food trash the same day also helps to keep the pests at bay. We also use a professional exterminator service that sprays around the baseboards once a month and troubleshoots any specific issues we have.

Allergies: I try to ask new families to tell me about any food allergies they might have, and thus far have been fortunate with very few having any at all. Additionally, I post a printed allergy warning next to my snacks sometimes when I think it might be an issue. You can make your own or print a ready made one, like these

Hopefully, you will finish reading this post with at least some ideas of how you might incorporate food into future programs, and some awareness of the role it can play in growing and strengthening your children's programming. 

Let me know your thoughts/successes/stories here!

Pinning Storytime

Storytimes are made more awesome by Pinterest. There. I have declared it as an absolute truth! Every week, I consult Pinterest for at least one of the ideas I use during storytime, be they crafts, snacks, activities, books read, songs, or fingerplays. During summer reading, I do the same. My typical storytime search consists of the week's theme (this week, trains), the word preschool, and the type of activity (craft or snack, usually). Then I sift through results, adding several promising ones to my Story Time Board , which I will consult again when I am ready to make a decision. Sometimes, the link only takes me to a photo or worse, it's a blocked or bad link that goes nowhere. In those cases, I can usually track down the source of the pin myself using keywords inspired by the pin in a Google search. Then I look through images until I find one that matches it. More often, though, I find abundant ideas that take me to wonderful, detailed instructions and step-by-step photos. If you are struggling to find fresh or quality crafts or activities to correspond with your storytime themes, I highly recommend a Pinterest account! Follow other libraries, especially ones located near yours and the ones in the big U.S. cities for relevant pin recommendations when you first log in. 

One of the things I love about Pinterest is the ability to "put a pin in" any idea I love, but doesn't fit anything I'm doing at that moment. I have several boards thus dedicated, including "Thematic Decorating" and "Storytime Craft Ideas." Now that I have been doing storytime for over two years, I also find myself returning to previously pinned items in my storytime list, as themes get repeated on occasion. Any librarian can appreciate an awesome, free resource with minimal ads (in the form of sponsored links) and endless possibilities. 

All that said, sometimes Pinterest does not have anything I like for a theme, especially for a really obscure one. That's where the browser extension button comes in handy. Say I am starting to plan for storytime for the week after next. I want to look over a few ideas but not commit to anything yet. Nothing on Pinterest for the theme catches my fancy. So I go to Google, type in the same keywords I use in pinterest, and see what pops up in the images, OR I search that theme and "storytime" to find what other librarians have done with it in the past. When I find something I like, I use the Pinterest browser button to turn it into a pin and save it to my storytime board. 

What are your experiences using Pinterest in program planning? Share them, and any additional online resources/suggestions here!

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Shopping, Horn Book Style

Just when I begin patting myself on the back for having all the best 2017 published children's books on my Ingram shopping lists already, I pick up the latest issue of The Horn Book, and in its delightful pages discover I have missed perhaps one of the most important chapter books of the year! Refugee by Alan Gratz holds in its description the promise of a powerful, timely, meaningful book that flies in the face of intolerant, unwelcoming spirit some very loud Americans have been showing to the world over the past months. Today's revelation is just the latest in a lengthy series of monthly upsets to my book buying self-assurance, reminding me yet again that there is a humongous market out there, and only with help from the best and brightest experts can I hope to really comb through it all for the best of the best for my young patrons.

While writing this, I flipped a Horn Book page and found another exciting gem, this time a YA novel I had also not yet heard of but that sounds amazing: Invictus by Ryan Graudin. Reading the description makes my heart pitter-patter at increasing speeds, in tune to the itching of my fingers to pull up Goodreads and add it to my TBR shelf.

So...I added it just now (couldn't wait another second) and was amazed to see the number of pre-publication, glowing reviews and ratings by Goodreads members. The book proves to be awesome for many fans of historical fiction and other genres as well as (like me) scifi lovers. Now I can hardly wait for the release!

For anyone reading this who works in a similar field to mine, Horn Book is worth the yearly cost! If you have a very limited book budget and really want to buy the finest books, from board and beginning reader up to YA, this is without a doubt a necessary resource.

Another, rather unusual resource I enjoy using sometimes, especially for filling gaps in my collection, is Pinterest. I most often notice these gaps when choosing books on a specific subject for storytime or summer reading programs. Pinterest will show me both individual books and recommended collections, which together alert me to books I NEED to have for my library. Equally as valuable for this purpose is the wide variety of wonderful blogs by my fellow children's librarians about their storytimes. The best ones include what books were read, songs were sung, fingerplays were acted, and crafts were used, with links to the books on Amazon or Goodreads. Some of my favorite picture book purchases were due to these recommendations. When I finally admitted to myself that conducting these Google searches during storytime planning did not render me weak or inadequate, but rather only helped enhance my programs and give my young patrons the best they can have, I turned a new leaf in my work. The tremendous increase in both storytime attendance and the steady influx of new faces tells me I am on the right track. No matter how great we are at being children's librarians, collectively, we are better. Seeking advice and assistance through simple, free searches is really a no-brainer.

On that note, I will return to Pirate Story Time planning, and to finishing my copy of the September/October Horn Book issue. Happy book shopping and program planning!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Weed Read

Perhaps the goal is unattainable, due to all the books I keep adding to our collection, but I have decided to give it my best shot.

The goal: Read all of the books in our temporary library's children's rooms (which have considerably less books) while we renovate. Check each book for condition, relevance, appropriateness, etc., keeping in mind our collection policies.

Time frame: September 6, 2016 - February ?, 2017

Current progress:

All the board books are now read and the section is weeded. As a result of the weeding, twelve popular titles are being replaced and many more have been weeded, with newer books covering the same topics on order. See the evolution of my board book collection in the pictures below.

About ten books in the picture book section and five books in the juvenile fiction section have been checked. This leaves a LOT of books yet to be touched!

What I've found thus far - I love reading board books! They are so cute and fun to handle. So many have neat features, like die-cut shapes, touch-and-feel, or scratch-and-sniff, or flaps to lift and fun, rhyming text.

Cam Jansen books are so quick and fun to read! They take so little time from start to finish, but satisfy that mystery-solving part of me who silently pats myself on the back for solving a mystery meant for a grade-schooler. I don't care - they are great. On to Alcott next! Keep up on my progress and book ratings on Goodreads:

Originally, our board books were kept in the turtle sandbox in the children's room. Finding a particular book was very challenging, as was keeping the books in decent shape when they were often tossed into the turtle and shoved harshly about.
Many of these books were missing half a spine or were stained, water damaged, torn, and/or outdated. Miss Val to the rescue! 

Most remaining books have intact spines and are clean, in good condition.