Thinking about Picture Books

I have been spending a lot of time recently hanging out at other libraries and checking out how they organize picture books.  Many libraries are grouping at least a portion of their picture book collection into topics because it makes it so much easier for the library’s smallest patrons to browse for books by subject (Example: I want a book about Dinosaurs!).  There’s also been a lot of research done on how grouping books into genres or topics aids literacy because it allows readers to find more books about what they’re interested in–so they are more likely to read more.  The overall goal of arranging books in this way is to improve access to materials and save the patron’s time. Additionally, for the youngest readers, arranging the books face-out as opposed to spine-out presents picture books in a way that is visual–which is exactly how they’re supposed to be presented.

I went to talk to the librarians at Des Plaines Public Library about their experience reorganizing the picture book collection. One of the most interesting things they told me was that circulation rates for their picture books increased significantly after they reorganized.  I began to think about Ranganathan’s 5 laws of library science and how they apply to a project like this: Books are for use; Every person his or her book; Every book its reader; Save the time of the reader; A library is a growing organism.  A picture book reorganization project touches on each of these laws.

It makes a lot of sense to me to arrange at least part of the collection into topics that will showcase the books, while making it easier and more efficient for patrons to browse and find what they’re looking for.  The hard part comes in deciding precisely which categories would be most beneficial to the community, and then physically rearranging everything, but the benefits to patrons make reorganization worth researching.  I appreciate the way that libraries as institutions, particularly SPL, are constantly evaluating services and are willing to evolve when necessary in order to find ways that best serve patrons and all of their diverse needs.  It makes it an exciting profession to be part of!


Exploring Career Possibilities

Last Tuesday was my first time leading a Write Stuff program/workshop and I went in not knowing exactly what to expect. I had sat in on a previous program Mandy had facilitated a couple months ago and because I have a background in writing, Mandy and I thought it would be fun and a good learning experience for me to lead a future program. To prepare, I had created a short PowerPoint featuring brief examples of and information on memoirs, the topic we would be focusing on for that session.

Accustomed to creating presentations for classes, it became apparent quickly that I had to change my methods in order to appeal to 4th and 5th graders, so keeping them to a handful of slides with lots of evocative images and few words was key. I don’t have much experience working with youth, so I am beyond thankful for Skokie Public Library for providing me with the opportunity to work with different age groups because they behave differently, both within a group and as individuals. Interacting with people of different ages not only teaches you about them but about yourself as well. During the Write Stuff session, I learned that kids learn in different ways, just as we do as adults.

I used some tips for helping kids write about a moment in their lives from Scholastic’s website, which provided interesting prompts and exercises to jog the memory. At the last minute, Mandy and I decided to include an exercise in which the more visual learners could draw their memories to help them flesh out the details. While it helped some, others poked holes with their pencils to release stress, which, in its own way, helped, too. Each of the kids had great memories to share, from one girl and how she got her bunny Dott, to when one boy fell off a ski lift as he was reaching down.

It takes patience to work with youth at any age. Yes, 9 to 13 year olds can be scatter-brained, but they’re so much fun to be around. Their energy is infectious and someone is bound to say or ask something that momentarily stumps you. I realize I only spent an hour with those kids, but on my drive home, I had a smile on my face and I am able to entertain the possibility of working in a school library with elementary or middle schoolers. This just reaffirms what most librarians have been saying, which is to do a little bit of everything to really figure out what you want to do. I still want to work with teens, but I am open to starting anywhere, because everything provides invaluable experience.


Story Time!

On a recent Saturday morning, I presented my first story time here at the library.  It was jungle themed and I had an absolute blast. There were about 20 kids in attendance who ranged in age from 1-5 years old.  The kids seemed to be engaged throughout the program and I kind of liked being the center of their attention. It was a great opportunity for me to learn about what works in a story time for this age group and also a chance to identify things I can work on and adjust based on the crowd on any particular day.  One thing I think worked well with the first story, “Oh No” by Candace Fleming (love this book), was to make a sign that said “Oh No” and hold it up at the appropriate point in the story so they could help me “read” the story.  Even though most of them couldn’t actually read, I think having them associate the words we were saying with the printed text was important–and they seemed to enjoy shouting “Oh No!”.

Something that this experience reinforced is that kids this age want to be up and moving around. Incorporating action into the program is a natural way to help foster early literacy skills and it’s fun when parents get in on the action too!  This group responded really well to the song, “if you’re an elephant/monkey/crocodile and you know it”.  They really got into performing the motion for each animal–especially the snapping jaws of the crocodile.  I think it was helpful that the tune was familiar to them and also that we practiced the motions before we began to sing.  We also did an action rhyme that asked them to stop and listen to different animal sounds.  I played the sounds on a speaker and they really enjoyed guessing what animal they were hearing.

Something that realize I need to work on is to find strategies to help the kids refocus after an active portion of the story time.  I also want to learn some additional techniques for the kids who get  excited and have trouble sitting in one place.  I love the enthusiasm, but I want to make sure the other kids aren’t distracted.  I’m sure I will learn something new every time I do one of these programs. Overall, I had a lot of fun and I look forward to continuing to refine my skills and grow as I have more practice.


Reference Anxiety

Reference, to be quite frank, terrifies me. I hate not knowing the answer, and even more so trying to find information on a subject that I don’t fully understand. Every time I shadow on the reference desk it seems to go from empty to extremely busy and I inevitably end up flying by the seat of my pants.

However, when I think back to when I first started doing reader’s advisory work I felt much the same kind of anxiety. Any situation in which you’re helping someone who is [sometimes not-so] patiently waiting for an answer or a suggestion can be fraught with uncertainty and pressure – even more so when you feel you are not experienced or prepared enough to answer this question.

I have a decent amount of desk experience doing reader’s advisory and ready reference, and even some finding non-fiction resources, but almost always for children. Adults, however, know exactly what they are looking for (whether or not it’s something you have in the catalog) and can be very unforgiving about a lack of access to said resource. On top of this is the feeling that I am constantly in someone’s way or creating a more difficult situation for an employee to deal with than they otherwise would have had were I not present.

This also makes me very aware of the challenges faced by the staff when trying to combine two desks into one. While I may be there to specifically train for reference skills and learn how to be a better researcher, a large amount of the questions I’ve had to field (and forward on) are tech related. Of course, the patrons look at the Info desk and do not see any differentiation between job titles or expectations, nor do they realize I am intern. All they see is someone who is available to help them and all I see is someone who needs my help – and feeling like I am unable/unequipped to immediately and effectively do so is beyond frustrating to me.

At the end of today’s shadowing shift I feel completely overwhelmed, but I know this discomfort will allow me to grow and challenge myself to become more comfortable with an important skill for my profession.


End of Year Wrap-Up

In a thought process that will surprise no one who has spent time with me, I was having a hard time wrapping up my semester – both for the blog, as well as for Lynnanne and my semester paper for Kate. I was feeling as if I hadn’t done very much, so I forced myself to make a list of the major things I would want to reflect upon for the end of this semester and calendar year.

I’ve had the opportunity to attend some excellent programs that have made me think about future programming ideas and shown me the myriad of program types the library offers. The ESL cafe and Career Action Group were both observational opportunities that really seemed to be making a serious individual difference to our patrons.

Skokie also provided me with some excellent opportunities to attend events outside of the library. Most notably the ILA Annual Conference in Peoria, but also a book discussion about The Leavers through the ARRT. I have now joined both ILA and ARRT and hope to further my involvement with both communities. Today I have also gotten to attend a book group meeting in the morning, discuss my observations about the differences between adult and children’s book groups with Lynnanne, and finalize and schedule my own book group meeting for April.

I have also gotten to learn more deeply about the library as a whole, attending a board meeting earlier this month, riding the bookmobile and attending the EDI training with Corie Wallace which was excellent and thought-provoking.

I have gotten the opportunity to do a lot of asynchronous Reader’s Advisory work through Bookmatch/Screenmatch and making lists (one of which was featured on the main Skokie website and shared by SPL on Facebook! A nerd dream come true). I have worked on data collection for a couple of different AS initiatives and helped assess some reference websites for art appraisal.

I have also learned a lot about what makes a meeting effective. I have been really struggling with a poorly organized committee at one of my jobs and it has really been calming to see that running a meeting is a skill that should be continuously re-examined and honed. Seeing Lynnanne come up with new ideas for use in the Adult Services meetings really embodies the idea of a growth mindset that is pervasive at SPL. These are also concepts that have been illustrated in the Innovation Spaces meetings I have gotten to attend, the Lunch & Learn sessions, and all of our Dominican-Skokie reflection sessions. Within these meetings, articles and concepts are often brought up and sent around to further provoke thought and discussion. Today’s Innovation Spaces meeting will include discussion of an article Mimosa brought up in a previous Innovation Spaces meeting.

I also was able to meet with the team I am working with for my next semester project and I am so excited to delve deeply into creating a Youth Services Bookmatch system. Working with such a talented group of people on this project will teach me a great deal and having to manage the timeline/meetings/etc as well will teach me powerful lessons in leadership and teamwork.



Storytime, Storytime, Storytime

The amount of storytimes I have been able to perform just in this semester alone have taught me so much. They have taught me how to work a room, how to redirect children, how to adapt to any situation that might arise, and they have taught me a lot about myself. The way I handle situations, the way my mind works when I am in a state on uncertainty, how I navigate finding the right door at a school (I go to the wrong door a lot). Just being able to roll with it has been an important part of this position.

My mantra as a youth librarian is, “children will be children.” You can plan and you may have an idea of what is going to happen but children are unpredictable. They are curious and learning and they know how to keep you on your toes; which I think is what makes them so fun. My storytimes have been a lot of unpredictable moments and my reactions to situations have given myself a lot to reflect on. It has been hard to think of responses on the spot sometimes, trying to make them comprehensive for children while also trying to make them positive.

Some of my stortyime moments:

During my first preschool storytime and my last story, a child scooted all the way up from the back of rug and right up to the front of my feet. While in the middle of the story I feel my laces start to pull apart, without trying to lose much focus I slightly look down. The child that had scooted up towards my feet was untying my shoe laces and playing with them. I couldn’t help but laugh a bit at the situation but I knew the best thing to do was to stay focused and continue like nothing was happening. I kept on reading the story and he played with shoes up until the end, it was his way of listening and is now my favorite story to tell.

That child wasn’t the only who loved my shoes. I had another one do the same thing a week or so after that, so I have stopped wearing shoes with laces to storytines. However, not even a week after that choice, a child came up to my shoes during a story and just sat there and poked them the entire time. This was never something I had excepted, but they are moments of curiosity and is something I try not to disrupt if I can help it.

Children will also tell it like it is. One of the songs during my stortime is the “Baby Shark Song,” that all the kids know. To save time I cut out a few of the verses and very quickly learned that was NOT a good idea. For my first three storytimes I got called out for leaving out “grandpa shark” and “that’s the end.” I have learned, we do the full song now.

Every child is different, every class is different, every storytime is different. I have had children run up and take all my felt fish off the felt board while doing a rhyme. I have had children try to take away the shark puppet from me. I have children tell me they want no more songs. Children who have refused to stand up for songs, children who just want to talk, and children who want to do nothing at all. It has been amusing to navigate on all these situations and reflect on them later. Thinking of what I did in the moment and what I would do differently if the situation arose again.  Taking the time to come up with a script or action for all the different seniors.

I am also not in my own space which changes my reactions. I am going to different classrooms where the space is the teacher’s and I am just a guest. I would handle situations differently if I was in my own storytime room, or even if I was doing a storytime with parents involved. Each setting displays its own challenges, situations, and solutions. The space, classroom size, and teacher’s involvement all have an element into how situations are handled. In my storytime last week I asked the class if they were ready and the teacher jumped right in and said, “No we are not. We are waiting for (said child) to sit.” I followed the teachers instructions and did not start until she told me to. In other cases I have had teachers not get involved at all, leaving me to configure my role as an authority figure that the children will listen to as well.

The biggest challenge is not knowing how a situation is going to be until you are in it and teaching yourself to adjust and adapt to every moment as it comes. My storytime script as changed a lot. With every storytime I leave I have learned something new to add, change, or take away. I have obtained so much knowledge and valuable experience during the small amount of time I’ve been here and I can’t wait for more opportunities that will come in the upcoming semester. Being able to place myself right in the middle of the Skokie community has been overwhelmingly rewarding and has given me a whole knew outlook on early literacy.


Thoughts on my time here so far…

It’s amazing to me that the first semester is almost over.  There have been so many ways that I have seen this place and the people who work here make a difference in patron’s lives.  The thoughtful programming that is offered, the personal interactions with patrons and the enthusiasm for the work that is done here is inspiring.  It’s so much fun to be sitting at the desk and watch young adults interact with the librarians that they’ve known since they attended story time, or parents come in and show pictures and tell stories of their kids that had been using the library their whole lives.  This semester I’ve had the chance to learn about many aspects of librarianship, from collection management to reader’s advisory to working with partners in the community to provide services.

Looking forward to next semester, I’d like to become more active in engaging with patrons through story times, helping to plan for the picture book reorganization project as well as by spending more time at the desk, which has been a tremendous learning experience.   I feel like the past few months have shown me how much I didn’t know about being a librarian, but also how much is possible in this field. There are so many opportunities to be creative and also to advocate for the things and people you care about.  I’m looking forward to the experiences that next semester will bring.