Monday, November 28, 2011

Why Have Summer Reading Programs?

Why are summer reading programs in libraries important? The answers are many but the real reason to participate can be summed up with one word. Reading. Simple, yes? Of course it is. Yet librarians want to go into details of how reading over the summer helps children retain what they have learned in school. Reading during the summer engages a child in an activity that will be enjoyable to them their entire life. Summer Reading Programs provide children with a safe place to spend their days during the long summer months. All true statements about the programs and the list could continue. However, librarians must remember simplicity gets the message across better. Why do children's librarians advocated summer programs for years? Reading is important at every age and in every season. The program with simple reading progress cards, bookmarks and other small incentives. Reading after all is a craft that needs to be developed and honed. Of course that is not how to sell it to children. To children this has become a chore because it has been linked to school work. Unfortunately, there is no getting around that. However, the good news is that getting around the idea that reading is boring and dull is not that difficult of a task.

Summer Reading Programs have become the hallmark of every youth services program in public libraries. Ask any children's librarian what is their busiest time of year, the answer will always be summer. When should every savvy children's librarian begin to plan for the summer? In the winter. The master binder of ideas from Collaborative Summer Reading Program, which many state Libraries including Michigan participate in, usually arrives in the Fall. By the winter, libraries have already at least glanced through to gather some idea of where they will begin when the "planning" starts. As a rule, all summer programs should be simple. It is amazing how many librarians try to make the program more complicated than necessary. The key point to remember is that even if a child reads one book over the summer than the goal of a summer reading program has been achieved. Of course if they read 100 books that would be awesome. Having said that, isn't it important to stress the quality versus quantity of reading. For example, if a child blazed through twenty books, and gained nothing out of the experience except a "prize", was the time spent reading enriching? Wouldn't it be better for a child to read two books, love the stories so much that they could talk to anyone about it for hours and hours. Not only that but it leads them to discover more books about the topic or from the author. This is where the heart of Summer Reading programs lie. Its when children are able to discover on their own what they like to read, which authors stir their imagination and the reason for reading becomes apparent to the child.

Any veteran children's librarian will agree that the programs have grown over the years into a major production. This includes prizes, performers and other promotions to encourage patrons to come into the library with children in tow. It would seem that libraries have become a type of reading "mafia" that lure children with an offer they can't refuse. A little exaggerative to be sure but stay with the thought for a moment. Can a Summer Reading Program be successful without performers? Additionally, are other activities besides reading progress cards necessary to entice the public? On the one hand, if everything was eliminated from the program leaving small prizes for children who achieved their reading goals, the planning for the program would be almost nonexistent. Then again as educators and advocates of reading there are many more enticing activities that compete for children's attention that a little "pizzaz" is needed when promoting reading.

From now until May, this blog will highlight once a week a summer reading program idea that will help librarians stay within a reasonable budget and successfully promote reading to their community. Keep in mind that this year's theme is "Night", and the possibilities are endless. Summer Reading is normally targeted for children, however this has changed over the years. Adults should have summer reading fun too. Keeping that in mind, there will be tons of ideas discussed that can be applied for all ages. Stay tuned, there is much more to come!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Making Friends: Thoughts On Politics and Elections

The Presidential election for 2012 is right around the corner Everyone has their own opinion on who is best to occupy the White House and fill the Mayoral seat in our cities. Librarians have traditionally been told that objectivity is the key to the profession. Never judge anyone for the reference questions they ask, don't take sides on which political party serves us the country better and collection development should, in theory, be based on a broad spectrum of ideas and opinions. Today is the perfect day to look at these standards as opportunities to reach out to newly elected officials in your city or county. It is important that all librarians and library advocates know who their representative are and how to build a relationship with them, thereby cultivating a new crop of library supporters.

When a new mayor or county commissioner wins an election in your city or town, what is the first action a good librarian or library director should do? If the first thought is to seek them out at the first city council meeting and congratulate them on their win, then the action is not bold enough. Actually it is rather timid. The first action to take is to call them at the first opportunity. If the library director is unfamiliar with the new mayor (or city council member), a self-introduction is a good start along with an invitation to come visit the library. If the new leader jumps at the chance to see the library, a good working relationship may be ready to bloom. If they don't come right away, there are ways of hooking them into your building.

Whenever new local officials are elected, libraries should have on hand a packet to give to each newly elected person which will explain the library's mission and purpose for their community. inside the packet could be a "welcome to the library", bookmarks with library hours, list of staff members, their position and contact information. This packet will serve as a great reminder that the services of the library is not limited to citizens of the city. it also includes aiding city hall, courts and other departments in the community who may need library services and research. This is critical to demonstrating to public officials that libraries provides services for everyone in the community with assistance in research to reading for pleasure.

One positive and productive way to get better acquainted with public officials is to host an Open House at the library. This gives everyone in the community to come together in a social and fun atmosphere where the library can shine as the community's "jewel". It's public relations at its best and it can be done very cost effective.

When meeting with newly elected public officials there are three questions that libraries should stay away from because the questions cause more harm then good. The first question never to ask ; 'Councilman Smith, how do you see the library fitting into the community?" Most politicians have no clue what libraries provide and do on a daily basis. Instead of asking how they view the library, tell them what the role of the library is in the community. Demonstrate in clear examples how the library is at the center of the community, Remind them that the library can be the bridge between citizens and city's communication by storing important city documents at the library.

Second question to ask is "Do you Have a Library card?" This is a weak question that many city officials will view as babyish. Might as well say, "You are not allowed in my club house unless you have a card." It's juvenile and non essential. A better question to ask would be,"Now that you know what the library can provide, How can we serve you?" Again, this is putting it into perspective that as a library director, you are making it a top priority to work along side officials regardless of whether the person is has a library card or is of a particular party. Both library director and city officials are there for the same purpose: giving the citizens the best possible service for their tax paying dollars.

Third but not least, "What was the last book you read?" This is a question that openly tells the person that one, if they are not avid readers they should be and two if they do read often, a judgement is being made based on the titles they choose to read. As all librarians know, there are several forms of reading, such as ebooks, CD on books and the traditional printed books. The genre, format or frequency is not important factors when cultivating library supporters in city hall. However, it is important when providing a services to them. Let new public officials know that they have many options to choose from when visiting the library from books on CD to classics literature in hard copy and everything in between. If they haven't been in the library lately, they will be curious to see what is now available to them and their family.

Librarians today must be politically smarter toady than perhaps decades ago. Of course it is good to build up good relations with the citizens of the community. However, that is not enough these days. It is crucial to the library's survival to network and form relationships with politicians. City Hall holds the purse strings in many instances, and librarians may fell helpless at being unable to "control" their destiny. Forming these networks, librarians will have a better chance to explain and advocate for library funding. Politics is part of a librarian's job, whether we like it or not. However, it is always a bonus to admit that we don't judge a politician by the party they represent. Instead, we judge politicians by the support they give to their local libraries. Wanting and needing that support to grow is as simple as shaking hands and starting a conversation. All public officials like that!

Monday, November 7, 2011

What If ....

Steve Jobs had an ability to tap into what his customers wanted when it came to producing computer products. Some would actually say that he was a genius at not only tapping into this "Knowledge" but also being able to tell his customer what they "needed" even before the customer could dream it up themselves. That is a gift that very few people possess, yet it is a trait that leads to survival in a competivtive field. Looking at the latest Apple "got to have" products, the iPad, there are many what ifs that come to mind when thinking about future applications of this little but mighty tool.

Going back a decade or so, there was chatter that the printed book would be on the way out the door. It would come as no surprise that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs both envisioned a world where computers would do everything, including replacing books. In this case, Jobs was more of a visionary than Gates. Industry leaders cointed the term "ebook" but it doesn't seem to fit the description of the product since it is not truly a book. It should be named for what it is: digital text. Which makes Jobs seem even more of genius for recoginzing that his product was not a book but a digital pad. Anyone who is familiar with the device knows that it not only downloads digital text of boos, it's also a tool for email, composing text, and surfing the web. Allaccessible by the touch of a fingertip. Using the iPad is also a Apps paradise. Everything one could ever want is available via an App. How wonderfully simple. So now what?

The iPad as a reader has several advantages that the traditional book does not. Easier to read with brighter text, vivid picture color, no "pages" torn out and the list can go on. Keeping this in mind, the question begs to be asked: what next? If reading the classic Pride and Prejudice, will music begin to play when Mr. Darcy first asks Elizabeth to dance? Will youngsters be able to smell strawberries during Story time when The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear is read to them ? For book discussion groups, will the iPad be able to facilitate a virtual book discussion where text is highlighted and comments from other readers about the book be heard, shared and responded to in a mere moments, as if everyone were on a telephone conference? Will books written in Italian, for example, be translated to English via an App that translates almost in an instant? If any of these ideas are in the works, it wouldn't be surprising. Apple, and Steve Jobs specifically, have been known to tweak technology to add a little more oomph and wow to everyday routines. It stands to reason that reading will also be "tweaked" in ways yet to be imagined.

All the possibilities that technology offers are wonderful and exciting. As a curious society driven on innovations, it would be silly not to think about what can happen next. However, it is a bit of a scary proposition that technology may take away a person's ability to enhance their imagination. The power of the written word may be at stake here and what will be left is the power of imagery, with vivid color and 3D capability which takes one to another reality. With technology trying to do one more next "best" thing, it would seem that Deep Space Nine's Holodeck might not be a thing of fiction. Perhaps, reading experiences could be replaced with this type of technology. Frankly, it will be much better if Holodeck remain fiction. If books will eventually become digital text, let's hope that this is not beginning of the end of the power and beauty of the written word.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Family Literacy Does Not Stop at Kindergarden

Very few families know what the definition of "Family Literacy", and it is probably a safe bet that very few actually know that they are practicing random acts of "Family literacy" everyday. November 1st marks the awareness of Family Literacy. As a profession, librarians should be educating families coming into the library on the importance of family Literacy and that is is a life long journey with their child. Ways to share this information is through handouts, programs, and readers' advisory. Using one or all of these methods will encourage parents to become active participants in their children's reading habits.

Family literacy is a springboard for babies and tots to be ready for their school years. Early introduction to sounds, print recognition and books are critical to aiding a child's learning experience. At this time, the statistics of how children who are read to do better in schools than their counterparts who are not read to will not be repeated. The numbers have been used time and again, with the conclusion being a "no brainer" Of course, a child who is read to succeeds in school What the numbers don't reveal is "why" some children are read to and other are not. Is it based on social/economic issues? Is it the education level of the parents? Is it that parents don't feel there are enough hours in the day to add one more activity? While we can not change any of these factors, librarians can provide positive examples of how to fit in little moments "literacy" everyday. Some quick examples are reading a recipe together, while driving reading street signs or simply talking with children about their day. All of these activities help children to read, express themselves and explore their world.

One very important factor to remember is that family literacy does not end at kindergarden. The nights of cuddling up with your youngster with a favorite book may change a bit over the years, but it is important for parents to be active in their child's reading habits. In most cases, when children get too "old" to be read to, parents assume that its time for children to read on their own. Yes, it's true that children relish the independence of reading a "big kid" book alone but it's a shame to not carry literacy further. For example, children and parents can discuss the book's plot, characters and message. This adds to the literacy and comprehension by allowing children to relate to the story in their own words. As librarians, challenge the parents who bring their children in to read the books their children are reading. If they take the challenge they will be "clued" into what their children are thinking, what they are curious about and who the "top" literary character is in modern Children/YA literature. Hey, it may be even become a "badge" of coolness for parents to wear proudly.

There are literally hundreds of way to share the love of reading with children. It can either be with playing a game as a family or reading the comics on Sunday morning. By practicing random acts of "Literacy" parents are preparing their children for school, work and life. Communication is everything, and knowing how to gather information and communicate with others is vitally important. The key to "success" for all children has been and always will be Literacy. Remember, the family that reads together, learns together.