Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Become a Master of Out-of-the-Box School-Aged Programming by Harnessing the Talents of Your Community: A Step-by-step Guide

Brought to you by: Cole Zrostlik, Youth Librarian at St. Croix Falls Public Library. Come learn more at "Shake It Up! Best Outside-the-Box School-Age Programs" at the Wisconsin Library Association Annual Conference, 1:45-2:30 on Wednesday November 5.

Soon after the earth cooled, children’s librarians started hiring jugglers and magicians to draw under-served populations into the library, to compel reluctant readers, and to, well, do a super important part of their jobs for them. At the St. Croix Falls Public Library we have found success by shifting our thinking about youth and family programming-- from education/entertainment offerings to community outreach experiences. By doing this we have been able to create, and now foster, programs that serve more people, are way more accessible to our users, cost less, and that create richer experiences for our community.
Get your community more involved with your school-age program offerings and see a more vibrant assortment of programming develop at your library. By utilizing the strengths and interests of your service population, you can begin to provide exciting, out-of-the-box programming to your community. What follows is loosey-goosey, seriously oversimplified, step-by-step guide to creating community-driven, experience-based programming at your library.
  1. Give some of your you-time to do fun stuff with community organizations/potential community partners. Work on someone else’s schedule and take the first step to integrate yourself (or your library) into other community organizations’ programming (they just might do the same for you!)—sign up to run a booth at the school science fair, get to know your City event planner and ask to have your programming take place alongside City-wide events, call up a neighboring library to see if they want to work together on a project or two, take advantage of opportunities to work behind a table (outside, under a tent, is soooo my favorite) and not a desk. Not only is this a fun way to do outreach, but it is a great way to meet cool people who have a lot to offer to the community.

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    The St. Croix Falls Public Library’s BIG FREE LIBRARY this summer at Franconia Sculpture Park.

  1. Think poor, create rich experiences. I’ve worked both ways, and prefer a tiny budget to a surplus of programming funds. A lack of funding not only forces you to be creative with your programming, but also gives you the freedom to take chances and make mistakes. Lacking the budget to hire performers or even to buy flashy supplies obliges you to work directly with the kids, families, and readers you serve, giving you a chance to build relationships with your community and with potential partners.

  1. Partner, partner, partner. Whether you mean it or not, these are the people who, at some time or another, will help you throw super hip, in-house family dance parties, who will deliver live amphibians to your library for families to check-out, who will teach children’s yoga classes for absolutely free, who will help kids construct and race tooth brush bristle robots, or who will show up at your event with a bicycle-powered spin art machine just because you asked (and these people make you look LIKE A GENIUS!).

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    Despite being less than 10 miles from the SCFPL, Franconia receives funding from the state of Minnesota to do outreach to kids in that state only.

    Want better program attendance? Buy-in from the school district is THE BEST WAY for families to find out about all the amazing services and programs you offer. A good relationship with your school librarians (and the other way around) is not only a good way to get your programs on the school announcements, but a VITAL word-of-mouth tool to advertise your programs. My BFF, Rita the elementary school librarian, and I love to plan programs together, or piggyback off one another's school age offerings.  

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    Our school and library have a good thing going on! Rita decided to throw herself a birthday party during a Family Dance Party! The Parents of the Elementary Saints showed up too to do a little fundraising!


    Volunteer program facilitators are not always perfect, and (most of the time) volunteers are not the same as performers or classroom teachers. Remember, you are in charge. Be clear about expectations, express your needs and see #5.

    At St. Croix Falls, we’ve learned that many volunteer-led programs need to be integrated with staff-directed passive programming to make sure that kids, parents and volunteers get the most out of their experience.

    Example: A volunteer-led origami course for fifteen 8-12 year olds becomes an origami workshop. Here’s the breakdown of this program: At one station, the volunteer teaches her super complicated, multi-piece origami to interested kids. Three other stations (created by yours truly), consist of one table staffed by a knowledgeable 12-year-old volunteer with a simple, step-by-step origami project, lots of origami paper, and a bunch of super cool origami books, another table is stocked with an assortment of math games for kids to play in small groups, and the third is a self-service tangram station. Easy peasy. More examples of “workshop” formatted, volunteer-led programming at the SCFPL include Discover Archaeology Day, our STEAM challenge programming, Girls and STEM, Crafternoons, and a host of other events. This is a great way for even painfully shy people to become active community programming contributors.

  1. Try to convince your friend Marceleen to buy turtles and become NW Wisconsin’s “Totally Turtles Lady.” In other words, don’t be shy about volunteer recruitment. What kinds of things do the youth in your community want to know about but make you feel queasy thinking about trying to teach yourself? What does your community have to offer and who can offer it? What kinds of talents and interests do you notice in your community? Library board members, seasonal community members, moms and dads, super young volunteers, community partners, non-traditional high school volunteers, teachers-- it can’t hurt to ask.

  1. Lots of people want to help you. They just don’t know how to yet! Who will be the next teen blogger, science fair experiment guy, Crafternoon collaborator, Pokemon club facilitator, chess club guru, downtown event coordinator, grant partner, or kid who always passes out snacks at your library?

  1. Say yes to all (well, a lot of) program ideas from your community. Be thoughtful about the ideas you use and the ones you don’t. But if the idea seems feasible and if you already have buy-in from your community, why not give it a try?
Go out into the world! Remember, this doesn't happen overnight, but you are well on your way to creating programs that serve more people, are more accessible, cost a lot less money, and create richer experiences for your community.
Questions? Email Cole at czrostlik@stcroixfallslibrary.org.
See community-led, interest-based, and outside-the-box programming ideas at http://www.pinterest.com/czrost/outside-the-box-school-age-programs/  

1 comment:

Rita Platt said...

AWESOME blog post!!!!!