Friday, March 9, 2012

Reading with Dogs

Do you have a read-to-a-dog program at your library? How do you set one up? How do you promote it? Let me tell you a story:
I wanted to start a read-to-a-dog program, and our local museum (which shares a building with the library) was planning to do a “Passion for Pets” children’s exhibit at the beginning of 2012; I decided to try to start it during the exhibit dates. So I knew my timeline.
But where to find a dog? I had talked to Jill Lininger, who had a very successful program when she was in Racine, and she kindly gave me advice. She let me know that I needed to find a Therapy Dog. They are registered and carry their own insurance and need to pass a variety of tests to qualify; unfortunately in my neck of the woods there aren’t very many of them. I hunted and finally found Bob, who had a likely looking young Golden Retriever (Barley). Bob raises potential Leader Dogs, and Barley had washed out of the school and returned to Bob as a pet. Bob thought Barley would do well as a Therapy Dog, but hadn’t put him through the training yet. He agreed to let me know when Barley passed the tests and was registered, and also said he would be willing to bring Barley regularly in the spring. I had my program!! A Dog, a Guy, a Library, and we were set.
Now to find the kids. I am lucky to have a good relationship with all 5 school districts in my county, and decided to focus promotion for this program on the 3 closest school districts (an afternoon weekday program won’t fly for a kid who has to drive an hour to get to our branch). In the fall, once I knew about Barley, I called the librarians at the schools and called the Title 1 teachers and told them about the program. I pushed the idea that it had been successful and popular in other places, and asked them to promote it to their kids in newsletters and parent contacts, which they agreed to.
In January 2012 Bob called and let me know that Barley was ready. We agreed to start the program March 1st and have Bob and Barley come every Thursday from 4-5 until school let out. I made up a poster using some photos of Barley, put them in the usual spots around the library and got them out to the schools as handouts, added information about Barley to my School Newsletters posting and the local Cable Channel posting. I added information about the program to our website. I talked to the staff member that writes a weekly column for our local newspaper and she made it the focus for the column the week prior to the program. I talked to the reporters for two of our local radio stations and got them interested. So I waited to see if the kids would come.
They Came! I had been warned not to panic if nobody came to read for the first few times but that first day we had 8 kids read to Barley. I was over the moon; I even had to make up a quick signup sheet! Our local radio station sent a reporter who took video and pictures and interviewed parents and then added the information to their website. Yowza! More promotion than I expected and really happy parents!
And then something unexpected happened. Have you heard about Pudding? He’s having his 15 minutes right now, and the story about him is busy going viral. His story got into the local paper, and a blurb about the museum exhibit (and a related program about pets here at the library) landed Above The Fold next to the main story. At the same time the Local Interest Section picked up the piece the radio station had done and fleshed out the story about the Miller Art Museum exhibit, and out little shindig to celebrate it. Yay Pudding! More free media attention!
Yesterday was program #2 for Barley, and once again we had plenty of kids reading and petting, and parents with big smiles on their faces. I used the pictures I took from the first day and made up a little handout for each family that had a reader that first day. The parents were delighted. What happens next? I have no idea, but we’re off to a good start!

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