I, like every other children’s librarian in North America, have been insanely busy, and for me, I’ve been crazy busy even by usual summer standards. This was the summer I decided we really need to offer a ton of programs, and since all my staff feel programmed out when they do more then 4 or 5 per month, that left me. Friends, I did 29 programs in two months, not including an awful lot of outreach. So yes, I’m very tired, but it was definitely worthwhile!

Here are a few of my favourite things from this summer:

This program, which is making kaleidoscopes, and is really cool. It takes a lot more prep work than I would usually do for this kind of program, but is well worth it. Even the parents were really impressed by how well the kaleidoscopes worked. A note for those in Canada: the mirror board is available at Michaels (in the one-sheet-at-a-time scrapbook paper section), but in Canadian dollars it costs almost $4 per piece with tax, and I could not figure out how to get more than 7 scopes per piece, even with making some of the 3-sided pieces in 2, 3, or even 4 pieces, taped together. So it’s a pricey program compared to my usual free one-time programs, which usually just use whatever we have in the cupboards.

Wonderworks again, for the second summer in a row. This summer I did it as a straight drop in, and it was crazy popular, attracting anywhere from 20-50 people per week, which for an August program here, where almost everyone goes on vacation in August, is incredible. We did this one, Does It Absorb, and it was literally one of the best programs I’ve ever done. Everyone got damp but mostly not soaking, and cleanup was relatively easy (we have a hard floor and lots of plastic), and everyone had such a blast! Do a water program at your library next summer if you can, it’s fabulous!

We’ve also started having colouring pages and pencil crayons available at the Children’s Information Desk, and it’s really been awesome. Sometimes kids give us their art, and we hang it on our ugly and dull concrete pillars, which helps make the place look more child friendly, which we have a problem with. Our little kid room is nice and kid-friendly, but the rest is not, and we’re always having people forget that the whole floor is for children and teens, so a little messy colouring is really helpful!

I also realized something I’ve been inching towards, which is that while I love teaching technology to kids (3D printing, coding, Raspberry Pi, etc.), our normal program sizes are just too big. This summer I had two Robot Petting programs, where kids could play with Dot and Dash and Cubelets and Blue Bot, the first of which was 16 kids (which drove me insane, even with someone helping me), and the second of which was 7 kids (which was fantastic and fun). So I’ve decided never to run another technology program for more than 10 kids.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about this blog, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time I varied things a bit, so I’m going to start posting more often, but also more randomly, just about whatever I’m reading, or making, or enjoying, whatever it may be. Plus, I can have more photos if it’s my stuff (our program photos are mostly not shareable for me), which is more fun. So look out for hopefully weekly posts about more things!




Summer Reading

So, like other children’s librarians everywhere, I have been insanely busy with the summer reading program. We’ve still got almost a month to go, so no end in sight, but it’s going well–our file boxes of cards for registered kids are more full than ever, so we’re hopefully well up from last year. What are we doing? Well, we do our normal thing, kids register, read books in threes, tell us about one of each three, and get a little prize. It’s good, it seems to work well for most of our kids, but we’ve always got a few non-readers or crazy readers who finish in the first week (finishing is twelve books). So this year, inspired by many fine¬†blog posts from libraries about their redesign last summer, we added this:


We call it the Activity Path (and the usual model is the Reading Path). Kids can do it instead of or as well as the Reading Path, but we prefer that they not take both at the same time–start one, do a level, than start the other. If you’re going to be away all summer we’re happy to give you both, but if you’re coming back every week, we’d rather one at a time.

The Activity Path is somewhat popular as an alternative to the Reading Path, and very popular indeed after the Reading Path has been completed. I suspected that we were maybe losing people because reading twelve books was too little, and I think I was right. The Activity Path requires more actual work, if you’re a serious reader, because for pretty much everything you do have to do something; even if it’s reading, you mostly have to do something with your reading afterwards, like read a science book and then do an experiment based on the book–kids who are hoping to do it all in the library in one afternoon are disappointed, and I’m okay with that. Everything shouldn’t be easy ūüôā

We also have this adorable summer reading video, made by a design intern we had in the spring, and we have a 3D printed model of the mascot, who’s name (we had a contest) is Mr. Bruce Sparkington!

So yeah, work is really busy (because guess where the kids go if they aren’t in school/camp/on vacation), but pretty good. And I’m going on vacation soon!

Reflections on 3D printing outreach

So, we’re all done our 3D printer outreach to the schools for now. Seven schools, about 1500 kids, and a lot of PLA filiment later, here are a few things I wish I’d known when we started out, and also some random interesting stuff!

1. Age: we ran this program for grades 2-8, because we assumed the technology was a little over the heads of anyone under age 7. It totally is (in fact, it is over the heads of anyone under age 9 at least), but the younger grades still had a blast, even if they don’t get it. I will definitely be offering it to K and Grade 1 as well in the Autumn. Also, the grade 8s, and to some extent the grade 7s, were pretty lame. With the exception of a handful of nerds, they are far too cool for 3D printing (although you can see when they come watch the printer up close that it’s just a pose, as you would expect!), and it’s pretty hard to get them interested in designing a mascot on 123D Sculpt. I’d probably skip that part with grade 8s in future, and maybe just give them a CAD lesson.

2. Male teachers are such a pain with a technology program! No offense, men, but if you’re in charge of a group of kids, it’s your role to sit back and make them behave themselves if necessary. Not ignore them and try to hijack the whole program and make it in line with your interests! (a couple of women did this too, but all the men did, and since we saw 6-8 male teachers vs about 45 female, that’s telling)

3. I did know this, but I wish I’d thought about it more: schools vary widely in the availability of technology and their willingness to try to help you/allow you to use it. We needed a projector and screen (or a smart board), wi-fi if possible and at least two outlets to plug the laptop and the printer into. This was made very clear when we sent out the invitations, and again when we booked and confirmed the visits. I would say about half of the schools made an effort to provide everything we needed. 1/4 of the others let us know in advance what they couldn’t provide, and the others made no effort at all, so we spent the first 10-15 running around getting everything organized, finding projectors, extension cords and so on. And several of the teachers didn’t believe they could log us onto the wi-fi, even though they were on the school board network that we’d been logged into in dozens of other classes!

4. If I were organizing it again, I’d want to send an interest survey out to teachers, to try and find out how interested their kids were, and so schedule the right amount of time. Yes, I know, at least 80% wouldn’t have time to fill it out, but if we’d known that for even a few classes, it would have been a big help. We asked for an hour, but in some cases we got as little as 25 minutes, and invariably, those were the most passionately interested classes!

A fabulous program

Not much time to blog currently, but if you do craft programs at a library, please consider this program:

I tried it on Thursday, ran it after school and called it The Fairy Godmother Workshop, and it was totally awesome. You will want to charge a small fee if you can, it’s a program that rises or falls largely based on how good your craft supplies are, so I charged $5 per kid and bought some really fabulous stickers, fancy paper, ribbon and netting, as well as raiding the library’s supply of lace and ribbon. Some things I learned:

You need at least two staff people who know exactly what they’re doing, no matter how many parents and helpers you have.

Doing dresses and crowns is too much, one or the other would be plenty.

Allow at least 2 hours for this program (I didn’t, and very much regret it).

Remind everyone at least three times that they have to leave the holes clear for lacing it up!

Have fun and be glamorous!


Had an awesome program today, modelled on one I used to run weekly in my old job. It’s a puppet program, and the main point is just to let the kids hang out with puppets! So we started with all the library’s puppets on the floor on one half of our program room, and the kids got to explore them. They had tons of fun figuring out how the owl’s eyes blinked and cramming the frog back inside the prince, and making the shark eat the chicks. Then we went over to the other side of the room, and made puppets! I was worried that some of the older kids (this was an age 4-10 program) would sneer at paper bag puppets or very simple finger puppets, but I need not have. Everyone had an awesome time, and we ended with an utterly chaotic puppet show (performed using a fabulous table on its side with cloth draped over it as a puppet theatre) in which I performed the handsome but extremely cowardly Prince Edward, the oldest girl in the room performed Princess Pom Pom, a double-faced pom pom hanging from marionette strings who was supposed to be rescued by Prince Edward but actually rescued him more often than not, and everyone else performed things that frightened Prince Edward so badly that he disgraced himself and fell off his horse! It was a huge hit, and almost everyone asked me when the next one would be. I wish I had pictures to share, but the problem with running a program by yourself is that it’s hard to take pictures. Anyway, if you have a nice puppet collection that you don’t mind sharing a bit, I highly recommend this kind of program. Kids really get a kick out of it!

ALSC Institute

So I’ve been away, hence the silence. I was lucky enough, through a combination of library, family and personal resources, to be able to attend the 2014 ALSC Institute in Oakland, California. It was awesome. Children’s Services staff, I recommend it above all other conference and similar activities in terms of what it’s likely to do for your library. You will meet more people at a large conference, certainly you will have access to a trade show, which the Institute does not provide, but just think: two and a half days when EVERYTHING is children’s services related! You don’t have to go to that school library presentation that might be applicable to your job, or that really adult services session that might have a nugget. Everything is about what you do and how you do it (if you’re a children’s¬†staff member¬†in a public library; if you’re not, you probably won’t find it very interesting or useful).

I went to so many great sessions: STEAM Power your Library! Increasing Access to Books for Young Children! Inspired Collaborations! Dewey-Lite! Everything was so good, and so inspiring, I want to reinvent my department right away!

I also spent some vacation time with my lovely aunt in Berkeley, which is always lovely. If you’re from the northeast, whether Canada or the US, the sheer climatic awesomeness of California is kind of mind-blowing. It hardly ever freezes there! They¬†grow more kinds of tomatoes than I knew existed! You can grow cactuses in your front yard! (if you come from a warm place,¬†just let me say you have NO IDEA how mind-blowing the thought of no ice and snow is, much less cactuses outside all year).¬†¬†Every time¬†I’m in Berkeley, I almost have a heart attack when I see the narrow, winding streets, but of course, if it doesn’t freeze much and never snows, your roads don’t need to be particularly wide or straight. Ours have to¬†accomodate¬†metre-wide snowbanks for about¬†half the year and be driveable with ice and snow on them (which means the straighter the better), theirs don’t (another awesome thought). The Bay¬†Area is not the¬†California of legend–not acres of beaches and year-round sun–but it is awfully¬†beautiful and full of lovely things¬†to see (and to¬†eat!). Go if you can.

Hair Story Time

Here’s a simple, fun Hair-themed story time for ages 4-7 or so.


What’s Wrong with My Hair, Satoshi Kitamura (this is a delightful large board book, which you can use with any age)

Melissa Parkington’s Beautiful, Beautiful Hair, Pat Brisson

Stephanie’s Ponytail, Robert Munsch

Bugs in My Hair!, David Shannon

A rhyme:

Here are the Barber’s Scissors,
(make cutting motion)
With which he cuts my hair,
I hope he cuts my bangs,
(snip fingers around hair and bangs)
Very nice and square,
A comb, a brush,
(pretend to comb)
Hairspray too,
(spray hair)
The barber has a lot to do!

Sing Head and Shoulders Knees and Toes as “Hair and Shoulders…”

If you’re talented with a flannel board, you can make lovely people with exciting changeable hair, the kids adore it!

For a very simple craft you can have everyone draw some crazy hair with a cutout face, like What’s Wrong with My Hair.

For a more complicated craft, you could make silly things to put in one’s hair out of pipe cleaners and decorations–flowers, spiders, whatever!

Summer Reading is over!

Yay! No stats available yet, but we were up in July (by quite a bit), so I’m hoping we’ll be up overall. Summer Reading in Canada is (in my limited experience) a smaller deal than in the US, but it’s still kind of a big deal–other than story times, it’s the one thing that everyone knows we do, and also (sadly) it’s also the one thing that everyone feels free to tell me how they think it should be run. Sigh. Anyway, we do it pretty simply. We do take part in the TD Summer Reading Club, and we awared small prizes for every 3 books a child reads, up to 12. I’m hoping that next year we can extend to something a little more activitity based, especially for the younger readers, and also maybe have¬†fewer junk prizes, but I do have to say, our kids sure do love them some dollar-store-type toys!

Simple Maker Programs

Okay, let’s talk a little about Maker stuff. As awesome as all the technology and hard core tools are, I think it keeps a lot of us from dipping our toes in the whole thing. MaKey MaKey is awesome, but it takes money and computers. Ditto¬†Squishy Circuits, although it’s more time than money in that case. Toy Hacking is awesome, but you have to¬†have management who think hacksaws and children are a great combination.

So what can you do instead? Simple things! We’ve had a lot of sucess just letting kids loose on craft supplies. Pick a time,¬†advertise it, spread out¬†some random but cool supplies plus glue and markers and stuff, and let¬†the kids go at it (it’s a great way to use up those random purpose-bought supplies that didn’t get used up¬†for whatever they were bought for). Yes, you’ll have to buy glue and markers and stuff a little more often than otherwise, but hopefully you can live with that. We did one on the Christmas break¬†when half the town had no power due to an ice storm, and it was the place to be!¬†Forty-odd people, ages 4-15 plus their grownups,¬†came to be warm, charge their phones and make cards and gifts–we had 12 leftover picture frames that had been hogging cupboard space and they all disappeared in about 1/2 an hour.

Then there are all the great, simple things floating around on the internet! We’ve done this twice: (thank you very much¬†to Amanda Moss Struckmeyer of the Middleton Public Library, for sharing). Children make simple little¬†‘robots’ from metal hardware bits and glue them to a magnet, and then move them around with another magnet. I had 12 kids the first time, and 24 yesterday, which was really more than I could handle, and they all loved it.

I also did a sewing workshop a month or two ago, with l0ts of needles and thread and fabric and buttons, and people were invited to drop in and either learn to sew or make something awesome if they knew how already. Luckily I had some parents and especially grandmothers come along, or I would have been swamped with teaching 16 kids how to sew! We had 22 come, but some of them did know how already.

Most of all, don’t worry! Maker culture is about just jumping in and doing it, so give it a try!