Friday, November 10, 2023

On the Struggle Bus

You may have noticed this blog has been pretty quiet lately, and unfortunately the reason for that is that I have been feeling completely exhausted and unmotivated, a passenger on the struggle bus that seems to be on an infinite route with no stops. I seem to be mired in a full-blown existential crisis, both personally and professionally. I feel like nothing I do really matters, and furthermore, nothing I have ever done really mattered. 

This has been building for a while, and many factors play into it, but I think the professional crisis began in 2020 when the pandemic hit just as I was finishing my MLIS, and the library system I had worked in for seven years suddenly terminated me (and 100 others) with no warning, no consideration, and absolutely no sensitivity. I always knew upper management viewed most of us as anonymous, disposable cogs rather than people, but to be actually thrown away without a second thought like that was devastating. I cried and mourned the loss of job I loved for a couple of days, but then threw myself into job-hunting, and I don't think I every fully realized or dealt with how traumatic that experience was for me. I know others were not so affected, but it affected me deeply.

I managed to land on my feet, finding a full-time professional position relatively quickly, but it proved not to be a good fit, and a year later landed what I thought was going to be my dream job. But due to understaffing, toxic management, a public that has grown meaner, more entitled, and less appreciative; and libraries being under constant attack, I am finding myself feeling exhausted, stressed, undermined, and unappreciated most of the time, and I have a hard time mustering any enthusiasm or excitement for things that used to routinely bring me joy. Work was my "happy place" in pre-pandemic days, an escape from stresses in my personal life; now it is just an even greater source of stress.

Another thing that I'm struggling with besides accepting that pre-pandemic life and the career I thought I was going to have are gone and everything is different now, is realizing that while certain experiences and people were significant and important to me, I was barely a blip on their radar. I know in my head that's normal and often the case as life goes on and everyone has their own lives and issues to deal with, but it still hurts sometimes.

Yesterday I visited the library where I used to work, where I truly loved working and was inspired to become a children's librarian, and I walked in and didn't see a single friendly or familiar face. So much has changed in the last 3 years, and it no longer looked or felt like the same place. I no longer felt comfortable there, or even welcome, really. It just hit me all at once, realizing that while the time I worked there and the relationships I had (in that branch & the system overall) were incredibly meaningful to me and I was very proud of the work I had done, the library had moved on without me and not only is it no longer the place or people I remember, no one really remembers me or anything I did while I was there anymore. I felt completely erased and insignificant, and I left and went to my car and cried.

I know I need to stop living in the past, let go of what might have been, what should have been, and just accept that everything is different now and that I need to move on like everyone else has. Sometimes people are more important to you than you are to them, and that's just how life goes. I need to learn how to stop defining myself by my accomplishments, my job, my relationships, or how others see me, and do a better job of having healthier boundaries and leaving work at work, but after a lifetime of being a type A classic overachiever, never feeling like I'm enough, and being in a field where vocational awe and poor leadership are so toxically pervasive, it's hard. 

I can certainly see why people are leaving the library field, especially youth services, in droves. Now is not a good time to be a librarian in general, and though all public librarians are generally overworked, underpaid, and under-appreciated, I think children's librarians are the most prone to burnout due to the excessive programming demands that so often goes along with youth services. We are expected to be everything for everybody, without the staffing or funding to do so, with a public that has grown more entitled and less appreciative, kids that are so much more challenging to engage, parents that often don't parent, and upper management that is often out of touch and unsupportive, and frequently downright toxic. Some days I'm tempted to just chuck it, and let not-so-distant-future me deal with not having enough money for retirement. I wish I had figured out I wanted to be a children's librarian much sooner, so I would've had a chance to be one for at least a little while in the 'golden age'.

I know lots of you are struggling, too. If anyone has figured out how to escape some of the stress and still find some joy, to do a good job while maintaining healthier boundaries, to be able to let go and not let things drag them down, to stop taking things so personally and not lay awake every night thinking about everything that needs to be done or every little thing that went wrong, I'd love to hear from you! Additionally, how do you find the bandwidth to be there for your staff who are also struggling when you are barely hanging on by a thread yourself?

Sunday, August 20, 2023

SRP 2023 "Summer at the Library" Reflection

Image by freepik

This summer was the tenth of my career (not counting 2020, The Summer That Wasn't), and my second as youth services manager, responsible for designing and overseeing everything, including planning and executing most of it myself. This year was a little less stressful since it wasn't my first time, so I had a better idea of what to expect in terms of attendance and had more programming planned and supplies ordered in advance. It was also more satisfying since I got to design things they way I wanted this year, and I departed from the mainstream a bit, "going rogue" in some ways. In the past I've had a love-hate relationship with summer reading, and this year I was able to love it a little more.

Overall, it was a great success. We had a 32% increase in program attendance for birth-10 and families, and a 15% increase in program attendance for ages 11-18 (what we consider "teen"). This was primarily due to more and earlier promotion of "Summer at the Library", more promotion of big events, dropping registration, and getting the retractable wall between our meeting rooms fixed so we could open it up and accommodate more people at our big events (big events being the kick-off, paid performers, guest presenters, and a Meet a Truck event). Attendance for in-house programs was roughly the same, with a slight drop in attendance for the elementary programs, but an increase in attendance at family craft programs, which is what I was hoping for to keep crowd size more manageable in the elementary programs, and avoid some of the issues with younger siblings. Once again, we saw the same trend of a gradual decline in attendance after the first 2-3 weeks due to vacations, summer camps, and getting ready for back to school.

Here's what really worked for us:

  • Having a Purchasing Deadline. Our director imposed a purchasing embargo from May 16th-June 30th (the end of our fiscal year), which forced me to plan things early in order to get supplies ordered by the deadline. Made April-May busy and stressful, but June & July were much less so as a result.
  • Having a kick-off event. This brought a lot of families in that we don't normally see, or see as often, and generated a lot of positive feedback and goodwill. We had a petting zoo, face-painting, games, crafts, costumed staff as T. rex and shark, and an ice cream truck.
  • Having more big events. Paid performers cost $5 per person or less, and really draw a lot of people without a lot of staff effort. They really are worth the expense in the long run, and generate a lot of good will. More people coming to the library means more materials being checked out, more awareness of what the library offers.
  • Ditching the CSLP theme. We really weren't excited about it, and I wanted to be able to do a wide variety of programs and not worry about being tied to a theme. We went with a general "Summer at the Library: Read! Explore! Discover!" Took pressure off me and the YS staff by making it very open-ended and all-encompassing, and patrons didn't miss having a big theme at all. I don't think they even noticed!
  • Adding family craft programs (last year I had tried movie and game days as a way to add family programs with little staff effort, and there was no interest at all). This also helped reduce attendance for the elementary age programs, which had been over-crowded last year.
  • Keeping things simple, especially the first 2 weeks when we typically get big numbers. Planned things that did not require a ton of prep and set up time, and that would be easy to stretch or otherwise accommodate bigger than expected numbers, and younger siblings.
  • Hiring extra summer help. We hired a college student just for the summer, 12 hours a week, specifically to help me prep, set-up, and clean-up for programs, and to be an extra set of hands and eyes during the programs. It would have been a much more stressful and hectic summer without them! (I had two other part-time staff who primarily did the teen & tween programming and desk coverage.)
  • No Slime! Not doing programs for the elementary age that would have safety concerns for younger siblings. Nope, was not fighting that battle again.
  • Dropping registration! Registration was never helpful for planning, as there were so many no-shows and those who showed up without registration, just added more hassle and frustration, and resulted in more negative patron interactions. We only had registration for the teen tie-dye programs in order to know how many and what size shirts to buy (and still had the problems of no-shows and walk-ins).
  • Ticketing - We had one event that had a crowd limit set by the presenter that was lower than our max attendance, so we tried advance ticketing (tickets had to be picked up in-person, no phone reservations, starting a week before the event) on the advice of others, and still had no-shows, but it worked much better than online registration.
  • Consistent Days/Times - All kids programs & events were at 10:30 am, with Toddler Storytime on Tuesday, Family event or craft programs on Wednesday, Elementary kids on Thursday, and Preschool storytime on Friday, every week (except the week of July 4th). Teen programs were always on Tuesday & Thursday afternoons, though times varied slightly.
  • Working in a mini-break the week of July 4th, when we are closed one day and always see much lower numbers anyway. So did not do the full week of programming, just one Family Lego Day and one Family Storytime. Gave staff a nice break, without really impacting numbers.
  • Programs that were big hits: Elementary Butter-Making, Elementary DIY Dinosaur Models, Family No-Sew Sock Animals, Meet a Truck, all performers, Teen/Tween Tie Dye, Teen/Tween Guided Painting, Teen D&D
  • Sleeper Programs: not as highly attended (possibly due to being in July), but were loved by those that did attend, and got attention on social media - Bubble Science, Shark Week
  • Dropping Beanstack and switching to a more fun, easy reading challenge on paper; 46% increase in registration, and even though the completion rate of 34% was disappointing, it was still twice as high as last year.
  • Giving away books at the beginning. Yes, kids got books for signing up, and 2/3 never finished, but putting books in the hands of kids is ALWAYS a win! (They also got a 2nd book, pizza coupon, and raffle entry when they turned in the log at the end.)
What Didn't Work:
  • Elementary Solar System Mobile - Too much work coloring them all in (I felt the pre-colored templates would eliminate all creativity), and kids lost interest; few completed it, and only with significant adult help. It would be better as a group classroom or homeschool activity.
  • Teen/Tween Flip-Book Animation - no one showed up, though I still think this would be a good program. Our teen programming is in transition and re-building after a staff change, so maybe worth trying again and with more promotion.
  • Registration - Though we only used registration for the tie-dye program so we could have the right number and sizes of shirts, we still ended up with too many no-shows and leftover shirts. Next time, we will do something (1) cheaper, and (2) where size is not an issue. Maybe bandanas, and they can bring one additional item of their own if they wish?
  • Teen/Tween Magic the Gathering - This was brand new, and not many in this community are familiar with it, unlike D&D. So the two summer sessions didn't have very good attendance, only 1 at the first and 2 at the second, but the third month had 4, so it seems like it will grow with time. I wish we had waited until fall to start it, and had done programs that would have been more popular for the summer.
  • Consistent Weekday Morning Time Slot - Though we had good attendance having all the kids/family programs in the mornings, we aren't serving those families who are unable to attend mornings. But with our very limited staff and budget, it's hard to add additional evening programs, though I'll have to figure out something.
  • Reading Challenge - Yes, we had significantly better results this year than with Beanstack, and those that completed the Bookopoly reading challenge said they really enjoyed it, I was very disappointed that only 1/3 completed and submitted it by the end of the summer. Adult participation was very low; however, we did see a significant increase in children 5 and under participating, so we are getting the message out that summer reading isn't just for school aged kids that are reading independently, and the 0-5 age group had the highest completion rate (44%). So it worked somewhat, just not as well as I'd hoped.

For next year, I probably won't change much as far as programming, except to figure out how to add at least a few weekend or evening programs to accommodate those who can't come during weekday mornings, and tweak the teen/tween programming a little, possibly adding more. We may or may not follow the CSLP theme; that will be something we re-evaluate from year to year. [I honestly think CSLP has become obsolete; I don't find the manual very useful and can get better ideas with much more complete instructions online, and I haven't been thrilled with the artwork and often use other stock art.] I also think I want to add some kind of finale event, maybe that would encourage more people to get reading logs turned in.

I'm not sure what to do about the reading challenge. I was encouraged by the higher registration this year, but then disappointed by the low completion rate. Yes, having more/bigger/flashier prize drawings might help motivate more people to turn them in, but I don't believe it really motivates more reading. I honestly think people are just over reading programs that require logging, no matter how easy and fun we try to make it; it still becomes a chore. They are usually required to log reading during the school year, which I always hated as a parent, and don't want to have to do it in the summer, too. There are issues with any format; not everyone has internet access or the ability or inclination to use online trackers, paper logs get lost, etc. And whether reading logs do anything positive is highly questionnable.

What I've observed, read, and heard from others is that highly incentivized programs don't work anyway, if encouraging long-term reading habits is the goal. It does encourage more cheating, but even worse, incentivizing reading may actually have the opposite affect of the intended goal. Unfortunately, we have become stuck in this cycle of chasing numbers, forgetting about the original goal of summer reading, and ignoring the research that suggests otherwise. 
If I could really do summer reading any way I wanted, not worrying about numbers or stats, I'd drop reading logs all together! That's pearl-clutching inducing heresy, right? But, hear me out. 

Research may not support what summer reading has become, and "we've always done it that way" isn't a good enough justification to keep doing it. However, administrators and state libraries are loathe to give up their statistics, and even many among our own youth librarian ranks insist that they work, despite evidence to the contrary, often insisting they have seen the results (maybe in the short-term, but can you show long-term?), or using the emotional argument "But if even ONE child is motivated to come to the library/check out a book, then maybe they will find that one book that will hook them...". Sounds good, tugs at our heartstrings, appeals to our vocational awe in wanting to believe we make a difference...but I believe library practice should be based in evidence, not emotion, and this ignores the very real, research-supported, possibility that these highly incentivized programs actually decrease reading in the long run. (I still intend to do a deep dive on this with proper citations, I promise!). Unfortunately, it seems this may have become the "inconvenient truth" of our profession.

But I digress... What I would do is instead is encourage reading with messaging, with giving away books all over town, with programming and outreach. Do more storytimes out and about in the community, incorporate books and reading into your programming as much as possible. For example, a cooking program for teens based on recipes found in YA books, STEM activities inspired by books, non-traditional book clubs, giving booktalks at the beginning of every program, arts/crafts inspired by book characters or illustrators, anything that encourages reading and portrays reading as both fun and functional. What would we use for stats? Why not base it on how many books given away, circulation, and program attendance? Why have we come to place so much importance on how many minutes or numbers of books are read? Does that REALLY mean anything? A child reading one book, but really enjoying that book and being excited about reading the next one is better than a child reading 10 books to get a prize, but not really enjoying it or continuing to read after getting said prize.

Will I be able to do this? Probably not, but I will at least pitch the idea, and if denied, I'll gather more evidence, and pitch it again next year!

If you have significantly changed your approach to summer reading, or if you have done any research on the subject, actual research or a lit review, I would LOVE to hear from you! Please drop me a line at!

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Shark Week! - Multiple Programs

Although I'm not particularly crazy about or interested in sharks, I did used to enjoy Discovery Shark Week back when it was still educational and not sensationalized crap, and I discovered when I did my very first Shark-themed storytime that it does make for some great programming. Last summer we did a whole week, and it was so fun and such a hit that we did the same this year, and for the first time in a while it luckily coincided with the Discovery channel Shark Week. 

I had the following shark-themed programs and passive activities (programs described below, with photos):

  1. Display of shark & other ocean-related books
  2. Scavenger hunt & coloring sheets
  3. Family Storytime
  4. Elementary Explorers (ages 6-10)
  5. Tween/Teen Shark Tooth Necklaces (ages 11-18)
  6. Newport Aquarium with Live Shark (all ages, best suited for ages 8 & up)

Family Storytime 
We sang "Slippery Fish", did "Two Little White Sharks" (modeled after "Two Little Blackbirds") with finger puppets, "Five Little Fishies Teasing Mr. Shark" with puppets, and read Shark In The Park (now available in boardbook, but I sure wish they would re-release in hardback!) by Nick Sharratt and Shark's Numbers by Harriet Evans. Afterward, we had a visit from Mr. Shark (a coworker in an inflatable shark constume), and I had a few activities: sensory bin with water beads and toy sharks, dot painting sharks & other ocean creatures, and walking the plank (balance beam) over shark-infested waters (cardstock fins taped to floor with waves drawn using chalk). The kids (and grown-ups!) had a blast.

Shark Week Storytime

Elementary Explorers 
This is the one I really wanted to highlight here, because it was SO easy and so much fun! It turned out to be my favorite program of the week. Knowing this would be the last week of summer and I would be running on fumes, I took the easy way out and ordered these cute "Pet Shark-in-a-Jar" kits from OT. They were a bit pricey ($2.84/ea), but so cute! 

I first booktalked a few shark-themed books, both fiction and non-fiction, then showed a short slide show with pictures and a few facts of around 8 of the more unusual shark species. I followed that with a brief shark trivia quiz. Then we began working on our pet sharks in jars. I supplemented what came in the kits with sand and some tiny shells I had leftover from making beach slime last summer, which really added a nice touch. I also offered shark origami corner bookmarks as an additional craft, with printed step-by-step instructions with photos and a QR link to video instructions. While they worked on their crafts I entertained/annoyed them with corny shark jokes. That morning before work a "What Shark Species Are You" quiz coincidentally (or not) showed up in my Facebook feed. I wasn't sure if the kids would be interested, but they loved it! As they finished up their crafts, they would come up one at a time, and I'd help them go through the quiz, then take their picture next to the TV screen with their result.

Shark Week activities for kids, pet shark in a jar,

I didn't have a huge turnout, as our numbers always drop by the last week, but it was nice have a smaller group for a change, more relaxed and calm, and those that came really enjoyed it. I was surprised at how much they liked the "What Shark Species Are You" quiz; one boy even made both his grandparents come in and take it, LOL!

Tweens & Teens 
Another easy program, making shark's tooth necklaces using waxed braided cotton cording, wooden beads, and pre-wired shark teeth. I did this same activity last summer with the younger kids, and it was a hit with all ages. I noticed a few kids wearing their necklaces the next day.

DIY shark tooth necklace

Newport Aquarium - Sharks
The week culminated with a shark program by the aquarium, complete with a live shark! I was a little hesitant to book them, because at a previous job when a coworker booked them we expected 200 people, and ended up with at least 600 and had to turn many away! I did advanced ticketing, with 125 tickets (the limit set by the aquarium) made available to be picked up started the Saturday before the program. Almost 90 tickets were given out that first day, with the last 37 going out Monday morning. We had about 20 no-shows, and 2-3 walk-in families we were then able to accommodate, so it worked out just right! 

Next year I'm going to have them bring sting rays!

And with that, my summer is done, other than doing the prize drawings and putting together some stats and a highlight video. I'm doing storytimes this week, then going on vacation and taking a programming break for the rest of August!

Saturday, July 22, 2023

Bubble Science - STEAM Program

Bubble Science

I did this fairly easy and relatively inexpensive STEAM program earlier this summer for ages 6-10, but some of the activities could be done with older or younger kids. 


  • bubble solution (I really like the Joyin concentrate, especially if you ever use bubble machines)
  • pipe cleaners
  • straws
  • skewers
  • plastic dixie cups (do not use paper, the bubble solution goes right through them)
  • small plastic plates
  • plastic drink bottles with the bottoms cut off (doesn't matter what kind or size, or if they are all the same or not, though I wouldn't use ones with wider openings at the top)
  • socks, or scrap pieces of fabric
  • rubber bands
  • food coloring
  • paper
  • bubble science kit (optional, but to me was worth the $10 to have a pre-made bubble cube and pyramid, and the booklet with suggested activities and other items came in handy as well); if you do not purchase the kit you would need to make your own bubble cube
Prep:  At each table, I placed 4 pipe cleaners, 4 straws of different colors, 4 skewers, and 2 small plates (I didn't have enough for everyone to have their own). Then I filled the small plastic cups with bubble solution, to be passed out once everyone was settled and ready to begin the activities.

Activity #1 - Surface Tension, Elasticity, & Shape 
  1. I instructed them to use a pipe cleaner to make a bubble wand with an angular opening, such as a square, triangle, star, or heart - anything but round - and see if they could blow a square, etc., bubble. 
  2. After determining that they could only make spherical bubbles regardless of the wand shape, I showed a brief slideshow about the science of bubble. I conveniently happened up one on the American Chemical Society website, saving me from having to make a PowerPoint myself.
  3. This showed how the bubble wall is made up of a bilayer of soap molecules with their hydrophobic tails facing outward and their hydrophilic heads pointing inward, with water sandwiched in the middle. We also discussed surface tension, which is why the bubbles are always spherical; elasticity, which is why the bubbles can stretch and grow bigger; and how the iridescent colors are from light bouncing off the bubbles and bubbles not having a uniform thickness.
Square bubble wand

Activity #2 - Skewer Challenge 
  1. I demonstrated how to use a straw to blow bubbles, and how to blow very gently to form a larger bubble that stays attached to the end of the straw, and let them practice until they got the hang of it.
  2. Then I showed them that I could pierce my bubble with a skewer without popping it (after dipping it in bubble solution without them seeing), then challenged them to do the same.
  3. Of course their bubbles all popped when pierced with a dry skewer.
  4. Then I let them in on the trick, and demonstrated how I had dipped my skewer in bubble solution first, which will allow the skewer to pierce the bubble without popping it, and even pass through to the other side.
Piercing bubble with skewer

Activity #3 - Bubble Clusters & Bubble Inception
  1. For this activity, I instructed them to pour some solution into the plate, then to blow bubbles using the straw onto the plate, and see what happens when bubbles connect. We observed that if the bubbles are very different in size, the larger bubble sometime absorbs the smaller one, making one larger bubble. But when bubbles are close to the same size, they attach, forming a wall in between. When many bubbles of similar size come in contact, the center one will end up in a hexagonal shape.
  2. Then we tried to see if we could blow one bubble onto the plate, and then blow more air into it to make it big enough to cover the entire center of the plate (we could).
  3. Next, we tried blowing a bubble inside of that bubble by dipping our straws in bubble solution, inserting it into the large bubble, then blowing. It was possible, but a little tricky keeping in the center so they wouldn't merge. Some of the kids were able to get one bubble inside, and I was able to go one more step and get a third bubble inside that bubble! 
  4. We all played around trying different things before moving onto the next activity.
Bubble inside a bubble

Activity #4 - Bubble Cube Demo

So, we already determined that bubbles are always spherical, right? Well, not exactly. They are always spherical when a single bubble is floating in air, but when they contact other surfaces, bubbles, or films, they do form straight walls.

Initially, my thought was to have them make their own bubble cube to do this trick, but after I spent the previous afternoon testing everything, I realized it would take too much time and likely be too difficult and frustrating for this age, and better suited for middle school and up, so I did it as a demonstration instead.
  1. Using the cube frame that came with the Bubble Science Kit, I dipped and rolled it in bubble solution until all 6 sides had soap films (or dunk it if you have a container of bubble solution deep enough).
  2. It would sometimes take a few tries, but I would carefully jiggle or tap the cube until I could get the films to join in the center.
  3. Using my straw dipped in bubble solution, I carefully blew a small bubble into the very center, resulting in a cube-shaped bubble! [Sometimes step 2 or even step 3 would happen spontaneously while rolling the cube in solution to coat.]
Bubble cube

Activity #5 - Bubble Painting 

Since you can't put bubble solution in paper bowls and I only had four plastic bowls, I set this one up as a station that they would take turns doing while others worked on the next activity, or continued to experiment with blowing bubbles. I put some solution into four bowls, and added a couple/few squirts of liquid food color into each [It took a fair amount, you'll just have to experiment until you get it right], and stirred to mix.
  1. First stir the solution well with your straw (the pigment tends to settle out).
  2. Put the end of your straw to the bottom of the bowl, and blow bubbles until there is a mound of bubbles above the top of the bowl.
  3. Carefully and slowly lower a piece of paper onto the bubbles, and continue lowering it until it almost touches the top of the bowl. Be sure to keep the paper taut and not let it sag in the middle or it will get down in the solution.
  4. Repeat with the same or multiple colors on different areas of your paper, if desired, then turn over and lay flat to dry (if the paper comes away with bubbles attached, it's fine; they will eventually pop).
  5. When dry, the colors are brighter and show up more, but if it's too light just add more color and try again. If the bubbles are popping too fast because the coloring has diluted the soap too much, simply add a spoonful or two of the concentrated bubble solution (or dish soap if making your own).
Bubble Painting

Activity #6 - Bubble Snakes! 
  1. I gave each participant a (clean) plastic drink bottle that had the bottom cut off, a sock, and a rubber band.
  2. I showed them how to cut the excess top of the sock off if needed, then to put the sock on the bottle, covering the open bottom.
  3. Then we secured the socks in place with a rubber band.
  4. To test them, we went outside!
  5. I poured bubble solution in a deep tray, and they dipped the sock-covered ends of their blowers in the solution, letting it sit a few seconds to absorb the first time.
  6. Then blow into the bottle!
  7. This produces many tiny bubbles attached to each other, creating a column of foam (aka "Bubble Snake")

    You could also do this using different types of fabric and comparing the results.
Bubble snakes

I gave them ziplock bags to take their bubble snake blowers and wands home in so as not to drip soap everywhere, a small tube of bubbles, and a sheet with three different bubble solution recipes to try at home (one with glycerin, one with corn syrup, and one with sugar) and a picture of the concentrated bubble solution I buy.

How It Went 

I didn't get a huge turnout, likely because (1) our number always drop in July, and (2) I had done the very popular family craft "No-Sew Sock Animals" the day before that had a big turnout, but still a decent number. It was kind of nice to have just a dozen or so kids for a change, too, so it was less noisy and less hectic. Once we got going, they really started getting into it, and everyone loved the bubble snakes in particular! I had just the right number and combination of activities to fill the hour time slot. Now, to find a use for all the bottle bottoms I cut off!

There are several other bubble activities you could do, such as trying out different homemade bubble solutions, testing a variety of everyday objects as bubble wands/blowers (turkey baster, apple slicer, cookie cutters, colander, strainer, slotted spoons, etc), making giant bubbles, and more. I tried making an opening in a soap film using a circle of thread with the intention of doing it as a demo, but I couldn't get it to last long enough when I tested it [I could get it to work briefly, but the string would quickly fall out of the film; I think I needed a finer thread.], so I decided not to do it this time. It would be a good activity for older kids (12+). (Here's another cool variation of that trick:

Pictured below: The kids had a blast with their Bubble Snake blowers out on the patio, and I love this stair-step picture of some of them standing along the retaining wall (only about 1-2 feet high). There was just a slight breeze, which sometimes would blow their growing snakes away, but if they were standing in just the right direction, it would instead support their growing snakes, allowing them to grow to about 3 feet long!

Bubble science, bubble snakes

Saturday, July 15, 2023

No-Sew Sock Animals - Family Craft Program


No-Sew sock animals

Last summer was my first SRP as the person in charge of planning the whole thing (and executing most of it), and though it was successful, I realized two things: (1) This community wanted and needed more family/all-ages programming, and (2) this did not include family movie days or family games days. So this year I added some family craft programs in addition to the big family events (paid performers, free mobile dairy classroom, and free truck event).

This "No-Sew Sock Animal" program was an easy, low-prep program, and turned out to be a huge hit with patrons. You only need a few supplies, and the only prep is to make a few examples, taking step-by-step photos, and putting together a sheet with step-by-step photos for participants to refer to (if you have time, include instructions, but I didn't, and no one had any trouble following just the photos).


  • Socks of various types, sizes, and patterns (I had fuzzy crew socks, brightly patterned knee socks, and some plain white crew socks I found, apparently leftover from some long-past program)
  • Polyfill stuffing (about 3 pillow-sized bags made about 50 animals) and/or rice (polyfill is cheaper & less messy)
  • elastic bands, rubber bands, twine, or yarn (I prefer the smaller elastic bands)
  • Sharpies or fabric markers (we used Sharpies)
  • Tacky craft glue (we used fabric glue, and it did NOT work)
  • Optional Embellishments: googly eyes, buttons, ribbon, yarn, pipe cleaners
  • Sheets with step-by-step photos for 3-4 animals

I selected 3 different animals to provide examples and directions for that were all pretty easy to do: caterpillar (easiest, no cutting), "soctopus" (moderately easy, only one section, but more cutting), and a rabbit (moderately easy, minimal cutting). You can find directions for several others, including bears and puppies, online that are a little more involved if you have an older audience. Though my program was technically for all ages, I knew with it being in the morning I would likely not get any teens. (I used the boring white crew socks for my examples in order to save the fuzzy and patterned socks for the kids.)


No-Sew Sock Caterpillar

1. The patterned knee socks work really well for this one, though crew socks will also work. Pack the polyfill into the toe of the sock until it is as big as you want the head to be, making sure it is really packed and in a nice, round shape. Twist and tie off with elastic band or twine, making sure it is tight. 

2. Repeat, making each section slightly smaller than the one before, until you reach the end of the sock. 

3. If desired, twist a pipe-cleaner around the "neck" and shape into 'antennae'.

4. Use marker to add eyes and any other desired features, alternatively, glue on buttons or googly eyes.

Soctopus (yes, I included this just for the punny name 😉)

No-Sew sock animals, Soctopus

1. Pack polyfill into the toe of the sock, stretching the sock in order to make a large roundish head, and tie off. 

2. Trim off any excess length of sock if desired, then cut remining portion into eight tentacles.

3. Glue on (or draw) eyes, and draw any other facial features and details as desired.


Unlike the caterpillar and soctopus, this one starts by making the bottom first and head last, and a crew sock works better than the longer knee socks for this one, IMO.

1. Fill the lower part of sock to make the desired size body (some preferred a round body, some preferred a slightly elongate body, and some desired a long body), then tie off. In order for the bunny to be able to sit upright, you will to at least partially fill the body first with rice for weight.

2. Fill the next section with polyfill to make a nice, rounded head and tie off.

3. Cut any excess length off the remaining portion (for ears that stand up, you will need to keep them shorter), then cut an elongated "v" shape from the center of the sock to form the two ears. Longer ears will be more floppy, and shorter ears more upright.

4. Pinch off a small portion and band/tie off to make the tail.

5. Add eyes and facial features as desired.

Optional: Pinch and tie off small pieces for paws. (I did not include this step, thinking best to keep it simple, but I saw several trying to glue on cotton balls or pom-poms to represent paw, and that didn't work well at all).

How It Went

I had a pretty big turnout for this program, 25 kids and 16 adults, and they all seemed to really enjoy it! They didn't have any trouble following the step-by-step photos, and got finished much faster than I expected. Since they were finishing so quickly and I had plenty of socks, I told them they could go ahead and make two if they wanted, and most did. There were a lot of cute animals made, lots of happy kids, and I got several compliments both at the end of the program, and later on social media when I posted pictures from the program. Our patrons rarely comment on our social media posts, so when they do take the time to leave a favorable comment about a program, you know it was a hit!

Note: the quality of sock does matter. I found that thicker socks are better in most cases, and in many cases smaller kids' socks would probably have worked better than the adult sized socks I purchased. Thick, fuzzy socks were the best choice for the bunnies, and the caterpillar is definitely the easiest and most forgiving design to make. 

Other Resources & Ideas

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Butter Making - Elementary STEM Program

Dairy Month

June is National Dairy Month, which I used for the theme of our first week of summer programs. For the big family event I had a
mobile dairy classroom come give a presentation on dairy nutrition and farm to table with a milking demonstration, along with a life-size fake cow simulator from our local extension office that the kids could try to milk. I also did dairy cow-themed storytimes and a book display with cow, dairy, and farm books.

For the elementary-aged program I decided to do butter-making, which is fun to do and I thought would appeal to our large homeschool population in particular. It would also be a program that any younger siblings tagging along could participate in. I've done this as a program once before, but this time I discovered a couple of tricks to make it go a little faster/easier (more on that below).

Friday, June 2, 2023

Summer Reading - Going Rogue


This will be the 10th summer reading of my career, but only the second I've been completely responsible for planning and executing, and the first that I really got to do things the way I wanted.

Monday, May 29, 2023

The New Normal


It's been a little over three years since life as we knew it came to a screeching halt with one word: coronavirus. We were caught completely off-guard, as were all levels of government and health care. No one was prepared for a pandemic, no one had policies and procedures in place to deal with such a threat. Most of the country shut down for 2-4 weeks in order to slow the spread so our health care system wouldn't become completely overwhelmed, as had happened in other countries.

Many naively thought it would be over after that, and things would go right back to normal. But of course that's not how pandemics work. Others thought once a vaccine was available, that would be it and things would go back to normal. But of course they didn't, as many people refused to be vaccinated and the virus continued to evolve. Now, three years later the pandemic is considered to be "over", but that doesn't mean the virus is gone; it just means that enough of the population has acquired at least partial immunity, through vaccination or infection, and the virulence of the virus has lessoned to the point that it is no longer a crisis, but has become endemic. So, this means things are back to normal, right? Not exactly.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

A Day In the Life of a Youth Services Manager


Last time I posted about a typical Monday, my planning and prep day; this day was a Tuesday, which is a programming day. Every Tuesday is Toddler Storytime in the morning (except during brief breaks in May, August, and December), and since it was the first Tuesday of the month we also had Pokémon Club in the afternoon. Today, once again my assistant was absent, which meant I had to cover the desk more as well as fill in for the Pokémon Club, which she usually does. So here's everything I did today, that I can remember:

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Derby Day - Family Storytime

Kentucky Derby storytime, horse storytime

This was the last week of storytimes for the Spring, after which I would be taking a much needed break from programming for the rest of May. This is mostly to have more time to get ready for summer reading, but also because though I love doing storytime and other programs, I do get burned out on the planning of them and just need a break every so often. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Day In the Life of a Youth Services Manager


I've been meaning to start doing this every since I got my first full-time, professional position, but for some reason kept forgetting. I thought it would be helpful for a few reasons: (1) so those considering a future as a children's librarian can see what they're getting into, (2) so other children's librarians can see they aren't the only ones juggling a million priorities, and (3) to remind myself that even on the days I may not feel I accomplished much, I am really doing a lot.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Peeps Tasting & Torture


Peeps Tasting, Peeps Science

Peeps have invaded the library this month! In addition to our 2nd Annual Peeps Diorama contest, I decided to take advantage of all the crazy new flavors of Peeps and have a "Peeps Tasting" program. This was a quick and easy program with only a little preparation, and while I originally planned it with teens & tweens, I had enough left over for a pop-up family program the next day following the planned family "Peeps Mad Science" program (also described briefly below).

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Fearless Storytime, Redux

Ten Eleven Things You Should Not Be Afraid to Do As a Storytime Presenter

Fearless Storytime, storytime planning


This is an updated and expanded version of an article I first wrote five years ago, and recently gave a presentation on at our state conference. (If you are interested in the slides from my presentation, they can be found on my share drive.)

I decided it was a good time to re-visit this topic post-pandemic because there has been so much turnover in the field, thus a lot of people new to storytime, and because people are different now. Attention spans are shorter, more trouble following directions (both kids and adults!), storytime attendance much more sporadic, and more behavioral issues than pre-Covid days, so even veteran storytime presenters are having to refresh and re-evaluate how they do things.

Don't be afraid to:

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Sometimes It's Just A Hokey-Pokey Day, Redux


Trouble keeping kids engaged in storytime

* I originally wrote this article a little over five years ago, when I was doing an average of 10 preschool storytimes a week and training others in early literacy programming as an early literacy outreach specialist. I have found myself referring back to it after I began rebuilding in-person programming in a post-pandemic reality where none of the kids and few of their caregivers are accustomed to structured group activities, and attention spans have gotten even shorter, so I thought it would be a good time to re-post it.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Has It Really Been Ten Years?


As of today, I have been working in public libraries for an entire decade! 

For the first seven years I held various part-time support and paraprofessional positions, but the last three years were as a full-time professional librarian. I started out as a page in the children's department, which is where I fell in love with working in public library youth services. Then I moved into an early literacy outreach specialist, which is where I really honed my storytime skills. After that I moved to a paraprofessional position in a very busy suburban branch. It was there I got to do other types of programming, collection work, and really developed my reader's advisory skills.

Then, just a few days shy of my 7th anniversary in that library system, and just weeks from finishing my MLIS degree, the pandemic hit and the library system let go ALL of its part-time staff, over 100 people. That jump-started my search for a full-time professional position, leading me to become the branch librarian/assistant manager of a small neighborhood library. It was here I learned how to adapt programming to rapidly changing conditions, doing virtual programming, take-home kits, and outdoor in-person programming. It was also here that I got a great deal of experience with more challenging customer service situations and found I was pretty good at de-escalation. Finally, I ended up in my current position as a youth services manager.

I can't believe it's already been 10 years! I have done hundreds of storytimes, dozens of other programs, made countless recommendations and suggestions, shelved thousands of books, and in my current position I have transformed a cold, sterile, unwelcoming children's department into a vibrant, welcoming environment and improved a very neglected collection. Along the way I have worked with a number of great children's librarians, and learned something from each of them. I have watched the field grow and change, seen trends come and go, and come back again, but I have seen the greatest and most rapid change in the last three years, and sadly, not for the better, which makes this anniversary very bittersweet.

Friday, March 17, 2023

St. Patrick's Day STEAM - Leprechaun Traps!


Leprechaun Traps, St. Patrick's Day activities for kids, St. Patrick's Day STEM STEAM

So this program has been a long time coming! I had originally planned it for my monthly K-5 STEM program in 2020, but then we were shut down just days before when officials realized the Covid virus was already here and spreading fast. I was so disappointed as I had really been looking forward to it, and knew it would be a while before I had another chance.

So finally, three years and two libraries later, I was back to doing in-person programming and had no conflicts (our state conference fell on St. Patrick's Day last year). The public schools happened to be out that day, so instead of an after school program, I made it an early afternoon family program.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

S-T-E-M is a Four-Letter Word! -Part 3, Program Ideas


Image by brgfx on Freepik

In Part 1 of this series I cautioned against the over-emphasis of Technology, particularly coding, and advocated for the value and importance of basic Science, Math, and Engineering in STEM programming. In Part 2, I gave some general tips and things to consider, ways to incorporate STEM elements in other programming, a few resources for ideas, and a brief discussion of STEM vs. STEAM vs. STREAM. 

To further encourage thinking and programming more broadly across the STEM fields, I'm going to throw out some program ideas and suggestions for each category,

Monday, January 23, 2023

S-T-E-M is a Four-Letter Word! - Part 2, Tips & Resources


Library STEM programming
Image by brgfx on Freepik

In Part 1 of this series I cautioned against the recent prioritization of the "T" in STEM, and in particular the extreme focus on coding I've observed in the last few years, which seems to imply that everyone must learn coding to be successful or that coding knowledge guarantees success; neither of which is true. I advocate for a more well-rounded approach, exposing kids to all areas of STEM. I'd like to follow-up with some general considerations when doing STEM activities, ways to incorporate STEM elements into other programs, a brief discussion of STEM vs. STEAM, and a few resources.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

S-T-E-M is a Four-Letter Word! - Part 1

Image by brgfx on Freepik

Depending on how much of this blog you have read, you might know that librarianship is a second career for me and that my first was in scientific research. Science was my first love, so I got my undergraduate degree in biology, with minors in chemistry and education, followed by a masters degree in microbiology. I worked several years in research, then was a stay-at-home-mom before finally ending up in libraries, where I love being able to use my science and education background in STEM programming and incorporating factual information in storytime.

Now, let's pause for a minute - What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words "STEM programming"? I'm guessing you're probably thinking of computers, coding, robotics, and electronics. Did you think of gingerbread houses, bread baking, or shopping for groceries? Probably not. Let's back up for a minute and examine what "STEM" really means.