Monday, December 15, 2014

Family BristleBot Challenge

On Saturday, I collaborated with my new coworker Amy Holcomb on our first family mission/challenge program offered in conjunction with our new STEAM space at the library. More on that later, but for now, a recap of this excellent, hands-on STEAM program!

Family BristleBot Challenge

Amy, one of our program assistants, and I got school-age kids and their caregivers in our multipurpose program room, which boasted plenty of space for one supply table and four building tables. As part of our introduction, I started to get kids thinking about the components that a robot, like a BristleBot, might require. We talked about power sources, circuitry, motor, and body, with lots of good participatory guesses from kids as I posed questions. Then Amy led the kids through a visualization of how circuits work, allowing attendees to really grasp the concept.

After that introductory info, we set families loose to build, test, and tinker with their BristleBots. We had created two large (2'x3') posters explaining the component parts and assembly steps for the BristleBots, which provided clear visual instructions as families got to work. Kids came through to collect their supplies, then headed for one of the four building tables to do their work.

To make a BristleBot, you need the following supplies:
  • a toothbrush head (we left part of the neck on many of ours to allow for easier grasping for hands with still-developing motor skills)
  • battery
  • vibrating motor with attached wires
  • double-sided sticky tape (2 pieces)
  • permanent markers to decorate the bots

To build a BristleBot, follow the following steps:
  • Gather your equipment.
  • Decorate the toothbrush head.
  • Place a piece of the sticky tape on the head of the toothbrush.
  • Attach the battery to the sticky tape, ideally with one of the wires touching the bottom of the battery (this will be more secure than adding the wire after the fact).
  • Use another piece of sticky tape to attach the motor to the top of the battery, ideally with the remaining wire touching the top of the battery (again, for simplicity's sake).
  • The motor should now be vibrating; if it is not vibrating, check to make sure that a) one of the motor wires is touching the bottom of the battery while the other is touching the top, completing the circuit; and b) the moving part of the motor is not obstructed.
  • Set the BristleBot on a flat surface, bristles down, and watch it move!
  • Tinker with the design to make the bot behave how you want it to--race in a line, turn in circles, etc. Intentionally manipulating the bot's design is a simple form of programming!

Families spent about 40 minutes building and tinkering with their BristleBots before we lined all the tables into one massive line and let all the bots loose at once. What a great creative challenge!

Kids (and their caregivers) got really into the task of tinkering with their bots over the course of our hour-long program, testing new designs and helping one another troubleshoot. That's the perfect type of STEAM thinking we're aiming to promote with these types of programs--the wonders of building, creation, tinkering. And knowing that science is so much more than something you encounter in a textbook.

If you're interested in another take on a BristleBot program, check out Anne's at sotomorrow--she used a kit to supply all her program materials, making the maker program process even more straightforward.

Also, as an aside, it feels so great to be offering programs again. The past few months, while gratifying and filled with lots of new-job learning, were definitely marked by the fact that I wasn't programming.

Friday, December 5, 2014


Earlier in the autumn, I put together a video on advocacy for Marge Loch-Wouters to use in her online course on children's and young adult library services. I feel strongly about advocacy--multi-faceted advocacy. I think it's important that we prioritize advocating for children in any venue we can; advocating for the value youth services adds to any library; and, also, advocating for ourselves as professionals with needs for training as well as work/life balance.

If you're interested in hearing what I had to say as an introduction to advocacy, check out the video below.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Resources on Race in the Children's Library

It's time I share the resources I've been gathering for a community-wide initiative on race that will begin in January. I could sit on these resources for another few weeks, but as racist vitriol and privileged ignorance have reared their ugly heads in the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision--even within our professional community with our mission to serve the public--it is clear to me that anyone who wants resources for helping the children and families they serve deal with these issues should have them immediately, and within easy reach.

Because these racial "tensions" (condescending term for it, media) are not new. True, they are getting more press time now--because too many oppressed voices are speaking up for the media to continue to ignore the realities of race in this country, which means higher visibility, which means more opportunities for children, young children in particular, to encounter these issues without context or emotional support. But as I said, these issues are not new. And many children have been living them their entire lives. And so we, as public libraries, need to support all members of communities by a) knowing these resources, b) having these resources, and c) sharing these resources.

Be an ally.

If you have additional resources you think should be added to this list, or find any of the resources I mention problematic, please share in the comments or shoot me an email. I am trying my best, but I recognize I come from a background of profound privilege and have a long way to go to even start to be a strong, fully-informed ally.

Picture Books to Share with Youth to talk about Race

  • The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles
  • Chocolate Me! by Taye Diggs
  • Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
  • The Colors of Us by Karen Katz
  • I Have a Dream by Kadir Nelson
  • It's Okay to Be Different by Todd Parr
  • Shades of People by Shelley Rotner and Sheila M. Kelly
  • The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler
  • The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson

Picture Books on Social Justice

Books to Share with Older Youth to talk about Race & American Racial History

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Party-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Ball Don't Lie by Matt de la Peña
  • My Basmati Bat Mitzvah by Paula J. Freedman
  • The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson
  • Jump into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall
  • Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II by Martin W. Sandler
  • Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
  • One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  • The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
  • Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
  • The Garden of My Imaan by Farhana Zia

Resources for Talking to Kids about Race (for library staff, caregivers, and parents)

Why bother talking to young children about race in the first place?

  • The way that children's brains make synaptic connections is by categorizing, and one of the most superficial types of categorization they do is what things/people look like. Acknowledging that yes, different people look different, but that does not define who they are or what they are like, is developmentally appropriate and recommended by child psychologists and child development experts.
  • Even if we assume that children are making neutral categorizations of racial difference on their own (which is a huge assumption), we live in a society that does not promote equal or equitable portrayals of all races. Left undiscussed, research shows that children default to negative stereotypes of race as they see perpetuated in the dominant culture, in media, and even, in some instances, at home. Talking about race in a simple, age appropriate, non-prejudiced way prevents these negative stereotypes from being the only contextual information young children have about people who look different from themselves.
  • All children need to learn that race does not define people, and generalizations about a person based on their race are unfair and untrue. White children, who by virtue of their white privilege have probably never encountered a situation in which they were unfairly discriminated against because of their race, need to learn that prejudices exist and are wrong. Non-white children also need to hear that prejudices are wrong. These children have probably lived innumerable personal experiences of racial discrimination, and they need to hear that the prejudices informing their oppression are wrong and not true so that they do not internalize negative stereotypes as part of their self image.
  • Children's literature is rife with negative stereotypes of non-white persons, and that's in instances when the cannon has even bothered to try to represent diverse voices in the first place. Race needs to be a continual topic of discussion so that children's encounters with racial stereotypes in books and the media are not learned as fact.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Heroes! A Workshop

"Greetings from Wisconsin" by flickr user
Boston Public Library (CC)
Today I am in Madison, Wisconsin, for the South Central Library System's Summer Library Program Workshop. When it comes to their summer library programs (SLPs), Wisconsin libraries use the CSLP theme--which in 2015 is "Every hero has a story." So, yes. An entire hero-themed presentation!

The workshop organizers contacted me to talk about programming through the lenses of Unprogramming and STEAM/maker philosophies, which I did with examples and time for participants to brainstorm with their peers. We wrapped up the morning workshop by exploring a range of SLP alternative options. That's right; SLP doesn't have to be just about reading for prizes any more.

I'm including here the range of resources I shared on the workshop handouts I created--there are so many great programs and SLP variants, and having time to peruse them before summer planning begins full force could be helpful. So, for your reading pleasure...

On Unprogramming:

On STEAM & Making:

On SLPs:

And, last but not least, the slides from the workshop. Based on the plethora of excellent superhero-themed, Creative Commons-licensed images out there, this is probably one of my favorite slide decks. Most definitely my favorite title slide. Enjoy!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review (sort of): Sydney & Simon Full STEAM Ahead!

Sydney & Simon Full STEAM Ahead! by Paul A. Reynolds, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, is easily one of my favorite books out this year. I think it's truly an outstanding beginning chapter book--it's got one central premise that we never lost sight of, but will interesting plot developments and twists throughout to keep everything interesting. That is, beginning readers are going to succeed not only in reading the words, but in comprehension, too. It's a very well put-together book.

I love it perhaps even more, however, because it's a truly versatile book. I can hand it to all sorts of customers in a readers' advisory interview (and have done, to great success). Here's a list of just some of the readers' advisory scenarios in which a child and/or caregiver left excited to read Sydney & Simon Full STEAM Ahead!:
  • "Do you have any books with twins?"
  • "I'm looking for books with science in them."
  • "I want my child to read something where the characters only use screens sometimes, not all the time."
  • "My child and I are talking about problem-solving. Do you have any stories on that topic?"
  • "I really like experiments and what to read a book with them in it."

Now please keep in mind that, when all is said and done, I don't spend much time on the youth information desk here at my new job. So for this book to come up so frequently, and for so many customers to leave happy to have found it--that, I think, is an indicator of a great book.

And I'm not just saying that because I love anything having to do with STEAM content areas.

This title has been hugely popular in my library in the two months we've had it. I, for one, hope this is just the first in a great new series that will entice beginning chapter book readers with both fiction and non-fiction persuasions.

The Stats: Sydney and Simon: Full STEAM Ahead! by Paul A. Reynolds, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds, released September 9 from Charlesbridge

N.B. I reviewed this title for School Library Journal this summer, but after seeing just how many families are picking it up at the library, I wanted to share it here, too.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

How do we frame the library for our communities?

How do we from the library for our community so that the community knows the library is for them?

When I read this week’s post on Museum 2.0--one of my favorite blogs to read these days--I was struck by Nina Simon’s closing question:

The metaphor for traditional art museums is the temple. Beautiful. Sanctified. Managed and protected by a league of committed, anointed ones. 
What is the metaphor for participatory arts? Is it the agora? The town square? The circus? The living room? The web?

And it got me thinking: how do we frame libraries for our communities? What impression are giving them of what a modern library provides?

The fact that Justin Hoenke posted a photo essay about the 2nd Floor of the Downtown Chattanooga Library just a few hours later felt particularly serendipitous, because it put a major idea into stark focus. That idea: the public perception of the library often does not match the reality of the modern library, and we need to work on communicating what, in fact, the modern library is and can offer.

What words do you hear folks using to describe public libraries? “Repository” is one that I still hear pretty frequently. And have you heard anyone refer to it as the “lending library” recently? I have. And while libraries do still lend, that’s only part of the picture.

Unfortunately, the zeitgeist just keeps touting this idea that libraries are dying--because these (overwhelmingly white, higher SES, male) “thinkers” loudly proclaim that people don’t need physical places to get their physical books in this day and age. And despite the fact that this reductionist view of libraries has been rebutted by folks who know what’s what, it’s still a pervasive image problem.

People still see us as that place with the books. And we definitely feed that perception--my guess is, nine out of ten of you are at libraries whose logo somehow incorporates a book. We’re not representing the wholeness of what we offer our communities. Examples: not a day goes by that I don’t hear “You guys have DVDs?” or “I didn’t know you offered programs like this!” And as long as that’s the norm--library as repository for books--maybe we do have a problem. I don’t know that can we realistically expect our communities to engage in all the wonderful things we offer if our image is still so tightly tied to books.

So how do we better frame libraries for our communities? How do we effectively convey all that we offer? What words do we use?

Is it about learning experiences? Is it about discovery? Is it about knowledge? How do we connote all that we are in an accessible phrase?

The library is a _______.

I don’t know that I can adequate begin to fill in that blank from my perspective within the library. To me, “library” really does mean all the wonderful things that the modern library offers. How, then, do we come up with a statement, a frame, a metaphor that ensures everyone in our communities can be initiated into what our libraries are?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

A Day in the Life of a Youth & Family Program Coordinator

It's been eons since my like "Day in the Life" post, and I thought now would be a good time to share one, what with my working a new job and all. The day below is from earlier this week. How've you been filling your days this autumn?

8:30 a.m. - Arrive at the library and get the youth services program room set up for the morning. Then I run up to my third-floor desk to stash my stuff.

9:00 a.m. - Weed the juvenile fiction shelves. This has been an ongoing project this month, and the shelves are looking so much better.

9:45 a.m. - A colleague from the city arrives in preparation for our 10:30 activity...

10:30 a.m. - Multicultural storytime photoshoot! This isn't a traditional program but rather an opportunity for families to participate in a few multicultural activities as part of a promotional campaign. That said, as far as kids are aware, it is pretty much a storytime. We sing songs, read some stories (including My Mother's Sari with the assistance of scarves--highly recommended), dance to some ukulele tunes, and then head to the craft room for some activities. Caregivers are wonderfully engaged with their little ones throughout.

11:45 a.m. - After cleaning up after the photoshoot, I head up to my desk to process a few patron requests for purchase. A few things slipped through the cracks between when my predecessor left and I started, so I'm anxious to get those fiction orders filled.

12:15 p.m. - Gather research for a project I'm working on that will help inform whether we're really meeting the programming needs of kids of every age. What resources do you use to make sure your programs are beneficial for your target audience?

1:15 p.m. - Lunch! It's leftover risotto and a good galley on this particular day.

1:45 p.m. - Run down to the youth services desk to pick up a cart of picture books to be weeded. One of our interns has started a project for culling the oodles of copies of formerly-super-popular picture book characters, and I double check this work and then get the copies reading for withdrawal.

2:15 p.m. - Create a weeding list for picture books in the general collection. Those shelves have been looking particularly packed, making them hard to browse and quite messy as multiple copies come off the shelf anytime you remove a book. I fiddle with the parameters of my weeding list--still getting used to a new ILS.

2:45 p.m. - Start plotting our youth spring program calendar. When it comes to multi-month, multi-program planning, I work best with a paper visual.

3:15 p.m. - Research area performers who might be good for spring programs.

4:00 p.m. - Enter the March/April storytime session in our online planning calendar. The session will be five weeks long, with the following every week: 1 baby time; 2 one-year-old programs; 2 Time for Twos; 2 preschool storytimes; 1 Little Learners program (for older preschoolers); an all-ages time; and social Together Time.

4:45 p.m. - Check my calendar for the next day's activities, including making sure I have prepped what I need for meetings.

5:00 p.m. - Head home.