Monday, May 16, 2016

Gratitude Graffiti at the Library

Back in January during my library's annual staff day, my department spent our meeting time giving spark talks--high-energy, three-minute pitches of ideas that we think are cool and that the library could consider adopting. My coworker Rachel pitched the idea of "gratitude graffiti"--a visual, crowd-sourced community art project in which people express their thanks. She cited some examples where communities do gratitude graffiti around Thanksgiving.

My department absolutely loved the idea, and we wanted to implement much sooner than November. Instead, we chose to make the Gratitude Graffiti project one of the cornerstones of our 2016 National Library Week celebrations.

We celebrated National Library Week from April 10 through April 17, or Sunday to Sunday. During that week, we identified 14 different library programs for a range of audiences as well as 2 high-use spaces for the project. Staff took our Gratitude Graffiti supplies to each of those programs and spaces. Supplies included a black foamcore poster board with signage explaining National Library Week; an assortment of metallic markers to write on the board; and an array of cookies (kosher) and dates as a thank-you treat for participants. Basically, our goal was to give library users the means and opportunity to express a thought of thanks for what the library adds to their lives.

To say we were blown away by the enthusiasm and responses we received is accurate. Patrons were consistently thrilled to have a chance to share a bit about what they love at their library.

We had community college students who excitedly took a break from their quiet study on the second floor to doodle and say "thank you" for the consistent and comfortable space.

We had teens who got into deep conversation about gratitude following the prompt of sharing on the board.

We had a teen at an author visit express her appreciation for the fact that she can always find books with girls like her--from biracial backgrounds--at our library.

We had school-age kids happy to state the activities they love having available to them at the library: science, art, reading, friendships...

We even had a three-year-old storytime regular who was so excited to share what she loves about the library, she wrote her first letter ever on the gratitude graffiti board. That's huge.

That's what the library can inspire in the people who visit.

So here is my takeaway, and my challenge and question to others: We know, anecdotally, that the library is a place that is valued and appreciated in the community, but we don't always give our patrons opportunities to express that value and appreciation. Comment cards tend to end up about complaints, but we don't always have great methods for capturing the good and the positive impacts the library has. Then, with a relatively low-stakes initiative like the Gratitude Graffiti project, we get to see not only what we add to peoples' lives, but we can see that they're thrilled to share their appreciation with us. It's like they've been waiting to share their feelings but never found the right moment until we asked.

How do you ask? How do you give your patrons opportunities to share beyond the everyday options? Because if there's one big thing we learned during our Gratitude Graffiti Project for National Library Week, it's that patrons are as happy to give gratitude as we are to receive it.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Community Aspirations for Strategic Planning

We've just wrapped up the strategic planning process at my library. It was a robust multi-month process, and we absolutely wanted lots of patron and community feedback to inform the direction of the library. To help the strategic planning team to position the library in a future that our community actively wants for our village, we wanted to hear their thoughts about where the community should go and what it should have--library included.

Around the time we were mulling over ways to generate community input, I was reading a book that included a quick mention of a Japanese festival, Tanabata. One of the customs associated with this holiday is the writing of wishes on tanzaku, small pieces of paper, then either setting the paper afloat on a body of water or tying it to the branch of a wish tree. I found this image of people--neighbors who share spaces but may not know one another--all sharing their wishes communally to be incredibly beautiful. How might we embrace this idea in a manner that would get patrons sharing their wishes for our community?

This community aspirations board was in our east
side  checkout area. It looks sparsely populated
with stars-- but that's just because I only took a
picture on day 1, then forgot to take more photos
when I was culling stars for the report to make
more space for input.
Cue our community aspirations boards. Since we wanted folks to share their aspirations--their wishes--we decided to go with a "wish upon a star" theme: a big nighttime starscape on foam core with a sign reading "Wish Upon a Star: Wishes for Skokie." Our graphics department made two of these boards, and we placed one at both of our checkout locations (which are on opposite sides of the library, together in the paths of everyone who uses the library). Next to each board was a table area with colorful star-shaped sticky notes, writing utensils, and a simple sign entreating folks to share their aspirations for Skokie on a star.

We chose this type of flat format for feedback because it could fit into the high-trafficked checkout areas without causing physical obstructions. And we opted for colorful visuals because, as we had hypothesized and as was confirmed by participation rates, when patrons see the colorful notes, they want to add their own to the board. We found that the more wishes that were on the board, the more people were inclined to add.

We left the community aspirations boards up for about three weeks, and some colleagues and I would periodically remove some stars and record the wishes on them for our final report. Over those three weeks, we had over 400 responses. These came from children through seniors and everyone in between. As you might imagine, some were more legible than others.

Now, if you want to do this type of patron-sharing project, you could certainly stop here. You can read the comments on the boards themselves and get some great ideas about what your public wants for the community they live in. Since we wanted this information for strategic planning, however, I put together a report of all the contributions. This involved coding the responses for themes so we could see what particular aspirations seemed most widely shared. The coding process required throwing out some of the contributions; I'm talking about the stars on which folks had written "poop" (there were at least a dozen); where young children had simply scribbled (we appreciate those thoughts and only wish we could translate!) or practiced their names; or where the comments didn't really fit into the category of realistic wishes from which we could suss out deeper aspirations. My favorite of this third type came from a four-year-old: "I wish Skokie was made of waffles." I hear you, Sadie.

We ended up with 363 viable aspirations that were coded into about 28 categories, then analyzed for frequency.

Far and away the aspiration for Skokie most frequently expressed in this project was for resources--both specific types of library resources and other types of resources in the community. To me, that indicates that lots of people in our community know what they want, but they may not know where to find it. That's something the library can certainly help with.

Food, play, and coffee were in the next tier of most-cited aspirations. While some of the comments about food had to do with food security, at least half of them were referring to spaces that were inviting and affordable to eat with others. Combined with play and the high desire for a coffee shop near the library, one interpretation of this grouping of aspirations could be that folks want spaces were they can be and play as individuals and as families who are part of a larger community. Again, this is a value that I think a library can be well-situated to embrace and promote.

We learned a lot from this community aspirations board project, and it certainly informed how the core strategic planning committee thought about what the community wants from us and from the place they live. We exist for them, and so we wanted to know what they want. We heard. And I encourage you to think about ways to get your patrons to weigh in on the type of community they want to live in so that you can think about how the library fits into that vision.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Unprogramming on FYI: The Public Libraries Podcast

Earlier this month, I chatted on the phone with Kathleen Hughes from PLA about the programming strategy developed by Marge Loch-Wouters and myself, unprogramming. That conversation was edited into a podcast. Like the kind you can download and listen to in the car or on the train. Super cool!

Check out my interview on FYI: The Public Libraries Podcast here, and definitely subscribe to the podcast using whatever platform you typically use for podcasts.

And if you're interested in reading more about unprogramming, here are some resources all gathered in one place:

Blog Posts Explaining Unprogramming, from Marge Loch-Wouters and Myself:

Write-ups of Some of My Unprograms

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Many Tastes of Salsa

Every winter/early spring at my library is marked by our participation in a community-wide initiative, Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township*. This year, the initiative is called ¡Viva! and the overall goal is to explore and learn about the diverse Latino cultures and experiences in our community.

Latino culture is not monolithic--there are myriad cultures, traditions, allegiances, and values underneath that larger term. And so in creating a program for youth that could begin to reflect this reality of nuance and multiculturalism, we looked to a concept shared by all: food. Here's the program that resulted.

The Many Tastes of Salsa

Photo by Skokie Public LibraryCC BY-NC-SA 2.0
I kicked off this program (aimed at elementary-age children and their families) with a bit of introduction. I asked attendees what types of foods they really like, what foods and flavors make them think of home and family. This line of conversation set the stage for the read-aloud for the program: Salsa: A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta. The gorgeous text, accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Duncan Tonatiuh, is the story of one child's family traditions around salsa--of making it every weekend, and of dancing to salsa music during the process. The short, lyrical book provides a basic introduction to what salsa is and how it is made, and along the way the reader/listener gets to learn the family and cultural significance of the dish in the child's life.

After the read-aloud, I projected some images onto our big screen to show many of the common elements and ingredients of making salsa. We talked about the common tools--molcajete and tejolote--and most common ingredients--tomatoes, onions, chilies, lime. Then we also explored other ingredients that go into the salsas of folks from different geographic and cultural Latino backgrounds. We talked about difference in spiciness; tomatoes versus tomatillos; additional flavors like garlic, corn, and fruit. We talked, in short, about how different folks have different go-to salsas, and how a single type of recipe can be adapted and embraced by lots of different people.

Photo by Skokie Public Library, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Then the largest chunk of the program, and the part during which there was most natural social discussion: the salsa tasting. One of the major benefits of living in an area as diverse as Skokie and its surrounding towns and cities is the availability of great foods. For our tasting, we used a range of types of salsas, all made in-house by a local international produce shop. Using Chicago-made tortilla chips, kids tried a mild red salsa; salsa roja, with a bit more heat; a salsa with corn and beans added in; salsa verde made with tomatillos and dried chilies; a mango salsa; and a hot red salsa.

Photo by Skokie Public LibraryCC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Now, if you've never done programs for kids that involve food tastings, let me tell you two things I've learned: 1) kids who attend are by and large willing to try just about any foods; and 2) breaking bread--or, in this case, scooping salsa--together is the single best way I've found to nurture comfortable, kitchen table-style conversations among kids in the library. This program was no exception. Some kids came knowing a friend or a family member, but once the food was out at the tables, everyone was congenially talking to their tablemates--about favorite foods, family traditions, preference for spiciness, etc. Food can facilitate those social connections by providing us with shared experience and an opening for talking about something we have in common.

So that was the program: an exploration of how different cultural groups within a larger cultural identifier embrace a food and make it their own. Our conversations were rich, and our taste buds satisfied.


*For a bit of quick back story on Coming Together in Skokie and Niles Township: Skokie is extremely diverse (think 70+ languages spoken in our elementary schools), and the community currently includes, and has historically included, high numbers of immigrants. About 25 years ago, members of the community put together an annual initiative called the Festival of Cultures to celebrate this diversity. More recently--in 2010--community leaders wanted to add a large community initiative that would have more of an education component. That is, where the Festival of Cultures celebrates all the community's diversity, Coming Together focuses on an ethnic or cultural group with a major presence in Skokie to allow all community members opportunity to learn more about that group--their neighbors. 2015 was something of an outlier year, where instead of focusing in on a single culture or cultural group, we tackled race.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Librarianship on YouTube: How to Make a Volcano

Right now and through the month of April, we're exploring all things earth science in the BOOMbox. That means rocks, natural disasters, ecosystems... all sorts of exciting natural phenomena that are ripe for exploration. One of the hits of the BOOMbox: Earth rotation thus far has been our weekly Monday afternoon microworkshop on volcanos. Who doesn't love a good eruption?

You can find the basics of the microworkshop on the help site for the BOOMbox (click here). And if you want to make your very own volcano, just like ours? Well, lucky you--here's a video that shows you how to do just that, complete with elephant toothpaste eruption.

Don't forget to click through to this volcano frame template if you want to follow along--or feel free to build a volcano that satisfies your own craftiness!

Monday, February 15, 2016

Tabletop Coding, plus more resources for coding with kids from WisCode Literati

I'm a fan of coding and other computer science activities in libraries--and I hope more and more folks will be inspired in this area, too, what with President Obama requesting $4 billion in the next budget specifically for K-12 computer science (CS) education. I love that coding activities are simultaneously versatile and engaging. Also, there's some indication that those activities kids intentionally spend time on are the ones preparing them for future jobs we have yet to even imagine. That's a strong argument for making sure CS and coding are part of library offerings, if you ask me.

In my relatively short career thus far, I've had the opportunity to work in libraries with both limited and advanced tech materials when it comes to kids' programming. What hardware a library has access to certainly factors into what type of computer science programming they can offer, but hardware doesn't have to be correlated with your intent to program around coding. We can get kids started with fundamental coding concepts in plenty of no- and low-tech ways.
All you need for a simple coding
activity is a grid board, some
tokens, and blank index cards.
With that in mind, I put together a Tabletop Coding activity for elementary ages and older. I've offered it as one of a range of stations on our Afternoon of Code here at Skokie, but it can also be a standalone pop-up activity, a competitive program--you name it. The materials are simple: a gridded game board, like for chess or checkers; a few game pieces or other tokens; and 20+ blank index cards, plus a writing utensil. With these simple materials at your fingertips, you can get kids in the mindset for coding. Full details on running the activity are here.

You see, rather than specifically share this full program activity how-to here on the blog, I wrote it up for a tremendous, free coding resource made by and for librarians: WisCode Literati. Their website hosts a growing number of CS activities, called "kits," that cover the full spectrum from no-tech to high-tech activities. Basically, there's something there for every library to offer, regardless of the tech you have at your disposal. Each activity has a thorough description, most often with helpful pictures, to get library staffers at a point where their comfort level matches their enthusiasm for offering coding activities. You should check out all of the great program and activity ideas, all of which have been vetted by librarians.

What are some of your favorite coding resources?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Librarianship on YouTube: Milk Planets

Today is the third annual Family Science Expo at my library, and I'll be running one of the staff-led activity stations from our craft room. What type of science will we do in there, you ask? We're doing simple chemistry by making milk planets--colorful, milky reactions that end up looking like gas giants!

Watch the video below to find out how to do this simple activity yourself using some basic household materials.