Archive for the ‘Librarians Help’ Category

Librarians Help – With Critical Thinking!

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Yesterday, we had a Math program at the library. Today, a program for exercising critical thinking. Both were all about having fun.

I have to laugh about today’s program, though. I’ve done the same thing in the past and called it “Board Game Bash.” Those times, I got about four kids to come and play board games.

Today’s program was during Spring Break, which I’m sure really helped. But it also helped that I called it “Brain Games at the Library” and I offered prizes — gently used books from donations made to the library and from advance reader copies that I had. But I suspect that parents in this area were a lot more interested in a program that promised to build their children’s brain power.

And it wasn’t a false promise! We had more than 20 kids show up and play! The big hit of the day was Labyrinth. I’m finding the perfect game for this kind of program is one that’s simple to explain and has an intriguing visual element. In Labyrinth, you slide a piece into the board, changing the maze and knocking another piece out. The path constantly changes, and you try to collect treasures from the card and so navigate through the maze to the treasure you want to collect.

Make 7, which is like Connect 4, but in which you try to add the value of your pieces up to 7, was also easy to understand and popular. Yikerz, with powerful magnets that you try to place without popping them together caused some tension and fun. Some kids played Rollit, some played Pass the Pigs, and some played Mastermind. And this time I did get some kids to try my three-way chess set from Poland.

Where’d we get the games? Well, I confess, for a very long time I’ve had a weakness for buying games. And now with my kids no longer at home, this is a great way to spread the fun around.

I still adamantly believe that playing games with your kids is one of the best possible ways to learn math skills and critical thinking skills. And the library is the perfect place for that as well, since the library is where you learn for the FUN of it!

I also loved that every time they won a game, the kids grabbed a book from the book box. Books that are prizes are all the more valuable!

We’ll be doing more of these programs, probably once a month through the summer. It’s easy for me to run, since I only need the time to set up and run the program, but don’t have to plan what to say. And I walk away smiling, just like the kids do!

Librarians Help!

Librarians Help – With Math!

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Today I had my Colors and Codes program that I mentioned last week.

Now, I spent ten years of my life teaching college math, but doing math programs at the library is so much more fun!

Why? Well, the biggie is I don’t have to grade them, so it makes the whole thing much more light-hearted. I’m showing them things about math that I think are really cool, and they get to think about ways to do it themselves. And it’s all just for fun. At the library, we teach people things they want to know! If they don’t want to know them, they don’t need to come. It’s that simple!

Here’s what I did. I showed the kids my prime factorization sweater (wore it of course), and we worked out how it works. (That was fun!) I told them if colors can represent numbers, they can also represent letters. Just use 1 to 26 for A to Z. So you can write messages this way. I showed them a prime factorization code, then showed them other bases and how you can make codes with them. We wrapped it up by getting out sticky foam shapes and they could put a coded message or just a pretty pattern around a picture frame or on a bookmark or a door hanger.

The highlight for me, I think, was when a girl was working on coloring in the prime factorization chart on the hand-out. She was stuck on 24. I asked her what it equaled, and she said 12 x 2. So we looked at 12, and then the light went on and we talked about how you could do figure it out different ways, but you always got three 2s and one 3.

Now, I’m going to write some notes to myself while the program’s fresh in my mind. It went well; the kids had fun. But I want to do it again this summer, and hope it will go even better.

1. I’ll set the age level higher. I do think I lost a few kids this time. I think I’ll set it at 10 or 11 years old rather than 8. You want the kids to be fully comfortable with multiplying. Now that I think about it, when I did this program a few years ago at Herndon Fortnightly Library, I think the age limit was 10.

2. We’ll do some coloring on the prime factorization chart before I move on. This group did work out with me how it works. I didn’t want to get bogged down, but I think some coloring would help them understand it better.

3. I’ll have them figure out the numbers for their name in every code I go over. For example, my name, Sondy, in a base 10 code is 1915140425. (S is the 19th letter, O is the 15th, and so on.) In a prime factorization code, it’s 19 1 3 5 1 2 7 1 2 2 1 5 5 1. (19 x 1, 3 x 5 x 1, 2 x 7 x 1, 2 x 2 x 1, 5 x 5 x 1) In a Base 6 code, it’s 3123220441. In a Base 5 code, it’s 34 30 24 4 100. In Binary, it’s 10011 1111 1110 100 11001. Taking the time to do that would mean they’d get what I was having them do when they went to use the foam sticky pieces.

4. We’d do some coloring on the other charts before we moved to the foam shapes. Then I’d have them do their name with the colors they picked.

5. I’d show them exactly how I did my name on the bookmarks, one using colors and one using shapes.

Did I mention everyone did have a good time? But I think I’ll do a little more hands-on, using their names, before I move to the craft next time.

But it was a great trial run!

And don’t forget! Librarians help! We get to show kids how much FUN Math is! And we don’t even have to test them on it!

Librarians Help – And We’re Valued, Too!

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Today Pew Research Center released a study on Library Services in the Digital Age. The information is detailed, interesting, and up-to-date.

Recently, my own library system is talking about no longer requiring librarians or managers to have a Master of Library Science. They seem to think patrons will be asking less and less questions. That certainly doesn’t match my experience, but it meant I found this part of the report particularly gratifying:

Librarians to help people find information they need

Overall, 80% of Americans say that it is “very important” to the community for libraries to have librarians available to help people find information they need. Some 16% consider having librarians at libraries “somewhat important,” while 2% say this is “not too important” and 1% say it is “not at all important.”

Blacks (89%) are significantly more likely than whites (78%) to consider librarians “very important,” and women (84%) are more likely to say this than men (77%). Those living in households making less than $30,000 per year are also more likely to consider librarians very important compared to those living in households earning more than $75,000. Looking at responses based on device ownership, we find that those who own technological devices such as tablets, e-readers, and smartphones are just as likely as non-users to consider librarians “very important” to the community.

Our focus groups considered librarians to be very important to libraries in general, and many had very positive memories of interactions with librarians from their childhoods. Even when they suggested automating certain services for the sake of convenience, our focus groups overwhelmingly saw a future with librarians as an integral part of libraries.

This was from Part 4, “What people want from their libraries.”

I recently began reading a book, which shall remain nameless, about mobile technology, that went on and on about how libraries are dying a slow death. This research does not support that theory.

The fact is, our library system cut hours in 2010 due to budget cuts, but recently brought many of those hours back because of popular demand. People do like having a knowledgeable person available to help them.

It’s nice seeing someone doing legitimate detailed research on Libraries in the Digital Age. If more authors and speakers would consult the research, perhaps they wouldn’t make such foolish prophecies. Libraries aren’t dying any time soon, and it’s nice to have confirmed that people value Librarians’ Help.

Bedtime Math!

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

I’m so excited! Today, thanks to a note in the ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children) newsletter, I found out about Bedtime Math.

Why do I think Bedtime Math is so awesome? Because that’s totally what I did with my younger son.

My first Master’s degree was in Math, and I was a college math instructor for ten years. College students in general ed math classes are generally not excited about math. So when we started doing math problems with my excited son at bedtime — I’m not sure how it started — my son quickly learned those magic words I absolutely COULD NOT resist — “Just one more math problem, Mommy, please!” He could extend bedtime forever with those magic words.

I don’t remember how it got started, but I do know that we were in the thick of this when he was 5 years old. His brother turned 12 years old in March. I turned 36 in June. Sometime in there, I told him that when he turned 6, then his age plus his age would equal his brother’s age. But, even better, his age TIMES his age would equal my age. His next question was pretty natural, “What’s TIMES?”

One week later, his brother asked him a problem I never would have tried: “What’s 16 times 4?” Timmy (the 5-year-old) figured it out *in his head.* Without knowing times tables. So that was the context of “One more math problem, Mommy, please.” I’d give him progressively harder addition problems — and then it got to be progressively harder multiplication problems. All done in his head, at bedtime. For fun.

Of course, it all starts with counting. I remember with my older son, just counting as high as he could go in the car while running errands. It’s fun when they really realize how it works and that they could go on and on forever. He was also the one who kept making up words for “numbers bigger than infinity.” I couldn’t quite convince him that didn’t work.

(Now my younger son, a Freshman at the College of William & Mary, recently spent his free time devising an algorithm to choose a completely random book from all the volumes in the campus library. That’s my boy!)

In my current job as a librarian, I was thinking about all the counting and math we did when my kids were small. And then thinking about the Every Child Ready to Read workshops, where we encourage parents to read, talk, write, sing, and play with their kids. I’m going to do the workshop “Fun With Science and Math for Parents and Children” — only I think I’m going to take out the Science and just focus on Math.

See, the thing is, I don’t believe for a second you have to “make” Math fun. I think math *IS* fun, and children naturally think so, too. Can I communicate that to parents?

I’m also planning to do a program with older kids about using math to make coded messages with colors or shapes. It uses ideas from my Prime Factorization Sweater and my Coded Blessing Blanket. I did the program a few years ago, a little afraid I’d lose the kids, and they totally loved it.

All this is to say: Bedtime Math! YES! I can present this as an idea for parents who need help thinking of problems to talk about with their kids, who might not think them up as easily as I did. (I also taught my kids the chain rule in calculus because I wanted to teach it to someone who would get it right. But I don’t think I’ll recommend that to parents.)

I still say, as a librarian, part of my job is the FUN side of learning. At libraries, we help people find information to teach themselves. But in the children’s department, a huge part of our job is helping parents make learning a natural and fun part of their family life. We don’t have to test them! We don’t have to follow the book or the curriculum! We can show them ways to think about the concepts that are just plain fun!

I’m going to be looking for more articles about early learning of mathematics. I think it can fit in nicely with Early Literacy Skills that we emphasize so much. But mostly I’m jazzed. Other Moms are going to hear those magic words: “Just one more math problem, Mommy, please!”

Librarians Help – Tech Games

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

I’m going to make an exception to my never during work time blogging rule, because they’re asking us to use our blog to reflect on our experience with the Tech Games.

So far, I’ve learned a little bit new, but not a lot.

Some of the most valuable ones can’t be done from a work computer, and I think that policy really needs to change for us to respond better to the needs of library patrons.

But the library is trying! I do love it that the library I work for is trying to get staff to do several technological activities as “Tech Games.” My big wish? That they were talking about new tools we could use at work like Pinterest or the new Riffle. Or even Goodreads, which completely relates to libraries.

And I do hope that librarians feel responsible to be tech-savvy. I love this post about apps that a fellow member of ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee put up at Little eLit. Here’s a mini-manifesto she included:

She and I agreed that the long-term studies that will support the inclusion of digital media in literacy programming for kids is at least a decade off. Does that mean that we AREN’T going to begin to develop best practices around using this new format with kids? NO! Tablet technology is pervasive and parents are using it anyway. Abstinence-only education doesn’t work. Telling parents that they shouldn’t use technology with their less-than-five-year old child is not an acceptable course of action for professionals who pride themselves on evaluating, curating and recommending high quality media for children.

When people think about where to get quality recommendations of media for children, I hope they will think of librarians, whether they are looking for books or movies or apps.

Today I was weeding out ratty copies in the children’s area, and I heard a mom trying to find a book her daughter would read. I cautiously asked if she’d like some help, and found out she loved Harry Potter and other magical series. When I mentioned the Mysterious Benedict Society, she said she’d read them all many times, so I asked if she knew about the prequel (which I’d just spotted on the New shelves). She hadn’t, and I think I won her confidence with that book, because she went away with a Robin McKinley book, a Diane Duane, and a Philip Reeve book as well. I made sure she wouldn’t feel bad if she didn’t like the first book — then she’d know not to read on. But if she did like the first book, this was another series that would keep her busy for awhile.

So, yeah, I’m afraid no matter how much I assert that I’d like to be an expert with Apps, I still get all happy and excited when I help a kid find Books. But things like the Tech Games help me learn how to find sources of good recommendations. What Librarians ARE good at is looking things up.

Librarians Help – Tech Tools

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

My library’s doing “Tech Games” — a series of 20 activities designed to teach staff members how to do various things on the internet. One of them is making a blog.

Now, I definitely want to participate. But I do make a point of doing all my blogging on my own time, to reinforce that I do not speak for the library where I work, and neither does the library control what I can say. So I’m writing this on my off time, but will link to this post about blogging.

I am pleased that my library is finally doing Tech Games. The county I worked for before Fairfax did the same thing years ago. It’s highly appropriate for libraries because we want libraries to be places where people come to get information. Since the internet is also about information, it’s a good fit. So it’s best if librarians are knowledgeable about tech tools and know how to use them. The point of Tech Games is to help us learn about any we haven’t used yet.

And the best way is to learn by doing.

And, yes, we can help you download free books to check out on your device, but we can also help in many other areas.

When you think of people who can help you with technology, do you think of librarians? I hope so!

Librarians Help!

In the comments, please mention ways you’ve been helped by a librarian, or a way you, as a librarian, have been able to help someone.

Librarians Help! Summer Reading

Saturday, September 1st, 2012

Lately I haven’t been keeping careful track of the ways I get to help people on my job, but I know easily what I did today — rewarding Summer Reading Program Finishers!

Here’s a nice article on the importance of Summer Reading.

They’ve done the work for me in talking about how much library summer reading programs help kids, so I’ll quote from one section:

The Impact of Innovative Summer Reading Programs

Public library summer reading programs are one solution to the “summer slide.” In an analysis of summer learning programs by Miller (2007), it was found that children can benefit from “hybrid” programs which combine elements of youth development principles with academic enrichment. Summer reading programs in libraries exemplify this kind of hybrid program. Barbara Heyn (1978) found that “More than any other public institution, including the schools, the public library contributed to the intellectual growth of children during the summer.” Drs. Celano and Neumann (2001), in a study prepared for the Pennsylvania Library Association, monitored differences between children participating in public library summer reading programs and those involved in local recreational summer programs. They concluded that, in addition to literacy related activities, children in library programs benefited academically from story hours, arts and crafts, and other special events designed to enhance the reading experience.

Current research points out that increased summer reading reduces summer learning loss. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has stated “A key step toward stopping the summer slide, is the development and launch of high quality programs that take advantage of time outside the school day and year to help children learn, grow, and develop” (Elling, 2009).

This summer, we had thousands of kids finishing the summer reading program, and today I personally rewarded about fifteen happy kids. I’m so glad we’ve helped motivate them to add reading to their summer.

I also have some exciting news: I just received a promotion, so I am now officially Youth Services Manager at City of Fairfax Regional Library!

For two years, I have been out of youth services. I was Youth Services Manager at Herndon Fortnightly Library, one of our community branches. But in July 2010, the county suffered a Reduction in Force, and I got cut from the library because I didn’t have enough seniority. For six months, I worked in the Office for Children as a Management Analyst, but in December 2010, I got to come back to the library. However, I was not in Youth Services, where it was clear my heart was. Now, I did still get to work with young library members on the reference desk. And I admit I like all library work. And I have always written my blog and website entirely on my own time. (It does NOT reflect any official position of my employer, but is composed entirely of my own opinions.) So I still read plenty of children’s books and go to programs about youth services work at conferences.

But now I get to do it as my official job again! Honestly, this week as it sank in, I felt a little overwhelmed. For one thing, I had a bad cold, so it’s harder to think about possibilities. But as I start recovering, my mind is percolating with ideas and things I want to try. I do believe that Librarian is a job that makes a difference, and I’m looking forward to touching kids’ lives.

On top of that, last weekend, I took my youngest son to the College of William and Mary and dropped him off in the dorm. A phase in my life has ended; all the better to focus on my dream job and an exciting career!

Spread the word — Librarians Help!

Librarians Help! Excellence, Education, and Innovation

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

The Carnegie Corporation has a wonderful article on their site, “Today’s Public Libraries: Public Places of Excellence, Education, and Innovation.” This picture was taken at one of the libraries in my own system.

Here are some sections I particularly like:

The second reason libraries persist is the notion of improvement, something that has been an article of faith among librarians and their civic backers for as long as there have been libraries in this country. We Americans were early proponents of universal education and individual initiative, and we long ago recognized the importance of giving people a chance to make their lives better by gaining knowledge and cultivating their minds—in other words, improving themselves both materially and intellectually. It’s an idea redolent of Ben Franklin and Samuel Smiles, Horatio Alger and even Dale Carnegie.

Visiting the Flushing library helped me realize that libraries persist because the marketplace, with all its many splendors, provides no good alternative to these comforting institutions where you can sit and think without a penny in your pocket. Libraries also persist because the idea of improvement persists—and because libraries continue to meet the needs of their patrons, perhaps even better than they have in the past. Library layouts have been evolving in recent years to accommodate different groups of patrons—just as they did years ago, to accommodate children. Librarians also have more training nowadays, not just in using computers but in communicating with patrons. And they are using the tools of the digital revolution—the very ones that were supposed to make librarians obsolete—to do a better job for the public, for example by promoting community discussions online, offering help on the Web and using Twitter to keep patrons informed.

In New York City, in Chicago, in Los Angeles and so many other places that are magnets for immigrants, libraries provide reading material in a host of tongues, not to mention instruction in the English language and workshops on how to become a citizen. They still provide books, of course, but they also provide Internet access for those who lack a connection, a computer or even a home. In smaller communities, they remain cherished civic and cultural spaces, anchoring sometimes tattered main streets and serving as a destination for children after school and the elderly after a lifetime of work. This idea of improvement—of helping people to make their lives better through knowledge, just as Andrew Carnegie sought to do through his vast international library-building program—is what ties together all the things libraries do today.

Yet even with the Internet at their fingertips, Americans still need—and want—their public libraries, even if only as a place to access the Internet. Most of us, though, want and expect much more from our libraries, and that’s reflected in every measure of public attitudes toward them. Consider that homes near libraries sell for higher prices. Two-thirds of American adults say they visit a library at least once annually. Last year voters approved a remarkable 87 percent of library operating ballot measures, suggesting that taxpayers overwhelmingly believe they are getting their money’s worth from these venerable and much-loved institutions.

Instead, librarians can focus on their unique capabilities as repositories, organizers and guides to knowledge. They can provide a focal point for their communities, as well as a necessary refuge. And they can carry forward the faith in improvement that has sustained them all along. By upholding their great tradition of public service, libraries will continue to win public support—and, it is hoped, public dollars. It’s a great bargain for society, and one likely to keep libraries in business long into the digital future.

The whole article is excellent, talking about the same thing I’m trying to emphasize here — how many different ways libraries and librarians help their communities.

And it’s been awhile since I posted about the things I’ve gotten to do myself.

A big summer theme is parents or grandparents coming in, looking for books to tempt their children, with the children along. That’s one of my favorite questions, and I usually offer them several choices. I love when a child’s eyes light up with interest. One little boy said, “That looks interesting!” when I showed him the book The Polar Bear Scientist. I found him some fiction and nonfiction that he found appealing.

I always like to stress to kids that they are allowed to stop reading if they don’t like it. I try to give them several possibilities, in hopes that something will spark their interest. That won’t work if they feel obligated to read my suggestions all the way to the end. Summer reading should be non-required reading, and a big huge part of summer fun.

I’m a lot more frustrated with parents who come in with lists or who only want books from a list. In the first place, parents in the same area use the same lists, and they tend to be checked out. (Put them on hold from home if you just want those particular books!) But when the parents are willing to talk to me and get similar suggestions, when they have a little flexibility, and especially when they bring their kids, then we can find some wonderful choices.

A fun thing happened one day at the end of July. Three different kids on the same day asked where the books by Roald Dahl were, but none of them knew his name. Instead, one asked for books by the author who wrote The BFG, the next one asked for books by the author of Matilda, and the third one asked, “You know James and the Giant Peach? Are there more books by that author?”

Also this month, one of my co-workers put on a “Book Bingo” program that was a big hit. They play bingo with a modified card (using book titles), and the prizes are — books. We use gently used donations that the system doesn’t need. Some are wrapped, and there are opportunities to exchange for a title a child wants. What I love about it is how enthusiastic the kids were and how excited about their winnings. It’s a super simple program, but what a great way to get kids excited about reading.

But my favorite question of the last month or so was the guy who walked nervously up to the information desk and asked, “Where’s the nearest exit?” Now, mind you, we have one main entrance and exit to the library, and it’s quite obvious from the information desk. He got me wondering if there was a specific reason he wanted the nearest exit, and I evaluated whether the nearest emergency exit was nearer than the main entrance. I decided it wasn’t and pointed him to the big doors through which he must have entered the library in the first place.

Did he know something I didn’t know? I have to admit, I was relieved when no alarm went off in the next five minutes.

Spread the word — Librarians Help!

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are entirely my own and do not in any way reflect those of my employer.

Conference Corner – ALA Midwinter Meeting – John Green

Saturday, July 21st, 2012

I’m attempting to post my notes from the many conferences I’ve gone to this year. I think I’m going to work backwards and forwards both. Last time, I posted notes from the last session I attended. Now I’m going to post notes from where I left off — John Green’s talk at ALA Midwinter Meeting

I spotted his van the next day when walking back to my hotel:

I walked in late to the talk, since I had been at a committee meeting. But here are my notes. It turns out that this works as a Librarians Help post as well. John Green is definitely a supporter of libraries and librarians.

While he was writing, he was still tweeting and using youtube and tumblr. He uses those because he likes them. After all, he likes talking about stuff that matters with people he finds interesting.

“There’s no such thing any more as a non-social-media internet.”

Social media has a lot of similarities with real life connections.

There’s so much location-based social media, that’s fantastic for librarians. “People are building real life connections in real life places.”

Librarians have been good at raising the quality of discourse for hundreds of years.

It’s difficult to build space for thoughtfulness.

Librarians should infiltrate digital communities and raise the quality of discourse.

“Reading builds strong and deep connections between people.”

They are building productive communities online. Some examples are for Nerdfighters and and wells in Haiti through

Ultimately these are not opposite ideas: Reach out into the world and organize information to help people.

“The ultimate thing that librarians do is help people toward the answer to the overwhelming ultimate question of how to organize our lives.”

Then talking about teens: “Teens are having a lot of interesting things happen to them for the first time.”

His recommendations for reaching teens? Use Tumblr. Look for communities in your community that are active. Search the name of your community. Join the nerdfighters group in your area.

“Education exists for the benefit of the society, not the individual.”

Lead people to interesting places online.

Librarians Help! Conference Edition

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

It’s been more than a month since my last Librarians Help! post. During that time, I went to ALA Annual Conference. What did I learn there? More ways to help, of course!


— Help parents build early literacy skills in their little ones.
— Help older kids learn to read.
— Help show kids the fun side of reading.
— Provide a place to come in from the heat.
— Provide conversation about technology and privacy and ethical use of technology.
— Provide exposure to technology.
— Show how to use technology to promote learning.
— Help people trace genealogy.
— Help people find their next book to read.
— And, of course, promote great books by giving prestigious awards.

I’ve got notes from some of the people I helped before I went to California for the conference (and vacation with family and friends), so I’ll post a few of those.

— Lots and lots of requests for specific books or specific topics
— Got out some old photos of a local high school from the rare book room.
— Ordered microfilm from the Library of Virginia.
— Figured out the title of a book from a fragment on one copied page.
— Answered the question: What were the top three companies (by any criteria) in 1939?
— Helped someone copy a pdf file on the public computers.
— Helped someone load library books onto their Nook.
— Helped a customer format her resume.
— Answered question about salaries of congressional staff.
— Provided a definition of “cognitive dissonance” over the phone.

And here’s a link to an excellent article on Kentucky Teacher about the value of School Librarians: “Why You Need Your School Librarian.”

Have I convinced you yet? Librarians Help!