As an intern years ago, I was thrilled to volunteer as a costumed character for a special children’s library program. This particular animal will remain nameless, but I knew I was capable of being the star of the show. After all, I already had years of story time experience in person under my belt. Wouldn’t it be easier to essentially “hide” from view and boogie like the best of them? Well, it turns out (no surprise here) that it wasn’t as easy as I thought to maneuver around in a giant costume, with limited vision, restricted mobility, and the sheer panic that an overjoyed youngster was going to pull my head off! Though I struggled through that experience, the children were thrilled; hugging and screaming as if they had met their long-lost best friend. With only a couple of these required programs on my part (and the second character didn’t make it any easier,) my dip into the world of costumed characters was fleeting. It was evident, however, how much these young patrons (not to mention their parents and teachers) enjoyed these meet-and-greets with these fuzzy, furry characters. It was also evident that my skills were best put to use reading the books than dancing in costume, so how could I learn how to incorporate costumed characters in my programming?
Fast track to my professional library career, and my library system had already been utilizing costumed characters with positive results for years. Our Cumberland County Public Library & Information Center rents storybook characters each year (frequently during our large Summer Reading Club programs,) and these book-based, character-driven story times prove extremely popular. Costume Specialists provide a variety of choices (http://www.costumespecialists.com/)if you’re interested in booking a character. In addition to these branch events, our library touts a recognizable feline mascot with mass appeal throughout the year. With furry, spotted paws and an oversized t-shirt to promote library initiatives, our costumed mascot CC Leopard greets adoring young fans everywhere he or she goes. CC makes appearances at community festivals serving thousands to drop-in appearances at weekly scheduled story times. CC is also a staple of our Summer Reading Club promotional visits during school-wide assemblies.
You may be in a library branch with a larger youth services department, with willing and able staff interested in donning the suit so those less inclined can lead story time or focus on library promotion. If your youth services department is limited in personnel, however, and you find that costumed characters may not be the best fit for you personally, consider the positive impact teamwork can play. At my community branch, like many of your libraries, our departments thrive due to a significant amount of cross-training; Circulation staffers provide crowd control and count attendance during children’s story times. Work with other departments to find a staffer to wear your library’s suit; it could very well be that your best costumed character is a staffer in Circulation or your Information Services Librarian. Volunteers can also be a natural fit with the right coach to guide them in their theatrics.
CC Leopard has become our cat’s meow, and teamwork is all that’s necessary for the successful introduction of a library mascot in your community. Please share your favorite experiences starring your children’s beloved costumed characters. What has been the most interesting question you’ve heard kids ask? My favorite question I hear (“What does your leopard like to read?”) often receives a standard response on my part. The answer? Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat, of course, though the possibilities are endless . . .