Guest Blogger

Engaging the Community Through “Anytime” Programs

Every library visit should be special and memorable. So how do we add more to the library experience when our program schedule is full, our staff are busy, and our room is already overflowing with toys? One suggestion is to create new, drop-in experiences for patrons around monthly themes. These combination displays/programs are sometimes called passive programs, but we prefer the term “anytime program” – after all, we’re not passive in creating them, and our patrons are anything but passive when they take part in them! They are another means to engage the community on their schedule and at their own pace.

Anytime programs range from something as simple as making cards for a local community group to more elaborate schemes like scavenger hunts and guessing games. No matter the complexity, these opportunities add value to patron experience.  They also provide an additional way to capture statistics that help us tell the story of how busy we are and how many families we reach. This includes families who might not attend a traditional programs but regularly use our space and our services. In July, our busiest month, we engaged an additional 1,157 people through coloring sheets, scavenger hunts, and cardmaking to welcome our new Children’s Librarian.

Here are a few examples of anytime programs that have worked well for us:

Cardmaking for partner organizations:  We’re always looking for opportunities to collaborate with other town departments, civic groups and agencies in the community, so last February we reached out to a local nursing home to see if our patrons could provide handmade Valentine cards for their residents. We put a basket of paper hearts and some crayons out on a little table next to our toy mailbox and the kids did the rest. Likewise, this November the coordinator of the Veterans Dinner at the Senior Center asked if we could provide cards to be distributed to the veterans in attendance.  Helpful hint: make sure to contact the group or facility first to make sure they can use the cards. The nursing home we worked with had a particular number of cards they could use, so we were able to use the extra hearts that were created to beautify the Children’s Room.

Scavenger hunts: Children of all ages love our scavenger hunts, and we love them too for the way they get kids exploring the room, discovering new parts of the collection and interacting with staff members and with each other. We simply come up with a collection of something to hide – pictures of all the creatures from Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See, for instance, or illustrations of snowmen from various picture books, or 3-D printed tools to go with the Build a Better World summer reading theme. We create a sheet with pictures of all the items on it and make it available at the desk, along with pencils to check off each item as it’s found. Then we find clever hiding places for the items and the fun begins. Patrons can return their completed sheets to a staff member to receive a sticker or, sometimes, to be entered in prize drawing. Helpful hints: Have whoever hides the items create a cheat-sheet so staff members can give hints as needed. Make sure to hide items out of the reach of little hands so they are less likely to disappear!

A dsiplay showing part of the library's scavenger hunt
Can you spot the carpenter’s square hidden near our display?

Seasonal activities: Since we are located in New England (Simsbury, CT) we have lots of beautiful leaves at our disposal in the autumn. This year we decided to create a center using laminated autumn leaves. After collecting, drying and laminating the leaves, we placed a basket of them on a small table with some crayons and half-sheets of paper. We created signage suggesting ways for children to interact with the leaves – sorting them in various ways, creating rubbings and tracings, and using them to make pictures on the flannel board. We turned out lots of beautiful leaf art and even threw in a little science by identifying several different types of leaves. Helpful hint: Leaf rubbings are a great way to use broken crayons or those that are nearing the end of their useful life. Peel the paper off so children can rub with the side of the crayon.

Autumn leaf fun
Autumn leaf fun

How would you modify these ideas to work at your library? What anytime programs have worked well for you?

(Photos courtesy April Jones)

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Today’s post was co-written by Stephanie C. Prato and April Jones.

Stephanie C. Prato is the Head of Children’s Services at the Simsbury Public Library, CT. With experience in youth services, community outreach, leadership, instruction, and technology, she has developed innovative programs for all ages. She is an active member of the American Library Association and serves the Chair of the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee of ALSC. You can email Stephanie at sprato@simsburylibrary.info.

April Jones is a Children’s Reference Librarian at the Simsbury Public Library, where she enjoys dreaming up new anytime programs and coordinating the Everybody Plays and Sensory Sunday programs. She can be reached at apriljones@libraryconnection.info.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

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