An A-Maze-ing Library Experience

Sometimes you get a big idea. And sometimes you get to make that idea a reality. This year my department was given funds to create big family programming, and I got the chance to build my idea: a giant cardboard maze that would encourage caregiver-child interaction and create a memorable library experience for customers of all ages.

Photo credit: Kahla Gubanich

Photo credit: Kahla Gubanich

The Event

Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

A families-only Harry Potter-themed after-hours party kicked off the maze, which measured 75’ long, 15’ wide, and 6’ tall, and sat smack-dab in the middle of the main hall of Denver Public Library’s Central Library. Customers lined up out the door to wait for their turn to explore the maze. A staff member at the maze entrance spaced out families in two minute intervals to avoid traffic jams. We also hid the four Hogwarts house crests inside the maze. Kids were given maze passports, and when they found a crest there was a staff member dressed as a Harry Potter character waiting to stamp their passport. This allowed us to have staff in the maze in case of emergency.

Other party activities included pin the sock on Dobby, magic wand decorating, and, of course, tasty themed snacks. Having a theme for the maze wasn’t necessary, but it did make the event easier to promote. Plus, it meant lots of kids came dressed as their favorite Harry Potter character.

After the party we left the maze up in our main hall for a week so customers of all ages could explore the maze. In addition to walking through the maze, customers could look down from the 2nd and 3rd floors to plan their route or watch others go through the maze.

DPL staff putting the maze together. Photo credit: Kahla Gubanich

DPL staff putting the maze together. Photo credit: Kahla Gubanich



Children’s librarian, Warren Shanks, showing off a stack of newly purchased cardboard. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

Children’s librarian, Warren Shanks, showing off a stack of newly purchased cardboard. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

I’d seen pictures of cardboard mazes online (thanks, Pinterest!), but I couldn’t find anything tall enough for adults. My goal was to create something that children and their caregivers could explore together. I wasn’t able to find any instructions online, so I decided to figure it out on my own. This process included lots of brainstorming and several mini-maze mock-ups. Here’s a list of things to consider, based on my experience.

  • Safety and Space. Measure your space and learn about your library’s safety rules and regulations. I met with the security, custodial, and facilities departments to get their input. From this meeting it was decided that we would have a minimum of 5’ of space on all sides of the maze. We also decided to include a third side entrance/exit to the maze in case of emergency.
  • Design the Maze. I had never designed a maze before so I was grateful to find some wonderful online resources. Jo Edkins has great info about maze layout and design and the tips on avoiding bottlenecks on Amazeing Art were useful. I found it helpful to first determine the entrances/exits and then divide the space into three “mini mazes.”
  • Shelvers Sarah Cosoer and Sallie King take a break from cardboard prep. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

    Shelvers Sarah Cosoer and Sallie King take a break from cardboard prep. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

    Planning and Paperwork. Make sure your plans are written down so others can understand them. This is the kind of project that requires teamwork and delegation, so it’s important that your paperwork is detailed and clear. Here’s a copy of the maze layout.

  • Purchase Materials. I purchased my materials from the following companies:
  • Purchasing Considerations.
    • Some companies require a minimum number of a particular item per order.
    • Freight shipping can add a significant amount to the cost of materials.
    • Height of your loading dock. Ours is very low, so this impacted delivery.
    • Talk to a representative. I was able to get more accurate quotes and ultimately a
      Warren uses a template to measure and cut a cardboard sheet. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

      Warren uses a template to measure and cut a cardboard sheet. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

      lower price by emailing and talking on the phone with a representative.

  • Prep as much of your maze ahead of time as possible. Call in your volunteers, friends, and family! Cutting and labeling our boxes required approximately 20 hours of prep time.
  • Putting It Together. It took us approximately 10 hours with 5 people working steadily to put the maze together with the prepped materials. This includes the 5 hours we used to construct 45 maze units the day before the event and stored them in our storytime room. The day of the event we had another 5 hours to assemble the other units and zip-tie them all together. Check out the step-by-step Maze Construction Instructions.
Templates used for cardboard prep. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester

Templates used for cardboard prep. Photo credit: Amy Seto Forrester


Yes, this maze took a ton of planning and staff labor, but it was worth it. From a numbers point of view, it was gratifying to have 300+ people come to the after-hours party. But it was even more satisfying to see the smiles, hear the laughter, and watch our customers find joy in exploring the maze. The maze was also an entry point for staff-customer interaction and encouraged customers to visit our 2nd and 3rd floors to look down on the maze. In short, it was an unforgettable library experience!

Photo credit: Will Forrester

Photo credit: Will Forrester


Amy Uke

Photo Credit: Sherry Spitsnagle, Denver Public Library

Our guest blogger today is Amy Seto Forrester. Amy  is a children’s librarian at the Denver Public Library and has her MLS from Texas Woman’s University. She is always on the look out for creative ways to incorporate the arts into children’s services and programming to extend books beyond the page. Check out Amy’s blogs:

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

Posted in Guest Blogger, Programming Ideas | Tagged | Leave a comment

Student-to-Staffers: Where are you now?

ALA Student-to-Staffers: Where are you now?

Way back in June of 2007, I had the honor of representing TWU’s School of Library and Information Science at ALA Annual in Washington, DC.  I was a member of TWU SLIS-buttonALA’s StudeALA Annualnt-to-Staff (S2S) Program, with assignment to the ALSC Division.  If you’ve never heard of the S2S program, you can read about it here.  There are 56 active ALA Student Chapter Groups at accredited graduate schools.  Each is entitled to submit one name for consideration for the program.  Schools have varying criteria. My school chose the student – me :) based on an essay contest.  Others have different criteria, but the end result is that 40 promising students receive a free trip to ALA Annual in exchange for working with  ALA staff during the week.  I was able to choose with whom I wanted to work. An aspiring children’s librarian, naturally, I chose ALSC.

It was my first connection with the national community of librarians.  It was during my week as an ALA S2S er, that I first met ALSC’s own Aimee Strittmatter, Laura Schulte-Cooper, and Marsha Burgess, and I began my continuing association with the division. I wrote a piece about my experience for  ALSConnect, now called ALSC Matters. (I am no less bright-eyed and bushy-tailed now.)

If you know someone in grad school right now, do them a favor and let them know about the S2S program.  If you participated in the S2S program, give a shout out!  Did you work for ALSC at the conference?  When or where did you attend?  How wonderful was it?

(The Student-to-Staff Program was established in 1973. There should be a lot of us out there!)


Posted in Awards & Scholarships, Blogger Lisa Taylor, Bloggers, Other ALA Divisions/Programs, Slice of Life, Students, What I Wasn't Taught in Library School... | Tagged | Leave a comment

Feature National Diabetes Month at your Library

 Mary Abel and 4-year-old, grandson, Robby enjoying a snack after story time

Mary Abel and 4-year-old grandson, Robby, enjoying a snack after story time (Photo courtesy of guest blogger)

There are perils to being a children’s librarian. This never occurred to me until I took grandson Robby to story time. At one session, the head came off of the turkey puppet that was helping to illustrate a story and song about Thanksgiving. While the librarian was trying to stick the head back on the turkey and sing simultaneously, the felt board fell over. The 3-and 4-year-olds seated in a circle erupted in laughter. The librarian was quick on his feet and rescued this “turkey” by playing his guitar and singing I’m a Little Turkey to the tune of I’m a Little Teapot as they all strutted around like Thanksgiving gobblers. My grandson thought it was the best thing ever.

This November when children’s librarians are strutting their stuff by cutting Thanksgiving turkeys out of construction paper, singing songs and playing with puppets, there is another important observance to headline: It’s National Diabetes Awareness Month.

Years ago, Type 1 diabetes was rare in children and Type 2 did not exist. A nationally representative study[i] now has confirmed that from 2001 to 2009 the incidence of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes drastically increased among children and adolescents across racial groups in this country. The study found that the prevalence of Type 1 diabetes increased 21 percent among children up to age 19. The prevalence of Type 2 diabetes among ages 10 to 19 rose 30 percent during the same period . Nearly 30 million children and adults in the United States have this disease.

Tear sheet from Maddy Patti and the Great Curiosity showing a main character, Gideon, astride his horse, Stony the Pony, saving Pickles from drowning.

Tear sheet from Maddy Patti and the Great Curiosity showing a main character, Gideon, astride his horse, Stony the Pony, saving Pickles from drowning.

As an author and journalist with a background in health care communications, I am passionate about writing books that empower and help children deal with medical conditions. The most recent effort is a self-help book for children with diabetes, Maddy Patti and the Great Curiosity. Dr. Stan Borg, a family physician, and I collaborated to write this story across the miles—354.8 to be exact—to help youngsters understand and manage their diabetes.

A special section in the book is for teachers and parents. Teachers especially may benefit from this information because it helps them understand why, for example, a child with diabetes may need more bathroom breaks because of high blood sugar levels, or they may need to eat periodically throughout the day.

Informational links for librarians:

Discussion Questions:

Q. What special tools will help illustrate and promote National Diabetes Month for youngsters at our libraries?
Q. How can librarians find help and support for children and parents who are dealing with a diabetes diagnosis in our community?
Q. How can we use National Diabetes Awareness Month to garner publicity for our library?

Despite the occasional perils of falling felt boards and headless puppets, I believe that children’s librarians are important and necessary advocates for youngsters not only with diabetes but all children because you are fluent at knowing and interpreting their needs to teachers, parents and the community. So amid the sing-a-longs about gobblers and the Thanksgiving tales this November, National Diabetes Awareness Month might be a good topic to feature at your library, too.

[1] ] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and National Institutes of Health , Search for Diabetes in Youth, 2008-2009, multicenter, continuing  study to examine diabetes (type I and type 2) among children and adolescents in the United States from 2000 to 2015.


IMG_1530Mary Abel has been a professional writer for more than 40 years and is the recipient of multiple writing awards, including the Sigma Delta Chi Mark of Excellence Award in journalism. She holds a BA in journalism from The Ohio State University. Contact her at:

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


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Why Take Storytime Breaks?

I’ve written before about taking storytime breaks and so have some of my fabulous ALSC colleagues. We’ve just started our winter storytime break and will be off until the week after Midwinter in January. Each day I find myself explaining to another parent or caregiver that storytime is on a break.

But why take storytime breaks?

Storytime breaks serve a lot of great purposes. I have two favorites, the first being that storytime breaks give me time to brainstorm and create new things. I’ve written grants during storytime breaks, created new programs, developed new circulating materials, and re-organized collections.

This past week I had the pleasure of seeing several large scale projects completed and now available for our patrons to use.

[1000 Books Display, photo courtesy of the author.]

[1000 Books Display, photo courtesy of the author.]

1000 Books Display
Our 1000 Books program was launched in September (during another storytime break!) and this month saw a new advancement for this passive program. We received partnership funding from the Darien Rotary Club to fund the first 300 kids to complete the passive program. Additionally, the Darien Women’s Club helped us purchase this beautiful display. Each month we’ll feature a suggested title for kids to read who are participating in the 1000 Books program. Along with the suggested book, I’ve also created a recommendation booklist. This month’s featured book is Row, Row, Row Your Boat by Jane Cabrera and the booklist is all about song books. I am in love with the picture frames that showcase our book. Also: the graphics and signs from our Marketing Department.

[Book Bundles and LeapFrog Kits, photo courtesy of the author.]

[Book Bundles and LeapFrog Kits, photo courtesy of the author.]

Book Bundles
I was finally able to put out our newest circulating kits: Book Bundles & Parenting Packs! These were funded by a Target early literacy grant. All of the work that went into these kits was done during storytime breaks, including purchasing all materials and developing the activity sheets/resource guides found inside each bundle or pack. Book Bundles are aimed at ages 2-6 and have books, puzzles, manipulatives, and more in twelve different topics like ABCs, 123s, Colors, and Shapes. I should also mention that all of the LeapFrog kits were developed during a storytime break in the summer of 2014.

[The re-organized Parent/Teacher collection, photo courtesy of the author.]

[The re-organized Parent/Teacher collection, photo courtesy of the author.]

Parent/Teacher Collection
This one, I confess, I worked on during this past storytime session. But it was finally completed and ready to roll out when our storytime break began. Our Parent/Teacher collection is now organized by subject instead of Dewey decimal/fiction. This means that all of our picture books are integrated with their subjects. This also means that hopefully families going through tough times will be able to browse for their own materials rather than ask a librarian about a sensitive subject. (Although we’re always willing to help!) I spent much of my off storytime time shifting shelves. The red totes at the bottom are the Parenting Packs I mentioned before. These are geared towards caregivers to use with children and include topics like Potty Training, Staying in the Hospital, and New Baby in the House.

So, what’s next during this storytime break? Creating a Language Learners area, purchasing new Playaway Launchpads, working on a monthly early literacy calendar for 2016, partnering with a local preschool for our first preschool fair, and of course, preparing for the next storytime session.

I leave you with this quote, one that my boss sent to me after a particularly stressful summer reading had just ended:

Think about it: Humans are the only creatures in nature that resist the pattern of ebb and flow. We want the sun to shine all night, and when it doesn’t, we create cities that never sleep. Seeking a continuous energetic and emotional high, we use everything from exciting parties to illegal chemicals. But natural ebbs — the darkness between days, the emptiness between fill-ups, the fallow time between growing seasons — are the necessary complements of upbeats. They hold a message for us. If you listen at your life’s low points, you’ll hear it, too. It’s just one simple, blessed word: Rest.
— Martha Beck

Will you join me in taking storytime breaks? What can you do for your patrons to fill the time?

– Katie Salo
Early Literacy Librarian
Indian Prairie Public Library

Posted in Blogger Katie Salo, Storytime | Tagged | 3 Comments

Hour of Code is Approaching

HourOfCode_logo_RGB copyAs December approaches there is still time to plan for Hour of Code at your library. Computer Science Education Week is December 7 to 13, and is a global initiative to make the computer sciences available to all children. Last year President Obama even took part and became the first president to ever write a line of code using JavaScript!

There are many resources online to inspire those that might feel ill-equipped at teaching coding to kids, many which have been shared on the ALSC Blog by librarians from Fayetteville Free Library and Los Angeles Public Library.

In 2015 Coding offerings at our library gathered a lot of steam, and much to our surprise some of the classes began to have waitlists of over 50 students. Our foray into this area of the computer sciences began in 2012 when Gretchen Caserotti began Codor Dojo, a program that relies on mentors from within the community to provide free instruction to those passionate about learning a coding language. Lacking consistent mentors, we observed a group of homeschoolers who met regularly on Fridays in the library to teach themselves using websites like and Khan Academy. After the group dismantled, one of the students who had a desire to continue using the library’s tech resources, began instructing other students alongside his mother in both Scratch and JavaScript. In addition we have also recruited two local high school students to teach Python and HTML which provides them an opportunity to share their passion for coding, while also helps to develop their teaching skills.

HTML session. Photo courtesy of the author.

HTML session. Photo courtesy of the author.

Finding it difficult to recruit outside instructors? The Hour of Code tutorials are not only accessible for beginners, but also fun for a variety of ages. One of my colleagues still has her certificate hanging in the office after completing one hour of coding with Frozen’s Anna and Elsa. If that’s not your cup of tea, there are also new programs through that allow kids to code with characters from Minecraft and Star Wars. In a few weeks we are even going to be teaching young children the concepts of code without the use of a computer. Many of these classes are referred to as Unplugged Coding Lessons.

My favorite resource for introducing kids to coding is the app-based Hopscotch which uses colored blocks as commands, much like Scratch. The company is even preparing for December’s Hour of Code with in-app tutorials, guides, and lesson plans. There is a fantastic introduction to Hopscotch in video form, while a free eBook written by Wesley Fryer provides more complex challenges for ongoing sessions.

Whatever your experience, this December make a commitment to participate in Hour of Code. Whether that is by offering an introductory course for kids in your library, or earning your own certificate by taking 60 minutes out of the work week to learn a new skill. One of the moments that propelled our library into offering more of these opportunities was one parent commenting that the library was fulfilling a need in the community that was not being addressed elsewhere. Although this was one language I had not anticipated in honing as a children’s librarian, I’m thankful that this profession is opening new learning opportunities for me, the children’s staff, and the kids and teens we serve.

Claire Moore is a member of the Digital Content Task Force. She is also Head of Children and Teen Services at Darien Library in Connecticut. You can reach Claire at

Visit the Digital Media Resources page to find out more about navigating your way through the evolving digital landscape.

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Gimme a C (for Collaboration!): Starting Points for Success

SPLC Committee WordleAs a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Cooperation, I’ve had the pleasure of discussing and sharing ideas with other dedicated librarians on how we can all work together to benefit the kids and teens with whom we work.

We’ve created the following list for both school and public librarians to use in sparking their own creative ideas for helping all youth become information literate.

Why not give some of these a try?

  1. Look for grant-funding opportunities specifically for school library-public library partnerships.
  2. Set aside time to visit with your public librarian to discuss your school’s curriculum and any big projects your teachers have planned.
  3. Schedule a few hours to shadow the public librarian and invite him or her to do the same. This will help you build mutual understanding about what the other’s job entails.
  4. Have a library card sign-up event at the school during Library Card Sign-Up Month (September). Make a special day of it or have an evening of gaming. Be sure to include the public librarian in the planning, promotion, and supervising the event. If an event isn’t possible, see if the public librarian can come to the school to hand out library card forms at lunchtime. This would work especially well in middle or high school.
  5. Create book lists and resource guides in cooperation with your public librarians. You might focus on materials that support reading in the content areas, science and social studies topics in particular. Include materials from both the public and school library collections.
  6. Co-host nonfiction book clubs for students and for teachers.
  7. Invite the public librarian to make a presentation to the teachers at your school during the school’s teacher in-service day about public library resources that support Common Core State Standards.
  8. Host a joint meeting with the public librarians and your fellow school district librarians to discuss Common Core, 21st Century Standards and state/local curriculum expectations and the public library’s role in student learning.
  9. Talk about early literacy programming in the public library and how it connects to the school librarian’s work with K-2 students.
  10. Use the public library as a facility for after-school tutoring for students, especially in reading. The public librarian and school librarian can collaborate to recruit volunteers.
  11. Coordinate joint activities that integrate the public library’s summer reading program with the school’s summer programming.

As you can see, there are many ways school and public librarians can work in cooperation. You may already be using some of these suggestions, but if not, what’s stopping you?

When we all work together, it’s a win-win situation for everyone!

Linda Weatherspoon serves on the AASL Board of Directors and is a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Cooperation.

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Sensory Storytime On the Road

Over the past few months, my library has partnered with a local resource center that provides early intervention and lifelong support to individuals with a variety of developmental disabilities, including cerebral palsy and autism spectrum disorders.  The resource center originally reached out to us looking for a librarian to read a few stories to their clients. I knew a sensory storytime would be a great fit, but in their experience, visits to offsite locations were rarely successful.  Any activity we planned would have to take place at their location.  So I took my sensory storytime on the road, and got a chance to really put my skills to the test.

I’m fairly new to sensory storytimes.  Before this, I had incorporated concepts into my regular programming, and made real efforts to make those programs universally designed, but I certainly wasn’t actively promoting this. Partnering with the resource center gave me the opportunity to refine my skills and try new activities.  My first visit wasn’t without hiccups. For example, sign-up sheets and library card applications became problematic due to HIPAA and patient privacy concerns.  We also ended up with a lot more kids in attendance than we were expecting. But in the end, like Pete the Cat taught us in our story that day, “it’s all good.”

In taking these special programs out into the community, we’ve found that children and their caregivers can have a library experience in an environment that is comfortable for them, surrounded by people they trust. Plus, our partner organization has developed a better understanding of what we can offer.  It has inspired other collaborations, with new programs and training for children’s librarians in the works.

There is a lot of information on the ALSC Blog to help you prepare sensory and special needs storytimes. I found Ashley’s Waring’s Sensory Storytime Tips and Jill Hutchison’s overview of Renee Grassi’s Beyond Sensory Storytime presentation to be particularly useful posts for providing information and talking points for communicating with the center’s directors and staff.  In addition, an ALSC course I took this spring taught by Kate Todd, Children with Disabilities in the Library, was an amazing resource, and I recommend it for anyone interested in creating more inclusive library programs, or reaching out to children with disabilities in clinical settings.

Brooke Sheets is a Children’s Librarian at Los Angeles Public Library’s Children’s Literature Department and is writing this post for the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee.

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Fight for School Libraries! #ESEA

Calling all Everyday Advocates! The fight for school libraries is real, and it needs you to make a difference.

Everyday Advocacy

Use the resources on the Everyday Advocacy site to help make your voice heard! Photo courtesy of ALSC.

Congress is poised to act definitively on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) very soon. According ALA’s Washington Office, we could know as early as next week if watershed language for school libraries, included in the Senate’s Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), makes it into this federal education bill.

This means there is important work for all of us to do! The last time Congress passed an education bill they left out school libraries and our kids’ futures can’t afford for that to happen again. As soon as the Washington Office learns what is in the new compromise bill language, they will be posting an alert to the Legislative Action Center with instructions for how you can help (including talking points you can use to call, email, and Tweet Congress). That will be our opportunity to make sure that every member of the House of Representatives (and after that, the Senate) hears from library experts before they vote, which could be as early as December 2. ALSC will also provide a heads-up when it’s time.

Here’s how you can make a difference:

  • Be prepared to contact your Senators and Representatives and let them know that any agreement to reauthorize ESEA must maintain the school library provisions overwhelmingly adopted by the HELP Committee and the full Senate under S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act.
  • Give a heads-up to coworkers, family, and friends to take action as well by contacting Congress sometime between next week and mid-December.
  • Gather together stories about the impact of school libraries in your community which you can use when you and your supporters contact Congress.

For support in these vital efforts, check out the tips from ALSC’s Everyday Advocacy initiative at

The more voices that speak up on behalf of school libraries, the better for all kids! Please keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for the upcoming alert.

Thank you!

Andrew Medlar
ALSC President

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