Guest Blogger

Providing a Great KIDS’ EXPERIENCE at the Library

Over four years ago, one of our local entertainers approached me about the idea of gathering local performers and instructors for a day-long event for kids. I loved the idea, but his enthusiasm was more than my brain could take in. We brainstormed for many weeks and discussed everything from funding to layout, from publicity to instructors and most importantly what we wanted families to get out of the program and how that related to the library. Our final goal was to provide kids the opportunity to learn more about a variety of subjects, a brief introduction that would lead them to materials within the library collection. In August 2008 we hosted our first “The Kids’ Experience” and it was amazing! Families from all over our regional area attended and the kids had a blast. We offered classes in magic, storytelling, origami, string stories, balloon tying, face painting, watercolors, caricature drawing, pencil drawing, sign language, juggling, simple kite making, music in the lobby, a petting zoo on the lawn and a free hot dog lunch, and more! Kids moved from class to class every 30 minutes or spent time just exploring throughout the library.  Some came for an hour or two and others spent the entire day (9:30 a.m. — 4 p.m.).  We took up almost every square inch of the library — and amazingly did not receive one complaint from our regular library users expecting to find a relatively quiet haven.

Now, four years later, we have experienced some great growth. There is no way to count attendees we don’t require registration and people wander in and out of the library to visit different locations. We served over 500 hot dogs this year and we use that as a barometer for attendance figures — our estimate this year was over 1,000 attendees.

I know there will be tons of questions about specifics and I would be happy to answer any of those. I suspect that funding will top the list, so let me quickly tell you that we have amazing support from our Library Foundation that sponsors the event and from our Friends of the Library group that also help out. The Library Foundation secured a sponsor for the event and they have been with us 3 of the 4 years. This year, they also got sponsors to cover the cost of the petting zoo, the hot dog lunch and miscellaneous supplies. We pay each instructor a modest honorarium – enough that almost all of them have returned each of the four years. They love the event (and it does help get their name out into the public). We rely on volunteers to help throughout the day so that library staff not directly involved can run the library as usual (HA!).

We’ve made some changes each year as we ironed out the kinks. We’ve shortened the program by an hour, we added an area just for kids under age 5 with simple activities, we changed some classes and instructors and we moved a few more things outside. What hasn’t changed is the enthusiasm for the program. As more people learn about the program and as more sponsors help us to provide additional opportunities we are feeling better and better about the event. It falls approximately 3 weeks after the summer reading program ends and I would be lying if I didn’t say come the end of August I am exhausted. But, we have achieved what we wanted — new patrons are attending programs, library materials on the topics we offer and many others go off the shelf, and everyone leaves feeling really great about their experience.

My personal goal was to make this a free event so that families of all income levels could partake. Thanks to the generosity of our sponsors we have been able to stick to that. A favorite comment from our first year was from a family of seven that attended. The mother wrote that she was so pleased by the event because it was seldom that they could find an event where all five of her kids could find something that interested them and that the event was FREE, making it possible for them to attend.

I know that this event can be duplicated — maybe not on the scale we provided, but something that can fit your library and community. I’d be happy to answer questions, provide handouts from the event and share some wisdom. The smiles on the faces of each individual that leaves the library that day is reward in itself for all the preparation and planning. Year number 5 will bring more changes as we are asking each instructor to come up with a new class. We’re on our way!

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Our guest blogger today is Tami (Chumbley) Finley, Youth Services Manager at the Bettendorf Public Library in Bettendorf, IA. Tami can be contacted at Tfinley@bettendorf.org

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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