My library is situated in an extremely commercial area of Manhattan. This means our children’s department sees mostly nannies who scour the city for ways to keep young charges entertained. When we do see parents, it’s often as a stop on their way home to select reading material for the week – without their children. So, about a year into working for NYPL, I decided to try an after-hours library program for families – to get to know these parents and grandparents we rarely, if ever, see. Thus, the Great Family Camp-In was born. This program allows us to: meet parents and introduce them to the programs and services the library provides; leverage talents from across the system as we bring in staff from other branches; model behaviors for playing and interacting with young children; and simply offer families a chance to unwind together at a free after-work program.
Just last week, much to the delight of the families we serve, we held our second Camp-In. Because these events have been so successful, I wanted to share the behind-the-scenes details with my fellow librarians in the hopes other systems seeking opportunities to engage the families in their community would be able to implement similar programming.
The Details: Creating an after-hours library program that works
The Great Family Camp-In has taken place twice so far, once last October and again last week. We planned each Camp-In for Friday after closing, from 5:30-7:30pm. Beginning the program 30 minutes after closing the branch allowed time for set up and explaining tasks to volunteers. Crafts took place during the first hour of the event, while the second hour was used differently each time – first for an early literacy workshop and campfire storytime, and last week for camping games and a campfire sing-along. We played a family friendly film, with pizza and other refreshments as well as “tent” building supplies. We pulled staff volunteers from branches across the system and capped registration at 30 families. Asking for advanced registration provided an estimate for preparing supplies and ordering food, told us the ages of children to expect, and allowed for reminder emails to registered families.
We chose crafts focused on the process of creating, rather than the product; for instance, last week we used vegetables and tempera paint to create our own unique prints. In the past, we’ve made hand-print fires and fish, done camping collaging, and created our own clay to use at home. The games at the most recent Camp-In utilized supplies families would have or could acquire cheaply. We placed signs beside each game station, with information about how to play and the supplies we used. These games included a marshmallow toss, magnetic fishing, and camping charades. Children chose how they spent their time, though we ensured there were activities appropriate for all ages.
The Future: Where do we go from here?
The children’s staff at my branch is hoping to make these after-hours programs a twice-yearly tradition. If we do receive permission to hold another Camp-In, however, there are a few things I would change. I’d like to provide families with a more detailed schedule of events, so children know what to expect. In addition, we tend to attract a young crowd, some of whom have found our film choices (The Parent Trap and Coco) scary. In future, I would probably play episodes of children’s shows rather than a full-length feature film.
That being said, families have overall been thrilled with these programs thus far. More than one parent emailed me this week thanking us, and even more asked when we’ll host another Camp-In. As any librarian can attest, that sort of feedback is exactly why we do what we do.