It’s been quite a while since I last wrote about something other than book recommendations – most of my time is spent with books these days, so in many ways that’s become my default. But this month I’m proud to present a program series planned and implemented by the incredible Youth Services team at Darien Library, one that I hope will resonate with some of you and find a home in your libraries as well. The program series is called Little Library Boxes, and to provide information about it – from conception to implementation – I’ve interviewed the brains behind the operation herself, Children’s Program Coordinator Samantha Cardone.
KF: First, could you give a brief explanation of what the Little Library Boxes are?
SC: Little Library Box is our subscription-style boxes for children (one for grades K to 2, one for grades 3 to 5) that contain a brand-new copy of a book, two or three projects, a curated book list, and additional ideas to try at home.
We initially planned for these boxes to release on a monthly basis with a new theme for each age range. We include all the supplies for the projects (with the exception of common household materials) and a copy of a brand new book for families to build their own home libraries. The curated booklist includes the names of other books in our Library collection that families can borrow if they’re interested in additional resources. We include an instruction brochure inside each Little Library Box with details on how to complete the projects and an additional enrichment activity they can try for themselves at home.
Our first themes for grades K to 2 were: We All Fall Down, For the Birds, and Starry Night. Our first themes for grades 3 to 5 were: Get Ready to Leaf, Copper Exploration, and Edible Science.
KF: Where did the idea come from and/or what need were you trying to meet?
SC: Trying to offer engaging programming during the time of COVID-19 has been a challenge – though we’re open with plenty of safety precautions, the Library experience is not the same for many families. While some families have felt comfortable enough to return to the Library, there are other who we haven’t seen since March 2020!
Once we reopened to the public, I began thinking about what actually goes into a Library visit: You come and attend a program, you pick out books, and you hopefully leave with a smile in anticipation of your next trip! Though we’re able to meet some of these previous experiences, visiting the Library looks different for kids these days.
I’ve enjoyed the experience of opening up a subscription box and finding the surprises inside – I thought families would appreciate that same kind of experience, and caregivers would appreciate a box of activities they could do together with their child at their own convenience.
I really liked the idea of creating a themed box that simulated the experience of a visit to the Library: a new book, curated book recommendations from your neighborhood librarians, and activities that we might do in the Library in the pre-COVID era. These enrichment activities could be anything from a creative and messy art project to a chemistry experiment.
KF: How much time went into putting these boxes together?
SC: It was a major group effort to get these boxes put together! Not to say it couldn’t be developed by a smaller team, but we spent a long time in developing and assembling the boxes. I came up with the initial idea and concept that I shared with our group of collaborative and passionate librarians. I started working with our Harold W. McGraw, Jr. fellow, Catherine Stricklan, to develop the themes for the first six boxes (three per age group), who then found the projects for each themed box, put together instructions, and ordered the supplies for them.
Our Collection Development Coordinator, Kate Frick, put together a curated list of book recommendations in our Library collection for each box and selected specific books that were interesting and age-appropriate for each theme. Then we had to produce each box: I ordered the boxes, designed the logo, ordered additional supplies, and edited/printed all of the paper supplies. During that process, we changed the name from DL (Darien Library) in a Box to Little Library Boxes.
Our Early Literacy and Outreach Coordinator, Erika Walston, designed the visuals for the instructional brochures, shared promotional materials on our Instagram page, and helped to brainstorm ways to offer our boxes to patrons. We took a significant amount of time for all of this – not to mention the help from our part-time staff in assembling the boxes and putting the materials into them!
While the initial idea for the Little Library Boxes was brought up in late July, we released the first set of boxes mid-November. I would say we collectively spent at least 40 hours on creating the Little Library Boxes during that time. The actual assembly was the easiest part in comparison to the discussions and development!
KF: What do you think has been most successful about the boxes so far? What would you change, or are you planning to change, moving forward?
SC: I really think families have enjoyed the opportunity to turn the Little Library Box into an afternoon of fun, especially during the colder weather. I’ve received pictures of children sharing the projects in their boxes with their younger siblings, the intense concentration on their faces as they have worked on painting a birdhouse or studying the shapes autumn leaves to their classification cards.
We have received a lot of interest from the younger group with each release – we’ve had a waitlist each time! Though our boxes for the older group have been popular, we haven’t seen that same level of interest and enthusiasm – and it will require further investigation to see if that is the age group or the content of the boxes.
A change that is already taking place is we are going from offering the boxes on a monthly basis to a bi-monthly one – demand, cost, and staff resources all point to offering them every other month as a solid solution to providing this experience to patrons with a consistent attention to detail.
I expect more little changes will occur as we prepare to launch our next set of boxes – and I’m excited to see how they evolve and grow as we continue to operate in this hybrid world of libraries. While they were developed when we were unable to offer as many programs as we normally would, and I don’t know yet whether this particular project will be sunset when we go back to more of a normal programming schedule, I do think there is still a lot of value in offering this type of box to families at any time.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group and III. Programming Skills.