Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Kids' Knitting Group: Beyond the Basics

Kids Knitting for the fall ends next week and it's been gone well. New thing implemented this fall: a six week, half hour Advanced Knitting Techniques. I finish the second round next Tuesday and overall I'd say it's been quite a success. I have patterns selected that I'd use again to teach the basics and I've got some ideas on what to change and do better should I tackle this again.

The regular kids group is chugging right along. They bring projects, ideas, and enthusiasm. I show up with yarn, how to knowledge and piles of books for them to read. We average between 10 and 12 kids per week, not a shabby number.

The advanced tech was about growing the kids who were moving beyond the basics. I taught I-cord, different types of increases and decreases, cables, lace, and we went over (in detail) gauge and reading a pattern. The general goal was to make them more confident and self-sufficient. Up to this point, most of them had good basic skills. They could do one type of increase, maybe two. They might pick out a pattern but they weren't confident about reading it and the concept of pairing yarn to pattern wasn't quite kicking in.

Now--they're doing better. Several of them have moved on to more difficult patterns, coming to me only to read parts of it aloud together. At least three have/are tackled/ing clothing and all of them are learning. I want them to be able to go out and do without me. I'm here to help, certainly, but I don't want them to feel like they can't if I'm not available to get them going.

I set up pretty strict parameters to do AKT. It had to be kids I'd worked with for at least a few months--I needed to know their level. They, along with a parent, had to come in and talk to me about what we'd be learning, my expectations of them showing up and doing homework, etc. I wanted commitment and I've gotten it. I also had to call one kid out of the rug in front of a parent when homework wasn't done--but while I came down pretty hard, it was done with the intention of reminding expectations that were previously agreed to by the child and parent.

Watching the kids blossom is incredibly rewarding. They have the skills, they use the skills and twenty years from now, I'm confident that some of them may still be knitting (and probably kicking my tush in the "difficulty" levels). I packed three of them in the car on Friday for the Ewetopia Fiber Shop open house. (Different three from last year) As always, watching their eyes when they see just how much cool stuff is in a really good yarn shop is amusing and exciting. The possibilities and potential leap off the shelf at you--and it's in ways I can't even imagine.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion

I was one of two featured interviewees for Dana's class project on Tween Programming. I'm in the Q&A section.

Allow Me the Age Parameters

One of the bullet points in the job description is programming. I figure out activities and crafts, stories and games, literacy tools and educational aspects that can all be blended so that it's not just a half hour or hour of uncontrolled insanity. Sometimes programs dissolve into that but we usually do start with a plan and, when possible, there's still method to the madness.

One of the important part of planning is knowing what age group I'm working with and being able to plan accordingly. Such it is that when programs are advertised with an age group, that's the age group I want, that's the age group I expect, that's the developmental level I'm looking to walk in the door. Children grow and change incredibly fast, as anyone around them can tell you. When I worked strictly with infants and toddlers, three year olds were huge kids to me. They could talk in complete sentences and were mostly potty-trained!! Now working babies through teens, I'm stunned at times how young some of the teens seem (really, you're 14?) or how old some of the eight year olds are. I do still think that a child who is actively walking doesn't count as a baby anymore, but that's my choice of brackets.

And there are mixed ages and groupings that work, but there are times we expect something best suited for an older child. This is something I've run into with teaching children to knit. Most children have the manual dexterity and understanding to learn how to knit about the same time they learn to read and write. For some children, this is age four, for others it's closer to six. When you're working one on one with a child, you can choose based on the skill of the child. When I have a group, I really prefer eight and up, though I'll stretch it to seven. This gives me the opportunity to have children who have all achieved that manual dexterity and who will be able to read a knitting pattern, even if they need help translating some of the meaning or symbols.

Often, it's adults convinced of their child's high level of maturity who throw a spines-out hedgehog into the mix with programming age parameters. Their child is old enough, mature enough, with enough manual dexterity, whatever it is they think they need to say to get around the age barrier so that their child is granted whatever treat or program the parent has promised. [I've also seen this in reverse where parents thought their ten year old should be allowed to thunder over equipment built to support a two year old--it works both ways.]

Sometimes this is not unlike watching parents attempt to convince carnival ride attendants that their 3'8" child is really 4' so they can go on a ride not safe for shorter children.

Granted, I don't expect to cause whiplash in the programs, but perhaps I'm suggesting books to the kids or reading a select chapter. Most six year olds are not going to be ready for the battle scenes in Brian Jacques' books and or the opening pages to this year's Newbery winner--Neil Gaiman's Graveyard Book. Similarly, most ten year olds are really moving beyond books about a precocious kindergartner who has little grammar and less discipline.

When I set an age parameter on a program I'm trying to create a productive atmosphere for learning, communicating, and interacting. When the rules "just have to be bent" because a younger child wants to participate, we're teaching the child that those rules don't apply to them, that they don't have to wait, or grow into something or be aware that they are too old for other things. Quite often older children don't get anything special and are required to share it all with younger children, which isn't fair to anyone: not the older kids for whom the program was meant, the younger kids who aren't ready for the older books, or the programmer who is now having to focus unfairly on the younger kids needing extra help or completely rework the program on the fly. Librarians are good at programming off the cuff and at a moment's notice--but the point is that we've planned in advance here.

And truly, how many ten and eleven year olds do you know who want to hang out with six year olds all the time?

Knowing something will be a special treat when they're older, or taller, is not a horrible thing. Following the rules about something like age now just might set a precedent for down the road when it's driving, curfew, or dating. But in the meantime, please don't make me or any other program planner the bad guy. I can't control your child's age or height--but then, I'm not the one who promised them they could ride the ultra-looping-roller-coaster or go to the program that's for the big kids [or preschoolers] only.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Care and Pruning of Chapter Books

I took on the care and feeding of the children's chapter book collection in the fall of 2008. This collection, spanning three buildings, is about 8000 books and hadn't seen much weeding in several years.

I would be handing off the branch collections at the turn of the year to the newly hired assistant branch manager, and before I did so I wanted to make sure some pruning took place. Print outs from the tech services department in hand, I spent several afternoons wading through the collections at the LPL North and South branches. Some series were pulled en masse and others we debated keeping despite a decrease in circulation (e.g. Brian Jacques). Extra copies of Harry Potter books went into storage-one really only needs three or four copies of book seven during the off season between films. And I started lists of things that needed to be replaced or purchased at both locations. We have heavy plastic weeding bins and I filled up a number of them at both locations.

Then I started at Main. As my work was done sporadically as I had a free afternoon here or there, deep weeding took the better part of a year. I saw and touched nearly every single book in the collection. If it was on the shelf, I looked at it, checked it off my list, made a decision on condition, and either replaced it on the shelf, put it in a pile with a note to check the series or be replaced, or it went into a weeding bin. If it wasn't on the shelf, I needed to know why. Was it missing? Was it checked out? I learned quickly that my work card only allowed 100 holds as I started placing holds on the materials checked out. The staff hold shelf was constantly crammed with books with my name on them. The "missing/lost" lists still haven't recovered. I discarded an average of four-five weeding bins per range of shelves (we have 4 units containing chapter books-- 8 ranges of 16 shelves each). I'm still working on a solid grasp of series and suggested reading lists but I've certainly made a start.

My goal was not to bar access to great literature. It wasn't to limit reading options or discard beloved children's classics. I don't get some kind of strange pleasure out of getting rid of a book your child read once ten years ago and loved. And yes, I got the occasional horrified look as I'd grab a series that was yellowed and crumbling and fling them collectively into a bin bound for the Friends of the Library Book sale (e.g. Magic Attic). Whether it was horror at the condition of the books or horror that I was weeding varied.

But it was time for housekeeping. All collections, whether they are your home stash of elephants or the library juvenile fiction books, need pruning. The shelves here were stuffed to the point one was afraid to take something out--you'd never get it back on the shelf. This hindered browsing and meant I had no space to turn anything cover out. We all pick up things based on the cover. There were series that weren't complete or had long outlasted their time. Yes, the Mary-Kate and Ashley books still occasionally checked out but not nearly often enough, in my opinion, to keep all four series now that both girls have dropped out of college.

And books with ratty, dated, beat up covers have a limited appeal, particularly the children. The majority of the kids I know come in looking for something shiny, bright and applicable to them. If they are greeted with yellowing pages, early 80s clothing and hair cover art, and "library edition" stickers --kids will leave thinking that the vast majority of the books aren't interesting to them. And they won't want to come back.

I replaced a lot of classics, generally with newer versions that I thought would circulate better. We might have had a copy of the book but if it looked old or boring or a little too well loved, it was time to wade through for something newer. The book doesn't do anyone any good sitting on a shelf collecting dust. There's a reason they have been reissuing Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters with covers that look remarkably like the Twilight books. And I'm a big fan of the new Beverly Cleary/Judy Blume covers.

That we would replace a book when, technically, we had a perfectly readable copy has surprised some patrons. It has been perceived, I suppose, as a waste of money. But I would argue that the Matt Christopher books are circulating much better now and boys are reading them. Or that the Blume and Cleary books are far more likely to be in the hands of a child--and purchasing those classics in a format that helps kids to enjoy them is, in my mind, an excellent use of money.

As I've weeded, there has been a lot of adding/replacing. Books in our collection get a lot of love and life out of them and bindings crumble, covers fray, pages get ripped out and some get lost or stolen. It's the nature of a public library. The 2009 year alone I added nearly 1000 books to the collection, between replacements, filling out series, and newly published titles. Our "new" shelf has been fully loaded all year with cool options and that makes for a very pleased hedgehog.

The weeding and ordering and wading through reviews has well been worth it in terms of happy kids and increased usage. Over the summer months I saw a 16% increase from 2008 to 2009. That number has flattened out a little now that everyone is back in school (October we were only up 10%), but the books displayed face out keep needing to be refilled and the new books are circulating quite nicely from their display area. So, as I pause to indulge in a little self-congratulations, I'm doing something right. In this case, a focus on quality rather than quantity has revitalized the collection. And lest you think I "got rid of everything"--there are currently 4759 books in the chapter book section. By no means are the shelves bare.

Amusingly, I had one patron tell me that as long as I was buying new copies of Newbery books, things would be fine. She was pretty surprised when I responded that while yes, I bought current Newbery winners and replaced ones still relevant to our collection , it wasn't my current plan to find obscure early awards winners that circulate only to the rare person wanting to read "all the Newberys" (why we have interlibrary loan) or the last college student of the third section of the children's lit course who has to read one. Besides, Daisy Meadows has another set of Rainbow Magic Fairies books due out soon....

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And One Important Thing More:

Today is Veteran's Day....

Both of my friends who are actively serving are stateside at present, for which I'm incredibly grateful. When I was growing up, today was a day we honored wars long past memory. Now, I'm helping people honor friends and family members currently engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To the Master Sergeant and 2nd Lieutenant and everyone else serving in the armed forces, to those who have served at home and abroad:

Thank you

A Few Brief Thoughts

Happy Birthday Week to Sibling-the-Younger. I'm told he didn't want a big fuss but it's still pretty cool that he shares a D.O.B with the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Take a moment with me to be incredibly amazed by and jealous of Laurie Halse Anderson's writing cabin. When I grow up and write many many wonderful books that inspire kids, teens and parents and win tons of awards etc, I want one just like it. Only, maybe with a little more yarn.

Should you be a member of the library profession, particularly if you are job seeking, it behooves you to not condescendingly talk about public and/or children's librarians as though we were a lower life form. Just a suggestion.

I've read most of the new Winnie the Pooh. It was okay but I don't think Pooh should ever be referred to as having fingers. He has paws....

We're having our signature fund raiser at the library on Friday: we've picked out books we'd like to add to the collection, you come, choose the ones you like, pay for them and we add them into our collection with name plate identifying you as the giver. It's called Give-a-Gift. I've got a whole shelf of stuff upstairs that I hope meets with enthused donors. Plus there will be snacks, wine, and I have a reason to wear 4 inch strappy heels in November. See you there?

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Hedghogs in the News: Baldly

From My Friend the Lawyer:

Bald hedgehog is found abandoned

Poor hoglet--without prickles or family....

Thursday, November 05, 2009


I was under the impression that NaNoWriMo was relatively widespread but I keep running into people who haven't heard of it, so thought I might share it here.

National Novel Writing Month: a competition to write 50,000 words/175 of a new novel (not one you've been working on for years) in the month of November. You start on November 1 and scribble furiously until the 30th, not taking time (at the moment) for revision.

It's a good kick start, an excellent prompt, and hopefully gets a lot of people to the writing board. I participated last year, though I didn't "win" (get to 50K).

It's evolved and a lot of other people have taken up the idea. There's NaNoBloMo (Post something on your blog every day for 30 days), NaNoSweMo (Knit a sweater in a month), etc etc. The essence seems to be: pick a challenge, a big challenge. Here are 30 days. Make yourself accountable to other people. Go.

It was my intent to participate this year. Somewhere in my apartment is a vague square piece of paper with the notes for the book I was thinking of working on.

I can't find it and by the time I realized it was November, it was the 2nd.

So I made a different goal. It's a personal one, so, despite my joy of sharing with y'all, it won't be going on the blog. I have another 25 days. And then holiday knitting will be taking over the rest of my life until 12/26.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Rube Goldberg Software

I am among the privileged, so I'm told. I have a Google Wave account. No, I don't have invites yet so please don't leave me a comment or send me an email asking for one. EJ was my benefactor and no, he doesn't have any invites to share either. Here's what Google Wave is/does...

I've gone in and tried to play around a little. I can see some uses for group work, but it's still in preview and the clunk factor, at the moment, is outweighing the cool factor. That's my opinion for now. I'm sure that will change and we'll all glide in there and have a good time in the future.

But today was amusing. On LITA-L a proliferation of emails were sent with hopeful requests for invites. Invites are apparently being far more carefully guarded and reluctantly tokened out by Google than Gmail was--at least, in my memory*. When today, the requests started coming that people stop sending invite requests to the list (it was creating a lot of noise), something needed to be done.

Enter me with an editable spreadsheet. Have I mentioned how much of a fan of these I'm becoming? Shared Google Spreadsheets has made committee work so much easier and I can pass out book lists and all sorts of things--making them editable, view only, all sorts of convenient things. I named a spreadsheet, grabbed a link, and told people to add themselves.

At present we have 70 people on the list. That was in the first three hours. The hope is that when people are granted invites they will pull people from the list and bring them into the fold. And then that LITA people receiving invites will remove themselves or edit that they've already received an invite. Any way around it, at this point, I've gotten far less emails this afternoon.

A large (but controlled) group of people are using a shared spreadsheet to communicate with each other about gaining an opportunity to join a shared space to communicate with a large (but at this point controlled) group of people.

Email list to a shared spreadsheet to invites (via email) to join Wave.....

Rube Goldberg anyone?

*Is that the new uphill both ways in snow? I had to WAIT to get a gmail account?