Early literacy and 1000 Books Before Kindergarten

1000 Books Before Kindergarten logoThe 1000 Books Before Kindergarten initiative is one I first heard about via the Cambridge Public Library. Like all the best arts & crafts projects and recipes, it looks wildly impressive, but is actually quite simple and manageable. As their mission statement says, “Numerous studies estimate that as many as one in five children have difficulties learning to read. Reading has been associated as an early indicator of academic success. Public formal education does not typically start until ages 5-6. Before then, parents and caregivers are the first education providers during the 0-5 early critical years.” The goals of the organization are simply “to promote reading to newborns, infants, and toddlers” and “to encourage parent and child bonding through reading.”

A thousand books sounds like a lot, but remember that picture books are short, and board books are really short. If you read just one book a day, that’s 365 books in one year, 730 books in two years, 1,095 books in three years, and 1,460 books in four years. It doesn’t have to be a thousand unique books, either; young children love (and learn from) repetition, growing more familiar with words, rhymes, and patterns.

If your parents, caregivers, and teachers read to you when you were a young child, then you’ve already shared this experience and it will be easier for you to model it from the other side. If reading aloud to/with a child isn’t as natural for you, or if you aren’t sure why it is important, here are some resources to help:

  • Reading Tips for Parents from the Department of Education (in English and Spanish)
  • Early Learning tips from the Hennepin County Library: “Learn how all family members and your public library can help prepare young children to be readers with five early literacy activities [talk, sing, read, write, play] that are fun yet powerful ways to encourage early learning.”
  • The Six Early Literacy Skills [PDF] from Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR)

If you don’t know what books to read to (or with) your child, librarians can help! If you can get to a storytime, that’s great – a good storytime librarian will model great read-aloud strategies, and for younger ages will often include fingerplay, songs, and rhymes; reasonable people don’t expect two-year-olds to sit still and listen quietly for half an hour! A decent bookstore is also likely to have a weekly storytime, and staff who can recommend great books for little ones.

If you can’t get to a storytime, just ask a librarian or bookseller what they recommend, and they should be able to give suggestions based on your child’s age and interests. Here are some other resources for finding great books to share with your child:

Does your library, bookstore, school, or other organization support 1000 Books Before Kindergarten? Have you participated with your child? There are participation resources on the site, from reading logs to certificates to apps to hashtags, though my favorite idea is keeping a handwritten reading journal. In general I don’t like incentives (e.g. “if you read 100 books you get a sticker”) because reading is its own reward (intrinsic motivation), but I like the T-shirt – it reflects pride in an accomplishment, and helps spread the word about the program.

1000 Books Before Kindergarten display at the Guilford (CT) Public Library

1000 Books Before Kindergarten display at the Guilford (CT) Public Library (names and faces obscured for privacy purposes)

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What do people do all day?

Cover image of What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry

What Do People Do All Day?

What do librarians do all day?

The scope of library jobs has expanded over the years. In many places, “reference librarians” are now called “adult services” or “information services” librarians to reflect the additional tasks and responsibilities we’ve taken on. Reference services are still a core part of the job, as is collection management (someone has to buy new books…and get rid of old ones). We plan programs, too, and of course, there are always “other duties as assigned.”

At the reference desk: Now that we have the Internet, what kinds of questions do librarians answer?

We still answer the occasional “ready reference” or simple question about a fact (spelling, grammar, geography, phone number lookup). We answer questions about library services: our hours, where the restrooms are located, how to reserve a museum pass or study room, where to find books/music/movies. We answer LOTS of tech questions and do a lot of troubleshooting: we help people use library apps like OverDrive, we help them print and make copies, we help them scan, we help them check out laptops and use library software, we show them library databases.

We answer questions about books and recommend books based on reader’s preferences (those are my favorite questions!). We help people navigate the internet to find information they need, whether it’s looking for an apartment on Craigslist, looking for love on a dating website, or applying for a job online. We help people in languages other than English. We help people doing research for school projects and college classes, and help people make Inter-Library Loan (ILL) requests for books that are not in our library network. We answer local history questions and connect people with unique local history resources.

Collection development: Where do the books come from (and where do they go)?

“Collection management” or “collection development” is the library term for acquiring new materials and deaccessioning (a.k.a. weeding) others, to maintain a collection that is current and interesting to our users. There is more collection development work now than there used to be, because there are more formats – not just fiction and nonfiction books, and magazines and newspapers, but paperbacks, foreign language materials, large print books, graphic novels and manga, audiobooks on CD and Playaway, digital content (e-books and digital audiobooks), movies and documentaries on DVD, music on CD, electronic databases, streaming services, video games, and more.

Library users may not think about where library materials come from, but someone has to select every title in every format. It’s a bigger job than it used to be, and it takes a lot of time: time to read (or skim) reviews in at least one review source (though there are many – Kirkus, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, School Library Journal, to name a few, and VOYA and The Horn Book for teens and children’s books), time to make lists and order the materials, time to keep track of spending so you’re neither under- nor over-budget by the end of the fiscal year.

 

Making things happen: What’s involved in planning a program?

You may well ask! “Program” is a bland word. A library program can be almost anything: a book group (and we have five of these, three of which are run by librarians, one of which – mine! – is a cookbook club that does a potluck), a lecture or author talk, a crafting project, a music concert, a film screening, a theater performance, a dance lesson, a tech petting zoo. We have offered computer classes, drop-in tech help sessions, resume and cover letter workshops, holiday card writing stations, game nights, and singalongs (not just for kids! Les Miserables and Pitch Perfect were very popular with adults).

For every program, there is a whole checklist of tasks to complete, in many different places (physical and digital):

  • Reserve event space on the library’s internal calendar (Google calendar)
  • Create the event on the library website calendar (WordPress)
  • If there is an outside performer/presenter, set a date and time and agree on payment or travel costs (e-mail or phone)
  • Add the event to our monthly press release (Google docs)
  • Create a flyer to post in the library (Publisher or Canva)
  • Make another version of the flyer to fit our digital sign (Publisher and Paint or Canva) and upload (Dropbox)
  • Make additional promo materials (e.g. bookmarks or half- or quarter-sheet handouts)
  • Write a blog post (WordPress)
  • Promote on social media (Facebook and Twitter via Hootsuite)
  • Set up event registration, if using, and send a reminder to participants (Eventbrite)

And that’s all before the day of the program itself. On that day, there is the time of the program itself, plus setup and cleanup, remembering to take a head count of attendees, and perhaps asking them to fill out a feedback form to help improve future programming.

The work of program planning, collection development, and creating displays largely takes place during our off-desk hours (the time that we are not at the reference desk), because, as they say, reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated; the library is busier than ever.

Other duties as assigned

Reference service, collection development, and program planning are three big chunks of the adult services librarian job. What else do we do? This varies from library to library. Here, we create displays (we have three display tables, and we create new displays every month, which means that our team of five full-time librarians creates thirty-six displays each year), write for the library blog, offer a variety of “readers’ advisory” services (from our staff picks shelf to our Goodreads account to handouts on specific topics or genres), contribute to the library’s social media accounts (Facebook and Twitter), attend monthly department meetings and other meetings for various committees and groups, and attend the occasional conference or other professional development activity. And of course, there are little tasks that take up time, such as refilling office supplies, cleaning up messes, watering the office plants, and anything else that arises.

So that’s what librarians do all day. Do you work in a library? What parts of your job do you think would surprise people?

 

Quotes from books, part VIII

Continuing the “quotes from books” series, this batch of quotes is from books I read between May 2017 and August 2017. The tenth quote here sums up the year pretty nicely.

  1.  “My mother always said that kindness was love in disguise.”Dodger, Terry Pratchett
  2.  “Every act of communication is a miracle of translation.” -from the preface of The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories, Ken Liu
  3.  “I am not one thing. I am everyone and everything that has touched me. This is the basic principle of forensic science: every contact leaves a trace.” (accompanied by an illustration)You Are Here, Jenny Lawson
  4.  “It’s not moving on…it’s moving differently.”Holding Up the Universe, Jennifer Niven
  5.  From “A Short History of Silence” in The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit: (a) “If the right to speak, if having credibility, if being heard is a kind of wealth, that wealth is now being redistributed”; (b) “Silence protects violence.”
  6.  From Elizabeth Wein’s author’s note at the end of The Pearl Thief: “This is what authors do: we make up stuff that might be true.”
  7.  Quoted in Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places: “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” (Cesare Pavese)Cover image of Among Others
  8.  “It is hard to see who a person is, through all of those memories of who they were.” –When the English Fall, David Williams
  9.  “How terribly hard it is to accept that other people feel what we feel.” –Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, Ada Calhoun
  10.  “There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.” –Among Others, Jo Walton

See previous installments in this series here:

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII

Top Ten Mix and Match

Skimming the list of Top Ten Tuesday topics at The Broke and the Bookish, I noticed several for which I had a single instant answer, but not a list of ten. So I decided I’d make a list of ten of the Top Ten Tuesday topics for which I had one (okay, one-ish) answer each:

  1. Most Intimidating Books: Anything over 600 pages, really. It makes no sense – it just means reading one book instead of two in the same amount of time – but it’s a deterrent nevertheless.
  2. Books I Wish I Read As A Kid: Alanna and the whole Song of the Lioness quartet by Tamora Pierce. And Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown would have been useful right after college.
  3. Characters (and Literary Figures) That I Would Did Name My Children After: Lyra from The Golden Compass. (Also strongly considered Clare, from The Time Traveler’s Wife.)
  4. Hilarious Book Titles: I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley

    Book cover of Maine

    NOT an accurate representation of the novel Maine.

  5. Book Covers I Wish I Could Redesign: Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. The photo of a young woman in a bathing suit on a beach does not represent this book AT ALL. I didn’t love the paperback cover for Gold by Chris Cleave, either, but the hardcover design was great.
  6. Books That Broke Your Heart: The Amber Spyglass was the first book I remember reading where I got to the end and thought the exact word heartbreaking.
  7. Most Frustrating Characters: Harry Potter in the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, was so whiny and angsty, and so terrible to Ron and Hermione, that I actually hated reading some parts of the book, no matter how realistic his behavior for a character that age. Be better, Harry!
  8. Series I’d Like to Start, but Haven’t Yet: The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, and the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor. Maybe also something by Leigh Bardugo. I’m taking suggestions…
  9. Sequels We Can’t Wait to Get Our Hands On: I’m eager for the next book in any good series I start…but I remember being particularly desperate for each new book in Maggie Steifvater’s Raven Cycle, and I’ve been waiting for the second volume in The Book of Dust since the moment I read the last page of the first volume, La Belle Sauvage.
  10. Book Covers I’d Frame As Pieces of Art: I actually have two (2) pieces of Time Traveler’s Wife-related art on my walls: a Litograph, and an acrylic painting of the cover, done by a good friend. I wouldn’t mind a Litograph of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, either. Oh, and we have Mo Willems’ Pigeon, as well. I probably could come up with ten pieces of bookish art I’d want…

Quotes from books, part VII

After a long hiatus (in my drafts folder), we return to the “quotes from books” series. This batch includes quotes from books I read between August 2016 and April 2017.

  1.  Shrill by Lindy West was so excellent I have three quotes from it: (a) “I was working at a cashier at an “upscale general store and gift shop” (or, as it was known around my house, the Bourgeois Splendor Ceramic Bird Emporium & Money Fire)…”; (b) “Shame is a tool of oppression, not change….You know what’s shameful? A complete lack of empathy”; (c) “Just because you haven’t personally experienced something doesn’t make it not true.”
  2.  I re-read a longtime favorite, Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven, which is full of beautiful language, and this line is as true as ever: “It occurs to her that there is one thing about people you can never understand well enough: how entirely inside themselves they are.”
  3.  From David Levithan’s story “Your Temporary Santa” in My True Love Gave to Me, : “And in that moment, in that momentary loss of logic to wonder…”
  4.  From Leigh Bardugo’s “Head, Scales, Tongue, Tail” in Summer Days and Summer Nights: “Some of us wear our hearts. Some of us carry them.”
  5.  “None are so blind as those who will not see.”The Wonder, Emma Donoghue
  6.  “If underneath anger was fear, then underneath fear was love. Everything came down to the terror of losing what you love.”Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple
  7.  “The past was never perfect, and we never reach the future.”Moranifesto, Caitlin Moran
  8.  “If there’s a word for something, we’re much more likely to ‘see’ it and treat it as real.”Waking Up White, Debby Irving
  9.  “I tell her: Maybe if you take off all that armor, you won’t feel so heavy.”Still Life With Tornado, A.S. King
  10.  “There is one kind of thought that’s always useful and always gracious. That kind of thought is, “What can I do for someone else?””Gracious, Kelly Williams Brown

See previous installments in this series here:

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI


Extreme Customer Service: Hospitality in the Library

Earlier this month, I got to attend a presentation called “Re-energizing Your Customer Service Skills,” presented by Sally Ijams of Darien Library (CT), at the Newton Free Library (MA). Darien is well known in the library world for its customer service, technology, and programs, and Ijams’ (pronounced “imes,” rhymes with “limes”) presentation was the staff training that all new employees at Darien receive.

What does good customer service look like?

When developing their training, they had to look outside the library world for guidance: they looked to brands and companies like Disney, Zappos, Nordstrom, Shake Shack (Danny Meyer’s book Setting the Table is required reading for all new staff in Darien), and even Ritz-Carlton. One might think that public libraries don’t have much in common with the Ritz, but libraries are like these businesses in four ways:

  1. We have customers
  2. We have products we believe in
  3. We want repeat business
  4. We know our customers have other options

From these examples, Darien aimed to provide an extraordinary level of customer service by hiring for attitude (“You can train people to do just about anything but you can’t train them to be nice”) and focusing on consistent delivery of excellent service: greeting each library guest when they arrive and thanking them when they leave, saying yes whenever possible (only safety issues are a firm no), and anticipating and fulfilling library visitors’ needs.

WELCOME text made in Canva

The Welcome

What do people see when they first enter the library or first approach a service desk? Library staff should be approachable. Smile and make eye contact (this works in Darien, but may not work everywhere depending on people’s cultures and backgrounds). Stand up to greet people, then be on the same level (both sitting or both standing). Determine your “resting face” – is it welcoming? Don’t watch the clock – people will notice you looking. Be “relentlessly positive…fake it till you make it.”

Words and gestures are important. Instead of pointing, use the “Disney wave” (gesturing with the whole arm and hand); instead of saying “no problem” or “no worries,” say “you’re welcome” or “it was my pleasure.”

Nametags: they work! If nothing else, they show that you work at the library, so visitors can identify staff.

Smile when you answer the phone; people can hear it in your voice. But prioritize people who are physically in the building; reward them for coming. If you are on the phone with another patron, wrap up the call and call them back. Meanwhile, acknowledge the person in front of you (eye contact, “I will be right with you”).

Don’t talk about patrons in a public area. If there is information you need to convey to a colleague to bring them up to speed, do it in a private place.

The Handoff

Often, a person will need to go from one service desk to another desk or another area of the library. Rather than pointing or offering directions, escort them to where they need to go. If this “warm transfer” isn’t possible (you have a long line of people waiting), do a “lukewarm transfer” – call a colleague in the part of the building where the person is going to let them know who to expect and what they need.

As you’re walking through the library, use the “bartender’s trick”: clean as you go. Pick up trash, tidy books, push in chairs. “You are inviting people into your home. Make it look as nice as you can.”

Patron Behavior

Know your patron behavior policy! Every library should have one. (Darien’s is on their website.) Enforce this policy with compassion; staff should be empowered to make exceptions as they see fit. Remind patrons that “Our policies were written to benefit everyone in the library.” Other useful tips:

  • Remain calm
  • Defuse the situation (is there anything that will make them happy at this moment?)
  • Have difficult conversations out of the public eye
  • Bring in a backup staff person
  • Never touch or restrain a patron
  • If patron is “stuck in a loop,” change your body language or move to another location
  • Say you will follow up if necessary, then follow up!

Ijams cited a recent piece in American Libraries that has a useful sidebar called “What to say when things get inappropriate.” When staff is faced with verbal abuse or harassment, simple, firm scripts like these are helpful (“I’m sorry, we don’t tolerate language like that in the library”). If you have a bad interaction, try to take a break to reset afterward; likewise, if you see a co-worker have a bad interaction, give them a chance to take a break and recover.

“Extreme customer service” / hospitality: making everyone feel welcome at the library

How are we perceived by our patrons? Here are some of the things Darien does to earn its “extreme customer service” reputation:

  • Treat every person like a VIP. Make them feel special; greet them by name
  • When you have to say no, say it with yes options (some libraries call this “getting to yes”)
  • If you direct someone to another library or organization, make the initial contact for them (phone call, introduction, etc.)
  • Notary service: Darien has eleven notaries on staff, so a notary is always available. They do not charge patrons for this service. The library pays the cost for staff members to become notaries.
  • Library hours: Staff are paid to arrive early and leave together after closing time, so though the library opens at 9am, doors usually open at 8:50. At the end of the day, technology does not shut down before closing time. Five minutes before the library closes, they play music over the PA system.
  • No fines for senior residents. Fines are a barrier to access; Darien would like to get rid of all fines, but there is a budget crisis in Connecticut right now.
  • “We trust our patrons.” This is “the easiest thing and the hardest thing.” (Sometimes you know someone is lying to you and you just have to accept it.)

That was the bulk of Ijams’ presentation. During the Q&A, I asked what they did at Darien to make signage welcoming. Ijams said that in the old building, there was so much signage it was visual clutter; in the new building, they started with minimalist signage, but added more for wayfinding purposes. The only guideline is no negative signs – phrase it as a yes option. The only exception is inside a staff stairwell, where the public shouldn’t be in the first place. Instead of out-of-order signs, they use one that says “Taking a vacation day, be back at work tomorrow”! (Speaking of time off, Ijams also recommended, “If you’re sick, stay home! Colleagues will appreciate not being infected.” Of course, this presumes an adequate amount of paid sick leave.)

Ijams’ presentation was professional and gave the three of us from our library who attended much to consider. For customer service to be consistent, though, everyone must be on the same page, so our own staff training would be necessary, and while Darien’s philosophy is admirable, we wouldn’t likely adopt every detail. Still, there is always room for improvement, and some improvements can be made easily right away: escorting rather than pointing, performing more warm transfers, saying “you’re welcome” instead of “no worries,” employing the “bartender’s trick.” Other changes, such as prioritizing in-person visitors over people who contact the library via phone or chat, using nametags, or changing closing time procedures, would need to be made at a higher level.

Do you work at a public library? What do you do to make visiting the library a great experience for patrons?

 

 

Top Ten Friday: the to-read list

Back in June, I wrote about books that I was looking forward to. Coming into the end of the year, it’s time to take stock:

  • The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: read and liked this little peek into Julie’s life before the war and Code Name Verity.
  • Holding Up the Universe and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: read/listened, liked; would recommend to anyone looking for realistic YA fiction.
  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy: read and liked, but it’s her first novel, Dumplin’, that has stayed with me more. I may re-read or listen (I’ve heard the audio is good). Related: Moxie by Jennifer Matthieu was another excellent teen novel set in a small Southern (Texas) town.
  • Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister: haven’t read yet
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: read and loved. Eleanor is such a unique character and her story is difficult and quiet and strong.
  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: read this for book club and loved it – it was like Jane Austen meets Downton Abbey.
  •  Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen: haven’t read yet
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: read for book club. Important, especially for those in a position to ignore or forget the effects of institutional racism and police violence (i.e. most white people).
  • Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith: read and liked, but I’m not sure I’ll return to it, even though I bought a copy. I did love the line “perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone” (from “My God, It’s Full of Stars”).
  • The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman: read as soon as it was published, loved it, read it again, am waiting for the next one already. Review here, contains spoilers.
  • Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore: read and loved. Different from the Graceling books of course, but equally immersive, and structurally interesting (it’s sort of a Choose Your Own Adventure, but with all the options).
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: read and liked this one very much, and included it on a “Books on the Bright Side” list I made for my library.
  • The Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan and others: I really liked the first two volumes, didn’t like the third and fourth as much (the Young Avengers crossover lost me), but still excited for whatever Rainbow Rowell comes up with.
  • Turtles All the Way Down by John Green: just as good as expected, possibly better; review here.
  • Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart: haven’t read yet and might not; a trusted fellow reader found it disappointing.

Girl in Disguise and Miller’s Valley are the only two remaining from that list, but of course there are always more to look forward to; Gayle Forman, Maggie O’Farrell, and Jo Walton all have books coming out in 2018. Others I’d like to read:

  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (graphic novel/memoir)
  • Far from the Tree by Robin Benway (YA)
  • Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn (fiction)
  • The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin (sci-fi/fantasy)
  • The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (YA)
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier (I read this when I was much younger and I think it went entirely over my head; at least, I don’t remember anything from it)
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (nonfiction)
  • Hunger by Roxane Gay (memoir)
  • The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (myth/fairytale – I’d love to hear from someone who read this and would recommend it. Reviews look good.)
  • Walking Home by Simon Armitage (nonfiction/memoir/poetry)

And hey, that’s ten! If you count a trilogy as one. (Bear and Nightingale already has a sequel, as well.) What books are you looking forward to? Have you read any of the books above? What did you think?

Edited to add (12/12/17): Kate Atkinson has a new novel called Transcription coming out in September 2018!

Edited to add (12/13/17): Ken Jennings’ Planet Funny: How comedy took over our culture is coming out May 2018!