Thursday, August 13, 2015

Summer Reading Planning, A Cautionary Tale (Also Known as “What Was I Thinking?”), by Jane Chirgwin

In the depths of a cold, brutal winter full of gray skies, snow and ice, ones thoughts turn to summer. When the SRP theme is announced, it is a delightful break from fighting with the heating system, shoveling snow, and teaching adults how to use computers. Every year I think to myself, this year will be amazing! For context: I run a medium size library and have four part-time staffers.

In February (it used to be March, but the larger libraries plan earlier), we go to a workshop to get pumped up about summer reading. We hear about elaborate, successful programs; we are impressed with the need to innovate, inspire and transform our patrons. We are told to rethink how we reward reading, for providing bribery implies that reading is an unpleasant task that requires pay. We are given lists of program ideas, lists of books, craft ideas, decoration ideas, costume ideas and lots of really bad jokes. I take copious notes and come back to my library, setting out my summer calendar eagerly. I order prizes, reading records, bags, and craft supplies, all the while picturing sunny skies, green leaves and warm breezes.

I should know better by now. I started my library career back in 1997. But it happens every year. First I put in a weekly program for each age group- preschoolers, elementary and teen. Then I have a family program every Saturday. Ooh, I should add more! Ill create all the decorations myself from paint and cardboard. Ill make special foods for each Saturday. We should have life-sized games. Ill go visit the summer camp. Ill make an online scavenger hunt. Well have an essay contest. Ill make a piñata for a Saturday program. I should have an example of each craft were doing on display. Ill get the Friends of the Library to fund this, this, and this. Ill go to all our local businesses and ask for incentives. Well participate in the County summer food program and give out lunches to children. Ill have flyers and newsletters and send out press releases and get onto website listings. Ill work with the school to have an assembly there and a library card drive.

Did I mention Im the director, and my duties include more than being childrens librarian? These plans do not seem excessive when Im putting out ice melt or processing books. They seem like fun! I forget that I find running events draining and stressful, and just remember the creative play of making things. I need to run the entire library, not just Saturday events and Tuesday craft times.

There have been summers where I worked 6 day weeks without a break, running story-time, craft class, and special events. I neglected my family and friends. At the end of the program I was so burned out. I felt like my summer had been stolen from me. I contemplated quitting my job and becoming a hermit, and snapped at everyone. When a presenter was late for her program, I said mean things about her to the waiting audience, and probably brought everyones fun level down. Were my numbers better on summers like that? No, not really.  

I know myself, so I work to prevent this kind of over-commitment. I have a member of my staff run story-time and do preschool visits. I have another staff person run teen events and promote teen book reviews. I plan to do things outside of work, and take Mondays off when I can so Im not working 6 days a week. I ask the Friends of the Library to help with our kick-off and school visit. I also write notes to myself at the end of summer, listing what went wrong, what I should repeat and other words of advice. Some of the notes are not helpful (like dont let staff quit mid-summer) but much is very useful. In June, just before we start the program, I cut out or pare down any grandiose scheme beyond the basics. I set goals, to remind myself why we are doing this program. We want kids to enjoy reading, to avoid their brains turning to mush over their school break. We want our community to know we exist and to use our services. None of my goals say anything about outshining large libraries who have big budgets and full-time staff or making everything by hand better than Martha Stewart. Sometimes looking at other librarys events or on Pinterest can be helpful, and other times it can make you feel inadequate.

Now if youll excuse me, I have to plan a Lego party for next Saturday. Instead of making a cake, Im making Lego snacks from packaged Rice Krispies treats and M+Ms. Instead of making a piñata, life-sized legos and a bean-bag toss, Im putting faces on yellow cups and putting out lots of bricks to build with. It will be fun!

Jane Chirgwin is a Library Director in upstate NY. Shes self-published three novels, available as e-books on Overdrive. Visit her blog on creativity, librarianship and writing at Find her on Twitter @Janesfolly.

1 comment:

  1. As a solo librarian I feel your pain,sometimes even my kick-off is too much for me to deal with alone, and when I hear about all the stuff other libraries are doing I feel guilty that I'm not doing more but how do I do more when it's just me?