Friday, June 24, 2011

Summer Reading Club (Week 5)

I'm currently in New Orleans attending the ALA Annual Conference, but I wanted to make sure I had a Summer Reading Club post for this week. Today I want to talk about a few of the things that we do to make our Summer Reading Club easier (and I also want to know what you do at your library to make your program run smoothly, so be sure to contribute in the comments!).

Summer is a stressful time for public librarians. Summer Reading Club, summer programs, and kids' vacation from school all combine to greatly increase the traffic in the library. And the other work doesn't stop just because I have 100 people in my department asking questions. I still have to put in book orders, sign time sheets, put in purchase orders so our performers can be paid, and attend meetings.

So here are a few things that we've done at my library to make the Summer Reading Club go a little more smoothly:

Make sure all staff members are informed about the SRC and summer programs.

Before SRC starts, I put together a Summer Reading Club FAQ that details everything I can think of about our summer reading club. From who may participate to the process for sign-up to what prizes are available. This is quite a long document! I make SURE all staff in my department are familiar with it and ask if they have any other questions before I print out a copy for my desk. This is helpful for part-time staff members, especially at the beginning of the summer. Then I email it to every person at our library. I can't sit down and force them to read it, but it's there for them to reference if patrons have questions and it helps the staff feel like they know what's going on.

Another children's librarian I know hosts a staff breakfast/meeting where she presents all the information about the Summer Reading Club so that everyone can be informed. I love this idea, but for my library it's pretty difficult to get everyone together at one meeting, which is why I use email.

I have also been sending out a library-wide email every week listing all the programs for the week and brief details such as target ages and whether they require registration. At the very least, this informs other staff (including our director) about how MUCH we're doing! And it's possible that it helps staff in other departments feel more empowered because they know what's going on and can answer patron questions.

Distribute SRC registration forms to all public service desks.

I don't expect our Circulation staff to sign up families, give the spiel, or hand out Summer Reading packets, but I do like to have some of our registration forms at every desk. I do encourage Circ staff to mention the Summer Reading Club, especially to patrons checking out kids' books. If a patron doesn't want to come all the way back to the Children's Desk, Circ staff can still hand them a registration slip and tell them to turn it in the next time they visit the library.

Find out what's stressing out the Circulation staff and do everything possible to fix it.

The youth librarians are not the only ones whose workloads greatly increase in the summer. Suddenly all our shelves are bare and guess who has to deal with all those books going out and coming back in? The Circulation Department. You want more library staff to buy in to the importance of Summer Reading and help you promote? Make it as easy as you can for them!

I found out through a break room conversation that one thing that stressed our Circ staff out about summer was the fact that patrons would check out the maximum number of books (50 per card) at one time. Then when they brought those books back, they'd want to check out another 50 books. Circ staff would have to stand there and check in the first batch before they could check out the next batch because of the limits placed on accounts. So I spoke to our managers about it and we decided to increase the cards' limits on the back end. Patrons are still limited to checking out 50 items, but we've increased the number in the computer system to 100 items so that Circ staff can go ahead and check out the next 50 items to the patron and then check in the returned books when they have a chance.

Also, when we had a cart of books from our department that needed to be reshelved, we used to wheel it over to Circ for them to place on the big carts that the pages reshelved. It resulted in too many carts cluttering up the Circ area and stressing out the staff. So now we keep the reshelving carts at our desk and the pages come and work on them after they finish shelving the other carts. It doesn't really affect us and it makes things easier for the Circulation staff.

Sometimes very small changes can go a long way towards making the summer easier!

Allow casual dress (or some other perk) during the summer.

This might not work at every library, but I proposed that our Circulation and Children's staff be allowed to wear jeans & sneakers while the Summer Reading Club is going on. Again, this is a small thing, but I think it really goes a long way towards improving staff morale. If administration isn't crazy about casual dress all the time, perhaps they'd allow staff to wear jeans & sneakers if they wear them with a Summer Reading Club shirt during the summer. If that's not an option (or you already allow casual dress), maybe there's some other perk you could offer just during the summer months that would have employees look forward to summer. Maybe you could have a radio playing in some areas, allow snacks at the desk, host a weekly pitch-in (um, that's a potluck in case you're not from Southern Indiana...), have games or movies in the staff lounge, or something else! If you're not sure what that would be, ask your staff what would motivate them!

Figure out something that volunteers can do to make your life easier and not harder.

Oh, volunteers. Figuring out work for them to do that doesn't create more work for you to do can be tricky. And it can be tough to discern kids who actually want to volunteer from kids whose parents are looking for free babysitters. Honestly, I am open to tips about using volunteers because I know my library has lots of room for improvement in this area.

When kids approach us about volunteering in the library, we give them a list of the programs that we have scheduled and ask them to sign up to volunteer at programs. For most programs when we have volunteers we use them to pass out or refill snacks and supplies and to clean up. Young volunteers are also great help for decorating rooms, setting up tables and chairs, and taking down tables and chairs after the program is finished.

This year, we've had a lot of parents wanting to sign up their kids to volunteer weekly at certain times. Generally, we tell them that we don't always have tasks for volunteers to do every week, but we can always use help straightening up the shelves. We have volunteers take a cart around and pick up books that are stacked on tables and the ends of shelves. After that, we ask them to straighten up shelves so that the books are standing upright or go through our paperback spinners and put books in the appropriate slots. Some volunteers can be trusted to shelf-read, but our library has been such a mess this summer that it's all we can do to stay on top of the straightening.

If you want to use volunteers for shelf-reading or shelving, check out this online program for shelving/shelf-reading training put together by the University of Texas Library: Order in the Library. (Thanks to Kate for that link!)

So, librarians, what tips can you share on stuff that makes your Summer Reading Club go more smoothly? Anyone have great ideas for working with volunteers?

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