Why Should Big City Library Children’s Programs Have All the Fun?

By Ellen

“Your library is very nice for a town of this size.” “I’m surprised that I could find all the books I wanted here…and more!” “I didn’t expect you to offer these types of programs.”

These are the types of statements I hear quite often in the Marianna Black Library. The comments pertain to the library as a whole, but many times are directed specifically at the children’s services.

I say, “Don’t be surprised!” The children and teens of Bryson City deserve to have just as much fun and just as many opportunities and resources in their library as, let’s say, the one in downtown Atlanta, do they not? Yes, resources, money, time and other things will always be an issue. But luckily, most people who work with children are pretty resourceful themselves.

Family Storytime at the Marianna Black Library is every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. Folks are surprised that storytime isn’t just a book and a puppet anymore. We like to read several books (can’t say we don’t have plenty of this type of resource!) as well as participate in a make-and-take craft. We also enjoy, singing, dancing, fingerplays and games. This is a standard for me. It’s not a difficult task-the books and ideas are here. Singing, dancing and games don’t cost a dime and the children are always willing. Crafts can be made from recycled items and we generally have paper, crayons and other art supplies on hand. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be getting creative during library storytime!

The Summer Reading Programs are held throughout the country, and again, there’s no reason our small town deal should be any less exciting than that of a big city library! We offer separate programs for preschoolers, elementary schoolers and teens. The children log the number of books they read over the summer and receive small prizes. In addition, they enjoy art, science, games, music, special guests and more-all age appropriate and centered around a certain theme. I’ve found the instruction manual the youth service assistants receive regarding summer programs to be very up to date and full of projects, activities and book selections for all ages-that are quite engaging. There’s no reason our summer program can’t be all encompassing-reading-based, but including hands on experiments and opportunities for expressing oneself through drama, music, art and even free play. Do we need a whole lot of fancy toys, gadgets and expensive supplies to achieve these things? Certainly not. Most of the time what I need can be purchased from stores nearby. Now don’t get me wrong, we do have a budget and I use every penny of it, but I don’t think it should be a hindrance to my programs that I don’t have a big city budget.

We also offer a Teen Friends of the library group, open to all kids in grades six through twelve. Not only is this an excellent way to get older kids involved in their library, but it’s also an invaluable resource to my own efforts within the library. These teens tell me what authors, books and series they enjoy…so I have an idea of what’s popular here for kids their age. And they get to reap all the benefits of having books they enjoy ordered and available to them. Why order a whole bunch of books that are going to gather dust on the shelves? The teens also make suggestions on what classes and special programs (art, cooking, video-game nights, etc) should be offered by the library. In addition, these teens serve as advocates for the library, helping with fund-raising and volunteering their time. This in turn, benefits everyone, for fund-raising procures new items for our library and their volunteering can be counted as school credit or used as experience for a job. I’m always willing to write a recommendation! The Teen Library Board meets once a month for an hour and a half and the teens also enjoy refreshments, crafts, projects and socializing.  I’ll admit this group is a work in progress and that yes, it is hard to generate interest for programs in a small town…and especially for this age bracket. E-mails, flyers and word of mouth have helped, not to mention the front page news article in the town paper we received a few weeks ago. My point is-groups like these are usually reserved for the libraries in larger cities, so people are surprised to know we offer them. I stand my ground. The teens here need a group like this just as much (and more in some cases) than the big city kids. I myself hail from a mid-size city and I’ll be quick to admit there’s not much for teens to do here in this small town. Why not give them the option of something fun and positive, that also allows them to have a voice in their library and community? I don’t know if this group will make it or not. But it’s sure worth a shot.

I also like to see that the the teens (and any patrons) understand they are not limited to what’s on the shelf in front of them. As far as books and other resources are concerned, any items that are in our system, (meaning found at any of our libraries) can be checked out at the home library. It’s as if we are one giant library with as many, if not more books available than that one big city library! All the patron need do is place a hold on the item they want and it will be delivered to their library of choice in a couple of days. If a book or item is not in our system, we even offer an inter-library loan system which enables us to find these items for patrons at libraries outside of our own system. The patron pays a shipping fee for the the item to be sent over. Also, we always have book and item request forms available at the front desk for all patrons. The members of the teen group fill these out at almost every meeting! They are designed to let library staff know what patrons would like to see ordered for the library. We try to place the items that are submitted on these forms into our next book order.

What I wanted to convey most in this blog today, is that children’s programs in libraries are of utmost importance, no matter the size of the city, the staff, the budget….the key to making these programs (as well as the day-to-day) stand out is not those things, but rather a knowledge of resources available, imagination and enthusiasm on the part of the library staff, as well as the children and families.

At Marianna Black Library, we offer storytime, summer reading, teen activities, and other programs for all ages, movies, special events for Halloween, Christmas, and other times of the year. Check our website for more info.

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