I recently attended the national Public Library Association (PLA) conference in Philadelphia, a biennial event that is always jam-packed with speakers, exhibits and sessions on new ideas to try in your public library. Here are a few highlights in the area of children’s services.
Early literacy “spaces” were the buzz at the conference. This is a trend that has been building for a number of years, and we are starting to see some amazing changes in the way large and small libraries are serving “pre-readers.” In addition to amazing book collections and storytimes, many libraries now provide early literacy stations that help prepare preschoolers for learning how to read once they start school. The spaces often include a table with a writing activity, such as composing a letter to put in a play mailbox or practicing ABC’s on a dry erase board. Playing with puppets or dress-up clothes encourages storytelling and imaginative play. Puzzles, gears, magnet toys and Legos help children develop their fine motor skills and cognitive thinking. Nursery rhymes and song lyrics encourage parents and children to sing and rhyme together. Many of the creative ideas I heard at the conference are things we can incorporate into our own small early literacy activity area, and we can consider ways to expand this space in the future.
Thinking outside the box for storytimes, several librarians presented their format for “traveling” storytimes. They advertise a storytime that will take place in a different venue, such as the farmer’s market or the splash park - an idea we had already considered trying. Libraries that made traveling storytimes a regular part of their programming had tips and advice to share, and during small group discussions we came up with many more great places to present a storytime. The idea is that some of your loyal storytime families will seek you out, and some new families who do not come to the library might try the storytime, too. Passers-by may stop in to see what is going on, and voila — you’ve just drawn in a bunch of new potential library users.
Of course, technology advances were an important theme at the conference. Exhibitors highlighted features for eBooks, enhancements to library catalogs, and new equipment for using and viewing materials. Some libraries have started lending out e-readers, such as Nooks or Kindles, and have experimented with using iPads in library programs or to aid with routine tasks, such as weeding collections. A reference librarian reported they have tried strapping an iPad to their hand while doing roaming reference, which, while awkward, can be especially useful in a large library where they find themselves assisting patrons far from a computer station.
A personal highlight for me was attending an inspiring session led by children’s book author and illustrator Kevin Henkes. His mouse characters (Lilly, Chrysanthemum, Owen, etc.) are beloved by so many children, and it was fascinating to hear about his beginnings and his book writing process, and most importantly, how he always keeps the child reader in the forefront. He read a few amazing and humorous letters from young fans, and he seemed to genuinely love hearing from and meeting his readers.
Henkes also talked about his illustrations in several books in great detail. He is an artist who takes pains to make his illustrations “speak” as loud as the words he writes. In his very simple book, “Little White Rabbit,” Henkes showed how the things the bunny wanted to become have an up and down motion like hopping - grass, tree, rock, butterfly. In “Owen,” Henkes made sure that Owen was always separated from his parents by the intrusive neighbor lady, Mrs. Tweezers, who thought Owen was too old for his favorite blanket. With such attention to detail, children can read and re-read Henkes’ books and gain new insights each time. Henkes read his newest book to us, “Penny and Her Song,” a beginning reader that came out in February. Luckily, this is the just the first in a series about the delightful mouse, Penny, and her family.
As always, meeting colleagues from around the country and hearing about so many wonderful initiatives and creative plans for libraries made this a truly positive experience.