tmnt: passive program for the win!

This past spring, I took this course taught by the fabulous Marge Loch-Wouters and to say it inspired me is an understatement. I learned programming does not have to be an incredibly expensive or stressful endeavor. I learned to think outside the box. I learned sometimes passive programs are not only less labor intensive, but better.

This fall I’ve gotten a chance to put some of what I learned into action.

September was dubbed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle month. The original intention was to highlight areas of our nonfiction collection that TMNT fans might have overlooked: ninjas! turtles! slimy things! subways! the renaissance! (Okay, that last one was kind of a stretch, but you get the idea.) We booked the Outdoor Discovery Center to come and do a program on local Michigan turtles.  We had displays.

And then we dipped our toes into passive programming.

First up: design your own pizza! I found a “blank” pizza coloring page online, slapped it into Publisher and asked kids to color in the pizza and then write the ingredients. About 120 kids participated and everyone got a scratch and sniff pizza bookmark because TMNT LOVE pizza.

The next week, I was going to do a scavenger hunt, but I just wasn’t feeling it. At all. It didn’t help that my coworker Chris had already finished a Star Wars scavenger hunt that was really witty. My creative juices were just not flowing. So, on a whim I decided to go with Test Your Ninja Skills stations.


First up:


Y’all? This was crazy fun to watch. We’ve got some kids with some mad chopsticks skills in this community. And they were so proud of themselves! “Miss Erin!!! I got ALL OF THE POMPOMS! ALL OF THEM!” It was also really great to see our caregivers working with our youngest patrons. The patience these kids exhibited was astounding. (Pro tip: secure BOTH containers to the tables with book tape!)



This one was also fun. Their natural inclination was to stack them like a pyramid which is why I included a picture of cups stacked differently. I loved watching kids figure this one out. We had leftover small condiment containers we’d used for a Rainbow Loom program so I went with those instead of regular sized cups.

And finally:


Yeah, I straight up told them where to find the turtles. Our department is pretty big and the last thing I wanted was for this to be frustrating. The whole point was FUN. And even with me telling them, we still got questions: “Where’s the DISPLAY?!” Uh, right behind you?

Kids then filled this out:


and dropped it in a container at the desk. Kids were only allowed to enter once, but could interact with the stations as many times as they liked. We had 180 participants and 7 kids won TMNT prizes: from books to wall clings to a lunchbox and lanyards.

We’re taking a bit of a break for October though we’ll have the aforementioned witty Star Wars scavenger hunt up for the month. We’re not doing a giveaway for this one because we don’t want kids to get used to getting something every single time.

Because the whole point? Is for them to explore the department, show off their skills and have fun IN the library.

I think we accomplished that goal with this program!


on impostor syndrome, procrastination, and putting one foot in front of the other

Ten years ago, I ran the Chicago Marathon with my Dad. I am far from athletic. I actually don’t even remember why I decided I was going to start running, but I did. And I loved it. Marathon training was the best for me. I had a plan. I had a goal. And as long as I executed the plan, I knew I could get to the finish line. I loved the sense of accomplishment I felt putting in those miles. I loved knowing every time I put those shoes on I was ensuring I would finish. And finish we did. I couldn’t have done it without my Dad, though. If anyone has ever run that course, Chicago does a very mean thing right at the end involving a ramp which after 25.5 miles looks like a mountain. I think it was the first time I dropped the f-bomb in front of him.

This year we were going to run a half marathon, but decided to drop it to a 5k because I hadn’t run in I don’t know how long and he was a little worried about that distance. Despite knowing I still have to put in those miles, I’ve managed to skip out on runs left and right. “Oh it’s only 3.1 miles! I can do that!” You know what? I’m not going to be able to do that unless I get out there and get out there now because October 11th is coming and I’m still making excuses for why I’m not running.

I’m procrastinating. Because now I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’m going to fail. I’m afraid it’s going to be really hard.

I recently took on a new professional opportunity because I knew it would be good for me and I was flattered to be asked. As soon as the deadlines came and the expectations were laid out, I completely panicked. What was I thinking?!? I can’t do this! Why did they think I could do this?!? I’m terrified of this project and I’m going to fail but failure isn’t an option and I know I just need to put on my big girl panties and do it but there’s the laundry and here’s those books I need to read and don’t forget you’re co-presenting at the state conference for the first time and that’s a huge opportunity too and don’t let anyone down and! and! and!

I was procrastinating. Because I was afraid of failing.

So first off, I made myself go back and read Amy’s excellent post on the old Storytime Underground site: There is Something Rotten in the State of YS Professional Development and that call to arms made me feel about 9000 times better.

Then, I came up with a plan. I came up with a timeline. I started actually working on the project instead of just stressing about the project. Guess what? Not only am I finding I am more than capable, I’m actually having fun and I believe I’m going to contribute something really good.

Next up: put on those running shoes and get out there. Enough with being afraid of failing. It’s time to fail forward.

too long! too boring! too disjointed! it’s all of the things!

So this consistent blogging this is harder than it looks. I’ve started no fewer than 10 posts since my last one. And I’ve rejected every one. Too long! Too boring! Too disjointed! Too out of date! Too manager-y! Too preachy!

I decided the best course of action was to just DO IT.

Here’s what’s been going on:

1. I had the opportunity to attend a storytime training provided by the amazing staff at the Kent District Library. They organized it around the 5 ECRR practices. I now know how to properly read “Moo!” by David LaRochelle! I’m changing the way we count in storytime from index finger first to thumb first because thumb first strengthens those first three fingers better and those are the one’s we need to be strong in order to write! I’m feeling a lot more confident about dipping my toe into the world of storytelling! If you’re not familiar with the Play-Grow-Read! portion of KDL’s website, check it out. It’s a goldmine of early literacy activities and tips.

2. I’m now obsessed with Vivian Gussin Paley and the prospect of running a Little Authors program thanks to this superfantastical post by Cate. At the end of toddler storytime, we always have play time and I use this as an opportunity to get those kids telling me stories. This past week I had one little girl playing with a truck that got a flat tire. “Oh no! Can we fix it?” A second girl whispered to me, “Miss Erin! Miss Erin! I have a little tiger who lives in my pocket and his name is Tiger Sausage and he’s magic! He can help!” I love the idea of sitting down with them and actually writing out their words and then sharing the stories with everyone. I’m concerned about logistics: too many kids who want to participate, the timing, wanting to include a session for K-1st graders, but I’m going to make this happen. Narrative skills are too important not to.

3. We’ve delved into the world of passive programming for school aged kids and our first week was a HUGE success. We’ve got a Teenage Mutant Ninja turtle theme going on with a display highlighting not only TMNT books, but also books about ninjas, toxic waste (it’s a stretch, I know, but we went there!), turtles, and Renaissance painters. Our first week we did a design your own pizza passive activity. I found a blank pizza coloring page and had them color it with crayons. I also asked that they write down their ingredients. (Avocado was a surprisingly popular topping!) They turned them in at the desk and got a scratch and sniff pepperoni bookmark. This week they’re testing their ninja skills by transferring pompoms from one container to another with chopsticks, stacking cups into a tower and finding the hidden-not-so-hidden TMNT around the department. We had about 130 kids participate in the first week and this week they’re entered into a drawing for some TMNT swag so I expect it will also be popular.  The last week we’re asking them to create their own mutant animal. I think I might have gone a little overboard with changing it out so much. Next month is Star Wars and I’m scaling WAY back.

4. I stumbled upon a twitter conversation yesterday about the Chattanooga Public Library audit thanks to Anne  who posted a quote from this article. Dang. DANG. Chattanooga has an great reputation for providing innovative services. Corrine Hill, their director, was also named LJ’s Librarian of the Year in 2014. I didn’t participate in the conversation on twitter, but I followed along and have been pondering it ever since. I frequently get tunnel vision when it comes to my department, but I need to remember to be invested in the library as a whole. If I have a concern about something that I believe is ethically questionable, it is my responsibility to bring it to the attention of the powers that be. As a taxpayer supported institution, it is critical we are transparent and held accountable for mistakes. I really do think Anne said it best: “Truthfully, this profession needs hardworking, honest people. Brilliant and progressive are secondary.”

Amen to that.

the day i sent my manager an article titled “the 7 biggest mistakes managers make”

Let me start by saying, my manager and I have a very good relationship. And we still do. Even after I sent her this article.

I happened to see it on twitter as I follow the most excellent Alice Green of Ask A Manager fame. I’m not a supervisor, but I do believe employees should know the challenges of management. I also look to articles like this to help me be a better employee. Am I asking my manager the right questions? Am I holding up my end of this relationship?

Thankfully, my manager feels the same way I do.

The 7 biggest mistakes managers make (and how they affect this employee):

1. Not giving feedback

I crave feedback. I want to know when I’m doing well and when I’m not. I understand managers are typically chained to their desks responding to more emails than one person should ever receive and more phone calls and dealing with schedules and meetings. Oh, the meetings that can last hours! But here’s the deal: part of your job is knowing what I’m doing and how well I’m doing it. Please stop by unannounced at a storytime and observe. Please inquire at outreach locations how I’m doing. Please periodically ask about my goals and how I’m managing them. I want to be the best employee I can. Your feedback is really important.

2. Not setting clear expectations

I am a huge fan of goals. HUGE. And thankfully, my organization is as well. We all have to sit down with our manager and go over 3-5 goals we hope to accomplish in the next fiscal year with clear outcomes. The trick in my organization is once the goals are written to keep checking in with progress. I was so proud of myself for including social media in my goals this year only to look back at LAST year and see essentially the same goal. Head desk. If you do not work for an organization that sets goals, take it upon yourself to approach your manager about what you hope to accomplish. Write them down. Make them measurable. Refer to them on a regular basis.

3. Avoiding tough conversations

Sorry, managers, but this is why you get paid the big bucks. You are not doing your organization any favors by avoiding these difficult situations. If anything, the longer you ignore the problem the bigger it will get. If employees are not held accountable, they will continue to believe their behavior is acceptable. You’ll also lose respect of other employees who are observing you ignoring the situation.

4. Evaluating the wrong things

See, if you have goals and outcomes? You’ll evaluate the right things. And if you insist your manager works with you on goals and outcomes? You’ll be evaluated for the right things.

5. Acting like something is a suggestion when it’s a directive

If you want your employee to do something, tell them. Be clear and direct. You’re the manager. But please don’t micromanage. Management is about leadership and empowerment. Micromanagement is about distrust and control. If you want something done a certain way by all means be direct, but please remember you hired me for a reason and it’s not to watch you do my job.

6. Be unwilling to let low-performing employees go

Again, I say, this is why you get paid the big bucks. Low-performing employees not only harm productivity. They damage morale. The longer you hold onto a low-performing employee, the harder it is to let them go. Everyone deserves a chance to improve-especially if you’ve done your job as a manager and have set out clear, measurable goals paired with appropriate guidance and professional development opportunities-but there comes a time to acknowledge the employee is not going to improve.

7. Getting defensive

You’re in charge. You get to make the final decisions. But leaders don’t get defensive when their ideas are questioned. Good employees ask questions and do so because they want the organization to be the best it can be. If you react defensively, I am going to be less likely to express my opinion.  Leadership isn’t knowing everything. Leadership is listening.

Managers: go forth and fail forward right along with us!