family fort night ftw!

I’m a firm believer public libraries are community builders. It’s why I believe play time at the end of storytime is a fantastic service as it allows caregivers time to not only put into action all of the things we just learned in storytime, but also the opportunity to meet and and talk with other caregivers.

So when I read Marge’s post on Tiny Tips for Library Fun and then Amy’s post on The Show Me Librarian, I knew I wanted to do it here.

We decided to do it in January-a daring move on our part given we’re in west Michigan and the weather can be a bit tricky with the whole lake effect snow issue-as January is one of those months where everything is just so….January. The holidays are over. Schools are back in session. We have months of snow and cold ahead of us.

We got oh so lucky. The previous weekend we had subzero temperatures. This upcoming weekend is looking like a storm is a-brewing. This past Saturday night was clear and unseasonably warm and by “warm” I mean we were hovering around 32 degrees. Heat wave! We did not require registration for this program (which probably was the reason I went into pure freakout mode Saturday during the day, but more on that later) but instead put out detailed “instructions.” Bring blankets, flashlights and whatever else you’d like to build your fort in the library! The program starts at 5:45pm so please be on time as the doors will be locked at 6pm. Meet in the auditorium. This is a family event so all ages are welcome!

Here’s how it went down:

At 5:30pm, we stationed someone at the door to direct people to head down to the basement to start. I thought this might be the trickiest part given the Children’s Department is on the top floor and everyone would be lugging their fort-making materials all over the building, but everyone was very understanding. We explained we needed everyone participating in the program to meet in one place so staff could clear the building at closing. Not surprisingly, there was a bit of excitement over being in the library after we were closed!

5:45: Hand out s’mores and rules. We had advertised we would be serving “s’mores” and one member of the team had taken this very seriously by taste-testing a whole bunch of different options. She landed on Honey Maid Grahamful S’mores which came individually wrapped and were perfect. We asked everyone to eat their s’mores in the auditorium as we wanted to keep our books from getting sticky. As far as rules go? We pretty much said everything in the department was fair game for making forts. We had rubber coated wire clips available to help with fort making. We laid out the time line: 6:10 we head upstairs, 6:30 we make an announcement that reading time starts, 6:50 we make an announcement to start cleaning up. We did allow people to check out (yay for self-check machines!), but were not able to issue new library cards or accept cash for fines. I read “Moo” by David LaRochelle and my team member, Anne, brilliantly read “The Book With No Pictures” by B.J. Novak. And we were OFF.

6:10-6:30: Fort making! It was so much fun to watch families work together to put up their forts. Staff took turns with the camera and getting release forms for pictures. We had one family who hadn’t brought fort making stuff and we were about to hand him some fabric we had stashed in the staff area when he came back up to the desk and said another family had offered to “share” their fort with them. I almost got a little teary-eyed. Community building!

6:30: Reading time! This is what it’s all about! Families reading stories together all over the department!

6:50: Announcement that it’s time to clean up!

We decided to stand at the door to say goodbye to everyone and I can’t believe how amazingly positive the feedback was. “Please do this again! WE didn’t have anything else to do on a Saturday night, but I bet YOU did so thank you for providing this program! Please do this again! Please do this again!”

So…yeah…we’re going to do it again.

We learned a lot. First of all, I had no reason to freak out. I had the day off Saturday until the program and I was a crazy person on my phone texting my coworker. I even knew my anxiety had taken over and I needed to stop, but I just couldn’t help myself. No freaking out next time! We could have used 4 times as many clips to help with fort building. We will definitely shut off some of the lights next time or have a “dark area” and a “light area” for those with little ones who might get a little nervous in the dark. I’d like to make it a Register for a Library Card program next time which will mean additional staff from the adult services department. Or I’d like to have library cards as their “ticket” into the event with a library card drive leading up to the event.

All in all? It’s a fantastic program. We had 140 people in attendance and about 34 forts were made in the department. And outside of the s’mores and staff time? This program cost ZERO dollars.

Let me repeat that: This.program.cost.ZERO.DOLLARS.

Do it, friends. Just do it.

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