Tag Archives: programs

Measuring Success: Beyond the Numbers

Success.Every month, I submit a report to my managers with information about outreach events and meetings I attended, professional development, and programs I facilitated. These reports are largely about numbers — how many LEUs (Library Education Units) I earned for attending a webinar, how many presentations I made to how many students on a school visit, how many hours I spent on a special project. But those numbers often don’t tell the whole story.

For instance, at an open mic night last week, I had three attendees. One wanted to perform, but was too shy until I made a deal with him: I’ll sing first if you sing second. So we both sang for the two other teens, who are regulars at teen programs. After he rapped for us, the shy performer asked if he could bring his own music next time, instead of doing a karaoke rap to a YouTube video. We talked a bit about the raps he writes before he had to leave. On paper, my program with three attendees may not look like a huge success, but it gave me a chance to connect with a teen, and gave him a chance to share something he’s passionate about.

Those numbers also don’t show the relationships I’ve built with teachers, or the students who pull me aside after I’ve talked to their classes to rave about favorite books. They don’t show the times I’ve helped people apply for jobs, find obscure recipes, learn how to train their new puppies. Numbers are great, but they shouldn’t be our only measure of success.

How do you measure success? Have you ever had a program that looked like a flop on paper but went really well?


What happens when you let teens take ownership of a program

Kendamas.A few of of my regular teens are really into Kendama. After school, there’s almost always at least one person practicing Kendama in the Teen Room. A few months ago, one of the teens on the advisory board asked if we could hold a Kendama tournament.

I had no idea how to run a Kendama tournament, but luckily, he did. One we picked a date for the program, he came up with the trick lists for the beginner, intermediate, and advanced competitions, and helped me get in touch with someone in our community who’d run a tournament last year. He gave me ideas for mini-games to play in between each division competition. He volunteered as a judge, and helped me find other volunteers to judge.

The tournament was awesome. The best part wasn’t the competition itself, though; it was watching all these teens who were passionate about something come together, give each other tips, cheer each other on, and build off of one another. Their enthusiasm was infectious. And it was awesome to see all these amazingly talented teens showing off their skills.

Another cool thing about the tournament: about two-thirds of the competitors were teens I’d never seen before. The teens who helped plan this event were the ones who spread the word and brought new people to the library. Will all of them become regulars at teen programs? No. But maybe a few will start coming to other teen events, or hanging out in the Teen Room practicing Kendama after school.

So, if you have teens who are interested in programs around something you don’t know a lot about, see if they’d like to plan an event. You know your teens; if they can handle the responsibility, it can be truly amazing to see what they do when given the chance. And you might just learn a thing or two about their passion; I bought myself a Kendama because it looked so fun, and I plan to be able to get through the entire beginner’s trick list by the time we hold our next tournament!

Have you let your teens plan any programs at your library? How did it go?

Organizing a prom dress giveaway

Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway.This month I organized the First Annual Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway at my library. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the positive community response — when we put out a call for donations, over 300 dresses came in, and the event was shared both in person and on Facebook and Twitter many, many times! This was truly a group effort, and I could not have done it without the help of many people. If you think an event like this would be good for your community, and have questions for me, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! And if you want another perspective, check out this blog post by the extraordinary Regina Townsend that gave me the idea for this program.


I started planning for our mid-March event in November. The first thing I had to do was make sure we had a place to store donated dresses. Thankfully, we have a lot of storage space in our basement, and were able to lay down plastic sheets so the dresses (stored in garment bags) would not get dusty. I also reached out to co-workers and community members to see if anyone had clothing racks we could borrow to store donations and display them the day of the event. Thankfully, word of the program spread to someone who suggested we talk to Community Hospital, who let us borrow some clothing racks that they use for their Coats for Caring program in the fall.


We began collecting donations just after New Years’ and continued up until the day before the event. Next year, I plan to give myself at least a week between accepting the last donations and holding the program. I was fortunate that Circulation and Maintenance staff were extremely helpful in collecting and storing donations. We collected dresses and prom-related accessories, including shoes, purses, jewelry, and shawls.

I also reached out to local businesses that provided prom-related services, to ask if they would be willing to donate anything. One local salon offered discount coupons, and another donated gift baskets to be raffled off. A local jewelry salesperson also donated a few pairs of earrings and rings. Finally, a staff member’s wife who does alterations volunteered to do free alterations at the event.


Promotion, promotion, promotion! I continued collecting donations, and advertised the event everywhere I could think of. In addition to the library’s social media, I sent flyers to my contacts at the local high schools, and our Marketing Coordinator promoted the program on the local radio station. The local paper contacted me and ran a front-page article about the event, which really helped spread the word. I’m also fortunate to have the student body president of the public high school on our Teen Advisory Board. He reads the announcements every day, and talked up the program in the weeks leading up to it.

I also started getting dresses cleaned in February. A local dry cleaner offered us a significant discount on cleanings, and was even kind enough to drop off clean dresses and pick up the next round of gowns at the library. They expressed interest in partnering with us again next year, and I look forward to working with them!

Finally, I arranged for a mix of staff and volunteers to help with the event.


I continued to promote the program and collect donations. Our Maintenance manager helped come up with a setup for the program room and built temporary changing rooms in the most impressive transformation of a storage room I’ve ever seen.

The day before, a volunteer and I spent the whole day sorting dresses by size, then by color within each size. I would not have finished on time without this volunteer’s help. As it is, we started at noon on a Saturday, and even with the help of two volunteers we were still getting things ready at 11:58. Next year, I’ll give myself an extra day to set up.

On the day of the event, I had volunteers working the “checkout” (all we asked was to see a high school ID), tracking how many dresses were given away (30 total) and what schools the shoppers came from; returning dresses that didn’t fit to their racks; helping girls as “personal shoppers”; and staffing the accessory tables.

We also had a red carpet and a photo booth just outside the program room. I’m debating whether to have these again next year or not; if I do, I think I’ll try to get the photo booth inside the program room, because no one really took pictures in their dresses. We also had giant thank you cards for our local partners for shoppers to sign as they left.

In all, this program was a lot of fun, and I consider it a big success for our first year. Working in a community where seventy percent of our students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, my goal with this event was to help our teens have a memorable prom without their having to stress over how to afford a dress. I look forward to hosting this event for many years to come.

Got questions about the Project Fairy Godmother Prom Dress Giveaway? Thinking of hosting your own giveaway? Let me know in the comments!

Writing programs at the library

NaNoWriMo crest.As a writer of YA novels and a teen librarian, writing programs at the library allow my two careers to intersect in the best way. I could talk about writing for hours, and love helping newer writers, whether that means pointing them to useful resources or providing feedback on their work. This week, in honor of Teen Read Week, I have a couple writing programs scheduled, and I’m really excited for them!

The first is more based on storytelling than writing specifically. We’ll basically be creating fan fiction and fan art, and I’m placing no limitations on format. People can write, draw, or even rap about their favorite (or least favorite) characters and stories. When I pitched this program at a school visit, one boy said, “We’re gonna rap at the library?”

Yes. Yes, we are.

After that I have a workshop planned that’s focused on novel writing. I’m determined to make the NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program a thing at my library this year. I’ve put together a Young Novelist’s Survival Packet that includes lists of helpful websites, worksheets on characters development and plotting, a calendar so they can set a word count goal for every day in November (and plan for those days when they won’t be able to write), and more. I’ll also be signing teens up for the Young Writers Program, and depending on people’s interest, I may host write-ins or lead online writing sprints in November. I told our local English teachers about the program, and am hoping they send their creative writers my way!

Have you had any writing groups or programs at your library? What has been popular or successful?

Publicity creation with Canva

Canva.Things have been crazy at the library lately, and I’ve had to come up with publicity materials for a lot of new programs. While Publisher is great for flyers, it doesn’t offer the flexibility I’d like for creating images for web banners and social media posts. There’s plenty of expensive software designed for these things, but as a librarian on a budget, I’m always looking for free/cheap alternatives. Which led me to Canva.

Some things I really like about Canva:

  1. You can choose from a variety of standard image sizes, or create something using custom dimensions. This has been perfect for making Facebook event photos.
  2. Canva is online, so you can access and edit your designs anywhere.
  3. If you sign up for the business version of Canva (also free), you can use the “magic resize” feature to quickly adapt the same image for multiple platforms. You can also share projects with other members of your team.
  4. There are tons of fonts to choose from!

Some things I’m not as crazy about:

  1. There’s no way to draw a curved line, or make text curve, in the free version of Canva. Or if there is, I haven’t found it yet.
  2. The free stock images you can use aren’t great. There are better images you can use for a dollar apiece, but I haven’t used any of those. You can upload your own images (including stock photos you purchase elsewhere), so I usually do that.

I know other librarians who also use Canva to make bookmarks and infographics, but I haven’t had time to experiment with those yet. I don’t have any formal training in graphic design; everything I do is self-taught, using best practices I’ve read about online and experimenting over the last four years that I’ve been creating publicity for library programs. When things settle down a bit at work, I’ll play around with other image types in Canva, and let you know if I come across anything of note.

Do you use Canva at all? Do you have a similar tool you’d recommend for creating publicity?

Can I get a library robot?

Sphero SPRK. I’ve been looking into possible STEM and STEAM programs recently, and I’d really like to lead some introductory coding programs for teens and tweens. There are plenty of free places to start, such as Scratch, Code.org, Code Academy, and Khan Academy. If you’re unfamiliar with these platforms, and are thinking about hosting a coding program, I recommend checking them out on your own. I had a lot of fun making Angry Birds blow up pigs in a Code.org hour of code and making cats dance with Scratch. All you’d need to use any of these for a program is a computer for every student.

However, I’d really like to bring robotics into a coding program, which brings me to Sphero. If you’re unfamiliar with Sphero, check out this video. There are several free apps for Sphero — the one I have my eye on is the Tickle app, which lets you write code for Sphero using blocks similar to Scratch. One of the things I like most about Sphero is that it can be used in programs for any age — younger kids can drive the robot without needing to write any code, kids can team up with peers or parents and learn to code together, teens can program the robot to navigate obstacle courses (and race to see who figures it out the fastest). I have so many things I’d love to try with Sphero, like a Maze Runner movie tie-in program, a challenge to create the most difficult obstacle course (and the code to navigate it), or a family game night with robot races. Seeing their code come to life in 3D, and not just on a screen, will be more engaging and encouraging for young coders.

And who doesn’t want a library robot?

I don’t have any first-hand experience with Sphero, but I hope to change that soon. Have any of you used Sphero before? What did you think of it? What other tech would you recommend for coding/robotics programs?

Career Crossovers

This Thursday, I’m presenting my first library-sponsored writing program at a local coffee shop. I’m really excited for this — and the whole series — but also a little nervous. I consider both librarianship and writing careers, but I’ve never combined them for a program like this.

Writing Elements.

As a librarian, I’m looking forward to the series because it’s the first time (at least in my tenure here) that our library has reached out to a local business to present a program there. Off-site programming is becoming increasingly popular as libraries are focusing more attention on community engagement. Dozens of libraries across the country now run book clubs that meet in bars, and I’ve heard of libraries partnering with local gaming stores, restaurants, and other businesses for various programs. For the Writing Elements series (a tie-in with our summer reading theme, Literary Elements), I reached out to a new local coffee shop where individual writers already practice their craft.

The librarian in me is also excited about the series because I know the target audience. I don’t know everyone who will be coming, but I know a few who have already told me they’ll be there. And not just because they’re my friends, but because they’re genuinely interested in a writing program.

I’m looking forward to the series as a writer because it’s a chance for me to meet and network with other local writers. I’ll have exercises related to a different topic each week (characterization this time around), and I’ll lead the group’s discussion, so the series will give me a chance to hone my skills as an instructor a bit. The writing community is so helpful and supportive, I always enjoy a chance to return that support, whether that means critiquing a friend’s work or hosting a library-sponsored series of programs.

Any tips as I make my foray into library outreach and more formal writing instruction?