Outside the Box

Earlier this month, our children’s librarian was unexpectedly out of town, and so we had to cancel our baby/toddler storytime (we’re super-short-staffed right now and I couldn’t run the storytime and be at our circulation desk at the same time).  When I called all the parents, I mentioned that I’d put out the toys and put on some fun music in case they wanted to stop by anyway.

That morning, when I went back to grab the toys and shaker blocks, I was absolutely stunned to see that the used-everytime shaker blocks were kept in the most generic and covered-in-some-sort-of-advertising box I could imagine.  It was sturdy, but sad.  I had never even noticed this embarrassing box before – how long had this been going on?

I kept the box out on our back counter after the (barely-attended) non-storytime happened, and when Mary arrived an hour later, I mentioned that we really should do something with this box.  I spent most of that day finishing up my large social media display, and eventually left the Children’s Library to hang the display at our Main location.  I was gone for about an hour, and when I returned, Mary had put up the smaller social media display at Kids’ and was finishing-up her redesign of the shaker box.  My jaw dropped.

She did it with super-cheap on-hand materials: construction paper and colored masking tape.  She’d cut off the box lid flaps (that had just been shoved into the inside of the box), and used the tape to cover the lip of the box.  The way that she made it will make it easily fixable in case one of the panels gets damaged.  She took the initiative and made something fast, cheap, bright, and fun.  She’s a rockstar – of should I say boxstar (teehee)!

Update: This box lasted a little over a year with several repairs. I made a few other storage boxes like this, including our office paper recycling box. They lasted for about the same time as well. The tape tended to pull and peel away, and they eventually looked tattered, and so we moved on to using colorful plastic crates.

Prize Books + Astroturf = Awesomeness

A few weeks before we wrapped-up our Summer Reading Program at the Children’s Library, we had the realization that we needed to figure out how to handle the final prizes of the summer.  In the past we gave each participant a free book, and had drawings for prize baskets.  This year we did away with the baskets and made sure that each child who finished his/her reading log (we have these cute little memento coupon and activity booklets) would get to pick out two books that s/he would keep forever.

Anywho, Mary and I spent several hours brainstorming what on earth to do with all of these books in our teeny-tiny space.  Mary finally came up with the winning idea of moving one of our activity tables up to near our circulation desk – that way we can keep an eye on things.  Last year we had trouble with kids putting prize books into our collection and vice versa.  I was concerned that proximity to our desk wouldn’t do the trick of keeping things neat and together.  But it was a start.

It was a little while later that day that I thought of covering the prizes when kids weren’t looking through them – my initial thought was to have two tablecloths – the one underneath would be brown, and the one on top would be green – sort of mimicking this year’s “Dig into Reading” theme.  It was a few minutes later that I thought of using astroturf on the top layer and couldn’t stop laughing.

And that’s what we did!  Mary went and found some cheap fake grass, a brown tablecloth, and then she made a really cute “Keep Of the Grass” sign.  We had thought of adding fake bugs among the prize books, but it turns out there was no space for the bugs – they would have just gotten in the way.  The fake bugs ended up on and around the sign.

The turf is a bit awkward to roll back for the kids, but it’s been fantastic.  It’s been a conversation piece for people (you have prizes for your reading program?), and it’s been very good at keeping the books separated as well as kept non-SRP participants out of the prizes.  We’ve had two parents try to “shop” the books after the cover was pulled up (after the kids had chosen their books, and before we could re-cover them).  One grandmother was sad that she couldn’t purchase one of the books.  Also, almost every child has enjoyed the sensory experience of rubbing his/her hands along the grass.

There’s actually been benefits to the tight space:

  • We arranged the ages for the books starting from the youngest on the left to oldest at the right.  This has allowed families with children in different reading levels a chance to browse at the same time without being in one another’s way.
  • The kids aren’t overwhelmed by a huge choice.
  • And most importantly, we’re able to refresh the book titles often, so that every participant gets a chance at cool books.  There won’t be those sad leftovers that are anything but prizes.

We have most of the extra books in the boxes beneath the table, as well as the final gift bags.  So we grab the gift bags for the children (which gives them somewhere to put their new books) and then whip back the covering.  Usually it gets a really good response from both the children and the parents.  Yay for drama!

I definitely think that we’ll use this same method next year (with the layers changing to try to reflect the theme).  The one thing that really surprised me was the number of people who were surprised that we gave out final prizes – and I’m so thankful that we made such a dramatic display for the prizes which helped us to discover this.  Obviously we need to push this fact a little more.  But what’s really touching is that we still had hundreds of children participating who never realized that they could win final “forever” books.

A Brilliant Borrowed-Burrowed Idea

The biggest project is yet to be complete (ugh – waiting for a final shipment of supplies), but between last week and this week, I did throw together a display based on this fantastic idea from the ALSC blog.  Generally on our shelves above the picture books we try to keep a themed display, but with Summer Reading Programming happening, being short-staffed, and knowing that our awesome library page would soon be struggling with getting all the items reshelved, well, I couldn’t ignore how great this idea would be for us.

It’s been up for half the week, and let me tell you, it’s already saved us oodles of time and sanity (both things which become very strained during the summer months).  The random picture books have been flying off of the book stands which has been awesome.  We’ve even had to pick books out of the book cases since our reshelving cart has been emptier.  I think this may become an annual tradition.

I also fell in love with the bulletin board from the ALSC’s post, and recreated it in a much smaller format.  All it took was yellow and green paper, brown construction paper, color copy printouts of several of the cute SRP critters, scissors, and double-sided tape.  Truly, I cannot thank Abby Johnson and her team at New Albany-Floyd County Public Library enough for sharing this wonderful idea!

I think that I’m going to see if we can budget in some larger-sized sign holders for the Children’s Library.  These signs are cute (if I do say so myself), but they get a little lost with all the larger-sized picture books surrounding them. Hmm…

Miss Mary’s also been working on an amazing project that we hope will become an annual summer programming tradition.  Have I mentioned how much I love having a talented artist on our team?  Well, I do.  And I can hardly wait to show off her talent some more!  Soon.

Update:  With only a few weeks left of our Summer Reading Programming, I wanted to let y’all know how this has been going.  HOLY MOLY WAS THIS ONE OF THE BEST THINGS WE’VE DONE IN A WHILE!!!  Our wonderful library page has had very little picture book shelving to do this summer because whoowee do these books circulate!  This is for sure going to become a tradition here.

The Little Things

As I’ve been taking more and more pictures of the library, I’ve noticed that things that have somewhat bothered me now REALLY FREAKIN’ BOTHER ME when I see them on film (well, technically on the computer screen).

Case in point: I was trying to take pictures of our birthday decorations when I noticed our Story Stow bags schlumped over and looking so messy and…just schlumpy.  Story Stows are basically an instant storytime-with-activities in a bag.   I’ve actually taken several down to get them out of the shots because all I could look at was the messy-looking bags in the picture.

It was later that week when I was dusting the shelves that one of the bags that I’d just moved and put back suddenly fell onto the floor.  After a stunned moment of silence, I picked it back up and carefully put it back on the shelf.  It was in that moment that I realized that we were just asking for a child to get hurt if we didn’t do something about these bags.

What I decided to do was get some of those “don’t damage the walls” hooks and put them up along the wall.  The biggest debate was about how high I should place the hooks because I wanted the hooks at the same height, but almost every bag is a different size.  So I picked one of the small/shorter handled bags and used that as the guide.  I knew that the hooks couldn’t hold the weight of the bags, but they would hopefully slow the fall if a bag started to slide.


Super-awesome-bonus?  How much easier it is to see the bags’ topics.  Also, prior to the hooks they were randomly placed on top of the shelf where there was space.  Now they’re alphabetized (I know – totally scandalous in a library).


Oh how my organizational heart sings!

Update: We finally made it through our Summer Reading Program, and let me tell you what – not a single hook remains.  Both children and adults more often than not would yank on the handles instead of either lifting the handles off of the hooks, or asking for help.  The stickiness of the backing would be shot after the first time the hooks came off, and so I was replacing the sticky backing a lot.  And it seemed that within a day or two, we’d hear the “plink” of a plastic hook falling behind the bookcase (or into the bag).

I’m not giving up on this yet – mainly because of the safety issue.  I plan on getting heavier-duty hooks when our budget year starts back up, and then placing the hooks a little bit lower.  I’m pretty optimistic that the hooks will last a little bit longer since summer is their #1 checkout time (seriously, it was shocking if we had more than three of the bags in at a time).  Again, I’ll update this post if there’s anything worth updating!

Update of the Update: The stronger hooks didn’t help, either! BLARG! We eventually revamped our bags so that they’re all the same size, and a smaller size at that! They look much better, and haven’t slid off…yet.

Block Party

Because I had lapsed into a blog-funk (a blunk, perhaps? Nope, just looked it up and it’s Urbandictionaried – dagnabbit), I decided that I should try and keep my posts to once-a-week.  That decision took pressure off of me in terms of getting something posted that someone out there might find of use or at least quasi-entertaining.

Well, I’m jumping the gun on this one since I already had a post ready to go for next week, but I don’t want to wait yet another week to show this off – because I’m impatient like that.  Because I’m too excited about these:

I truly wish that I could take any sort of credit for these.  Perhaps I can take a teensy bit of credit for saying to a teammate that I wished there was a better way to display our small event flyers that parents take with them.  Up until today we just laid them on the counter where they got in the way/got messy.  My wonderful teammate was the one who suddenly said, “why not use alphabet blocks like those business card holders?”  SHAZZAM! The only other part I played in these were finding the blocks and purchasing them.  After that I handed them off to my boss who handed them off to her woodworking father with basic guidelines of what we wanted.

He took the idea to a whole ‘nother level.

I had expected individually cut blocks for mixing and matching.  Yes, I was concerned about them being easily knocked over, but I knew we could at least try my trusty museum putty to stabilize them.  But what arrived today was nothing short of spectacular.  They’re sturdy and stable – and even each one has a pun or special meaning.  I still puttied those suckers down (between curious kids and frazzled moms, I wanted to do my best to keep them from being knocked over).

The only addition I needed to make was putting a cut-out piece of cardboard (wrapped in colored paper) to help keep the flyers upright.  It took a few moments and they really make the flyers look good from the front.  I may add some fun stickers to the back side so that the staff has something fun to look at too!


As I was puttying these bad boys down, I had another lightbulb moment: these would fix a problem we were having with our new picture book cart.  The problem was that we chose to use the top shelf of a small book cart as a faceout display shelf – which looks great, but the books would sometimes slide and fall to the ground (not a good thing with children running around).  I had thought that I should find a small tension rod or something that I could decorate to help keep that form happening.  Well, in my hands I had the solution:


I puttied the heck out of those blocks and they’re doing the trick!  I may even make a small sign to stick in one of the holders indicating what’s on the cart (there are signs on both sides).  I am absolutely tickled with how good they look.  I’ll revisit this post and put an update in a few months in terms of whether or not they stay put.

I wish that I could give a tutorial on how to make these, but since I didn’t make them, I can only speculate.  I’d say that heavy glue was involved, and a nice power saw – and some paint for the bases.  It seems like Woodworking 101 – so hopefully either you or someone you know have the skills to make this happen (and if you do, then please share your results with me).

The best part of these are that to me they represent a collaborative effort where a problem was given a unique and fun solution through the power of teamwork.  So when I see these blocks I get a warm fuzzy feeling since they embody my desire to make everyone working at the library a team full of innovators and problem-solvers.

Block on!