We can’t believe that we’re well into double digits in our Canadian Libraries Spotlight series, which aims to highlight the outstanding work being done in Canada to serve children and families. This week is particularly exciting as we welcome out first guest blogger from Quebec! Read on as Valerie Medzalabanleth from the Côte Saint-Luc Public Library talks about how her library has gone above and beyond to make the library an exciting place for families to be.
The Côte Saint-Luc Library is located on the Island of Montreal, but is independent, and not part of the larger Montreal system. We serve a bilingual community, but it is predominantly Anglophone. I started working at the Côte Saint-Luc Library about four years ago, and I noticed almost immediately that it was a vibrant and well-loved library with loyal users and a fantastic staff. When I arrived, our population of children and families was steadily increasing, and has continued to do so since then. At the time, we were also seeing more and more newcomers, often from other countries; understandably, not all of them came running immediately to the library. One of the things I envisioned was including these new families and helping them find a community here at the library.
Before I began working here, the CSL Children’s Department was known for its great baby programs, and it also had very fun special events. Over the past years, my goal has been to maintain that level of service, loyalty and satisfaction, while expanding the age demographic. I envisioned the department as a place where creative and fun things happened at any time, a place where families, kids, tweens and teens would find something engaging to do whenever they happened to be here. Accomplishing that, in my eyes, meant offering an array of fun programs, but also making sure that there is enough to do when simply visiting the space. If a children’s department is all about families, then we should embrace their presence, allow for the noise that comes with them, and do our best to keep them interested and entertained for as long as we can.
With creating a true community and family space in mind, I’ve been actively working to create and grow the range of opportunities for exploration and collaboration, and there have been quite a few successes. This past summer, we invited the community to complete a puzzle challenge. We left a puzzle out at all times and whenever it was completed, we took a picture of the team or individual who had done it and put it on our “Summer Puzzlers” display wall. To put it simply: this was a big hit. Even those who might not have looked twice at a puzzle before desperately wanted to be on that wall. After their puzzle was completed and their pictures were taken, kids, parents, and grandparents would often return to the library the next day to eagerly search for their picture. We even had a few “too cool for school” teens participating, and more than a few kids who usually came in just to use the computers were asking when we’d change out the puzzle so they could complete it again.
One of the goals of our Summer Reading Club was to have kids want to visit the library on their own time and on a weekly basis. If they were visiting regularly, we hoped that they would also be tempted to read more regularly. To encourage this, we had a weekly treasure hunt, of sorts, which had kids scrambling through the department (safely, of course!) to find a letter X hidden in various spots. This simple game encouraged kids to discover parts of the department that they had perhaps never seen. It was also just plain fun. We never tried to trick the children; we wanted them to enjoy the process of searching for–and hopefully finding–the hidden X. We gave out prizes, but kids seemed to find even more satisfaction in completing the challenge as their parents looked on amused, trying not to give too many hints.
Those passive programs are just two examples of how we worked to get families excited about their library visits. While they were here, I also hoped to tantalize them to return for fun “active” programs. This fall, we had a sock-puppet workshop aimed at 5-to-9 year olds. The program was full; we even opened up extra spaces so more people could participate, reaching our max attendance for a children’s activity. One of the most exciting thing about the workshop was that whole families came. We saw sets of siblings, accompanied by parents and sometimes grandparents, working together and with other families, sharing the resources (glue sticks, fabric markers, etc.) and ideas. It’s incredibly rewarding to organize and lead a program that helps children unleash their vivid imaginations. We gave them the loosest of directions (let’s read this silly story together, then you can sketch out your plans, and make use of whatever material you want to make your sock puppets) and they created superheroes, dragons, princesses and a few entirely original beasties. One nice surprise: a few families posted pictures of the event on Facebook, which raised the profile of the department and our activities even higher.
Riding high on our puppet-makers’ desire to create, I began talking with some of our participants about an upcoming program that I have been really excited about: a parent/child knitting class/group. I have been an avid knitter for about seven years, coming to it as an adult after trying to get the hang of it a few times as a kid. There’s something really rewarding about creating something, and the sense of community that arises when you have a group of similarly creative people around you is like no other. Lots of libraries, including our own, have knitting groups for adults, and some have knitting lessons for children, but I wanted to focus on a cross-generational group. I had previously put out a call to find out if anyone in the community was interested, and almost everyone said the same thing: “My child and I really want to do this, but we don’t know how to knit yet.” This fall, we have started to solve the problem. We are leading two groups into a basic three-session intro to knitting. Afterward, all the participants will be invited to switch over to a monthly meeting. This community-building activity now has a healthy registration; based on early feedback, I’m optimistic that the class will definitely develop into a regular group, and from there, it can only grow!
Writing this post has been a lot of fun because it has made me focus on the various ways we have tried to keep our public engaged and invested in their public library. I like to think that our active programs help feed into the passive games and toys we have in the library, and vice versa. Just this past Sunday, our weekly storytime took an exciting an unexpected turn right when we were wrapping up, as a group of kids began using our giant tinker toys. It was great to see kids who would never have spoken to each other (despite just having finished a program that they were in together) turn into a team with an ambitious goal: build the tallest tower they possibly could. Looking on, I couldn’t help but think they were demonstrating what it means to be an engaged community by building a tower, and by offering that blend of programs, the public library was helping them get there.