Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Surveys and STEM and School-Agers

Over the past few months, I've been feeling uneasy about the programming at my branch. Not uneasy about what we're already doing--I think we've got early literacy programming down pretty well and we can throw a pretty solid character party. But, I am uneasy about what we're not doing. We're not doing consistent, effective school-age programming. As it stands right now, the only consistent thing we offer for school-agers is a monthly Paws to Read program, when kids can come practice reading to therapy dogs. But, our attendance for that has been really low--like 5 kids is a "busy" day. We have system-wide programs (usually arts and crafts) during fall break and spring break and in June and July. But, when a new family comes to the library and picks up our calendar or asks me what we have for their 8 year old, I'm usually at a loss for something to offer them. I hate not having something to offer. To adapt Ranganathan: "Every patron his/her program". Serendipitously, Thrive Thursday got started around the same time I started having these feelings. If you haven't heard, it's a monthly blog hop of after school library activities. I haven't posted anything since, clearly, I have nothing notable to post about, but I have been following along. I've also been stalking Amy's STEAM programs over at The Show Me Librarian, which have encouraged me that STEAM programming is possible, even for non-science people.

However, even though I had a feeling there was a programming void and it seemed like the stars were aligning on the interwebs, I knew I'd need more proof to convince my manager and fellow children's librarians that we should be spending time on school age programming. The general assumption here has been that kids in school are too busy or too uninterested to come to library programs. But, I don't agree so, I set out to prove that assumption wrong. I decided to create a simple survey to leave at our SRP prize desk--the place in the library that gets the most traffic from school age kids and their families. My main goal for the survey was to determine what types of programs people wanted the most and when they would prefer to attend those programs. I also added a few open-ended questions at the end just to get some general feedback.

Here is the text of the survey:
1. Please list the ages of your child(ren):

2. What kind of programs would your child(ren) be interested in attending at the library? (check all that apply)
Kids book discussions
STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program
Craft program
Music program
Cooking program
Minecraft/gaming program
Rainbow Loom program
Fitness program
Homework club
Paws to Read (reading to therapy dogs)
Homeschool club/meetup
Other (please specify):

3. What days and times would you prefer to attend library programs?
(Please check all times that apply)
Morning (10-12) Afternoon (1-4) Evening (4-7)






4. What library service(s) children and their families do you value the most?

5. What can the library do to improve its service to children and their families?

We ended up with about 20 responses, 3 of which were from families with kids who were all under 5. I didn't really use those, since this my main focus was school age kids/families. I didn't specify age on the survey, so I think it's really interesting that the majority or responses were from parents of kids over 5. I'm assuming that's because families with young kids are already having their needs met, but, families with older kids aren't as much. So, I'm glad we gave them a voice!

I won't bore you with the raw data, but here's my analysis of the responses from the program types section:
  • Our system-wide children's services department consistently books high quality art and craft program presenters, so it would probably be better to focus our branch-specific efforts on other programming.
  • An ongoing STEM program could encompass music, cooking and fitness and would also incorporate related fiction and nonfiction books. So, this might be a good program to try that would incorporate the interests of a range of children.
  • Further investigation is needed to determine the actual interest in a book discussion as well as a gaming program.
  • It might be a good idea to talk with area schools to see if Paws to Read is still a needed service. Since many schools have therapy dogs visit, many kids who might come to our program, could already be reading to a therapy dog at school. However, this survey isn't exhaustive, so it might be that the families who come or would come to Paws to Read didn't happen to take the survey. Also, it could be that we need to do more marketing of this program. 
  • Having a safe technology use program definitely falls under the library's expertise, but more investigation needs to be done to determine whether it would be of widespread interest. 
As far as program times, the votes were resoundingly for the early evening, which is a bummer staffing-wise, but can definitely be done. We had a few votes for 1-4pm, a few for 10-12 and a few for Saturdays. 

Taking all this into consideration, my overall suggestion to my team will be to start a monthly or quarterly STEM themed program aimed at kids 6-11 years old, and we should try to have the program at 4 or 4:30 pm on a weekday afternoon. In order for the program to be successful, we will first need to market assertively, then present the programs excellently so that kids will keep coming back and will tell their friends. Books can be incorporated by introducing the theme with a book and/or having related books and movies available for checkout. We will evaluate the effectiveness of the program after a few sessions to decide if it should be continued. I'm really excited about this! It think we'll have a lot of fun and retain/gain some happy library patrons by providing programming for this currently under-served age group. If anyone has any tips on starting up a new ongoing program/school-age program/STEM program, please share!!  

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