library

5 Why-Nots: Playing with Language-Rich Spaces

In the field of youth services, we often talk about creating language rich environments for young minds. These are spaces that reinforce and encourage recognition and meaning of words, create conversations or even invite guests to craft stories as well as strengthen language development and enrichment.  This has been a concept that has long appealed to me and I know that many library and youth serving staff work to  create spaces that encourage imaginations, word discovery and word play every day. The concept of  language rich environments has evolved quite a bit over the past few years. We encounter words in very different ways. We also interact with words differently (think about how the very word “text” has taken on new meanings and conjures new images and actions). 

Language/Word-rich environments are not only beneficial for young minds. All ages can benefit from a space that plays with words, directs imaginations with language and encourages conversation. Here are 5 Why-Nots for having fun with words in your space. Why not try them? …

1. Why not sprinkle your space with questions? Just like a good speech, a good space can earnestly stir up questions in visitors’ minds. “Why did they paint that wall tomato red?” “Why are these particular books and dvds on display?” Why not simply write the questions you think may be going on in the minds of customers and post them? Questions will get answers–or at least conjectures. Conjectures can lead to conversations.

2. Why not use a portion of your storytime to invite children and their adults to simply talk with one another? Give them a start up question to ask the person next to them. How about “What is the most unusual word you can think of?”

3. Why not take a note from Pee Wee’s Playhouse (yes, it’s OK to admit to loving PWP just a little) and do a “Word of the Day?”  Send kids and adults looking for the word hidden throughout your library or facility, on titles and in the articles of magazines. (Screaming at the top of your lungs when the word is said aloud, is optional, of course).

4. Why not overhaul your signage or at least one type of signage to send a really clear message that “we want you to be a part of this space?” Take a look at Leah White’s article on signage for some inspiration.

5. Why not have an area of your library or department where talking is promoted. Even if it is for limited times only. The “talking” could be in the form of selections from talking books, on-the-spot poetry or quote readings, or timed ramblings on a given topic. Think of it as a creative take on London’s Speakers’ Corner.

Each day we have opportunities to interact with our customers in deeper ways. What we want to get at is creating spaces–whether real or digital–that are drenched with the human element. Inviting involvement through play with words and conversation starters is one way to turn the human element up. Why not?

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OED: Odd, Eccentric & Dynamic

 

As an undergraduate I was introduced to the magic of the Oxford English Dictionary. Some may question the use of the word “magic” to describe this tome, but for a class full of eager English majors, cracking the spine (well, spines–there are several volumes) of the OED and diving into the deep waters of word meanings and derivations was nothing short of a magical moment. Who knew that finding the first time the word “marshmallow” was ever printed in the English language could hold such fascination?

The OED quickly stepped into the arena of classic reference material soon after its first edition was finally printed in the 1920’s. Classics speak of tradition. And often tradition speaks of the formal or perhaps less-than-daring. What seldom peeks out from behind the covers of such a thing as the OED is the very intense, sometimes unbelievable, story of how it came to be in the first place.  In Charlotte Brewer’s book Treasure-House of the Language: The Living OED  the idea of what a mammoth undertaking it was to even consider compiling the OED in the first place comes to life . The product as well as the process molded many lives and created somewhat of a subculture along the way.

What drives the creation of such a thing as the OED–or any such large, almost unbelievable notion?  What occured to me is that such a project or product often really is driven by, well, another take on the O-E-D: the Odd, Eccentric and the Dynamic.  Think about it: how many of the incredible, deep and useful products or projects that change our lives had their early stirrings in odd moments? How many were driven by eccentric, passionate individuals who simply knew it would work and stood behind the idea? How about the dynamics that arise from deep conversations or shared actions? Yes, we’re talking innovation-in-action here.  (And so, proving that The Oxford English Dictionary has many types of magic).

Here is a small string of  O-E-D (Odd, Eccentric, Dynamic) products, programs and personalities off the top of my mind. File these under “inspiration” and/or “find out more”:

Cerritos LibraryMartha Graham, Playing For Others, Anythink Libraries, Gustafer Yellowgold, Timothy Ferris, Indievision, The Fun Theory

What’s on your OED list?

Lunch Money Loves Libraries

If Buddha took up guitar and decided to sing music that blurred the lines between age groups, he’d likely be doing back-up for the South Carolina band Lunch Money. There are so many reasons to love this band. And they recently released one more reason to love them–because they love libraries…and they put it in song on their latest release DIZZY!  Read the lyrics, go listen to the track then repeat.  It’ll make you feel good…

I Love My Library

I’m going to the library…to see my librarian…who’ll send me home with 60 things…as if I could carry them (I’ll bring my red wagon)…Passing out the picture books like my granny hands out food…”Leggi, leggi, take all of these…And you might like this one too”…and my brain’s getting fat on stories and facts…and it feels like love…All the librarians…they say come follow me…They’re looking straight at me….They take me seriously….and all the things that I’d never have picked….become my new favorites…I show them to my friends at school…and they get addicted too (to Nancy Drew)…I feel so understood when a story’s this good…Oh, it feels like love…All the things that I could ever wonder about are waiting here for me…All the places I could ever wander to…I have a ticket for free…and guess who tossed me the keys?…Books about boys and girls and magic worlds…Heroic dogs, a toad, a frog…Sleuthing teens and big machines…Hippo friends and astronauts…Freight trains and snowy days…Wind-up mice and caps for sale…Lightning and wild things…I love my library.

Off Da Shelves!

When a media format has seen its glory days and we’re ready to send it on it’s way, sentimentality can set in (ie, remember the first time you saw The Breakfast Club on that rented VCR?). But, alas, it doen’t rule our desire to have a collection that is used and useful. I’m thrilled to say that as Boulder Public Library says goodbye to the VHS format, we’ve received great response. There have been a few “oh, really?” moments (sentimentalizing or worst-case scenario-ing) , but otherwise staff and our community are ready to make room for more DVDs and CDs that we can actually feature more prominently (and then begin looking to the future for new formats). To make this collection decision even more special, we’re having a first ever “Off the Shelf” Sale. That’s right, we’re selling the remaining VHS tapes right off the library shelves where they currently reside. This is one of those efficiency innovations that will save the time of staff who would have to de-catalog them, marking through the barcodes, schlepping them to a holding space  (you get it). What a positive stir this has caused in the community after  the story ran in Boulder’s Daily Camera!  Yes, we received calls asking if library user’s could make “pre-sales.” (The answer on this one is “no pre-sales, but feel free to stake out your faves and be ready to move come December 8th ).  Thank you to the staff member(s) who formulated this off-the-shelf idea and are ready for this big innovative move on the week of December 8!

Welcoming ‘Thank You’

I’m a real believer in having easy, ongoing ways for our customers to give us feedback (ie, thank-yous). Ahhh, “feedback”what a word…so often a word that means something like “how you did me wrong” or “your people were’n’t nice to me…” Once you open yourself up for feedback you have to be ready and willing to receive  it. Now, I wonder how we get to the good stuff…the good stuff so that we can expand on that. In Dan Heath & Chip Heath’s article I Love You. Now What? we’re asked about what do we do to allow our customers to tell us the good stuff.  They make me wonder why we keep ourselves guarded from hearing what we are doing well. Do you ever feel like we are in flinch-mode when it comes to “customer surveys” or “feedback forms?” I often say “where is the confidence in public libraries?” We are doing really good stuff. Much good stuff. Can we improve? Of course. Do we hear about what we need to improve on? Oh, yes. Do we hear about what we are doing to make lives richer and better? I’d venture to say, not asmuch. How are we making ways to channel the good feelings, the love our customers have for what we’re doing? I don’t have the clear answer to this (and I know we walk a fine line for fishing for compliments in this), but I do know that talking about what is going well is important, necessary and ultimately builds more good. Let’s open ourselves up to hearing the good stuff.

New DEAL

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Is there anything better than taking an idea and customizing it in a new way? Here’s to the Youth Services Staff of BPL for taking DEAL and giving it a new view, a new life by DEALing for Teens! Actually, I fell upon this program listing and that makes me love it all the more. Here’s a great formula: Simply going with an idea because you like it and know that it will work because you know who you’re working for.