Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Sunday Reflections: Bigger is Not Always Better

It’s the end of summer reading, and almost the end of our fiscal year, which means that I have been compiling statistics. Administrators, city council, board members, they love to look at numbers on a page to get a sense of what you’re doing, but the truth is numbers don’t tell the whole story. The other truth is, bigger is not always better.

I sat down for a moment and did some math, at this point in my 20 year career as a teen/young adult librarian I have done somewhere around 400 programs (probably more). Some of them have been huge events with upwards of 200 teens participating – I’m looking at you Harry Potter parties. A majority of them tend to be pretty average programs with pretty average attendance, but these programs are often better programs for a variety of reasons:

1. Hands on programs, like craft or instructional programs, tend to have smaller audiences. But they also tend to be programs that have more interaction between the participant and the manipulation of some task or the learning of some new information. They are often asking participants to be involved in different ways. In comparison, larger programs are often asking participants to sit and watch a performer, for example.

2. Smaller programs tend to better meet the needs of those participants who are looking for meaningful social interactions and connectivity. A Harry Potter party may be a fun event and there is something invigorating for many to be in the midst of a pulsing throng of fellow fans, but there is value to those small book discussion groups where teens sit around and talk about books and really explore the nature of the literature and the world that they live in.

Diversity in our programming means more than adding in multicultural elements, it means recognizing that there are a variety of different personality types who are looking for a variety of different types of library programming. Not everyone wants a big party; not everyone likes to go to an event with large numbers of people. People like The Mr., who almost broke the Myers Briggs test with how high he scored on the Introvert scale, actively avoid those events that look like they will be big and overwhelming. Like him, there are groups of people who are looking for smaller, safer, more intimate events, and if our programming is always focused on big numbers than we are communicating to a portion of our patrons that there is no place for them in our libraries. In essence, we must be careful not to alienate a portion of our audience by continually focusing on gaining large numbers. We must provide a balance in the types of programming we do to make sure that we meet a wide variety of interests, educational needs – and yes, personality types.

For those patrons looking for safe spaces to learn new things and meet new people, bigger is not better – it’s terrifying and a stumbling block. It’s alienating. So it’s okay, put together and host your small book discussion groups, because 12 is the perfect number to have meaningful conversations about books. Host your smaller, more intimate craft programs and workshops. Yes, you can even put a cap on registration if you would like, sometimes it is appropriate to the type of program you are hosting.

For every one mega summer reading kick-off with hundreds of people in attendance, it’s nice also to have those smaller, more intimate events. One of my favorite programs ever involved me and 12 teens sitting around making Rainbow Loom bracelets. This allowed me the opportunity to talk to and get feedback from this group of teens in a way that I wouldn’t have if 50 teens had shown up. Sometimes, making personal connections with our patrons, with our teens, is one of the best tools we have to create library supporters. One moment like this, one positive experience, can make the world of difference in the life of our patrons and that positive experience can translate into library use and support.

Big numbers are awesome, they do in fact look good on a statistical report. But those reports, they don’t tell the whole story. They don’t look at what types of programs we hosted and how each of those programs met differing goals by meeting different needs in our community. If we focus solely on big numbers, we are making the library the focus of our programming and not the community. If we truly want to fulfill our library mission statements and support communities in their informational, educational and recreational needs, then we must keep one important fact in mind: bigger is not always better. If meeting the needs of people are our goals, then we must create a diversity in our programming goals and objectives that allow us to meet the needs of a diverse community of people, including those for whom bigger is not only not better, but it is a barrier to participation.

Bigger is not always better. Don’t let big numbers always be your programming goal, balance big programs out with smaller programs because they provide different opportunities, meet different needs, and welcome different types of people into our libraries. At the end of the year, we can’t just look at numbers on a page and declare ourselves a success or a failure, because those numbers don’t tell the whole story. And it’s only when we begin to realize this simple truth and allow ourselves, to allow our libraries, to move past numbers that we can truly begin to fulfill our mission to our communities.

This is what happened when I tried to use Loom Magic books in a program, a Tween’s perspective

On Tuesday we had another Makerspace program, this time we busted out our Rainbow Loom books (seen above). I saw them recently in a journal and since I have a RL component to my Makerspace, buying them just made sense. Besides, I like books. And I like people checking out books. Books in a library are good. But this is what happened when we tried to use them . . .

This time, I brought The Tween to work with me because she is an expert Loomer at this point and she is has been coming to library programs since she was in diapers. This turned out to be a great idea because she set up the RL station for me. As you can tell, she does not get any librarian organization tendencies from me. Nope, none. And of course you should organize your Rainbow Loom bands into a rainbow – it’s right there in the title!

So then she decided to sit down and try making one of the creatures from one of the new books. Keep in mind that she has made many charms and creatures before, including a lovely snake with pony beads for eyes that she made The Mr. for Father’s Day. You know you’re jealous. She usually does this following YouTube tutorials, this is the first time she has tried to do a RL project using a book.

This time, she decided she would try making an alien for her lovely mother. I do love aliens. So she laid out all of her supplies and followed step one. And after following the instructions in step one the picture did not look the way it did in the picture that was labelled step one. She consulted me and as far as I can tell she had followed the instructions correctly. She stripped the Loom and started over again. Same results.  We tried three times and she abandoned this project. With half of her time spent and her frustration level high, she decided just to be social and do a simple fishtail bracelet. For the record, the only thing I can do is a fishtail bracelet. Go me!

At another table, another tween – again, an experienced loomer – also tried to use the books. She quickly abandoned her project.

A new loomer started making a complicated ghost, and at first she was very happy with the books. Soon, however, she called for reinforcements. Four of us gathered around trying to decipher the instructions and finish this ghost. When we went to remove it from the loom, it fell apart. So this once enthusiastic book user decided that she also found following the book instructions difficult and confusing.

In the end, we busted out the library devices and just decided to use YouTube tutorials.

I have mixed feelings about the books. I know that a lot of kids don’t have access to devices or the Internet at home so it’s nice for them to have the books to check out. At the same time, we didn’t have the best of luck using them – and again, I was working with some experienced Loomers.

The Tween’s final verdict is this: “They were not as useful as I hoped they would be. The steps were confusing and it was frustrating to try and follow them. I’ll just stick to YouTube.”

I would love to hear other people’s experience with trying the projects in one of these titles. Please share in the comments.

TPIB: Divergent Faction Themed Rainbow Loom & Bottle Cap Charm Bracelets and Necklaces

I spent the weekend learning to make fishtail Rainbow Loom bracelets with my tween, in part because we are making Divergent faction bracelets at my upcoming program for the movie release party. Also, because I am a mom that rocks.  I decided to add bottle cap charms to give it that extra touch.  Here’s what I learned . . .

All you need to make a Fishtail Bracelet is these, not the whole loom.  The little blue part removes to be your “mini loom” and the hook is, well, a hook. You can get 15 at $3.65 a piece for $54.75. 
For the bands for Divergent factions, you need the following color bands

Black (for both Dauntless and Candor)
White (for Candor)
Blue (for Erudite)
Grey (for Abnegation)
Red and Yellow (for Amity)
The faction colors are (based on the clothing described in the books):
Abnegation (The Selfless) – solid grey
Erudite (The Intelligent) – 1 blue article, the other colors don’t matter
Dauntless (The Brave) – all black
Amity (The Peaceful) – red and yellow
Candor (The Honest) – black and white

The fishtail is actually pretty easy to make. You can find a tutorial here.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ukv83Cvq3jk]

Once we figured it out we made a ton.  They are very easy to do so you can socialize while looming. 

Faction Symbol Bottle Cap Charms

Teen participants can find out what faction they are by taking a faction quiz at Divergent Fans.
You can also make faction symbol bottle cap charms and add them to necklaces using an O ring. Simply print out 1 inch faction symbols.  You can make these in Microsoft Publisher by using the “Insert Shape” function.  Size your circles to 1 inch and use the picture fill function (tutorial here).
You can make bottle cap crafts easily using this tutorial.  Bottle caps are available at a very reasonable prize from Oriental Trading, I recommend using the flattened bottle caps for this project because you need a surface to punch a hole for the O ring.  I bought the 1 inch epoxy dots off of Amazon because it is so much easier than trying to use real epoxy glue, less messy and no drying time. 
Before you assemble your bottle cap, you need to use a jewelry punch to put a whole in your bottle cap so that you can add the O ring to attach your battle cap to your bracelet. 

An extra note: We made some bracelets but found that we liked making our fishtail creation longer and using it as a necklace actually.  The charms worked on the bracelet, but they could get in the way.

Also, you can use this tutorial to make any type of Rainbow Loom/Bottle Cap Charm crafts.  Duct Tape works really well if you don’t want to make your own circle inserts for the bottle cap charms.  On the left we used Duct Tape and on the right we made Sherlock themed bottle cap charms as well.

To Rainbow Loom or Not to Rainbow Loom in the Library, That is the Question

Right now, my fascination with Rainbow Bracelets is the reaction to them.” 
—  The other day over at SLJ, Liz Burns was talking about Rainbow Loom bracelets.  In her opening line she says she is fascinated by the reaction to them.  I am too, because I think this is a possible case of hype.  You see, because of the hype, a friend bought my tween a Rainbow Loom.  She tried it once.  I have actually made several bracelets on them and wonder: how come they aren’t more popular with tweens and teens?  And that’s the thing – I keep reading that they are super popular (Buzzfeed has ran this and this article about them) – but I am not hearing this from the actual tweens and teens I know and work with.  I have seen zero of them wearing the bracelets.  And yet just last week Christie had a program where they made old fashioned bracelets using strings and beads and one of her teens was wearing like 20 of them to her Friday night program; so we know bracelets still have their appeal.

Here are a few reasons that I think Rainbow Loom programs aren’t happening in libraries (yet):

1. To make the bracelets, you have to buy the loom?  Theoretically you would need 1 loom for 1 or 2 people maximum.  That’s a chunk of change for a device that has a very specific use.  Plus, you have to buy the bands. (I have seen knock-off looms for $14.99, basic Rainbow Loom starter packages are priced around $24.99).  I imagine they are less popular in economically disadvantaged areas because of cost.  Replacement band packages begin around $6.99 for small bags and upwards of $20.00 for larger bags.

A knock-off loom, $14.99 at Toys R Us

Official Rainbow Loom Starter Kit, approximately $24.99

Edited to add: As the commentor below mentioned, you do not have to have the actual loom to make the bracelets.  Here are step-by-step instructions on making the bracelets without the loom.

2. It’s actually not as easy as they make it look in the videos (but there ARE tutorial videos).  Or else I really am that lame, which is always a possibility.  There is a learning curve, and my tween gave up quickly.  And it is less social than stringing beads because there is a certain amount of paying attention you have to invest in each project.  Trust me, one miss-loop and when you take your project off the loom it falls apart.  So it doesn’t lend itself to the social aspect of some other arts and crafts programs. Especially in the beginning.

3. If other programming librarians are like me, they probably aren’t hearing their tweens and teens rave about them the way that I am not, so there isn’t a lot of incentive to investigate.  In fact, I learned about the looms when a friend asked me about buying one for my daughter – not from my own tween, not from any of her friends that come over and craft almost daily, and not from any of the tweens and teens I serve at the library.  No, a friend who read all the Internet hype.  So again, I think the Internet hype may be more promotion driven than actual market driven.

Look – I made a Rainbow Bracelet!

In writing this out I asked my Tween, what are the most popular crafts at your school?  Not surprisingly she said: Duct Tape.  Also true at my library.  I asked her about Rainbow Bracelets and she said, “yes, there a few kids that wear them, but not a lot.”  None of this surprises me because when her friends come over, they spend their time making Duct Tape crafts and when offered the Rainbow Loom they are still choosing Duct Tape.

Buying 10 Rainbow Looms would cost around $160.00.  I’m not sure that is an investment I am ready to make for library programming when I can spend the same amount of money on beads, elastic cord, and memory wire and have proven results at this point. An official starter kit averages around $24.99.  I am definitely keeping my ears open to see if a demand develops, but there isn’t any in my area at the present time. (Edited on 10/29 to reflect less expensive ways to do the program w/o buying looms, making it more accessible)

How to Make Braceletes W/O a Loom
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uysA5qpdV5A]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gL-xq9aodQk]

Is it just a girl thing?

As for the it’s a boy thing argument, I think we do sometimes fall into the trap.  But I have always had boys come to my bracelet/jewerly making events.  The Loom bracelets allow for the same customization and it can have a chainmaille looking effect, so I see it as having boy appeal as well as girl appeal. It is universally appealing.  See Boys Love Rainbow Looms.

I appreciated reading the SLJ article because it made me think about this, which I hadn’t yet.

Original Article : http://blogs.slj.com/teacozy/2013/10/28/rainbow-bracelets/