Planning for Growth, Part 2:
Developing an Action Plan
by Pamela Little
Afterschool program libraries come in all shapes and sizes. My experience in helping programs plan libraries shows that both the nature and the size of the collection are major considerations. Both, however, are driven by larger issues: the needs of the program and how patrons use the library’s materials.
If you’re just beginning to plan to grow your library, think big. I tell program managers to consider what the "Cadillac" version of their library would be if money weren’t an issue. Since the resources to build a good afterschool library are seldom available at the outset, organizing an effective library requires a multi-year plan. Once you know what you want your library to accomplish for your children, you can plan to build the library of your dreams over several years. The next issue of Library Development 101 will suggest strategies for budgeting and for finding resources to help you realize the dream.
Determining the Nature of the Collection
Start your plan by deciding for what purposes the children and staff will use the library. Since homework help is an important component of most afterschool programs, you’ll probably want to start your collection with some quality reference materials and other nonfiction.
A logical next step is to stock the library with materials that support program activities. If your program has a particular focus, such as arts or sports, plan for a substantial collection of materials on that topic. Particular thematic units in your literacy component may also suggest areas in which you want to build your collection. If, for example, your program activities include a unit on contemporary artistic styles such as Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism, your library should offer books about artists who were central to these movements, as well as books that offer artistic exercises for children. And don’t forget the needs of your staff; they’ll need books that give advice on discussing art with children.
Whatever your other literacy activities might be, your library should support independent recreational reading. Stock up on popular classic and modern authors such as Madeleine L’Engle, C. S. Lewis, and Judy Blume, and don’t forget the series children love, from the Little House books to Lemony Snicket. Be sure to include joke books, popular magazines, and comic books. Yes, fun reading is real reading! Get the children’s input, using a short questionnaire. Besides asking what they read when they have the choice, ask also what they do in their free time. Do they have a hobby? Play sports? Like video games? Video gamers can be drawn into reading by books packed with action and adventure.
If your literacy component includes book clubs or other shared reading activities, you’ll need multiple copies of tried and true book club books.
Remember that your library needs to support and invite children of many different abilities. You may have, in the same group, a third grader who is struggling to learn to read and another who reads fluently. Support both children by including books in a wide range of reading stages, in which the treatment of the subject fits the children’s age and emotional maturity.
A well-stocked library doesn’t stop with books. Audio recordings of children’s books are a wonderful addition. Visual media such as adaptations of children’s stories can complement a rich print collection. See Building Your Collection for tools to help you pick appropriate titles.
Establishing the Size of the Collection
The size of the collection depends not only on how much monetary support is available--which I’ll discuss in the next issue of the Page Turner--but also on how much creative energy you and your staff can bring to the task. You can achieve extraordinary things with a small collection if program staff are knowledgeable about both the literature and the children. Their enthusiasm is what can make reading a pleasurable experience for children.
The size of the collection also depends on its function. If the library will be used exclusively for students’ independent reading, 10 to 12 titles per student is enough. If you have 30 children, you need 300 to 350 titles. If, on the other hand, you also intend the library to support homework help, reading aloud, shared reading, take-home reading, and staff development, you need a much larger collection, as many as 1,500 to 2,000 titles plus multiple copies of books for shared reading.
Space considerations also affect the size of the collection. The first thing you need to do is measure your space. Find out how many book cases, carts, or stands--and of what size--your space can accommodate, and then estimate how many books will fit into the shelves. Space for nonbook media such as tapes and DVDs is easier to determine because such media come in standard sizes. Most media storage cases indicate how many of each type of media they can hold.
Building the Collection
Now we come to the fun part: choosing and evaluating materials. We’ve listed a variety of selection tools in previous issues of the Page Turner that can help you:
And here are some selection tools for nonbook materials:
A visit to your local public library can also help you choose nonbook materials. Consult with the children’s librarian, or check out such books as Jeffrey Lyons’s 101 Great Movies for Kids or The New York Times Essential Library: Children's Movies: A Critic's Guide to the Best Films Available on Video and DVD.
Choosing and evaluating library materials is not only one of the most important parts of building your library but also one of the most enjoyable, because you’re selecting tools that will enrich children’s learning for years to come.