Sunday, November 17, 2013

Program: beTWEEN the lines/Write for Your Life

Today I want to talk about two different programs that I've been running this fall, but which have had similar results. The first is beTWEEN the lines, the book club I've been running for about 18 months now. It's geared toward kids 9-12 and we've used two different formats over its run. For the first year, we all read the same book and then had a discussion based around questions I generated. The kids liked this, but it was time-consuming and costly (purchasing copies of the books for the kids to use). As summer 2013 approached, I decided to take a different tack. I would choose a genre and then kids could read any book they wanted within that genre. Our meetings would consist of each person introducing their book and then a few simple questions and any other discussion that might arise. I told my regular attendees that we would revisit how book club functioned after summer, as they didn't love the new format and I was not sold on the notion of returning to the original format.

September arrived and the first meeting of book club. I had designated it as "reader's choice," hoping that everyone would just talk about some of their favorite books from the summer. I had only one attendee, a newly-minted 9-year-old. None of my regular attendees from the previous school year (I was up to six consistently) showed up and, if you've ever held a program with only one attendee, you know how awkward that can be. I had her tell me about any book she wanted and I shared my own. We had about 15 minutes of conversation and then I told her she was free to go. I chalked up the lack of attendance to the hectic nature of resuming school and getting back on a schedule.

I'd like to say that things were different in my October meeting, but I'd be lying. Since only one person had shown up to the September meeting, I kept the genre format for October and this time we read graphic novels (and yes, I know, it's a format not a genre). Once again, I had the one attendee. Once again, I encouraged her to tell me about her book and I told her about mine. She seemed really interested in what I'd read (one of Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales, review to come later) and read the first few pages but didn't end up taking it home. We had about 10 minutes of conversation this time around before I let her go. Thinking that perhaps the genre format really was keeping participants away, I announced the November read as Amelia Lost! by Candace Fleming. This will be my last attempt at book club. If I don't have a good turnout in November, it will be over.

Write for Your Life is a new program, begun in September as a response to patron requests. Quite frequently, we get asked for creative writing programs for kids, so I put one on the calendar in summer. I had pretty good attendance and, of the attendees, some seemed very enthusiastic, so I decided to schedule something monthly in the fall.

Two girls showed up for my September meeting. We did a short icebreaker and I went over the basic rules. I gave them some simple writing advice (I'm not a teacher, by any means, so this was gleaned from teacher and author resources), and then we did two simple writing exercises. I stressed that this was intended to be fun and that we would try different writing experiments at each meeting. Mainly, it was to be a time and place for them to write freely and get feedback if they wished. I also encouraged them to bring writing they did outside the program and I would provide some input.

The October meeting had three attendees, with one girl returning from September and two new faces. I am almost positive that one attendee was there at the behest of his parents and that they were under the false impression that I would be teaching writing skills, so I don't really expect him to return, though I think he had a good time. Once again, I started the meeting with introductions and basic rules and advice. Then, because it was October and because the girls in September had requested it, we wrote our own scary stories. I gave them prompts to choose from and also printed a few spooky photos they could use as inspiration. We spent the majority of our time writing our stories and then I became the designated reader and read everyone's aloud. That pretty much filled our time, so I thanked them all and they headed home.

I didn't expect a huge crowd for this writing program, but considering the number of requests we get for such a thing, I expected more than a couple. Though this program does not involve a ton of time and effort, it seems silly to keep it on the calendar with such low attendance, so November will also be the make or break month for writing club.

I will be sad to see either of these programs end, as they are among the most frequently requested programs at our library. Does anyone have success stories for either kind of program? Advice about what I could do differently?

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