First 5 Forever Tips for smaller libraries

Is your branch library staffed you and you only? How do you juggle all of your responsibilities and run First 5 Forever (F5F) programs? Natasha Duke from Gladstone Library Service shares her tips and ideas to make it work.

Natasha was the supervisor at Calliope Library, part of Gladstone Library Service for 21 years and for the last ten years has been the only staff member at the Calliope branch. Calliope is a township with a lot of young families.  When she first began, Natasha started with just one under five program and ended with four by the time that she left in late 2017.  Storytime, Playtime, Bots n Tots (Rhyme Time) and Toddler Time. Natasha built the library up over time with a family focused vision.

To run these additional programs along with performing regular library duties can be a challenge!  Natasha planned themes loosely a year ahead for both Playtime and Storytime.  With playtime she planned a range of activities to target different types of play and skills such as fine and gross motor skills, sensory play and creative play.  With both programs she confirmed the plan two months ahead so she could obtain the required resources, build the resources (such as dog kennel for pretend play) or source them from second hand stores.  She saved her plans in Word documents and then saved everything into the OneNote program including books, puppets, future ideas and holiday programs. She also has a notepad that she carries around with her everywhere and jots down ideas or notes on her phone. She regularly looks on Pinterest.

The other programs Bot n Tots and Toddler Time were easier to program once she had the plans in place.  She had nine plans with equipment that was rotated. If one song did not work she changed it.  Flexibility is key.

To solve the problem of interruptions from other library patrons she would put a sign on the front desk saying “Please be patient with me. I am doing a children’s program”.  She used parents for help. Quite often she had parents take over the story and sit down with their children or assist with the craft as they were all aware she was the only staff member.  The same occurred with Rhyme Time programs where parents just stepped up and assisted.  Parents are your greatest allies.

Visitor numbers have more than doubled with the introduced programs. A volunteer runs a coffee cart that opens during children’s programming times.  Parents meet at the library, have fun with their children, and then stay back and have coffee and a chat.  The book loans for the junior area have also increased.  For a small library, the branch received high loan rates for picture books.

Natasha’s top tips when running First 5 Forever programs in smaller libraries are:

  • Flexibility – have a plan but be flexible with it.
  • With craft for children under five, don’t use templates. I love collage, glue and crayons. This makes your job so much easier and allows children to be creative (find out more about Reinventing Craft for libraries by viewing the F5F Webinar)
  • Plan, plan, plan.
  • Set aside some time each day for planning even for 15 minutes.
  • Prepare for interruptions both in programs and planning. Parents are forgiving. Utilise your parents and carers.
  • Start small. Natasha started with one busy storytime program and everything else grew from there.