One of the special things about a brand new library is that people who don’t usually have time to visit a library want to come in and see the cool new building. So we are able to form connections with people that we might not otherwise have been able to meet. Individuals are not the only ones who want to see the new building, though. Schools also want to come and visit, and sometimes in large numbers.
Each year, we have historically done tours for the 2nd grade classes of our local schools. At the old building, we had our tour mojo all worked out and knew just what to do. In our new building, we’ve been playing with how to do things so that everything works smoothly. Then, one of our local schools asked if they could bring the 2nd through 5th grade classes to visit. Um, *gulp* yes?
So, here’s what we did. We asked that they bring one grade per day, and that they plan to break each day’s group into three smaller groups, and have that plan in place before they arrived. My coworker Tracey was in charge of the big picture plan, and she and my boss figured out how the tour would work, what kind of staffing we would need for the different groups, as well as maintaining staffing for the children’s reference desk. Some of my coworkers switched their schedules around so that they could provide extra staffing during this time, and our teen department agreed to assist us as well.
This is how the tours worked:
- When the busses arrived, we were in the lobby to greet them and direct them to our large meeting room. Everyone sat on the floor (a few chairs were provided for the teachers) and after a brief introduction, we played the video of The Girl Who Hated Books. Then, we broke the group up into the three smaller groups. One group stayed in the meeting room, one toured the first floor, and one toured the second floor. After a twenty minute tour, the groups met in the lobby and rotated to the next station.
- Meeting Room group: This group did different things depending on the age of the participants. They did Mad Libs, a story, or an interactive song—two of the three things. They talked about how to get a library card, and what the library offers: online resources, programs, the digital media lab, computers, etc. Then they did a library materials identification game.
- First floor tour: This featured an introduction to our circulation staff and a behind-the-scenes look at our automated book return. Books that went to different bins were checked out ahead of time and kept handy to be “returned” by a helpful teacher or a convenient staff member. This was easily the most popular part of the first floor tour, as the kids oohed and aahed as the books came down the conveyor belt and dropped into the different bins. Then, we looked at the computerized Heritage Wall, holds shelf, children’s reference desk, and where all the different types of materials can be found. We finished with an explanation of how to check out materials, and RFID tags (a source of never ending fascination around here). This is the tour I handled for two of the days.
- Second floor tour: This was done by our teen department. Children were introduced to the wonders of the Digital Media Lab with its 3D printers, the teen section, the conference and study rooms, and the adult section.
- Once each group had cycled through the tours, we met back in the meeting room and thanked them for coming, giving the teachers a bag of resources for their classrooms.
Things we learned:
- Do a run through before hand—it helps to know your route.
- Be sure NOT to mention bathrooms, as this can cause a cascade effect of kids suddenly needing to use the restroom. When kids ask to go, refer them to their teachers.
- It helps to have a ringmaster, someone who can keep an eye on the time and make sure everything is moving at the correct pace.
- Be flexible. Because of scheduling conflicts and a delay because of an ice storm, we lost the meeting room and had to move into the storytime room. The new room is much too small to hold the entire group. Our team came up with a new plan, breaking the classes into their three groups immediately. This gave each tour extra time to fill. The meeting room tour did the movie three times—once for each group. The first floor tour added in a scavenger hunt. The second floor tour had kids search the wall for the library (one of the walls is covered floor to ceiling and wall to wall with a map of the county) and do a post-it-note art activity.
- Another “be flexible” moment was when an entire day care center showed up with about 50 kids about 15 minutes before the school arrived one day. They hadn’t called, and weren’t asking for anything, just wanted to look around the library and hang out. As you can imagine, this was a lot of extra kids in the space, and they were difficult to talk over as I gave a tour, but we managed.
- Ask kids to bunch around you, not line up—it’s very hard to talk loudly enough to reach the back of the line, and it takes too long for the entire line to snake around the building. Also, ask that they stay in front of you rather than surrounding you as you talk.
- If you’re going to walk backwards (which I did for almost the entire tour), keep an eye out behind you. The day care center kids moved things into my path as they played that hadn’t been there moments before. If I hadn’t been watching behind me, I might have given the kids a bit more of a show than they’d bargained for.
- Have extra activities in mind in case you need to stretch your time out. Also, be able to quickly cut activities in case you run long and have to cut things short.
Altogether, the tours went amazingly well. So well, in fact, that they asked if they could bring their kindergarteners and 1st graders next, and other schools have called asking for tours.