From makerspaces to mBots: How GLAMR professionals create engaging school holiday programs

From makerspaces to mBots: How GLAMR professionals create engaging school holiday programs

It’s that time of year again, school holidays are just around the corner.  For many in GLAMR that means school holiday programs are about to kick off!

I have fond memories of attending school holiday programs at my local library.  Each year, the library would have a ‘reading adventure club’ where we would be given a selection of books to read.  After each book had been read, we’d receive a sticker on our activity sheet and if we got enough stickers we could redeem them for stationary and other knick-knacks.  I also remember MacGyvering all sorts of creations together using PVA glue and paddlepop sticks.  I loved school holiday programs at my local library and I’m sure many of us remember similar experiences.

All these years later, school holidays are still a boom time in GLAMR institutions across the country.  I’ve already noticed a number of school holiday program offerings from GLAMR institutions across Brisbane filling my inbox.  The Museum of Brisbane is running badge making workshops and cyanotype workshops, Brisbane City Council Libraries will host traditional makerspaces and more tech focused ones.  The Moreton Bay Regional Council Libraries are taking things beyond the ‘reading adventure club’ I so fondly remember by hosting cosplay workshops, Minecraft Create-athons and robotics workshops.  QAGOMA’s Children’s Art Centre will be in full swing for the school holidays, too.

Now that I’m on the ‘other side of the help desk’ as an emerging information professional, I thought it would be interesting to speak to some GLAMR professionals about what goes into creating engaging school holiday programs.  I put the call out on Twitter and some lovely librarians were kind enough to spend some time answering my questions.


Creating school holiday programs - it’s a team effort

I wanted know all about how GLAMR organisations came up with their school holiday program offerings.  Jo Beazley from Toowoomba Regional Council Library generously explained that designing school holiday programs is a collaborative process -  librarians and library coordinators, external stakeholders, community groups and government agencies work together to create great programs.  Jo also said that programs are designed with a clear purpose in mind; many are literacy based or focused on developing STEAM literacies.  Still more are designed to include current interests and pop culture themes popular with the target audience.  Strategic documents like SLQ's 'Libraries for literacy: Every day, every way', SLQ and QUT’s 'Creative Spaces Impact Framework' and each institution's corporate and operational plans are useful starting points for librarians developing school holiday programs. 

Full STEAM ahead!

It is clear that things have come a long way from my ‘reading adventure club’ days.  While literacy development is still a key goal of many school holiday programs,  there is a new and growing focus on STEAM.  Programs that incorporate coding, robotics and digital literacy development activities are obvious inclusions, but less obvious are the ways in which literacy focused programs such as poetry and storytelling workshops are beginning to integrate with technology via apps such as Storybird and Storylines.   

Jo told me about a new program running in her library this financial year thanks to the Coding and Robotics grant from the State Library Queensland.  The program is called ‘Make it move!’, it is designed to introduce coding and robotics to children aged 7-12 using Ozobots, Spheros and mBots.  Jo says so far the ‘Make it move!’ program has been incredibly well received and the feedback has been very positive.  

School holiday programs are evolving in other ways, too.  Jo mentioned that the Young People’s librarian at the Toowoomba Regional Council Library network’s largest branch has moved from running several short programs throughout the school holidays to running big family events, which has been very successful.  Star Wars Day, Comic Con Day and Harry Potter Day are three examples of all day events that have attracted thousands through the library doors.  Jo explained that running all day events represents a huge change in how that branch delivers its school holiday programs.  Many GLAMR institutions are trying new things to keep school holiday programs exciting and innovative.

[‘ img_8244.jpg ’ by  Kagura Sakurazaki  licenced under  CC BY-NC 2.0 ]

[‘img_8244.jpg’ by Kagura Sakurazaki licenced under CC BY-NC 2.0]

Looking back to look forward

I was also interested to know whether feedback and suggestions from the community informed school holiday programs.  Jo said that school holiday programs are constantly under evaluation and development.  Feedback forms and word of mouth feedback paint a picture about what worked, what didn’t, what the kids liked and what the parents liked - all key considerations.  Members of the community also often suggest things they’d like to see included in school holiday programs, which can help inform future endeavours.  Another librarian I spoke to said that their library relied on feedback from patrons to inform their school holiday programs, too.  They also added that they regularly took stock of what programs were well received at neighbouring libraries with a view to including similar programs at their library.

School holiday programs are a ‘core business’ in GLAMR institutions

School holidays are a busy time for GLAMR institutions, so understandably, getting school holiday programs right is incredibly important.  Jo said that school holiday programs are ‘core business’ for her library.   Another librarian I spoke to explained that school holiday programs are a ‘core focus’ of their library because they play an instrumental role in bringing the community together and growing  patronage.  They also explained that getting families into the library during the school holidays provides a platform for librarians to spruik other programs on offer - providing a unique marketing opportunity.

It’s all in the delivery

I was keen to know how staff got up to speed with delivering school holiday programs,  particularly now that they're becoming increasingly STEAM focused and so heavily integrated with technology.  Jo said that in her library network, staff who deliver STEAM programs attend collaborative sessions in a ‘learn and play’ environment which give them a glimpse into how other South East Queensland public libraries are running similar programs.  These sessions are hands on and staff learn by playing.  Jo explained that staff who deliver school holiday programs also play a role in drawing up program plans so they can make the programs they deliver their own, which builds confidence and familiarity.

Another librarian I spoke to said that a lot of the technical or specialist programs in their library are staffed by experts from the community.  They added that volunteers play a big role in delivering ongoing programs that enjoy increased patronage during the school holidays such as Code Club and Science Club, which frees library staff up to work on delivering other activities and programs.

Build it and they will come … if they know about it

With school holiday programs representing something of a lifeblood for many GLAMR organisations, marketing and advertising them is incredibly important.  Jo explained that getting the word out about school holiday programs was carefully planned ahead of time.  School holiday program schedules are published on council and library events calendars, distributed via brochures and newsletters and shared on social media channels.  Word of mouth is another common way parents and care givers find out about school holiday programs.


Final thoughts

In all honesty, school holiday programs weren't something I had given a lot of thought to before writing this blog.  They were always just there - a guaranteed way to pass some time during school holidays as a child and more recently, a place to take my nephews when they were on their break.  

Now, as an emerging information professional, it is clear that an enormous amount of time, effort and expertise goes into making impactful and enjoyable school holiday programs.  It’s not a matter of just putting some Lego and pipe cleaners out - a great deal of planning and consideration goes into creating engaging school holiday programs for the community.

So, when I’m down at the local library collecting my latest batch of inter-library loans and I notice young people appraising their freshly painted masterpieces or chasing little robots around on hand drawn tracks, I’ll think of the GLAMR professionals who work hard to put together engaging programs for their communities each and every school holiday season.  


Author’s note: I wish to extend my sincerest thanks to all the kind GLAMR folk who responded to my call for help on Twitter.  Your expertise have informed this blog and provided me with an amazing learning experience.  Thank you!

[Feature image: ‘Masks @ Success Library’ by Cockburn Libraries licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

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