April 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

It Starts with “Hello” | Editorial

The pet gecko named Lizzy tipped me over the edge, sparking pure admiration of the service style of the Bozeman Public Library, MT. Hanging out in a tank on the main service desk in the colorful and large children’s room, Lizzy didn’t do much, but the staff turned her very presence into another way to welcome and engage kids in this dynamic space.

With Lizzy at hand during service interactions, the library staff can build on the natural interest she draws, and they do. When one little girl and her mom discovered Lizzy, for instance, the librarian at the desk used a visual informational sheet about the gecko to feed the child’s curiosity and foster a deeper 1606-Editorial-ChildrensRM-ComicSignlevel of communication.

Cindy Christin, Bozeman’s supervisor of children’s services, says the library has always had a pet. She led my tour group during SLJ sister publication Library Journal’s Design Institute in May. Christin’s understanding of kids, and her trust in them, pervades the children’s room, and big and small surprises await those who enter the space that she shapes with an enthusiastic and permissive spirit.

This engagement and sense of play start outside the room, at the elaborate entry from the main library. There, an enticing, colorful mural of Bozeman and its mountain landscape goes well beyond decoration by integrating into the design manipulatives for kids to play with. Moving the magnetized pieces to make Bozeman and the library their own, the children start shaping the environment.

Inside, a literal “welcome” sign, a poster riffing on a comic book (pictured above), greets children and caregivers at the door, illustrating expected behavior by setting a warm and friendly tone. The word no cannot be found. Instead, the storyboard sign depicts families enjoying books and toys together, kids using “gentle hands” and “indoor” voices, people engaged in positive interactions around talking and taking turns, and two kids giving each other a high five after they’ve cleaned up.

Christin’s thoughtful attitude takes on special power in the block corner, dubbed a PlaySpace, which is bathed in gentle, natural light from expansive windows. The open, carpeted play space (which gets transformed during the library’s popular storytimes) is anchored by a compelling presentation of plain hardwood blocks of many sizes and shapes—stowable in a folding shelving unit on casters.

A block wizard herself, Christin has long been involved in helping get these fundamental playthings into libraries throughout Montana, and she is a very exciting speaker on the fun and learning that happen with blocks and how they fit in with other library activities. (Hear her on “PlaySpace Ideas for Public Libraries,” a 2012 webinar.) Among the valuable things kids and their caregivers learn when they use the blocks is that cleaning up is an important part of playing, and it can be fun, too.

Core to the service philosophy, as Christin says in the webinar, the library staff members strive to anticipate the difficult moments that come when it’s time to go, or when kids are hungry, eager to move their bodies, or just having a hard time. They actively plan how to respond, anchored by four words that inform the approach: empathy, support, kindness, and safety. Those building blocks are apparent, from hello to good-bye.


Rebecca T. Miller

Slide 1
Cindy Christin, Bozeman’s supervisor of children’s services, points out aspects of the movable art at the entrance to the children's room.
Slide 2
Detail of the movable mural.
Slide 3
Art and tech nest nicely together.
Slide 4
Slide 5
Slide 6
Library Assistant Robin Morris takes natural curiosity to the next level with a young patron, sharing many details about the pet gecko, Lizzy.
Slide 7
Slide 8
Cindy Christin talks blocks.

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This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.

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  1. I love this poster from the It Starts with Hello editorial in the June 2016 issue. Is there any way to purchase one or get a copy of one?