A Michigan Library’s Summer Program Has Gone to the Dogs—and Engaged Families Along the Way

Family tie-dye, van Gogh-themed art projects, and dog-themed programming are hits at this Michigan library.

Family tie-dye, van Gogh-themed art projects, and pooch-themed programming are hits at this Michigan library.

Five years ago, Michigan’s Clinton-Macomb Public Library (CMPL) passed a successful millage campaign. The increased funding meant that library staff could begin to look at their services in a new way, according to Lisa Mulvenna, head of children’s’ and young adult services. “Before, we had traditional storytimes and very age-specific programs,” she says. “We saw that families weren’t coming to the library if they didn’t know what to do with all of their kids.”

In order to serve a diverse community with many kinds of families, CMPL began holding more all-ages and family-centered programs. Craft activities that encourage the entire family to participate have become a mainstay of CMPL’s programming calendar, including during the summer. Here are family events planned for summer 2019.


Family Tie-Dye

A repeat favorite, family tie dye brings all ages together to get crafty on the main library’s lawn. The library hosts a version of tie-dye that’s a bit easier (and less messy) than using liquid dye. “We set out giant boxes of permanent markers around the project area,” says Mulvenna, and staff make sure that each attendee can work with at least two colors of marker at a time. “We offer big fat markers that are better for covering large areas as well as smaller Sharpies,” she says. Attendees bring their own items to dye and are provided with eye droppers and small cups of rubbing alcohol when they are ready to transform their marker designs. Sharpie tie dye is a fun STEAM program that lets attendees watch their colors mix and observe the reaction between the alcohol and ink.


Meet the Masters! 

This summer families attending Meet the Mastersl create art together in the style of Vincent van Gogh’s painting Starry Night. CMPL youth services librarian Alicia Piggott says the program works well for families because elements of the artwork are broken down into “child manageable” sections. Participants start with a very large piece of black paper then “the town is added with construction paper shapes, and finally, the stars are added with paint in circles.” The creation process is more important for younger participants while older children enjoy learning about the history of the artist as well as creating a masterpiece.” Previously, Andy Warhol artworks provided inspiration for patron creations (pictured).

Piggott notes that with Meet the Masters!, some artists are easier to present than others. However, “with the right tools and materials, most artists make teachable moments,” she says. During a past program, a partnership with the Detroit Institute of Arts, she used Vermeer’s painting Girl with a Pearl Earring. “The children worked in oil pastels creating a portrait from a live model,” she says. “The outcome was impressive!”

For librarians interested in trying a similar program, Piggott recommends starting with research and experimentation. “My first step is to check out books on this subject that describe hands-on art for children in the styles of famous artists,” she says. “Use ‘real’ art materials such as canvas, oil pastels, tube paint, ink, etc. Practice the work of art; use your developed fine motor skills. Relax and have fun!”


Dog Days of Summer

The staff at CMPL’s North Branch are translating their love of dogs into a two-week series of programs coming in August. “This is a big vacation month,” notes Mulvenna, “so we’re hoping that the series will keep the excitement of summer reading going.” Thanks to a supportive administration who encourages staff to “work toward their passions,” everyone from adult services to circulation as well as youth services staff will be pitching in to support the series, she says. Specific programs will include:

  • Making no-bake dog treats
  • Because of Winn Dixie movie showing
  • Creating dog toys
  • Draw your dog’s portrait
  • Dog story time (bring your stuffed dog)
  • Dog adoption information session
  • Dog training tips

Some activities are geared toward certain ages of youth, while others are open to the whole family. Staff will also put together a passive program that will let visitors try to match images of CMPL staff with a photo of their own dog/s. Mulvenna suspects that after this summer, other CMPL locations will be inspired to create programming around their own (and patrons’) passions.

Looking for more ideas to bring family programs to your library? Mulvenna recommends Family Engineering: An Activity and Event Planning Guide published by Family Science and Engineering. “The guide includes program plans, templates, and signage. All you need are easy-to-find supplies…it’s dummy-proof!”

April Witteveen is the community librarian at the Deschutes (OR) Public Library.

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