Category Archives: Management Issues

Save the dates! New sessions of popular eCourses coming in 2020!

Be on the lookout for these popular eCourses from ALA Editions, taught by Kathy MacMillan! For more details about eCourse content, click here.

Basic American Sign Language for Library Staff

Asynchronous eCourse featuring 6 weeks of lessons (Participants will have 12 weeks to complete course materials)

Winter 2020 Session Begins January 13, 2020 – registration coming soon

American Sign Language is most commonly used in storytimes for babies, but the applications can go much further. In this 6-week eCourse, expert Kathy MacMillan explores the benefits of signing with all children. In addition to learning basic American Sign Language (ASL) vocabulary appropriate for use with children in library and classroom settings, you will also learn to teach stories, songs, and other activities that incorporate ASL. MacMillan provides you with a linguistic and cultural context to help make your programming more accessible.

After participating in this eCourse, you will:

  • Have a working knowledge of approximately 180 signs (introduced through video)
  • Create two storytime/classroom activities using the featured vocabulary that you can implement in your storytimes
  • Understand relevant aspects of child development and early literacy
  • Understand signing in a linguistic and cultural context


Sign Language for Children in Storytime or in the Classroom: A Practical Guide eCourse

Asynchronous eCourse featuring 6 weeks of lessons (Participants will have 12 weeks to complete course materials)

Spring 2020 Session Begins March 2, 2020 – registration coming soon

American Sign Language (ASL) is an invaluable skill for library professionals. A basic grasp of ASL enhances your ability to serve deaf library users and opens up a new world of possibilities for storytime programs. It’s also a marketable professional skill that can translate to public service jobs beyond the library world.

Ideal for those without previous experience, this eCourse taught by librarian and ASL interpreter Kathy MacMillan will use readings, multimedia resources, and online discussion boards to introduce basic ASL vocabulary and grammar appropriate for use in a library setting. MacMillan will place ASL within a linguistic and cultural context, aiding participants in improving library services.


Free Accessibility Training and Resources for Librarians from Project ENABLE

The name says it all:


Project ENABLE is the result of an extraordinary partnership between the Center for Digital Literacy, the School of Information Studies (iSchool@Syracuse) and the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University.  This project provides free online training modules designed for public, academic and school librarians to help them make their libraries truly inclusive for all users. Thanks to funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, anyone interested in creating accessibility in libraries can access these trainings, and modules can also be customized for individual or group use.

Once you sign up for a free account, you’ll take an initial assessment and then have access to five self-paced training modules, focusing on disability awareness, disability law and policy, creating an accessible library, planning inclusive programs and instruction, and assistive technology in libraries. Each module features interactive learning activities and a brief self-assessment, for a total of ten hours of instruction.  Additional resources on the site include a template and checklists for a library accessibility action plan, universal design, Americans with Disability Act compliance, and sample lesson plans for school librarians. A certificate of completion is available for those who complete the training.

With training and resources of this caliber available for free, no librarian has any excuse to plead ignorance about how to provide accessibility. Sign up for a free training account today at

Recommended Resource: Including Families of Children with Special Needs

banks300Including Families of Children with Special Needs: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians. Revised by Carrie Scott Banks from the original by Sandra Feinberg, Barbara Jordan, Kathleen Deerr, and Michelle Langa.  Chicago, IL: Neal-Schuman, 2014.

The original 1999 edition of this book was a powerful resource for creating inclusive public library services; with the explosion of technologies and the intense changes in our society’s discussion of disability since that time, purchasing the updated edition is a no-brainer for any public librarian.  For those new to the idea of creating truly inclusive spaces, or those already doing it who want more resources, this is a comprehensive handbook that addresses the basics and beyond.

Continue reading →

Persuasive Presentations

person at lectern

Though they’re not nearly as much fun as sharing books, songs, and literacy activities with kids, presentations to adult audiences are often a fact of life for librarians and teachers.  Whether you are going to bat for library funding with your board or town council, presenting at a professional conference, or sharing curriculum information with parents, Scott Schwertly’s article, “The Best Way to Outline Your Presentation” over at the Slideshare blog will help you structure your presentation to entice and inform your audience.

Sign Language Interpreters in Your Library: What You Need to Know

by Kathy MacMillan,NIC, M.L.S.

library sign thCAWD7QJOProgramming and special events are a key part of public library services, and providing interpretation services for those events is a key part of effective library service to deaf patrons.  The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that state and local government agencies and public accommodations provide effective communication for deaf people.  Under Title II of this law, storytimes, library board meetings, book club meetings, and other open events should all be made accessible upon request.  Interpreters may also be requested for other events such as job interviews and staff meetings.

Aside from the legal obligation to provide accessibility, making these events open to deaf patrons is integral to the public library’s mission of providing equal access for all.

In many libraries, however, access is limited by lack of clear policies and staff discomfort with procedures for obtaining and working with interpreters.  Many librarians want to provide interpreters, but they simply don’t know where to start.  Here’s your get-started guide.

Advertising Accessibility

Your library should have a policy in place about how far in advance deaf patrons should request an interpreter.  Two weeks is fairly standard; one week should be the minimum.  American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters work in a variety of settings, and most areas have a lot more interpreting work available than there are interpreters to do it.  The more lead time you have to find an interpreter, the more likely you are to be able to fill the patron’s request.  All publicity materials should carry a note about this policy, as well as clear contact information about where to request interpreters.  (Consider providing an email address as well as a phone number when giving this contact information; though most deaf people have access to TTY or video relay service to use the telephone, nearly all use email to communicate.)

The wording of this policy can encompass multiple special needs.  Here’s an example:

“To request sign language interpretation or other accommodation for special needs for any program, please contact Jane Doe at least 2 weeks before the program date. (123-555-5555 or”

Some libraries provide interpreted programs on a regular basis, whether a patron requests it or not.  This is a wonderful way to welcome deaf patrons, and, with a growing number of hearing parents signing with their hearing children, it is sure to earn you points in the hearing community as well.  If you decide to go this route, it’s a good idea to poll members of your local deaf community to make sure your regularly-scheduled interpreted program doesn’t conflict with other deaf community events.  In this case, you would definitely want to advertise that the program is going to be interpreted, but be careful of the language you use:

YES: “ASL interpretation will be provided.”

NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!: “This program will be signed for the hearing impaired.”

If you do decide to try providing interpreters at a regularly scheduled program, don’t be surprised if you don’t attract a huge number of deaf people right away.  Deaf people traditionally have not been avid library users, simply because, in many cases, libraries have not provided much for them.  The best way to build a following in the deaf community is through word of mouth – or, in this case, word of hand.  Contact your local association of the deaf or school for the deaf and get the word out.

Hiring Interpreters

The easiest way to hire interpreters is to contract with an interpreting agency.  You provide the agency with all the relevant information about the event that needs interpreting, and the agency locates an interpreter from their pool to fill the assignment.  Of course, such convenience has a price – expect to pay an agency fee in addition to the interpreter’s fee.

Many libraries prefer to contract directly with freelance interpreters.  You can build up your list of freelancers in your area by asking deaf contacts in your community for recommended names, or by searching the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf database at (click on “Find an Interpreter” in the menu on the left hand side of the page).  The benefit of contracting directly with freelancers is that it saves money; the major drawback, however, is that you may spend a lot of time on the phone trying to find an available interpreter.

Standard interpreter fees vary depending upon the nature of the assignment and your location, but expect to pay at least $35-$55 per hour for freelancers, and more if you are working through an agency.  A two-hour minimum charge is standard throughout the industry, as is a 24 to 48 hour cancellation requirement.  Be aware that more than one interpreter may be required for assignments over two hours or for certain special situations such as panel discussions or working with deaf-blind clients.

Though national certification (from the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID), the National Association of the Deaf (NAD), or the RID-NAD National Interpreter Certification program) is certainly desirable, it is not absolutely necessary for most of the interpreting needs faced by libraries.  If you are working with a reputable agency, you can rest assured that the interpreter has passed the agency’s in-house screening.  If you work directly with freelancers, hiring only certified interpreters is safest.  Either way, be sure to solicit and pay attention to feedback from deaf clients about the interpreter’s performance.

When you call to contract an interpreter, have the following information ready:

  • the date and time of the assignment
  • the setting (toddler storytime, board meeting, job interview, etc)
  • length of the assignment
  • number of deaf and hearing people who will attend
  • contact person’s name and phone number
  • directions and parking instructions
  • as much information as possible about the content of the assignment, including presenter outlines, agenda, programs, and whether any visual aids such as videos will be used

A word about paying for interpreting services: though the cost may sometimes seem steep, you must remember that interpreters have highly specialized skills and training.  Think of the cost of the interpreter not as the cost of providing accessibility for one patron or a small group, but rather the cost of providing equal access to all.  Since your hearing patrons don’t require interpreters, you’re paying nothing for their accessibility, and the amount paid for interpreting services is minimal when it is divided by the total number of patrons, hearing and deaf, whom you are serving.

Working with an Interpreter

The interpreter’s job is to facilitate communication between hearing people and deaf people.  That means the often-used term “interpreter for the deaf” is only half-right; after all, if everyone in the room were deaf, there probably wouldn’t be a need for an interpreter.  The deaf and hearing participants are the active communicators, and the interpreter is the link that connects them.  This is the most important thing to remember when communicating through an interpreter: speak and look directly to the deaf person or people, and treat them with the same respect you afford to other guests in your library.  Follow the tips below to make the communication run even more smoothly:

 Before the interpreted event:

  • Provide as much information as possible to the interpreter.  The more information you can provide in advance, the better a job the interpreter will be able to do.  Because American Sign Language depends heavily on context, the more the interpreter understands in advance about what is going on, the more easily the communication will flow.  Providing outlines, agendas, etc. when booking the interpreter is ideal, but if that’s not possible, plan to provide at least an overview of the interpreted event when the interpreter arrives (usually 15 to 20 minutes before the start time).
  • Think about sight and sound: Your deaf attendees need to be able to see the interpreter, and the interpreter needs to be able to hear anyone who is speaking.  Work with the interpreter to find the best place to stand or sit, and make sure that other people won’t be walking in between the interpreter and the deaf folks.  Ideally, the interpreter will be lighted from above (not behind), and will be placed against a neutral background.  (Having the interpreter stand against a window or patterned wall, for example, would cause a huge visual distraction.) 
  • Let the interpreter know if you are planning to use visual aids, especially if you will need to dim the lights for any reason.  If you are using a video, check to see if it is captioned.  If it is not, make sure you let the interpreter look it over before the program.

 During the interpreted event:

  • Speak at a normal pace and volume.  The interpreter will let you know if you need to repeat anything or speak up.
  • When asking questions of the audience, remember that the interpreter will always be interpreting slightly behind the presenter.  This is because of the way the interpreting process works: the interpreter must hear the English message, process it, and then put it out in ASL.  To be fair to the deaf members of the audience, allow an extra few beats before calling on someone to answer your question.
  • If you are using any visual aids, such as a PowerPoint presentation, transparencies, or even storytime props, allow time for the deaf folks to absorb the visual information.  Hearing people can look at a screen and listen to a presenter at the same time; deaf people cannot look at the screen and watch the interpreter at the same time.  When showing a visual aid, show it without speaking for a moment, then launch into your discussion. 
  • When speaking to a deaf person, speak directly to him or her.  In other words, don’t turn to the interpreter and say, “Tell him I said…”  Doing so is rude and distracting to both the interpreter and the deaf person, and can actually cause more confusion.
  • Though it may be tempting, don’t use the interpreter as a volunteer, aide or object of attention.  Most interpreters find it very difficult and awkward to participate while trying to convey what is going on to the deaf person.
  • In a setting such as a meeting or discussion group, work out a visual way to establish turn-taking.  This could be something as simple as having the current speaker hold a ball or paperweight.  This provides a visual cue to let the deaf people know who is speaking, and also puts deaf and hearing people on equal ground when trying to get a word in edgewise.
  • When providing an interpreter for a children’s program, consider giving a brief explanation of the interpreter’s role at the beginning of the program, to defuse questions from eager participants: “Miss Kathy is our sign language interpreter today.  When we say something in English, she will interpret it into American Sign Language for our deaf friends.  When our deaf friends sign something, Miss Kathy will say it in English for us.”  And don’t worry about the kids in your story time being too distracted by the interpreter – odds are, they will be fascinated by the novelty for the first five minutes, then forget about it and move on.
  • Remember that the interpreter’s job is to say everything that is signed, and sign everything that is spoken.  In other words, if you don’t want it interpreted, don’t say it where the interpreter can hear you! 

After the interpreted event:

  • Ask the interpreter for feedback on how you can make interpreted events go more smoothly in the future.  Also let the interpreter know if you have any concerns about how the event went.
  • Ask for feedback from the deaf attendees.  Understandably, many deaf people might be hesitant to tell you about problems with an interpreter through that very interpreter, so provide them with a contact name and email address where they can send feedback.
  • Give yourself a hand!  Remember that you have not only made the library more accessible, you have provided a great example of accessible communication for all the attendees of your event!

Kathy MacMillan is a nationally certified American Sign Language interpreter who has worked in libraries for over fifteen years.  Find out more about her interpreting services and programs and workshops for libraries at

5 Reasons to Welcome Older Siblings in Your Baby and Toddler Storytimes

1) Older siblings are role models for babies.

According to a study published in New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, siblings are even more influential role models than parents when it comes to everyday situations.  “We know that having a positive relationship with siblings is related to a whole host of better outcomes,” says Laurie Kramer, professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois.  By welcoming older siblings and encouraging their relationships with babies and toddlers throughout storytime, we can foster positive relationships that impact the whole family.

2) Older siblings can help out!

Channel an older sibling’s energy by asking him to help pass out shaker eggs or hold a puppet in a story, and you’ve got an eager helper who is modeling cooperation skills for the little ones!  And here is the key – you’ve got to be prepared to guide them.  Just as parents don’t always know to sing along without encouragement, siblings don’t always know how to help out – but most of the time they are desperate to!  A little planning ahead and gentle guidance can go a long way.

3) You can model early literacy skills for the whole family.

When we model fingerplays, bounces, and story-sharing for parents, we are also teaching older siblings by example.  Encourage siblings to join in the fun and interact with their babies, with stuffed animals or dolls, or with you!  (Kathy often invites an older sibling to be her “bouncing buddy” during the lap-rhyme segment of her baby programs.)  Positive encouragement of sibling interaction with the little one in storytime will translate later into sharing of rhymes and stories in a spontaneous way at home.

 4) The presence of older siblings allows you to discuss and model coping skills for parents.

By welcoming older siblings into storytime, we open a space up for discussion of everyday practicalities – how do you select a story that will appeal to a one year old and a five year old?  How do you read to both at the same time? We can offer resources and strategies for incorporating early literacy into the real lives of families.  Many parents hold feelings of guilt that they are not doing all the things they think they should to promote their children’s language skills – especially when the demands of taking care of multiple children seem to take up every minute of the day.  By acknowledging the everyday challenges parents face, we can support more positive environments for all children.

5) Older siblings are an inescapable part of a baby’s world.

Babies and toddlers don’t exist in a vacuum.  Older siblings are a part of their world every day, and, as we saw above, can become their most powerful role models.  The reality of life for many families is that, if older siblings are not allowed in a program, no one will be able to attend.  While it might be nice to be able to offer a storytime that focuses with laser-accuracy on the developmental needs of one specific age group, the fact of the matter is that, even if you restrict your program to a narrow age range and disallow siblings, participants will still represent different stages of physical, cognitive, and emotional development.  Welcoming older siblings supports the development of babies and toddlers by supporting the family as a whole.

One last thought:

When you allow older siblings into your programs, is it with a welcoming attitude, or an impatient sigh?  (And we all know that kids can tell the difference!)  Perhaps what we need is a paradigm shift in the way we look at siblings in storytimes: not as a distraction or a potential problem, but as little helpers with the wonderful potential to be excellent role models for the babies and toddlers in their lives.

How do you involve staff from other departments in your programs?

We asked readers to respond to our puzzler question, and we received some wonderful suggestions!

During Book Week we hold a sweepstake to get everyone involved in choosing a winner.  From the shortlist, staff are invited to choose a book in each category.  They can “judge a book by its cover”, read as many as they want, then mark on the entry form, which title they pick.  When the awards are announced at the start of book week, small prizes go to the pickers! ~Maureen O.

We ask staff if they have any special talents or interest.  Some staff knit, decorate cakes, are involved in their children’s robotics clubs, and more.  We then ask those staff if they would like to offer a program or ask a group their involved with to offer a program or demonstration.  It gives all staff an opportunity to be involved in programming.  ~Sarah R.

Some of our programs, especially those offered in the summer, have up 50 in attendance.  We ask staff in all departments to pitch in (with their supervisor’s approval) and help the librarian’s with the programs.  An extra set of hands is wonderful to have when passing out supplies, answering questions, and helping children with activities.  Staff complete their outreach requirements for their reviews and get to experience something different in their day.  ~Molly G.

Programming Puzzler: How do you get the word out about your programs?

We presented this puzzler to our readers.  Here’s a round-up of their ideas:

“We connected with a local churches and community groups that provide “welcome wagon” baskets to new families in town. We make sure that a copy of our library card brochure and programming flier goes in each basket.”-Sylvia Y.

“We deliver posters to interested groups in our community, including the senior center and local coffee shops.”-Chris C.

“We make sure our schools are aware of our programs and ask them to announce relevant programs in their parent email updates.”-JoAnn R.

Kathy and Christine say:

  • Don’t try to promote all programs equally – if you hype everything, that’s the same as hyping nothing! Choose a few special programs you want to highlight and focus on promoting those.
  • Take advantage of social media! Post upcoming programs on Facebook or Twitter a day or two before they will happen so people don’t forget all the wonderful programs you are offering.
  • Think about the audience you are targeting for each program and adjust your promotion accordingly. Parents of young children don’t get their information in the same places that middle schoolers do.
  • Find a newsworthy hook and involve the press! For example, early literacy is all over the news these days – why not develop a press release explaining how your storytimes support early literacy and send it to your local newspaper?
  • Network, network , network! Seek out connections with people in your community and find out what kind of programs they want from the library, and how they can help you get the word out to the people they work with every day. Despite (or maybe because of) our ever-increasing reliance on technology, we humans still trust recommendations from real people most.
  • Make sure you have a great product to promote! The best advertisement for a great program is the program itself – provide an experience that will keep parents and kids coming back for more.
  • Instead of preaching to the choir, draft them: Explain to your current storytime attendees that you need their help to get the word out about your programs. Pass out fliers for upcoming programs and ask each attendee to invite one person or family to come.

6 Super Strategies for Partnering with the Community

In these difficult economic times, libraries are finding it necessary to stretch their budgets, while trying to offer more services to the community. Often the library becomes the new “community center” in neighborhoods when families find their disposable income limited. This is a perfect opportunity to bring new people into the library and introduce them to all the fabulous services the library has to offer.  So how does the library continue to provide new programs for the community, while managing its own budget? Partnering with the community.

Businesses and other community organizations are also concerned about their budgets, so partnering with the library benefits everyone.  Here are some simple techniques to make it happen:

1) Bring in the schools:

Most libraries book talk at their local schools. In return, ask the school’s media specialists, art teachers, etc., what programs they could offer at your library. Teachers often need a community outreach project for their yearly review and this is an easy way for them to fill that requirement. Some ideas for perfect partnership programs include: book discussion clubs, an art class, a reading celebration night, where media specialists and librarians work together to offer activities around a theme (Caldecott awards, summer kick-off, local or state book awards, etc.).

2) Partner with local scout groups:

These groups earn many badges and awards, and often use the library as a resource. In return, ask if they would like to offer a program for the community. A princess tea? A storytime? A craft program? A matchbox truck convoy? A clean-up day?

3) Ask for resources:

Suppose you have a great idea for a program, but do not have money for the supplies or refreshments. Ask local stores or major distributors for donations of specific materials – it’s often much easier to get a donation of fifty rolls of duct tape for your duct tape wallet program, say, than a cash donation. In return, offer a thank-you in your publicity brochure and at the program.

4) Go outdoors with nature centers or parks:

Offer storytelling or storytime services to the park, and ask if they’d be willing to do a program for you. Many parks have rescued animals, or offer craft programs, which make a welcome addition to a library lineup. Again, offer a thank-you in your publicity brochure and allow them to publicize their own events while they are offering a program.

5) Bring in local businesses for programs:

Local businesses of all types have services they provide; it never hurts to ask if they can offer a program. The local waste management company can present a recycling program, a beauty shop can discuss make-up tips for prom season, fitness clubs can offer a sample class for tots, youth or adults, local martial arts groups often have demo teams, and more. The key is to think outside the box. The library offers visibility and free publicity for these businesses.

6) Grow your local garden of presenters:

Master gardeners, local cooperative extension sites, and garden stores are amazing resources for classes. Program topics can range from local pests and growing vegetables to beautifying your landscape. If your library has space, you can ask them to start a demonstration garden where the entire community can become involved and come together.

Programming Puzzler: Registration or Drop-in: which is better?

We presented this puzzler to our newsletter readers. Here are their responses:

“We just recently started offering non-registered storytimes, and to my surprise, I love it! I was very hesitant to give up the idea of knowing how many people to expect, but now I have found that with a little planning, I can make just about any number of people work. Parents love being able to drop in without worrying about pre-registering.” -Katie R.

“In order to make programs more accessible to all, we don’t register programs that staff offer. If an outside presenter requests a registered program, we are happy to accommodate. Otherwise we try to estimate the number of supplies we need for the program. We are generally over-optimistic, having more than enough supplies for everyone, and we find we can always use left over items for another program.” -Sue H.

“Registering children’s programs that require specific supplies and those with a more complicated project are a must. In these financially tight times, registering allows us to purchase exactly what we need and assign the appropriate number of staff to a program.” -Mary Q.

“My library offers a mix of registered and non-registered programs, and I must admit I prefer registration. I think the parents who come to registered programs are more likely to make a commitment to attending. It’s too easy, with non-registered programs, for them to say they will come and then not do it.” -Maryann B.

“I like to keep registration only for programs that need a lot of supplies (such as our science programs for middle schoolers) or programs that might overflow our room. Otherwise registration is such a waste of staff time. If a person shows up to storytime and there is space, we will let them come in. So why bother to preregister?” -Valarianna P.

Kathy and Christine say:

Registered programs and drop-in programs both have their benefits. Registered programs help the presenter plan activities more effectively, especially when crafts or other materials are involved. Having a limited number, particularly in baby and toddler programs, can make for a more enriching experience for the children and parents. And some activities simply can’t be done with an extra large group.

On the other hand, drop-in programs convey an open-door attitude to patrons and cut down on staff busywork (after all, taking registrations and waiting lists, making confirmation calls, and just managing the registration can be quite a chore!).

To decide whether to make a program registered or drop-in, consider:

  • Is space an issue?
  • Do you need to know numbers in order to plan for specific activities or materials?
  • Do you expect an overflow crowd?
  • Do you need to limit your numbers in order to provide a developmentally appropriate program?

When planning for a non-registered program, maintain maximum flexibility by:

  • keeping crafts simple – or doing away with them entirely. Consider using coloring sheets or other easy-to-reproduce crafts instead of more complicated projects.
  • having a plan B (and C, and D…). Think about how you can adapt your materials if you should end up with a group much larger, or much smaller, than your average. Be ready to shift gears midprogram if necessary.
  • making sure your storytime books and materials stand up to the needs of a large group. If a flannelboard’s pieces are too tiny, consider redoing them as large stick puppets, or use live props instead.
  • using action songs or wiggle rhymes to help your group vent its energy and refocus its attention periodically throughout the program.
  • collaborating with other staff. We know of one enterprising librarian who, faced with an unexpectedly huge crowd at a storytime, quickly worked out a plan with another staff member to divide the group in half. One half colored in the children’s department under the supervision of the other staff member while the other half attended storytime with the programmer, then the groups switched.