Monday, November 10, 2014

Hows and Whys of our Successful Field Trip Adventures

Alternate title: That One Time the LPL YS Department Went to a State Conference with a Slide Deck of Chuck Norris Memes.

Last week I went on a turn-and-burn tour of the Wisconsin Dells to present at the 2014 Wisconsin Library Association Conference, and I would most definitely do it all again because Brooke, Linda, and I had the best time ever. We finally got to talk about our field trip adventures in a systematic way, which I never would have been able to do without this collaborative opportunity.

Additionally, every slide had a Chuck Norris meme related to what we were talking about at the time. Because normal powerpoints are not my forte. I basically approach every presentation I do like the opposite of battledecks. 

And so, for your reading pleasure, here are some highlights from that presentation. And a link-dump so you can download basically everything we have on library field trips. Because this is your luckiest day.

At the moment, we give high energy value added tours to all kindergarten, second grade, and 7th grade public school students in our city. There are 11 elementary schools and 3 middle schools, so we’re talking about 1300 students that we see every year.

It wasn’t always this way:  We used to give tours mostly to preschool kids, and we did all the normal stuff: here is nonfiction, here are the music CDs, here is the desk, the end. We had a dream of getting more school-age kids into the library and reaching kids that don’t normally get to see us.

Our supervisor Marge Loch-Wouters went to the school district and sat down with the LMCs. She told them our vision, and asked what grade would be best to invite. We talked to them about what it would take to get all second graders to come to the library. They told us that more than anything, the most expensive thing when going on a field trip was BUSSES.

So, we wrote a grant application to the La Crosse Community Foundation for $1000 and we got it! Included on the slides are the 2 goals we wanted to achieve with the grant.

Once each school has gone on its tour, second graders come back and check in with us to get their name checked off in our database and they receive a flashing star pin. The second time we see them visit, they get to autograph the wall with their choice of metallic-colored markers. The third time, because returning three times as a previous non-patron family shows a commitment of the family as a whole, they’re entered in a raffle to win a one-night “staycation” at a downtown hotel. (Note: "staycation" used to be funded by the Friends of the Library but is now donated). Not only are these incentive for the kids, they’re also for us. Checking them off in the database makes it easy to get our stats!

So what does an actual Library Star field trip look like?
The entire tour is 1 hour and 15 minutes door-to-door, which is a huge chunk of time but long enough to warrant dressing everyone in their winter coats and hats and boots and bussing them to the library.
There are 5 parts total of the field trip, which involves three staff members. (Regular readers will remember that the three people can be achieved by using scripts. More about that here.)

First, we bring all of the students into the programming room and tell them how extremely pumped we are to see them! We give them an overview of the public library, what we have, and what it means for them. We tell them all about what it means to be Library Stars, that it’s important to check in with us, and what they get each time! Then, we ask them to separate into three groups (this can be done ahead of time) for the next part of the tour.
Each group goes on part of the tour, being traded to another tour guide every fifteen minutes. The three separate tours are:
1.       Children’s Room tour, where we highlight rules for using the room correctly as well as sharing a few good books from perfect-for second grade collections
2.       Booktalk tour, where we discuss five great books we love for second graders that year
3.       Super Secret Behind the Scenes Tour, a magical tour that no one knows about, not even the other tour guides!
Each rotation is exactly 15 fifteen minutes, including travel time. Anyone that takes more than their allotted time is making the other groups wait for them, time which we fill with trivia questions and other horrible things like that.

After the kids have gone on all three tours (45 minutes later), we bring everyone back to the story room.

There, we let them know that they’ll be sent home with a bookmark that details everything for their parents, including the addresses of our libraries. We also let them know that anyone who has turned in library card registrations will be sent home with a card.
If there’s time left before their bus comes, the students are allowed to look around the room and choose one book to read. We go over a few ground rules: voices at a zero or a one, walking only, reading on the Boat, no check-out or Internet right now. Five minutes before they have to go, we announce for everyone to give us the books in their hands and get ready to go. As they’re leaving, we all wave goodbye and ask them to come back and see us.

The proof is in the numbers: last year, 40% of all public school second graders returned at least once to check in with us.  Additionally, 25% of all public school kindergartners returned! This is 181 out of 462 second graders, and who went on our tour, remembered about us, convinced someone to bring them to the library, AND remembered to tell us they were Library Stars. Many of those students were not patrons prior to the field trip, but some have even become regular faces around the library.
So why do they work so well?
1.    We make these field trips a priority: We scale down programming for all ages during the months of January and February to fit everyone in. Because we do this, we’re able to let each school give us three date and time choices and we’re able to make one of them work. FOR EVERYONE. We also get lists of students beforehand so we can put library card registrations in the hands of kids who don’t have one, and waive fines where we can to make it easier for students to check out children’s materials.
2.    We put on a show: We are all super tired after each tour, because we really get into it and give it our all. We all talk for at least 45 minutes straight, and each rotation of every tour deserves a consistent amount of intensity and information. If we’re not excited about the library, how can we expect them to be?
3.    It’s value-added: Every single minute of every tour is chock full of useful info.  A repeated theme in all of our tours is a sense of community and ownership the students should feel for the library. And it’s not about the incentives, either-- those are just for record-keeping. We hardly ever see a Library Star not stay at the library for awhile.

It’s very common that the teachers learn something, too! Their buy-in is a huge reason we keep these tours going. Their rave reviews of Library Stars’ pilot year got the district to fund the busses for the two subsequent years. We also added kindergarten and seventh grade versions of the Library Stars tours!
Of course, we had to change some things about the tour to make it developmentally appropriate for kindergartens and seventh graders. Kindergarten tours are 50 minutes in length, with 7 minute rotations. We practice what they will do when they return with their families, to help them remember. 7th grade is about 2 hours. They go more places on the behind-the-scenes tour, watch book trailers in addition to book talks, and have a cumulative quiz on their iPads.

"Chuck Norris Library" presentation link: Pinterest Board with Resources
Easy Non-Staff -Intensive Grades 3+Field Trip: Tween Scavenger Hunt in the Library
Easy Non-Staff-Intensive Grades K-2 Field Trip: First Grade Room Hunt Script
Interactive Preschool Field Trip: Dinosaur V The Library at Reading with Red
Interactive Field Trip Grades 2 (Spring), 3, and 4 (Fall): 2nd grade Library Stars Scripts
Interactive Field Trip Grades 4K/VPK and K: Kindergarten Library Sneakers Scripts

If you're scared about taking the leap, the least you can do is try. Even Chuck Norris says so.


  1. I was at this presentation in the Dells and my library is currently working on presenting this program to the schools for consideration. I have a question though. Did you have any situations where the students did not have a library card and the parent did not fill out a library card application? How did you handle this situation?


  2. Hi there! Yup, there were plenty of kids who did not sign up. Since we didn't allow check-out THAT DAY, it didn't matter so much. We trusted that when they came back with family, either they would get their own library card, or the family would. So bottom line is trust in the field trip and the visits will happen anyway :) Hope this helps! Any other Qs please email me at brycedontplay at gmail dot com. I am so happy you're moving forward with this program-- it's the greatest!

  3. Hi. We are having our first Field Trip Adventure this Friday. We are so excited! Just a quick question for you. How were you able to get the student rosters from the schools? When I asked for them I got put off. I understand schools not wanting to share student information, but I was hoping to have some means of tracking how many students had cards and then how many students did the return visits. Any suggestions or ideas would be great!

  4. Hi! We were able to get rosters because of the close tie we have with the school district. I might try meeting with the district registrar, head of media, or even the superintendent. Once you explain your vision and that the library deals with confidential information every day, you might get some more cooperation.

    Tracking return visits could be as easy as creating an Excel sheet on a shared drive or intranet (or, if you don't have those things, a physical list could do as well) and adding kids' names as they return and check in with you. I have a sample I could send you; email me at brycedontplay at gmail dot com!