At My Library: Merit Badges

When I took over my town library midway through 2013, there wasn't much in the way of children's programming. Which is entirely understandable—when a library only has one full-time person on staff, it's hard to run programming AND do all of the rest of the things that need doing.

You know, like collection development and ordering and cataloging and weeding and reader's advisory and reference questions and local history questions and interlibrary loans and dealing with horrorshows in the bathroom and troubleshooting the computers and, even just like CHECKING BOOKS IN AND OUT, and blah blah blah and so on and so forth.

(Thankfully, there IS also a part-time employee, and she does the lion's share of processing the new books and with keeping the donations and book sale under control. And covering for me when I'm sick or at a conference or whatever. AND running the desk when I'm running programs. There is absolutely no way that any of the following would be possible without her, she's the literal best.)

ANYWAY.

As I took over halfway through the summer, there was no time to plan or launch a Summer Reading program for that year.

BUT, it meant that I had a whole year to figure something out.

And, as I'd always coveted Merit Badges as a kid—more because of the collectible factor than because of, you know, ACTIVELY LEARNING ANYTHING—and as I'd always wanted to offer them at the libraries I'd worked at but never had THE POWER to make it happen, I decided to go for it.

A few years later, here we are:

Badges available at our library as of this month In order from left to right, top to bottom: Art, Space, Color, Cooking, Farms, Movement, Dinosaurs, Mystery, Maine, Heroes, Ocean, Fairy Tales, Winter, and 2018

Badges available at our library as of this month

In order from left to right, top to bottom: Art, Space, Color, Cooking, Farms, Movement, Dinosaurs, Mystery, Maine, Heroes, Ocean, Fairy Tales, Winter, and 2018

Space Merit Badge bookplate

Space Merit Badge bookplate

We've launched three new badges every summer—Art, Space, and Color; Mysteries, Farms, and Heroes; Cooking, Dinosaurs, and Movement; and then this past summer, Ocean, Fairy Tales, and Maine—and while all of our programming in July and August is geared towards the three new badges, all of the old ones are available to new participants as well.

Possibly even MORE popular than the badges themselves are the Badge BOOKS—for every badge earned, we add a related book to the collection in the badge earner's name.

When those start rolling into the library and into the collection, there are a whole lot of piercing shrieks in the library, let me tell you. (In a good way.)

The badges are all earned through a combination of reading and project-doing: three related books for independent readers, five for pre-readers, three related projects regardless. While the program is running, we have a self-directed craft at the Craft Table every week, and a couple of more labor-intensive projects/programs each week.

And a bunch of related movie screenings.

BEHOLD, a sample badge sheet:

Front side of our Winter Badge progress sheet

Front side of our Winter Badge progress sheet

Back side of our Winter Badge progress sheet

Back side of our Winter Badge progress sheet

We give them out at an Awards Ceremony—and Ice Cream Social, because ice cream—at the end of the summer, and I'm always hoarse at the end and it's generally complete mayhem.

Again, in a good way.

Oh, and there are three themed raffle baskets that participants get to enter every time they come to the library—I did have to institute a ONCE A DAY rule due to some smartypantses that live within walking distance—that get picked at the Awards Ceremony, too. 

Up until this year, we've only offered Merit Badges during the summer... but NOW, because Enough Is Never Enough, we've started a Midwinter Badge program. And of course, we launched that—at a Open House with Hot Chocolate Floats, because again, ICE CREAM—with the Winter Badge, which will only be available during the Midwinter season.

Also in the Enough Is Never Enough category?

ANNUAL BADGES, also launched this year.

It took me a while to figure out how to pick a theme—I wanted to find a way of making it different every year while also having some sort of through-thread—and so I finally settled on picking a quote by a historical figure who was born 100 years previously.

It felt meant-to-be when I realized that Madeleine L'Engle was born in 1918, especially with the new Wrinkle in Time movie coming out this year.

The Annual Badge is earned the same way as the seasonal badges, there's just MORE of everything. This is the front cover and inside cover of the EIGHT PAGE BOOKLET:

Front cover of the 2018 Badge Booklet

Front cover of the 2018 Badge Booklet

Inside cover of the 2018 Badge Booklet

Inside cover of the 2018 Badge Booklet

Just for kicks—since it's somewhat related—we made the Space Badge available for earning all year. (I'm leaning towards a Jackie Robinson-related Annual Badge next year—he was born in 1919—and if that's what we do, we'll make the Movement Badge available for the whole year, too.)

Project page of the 2018 Annual Badge booklet

Project page of the 2018 Annual Badge booklet

We've pulled it off every year with only two employees—one part-time—and the occasional volunteer stepping up and in to scoop ice cream or direct kids or even just answer questions. It's amazing for circulation, it's amazing for traffic, it's amazing for the library community in general—the program has grown largely through word-of-mouth—and the book plates give participants a real feeling of ownership in the library.

Seeing kids with these badges proudly displayed on their backpacks and library bags makes my tiny little grinch heart grow eighteen sizes every single time.

SO. That's the basic rundown.

It's a lot of work, but it's not only doable, it's amazing.

I'm really proud of it.

Any questions?