Updated: Jul 10, 2020
This is Phil. He is a people dragon. As you can see, his hoard is made up of signatures of teens who have signed up for this year’s summer reading program. This year’s national theme: Imagine Your Story.
We’ve imagined up quite a bit at the little Madison Library District in rural Idaho.
An enormous beanstalk hanging from the ceiling spans two-thirds of the building, leading patrons to the Community Room where they can sign up for the program and get their prizes. Along the way, dragons and winged unicorns swoop around fluffy white clouds. Nessie is swimming over to sign up, while Cinderella returns in her pumpkin carriage. Trees left over from Christmas grew beside Daniel the dragon’s castle in a matter of hours because a small child decided to see if he could fit inside. Over in the teen section, a turbaned monkey on a flying carpet flies above a palace. In the adult section, Rapunzel is deep in a book at the top of her tower. This month there’s also a display for the World Fantasy Convention (I had absolutely NOTHING to do with that and have definitely not been planning to set it up since March).
And then there’s Phil. We persuaded Phil to stay when we were thinking of what backdrop to give our teens who sign up for the program. It took a while to renovate a cave suitable for such a distinguished dragon (hint: butcher paper has a rough side and a shiny side and being consistent DOES make a difference) and we had some emergency-room-style drama when our spray fixatives weren’t working, but a little contact paper and some careful cutting later, Phil became a resident. He lives by the kids’ signup wall, which is covered in paper fairies that are supposed to resemble Navi from the Legend of Zelda. Most people think they look like squashed Pikachus.
And behind the scenes...
We moved our sign ups to our community room to give everything more space and release prizes every two weeks rather than on a weekly basis. Our prizes are handed out in little bags and our paper sign up forms are placed into buckets alongside pie tins of used pens that are then taken and sanitized.
Our “Summer STEM at the Park” weekly activity turned into 8 weeks of little STEM take-home kits for thirty people, which turned into 6 weeks of kits for 100 people each. Plus higher budget “grab lab” kits we churned out after cancelling our in-person activities for July.
I got a crash course in filming and now film or am filmed for our online programs four to five days a week.
A couple weeks ago when we had more signups than expected, I became a paid Dungeon Master after an hour’s crash course in Dungeons and Dragons 5E from my husband and my younger brother. Bragging rights forever. (I’ve played, but never been DM before.) Our other DM, who is much more experienced, devised a system for leveling up that’s based on how many pages you read between sessions. We encourage our teens to take advantage of the system for all it’s worth.
Our nonfiction librarian not only handles the adult summer reading program and other adult programs, but also arranged a summer-long low key Walk Through Middle Earth with fountain drink coupons for every milestone you reach (whether you decide to walk around the Shire for forty-five miles, walk Fangorn Forest with the ents, or travel all the way to Mount Doom over 150 miles).
Our youth programming librarian has taken the brunt of the craziness, shouldering weekly online story time, toddler time, and baby time with her kids in quarantine and then filming at the library, managing the sign ups, the decorations, a good chunk of the programming and a lot of the summer reading prizes. And an entire blog post’s worth of more things.
We may have fewer people than last year, but I’m convinced our contribution to the community is more important this year. Sure, we need to get outside and exercise, as local guidelines allow. But I didn’t get enthusiastic about the idea until it became a walk through Middle Earth. Our local teens are zombies with all of the Zoom meetings they’ve had to do through school. But the ones we worked with during our Dungeons and Dragons activity over Zoom asked when we were meeting next as soon as we finished. Phil needed a copy paper covering because he’s a dragon that’s right there where little kids can walk up and touch him. And that’s how it should be. (He is, after all, a people dragon.)
Libraries are where fantasy and reality intersect. This year’s theme only brings that more into focus. And if 2020 is the year where anything can happen--and does--don’t we need to add some fantasy to it?
Lauren Abbott is Web Mistress for WFC 2020. She is a public librarian, writer, and graphic designer living in Idaho. She loves to travel and has lived in many places, including Utah, New Zealand, and Chile.