Emerging Technology Planning: “Once Upon a Queen” & “Dress the Queen” Participatory Services at the Humboldt County Library

Photograph by Adam Pulicicchio, (Bloom, 2016).

Introduction, Purpose, & Institutional Details:

In an effort to expand upon the existing services for children, the Humboldt County Library’s main Eureka branch wishes to diversify its roster of events by featuring highly inclusive, interactive, and engaging participatory services for children of all ages. The family-friendly, bimonthly “Once Upon a Queen” storytime service will feature local drag queens who volunteer to read—or, more accurately, perform­—picture books to children and their families. The drag queen storytime has been successfully implemented in libraries internationally and we anticipate similarly positive outcomes (Naidoo, 2018). The “Dress the Queen” follow-up crafting activity is inspired by Mariah Smitala’s (2019) “Once Upon a Wall: Storytime Mural Project Increases Engagement, Attendance,” that features an interactive crafting project for younger patrons to engage in, valuing their input and artistic expression. Likewise, our “Dress the Queen” adaptation of the storytime mural will enable children to create something of their own to be proudly displayed, which, in turn, helps them feel invested in the Library (Smitala, 2019). While doing so, children (and maybe some of their accompanying family members) will simultaneously be learning to develop an appreciation for the counterculture of drag, but more importantly, will become more culturally competent individuals who respect and value people from all walks of life. The Humboldt County Library may be serving a rural community with limited resources, but that doesn’t mean the Library won’t attempt to continually expand its services to reflect the growing community of patrons—if anything, we’re more dedicated than ever to push for such diversifying services. Libraries are places for people from all places, and it’s our number one priority to ensure that all people feel safe, welcome, and celebrated in the Humboldt County Library.



Goals/Objectives for Technology or Service:

1. Encourage patrons (both new and well-established) to become allies of Humboldt County’s growing LGBTQIA+ community.
2. Support younger patrons and their guardians by providing fun, engaging, and interactive services that enables them to meet other like-minded people (e.g. those who also visit libraries for weekend activities with their children), thus helping them build connections and befriend people from the community who they might not have met otherwise.
3. Inspire young patrons (and their family members!) to develop a love of reading while simultaneously becoming more culturally competent individuals.
4. Increase overall engagement and usage of library services, especially those that are driven by community-building activities and local artists.
5. Provide a safe and welcoming space for drag queens to share their artistry and love for reading with younger audiences, thus creating an environment that fosters a community built on empathy and the celebration of diversity.

Description of Community to Engage:

The Humboldt County Library’s “Once Upon a Queen” storytime and follow-up “Dress the Queen” participatory services plan to primarily engage younger community members (roughly, ages 3-8) and their families, however, with the ever-growing popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-present) and its various spinoffs, we anticipate that the storytime audience will become more diverse as the service becomes more well known throughout the community. We’re hopeful that the implementation of such a service, which celebrates diversity, will help the Humboldt County Library distinguish itself as a safe and inclusive space for all people, thus affirming its place as a pillar of the community.

Despite Humboldt County’s rural location, there is a somewhat sizable community of drag artists who perform at local bars. Unfortunately, such restrictive locations prohibit certain audiences (i.e. anyone who is under the age of 21 or who is sensitive to environments containing substances) from viewing drag artist performances. The inclusion of a bimonthly “Once Upon a Queen” storytime service will provide local drag queens with a platform to showcase their artistry, while sharing their love for art and literature with younger audiences. The inclusive, family-friendly event will include 45 minutes of storytime and 30 minutes of crafting time. After the children have crafted their items and they’re added to the paper doll queen on the wall, Diver City (a play on words: diver-sity), a librarian will post a picture of Diver City’s “Library Lewk of the Moment” to all social media platforms, along with photos of the volunteer queen—both promoting her and protecting the identities of under-aged patrons—to promote the new service.


Action Brief Statement:

Convince Humboldt County Library stakeholders that by introducing bimonthly “Once Upon a Queen” and “Dress the Queen” events to the roster of library services they will proliferate the overall engagement and attendance of community members, which will increase the overall usage of the library because it will become well known as a fun, safe, and inclusive space for all people to gather.


Evidence and Resources to Support Technology or Service:

Bloom, J. (2018). Inside drag queen storytime, the Toronto library’s fiercest kids’ reading series. Toronto Life. Retrieved from https://torontolife.com/culture/books/inside-drag-queen-storytime-toronto-librarys-fiercest-kids-reading-series/

Condren, C. (2018). Far from a drag: How one library embraced drag queen story hour. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 16(1), 21-22. doi:10.5860/cal.16.1.21

Naidoo, J. C. (2018). A rainbow of creativity: Exploring drag queen storytimes and gender creative programming in public libraries. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 16(4), 12-20. doi:10.5860/cal.16.4.12

Smitala, M. (2019). Once upon a wall: Storytime mural project increases engagement, attendance. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 17(3), 3-4. doi:10.5860/cal.17.3.3

Staino, R. (2017). Storytime gets fabulous. School Library Journal, 63(7), 14-14. Retrieved from https://web-b-ebscohost-com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=4b4b19cb-5cce-4902-85d0-9d60d3c00447%40sessionmgr101

Townend, C. (2019). How drag queen storytime in libraries helps early years children develop multi-literacies, empathy and centres inclusion. Humanities Commons. Retrieved from https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:24871/


Mission, Guidelines, and Policy related to Technology or Service:

Other than the Library’s administration, the Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors are likely to be involved in setting policies. Although there aren’t any examples of policies available that relate to the library services for children, the Board of Supervisors’ General Plan Update (approved on October 23, 2017) should be consulted. The values of the Library’s mission statement should also be upheld: “The Humboldt County Library provides resources and opportunities to support lifelong learning, local heritage, and the cultural, recreational, and information needs of our communities.”


Funding Considerations for this Technology or Service: 

Thankfully, the bimonthly “Once Upon a Queen” storytime service requires very minimal funding. The Library will create both an online and print-based volunteer form for drag artists to submit, which will cost virtually nothing. Materials for the “Dress the Queen” follow-up crafting activity will also be acquired through donations—from both patrons and staff—as well as miscellaneous library resources that aren’t being utilized. If the service becomes wildly popular and attendance grows, additional funding will be requested from the Board of Supervisors to pay for employment and a wider range of crafting materials.


Action Steps & Timeline: 
 
A prototype of the service may be developed and then tested by the families of librarians and library staff. If the first reading is well received, then the following action steps may be taken:

Action Step #1 (Beginning of January 2021): Present proposal of service plan to library administration and stakeholders.
Action Step #2 (Middle of January 2021): Begin drafting website and creating online forms (volunteer and survey).
Action Step #3 (End of January 2021): Print and post flyers around library and make website live.
Action Step #4 (Beginning of February 2021): Generate schedule which includes queens and the books they’ll be reading.
Action Step #5 (Middle of February 2021): First “Once Upon a Queen” and “Dress the Queen” service. Take photos and post on social media.
Action Step #6 (End of February 2021): Second “Once Upon a Queen” and “Dress the Queen” service. Take photos and post on social media.
Action Step #7 (Beginning of March 2021): Third “Once Upon a Queen” and “Dress the Queen” service, take photos and post on social media, as well as begin to compile data for assessment.
Action Step #8 (Middle of March 2021): Fourth “Once Upon a Queen” and “Dress the Queen” service, take photos and post on social media, collect more data for assessment, and begin generating schedule for upcoming months.

If the Board of Supervisors rejects our current, diversity-based proposal for services, we will propose another (more traditional, less progressive) storytime service. Our hope is to slowly transition to the original, diversity-inspired services as time progresses. We won’t give up on trying to expand and diversify our services to reflect and meet the ever-changing needs of our growing community.


Staffing Considerations for Technology or Service:

There will be no additional staffing needed to implement the “Once Upon a Queen” storytime and the follow-up “Dress the Queen” art-based activity at the Humboldt County Library. The Library staff will continue to work their existing hours as usual, and the activities will end well before closing, which eliminates the need for an increase in employees or hours.


Training for Technology or Service:

Due to the nature of the volunteer-based storytime program, there won’t be the need for additional training. Drag queens are performative artists who won’t require training to read aloud, especially because they have input in the book selection process and are given plenty of time (a minimum of two weeks) to prepare. We have the utmost respect for the queens and recognize that they are performative artists who won’t need formal training to read aloud.

Librarians and staff who are working during storytime and the crafting activities will be quickly briefed with where the art cart is located, at what time they will need to start winding things down, and a reminder to take photos for social media accounts, but there’s no additional—or elaborate/time-consuming—training that will be required to get the service in motion.  


Promotion & Marketing for Technology or Service:

The promotional and marketing strategies for the “Once Upon a Queen” and “Dress the Queen” participatory services will utilize print-based resources (flyers around the library), electronic resources (the Library webpage), and various social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) to ensure that the service will be known throughout the community prior to its official premier.

Once the services begin, librarians and/or library staff will document the queens as they are reading and Diver City’s “Library Lewk of the Moment” by taking photos to further promote the participatory service. We’re hopeful that continually updating social media platforms with photos of successful events will continue to draw in new attendees.


Evaluation:

The participatory service will be evaluated through observation, as well as both electronic and print-based surveys for attendees, volunteers, and staff to complete. While the children are crafting items for Diver City, guardians will have the opportunity to fill out a paper survey, or they will have the option to fill it out at home so they may craft along with their child. We deeply value the feedback, but we prioritize their experience over assessment. In such cases, librarians and staff will be asked to observe closer than if the parents are less engaged in the activity. Library staff are trusted to use their discretion.

Ideally, if the event is successful and attendance continues to rise, it would be wonderful to expand by adding a third element to the mix: a fashion show! The Library will encourage its “Once Upon a Queen” storytime attendees to don their most fashionable, drag-worthy attire. Whether it be a feather boa, a colorful wig, a pair of fun sunglasses, or a full-blown ensemble, the Library is thrilled to have “Once Upon a Queen” audiences express themselves, but would be even more thrilled to provide them with a safe space to strut their stuff and celebrate diversity. The fashion show would also be a wonderful opportunity for attendees to mingle and befriend each other.

While there are many stories that we envision telling about the “Once Upon a Queen” and “Dress the Queen” participatory services, we’re most hopeful that our attendees will learn to celebrate—rather than fear or question—those who don’t adhere to our society’s rigid gender norms. Instead, we hope that attendees will learn to appreciate the counterculture of drag artistry and, in turn, associate the Library with their foundational development of cultural competence.

As RuPaul Charles frequently says, “we’re all born naked and the rest is drag.” Libraries are spaces for people from all places, and the Humboldt County Library is no exception (TEDx Talks, 2013).  


References

Bloom, J. (2018). Inside drag queen storytime, the Toronto library’s fiercest kids’ reading series. Toronto Life. Retrieved from https://torontolife.com/culture/books/inside-drag-queen-storytime-toronto-librarys-fiercest-kids-reading-series/

Campbell, J. N. (2018). A rainbow of creativity: Exploring drag queen storytimes and gender creative programming in public libraries. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 16(4), 12-20. doi:10.5860/cal.16.4.12

Condren, C. (2018). Far from a drag: How one library embraced drag queen story hour. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 16(1), 21-22. doi:10.5860/cal.16.1.21

Smitala, M. (2019). Once upon a wall: Storytime mural project increases engagement, attendance. Children & Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, 17(3), 3-4. doi:10.5860/cal.17.3.3

Staino, R. (2017). Storytime gets fabulous. School Library Journal, 63(7), 14-14. Retrieved from https://web-b-ebscohost-com.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=5&sid=4b4b19cb-5cce-4902-85d0-9d60d3c00447%40sessionmgr101

Stephens, M. (2020). The hyperlinked library: Participatory service & transparency [Web Lecture]. Retrieved from https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=35b4e981-cd58-479a-96d3-aab3011b0f24

Stephens, M. (2020). The hyperlinked library: Planning for participatory services [Web Lecture]. Retrieved form https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=0f55e5f3-e6dc-411b-9e8c-aad6011842c1

TEDx Talks. (2013). What to expect from libraries in the 21st century: Pam Sandlian Smith at TEDxMileHigh [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fa6ERdxyYdo&feature=emb_logo

Townend, C. (2019). How drag queen storytime in libraries helps early years children develop multi-literacies, empathy and centres inclusion. Humanities Commons. Retrieved from https://hcommons.org/deposits/item/hc:24871/

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Reflection Blog #3: Hyperlinked Environments

Humboldt State University Library, third floor.

THE HYPERLINKED ACADEMIC LIBRARY: Whether it be a highly-funded research university in an urban city, or a small community college in rural town which has primarily low-income students, there’s one thing that’s certain across the board for all academic libraries: everything’s changing and it’s our responsibility as LIS professionals to meet the ever-changing, information-related needs of our patrons for them to succeed both academically and professionally. From providing a range of makerspaces, to ensuring that patrons are having their basic, everyday living needs met, it’s our duty as LIS professionals to help the academic library become more than just a place for those who seek scholarly-related assistance.

In Barbara Fister’s “The Boundaries of ‘Information’ in Information Literacy,” she discloses the growing importance of ensuring that students are able to successfully navigate our ever-changing information landscape by stating that, “[s]tudents need to learn how to use academic libraries to do academic work. But not all information is academic, and students will need to know something about the wider landscape of information to function in a world that’s highly driven by networked and powerful information systems” (2017). By understanding that our goals as academic librarians shouldn’t be solely based on developing the most up-to-date collections of scholarly materials, but–more importantly–to provide students with the necessary makerspaces and help them learn how to utilize technologies required for academic and professional success.

Likewise, Keith Webster notes the shift in academic library environments in, “Reimagining the Role of the Library in the Digital Age: Changing the Use of Space and Navigating Information Landscape,” where he asserts that: “[w]e see two fundamental differences, though: firstly, the majority of today’s students are not using libraries in a traditional sense. They pass by our collections and rarely interact with librarians. Secondly, the form of student work today is very different from the past. It often requires collaboration with other students, the creation of tangible objects using technology housed in the library, the pursuit of interdisciplinary debate, and all of that has to be accommodated alongside a continued demand for quiet study environments,” both of which further supports the other trends in LIS literature for additional makerspaces in all sizes of academic libraries (2017). We, as modern-day LIS professionals need to advocate for services and the changes of current library spatial configurations to support our patrons is the most effective ways possible.

And while there’s much that can be solved through the implementation of makerspaces, we, as LIS professionals, shouldn’t limit place any restrictions on how we can further support our patrons beyond the standard, quinessetnial library services. Joe Hardenbrook’s blog, “Starting a Food Pantry in an Academic Library,” sheds light on a less-than-talked-about matter—which LIS professionals can play a part in combating—that plagues many modern-day university students: food insecurities (2019). Between finals, the stressors of living in foreign environments, the balance of school-work life, and maintaining one’s sanity, the very last thing students should be concerned about is where their next meal is coming from—yet that’s, sadly, not the case for a growing number of students. My beloved alma mater, Humboldt State University, has had an ongoing issue with food insecurities within its student population (and the surrounding community). Thankfully, Hardenbrook introduces an unconventional approach to the issue: an open-access, non-judgmental, “take what you need, give when you can” pantry (2019). And while the most predictable items (e.g. granola bars, dried fruits/nuts, ramen, etc.) may be found in the pantry, other high-demand everyday essential items (e.g. tampons, toothpaste/toothbrushes, soap, etc.) are also accepted (Hardenbrook, 2019). The philosophy held by Hardenbrook and his colleagues has wholeheartedly inspired me to work towards implementing a similar program at whichever academic library I end up serving. Regardless of whether or not a campus is known for its students suffering from food insecurities, the implementation of a “take what you need, give when you can” style of pantry will surely support patrons in more profound ways than many might be able to imagine.


References

Fister, B. (2017). The boundaries of ‘information’ in information literacy. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/boundaries-information-information-literacy

Hardenbrook, J. (2019). Starting a food pantry in an academic library. Retrieved from https://mrlibrarydude.wordpress.com/2019/09/13/starting-a-food-pantry-in-an-academic-library/

Webster, K. (2017). Reimagining the role of the library in the digital age: Changing the use of space and navigating the information landscape. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/02/15/reimagining-the-role-of-the-library-in-the-digital-age-changing-the-use-of-space-and-navigating-the-information-landscape/?platform=hootsuite

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