Here at the library, we have a few perennial events. These are among my favorites to put together, because we can make them better and better.
One such event is coming up next week. Tuesday evening, we'll be meeting in Forest Park to teach folks how to Geocache. Geocaching, in case you haven't heard, is a sort of global game of hide and seek. All over St. Louis (and the world) there are hidden boxes, canisters, and jars, secreted away in nooks and cracks and hidey-holes. Geocachers hide them, and then find the ones that others have hidden, using GPS coordinates (latitude and longitude) and clever clues. There are dozens of hidden caches in Forest Park alone, and we are going to help patrons find 4 or 5 of them. If you want to participate, call Richmond Heights Memorial Library at 314-645-6202 to register, and to find out exactly where in Forest Park we'll be meeting.
When we did this event last year, it was great. We had about 20 participants, including over a dozen kids who happily went careening all over the park with their parents, printed clues, and a GPS locator we loaned them. The whole event was a grand adventure. We've had numerous requests since then to do the event again, and many of the folks who did it last year have gotten their own gear to continue Geocaching. In other words, last year's event was a big success! But that's not enough for me.
As soon as we got back to the library, we had a critical discussion about what went right, what could have been better, and what we wanted to do bigger and bolder next time. When we met again to plan this upcoming geocaching event, we found ways to make the event better.
Our biggest obstacle last year was the weather. Obviously, we can't control that, but we can improve our odds. Mid-July in St. Louis, in the afternoon, with not a drop of rain to be had, is – no surprise – HOT. Very hot. And last year was much hotter than normal, which is saying something around here. It was inspiring to watch those kids and their parents running up and down the hills and searching among the trees; I don't know how they could stay so excited in such oppressive heat. We brought a big cooler packed with ice and bottled water for everyone, and it was all gone in two hours.
So, this year we got a little smarter. We're having the event a month earlier, past the rainy season, and plenty warm enough to go outside, but not during that mind-numbing, wet heat of St. Louis in July or August. We're also starting much later, at 6:30 pm, when the hazy sun has moved down the horizon enough to make going outside fun. We'll be finishing up just as twilight falls. Serendipitously, this ties in well with our Summer Reading Club theme of Dream Big, with its imagery of twilight, nighttime play, and stargazing.
One critical victory from last year is that we were able to borrow about 20 identical GPS devices from Forest Park Forever, a wonderful organization that exists to improve the park and encourage everyone to use it. Libraries live on very tight budgets, so when we do library events, we have to watch every penny, trying to squeeze as much value out of every dollar as we can. If we had to purchase even one GPS device (they start at $80), we would have been forced to break our piggy bank to do it. To do the event right requires multiple GPS devices, at least one for every 3 or 4 participants, as they go off in small teams across the park. We would not have been able to do the event at all without Forest Park Forever generously letting us borrow their devices. So, the first thing we did this year is contact Forest Park Forever and ask them if they would help us again. They will, so everyone will have a GPS device to use. Doubly good is that they will all be identical, which makes the instruction portion much, much easier.
Another issue last year was how to wind down. Everyone was having fun, but everyone eventually ran out of steam in that heat. Those kids simply would not stop until their parents stopped them, and the kid-free adults had no one to tell them to take a break. So, each little family group came up to the community ice chest at different times, panting and smiling as they finally surrendered. Instead of ending, the event faded away.
This year, we’ll finish by gathering our geocachers together, sitting everyone in a circle, and reading spooky kids’ books by flashlight. I’m looking forward to flopping down, happy and tired, chatting about what we found, and listening to ghost stories. Maybe we’ll do some stargazing, if it’s late enough.
We do our best. Then we learn, and get better – constant improvement. It’s what makes a little library like ours one of the best in the state.
If you want to join us on Tuesday, call at 314-645-6202 to register and find out all the details. It's free, of course. Experienced geocachers are especially welcome; we could use the help. Have a great summer!