#StayingHome: Library Life and the Pandemic

How are you?

It’s been almost three weeks since our library closed to the public and two since I, and most of my coworkers, started working from home. It seems like a lifetime, I won’t lie. We’ve all been thrown for a loop.

It’s hard to keep ourselves safe, take care of our families, wonder about unemployment, and think about supporting our communities, an integral part of public library work; all at the same time.

COVID-19 cases are just starting to pop up in Alaska, but sadly three Alaskans have already died as a result of the virus (as of 3/27/20). With a statewide population of about 737,500, and only 1,500 general hospital beds, keeping the number of people who get ill low is essential. Local and state officials continue to issue more restrictive health mandates as they use the latest research and data to prevent widespread sickness. My rural community, like many across the country, is served by a small hospital with limited resources to treat large groups of sick people. Fingers crossed that social distancing and these mandates will successfully limit the local effects of the pandemic. My heart goes out to those of you in communities that have been dealing with widespread illness and death already.

NOT Business As Usual

Since the library closure, first for a week and then until further notice, four of my coworkers have been recruited to work with the City’s Emergency Operations Center. For now they are helping with public information, IT, research and safety recommendations. The rest of us are identifying priorities and long term strategies for supporting our community outside of the library building.

We are not circulating any physical library materials right now in order to discourage groups of people gathering at the library and limit the sharing of materials that might carry the coronavirus. The library building, and what’s inside, are an important space for so many in Homer. Shutting down for an unknown period of time has made us look hard at key services we offer and how we can continue to be supportive in the near future; even without a building. It also makes us worry about our neighbors with no internet access, no home and no community.

During the last couple of weeks I’ve paused to a- get a handle on how long we are going to be closed (still uncertain, but for awhile), b- finish up reports and other paperwork and c-think intentionally about how to support families going forward. What does my community need and can I offer? My library, my community, my knowledge and my resources are not the same as yours might be. Let’s all do our best and get through this, ok?

My priorities include:

Connect – Maintain, and even strengthen, relationships with families and individuals in a time of social distancing. How do we help families connect with the library’s resources, make more high quality digital resources available, and use our resources to create conversation with youth and families? How do we help families (some for the first time) access basic services like food and shelter?

Learn – Schools are closed here at least until May 1. The school year in Homer ends on May 20 normally, so I don’t anticipate kids going back to school. Many teachers are working beyond overtime to provide engaging activities for kids and teens. How can we compliment what the schools are doing to support youth and families? What learning gaps can the library fill? Which learning experiences can we amplify (Mo Willems’ daily drawing sessions, or the WideOPENSchool, for example)? What services, like storytime, can we continue at a distance and what new opportunities can we create? What can we learn from each other and other libraries?

Collaborate – Our community of about 12,000 (including the service area) includes many organizations that support its overall health and vibrancy. As we find our footing, how can we continue to develop the strong partnerships and practice social distancing? How can we work with libraries around the state to share good ideas and be more effective?

Inform – The library and my coworkers are working hard to share accurate information about COVID-19 and its local impact. What does that mean in a community with varied access to the Internet and an unending amount of news and information, what I refer to as “noise”?

Advocate – Especially in times of hardship, what does advocacy look like? When we are having trouble focusing on anything beyond our own difficult reality, how do we look outwards? Do we buy food or other items from local businesses, donate to a regional food pantry, or speak up about national issues like digital inequity when learning is completely online? (My answer is yes to all of the above, if you can.)

These goals are not new, but how we meet them now just looks a bit different. Since we are trying out new kinds of programs and adding new resources or services with less staff, we are adding slowly and intentionally. It’s a marathon they say. I’ve never run a marathon, but I get the idea.

This is media mentorship on a grand scale. As usual, there are a lot more questions than answers.

Programming

Many librarians have taken their storytime, a foundational program in many libraries, to Facebook or YouTube. I agree that programs like storytime provide families social and emotional support in addition to learning experiences. So, I got to thinking. My singing voice was not meant for the internet so I decided to go old school.

With broadband access spotty in my community, I needed a way to provide equitable access to early literacy and the storytime experience. Instead of live video, I am partnering with our local public radio station, KBBI AM 890, to bring storytime to the air waves that reach far and wide here in Homer. Those with internet can stream the program and those without can tune in on the good old radio, still a key public service in rural Alaska.

One radio staff person and I will be in the station during the program, unless the situation changes and I have to start recording from home. I have an hour, so I’ll share some stories geared for a broad audience, create dance breaks between stories with recorded music from some of my favorite artists, and then chat with kids during a call-in at the end of the program. I love experiments and trying new things, so fingers crossed!

To prepare, I have been reading through books I either grabbed on my way out of the library before we closed, had in my home library, or are available on our digital library. The books I will share are not necessarily the ones I typically read in storytime at the library. Context matters! The stories won’t have the pictures to amplify the story’s ideas, so the text will be the star of the show.

Thankfully publishers have been generous with their permissions for educators and librarians to share a wide array of books during read alouds right now. Many of them are very supportive of the virtual storytimes happening across the Internet, so I contacted a few to clarify that my experience was included. (They said yes!)

The library’s StoryWalk is back (early)! Each month, a new picture book will grace the library’s walking trail. Families can practice social distancing while they support literacy and enjoy outdoor activity. (The pages are posted at least 6 feet apart because of the trail’s design.)

We’re working on other programming to replace the learning experiences that we typically offered kids after school and adults using, you guessed it, Zoom, and other platforms. An ASL Club, a coding club, a literary meet up and more are in the works. We’re figuring out how to keep stats, which audiences we will target when, etc. Summer programming, pandemic style, is still in the brain dump stage though. (You should see my bullet journal. It’s a mess.) More on that soon.

Library’s Digital Resources

Ebooks, digital audiobooks, games, digital magazines are in hot demand now. The plethora of free content is also at an all time high. In order to make the library’s digital resources more visible and highlight, or curate, some of the high quality digital learning platforms that are temporarily free and the virtual read alouds and art activities hosted by children’s media creators, I have been given editing powers for the youth sections of my library’s website. I’ll continue to write social media posts on behalf of the library about youth media, but the website editing is a new task for me.

I’ve spent the last few days adding content, slightly reorganizing the content and making it clearer how to access new resources, especially those with temporary access, while we’re closed. We’ve set up methods for getting a library card virtually, made it easy to reach staff at home, updated the event calendar, added more than 100 titles/copies for kids to the digital library (the entire juvenile fiction budget for 2020), shared key links with educators and families, and more. This doesn’t even include the official COVID-19 information being added almost daily by my coworkers.

What if…

In the midst of all this, as a staff we have also needed to be wise about succession planning. What happens if a staff member is sick or needs to care for a family member or worse? Who takes over their projects or tasks? How does one person know the status of a project or task that needs to be done? For starters, we articulated actual succession plans, particularly for the director and those responsible for particular departments, before we left the library. We’ve also instituted daily Zoom staff meetings (Monday – Friday) and turned to Basecamp to keep us organized. We’ve always planned for an earthquake or tsunami, not a pandemic, so we are all being creative, intentional (there is that word again), and articulate about what’s next. It’s a team effort.

With all the in-person conferences and workshops in the near future canceled, I’ve been adding a few virtual projects and meetups to my calendar. I look forward to learning from and collaborating with new colleagues. We’re all in this together. What’s in store for you and your library?

#stayhome

Guest Post: Libraries Connecting to Nature

For the first time, Never Shushed is featuring a guest post! Please welcome Gay Mohrbacher from WGBH, the creators of valuable digital content that supports literacy and learning for children and their families.

Libraries are active participants in the ongoing movement to get families outside and connected with nature. Many house regional natural history collections; others host kids nature clubs, offer community garden registries, loan outdoor equipment, or develop collections on sustainability themes. They also offer families programming and information about resources for outdoor learning.

A free resource that librarians and families can both use to actively explore nature comes from the PBS KIDS multimedia project, Plum Landing. The website, designed for children ages 6 to 9, stars a plum-shaped alien and her human friends who teach kids about the biodiversity of different ecosystems through games and short animated and live-action videos, but also gets them outside to investigate and experience, and then publicly share documentation from their local surroundings. 

For librarians, there are educational resources for settings like afterschool or week-long vacation programs. The free curriculum provides collections of hands-on science activities paired with media—animations, videos, games, photo apps, and more—arranged in thematic sequence and aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards.  

In an activity called Seed Spot! children learn how plants spread seeds to give their offspring the space and resources to grow. To start, kids can watch a 2.5-minute animated video about wearing fuzzy socks outdoors to collect seeds on the ground—then they head outdoors on a scavenger hunt for different kinds of plants and seeds. There are extension ideas and an online game called Seed Racer to continue the learning about how seeds are dispersed.

Librarians can:

  • Choose from a collection of children’s activities designed to support outdoor exploration. Activities range from 10 to 40 minutes long, are low cost/low prep, and can be led by any informal educator, no matter their educational background. There are short animated videos to introduce the activity, or you can skip the video and dive right in. 
  • Use the Educator Tip videos to learn tried-and-true best practices in leading outdoor science exploration. The videos are hosted by Jessie Scott, a longtime outdoor educator with the U.S. Forest Service.
  • Print out and offer any of the self-guided activities for families to do themselves—these are available in English and Spanish. For example, you could encourage families to try the Build a Watershed activity in which kids and parents build a very simple model of a landscape to see how water droplets flow and how the shape of the land helps collect water.
  • Introduce the free Outdoor Family Fun with Plum App, (available for iOS, Android, and Amazon devices), which helps families build a habit of nature exploration. Whenever they open the app, families receive new “missions” asking them to find, count, photograph, and talk about things like birds, clouds, bugs, or shadows. Each mission includes a call to action, a tool for the mission (like a counter), and tips. To encourage parents to use the app on a repeated basis, new missions and achievements unlock as families progress. In all, there are 150+ unique missions to explore the local environment.

Kids who spend time exploring outdoors feel more connected to plants and animals and come to better understand the need to take care of the planet. Research shows that regularly doing outdoor activities boosts mental and physical health. Plum Landing’s kid-tested activities make it fun and easy to explore outdoors—with very little prep and no expensive materials. Visit Plum Landing online to begin your explorations: pbskids.org/plumlanding

About the author:

Gay Mohrbacher coordinates educational outreach for the children’s environmental science initiative, PLUM LANDING, produced by WGBH, Boston’s PBS station. WGBH is recognized as a national leader in producing media-based resources to support learning and teaching. A top priority is serving under-resourced children and working with national partners and local communities to overcome barriers to educational success. 

CT and Early Literacy Activities: Making Music

Activity: Making Music with Makey Makeys

Ages: 4+

Materials/Equipment: Laptop computer (1/station), Makes Makey (1/station), 4 pieces of Play-doh, different colors (1 set/station), internet access for digital piano

CT Skill: Decomposition is the CT skill that involves breaking larger actions into smaller, easily completed steps. We do this when we sing and clap words to break then down into syllables.

In a music storytime, among other books, I shared I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison and Frank Morrison which follows a young girl and her mother on a walk around their community. On the mini-adventure, the girl creates individual moves that become a dance accompanied by the music created by neighbors.

Afterwards, families visited stations that included: music-making with Makey Makeys, building rubberband kazoos or egg shakers, instrument exploration and mixing music with the app Loopimal on one of the library’s mounted iPads.

At the Makey Makey station, the computer was connected to the pieces of Play-doh with several wires, each going to a different clump of clay, via the Makey Makey. Young musicians touched a clump of Play-doh with one hand and held the “ground” with the other, creating an electrical circuit, and then a corresponding note was played on the digital piano. Once they figured out which Play-doh piece made which sound they created songs to their liking. (The Makey Makey tricks the computer into thinking the Play-doh clumps are keys and creates an electrical circuit. So if the Play-doh, which is conductive, is pressed or tapped, something happens on the screen. In this case a key on the digital piano is played.)

Both the book and making music with a Makey Makey exemplify breaking down (decomposing) music and dance into its components, but they also demonstrate how to build something back up, songs or dances, using other CT skills like pattern recognition and algorithm design.

Want to learn more about CT for you children? Paula Langsam and I will be talking more about the CT and early literacy connection at ALA Midwinter in Seattle.

#CSed Week 2018 is here!

Computer Science Education Week is December 3-8!

For the past several years I have been offering a special coding program (as part of the worldwide Hour of Code event) or another learning experience that supports Computational Thinking (CT). Why libraries? Kids and teens need CT skills, along with traditional literacy skills, to be able to effectively communicate and express themselves in the Digital Age.

Want to know more about the connection between CT and early literacy? Join Paula Langsam (DC Public Libraries) and I for a free webinar on Tuesday, December 4th called Thinking Sideways: Computational Thinking and Early Literacy. It is hosted by the Public Library Association. (Registration required.) 

Here are some of the activities I will be including in CSed Week 2018:

Looking for program ideas and other resources? The Libraries Ready to Code collection (aka toolkit) is now live!

Media Literacy Week: Girls Learning to Code at the Library

It’s Media Literacy Week (November 5-9)! How are you helping youth in your community learn how to access, analyze, evaluate, COMMUNICATE and CREATE using a variety of media formats? 

Girls learn how to solder with the help of a teen mentor at the Girls Get IT! NCWIT camp. (Ages 9-12)

Two high school girls from my community are in the process of applying for NCWIT’s annual Aspirations Award. The award “honors women in grades 9 through 12 who are active and interested in computing and technology, and encourages them to pursue their passions.” Many young women, from all 50 states and US Territories, apply each year so two might not seem remarkable. But, in my community it is another step in the right direction.

While not new, the fact that women are underrepresented in the tech world and STEM professions, especially in leadership roles, still persists. In rural communities, jobs in tech-related fields, and many types of STEM professions, seem out of reach or are never introduced as an option, especially to girls. At my library and many others, girls are often out numbered by boys in maker programs, LEGO clubs, and robotics teams. The goal of these programs is to provide access to learning opportunities that introduce and strengthen Computational Thinking (CT) skills and computer science knowledge, yet a significant number of kids are still missing from the picture. Populations of kids still think these programs, and the associated skills, are for others. How much do we really talk with kids and teens, including girls, about the important role computer science now plays in business, government, and our/their personal lives, beyond “screen time?”

Makers2Mentors, our Libraries Ready to Code project, aimed to change that. What if kids and teens in our community had new opportunities to become comfortable not just using digital media on a superficial level, but digging deeper to understand how computers work and using digital tools to express themselves and make their voices heard?

Girls learn the basics of 3D design with the help of a teen mentor at the Girls Get IT! NCWIT camp. (Ages 9-12)

Over time I have connected the idea of learning how to code to learning how a book works. If we teach young children the fundamental concepts that will later fuel them as readers and writers, which we do in storytime and in other experiences, why can’t we prepare kids and teens to control digital information, creating and manipulating the medium, just as authors and creators have done with paper formats?

One of the goals we set for the Makers2Mentors project was to provide CT and CS learning experiences specifically for girls. We want more girls to learn CT and CS skills, and be prepared to think critically about information in all its forms, so we wanted to encourage their participating in all of the M2M programs. I also recognized that I needed to reach out to girls in targeted ways. In some cases, this meant integrating CS and CT into traditional library programs like storytime to reach girls before extreme gender stereotypes about STEM get a foot hold. I also led a coding program for girls and their moms (or grandmothers, aunts, grown-up female friends), partnered with the local Girl Scouts to provide a girl scout overnight for area troops featuring robotics and CT activities, and hosted a camp for girls, led by visiting CS college students, that introduced girls to new skills as they explored computer hardware and software.

Reaching underrepresented populations requires creativity and doing things differently. Obviously, if a group isn’t coming to the current programs or using the library space now, something needs to change. New partnerships, unique program designs and flexibility are essential. Sometimes opportunities to provide learning experiences come in unexpected ways.

Girls and their families are excited about making a space for girls’ voices in the digital world, even those from a faraway place like Homer, Alaska.

Teen mentors are recognized for their service and interest during the reading of the 2018 National Library Week proclamation at a City Council meeting.

Key to the success of many of the M2M programs was the empowerment of teen mentors who helped fill leadership gaps often found in small communities like mine. Many of these mentors were girls, and in fact, several of the girls who acted as mentors became interested in learning about CT/CS as they mentored. They got involved not because of their tech experience, but because they like mentoring. So, I capitalized on their valuable leadership skills and ended up providing CT/CS training sessions that became ‘programs’ in and of themselves. They learned about CT and CS and helped other girls (and boys) gain new skills also. Over the course of the year long grant period, more girls were interested in both the girl specific programs and general events.

Here are some images highlighting girls in the library’s M2M programs.

Girls make cardboard automata at an afterschool Maker Club.
A girl programs Ozobots with markers at a Maker Club session.
Two girls, with their moms, make the robot Dash move during a coding program. (Ages 8-12)
Girls and moms work in teams to program Dash & Dot robots.
Young girls, and a teen mentor, learn coding basics with Dash and Dot at the Girl Scouts overnight held last winter. (ages 5-11)
A teen mentor preps materials for a LEGO Lab featuring LEGO WeDo.
Girls Get IT! camp was a little fun…