#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

Libraries Are For Everyone: Check Out These Posters!

Have you seen the very cool :”Libraries are for Everyone” posters Rebecca at Hafuboti is making in many, many languages? They are so very inclusive and welcoming. We are going to follow the lead of many other libraries and hang up a variety of the posters in multiple languages (with labels for each language) as a learning opportunity.

Rebecca’s project gave all of us a well-needed resource to use in our libraries, but it also offered me an opportunity to connect with two new people. I first contacted Rebecca to send her kudos and then asked her if she’d be willing to make a version of the posters in Sugs’tun, the Native Alaskan language traditionally spoken in this region of Alaska and still spoken by some members of my library’s community. When she said “yes!” I contacted a local Sugs’tun speaker, Sally Ash, for help translating the “Libraries are for Everyone!” phrase. Sally is one of several Sugpiaq elders involved in language preservation and Sugs’tun is one of twenty-one official Alaskan languages.

Here is one of the posters created by Rebecca and Sally! All of Rebecca’s posters can be found here.

Libraries Are for Everyone (Sugs’tun)

This poster will hang at the library’s entrance next to posters in Russian and English, the other two predominant languages in my community.

Thanks, Rebecca and Sally!

Toddler Storytime: The Snowy Day

I share a lot of new books in storytime to highlight what has been recently added to the library’s collection, but this past week I wanted to share a classic with families, many of whom are new parents. With snow on the ground, a good mix of play and stories planned and a small dose of storytime magic, it was time to include Ezra Jack Keats’ The Snowy Day (along with Nicola Smee’s Jingle Jingle) in the toddler/baby storytime line up. The clear, colorful images, the kid perspective, the gentle flow of the story, and the wintertime theme made the book a good fit for the slightly older, mostly 20-30 month old, crowd that showed up. The book also includes a few features that demonstrate how books can be both mirrors and windows (or doors) for children. Including books with a variety of characters that reflect diverse families and their experiences helps create an inclusive storytime environment.

  • Snow, which is on the ground here in Homer, is a very relevant concept for Homer kiddos and helps them connect the story with the world around them.
  • The family is African-American, an underrepresented group in children’s books.
  • The young boy lives in an apartment, instead of the stand alone house often found in stories, and represents one of the many types of loving homes.

I talked about the idea of windows and mirrors in storytime and in the December installment of monthly early literacy article I write for a local newspaper. The article is part of a broad outreach effort to connect families with literacy information wherever they are.

Have you seen the animated, digital version of the book on the Ezra Jack Keats site, the animated short video (Amazon Prime) based on the book, or Andrea Davis Pinckney’s new book about Ezra jack Keats and  the creation of The Snowy Day neighborhood, A Poem for Peter?

The storytime line up (approximately 25 minutes)

Early Literacy Tip:

Books can act as windows and mirrors. The variety of stories, characters, and settings found in books can show that your child’s story matters and help your child learn about and appreciate the experiences of others.

Welcome Song: The More We Get (Read) Together

Book: Jingle Jingle by Nicola Smee

Jingle Jingle by Nicola Smee

Source: Amazon.com

Action Song: Bumping Up and Down In My Little Blue Sled

Bumping up and down in my little blue sled
Bumping up and down in my little blue sled
Bumping up and down in my little blue sled
Won’t you be my darling.

Snow’s coming down on my little blue sled
Snow’s coming down on my little blue sled
Snow’s coming down on my little blue sled
Won’t you be my darling.

Waving to my friends on my little blue sled
Waving to my friends on my little blue sled
Waving to my friends on my little blue sled
Won’t you be my darling.
Source: Jbrary

Book: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Source: mhpbooks.com

Source: mhpbooks.com

Bubble Break!

Fingerplay: Three Little Snowmen

Three little snowmen, all in a row.
Each with a hat and a big red bow.
Out came the sun and it shone all day,
One little snowman melted all away.
(two and one little…)

Closing Song: If You’re Happy and You Know It

If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands
If you’re happy and you know it and you really want to show it
If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands.

…twirl around
…jump up high

Activity: Indoor Snow Exploration Bins

Summer Reading Outreach Begins!

Tonight was the first of many outreach events I will be doing this Spring to spread the word about our 2014 summer reading program. I talked to lots of familiar young faces and got to meet some new families at the annual activities fair hosted by a local elementary school parent’s association. While the lead up to the annual activities fair is hectic, to say the least, the event itself is loads of fun!

If you’ve ever wanted to practice an elevator pitch, an event like this is just the place to test it out! Families are walking from table to table finding out about every kind of summer program our small community has to offer and many, if not all, have kids under the age of ten in tow. That means I have thirty seconds to a one minute to catch their attention. I always talk to a few families who have never heard about the summer reading program or never participated, so I make sure I am ready to get them hooked on the spot!Activities Fair Set Up

Fortunately for families, the parent’s organization and the school host a math and science night at the same time. Last year my table was in the same space as the math and science activities which was a great, great, great decision. I got to talk to parents while kids investigated and experimented. It was a win for the library too because families left the event associating fun, exploring, and the library.

This year I asked to be in the same space and promised to bring some activities for kids to do, as always. My table and the other activities flowed so nicely together that some kids even thought I was running the marble maze activity! I was honored. I brought some easy activities with me that worked well for young children, often the siblings of those most interested in the marble maze and other hosted stations. I brought my beloved Alphabet Tree, inspired by the book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I built it, with the help of family and friends, for an outreach event I was part of last Fall and now I bring it whenever I head out for family events. I’m even planning to bring it to the library for storytime soon. (It lives in my garage because of lack of space at the library.)Alphabet Tree

The tree and the magnetic letters together make a fun tool for strengthening letter knowledge and an opportunity to talk to kids about how magnets work. The black paint on the trunk of the palm-like tree is magnetic and the green is not, so we get to test where the magnetic letters stick and where they don’t. Parents are fascinated by the tree and I always explain how I made it, hopefully inspiring them to think of ways to do something similar at home. Before the activities fair even started, kids were ready to play!

To keep little fingers and minds busy, I also grabbed a roll of butcher paper as I walked out the door at the library. I covered the bench seats in front of my table (a cafeteria table provided by the school) with the paper and pulled out a box of crayons so kids could draw and write while I talked to their parents or caregivers about the summer program. There were some cool creations!Bench Drawing

I always pack a lot into my table spaces and usually bring more than I have room for. This is done on purpose so that I can be a little flexible during set up. And because I staff these events alone, my table can be set up in less than thirty minutes and I can carry everything I bring in a few bags or boxes.
Here’s what I had on hand with me:

  • eye-catching, but inexpensive table cloth
  • new books
  • scissors
  • duct tape
  • prize samples
  • registration forms (we also offer online registration)
  • 100 brochures (I handed out about 75)
  • puppets
  • sign-up prizes (this year I gave out Fizz Boom READ pencils)
  • summer program banner
  • Alpahbet Tree with magnetic wood letters and numbers
  • basket of large LEGO blocks
  • storytime brochures
  • tips for using new media with kids
  • my staff name tag

I’ll post more about my plans for this summer’s program in the coming weeks!

 

 

 

Storytime on the Go: Village Visit

Out at one edge of our service area lies a small village which I visited a couple of times this year. It has a beautiful view of the bay and snow-covered, majestic mountains across the water. There are no stores, traffic lights, or even paved roads. There are schools though- an elementary, middle, and high school. Here, the kids head home from school for lunch in twos or threes on four wheelers or on foot.

My trips to the village are part of Storytime on the Go, a seasonal program designed to provide early literacy experiences, similar to what I offer at the library, to community members living at the outer edges of our large service area and to promote library services and programs. Many of the people with whom I share Storytime on the Go don’t make it to the library, at least during the Winter. Some families don’t come because of the weather, others can’t make the long drive, and some for cultural reasons. I’m sure there are other reasons that I don’t know.

During my visits to the village, I spend about 45 minutes with a small group of about fourteen kids in a K-1 class. They are enthusiastic learners with quick smiles and lots of interesting questions and insights. My storytimes elsewhere are targeted at preschool age kids or toddlers and their families, but here I bring stories for the older kids for a few reasons. Many kids in the village don’t come to the library often, if ever, so I am a new face and bring some different books than they might have at school or at home. There also isn’t a community space to meet with the few preschool age kids in the village. Lastly, I am only fluent in English and since the community speaks English as a second language and many kids don’t start speaking English until they start school, visiting with the Kindergarten and 1st graders is a nice fit.

Timing is Everything
Beyond what books I bring or activities we do, my first consideration is when to visit the school. The village’s school calendar reflects their community holidays which vary from the other school calendars in the district. This year, like last, I showed up after lunch and before recess, a perfect window for sharing storytime. It also allows me to host a family storytime in another part of our service area before I head to the village.

Early Literacy
As with storytimes at the library, the kids and I read, talk, laugh and play easily together. Because of community traditions though, we don’t sing or clap or dance. While some tried and true early literacy practices are hard to part with, cultural considerations are an important part of outreach. Sometimes I change a song into a rhyme, saying the words slowly and dramatically instead of singing them to reap the early literacy benefits.

Choosing books
I look for books that reflect the kids’ experiences and interests and spend time talking about aspects of the stories that might relate to their daily lives, not unlike any storytime experience really. We do have a Russian language collection of books and movies for all ages at our library, but I read English language stories because of my limited knowledge of Russian. For example, I might ask, “How do you say (___) in Russian?” or “Do you have a garden in the summer?” The kids loving teaching me new words!

Before each visit, I check in with the teacher to find out what kids might be interested in, what they’re learning about in school, and what holidays are coming up. For my last trip to the village, I brought folk tales with me. These kids are huge fans and loved sharing in the telling of the stories they already knew and anticipating “what happens next?” for others. Since this is the second year I have visited the school, the kids and I know each other pretty well so the conversation flows easily. We read:

Snap! by Marcia Vaughn Photo credit: Amazon.com

Snap! by Marcia Vaughn
Photo credit: Amazon.com

Snap! by Marcia Vaughan and Sascha Hutchinson (Scholastic, 1996)

I also read Snap! at the library as part of an Alligator & Crocodile storytime with preschoolers. It is truly a magical story with just the right amount of repeated text, a trickster element, new kinds of animals to learn about (from Australia), onomatopoeia, interesting illustrations of torn paper collages, and more. Be prepared to have so much fun with this tale that you’ll lose track of time!

by Janet Stevens Photo credit: shop.carlemuseum.org

Three Billy Goats Gruff by Janet Stevens
Photo credit: shop.carlemuseum.org

Three Billy Goats Gruff (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1987)

This is a classic Norwegian tale by Janet Stevens about three goats trying to cross a bridge to greener pastures and an ugly troll who wants to eat them instead of let them pass. There is lots to enjoy about a tale like this one: the concept of size, interpreting the illustrations and finding the hidden features (rock faces), and repetition. Since this is a familiar story, it was easy for the kids to help me tell it as turned the pages.

Take Care, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas Photo credit: indiebound.org

Take Care, Good Knight by Shelley Moore Thomas
Photo credit: indiebound.org

Take Care, Good Knight (Dutton Children’s Books, 2006)

This a silly little story by Shelley Moore Thomas and Paul Meisel, follows the antics of three little dragons who are good-hearted and responsible, but can’t read. So, when they try to care for the old wizard’s cats, they make lots of mistakes. Their friend, the knight, comes to their rescue and helps them decipher the care instructions and learn to read. We had a good laugh about the play on words!

Success

I know the trip to the village is worth it because the kids and I have such a great time together, but there are other signs of success. I was invited back for a second year. I see families I met through the storytimes at the library on occasion and I can great many of the kids by name. The school will again be taking a field trip to town with a stop at the library later this Spring!