#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

CT and Early Literacy Activities: Simon Says

In a recent webinar about Computational Thinking (CT) and early literacy for the Public Library Association, Paula Langsam and I highlighted several activities that can be used to support both sets of skills in storytime or another library experience. (The link to the recorded webinar is coming soon.) Some of the activities we mentioned are in the Libraries Ready to Code Collection, while others have come about after our work with the cohort. They will eventually be added to the collection, but for now we’ll be posting them here. Keep checking back for more!

Activity: Simon Says

Ages: 4+

Materials/Equipment: None

Pattern recognition, one of 4 commonly recognized CT skills for young children, involves identifying and classifying similarities. When we play the game Simon Says with children, they are using a pattern to know when to do the action mentioned and when not to. If I say “Simon Says touch your nose”, kids are supposed to touch their nose. If I say, “touch their nose” they do not. This game also introduces conditional statements and logic, both fundamental to computer science.

Adaptations:
In storytime, some kids may easily get how this game works and some need more experience. I adjust the actions and physically model when and when not to do the action for kids new to the game. I do less modeling for more experienced players and even let kids lead if appropriate.

Book connection:

Lost. Found. by Marsha Diane Arnold and Matthew Cordell.
Round is a Mooncake: A Book of Shapes by Roseanne Thong and Grace Lin.

Feltboard Algorithms in Storytime

As part of #CSedWeek 2018, I included activities (and grownup tips) that support Computational Thinking (CT) skills in my storytimes. One of these activities was feltboard programming.

I first tried feltboard programming about a year ago and I continue to tweak the activity here and there depending on the group, the topic and the context. This week I found myself gravitating towards a lot of snow books, despite the warm weather. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. To go along with those books, I decided to have kids help me make an algorithm for building a snowman. 

Here are the books I shared:

  • The Snowy Day (Viking Press, 1962) by Ezra Jack Keats
  • Snowballs (HMH Books for Young Readers, 1999) by Lois Ehlert
  • Froggy Gets Dressed (Puffin Books, 1994) by Jonathan London (author) and Frank Remkiewicz (Illustrator) or Ten in the Sled (Sterling Books, 2010) by Kim Norman (author) and Liza Woodruff (illustrator)

I prefaced the feltboard algorithm activity by telling the kids that I forgot how to build a snowman. I then explained that I needed their help to know how to build one. When it finally snows again, I want to be ready, even if they are not around to help me. What follows is the process I used with the kids to create a feltboard snowman.

I have two feltboards so I used one for the “algorithm” and one to actually build the felt snowman using the algorithm. I made image cards that acted as symbols for the different parts of the snowman. (I only made cards, or blocks, for the actual objects. We talked a lot about where the objects should go as we applied the algorithm to the building process.) Before storytime, I had organized the cards on one felt board so kids could see what parts they had to work with. I told them they did not have to use all of the “blocks” (cards) and that they could choose where the objects were placed and the order in which we added them.

I told grownups that this type of programming was similar to the coding older kids would be doing later in two different CSedWeek programs: <HPLCode> Unusual Discovery using CS First and Scratch or <HPLCode> byte sized using ScratchJr. 

Next, we built the algorithm. To get things started, I asked the kids what we part we should add first and everyone wanted to begin with the body by having me move 3 snowball cards. Note: We read Snowballs before this activity and talked a lot about the parts of the snow people, whose bodies are all made up of 3 snowballs. Looking at the materials Ehlert uses, and the body parts she includes, was useful for this activity and the art project kids worked on after stories.

We built the algorithm from top to bottom, acknowledging that this how we read and write in English. Kids articulated what they wanted to add and in the order they chose. I moved the cards from the board above to the board pictured below, as they made decisions, because I wanted them to use words to describe what they were referencing; all the while practicing turn-taking and compromising, or at least considering others’ suggestions. Here is the algorithm they helped me make.

And here is the snowman we built based on the algorithm. Different kids took turns adding the different felt pieces after we talked about what would come next and where the object was supposed to go. This activity and process emphasized the sequence,.an important concept in CT, literacy and math. 

When the first child went to put a felt piece on the board, she wanted to put the first snowball on top, instead of on the bottom, to reflect the order we created with the cards. So obvious, right? Some preschoolers think this way and some are able to think more abstractly. It’s all ok and we move gently through this process, keeping it fun.

We talked a bit about gravity as a group- what would happen if we tried to put the first snowball on the top (in mid air). As a group we figured out that the first ball has to go on the bottom to give support for the others. What I love about practicing this process in storytime is that we already figure out the names of letters, how things work, what to read next, etc. as a group so we did this as a group. I emphasize that it is ok to try, even if what happens is not the intended outcome. If it doesn’t work, we just try again. That’s what happened here.

Below is what a child made later while I was busy helping families with the craft. She wanted to practice making an algorithm based on the felt snowman we built. It’s fascinating to see how kids think. It’s a great example of the CT skill decomposition in action.

I don’t expect every kid to get new concepts or skills right away so we’ll try this again and continue to talk about sequences, patterns, and all things CT, early literacy, math and more.

And here are a couple examples from the art project! I gave kids a bunch of materials and challenged them to create a snowman or snow creature out of them. Some built snowmen out of three blocks of foam with lots of accessories and appendages and some went this route, using the foam blocks as stand for the snowman pieces. I think the kids found this project so much easier to dive into than the adults…

This kind of art activity, open-ended but with a design challenge, gets kids thinking about the process, and sequences, in a creative way. There were a lot of proud artists leaving the library today.

Throughout the week, I have this display (below) in the kids library (for ages 0-12) so families can consider how they might support CT skills with their kids, small and big, at home.

#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!

Take the Survey! Young Children, New Media and Libraries 2018

Have you taken the Young Children, New Media and Libraries 2018 Survey yet? If not, you have until August 31 to share your thoughts about, and experiences with, new media in your library work with young children.

Using a short video about Empreror Penguins in Preschool Storytime

Who should take the survey?

Someone from each library who is able to answer questions regarding your library’s use of new media with young children. That person may be a children’s librarian, manager, director, or other staff member. The information you provide will be kept confidential and no identifiable information will be used in published findings.

What is new media?

New media is defined in the survey as: tablets (including iPads, Nabi, LeapPad), combination eReader/tablet (e.g., Kindle Fire), digital recording device (digital camera, Flip Video, GoPro), MP3 players, Projectors, AWE or Hatch stations, tangible tech (e.g., Makey Makeys, Osmo, Squishy Circuits), programmable tech (e.g., Beebots, Code-a-pillar, Cubetto), and computers of any kind.

Why should you take the survey?

Libraries continue to be at the cutting edge of incorporating different kinds of new media devices into their branches and programming, and we are examining the changing map of this landscape across the United States. We want to hear how you share technology with young children and their caregivers, your attitudes about that, and any evaluation you do of new media for young children and their caregivers. Your input will be useful for guiding future research and professional development.

Who is behind the survey?

Dr. Katie Campana (Kent State University), Liz Mills (University of Washington), Dr. Marianne Martens (Kent State University) and I are conducting the survey in partnership with the ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children.

You can find out more about the 2014 findings, and find a link to the current survey, here. 2018 survey findings will be shared widely.