Sunday, December 6, 2020

Early Literacy To Go - December

As I explained in my last post, since the digital divide is very evident in the community where I now work and many lack computers and/or internet access at home, I decided to first focus my early literacy programming on a monthly grab & go kit with suggested activities categorized under the ECRR2 five early literacy practices. This includes the words and motions to a few songs, fingerplays, and/or action rhymes, a list of suggested books, coloring/activity sheets, and materials for 2-3 crafts/activities, along with some early literacy tips sprinkled in and info about library services. Starting this month, I'm also highlighting a "letter of the month" and including a die-cut of that letter.

Early literacy-to-go kit

I loosely themed December's kit around winter and December holidays without focusing too much on any specific holiday. While a few of the suggested books were specifically Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa related, the rest of the titles and all of the songs and activities were about winter or more generic activities like baking cookies. The kit contained:

  • Sheet with all the suggested activities on the front; songs/fingerplays/action rhymes and instructions for included craft/activities on the back, along with announcement that virtual storytimes will be starting in December on the branch Facebook page and YouTube channel.
  • Book Suggestions:
    • Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit by Il Sung Na (digital only)
    • Bedtime for Bear by Brett Helquist
    • The Gingerbread Man by Catherine McCafferty (bilingual, digital only)
    • Cookiesaurus Rex & Cookiesaurus Christmas 
      by Amy Fellner Dominy & Nate Evans
    • Who Put the Cookies in the Cookie Jar by George Shannon
    • My Family Celebrates Hanukkah by Lisa Bullard (print & digital)
    • Seven Candles for Kwanzaa by Andrea Davis Pinkney (print & digital)
    • Pete the Cat's 12 Groovy Days of Christmas by Kim Dean (print & digital)
    • Bear Is Awake: An Alphabet Story by Hannah Harrison
  • Songs/Rhymes/Fingerplays (linked to previous posts with full lyrics):
  • Included Craft - Stick Puppets
    • 4 stick puppet blanks (more about these below)
    • Assorted colors of scrap construction paper
    • Assorted colors of yarn
    • Googly-eyes
  • Included Activity - Gingerbread Man Lacing
    • gingerbread man cut out of craft foam with holes punched around perimeter
    • 2-24" lengths of white yarn "icing", with one end wrapped in tape (one is extra)
    • Googly eyes
    • red & white sequins
  • Coloring sheets
    • bear hibernating 
    • Hanukkah menorah, dreidel, and gelt
    • Christmas tree
    • Kwanzaa kinara
  • 4-pack crayons
  • Scissor skills practice sheets
  • Die cut letter "W" for winter
  • Die cut tree to decorate or do with as they please
I try to suggest books that are a mixture of classics and newer titles, and select books that we have in print or both print and digital, and only include titles available in just digital when really necessary, such as in the case of Il Sung Na's Snow Rabbit, Spring Rabbit which was the only title in our system at all that did a good job of showing hibernation, migration, and adaptation, and the bilingual gingerbread man story, since our population is 50% Hispanic/Latinx. I like to have some digital options for those who have access, but prioritize print since many do not. I am also including a counting book and an alphabet book each month.

I find crafts and activities to include to be a bit of a challenge. Of course there are lots of simple crafts, but I am trying to be more thoughtful and intentional about choosing crafts and activities that really relate to early literacy. While there are plenty that involve fine-motor skills and thus relate to writing, I'm finding it a little harder to find crafts that support other areas of development and literacy. That's why I am particularly pleased with this month's stick puppet "two-for-one" activity; it's both a craft that uses fine motor skills to make, then they become props for storytelling, which nurtures creativity, expressive language, and narrative skills.

I originally was hoping to find the appropriate dies to cut pieces out of heavy craft foam to let them build their puppet on plain craft sticks, but we didn't have them. When searching online for any kind of reasonably priced DIY stick puppet kits, I came across these craft sticks that are cut to people shapes, ready to be decorated any number of ways to create your own unique characters. They can be painted, colored with markers or crayons; clothing, hair, and accessories can be cut out of paper or craft foam and glued on; and googly eyes, yarn and other bits and pieces can be used as well; so it can be as simple or elaborate a craft activity as is appropriate for the child's abilities and preference. I bought a set of 100 for $15, containing 50 larger and 50 smaller sticks, and put 4 into each kit. They are a little bit smaller than I'd like, but inexpensive and convenient. You can also find sets of only the larger size.

Stick-puppet craft, DIY stick puppets

I knew I wanted to do something with gingerbread men for the other craft/activity, and decided it would make a perfect lacing activity, with white yarn for the "icing" trim on the cookie. I decided to use craft foam so it would be more durable, but didn't anticipate what a pain it would be punching the holes. So I will stick to cardboard or heavy cardstock next time! I also included googly eyes and sequins for buttons to complete their gingerbread man. Originally I was going to give them 2 or 3, with red and green yarn as well, but I had to scrap that idea after I realized how long it would take to punch all the holes. 

Gingerbread man craft, gingerbread man lacing activity

I'm still working on getting the word out and trying to get parents interested. I did manage to give out 35 kits in November, but that was mostly from giving them to parents of young children that came into the library, rather than people asking for them. Now that we've had to close once again and only do curbside service, it will be harder since we don't see them. I have asked staff to be sure and include it in any pick-up that has picture books, and our customer service rep has been at the library a long time and knows the patrons well, and is giving them to those she knows has young children. But I'd love for parents to actually start asking for them. 

This month, in addition to listing on the calendar and promoting on Facebook, I'm going to do a live "unboxing" video, to explain the purpose, show what is in the kit, and explain how they support literacy to see if that peaks interest a little more. I am also going to start virtual storytimes and cross-promote. The kit will loosely go with the storytimes I plan each month, so while it is designed to stand alone, it also complements and extends the virtual storytime. 

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Early Literacy To Go! - November

While this is of course a very difficult and challenging time for everyone, as children's librarians we face the formidable task of finding a way to provide early literacy programming - a concept which is rooted in personal interaction, forming relationships with kids and adults, modeling behaviors, providing a place for kids and caregivers to socialize - without physically being in the same space together. It's very counter-intuitive, but unfortunately necessary to protect our own health, as well as that of our patrons and the community. And in addition to being a professional and logistical challenge, it is an emotional and personal one as well, since most of us thrive on the interactions with our patrons and without that we've lost much of the joy we normally find in our job.

I find this challenge particularly difficult because I am jumping into this new programming reality 6-8 months after everyone else, and I also have to consider that many in my new service area do not have internet access at home, or if they do, they have limited devices which must be used by older siblings for school. My manager and I discussed a few options, and though initially toyed with the idea of trying outdoor storytime, I felt that it was not the way to go at this time due to rising Covid numbers and dropping temperatures as I didn't think we would be able to do it consistently, and I wanted to invest my time in something I could offer consistently in the hopes I could build a following.

Since the digital divide is very evident, I decided to first focus my efforts on some kind of "grab & go" bag, since those have proven to be successful for older age groups at this library. I asked what kinds of things others were including in similar grab & go bags for this age group in a youth services Facebook group, and got a lot of great ideas. After mulling things over for a few days, I decided to provide caregivers with a list of easy activities they could do with their child at home that supported developing early literacy skills, categorized under the ECRR2 five early literacy practices of talk, sing, read, write, & play. 

This would include a list of suggested books (including an alphabet book and a counting book, and trying to include at least a couple that are available in digital format for those with access), words and motions to 2-3 songs/fingerplays/action rhymes, instructions and materials for 2-3 crafts/activities, a couple of coloring/activity sheets, and information about other library services or upcoming events. I also mention how the included activities support development and literacy, and I will focus on one practice area each time with more detailed info. I don't want to overwhelm parents with too much or sound too "preachy", and I also want to keep things as simple and basic as possible, to show them how easy it is to incorporate into everyday activities and things they already do. I decided to develop one per month, as it is time consuming to plan and assemble them, I have other programming to work on developing, and I am a one-person children's department.

So, what does my first kit look like exactly? Keep in mind this was thrown together rather hastily, and I hope to be a little more intentional in the future, and I'm sure it will evolve and become more polished as I go. Since it was November, I somewhat themed it around fall and Thanksgiving. This month's kit included:

Early literacy to go, early literacy grab and go kits, early literacy take and make

  • Sheet with all the suggested activities on the front; songs/fingerplays/action rhymes and instructions for included craft/activities on the back, along with a plug to follow our Facebook page for info and virtual programming.
  • Book Suggestions:
    • The Very Busy Squirrel by Nancy Tafuri
    • Mouse Loves Fall by Lauren Thompson
    • Bear Says Thanks by Karma Wilson
    • The Thankful Book by Todd Parr
    • Run, Turkey, Run by Diane Mayr
    • I Know and Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie by Alison Jackson
    • The Dinosaur Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta
    • Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 by Bill Martin, Jr.
  • Songs/Rhymes/Fingerplays:
    • Have You Ever Seen a Pumpkin
    • If You're a Turkey & You Know It
    • Ten Little Turkeys
  • Included Craft - Tissue Paper Tree
    • construction paper
    • 2" tissue paper squares in shades of yellow, orange, red, & green
    • (Did not include glue or crayons as we didn't have the means this time)
  • Included Activity - Sorting & Stringing Beads
    • pony beads (a small Dixie Cup roughly 3/4 full, so maybe 100?)
    • 4 pipe-cleaners, assorted colors
    • 2 pieces of yarn, about 2'
  • Coloring sheets
    • pumpkin 
    • turkey
  • Bookmarks with info on library services (not pictured)
    • digital resources
    • custom book bundles
  • Die cut pumpkin & turkey (just as a bonus, since we had the dies and it was quick & easy)

Below is a closer view of the front and back of the info sheet, and if you click on it you should see it even larger:

It's pretty basic, the graphic design and layout are not as slick and polished as others I've seen, but considering how quickly I had to get it together amidst learning everything else that's been going on and learning all the new software and policies & procedures that come with a new job in a new system, I think it's not too shabby. I really hope families come to pick them up. I've listed it on our calendar and promoted it on our Facebook page, as well as asking staff to offer them to anyone with young children, and to include them with any curbside pick-ups that include picture books (we have been open to the public, with restrictions, but are going back to curbside only in a couple of days).

I also did a short live video to introduce myself to the community and share some of my favorite picture books, and I'll probably do one more targeted to school-age kids and talk about some of my favorite middle-grade books (so hard to pick just a few!). I will continue the monthly early literacy grab & go kits, but I am also going to start virtual storytimes next month for those that do have access and see how it goes. I miss the performance aspect of reading aloud in storytime, and though virtual isn't quite the same without that audience feedback, it's better than nothing, so I hope there will be some interest despite mass screen fatigue. 
I'm really hopeful that in the spring we can revisit the idea of outdoor programming.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

New Picture Book Mini-Reviews


Great picture books

Now that I am done with library school, finished with job hunting, and have a general idea of what I what direction I want to go in with programming for now, I am working on trying to catch up on the new books that have come out this year that I've missed. Yesterday I looked through all the newer picture books my branch had gotten in the last 6 months that were on the shelf (though some may have been published earlier), and there were a few that really stood out:

The Box Turtle by Vanessa Roeder. February, 2020.

This is a cute story about being different, learning to be comfortable in your own skin, and appreciating what makes you special. Torrence is a young box turtle who was born without a shell, so his parents help fashion one out of, what else, a box. It fits perfectly, does the job, and at first Torrence is happy with it, until the other turtles start making fun of him.

A cute story with a positive message and appealing illustrations, including gratuitous pics of a cute little turtle tushie ;).

Bo the Brave by Bethan Woollvin. April, 2020. 

Bo's brothers are fierce knights who hunt monsters, but tell Bo she is too little to go with them. But wanting to prove her brothers wrong, Bo sets out on a monster quest of her own to show how brave she is. She encounters a gryffin, the Kraken, and a dragon, but discovers they are not horrible monsters after all, just misjudged and misunderstood by humans. Can she help rescue the baby dragon her brothers have captured and return it to its mother?

A great story about showing compassion, not making snap judgments or fearing others just because they are different. The illustrations remind me a little of Zacharia Ohora's work.

I Will Be Fierce! by Bea Birdsong & Nidhi Chanani.
April, 2019.

A strong message about being yourself, having courage, being confident, being adventurous, expressing yourself, and being the hero of your own story.

I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this book and the strong, positive, empowering message it sends to young girls, and all children. Highly recommend!

Help Wanted: Must Love Books by Janet Sumner Johnson &
Courtney Dawson. March, 2020.

Shailey loves stories, especially when her dad reads them to her. But when her dad's new job starts taking all his time, attention, and energy, Shailey announces he is fired as her bedtime story reader and places an ad to find a new one. But the candidate pool proves to be less than impressive, forcing Shailey to add new requirements to her posting. Finally, the perfect candidate applies, and there is something very familiar about him....

A story that is mostly funny and entertaining, but also sends a not-so-subtle message to adults about work-life balance, putting the phone down, and spending time reading with your kids. The personal statements from some of the applicants included at the end are a nice touch.

The Button Book by Sally Nicholls & Bethan Woollvin. January, 2020.

This is a must-have interactive storytime book! I haven't seen a picture book I was excited about as a storytime book in quite a while, so I was really happy to discover this one. Throughout the book, the characters encounter buttons of various shapes and colors. Here's a button; I wonder what it does? Should we press it? 

Highly recommend!

There's an Alien in Your Book! by Tom Fletcher & Greg Abbott. June, 2020 

This is another awesome interactive storytime book, and better yet, it is part of a series. In this one, an alien has crash-landed on earth and the audience must jiggle, bounce, turn, and more in order to launch him back into space. The illustrations are absolutely adorable, and it makes such a fun group read-aloud.

This series also has books with a dragon, a monster, and an elf, with a witch book and superhero book due out in 2021. I highly recommend this whole series.

Born Curious: 20 Girls Who Grew Up to Be Awesome Scientists by Martha Freeman & Katy Wu. February, 2020.

Okay, so this one really doesn't qualify as a picture book, it is very text heavy with only a few illustration and has an older target audience, but I liked it so much I had to include it.

This is a collective biography of twenty different women scientists to inspire young girls and show them that STEM is for women, too. I love the cover art with it's modern style, portraying some of the subjects as children, which makes it much more relatable and attractive to the target audience. Also, it shows great diversity. There is an afterword that talks about how to become a scientist, a glossary of terms, and index, and references at the end. Highly recommend!

I know I still have a lot of catching up to do, and it seems my library system doesn't get items until they've been out for a few months, so if you know of some other great books out the last few months, especially good storytime books, please tell me about them in the comments. I'm hoping to start virtual storytimes next month, so I'm looking for some great new books to wow them with!

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Change Is Not Easy - New Job, New Place, New Reality


The tree in Marty Kelley's Fall Is Not Easy was right; change is HARD! 

Like that tree, I've had to make a lot of big changes this fall, and it has not been easy. It has been, in a word, overwhelming! I've been at my new job for two weeks, and it has been a huge adjustment on many levels. First, I had to pack up and move across the country, so I am adjusting to leaving my family and pets behind (hopefully to follow me out here eventually), a different climate, living at high altitude, a different culture, not being able to find the same stores or brands I used to buy, and living alone for really the first time ever. 

The first week at work I was so completely overwhelmed with all the new information dumped on me all at once my head was spinning, having to learn not only the culture and policies & procedures of a new system, but having to learn all the new rules and procedures related to Covid-19 as I hadn't worked since the initial shutdown in March, signing up for benefits, a billion different new accounts with logins and passwords, codes for security, codes for the safe, a new ILS, different workplace culture, virtual programming, a new community, trying to maintain social distancing, working all day wearing a mask, wiping down every surface over and over.....

Probably one of the biggest adjustments has been getting used to working full-time as it has been a very long time since I worked full-time. For the last seven years I have worked part-time, and before that I was a work-at-home mom for several years and could set my own schedule. Plus, I had not worked at all since the pandemic shutdown in March, and had developed a bad habit of staying up really late at night and sleeping late in the morning. Working full-time has been EXHAUSTING! I do fine up until the last hour or so, then I completely crash by the time I get home. Of course, having to work wearing a mask all day and adjusting to living at high altitude doesn't help.

I don't know how people get anything else done when working full-time, much less complete an MLIS. Many props to those who have/are! By the time I get home, fix myself some dinner, and clean up the kitchen, I am beat and have maybe an hour to relax before I have to get to bed, and by then I am way too tired to read or do anything other than veg in front of the tv. On the weekends I'm torn between the need for down time, wanting get out and get some exercise and explore my new surroundings before it gets too cold, feeling like I need to get caught up on reading, and the necessity of cleaning, laundry, getting groceries, and running other errands.

The library itself is a big change, too. I went from working at a very large, busy suburban branch with a very diverse, highly educated, and somewhat affluent community with a very strong reading culture to a very small branch with a less diverse, working-class community where the digital divide is very evident, and people seem to use the library mostly for computer/internet access and movies, and not so much for books. This system does some things very differently; for example, they have a floating collection rather than each branch having their own collection, which makes learning the collection and reader's advisory particularly challenging because you never know what might be on your shelves on any given day. Another thing they do differently that seems really bizarre to me is that there are no spine labels for fiction, which makes shelving much less efficient and makes finding specific items more difficult. However, my new manager and co-workers all seem great, and really work well together as a team.

Right now the biggest specific challenge is figuring out what to do for programming, and getting something going ASAP. My predecessor left in July, so this branch has been without any type of programming for the under 5 crowd for a few months, and of course haven't had a real storytime since early March. The central youth services department sends out activity kits for older kids once a month, and a co-worker does additional programming and kits for teens and tweens, so my immediate priority is early literacy. I had assumed I'd be doing virtual storytimes, but since so many in our community lack internet access my manager felt that was not the best way to go. We've talked about outdoor in-person storytimes, but with our temperatures going down and Covid cases going up, I'm not sure that is the best way to go right now, knowing that small children are not capable of staying in one spot and maintaining social distancing.

I've had dozens of ideas swirling in my head, and I finally decided to start with a simple grab & go kit with some early literacy tips, suggested activities, a couple of songs/fingerplays, coloring/activity sheets, and materials for 2-3 crafts or early literacy activities, as grab & go bags have been pretty successful with the older kids at this branch and it was something I could do fairly quickly. I'm working on my first one now, and will share more about that once I get it going. Once I get that out, I'll start exploring additional early literacy programming, and I also would like to start doing something STEM related for the 5-10 year old crowd. I'm still not sure what will work, and it may be a difficult period of trial and error. Families lack internet access, but at the same time, few are coming to the library.

This is such a challenging time for all of us, but especially those of us who are in new positions. I feel pressure to get programming going and generate numbers to justify my existence and making my position full-time (I did not realize it had only been part-time previously). It was expected that the person in this position would be able to start doing a lot of outreach to the schools and community after being made full-time, which is desperately needed, but there was some naivete about how long-lasting the pandemic was going to be when this was decided. I would love to do outreach, but as I am high-risk I am not about to set foot in a school or childcare center until an effective vaccine is widely available, though I do plan to see what other kind of support the library could possibly provide to educators and families through the schools.

My hope is that by the first of the year I will have some regular programming in place and be much more settled and no longer feeling overwhelmed, and I really hope that once I am more used to working full-time, wearing a mask, and the altitude I will not feel quite so exhausted at the end of every day and have more time for reading. I feel like I've missed out on this entire year's worth of new books.

Have you found any other type of successful alternative programming besides grab & go kits or virtual storytimes? Is anyone able to do any kind of outreach? Anyone else in their first professional position and scrambling to figure out how to do their job in this new reality? I feel like everyone else has had 8 months to adapt, and I am scrambling to catch up!

Saturday, September 26, 2020

A New Beginning! Plus Job-Hunting Tips for New MLS Grads

I am very happy to say that beginning October 19th I will be employed once again, and as a full-time professional librarian! So hopefully I will have more meaningful content for the blog, and more time and energy to put into it, once I get settled.

It wasn't easy, and required a lot of compromise, sacrifice, and unconventional life choices, but it is a HUGE relief. The library system I will be working for has a very good reputation, is well-funded and strongly supported by the community, invests in their staff, and seems to genuinely prioritize community outreach, rather than just paying lip service to it as so many libraries do. It may not be exactly what I was hoping for, but it seems to have the most important factors. It will also give me a chance to explore a completely different part of the country, where there are lots of mountains, cool geography, and best of all, dinosaur trackways and fossils!

This has been such a difficult, disappointing, and tumultuous year thanks to the pandemic. I finished my MLIS, only to have the graduation ceremony I was so looking forward to cancelled. The library I worked at shut-down in March, and then in July I and 100 other staff members were blindsided when we were suddenly fired by the library in a knee-jerk reaction to the realization this pandemic wasn't going to be over any time soon, coupled with a desire to purge and downsize in order to funnel money into a building and renovation fund.

It was a devastating loss for a number of reasons. I had worked in that system for seven years, starting at the bottom and working my way up, trying to build a career. I loved my job, my coworkers, and my patrons, and I had planned on staying in it for another year in order to wait out the pandemic, have a bit of a break after library school, and focus on getting some badly needed home improvement projects done. If after a year no full-time professional opportunities had opened up in this area, only then was I going start looking out of state, focusing on specific areas we wanted to move to. But loosing my job changed all that, and turned my life upside down.

Being unemployed is horrible, depressing, and demoralizing. Even when you *know* it was through no fault of your own and that many other people were also affected, it still makes you doubt yourself and feel worthless that your employer could just throw you away without a second thought. Then being thrown into an absolutely abysmal job market just compounds that feeling with every rejection you get. Job-hunting is absolutely exhausting, especially when you are unemployed and the job market sucks; you can't afford to be selective and have to apply to as many places as possible. It's a buckshot approach; fire out as many applications over a wide area as possible and hope something hits.

I know in reality I had an easier time than many, and was very lucky to find a job in just two months, but it required some difficult choices. I will be moving by myself, leaving my husband, son, and pets behind since my son is in his senior year of high school, my husband has a year or two before he can take early retirement, and our house needs a lot of work before it's ready to put on the market. It's a drastic choice, but we felt it was necessary for me to get my professional career started as soon as possible in order to provide financial stability in the long term. You know the old saying, "it's easier to get a job if you have a job", and I was afraid if I didn't get a job soon I might never get one, plus I enjoy working, and I felt I was already getting too stale and too out of touch.

My advice to other new grads job-hunting in this incredibly difficult time is:

  1. If you don't already have library experience, do whatever it takes to get some! You will not be able to compete for professional level jobs without it in this market. If you already have a paraprofessional library job and can afford to wait things out another year, the market will probably improve somewhat.

  2. Make sure you have a well-written cover letter and resume that is well-organized and quick to digest. Tweak them both for each job you apply to. If you are submitting a lot of applications for jobs you are genuinely well-qualified for but not getting interviews, your resume and cover letter probably are not doing a good enough job of highlighting all you have to offer, and you may benefit from getting some input and advice from others in the field. Do not fall for the "one page resume" myth; you cannot fit enough information on one page to stand out from the crowd!

  3. Cast a wider net. The more flexible you can be in regards to relocating and the types of positions you would consider, the more jobs you can apply for and thus, the better your odds.

  4. You can't afford to be too picky. People are often quick to tell you to hold out for the "right" job, but in the current job market, the right job is the job you can get, and you have to compromise and be willing to settle for good enough. Remember, nothing has to be permanent. Now, that doesn't mean I would advise ignoring red flags, but be willing to settle for something that might not quite fit your vision of the ideal position, library, or location, but still seems like a decent library and place to work.

    For example, I really wanted to work at a library that was independent and not part of a system, but had a large building and large, diverse collection; was well-funded and well-supported by a diverse community, where I would get to do some of the collection development myself, have some say in decision-making, and be able post to social media myself; and was located in a nice town near a large city, and within an hour of the Gulf coast. But my new job actually meets few of those criteria, and that's okay because it meets the most important ones of being well-funded and having strong community support, valuing and investing in its staff and having a reputation of being a good place to work. I didn't get the beach, but I got mountains instead.

  5. Look for positions that may be less desirable for one reason or another. Remember, a lot of experienced librarians just got dumped back into the job market thanks to pandemic-related layoffs, and they are going to get the more desirable positions. The job I accepted is in a town that many people would find undesirable due to a higher crime rate, economic depression, and terrible schools. But for once, my age was an advantage as my kids are grown, so the quality of schools is not a factor in my case. Also, the library has a great reputation among staff and community alike, and I decided I'd rather work for a good library in a less than desirable town, than work for a toxic one in a great location.

  6. Stick with positions that you are genuinely qualified for and genuinely interested in. I know this is contrary to the conventional wisdom that says you don't get any of the jobs you don't apply for, or to apply for things even if you don't meet the qualifications. In this job market, it's a waste of your time to apply for jobs you aren't well-qualified for. Not that you have to meet 100% of everything in the description, but you should meet most of them, and meet all the required ones. It takes such a huge time investment for every application you put in, so don't waste time on ones you really aren't qualified for, because there are plenty of other candidates out there that are. These are not normal times and normal job-hunting advice does not apply.

  7. The first question in every interview I had was "why do you want this position". You have to be prepared to convince them that you really want THIS position, you really want to work at that library, and you really want to live in that location, and that if you get the job you are going to stay a while. Talk about what parts of the job description spoke to you, what you like about the library and the area. Show you have done your research, and convince them you have some ties to the area. This is a difficult hurdle as most hiring managers are biased in favor of hiring someone internal or local, and they are often very resistant to hiring someone from out of state because they think they need someone immediately and don't want to wait, and they assume local people are more likely to stay. This is another reason you may have a better chance in locations perceived as being less desirable.

  8. Work on your interview skills! Practice, apply for a couple of jobs you aren't interested in at first just to try to get some interview practice. I get very anxious during interviews and I know because of that I don't interview as well as I'd like. It usually takes about 3 before I finally start to get more comfortable with them. But don't forget you are interviewing them, too. Though you may have to be more flexible and compromise on some things, you don't want to take a job where you know you will be unhappy.

  9. Network! I did find a lot of openings just thru setting alerts on Google and Indeed, but for the position I ended up getting I had connected with someone who had just gotten a similar position in the same system who was able to tell me more about what the job really was (the job title of "branch librarian" caused some confusion), what the system was like, and advice on what they were looking for. Then I was convinced to accept the offer after being able to talk to other people who worked, or had worked, in that system. Getting some inside info can really help you to get a feel for what they are really looking for, and what working there would really be like.

  10. Be sure to ask any potential employer about their response to the pandemic. Did they react in a timely manner with appropriate measures to protect the safety of staff and community? Did they have furloughs or layoffs? Some furloughs and lay-offs may be understandable, but if a library had mass layoffs with no recalls, I'd think twice about going to work there as they have shown they value money over people. If they are open or reopening soon, have appropriate measures been taken to protect staff? Are they rushing to start in-person programming too soon? Working with the public in a pandemic is a risk many of us may have to take in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, but you want to minimize it as much as possible.

  11. Keep in mind that many job postings have a pre-determined outcome, and if you are an out-of-state candidate you are at a disadvantage. It's so hard, but try not to take it personally when you keep getting passed over for someone local. I got interviews with about half the places I applied to, but kept getting passed over for someone that was more experienced and/or already lived in the area. Also, though many places only check references for their first choice, that is not always true, so try not to get your hopes up just because you hear that someone is checking your references. I learned that the hard way.

  12. Job-hunting can be incredibly demoralizing and bad for one's mental health, so don't be afraid to get help if you need it, or to take a break from it if you have to. It is very rough out there! Find some kind of support system, whether it's a therapist, counselor, friends, family, or support group. I'll just warn you that people who have jobs and have not been job hunting recently just do not understand how bad it is out there, and the emotional toll it takes. Though they try to be supportive and encouraging, they really aren't able to fully empathize and sometimes say things that may make you feel frustrated and isolated. I found support in a Facebook group for library staff who had lost their jobs due to pandemic layoffs, where I could talk with people who really understood how bad it is and what I was going through. 
I truly wish all those job-hunting the best of luck, and understand how difficult and scary it can be, especially if you're older like me and don't feel like you have time to just wait things out. These are very difficult and frightening times full of difficult choices, but I am here to serve as an example that even in this job market, it is possible to get a job as a new grad, though it is not easy. I know not everyone is able to relocate or make the same choices I did, but I hope something here may still be helpful to you.

Good luck, don't forget to practice self-care, and let's all try to support each other and provide networking opportunities!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Adventures In Storytime Has Gone Virtual!

After the Covid-19 pandemic hit I was suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed and faced with the dilemma of how to stay connected to the field, not get stale, come up with new content for the blog, and show potential employers I can adapt to virtual programming. While in library school I found I liked putting together presentations, so I recycled slides from previous in-person training sessions I'd done on literacy topics and recorded voice-over to them to turn them into webinars, but there hasn't been any interest (I think everyone's webinar-ed out by now) so I haven't pursued making any others yet, though I do plan to do some shorter tutorials..

Now that it is apparent to almost everyone that it will be quite some time before we are back to in-person programming, and virtual programming and other alternatives are here to stay, I needed to figure out a way to get experience and demonstrate that I could do virtual programs. But, there was one catch. While publishers have extended permissions to teachers and librarians, since I am not currently attached to a school or library, they don't really apply to me. One might argue "fair use", but I'd rather play it safe. So after thinking it over for a while I decided instead of doing storytimes, I would do short videos with a few songs, rhymes, and/or fingerplays around a given theme, and then give some book suggestions at the end.

I've set up a YouTube channel, and I will also be posting them on the Facebook page. I'm trying to make them serve a dual purpose, to be suitable for kids to watch and sing and play along with, as well as to be a resource for parents, educators, and other youth librarians. I'm also going to do occasional crafts, STEM, and booktalk/trailer videos as well. I'm trying to keep them around 10-15 minutes or less, but a couple have creeped up closer to 20. So far I've only uploaded a few videos, plus a video I made last year from my library butterfly project, but my goal is to add one every week for a while. I don't know if anybody will watch them, but at least it will be good practice for me.

If you have any feedback or suggestions, I'd greatly appreciate it! I'm still not 100% comfortable in front of the camera, but getting better. It's just so much harder without a live audience in front of you, plus the only place in my house with decent lighting is very cramped.

I've added a menu with links under the "Videos" tab above, but you can also subscribe to the YouTube channel and follow the Facebook page.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Shark Week! - Flannel Friday

Five Little Fishies Teasing Mr. Shark, shark fingerplays

So today's Flannel Friday post isn't exactly a flannel board set, but it is based on the one below I made previously, and did make use of felt.

I previously made this flannel board set to do a couple of different "Five Little Fishies" rhymes, including one where they were teasing Mr. Shark. But then last summer a co-worker showed me how she did it using our shark puppet and finger-puppet fish, and I thought that was a much more fun way of doing it! So this year I bought myself a shark puppet and make some little fish finger-puppets from felt.

I couldn't find a Folkmanis puppet like the library has that I could get as soon as I wanted, and ended up buying a different one that I don't like it quite as much because I think the color and shape are more suggestive of a dolphin, but it does clearly have shark teeth and works well.

To make the little fishy finger-puppets I just found a piece of clip-art to use as a pattern and sized it to what I thought was the appropriate size. Then I cut out two pieces from each of five different colors, added a little detail with colored sharpies and googly-eyes, then glued them together, leaving a finger-sized opening at the bottom. Mine turned out to be just a little on the small side, so I would advise making them just a bit bigger so that the pocket for your finger is a little deeper. Mine work, but I have to be careful or they will fall off my fingers easily.

Here is the rhyme I use them with:

Five Little Fishies & Mr. Shark

Five little fishies, swimming in the sea.
Teasing Mr. Shark, "You can't catch me!"
Along comes Mr. Shark, as quiet as can be,
And SNAPPED that fishy right out of the sea!
(grab one fish with shark puppet)

Four little fishies..... (continue counting down to zero)

No little fishies, swimming in the sea.
Just Mr. Shark, as full as can be!

And if you'd like to see it in action, it's the second activity in my Shark Week-themed video below:

For more felt & flannel ideas and tips, check out the Flannel Friday Facebook group and Pinterest Boards! To share your flannel, submit via the Flannel Friday Tumblr. For complete information and all the details, visit the main Flannel Friday website.

Friday, July 31, 2020

In The Dog House - Flannel Friday

Little dog flannel game, In the dog house flannel game

Most of us know what a big hit the "Little Mouse" flannel game is, and if you're not familiar with it, you should be! I really like to ham it up and the kids absolutely love it and never get tired of it. But, we don't want to overuse it, and if you do themed storytimes it really only fits with themes like colors, hide-and-seek, or stories with mice. Over the last few years I have seen people come up with a lot of great variations on this game, and this is mine.

I wanted an activity to pair with Jan Thomas' book The Doghouse, and this immediately came to mind. This was a relatively quick and easy flannel, since I didn't do a lot of layered pieces, and just added a few quick details with colored sharpies. You can make houses in whatever colors you want, and use however many will fit on your flannel board. I chose to make all the primary and secondary colors, as well as pink and brown. I would not recommend white, as it is often see-thru.

Little dog little dog, in the doghouse

So I hide the dog behind one of the houses, and one by one we look, saying the following rhyme before we check each house:

Little dog, little dog; come out and play!
What color house are you in today?

Are you in the _(color)_ house?

There are a couple of different ways to play it. Sometimes I might just hide the dog randomly behind one of the houses, and let the kids take turns picking which color to check. Other times, I hide him in the very last house, but with another object in front of him. I also make a few other things to hide behind the remaining houses.

We check the houses in order, and I will really ham it up, taking a peak first, building suspense. So we find some of the dogs belongings, and a couple of friends, but not the dog. So when we get to the last house, the kids are sure he has to be there. But I carefully peel the house off, leaving the dog hidden behind the cat, with just his ears, paws, and/or tail peeking out. I will pretend like I don't see him, and have no idea where he could be. Eventually someone will spot him and tell me he's there, but I play dumb and continue to ham it up a bit before finally revealing our little pup.

Do you have a favorite variation on the "Little Mouse" game? I'd love to hear about it, and I'm sure others would as well, so tell us about in the comments and share a link!

For more felt & flannel ideas and tips, check out the Flannel Friday Facebook group and Pinterest Boards! To share your flannel, submit via the Flannel Friday Tumblr. For complete information and all the details, visit the main Flannel Friday website.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Some Insights for Interviewees & Interviewers

Tips for library interviews and hiring managers

So, I have officially started job-hunting after getting my MLIS and losing my paraprofessional job in a mass pandemic-related layoff, which includes experiencing virtual interviews for the first time. In thinking about all the interview experiences I've had past and present, and looking over various questions I've actually gotten or found online, I have a few tips for interviewees, but I have even more insights for interviewers to make the process both less painful for the candidate and more productive and informative for them.

For interviewees, prepare and practice! It is so hard to remember all the things you planned to say when the nerves kick in during the real thing, so practice going over your answers with a friend, in your head, in the mirror, and/or writing them out. You can find tons of great lists of questions online if you look. I spent as much time as I could, but it still wasn't enough. Though I gave decent answers, afterward I realized all the additional things I meant to say and didn't. Also, be sure to spend some time researching the community and the library, and make sure to demonstrate that in the interview.

For me, virtual interviews add whole other layer of anxiety to an already stressful event, with the added technology issues. My first virtual interview was a real struggle, as I could not hear one of the interviewers at all, and had some trouble hearing and clearly understanding the other two. I had to keep asking them to repeat, and had to concentrate so hard to make out the questions that it was mentally exhausting, and really affected my whole performance. I did the best I could, but it did mess with my head and threw me off a little. Here are a few tips:
  • Be familiar with Skype, MS Teams, Zoom, and other popular videoconferencing tools, because you never know what they're going to use or if they will switch platforms on you at the last minute. True Story. (If given a choice, I prefer Teams.)
  • Be prepared for technical difficulties, problems hearing and understanding the interviewers, and be ready to pretend like it isn't stressing you the heck out. Consider investing in a discreet wireless headset to aid with audio.
  • Put a poster or dry erase board up behind the camera where you can see it with key words and points you want to be sure to include in your answers.
  • Put books you can talk about where you can see them to prompt your memory.
  • Have some ephemera from your work: things from programs, flyers, bibliographies, and such handy in case you want to show them.
  • Have water handy to sip.
  • Take time to check lighting and background, and maybe do a little staging.
  • Wear something you feel comfortable and confident in.

I have quite a few tips for interviewers, based on both my experiences and hearing about others' experiences. This is not based on any single interview and is not meant as criticism, but just my insights on how to have a more productive interview from the interviewee's point of view:

  • Please don't use Skype for virtual interviews. MS Teams, Zoom, or Facetime are easier and seem more reliable.
  • If there are multiple people on the panel for a virtual interview, and you are all in the same room with one device, trying to social distance and wearing masks, the poor candidate is going to have a very hard time hearing and understanding you, and be mentally exhausted by the effort. You don't need to be physically together; be in your own spaces and each on your own device, where masks won't be needed and you won't be far from the mic.
  • Provide the candidate with the questions in writing before the interview starts to make sure they understand the question correctly, and minimize the time wasted in having to repeat things.
  • If you are doing virtual interviews for external candidates, you should do them even for internal candidates so that it is an even playing field. They are vastly different experiences.
  • Ask all candidates the same set of core questions to be fair and easier to compare, but also ask each a couple based on their resume and unique skills, experiences, or accomplishments so you are getting a complete picture.
  • For a children's position, please let us do the prepared mini-storytime at the beginning! That is our comfort zone, and will help us warm up and relax before the questions start. And please, help us out and try to play along and respond to prompts as a real audience would.
  • Most interviews consist of about 10 questions, which is really not very many to truly assess a candidate. So make sure every questions counts, and is really getting at what's most important. Ask follow up and clarifying questions.
  • Don't ask why we want the position or want to work there. Come on, we all know how desperate the job market is, and the truth is we need a job, and you have an opening! Don't waste a question fishing for compliments about your library. Yes, I know you want to know that we've done some research, and that we really have a passion for whatever type of work that position will be doing and not just applying for anything and everything, but you can get that from all the other questions, looking at transcripts and prior work experience.
  • Don't ask for our favorite book or author. That really has nothing to do with our ability to do the job. You might think it's a softball question, but for those of us who like and love many books and truly do not have a favorite, this question causes anxiety, and it's just a waste of time. Better to ask about genres, or just something we've read lately, but even then there are much better questions to ask.
  • Instead, what you REALLY need to know is whether we can be effective in providing reader's advisory. And that doesn't mean you give a scenario and expect us to pull the perfect recommendation out of the air. What is better and more relevant is to ask us HOW we would go about finding titles to recommend, not WHAT we would recommend. What tools would we use? Do we have a strategy, an effective process for when we don't just know off the tops of our heads. THAT's the important part!
  • Does the position involve programming? Then ask about the programming we've done, what has been successful, what we are proud of. Also, ask about the programs that didn't quite go as expected. How do we handle it when things don't quite work the way we expected. Also, ask about our programming philosophy - what is the purpose of programming? What are our goals for programs? Is it about the process or the product? Is it academic or experiential? How does programming tie into the collection and other library services? Does our philosophy mesh well with the goals of your library?
  • Definitely ask the usual conflict questions, see how we handle difficult situations. But, don't hold it against the candidate if they have been lucky enough no to have actually had really difficult customers or conflicts with coworkers. Some people are just lucky, or maybe have the skills to prevent it from ever getting to that point. Allow for a "what would you do if" scenario question, rather than insisting on a "tell me about a time" question with a real-life example.
  • Ask about creativity, but understand creativity can be constant and subtle, not always big and bold. Asking for examples of innovation or initiating change for an entry level position really isn't quite fair, as most likely the candidate has been working in lower level positions where they do not have the authority to be innovative or initiate any changes. Allow for hypotheticals.
  • If the position involves collection development, then definitely ask something related to that, such as how they would handle a patron complaining about the content of a children's book. Look for a response that mentions the importance of having and following a well-written collection development policy, in addition to listening and being tactful and showing patron how to file a request for reconsideration. Look for an indication of having had a collection development course (you'd be surprised at how many MLIS programs don't require it) and doing collection development projects. Be sure we understand weeding is a very necessary function to maintain a healthy collection.
  • If none of your questions even touch on diversity in any way, realize that suggests to the candidate that diversity is not a priority there, and that's a red flag. Mirrors, windows, own voices, and diverse POVs are so very important, as is reaching underserved populations, making sure everyone feels welcome, and increasing diversity in the field. There really should be at least one question that touches on one of those.
  • Also, look for candidates that have some formal education or training in child development, an understanding of child behavior, and a genuine desire to work with children and families. Ask a behavior management question to see if their expectations are developmentally appropriate, and that they would have an appropriate and tactful response. Child development knowledge is a necessary competency for children's librarians that not all candidates possess equally (And if you're interested, I know a great research paper coming out in April 2022 that shows this 😉.)
  • If you want someone with new ideas, ask how they stay current and keep up with new trends, what they do for professional development (and would like to do), where do they get ideas for programs. What are some programs they would like to do, but haven't had the chance to do. Do they have ideas for virtual or alternative programming to use while in-person programming is not possible.
  • And assuming you are reading this in 2020 or early 2021, as a former microbiologist I can tell you this pandemic isn't going away any time soon; we will be dealing with this for *at least* another year, possibly more. Definitely ask questions about what role we think libraries play during this time, how can we serve the public's information needs without putting staff and the community at further risk? What can we do besides virtual programming? What lasting impact do we think this pandemic will have on libraries and youth services?
  • Ask the candidate what qualities a children's librarian should have. The response should include genuinely liking and being able to relate to children and families, patience, flexibility, initiative, some level of creativity, a willingness to try new things, tolerance for chaos, and a sense of humor. Those things cannot be taught. Also important is a knowledge of child development, early literacy, and behavior. While it's good to have a knowledge of children's literature, that can be learned on the job.
  • I know the recent trend is to just use the resume to decide who gets interviewed, and base the final decision solely on the interview. Personally, I don't think you necessarily get the best candidate this way. You get the person who is best at interviewing. Use all the information you have to inform your decision. Some people who are great librarians just don't interview as well because of anxiety, and some people who perform really well in interviews turn out to be complete duds at actually doing the job.

If you ask these questions, you really should be able to get a good sense of the candidate's qualifications and genuine interest in the job, and if they've done their research on your library as they should, they will also have enough sense to demonstrate that in their answers.

And finally, good luck to everyone who is dealing with the job-hunting/hiring process in the middle of a pandemic, which has made an already difficult job market 10 times worse, and an already stressful process even more challenging!

Thursday, July 9, 2020

And 2020 Just Keeps Getting Worse....

This is a very difficult post to write, and I had hoped to be making a completely different kind of announcement at this point. I certainly never expected to be saying this, but after working seven years in the same library system, working my way up, investing lots of my own time and money into professional development, earning my MLIS, and trying to build a career, I am suddenly unemployed due to Covid-19 layoffs, and I am devastated.

The last four months have been extremely difficult due to the library closure, not being able to have a graduation ceremony, missing my coworkers and patrons, not being able to do the programs I'd planned, and no prospects for a full-time professional position. And while I was concerned about not being able to find a professional position right away now that I have my nice shiny new MLIS, I never thought I would lose my current paraprofessional position. I thought maybe furloughed for a while, but not to be completely let go, just like that. And it wasn't just me, but at least 100 other part-timers were let go as well, all in one fell, unexpected, swoop.

While I do understand the necessity of reducing staff due to still being closed,and all the restrictions that will be in place when we they finally reopen, the way they did it added insult to injury. All throughout this crisis, I've been singing my system's praises to everyone for how well they have handled it, and put staff and community safety first, being one of the first libraries in the state to close, continuing to pay staff, and staying closed longer; holding it up as an example to others. There never was any hint they were considering mass lay-offs. I greatly appreciate that they paid us for that long, but frankly, I would rather have been furloughed and still have a job to come back to eventually than paid for a while, then fired. Yeah, they call it a lay-off, but that's just semantics. Either way, I'm out of a job. 

The way we all learned we were being let go showed a complete lack of compassion and respect. There was no warning, and we never saw it coming. Rather than letting the supervisors or managers who actually work with us and know us tell us individually, it was sent out in a mass generic e-mail that at first appeared to be just a normal update, starting out talking about starting curbside service and opening one branch, then it was basically, "and oh, by the way, all you part-time people are now unemployed", and sent out at the end of the day of course, so no one can respond. That's just cold and cowardly. To further rub salt in the wound, we were also told none of us would be called back, but we would have to reapply down the road and start all over, competing for a position and starting at base pay.  

I am absolutely devastated and incredibly hurt. Hurt by the way it was handled and devastated by the loss of a job I loved and the career I thought I was building. Though I liked every position I've had in the system and worked with so many great people and learned so much in each one, my most recent position was the one I really and truly loved. I worked with great people, I got to do a wide variety of programs, I loved our patrons and the diverse community. I enjoyed being at work and looked forward to going to work every day. I am just in tears thinking about all of the patrons that I had built relationships with that I'm not going to see again, some of the coworkers I'll probably never see again, some that I'll probably lose touch with even though we say we won't, it's just not the same when you aren't working together anymore. I know the pandemic is ultimately to blame for the situation, but the director and board bear the blame for how it was handled.

So if you're a director or board member reading this, your take-away should be to never, ever forget your decisions have major impact on people's lives. Never forget your employees are human beings, and remember to treat them with compassion and grace, especially when difficult decisions have to be made. Even though it would be easier on you to just send out an e-mail; you need to share that emotional burden and do it in a more personal way. Take time to look at all those names of people whose worlds you are about to turn upside down. Think about who they are, what they've done for the library.  And if you can't picture them or answer that question, you need to do some serious soul-searching about what kind of director you want to be. If you don't know the employee, then let the manager or supervisor who does deliver the news, someone who sees a human being, not a disposable cog, and can be truly empathetic and compassionate.

To my former director and board, you've done some really great things with the library and for the community, and you handled the initial crisis extremely well. However, you really handled this very poorly. I hope the library can recover from the loss of so many great, knowledgeable and experienced people; I hope my career can survive this major setback. I can almost guarantee that when you see my name you have no idea who I am or the things I've done for the library and community. Even if you have a vague idea, I'm sure you don't really know me. Here are some things I want you to know about me before you show me the door:

I am one of the most dependable, dedicated part-time workers you had. I loved my job, and I am very passionate about public libraries and youth services. I just finished my MLIS, which is actually my second masters degree. My first was in microbiology, and my first career was in research. I did work for Dr. Tony Fauci in fact. I grew up on a farm after being a navy brat. I also worked for the navy as a civilian researcher. I was an award-winning professional cake decorator. I once coached a state-champion track team. I just had a paper about my MLIS research project accepted for publication in a scholarly journal. Losing my job is going to mean major upheaval for my family. I love animals and nature. I never outgrew my fascination with dinosaurs. I have presented close to 2000 storytimes in the last 5 years. I serve on the board of my local public library, and though we also had to make the difficult decision to lay-off part-time employees, we gave them 30 days notice and every one of them got a personal phone call (and they will be called back at their same pay, in order of seniority). I will be a great children's librarian for some other library. I am a living, breathing, human being with skills, hopes, dreams, responsibilities, and feelings.

To my former supervisors and managers, you guys were all awesome to work for, and I learned so much from each and every one of you, and I am so glad I had the opportunity to work with you all. My co-workers are all amazing people, and I will miss you all so much. The library is a great library because of all of you! And to my library kiddos and families, I am sitting here with tears streaming down my face, looking at all the little treasures you've given me over the years, thinking of how I will not get to see your smiling faces, receive your pretend cakes and cups of tea, see the look of wonder on your faces when we do cool experiments, hear you laugh when I read a silly story, or help you find just the right book again. And worst of all, I didn't even get to say good-bye.

My treasures, clockwise from the top left: 

  • A card from a boy whose family were regulars saying he missed me because they had come during shifts I wasn't working the last few times.
  • A good-bye card from one of my favorite daycares when I left my outreach position.
  • Scribbled notes from a little boy his mother translated to say "I love the library" and "I love the librarian", which inspired the next one:
  • "Love letters" to the library for library lovers month.
  • A multi-page Thanksgiving card from "8 little turkeys" at one of the daycares I visited.
  • A penny from a little girl at another daycare who insisted she wanted to give me a tip for doing storytime with them.
  • Finally, the most heartbreaking. A bracelet from a little boy at a daycare for Mother's Day. I asked him if he didn't need to give that to his mom, and he said "nah, I have another one". I found out a couple of months later than he had been in foster care and mom wasn't really in the picture (he was later adopted by his foster family). I will treasure that bracelet for ever!!

To all the other library people who have also been left unemployed, the other recent grads facing a near hopeless job market, I see you and I feel your pain.

To the year 2020, enough already! 

And to the corona virus, screw you! Just. Screw. You.