Friday, May 29, 2020

Librarian In Limbo

I feel like that should be the title of my blog now, because that's exactly what I am and probably will be for some time, and it's left me feeling very disconnected and a bit discouraged and frustrated.

I finally completed my MLIS, so I guess I can legitimately call myself a librarian now, but I won't really feel like one until I have a job with the title as well. And thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, the job market is at a complete standstill. Many libraries are still closed (as they should be), almost all are under a hiring freeze, and the lasting repercussions of the pandemic will make an already poor and extremely competitive job market even worse for some time to come. But, I really need a full-time job with benefits now! I really worry that I just wasted a lot of time, hard work, and money on a degree for nothing, and I know the more time passes and the older I get, the harder it's going to be to get a full-time librarian job.

On top of that, I'm not working at all right now. The system where I am employed as a part-time paraprofessional has been closed since March 14, and still doesn't have a date for re-opening. A few staff members have been called in starting this week to prepare for curbside service beginning June 8th, but as circ staff was prioritized, I was not among them. I am very fortunate and very grateful that we are all still being paid regardless, but at the same time I don't really feel quite right being paid for doing nothing, and I miss working. I miss the routine, I miss my coworkers, I miss interacting with patrons, I miss programming, I miss feeling productive.

Even though there is no expectation that I do any work while on paid emergency leave, I've tried to at least do some professional development. I've watched several webinars, I've expanded on my MLIS research project, did some editing and re-writes, and submitted it for publication; I've been reading as much middle-grade and YA as I can, I've recycled the slides from prior training presentations and recorded them with voiceover, and I will start working on making some flannel board sets since I haven't had time to do that in well over a year. 

But it just isn't the same. I love programming and sharing my programs though this blog, but haven't done a single program since February. I volunteered to do virtual programming, but was told I wasn't needed as the nine children's librarians in our system have that more than covered. Of course it makes sense, when doing virtual programming as a system you don't need to do nearly the number of programs as when doing in-person programs at multiple locations, so it requires far fewer staff to do it. My system has done a phenomenal job in handling this crisis and looking out for the best interests of both staff and the community; I have no complaints about any decisions they've made. It's just after nearly 3 months I now feel so disconnected from work and the whole professional community, and tired of being inside my own head so much of the time.

To make matters worse, even when I finally do get to go back to work, things won't be the same. I'm anticipating we won't be doing in-person programming for quite some time, and I really miss it. I expect that we won't have toys and things out, and won't be encouraging people to come and hang out for a while; people will be encouraged to just come in, get their materials and leave. We will be wearing masks, using "sneeze guards" and practicing social distancing, making interactions with patrons much more impersonal. While I know these extreme measures are necessary, it still makes me very sad that we will now have to do the opposite of what we've worked so hard to do in making libraries a vibrant, welcoming space. It seems like libraries are being set back 100 years, thanks to this pandemic. I know it's only temporary; I just hope it doesn't take us very long to get back to where we were before once it's over.

So instead of working and job-hunting, I'm stuck here in limbo, waiting. Waiting for this pandemic to pass, waiting to go back to work, waiting for a children's librarian job to open up, waiting for life to get back to some semblance of normal. 

The last four years I have been completely focused on getting my degree and doing everything I can to develop professionally to prepare for eventually applying for a professional position. Now that the degree is over and everything else has come to a standstill, I am left with this huge void. I supposed it's a good time to get back to some of my other interests or develop new ones outside of librarianship.... Or thoroughly clean and organize my house....But, let's not get too radical.

Anyone else out there stuck in limbo, too? Not working, not doing virtual programming, and/or job hunt put on hold? What are you doing to pass the time or feel productive?

Friday, May 22, 2020

Incorporating Math Literacy Into Storytime and Other Programs

Math storytime, math concepts in storytime, math picture books for preschoolers, math activities for toddlers and preschoolers

Incorporating math and science into storytime is something I've always tried to do, especially when I was in outreach, but I've realized it's not something everyone thinks of, or knows how to do. Or maybe you are doing some of these things anyway, and just hadn't really connected them to math or science. After seeing an article with a list of children's books to encourage an interest in math, I've been thinking more about ways to incorporate math and encourage a positive attitude about math, and trying to be more purposeful in incorporating math into storytime and other programs.

Now if you're thinking "oh, great, something else I have to worry about doing in storytime...", I get it! First storytime was just about reading stories, then it was about early literacy skills, then we had to add parent education and passing along development and early literacy information, and now we're talking about adding math! 

It is challenging to try to include so many different elements in 20-minute storytime, but some of these you are likely already doing anyway, and others are easy to incorporate. Plus, I'm a big believer in starting small, and that you don't have to do ALL the things every time. So try them every now and then, and as you get more familiar and comfortable with them, look for ways to incorporate them more often.

First, I'll start with some of the more obvious and work to some that are less obvious:

  • Counting Books - There are lots of counting books, some better and more interesting than others. Keep the age of the audience in mind. For babies and toddlers, counting up from 1 to 5 or 10 is enough, but for older kids, look for books that count up to 20, and for books that count down. One that comes to mind I really like for older kids is Chicka Chicka 1, 2, 3 by Bill Martin, Jr., Michael Sampson, and Lois Ehlert. This introduces "skip counting", or counting by ten's up to 100. Also keep an eye out for books that have an actual story, as opposed to just counting, like Ellen Stoll Walsh's Mouse Count.

  • Counting Songs & Rhymes - Again, for preschool and up, be sure to include rhymes and songs than count down as well as up, and try to use more that go up to/down from 10 and not just all the "Five Little..." somethings (though those are still good, too). Whenever I do the "Ten Little..." something song, I always do a second verse counting back down from 10 to 1 (this is also good for fine motor skills, as is repeating the "Five Little" somethings using the non-dominant hand).

  • Shapes - The obvious connection here is geometry, which is true, but any type of activity that involves categorizing and classifying things involves mathematical thinking and is a pre-science skill as well. There are not a lot of great shape books, but two that I have used a lot are Shape By Shape by Suse McDonald (even though she got the Brachiosaurus' teeth completely wrong) for younger kids and Circle, Square, Moose by Kelly Bingham for older kids. Tangled: A Story About Shapes by Anne Miranda and Eric Comstock is a newer book that looks promising.

    Aside from books and simple shape identification activities, other activities that could be incorporated during storytime or as part of a craft or playtime afterward are flannel boards with all different felt shapes kids can play with and put together, crafts using cut-out shapes to make collage pictures or tangrams, magnet board shapes, good old-fashioned wooden building blocks that come in different shapes, and various shape-sorter toys. Encourage parents to point out shapes in real life, like signs, windows, doors, wheels, etc. There are several books that involve identifying shapes in the environment, but City Shapes by Diana Murray is particularly nice, and Bryan Collier's illustrations are lovely.

  • Introduce Addition & Subtraction Concepts - An example that we frequently use are the counting up and down rhymes with the "Five Little" somethings, where we add or take away things one at a time. Look for stories that have this element as well, and reinforce it. Essentially, all the counting up stories and rhymes are doing addition, and the counting down ones are using subtraction; we just have to be intentional about pointing it out and describing it using those terms.

  • Introduce Addition & Subtraction Equations - For preschoolers and up, occasionally show them the written equation and talk them through what the symbols mean and how it represents the situation just described. Two books that are great for this are Little Quack by Lauren Thompson and Derek Anderson, which counts up from 0 to 5 and showing the addition equations, and Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by Eric Litwin and James Dean, which counts down from four to zero as Pete loses each button and shows the subtraction equations.

  • Sorting & Matching - There are any number of items you can provide to have children sort and/or match by color, size, shape, or any other characteristics. This can be done with flannel or magnetic boards or with physical objects. A favorite activity of one of my volunteers was leaf-sorting using foam leaf cutouts that could be sorted by color, shape, or whether they were sparkly. This Attribute Apple set is great, too; it has apples in three sizes and colors, some with leaves, and some with worms, so there are many different criteria by which to sort them. This is also a great pre-science activity, and using a pincer grasp to sort small objects makes it a pre-writing activity as well!

  • Patterns - Just like sorting, you can using various characteristics and activities to explore patterns using flannel pieces, blocks, beads on a string, and more. Seeing patterns is an important skill in mathematical thinking (think statistics, coding, data analysis, etc.). And again, manipulating small objects with a pincer grasp, as with stringing beads, is also great for writing.

  • Spatial Relationships - Think directional terms and prepositions! Up, down, on the table, in the basket, over the rainbow, beside the chair, under the blanket, over there, etc. Use these to be descriptive, and ask questions that will elicit similar descriptive terms from the children. Also relative size and position, such as bigger than, smaller than, higher, lower, farther, nearer; big, bigger, and biggest, etc. I bet you already do this without realizing it relates to math as well as expressive language! The Berenstain Bears' Inside Outside Upside Down and Jez Alborough's Tall come to mind.

    And of course for a hands-on activity, it's hard to beat building with blocks for spatial relationships, but a treasure hunt where they have to follow directional instructions as well as relative descriptions and counting is a really fun way to incorporate several math skills.

  • Measurement - Have kids measure and estimate things - quantity, length, height, weight, volume. One activity I have used, since we are in the middle of horse country, is tape a row of handprint cutouts up the wall and have the kids guess how many hands high they would be, then measure and see. This is a great science activity as well.

  • Graphing - This activity is probably best for ages 5 and up, who have started to develop a greater sense of symbolic/representational thinking. This is simple to add onto any of the sorting or counting activities you do by just drawing a simple bar graph to represent your totals, and explaining how each unit of the bar represents 1 whatever you are counting.

Again, don't feel pressured to incorporate math into every single storytime, but just try to be a little more mindful and intentional with some of the activities when you can. Some are a little easier to do than others, and it does depend on the age of the kids. And if you aren't able to fit it into storytime as much as you'd like, then try to sneak it into other programs.

And to help, here are some links to various lists of books that relate to math in a positive way, and most are nicely categorized:

If you have any suggestions for books or activities, or know other helpful resources, please share them in the comments! 

(And remember, regardless of your own personal feelings or possible struggles with math, please be careful to refrain from expressing any negative attitudes about math around children!)

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Friday, May 1, 2020

New Feature!

Free webinars for parents, teachers, and librarians

If you look at the end of the menu bar above, you might notice a new feature: "Webinars, Tutorials, & Presentations".

I've given several trainings related to literacy and storytime programming in the past for volunteers, child care staff, and paraprofessionals in the school system, and I always enjoyed creating the slides. After recently having the occasion to record a presentation with voiceover in PowerPoint, I realized just how easy it is.

So, I decided since I have so much free time while the library is closed for the Covid-19 pandemic and I'm on paid administrative leave with no programs to write up, I would try my hand at recording a few webinars, tutorials, and the like. (My library system is doing some virtual programming, but only the full-time librarians have been asked to participate so far. I'd certainly be willing, but as a part-timer I haven't been looped in at this point.)

I started with adapting the training presentations I had done previously, since I had the slides already made, so there are currently two recorded webinars available, one on everyday practices to develop early literacy meant primarily for parents, childcare workers and people new to the field. The second is on ways to encourage reading and promote literacy in school-age children, with a focus on reluctant readers.

Next I plan to do one or more on tips for planning and presenting early literacy programming, a.k.a. storytimes, specifically for children's librarians and paraprofessionals, which I might be able put together using existing slides, but most likely will start from scratch. I'll also probably venture from just doing voiceover for a slideshow to doing some actual videos to force myself to get used to being in front of the camera.

If you have any feedback, suggestions, or requests for topics, anything from webinars to quick tutorials or demonstrations of things I've done in my programs, just leave it in the comments below, or send me an email at