Friday, July 16, 2021

Summer 2021 - Uncertainty & Difficult Transitions

Summer reading

How is the summer going for you? I am sure there's a wide range in summer programming, with some libraries sticking to virtual programming and take-home kits, some libraries charging full steam ahead and returning to normal pre-pandemic summer programming, and many falling somewhere in between.

As I said in my previous post, our summer has been a somewhat awkward, confusing combination of virtual programming, take-home kits, and in-person programs combined with a last-minute replacement of our already planned summer reading program with a new, completely different one that involves paying kids $100 to check out 10 books, funded by the city & county governments with federal pandemic recovery funds and planned by the marketing department and admin rather than by youth services staff, which made things even more confusing and chaotic. I've already written about my thoughts on summer reading programs and what I think they should and shouldn't be, so I'm only mentioning it here in terms of how it affected my summer programming.

In light of time and staffing constraints compounded by this new SRP and multiple staff vacations and knowing we had already spent well over half of our modest programming budget by May, I decided to pull back from programming for the summer and save my time, effort, and budget for fall, when I expected we would be back to "normal" in-person programs. I planned to rely on the centralized weekly virtual programming and craft and science kits from the main library and my weekly outdoor family storytime, and just supplement these with some very low-key, *cheap*, easy outdoor family activities I billed as "Family Fun" days, scheduled around the twice weekly public school meal deliveries at our location. I planned these to be simple, drop-in, self-directed activities that would not require a staff member to be present the whole time, and had minimal set-up and clean up.

  • Week 1 & 2 - Sidewalk Chalk - I bought a bulk case of sidewalk chalk, and divided it up into ziplock bags with 5 sticks per bag and handed them out and encouraged families to decorate our sidewalks. [I had originally thought I would do storytelling the second week, thinking families would hang around and picnic outside (we have a nice shady lawn with picnic tables) after getting their lunch, but it turned out they were handing out multiple frozen meals this year rather than a single lunch, so people went straight home to put them away, requiring me to move up the time to before the meal delivery and focus only on drop-in activities.]

    Sidewalk chalk art

  • Week 3 - Bubble Party - I had a bubble machine going and set up several trays of solution on the picnic tables with an assortment of wands. I wanted to have music, too, but apparently we do not have a working CD player.

    Bubble Party

  • Week 4 - Ice Painting - I added food coloring and wooden sticks to the water in ice cube trays and froze them to make "ice paints" that would be technically safe to eat since I knew they would inevitably end up in toddler mouths. I put them in zip-lock bags sorted by color, and set them in a cooler half-filled with ice. I put the cooler and a basket of watercolor paper out on a table with a sign explaining the activity and to help themselves. I also strung a line with clothespins for people to hang their paintings to dry."

  • Week 5 - "Giant" Games - This one didn't turn out quite like I expected, as I was borrowing these from the main library without ever seeing them. My old library system had truly giant versions of games that were meant to be played outdoors, and that's what I expected, but what I got were mostly larger-than-normal-but-not-giant games that were intended for indoors, and not the selection I expected. What I ended up with was: large Jenga, checkers, chess, tic-tac-toe, and Trouble. I also put out a couple of packs of sidewalk chalk for those too young to play the games.

    Family Game Day, yard games

  • Week 6 - Challenge Course - Inspired by similar courses other library folks have shared, I drew a course along our sidewalk with chalk that had about a dozen different sections instructing various activities to encourage outdoor play and movement, but of course ending at our front door with the final instruction to "check out a book". Here is a video showing the whole course:

    My course wasn't as pretty as others I've because I don't really have any artistic ability, and drawing with chalk is the most time-consuming (but cheapest and most temporary) method so did not have time for details and background color, but I was pretty pleased with it. It was A LOT of work! It took me almost 2 hours, even with a some help from a teen volunteer, and by the end I was such a sweaty, chalky mess I had to go home and shower and change at lunch. If you have the budget for it, and your powers-that-be are okay with it, I would strongly suggest using marking paint. This is used for marking utilities and can be sprayed upside down and will wash off eventually or with pressure spraying.

  • Week 7 - Water Play - I made sponge "water bombs" (more environmentally friendly than water balloons) for the older kids (cut sponges into 4 strips, 9 strips per water bomb rubberbanded together), and will set up a water table for the younger kids, sensory bin with water beads, "painting" with water on the sidewalk for everyone, and spray bottles to try to make rainbows.

    Water bombs

  • Week 8 - Slushie Science - This probably will require more of my involvement, but I thought it would be worth it. I will provide juice, ice, salt, and zip-lock bags for making "slushies in a bag". Fewer ingredients than ice-cream, more inclusive for those with dairy allergies or lactose intolerance, and no worrying about anything spoiling in the heat.

    Slushie in a bag

  • Week 9 - The Best of - I will probably do one last program the first week of August, with multiple activities, selecting those that were both easy and popular, and maybe give away books if we still have some of the summer giveaways left. Definitely sidewalk chalk and bubbles, and probably one or two of the large games (Jenga, Checkers).

This has been a difficult, disappointing, and frustrating summer in many ways, but being able to have some in-person programs again has been such a relief. In-person storytime in particular has brought back a little bit of the joy I used to have in my pre-pandemic job. It is definitely the highlight of my week, and I finally feel like I have something to look forward to again. I've really enjoyed starting to build relationships with my youngest patrons and their grown-ups. It's so rewarding to see families coming back each week and to see little faces light up when they see me.

Turnout for the "Family Fun" programs has been disappointing, though. I've gotten 2-3 families each time, mabye 4 or 5 for a couple, but that's it. I had hoped to benefit by timing it around the meal deliveries by the public school system, but for various reasons and changes in how they did things, the library did not get any real benefit from that partnership. 

I really, really hoping that the summer of 2022 will truly be back to a normal summer again, with our usual summer reading program, lots of families coming to the library all summer long, programs with paid performers, special in-house programs, more emphasis on reading, and a lot more fun!

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Cats - Family Storytime

cat storytime, kitty storytime, kitten storytime

To be honest, I totally chose this theme in order to show off my kitten felt set that I made last year during the pandemic shutdown when I had plenty of time on my hands. But, they are freakin' adorable, if I do say so myself. 

We started with a hello song, then sang this month's warm-up song, "The Wheels On the Bus":

The Wheels On The Bus

The wheels on the bus go round and round,
Round and round, round and round.
The wheels on the bus go round and round,
All through the town.

Wipers go swish...horn goes beep...doors open & shut...
people go up and down...driver says "go on back"
babies say waaa...mommies & daddies say "I love you"...

After that I brought out our "special guest" to introduce the topic: a cat puppet that had a unique purring sound effect. We talked a little about different kinds of cats, wild versus domestic, big verses little, and the wild cats found in our state (mountain lions and bobcats). Then I explained how a cat "wagging" or swishing its tail means exactly the opposite of when a dog wags its tail. I then explained that cats make a special sound in their throats when they are happy called purring, and let them all hear the purring sound the puppet made. 

Being a big fan of "The Big Bang Theory" and "Young Sheldon", I of course couldn't possible talk about cats without doing Sheldon's favorite soothing song, "Soft Kitty":

Soft Kitty

Soft kitty, warm kitty,
Little ball of fur.
Happy kitty, sleepy kitty,
Purr, purr, purr.

cat storytime
Now we were ready for our first story. Following our lead-in "story song" I read the modern classic, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by James Dean and Eric Litwin. This is such a great storytime book for many reasons. It has a now-familiar character, text is short and simple, it includes the basic concept of colors, has a lot of repetition, a great blues-y rhythm, and includes a song. On top of all that, it has a great message about not letting the little things that go wrong ruin your day. 

I really like the original four books, but I have to confess the later books written by Dean's wife after he split from Litwin (Dean is a folk artist who made up the character and Litwin is a folk musician who wrote the stories and songs) fall flat for me and just don't have the same magic.

After working on colors with Pete, it was time to break out my flannel board and work on counting with my felt kitten set:

cat storytime, cat flannel board

Five Little Kittens

One little kitten went out to play,
Out in a sunny garden one day.
She had such enormous fun,
She called for another kitten to come.
"Here kitty, kitty!"

[Pat thighs lightly to imitate pitter-pat of kitten running.]


Five little kittens went out to play,
Out in a sunny garden one day.
They had such enormous fun,
They played all day 'til the day was done.

And the mama cat called, "Time to come home, little kittens!"

[Count down as you remove each kitten and it runs home.]

After that, it was time to pretend to be kittens!

If You're a Cat and You Know It

If you're a cat and you know it, say "Meow!"
If you're a cat and you know it, say "Meow!"
If you're a cat and you know it, and you really want to show it,
If you're a cat and you know it, say "Meow!"

lick your paws [just pretend!]....drink your milk...
sharpen your claws...
give a purr...swish your tail...give a hiss...

cat storytime
For our final story I chose Don't Wake Up the Tiger! by Britta Teckentrup. This book is great for keeping the younger or more wiggly kids engaged because it is short and sweet, has simple bold illustrations with bright colors, and is very interactive. The animals in the story have a problem; a sleeping tiger is blocking their path, and they have to get over her without waking her up. Luckily, they are carrying a bunch of brightly colored helium balloon which they use to float over the tiger one by one. 

But, each encounters some trouble, and the reader and audience are prompted to take various actions: blowing the balloon to keep it afloat, singing a lullaby to keep the tiger asleep, rubbing the tiger's tummy... All is well until stork's beak pops a balloon and wakes the tiger up! The audience is sure the tiger is about to eat somebody, only to be surprised when the page is turned to reveal a surprise birthday party for her. We sang "Happy Birthday" and counted candles on the birthday cake to see how old Tiger was.

I ended with announcements and showing them the take-home craft, then we sang our closing song.

Take-Home Craft 
cat craft
I found this cute little bobble-head kitty craft on the "Fireflies & Mudpies" blog, which provides a free printable pattern that can be colored and used directly, or cut out and traced around as a pattern.

I printed the pattern on cardstock as paper just wasn't heavy or stiff enough, and wrote my own directions with my own step-by-step photos. I gave each child one printed pattern set, the sheet of directions with a coloring sheet on the back, a sheet of black construction paper, and two googly-eyes. Two of the kids had to bring their bobble-head kitties to storytime the following week to show me, so I guess they were a hit.

How It Went
I had a rather small group, just three families, for a total of 6 kids and 4 adults, and only one of them had intentionally planned on coming to storytime, the other two families just happened to be at the library at the right time. Though logically I know it was likely due to people planning vacations around the 4th of July, I can't help but be concerned when I see a big drop in attendance (after having 27 two weeks before). I wonder if I will ever stop second-guessing myself when attendance wavers? Does everyone else do this? 

But other than the small turnout, it went very well. I had great participation, and the kids really liked the cat puppet. One little girl even asked if she could say good-bye to my kitty. As always Pete and his white shoes were a big hit with the catchy tune and repetition, but they liked the other book as well, and they enjoyed all the other activities. One of the youngest got a little restless and had trouble staying engaged, but I was able to keep re-focusing her by addressing her by name as I pointed out something in the story or asked a question.

Monday, July 5, 2021

Where Do We Go From Here?


So now that vaccines are available and it seems almost everyone has succumbed to pandemic fatigue and are ready to move on and get back to normal, despite vaccination rates being far below what is needed for herd immunity and the virus continuing to mutate and produce variants that may be even more dangerous, what does that mean for library programming and services? How do we begin the transition back to normal? Is the old normal even possible? How do we balance the desire for a return to normal with concerns for not only our own health, but the health and safety of our youngest patrons who don't even have the option of being vaccinated yet, especially when faced with pressure from parents who don't share those concerns and administrations who want things back to business as usual? 

None of these are easy questions, and I have been wrestling with them for the last few months as I tried to figure out summer programming and begin to plan for fall. Our summer has been a painful, confusing mish-mash of take-home kits, virtual programs, and limited in-person programs. At the time we had to start planning summer programs, we didn't know what the situation would be like, and didn't want to invest in planning the usual big, expensive in-person programs that might have to be canceled, and decided to stick with virtual and kits. That was the right decision at the time, as none of us really expected the mask mandate and other restrictions to be dropped until the fall. 

But much to our surprise, the CDC made their big announcement in May, which put everyone else in a very difficult position. When the state and local governments dropped their mask mandates and other restrictions, we felt we had no choice but to do the same; without the state mandates to fall back on it would be too difficult and potentially dangerous for staff to try to enforce mask-wearing and other restrictions. About this same time, people had been asking for storytime to start again, and I was tired of virtual programming, so I decided to try having in-person storytimes outdoors where we could spread out more and have ventilation over the summer. I also quickly planned some simple drop-in family programs outside, things like sidewalk chalk art, bubble party, giant games, water play, etc.

So far the summer has been a very awkward transition and somewhat of a let-down to the public who was hoping for the usual big, flashy programs. No one is watching the virtual programs, and some of the take-home kits leave much to be desired. However, storytime is doing fairly well, and I am really enjoying finally getting to interact with real live children! Being outside has its challenges: visibility since we're spread out more, road noise from being on a busy street, and the heat, but it is so much better than virtual! My drop-in family activities have had some participation, maybe not as much as I'd like, but at least enough worth doing. Patrons are enjoying finally having library programs again, but they would like more and are clearly ready to get back to normal.

Which brings us to the conundrum of planning for fall. Our patrons seem more than ready to resume attending in-person programs, I would love to get back to normal programs, and upper management wants us to resume regular in-person programming ASAP. But, I am struggling with it because though *I* may be vaccinated and now no longer so concerned about *my* health, children under 12 still can't be vaccinated. When you consider that along with the unfortunate facts we are unlikely to ever reach herd immunity (the vaccination rate in our community is only 30%) and the virus is mutating with new variants such as Delta becoming more prevalent and potentially more dangerous, I can't help but be somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of having a bunch of kids close together indoors in an enclosed space with adults that may not be vaccinated.

Will we go right back to exactly what programming was being done a year and a half ago? Maybe, maybe not. It seems to me that it would be foolish to expect things to just go right back to the way they were in 2019. I think it's a good time to start fresh, re-evaluate things, and assess what the community needs and wants NOW. I also think it will take some time to rebuild, and we aren't going to see the numbers we were seeing before. I do hope we get back to public libraries being a welcoming community center and seeing lots of families coming in, but I also hope maybe we step it back just a little, and stop trying to be everything to everybody, and stop being afraid to have reasonable boundaries and behavior expectations. 

What elements of pandemic programming and services will we retain in some fashion? I  think we need to continue to be more vigilant about hygiene and sanitization than we were before, just as a matter of best practice. I think curbside service maybe here to stay, though I have noticed ours has dropped off considerably. Virtual programming, I don't know. Maybe in some form or fashion, but I for one hope I never have to do virtual storytimes again, though I wouldn't mind virtual booktalks, or quick cute & fun demos or teasers. However, I think for the most part people are done with it here. Take-home kits? No doubt these were a great success, and I was proud of what I was able to put together. But should they continue once regular programming returns? For me, it's simply not possible with our level of staffing and teeny tiny programming budget; it just isn't sustainable. 

Kits are time-consuming, expensive, and generate a lot of plastic waste. Sure, people love free stuff and will take them if available, but I wonder how many of them just ended up in the trash? And do any of the caretakers use them as a learning and bonding activity to do WITH the child as intended, or was it just something to hand to the kid to keep them occupied? I feel take-home kits just don't serve to promote literacy and learning as well, nor do they promote library use or lead to increased library visits (other than to run in and grab the kit) or increased circulation. Take-home kits just don't have the same connected learning without a presenter/facilitator to guide and interact with the kids, nor do they allow staff to build relationships with families in the same way as in-person. But at the same time, they are an option for those who are not able or comfortable attending in-person programs.

I know some feel we should do everything to accommodate everyone, and while that might be ideal, for many of us it just isn't reality. If you have the staffing and budget to do it all, more power to you! I envy your generous budget and adequate staffing! Volunteers, you say? Well, that might help with time, but that doesn't help with money, and have you ever actually worked with volunteers? I've worked with many teen and adult volunteers, and good, capable, dependable volunteers are extremely valuable, but also few and far between. Besides, volunteers should never be accepted as the answer to understaffing.

So where do we go from here? I don't think any of us really quite know for sure, and I think we still have a rather difficult year ahead as we sort it all out and try to regain some sense of normal, even if it's a not quite the same as the old normal, all the while having nagging concerns about the health and safety of ourselves and our patrons. I encourage everyone to take it slow, take baby steps, ease it to it. And as always, don't be afraid to set limits and boundaries, don't be afraid to experiment, and don't be afraid to fail. We are in uncharted territory here, and we are all figuring it out as we go. Don't be too hard on yourselves, and don't be too hard on others who may be doing things a little differently. 

I'd love to hear what your summer is looking like, and what your thoughts, plans, and concerns are for the upcoming fall programming season!