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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!

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