Friday, December 24, 2021

Christmas Pajama Storytime

I just started my new job in December, and I felt bad I didn't really get there quite early enough to really plan any special holiday programs or take-home kits, so somewhat at the last minute I decided to at least do a special evening pajama Christmas storytime.

I was a bit ambivalent, because I do have mixed feelings about doing in-person programming indoors right now, but I decided to go ahead because I had a nice big area to spread out. I figured I would keep it very simple and low-key, just a few songs and stories and a treat bag to take home, no Santa to draw large crowds. I know holiday programming is a hot-button issue in our field, but I think it depends on the community. There are libraries I've worked at where Christmas programming was not appropriate and I didn't do it, but for this particular community it makes sense. 

I posted it on the library's Facebook page (yes, I have the power!) and put out signs in the library. I saw that two of the elementary schools and the chamber of commerce shared it as well. I had no idea how many to expect, and went back and forth from being afraid I would have a big crowd and being afraid no one would come. I prepared goody bags for 30 kids, but realistically only expected maybe 10-15 at most.

Normally I start of with a typical "Hello" song, but for this one I used the chorus of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" as our hello song:

We Wish You a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
We wish you a Merry Christmas,
and a Happy New Year!

Then, just to be silly we sang it as Yoda would:

A Merry Christmas we wish you,
A Merry Christmas we wish you,
A Merry Christmas we wish you,
and a New Year Happy!

Then for a little movement we did Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer with motions:

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall, the most famous reindeer of all?

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose.
And if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.

Then one foggy Christmas Eve, Santa came to say, 
"Rudolph, with you nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then how the reindeer love him, as they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, you'll go down in history!"

[I've always thought this was just a fun song and I use it because almost all kids know and love it, but this year it really hit me what a wrong message it sends, that it's only ok to be different when that difference somehow becomes useful to others.]

Then finally we did "Jingle Bells" because I know how much kids love playing with the bells! 

Jingle Bells

Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh.
Over the fields we go, laughing all the way. (Ha, ha ha)
Bells on bobtails ring, making spirits bright.
Oh, what fun to ride and sing a sleighing song tonight! Oh...

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh-hey!
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way.
Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!

Christmas storytime
For our first book I chose There's an Elf in Your Book by Tom Fletcher. I love this series for how fun, funny, and interactive they are. In this installment, one of Santa's elves is giving us a naughty or nice test to see which list to put us on. Most of the items are easy, BUT elves are tricky so you have to pay attention and be sure you don't get tricked into doing something naughty!

At the end there's a certificate that you could make copies of to hand out and leave for Santa to see you are indeed on the nice list, but I never think about it until it's too late.

Christmas storytime
Next I tried to start calming things down with a quieter book about bedtime, Christmas Eve Good Night by Dough Cushman. It is Christmas Eve at the North Pole, and all the young inhabitants are getting ready for bed, and being tucked in by their mamas and papas. In rhyming couplets the narrator asks how each one would tell their grown-ups "goodnight".

This one is great for some more quiet, gentle interaction as the audience either guesses or reads the sounds or words each one would use, including snowmen, elves, polar bears, reindeer, and more. This book is easy to shorten if needed by skipping spreads, and I did skip two since our last book was going to be longer.

I tried to find a slower, more "lullaby-ish" Christmas song, but everything I came across that fit the tempo and mood was overtly religious; I couldn't find anything more secular. So I settled for an updated version of "Up on the Housetop" that avoids gender stereotyping the gifts that Santa brings that I found on YouTube from Super Simple:

Up On the Housetop

Up on the housetop reindeer pause, 
out jumps good old Santa Claus!
Down through the chimney with lots of toys, 
all for the little ones Christmas joys.

(Chorus):       Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go?                      
Ho, ho, ho, who wouldn't go?
Up on the housetop, click, click, click.
Down through the chimney with the good St. Nick!

First come the stockings in a row, 
filled with goodies top to toe.
Then to the tree old Santa springs, 
to place the presents that he brings.


Everything delivered from his sack,
Santa has a cookie snack.
Back to his reindeer and the sleigh,
into the night they fly away!


I like this updated version much better, especially as a girl who never really liked dolls herself, and the mother of both a girl who would much rather have trucks and cars or building sets, and a boy who loved his baby Anthony doll.

Finally, we ended with the traditional The Night Before Christmas poem by Clement Moore, using the version illustrated by Jan Brett. It's a bit long, but it has such a nice rhythm that most kids can stay engaged, plus many are already familiar with it. Reading this on Christmas Eve was always a tradition in my house when my kids were little, and along with watching "It's a Wonderful Life" and "A Christmas Story", it just wouldn't be the same without it.

Christmas storytime
We also posted a video on the library's Facebook page of a staff member dressed as Santa Claus reading a different version of this poem illustrated by Richard Jesse Watson, one with more contemporary illustrations showing a very modern, hi-tech sleigh and very large text that showed nicely on camera for those who couldn't come to storytime (or weren't comfortable doing so), or those who wanted to hear again with a different voice, style, and pictures to keep it interesting.

We ended with another round of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" as a good-by song, and I handed out goody bags that contained:
  • Magic Reindeer Food (oats, red & green sugar crystals and a pinch of edible glitter)
  • packet of hot chocolate mix
  • candy cane
  • Christmas-themed self-inking stamp
  • two winter/Christmas bookmarks, one was one they could color

How It Went
Despite being equally afraid I would have either a big crowd or nobody show up, I was relieved to see families start trickling in about 10-15 minutes before we were to begin. I ended up with four families, with 6 adults and 7 kids, for a total of 13 people. While maybe 2-3 more families would have made an ideal size crowd, I was just happy that it wasn't too crowded, but there were enough people to be worth having done it. Also, it was mostly school-aged kids who don't get to come to the regular storytimes anymore, so that made me even more glad I did it. Those that came seemed to really enjoy it and it gave me a chance to meet more of the community, including one of the elementary school librarians.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

New Year, New Job!

I have big news! I've started a new position, and this time I think it could be "the one". 
If you've followed my blog for while you may remember that just after finishing my MLIS in the spring of 2020, I and 100 other part-time staff members were let go from the library system I had worked in for 7 years. After being unexpectedly thrown into an absolutely abysmal job market I ended up relocating across the country in order to find a full-time professional position.

My husband and son stayed behind, waiting to see how I liked things there before we decided whether I was going to come back home when something opened up or we were going to relocate there permanently. As it turned out, though I loved the state I relocated to, I did not like the particular town and the position and library system in general proved not to be a good fit for several reasons. However, I did gain valuable experience as well as insight into what things were really important to me and what I really wanted in my next position, which was to be back in youth services exclusively and preferably not in a large system.

As I approached the one-year mark, I started seriously looking for something else closer to home. This time I could afford to be more choosy, as the market had changed and now I was not only currently employed, but had the advantage of a year of professional experience in a position that included management and some significant accomplishments. I really hoped to get away from large systems and their out-of-touch upper management, layers of bureaucracy, inefficiency, poor communication, and lack of transparency. Much to my delight, a YS manager position unexpectedly opened up back home at a library only 20 minutes from my house, with a surprisingly decent salary!

So just barely over a year later, I made another cross-country move back home and began a new position as the "Youth & Family Services Manager" for a medium-sized (about 22,000 sq ft), single library in a somewhat rural area that serves a small town of 10,000, and overall county population of about 23,000. Though I'm still in the honeymoon period, so far it's been an exciting and refreshing change, and very different from my last job as the sole librarian and assistant branch manager for a tiny (less than 10,000 sq ft) branch in part of a larger system serving an urban population of 120,000, and additional rural population of another 10-20,000, and a relief to be back in an exclusively youth services position.

The first difference I noticed immediately is of course having much more space, so I no longer feel claustrophobic and have room for a decent collection, seating, and play spaces, plus my own program room. Oh, and I also have a whole office of my own, not just a tiny desk shoved into a high traffic area next to the bathroom! But the the other big difference was how much more welcomed I felt by the staff here, and there is an actual onboarding process to support me as I transition into the role, as it does have more responsibility in addition to a whole set of new software and new policies and procedures to learn, and a new community to get to know. No just being dropped into a role with no training, direction, guidance, or support and left to sink or swim. I feel like I'm actually being set up for success this time around.

It has been a bit surreal at first, having people ask how *I* want things done and doing it, being told I can do summer reading however *I* want (and we will definitely NOT be paying kids to just check out books and inflate our circ stats), the director having consultants brought in to meet with me to see what physical changes I might want to make to the youth areas as far as decor, shelving, furniture, lighting, etc., being able to weed and select and develop the collection my way. I even have access to post on the library's Facebook page! I *finally* am no longer just a disposable, anonymous cog in a large, impersonal system; no longer being restricted by and subjected to the whims of centralized control of everything, and can finally do things the way I think they should be done. I have been positively giddy with excitement!

Yes, it will be a lot more responsibility, but also a lot more freedom. Is everything perfect? No. The collection has been severely neglected and allowed to become pretty stagnant and very lacking in diversity. The space, though there is plenty, is not very well-utilized or welcoming. There are some cataloging/shelving practices I don't care for. Teens have been demonized and their needs not adequately provided for. Families aren't coming in as much as I'd like. But, I have the authority to change the things that I don't think work, so I see them as opportunities to make a good library even better, not problems or sources of constant frustration.

And speaking of change, I was amazed to find that the staff here is not only open to change, most of them are eager for it! I was afraid I'd get pushback if I wanted to make any changes, instead I found out they had been hoping I would want to make the changes I've very cautiously hinted at. I was told they had been looking for someone who would be a little more progressive and bring in new ideas and "help get the library into the 21st century". I've really been impressed with the other senior staff so far, they are all not only smart, knowledgeable, and capable, but also flexible, supportive, and encouraging. Plus fun to be around.

I'm trying not to get too excited too soon, but this really feels like a great fit and I'm cautiously optimistic I've found a role I can really grow into and stay in long-term. It will probably have a bit of a learning curve and take me a couple of years to really get the department, collection, and myself where I want, but I am feeling very confident. The challenges I see right now that need addressing are:

  • a very neglected collection that needs weeding, refreshing, updating, more diversity, and a lot of new material

  • physical space that is not well-utilized and needs to made more welcoming with better lighting (this is a high priority!), more efficient shelving, more seating, colorful d├ęcor, and opening up space for a play area

  • designing and planning this year's SRP ASAP!

  • figuring out a way to make the large after school crowd of teens and tweens feel welcome, while also managing their behavior so as not to be disruptive to the entire library, prevent families from using the children's area, or cause safety issues

  • increasing program attendance/participation, increasing library visits, and increasing circulation

  • helping part-time ys staff to understand the full spectrum of their duties and my expectations, and giving them the training, support, guidance, direction and mentorship they need to do so and apparently have not received.

  • working with the rest of the management team to foster a sense of teamwork and co-operation, transparency and communication within the department and among all departments and staff 

As I said, I have been excited by everything I've seen so far, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what a difference I can make over the next year.