Monday, June 20, 2022

SRP Week 2 - Mermaids & Monsters


As I explained previously, though I didn't really plan on doing weekly themes, it just kind of ended up that way, and for week 2 I focused on mythical sea creatures. And that of course mean mermaids and sea monsters (but NOT narwhals; narwhals are real).

Toddler Time 

This has turned out to be a total misnomer, as what I had envisioned as a toddler storytime has quickly morphed into an all-ages family storytime. Which is rather ironic, because the reason I planned it as a toddler-specific storytime is that I was mostly getting toddlers for my family storytime during the winter and spring, LOL! Also, it would give me an excuse to do very simple crafts with little prep or sensory activities instead.

I am still keeping it geared for toddlers, though, with shorter books, egg shakers, scarves, and bubbles, and I employ the big kids as examples of good listening and turn-taking so the the littles can learn. I started off with a hello song, a "Creatures of the Sea" song to the tune of "The Wheels On the Bus" to warm up, and a lead in song.

I first read Three Little Mermaids by Mara Van Fleet, a great little counting book with lovely illustrations, pull-tab movement, and a little sparkle. This was perfect for the younger kids but it's an older book and out-of-print with no reasonably priced used copies available, so if you don't already have it, you're probably out of luck. Afterward, we did an egg shaker song, and the "Popcorn" scarf song (a clear favorite with all my regulars), then read a second book, I am a Sea Monster by Andiene Lopresti and Jim Lopresti. 

Mermaids and sea monsters storytime, mythical sea creature storytime

The really neat thing about this book is that is was written by a child! Andiene came up with the character and the initial story, and her father helped her hone the story, illustrated it based on her initial picture of the character she came up with (which is included at the end), and helped her self-publish it. It is a cute story about a sea monster looking for his friends, with a message that playing outside with friends is better than screen time alone. I really liked the short, simple text and charming illustrations. 

Afterward we did bubbles with a counting song, reminding the big kids to let the toddlers get to the bubbles first and watch out for them. Then we closed with a good-bye song, and those that chose to stayed for dot painting mermaids and sea monsters.


Unlike Toddler Time, I do end up getting mostly the intended age group for this one. I didn't do a typical storytime, just went straight into reading two stories, Oona by Kelly DiPucchio and Raissa Figueroa, and Monsters In the Briny by Lynn Becker and Scott Brundage. Oona is about an adventurous mermaid who likes exploring, and finds a crown. This book would go great with the mermaid crown craft I had planned for the elementary group. I had already planned a different craft for this group before I selected to read Oona.

Mermaid and sea monster storytime, mythical sea creature storytime

Monsters In the Briny is a clever book meant to be sung rather than read, based on the old sea shanty "What Do You Do with a Drunken Sailor", but with child-appropriate lyrics about legendary sea monsters, such as "What do you do with a grumpy Kracken..." It is super cute and I thought it would be a lot of fun. I really liked the rhythm and word play, with rhyme and alliteration. I really thought they would get into it, and I encouraged audience participation by asking them to tap or clap along to the rhythm, and join in with the "Yo! Ho!"s of the chorus, but I got nothing but crickets. It was so awkward and hard to finish like that. Very disappointing. I probably shouldn't have skipped the typical storytime beginning routine to help warm them up.

Monsters in the Briny

Then we moved on to the craft, which got a better reception. I saw this cool paper collage on Pinterest, using torn patterned paper in blues to make waves, and circles of patterned green papers to make a mermaid's tail. So I printed out a lot of patterned paper in blues, greens, purples, and rainbow (yes, probably used a lot of ink, but that comes out of the office supply budget, not mine 😉). I gave them a sheet of light blue construction paper to glue them on, a choice of glue sticks and liquid glue, and scissors to cut out a tail fin. I told them it since we could only see the tail, it could be whatever they wanted it to be, a mermaid, a merman, a giant fish, or a sea serpent. They seemed to enjoy this, and at least the parents mostly let them tear the paper themselves.

Mermaid craft for kids

Elementary Explorers

I started out by once again asking the kids if they had been reading a good book they wanted to share about, and several did, followed by me booktalking a few books related to mermaids and sea monsters, including the original Emily Windsnap by Liz Kessler as well as the new transitional chapter book adaptation for younger readers, The Kingdom of Wrenly series by Jordan Quinn with both sea monsters (#3) and mermaids (#8), and a great juvenile graphic novel adaptation of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (I'm also partial to the "Great Illustrated Classics" and similar adaptations of the classics, though I know that's somewhat controversial.) by Carl Bowen.

Mermaid and sea monster books for middle grade

Then we talked a little about mythical sea creatures and the real creatures that might have inspired them, and I presented the three crafts I had for them. I told them they could do one or all three, whatever they chose. The first was a merperson crown (insert collective groan from the boys), which I quickly pointed out was not just for mermaids or princesses, but that the king of merpeople, Triton, also wore a crown. For this, I provided pipe cleaners in silver, gold, and white iridescent, pearl pony beads, and cowrie shell beads. The second was using pipe cleaners to make a trident, also needed by any ocean ruler, and the third was making a paper chain sea serpent. 

Mermaid crowns, pipe-cleaner crowns

Despite the initial groans, I noticed that while the boys typically started off making a trident first, most of them did end up making a crown as well. Some of them got really creative, one making a mini "travel trident" and another making a tri-trident, or triple trident, with three heads. I told them they could make their sea serpents as long or short as they wanted, and a couple of kids made their really long! They seemed to really enjoy the crafts, and one of the moms made a truly beautiful crown (after all the kids were about done and it was obvious we had plenty of supplies left; she also helped clean up!)

Paper chain sea serpent

Family Program

This week we did not have a guest performer, so we had a Family Movie Day, and showed Luca (saving the Little Mermaid for later since we just had Bright Star Theatre in last week performing the original story), a movie about a sea monster and his friend who want to explore living on the surface among humans. I thought with the recent heat wave people would be glad to come in out of the heat and relax while watching a movie in the AC, after doing all the summer things for a week, but only one family came. I had it in the morning; next time I'm going to have it in the afternoon to see if I get better turnout. I also forgot to promote it on Facebook until that morning.


My co-worker had an anime night where they discussed their favorite anime characters, made sushi beeswax candles, and watched anime (I don't know what she chose).

All in all, it was a good week. Other than the movie, I had really good turnout for all programs, with another packed house for the elementary program. We are still having a lot of confusion about registering for the reading challenge on Beanstack vs. registering for programs and events, and registering for each individual program. People register for one thing, and they think they've registered for everything for the whole summer. But since our room can really only accommodate up to 36 kids and accompanying adults without being really overcrowded, and that's the number I based ordering supplies on (fully expecting far less than 36!), we really have to require registration.

There's also been some fallout over my insisting that only kids ages 6-10 could participate in Elementary Explorers program for kids aged 6-10.  With the high demand, I can't let toddlers take spots away from actual elementary aged kids, materials are limited, and activities that are engaging for elementary kids are not appropriate, and often not safe, for toddlers. I put out some age appropriate toddler toys, busy boards, and board books, so it's not like I told them they couldn't bring them or didn't make any effort to accommodate them. Plus we have programs specifically for toddlers, preschoolers, and families! But despite all that, though I'm not aware of official complaints, one mom told my assistant that "there were a lot of hurt feelings" and I was the topic of gossip among a certain clique who is used to special treatment.

Sorry, not sorry. I am not going to "dumb down" every program to toddler level, nor risk being blamed for a toddler being hurt while engaging in an activity that is not meant for them,  nor am I going to deny an older child a spot in a program meant for them so that a toddler can do it. There is NOTHING in this town for elementary kids in the summer, and the summer is the only time most of them get to come to the library regularly. While I include everyone in summer reading and plan programs for all age groups, I think of summer as being mainly for the older kids; the under 5 set gets the rest of the year. 

Also, I'm new here, got a late start planning because of that, and this is the first somewhat normal summer in 3 years. My predecessor was not a librarian and did things very differently than most libraries, and I can tell we have very different philosophies; also she left me absolutely ZERO information about anything. So, I had no idea exactly what she did, what to expect as far as turnout, what kind of programming people would want, what days/times would be best... I just had to pick something and go with it. After this summer, I will have a much better idea of how to plan next year, and I can already tell I will want to do things a little differently. For one, I'll just stick with family rather than age specific storytimes. And for another, I will add more family craft and fun programs. But I will still keep elementary programs for elementary-aged kids.

Hope everyone else had a good week! Two weeks down, just six more to go!

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Can We PLEASE Stop with the Vocational Awe Already?

Vocational awe and children's librarians, youth services and vocational awe, vocational awe in libraries

You know, if there was any good to come from this terrible pandemic, I would have thought it would have gotten us as a profession to kick this ridiculous sense of vocational awe to the curb. You know, the idea that libraries are sacred and that librarianship is a virtuous calling we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves for. The feeling that we have to be all things to all people, fill all the cracks in society that people inevitably slip through, give of ourselves until it hurts. I think this idea is the most pervasive in the area of youth services.

Vocational awe leads to mission creep, overworking, understaffing, and people that are underemployed and/or underpaid (among other issues). Library staff resort to buying program supplies with their own money, working unpaid hours, often struggle to live on wages that are below the cost of living, and burn ourselves out in just a few short years by offering a myriad of programs, pushing for bigger and bigger, more and more... And if you aren't willing to make all these sacrifices, if you can't be all things to all people, aren't a "rock star librarian" (whatever the hell that even means), then you simply aren't dedicated enough, passionate enough, or innovative enough.

And the worst thing is, we already get it from everyone else, and instead of pushing back, standing our ground and saying "enough is enough, we are only human and we deserve to be healthy and happy and not devout our entire life to a job", we do it to ourselves, too. We spend way too much of our own time looking for program ideas, prepping materials for programs, monitoring our library's Facebook page, checking work e-mail, going to outreach events after hours. We beat ourselves up for enforcing the library code of conduct and appropriately asking rowdy teens who are disrupting the whole library to leave for the day, teaching them boundaries and accountability. We may get 20 compliments on a program, but focus on the one ridiculous complaint. We constantly compare ourselves to what others are doing. We train people to expect the unsustainable. We do everything humanly possible, but still feel like it's not enough.

And the REALLY awful thing, is we keep doing it to each other. All too often when I or others post about programming/services in various online library groups, whether asking/answering questions, expressing frustrations, seeking advice, sharing patron complaints, people get insensitive responses that are not helpful basically telling them they are not doing enough, with no understanding of what their staffing or funding levels are like, what their community needs, or what they are already doing. If you have not anticipated, and moved heaven and earth to meet, every possible need within your community, you are clearly not doing enough and not worthy to be a librarian. 

You must provide every possible program for every possible age at every possible time, and at multiple locations throughout the community. You must simultaneously allow teens to have their own space and programs, while also including everyone in everything all the time. You must offer developmentally-appropriate and engaging programming, yet also include older and younger siblings. You must provide a full range of in-person programming, while also producing professional quality virtual programming, AND designing and assembling take-home kits for every age group each week. You must be able to spin straw into gold, turn water into wine, and perform miracles with limited resources reminiscent of the Biblical loaves and fishes. No matter how much you are doing, it's not enough.

Why do we do this to each other? For some, it may simply be a need to feel superior in some way- more dedicated, more selfless, more something- by putting others down. But many are likely as hard on themselves as they are on everyone else because they have bought into vocational awe hook, line, and sinker, and pass the pressure they feel to be everything to everybody on to their peers. And for others, it may be simple thoughtlessness and insensitivity when giving well-intentioned, but privileged, advice that can be like rubbing salt in the wound. Some librarians have been fortunate enough to have always worked in libraries that are very well-funded, with very supportive directors and managers, very well-staffed youth services department and don't know the alternative.

But that isn't everyone's reality. Many of us work in libraries that are not well-funded and operate on a shoestring budget. Many of us are solo librarians and may be lucky to have one other staff member besides us to do all YS programming, birth through teen. Some of us work in libraries so understaffed we are chained to the service desk and can barely manage to plan and deliver a couple of storytimes a week, much less leave the building to do outreach. Many of us work in tiny buildings and are limited by space. Some of us are limited by space, funding, and staffing; the perfect trifecta to guarantee stress, overwork, and burnout. And not everyone has supportive management or good community partners. Even when in a relatively good situation, there are still limits to what is possible.

Don't imply someone is lazy or somehow less dedicated when they say they will have to stop doing regular take-home kits once in-person programming resumes. You don't what their staffing and funding levels are. And throwing out the inevitable "get volunteers" shows you either have been very, very lucky and found the rare unicorn of reliable, competent, helpful volunteers, or more likely, have not actually tried relying on volunteer help. Telling someone to offer even more programming, or simultaneous programs, trying to please everyone rather than having appropriate boundaries is not helpful; very few of us have the staffing or space to offer multiple programs at the same time, and I don't know hardly anyone who isn't already doing as much programming as they can manage. Pushing for more and more programming is one of the main factors in the higher rates of burnout for youth services, and why so many leave the field, sometimes after just a few years.

These kinds of responses show a lack of awareness about the reality many other youth librarians have to operate within. Maybe we need a librarian exchange program, so we can all get a better understanding of the what some have to deal with. How about we start with assuming that everyone is operating in good faith, doing the best they can with what they have, and that no one knows their community as well as they do. And even better, let's recognize that we will never be able to be all things to all people. And let's go further and recognize that we shouldn't be trying to. We cannot please everyone. We cannot solve all of society's problems. We are not social workers, counselors, mental health professionals, or babysitters. We are librarians. We are human. We have limits. We have a right to focus on being damn good librarians with healthy boundaries and a life outside of work. We do the best we can with what we have.


*Note: I want to clarify that this article addresses only a sliver of the much broader issue of vocational awe. I would like to thank Fobazi Ettarh for coining the term and for all their work that ignited and continues the discussion of vocational awe, including its historical roots and the many ways it does harm. I'd encourage you to read their works, two of which are linked below, to learn more about the history and broader issues.

Links to more articles on vocational awe:

Sunday, June 12, 2022

SRP Week 1 - Going to the Beach


So there is always ongoing discussion in youth services about themes, usually in relation to storytime, but also in relation to summer reading. Many libraries follow CSLP or iREAD themes, some come up with their own, and some don't really have a theme, other than "summer at the library". I've always said themes are optional, and sometimes can be fun and make it easier to plan, and sometimes can be too restrictive and make it more difficult.

Most of the libraries in my state follow CSLP, as does mine, so our theme is "Oceans of Possibilities". This was a very easy theme to decorate around, and I thought would be pretty easy to program around, but I found it harder than expected. I ended up picking several activities I wanted to do, looking at when I had scheduled guest performers, and what movies I had planned to show, and picking weekly themes to loosely follow to give me some direction [however, I am thinking more and more of moving away from themes, especially after looking at the CSLP themes for next year]. For the first week, I decided on a loose "beach" theme, with sand-based activities.

Toddler Time

This program was a typical toddler storytime. We started with a hello song, and an intro talking about the beach, a warm up song to the tune of "The Wheels On the Bus" that incorporated sounds or movements based on things we see and do at the beach, and a lead-in song to the story, Sea, Sand, and Me! by Patricia Hubbell & Lisa Campbell Ernst.

After the story we did an egg shaker song, and I had planned a rhyme counting sand castles with pictures on the magnetic board, but it was a large crowd and several were getting restless, so I skipped it and went straight to 
bubbles and "Ten Little Bubbles" song, then our good-bye song. Afterward, I got out the kinetic sand with molds and cookie cutters for them to play with. I had a pretty big crowd, and it went pretty well, but was a bit chaotic and noisy with so many little ones who weren't used to the routine yet.

Sand storytime, beach storytime

Preschool & Kindergarten

For this group, I focused more on activities today, as I've noticed the older kids usually don't like doing all the songs and rhymes. I started by reading Day at the Beach by Tom Booth, a story of a boy who wants to build the best sandcastle ever, without his little sister. In the end, he discovers it is more fun to play together, even if the castle isn't as perfect.

sand art preschool, sand art kindergarten

After the story, they made sand art pictures, and played in the kinetic sand. The sand art pictures were from Oriental Trading and worked surprisingly well. They are kind of like stickers; you peel the backing off all the sections that you want to be a particular color, sprinkle the sand over, press in lightly, dump off the excess, then move on to the next color. Though some needed more help the others, and some grown-ups may have helped a little too much, everyone really seemed to enjoy it and were really pleased with their pictures.


For the older kids I was more ambitious (maybe a little too ambitious, LOL). I started off with asking if anyone wanted to share about any books they had read recently that they really liked, and about three kids did, and after that I booktalked Beach Bully by Jake Maddox, with themes of adjusting to a new town, trying new things, and dealing with a bully.

Then we moved on to the primary activity, making "Beach Slime"! By now everyone is probably somewhat familiar with making slime, and that it requires glue and an activator, but few really knew anything about the actual science of it. I explained that glue is a polymer, which means that it is made up of molecules that are very long chains, and to imagine them as kind of like spaghetti noodles that when first cooked slip and slide easily, and pour much like a liquid. But when an activator is added, such as borax, it cross-links all the polymer strands together in a matrix, rather than individual strands. So then it become thick, and more like a gel than a liquid, somewhat like spaghetti noodles do after they've been drained if no butter or sauce is added.

To make "Beach Slime" we simply added sand and tiny shells to my basic slime recipe using clear glue: 1/4 C glue, 2T water, 2T dilute borax solution (1 tsp Borax/1 cup warm water). I had them add 2 Tablespoons of sand initially, and told them if they wanted to try working in more a little at a time, they could. We added tiny shells at the end. I told them to add the borax solution a little at a time, and that they might not need all of it. Inevitably, some didn't listen and dumped the borax in immediately, so their slime ended up being really stiff and not very slimy. But two kids ended up with perfect slime that was very oozy and stretchy without being sticky.

Beach slime

After making the slime and cleaning up, they made wearable art by layering colored sand in miniature plastic bottle pendants, either fish or dolphin shaped, also from Oriental Trading. I bought a kit, but also some extra sand and funnels. I figure I will use the tiny funnels again with STEM activities.

mini sand bottle pendants

In general it went well, but there were a few glitches and issues. First of all, I had a much bigger crowd than expected as only 25 had registered, but almost 40 showed up! (I even had to turn one family away because (1) they came late and I was done divvying out materials, and (2) I had NO place to put them.) So my teen programmer and I were were frantically having to measure out more water, glue, and borax solution. A few parents jumped in and started helping, which was great, except someone passed out the borax solution, which I did not intend to do until they were ready for it, and of course we had two spills, and a few kids who added it right away without waiting for instructions. 

The other issue was although the program was clearly listed as "Elementary Explorers", clearly specified that it was for ages 6-10, stated we would be making slime, and there are programs specifically for younger kids as well as family programs, there were still several kids who were definitely under 6, including a baby and toddler. Now, I get sometimes younger siblings have to tag along, but parents should not expect them to participate in activities meant for older kids. Some of the borderline-looking kids I let pass, but I had to tell the mothers of two toddlers (one was really still a baby) that this was not a safe activity for toddlers, and that it really wasn't safe for them to be sitting at the table (not to mention too crowded) in case of spills, small objects, sand, etc. One seemed a bit surprised, but complied, the other went and got materials when my back was turned and let her toddler do it anyway. 

Afterward I immediately beefed up my description to include language to the effect that younger siblings could not participate due to safety, limited supplies, and high demand. I do understand families have kids across multiple age groups, but I can't allow toddlers to take a slot from kids that are the age the program is intended for. And I can't do the kind of activities I want to do, that are appropriate and engaging for elementary kids, if I have to make everything toddler-safe. Plus there are toddler-specific programs and family programs every week as well. I'm sure there will be complaints, but there is so little in this town for older kids to do, but several other organizations providing programming for preschool and under, so I'm going to have to stand my ground on this one. I will have some board books and a few age-appropriate toys for toddlers in the room to help keep tag-along siblings occupied, but they will have to stay on the sidelines.


We had Bright Star Theatre come and perform Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Mermaid". They did a really good job, and all the kids (except a couple toddlers) were really engaged. I saw one toddler repeated go up to her older brother who was sitting up front and pull on him and till him "let's go", and he would always shake his head and point to the performers saying he wanted to watch. I was a little worried that it would only appeal to girls (and had originally wanted to have them do "Treasure Island" for that reason, but that troupe was all booked), but there were several boys. Though it was fairly true to the original story, they softened the darkness with humor, and had several humorous references to the Disney movie and why they weren't doing that version (something about a very litigious mouse). 

Tween & Teen

My coworker had a "Beach Bash" program where they played games and made candy sushi. Nine kids came, which is actually a good turnout for that age group here.

One week down, seven more to go! Next week is "Mermaids & Monsters", mythical sea creatures.

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Summer Readin', Happened So Fast....


....Summer Readin', Are We Having A Blast??

You may have noticed my blog has been rather quiet lately, or maybe you haven't, because like me you have been so busy getting everything ready for summer reading that you've barely had time to even breathe! I started thinking about summer reading as soon as I got here in December and started seriously planning in February, but June 1st came way too fast!

Though I'm not new to summer reading, this is the first time I was responsible for designing and planning the whole thing, rather than just implementing what someone else had planned and being responsible only for a handful of my own programs. Add to that all the uncertainties due to Covid and being new to this library and community, getting a late start in planning since I just got here in December, having my initial plans rejected by a new director and having to instead use an online tracking program that was a beast to figure out and get set up, and our marketing/website/social media/graphic artist person unexpectedly quitting in April, I have been feeling very stressed and overwhelmed.

Luckily I have some very supportive coworkers and talented staff members who have helped out a lot, and was finally able to fill a vacant part-time position in May with someone who has proven to be a great addition to the team and is the only reason we were able to get all the decorating done that we did. She has also made a huge dent in organizing the chaos that I inherited, which has been a huge blessing. I helped with some of the decorating, but I had to spend most of my time working on figuring out Beanstack and getting it all set up, getting all the events and registration set up on our website; making signs, flyers, and brochures; and getting everything ready for the kick-off event. 

I've had to put in a lot of extra hours to get everything ready, and I still haven't finished planning all my in-house programming! I was super stressed about the Kick-Off: would we have everything ready on time, would the paid entertainers show up, would we have a good turnout, would we have way too many people, should I have planned something bigger and flashier, should I have had it outside, etc. I really wished I'd had another couple of weeks, but I suppose we all say that every year.

Well, the kick-off was yesterday, and it went really well! The paid entertainers showed up on time and were great, we had a really good turnout without it being overly crowded, everything went well, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. I got lots of compliments on it from patrons and staff alike. I enjoyed it as well, basking in the normalcy of it all and having a very kumbaya moment, nearly moved to tears at how well things were going and how all the staff (well, except one) really pulled together as a team to help out and provide support. It was something really missing from my last position, and so nice to have again. In case you were wondering, here's what I had going on at the kick-off:

  • Island Princess & Demigod entertainers who posed for photos & did a storytime and sing-along
  • Staff Member in inflatable shark costume (best $35 ever spent!)
  • Artist drawing caricatures
  • Games in the meeting room (ring-toss, bean-bag, dart balls, feed-the-shark)
  • 3 craft stations in the program room (dot painting, stamping, seahorse craft)
  • fishing hole/duck pond game for small prizes
  • shark and mermaid cardboard cutouts for photo ops
  • bubbles and sidewalk chalk in the courtyard
  • gross motor challenge course (scuttle like a crab, flap like a ray, etc.) with facts about each animal (I got this from a generous librarian in one of my online groups) along the front sidewalk
  • our usual coloring sheets and scavenger hunt that we always have
  • signing up for the reading challenge and picking out prize books (we set up our small teen room, which is used primarily for an after school hangout and sits empty all summer, as our little prize bookstore and called it "The Treasure Trove")
So now that the kick-off has gone well, I feel a huge sense of relief. I've proven to myself and everyone else that I do know what I'm doing, and I've gotten results. While I wish I'd had a chance to really plan out all my in-house programming in advance to better market it, I'm very good at winging it and pulling things together when it gets down to the wire. Though I know the rest of the summer will be busy, and I still have a lot of work ahead of me, I feel like I can finally pause and take a breath. I look forward to the normal summer busy-ness, and even if the sense of normalcy proves to be something of an illusion and short-lived, it will be a nice break. But I'm hoping it will be the springboard to our new normal, and get people and programming back in the library for good.

I hope everyone else has a great summer! Here's a few photos from the Kick-Off, and a slideshow of all the decorations:

As a certain famous blue tang fish once said, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...."