Monday, May 29, 2023

The New Normal


It's been a little over three years since life as we knew it came to a screeching halt with one word: coronavirus. We were caught completely off-guard, as were all levels of government and health care. No one was prepared for a pandemic, no one had policies and procedures in place to deal with such a threat. Most of the country shut down for 2-4 weeks in order to slow the spread so our health care system wouldn't become completely overwhelmed, as had happened in other countries.

Many naively thought it would be over after that, and things would go right back to normal. But of course that's not how pandemics work. Others thought once a vaccine was available, that would be it and things would go back to normal. But of course they didn't, as many people refused to be vaccinated and the virus continued to evolve. Now, three years later the pandemic is considered to be "over", but that doesn't mean the virus is gone; it just means that enough of the population has acquired at least partial immunity, through vaccination or infection, and the virulence of the virus has lessoned to the point that it is no longer a crisis, but has become endemic. So, this means things are back to normal, right? Not exactly.

As I had predicted, things have not gone back to what we considered "normal" before March of 2020. Things are different now. People are different, the economy is different, society is different. I feel like the new normal for my library began at the beginning of the summer last year (2022), when people finally began coming to the library again with the return of summer reading and in-person programs. We had unexpectedly high numbers, as people seemed to be relieved and excited to finally have something to do. Circulation picked up, foot traffic picked up, and program attendance was near an all-time high. It was almost like "normal", but not quite. 

I began to notice some definite differences in behaviors, though at first I wasn't sure if it was pandemic-related, or community-related, as I had changed libraries during the pandemic. But after talking with other youth librarians online, at our regional meeting, and at the state conference, I found that others were seeing similar patterns. These are generalizations and of course don't apply to everyone, but are things I'm seeing more frequently now than pre-pandemic:

  • Kids have even shorter attention spans than before
  • Fine motor skills are less developed, especially scissor skills
  • Kids are more shy, tend to stay with caregiver, and less participatory
  • Less able to follow directions without assistance
  • Storytime attendance is much more sporadic than before
  • Program attendance during school year for ages 5 and up is low,
    families are not in the habit of coming to the library for programs like before.
  • More behavior problems with older kids (middle school age)
  • More kids being raised by grandparents or other relatives due to parental issues with mental health, addiction, or incarceration
  • Caregivers tend to 'hover' more and take over tasks
  • Parents very reluctant to let kids use scissors, even blunt-ended safety scissors
  • Adults also have a harder time following directions
  • Parents much more 'touchy' and likely to be offended if staff need to re-direct child behavior or enforce age limits/rules/boundaries
  • Teens have been hit particularly hard, many suffering from anxiety and depression
  • Parents (adults in general) have a much greater sense of entitlement
  • People are more self-centered and selfish than before
  • More negative interactions with adult patrons, despite attempts to de-escalate 
  • More instances of patrons with mental health or substance abuse episodes
  • More difficult to form successful community partnerships; high turnover, people don't reply or ghost after initial contact, don't follow through, etc.
  • More people openly express bigotry
  • More complaints
  • Very difficult to find qualified applicants to fill vacancies
  • Libraries are critically understaffed
  • Less community support for libraries
  • Libraries under attack re funding and intellectual freedom
  • Staff morale is at an all time low.

The new normal is a much more challenging time to be a librarian. What worked in pre-pandemic days doesn't necessarily work now. The public's habits have changed and their needs have changed. We have a whole generation of preschoolers who spent the first years of their lives in relative isolation, and a generation of young adults who became parents in isolation. We have a whole generation of teens that had their adolescent experience completely derailed. 
I think almost all of us have developed at least some degree of anxiety and depression as a result of everything we went through the last few years. We are starting all over from square one.

I have had to re-evaluate how I do storytime, reading fewer and shorter books, moving away from crafts to activities that are more developmentally appropriate (a good change!), reminding caregivers to focus on the process not the product and let kids do as much themselves as possible. I've had to accept that attendance is going to be sporadic, and the storytime is not as big of a priority to families as it used to be, and that it's not a reflection on me. I've learned I have to be very careful in managing behavior and managing adult expectations as caregivers seem to come in with mistaken assumptions and unrealistic expectations about how programs should be run. And while program attendance during the summer was great for all ages, and storytime has been successful year-round, I'm still struggling with programming for school-age and up during the school year.

I think many of us are still trying to figure out what people want and what kind of programs will be successful. Hopefully some good will come out of it as well, and we can pull back a little, and focus on quality, not quantity. I've heard others say they are shifting their focus from programming to services. Some libraries are still doing some virtual programs and take-home kits. My community did not respond to virtual programs at all, so those were dropped some time ago. While my patrons loved take-home kits (yay, free stuff!), we did not have the staffing or budget to continue them once in-person programming resumed, and I don't feel take-home kits really offered an appropriate level of engagement or serve our mission that well. I know of some who say they elected not to bring all the toys back out on the floor, after seeing caregivers spending more time reading with their kids and helping them choose books without the distractions. I've managed a happy medium of enough activities to encourage people to stay awhile, but not so much to create chaos or distract from the books.

Unfortunately, while we're trying to figure all this out, we are facing many other challenges. Libraries everywhere are under-staffed due to lack of funding, poor management, and/or the labor shortage, which means we are all spread too thin, we can't meet all community needs, and we may have great ideas that we just don't have the time, energy, or manpower to execute, which leads to frustration, stress, fatigue, guilt, and job dissatisfaction. I'm particularly frustrated with the lack of staff, and the inability to hire qualified, competent staff. I would love to be able to do more community outreach, and have so many ideas I'd like to try, but I can't because I don't have the staff to do it, or to delegate other tasks to in order to free up my time. Programming, outreach, and customer service all suffer because of understaffing, not to mention staff morale. 

On top of that, libraries and librarians are under attack, from people who want to take our funding for their own pet projects, politicians looking to score quick points, and far-right extremists who want to censor collections and trample on others' right to read and access to information, some wanting to go as far as to charge librarians as criminals for having books in the collection they don't like. 

To be sure, the new normal is different than the old normal, and is a far more challenging time to be a librarian. What does your new normal look like? What changes have you found to be for the better? What challenges are you dealing with?

Saturday, May 13, 2023

A Day In the Life of a Youth Services Manager


Last time I posted about a typical Monday, my planning and prep day; this day was a Tuesday, which is a programming day. Every Tuesday is Toddler Storytime in the morning (except during brief breaks in May, August, and December), and since it was the first Tuesday of the month we also had Pokémon Club in the afternoon. Today, once again my assistant was absent, which meant I had to cover the desk more as well as fill in for the Pokémon Club, which she usually does. So here's everything I did today, that I can remember:

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Derby Day - Family Storytime

Kentucky Derby storytime, horse storytime

This was the last week of storytimes for the Spring, after which I would be taking a much needed break from programming for the rest of May. This is mostly to have more time to get ready for summer reading, but also because though I love doing storytime and other programs, I do get burned out on the planning of them and just need a break every so often. 

Thursday, April 27, 2023

A Day In the Life of a Youth Services Manager


I've been meaning to start doing this every since I got my first full-time, professional position, but for some reason kept forgetting. I thought it would be helpful for a few reasons: (1) so those considering a future as a children's librarian can see what they're getting into, (2) so other children's librarians can see they aren't the only ones juggling a million priorities, and (3) to remind myself that even on the days I may not feel I accomplished much, I am really doing a lot.

Saturday, April 15, 2023

Peeps Tasting & Torture


Peeps Tasting, Peeps Science

Peeps have invaded the library this month! In addition to our 2nd Annual Peeps Diorama contest, I decided to take advantage of all the crazy new flavors of Peeps and have a "Peeps Tasting" program. This was a quick and easy program with only a little preparation, and while I originally planned it with teens & tweens, I had enough left over for a pop-up family program the next day following the planned family "Peeps Mad Science" program (also described briefly below).

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Fearless Storytime, Redux

Ten Eleven Things You Should Not Be Afraid to Do As a Storytime Presenter

Fearless Storytime, storytime planning


This is an updated and expanded version of an article I first wrote five years ago, and recently gave a presentation on at our state conference. (If you are interested in the slides from my presentation, they can be found on my share drive.)

I decided it was a good time to re-visit this topic post-pandemic because there has been so much turnover in the field, thus a lot of people new to storytime, and because people are different now. Attention spans are shorter, more trouble following directions (both kids and adults!), storytime attendance much more sporadic, and more behavioral issues than pre-Covid days, so even veteran storytime presenters are having to refresh and re-evaluate how they do things.

Don't be afraid to:

Thursday, March 30, 2023

Sometimes It's Just A Hokey-Pokey Day, Redux


Trouble keeping kids engaged in storytime

* I originally wrote this article a little over five years ago, when I was doing an average of 10 preschool storytimes a week and training others in early literacy programming as an early literacy outreach specialist. I have found myself referring back to it after I began rebuilding in-person programming in a post-pandemic reality where none of the kids and few of their caregivers are accustomed to structured group activities, and attention spans have gotten even shorter, so I thought it would be a good time to re-post it.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Has It Really Been Ten Years?


As of today, I have been working in public libraries for an entire decade! 

For the first seven years I held various part-time support and paraprofessional positions, but the last three years were as a full-time professional librarian. I started out as a page in the children's department, which is where I fell in love with working in public library youth services. Then I moved into an early literacy outreach specialist, which is where I really honed my storytime skills. After that I moved to a paraprofessional position in a very busy suburban branch. It was there I got to do other types of programming, collection work, and really developed my reader's advisory skills.

Then, just a few days shy of my 7th anniversary in that library system, and just weeks from finishing my MLIS degree, the pandemic hit and the library system let go ALL of its part-time staff, over 100 people. That jump-started my search for a full-time professional position, leading me to become the branch librarian/assistant manager of a small neighborhood library. It was here I learned how to adapt programming to rapidly changing conditions, doing virtual programming, take-home kits, and outdoor in-person programming. It was also here that I got a great deal of experience with more challenging customer service situations and found I was pretty good at de-escalation. Finally, I ended up in my current position as a youth services manager.

I can't believe it's already been 10 years! I have done hundreds of storytimes, dozens of other programs, made countless recommendations and suggestions, shelved thousands of books, and in my current position I have transformed a cold, sterile, unwelcoming children's department into a vibrant, welcoming environment and improved a very neglected collection. Along the way I have worked with a number of great children's librarians, and learned something from each of them. I have watched the field grow and change, seen trends come and go, and come back again, but I have seen the greatest and most rapid change in the last three years, and sadly, not for the better, which makes this anniversary very bittersweet.

Friday, March 17, 2023

St. Patrick's Day STEAM - Leprechaun Traps!


Leprechaun Traps, St. Patrick's Day activities for kids, St. Patrick's Day STEM STEAM

So this program has been a long time coming! I had originally planned it for my monthly K-5 STEM program in 2020, but then we were shut down just days before when officials realized the Covid virus was already here and spreading fast. I was so disappointed as I had really been looking forward to it, and knew it would be a while before I had another chance.

So finally, three years and two libraries later, I was back to doing in-person programming and had no conflicts (our state conference fell on St. Patrick's Day last year). The public schools happened to be out that day, so instead of an after school program, I made it an early afternoon family program.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

S-T-E-M is a Four-Letter Word! -Part 3, Program Ideas


Image by brgfx on Freepik

In Part 1 of this series I cautioned against the over-emphasis of Technology, particularly coding, and advocated for the value and importance of basic Science, Math, and Engineering in STEM programming. In Part 2, I gave some general tips and things to consider, ways to incorporate STEM elements in other programming, a few resources for ideas, and a brief discussion of STEM vs. STEAM vs. STREAM. 

To further encourage thinking and programming more broadly across the STEM fields, I'm going to throw out some program ideas and suggestions for each category,

Monday, January 23, 2023

S-T-E-M is a Four-Letter Word! - Part 2, Tips & Resources


Library STEM programming
Image by brgfx on Freepik

In Part 1 of this series I cautioned against the recent prioritization of the "T" in STEM, and in particular the extreme focus on coding I've observed in the last few years, which seems to imply that everyone must learn coding to be successful or that coding knowledge guarantees success; neither of which is true. I advocate for a more well-rounded approach, exposing kids to all areas of STEM. I'd like to follow-up with some general considerations when doing STEM activities, ways to incorporate STEM elements into other programs, a brief discussion of STEM vs. STEAM, and a few resources.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

S-T-E-M is a Four-Letter Word! - Part 1

Image by brgfx on Freepik

Depending on how much of this blog you have read, you might know that librarianship is a second career for me and that my first was in scientific research. Science was my first love, so I got my undergraduate degree in biology, with minors in chemistry and education, followed by a masters degree in microbiology. I worked several years in research, then was a stay-at-home-mom before finally ending up in libraries, where I love being able to use my science and education background in STEM programming and incorporating factual information in storytime.

Now, let's pause for a minute - What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words "STEM programming"? I'm guessing you're probably thinking of computers, coding, robotics, and electronics. Did you think of gingerbread houses, bread baking, or shopping for groceries? Probably not. Let's back up for a minute and examine what "STEM" really means.

Sunday, January 1, 2023

End of the Year Reflection & Setting Goals for 2023


Thankfully 2022 did not bring big changes as 2020 and 2021 had, but it was still a very challenging year. I had just started a new position as the YS manager at a small-medium sized, somewhat rural library, where I basically had to start over and re-build everything from scratch. Nothing was in place, and my predecessor had left me absolutely no information. I quickly realized that the collection had been *severely* neglected, there had been little to no programming for elementary aged kids, the department was very sterile, cold, and unwelcoming; families were not using the library at all, and I certainly had my work cut out for me.