A Strange Anniversary

March 11, 2020 was the date of my last in-person storytime, which means that we are heading towards the one year anniversary of when library services as we knew them ceased, and library services as they are now began to evolve. Though it would seem like it’s a sad anniversary, I’m actually feeling – dare I say it? – hopeful these days. The air has that lovely damp springy feel, even on bitter cold days like yesterday, and earlier sunrises and later sunsets make everything seem better. I’m still double-masking, and I’m still trying my best to keep far apart from coworkers and library patrons, and I haven’t been into a store in months (Jim has been vaccinated for his job, so he handles the shopping), and I’ll continue to be vigilant about keeping safe, but…things are looking up? I hope?

At this point I’ve done so many Zoom storytimes that they almost feel natural (almost, sort of…), but now that spring is coming I’m contemplating how to handle outdoor storytimes at my library. It seems like a simple thing: just move the storytime outside and keep people socially distanced. But then I start thinking about the details, and I realize how complicated this endeavor will be. My library is on a large area of land, and those grounds are well used by everyone in town. People walk their dogs there, students from the middle and high schools practice sports there, students walk through the library grounds to the library parking lot to get picked up at the end of the school day, the elementary school will probably have outdoor classrooms there again once the weather is warmer – you get the idea. I need to figure out a way to mark out a space that is just for storytimes. No dogs, no sports teams, no classes, no walkers. And that space needs to be near the electrical outlet on the historic front of the building, because I’ll need to amplify my voice. So problem one is: how do I mark out that space and keep it for storytimes only? (Note that there isn’t the possibility of having a second staff member help me with crowd control, since we are short-staffed and extremely busy with filling curbside requests.)

Next problem is how to adequately amplify my voice. I have a small amp that I use for storytimes in our large program room, but I doubt that it will be loud enough for an outdoor storytime. The Friends of the Library are short of cash at this point, since they couldn’t have their annual book sale last year, and most likely won’t have one this year. I’ve already spent a lot of my own money to purchase the camcorder setup for Zoom storytimes, so I can’t spend more of my own money. I applied twice for Cares Act Grants, but was denied both times. Surely there must be another grant that I could apply for?

Along those same lines is that I can’t hand out scarves and musical instruments during the infant storytime. In normal times, I go around the room passing out instruments to everyone, and then collect them, and then later in the storytime I do the same with scarves. Other “regular” storytime highlights are the throwing of the pig stuffed animal – where I go around the room and give each child a chance to throw the pig – and pulling the felt Humpty Dumpty off of the felt board, where children line up and take turns pulling Humpty down (a great way for young children to practice turn-taking, patience, and also supporting other by cheering them on). Clearly these things are not options right now! I had hoped to get the Cares Act Grant to purchase enough instruments, scarves, small stuffed pigs, and felt Humptys for all attendees, so that each family could have their own storytime kit that they would bring with them each time. Libraries are free to all, so I can’t really ask people to purchase a kit from me at cost. I also can’t assume that all families have these items in their homes; though it’s likely that most people could cobble together something to use, what about the families who can’t?

And then there’s the biggest issue of all – the one that I don’t have a solution for at all. I won’t be able to accommodate all my regular storytime families at these outdoor storytimes, so I’m going to have to ask people to rotate and take turns attending in person. I had thought that I could just set up my camcorder and laptop and livestream via Zoom to the families who aren’t in person on any given day…but then I started thinking about how impossible that would be to manage. I can’t moderate the Zoom waiting room and attendees while I present to and pay attention to the in person crowd while I make sure that no one walking by accidentally dumps my very expensive camcorder to the ground (I picture a happy running dog doing this!). In other words, a single staff member can’t possibly run all these things at once (see above for why another staff member can’t be spared to assist). One solution might be to run more storytimes – to do the outdoor storytime, pack everything up and then go inside to run an indoor virtual storytime for everyone else – but I literally can’t fit that into my day. I’m having a hard enough time keeping up with all of the curbside requests that need to be filled, and rarely have time to work on the essential task of collection development. Adding additional storytimes would cut into curbside fulfillment, and also pretty much eliminate my ability to do collection development (which is not only essential, but also just about my favorite part of my job).

Of course, there are other issues, too, which I won’t discuss here, including what to do if it rains, whether the group of attendees will be allowed to sing (I’ll need to talk to the local board of health), and how on earth will I be able to project my voice while wearing a mask (will my voice be too muffled for the microphone to pick it up?). And will my young patrons be upset to see me wearing a mask? And the list goes on.

All this is the long way of saying that I can’t wait to get back to some form of in-person storytimes, but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome before I can pull this off. Yikes!

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