Category Archives: Librarianship

Pivot

It’s been almost a year since my last post, and I can’t believe how different my work life is from one year ago. It’s not something I would ever have predicted, and, frankly, my mind is still reeling with the changes at almost nine months into pandemic restrictions.

At this time a year ago, I was just finishing my required class on technology for information professionals. The final project for that class was to create your own website on the Simmons server, which I then transferred over to my own domain. I loved having a website that actually had content and photos and that showed what I was doing in my job – it was pretty fantastic (even if my web skills are a bit amateurish). But today I had to face the fact that my website was a snapshot in time of how I did my job pre-pandemic, and that it no longer reflected the reality of my work life.

Under the “projects” page on my website, I talked about all the great things that I had as goals for myself for 2020: applying for an LSTA Mind in the Making grant to upgrade the children’s room playspaces; adding great new stations to the once-monthly sensory playtimes; and coming up with descriptive materials in multiple languages to better serve storytime attendees who are not native speakers of English.

And now? There are no children in the children’s room, not since March 13, and thus no need to upgrade playspaces. Indeed, when we reopen (and who knows when that will be) there won’t be any play materials out in order to limit surfaces that need cleaning and to help everyone maintain social distancing.

Sensory playtimes feel like a sweet memory of an innocent time when parents and children from multiple families could be in an enclosed space together (the story room), playing with shared materials like rice tubs and water tables and oobleck. Sensory playtimes were hip and happening a year ago, and there were so many awesome new stations that I looked forward to adding to that program; now, though, I don’t anticipate being able to run a sensory playtime again for a very long time, if ever.

And the goal of making in-person storytimes more accessible to all attendees also seems like something from a more innocent past. The sad fact of the virtual storytimes that I now offer is that they are actually more limiting and less accessible to all: children with hearing impairments, for instance, are not well-served by a storytime on video. Those young children can’t read captions, and I can’t wear the teacher microphone that connects to the child’s hearing aid or cochlear implant. Parents who are non-native speakers of English cannot be provided with handouts at the time of the storytime that explain the order of the lesson and the purpose of each lesson part. Nor, frankly, do I have the time right now to come up with such handouts, since my workload has at least doubled, if not tripled, with the addition of curbside service provision.

There have been so many pivots in my job in the last nine months that I feel a bit dizzy. There’s the technology I’ve had to master: Zoom, Facebook Premiere, YouTube, Screencast-o-Matic, Adobe, Canva, Beanstack, Google Forms, and I know there are others that I’m forgetting to list. I’ve had to first learn how to do storytime in a virtual format, and then how to use a camcorder and HDMI converter to live stream a higher quality of video (it took a surprisingly long time for me to figure out the camcorder dilemma). Summer reading had to become a completely virtual experience, with curbside pickup of the limited prizes that we could afford. To save money on prizes, I had to learn how to make giant lawn pinwheels, and then spent hours this summer assembling 114 of those pinwheels. Book groups have gone virtual, and have expanded to include 1st and 2nd graders and adults. Other programs have fallen by the wayside, like the weekly game hour, because those programs don’t translate well to a virtual format.

And almost all of my patron interactions now take place via email, rather than in person. Where I used to walk around the room with a child reader recommending books by putting the books into their hands for them to assess – now I fill paper curbside bags with books that I hope they’ll like, and then set the bags out for pickup. Some parents will send me photos or anecdotes about their children’s reactions to the books in the bags, which brightens my days but isn’t quite the same as talking to a child in person. The best parts of my days used to be interacting with kids and their caregivers; now I work in a very lonely isolation in an empty, joyless children’s room. Though I’m technically an introvert, I also thrive on human interactions (I think of myself as a workplace extrovert), and I’m finding that there is nothing sadder for me than a children’s room with no one in it but me. It’s just a room now, not a children’s room.

And this doesn’t even touch on the misery of wearing a mask forty hours a week, nor the stress of doing curbside duty each day when there is always at least one patron (usually more) who will come up to me without a mask on. Talk about feeling powerless and vulnerable.

I know I’m not alone in feeling blue right now, and I know that things are far, far worse for many people – for those who have lost a loved one, those who are suffering from long-term effects of COVID-19, those who have lost their jobs, their homes, their livelihood, those who have fallen into depression, those who are trying to juggle working from home and supporting their children who are doing remote learning…the list goes on and on and on.

All I can do for now is to continue to try to do my job as best I can, and to try to support others who are struggling as best I can. It’s not much, but it’s something.

Another reason I love my job

File this one under the category of “Why I love my job.” (It’s a very full file, for the record!)

One of my storytime regulars, who is not yet two years old, renamed me today – I am now Humpty Dumpty.  This verbal little cutie kept chattering away before storytime: “Humpty Dumpty taking sweater off”  “Humpty Dumpty drink water”  “Humpty Dumpty sing now?”

And then when storytime was over:  “Abby play trains now?”

So I guess I’m back to being Abby, but it was kind of fun being Humpty Dumpty…  🙂

(Pictured here is the Humpty Dumpty felt piece that we use at the conclusion of each Mother Goose on the Loose storytime…)

A Day (or Two) in the Life of a Children’s Librarian

I always get a good giggle when someone I don’t know very well says to me, “Oh, you’re a children’s librarian? How sweet. That’s a pretty sedentary job, isn’t it?”  [Yes, doctors in particular like to say that to me, as they assess how active I am.]   Or, “You’re a children’s librarian?  That must be such a nice quiet job!”  Or, “It must be nice to read books all day!”

Before I go any further with this post, let me make it abundantly clear that I would hate to have a job that was sedentary or quiet or even a job where I got to read books all day.  I actually love the frenetic craziness of my work world, and I love the absolute unpredictability of each work day.  

Having said that, there are certain weeks like this one where even I cannot believe how busy I am.  So, for the sake of posterity, and for the sake of busy children’s librarians everywhere, here is a glimpse of this week at my job…

Yesterday (Monday) started off with discovering that the group who used the large program room on Saturday night had left all the chairs out, and also had forgotten to sweep and get rid of the trash (we have a big mouse problem in our building – old buildings in the country tend to be that way!). So before I could set up for storytime I had to stack fifty chairs in short order, sweep the floor, and ask Pete (former Trustee and current amazing volunteer) if he could take down and put away the speakers. Thank goodness Pete was there to do that, since I actually don’t know how to maneuver those heavy speakers down off their stands.

Then, fifteen minutes later (I stack chairs and clean quickly!), I set up for storytime and ran an absolutely lovely Mother Goose on the Loose program for a wonderful group of dedicated attendees. There is no better way to start a Monday, in my opinion, than to sing to and interact with a group of the youngest children and their caregivers – it is completely soul-affirming and rejuvenating.

Once storytime was over, I looked at the library website on my phone to see whether I could set up for my Tuesday afternoon program, which would be a lovely and efficient treat, since our program room is heavily used, and also very far away from the children’s room, so that it is hard for me to get up there to prep the room for my programs. It looked hopeful, so I went downstairs to check with my director about the state of the calendar.

She checked, and indeed it was hopeful: the R—- group had cancelled their Monday night room reservation, which left only the W—- book group with a Tuesday noontime reservation. We agreed that I could set up most of the room for my program, and just leave three tables and twelve chairs set up for the book group on the side with a view of the pond.

Back upstairs to unstack those fifty chairs, and then to arrange all eighty-nine chairs in a configuration that worked for the book group and for me. My Tuesday program (a presentation on Birds of Prey) also needs three six-foot tables, so I brought those out and arranged them. Done!

Back downstairs, where I first put away the Mother Goose accoutrements and then finalized planning for the 1:30 Art & Stories for 4’s & 5’s. Feltboard story: Froggy Gets Dressed by Jonathan London (felt pieces by me), check. Musical instruments: mini maracas, check. Music to play: Jim Gill’s Sneezing Song album, check. Pre-read the books for the day, including one of my absolute favorites, A Visitor for Bear by Bonny Becker, check. Set up the art project (Chalk Dip from MaryAnn Kohl’s Preschool Art), check. Then into the story room to pull out the small art tables, the feltboard easel, and the carpet pieces, check.

[ As you can see, by midday I haven’t had a sedentary moment yet! 😉 ]

Just as I sat down to check email, my boss called down to tell me that the book group had cancelled for tomorrow, and that she and one of the reference librarians were going up to the program room to take away the tables and reestablish the auditorium style seating that I would need on Tuesday. I said, “I’ll be right there to help you!” and bounced up two flights of stairs (but really the equivalent of four flights) and together the three of us finished setting up the room for my Tuesday program. Teamwork!

Then back downstairs to catch my breath and finally check my email at 1:00. Several emails needed my attention, so I quickly typed replies before the four- and five-year-olds arrived for storytime.

Storytime was wonderful – this group is so much fun to be with, so full of positive energy and giggles and creativity. We all loved the stories, and the mini maracas were a huge hit. And the feltboard story went over SO well that I realized that I should really make some additional felt stories for this group while I’m on break from school (over the years I’ve made at least fifty felt stories, but for my own sanity it’s time for some new ones!).

After cleaning up from storytime, it was time to swap out the small art tables for the large six-foot full height tables for the 3:30 GraviTrax program. Feltboard safely stowed away, chairs tucked into the closet, then I brought out the GraviTrax sets and set up the pieces on the tables so that the two teams would have equal “special” pieces and that the common building pieces would be on the middle table accessible to both teams. [Find out more about GraviTrax here.]

This brought me to 2:45…and I realized that I could actually have a bite to eat if I was quick. So off to the staff room I went, and got to chat with the electricians who are upgrading our lighting while I quickly ate my yogurt and banana. There were some tempting cookies on the table, and of course I took one, and S—-, the head electrician, said “Hey, no eating cookies!” To which I replied, with a wink, “I think I’ve earned it!”

By 3:15 my highschool senior volunteers for the GraviTrax program had arrived, which was great because it gave me time to give the new volunteer an overview of how the program works. It’s wonderful having such mature, awesome volunteers in whom I have complete and total trust! GraviTrax was a hit, as it always is, and the volunteers and I were hard-pressed to get the kids to finish up their construction by 4:30. (If you haven’t had the chance to witness GraviTrax in action, it is an amazing way for kids to learn about force and motion and gravity while having a really, really fun time.)

Then it was time to put away all the GraviTrax pieces, and to put away the six-foot tables and bring back out the art tables, and to set the story room up for the 6:30 evening program, a Polar Express Storytime run by the senior Girl Scout troop.

In the midst of this cleanup, my boss came downstairs with a woeful, apologetic look on her face, and with the bad news that the R—- group who had cancelled their Monday night reservation for the large program room hadn’t actually meant to cancel, and that they were coming after all…which means that I need to go in early this morning to set up the large program room for the afternoon Birds of Prey program before the first of four 5th grade classes arrives at 10:00 today for their research instruction.

Having reminded myself of that, I think I’d best continue this “day in the life” post sometime in the future, and get myself to work right now to set up for today, Tuesday! 🙂

Snow Day

There’s nothing like the gift of a snow day, but the first snow day of the winter is especially wonderful.  The superintendent of schools in the town where I work called a snow day yesterday, in the early evening, which meant that I knew early on that I could stay up late and sleep in a bit.  

First up for the evening was to work on my final project for school, making some final tweaks to my website.  And then the Patriots game: usually an 8:20 Patriots game is stressful, since usually I have to be up early the next morning and full of energy for storytime, but with a snow day ahead at least I could watch the game without worrying about exhaustion.

After suffering through most of the Patriots game my husband and I decided to give up on the game when it was clear that the Pats were going to lose.  (There’s only so much anguish a true Pats fan can endure, and last night’s game was a test.)  My husband decided to call it a night, and I said that I’d stay up reading just for a bit to calm my frayed nerves.

And then a magical thing happened: I got sucked into a book in a way that hasn’t happened in a very very long time.  It wasn’t that the book was amazingly awesome, but rather that I actually had the space to read, and that outside the snowy world was magically time-resistant.  I kept reading, and reading, and reading, and when I finished the book I realized that it was one in the morning (way past my usual bedtime).  

I looked out the window to the beautiful snow scene outside (and took the picture you see below) and felt the happiest that I’ve felt in a very long time.  If ever there was proof of the magic of reading, this was it.  

 

I was actually stunned by how happy I felt as I went to bed, and it reminded me of the joy that I used to get from reading when I was a child. The book I read last night, of course, was a children’s book, which might have added to the happiness, but honestly I think that any book would have filled the bill for me last night. Last night was about having that moment for reading without obligations or guilt or exhaustion or any of the other daily demands that can detract from our reading. The gift of the first snow day of the winter.

And then an additional gift today: all town offices are closed for the entire day! There might be more reading in my future today…

Resources for Parents and Caregivers

I realized last evening that I had never shared the link on this blog for the class project that I created last year (fall semester 2018) for the class I took that term, Information Sources and Services. The assignment was to create a LibGuide on a topic of our choosing, so of course I chose a topic that would be of use to me in my daily tasks at the library in which I work: Resources for Parents & Caregivers of Preschoolers.

Here is the link to my LibGuide. Please let me know if it is of use or interest to you!

Thoughts on being an adult learner

Just a quick post today, since I’ve got a lot of homework to do…

Earlier this week I was talking to a friend of mine who’s not too happy in her job, and she mentioned that she is thinking of going back to school.   I told her that going back to school is the best thing that I’ve done for myself in recent years – that being in school has been amazingly fun and validating.  I actually surprised myself with the enthusiasm of my response to her, and it got me thinking a bit about what it means to be an adult learner.

The first thing that I’ve had to come to terms with is that the majority of my fellow students are far younger than I am.  This is both a negative and a positive for me: the younger students are extremely enthusiastic, and most of what we are learning is new and exciting to them.  They also have more flexibility in the way they approach new topics in class; let’s face it, they are more open to change than an older student (even a fairly progressive one like me).

But then there is the positive side to being an older student, which for me greatly outweighs any negatives.  I’ve got several years of work experience in my favor, so that as I learn new topics I can immediately apply it to my career – a younger student who has never worked as a librarian cannot do that, for obvious reasons.  I love that the breadth of my experience allows me to consider our assignments from a higher starting point than if I had never worked in the field.  And for the technology class that I am taking this semester, I have the distinct advantage of having grown up alongside personal computers, so I have direct experience with some of the things that we’re learning right now.  For instance, this week’s video lectures are on the command prompt, and as I’ve been viewing them, I’ve realized that my classmates grew up using computers with a mouse, whereas I grew up using commands in DOS (ah, the good old days of the C prompt!) with VAX machines for email in college (I learned all kinds of cool tricks for using the VAX machines!).

And then there is the most lovely part of being in school after years of being in the working world: the immediate and definitive gratification of being graded on your assignments.  In the real world, I get formal feedback once a year at my job, in the form of my annual review.  Obviously, there’s also less formal verbal feedback over the course of the year, but it’s not written and precise in the way the annual review is.  So it’s been really cool doing assignments over the course of each semester and getting written feedback from my professors on those assignments.  And it’s even lovelier to get grades on classwork, something that just doesn’t happen in the real world.

Last but certainly not least, I love learning new things.  I love working my brain in ways that it hasn’t been worked since I got my last master’s degree.  Admittedly, this mental fitness program hasn’t left much time for my physical fitness program, but I’m working on adding physical fitness back into my daily routine (there just aren’t enough hours in a day, are there?).

Long story short, it’s pretty fantastic being in graduate school as an adult learner who is already established in the profession.  I’m learning so much, and loving the experience more than I can ever say.  My only regret is that I can’t take any classes in person, but rather am pursuing the degree online, since it would be fabulous to be in a classroom with all of these smart classmates of mine.  But that’s a small regret, and perhaps I’ll be able to squeeze in a face-to-face class at some point.

Yay to education!!!

Year Two, and Year Fourteen

It has been quite a while since I’ve posted here, but there is a good reason: in September 2018 I started graduate school in pursuit of my second master’s degree, and since then I have been trying to master the balance of full-time job, part-time graduate school, and living my life to its fullest.

Happily, I survived my first year of school, and on Tuesday I will be beginning my second year of graduate school. As these things tend to go, I’m hopeful that my second year will be less stressful and more manageable (one can hope, right?), the theory being that after surviving one full year’s cycle, then I’ll have the skills to better anticipate challenges and scheduling conflicts.  Stay tuned to see if that theory proves correct…  🙂

It’s been interesting going back to school as a middle-aged, mid-career adult, especially since most of my classmates are in their 20’s and 30’s and are new to the field.  I’m attending Simmons University as an online-only student, and I am working towards a Master’s in Library and Information Science.  As the title of this post suggests, I am about to reach the fourteenth anniversary at my job as the head children’s librarian in a public library, so some of what I am learning in school is not new to me.  The Simmons program is quite challenging, though, and I am being exposed to many new ideas, theories, and practical concepts, which is making this degree more than worth the time and energy (and money) that I’m spending on it.

For the fall semester, I am taking my last required core class, Technology for Information Professionals, which is a little daunting but also very exciting.  I’ve heard rumors that the final project for the class is to build a personal website from scratch, which definitely intrigues me.  And given that this class focuses on technology of all kinds, this seemed like a particularly good moment for me to resurrect my blog.  I’m going to try to post at least once a week, perhaps more frequently, and to include posts about what I’m doing/learning in school and also posts about what is going on at the wonderful library where I work.  And, of course, there will be posts about cats…  😉

My 12th Summer Reading Program

It’s really hard to believe, but I’m getting ready to host my twelfth Ice Cream Social, and then my twelfth summer reading program.  And this is the twelfth year that I’ve hosted the elementary school classes to tell them about the summer reading program.  How is this possible?

As I’ve shown the classes bookplates from past summer reading programs, I’ve realized that some of those bookplate-earners are now graduated from high school…or even college.  There is an entirely new generation of children coming to the children’s room, and an entirely new generation of parents who bring them to the library.  Most of the parents who come in to the children’s room now are millennials; there are very few parents from my generation anymore.

I like to think that I still look the same, though.  Haven’t aged a day, right?  🙂  And I’m still looking forward to summer reading, just as I did that first summer.  I can’t wait to introduce the sensory playtime, and to run our cool in-house programs, including an origami open house, science playground, and tape games.

I love that my job stays relevant, fresh, and challenging from year to year, and that there is never a dull moment.  And, most importantly, that it’s terrific fun working with the kids who come to the library, and getting to know their parents.  What a great career I landed in!

Nine years!

And the nine year anniversary of my arrival at the library has come (and gone) – happy anniversary to me!

A great way to celebrate this anniversary: the addition of a fantastic new program to the library calendar.   Book Buddies began last Wednesday, and is my most favorite library program ever.  Teen volunteers in grades 7 and up are paired with a younger buddy in grades 1 to 4 for shared reading and word games.  Last week, the inaugural week, everyone was having such a good time that I had to gently remind them that the one hour session had ended…five minutes ago.  The looks of complete surprise at a whole hour having passed already were testament to the fun that both big and little buddies had reading and playing together.

My greatest thanks to Jennifer for finding this awesome program.  In September, I said to her that we needed something new, could she see what she could find…and she came back with documentation and guidelines from other libraries that had already run successful Book Buddies programs.  Jennifer pointed out that this is exactly the kind of program that we need to be running, and she was so very right.

And one other new thing that we have added: a library Tumblr page.  I really like Tumblr for the library’s purposes – it’s much cleaner than Facebook, and you have more control over how your posts look (including fonts and such).  I won’t be replacing my personal blog page with Tumblr, but it has the right combo of hipness and accessibility for the purposes of the children’s room.  Here’s the link, if you’d like to take a look.

Nine years, almost

As summer winds down and fall approaches, I am reminded that my anniversary date of starting at the library is in November.  As of early November, I will have been at the library for nine years – wow.

When he learned of my library job nine years ago, one of Jim’s friends made a prediction: “She’ll be at that job for the rest of her career.”  I think Jim’s friend is right – it’s a great place to work, with great coworkers, great patrons, and an awesome building, and I’ve finally gotten all the systems (storytimes, collection, etc.) to the level of excellence that I’ve desired.  Time to enjoy all that excellence, while I work on new cool things to bring to my job.  I won’t rest on my laurels, that’s not my style, but I certainly plan on enjoying those laurels while I add programming and increase the excellence of the collection.  Happy almost nine years to me, and here’s to many, many more!