Category Archives: Pandemic

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!

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.