Once in a while, you come to work and have a really good day. You know, one of those days that remind you why you became a librarian. I just had one of those days.
I received an email a few weeks ago from a mom whose son was celebrating his ninth birthday. She explained that throughout the school year, when a student celebrates his or her birthday in her son’s class, the parent and teacher work together to plan a special day in honor of that student. What makes this request different from other requests is that this boy is part of one of the special education classes at our local elementary school. And the mother emailed me to see if she could plan a special outing to her son’s absolute favorite place: the library. How could I refuse?
So the parent, the teacher, and I began planning the library visit. Some of the questions I asked included…How many kids were there going to be? How long will their visit be? Should I prepare a visual schedule? Then, I asked what were her son’s favorite books. Did he enjoy listening to music? If so, what were his favorite songs? What resulted from this planning process was a 20 minute storytime chocked full of the birthday boy’s favorite stories and songs. We had extra copies of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt for all the kids to follow along with while I read the story aloud. We read a Big Book version of The Wheels on the Bus for everyone to engage with the large illustrations, and then sang along with the Wiggleworms version of that snappy tune. I also planned a special birthday cake and candle activity. I used simple white poster board, drew a big birthday cake on it, and added a piece of Velcro on the top of the cake (where the candle would be). Then, I printed up a blown up clipart version of a birthday candle and put a piece of Velcro on the back of it. So, when it came time for our candle activity, I gave the birthday boy his very own candle to put on his very own birthday cake. And with some help from his mom, he walked up to the poster board and put the candle in its proper place. Afterwards, all of us sang Happy Birthday and closed with a rousing rendition of If You’re Happy and You Know It. The classroom teacher, the boy’s mother, and the teacher’s aides could not have been more pleased with the visit. And the birthday boy was in his element–smiles from ear to ear.
I know that many of us in Youth Services are often asked by our patrons…”Do you host birthday parties?” How could we justify spending tax payer dollars on a birthday party for a select individual patron in our community? However, I see this parent’s request as clearly distinct from throwing a birthday party for a child at a library. At its heart, this program was outreach. A class of students and teachers from our local school district took a bus and visited the library. They did have a request for a special thematic storytime program, albeit a birthday themed one, but the preparation that was involved with this visit was no different than any of the planning I would have done if another class of students in our community.
The truth is, I had wanted to make a meaningful connection with our local special education district since I started in my new position at my new library. Little did I know that this special birthday request would be my first successful outreach to the special education classes in our community. Now, the students are more familiar with the Children’s Department and will be more comfortable the next their class or family visits our library. We also cultivated a relationship with the schools that hadn’t been there before. The teacher and I have even talked about planning other similar visits with her students in the future. So, if you are struggling to make that connection with your schools, consider this–sometimes personal touches do make all the difference.