I think John Arthur, Director of the Englewood Public Library in Englewood, New Jersey, is a Library Rock Star!
One really positive consequence of the pandemic quarantine is that I got a chance to see what other librarians were doing in their virtual programming. I peeked into some of my old libraries and saw beloved faces put on fantastic programs for their communities. I was also introduced to some libraries that I never have heard of through posts on Facebook groups like Storytime Underground, Library Think Tank #ALATT, and Programming Librarian Interest Group.
I use lots of live music in my programming, so anytime I see someone playing live music for kids, I have to stop and check it out. Scrolling through Storytime Underground one day on a slow Curbside shift, one post particularly caught my eye. It was a man, clearly standing in his living room, singing well, playing the guitar REALLY WELL, and jumping around. He interacted with the comments at the bottom of his Facebook feed in real time. He greeted each child by name. He sang Happy Birthday to anyone celebrating that day. He took song requests, and asked the kids to participate in the song by typing their suggestions to extend them. For instance, he sang “Old MacDonald” that particular day, and the animals on the farm included dinosaurs, more dinosaurs, and hybrid creatures, like dinosaur-elephants. I was listening with coworkers and we could not stop cracking up!
I was so impressed that I investigated his program a bit more. I realized that this was Mr. John, and Mr. John was playing a live sing-along EVERY SINGLE DAY (WEEKENDS INCLUDED) SINCE THEIR LIBRARY SHUT DOWN FOR QUARANTINE. He started on March 16, and the day that I am writing this, June 23, John is celebrating his 100th straight day of Facebook Livestream Sing-Alongs. I was flabbergasted by his commitment to the kids in his community! I hunted him down in order to ask him some questions, which he graciously agreed to answer.
John Arthur is the director of the Englewood Public Library in Englewood, NJ, which is just across the Hudson from Washington Heights and Yonkers. He was first interested in becoming an academic librarian, but after graduating from Rutgers, he took a job as a children’s librarian because there was an opening for one and he needed the job. The fit turned out to be terrific! John was able to incorporate his passion for music, history, playing guitar and singing in rock bands, and translate that for the under twelve set. He worked as a children’s librarian for a few years before moving to administrative roles at his library, but he has continued to do weekly sing-alongs even after becoming a director. He says “I think that’s what I like most about librarianship. No matter what you’re interested in, there’s a way to incorporate it into your job.”
One of the things that I most appreciate about John’s Sing-Alongs is that they are incredibly interactive. I asked him how he developed his style. “The first time I did a storytime for kids with the guitar, I was actually very scared. I had been performing for adults since I was a teenager, but I had never performed for kids. And kids are so much more honest! If they’re not interested in something, they’ll just stop paying attention. You quickly pick up on what’s working and what’s not working.” In person, he has the kids join his “band” and come up front with him and play along. Trying to make his songs as interactive as possible “is better for the kids, obviously, they enjoy it more, they learn more. It makes it easier for me as a performer, and it makes it more fun for everybody.”
I asked John Arthur how he decided that he was going to do the Sing-Along livestream every single day? “For one, I thought we were going to be home for a couple weeks, because no one knew! I said, okay, I’m going to play music at 10:30 every single morning for two weeks. And then two weeks became a month and then a month became two months, and we still had people coming every day! If people are going to keep coming every day, I might as well continue to do it!” He was planning on stopping at 100 days and taking a well-deserved vacation. However, when I checked up on him on June 23, day 100, I asked him how he was going to celebrate, and he responded that he was going to be covering the curbside shift that evening!
I asked him how he was staying motivated and creative, and he said “I give a lot of credit to our whole staff. Everyone is super involved and doing a lot of programming. We get so much positive feedback from the public, too. It helps inspire us to keep going.”
If you haven’t yet seen one of John’s sing-alongs, check him out here, celebrating day 100 outside of the library: https://www.facebook.com/EnglewoodPublicLibrary/videos/308783273635738/.
Thank you, library heroes! Thank you, library rock stars! We are bringing our best to this pandemic and we continue to inspire one another! Thank you, particularly, to John Arthur, for taking the time to talk with me and for being such a force for good!
I know there are others out there performing extreme feats of library programming! If you would like to let us know about a librarian who is being particularly awesome during this pandemic, please send them a shout out in the comments below!
Today’s blogger is Liza Purdy. Liza has been a librarian since 1999 after receiving her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh. She currently works as a children’s librarian at the Newhall branch of the Santa Clarita Public Library. Liza loves playing guitar and piano, and is learning to drum. She incorporates lots of music in her programming. Her passion for music is matched by her love of gardening, which is another focus of her programming. She keeps a vermicomposter at the library and hosts a weekly “Feed the Worms” program which is surprisingly popular. Liza lives with her husband, two sons, and two toy poodles in Santa Clarita, CA. In her spare time, she plays in her church band and has recently begun working on a children’s program in which she will play a librarian lizard. It’s called Fizzling’s Fun House, and should be airing on YouTube sometime this summer!
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Programming Skills, Commitment to Client Group, Outreach and Advocacy.