Just like every Thursday, 10:00am finds me getting ready for storytime. I’m probably practicing a new fingerplay or song I’ve just learned—maybe a new variation of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, perhaps accompanied by some American Sign Language. I’m definitely re-reading the book I’ve chosen for the day, trying to memorize where I want to pause to point out a character’s expression, and where it makes sense to ask my audience what they think will happen next. I’m double-checking my felt board pieces and making sure my music is ready to go. By the time it’s 10:30am and patrons are showing up, I know better than to keep them waiting long. I put on my headset, turn on my camera, and hit the “Admit All” button on the Zoom waiting room.
Would you believe me if I told you I’ve never hosted an in-person storytime? It’s true. I am what I’ve dubbed a “COVID-forged Librarian”. While I’ve been providing youth services since the Summer of 2019, I didn’t start working with the youngest age groups until September 2020, long after COVID-19 had taken over our lives. On top of the fear of missing out (or as the kids call it, “FOMO”), I feel like there’s so much I should have already learned in my role that I just can’t get from the virtual experience. Without these skills and experiences, can I even consider myself a “real” librarian?
The imposter syndrome is very real, folks—I can’t tell if I’m a librarian forged in the fires of a pandemic, or maybe I’m just a somewhat convincing forgery. At the very least, I’ve not come out of this empty-handed—here are five things I have learned as a COVID-forged Librarian:
1. Hands-on programs CAN be successful virtually
When quarantine suddenly went into effect in March 2020, I spent a few days at home staring at the wall and brainstorming with coworkers, until I finally put together a decent virtual programming platform. Most exciting was a revamp of my Gadgets & Gizmos STEAM program, changed to Gadgets & Gizmos: Around the House!, where we explored science together using everyday household items. Eventually, I was able to set up a supply pack system that enabled me to do projects with more unusual items, like LED bulbs for a DIY flashlight.
Photo credit for above pictures: Philip Warrenger
2. Collaborating virtually with schools CAN work!
I had established a relationship with some teachers and principals prior to quarantine, so I reached out to them to see what we could do to help each other. Eventually, I decided to put together a Google Classroom for the library. The teachers helped me in passing out the code to the Google Classroom, and I finally had a way to reach the kids directly through their school emails (as long as they checked them of course). When school was back in-person, I was able to collaborate with some of the teachers for virtual Zoom visits. This includes the local pre-school, and they Zoom in for my virtual storytimes twice a week!
Above photos courtesy of guest blogger
3. Your relationships/collaborations with fellow librarians are vital
When everything shut down, we knew we were reaching our patrons who were on social media, but what about those who weren’t? I’m fortunate in that I work in a privately-funded public library that has an excellent relationship with the local municipal library. We collaborated with them in sending out a mailer to all of our local patrons letting them know we were still available to help them via phone or email. I also leaned very heavily on other Youth Librarians in the area for emotional support. In fact, one of these contacts loaned me many felt board pieces when I started doing virtual storytimes (Thanks, Robyn–I promise I’ll return them soon!). These interactions led me to found a committee consisting of local Youth Librarians where we can take our collaborations even further. With everything still being so unpredictable, we can at least count on each other for emotional and professional support.
4. Virtual programming isn’t for all patrons
Speaking of patrons who are offline, there were many patrons we had gotten used to seeing every week who just couldn’t switch to online programming. Even though the schools had provided all the kids with Chromebooks, Zoom didn’t always work well for them, or they had to wait to use the family computer, or they straight up didn’t have reliable internet. We’ve all seen the reports of how the digital divide impacted kids and families during quarantine, but watching it happen in your own community was painful. As soon as our vaccine rates were up and positive rates were down, we made it a priority to start offering in-person and hybrid options for these patrons. Thankfully, many of them did come back!
5. In-person programming isn’t for all patrons (anymore)!
Just like virtual programming didn’t work for all of our patrons, our in-person options aren’t viable for all of them either. Many parents like the convenience of online programming. Kids who moved in the middle of the pandemic can still attend the online portion of my Pokémon Club. My online Magic: The Gathering Club attracted youth between 45 minutes away from my library and halfway across the country! When considering these kids, I don’t believe I will ever stop offering online programming. So, what does this mean for my programming in the future?
It’s impossible to know a detailed answer to this question, but I do know this: I intend to provide the programming and services that best serve my community, wherever they are–online, in-person, down the street, or in another state. And isn’t that what being a librarian is all about? We’re always adapting to provide the best possible service. Even if sometimes I don’t have the slightest idea what I’m doing, or even if it doesn’t work out, I won’t give up on reaching my kids. And that’s how I know I’m a “real” librarian, virtual storytimes and all. And to all my fellow COVID-forged librarians out there, you are too.
Today’s Guest Blogger is Krissy Warrenger. Krissy is the Youth Services Librarian at the Derby Neck Library in Derby, CT. She enjoys reading, writing, gaming, going outside, and pretending she knows how to be an adult. She can be reached at email@example.com. This blog post is the product of the ALSC mentoring program and the partnership between Krissy and her fabulous mentor, Emily Nichols of the New York Public Library.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
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