What did your library do during during COVID-19 lockdowns? How did your services shift as infection rates, building closures, mask mandates, and patron safety shifted? And most importantly, what effect did this have on your staff and the children you serve?
With the help of Samantha Eichelberger and Rosana M. Santana from Schaumburg Township District Library (IL) and Sarah Koncos, Glenside Public Library (IL), we gathered to consider these questions and more at “Pivot! Adapting Programming for School-Aged Children in a Changing World”. After hearing about how these libraries tackled the many challenges of the early pandemic with their school-age services, much of this program was devoted to small-group discussions of our own libraries’ responses.
Now, I have to make a confession – I didn’t work in libraries until the summer of 2021. I didn’t experience the abrupt and unexpectedly long building closures, nor did I contribute to any of the pivoting that had to be done during this time. However, I work in school-age programming and if the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that it’s always good to be ready for the unexpected. As an added bonus, Schaumburg is right next to the community in which I work, so many of their programs and COVID challenges were familiar to me.
Nonetheless, this presentation really left an impact on me. Many attendees described the feeling of not being able to catch up or catch their breath. Programming took a backseat to food distribution and fulfilling the most basic patron holds. Other libraries, on the other hand, were lucky enough with a large staff to be able to hold some Zoom programming, but soon realized creating endless activity kits and new virtual program ideas was causing unsustainable stress for their staff.
Something the presenters kept coming back to was that no matter what they offered for the kids during this time, what they observed a need for the most was socialization and a space to process what was happening in the world around them. Schaumburg Township District Library pivoted much of their programming to be more open ended to allow for the art or writing they created to be more therapeutic for the children participating.
One thing was clear by the end of this presentation – it wasn’t just kids who needed time to socialize and process what the last 3 years have meant for every one of us. The small groups we broke out into were lively almost immediately – and the presenters had to do their best to get us to stop sharing with each other about what we went through – and are still going through. So many libraries were in survival mode, and many staff still might feel like they are.
Sometimes it feels like recreation, play, socializing – these things are cherries and sprinkles on top that, in times of trouble, fall to the wayside in favor of the more important foundations. This session reminded me of how socializing is the most human thing of all. Giving our patrons a way to do that by providing a place to connect with each other is essential work. It can benefit children struggling with school demands and mental health, as well as burnt out workers who have not been able to catch their breath and process what years of the unprecedented have meant to them.
Guest contributor Eleanor (Ellie) Richardson (she/her/hers) is a Youth Services K-3 Specialist at Arlington Heights Memorial Library (IL). She is currently finishing up her MLIS degree (so close!) and is excited for the opportunity to learn from her peers at ALSC Institute 2022. The aspect she’s most looking forward to is meeting other youth services professionals to share their passions and get inspired. Ellie is a self-proclaimed public transit fanatic, so when she’s not at the conference you’ll likely see her riding around on KC’s buses and streetcars.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.