Before the pandemic, my system would require every information person to be trained in story time, including managers. The reasoning was that in an emergency, anyone could cover the program, and we wouldn’t have to cancel.Read more: The show must go on? Emergency Program Plans.
We also have Emergency Story Time kits at every branch with books reserved for programming, so they don’t circulate; CDs of classic kids songs, song cards, and miscellaneous items like puppets or scarves. Our big emergency story time kit is in a big container with a lid and usually located in the back of the workroom. A few years ago, we updated them to include a laminated list of tips, tricks, songs that everyone knows, etc. Another ALSC blogger, Angela Reynolds covered this topic in 2011.
In this new phase of pandemic, and working from the perspective of a manager, I no longer see the absolute necessity in emergency program coverings. Most libraries seems to be in crisis mode and are short staffed and burnt out from dealing with pandemic trauma with no end in sight.
But then you are left with the big question!
What to do with the patrons who made the effort to come to an event that now needs to be cancelled due to staff shortage/callouts/covid/desk coverage/branch needs, etc? Shouldn’t we provide something for the people who showed up? Is it our public service duty to provide service, no matter what? Maybe this thinking will veer into too much of an existential question. Because while we want to say yes to all that, I’m still unclear how our favorite message of “doing more with less” has ever actually provided us with anything more, usually it’s just than less and less and less.
If you are stuck on this line, then let me share what I actually do for these moments, and we can debate my existential crisis in the comments.
Story Time/Early Literacy Program Emergencies Solutions:
- First rule of great importance is that you can cancel the program. I may not have ultimate authority over any of you, but with all the self assurance that I can offer, cancel the program. It doesn’t offer anything to our patrons to have the worst version of another person’s program be presented. If you are truly strapped between being able to safely staff your building, and to have a program, maybe keep the doors open instead.
- The second rule is that a program could be ANYTHING to our patrons. I have learned that many patrons can be satisfied with anything.
- I have cancelled many story times, and opened a meeting room with some early learning toys and then played music.
- You can cover your tables with paper, and put our some crayons or dabbers and that can be a program.
- You can bring out some puppets, scarves, shaker eggs and put them in children’s room for 30 mins to an hour, and that can be a sensory or early literacy program.
- As a children’s programmers, we can all think on our feet— so use that!
- Lastly, don’t forget about the collection! Create “literacy bundles” or “story time to go” bundles that have some curated books around a theme (or not), and include some songs/rhymes and early literacy activities. Patrons can grab a bundle and have their own program at home!
- Bonus: use your community for help! When I have had to cancel, sometimes I will stay for a moment to support/encourage the adults in the program to DIY the story time. They can sing their favorite story time songs, and take turns reading a book. If you have a good crowd, and can be their hype person for a minute, you can help caregivers empower themselves!
While we can probably debate all day about what we should always try to cover for programming, there will always be situations that are out of your control, and thinking about them now- might be the best prep you’ve got! Does your system have an emergency programming kit? Does your system freely cancel programs based on operational needs?