In the next several months, I hope to be in a position where I am a children’s librarian in a public library. I know that as time goes on, I will develop and change as I am exposed to new people and ideas, but I hope that I will always be an advocate for youth. I hope that no matter where I end up that I try to show my community that children need opportunities to grow and to learn, and that we need to do whatever we can to make this possible. I want to help create a space that is accepting, inclusive, and positive for all families and children, no matter where they come from. I will strive to keep improving and evolving as a professional. I am so excited to start my career, and I am looking forward to the opportunities ahead and the connections I will make along the way.
I spent a lot of time at the circulation desk in the children’s department during my internship, and one of my goals for the semester was to be comfortable helping at a public library desk. I have worked at a special collections library for some time, but I have not had much experience serving library patrons in a non-academic setting. Also, I still have a lot to learn about youth services, and I was nervous that I would be stuck when it comes to reference questions.
I learned how to answer basic reference questions, such as pointing patrons in the right direction to find books, and I learned how to check out items and place holds for people. But, I would often get questions that I did not know how to answer, and I had to go to a full-time staff member to help. This taught me that public librarians work as a team; everyone supports you and helps you solve problems. Additionally, it was a good lesson for me because I realized that I cannot always have the answers and it is okay to not know. I will have colleagues who will give me ideas and answers, and I have to remember that I should do the same for them. I came away from the hours at the reference desk knowing that I should always be asking questions and learning from others.
I wanted to also summarize what kind of programming the library did at the Headstart preschools in Monroe County. Dana and I would arrive at the Headstart site and usually we would stay at one for about half an hour. We visited two Headstart classrooms in Ellettsville once a month, and we would visit a classroom at a Bloomington elementary school once a month the next week. We brought story time and books to them so that they can start to build early literacy skills and be aware of what the library is like in their community.
In any preschool classrooms, it is very hard to predict what the classroom environment will be and how receptive the kids will be of you, so we had to be flexible. Dana brought different items and books with her and often she would switch things up. Usually we brought four or five picture books, and read two to three of them based on the age and attention span of the kids. Dana would also bring a portable flannel board and felt figures to use to tell a story, scarves or shakers that would give the kids a chance to move around and keep their hands busy for a short amount of time, and she would often bring a puppet who would give the kids hugs and high fives at the end.
Through this experience, I learned so much about patience, flexibility, and creativity. You have to have all of these qualities to keep the kids’ attention, and you had to expect that things would not usually go your way. But, this makes successes so much better, and it is so rewarding to see smiles on kids’ faces when you come in and interact with them. They really love the stories, the songs, and the activities we bring to them, and I have seen just how important this work is and how much impact we have on their lives.
For this semester, I spent a good amount of time helping the outreach librarian, Dana, select picture books and board books for preschoolers at the Headstart preschools in Monroe County. Headstart is an organization that helps children from low income families begin building their literacy and social skills. Often, for many of these kids, this is preschool so Headstart’s goal is to get them ready for kindergarten. Dana goes to each Headstart classroom once a month to present a story time for the kids, and she brings along about 25 books that they can use in their classroom. Since many of these classrooms are low on resources, they depend on the library for these materials.
Once a week, I would specifically work with Dana and I would either travel with her to one of the Headstart sites, or I would spend time picking out books for the classes at the main library. I found out that there are a lot of considerations that go into picking out picture books and board books. For one, we as librarians want to promote respect for all human beings, so we avoid books that show stereotypes on gender, race, and ethnicity. We also consider the developmental needs that a child is going through; for example, younger kids need stories that are easy to predict, follow, have clear pictures, and vocabulary that challenges them, but does not prohibit them from understanding the book. This helps them become aware of how a story works and gets them used to the act of reading. Children also like structure and routine, and it is something that is calming for them. Babies, on the other hand, need sturdy books that will not break easily if they decide to try tearing them or putting them in their mouths, so board books are perfect for them.
Selecting books does not just mean that you follow a theme or you pick books that you liked as a child. You have to be aware of your audience and their needs. So, children’s librarians are always told to be aware of what kind of books are on their shelves and what purpose they serve to help developing kids. We also spend a lot of time reviewing books and looking out for new books ourselves. Even though this seems very easy to someone outside of the field, we always have to be conscious of our patrons.
Teen (over 12) and tween (ages 10-12) programs are actually a challenge to libraries because often kids in this age range are becoming more involved with school and their peers, and they tend to slowly move away from the library. The Ground Floor at MCPL which is the “Teen Space, “does an awesome job making sure that teens have their own environment where they can hang out, play video games, work on homework, and be creative with their friends. I was able to spend a bit of time in there helping out with programs for both teens and tweens. One tween program that happened pretty recently was the Hoosier Book Trailer Awards, and kids in fifth and sixth grade created their own “trailers” on a book they read. They got to collaborate with their friends on them, and they spent an evening at the library watching them together.
It was really cool to see kids be so creative and innovative with technology and we had a lot of submissions, but only about 25 people showed up to watch their book trailers and have snacks at the library, which brought up a conversation on how do we draw people to the library when they are sometimes more interested in other activities. A couple of librarians mentioned that we should work together more with the schools and have the schools also advocate for our events. Of course, this is sometimes hard to do, especially because schools have a lot on their plate. But, it reminded me about the importance of building relationships in the community as a children’s librarian, and that includes communicating with the schools and the teachers in them to see what kids need and want. I hope that as a librarian I can build lasting, strong relationships with other organizations like schools.
Throughout the semester, there were a couple programs that the library collaborated on with outside organizations, and these programs drew in a lot of patrons. Since several different organizations worked together, the marketing was more expansive and more people learned about the event. A program like this that I experienced is called Seusspicious, which took place around Dr. Seuss’s birthday. It is meant to celebrate Dr. Seuss’s work, life, and the characters that he created. The library puts this on every year, and I was able to help with the planning of it, which was an awesome experience. I created an elephant ear craft that kids could make with paper elephant ears and streamers, and other librarians created a flower craft from Horton Hears a Who, as well as a mural that kids could draw on for I Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street.
On the day of the event, more than 200 people showed up for activities on the ground floor and we were in a room with Bloomington Parks and Recreation. Kids came in to play games with the Parks and Recreation department and make crafts with the children’s department at MCPL. I helped with the craft tables, and it was great to see kids excited to talk about Dr. Seuss and interact with others. But, I also saw how much energy goes into events of these size, even though they are extremely valuable and rewarding. They draw large crowds and create connections within the community, which is a very positive thing for the library, but sometimes it can still be difficult since communication between departments and organizations can be muddled. I am fortunate that I was able to get a behind-the-scenes look at such a large event before entering my career, where I will likely be experiencing more of this.
Even though I spent a lot of time helping with preschool story time and programs for children at the preschool age, this program was unique because it was specifically for children three and under. Totally Untidy Toddlers is for toddlers and babies to get a chance to explore and play in a toddler-friendly environment in the library. Parents and caregivers come along with their child, but it is a great opportunity for these children to be able to use their senses and make new discoveries. The Totally Untidy Toddlers that I was able to experience was dinosaur themed, and we set up various activities around the room, including dinosaur toys frozen into eggs and placed in warm water, so the kids would be able to experience both solids and liquids together, and get an idea that ice turns into water. We also had a corner where children and parents could read books, a sensory tub made up of blue rice and more dinosaur toys, a tub filled with chocolate rice krispies where they could hunt for dinosaur eggs, and a mat with instruments they could use with the help of the parent.
Totally Untidy Toddlers is meant to get these very young kids active and using their senses to understand the world around them. I found out that these little ones love to put items in their mouths and they love to experience things through touch, so it is crucial to use materials that are gentle and child-friendly. I also think that people do not often see babies and toddlers as people who need library service, but seeing these children and their caregivers in this program made me realize how we have to advocate for baby and toddler programs in libraries. They are at such a unique stage of development, and we can help build the foundations of the skills they will use for the rest of their life.
STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is being incorporated not just into schools, but also libraries. After all, libraries are places where the public can explore, learn something new, interact with different people, and grow as human beings. There is also an emphasis on introducing kids to STEM at a young age, and the children’s department has a program called Preschool Science and Math that is meant to do this. Preschool Science and Math happens once every month, and children come into the programming room after a story time to do activities centered around science, technology, engineering, and math. This introduces them to concepts, but allows them to experiment with them themselves. That way, these concepts are more likely to stick with them as they move forward.
The Preschool Science and Math program that we did in April was weather related. Children and their caregivers came in to create tornadoes in a water bottle, to watch “rain” form from clouds by putting food coloring in shaving cream and water, experiment with rain sticks, and test what objects can be blown over by “wind” (blowing air through a straw). I also put my programming skills to the test and created a maze made out of Legos, and children had to guide a “cloud” through the maze by blowing through a straw. This was meant to help kids realize that clouds move because of wind. It was really interesting to watch kids react to their observations and see science as something fun and something that could be done at home with regular objects.
This past Monday, I was able to take my first trip on the Bookmobile, which serves patrons that live further out in Monroe County. The Bookmobile carries out a limited selection of books, DVDs, audiobooks, and magazines for both adults and kids, and patrons can request certain items to be brought out for them on the Bookmobile’s route. The Bookmobile does follow the same route every week, and it usually sits at one stop for at least an hour so that patrons can visit and check out materials. I met the Bookmobile on its route, and I was able to see what went on and how patrons use it.
It was a pretty quiet night with only about ten patrons stopping in during the hour that I was there, but it but it was great to see how they interacted with the Bookmobile and the staff that was on it. The Bookmobile usually sees the same patrons coming again and again to one stop, so I could tell that people rely and enjoy having the Bookmobile in Monroe County. The staff on the Bookmobile recognized most of the patrons who stopped in, and they greeted them by name and asked how they were doing. I felt a sense of community while I was there, and I realized that as a librarian, you have to be aware that you need to provide service and reach everyone in your community, not just the people who show up to the main library building.
As I wrote earlier, story times are used by children’s librarians to get families together and to build early literacy skills in young children. I wanted to give a little more information on what goes into these programs, particularly preschool story times, which I helped out with every week. For the Monroe County Public Library, building early literacy skills involves talking, singing, reading, writing, and playing. Each librarian structures his or her story time a little bit differently, but at MCPL, they usually include picture books that are easy to follow and predictable, questions that allow children to use their imagination and think independently, songs and action rhymes which allow children to imitate movement, and a craft at the end where parents and caregivers can help their child create something. Sorry time at MCPL also include felt stories on a flannel board or puppets to get children exposed to different ways to tell a story.
For the beginning half of the semester, I would be in a preschool story time every Tuesday, observing how each librarian structured her story time. For the rest of the time, I would also help with the craft at the end and made sure that every group had the supplies they needed and knew what they needed to do. The craft at the end of story time is meant to be slightly difficult for a child to do on their own, so we encouraged parents and caregivers to come in with their child and talk them through the craft, so it is an interaction between caregiver and child and not just the librarian and child. Some examples of crafts we made throughout the semester are stained glass windows with uncooked pasta used as glass, bean stalks for National “Tell a Fairytale” Day, painting with q tips, and choosing words to put on raindrops for a poetry board.