storytime (in seniors’ centres and on the radio)

One of the things I don’t get a chance to do so much since moving into my new position as a librarian for adults is read stories to people. So it’s kind of cool that with our library branch being renovated (and me being redeployed to a branch where I am kind of extraneous a lot of the time) I get to do something about that.

Jen — one of my adult-librarian colleagues — and I have been visiting seniors’ homes in our town and just reading stories to them. There are two of us so we can alternate and not get too tired, and so the listeners get a bit of a range of voices. Originally we looked at the kinds of stories recommended by “library services” books for this kind of program and oh my glob were they terrible. All Reader’s Digest “ain’t that just the way things work?” sorts of schmaltzy/down-homey bullshit. Instead we just grabbed books and stories we liked and read them to the seniors.

Yes, many of them fall asleep while we’re reading Ivan Coyote and Neil Gaiman and Lydia Davis, but we see that as a good thing. It’s soothing to be read to, and adults don’t get enough of that. And sometimes there are cookies after our 30-60 minutes are up!

A couple of weeks ago we ran into a couple of young visitors who were leaving and they saw our stacks of books (we always bring too many) and they asked what we’d be doing. Jen gave a bit of an elevator pitch and the family members smiled. Then the guy said “that crowd in there is hoping you work blue” and we all laughed. (We do tend to shy away from really cuss-laden stories for the old people.)

And because that’s been working in person I’m starting to do some grown-up storytime shows on Librarians on the Radio with Emily Orr (who also works on LotR proper). Yesterday was the first official one on the Changes broadcast, but I did a couple of independent test episodes as training on the boards at CHLY. I call them Librarianautica shows because I like the idea of these shows being a collection of stories a wandering librarian gathers. You can listen to yesterday’s show — Wild Musical Beasts — here. Apologies for the 30-second CHLY promo off the top.

winning awards

Around our workplace there’s a joke that we should all be putting “award-winning librarian” in our bios when we show up in the outside world. After all, who is to say that the participation award from your grade 4 track meet isn’t what made you the professional you are today? I’ve totally done it though. I called myself award-winning in the bio for a talk Jason and I gave at the Vancouver Island Library Staff Conference a few weeks ago, because I really did win an award for making radio back in journalism school. It seemed relevant as part of my radio librarian bona fides. But whatever.

I worry about winning awards in librarianship. The things I tend to do are, while not designed to be high profile, a bit different from the standard librarian things. Which isn’t to say I don’t love the nuts & bolts kind of work of figuring out the answer to a tricky question – that’s the reason I librarian at all – but I’ve always always always wanted to do something different from what other people are doing rather than do what they’re doing better. So I see people who are amazeballs at storytime, bringing in huge crowds and getting all that awesome early learning stuff in there and I want to leave that to them and go do something else, like our radio show, or e-privacy workshop type stuff. Which is fine and all. I get to do things I’m good at and let the people who are really good at the core libraryish things do them.

But then I get twitchy about this because I’m basically just taking advantage of the novelty of what I’m doing to get recognition or whatever. It feels like an ego-stroke, a lot like going to the BC library conference is the only place in this world where I “know people” which can be weirdly ego-inflating. And then the people who are doing the really great normal librarian stuff get left out of the recognition party, which sucks. I don’t want my flashy, kind-of-tangential-to-traditional-library-work projects to outshine my colleagues who are awesome in lower profile ways.

Anyway yeah. Which is to say, I’m sorry for self-promoting. I think what we’re doing with Librarians on the Radio is fun and a good use of my talents such as they are. We won a BCLA Merit award for it (well, our library did). It goes on the CV and we’ll try to keep on making shows I hope are deserving of the recognition all my colleagues should be getting.

maker storytime booklist – #vmmf 2014

I made the trek to the mainland last weekend to do stuff at the BC Libraries Cooperative-sponsored Makerbrarians booth for the Vancouver Mini Maker Faire.

I had a heap of picturebooks that fit in with the idea of maker culture at our makers in libraries booth. I did get to do some storytimes, but I realized what a bad librarian I was when I didn’t have a booklist to give people. So terrible. But here’s one!


I divided it into two sections, because there are a bunch of picturebooks out there about building stuff with tools, which is great, but while tools are important to makers I see the culture of invention (and the different paths we take to make things) as being even more important to tell stories about.

I haven’t labelled them for ages or reading levels because I really try to fit the book to the individual. They cover a wide range of complexities though.

Culture of Invention & Problem Solving

Building Things

There was loads of awesome non-librarian stuff going on at VMMF too. My buddy got a cheese-making kit. I got a collapsible cardboard soundstage with LED lights to make movies with. I did not ride the mechanical snake though.

BCLA Conference 2013

my 2013 bcla conference experience

I had an excellent time at BCLC 2013. A lot of that had to do with hanging out with colleagues and doing the whole “think about library issues” in person thing, rather than reading blog posts. Obviously I love blog posts and keeping up with people online is what I do, but it is nice to hang out (for example) at a table full of library techs with a drink and hear what kinds of things they’re dealing with. Or to sit in the sun on a Friday afternoon and discuss the horrors of capitalism and the challenges of optimism. I mean, this is something I just don’t get to do too often.

On the BCLA Info Policy Committee blog I’ve got a post talking about some of the IPC related things that went on. Even though Tara did a great job on the Hot Topics panel, watching it I really really wished I could have been up there participating (though I did get one question asked if not answered) and I think things might have gone a little bit more along these lines if I had.

Beyond that, I went to a very interesting session about how we advertise our early literacy programs on our websites. One of the things I’m bringing back to work is the idea to stop using stock photos and get real people involved doing real storytimish things (as opposed to the baby einstein motifs that you get a lot of in advertising).

I also went to the session on Fraser Valley Regional Library’s Service Mobile, which is an electronics-packed Nissan Cube thing that goes to homeless shelters to involve more people in the digital conversation. This is something I thought was pretty awesome and I think something we could at least put a proposal for in our library system.

The way I’d like to do it though is actually more like the MakerMobile (which was also at the conference on Saturday). On Thursday I got into Vancouver and instead of trying to catch the conference keynote speaker, I went to a Maker Education Meetup, where I met a whole bunch of people involved with 3D printers, education and MakerFaire. They were awesome (and thanks to Frank for getting a bunch of librarians out to the event). The Makers are less about buying fancy gadgets and more about being a mobile workshop to teach people how to use tools and make things themselves. It was actually kind of funny to see the two vehicles out in the conference parking lot. One all shiny and custom-electronicked up, and the other an old cargo truck with tools and clever benches in the back. I get that flashy is flashy, but man, the maker education folks really have my heart.

Last thing I did at the conference was do a few booktalks at the Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List panel. I did that panel last year and had a great time. This year I talked about To Be Or Not To Be: That is the Adventure by Ryan North (& Shakespeare & YOU), and a little bit about Pirate Boxes and Unglued books and a great “craft of RPGs” book called Nightmares of Mine by Ken Hite. All of which was super fun, and I got a bottle of wine as a speaker present! For like four minutes of booktalking! So good.

Anyway, that was my conference. I like BCLA and it’s an organization I’m happy to be a part of. Our strategic plan includes advocacy as one of its first objectives and that sounds about right to me.

storytime review: chu’s day, stop snoring bernard & mattoo let’s play

This week I hosted two preschool visits to the library on consecutive days. They were the same adults but different kids (mostly – a couple were there both days). I liked that arrangement because I got to directly fix things that went less well the first time through.

So here are the books I used. Neil Gaiman’s new picturebook Chu’s Day was our opener (after our welcome to storytime rhyme). It worked well with both groups, who really got into the “Ah ahhh ahhhh… No.” conceit. The only problem is that the “bad things that happen” probably require a bit closer examination to really admire the art. And the ending seems to leave kids wanting more.

I tried using Never Take A Shark to the Dentist the first time, because the cover was really attractive to the kids. The book ended up being a little high-concept for 3-4 year olds, but it was super easy to skip pages when that became apparent.

Stop Snoring Bernard worked really well in both groups. I got the kids to help with the snoring noises and in each group someone had one of those Cosby moments when they told everyone about one of their family members who snored. They also got to name some zoo animals, which helped keep everyone involved.

We did Shapes That Roll in the first session, but it was our last book and I think it would have played a bit better with more time to really get into all the shapes and explore them a bit. As it was we just kind of went with the rhyming.

In today’s session I replaced a couple of the less well-received books with a couple about trying very hard to be quiet. Mattoo, Let’s Play is about a loud little girl with a pet cat who forms a bond once she learns that some animals are best attracted by being quiet. We also did Read to Tiger which is about a tiger being very distracting when you’re trying to read. Everyone had fun making the loud distracting noises.

We did a dinosaur song both sessions it all worked out pretty well. Even the kid who was mad he wasn’t there to see a puppet show was unsullen at the end (that could have been because he was finally able to leave).

I’m going to try doing a few more of these types of storytime post-mortems because of something I took away from Miss Julie’s blog post where she mentioned:

In a profession that’s supposedly dominated by women, I find it sad that the librarians who get the most attention are mostly men (and, admittedly, some women), men who very rarely write about honest, simple, day to day issues in librarianship.

She goes on to discuss how technologists get all the “rockstar” status in our profession and no one cares about the bloggers who write practical things about doing the feminized work of dealing with kids. Since I’m guilty of writing the odd impractical technology rabblerousing bit, I want to make sure I’m also blogging some of these more practical day-to-day things too. It’s part of that whole advocacy for the importance of libraries and librarians thing to show that the non-technological stuff is important too. So here we go.

Helpdesk 01 by Peter Cuhalev on Flickr shared under a CC-BY-NC-2.0 license

i left my heart at the refdesk

Helpdesk 01 by Peter Cuhalev on Flickr shared under a CC-BY-NC-2.0 license

Helpdesk 01 by Peter Cuhalev on Flickr shared under a CC-BY-NC-2.0 license

The last in a short series of posts where I talk about what exactly I do in my new job as a Children’s and Youth Librarian.

The best part of my job isn’t telling stories to preschoolers, surprisingly. It’s sitting at the information desk for people to ask me questions. As I see it my job is out on the desk, and anything that isn’t directly helping people find what they’re looking for is just killing time till the next question.

Helping people find books we have or placing holds on books that are at a different branch is the quick stuff. I also place Inter Library Loan requests when our branches don’t have items. That’s when people have specific books they’re looking for.

Sometimes people have questions about more specific things that we don’t have books about, like “How do I make a fire the way First Nations people used to?” or “What should I look for in an HDTV?” For those kinds of things I get to be a bit more of a librarian superhero and find a decent website or use our databases to find and print off an article from some magazine. Most of our patrons are not used to the modern research process so I get to do the balance between finding things for people and teaching them how to use resources a bit more efficiently. And after a few months in this job there are members who come by to chat because we’ve used the internet to figure out the bus schedules in Prince George and Powell River together.

Plus, the info desk is where I get to be the resident technology wizard. I spend 20 minutes helping members set up their Kobos to work with the library’s ebooks. I help people with the arcane ridiculous process to print documents and show people alternate ways to share NFL videos when the Email button stops working.

These are the tasks I missed the hell out of when I was in library school and not working a refdesk. And I’m glad I get to do them now, rather than being locked away in an office. Even now I spend about 20% of my work week in the office and it makes me itch. There’s a bit of a perception, in our branch at least, that when it’s quiet or you’re in the office you can get some work done. In my head that’s not the work I’m a librarian to do.

Now, I like doing programs, and programming is what employers want (in public libraries at least). If program planning (including storytimes) was cut out of my job I’d be disappointed. If my on-desk time was excised I’d have to find a new job. This is just too much of what being a librarian is to me. Eventually this may prove to be my undoing career-wise since it seems like on-desk time is the first thing you lose when you get promoted in libraryland.

But I’ll deal with that if it comes. For now I’ll be helping answer questions like I was born to do.

i am here to chew bubblegum and read you picturebooks…

…and I’m all out of bubblegum.

Tomato Story by jeffsmallwood, on Flickr Shared under a CC-BY-NC-2.0 license

The first in a short series of posts where I talk about what exactly I do in my new job as a Children’s and Youth Librarian.

I don’t know exactly when I will stop thinking of my job as “my new job” but I did unlock an achievement last week. My first sessions of both Babytime and Storytime are now complete.

Numbers-wise, Storytime (for 3-5 year-olds) grew as it went on, and Babytime (for 0-15 month-olds and their caregivers) shrunk, which probably matches up with my confidence with each of those audiences. The biggest difference between the two is that in Storytime you just engage with the kids. A parent or two might stay in the room just to alleviate any tension in their kid, but it’s basically me and children.

I deal well with kids that age. They ask questions and I take them seriously and answer as best I can. Since I’m not a teacher and only have half an hour a week with a group of them that’s nice and sustainable. I’ve also been very lucky that the storytime audiences I’ve had have been happy with a low songs:books ratio. I’m always happy when we get to the end of our half-hour and one of the kids says “but we didn’t read that one!” pointing at one of my displayed books.

Babytime is different. Because the babies are so small you can’t deal with them the way you would older kids. You’re talking more directly with the parent, and well, adults are a bit more demanding an audience. It feels weird doing early development teaching stuff because most of my courses in library school were not early literacy focused. I mean, I read up on these programs and how they’re supposed to work, but I definitely don’t feel like a natural in Babytime. Also, not having any firsthand baby experience makes me a bit twitchy about the whole “telling people how to parent” Getting through the first six weeks helped, and I won’t be as worried about Toddlertime when it starts up in February, but still. I feel like I should be spending good chunks of my workday memorizing zillions of nursery rhymes (and their actions – oh am I ever not kinesthetically intelligent).

Aside from those ongoing programs, I’ve been able to host a bunch of class visits to the library. It’s fun getting Grade 1-3 kids in there because they have things they want to know about and the library (organized by Dewey) is not set up to make it easy for them to find things, so I get to be a magician, producing books from thin air. I also get to read them more complex stories than the preschoolers can necessarily follow.

On Friday I did some outreach at the local National Child Day celebrations, which included reading some stories on the main stage. I only realized in the middle of my second set that my inadvertent theme was devouring people. Nobody seemed too traumatized though.

So yes, it’s kind of awesome how much of my working life is spent reading picturebooks to people. I do other stuff too, but I’ll write about that in another post next week.