A place to go when there’s nowhere else to go

People who argue that libraries have no role in an increasingly-digital society cannot possible have been in a library recently.

“I need your help”, a man said to me recently, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” The man had lost something with great sentimental value, and was hoping someone in the neighborhood might have found it. He wanted to make a poster, but didn’t have access to a computer at home. The man had never learned to type or to use a mouse and admitted to being intimidated by technology.

Here at the library the man was able to use a computer for free, print for a minimal fee, and get one-to-one assistance navigating the computer and formatting a document in a word processor.  The man left the library with an armful of posters that will hopefully help him reconnect with his precious lost possession, as well as a bit more experience and confidence using a computer.

If there were no libraries, where could this patron have gotten the resources and support he needed, and from an organization that asked for nothing in return? The more dependent on technology societies become, the greater the risk becomes that vulnerable people will fall through the cracks and be denied access to this technology. We need computers to check our bank accounts, apply for social assistance, or find the address of a health clinic. Without access to a computer in the home, many people depend on the library as their digital lifeline, keeping them connected to the digital world.

But having access to a computer isn’t enough – one must know how to use the technology in order to unlock its power. It wasn’t enough for the library to provide this patron with access to a computer – he needed support and guidance from a skilled, experienced professional in order to use the computer to achieve his goal.

I know that everything I’m saying has been said before, and more eloquently, by far brighter minds than me. But my interaction with this patron just reinforced everything I believe so strongly in – that technology is a tool that is only valuable to individuals when it is freely accessible and accompanied by guidance and support.

And so endeth the lesson!

Multicultural Day Event – June 27

Summer in Canada is short – typically three blessed months of blue skies and sunshine. After a long, dreary winter, Canadians are ready to celebrate, and summer is chock-full of special days and events.

This weekend we celebrated Multicultural Day with a special event at the library. We had musicians from Guatemala, an exhibit of traditional clothes from Nepal, folk dancers from El Salvador and Bulgaria, a fashion show of modern First Nations fashion, a local chamber choir, an a presentation of folk stories in Salish, Swahili, Farsi, Gaelic and English!

Throughout the library atrium different groups set up tables showcasing their cultural backgrounds, including Wales, Finland, Nepal, and more.

As the host of the event, the library put together a little display showcasing some of the ways we celebrate multiculturalism.

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For the children’s display I gathered a few picture books from our multilingual collection, to showcase the diversity of our collection.

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Unfortunately people sometimes think that the library only carries English material, and don’t realize that we actually offer materials in 10+ different language across the system!

It was exciting to see people’s eyes light up as they recognized their native language displayed on the table.

We also made sure to showcase the diversity of programs and services available at the library – we’re more than just books, you know! This might be a little out of date, though – I can’t think of the last time we had fax reference questions….

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It was a blazing hot day, and the library atrium can be uncomfortably reminiscent of a hot house, but it was still a great day at the library.

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Aboriginal Day – June 21, 2015

What an amazing day.

So how’s this for a day at the office:

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A fellow librarian and I were honoured to be invited to participate in an Aboriginal Heritage Day celebration at a local park and community center.

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We were invited to set up shop in an authentic First Nations teepee.

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It was an incredible experience – it was a hot, hot, hot day outside, but inside the teepee we were cool and shaded, with a beautiful breeze that blew in from the base of the tent. It was without a doubt the most comfortable place to be in the entire festival!

We were initially invited to set up a storytelling tent, with librarians providing story times in a nontraditional setting. However neither of us have Aboriginal heritage, and we felt uncomfortable with the idea of telling traditional stories that could have deep significance for many people. Even with the purest of intentions we would not be able to do these stories justice.

In recognition of this, we turned our “story telling tent” into a “story tent”. Instead of leading conventional story times, we instead created a story space in which families could share stories together. We collected Aboriginal picture books from Canada and the United States, picture books featuring local animals, and little stuffed versions of local animals. We scattered the books and toys around the teepee, and invited families to come in and read and play together.

We took turns reading with small groups of children, or with individual children, which allowed us to model and share literacy tips with families. It was beautiful to see families interacting and exploring together.

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I also had a bit of a rock star moment when I heard an excited chorus of “Miss Jane!” coming from across the field. Several of my story time regulars had come to the festival as a group! We’re currently on a story time break, so it was lovely to see some of my little munchkins again, and they were delighted to not have to share me with 50 other children!

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It was an amazing experience to be a part of this celebration, and to be able to connect with families in such a unique and meaningful way. And really, how many librarians get to share stories in such a beautiful setting?

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Summer Reading Club School Visits – “Build It”

One of my talented colleagues came up with the idea of “building a story” with the children in the school she visits, to tie in with our “Build It” theme. She would pull words out of a bag to fill-in-the-blanks in her story, using silly words to make the children laugh, then getting them to help correct the story.

I loved this idea, and decided to do my own little spin on it by building a little robot who would help me tell the story, but who would need a bit of help from the audience.

Here he is!

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Dollar store wooden box, dollar store silver paint, googly eyes and some bits of wire from a recycled waffle maker. Isn’t he cute?

I visited a school today (and spoke to eight classes!), and told the children that my new robot was very eager to tell them a story about summer reading club, but that he sometimes had a little trouble getting the right answer.

I started with:

“One day the children of XYZ Academy visited the local library. The wanted to join the Summer….Reading….”  I dramatically opened the “robot” and pulled out a piece of paper with a single word printed on it, for the children to read, which said something outlandish, like “elephant”. I smiled at the children triumphantly, then acted surprised, did a double take, made a face, asked the children if was the correct answer, shook my head dramatically, asked them to help the robot, etcetera etcetera. I then repeated, repeated, and repeated, using different outlandish words to reinforce important aspects of Summer Reading Club (ex: “Summer Reading Club starts….. June 42! No, silly robot, it starts June 19!”)

I layered the papers with the printed answers inside the box in the order I wanted to use them in my story, so it was a simple case of pulling out a single paper at a time.

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While the kids thought the whole thing was hilarious (the robot said it would cost 1 million jellybeans to join SRC, and told them they would be awarded with a shiny new carrot at the end of the summer), it was also a good opportunity to talk about making mistakes, taking chances, asking for help, and not giving up. I made sure to encourage my “robot”, and we talked about how it’s OK to make mistakes or to not be perfect, as long as we always give it our all, and we never give up. We also talked about how we shouldn’t be embarrassed to ask for help, just as the robot does.

Anyway, my little robot has been a simple, hilarious, portable little companion who has had the kids in stitches, but also helps reinforce some very positive messages.

YMCA Healthy Kids Day – June 7, 2015

On Sunday a colleague and I represented the library at a “Healthy Kids Day” information fair at the local YMCA.

We set up a booth filled with informational brochures and pamphlets, as well as a display showcasing some of the many free events and activities put on by the city library.

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With the start of Summer Reading Club only a few weeks away, this event was a good opportunity to bust out the ever-popular button machine and whip up some SRC buttons!

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To streamline the process a little bit we cut the button images in batches, and only had a few images for children to choose from. We then helped the children make their own buttons, which is always a thrilling experience for them. We also made some buttons ahead of time that families could just grab if they were in a hurry.

I somehow managed to fit another button on my colourful lanyard, which is always a great conversation starter when working with curious children.

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I love working at special events – I’m naturally pretty outgoing and I enjoy working with people, so I thrive in these sorts of environments.

Still, special event work is not for the faint of heart. The atmosphere at festivals and other events can be hectic and even chaotic, with people coming at you from every direction, often at the same time. Even the best-planned events will inevitably hit snags, and you really must be comfortable thinking on your feet and adapting to changing circumstances. Flexibility is key!

It also helps to be comfortable putting yourself out there. At some events people will find your booth with ease, but at others you might have to go searching for visitors. You might have to attract them to your table, particularly if you’re competing with a number of other booths. In these sort of situations it helps to be comfortable waving at strangers, starting up conversations with random people, attracting attention to yourself and potentially making a little bit of a fool of yourself. Not taking yourself too seriously is key!

Practice makes perfect, and with each event I attend I become more comfortable and more confident in my role. Being a children’s librarian really helps – if you’re comfortable making animal noises and dancing like a robot in front of a large crowd of 100+ people at story times, there’s very little that can phase you. 🙂

Love and Letters in the Library Lounge – June 6, 2015

One of the things I love about being a librarian is that I get to work with some insanely creative people, and participate in the most interesting programs.

Today is 100 in 1 Day Vancouver, which is:

“..a global festival of civic engagement returning to Metro Vancouver for its second year on June 6, 2015. Imagine the possibilities for our city if hundreds of people united to participate in small initiatives to spark change.”

Vancouver is sometimes thought of as a boring, unfriendly, unexciting city, and 100 in 1 Day is designed to help people engage with their city and with each other, explore new aspects of their city, and maybe have a little fun.

For our contribution to this initiative, our community librarian came up with: “Love and Letters in the Library Lounge – What do you love about your city, community or neighbours? Hang out and let us know though conversation or typewritten notes.”

The community librarian collected three beautiful vintage typewriters, and set up a comfy seating area outside the branch where people would be invited to type love letters to the city. People could then take their love letters home with them, or leave them at the library to be included in a display.

We set up a tent and had water available (bring your own cup!) to combat the heat, and put out tables, chairs, coffee tables (and coffee table books) and even plants to create a relaxing, inviting space.

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These vintage typewriters are gorgeous!

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I had to try my hand at typing a love letter to my city. I used an electric typewriter in a previous job, but that did little to help me wrangle these vintage beauties. Still, I did feel a bit like I was an extra in Mad Men for a few minutes.

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Just another fun project from your local library!

Welcome to Kindergarten – May 9, 2015

This week I attended a WTK at a local public Montessori elementary. The school had a bit of a unique WTK format in that children and caregivers were separated, with adults gathering in the library to listen to several presentations, and their children being looked after by their future kindergarten teacher in another room.

I set upselkirk1 a small display featuring some of my favourite children’s books, together with some pamphlets and brochures. Then I talked a bit about some ways that caregivers can inspire their children to become passionate life-long readers.

I mentioned the original “three Cs” , Choice, Cuddles, and Conversation, and added my own “C”, Consistency. I urged caregivers to make reading a regular part of their every day routines – reading consistently with children can help make reading feel as natural a part of their routine as brushing their teeth! Reading consistently can also help prevent children from associating reading strictly with school work or assignments, which can unfortunately turn many children away from books entirely.

Modelling is also an important part of raising confident readers – if children see their parents reading, and enjoying reading, it can help them view reading as a positive, valuable activity. Novels, cookbooks, magazines, newspapers, tablets, e-readers – it doesn’t matter what you read, as long as you do it regularly, you enjoy it, and you share that enjoyment with your kids!

Although it was only a brief presentation, it was still a great opportunity to connect with local teachers and teacher-librarians and meet parents in the community!

Ready, Set, Learn! – April 9, 2015

On Thursday I attended my first Ready Set Learn (RSL) event at a local elementary school. The school is only a few blocks from our branch, so I was able to enjoy the glorious spring weather on a short afternoon walk. Just look at that sky!

rsl5To quote the Vancouver School Board,

Ready, Set, Learn Programs take place in every elementary school in Vancouver and are open to families and caregivers with children who are 3 and 4 year olds. The purpose of the program is to give children and their families/caregivers resources and access to resources that will enable children to have rich learning experiences prior to entering formal schooling.

I was invited to attend the RSL as a community partner, and make a brief presentation about the importance of reading with young children, as well as promote some of the events and resources available at the library.

rsl1The event was held in the school’s gymnasium, and featured several community partners and speakers, including a community health nurse, a settlement worker, a support worker, and several translators. A number of stations were set up around the gym for children to play with while their parents listened to the speakers. My favourite station, of course, was the reading corner.

rsl4The kindergarten teacher had prepared a poster for me, and I created a little display with my library handouts. Standing beside it made me feel a little bit like a student at a science fair, waiting for the teacher to come and examine my project.

rsl2The event was only about an hour long, but the schedule was full, with a number of topics being covered, mostly by the kindergarten teacher. The topics were each designed to help parents and caregivers prepare their children for success in kindergarten. My spiel was topic 2: books!

rsl3I only had a few minutes to talk, so I decided to focus on the “3 C’s”, which were first developed by VPL librarian Gail Thomson.

  • Choice – Reading shouldn’t feel like a chore. Encourage your children to explore their interests and get them involved in picking which books to read together.
  • Cuddles – Reading together is a wonderful bonding experience, and gives you as a caregiver the opportunity to support your child’s literacy development. Make reading a fun and rewarding experience, and help your child associate reading with positive emotions and memories.
  • Conversation – Reading shouldn’t be a one-way experience. As you read with your child, stop and ask questions, and encourage them to do the same. For example: What do you think is going to happen next? How do you think she feels right now? Why do you think he said that? Do you agree with their decision? Encourage your child to interact with the text, explore what they are reading and express their thoughts, emotions and opinions.

I also touched on the importance of reading to a child in whatever language the caregiver is most comfortable with. Children benefit most from reading with a confident, enthusiastic adult, in any language. The library has children’s books in many different languages, as well as bilingual books, to support families.

rsl6There was time after the presentations for questions and chatting, and I was able to connect with a number of local families and introduce our story times and kids programs. Our multilingual children’s books don’t circulate as well as our English collection, particularly our Vietnamese collection, despite our large Vietnamese community. Being able to connect with individual parents in the community allowed me to promote the collections, while getting a better understanding of why parents might not be utilizing the resources.

Community outreach is my passion, and I believe it is vital that children’s librarian be active, engaged members of the community. By attending this event I was able to connect with families who for various reasons might never visit a library, and help support them and their children in a positive environment. I’m looking forward to my next outing!

“Welcome to Kindergarten” – Some take-aways

Last week I attended a training workshop for teachers new to the “Welcome to Kindergarten” (WTK) program. WTK is an orientation for families with children who are about to start kindergarten.  In the words of the non-profit organization The Learning Partnership,

Our Welcome to Kindergarten™ program helps prepare pre-kindergarten children for a positive start to their school journey. Parents/caregivers and their children attend orientation sessions at their neighbourhood school where they receive early learning and literacy resources, and learn how to use them at home. The orientation helps create the foundation for positive relationships between parents, teachers and community agencies that sets the stage for a smooth transition to school and future success.

The Welcome to Kindergarten program is a unique parent engagement strategy that brings together parents, children, schools and community service agencies to achieve the goal of giving parents/caregivers the strategies, resources and all the support necessary to make early learning activity and play a priority in the home – to prepare the child for a fun and successful first year in school.

I will be participating in several WTKs this spring, and was very curious to learn more about this exciting program. Here are a few interesting nuggets that I took away from the workshop (along with some largely unrelated and potentially confusing photographs for visual appeal):

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  • 1 in 4 Canadian children start kindergarten without being fully prepared, which puts them at risk of not getting the most out of their school experience.

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  • Parents and caregivers are a child’s first and most important teachers. As educators and literacy specialists, our role is to support caregivers and provide them with the tools and resources they need to succeed.

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  • Play! Children learn best through play, both structured and unstructured. Unfortunately, play can be seen as frivolous or unimportant, when it is actually one of the most important parts of a child’s development.

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  • Supporting early literacy doesn’t have to be complicated, or expensive. Playdough can easily be made from common household ingredients, picture books can be borrowed for free from the library, and scrap paper and crayons can help build the finger control and coordinatoin needed for writing.

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  • The world is a classroom! Cooking dinner can be an opportunity to explore math through measurement, while a walk through the park can introduce nature, the seasons and more. Every moment can be a teachable moment!

I left the workshop feeling super inspired, energized and ready to go! Early literacy is my passion, and I’m so thankful that I get the opportunity to work in this exciting, rewarding and meaningful field!

Parent-Child Drop-in Visit – March 26, 2015

Talk about a busy (but awesome) day! After my preschool visit I was off to a community health center to talk about books and babies with a parent-child drop-in group.

I led a mini-baby time with the group, then shared some tips and tricks for helping baby prepare to read, and talked about some of the many free resources available at the library.

Here’s what we did!

Welcome Song: Hello, Friends!

Songs/Tickles

  • The moon is round
  • Two little eyes
  • Everybody knows I love my toes

Book 1: Do Cows Meow? / Salina Yoon

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Bounces

  • A hippopotamus got on a city bus
  • You be the lemon
  • Bumping up and down in my little red wagon

Book 2: Monkey and me / Emily Gravett

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Movement Songs

  • Dancing with bears
  • My bonny lies over the ocean
  • Zoom zoom zoom
  • The elevator song

Soothing Songs

  • Rain is falling down
  • You are my little panda bear

The program was really gentle and relaxed, and I was able to sit on the mats and chat with everyone – the atmosphere was very similar to a Mother Goose session, which is smaller than a typical baby time, with a slower pace.

I really appreciate the amazing opportunities I get to go out into the community and connect with people around my neighborhood!