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.

Summer Reading Club Kindergarten Visit – June 11, 2015

We’re still in the thick of Summer Reading Club promotion, but instead of going out to visit a class, a kindergarten class came to me! A local kindergarten class of about 16 children came to spend an hour at the library and learn a bit about summer reading club.

I used my old favourite, “If you’re happy and you know it”, as my instructional song, providing a bit of structure and routine throughout the visit. We started with:

If you’re happy and you know it sit on your bums

If you’re happy and you know it sign hello (we practiced the ASL sign for hello)

If you’re happy and you know it say hello

If you’re happy and you know it hands in your laps

It was awesome! Who knew that an old standby could come in so useful?

Because the theme of this year’s SRC is “Build It”, I started off our visit with a robot story:

Boy + Bot / Ame Dyckman

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The kids got a kick out of my robot voice, and we had a nice little discussion about what we might do to help our robot friend. It’s not the most fun choice for story times, but it did tie in nicely, and the illustrations are pretty cute.

In keeping with the “Build it” theme we then sang a song about high rise buildings – the elevator song!

Finally it was time to talk about Summer Reading Club!

I love getting the kids to guess the correct answer when talking about SRC:

How much do you think it costs to join Summer Reading Club? 1 million jellybeans? Two thousand nickels?”

“What do you think you get at the end of Summer Reading Club, after you’ve read for 50 days? A goldfish? A sock?”

“How many minutes a day should you read during Summer Reading Club? At least a million? Zero?”

I opened the floodgates a little when I asked for some suggestions of good books to read during Summer Reading Club. It turns out everyone had multiple favourite books they were desperate to tell me about! But, that’s ok, if the conversation is going to get sidetracked, I’m happy if it’s because of an extended book discussion. 🙂

After a bit more information about SRC it was time to pick out some library books.I once again turned to that trusty tune.

If you’re ready for some books, stand up! / If you’re ready for some books, stand up! If you’re ready for some books, if you’re ready for some books, if you’re ready for some books, stand up!

If you’re ready for some books, line up! / If you’re ready for some books, line up! If you’re ready for some books, if you’re ready for some books, if you’re ready for some books, line up!

This was the most disciplined, orderly kindergarten class I had ever encountered – it was almost eery how quiet and well behaved the were! They descended upon the readers section like a very quiet horde and picked it clean.

I’m always interested in what the kids zero in on in the stacks, and today there seemed to be a run on Biscuit books.

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After a few minutes of book selecting and silent reading, it was time to line up and walk to the check out counter.

It was a great little visit, and hopefully the children will be back to sign up for SRC.

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. 🙂

Welcome to Kindergarten – May 5, 2015

Another day, another school visit! ‘Tis the season, after all.

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It was a lovely day for a short walk down to a local school annex. Once again the faithful folding trolley was put to good use, filled with books and pamphlets (and a water bottle – always bring a full water bottle to school visits!!).

School annexes in my city serve grades K-3 (rather than K-7), and are lovely little neighborhood schools.

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I was invited to share a mini story time with the incoming kindergarteners and their families, but only had about 15 minutes in which to do so. I was originally scheduled for 20 minutes, but as usual, preschoolers don’t quite grasp the importance of sticking to schedules! 🙂

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Given this condensed time frame, it was time to bring out the heavy hitters!

The group had already sat through several speakers by the time I took to the stage, so the kids were getting pretty squirrely. I busted out one of my all-time, never-lets-me-down favourites, Bark, George.

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As usual, it brought the house down. Love, love, love this book!!!! You just can’t go wrong with animal noises. Simple, simple text with a hilarious ending. Love.

I also used “The Elevator Song” and “Here we go a marching”, which is a nice way to introduce a basic ASL sign (for stop). The kids enjoyed the Elevator Song so much that the school’s kindergarten teacher emailed me afterwards to get the words – here are two of my colleagues singing it!

I’m finished with Welcome to Kindergarten visits for this season, so now it’s on to Summer Reading Club promotional visits and summer community events. I’ve been so busy I can hardly keep up with blogging all the events I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of – life is so good!

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!

“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!