You are you. Now, isn’t that pleasant?

Each Wednesday morning I have a preschool storytime. I have a core group of families who tend to show up. It has fluctuated quite a bit over this summer. This was the first summer my library system elected to continue storytime after April. They used to always stop storytime for the summer and pick up again in August. They didn’t like to have the children’s librarians running the summer reading program and still doing storytimes at the same time, I guess. But, they decided that the community was in need of continuous storytimes, so here we are. Initially, my attendance stayed pretty high, but it’s steadily decreased. Today was the smallest storytime I’ve had since I started doing them last year. I had 5 preschoolers and 1 infant. I was doing a circus theme and they loved my “circus big top” (a white bed sheet, because the parachute I had asked to borrow from another library has never shown up.) They enjoyed the first book, Song of the Circus by Lois Duncan (Yep, that Lois Duncan! The same one who writes thrillers.). They enjoyed the songs and movement activities. And then, I tried something I’ve only tried one other time (another very small storytime crowd, come to think of it): I read them a Dr. Seuss book.

I like Dr. Seuss, but he has been troublesome for me in the world of storytimes. The first time I tried to read a Dr. Seuss book for storytime, it was MLK Jr. Day and I read the story of the Sneetches. I love that story. The few children who were at the storytime chimed in with their comments about how terribly treated some of the Sneetches were and how silly it all was that if you have a star on your belly you get to do things that others cannot. It worked as I had hoped it would for that particular theme.

However. There was a father who asked to see the Dr. Seuss book during craft time and then proceeded to tell me how Dr. Seuss was not a good role model for children because he was anti-Semetic and that he doesn’t read Dr. Seuss to his children and believed I should no longer read Dr. Seuss in storytimes.

Well… I’ve never found any reliable sources claiming that Dr. Seuss was anything other than supportive of Jews. In fact, during WWII, he criticized the US for its treatment of Jews and was very solidly anti-Hitler. He did agree with the Japanese internment camps during WWII, which was a moral blunder, but he later seemed to see the error of his ways in the writing of Horton Hears a Who, written about the occupation of Japan after WWII and which he dedicated to a close friend of his from Japan. At any rate, I don’t know where this father got his opinion. Certainly, everyone is entitled to decide whether to read certain books to their children or not, but he stopped bringing his kids to storytime after that. If I’m honest, it was not much of a loss. The fellow was rather off-putting in a general way, although his kids were great. Despite one parent’s problem with an author or a children’s book, I would not stop reading said author aloud to children. That’s not the point of a public library, those sorts of stipulations would be appropriate in a non-public library…like in your own home.

Still, I haven’t given Dr. Seuss a try in storytime since then and that was nearly six months ago. But, today I decided to give it another go because If I Ran the Circus  is SO good. It was a big, fat, flop. I think it was too long. Dr. Seuss is definitely wordy. My kids today ranged from about 2-5 and I think Dr. Seuss just dragged on a bit too much. It’s nonsense words went over a lot of their heads. There were a few giggles, but there was a lot more talking amongst themselves and not paying attention. Usually these kids pay attention. So, I was sort of disappointed. I asked them questions about the story when I finished and they could hardly tell me anything about it. It wasn’t good. Maybe it needs an older crowd. Maybe his books are just too long for this age group. Maybe it just wasn’t a day for Dr. Seuss and storytime. Or maybe Dr. Seuss and storytime are not that great of a match here. It’s a shame, really. I’ll probably try him again sometime, but I need to find a way to bring the kids into participating with the story more. Maybe just The Cat in the Hat (although, I really don’t like that one much), or something that they might have been introduced to previously. I don’t know. I’m afraid Dr. Seuss will just go back on the shelf for a while.

I’ll give him three chances, but not another chance for a while. Not only because of the reception he received, but also because it’s a lot of work to read a Dr. Seuss book aloud and not stumble over the nonsense words or the tongue twisters! I practiced reading this book three times before I actually read it to them this morning. It’s tough! I know some people think reading Seuss to kids isn’t good because of all his nonsense words, but I disagree. Even the two-year-old today laughed at some of the nonsense words. They know, even at that young age, that the words are goofy. They know ‘eyeses’ and ‘shouldsters’ aren’t the correct words for the body parts, even if they don’t know that there’s not a planet called “Foon”. It’s all good, but maybe not always the best for a storytime setting? Sigh. I don’t know. It’s a situation where I want it to work and don’t want to give up on it, but its a disappointment each time I try.

In the meanwhile, try reading this aloud without stuttering or stopping or having a brain-jolt at the tongue-twisting turning of phrases of old Theo Geisel:

“When beetles fight these battles in a bottle with their paddles
and the bottle’s on a poodle and the poodle’s eating noodles…
…they call this a muddle puddle tweetle poodle beetle noodle
bottle paddle battle.”
Dr. Seuss, Fox in Socks

I have one particular girl in storytime who loves to clap when the story is over. Several of the parents have taken to clapping when the story is over, too… I don’t know how to handle it, so I usually just sort of move quickly on to the next thing we’re doing. But today, after getting through all the tongue twisters without stumbling or messing up the Seussian rhythm I was all like:

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The end marks the beginning.

The end of the Summer Reading Program is this week. This was my first time running a program of any sort, ever. I think it went well. Two days left before the official end, and I’m still having people sign up to be a part of the program at the library. Some general stats for the program:

4 – number of teen volunteers who helped me with the running of the program by loyally sitting at a table for hours waiting for the families to arrive to get their prizes and sign up for the program. I only had four teens, but they worked an average of 22 hours every week for me! It was a huge help for me and my co-workers to have them helping out and they are wonderful teens. I’m having a party for them in a couple of days to get their feedback and celebrate their work.

8 – the number of weeks the library’s program ran.

18 – the number of specialized programs for the community at the library during the program.

1 – the number of staff who transferred away from the branch during the program.

39 – the average attendance for the public programming for all ages.

1 – the number of e-mail complaints about paid performers from concerned parents who thought a puppet was “demonic”.

8 – the percentage of increase in participation from my community as compared to last year!

So far, so good. The library system as a whole wanted 20,000 total sign-ups throughout the city, but I don’t know how close they got to that goal. I think we’ll have a lot of wrap-up activities around the branch. I have a lot of cleaning up of the decorations I put up back in May. The stench of Goo-Gone is in my future, I believe.

Although the SRP is almost done, the school registration season has begun, so my outreach is picking back up. It’s funny to go back to the schools I went to in the Spring to talk about SRP and watched all those kids so excited for summer. Now they’re back and anxious for the new school year to start. Today was the last day of summer school at the elementary school I went to this morning and, at one point, a gaggle of girls rushed into the cafeteria where the registration event was going on and rushed at a teacher to hug her and some were so sad to be leaving. After they left, the teacher explained that the girls didn’t get really realize they would be leaving since they knew they’d be in summer school, so now it’s just hit them that this is their last day at their elementary school. They’re moving up the road to the middle school. They have about 2 weeks to let it sink in before starting sixth grade. I’ll probably see them at the registration for the middle school! The community I serve is on the very low-income side of the scale. The city-at-large is not a rich place, but the schools in my community are described by the teachers and staff as the “ugly stepchildren” of the public school system in the city (and the school system is pretty awful as a whole). So the organizations that are invited to attend these registration events at the schools are usually socially-minded organizations that can offer some sort of free service or help to the families and children. I always learn something and take flyers and brochures back to the library to post and share with the community. I do the outreach for the branch library, not only because I like doing it, but because nobody else really wants to do it. I wish sometimes that we could close the branch for a bit and I could bring all my co-workers out to these events. Being with the families and trying to get them to come and use the library, as well as meeting other people in our community who are doing awesome things and trying to help us all live happier and easier lives together here, would be an outstanding opportunity for everyone at the branch. But, it doesn’t work like that, so I plod on and do my best to bring the optimistic and endearing spirits of the people back with me into the branch to share with them. If nothing else, it makes me feel better to meet these people and be out in the community, After I got back to the library in the afternoon, a family who was at the registration in the morning came in and signed up for a library card and the SRP! So, every little bit helps.

Northern Exposure and poetry

I’ve been watching old episodes of the 1990s tv show, Northern Exposure, and enjoying myself so much. That show was so good. I was young when it was on and I think a lot of it went over my head at the time. I remember watching it with my parents and enjoying it, but I really like it now that I understand more about what they’re talking about and can follow the storylines a bit better.

I think my two favorite characters are Marilyn Whirlwind, the receptionist of Dr. Fleishman, and Chris Stevens, the local radio dj. Marilyn is so calm and sure of everything. She is quiet, but absolutely certain in her opinion when she speaks. Chris is a chatterbox, as befits a radio personality, but has the beautiful quality of curiosity about him. He’s always pondering and always willing to learn about new things. He’s the go-to guy in Cicily, Alaska, for all things philosophical, religious, and general wonderment. Both characters were written in such a deep way. There’s very little that is superficial about the writing for the entire show, but I love these two characters the most.

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One thing I really like about the show is how often poetry is shared, usually written in as an off-the-cuff quote or as part of Chris’ radio show. But, it’s a wonderful addition to what was a primetime television show! The episode I watched a few days ago from Season 3 included this poem, which I haven’t heard in so long and I forgot how much I loved it when I read it back in high school:

A Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns

My love is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
My love is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will love thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love,
And fare thee weel a while!
And I will come again, my love,
Thou’ it were ten thousand mile.

I have no idea if the episodes are on Netflix or anything like that, but I got my season at the library (of course!), so if you haven’t seen the show but I’ve piqued your interest, or you’re nostalgic for the television of the 1990s (when television writing was excellent, in my opinion), search around your local catalog and see if you can check out a season!

Animals of the Library

I haven’t worked in the public library a full year yet, but I’ve picked up on the fact that there are different types of library visitors that make the library space a bit like a zoo.

We have the retired routiners, who come in at about the same time every day usually just before or after they get lunch at the senior meal site next door. They’re sort of like the cats of the library. They require next to no assistance in finding anything. Very self-sufficient except on rare occasions. They really don’t like their routines disrupted, so having holidays, staff changes, or power outages are serious problems for them. Don’t mess with their routines and everyone stays happy.

We have our storytime families. These are the pack animals of the library: zebras, elephants, hyenas, they’re all in this group. These are families who have 1-3 preschool children and who come to our weekly storytime. Everyone at the branch knows that come Wednesday morning, there will be a rush of children and parents and grandparents in the door to get their books checked in. It’s loud, it’s crazy and it’s fun (for the most part). Lots of noise with parents and grandparents shouting across the library: “(child’s name) STOP RUNNING!” or “(child’s name) WAIT FOR ME!”  In herds of various sizes and speeds, they make their way to the program room. Some of these families I’ve gotten to know well; some are not as well-known, but very excited to join in on the fun! I’ve learned that some of the families use storytime as a reward for the kids for having positive attitudes, not throwing tantrums, and generally behaving themselves. When the kids miss storytime, it’s a big deal to them, and I LOVE that.

We have the elementary and middle school students who come in mostly to look at comic books and use the computers. These are sort of like the monkeys of the library. They will come and ask questions quite a bit. Either about how to use the computer, how to find a book, ask how old you are, ask how the copy machine works, etc. Several of the elementary students still have the curiosity that they had as a pre-kindergarten kiddo, but they’ve got the trust of their guardians that allow them to be out of sight for a brief amount of time. I’ve seen kids helping some of our retired routiners on the self-check out machines (not that the cats want the help, but they’re too kind to snap at the monkeys), I’ve seen them explaining how to do puzzles to younger children. These kids have an ownership of the library space, for better or for worse. We do have to kick them out sometimes. The middle schoolers will be loud and crazy in the study rooms and sometimes they act like…well, monkeys, and it doesn’t always allow for them to stay in the library as long as they’d like. Monkeys can get outta hand, some days, but generally, they are a lot of fun to hang around with.

Lastly, we have the teenagers. These are the exotic birds of the library world. They come into the library sometimes solo, sometimes in pairs or small groups. Under no condition should you, as a non-exotic bird, approach them. You must let the bird come to you. If it senses any sudden movement toward it, it will be startled and fly away. If you happen to gain the trust of one or two of these creatures, you might suddenly find yourself having a conversation with one! This is a rare occurrence though, and as the exotic creatures tend to be extremely shy, you shouldn’t feel bad if, the next time they come in to the library, they ignore you. It’s just the way it goes.