Joe Monahan, manager of youth services for the St. Louis Public Library system, says that of the 70 camps originally scheduled, 54 were held virtually.
“We had to scramble to do [the camps], but I think it made a huge difference. It made for a concrete, fun learning opportunity instead of just sitting in front of a screen,” Monahan says.
Librarians across the country are thinking creatively about how to connect with kids when it’s not possible for students to go to the library.
Paula Langsam, a youth services manager at the soon-to-reopen Martin Luther King Junior Memorial Library in Washington, says, “In a way, our work has changed a lot. We didn’t used to do videos a lot.”
In many ways, the D.C. Public Library Facebook page has turned into a single library serving the whole city. The page features live-streamed story times hosted by librarians across the city.
“One of the best things about the virtual story time is that we still get pieces of that community-building,” says Langsam, who has been a children’s librarian in Washington for six years. The Facebook page also has how-to crafts, videos on science, technology, engineering and math, and exercise classes.
The pandemic has made something as simple as browsing for a book difficult. In Washington, libraries are required to quarantine returned books for four days before they can check them back in, so looking at and touching books while browsing is not possible. In St. Louis and Washington, librarians have been putting together book bundles based on genre — such as mystery or science fiction — that are available for pickup.
“Parents don’t have to search through the shelves, they can grab one and go, and it’s already curated for them,” Monahan says of the bundles.
There are more than just books to pick up, though. Librarians created grab-and-go activity kits. The kits, also known as “take-and-makes,” come with instructions and craft supplies for fun at home.
“A lot of it is to [inspire] creativity. Here is a bag of stuff; what can you make? People have been asking for that,” Langsam says.
This year, Washington librarians decided to extend their annual D.C. Reads book club, which usually lasts just for the summer, through the end of the year. Normally, librarians wouldn’t have the staffing to extend the book club, but some staffers’ responsibilities have changed during the pandemic, making the extension possible.
As the pandemic keeps the library closed for full public use, Langsam says there is an upside when she and her team find new ways to serve their community. “We’re able to try some new things, and we see what works and doesn’t work and focus on what we can continue to do,” she says.
For upcoming library events for kids in the D.C. area, check out these links.
● Alexandria Library has a virtual game/ trivia night for ages 8 to 18 on Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m.: alexlibraryva.org/event/4554625.
● Fairfax County Library will hold a sidewalk obstacle course all day Saturday at Martha Washington Library, 6614 Fort Hunt Road, Alexandria, Virginia: librarycalendar.fairfaxcounty.gov/event/7095386.
● Montgomery County Library offers a virtual family dance party on October 2 from 5 to 5:30 p.m.: mcpl.libnet.info/event/4576451.
● Prince George’s County Libraries has virtual comic books that you can check out: library.comicsplusapp.com.
A festival of books
D.C.-area book lovers usually come by the thousands to the Library of Congress’s annual National Book Festival, held each September for the past 20 years. This year’s festival, which begins Friday, has gone virtual. That means there’s no need to line up for a seat to hear Sophie Blackall, Jerry Craft or Mo Willems. Those are three of the authors who will be appearing live online over the weekend.
Programs for kids and teens will also include two one-hour video specials hosted by authors Jon Scieszka and Jason Reynolds.
What: The National Book Festival
When: Friday to Sunday, streaming on demand beginning at 9 a.m. Friday. Live question-and-answer sessions begin at 11 a.m.
How much: Free.
For more information: Have a parent register at loc.gov/bookfest, so they can submit your questions to presenters.