When Gov. Gary Herbert issued some new COVID-19 restrictions and a statewide mask mandate for Utah, the Summit County and Park City libraries’ youth services librarians knew they had to continue their virtual programming and curbside services.
For Kirsten Nilsson of the Summit County Library, the governor’s announcement meant she could continue her weekly book reviews, cooking classes and recruiting other Summit County Library staff to help with story times.
Katrina Kmak of the Park City Library said the announcement only emphasized the importance of keeping the story times running, just so families and children could maintain a sense of normalcy in their routines.
Summit County Library
Nilsson said the library’s curbside service is still being offered, and that she would continue the online children’s programming until something changes in the COVID-19 situation.
“We’ll change the title to Winter Programming in January and go however long we need to,” she said. “The nice thing about having online programming is we can offer these programs even on a holiday.”
When the novel coronavirus first hit Summit County, Nilsson and the rest of the library staff began videotaping story times, which are activities designed toddlers and preschoolers, for the summer.
She also reached out to the other librarians, including circulators and catalogers, from the other branches — Coalville and Kamas Valley — and asked if they wanted to record a story time, to give the kids some variety.
“We had a huge response, and it’s been really fun to see the different styles of storytelling,” Nilsson said. “I’ve been spending time driving from branch to branch to film people reading the story times, and then I put the videos together and edit them.”
Once Nilsson began thinking about different ways to showcase story times, she started to think about other types of programming that could be fun and different.
She reached out to the Rachel Spohn, teen services and social media librarian for some ideas.
“We have been talking about filming book reviews together, and decided about us doing one each every week,” Nilsson said. “(2020) has been a remarkable year for children’s literature. There have been so many great books that have come out, and many have been in response to the things that have been going on in the world and our country.”
Nilsson decided to start up a Hooray for Books Monday Morning Book Report at 10:30 a.m. on Facebook, and Spohn began her Fridays Teen Lit Squad book reviews and chats at 10:30 a.m. on Fridays.
Hooray for Books focuses on literature for middle readers who are in grades four through seven, and Nilsson also reviews picture books.
“One of the benefits of COVID-19 is that I have more time to pay attention to literary review lists like Kirkus Reviews, Booklist and the School Library Journal,” Nilsson said. “I’ve been looking closely at those lists and, while I deliberately order the most popular books, I also order some that are written by first-time authors and more diverse authors.”
Spohn finds new titles in the young adult genre and discusses them with teen readers during her sessions, according to Nilsson.
“Rachel is awesome at how she does this,” she said.
Another fun offering is Kirsten’s Kitchen Adventures that start at 10:30 a.m. every Wednesday.
“Because of the quarantine, I, like a lot of people in the world, got into baking,” Nilsson said with a laugh. “So I thought why don’t I do a kids cooking show.”
Nilsson’s son taught an after-school cooking class in Los Angeles, and shared some ideas with her.
“Sometimes I make serious, healthy dishes, and sometimes I do fun things, like we did for Halloween,” she said.
Nilsson also incorporates some STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) in her cooking class.
“Food is science, and sometimes things just come in naturally,” she said. “When we made bread, I talked about how the yeast uses oxygen and water to make the dough rise and things like that.”
In addition to the children’s programming, the Summit County Library offers a Books to Film Club hosted by library director Daniel Compton.
“It’s been going well, and I think the club members are very comfortable reading a book and watching the films at their own homes, before they meet on Zoom to discuss the book and the film.”
Nilsson said offering online literary programming keeps her going through the pandemic.
“I would be so sad not to have any kind of outreach ability,” she said. “I hope people are watching what we do and are getting recommendations for the books they want to read.”
Park City Library
Although the Park City Library had been slowly opening with outdoor story times, Herbert’s new mandate pushed things back, Kmak said.
“In terms of the services we were offering, we recently went back to curbside service to coordinate with Gov. Gary Herbert’s announcement,” she said. “People can still contact us to put books on hold, and we just put out a new form on our website that people can fill out for some ‘virtual browsing.’ But all the children’s programming is online now, because we feel it’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Those online offerings include a virtual Baby & Me at 3 p.m. every Monday; a Story Time at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Music and Movement at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays, Kmak said.
“We also offer Crafternoons 2 Go on Wednesday,” she said. “We assemble 45 to 50 craft kits, and people just need to come to the library to tell us they want Crafternoon kits, and we’ll bring them to their vehicle along with any books you have put on hold.”
Kmak always posts an online Crafternoon tutorial Wednesday morning, she said.
“Those tutorials are also accessible anytime on the library’s Facebook live page,” she said.
Kmak believes the online programming gives children a stable routine in their lives at a time when everyone has been affected by the pandemic.
“I think it’s also good for the parents to know, even though their child may not be totally engaged the whole time, that their children still get to do a story time, and are intellectually stimulated,” she said. “I’ve been trying to keep the flow of the program as consistent as it was pre-pandemic, just to have some sort of normalcy.”
The challenge for Kmak is to maintain an engaging flow with each session.
“I start with a song, and then I read the first book, which typically has a longer story, because kids’ attention spans are strong at the beginning of a program,” she said. “After the book, I will do the same three songs or fingerplays that we always do, and that helps the parents so they are able to do these with their children.”
The story times are livestreamed through Zoom and Facebook Live, but Kmak knows there are some people who can’t access them at that time.
“So, we also have content on our YouTube channel, and we always have the links on our website,” she said.
Kmak has her own process of selecting the books she will read during the story times.
“I choose books that tie into other songs and activities like what kinds of shapes they can find in their houses,” she said. “I also know that the pandemic has been hard for many people, and if I’m not feeling bright and sparkly, I will usually choose a book about being kind or what it means to be a good friend. I feel if something rings true to me, I know other people would want to hear that message, too.”
One of the biggest rewards for Kmak to continue the online programming is knowing she is taking part in expanding children’s passion for learning and their love for books.
“Interacting with the community and seeing children’s development is one of my favorite parts of my job,” she said.