Jumping Off the Holiday Ban-Wagon

Disagreement, while uncomfortable, is a normal and needed part of librarianship.  I know going into this that people will disagree with me.  And many of those people are librarians I deeply admire which in a way makes this post even harder to write. But I truly believe that disagreement is healthy and can be done respectfully. And it definitely shouldn’t stop us from sharing our opinions and engaging in conversations about our profession.

Two weeks ago, Kendra told us to Check our Holidays at the Door.  Kendra advocates against the type of inauthentic holiday programs that some librarians try to squeeze in in an attempt to be “diverse.”  And I am in total agreement that this type of holiday programming is tokenism and should be avoided.  And as someone who grew up in the United States, and is still aware of movements like this one, I can see why for some American libraries it makes sense to focus on seasonal themes rather than holiday ones.

But the problem for me is that this argument was then extrapolated to include all holiday programming in any library ever.  And I think whenever we use phrases like “all,” “any,” and “ever” we have to be aware of the implication of those words.

The reasons given for excluding all types of holiday programming are:

1. You are not an expert on all holidays.

2. Holiday programs exclude and alienate people from the library.

I’d like to address both of these arguments because after grappling with this topic for over a week, I’ve come to realize I simply disagree.  And as a pretty outspoken atheist, I can assure you it has nothing to do with any religious hidden agenda.

#1: Your Community is the Expert

Where I live –  Vancouver, British Columbia –  we take a an approach to holiday programming that encompasses the official government policy of multiculturalism.  As my colleague Tess Prendergast pointed out, we don’t do the whole “melting pot” thing here.

At the Vancouver Public Library where I work we follow a community-led libraries model.  This model was developed to reach community members who have traditionally not used the library due to social exclusion and other barriers.  In this model, the community member becomes the “expert” and helps guide the library in developing services and collections that meet their needs.  Different groups have different wants and needs and our programming should reflect these differences.

Using the community-led model means we work with community groups and other agencies to plan holiday programming which fit with my library’s stated mission to create an “engaged, informed, and connected city.” Recently, my library hosted a week long series of holiday programs called “The Day of the Dead, Coast Salish Style.”  Our VPL Aboriginal Storyteller in Residence, Rosemary Georgeson, has worked in years past with Latino artists from California on the intersections between the Day of the Dead and First Nations traditions around honouring ancestors and acknowledging the life cycle. Drawing on these conversations, she and other library staff decided to work with community groups to put on a week full of art workshops, storytelling, hands on crafts, and participation in a local parade.  This series of programs was a huge success and drew in many community members who have traditionally faced social exclusion from the library.

Here’s another example. At Surrey Libraries, librarians work with community groups to showcase Diwali.  They hosted a program that included a sari wrapping demonstration, a bollywood dance workshop, and menhdi by donation by partnering with a local South Asian women’s group. They also worked with a local arts club called Shan-E-Punjab to provide a Bhangra and Gidha performance.  These festive activities were chosen by the community groups as ways they publicly celebrate Diwali, and it drew a crowd of over 200 people.

Neither of these examples focus on religion; they focus on the cultural significance the holiday has for members of our community. These programs are not viewed as an assimilation tactic or an expression of cultural power or privilege.  In fact, I would argue they do the opposite. They help build partnerships with community groups and foster the belief that all of our cultural backgrounds are welcome and visible in the library.

Do these types of holiday programs happen all year round and for every major holiday from all cultures? Probably not. Like many other libraries, we experience a stress on limited staff and resources, in addition to an ever increasing list of job duties.  But it’s certainly what we strive for, and working with the community in general (not just for holiday programming) is always a top priority. My point is – it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing mindset.  We plan these programs based on community feedback and we try to the best of our abilities to reflect what is important to them.

#2: Every Program Has a Chance of Alienating or Excluding Someone

One of the commenters on Kendra’s post wrote this statement that summed up exactly what I was thinking.  Kate, if you read this post, thank you for this perspective:

…the exact same thing happens when our therapy dog visits, and little Johnny is allergic to dogs. The same thing happens when we don’t buy the hardcover book because we are using that book’s money on a downloadable audio instead; little Johnny with no device nor internet can’t read it. And the same thing happens when we have Lego club on Saturday, instead of during the week because then the Orthodox Jewish family cannot come. Exclusion happens whether we want it to or not (gosh we try so hard for not, don’t we!!), but it happens. Sometimes we don’t see it or know about it, and I think this is the entire thrust of ‘no holiday programs’ – just remove it all together and we won’t exclude (offend) anyone…well, except those that wish we had some kind of fun event because they can’t afford to take their kid to the paid event at the local mall, or don’t want to drag their kids through the department store to see Santa and have to worry about purchasing something. Yep, we’ve now excluded them too, because the library’s events are FREE and open to anyone who WANTS to come. It’s simple really – if you don’t want to come to THIS particular program, then don’t. There will be something equally fabulous some other day that you WANT to come to, not to worry.”

This is not to say that we shouldn’t be mindful of potential exclusion – we absolutely should and I think Kendra’s post gets that point across.  But the reality is some people don’t celebrate anything – holidays, birthdays, nothing – while other people would have a problem with Harry Potter programs because of witchcraft and magic.  So then it begs the question – why are we drawing the line at holiday programs when so many other things we do have a chance of offending/alienating/excluding?  If you look at it from an academic standpoint then the argument starts to fall apart.

Lastly, on a more philosophical level, when I think about the best possible community I imagine a place where ideas are freely exchanged, where we support diversity in actions and words, and where people are open-minded about each other. How do we achieve this? We have to bring people together, and to me the library stands as one of the most appropriate places to do just that. If people only celebrate within their own cultural group, then we’ve lost a chance to bridge a cultural divide and create an inclusive community.

So that’s my opinion.  This is what works in my city.

I’m thankful to all of my fellow library workers for starting and adding to this discussion.

Opposites at Storytime

Ever since we learned the song This is Big, Big, Big from Mel I have been on an opposites kick. Factor in the hungry bunch of toddlers I program for on a weekly basis and let’s just say I’ve developed quite a list. Side note: those toddlers can turn on a dime if they don’t get their fill of the opposites. If you know of what I speak read on, in, down and up!

To get us started I’ve chosen two Hello and Goodbye song combos which feature our friends The Opposites.

Bread and Butter Storytime Welcome and Goodbye Chant


So many great things about this song: like the word marmalade. But also the fact that you can adapt it to opposites which might make an appearance in your program like “let’s say hello like cats if we can” and then “let’s say hello like dogs if we can.” And don’t tell anyone but I also use this with almost every school age crowd I encounter and then challenge them to say hello like Fly Guy or Thea Stilton. Continue reading “Opposites at Storytime”

One Story Six Ways: Go Away, Big Green Monster!

This past weekend my partner and I spent four wonderful days visiting our best friends in Oregon. They’ve got a 20-month-old, our nephew Ethan, who absolutely loves to read.  And it’s no surprise considering all the early literacy goodness in their home.

20141107_190109
Books galore!
Practicing colours with Uncle Jon
Practicing colours with Uncle Jon

Of course we had to take a trip to the bookstore to pick up some new reads, but I also spent some time helping my friend make some felt stories for this TOTALLY AWESOME FELT WALL she created on the side of her kitchen.

Before
Before
After
After

We made some weather pieces so she could sing What’s the Weather? each morning, plus Little Mouse, Little Mouse as it is toddler gold.  Because we had bought the book Go Away, Big Green Monster!, I also made the felt version.  Expanding books with felt stories, props, and crafts is a great way to help kids retell stories which supports their narrative skills. They also help children internalize stories and can spark further conversations between parent and child.  And we know the benefits of repetition – repeating stories, songs, and rhymes helps children remember them and helps them understand the stories on different levels. I also love this article on the importance of repeated interactive read-alouds in preschool and kindergarten.

I’ve been wanting to try this out more in storytime. So here’s some different ways I’m going to try out telling Go Away, Big Green Monster! when my next storytime session starts in January.

1.  Read It!

Go Away, Big Green Monster!

In this book you build up the monster and then talk him apart piece by piece. I love having the kids yell, “Go Away” as we read it.  I tell parents that this book is great for helping kids overcome their fears and repetition of phrases is great for brain development.

2. Felt It!

The felt is super easy to make. You do not have to be precise and can use any colours you have on hand.  The best pattern I’ve found is from KidsClub found here.  And I have to share the following picture because we laughed for SO LONG when we came home from dinner one night to find the babysitter’s version. Bless her heart, but we were crying from laughing so hard.

A for Effort!
A for Effort!

3. Use the Puppet!

monster

My library bought the puppet version here. But if you’re crafty you could make this on your own with some fabric and velcro.

4. Draw it!

My colleague Francesca introduced me to this method. If you have a whiteboard or chalkboard, you can easily draw the story and use an eraser to make the monster go away.  Check out this post by So Tomorrow for step-by-step instructions.

5. Use the App!

monster app

We’ve been using this app in our Parents’ Night Out on apps for preschoolers. I love how it has four different ways to read/listen to the story, and I guarantee once you hear the jazz version you’ll never be able to read it in the same voice.

6. Craft It!

We don’t do crafts after storytime at my library, but if we did I’d be all over these! Try creating masks, use this squash painting method, make a Letter M monster, make a paper plate monster, or simply cut out the shapes that make up the face and have kids create their own versions of monsters.  And this post and this post have even more ideas for all types of literacies!

Did I miss any?  What story do you like telling in a variety of ways? Let me know in the comments.

Passive Programs Throw Down!

Way back when, the teachers in British Columbia were on strike for VERY GOOD REASON which led to more kids in the library than we were used to in  June and September, and the Summer Reading Club (while so much fun) didn’t quite stretch far enough. It was at this time that I learned of the magic of Passive Programs. Through colleagues near and far I began to collect these gems and have finally sat down to share them with you. The images below are from some simple but clearly very popular passive programs our friends Alicia and Christie tried out in our backyard!

Bookmarks
Getting crafty with bookmarks!
books_that_are_games
Books can be games too! Just add kidlets.
Origami Books and Paper
Origami= Forever Awesome.

First up, a quick note about why I love Passive Programs oh-so-much:

  • Passive Programs are always running. That means the kids who can only get to you late on a Saturday or Monday-on-the-way-to-picking-up-her-brother can participate.
  • These activities provide a sneaky, yet perfect opportunity to engage with younger patrons while they’re busy honing their ninja skills (just wait!) or heading off on a scavenger hunt. Have a conversation, point to a resource or simply learn a name. It’s all gold.
  • Collection connections! With the right activity or entry point you’ve Indiana Jones’d into the pile of treasure we know (and labour over) our collection to be.
  • Finally, while I wish there was another name passive or low impact programs are just that. Minimal work up front and then fairly easy to deliver and/or maintain. Easy peasy lemon squeezy for busy librarians like you’n’me!

Continue reading “Passive Programs Throw Down!”