Canadian Libraries Spotlight: Ottawa Public Library

We are so excited to feature the Ottawa Public Library in our 11th post in the Canadian Libraries Spotlight.  Need catch up on our series? Here are all the posts.  This post was written by Kirsten, Lise, Angela and Jessica , current and past members of the Children’s Services team at the Greenboro branch of the Ottawa Public Library (OPL). Take it away, ladies!
jbrary-flagHello and bonjour from Canada’s capital! One of the most exciting things about life in a library is that you never know what to expect, and each day has its own new adventures to be experienced.  We feel very fortunate to be part of OPL and we would like to give you a glimpse of what life in the Greenboro Children’s Department looks like.

OPL is the largest, officially bilingual (English and French) library system in North America and serves a population of approximately 870,250.  Our branch is one of 33 branches scattered throughout the city. We also have two big Bookmobiles and a new Mini Bookmobile.  Without a doubt, Ottawa is a very diverse city. As such, OPL offers material in 13 languages including Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Hindi, Korean, Punjabi, Persian, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Urdu and Vietnamese. Being the capital city also means that we are lucky to have a wide range of museums, both national and local, on our doorstep. What’s more, OPL has partnerships with most of them. Therefore, our customers enjoy free museum admission passes for the whole family to places like the Canadian Aviation and Space Museum and the Canadian Children’s Museum. Furthermore, employees from many of the museums often come and do programs at the Library.

OPL is also very proud to have a Makerspace, called the ImagineSpace and a Kiosk that has automated holds pickup lockers and vending-machine style library material dispensers. The children’s department at the Greenboro branch features an integrated program room, a lot of natural light, bright colours, and space to play and learn. Join us as we take you on a tour of the children’s department.

The absolute star of the Children’s Dept is our Flintstone style car; it’s the perfect spot for reading. It has two openings at the top with Jetson-style bubbles.  It has generous front and rear trunks – perfect for kids to load up with books… much to the chagrin of our Pages!

The pod area is where all the action happens. And, by action, I mean all of our preschool and class visits happen here. We call it the pod as it’s semi circular with a sturdy accordion curtain that closes to provide more privacy when needed. Hidden behind a series of moveable panels, are handy storage cupboards with a sink and countertop. Most of our supplies are kept here and the sink makes cleanup after a messy program easy.  Kids and adults alike get a kick out of finding out that we have a Harry Potter cupboard, offering more storage under a set of stairs (of course) near the pod.


Between Babytime, Toddlertime and Contes en famille (that’s French for Family Storytime!), to mention just a few programs, we see lots of families and caregivers each week which makes for a vibrant and noisy branch!

These are some of our favourite programs that we have offered over the years:

A guide dog took part in Babytime:


LEGO® building programs:

opl4Programs offered by local museums, such as the Ottawa Art Gallery’s Labyrinth Race program shown below:


We also have a special relationship with a local school for students with profound or multiple developmental delays, the Clifford Bowey Public School. We offer four Storytimes, for many of the classes, per year. Due to the unique needs of this group, we creatively adapt Storytime to meet their needs. Each session involves some combination of books, rhymes, songs, felts, puppets and ends with a short video, usually one of the Weston Woods series of picture book films.

Some of the specific adaptations which we have used for groups with special needs include:

  • A supersized felt board (a 2 ft x 3 ft corkboard covered with felt) which is not only more visible to the children, but sits nicely in an easel and is easily moved to an appropriate height
  • Incorporating books with much rhythm, rhyme and colour
  • Enlisting the help of the classroom aides so that each child gets a chance to feel and experience the puppets
  • Reading books at a toddler or pre-school level with a lot of animation.

These programs are a 45 to 50 minute workout where the animator is in constant motion. Even while reading we move along in front of the group to keep all engaged. They are exhausting, but highly rewarding.

As in any facet of life at the Library, communication is key. To improve our services, we will often discuss songs, rhymes or books we tried during the program, to evaluate those that were successful, or those that flopped, and keep track of the videos and books we share with classes to avoid repetition.

Signs of a great program:  
There are quite a few gestures from customers that make offering programs even more rewarding , but these are a few that stand out:

  • When teachers ask for the book titles we shared with the class
  • When a child feels the need to give you a hug in the middle of the program
  • When the class breaks out in an impromptu dance party.

In the spirit of sharing, a favourite CD of ours (which has found its way into many programs) is The Second Line by Johnette Downing. Her songs Shake Your Scarves and Flitter Flutter have become favourites for the children, aides and teachers of Clifford Bowey and beyond.

Here are other resources that are a hit with our special needs groups:

Picture books:

  •  Bear Sees Colors by Karma Wilson
  •  Down by the Cool of the Pool by Tony Mitton
  •  If You’re Happy and You Know It by Jan Ormerod  (and other books based on songs)
  •  Is Everyone Ready for Fun? By Jan Thomas
  •  Wiggle by Doreen Cronin

Book DVDs

  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin
  • Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak
  • LMNO Peas by Keith Baker
  •  Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins
  •  The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats


  • Clap Your Hands from The Wiggleworms Love You by the Wiggleworms
  • If You’re Happy and You Know it from Monkey See, Monkey Do by Michael & Jello
  • It’s a Beautiful Day from Reaching for the Stars by Kathy Reid-Naiman
  • Shake it Baby, Shake it from Oh Baby! By Rainbow Songs. This is perfect with shakers or bells
  • Shake Your Scarves and Flittler Flutter from The Second Line by Johnette Downing. As previously mentioned, these are hands-down our favourite scarf songs

Please stop by and say ‘hi!’ or ‘bonjour!’ if you’re ever in town!

Population (n.d.) City of Ottawa.  Retrieved from

Baby Storytime: Focus on Newborns

For the fourth post in our baby storytime series, I’m sharing books and songs and rhymes perfect for newborns. This post is inspired by the influx of newborns in my life lately and I hope you’ll all allow me to selfishly welcome Sidney, Mason and soon Alexander to this great place we call Earth! With these new infants in mind as well as the constant supply I have the pleasure of seeing at work, I thought a post just for brand new babes was more than warranted.

If you’re fired up about baby storytime and want to read more, make sure to check out the rest of the posts in the series!

Books and Why

I may be a bit of a zealot but I truly believe that babies should be around books as soon as they are born. It’s for this reason that every person I know ever will always receive books when a new baby arrives. Apparently lots of other children’s library folks agree with me as demonstrated by the 100 odd comments to Rebecca’s query on the Storytime Underground Facebook Group about favourite books to give a newborn. Here are a couple of our favourites for babies birth to three months and what makes them perfect for itty bitties:

  • Books with large, bright faces! Some great examples include Ten Tiny Tickles and Counting Kisses by Karen Katz, 10 Little Fingers and 10 Little Toes by Mem Fox and the Baby Step Series by Carol McDougall. Newborns seek out and pay attention to faces because it is an important source of information for them and books with images of faces will capture their attention.
  • High contrast and black and white books like I Kissed the Baby! by Mary Murphy and any of the Black and White series by Tana Hoban are also fantastic for little babies. The contrast between bold colours or black and white in the  illustrations gives baby something to focus on which helps strengthen their eyesight.

                             baby play black and white i kissed the baby karen katz mem fox

One tip we like to share with caregivers with infants is from Library Bonanza’s Early Literacy Talking Points (seriously bookmark this page!) “For a baby’s short attention span, reading shouldn’t be done in one sitting but throughout the day. That’s why it’s important to always keep a book handy. Read when you and your child are relaxed and happy.”  For more book ideas check out our Babytime Books and Songs Pinterest Board  or SLJ’s recent  Board Book Round-up for what’s new and hot in the board book world.

Songs and Rhymes

While there are so many songs and rhymes out there for babies that I LOVE I’ve endeavored to whittle down the list and really celebrate the ones which are best suited to newborns. An early literacy message to share with parents about what to sing and when (besides everything and all the time): just as baby is getting to know them, caregivers can be learning what their baby is communicating through body language. Tell parents “try choosing an upbeat song when her eyes are wide and alert and when she’s sleepy, quick to cry or turns away try a quieter, soothing song.” Here are some ideas:

The Moon is Round: This lovely song is gentle and soothing and perfect for newborns. Have parents sing it through once and point out the parts of their face and then again while they gently touch baby’s face.

Peek a Boo: This is such a great song for new infants for a couple reasons. First off, because of babies’ attraction to faces, they will tune in when parents make their face disappear and reappear. Also, this begins to model the verbal convention of taking turns. Encourage parents to make big silly faces and let their baby react. By pausing after they draw their hands away, they’re letting baby know it’s your turn and I’m listening.

Ride Baby Ride: While lap bounces and dancing songs are a lot of movement for newborns we love this song because of the playful language. I wouldn’t have parents of newborns bounce to this one, instead I would suggest that they pat baby’s back or chest while they’re held close. Babies will begin to make cooing and gurgling noises at two months and parents can encourage these noises by singing songs with silly sounds or ending a rhyme with a tickle and a coo.

What are your favourite songs, rhymes and books to recommend to parents of newborns? What tips do you send home with these little bundles? Drop us a line in the comments below and stay tuned for our next Baby Storytime post!

Canadian Libraries Spotlight: Windsor Public Library

It’s the 10th post in our Canadian Libraries Spotlight series, hooray! If you’re just joining us, we invited library staff in Canada who serve children and families to write about the awesome work they are doing.  This week our guest blogger is Chelsie Abraham, the Acting Associate Branch Librarian with Richmond Hill Public Library’s Oak Ridges branch in Richmond Hill, Ontario.  She also blogs about library services to children and young adults over at Rock the Library.  Check her out!  She’s here to tell us about developing programs on a tight budget.

jbrary-flagLet’s face it, not all of us have an infinite programming budget. Pressures to increase program attendance paired with the high cost of makerspace gadgets, small-to-medium sized libraries have to think outside the box.

My first contract as a Children and Young Adult Librarian was at Windsor Public Library’s Remington Park branch in Windsor, Ontario. Programming budget for this 1000 square foot branch for the entire year was a whopping $100.  And that included summer reading! We were open 3 days a week, and we had a program scheduled everyday. Sometimes even two. We had higher program attendance than all 5-days a week branches and were neck-in-neck with the largest central location.

So, I’m here to show you that the feat is not impossible.

Programs to Run Under $5

Spool Knitting

An easy program to run in the fall/winter. Spool knitting is simple to learn and teach. There are a ton of free critter and monster patterns available on Pinterest too!

howl the owlWhat you Need

  • Receipt paper spools (ask your circulation staff to save them for you!)
  • Nails
  • Yarn donations
  • Miscellaneous craft supplies such as googly eyes, felt, hot glue gun
  • Optional: If you have access to a 3D Printer, have crochet hooks made!

To make the spools, glue the nails around the spool evenly with either a hot glue gun or industrial strength glue (E-6000 works best).

Junior Writers

A weekly program to run throughout the school year.

junior writers

What you Need: Shop back-to-school sales to get the biggest savings.

  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Folders
  • Exercise Book

Give yourself lots of time to prep for this program. Exercises can be as simple as developing a character and then writing a letter to that character to writing a myth or a legend.

Tips for Buying Supplies

  1. Invest in reusable supplies. Some supplies such as the 1-gallon of Elmer’s Glue may be an expensive start-up, but is reusable. Try to laminate everything. If you don’t have access to a laminator, ask your local school board to do it for you. Tip: Offer a school visit in exchange for lamination. It’s a win-win for everyone!
  2. Ask your manager to view an office supplies catalogue. Libraries get mega discounts on their office supplies – sometimes up to 60% off the store price! It’s a great place to get construction paper, glue, and even a case for your iPad! Ask to have a programming account set up if they’re worried about budget allocations.
  3. Sales, coupons, and bargains. Back to school supplies are not just for kids! Pencils, lined paper, duo-tangs, and pencil crayons all go on clearance the first week of September. Freshen up your supplies for the entire year. And let’s not forget Michael’s coupons. Never shop without one!
  4. Sharing is caring. If you work in a multi-branch system, ask one of them to go halfers with you on supplies.
  5. It doesn’t have to be dollar store craft supplies. It may be $1, but not the best value. If you’re buying in bulk, sometimes it’s better spend a little more.

A big thank you to Chelsea for sharing her budget friendly programming ideas!  Please leave a comment with any tips or tricks you use at your library.

Flannel Friday: Ladybug, Ladybug Flannel Game

Remember when I tried to find all the renditions of Little Mouse, Little Mouse posted on the internet?  Good times.

My family storytime loves the Little Mouse flannel game. The toddlers faces light up with delight when we finally find the mouse.  Even the older kids get into guessing which colour house it is hiding behind.  I knew I wanted to create a summer themed version.

My 4-year-old niece Sophie loves ladybugs. The other day we were at the park and I snapped this picture of her with her little friend. Two seconds later it flew away and she said, “Bye, bye sweetie. I love you.”

sophie ladybugI made this ladybug felt game because it reminded me of her, and I wanted a chance to talk to my storytimers about the importance of ladybugs (they eat aphids which are killing some of our trees!)  It’s also super easy to make!

The rhyme goes like this:

Ladybug, Ladybug
Are you behind the (colour) rug?

When I do it in storytime we practice saying the rhyme two times before playing the game.  A great early literacy tip to share before or after is about phonological awareness: “Rhymes slow down language and break words into sounds children can hear. In this rhyme, we really stretch out the word “ladybug” and break it into three clear syllables.  Being able to hear the sounds in ladybug can help kids later when they learn to read.”

Now for the flannel set! I completely free-handed the ladybug.  Just cut out a black circle for the body, a smaller black half circle for the head, two black antenna, four small black circles, and the red shell. Grab some hot glue and you are ready to go.

ladybug 2

For the rugs, I cut out six rectangles in different colours.  Then I frayed the ends by cutting some fringe on the ends.   Seriously, this is the easiest flannel set you will ever make. Now I was content to leave them plain, but my awesome co-worker Karen saw my rugs and asked if she could decorate them.  But of course!  Imagine my delight when I came back the next day and they had the most adorable patterns on them!

rugsNow I have a second early literacy tie-in: patterns and shapes.  Before we play the game, we talk about the shapes and patterns the kids see.  I give a second early literacy tip to caregivers that goes something like, “The next time you see a pattern or a shape, try talking about it with your children.  Being able to distinguish between patterns and shapes will help them later when they need to recognize the differences between letters and numbers.”


The kids have been loving this Ladybug version just as much as Little Mouse. Thanks to Laura at Library Lalaland for hosting this week’s Flannel Friday!  Check out her blog for the full round-up this Friday, and check out the Flannel Friday website for information on how you can participate.