Scenes from Outreach Storytime

Most Thursday mornings, I roll out of bed and get ready for doing a storytime or two inside the daycares of my secondary community. I’m the only library staff person doing any storytimes as outreach at the moment, and it wasn’t automatically required of me. For months, I tried doing in-house storytimes at this branch, but never had anyone attend. After summer reading came and went, I decided it was time to do something different.

By this time, I’d been working for this community for around seven months, but I’ve only ever spent one day a week at this location. The other four days are spent at my primary location, about six or seven minutes away. When I do come to this branch, I typically repeat some of the programs I’ve done over the week at my other branch. It saved me some time to do this, but the more I get to know this town, the more convinced I am that these two very close towns are not very much alike.

In my primary town, the economy is slowly growing, with the biggest job providers being furniture factories. (In fact my library here is a renovated factory building.) There are a couple upscale areas to live (by local standards) because it’s turning into an almost-suburb of a nearby city. Still, there’s a fair amount of agriculture around the outskirts of the town and it remains small enough that it’s almost completely walkable. It’s doing a good job of attracting upper-middle class families with new parks, nice schools, and a few cute shops downtown.

My secondary community is facing a pretty severe economic downturn. It’s more rural than the other, with an economy based mostly on agriculture and hard labor. The town is just a few streets with most of its shops and restaurants on one stretch of road. A couple manufacturing companies, big job providers for local citizens, recently shut down, leaving people scrambling for stability. My teammate at this branch is seeing a lot of families move away for jobs and as you drive or walk around town, you can’t help but notice an inordinate amount of homes and offices for sale. I see the impact of the economy in lots of ways, but with parents now forced to work odd hours or multiple jobs, I thought it was clear that I needed to start doing some outreach.

I had some time after doing storytime in one of the poorer centers, so I took some photos of scenery that surrounds their building. These are all within around 300 ft of the place.

tractor

This field surrounds the daycare on all sides.

road ends

Literally right down the hill from the daycare, the roads stop being maintained and lawns and fields turn to wild brush.

boarded

What seems to be a boarded up repair shop.

sawmill

The daycare is actually about a 1/4 mile from this sawmill.

When I was reading Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance: Poverty, Literacy, and the Development of Information Capital by Susan B. Neuman, I was struck by her analysis of environmental print in a rich and a poor community. In the wealthy part of town, kids would be able to walk down the street and see bright signs for businesses aided by illustrations that helped you understand its purpose (a loaf bread for a bakery, for instance). They had lots of places to see words and this could help them better understand how important reading is. In the impoverished community, words were scarce. There were few businesses and even fewer restaurants, so there just weren’t a lot of ways for children to make literacy connections by just observing their environment.

If the kids in this daycare could go for a walk one day, what kinds of connections would they be able to make?

I don’t mean to judge this daycare, or the families with children here, or even the community itself. No one is to blame. It’s just something that occurred to me and I couldn’t help wondering if there’s something I can do to help create a more engaging space for them. Some thoughts that popped into my head are partnering with the town to create a storywalk, inviting farms to post pictures of their crops throughout the season, labeling them and even the tools they use. It’s all a little wild for a librarian, but who knows what ideas can become a reality until we decide to try?

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One thought on “Scenes from Outreach Storytime

  1. This town (and this post) reminds me a lot of the rural town I used to teach in on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. One summer during the economic downturn the paper mill closed and hundreds of families were left without an income. It was pretty devastating to the families and we definitely saw an immediate effect on the kids that fall. High levels of stress, low levels of attention, emotional outbursts, etc. I love the ideas you mention at the end of your post. And I don’t think it’s wild at all! That’s the type of model my library follows anyways – a community-led model where the focus is on working with community groups. The thing I’ve learned from using this model is that it can take time to build these relationships, especially if the groups/businesses are under stress. Rather than approaching them with an “ask” (i.e. Will you do this for me?), I’ve had better success with an open-ended conversation. For example, you could meet with one of the farms, maybe get a tour of their place, ask them how the library could support them. Let them know that it’s a two-way street. I’ve found that when I use this model, I’m creating a long-term relationship rather than a one-time interaction. Anyways, I think you are absolutely on the right track – you have some great ideas and the passion to see them through. I hope you continue to blog about this journey so we can all learn from you!

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