Eight months have gone by since the beginning of the pandemic. This means that anyone younger than 8 months has probably not been inside of a library. If they have it hasn’t been the library experience their older brothers and sisters experienced. We are not getting to know our infant patrons in the same manner that we are used to and in return they are not getting to know the library either.
Before the pandemic many libraries offered special baby times, lapsits, music, and sensory programs. Libraries were a place of pre-education where parents could learn about developmental milestones, while also being introduced to programs and initiatives such as Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR), STEAM and STEM and also enjoy the opportunity to socialize with other kids and parents. For new parents the library was a welcoming place. This has all ended or at least the old ways of doing this have been temporarily put on pause for everyone’s safety.
The good news is we live in a time of modern technology and we can still offer many of these programs and services virtually. Patrons and librarians can still meet for special baby times, ECRR programming, and lapsit programs via Zoom. They can be scheduled and advertised the same as in-person programs used to be, but instead of meeting in person, parents can enjoy seeing and interacting with each other and a librarian in a live virtual meeting.
Music and sensory programs for babies can still take place with the help of technology and “take-and-make” kits. These are kits that a librarian can make ahead of time for patrons to pick up, then everyone can meet online for a zoom session or the librarian can send a pre-recorded video for parents and babies to follow along. A “take-and-make” music kit could include materials to make a musical instrument such as a shaker egg, a drum, or many more. Sensory kits can be a little more complicated as in a sensory storytime usually the sensory materials are placed in giant tubs for babies to play in, if you send sensory materials home in a bag, many patrons can find a space or container at home to put the materials for their baby’s experience. Sensory “take-and-make” materials can include a recipe for patrons to mix and make materials such as slime or dough or instructions for creating a simple rice or sand sensory box. Just imagine the materials you would usually use in a sensory playtime and think of ways babies could bring that same experience home.
Here are some tips for moving your infant programming online:
- Make sure your name and face become familiar. Be sure to introduce yourself on storytime video chats and recordings or include a picture and introduction paragraph on handouts in kits you send home.
- Make sure library collections, rooms, and areas become familiar. If possible record and run virtual library programs in rooms that the program would normally be held in or near a collection babies would normally look through such as board books. Take a moment in the video chat to give a little tour and description of where you are.
- Be sure to keep the lines of communication between librarian and parents open. Give out your email address or work phone number. Let parents know it’s okay to contact you with questions, but also with pictures and updates of their children. This will allow for milestone discussions and material recommendations to be as natural as when we see parents in the library.
- Talk about and give early literacy tips virtually. In addition to sharing such tips during programming, you can also share tips through the library website and on social media.
- If you notice library usage slipping in this demographic, it is time to do more outreach. One idea is to send packets or kits to hospitals and doctors offices to hand out to new parents. Let these essential workers let their clients know we are open and still willing to serve them.
Even though we can’t welcome infants as we used to by inviting them into our physical library, we can still provide important social and learning opportunities online. I’d love to hear about your library’s baby programming! Share in the comments.