Storytime For All


Over the past few weeks, my storytime outreach has taken me on some wonderful new adventures.  This week alone I’ve visited four different home daycare settings and done storytimes for some adorable babies, toddlers and preschoolers.  Holly and I had a good laugh this Monday after I reported back to her that most of the kids at one of my storytimes seemed cranky and off. Well, Monday was Daylight Savings time.  Also, I scheduled the storytime too close to lunch and nap. I’d never had this as an issue before because I usually do storytimes earlier or later in the day. As a parent, of course I completely understand why the babies and toddlers were off.  Their whole schedule had been shifted thanks to DST. Of course! Note to self and to future storytime interns: don’t schedule storytimes 1) close to DST or 2) too close to lunch or nap. Poor babies! The great thing about this work is that there isn’t any judgement.  I’m just a lady trying to read and sing and dance with little kids. If there are extenuating circumstances, such as some arbitrary clock change that wreaks havoc on most of us, let’s be honest, everything is still going to be ok. I’m very comfortable shifting quickly from one activity to the next and have been able to continue to add to my bag of tricks over the course of my internship.

Working with so many schools and businesses in the community continues to bring me to new experiences each week.  Since my last blog post, I’ve performed three storytimes at MCC Academy, an Islamic school with pre-K through 8th grade, District 68’s Early Childhood Center which offers preschool to special education students and for English language learners ages three through five.  I’ve also been webcast from one classroom at Madison School to another so that kids of all abilities could experience the storytime where they were.  I’ve walked into a classroom ready to perform what I thought was an inclusive storytime only to realize that my repertoire to accommodate a child in a walker or stander is still limited.  Holly and I have talked about “universally designing” storytime so that as many kids as possible can participate fully in all of the physical movements. This has led me to think so much more about how I plan what we will do in storytime as I want to be able to accommodate as many children as possible.  After performing my storytime to two classes at Madison school one morning, I returned to read to the afternoon classes with a visual schedule (see image above for an example of one of the visuals) for those who may benefit from knowing when I’d be transitioning from one activity to the next. I noticed that the classrooms had such transitions and I knew that I could bring in my own.  Honestly, it’s nice to have a visual schedule for myself! Then I don’t forget what comes next after I get a little too crazy dancing the “Winter Pokey” with 25 preschoolers.

Being mindful of our community, I also try to include books in my storytime that are representative of our very diverse community.  I’m grateful to work with such experienced librarians as Holly Jin, who helped me to locate one such item after mentioning to her that I hadn’t come across one in a hurried visit to the board books the previous day.  


I read the book to a very diverse group of twos and toddlers this morning. When I read about skin, hair and eye colors the kids enthusiastically chimed in when they could identify with what the author had written.  Even at age 2!  When I stood up to leave and a two year old commented that I was “very big,” (at 6’2” I know that ‘big’ means ‘extremely tall’ – I get it).  I referred back to the book and recited “‘I have long legs’ – just like (a character) in the book!”


New semester reflections

Echoing the posts from Rachel and Colleen this month, there has been much reflection this past month regarding my internship, my final semester in graduate school and my career. The first half of the internship was so action packed and full of opportunities for development.  There was so much to absorb as it came to an end.

During the winter break, I also had a chance to reflect over the course that I took at Dominican in the Fall, Issues of Access, Advocacy and Policy in Youth Services, and the course in which I’m currently enrolled, Assessment of Programs, Services and Organizational Practices and consider how they informed my internship and practicum.  It took me a while to decide on what would be a relevant 801 project, despite talking about a few options with my mentor, Holly, in November.  I finally settled on a project designed by Amy Koester which is going to assist her in determining the optimal number and arrangement of school-age program offerings during the year. I’m pleased that this project will compliment the course that I’m taking this semester.  Before I attended the Outcomes Committee meeting on the 16th and the Data Summit on the 25th, I can honestly say that I never thought too deeply about outcomes and program assessment.  Since the last meeting, I haven’t been able to stop noticing these words in my work – perhaps because I am in Community Engagement, which so heavily relies on measuring outcomes, assessing impact and evaluating all things outreach.  Now I’m hooked!  I’m looking forward to bringing some of my assignments into my office and hopefully helping to collect and assess information in a small yet helpful way.

Lastly, just a note about the community and some of the outreach that I’ve done since I last posted.  I was so happy to go on a school visit today with my colleague, Laura.  We read stories to two sections of 2 and 3 year olds at Cheder Lubavitch, a Jewish preschool not far from the library.  It was a pleasure to meet with the preschool’s director and hear from her that she looks forward to the visits from the library.  She attended sessions by both of us and said she always feels like she learns something new.  You can imagine how thrilled Laura and I were to hear that!  The director requested that we not read any books with talking animals in them which really stretched me to look at our collection differently.  It was a great exercise and though I was nervous that I might accidentally offend or make a mistake, we all still had a wonderful time.  It was wonderful to have a class of 18 three year old girls dancing “The Winter Pokey” with me and laughing.  The director liked that song so much she said she plans to use it right away in classes.  Again, that made me feel amazing.

This month has been so full.  In addition to these great experiences, I also attended Staff Day ‘18 and felt really lucky to be part of this library.  I enjoyed seeing so many colleagues all at once, meeting new people through game that we had and talking with new people about the space plan.  Bring it on, February!


Place / Space / Home / Community


I’ve let too much time go in between blog posts so now I have lots to say.  Part of the reason is that my family moved in October to a new community after living for 13 years in Oak Park.  I spent much of October getting settled and reflecting on what it means to be part of a community.  What a perfect question to reflect on for a Community Engagement intern.

On October 25th, along with members of the SPL management team, many of us in the Community Engagement department went to a Harwood Institute workshop at Evanston Public Library.  What’s the Harwood Institute?  In a nutshell (and from their website), “The Harwood Institute teaches, coaches and inspires individuals and organizations to solve pressing problems and change how communities work together.”  The workshop was led by Cindy Fesemyer, Director of the Columbus Public Library in Columbus, Wisconsin.  Ms. Fesemyer spoke succinctly about how she came into the small town of Columbus as an outsider (from Madison) and has used Harwood tools to turn outward to the community in order to discover what it is that those who live and work there really want for their community.  Hearing her process over the past couple years at Columbus Public Library was very inspirational and a great example of how the Harwood tools are effective in fostering community engagement.

The event was a great place to network with fellow community engagement librarians and library directors and it was a pleasure to go through some exercises on how we can begin to turn outward in our communities with like-minded colleagues.  I found myself thinking about my move, our new community and the important role that our new library plays for our family.  The library is my safety net in my new community, somewhere that I know I can go with my family and immediately feel included and familiar.  We have already visited twice in 3 weeks and are planning on attending programming in the month of November.

On November 1st, I attended a session of the ESL cafe held in the Radmacher Room where I found over twenty patrons in attendance.  They were from Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Mexico, Ecuador, Nigeria, Romania, Taiwan, Syria and Iran- among others. Most of the students in the cafe were in their 50s – 70s but there were also a couple of women in their 20s and 30s and it was heartening to see them all together sharing the same purpose.

The structure of the meeting was for the students to introduce themselves by name, country of birth and how long they had been in Skokie.  Some shared additional information- usually something completely endearing, such as the Nigerian gentleman who said he was here to visit his daughter (yet found himself at SPL in the ESL cafe!).  After introductions, the patrons would pose a question to their neighbor.  Some questions were, “What is your favorite holiday in the U.S.?” or “What do you like to do on the weekend?”  Another student asked her neighbor “What do you like to cook?”  It was so fun to hear the answers and to begin to get to know the participants through their replies.  Some had better English speaking skills than others, some needed help translating and responding and it was nice to see them help each other, intuitively grouped together by language (not always by culture).

After the introductions and warm up questions, we broke into smaller groups discussions that were facilitated by volunteers from the ELL parent center.  In these small groups, we took turns talking about a theme.  The first centered around making friends with questions such as “How do you meet new people?” and “How can you make new friends?”  One of the women in my small group is a recent widow and she talked about how hard it has been to get out of her home since her husband died.  Another woman in my group was from Syria.  She has only been in Skokie for a short time and speaks Syrian, Arabic and Kurdish.  She is at the very beginning stages of learning English and told us that how she passes her day with her Syrian friend.  They cook, go to church, go to Walmart and then come home to cook and do it all over again the next day.  She smiled and laughed as she told us her routine.  I felt very humbled sitting in a small group with women from around the world, telling me in a second, third or fourth language what they are doing to meet people in Skokie, their second, third, fourth or who knows what number home.  While I have been grieving the community we left behind and slowly opening up to a new community, I had everything to learn from these cafe goers.  It was a transformative exercise for me.

I have also had the great pleasure of going to a couple daycare centers to read stories, sing songs and champion our library to toddlers and preschoolers throughout the community.  Even as young as 2 and 3 years old, these younger learners recognize our library and love to share what they enjoy most when they come to visit.  I have really had fun finding my rhythm (in storytelling and in singing songs in front of a crowd) and bringing happiness in stories, songs and movements to toddlers and preschoolers.  Reading stories to children and hearing what they love about the library is an amazing feeling.

On November 4th I took part in a family event called “Celebrate Space.”  The purpose of the event was to do just that- as well as to teach kids, teens and adults something new about space through hands on activities and crafts.  I signed up for the event what feels like 87 weeks ago, but according to my email archives it was only September 12th.  Aside, this event title reminded me of “Space is the place” by Sun Ra, a film I’ve been meaning to watch for about 22 years.


Coming into the library on a Saturday was new to me as I work during the day, Tuesday and Wednesday.  I enjoyed meeting patrons at my galaxy pinwheel station, where we cut, punched holes and assembled pinwheels to resemble one of the pinwheel galaxies that loom 21 million light years away.  The craft was a fun way to get to interact with patrons and to see the beautiful faces of our youngest.  It was also an exercise in planning for youth programs.  Amy K. and Amy H. were great mentors in getting this off the ground, and I learned a great deal about what works and what doesn’t work for a massive audience.  I’m not sure if I would do this exact activity again as the construction of the pinwheel was very delicate and maybe too advanced for younger kids.  Lesson learned!

As I drive away from my new community and toward my academic year adoptive city of Skokie, I reflect on the meaning of community and how I will serve SPL patrons during each shift.   Even if it’s not home, and even though it might be 1 light year away from my new home,  I find ways to reflect as well as look outward on the meaning of community daily, and feel that perhaps my current situation has made me more aware of just how special a place a library can be to the community.


Thoughts at the beginning of my internship

My name is Emily Meszaros and I am the Community Engagement and Youth Services Intern for 2017-18.  While I have worked at libraries before, this is the beginning of a new career for me after many years in the field of cultural exchange.

I have really enjoyed the orientation to the internship alongside my fellow interns.  I enjoyed exploring the library as a group as well as going on a scavenger hunt to dig deeper into the collections.  I was astounded to see how many people work behind the scenes on the third floor!  When I began my MLIS program, I came to visit Skokie Public Library for one of my introductory classes to compare and contrast public libraries. What impressed me then and continues to do so about SPL is the scope of materials offered- from youth to adult.  There are such a variety of materials!  On my own I researched the library’s leadership and the legacy that Carolyn Anthony created.  After doing so, I was hooked and knew that I wanted to be involved here!

What I would like to practice over the next month is how to be helpful to my department.  I can offer a new perspective and hopefully propose innovative ideas and practices of my own.  I am very inspired by the progressive mission of the library and to be working with so many people who are committed to the mission and vision of SPL and who share and promote the same values.  I am equally excited to be working in such a special community.  We are living and working in difficult times, and I would like to practice how to best engage and serve patrons- not only under ideal circumstances.