This Wednesday I woke up with a sick stomach and only about five hours of sleep. It was a Storytime morning, so I immediately went into, “What are we going to do if I cannot make it into the library?” mode. We do not have a staff person set up to take over Storytime if I am not there on Wednesdays, so if I do not come in, Storytime would not happen. I have a very wonderful director, and after a few texts, she told me stay home. My director has respect for me, the Children’s department, and what Storytime means for our library as a whole, not just a single program. And, I am incredibly thankful to work with her, both as our director, and as a person. I ended up being able to pull myself together (I knew that I was not suffering from anything that would be contagious), and went into Storytime anyway. The kids and parents had a great time, but the experience prompted me to post a question of the Storytime Underground Facebook page asking my colleagues how they handle a similar situations. 56 librarians responded. Missing a Storytime, as I read, is something that we all worry about. It can mean losing momentum with our programming numbers, and other consequences. Yet, some of the solutions and proactive plans that I read made me want to share my colleague’s wisdom.
To summarize the 66 comments, here is some of the best advise that my fellow children librarians shared:
- Yes, our job is important, but it is not IMPORTANT. No one will die if you do not show up. Taking care of yourself is a priority, not just for you, but for your families who will want to see you next week.
- Have a conversation with your director to ask their advice on how they want you to handle the situation when you need to take a sick day on a Storytime day, and what solutions they will help you come up with. This WILL happen, so how does your library team want to respond? If you are a library director, be reasonable about your expectations. Everyone gets sick, and you want your library to be a place that takes care of its staff. If the staff are not treated with trust and respect, providing excellent service to patrons will also be an uphill battle.
- If you think it might be contagious, do not go in. No parent wants their child to catch something at the library, and you are a professional. Be respectful of parents and children who may have compromised immune systems due to any number of common health factors.
- Children and parents are watching you. Model healthy habits and decisions.
- Plan ahead. You will not be healthy all the time. If not one is available to lead Storytime or another activity and you are sick, consider Storytime canceled.
- Consider asking for contact phone numbers for your Storytime families. Then, you can call them and let them know about the cancelation. Also post on Facebook that there will be no Storytime that day. One librarian commented that her library uses an app called “Remind” to reach out Storytime parents if there is a cancellation.
- Talk to staff (or a library volunteer!) and designate one or two people who are willing to lead Storytime if you are not there. Ask your designated staff (or volunteer!) to help you assemble a Storytime lesson plan that they are comfortable leading including: books, fingerplays, flannel boards, songs and rhymes. Ask them to write as much of the lesson plan as possible to be sure they are comfortable with all the elements. Place all materials needed for this Storytime (order extra copies of all the books so you do not have to pull out your regular collection books) in a box where both of you know where it is. Now, when you need to call in sick, you have 1 or more people who are willing to lead Storytime, and they have a lesson plan ready to go.
- If a full lesson plan sounds to daunting, consider prepping a simple craft with a staff member. Have all the supplies in a box where both of you know where it is. On a sick day, they can just set out the craft materials, take a head count, and have a maker day.
- If you are not able to delegate Storytime, have someone at the library designated to meet the families when they come in, apologize for you, and set out another activity, such as coloring sheets or toys. Having something will help parents feel that they participated in a program, even though it is not the same.
Take care of yourselves. Our jobs are amazing, but we are not superheroes, even though we can feel like it when a child tells us about a book they loved, or when a parent tells us that their son is reading that new graphic novel you sent him home with last time. But, sick days remind ys we are just humans after all.
Thank you for all you do, for your libraries, your communities, your parents, and your community’s youth. For this to even to a question in our minds shows how committed we are to our vocations, and to the early literacy education we know changes the lives of the young children who participate in Storytimes!