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Family Fun: Librarian writes a new, digital chapter in children’s storytimes

March 13, 2020 Updated Fri., March 13, 2020 at 5:39 p.m.

Coeur d’Alene children’s librarian Mandi Harris is taking storytime online while library events are canceled because of COVID-19. (Courtesy)
Coeur d’Alene children’s librarian Mandi Harris is taking storytime online while library events are canceled because of COVID-19. (Courtesy)

With all library activities canceled for the rest of the month, Coeur d’Alene children’s librarian Mandi Harris is creating new platforms for reaching out to families.

On Friday, Harris posted the first of her online storytimes, a 15-minute Book Babies program, on the Children’s Library Facebook page that included songs, rhymes and activities.

“We won’t be missing any programs even though we can’t meet in person,” Harris said.

It’s not the first time she’s done digital storytimes. A couple of years ago, one of the children who regularly attended library activities was in chemotherapy and couldn’t attend, so she made videos to help keep him connected. As library staff members were discussing what would happen to programming in response to the coronavirus outbreak, Harris decided to expand the idea of digital storytimes to the whole community.

Because of copyright issues, Harris won’t be able to read books during the digital storytimes. “So I’ll be writing my own stories, and we’ll do storytelling, but we’re also going to get a little bit creative,” she said.

For instance, she’ll be taking her dog, Abigail, on a nature walk to talk about the changing seasons. In the video, she’ll include a list of book suggestions “so parents can read along with the kids and expand the learning.”

She’s also working on ways to keep connected with elementary-age children. She’s planning to do weekly art challenges and post the artwork in online galleries. She’ll also be doing social gaming times and science experiments.

Harris said under usual circumstances, there are children’s activities five or six days a week at the library – and she has lots of families who attend regularly.

“We’re just going to try to pivot that online and be flexible, still meet people’s needs and try to keep that sense of community going. Even if it doesn’t look how it’s always looked, we can still have a sense of community,” she said.

Her plan is to post new digital content every weekday. And though she’ll miss the immediate feedback she gets from the kids at storytimes and other events, she knows they’ll figure out ways to communicate. And she’s looking forward to getting ideas from families for how to expand the digital community.

“In times like this, it’s important for us to be flexible and creative,” she said.

“I’m really excited to see how the kids take the foundation that I’m putting out there and how they remix it and expand it to something beyond my wildest dreams.”

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