Many thanks to Tricia Wehrenberg for this inspiring guest post about going outside her comfort zone to provide excellent service. Way to go!
Recently, the Amery Area Public Library was approached by the United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS) to do a storytime for the children that they care for. UMOS is a nonprofit organization that assists migrant workers with a number of different services. The organization has a presence in Amery in order to assist the migrant workers that come to work in the summer months.
I excitedly agreed to do this storytime because of how great an opportunity it is for outreach, but quickly remembered that I do not speak conversational Spanish. I know some words and phrases, so I can pick up on what someone is saying, but as far as sentence structure, I’m lost. I was informed that the children who would be attending did not speak any English. So, I set to work doing research on how best to make this storytime enjoyable for the children despite our language barrier. I went through a number of different titles and settled on three: Head to Toe by Eric Carle, Round is a Tortilla by Roseanne Thong, and Bear at Home/Oso en Casa by Stella Blackstone. I also enlisted the help of one of my coworkers, Carmen Haakenson, because she speaks fluent Spanish.
The children came in on the day of the program very excited to see the library. Every time we got to a new room, they all gave a collective, “oooh!” I was told after storytime that none of them had actually been inside a library before. Not surprisingly, the children most enjoyed Head to Toe by Eric Carle. I spoke the English text and demonstrated actions, and Carmen explained what I was doing in Spanish. They loved that I was being so silly!
While the books were wonderful, the kids loved dancing and playing with our parachute the most. Because the teachers enjoyed the storytime, they asked me if I’d come speak to their parent group at their next meeting. This was another situation that was out of my comfort zone since I’d never spoken with an interpreter before. However, librarians always take opportunities when they arise! So, I happily agreed. The head of the program informed me that a number of the parents didn’t read aloud to their children because they didn’t realize the importance and were not often read to while growing up. I was excited to have the opportunity to speak with them about different ways they can bring a book to life with their child by asking questions and opening up a conversation. In collaboration with Carmen, we also created a handout of earlyliteracy tips in both English and Spanish for the parents. They seemed very receptive, and the organization has already expressed interest in coming back to the library next year. Hopefully we can expand our services to them now that we’re aware of what each can offer the other.
Not only did this experience bring me out of my comfort zone, it also made me realize that there are so many groups that are underserved because we don’t have the resources to offer specific programs for them. This has opened my eyes to new opportunities, and I can’t wait to offer more services like this in the future.