Summertime is here and the Free Library is offering incredible outdoor and virtual programming!
This July marks the second summer we’ve spent during the COVID-19 pandemic and as we gather safely to celebrate this spectacular season of summer fun, this is also a time to celebrate our outstanding Free Library staff who have been offering meaningful programs for community members across Philadelphia.
I had the privilege of interviewing Christina Holmes, Head of the Children’s Department at the Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library, to learn more about how she has approached the pandemic this past year and a half and all the wonderful summer programs available at the library!
Hello, Christina! Please tell me a little bit about yourself.
My name is Christina Holmes. I am the Children’s Department Head at Blackwell Regional Library. I’ve been with the Free Library for seven years and I focus mainly on children’s services and programming.
What are some of the summer programs Blackwell Regional Library is offering?
This summer, we are doing summer reading tables outside of the library where children can sign up for summer reading. There will be information tables where you can learn more about services we are offering and learn what summer reading is about.
We’re also hosting the Escape Your Room program series where kids can learn how to create their own “"escape room." In July, we’re doing our Sleuth Thursday mystery and literacy program where children can solve mysteries and focusing on the questions of "who," "what," "when," and "why."
We’re also presenting music and movement events for babies as part of Read, Baby, Read, every Monday this summer in Malcolm X Park.
What are you excited about for this summer?
I am excited about being able to provide face-to-face programming. I’m excited to interact with the babies and children during programs. The excitement and energy children bring with them to a program is what makes it so much fun! Outdoor programming allows for safe face-to-face interactions.
Are these summer programs different from other programs you offered before the pandemic?
These programs are an extension of what we were already doing before the pandemic. Programming is what we do as librarians. We are just changing the primary setting and location from indoor to virtual and outdoors. We had storytimes before the pandemic. Escape Your Room is virtual. This summer we will be offering both virtual and outdoor storytimes. Before the pandemic, we did offer limited outdoor programming. We are now just utilizing outdoor spaces such as parks more heavily, which allows us to maintain the best social distancing precautions while still providing face-to-face programming.
How do you hope outdoor programs will impact community members?
I hope these programs will provide access for everyone. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, especially during the winter, most of our programming was virtual. Virtual programs were limited to those with technology and internet access. Outdoor programming is accessible to all!
How do some of the outdoor programs impact literacy and/or community engagement?
Outdoor programs allow for greater interaction with nature. When you use a scarf during storytime, you can see the scarf moving in reaction to a breeze. If you are reading a book about a squirrel, you may actually see a squirrel scurrying by. Being outside can inspire curiosity.
How have you approached virtual programming and services during the pandemic?
We’ve continued what we’re doing but expanded it a little bit. We’ve built on what we already did with the current services we’re providing. During the pandemic, most of our interactions have not been face-to-face. Most of our conversations with our patrons and the community happen via phone, text, and social media.
It has changed programming planning considerations. I evolved previous in-person programing to determine what could be changed to be interactive and remote. Will the children be able to see images on the screen? How can I make these programs accessible and fun? I’ve utilized technology more heavily. COVID has given me the opportunity to brush up on my technology skills and learn a few new tricks.
I had to think out-of-the-box a little more. Virtual programming has allowed us to continue offering quality programs during these unprecedented times.
What have some of your interactions with community members been like during the pandemic?
Free Library patrons are so wonderful and adaptable. It has been a joint effort working together with them to make the most of what we have been offering. For example, more patrons have learned how to browse and become more familiar with our online catalog and virtual services. They’ve been using virtual booklists to help them select books. The pandemic has shined a light on how amazing and patient our patrons are and how much they love reading and their Library.
I know we’re talking about summer programming, but what are some of the other programs you’re excited about?
I usually like to do a Back to School Night to offer information to both students and parents. Parents can learn about different resources out there for their kids to help them while they’re in school. I will be working on a virtual Back to School Night program.
Also, in October, I used to do pumpkin painting with the children so I am excited about that and thinking about ways to do that outdoors if we cannot host the program indoors. If it is a nice October day, we could do pumpkin painting in the park!
Is there any other message you’d like to share with the Free Library’s community members?
Call us! Message us on Facebook or Instagram! We’re all in this together.
More information about Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library’s summer programming is available online. You can visit the Free Library’s online calendar to find more outdoor and virtual programming happening at your local neighborhood library.
A hearty thank you to Christina Holmes for her time and generosity. Happy summer to all!