Our November Storytime Guerrilla of the Month is Jerri Heid, Youth Services Specialist at the Ames Public Library in Ames, Iowa. Jerri was born in Iowa and considers herself a true Iowan at heart, even though she’s also lived in Alaska, Alabama, and Kentucky. She founded the Corner Programmers (a group of Northwest Iowa Children’s Librarians), and she loves presenting programs to children and their families as well as to fellow librarians, which allows her to share what she has learned in her career and what she believes could work for other librarians. Jerri is the mother of 2 and grandmother of 3 girls, ages 9, 7, and 1.
Q: You were nominated for Storytime Guerrilla of the Month because of your dedication to using music in storytime. How did you get started integrating music in your programs?
Jerri: It’s a funny story how I began even thinking of singing in a story time. At the Cherokee Public Library, a Vista Volunteer assisted me at the Library. She was a wonderful volunteer who was very gifted in music–her major was Music Education. Her project was twofold: begin an outreach program to daycares in the community, and begin a toddler program. Because she was so gifted in music, she was able to share and sing Mother Goose songs so easily. One of the things that I didn’t think about was that eventually her hours would be completed and there would be an expectation that I would (and should) continue. She and I discussed this at length in her last few weeks. Just how was I, a person who could not carry a note and was scared to sing in front of anyone, going to present a musical program? I didn’t know how to read notes and have never had any sort of rhythm or an ability to keep a beat. With her continued reassurance, we found two musical cds that have carried me through more than 14 years! They are Toddler Time and Toddlers on Parade, both by Georgiana Stewart. I eventually have added many, many more and have quite a variety now that include songs using scarves, lumni sticks, bean bags, and more.
One of the exciting things that happened when I went to Clive was that toddlers were everywhere! I went from starting with offering 3 programs a week to 18 each week. Preschoolers were everywhere there, too, which resulted in 4 Preschool Storytimes each week. All programs had an average of 20-30 in attendance. As time went on, planning and presenting the programs got easier. Using the cd to “back me up” musically gave me enough confidence to present confidently. So each time I would “walk” the audience of toddlers and caregivers through the songs, talking about what we were going to do, and then practicing. Then I would turn the song on and we would all go through the actions as the song played. Because of my personality and presentation expectations of myself, I also sing along with the music all the while keeping great eye contact with the kids and sharing lots and lots of smiles.
Additionally I have a good puppet friend named Dewey Bear who greets the kids at the beginning and gives them hugs and high fives after we sing “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear.”
Q: What tip would you give to librarians who feel self-conscious about their singing voices/acting silly in front of grownups/etc.?
Jerri: I have always followed the philosophy that if I sang wonderfully and beautifully that I might intimidate those caregivers who can not sing. Because I can not, this way the caregivers of these toddlers see someone who is not necessarily the greatest at singing but still feels that it is that important to sing to my child in public so I, as a parent, can and should sing to my child. Hopefully they feel empowered! I figure they see me and think, “Wow, I know I am better than that, maybe I can do that, too.” The CDs playing in the background also provide a different experience than anyone singing acapella. Combined with all of it–the caregivers singing, me singing, and the music playing–the toddlers not only have a great time listening but also moving and having fun. The caregivers do as well. A wonderful experience for all.
Q: When you have a storytime problem, who/what do you turn to for advice or support? It can be a person, a blog, a website, a resource…
Jerri: When I have needs and questions to be answered, I have always had the pleasure and luck of having great mentors in my life. When I first began my career, other librarians in the state shared their expertise and experiences in conversation or at workshops. Now most of them are retiring, and many new young librarians are taking their places. They have much to share as well. The way of the world now with Pinterest and blogs and listservs creates an even more inviting way of improving one’s skills and assisting in creating the best program.
But I have to say that the people that I rely on the most of all are those who are under 4 or 5. When they give me big smiles during a program, I know what I am doing is working. In fact, I had one parent who actually recorded her son sharing a toddler time to his stuffed animals. When I saw the DVD and saw him use his bear giving hugs, talking through the actions, pretending to turn on his CD player, and singing Tony Chestnut, besides being very touched, I also saw that I evidently had my back turned quite a bit. So I took it to heart and changed how I was presenting. Of course the CDs are now iPods and a dock, but the same needs are satisfied.
Q: Complete the following sentence: “It’s not storytime until we…”
Jerri: It’s not a story time until we get hugs and high fives from Dewey Bear and start singing Tony Chestnut. I have started my program with this song for so many years–I figured one time I’ve sung it almost 10,000 times! I have often wondered whether I should change it. Then I think about all the literacy skills it helps the kids practice and their enjoyment, and I can’t take it away. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told the story about how a child. out of the blue, has started singing Tony Chestnut in his or her car seat. I guess they will have to sing it at my funeral!
Q: What’s been inspiring your library work lately?
Jerri: Technology! While I have not implemented iPads in my programming yet, I can’t wait until I can. Our library is in the middle of many changes–a new director, in a temporary location and building/renovating project, new ILS, and many other technology changes, just to mention a few. I can’t wait until I can actually implement this great experience. I also can’t wait until I can share the knowledge that I am reading on the Little eLit blog and others, the Fred Rogers Center website, as well as the Underground, in my workshops. As I have mentioned before, I love sharing what I can with other librarians and caregivers and daycare providers through workshops/presentation. Many of the other 500 plus librarians in the state cannot attend national conferences nor have time to keep abreast on the new topics and possible trends. I feel that is part of my responsibility: to give them the highlights and assist them, too. As I grow older and not quite as capable and limber in my programming, I feel this is a great way to share.
Q: How did you get to where you are in your career today?
Jerri: I began my library career as a Library Assistant at the Cherokee Public Library shortly after graduating from Teikyo-Westmar University. Shortly after that, I began full-time as the Children’s Librarian. I was the founder of the Corner Programmers (a group of Northwest Iowa Children’s Librarians), presented workshops, and traveled the state presenting the summer program workshops. Shortly after the latter experience, I moved from Cherokee to Clive, a suburb of Des Moines, to take part in the opening a new library for their community as their youth librarian. After developing and presenting more than twenty programs each week, I took another leap a few years later to be the Youth Services Specialist at the Ames Public Library in Ames Iowa, home of Iowa State University and the tenth largest library in the state.