Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Fear me, children!

Mrs. C called me yesterday morning saying she had a big favor to ask. My first thought was that she was not going to be at work that day and it would be a solo Monday for the Juicemeister. However, it wasn't anything THAT scary.

Turns out Mrs. C has a case of shingles and was therefore contageous to people who haven't had chicken pox yet. To make matters worse, we had a kindergarten class visit scheduled for 1:15 and she didn't think it was a good idea that she give the tour. Could I do it?

"Sure. No problem" I said.

I'd never done a class visit before, though. I'd seen them done, but mostly from the other side of the circulation desk where my job was to wave at the kiddies when Mrs. C tells to return their books there and not put them on the book cart, which was only for our use. I didn't figure doing a tour would be a problem, though. I used to give class tours all the time when I worked at Pizza Hut back in college. At least at the "liberry" I wouldn't have to worry about keeping kids from sticking their arms in the oven.

Mrs. C assured me she would write up a list of all the things I needed to tell them.

"Or I could just make stuff up and they'd never know the difference," I said. "Whadda they know? They're in kindergarten!"


I rolled in to work at 1 and found a small stack of pages awaiting me for things I needed to convey. It was all standard stuff, but phrased in such a way as to connect to the mind of a Kindergartener. The kids didn't give me much time to crib, though, for they arrived ten minutes early. Mrs. C dashed out the back door just as the kids came pouring in and suddenly I was staring at a room full of five year olds looking up at me expectantly.

As easy as I thought explaining the library would be, I kept running into problems, even with Mrs. C's instructions to fall back on. See, I'm used to explaining how the library works to new patrons, but most of the time they at least have a knowledge base of how libraries typically work to build on. These kids were blank slates. So every time I told them anything I immediately realized I had to back track and explain base concepts. I also had to watch my wording. For instance, at one point I was explaining that we put "PB" on the spine-labels (book addresses) of all paperback books but not on the hard back books. I told them "that's how we differentiate between the two." Then I remembered that many of our ADULT patrons would scratch their heads at "differentiate" so I had to start over.

Fortunately, their teacher had been through the drill many more times than me. She helped me out whenever I would try to move on to the next room without explaining everything first--like, don't shove all the books back on the shelf and don't try to reshelve the books yourself and you can use your inside voice in this room, but whisper everywhere else. The kids seemed to pick up on a lot of it, though. And they were all quiet and well-behaved.

I was suprised how nervous I was about it. And I don't even know why. I mean, they're kindergarteners. What better audience could you wish for? You can get laughs with the lamest jokes with them. For instance, while schooling them on how much we charge for fines, I pointed out that we only make you pay for the books themselves if you lose them or if your dog decides to eat them. They would have to pay us for the book and then get their dog to pay them back. They liked that one.

While giving them the tour of the upstairs non-fiction section, I was explaining how they really needed to be quiet up there because that's where our tables are and sometimes people study there. "Like this guy," I said, pointing to one of our patrons who I know is a first year student at my wife's school. He was studying with earphones on, listening to boring lectures, no doubt. He looked up when I pointed to him and then waved to the kids. They stayed quiet.

Fortunately, the teacher is one of the good class-visit teachers who does call ahead a couple weeks ahead and sends over all the contact information for us to make library cards for all the kids. We'd already done all that and had even made photocopies of the backs of the cards so we could scan them from the paper without having to give out the cards and create confusion and chaos. (Let "teach" deal with that back at school, we say.) Each kid was allowed to pick out one book. I think the teacher wanted them to pick out a kids fiction book from downstairs, but a few of the boys had heard me mention race-cars and dinosaurs upstairs, so that's what they wanted. I went up and grabbed a selection and brought them down to pass out.

Over all, it went pretty well, but after they were gone, I kept remembering all sorts of things I should have told them. Then again, they'll probably forget half of what I told them anyway. Whadda they know? They're in kindergarten.

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An employee of a small town "liberry" chronicles his quest to remain sane while dealing with patrons who could star in a short-lived David Lynch television series.