Quarantine hasn’t stopped some Philadelphia kids from spending time with their favorite librarian.
Dana Giusti, the children’s librarian at Mt. Airy’s Lovett Library has hosted virtual story times over Facebook Live for children since the pandemic started. Storytime videos are archived on the Lovett Library Facebook page, where people can view them at their leisure.
“In a way, [being virtual] is more convenient because if [families] can’t watch it live, they can watch it at a time that works better for them,” she said.
Giusti has been the children’s librarian at Lovett for three years and was responsible for hosting Lovett’s in-person story times before all branches of the Free Library of Philadelphia closed. Virtual story times happen at the same time in-person story times used to, Tuesday mornings at 10:30 a.m. She also hosts a pajama-themed bedtime story time Thursdays at 6:30 p.m.
“Parents are really happy to hear that I’m doing anything,” Giusti said.
During the virtual story time, Giusti reads a page and then turns the book around so the children can see the pictures. She asks the children questions and suggests weekly activities related to the reading that kids can do at home. Children and their parents use the chat function on Facebook to ask questions or express their appreciation.
Meg Pannichelli and her 4-year-old daughter Sloan have participated in virtual story times with Giusti.
“I really like just watching Sloane watch the video because of the way that she does the story times,” Panichelli said. “It’s very engaging.”
Giusti reads a book, sings songs, describes the weekly activity, and if there is time, she may read another book. She will then close story time by asking viewers to join her in a special goodbye song.
“Reach down low, reach up high, story time is over, now wave goodbye,” she sings at the close of each video.
Children affectionately refer to Giusti as Ms. Dana.
“My favorite memory of Ms. Dana is when she read Juliản is a Mermaid,” Sloan said.
In-person story times at Lovett usually averaged about 50 children and parents before Libraries closed in March. According to Giusti, the audiences for virtual story times are larger.
August, a 4-year-old who lives in Mt. Airy and is friends with Sloan, has participated in story time with Giusti both in-person and online.
“The library really means a lot to me,” August said. “I like the Lego books.”
Rebecca Green-Gorelick is a child care provider who owns her own in-home day care where Sloan and August go. Green-Gorelick has been a child care provider for 17 years but hasn’t been able to host children in her home since quarantine has begun.
Before the pandemic hit, Green-Gorelick took the kids at her day care to Lovett Library every week for story time with Giusti. It was an important community event, Green-Gorelick said, a chance for parents and caregivers to socialize with each other.
“No one stays just for story time,” Green-Gorelick said. “People stick around [after] and moms meet other moms, providers meet each other. [The library] has a really robust play section where the kids can get down.”
Aside from virtual story time, Giusti has continued Lovett’s mission of getting books into the community by giving away books throughout the summer at East Mount Airy Neighbors’ food distribution program at Pleasant Playground, 6757 Chew Ave.
“Since children can’t check out physical books this year, I wanted to make sure we were getting books into the hands of our community’s children,” she said.
The Free Library’s summer reading coordinators have sent a few boxes of books to give away, alongside donations from the community. The Free Library’s summer reading programs usually include a 10-week activity encouraging students to track their reading and receive rewards at their local branch.
“Normally, each branch gets a bunch of physical paper ‘game boards’ for kids to complete during the summer, and each branch has its own programs and prizes,” Giusti said. “Obviously that can’t happen this year, so it moved to online-only.”
Giusti also used summer reading program money to buy books and has asked family and friends to donate books. Friends of Lovett Library, an independent community group that supports the library, has also provided a budget for Giusti to buy books. An EMAN blog post about the book giveaways also led to an influx of donations.
She is currently planning a book giveaway at the library branch.
Giusti has a reputation for being responsive to book requests from the community.
“I have several times approached her about not being able to find books that dealt with very, very specific intersections of what a child’s identity might be,” Green-Gorelick said. “Ms. Dana wrote the names of the books down, worked really hard, and always comes back with this beautiful list of books.”
Giusti will then sometimes order two sets of inclusive books, one for Green-Gorelick’s day care and another for the library.
“We really miss her,” Green-Gorelick said. “The kids still talk about her when we do our own [virtual] story time.”
According to Green-Gorelick, one of the things that make going to Lovett Library special is the work Giusti does to make sure each child is seen, often greeting them all by name as they enter for story time.
“We really, really love her,” Green-Gorelick said.
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