Storytime returns to Juneau public libraries

A woman in a mask reads aloud from a book in a library
MJ Grande reads to Juneau youth at Mendenhall Valley Library’s first storytime in two years. March 15, 2022. (Photo by Claire Stremple/KTOO)

Juneau officials dropped the city’s pandemic alert level to “minimal” two weeks ago. One of the activities to return to the community’s calendar is storytime at Mendenhall Valley Public Library.

“My heart’s beating really, really fast,” said MJ Grande as she waited for families to arrive.

Grande is the Youth Services Librarian for Juneau Public Libraries. She’s preparing for the first storytime in two years. And she’s anxious because storytime is for kids young enough that they can’t get vaccines yet, but she’s trusting public health guidance.

“This is an essential part of services to children. The schools get them at five. But to link that early literacy in the family setting — and with the smallest people — has been the public library’s responsibility,” she said.

Juneau libraries have also been hubs for information and free pandemic supplies over the last two years. They’ve remained open, except for a couple of weeks in March of 2020.

Families stay spread out in bubbles that are marked by large hoops on the floor.

The McCarthy family settles into one. They moved to Juneau mid-pandemic. They’ve been coming to the library a lot, and today they’re looking for some books about raising ducks. Their youngest, Reed, just turned four, and he’s pretty excited about it.

A family sits on the floor in a library during storytime
The McCarthy family moved to Juneau in 2020. This is their first storytime at Mendenhall Valley Library. March 15, 2021. (Photo by Claire Stremple/KTOO)

A few more people come in and find space on the floor.

There are some changes to storytime. Sign-ups are required now — although there were a few no shows, so the library accepted a couple drop-ins. Masking is encouraged. Instead of meeting in the kid’s section, storytime is in a large room with more floor space and better ventilation. At the door, there are at-home test kits, backup masks and hand sanitizer — so the room smells faintly of rubbing alcohol.

Grande starts with some songs, then gets down to business. There’s a book about herring, for the herring season that’s about to open, and a book about a duck family for Reed McCarthy.

Storytime is designed for the average 3-year-old’s attention span, so actual reading is punctuated by songs, and it’s all over in about a half an hour.

A woman in a mask sits on the floor with a small child in her lap at a library during storytime
Christina Shanley says she and her son Hollis will likely return to storytime at the Mendenhall Valley Public Library. March 15, 2022. (Photo by Claire Stremple/KTOO)

For Christina Shanley and her son Hollis, this is the first storytime. That’s true for most people here because a lot of the kids are barely as old as the pandemic. She says they’ll probably come again.

“This felt nice and safe. There’s things that are opening up in town that’s giving us opportunities, those of us with toddlers to get our toddlers out in the community, which we haven’t been so far,” she said.

MJ Grande says it’s good to be back.

“If a person can have an essential self, this is mine,” she said.

Claire Stremple

Alaska News Reporter, KTOO

I believe every Alaskan has a right to timely information about their health and health systems, and their natural environment and its management. My goal is to report thoughtful stories that inform, inspire and quench the curiosity of listeners across the state.

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