Early in OPL’s six-month closure in 2020, Katy Lofgren, youth services librarian at Saddlebrook Branch, and a team of her colleagues, set out to reconnect with families who were now unexpectedly spending more time at home by offering online storytimes.
After researching best practices and tools, the team launched the digital venture in June 2020, just in time for the Summer Reading Program. The change to virtual storytimes was initially jarring for some staff. With no live audience and users’ microphones muted to ensure that everyone could hear the storytime, Lofgren said the silence of the new format was “very eerie at first.”
The team adapted from using auditory cues, as they had in person, to prompting visual cues to affirm that the children participating were following along. The first storytimes she led were emotional for Lofgren, who has worked at OPL for over 14 years. “I cried during every single [storytime] for a while, because it was so nice to be able to see the kids,” she said.
Eventually, Lofgren took over leading the live storytime team. While this role is largely managerial, it also involves things like coordinating new storytime partnerships, like a monthly virtual storytime series with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
Lofgren’s team mostly meets virtually, so she makes extra efforts to engage members. She emails to touch base with everyone on a regular basis, and occasionally delivers goodie bags in person. She also started a weekly guessing challenge, complete with a prize for the winner, to help boost the team’s morale.
Cassandra Nielsen, youth services specialist at Bess Johnson Elkhorn Branch, who is a member of the live storytime team, was impressed with the efforts Lofgren made to ensure her team’s success. “Katy was calm and collected, empathetic and supportive, and had vision and guided us to create some really cool content,” said Nielsen.
When former Saddlebrook Branch Manager Amy Wenzl was transferred to Charles B. Washington Branch last November, Lofgren was an obvious choice to take over on an interim basis, according to Wenzl. “Working with Katy over the past two years, I have seen how she goes out of her way to support her team,” said Wenzl. “Her work leading the virtual storytime team reaffirmed in my mind that she was the right person to step in as interim manager.”
Lofgren has a lot on her plate, but said that these new experiences have been made easier with flexible and supportive staff. As she works to support and empower her coworkers, Lofgren said that assuming these leadership positions taught her a lot and was a silver lining to 2020.
“Being an interim branch manager has given me the unique opportunity to find that I would enjoy officially managing a branch,” said Lofgren, who emphasized that she also loves working as a youth services librarian. “The challenges and opportunities to problem solve in a different way have been wonderful.”