Elizabeth Moss had a career “aha moment” about 10 years ago. She taught theater at an inner-city high school in Las Vegas — a job she found challenging because of the “other stuff” teachers often must navigate.
“There were kids who were living in horrible, awful conditions and it was heartbreaking. The teaching part was great. It was the red tape,” Moss said. “It was all of the other stuff when you aren’t teaching in the classroom that was really wearing.”
That “aha moment” came during her lunch breaks.
“I found that the highlights of my day were actually when I’d let kids come into my classroom and eat lunch. We would talk about their favorite books. I found myself really looking forward to that. I decided I wanted to leave teaching. I was like, ‘You know what? I just really want to help connect kids to books,’ ” Moss explained.
She had already earned a master’s degree in theater. But in order to be a librarian, she needed a master’s degree in library science, the baseline requirement for many library jobs. While still employed full time as a teacher, she pursued a degree online at Clarion University of Pennsylvania.
Moss, 37, had often jumped around the United States as a child because of her father’s geology career. She had spent a short time in Vancouver and decided to return when a job opened up.
“My happiest childhood memories were here. That’s why when I chose where I wanted to live, I chose here,” she said.
After navigating her own emotions and desires in adulthood, she now helps children prepare for the world through her job as a senior public youth services librarian at Three Creeks Community Library.
Storytime and literacy
“Has anyone felt grumpy before?” she asked a recent audience of about two dozen 3- to 6-year-olds and their parents. A few high-pitched “Yeahs” replied.
They were eagerly waiting for Moss to start storytime. Three Creeks holds eight storytimes a week; this particular one focused on reading and literacy for those in early childhood. In 2010, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction released an Early Learning Plan for schools in the state. The library also tries to help children meet those goals. Some research reports that early childhood programs may help an individual in the long term, including lowering rates of depression, rates of serious crime and incarceration, among other things.
Early childhood literacy isn’t Moss’ only focus as a library employee. She recently participated in a librarian exchange program, traveling to China for a few weeks. The library recently started what it calls “Virtual Vacations” for people in assisted living centers. Moss took a special camera to the Great Wall of China so that those in the assisted living centers could visit it through a virtual headset.
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But, there are challenges.
“My biggest challenge is I want to do so much but we’re limited in our resources; although we have a very supportive Friends (of Three Creeks Library) group who helps us out a lot. Most of the time it’s staffing. We only have so many staff members and so many hours of the day,” Moss said.
The staff of 14 at Three Creeks, a part of the larger Fort Vancouver Regional Libraries system, often jump around to do storytimes at other locations, including at elementary schools. Moss typically does the preschool storytimes and baby storytimes.
“I think it’s helping them build a love of reading. It’s a way to interact with their peers in a very fun and safe environment. It’s a great way to learn. It’s helping the parents (to) see what we’re doing and then they help bring those same skills,” Moss said.
As soon as the first child entered Three Creek’s single meeting space for storytime, Moss’ demeanor changed. Channeling her theater background, she addressed the child in a high-pitched, cartoonlike voice.
“Do you want to put a froggy in the pond?” she asked one child, who took a plastic-laminated frog and put it into a plastic container with a slit in it. It’s the library’s way of tracking how many children attend. There are 32 frogs available per session.
“Our storytimes were getting very, very popular, and we were ending up with too many people to make it a good experience for kids. When we’re out of frogs, we ask people to come back another time,” Moss said.
On that day’s reading list was “Grumpy Monkey,” by Suzanne Lang; “My Many Colored Days,” by Dr. Seuss; and “How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad,” by Jane Yolen.
Athena Waldow of Salmon Creek and her daughter Ella, 3, attend storytimes multiple times a week.
“I like the social interactions with other kids at storytime. She remembers the songs. She’ll sing the songs at home. Then she’ll come here and she’s ready for the songs,” Waldow said. “(Moss is) great. She engages the kids really well. She gets them excited about the story. She’s just a lot of fun. She gets on the ground, she’s jumping.”
Waldow wasn’t kidding. Scrunching her face to depict anger while reading “Grumpy Monkey,” Moss read, with great emotion, “One wonderful day, Jimpanzee woke up to discover NOTHING was right! The sun was too bright, the sky was too blue, the bananas were too sweet …”
After several songs, like “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” between books, the storytime ended. Then came the bubble machine. Moss took a few questions from parents while children danced in the bubbles, and shared the Early Learning Tip of the Day, written in blue marker on a dry erase board: “Encourage reading by placing books throughout your home.”
“Sometimes it’s, you know, ‘My kid is feeling worried about everything,’ or it’s a specific thing: ‘I’m going away on vacations; do you have books about leaving and coming back?’ Or ‘My spouse just died; do you have any books that will help with that?’ We help find them the resources,” Moss said.