February 20, 2020

Ocean Sciences 2020 – Storytellers Program

Posted by Laura Guertin

The OSM Storytellers during their visit to San Diego Central Library! From left to right: Riley Henning, Laura Guertin, Heather Tabisola, Wendy Ensor (Youth Services Librarian) [all being photobombed by The Lorax]

I’ve been to alot of meetings for many different organizations. In more recent years, I’ve become frustrated that our national scientific societies bring thousands of scientists to a major urban center for a week – and yet, we don’t “practice what we preach” enough in these cities. I’m talking about engaging in science communication and talking about our science to these local audiences.

So I’m always on the lookout to see what I can do and how to become involved in benefitting local residents. And then, in one of the email messages that came through before the 2020 Ocean Sciences Meeting, I saw this:

OSM Storytellers Program, sponsored by ASLO

Are you interested in connecting with the community outside the Convention Center? The OSM Storytellers program has arranged for OSM20 participants to read children’s books about the ocean at local San Diego Public Libraries. You can also chat with children and their families about life as an ocean scientist. We buy the books for you, you pick an available hour time slot, and we reimburse you for your travel expenses. Most time slots are middle of the day or late afternoon and within 20 min of the convention center.

I immediately emailed the coordinator of the program, Bob Chen (UMass Boston) and said, “please sign me up!”

Bob provided more than enough information on the logistics of what would happen and what to expect. I also appreciated the link to an article on the background of the ASLO Storytellers Series – I would never have guessed that the idea originated with the Drag Queen Story Hour!

Ten of San Diego’s branch libraries were to host twelve hour-long storytimes for up to three scientists an hour. The books were provided ahead of time for readers to pick up at the convention center (all ocean-themed, of course). The books were from the ASLO list of recommended children’s books, and after the reading, we were then to donate the book to the library. I signed up to read at San Diego Central Library (only a short walk from the convention center, pictured above), picked up my book the day before that I would read (pictured on the right), and got dressed for the occasion! I made sure to pack my Adidas sneakers made from recycled ocean plastic and my Svaha sea life cardigan for the trip.

The day of the event arrived, and I made sure to practice reading my book one more time before heading over to the Central Library. The children’s section was amazing, so fun and festive with Dr. Seuss decorating the walls and displays. And the staff were so friendly and appreciative from the start. Wendy Ensor greeted me and was quick to get the story space ready with a large digital display, carpet squares to sit on, and other items for our hour together. The other two readers arrived, Riley and Heather, and so did the kids! There were about 20 children less than 6 years old (actually, it was hard to tell how many, as they were so full of energy and moving around!).

Dr. Seuss used to live in San Diego, so I wasn’t surprised to see his work all over this space!

So if you haven’t been to a storytime at a public library in awhile (like me!), this is how Wendy kept everyone engaged. We started with the group singing “If You’re Happy And You Know It.” And we read one of the books. There was an activity with felt fish that Wendy put on her felt board, asking the kids the colors of the fish and to count them with her. We had another reading (I was the second one!), then we switched to watching and singing Baby Shark (and this may seem crazy to admit, especially as an oceanographer, but it was my first time hearing the entire Baby Shark song from beginning to end!). We had a final reading, sang The Goldfish Song (another new one for me) and then all did “Ring Around The Rosie.” Wendy brought out boxes of toys for the kids to play with, and we ended our time at the library.

Hats-off to Wendy for arranging such an ocean-themed storytime! (And Heather, Riley and I were all glad that we were the storytime topic for this month, as a pony was coming to the library for the next storytime – that would have been a hard act to follow!).

What a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful time spent at Central Library. We didn’t get to talk too much about our ocean careers and what we study. But to be able to participate in this community event was so rewarding. I hope more conferences add this to their meeting agenda in the future!