The California Library has stuffed animal sleepovers

With book bans, heated political debates and a pandemic, it’s not an easy time for librarians.

In cities and towns across the country, librarians are increasingly vilified for simply stocking shelves and doing their job, which includes everything from organizing yoga classes and book clubs to providing resources for the homeless and sometimes helping children the homework .

“It’s about a lot more than just helping people borrow books,” says Linda “Lynn” Hori, library technician at Goleta Valley Library near Santa Barbara, California. “Libraries are the heart of every community.”

Part of Hori’s job is to help organize children’s events for the library in Goleta, which has a population of around 32,000.

She said she and her staff have realized their community could use a break from the divisive resentment and isolation caused by the pandemic in recent years.

In previous years, the Goleta Library held a stuffed animal sleepover for younger guests every summer, Hori said, where kids would drop off their favorite teddy bear or other stuffed animal and then return in the morning to see photos of them in various goofy poses in the Library at a late night party.

“When it was canceled for two years because of the pandemic, everyone really missed it,” she said. “It was all about having fun and making kids smile. We all wanted to experience that magic again.”

Hori and others at the library decided it was time to bring back the beloved tradition that began about 10 years ago.

“Only this time we decided to give it our all,” said Hori, 40. “The last few years have been tough for kids who have had to do their study at home via Zoom. We wanted to do something very special.”

His McDonald’s was closed for months for renovations. He continued to pay the staff.

Libraries across the country have hosted similar stuffed animal sleepovers over the years, from the teddy bear sleepover in Warren, Massachusetts, to the stuffed animal sleepover in Huntley, Illinois, to the annual Shaw’s disused stuffed animal sleepover (Watha T. Daniel ) neighborhood library in DC

“It’s become a thing for a lot of libraries because it’s a great community-building event,” Hori said.

“Everyone can remember a favorite comfort toy that they read stories to and snuggled with as a child,” she added. “For me it was a pink care bear.”

Hori usually coordinates about a dozen special kids’ events a year, but she was determined that the 2022 stuffed animal slumber party would be the biggest ever.

She put up posters, enlisted the help of 15 teen volunteers and invited children to donate their favorite bears, lambs, dogs, cats, dolphins, pigs and unicorns for a merry night on June 24th.

About 220 children brought their cuddly toys with the promise that they would be treated with love and lots of photos would be taken.

“Some of the younger ones were reluctant to hand them over, but we assured them they would have an exciting night and meet new friends,” Hori said. “I heard several kids whisper, ‘I love you — be good and have fun.’ ”

Each cuddly toy was given a number to avoid confusion, then the party started. It was a blowout, Hori said.

She gave away her wedding dress on Facebook. Soon others did the same.

She and her volunteers spent hours staging the animals (and a rounded, smiling avocado) in dozens of party scenarios: toasting marshmallows for s’mores, sharing milkshakes, fooling around on the library copier, playing computer games, and phoning far-off locations.

There was even a disco dance with glow sticks and some hula hoops for free.

By midnight Hori had taken more than 1,200 photos and it was time for a bedtime story with special effects from the bubble machine.

“We gathered all the stuffed animals around and our kids’ librarian, Elizabeth Saucedo, read them ‘Goodnight Moon,'” Hori said.

She said she sent the photos to an all-night photo lab around 2am to have the images printed and then slept for a few hours before picking up the images the next morning and returning them to the library have to sort them into 220 piles. The children also received goodie bags and overnight certificates when they picked up their animals.

“Seeing all those faces light up – that was the best thing for me,” Hori said. “I hope that events like our sleepover will shape the adults these children will eventually become. I would love to see them become lifelong library users.”

That would be fine with Lauren Cox, 8, who gave up her favorite stuffed bunny named Rabbit.

“The library is a fun place — I’ve always enjoyed going,” she said. “Rabbit sang songs, played with Legos, and danced. It was pretty hard to leave her there, but I’m glad I did. She has made many new friends.”

Brooke Kelley, 9, said she particularly loved seeing all the photos of her stuffed lamb, Lamby, even though she “probably broke some of the library rules.”

Her brother, Boston Kelley, 7, said he had mixed feelings about dropping off his stuffed avocado avi.

“I was sad that he wouldn’t be my stuffed animal for the night, but I was also happy for him so he could have a great time,” he said.

While walking her dogs, she found an Olympic gold medal on the ground

Erin Kelley, 45, said this is the first time her children have attended the sleepover and she doesn’t think it will be the last.

“It was a great event that put smiles on children’s faces, which is nice after recovering from two years of a pandemic that has excluded children from so many activities,” she said. “We hope the library will do it again next year.”

Hori said she was up to the challenge.

“I’m not sure we can top that, but we’ll try,” she said. “I am very happy that it was so much fun. Whenever we can inspire children to read and visit the library, I’ll be there.”

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James Brien

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