I wanted to share with you an excellent professional development experience I just had, the Beyond Rhymes webinar series from Infopeople. Presented by Patrick Remer and Heidi Dolamore the series encouraged youth services librarians to work with their administration and think strategically to offer the best storytime experience to their patrons.
With the abundance of easily accessible resources online for the content of storytime it was a pleasure to have a team of presenters take a different look at storytime.
I wanted to break down what my takeaways are because I think there is a lot of inspiration and motivation to be had there. This is one more piece of how my hiatus is changing the way I will do my next job. As I said these are Heidi and Patrick’s ideas. I’m just reflecting on them and putting them in a place I’ll be able to re-visit from time to time.
1. Start with setting goals and priorities. What does your department want to accomplish? What impact does your library want to have on the community? Is there an age group you want to reach? A percentage of your population? You need to know the answers before you start. Then when faced with a decision to make or priorities to set you can go back to those goals. Every decision you make should serve those goals. Working with administration to set these goals is important and brings us to the second truth.
2. Big outcomes take buy-in and participation from everyone, not just the youth librarian. Once you know what you want to accomplish and your administrators are on board then it is time to bring in the rest of your staff in. In Heidi and Patrick’s libraries all staff are aware that storytime is an organization-wide priority and they all have roles to contribute to that. This is both a a great example of teamwork and internal advocacy. Some staff might be involved more directly in storytime than others, but everyone is on the same page on the program because they understand why it is a priority.
3. “We can’t do that because” is not an answer, it’s an opportunity for problem solving. Space, resources, and staffing are some of the typical road blocks to presenting all the programs we would like to offer. Working as a team to come up with creative solutions such as moving storytime to a larger space or training additional staff to present storytime become more realistic when everyone knows it is a priority in service to the organization’s goals.
4. Decide who your audience is and then design your programs to reach them. Too many times we have a cool idea or opportunity for a program and then go searching for an audience. Then we wonder why we are sitting in an empty room. I think this is a great lesson no matter what age group you are working with. A wonderful example of this are the Black Storytimes (and storytimes in several other languages) offered by Multnomah County Library.
5. Be welcoming and accessible in your space, publicity, and policies. Do an audit of your space, including one from the point of view of a preschooler. What looks like a small shelf to us may be a huge barrier that cuts off a large part of your space to a three year-old.
Look at your publicity. Does it use a lot of jargon like “lapsit”? Don’t assume everyone knows what storytime programs are, providing more information could bring in a wider audiences.
Think about your policies. Is your schedule hard to follow? Do you limit size? Some creative thinking might remove these barriers to participation. How can you bring the storytime experience and it’s benefits to the highest number of patrons?