Friday, June 24, 2016

Story Time Q & A: Early Literacy, Supervisor Support, and Organizing My Repertoire

Today I'm answering the second batch of questions from the list I received following my "Tips for Story Time Success" webinar. 

Q: Can you talk about the early literacy benefits of storytime? There is a push in the field to focus on early literacy, as if there was a right and wrong way to do storytime.  What do you think? Early literacy-focused vision of storytime vs. a FUN-focus?

A: There is definitely a big push in the field to focus on early literacy, but it has not caused me to change how I present story time. Every time we read, sing, play, or talk with a child, we are helping her work on her early literacy skills whether we say so explicitly or not. Story time has always accomplished this, even when librarians didn't talk about it all the time. It is definitely helpful for librarians to be aware of what children need to know before they can learn to read, and to incorporate a wide variety of activities into story time, but I am not a story time presenter who ever announces to the audience which early literacy skill we are practicing at a given moment, nor do I share asides with parents as part of my story times. I also don't consciously plan activities to match each skill.

Certainly story time is more than just entertainment, but it is also not school, and for me, the push for early literacy instruction at story time feels more academic than is necessary for kids under five. The job of small children is to play. If we make story time a playful and fun experience, they will learn all of those early literacy skills without even realizing it - and their parents will repeat story time activities at home, not because the librarian says to, but because the child enjoys them and wants to experience them again and again. So I am not big on early literacy focused story times. It's one right way to do story time, but definitely not the only way.

Q: How do you find success without promotion/support from a branch manager or director?

A: It can certainly be difficult when the vision that a manager or director has for the library does not include support for children's programming, but this does not mean you are doomed to failure. Sometimes an indifferent or uninvolved supervisor can be a blessing in disguise, because their lack of interest in story time frees you up to do what works for you and build up the program yourself. Often, after you do this, the supervisor is forced to become more invested in story time because other members of the community (prominent patrons, library board members, local officials, etc.) begin to recognize your success, and the supervisor doesn't want to look like he is out of step.

If your supervisor is involved with the work of the children's department, but is specifically not interested in having story time, or not convinced of its importance, this can be a bit trickier to navigate. In that situation, I might try a few things. I might tactfully make the case for story time, using articles in professional publications and books like mine to justify why story time is so important to public libraries and why it should be a part of your library's service to its patrons. If you have an existing story time schedule, you might ask the patrons who do attend regularly to fill out comment cards or surveys indicating the importance of story time to their families. This way, your argument for focusing more heavily on story time is justified by patron interest, not just your own.

Ultimately, though, I have never felt that a supervisor's involvement was a key factor in how successful my story times are. It's certainly nice to have a supervisor who appreciates story time and values your work, but it is possible to succeed in spite of a supervisor who does not have that outlook.

Q: How do you organize your repertoire of story time resources/ideas? 

A: My organizational system involves three websites:
  • this blog, where I post all of my story time plans; 
  • my wiki, which houses all of the lyrics, tunes, and links for the songs and rhymes that I have used; and 
  • my Goodreads account, where I shelve all the books I read at story time according to theme, with notes about when I read them and links to the corresponding blog posts.
I also have a large Rubbermaid container in my garage at home filled with flannel board pieces and stick puppets, which is organized by category using a bunch of manila envelopes labeled with different subject areas (people, animals, food, clothing, etc.) 

Do you like this feature? Would you like to see it continue? Email me with your own story time question at 
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