Monday, June 27, 2016

Story Time Q & A: Attendance, Community Culture, and Planning for Groups of Different Sizes

Today I'm answering the third and final batch of questions from the list I received following my "Tips for Story Time Success" webinar. If you'd like to see more Story Time Q &A, please email me your questions. I would love to make it a regular feature! 

Q: I'm having trouble with attendance. How do you find preschoolers in a rural area?
A: Here is the short version of some of the tips I mention in my book that may help drum up some more interest in your story times:
  • Publish your story time schedule in local newspapers, on Internet forums for local events (including Facebook), and by word of mouth to every patron you see who knows or has children. Also put up flyers in public places that parents and young children are likely to go - grocery stores, doctor's offices, daycare centers, etc. Include contact information so they can follow up with you if they have questions. Also see if your community has any moms groups that might be willing to help you put the word out. 
  • Reach out to local daycares and preschools and see if they would be interested in a story time for any of their classes. Offer to go to them, or arrange a library "field trip" where they travel to you. If the partnership looks promising, make it a regularly scheduled activity that occurs monthly during the school year. 
  • If you're focusing only on preschoolers (I consider this to be ages 3-5) and not having much luck, consider focusing on babies (0-12 months) or toddlers (1-2 years old) instead. Sometimes one age group is just not well-represented in your community in a given year and you need to skew things older or younger in order to find a consistent audience. And the nice thing is - if you start off with a core group as babies, they might stick with you until they reach school age.
Q: I am interested in hearing more about judging and fitting the storytime with the community culture.
A: Tailoring your story times to your community's culture is something that occurs slowly over time. When I first start out at a new library, I find that my new coworkers are always more than willing to tell me what our patrons are like, and usually those impressions are pretty helpful for getting me off on the right foot. I also find it useful to spend a lot of time at the public desks in the first few weeks in a new position. Having short conversations with patrons at the desk on a regular basis starts to give you a pretty good impression of who is in your community and what is important to them.

If you have been working with a community for any length of time, you probably already have a gut instinct about what would go over well at story time and what wouldn't, just based on your observations and your experiences sharing different materials with them. If you feel you would like to know more, I think casual conversation with patrons about what they might like to see added to story time, or a more formal survey of the needs of your story time attendees are both great ways to gather that kind of information.

Q: What are some best practices for researching and determining community values when doing outreach story times for different and unfamiliar communities?

Doing outreach story times is a little bit different from getting to know your regular library community. Working in a library all day every day makes it easy to observe how the community uses the library, what materials interest them, and when kids are available for programs. You also have the benefit of coworkers' institutional knowledge - any time I have been a newly hired librarian, other staff members have been quick to tell me their impressions of the community, and that has really helped me get off on the right foot. 

When you take on new outreach opportunities, however, you don't always have the benefit of anyone else's background knowledge. In those situations, I try to find out as much as I can about the organization I'll be working with. I do ask others if they have done story time there before. I also Google the organization and see if there is a mission statement or other indication as to the focus and purpose of the group. I also make sure to ask my contact person at the organization what he/she expects from the story time. That kind of open-ended question is probably the best research because it allows the organization to let you know what they truly want and need, and gives you the chance to tailor your plans to their expectations. 

For an outreach story time at an unfamiliar location, I would probably also plan a lot more material than I needed. That way, if I find that longer books don't work for them, or they don't like to sing, or they are very quiet, I have a bunch of back-up activities to meet those needs.

Q: How does your planning change for a small story time (for maybe 4-10 children) as opposed to a larger one (over 15 children)?

A: The biggest difference I see between small and large groups is in how much you have to manage their behavior. My story times for large groups (and large for me has occasionally been upwards of 100 kids) are very heavily structured and we move quickly from one activity to the next so that I don't lose their interest. I will use lots of transitional songs and rhymes with large groups to make sure they are never given the chance to get bored and start misbehaving. Smaller story times, though, are usually calmer and quieter experiences. I can read more books to a small group, and I find it easier to use props when there are only a few kids to handle them. I do still include a movement activity at the halfway point in a smaller story time, and I always sing a song when I collect any props so that the kids understand that the activity is over, but otherwise, the session is more loosely structured when there are fewer kids. I will also say that sometimes smaller groups are shy about participating because the kids feel very conspicuous with just a few peers around. If I know a group is inclined toward shyness, I don't push the interactive stuff. I still read and sing, but I make it possible for them to watch and enjoy without feeling pressed to perform themselves. Sometimes those smaller audiences just don't get involved, and I think that is just the nature of kids in small groups at that age. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...