Back in April, I spoke to Denise Raleigh, Director of Marketing, Development and Communications; Faith Brautigam, Manager of Youth Services; and Betsy O’Connell, Manager of Information Technology; all of the Gail Borden Public Library District, about the StoryTubes, the national 2-minute or less video contest featuring students and their favorite books. (Voting for the fourth and final category – Facts, Fads and Phenoms – ends June 4, 2008.) This conversation was to be shared as a podcast, but due to technical difficulties on my end, it is an edited transcript of our conversation instead. Thanks, Denise, Faith, and Betsy, for sharing your time and thoughts with us!
ALSC Blog: This is the first year for the national StoryTubes contest. According to the StoryTubes information page, your library did something similar in the past.
Denise Raliegh: We had people talking about great things in the community and their favorite books. And the favorite book section had tons more entries than favorite things in the community. After it was posted we left it up there [on the website]. The views were over 40,000 on the original Storypalooza. We thought we were onto something.
We did a lot with U-46, the second largest school district in Illinois. We have a nice partnership with them already. We work a lot with their kids so that brought us the participation when we made it easy for them to get involved. We also had some homeschool kids that we filmed in the library and we also had some people who just filmed themselves. We didn’t exclusively deal with the public schools.
It really was a step from Storypalooza. Our intended outcome was just to marry new technology with, you know, timeless technology of books. Taking one, a timeless entity and bringing it into the YouTube age. It really is about storytellling. Telling a story or telling it differently. If you look at some of these kids and how the books have impacted them, it’s a chance to just really energize reading interest. StoryTubes is very much a similar goal that we had last year. We are just broadening it based on that experience.
We have a level of judging this year that we did not have last year. It was a fairly wild, wild west atmosphere. Bringing the notch up this year meant we had to bring the notch up technologically this year as well.
ALSC Blog: What was the most challenging?
Denise: Actually using YouTube. Perhaps we should have used a number of user-generated video sites because there are a few of the school districts who are a little reluctant to use YouTube. People have suggested we use TeacherTube. So, if we do this again next year, we will look at using more than one.
Faith Brautigam: Having the correct information for partner libraries ahead before they decided whether they wanted to be a partner was somewhat difficult because we hadn’t done it before in this way. They had questions to which, you know, we had to find answers. Each library had different kinds of questions and different kinds of needs. Some of them needed documentation to give to their staff. Working with each separate library was a challenge just in having the correct information for them so they could make a decision. Betsy will talk about the automation challenges.
Betsy O’Connell: Going into this, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to manage people because you’re dealing with multiple partners. We decided early on to try to make this process as easy to approach as possible instead of everybody trying to invent their own way to keep a list of entries and all of the participants. We developed a whole database, kind of hand built an entry management system, if you will, as far as when they go to review an entry, they bring up the entry and watch it and fill out the review online. We put a lot of effort to streamline the process because our feeling was we either make it really easy to use or we spend a lot of time explaining how to use it.
ALSC Blog: How long did it take to put that together?
Betsy: I really don’t want to think about that. but the groundwork is done. A lot was figuring out how basically the process would work, where it would be stored, what information would be stored, how we would do the reviews, how people could get to it, figuring out the process was a big part of it. We ran this really simply last year.
ALSC Blog: Beyond marrying two technologies and allowing kids to share books with other kids, what else do you envision from offering StoryTubes?
Faith: One of the things I had talked about a little bit when I was talking with partner libraries in the negotiation stage was just even to just hear the different accents. I think a lot of television that kids watch tends to show people with a homogenous accent and that’s not true of our country. And I think that there are a lot of children who haven’t traveled much and haven’t really seen kids their own age from other parts of the country talking in their ordinary accents and colloquialisms about books. Before it’s all over, there will be videos on there that have accents from widely different parts of the country. I think that angle is really cool for kids to be able to see that something that I do here is something that we all share in all parts of the country even though we speak differently. It is a different element than reading something that is written.
ALSC Blog: How were the contest categories developed?
Faith: We were trying to come up with categories that were very broad so that if you read any kind of book that it could fit, that there would be a category for it. And when we first came up with the categories, we weren’t entirely sure what the age ranges would be for the contest, so we wanted to make sure that they would work even for a younger child. Even the books that children grades 1 through 6 have picked are books that are aimed for children fairly young. We wanted to have something that would work if you chose a picture book or a fairly difficult novel. One of the kids had a video that we received on The City of Ember. It was a pretty big challenge to come up with something that works just as well for Skippyjon Jones as it does for The City of Ember or nonfiction or whatever. So that was something that we developed in our department. We would have added a few more categories if we had more sponsorships. We whittled down the categories to the ones we thought covered the most territory in terms of any book any child might want to talk about.
ALSC Blog: Selecting the videos to be voted on, how did that work?
Faith: The judges are determined by the partner library. Not every library is handling it the same way. The Northeast is using some remote judges in different states. Our library is using volunteers that are local. I believe the Northwest is using staff members because it is a large library system with a lot of branches. It just depends on the region. Each public library had the freedom to decide how they wanted to handle the judging depending upon their own priorities or what was available to them. We, for example, used some college students to view and choose. They were in a children’s literature class and did it for extra credit. That was a really cool partnership. They got to see what books children are reading. We got their help and they got extra credit from their children’s literature professor.
ALSC Blog: Sounds like there are many partnerships with StoryTubes.
Denise: The partnerships are essential. The idea is first for the kids to have a great experience and to get kids interested in other kids’ books. It’s also to make sure that our sponsors and partners on all levels get something out of this. The beauty of dealing with kids reading is there are so many winners.
We are interested in talking with a lot of folks. This year we shared with people we thought had an appetite for it. We welcome partners. We are so happy with what the library community has done with this.