Blogger Katie Salo

Sickness & Storytime

You’ve planned your storytimes weeks in advance and then suddenly, the night before the program, you’re hit with the flu. Or maybe you can’t speak — whatever your ailment, you absolutely cannot do storytime the next day.

This month’s blog topic comes directly from Twitter and this afternoon several youth librarians brainstormed ideas with me about what to do when it happens. (Thank you all who sent ideas and especially Anne for coming up with my topic!)

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  • Have another staff member cover. Make sure that your plans are accessible. The picture to the right is my storytime drawer. Full of books, separated by week. Each file folder has the rhymes I’ve planned and often the flannel pieces are right there in plastic storage bags.
  • If someone wouldn’t feel comfortable taking over your planned storytime, have a back-up storytime theme ready to go that all staff members have practiced with.
  • Train staff members and supervisors to do storytimes so that they are available to cover. Spend time to make sure that everyone knows what to do in case of someone’s absence.
  • Put out craft supplies and have an impromptu playdate instead of storytime. A library staff member can supervise and parents will still feel like they attended a program at the library that day. Remember, play is now included as one of the five practices in Every Child Ready to Read!
  • Have do-it-yourself storytime kits available for check-out. Los Angeles County Libraries have these kits for patrons to check-out year round. For an easier version that staff members could whip up with a little bit of notice, look at Amy’s take-home storytime kits at the Show Me Librarian. Make sure to have your labels pre-made and your ribbons nearby. Other staff members should be able to handle the rest.
  • When all else fails, try to notify patrons ahead of time. If you do registration for storytime, call every family. If you do drop-in storytime, post a message on the library’s website and social media accounts. Have staff members apologize if a family does stop in and no other activity has been planned.

At my library, I’m the only librarian who does storytime. I’ve had to cancel for inclement weather before and parents have been very understanding. As for when I’m down with an illness, I ask a staff member to grab their favorites from our in-house storytime collection. Storytime isn’t the same without Miss Katie, but the show did go on!

Do you have any ideas to add? Or any suggestions for what to do if you’re the only youth librarian? Let me know in the comments!

– Katie Salo
Youth Services Manager
Melrose Park Library


  1. Jennifer

    This may be just me and my patrons, but I would keep the apologies to a minimum. I’ve found myself going overboard apologizing to people that we didn’t have storytime (when it was clearly marked on the calendar that there was a break) that storytime was cancelled, that the storytime person they wanted wasn’t there, that their baby didn’t have fun at the preschool storytime, etc. etc. Our parents have gotten really spoiled and one of the things I’ve been working on since last fall is not feeling guilty! We have a huge play area, lots of toys, a cozy reading area, puppets, and thousands of books available all the time and we offer an average of 10 programs a week during program sessions – that would be me and a woman from the school district who comes in for baby and toddler storytimes. If people miss a session or two, it is not the end of the world! That’s what I keep telling myself anyways.

  2. Amy

    I always have 2-3 weeks worth of story times scripted in advance. I keep the upcoming week in a teal bin in the story time room so all the staff knows where to find it. In that bin I put all the flannel pieces, craft supplies, the books and the scripts (complete with words for finger plays and songs) for the coming week. We have a list of subs who are comfortable covering for story times, so I know that they can grab the bin and be prepared to go with 15-20 minutes of prep time to review the materials. When I was gone over the holidays, rather than find a sub, we didn’t have any planned story times, but I used that same teal bin to create a “Story Time to Go” kit for grown ups to use with their kids. We also have themed literacy bags that circulate that were also available to patrons.

  3. Abby Johnson

    We’ve developed a binder of “Grab and Go” storytimes on seasonal and popular themes. The storytime plans in this binder only feature books and felts/props we have in our professional collection in the children’s office and they list rhymes and songs (and alternate books that may be in our circulating collection). It’s handy in case someone would have to come up with a storytime on the spot (either to cover for someone or in case of a last-minute booking or something like that).

    I have five staff in my department who do programs and everyone has either sat in on or presented each type of ongoing storytime that we do (baby, toddler, preschool). That way everyone is at least marginally familiar with the general routine for each program. And parents (and kids) are very understanding if we explain that Miss T is sick (or on vacation or whatever) and I’ll be their storyteller today. They’ll help remind us what song they always start with, etc.

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