Blogger Early Childhood Programs and Services committee

Storytime VIPs

Your mayor wants to promote a new initiative. A celebrity just wrote a book and wants to share it. The local sports team is coming! We get a lot of these visits at my library, and more and more guests are joining us for our baby, toddler and preschool storytimes. This can be a great opportunity, but the visits take a lot of work, and these kids are tough to please: they don’t like changes to their schedule, they’re frequently “hangry,” and they can’t be bribed. Here are 6 tips for managing storytime VIPs who want to meet your babies:

  1. Determine needs: Your first meeting is a reference interview. What does your VIP want and why?  Just like at the desk, you may find that your special guest has a vision of what they want, but don’t realize what they need. Maybe young children aren’t the best audience for an author’s longer picture book biography, but your after-school kids would love it.
  2. You have needs too:  Guest visits work best when there’s a benefit to all sides. Your VIP is getting publicity.  Is your library? Is the presentation valuable? Can families take pictures with the celebrity? Touch the mascot? Nobody is happy with cranky babies or caregivers who feel like they were manipulated.  Advocate for the needs your library and families.
  3. You’re the expert: Very few people have experience with the crowds of little ones we handle on a regular basis.  So when the photographer wants 15 minutes of posed group shots with your toddlers, or your VIP wants to read a chapter from his favorite book to your lap-sit storytime, you are the one best positioned to offer alternatives.
  4. Communicate: Make sure that library management is informed, and that frontline staff, including pages and volunteers, are prepared and understand how their routines might change.  Help your team be as strong as possible when it gets crazy by keeping them in the loop.
  5. Have a plan:  They will be late. Or it will rain and your families won’t show. Be prepared with a plan, and make sure your VIPs and their representatives know it ahead of time.  How long can you wait for them to show? Where will your guest’s entourage and the press sit? Work out the details (and have a backup storytime ready) in advance.
  6. Be flexible: It’s never going to go how you plan.  The author is going to show up with a special throne that they want to sit on.  The representative will forget to show kids the pictures in the book. The basketball player won’t know the words to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Keep it positive and go with flow.

Your library is a VIP too.  That’s why they came to you. Your guests see your value, and it’s a credit to the hard work you’ve done to build a loyal audience.  So give yourself a pat on the back, and share any of your tips or experiences for successful VIP visits below.

Brooke Sheets is the senior librarian  at Los Angeles Public Library’s Children’s Literature Department and is writing this post for the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee.

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