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Family Engagement During Storytime: Shifting from Performer to Early Literacy Facilitator

Welcome to Ask ALSC, where the Managing Youth Services Committee asks leaders in children’s libraries to share their response to an issue or situation.  We hope to showcase a range of responses to topics that may affect ALSC members. If you’d like to respond to today’s topics, or suggest a topic for the future, please leave a comment.

The staff conducting story time at the public library had a problem.  No matter how engaging story times, no matter how much effort expended, no matter how many puppets were used, families at the back of the story time room were looking at their cell phones, talking to other adults, or reading books.  Generally, adults were ignoring the storyteller.  While in and of themselves those behaviors were not abhorrent, great effort was being expended and the storyteller expected the attention of everyone in the room.  To help alleviate the frustration of being ignored, our staff began to discuss family engagement, an essential predictor of a child’s preparation for school (Clark, 2007).

Our story time staff embraced the role of the library in offering early literacy experiences to children in our community.  We designed developmentally appropriate programming, using engaging professional materials.  We followed blog posts of leaders in the field and read professional literature.  We received national certification indicating our library understood how to engage young children and used the knowledge in our programming efforts.  Although we saw evidence of children participating in activities recognized to build early literacy, adult attendees remained passive once their children were old enough to interact with our staff.  Yet, for maximum impact the early literacy strategies would have to be repeated during times the children were not at the library.  Change was clearly needed.

We began to reflect on our story times, easily identifying the activities most effective at engaging young children.  However, we struggled to identify ways to engage families.  It was soon clear; we had few or no strategies.  Further, we were unable to clearly articulate the behaviors that would indicate families were engaged.

We used IDEABOOK: Libraries for Families to identify desired positive outcomes for children, families, and the library.  We began to plan ways families could interact with their children during the course of story time.  This planned time allowed adults to practice the early literacy building skills we ourselves were employing as story teller.

We began to use a proactive approach to planning for family engagement and the results became clear.  Families engaged with their children using strategies we knew to be effective at building early literacy.

It also became clear that interactions designed to encourage families to practice these strategies
shifted the role of the story teller from performer to early literacy facilitator.

Using the lense of the 5Rs Framework from ALA, the process to engage families in story time programming was then expanded. Identifying ways families can learn the plethora of skills professional librarians use to engage children was our first key step.  Allowing adults time to practice building skills during story time was absolutely necessary and increased efficacy of the strategies.

Embracing the participation of family members during planned programming took a cognitive shift over time, yet was highly effective.  The results were consistent.  The engagement of families strengthened the impact of library services within the community, allowing for identifiable qualitative outcomes for children, families, and the library.

Today’s blog post was written by Tammie Benham, Youth Services Consultant at Southeast Kansas Library System in Iola, Kansas, on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. She can be reached at 

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of III. Programming Skills (4) and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development (2).

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