You’ve made it! You actually survived the application process and phone interview. Now you have that opportunity to shine in front of a real audience of some library staff. Perhaps the library has assembled some families with young children. This final interview for the children’s library job you want includes a storytime audition.
Having been on the giving and receiving ends of these mini-events, begs the question; what makes a good story time? Hiring managers want to know, and so do hands-on administrators who want to the best possible staff. Being the former, and faced with the requirement to prepare the later for what they will observe, I needed a way to make sense of it all. I needed something to validate my emotional reaction that said, “This is the person we should hire!”
None of what follows is particularly original on my part, but rather an amalgam of stuff learned the hard way over the last three decades. There is no good reason for the latest generation of children’s practitioners to have to go through that, so up front here is what I look for when hiring.
It comes down to five basic components: Story Choice, Storytelling Preparation, Opening and Closing Routines, Story Presentation, and Songs/Rhymes/Finger Plays/Activities.
Story Choice. If you are going to use a theme, choose books that well illustrate that theme. Even if themes are not your approach, find books where the images are simple, uncluttered, and easy for a child to interpret. Don’t’ forget that a good text to illustration ratio. That and text complexity will vary not only with the audience’s age, but their level of attentiveness. Have options at hand to accommodate the rambunctious as well as sedate crowd. Choose books adaptable to dialogic reading should your audience be amenable to discussions. Choose books appropriate to a group setting. The perfect title for one-on-one sharing may not pan out for a large audience.
Storytelling Preparation. Be familiar with the text of the stories. Sure, you have the book at hand, but real comfort with the flow of it all pays off. Have some questions ready to ask the children or images to point out. Figure out if and what props are needed, and use them to expand upon the stories.
Opening and Closing Routines. Find the songs, rhymes, chants, etc. that personally appeal to you and know well and in variation. If you use a theme, make sure those routines help explain what’s going to happen and what just did.
Story Presentation. Involve the children in the stories, speak clearly, and try to focus on each child. Pay due regard to the idiosyncrasies of each individual child and their ages. Two audiences with an identical age range will invariably have a different energy and reactions to your presentation – adapt. To the best of your ability, use different voice, inflections, and sounds to reflect the characters and actions of the stories. This returns us to the value of familiarity with all aspects of the stories used.
Songs/Rhymes/Finger Plays/Activities. Use them to transition between components, elaborate on a story, or tie into a theme. Just like the books, choose something age-appropriate, and which enhance learning by repetition.
So you might ask, how has this all turned out? Well, in recent years, our library has used this rubric to hire some wonderful colleagues. Even our practicum students, with whom we share this, continue to shine in their newfound workplaces.
Now go forth and wow them!
Mike Rogalla is the Children’s Services Manager at the Champaign Public Library in Illinois. He is writing this post for the Early Childhood Programs and Services Committee. If you have any questions, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.