Guest Blogger

Virtual Storytime Best Practices

Julie Crabb speaking to the virtual audience while holding a ukulele

For many youth services professionals, storytime is our bread and butter; marmalade and jam. When moving online, best practices, including accessibility, content diversity, and early literacy skill building need to remain at the forefront of our minds. We move forward with intentionality when selecting materials and other content using those best practices we have cultivated over time as a profession. Soon, the ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Resource Guide will go live. In it, you will discover tips and resources for creating meaningful moments of screen time for young audiences. As many of us have found out, virtual storytime is not the same as an in-house experience. Nor should it be.

Siloed in a portion of your home or within an empty library, you may have found yourself presenting storytime to the tiny circular hole where your device’s camera lives. No smiling, squirmy toddlers or caregivers on their smartphones are with you, but I think we all know that they are still there. Our normal storytime routines must be adapted, additional considerations thought through, and we have to work together to discover a new set of best practices. This new set of skills will feel familiar because they are based on what we already do. Some adaptations may feel uncomfortable while others will inform decisions we make for the future of storytime.

Here are a few storytime adjustments to consider before your next big moment online:

Content Selection

  • How will the book look on film? Glossy pages can give a nasty glare on screen and some illustrations appear blurry. Look for books with vibrant and clear illustrations.
  • Keep in mind current events. Take a second look at actions that involve touching the face, text that includes hugging strangers, or activities that involve food. Every caregivers outlook and situation is different right now and we need to be mindful of that.


  • Practice everything while recording! This practice session is where you find out that your text is backwards or that turning into a tall tree chops your arms off in the frame.
  • Look at your audience! Yes, for most of us, that audience is a tiny camera on a small device. Eye contact is important in a virtual storytime world. Tape a brightly colored arrow next to your camera as a reminder until you get used to it.

Management & Messaging

  • Yes, you will need to fake audience participation in your mind. Those points of silent interaction make these experiences meaningful for kiddos at home. Pepper in questions and pause longer than you think you need to.
  • While you may not be able to see possible crowd control issues, they are still happening during your storytime. Don’t forget those management strategies you normally use and adapt them to this virtual world. Continue to help children build those crucial executive function skills by using transitions, stop/go activities, and reminders about directions.
  • We truly hope that grownups are interacting during a virtual storytime right next to their kiddo. Encourage that positive behavior! Make an aside to the adults, let them know why you are doing what you are doing, and remind them that their participation is important in their child’s development.

Many of us moved our storytimes online quickly. It was an emergency response. We jumped to provide an important service. Many of us will be continuing this virtual programming for months, if not longer. Now is the time to make sure we are set up for success. Watch other virtual storytimes for clues on what works. Reach out and ask those impressive presenters for their secrets. Consider your goals and how you will measure success. Most importantly, be sure to check out the ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Resource Guide. It will be a living document that will help us all navigate this complicated and always evolving service.

Without taking the time to consider the big questions and change your routine for an adapted set of best practices, virtual storytime services become reactionary pieces of what could be. Let’s take the time.

Julie CrabbJulie Crabb is a Children’s Guide for Anythink Libraries, serving Adams County, Colorado. She also serves as a Joint Chief for Storytime Underground. Drop her a line at Images courtesy of Anythink Libraries. Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

This post addresses all seven ALSC Competencies for Librarians Serving Children in Public Libraries. 

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