From mid-March through July 2020, the Early Learning team of the Salt Lake County Library (18 branches)–Susan Spicer, EL Team Manager, and Tami Austin, EL Senior Librarian and certified Yoga instructor–lead a team of librarians that created 97 Facebook Live Storytimes, including 12 Bedtime Stories & Songs with special guests from museums and other community organizations and 18 Yoga Storytimes. They also offered weekly interactive virtual storytimes starting in June. I had the opportunity to interview these EL programming stars and ask them about the technology they used and how they faced the challenges of suddenly going online with their ages 0 to 5 programming.
TB: So, what kind of equipment and recording devices have you been using and what seems to work the best?
TA: Well, I cry a lot. Does that count?
TA: Susan knows, she’s like “why are you so grumpy?” This is not my skill at all. So, a side story–two weeks ago I was really frustrated and nothing was working, and then it was the end of the workday, so I went to Overdrive to get a book for [myself] and Overdrive didn’t work, and I’m like “why does nothing ever work for me,” and my partner is like “because you took up quilting as a hobby ten years ago” so, this [focus on technology] was not even an interest. That is my aside, my caveat.
(This is a long interview so headings and a table of contents have been added.)
- Interview start
- Technology Training
- Working with Partners
- Tips & Tricks
TA: Yesterday I got a brand new laptop, I’m so excited! I had a really old laptop and I felt like it worked okay for Facebook [Live] Storytime but it did not have the processing capability for recording and editing. So, I would suggest a nicer laptop, Windows 10 compatible.
I do [use] this kind of boring speaker and my [wireless] headset. I put the speaker right next to my laptop because if I’m doing yoga storytime, I’m always turning around, and that way the sound always comes [through.]
Susan and I are [now] making videos for Ready for Kindergarten, and I’m going to use my phone. I feel like the phone camera is one of the best cameras. Just yesterday I got a – not a tripod – it’s got a clippy thing and a gooseneck that I can hook my phone on to, so I can do a bird’s eye view of stuff. But the problem with phones – and I could be wrong about all this – this is all new stuff that I’ve sort of learned – the microphone for a smartphone is not great, while the microphone on my laptop is pretty good. So I’ve also got a cheap microphone, just to get started. I’ll be using the microphone when I record with my phone, does that make sense?
TA: Okay. So I record bigger things on my laptop, where you need to see all of me–yoga storytime I do all on the laptop–but when I’m coming up close, I’m reading a book, or I’m recording activities and I want them to see what I’m doing, I’m going to use my phone. Everything I’ve read [says] phone cameras are pretty good these days.
TA: I didn’t have any software I really knew how to use, but I’ve found two that I really like. One of our branch librarians recommended software called HitFilm Express. It’s free and that’s where I do all my editing. I upload all my pieces and then I edit. It has way more stuff than I have utilized yet, but if you’re just a beginner it’s really good, and it has a lot of room to grow.
My old laptop didn’t even have a way to record video, the camera would pop up if you were like in a Zoom meeting, but there was no access to it to record. So, my stepson had me download a software called Streamlab. It’s recording software and I think it does okay. It records in MP4 format for me, so I can record all my little clips when I’m recording on my laptop.
TA: What did I miss Susan? The point is there are tons! You need tons of stuff! And it’s not intuitive! And if it’s not your thing, it’s a really steep learning curve.
SS: I think Tami did a really great job of talking about the actual technology. What I would add is that you don’t just need the technology, you need to know how to use it. One of the biggest challenges we have faced, with the many folks who are doing such great work for us, is just a lack of familiarity. We have had issues with mirroring. We have had issues with working from home, trying to stream can be really tricky for people. But I would say this–and I have talked to Tami about this a number of times–if you look at where we were on March 13 when we went home and where we are now, the learning curve and the performance of our team has been amazing and incredible. They have all done really really great work. But, I think we’ve learned a lot about training and helping people to use the technology they have properly.
TB: So what have you been doing for training, Susan? What’s your process now?
SS: Initially in the Spring, Tami and I would meet with folks on WebEx and try to walk them through the whole process. Then we just became resources. We would respond to different people in a way that met their needs. We did not try to wrangle everybody all at once because we knew that would be impossible. We also didn’t want to add too much stress and [to make it] seem like it had to be perfect. In Early Learning we always want folks to believe they can do exactly what we’re doing at home. We’re not fancy, so [there is] a lot of talking people through it, and that’s where I realized we had to have a moderator. We need to have someone to cheer them on right then and there [during the program.]
TB: You are saying that you have a moderator in both your Facebook Live and your virtual interactive storytimes. Is what they do different on different platforms?
SS: No. You answer questions, you cheer the kids on, [say] good job, you know, that kind of thing.
TB: What is the difference between doing Facebook Live versus recorded videos for Ready for Kindergarten?
TA: I feel like we have three different types of programs going on.
We’ve got the Facebook Live storytime, which is really similar to a regular storytime. The two things that I see really different are that I can’t dance, because there’s just no room, so I miss that aspect. You pretty much have to stay in one spot, which is pretty much [the same for] all the virtual stuff. And then second, there’s no feedback. It’s just like this storytime void in the universe. I don’t love that part, because part of what I like is seeing the kids and interacting, but it is what it is. It’s Facebook Live, so it stays up on your Facebook feed. It really pops up and stays. One of our branch librarians says it’s a little like improv, if you mess up, keep going and then you’re done. I still get a tiny bit nervous, but not so much, because I have no idea if someone is making a yucky face at me, I can’t see it. So it’s just putting it out there and you’re done; that’s Facebook Live.
Then we have our interactive virtual programs. We were doing storytime on WebEx but we did a little survey in July and a couple of people said, “Can we use Zoom instead?” I think your average person doesn’t really use WebEx. Zoom is pretty well known, so we’re switching to Zoom.
TB: I did not know that.
TA: It’s still a little challenging because kids are loud, and virtual loud is way more traumatic than storytime in a room loud. It’s a flow of muting and un-muting because I ask a lot of questions, but if their brother is crying in the background it’s way more painful than when you’re in a room. So that’s our WebEx, and we’ve been doing that on Thursdays since June. Is that right, Susan? June? We’re still learning a lot of stuff, but I feel like we’ve come a long way. You almost need a moderator there as well because when I’m doing it, if someone comments, I can’t even get [to] that right and I feel you almost have to be even more on it, or you lose them faster than in a regular room.
So today, we’re going to do Ready for Kindergarten this afternoon and it’s interactive and live. Then I record my Yoga Storytime that goes up on Facebook on Saturday. And then we’re recording videos for our Ready for Kindergarten Youtube [channel.]
- Interview start
- Technology Training
- Working with Partners
- Tips & Tricks
TB: When you’re doing your Yoga Storytimes, Tami, I know that you’re doing books and big large movements, how are you incorporating both of those together?
TA: You can get a little dizzy. (laugh.) No, that’s where I needed my editing software so, so bad. I come up really close and I sing my welcome song, do a little meditation, and read my book. Then I go to my mat and do the poses. My mat is actually [on the floor] behind me, so you can see my whole body. That’s where I edit out those transitions as I’m moving back and forth. And then for my ending, I’m usually sitting on my mat, and I’ve brought the laptop close to me. I sit criss-cross applesauce and film so you can just see me there. Then we draw and sing some ending songs. This would never work live. It would just not work because it’s such a huge back and forth. Well, I guess some people do it. I know yoga teachers that do it, but that one has been easier to record. Oh, the one nice thing about Facebook is once it’s done it’s DONE. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist and when I record, I record and I record and I record it, and I finally have to say, that’s enough. But [when] Facebook’s done, it’s done.
Working with Partners
TB: Susan, when you’re working with the partners for the Bedtime Storytime, what do you have to do to make that work?
SS: It’s a lot of conversation and I have developed a form that I give them. It’s not really a form, it’s a letter. Once they agree they’ll participate, I send them [the] letter with all the things I need from their video. And when they get it they panic. They absolutely panic. I get texts, emails, etc. and then we meet again. I don’t tell them this will happen; I just wait until they panic. Then I say, this is totally normal and we practice doing a storytime together. I show them, this is how you do this, [hold the book], and mirroring, and I really encourage them to have a friend, whether it’s a dog or their kiddo. It’s just so much better if you can do it with another warm body.
Then they send it to me, and I do some editing, like Tami. I was very indulged when I got my job and they gave me a MacBook Pro, so I have iMovie. All the software Tami’s talking about, I don’t need that, I already have that on my computer. I was already very familiar with iMovie, so I am able to add a slide to offer the partner’s really good marketing and show their logo, different things like that. I always thank them and provide publishing information on the book as well.
I will tell you that the people that have really done just a fabulous job are our friends at the Natural History Museum and Clark Planetarium. The guests that are the best are the people that are like, “I’m just going to go for it.” They’re not [acting] like opportunists. I do remind them a lot, we’re not trying to create a polished, super luxurious appetizer. I use the opportunity to share the importance of early learning skills.
SS: But I will tell you that it doesn’t really matter, Tina, whether it’s a partner or one of our colleagues, there’s a lot of anxiety about going on camera and the only way you get people through that anxiety, well, it’s just love. “You’re okay, you’re great, this looks so good.” I mean, truly and honestly, that’s the only thing, you know.
TB: That’s great advice, thanks Susan.
TB: Susan, what accessibility options have come across your table as you’ve been doing this?
SS: With everything on Facebook, people have the option to use subtitles. They’re not great, but people can turn them on and we know that people are doing that because they’ve reached out and said, “thank you, thank you so much, this is awesome, we really appreciate it, we use subtitles.” We have heard from folks who have kids with disabilities, that maybe couldn’t attend a traditional program. This program works really well for them. We don’t ask, “what is your disability,” we just don’t. But there are a couple of folks who have reached out and shared [that] their child has some increased risk that makes coming to storytime really difficult for their little ones. I have had a mom who shared that her child is experiencing, he’s somewhere on the spectrum, that this works really well for him. I just listen to what they share and thank them for coming. But, that would be a really great survey question to ask–in a way that we wouldn’t violate any kind of HIPPA laws. I’m almost wondering if we could ask, does your child experience any challenges, but that would be–I just can’t find the right wording, so all I have is anecdotal evidence.
TB: Maybe you could use the word frustration, “Is there anything your child finds frustrating about storytime.”
SS: Yeah, I would totally like that. But the feedback is 99.99% positive, not a lot of detail, just, “we love what you’re doing.”
TB: That’s great.
Tips & Tricks
TB: Okay, any last tips or tricks that you’d like to share?
SS: I would recommend that folks really practice in front of an open WebEx or Zoom window, or record a video, and just watch themselves. I would also just remind people that you’re probably not really gonna love seeing yourself, but the people we serve love us so much. For those little kiddos, in this moment of–I mean, I don’t know what else could happen, Tina, I really don’t but I’m sure something will–I think it’s reassuring to see your librarian. We got the greatest feedback from one of Tami’s WebEx parents, who said, “my child does not have the ability to interact with other adults during this time and coming to WebEx storytime when Tami knows their name and she is very thoughtful about engaging with them…” For those kiddos that really means a lot, thinking of it that way might be a way to help release some of that anxiety.
I do recommend that they [librarians] survey to find out what resource, or what format, the customers are comfortable using. Zoom was a big surprise to us, but it was an easy fix to manage. I mean, obviously we’re still learning about Zoom.
As far as any other tips, I would highly recommend they have a moderator. It’s just so helpful. And, really, just being thoughtful about how big are the pictures in your book, do you have mirroring, all those things that you would normally practice for normal storytime. You probably have to practice a couple of times.
TB: I wouldn’t have even thought of that, that you have to mirror your camera so the kids see the book pages in the right order.
TA: Yeah, it’s been a pretty reoccurring big deal and if you’re on Facebook the patrons will complain a little bit in their comments. But I mean, it’s kind of important, you know. And I would second Susan’s practice, for Facebook Live, I practice going live on my own personal page, so I know all the buttons and click through. I just say, “hi, I’m practicing,” and when I’m done I delete it. I also practice going live on Zoom and WebEx. Today, I want to share my screen, which always makes me nervous, so I just open up my own room and get in there and practice sharing. I always know if it doesn’t work [I have] to just keep going and that’s like a regular storytime, right?
SS: Yes, and Tina, the amazing thing is that the progression of skill in this limited period of time has been incredible. Really hats off to people, because librarians, they like to figure stuff out and they are certainly doing that with this and learning.
TB: Well, thank you so much both of you, I really appreciate your willingness to be interviewed. I think this information will really help people.
Today’s post was written by Tina Bartholoma, a Senior Librarian of Outreach and Programming for the Salt Lake County Library. She has 14 years of experience as a youth services librarian and recently added an M.Ed, with a focus on instructional design and educational technology, to her MLS.
This blog addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.