Blogger Chelsey Roos

Zoom Storytime Catastrophes and Other Online Disasters

An incomplete list of things that have gone wrong in my Zoom storytimes:

  • My internet went out
  • I played a song too loudly on the ukulele, which led to Zoom automatically turning down my volume, which led to no one being able to hear me when I began to read the next book
  • I completely forgot the chords to a song I have known for at least five years (see also: things that have gone wrong in my in-person storytimes)
  • A child burst into tears over being muted after interrupting too many times
  • A child drew all over the screen share when annotations were accidentally turned on
  • A caregiver accidentally took over the screen-share (luckily only displaying emails and spreadsheets), while I went into a panic over getting control back
  • We belatedly discovered our new event registration software allowed patrons to register for Zoom events with only a phone number, and no email or other digital contact information to send a link to (deep sigh)

This is not the librarian job I imagined

Chelsey smiling and waving at the camera with her ukulele, at the beginning of Zoom storytime.
Putting on a happy face for Zoom storytime is a lot harder for me than doing so in-person

To say that the last year has been a learning experience is to look through a very rosy lens indeed. Zoom storytime was never going to feel the same to me as regular storytime. All my favorite parts of storytime (pretending to bite giggling toddlers with a sheep puppet, demonstrating lap bounces with a loaner baby, leading a parade of children like the Pied Piper with my bubble wand) are not possible over Zoom. I will fully admit that my favorite part of storytime, and being a children’s librarian in general, is performing to a delighted audience. It does not feel the same when that audience is behind a screen. A fundamental part of my work is gone, and has been replaced by something that just doesn’t bring me the same delight. That doesn’t make it bad or useless, but it does change how I feel about my work.

The same is true for our other online programs. I can send families home with a maker kit, but it’s not the same as cheering kids on when they finally get their boat to float, their bridge to stand, or their penguin parachute to land on the target. I even find myself missing my struggle to rein in my book club kids, who on Zoom are perfectly behaved – but in-person, cause me to sigh and say, “Could we please stop climbing under the table/lifting our chairs over our heads/reading all the readalikes and actually discuss the book for five minutes?” When we were finally able to discuss the book, those discussions were always more passionate and engaging than those we have over video.

However, there have still been bright sides:

  • Several of my Zoom storytimes kiddos now show off their own ukuleles and kiddie guitars (and in one case, laboriously drag in their grown-up’s full-sized guitar), something that would have been too noisy and difficult at an in-person storytime
  • I’m able to see and get to know families from across my entire county system, instead of just the families at my regular branch
  • Zoom’s chat feature allows families to discretely chime in with questions or requests that they often are too shy to ask in-person

My library first closed to the public on March 17, and has been closed ever since. I have no idea when we might open again, let alone when we might program in-person again. If the last nine (ten? eleven?) months have taught me anything, it’s that things I thought I had completely mastered, like storytime, might have to be redesigned – and not to take it personally when my internet connection drops at entirely the wrong moment!

Today’s guest blogger is Chelsey Roos. Chelsey has been a member of ALSC’s Advocacy and Legislation committee, and is currently a children’s librarian at the Castro Valley Branch of the Alameda County Library.

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of III. Programming Skills


  1. Kelly Doolittle

    Oh Chelsey, I can TOTALLY relate. Thanks for posting! Posts like these keep me laughing and feeling not-so-alone.

    We don’t have the chat on our videos – they are all prerecorded, then put up on Youtube with no comments allowed, and I really miss the feedback. (I don’t miss having to understand even MORE about the technology to have it, though!) I do get feedback occasionally when the families come in for Lobby Days, and that is so wonderful!

    Hang in there, and keep laughing and enjoying your current work as best you can! We know it is still so important, as the families keep telling us when we do see them!

  2. Anne Friederichs

    Chelsey and Kelly, I completely relate! I so miss having the faces in front of me! But we do the best we can, and keep waiting for the day to arrive that we can do them again. Katie, I’m like you, and we pre-record, so I’m trying to get more interactive as I go.

    Let’s all hang in there and keep laughing! 🙂

  3. Susan Deering-Punshon

    So refreshing and encouraging. All so relevant to us in the UK, too! Hope it’s ok for me to share with library friends who are doing Zoom storytimes/Rhymetimes.
    Keep having fun, and keep it real!

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