A huge benefit of maternity leave during a pandemic is virtual library programs. And as a children’s librarian myself it can be a little bit of professional development and really a lot of fun for my children and I. Here are some of my observations after watching dozens of Zoom storytimes across the United States. There are many different platform options, which you can read about here but today we’re focusing on Zoom.
Numbers are always important and counting participants can be difficult in a digital environment. Here are some of the methods I’ve seen.
- Registration: in the registration form, participants have a section to put how many people will be attending the storytime.
- Chat box: the facilitator encourages participants to type how many people are attending in the chat box
- Eyeball: The facilitator will try to see how many screens/ individuals are participating and add that to their chat.
- Poll: A Zoom poll will pop up for participants to enter how many people are in their party.
Reminders and Links
Reminder e-mails and links can get difficult and dicey. Some institutions have participants register through Zoom and the link gets sent immediately. Other registrations are done through Google Forms or Evanced and links are sent the morning of the program or days before. Some programs allow for registration for an entire session at once, while others have individual registration. Some Zoom links stay the same, while others are unique every week. The one consistent trend: always having a passcode to prevent Zoom bombings! I’ve found that it is definitely helpful to receive a Zoom link the morning of the program so it’s on top of my e-mail inbox and also reminder e-mails that don’t have the Zoom link can get complicated.
I’ve seen a variety of enrichment for different storytimes and I think this can really add engagement with participants.
- Rhymes- Some libraries e-mail storytime outlines after the program so individuals can repeat the rhymes at home with their kids.
- Storytime kits- Many libraries offer storytime kits that individuals can pick up at the library. These could be one per a session with items like a scarf or an egg shaker, or rotate every week with a craft that goes with the specific storytime theme.
- Google Drives- One library has a full Google drive available for participants to see the weekly powerpoints and any other supplemental information or resources from each storytime.
It can be difficult to engage participants over the virtual platform but I will say, all of the librarians are NAILING IT! Here are some different methods I have seen:
- Calling out names- Hello and goodbye songs that name individual participants can be a fun way to give kids a “shout out.” Many times staff encourages participants to rename themselves to the child’s name or put the kids name and then the caregivers name in parenthesis.
- Props- As mentioned before, some libraries give out storytime kits with scarves or shakers. I’ve also received e-mails telling us to bring a scarf, or dish-towel or any form of instrument. One fun librarian the other day encouraged us to use any object in the room that was a specific color!
- Camera and audio- Libraries have varying policies for if camera or audio is available. Many times we are muted for the majority of the program, but asked to unmute for specific songs or activities or at the end for a bit of “chatting time.” A lot of times librarians encourage kids to make different hand motions to participate. Also some families prefer to not have their webcam on, and that has been allowed in all the storytimes I’ve attended.
Many libraries have a second staff member in the Zoom storytime, monitoring the chat, muting anyone as needed and letting in attendees. This individual oftentimes has the webcam off, and it named Admin, or the name of the library. I know not all libraries have the staff availability for this, but it can definitely help everything run smoothly.
Virtual and Zoom storytimes are a constantly evolving work in progress and as my blogger friend Chelsey says catastrophes happen! I am here to say EVERYONE IS DOING A GREAT JOB! My kids may not know what in-person storytime is for a long, long time- but that doesn’t stop their love of storytime and amazing librarians. Thank you for all that you do.
This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of III. Programming Skills
Lina Crowell, Warren County Library, Belvidere, NJ
Thank-you for your support! I have been doing virtual storytime since last spring and it has been a challenge in several ways. At first I was doing it on Facebook Live, but it was hard to track attendance and the only possibility of interaction was through written comments, which happened sporadically. In January we moved storytime to Zoom. Attendance soared! And it’s fun to chat with the kids whom I haven’t seen in person since last March. We are taking registration for a month at a time and putting together craft kits that can be picked up curbside for the month (we are currently closed for in-person visits). After reading your post, I think I will start including words for the rhymes and fingerplays in the kit, too. For attendance, I am using the eyeball method and assuming there is an adult participating as well since someone would have to set up the program. Fortunately, I know about half of the families who attend and know how many children they have, and we ask for the number of children when registering.
An advantage to virtual programming I have noticed is that it’s easier for parents who may have an infant at home to attend virtually when some days they may not have been able to get to the library in person. This could also be good for days when children are sick and wouldn’t come to the library. Also, I have been introduced to patrons from other branches and others whom I haven’t met previously. There are some disadvantages, too. Although I haven’t run into internet issues myself, I know others who have had this problem. It is hard to pay attention to the waiting room while also running the program, but if I wait a few minutes before officially starting most people make it in and I try to keep an eye on the waiting room notification. Other than that, my biggest problem is that on storytime days I am working from home and my cat loves Zoom meetings.