Blogger Liza Purdy

The Art of Storytime Part 1: Singing

Storytime is *the* essential art form of children’s librarians and leading it is one of my favorite, life-giving activities. I have been doing storytime since 1999, during my mandated internship. MLIS programs were a lot different before online classes were an option. I had lots of mentors to guide me as I learned the ropes. I got hands-on direction and correction from my professors, and I got to watch my fellow students’ learning processes as well. I had wonderful librarians who took me under their wing during my internship. Because so many MLIS programs are now exclusively online, there are many new librarians with great storytime theory, but not a whole lot of practice.

I’m going to write a series here in the ALSC blog on the Art of Storytime to try and convey what I think are the most important elements in making a good storytime experience for new librarians, and for the children and caregivers that they will serve. There’s nothing better than an awesome storytime. There’s nothing more cringey than a bad one.

This month, I will cover ways to prepare your voice to lead storytime songs. Next to good book selection, good music selection is one of the most essential ingredients in storytime. And always, live music is a better option than recorded for children’s learning experience.  You do not need to be a professional musician to bring live music to your storytimes! So many people think that they cannot sing, but in fact, they can. I have only met three truly tone-deaf people in my life. Mostly, people just lack confidence! Half of singing success comes from the belief that your voice is good enough to be heard.

Here’s how to get started:

Practice Singing

  1. Sing ALL THE TIME. Steep yourself in music. Not only is it a joy, but it will be the single most important activity that you can do to prepare. The more you sing, the stronger your voice will get, and crucially, the more comfortable you will get hearing your own voice. Each voice is unique. Very few of us will sound like Taylor Swift. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.
  2. Get enough breath. Your breath is what will allow you to sing nice long phrases without getting dizzy. Here’s a little video that explains how to breathe diaphragmatically. Breathing like this will help immensely, and it will also help keep you nice and calm while you’re singing!
  3. Warm up your voice! There are a million videos on YouTube that will take you through a wide variety of warm-up exercises. Find some that you like, and do them before you start singing! It will help put you “in the zone.”

Invest in Sound Systems and Microphones if You Can

  1. If you have a microphone available, please use it! You might think that microphones double the difficulty if you don’t have much experience leading group singing because then everyone can hear each vocal crack or warble. But believe me, amplification is miraculous. Leading songs with a microphone will save you from straining your voice. You don’t have to try to belt out a tune… you can just turn the volume up! Microphones cut through the normal undercurrent of noise that happens when small children are gathered together. Additionally, they are more inclusive for those who might be hard of hearing.
  2. If you are investing in microphones and a sound system, buy the most reasonably expensive one that you can afford. You don’t need to go top of the line, but you do get what you pay for in audio quality.
  3. If you have the option of a standing mic versus a headphone or lapel mic, go for the standing mic. Lapel mics drive me bonkers. Headsets that wrap around your ears and go right up to your mouth are AMAZING if they are very good quality, but those good quality ones are very expensive, and not usually workable for public library budgets. Lapel mics are generally fuzzy and difficult to work with. You will get the best sound with a standing mic.
  4. When you come into the room before storytime starts, please check that your mic is working properly. Borrow a co-worker to help. You want to be loud enough that you can be heard in the back of the room, but not so loud that you’re making crackly noises or blasting people’s ears out.

Next month we will tackle song selection, and tips for leading a group in singing. I’m really looking forward to writing this series! If you lead storytime, what are your best tips to get your voice ready?


  1. Emily

    My best tip is confidence! I’m NOT a singer outside of story time. Inside the library, you’ll hear preschoolers happily singing songs that I confidently taught them. Does it make my teen children cringe when I sing the same songs to them as I try out a new song at home? Of course it does – but they’re not my audience. Be confident in your ability to teach an adorable song to your adorable audience and you’ll go far.

    1. Liza Purdy

      Amen to that, Emily! Confidence is everything!

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