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Training Storytime 101

Welcome to Ask ALSC, where the Managing Youth Services Committee asks leaders in children’s libraries to share their response to an issue or situation.  We hope to showcase a range of responses to topics that may affect ALSC members. If you’d like to respond to today’s topics, or suggest a topic for the future, please leave a comment.

In public libraries, storytime is the bread and butter of children’s programming (and arguably, of all library programming). Much has been written on best practices for providing storytime, both on this blog and elsewhere. There are innumerable resources for those learning how to develop their storytime skills. But are there best practices for training others on how to present storytime? 

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As a supervisor, part of my responsibility is training new staff on planning and presenting youth programs, and storytime is both the most basic and yet also one of the most complex things to teach. For someone who is completely new to children’s services, it can be a daunting task: not only do I need to teach them the theory of early literacy practices and Every Child Ready to Read, but how to pick books and songs, how to capture the group’s attention, redirect disruptions and use transitions. Online classes and webinars are great tools, but nothing quite compares to having a storytime mentor to help you through the learning process. So here are the very general “best practices” I have refined over time that I use when training new staff:

  1. Specificity
    • When I first began learning about the Five Early Literacy Practices, most of what I learned was the general theory behind them, and why each was important for developing a child’s pre-reading skills. Most of the practical tips, however, were focused on what caregivers could do in the home, not necessarily how to apply them in storytime. Now I make a conscious effort when training new presenters not just to go over the theory, but give them practical and specific examples of how to put those concepts into practice in their storytime programs. While it may seem like common knowledge to experienced practitioners, our new staff don’t always have the same years of training and experience as we do.
  2. Shadowing
    • Observing others’ storytimes is maybe the most helpful practice on this list. Getting to watch an actual program in real time helps pull all the pieces of theory together into a cohesive form. Not only does the observer get to see the presenter put all of that study into practice, but they can also observe how they deal with the inevitable unexpected! I recommend that new storytime presenters see a wide range of storytimes, especially from a variety of current presenters. Everyone brings different styles and techniques to their storytimes, and seeing a variety of programs can give your staff lots of ideas of things to try themselves.
  3. Style
    • Something I emphasize when I talk to staff about creating their storytimes is that, after some time, they will develop their own style, and to lean into whatever makes their storytime unique. I think that when they start out, many staff feel that they have to emulate the energy and style of the presenters they observed. As I mentioned above, I encourage my staff to borrow and steal ideas and techniques from other presenters, but to always make their storytimes their own. My storytimes are noisy and energetic, but if their vibe is softer and more zen-like, that’s great! Children are all different and respond to different things. Encourage your staff to let their personality shine in their storytimes, and they will find an audience who loves their programs.
  4. Practice!
    • I frequently tell my staff that the only reason I’m good at what I do now is because I made many mistakes in the past. Eventually, the only way your staff can get better at presenting storytime… is by presenting storytime! Offer whatever support your staff finds useful when they start, whether that’s going over the storytime plans with them, co-presenting for a few weeks, or just being in the room offering moral support. The more they practice, the more experience and confidence they will gain.

What other tips would you give supervisors and managers who are training new staff to present storytimes? What was helpful to you when you first began your storytime journey? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!

Today’s blog post was written by Megan Jackson, a Regional Youth Services Supervisor for the St. Charles City-County Library in St. Charles, MO on behalf of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. She can be reached at mmjackson90@gmail.com. 

This blog relates to ALSC Core Competencies of VI. Administrative and Management Skills.

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