The State of Storytime

Also known as: how my library is handling virtual storytimes and outdoor in-person storytimes. I’ll be posting some themes coming up, but I wanted a catch-all blog post to explain how I’m actually doing storytimes right now.

Virtual Storytimes

Our library’s virtual storytimes are hosted via a live closed-room Zoom and registration is required to access the Zoom room. As of this moment in time, we have kept the same Zoom room for each ten-week (or thirteen-week) session of storytime without having any problems with Zoom bombing.

For additional security measures, we have the waiting room enabled AND an additional staff person in storytime to manage the waiting room/keep an eye on participant’s screens to make sure there’s no inappropriate behavior. (In storytime, the inappropriate behavior we’re mostly looking for is a friend taking the Zoom room with them to the bathroom. TRUE STORY, though it was a neighboring library’s storytime.)

[We’ve also done several sessions of pre-recorded videos that have posted to both Facebook and YouTube for families to watch on-demand. One series focused on rhymes and was a 3-5 minute video; the other was a flannelboard/prop/songs storytime that was a 25-30 minute video. I chose those activities because I wouldn’t be breaking copyright by leaving the videos up over time.]

In Storytime
Part of setting up a successful live virtual storytime is making sure participants know what to expect. After our hello song and hello rhyme, I lay out the expectations for participants, just like I would in-person, at the beginning of each Zoom storytime. My expectations are:

  1. Participants can turn their camera on or off as needed, depending on what’s going on in their space.
  2. Participants will always have their microphones muted so that everyone can hear me.
  3. It’s all right if kids move away from the screen to take a break during storytime — that’s age appropriate behavior!

Lastly, I also introduce the second staff member in storytime and remind participants that they can reach out via the chat if they are having any Zoom trouble.

Storytime Observations
I’ve definitely observed that I have a much slower pace in a Virtual Storytime than I do at traditional storytimes. Because of our virtual environment, I find that I’m bringing the book very close to the computer to point out small details and to make connections to day-to-day life. It’s almost like getting to do a lapsit WITH a group of kids.

Also, I try to incorporate tactile elements into storytime. I lead the group in different kinds of activities that ask them to find something in their home that represents the color that they want to say or guess. (Think of playing “Little Mouse, Little Mouse” on the flannelboard and instead of the kids shouting, they hold up the color they are thinking of!)

I do also have some families that really enjoy using the chat function. I often have a moment in storytime where I ask a question during a reading and I offer a couple of options to answer: “You can tell someone who is in the room with you or you can work together to type your answer to me in the chat”.

Lastly, I’ve been using polls in Zoom to get attendance numbers for the storytime. I ask that our participants count how many people (grown-ups) included watched storytime today. Options range from “2” to “6 or more”. I also have a “Preschool Class” option that includes my email address so the class can email me the number of students watching. As for non-responses (which happen every time!), the additional staff member counts the number of unique patron logins during the program. We subtract the number of poll answers from the total number of unique patron logins, then we multiple that number by two.

So: seven users answer the poll totaling 29, but there were nine unique screens so the number we report is 33.

I recognize that there’s a chance that we’re under-reporting numbers, but it’s the best I can do in a virtual environment where screens are optional!

In-Person Storytimes

I’m very fortunate that my library is directly against a city park AND that the library has an intergovernmental agreement with the Park District, which has allowed us to use a portion of the park for our outdoor storytime events. All I have to do is make sure they know the dates ahead of time so that no lawn/tree care is scheduled during storytime.

While I’m a naturally loud person and I have a lot of practice projecting my voice for a group of people, I’m still competing against the children in the playground, traffic, and a train that comes approximately ten minutes into storytime. So I got a voice amplifier and a wireless microphone to make my storytimes easier on my vocal cords.

For distancing, I have a piece of yarn measured out to ten feet and use that to space lawn flags in the grass so that households know where to sit to maintain distance between each other. I’m using ten feet because each spot is for a group of people and therefore they won’t all be able to sit at the center of each flag.

All of our storytimes at the library also have a second staff member, called a clerk, who attends storytime to collect attendance, welcome latecomers and direct them into the program, and to provide any additional support for the storytime presenter. This continued in my outdoor programs, which is lovely since there’s the added complication of the road.

Lastly, I have three teen volunteers who I position in a diamond shape (with me making the fourth point) around the storytime area. These volunteers hold up additional copies of the book that I’m reading so a household has the opportunity to turn and face a volunteer if they are having trouble seeing my copy of the book due to the distance from social distancing.

In Storytime
Because we’re outside, I am only using books, songs, and rhymes this summer. No flannelboards, puppets, or props since a) they aren’t big enough to see with the distance; b) they’re easily blown away (no, seriously, I had a whole flannelboard on an easel that fell at an outreach storytime years ago); and c) it’s a lot to manage.

I specifically chose big movement books that are designed for interactive, audience participation. (Think a lot of the books featured at my Shake, Shimmy, & Dance program.)

Storytime Observations
Outdoor storytimes definitely provide patrons with a great experience and it’s very nice seeing families again in-person. I feel like it’s the most “normal” I’ve felt in quite some time, even if these storytimes take a big effort to complete (seriously, masking while performing is…something!).

The library is asking for registration to make sure that we can safely distance our households. We are collecting registration two weeks in advance through our program software.


These are the storytime programs that are currently working for us! I truly don’t know what the future holds for storytime programming as we move back inside this fall and winter. From what I’ve read, there won’t be a vaccine for this age group until 2022. So, I’m just doing my best and waiting for science to come through!

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