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Second Generation Librarian.

So, 15-20 min. after getting all of the kids together, reading books, jumping around, and saying goodbye, I’m pumped on adrenaline and sweaty and embarrassingly out of breath. This is where also I run into the other stumbling block in the process besides actually making the mini-mes sit down: Parents are usually thrilled that we offer such a service, but I inevitably get the question “when do we have to come for you to do this again?” Explaining the spontaneous nature of the “on-demand” story time, how it differs from scheduled story times, and the reasons behind offering the service is quite difficult.

And it’s not all spontaneous fun and impromptu games – we do have a quota to fill. 20 Storytimes On Demand per month. Eeeesh. At my branch, besides myself, we have one full-time information associate, and two part-time information associates dedicated to Children’s Services. This usually means that the information associates do one on-demand per shift and I help out and even though the quota seems lofty, we’ve able to not only meet, but exceed it on several occasions.

While this is probably mainly to ensure that all of the branches are pulling equal weight on this new service endeavour, I’m not sure if we as a public service institution should be putting a number on services. What happens to the value of a particular service, (especially one so reliant on enthusiasm as story times), if we institute limits based on quantity and not quality? Or at least not one that’s so high that we’re scraping to find appropriate books to read and children for whom to read. Thennn there’s all of the implications for desk time, break time, etc. whew! That being said, we’re still in discussion as to what is the best practice for this service and what is most profitable in terms of customer experience and our service mandates.

There’s also the question as to whether this is, as librarians, what we should be focusing our energy on doing. When I was home for the holidays, my parents had their annual Librarian Spaghetti Dinner (I’m a second generation librarian) and we had a bunch of awesome librarians over for carbs and wine. One of the lovely ladies and gentlemen to grace our table was my former boss at Bloomfield Township Public Library, who I love, adore and use as a model for the way a department should be managed.  I’ve told her a bit about these storytimes on demand, and while she’s not an “old-school” librarian by any means, she was a bit hesitant about whether or not the service actually fit into a model of library service. Her (very good) point was that as librarians, we are not there for entertainment purposes, but to serve our communities by providing information-based services (including storytimes) rather than song and dance routines. (I do apologize if I’m paraphrasing awfully – I was a few glasses of wine into dinner when I had this conversation).

So is it “Do the storytime and they will come?” or “They will come, so do the storytime?”

My answer would be a bit of both. (I know, I know, do I ever have an opinion that isn’t based on compromise?) True: We provide scheduled storytimes and it is in our best interest to focus our energies on ensuring that these are of the highest quality and truly promote reading and literacy awareness because we have the education and the knowledge to make them of greater value than a simple “song-and-dance.” Also true: The nature of libraries and the services provided therein are changing and we have to be willing to try new things. (Please note: I do not believe that “relevancy” is an issue when it comes to early literacy – but … that’s another blog post in itself). And we can use our statistics for on-demand as feedback for how we could schedule our “official” storytimes to better serve our community. Basically, it’s my belief that these traditional and informal programs can coexist and possibly even help us to improve library services with reasonable expectations and best practices in place of course. 🙂

As a children’s librarian, I believe that education about literacy and promotion of reading and books is a fundamental part of my job and I should try to do that however and whenever possible. This is especially crucial in terms of school-age kids: We have a whole curriculum for storytimes specifically for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, but beyond age 5 the children in my system are so overly-scheduled that they usually participate solely in the educational programs at the library rather than good, old-fashioned, free storytimes. So, realistically speaking, there’s little demand, but it doesn’t mean it’s not important! And perhaps these brief quick-and-dirty storytimes aren’t the most fulfilling pedagogically speaking, but if I can randomly squeeze in 15 more minutes of book-time into the day for these kids, why not? Moral of the story(time): I can’t make parents bring their kids to storytime, but I sure as hell can bring the storytime to the kids.

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