I’m Not the Center of Storytime and That’s Okay

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt emotionally invested in storytime? *Raises Hand*

I’ve been reflecting the past few months on the special place storytime holds in my heart. This reflection has coincided with my journey to have a healthier balance between work and home life. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with being emotionally invested in my work. But I also think it’s helpful to check this investment against my own ego from time to time.

I came up with the following model as a way to help me see if my philosophy and my practice are in alignment. I started to ask myself: Who is the center of my storytimes? What information am I sharing and why? What is guiding my decision making when planning? To help me answer these questions I’ve framed storytime as The Great Connector. When I view storytime through this lens it helps me focus on the following three connections.

The key for me is staying in balance between these three areas. But what does being in balance look like? And perhaps more importantly, what does being out of balance look like? Here are some examples, though not all of these happen every single week. And by no means is it exhaustive. I’d love to hear your additions in the comments!

Connecting Families to the Library

Sharing information about library materials, programs, and other resources.

When I’m in BalanceWhen I’m Out of Balance
I put out books from different parts of the collection, including multilingual books, and book talk them regularly.

I advertise cool things we lend like musical instruments and connect them to a storytime activity.

I hang up posters featuring other library programs and events, and I look for things that relate to an identified group interest.

I bring in an iPad and demo how to find our storytime videos in 8 different languages on YouTube.

I refer to other library staff members by name and identify them as people who can help find books and get library cards.
I only read and feature English books in the room.

I rarely talk about any other programs besides storytime.

I neglect to mention other library services families can access during storytime breaks.

I try to personally handle all service interactions, even if that means taking over another staff member’s role.

I don’t take time to learn about adult programs that may be of interest to caregivers.

Connecting Families to Each Other

Making social connections and learning from different people.

When I’m in BalanceWhen I’m Out of Balance
I open the room early so families can come in and talk to each other.

I put out toys after storyime so families can stay and play together.

I include songs and rhymes that use names so everyone can get to know each other.

I encourage families to share a song from their childhood and teach it to the group.

I allow caregivers to make special announcements if they have a community resource to share.

I step back and allow conversations to happen between caregivers without being in the middle.

With small groups, we go around and share names and milestones each week.

I advertise community resources and events taking place outside the library.
I rush families in and out of the room (for whatever reason).

I never ask for group sharing of songs and stories.

I insert myself into all caregiver conversations.

I am unaware of useful community resources.

Connecting Families to Me

Developing community relationships as the children’s librarian.

When I’m in BalanceWhen I’m Out of Balance
I introduce myself by name every week.

I learn as many names of caregivers and little ones as I can and use them in and out of storytime.

I ask about things the kids are into and find books to recommend to match their interests.

I share things from my personal life as appropriate (i.e. This bubble wand? I got in on my recent trip to Disneyland. Oh you’ve been recently too?)

I listen attentively and empathetically to caregivers who are open to sharing their ups and downs.

I use the personal relationships I’ve built with families to inform future decision making around programs, collection development, etc.
I jump into storytime without introducing myself or getting to know the names of kids and caregivers.

I enter and leave the room as soon as possible to have limited interaction with families.

I avoid scheduling vacation because I don’t want anyone to do *my* storytimes except me.

I neglect to share valuable information I’ve learned about my community with other staff at my library.

This conceptual model helps me steer clear of making myself the Star of the Show. Yes, I am the person who plans and leads the group, but I am not the whole thing. It reminds me that the families – my local community – are the center of the program, and my efforts to plan and evaluate storytime should keep in mind the ways that I help build all of these types of connections. My hope is that in doing so I have a healthier relationship with work and the families at my library have a greater connection to the library, even if I’m not there.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

44 thoughts on “I’m Not the Center of Storytime and That’s Okay

  1. This post is so incredible and so important. I have been talking about a few of these “When I’m in Balance” points recently with coworkers and other librarian friends and I’m so glad to see them spelled out so perfectly here.

    Plus, “But I also think it’s helpful to check this investment against my own ego from time to time,” is a great reminder, especially when you’re in the middle of summer and riding the summer programming high.

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Jake. It’s nice to know others are thinking and talking about these things too. If you’ve got a summer programming high, ride that wave! I’m jealous πŸ™‚

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I am also passing it along to my coworkers. I am guilty of shuffling kids and caregivers in and out of my storytimes. I get lost in the hustle of the day to day life of a librarian and have to slow down to remember why I am here.

    1. Thanks for sharing it around, Matthew! I am totally guilty of this too, especially when I’ve got a full email inbox. Reflection has been a great way to help me re-align my priorities.

  3. Thank you for this post. It is a much needed and remarkable one. Your connection lens helped me take a look at my own ego and emotional investment (or lack of one) in regards to my storytimes. I resonate with so much of what you shared, especially not wanting to let anyone lead *my* storytimes! Lol, yes. I love how you organized your thoughts and listed the two sides of the connection seesaw. I see your goal of balancing connection versus ego as not only beneficial to our customers and community, but also to our own work/life and mental health. I am bookmarking this post to refer to easily and often.

    1. Thank you, Rosemary! If you think of other things that fit into these categories as you come back to this post please let me know. My list is not complete by any means.

  4. Our library is in the midst of a structural reorganization. As a result, myself and several of my coworkers are no longer running storytime. Speaking for myself, it’s been tough to let go of “my” program. This is a good reminder that we are here to serve our patrons as best we can, and this is not about me. πŸ™‚ Some of the new programmers have been shadowing my storytimes and I can now say that I’m excited for them instead of bitter for myself.

    1. Oh, Emily, that is so rough! I would be pretty sad if I had to let go of doing storytime too. I hope you are find ways to maintain those community relationships outside of storytime, even if it’s just helping people in the library. It’s really big of you to be able to change your mindset into support for your coworkers. That takes a lot of emotional work!

  5. I think this is a fantastic yet simple framework to help illuminate balance vs out-of-balance-ness. In all sorts of contexts — not only storytimes! Outside the workplace, too. I can already picture several other environments where I could gain insight from this practical tool, and realign myself.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your ongoing mentorship that encourages me to give voice to my ideas. Very grateful for you!

  6. Hi Lindsey,
    This is a great structure to sustainably rethink our role in storytime and our goals. When we first started implementing Every Child Ready to Read, this was when I shifted more from presenter to facilitator. This in turn brought up many questions in my mind about my own behaviors and perspectives, not only in including parents/caregivers, but also making them part of the larger whole. I have long been trying to figure out how to articulate what these shifts might mean for our storytimes and your construct is offers a tool that is both meaningful and adaptable to many situations.
    Thank you!
    Saroj

    1. That’s wonderful feedback to receive, Saroj! The intentionality and reflectiveness that’s at the forefront of your work has greatly influenced my ability to apply it to myself. I was thinking how this model also takes a lot of the pressure off of the storytime leader/facilitator to be ‘on stage.’ More and more I am interested in the ways storytime can be imagined as less of a performance and more of a community building experience with early literacy at its heart.

  7. Thank you for pulling back the curtain on this issue. I plan to share this with my coworkers! Those three questions are golden! “Who is the center of my storytimes? What information am I sharing and why? What is guiding my decision making when planning?” I appreciate your check and balance diagram. It really helps to see it all in black and white. I had recently been feeling overwhelmed and unfocused. I had a heavy burden to prioritize my thoughts. I grabbed a sticky note and divided it into quadrants titled work, family, health, and spiritual. I then listed my most important goals under each one. I felt more focused after clearing out the clutter in my brain, but I noticed that work was still reflected as the first thing on my mind. I think the model you’ve created is exactly what I needed to get me into proper alignment. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom. I’m doing much better at taking care of myself first since your last post https://jbrary.com/who-am-i-if-not-a-childrens-librarian/

    1. That’s so great to hear, Bobbie! I am also a person who likes to write things down to gain clarity. Hence, the blogging! I hope the overwhelmed feeling settles for you. It’s not a fun place to be in, but it sounds like you’ve got a great plan.

  8. This post. It is just what I’ve been needing the most! Oh my gosh Lindsey, it always amazes me how you can get right to the heart of just about any storytime or library issue and sweep away the clouds that may have been blocking my vision, and judging from some of the other responses so far, I’m not alone there : )
    Like Emily’s response about her library’s structural changes, we are going through many changes at mine. So many that it’s been increasingly difficult for me to focus on my programming in the way I know I should. (And want to!) I can also add planning my retirement to the list of things that can put one out of balance! Your model of looking at the 3 connections is exactly what I need to help me keep it all in perspective and get back to the roots of serving the public in our public library. Thank you so much.
    Thank you, thank you.

    1. You are so welcome, Kelly! I always get excited to read your comments because you help me too. I’m really sticking to the “thinking out loud” promise I made when I said I would return to blogging, so it’s great to see that these thoughts resonate with others. Getting back to the roots of service is exactly what I was trying to convey. Maybe more to come on that topic!

  9. This is such a helpful post that really puts our Storytime (and library) position in perspective. I love your examples, I think we can all readily relate to both sides of the scale. I definitely feel more pressure on myself inside and outside of Storytime when I find myself out of balance. Your examples help to clarify the balancing act!

    1. I also feel the lessening of pressure when I’m in balance with my goals. It’s been helpful to look at storytime through a “library” lens and not just a “me” lens.

  10. YES YES YES YES YES YES YES

    This is the soap box I never tire of hopping.

    WE ARE NOT CHILDREN’S ENTERTAINERS.

    We are facilitators, mentors, guides, supporters, and cheerleaders.

    Our role is to provide parents and caregivers and fellow educators with ideas and information, reassurance and support, so that they can encourage and nurture their kiddos all the rest of the time they’re together.

    That’s also why I keep my programs SUPER simple and approachable. I want caregivers to be able to take everything I do and repeat it at home all week long, because that’s the point! 30 minutes with the kiddos is nothing compared to the time they spend with their caregivers – as a facilitator you want the learning and growth and engagement to continue even when you’re not there. No special equipment required, just a voice and some love.

    1. Thank you for sharing how your role in storytime influences what you actually do in storytime. I didn’t get into that too much in terms of content, but it’s a great point. When the families are the center of storytime you start to think about what you do in storytime differently. And I agree – while storytime requires me to step into my extroverted state (for lack of a better term), I don’t do performances.

  11. Oh, this is a great read and I really appreciate you talking about it!

    1. Thanks, Karen! Appreciate your kind words.

  12. Excellent! I wish this was out there earlier in my career, (sigh). We’ve come a LONG way with early education and our role as a storytime facilitator . We’ll done, you!

    1. Thanks, Jane! Boy would I love to read an academic article about the changing role of storytime facilitator over the years πŸ™‚ In case anyone out there wants to write it…

  13. This was a tremendously well-timed reminder. We enter summer reading program next week and stats, etc., can (wrongly) be too influential on my self worth. We work hard and gain satisfaction because we believe in what we are doing for the library, the children and their caregivers, and ourselves!

    1. It’s so hard not to take low attendance personally! But sometimes I end up having the best connections with small groups. I’m glad this post came along when you needed it πŸ™‚

  14. I work with someone who simultaneously views it as *their* story time and wants other people to help (but only if they do it *exactly* their way).

    1. I’m sorry, that’s rough! Might be worth having an open conversation about.

  15. Lindsey, I appreciate you sharing such reflective posts that make me think about my own practice too. It’s helpful that you talk about concepts and illustrate them with specific examples. Thank you. Yours is one of my all-time favorite blogs about children’s library services and librarianship in general. Reading your words makes me a better librarian.

    1. Thank you so much, Michelle! That’s one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten πŸ™‚

  16. I love the pressure that this takes away! I tend to lean on the performer side and how did we do, which shouldn’t be the focus. You always put things in such a great perspective and the comments are ever so helpful as well. When I feel like we have had a good storytime or program I always think its because we performed well but the interactions between our patrons and us is really what makes it special.
    I also love including their connection with others. Sometimes I want to talk to parents but I get so excited that they are all too busy talking to one another and enjoying their time in the library long after the program is over. I don’t need to insert myself. When we have new families, our regulars are so quick to get to know them and make them feel welcome. It truly is not about me and I need this reminder often.
    One of the other challenges for me is knowing what is happening in adult programming and promoting that to our caregivers. I get very children program focused and forget that we offer such great programming for adults that they probably don’t even know about.
    Thank you for always being so candid. I truly value your posts, videos and website in general. Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your kind words, Sarah! It is one of my goals this year to stay more up-to-date with programs and books for caregivers. Even showing them how to download the Libby app so they can get in some reading even if they can’t physically make it back to the library has been helpful in the past. It’s also hard to remember that it’s not all about the babies and kids either, haha!

  17. So just between you and me, Lindsey (shhhh) … I might have a bit (a lot) of ego wrapped up in doing Storytime. I may spend a bit (a lot) more time than I should in prep each week. Quite possibly out of balance.

    Coincidentally, I just recently had a dream that a parent slipped me a note that said: “Remember, it’s not about you. It’s about them.” For real.

    Clearly my dream-self is trying to tell me something. πŸ˜‰
    Thanks for your helpful voice of reason.

    1. Your secret is safe with me πŸ™‚ Prep time is probably the one thing I think people can spend more time on though! If we are really thinking about how to facilitate connections that takes quite a bit of thought in terms of how to structure and run a storytime. Now if only I had a dream version of myself to keep MY ego in check!

  18. Thank you for this perspective on storytime, I just inherited a storytime from another fantastic librarian and it has been a time getting adjusted. I’m excited but still in the headspace of wanting to bring in the absolute best of everything. This was a good reminder that the stories are just one part of the whole experience, and that the caregivers and the kids could use some space in the room too. Reading through the breakdown of where ego can sort of take the front seat at storytime was so good.

    1. Hi Lindsay, thank you for sharing where you are at! Taking over from another person, especially someone beloved by storytime families, can feel like so much pressure. Hopefully this helped take a little off and reassure you that you are enough πŸ™‚

  19. I love the idea of sharing a quick snippet of the child’s week before storytime begins. I’m going to incorporate that into my story times!

    1. I’m always looking for ways to connect with the families, and this one works really well.

  20. A bit late to the party here, but I just wanted to let you know that I am assigning this post and ALL the comments as required reading in my children’s services courses from this day forward. Your post ties in so beautifully with everything else we discuss in class regarding family engagement, providing resources and supports that suit each family situation, and our roles as early literacy facilitators. Thank you!!!

    1. I wish I could be a fly on the wall and listen to the class discussions that follow! I always learn so much from you and your teaching, Tess.

  21. this is an interesting concept. I always thought the success of storytime is up to the presenter.

  22. I LOVE this, Lindsey!! Thank you for being so open and for your introspection and care for your community work. Couldn’t agree more about everything you’ve shared here – my experience as a storytime librarian overlaps overwhelmingly and I find this super helpful!!! <3

    1. Thank you, Andy! It feels good to hear others have similar experiences. Care for the community is at the heart of storytime.

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