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Is it a Carnival? Is it a Circus? No, it’s Storytime!

by on January 21, 2016

According to the New York Times, attendance at storytime at New York City libraries has increased twenty-eight percent over the past two years. The Times notes the long line of caregivers and strollers that line the block in anticipation of storytime at many of the city’s libraries. As a children’s librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), I am no stranger to long lines at storytime. Here at the Carroll Gardens branch, our first storytime session begins at 10:30 a.m. By 9:30 a.m. (thirty minutes before the building opens), caregivers and their charges have already begun jockeying for position outside the entrance. By 10 a.m., we are already over capacity, with fifty or more strollers lining the block.

BPL branches have sought to accommodate the demand in a variety of ways. Some, like us, have increased the number of storytimes they offer. In our case, this has done little to quell the demand; at four sessions per week (two for babies and two for toddlers), we are still over capacity. Additional measures include a ticketing system, which, while imperfect, seems to work for us and some other branches. Other branches manage their numbers by letting in as many people as their storytime space can reasonably accommodate and once they reach capacity, they simply close their doors.

In spite of these efforts, logistical issues remain.

We still turn people away.

While we have toyed with the idea of offering additional storytimes, we are unable to so do without increasing staff and cutting down on use of our storytime space for other popular programs.

There is no stroller valet.

Like most Brooklyn libraries, we have a designated stroller parking area. However, our parking area rapidly reaches capacity and the overflow quickly spills into the aisles of our juvenile non-fiction and even adult fiction. Patrons are forced to maneuver around the strollers to browse the shelves. And caregivers – in seeking a space for strollers – inevitably end up parking them in areas that pose problems, such as directly in front of the book return or in front of an office door or fire exit.

Just be sure to bring your ear plugs.

Storytime is known as “crazy time” in many BPL branches. It is not easy for staff to manage stroller-parking issues and all the noise that accompanies storytime whilst also providing quality service to other patrons.

Good things come to those who wait.

Waiting in line for an event that doesn’t start for another hour is not easy for caregivers and children. Children of this age have not yet learned the art of patience and sometimes get cranky. Bodily needs compete with the caregiver’s ability to wait in a long line; unexpected naps, hunger, and diaper changes all raise the stakes.

The good news

In spite of the challenges it poses, the surging popularity of storytime is a very good problem to have. As public librarians who must vigorously defend our budget on a yearly basis, having a line of more than fifty people vying for entry to our storytimes each week speaks volumes. The message is loud and clear: New York City libraries are vital and relevant to the communities they serve. If you doubt it, just ask one of those people standing in line.

Do you have long lines for storytime or other programs at your library? If so, how does your library manage the numbers?


Sources:

Hu, Winnie. “Long Line at the Library? It’s Storytime Again.” The New York Times, November 1, 2015. Web.


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