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(Don’t) Break a Leg: Children’s Librarian as Performer

by on April 22, 2016

Newsflash! If you are a children’s librarian, then you are a performer. As such, there are things you can do to make your “performances” really special. This post will focus on the most universal of library performances: storytime.

The most important thing to remember is that your audience has not come to see a book, watch a finger rhyme, or hear a song; they have come to see you. You are the one who makes the magic happen.

Your Voice
As a children’s librarian, your voice is your most valuable asset. Does your voice carry? Not sure? Set up a recorder in the back of the room and find out. Do you feel hoarse after story time? Do you feel like you’re straining to hit that high note in “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”? If the answer is yes, then vocal coaching can help you learn proper vocal techniques. Because your voice is such an important part of what you do, I think all children’s librarians should take voice lessons.

Engage Your Audience
Your audience will not engage unless you do. Therefore, do not choose books that you don’t absolutely love, specifically those you love to read out loud. The only way to know is to pick some and practice reading them out loud. You’ll know when you’ve found the good ones.

Go Bookless
If you know a book well enough, try telling the story without it. There is nothing better than acting out a story for an audience of children. If anyone says “But this is a library, you should read books,” tell them your job is to promote literacy, not books.

Keep Your “Greatest Hits” Fresh
Are your “hits” feeling stale? Here are some tricks: Approach the book or song from a different perspective. For example, try reading Goodnight Moon from the point of view of the mouse (or the sock!). Try doing a finger-rhyme as a big friendly monster. Try singing the ABCs as a robot. In other words, play around with the material.

Know Your Audience
I used to divide my storytimes’ audiences by age. “Babies” were 0–18 months and “toddlers” 18 months–3 years. Inevitably, some “babies” were walking or running around the room, while some “toddlers” were just learning how to stand. This made it difficult to program appropriately. I decided it made more sense to divide groups by developmental stage. Now, I have “pre-walkers” and “walkers.” This has made it easier to program appropriately and resulted in a more relaxing, rewarding experience for my audience.

Be Your Own Bouncer
It is important to have rules and to stick by them. You should not, however, have too many rules! Pick two and repeat them before each storytime. Caregivers can relax when the rules are easy to remember. We want story time to be structured, but easy. If you must turn people away due to lack of space, be graceful. Calmly say, “I’m sorry, but I can’t let you in today.” If they insist, repeat this (calmly) until they understand. Tell them you hope to see them again next time.

Take Breaks
To avoid burnout, schedule breaks. My mantra is five months on, one month off. Taking a full month off from storytime allows you to give children and caregivers 110 percent the other five months.

Adding New Material
Routine is important to a child. That’s why we sing the same hello/goodbye songs every time, amongst other things. Don’t make big sudden changes. Instead, incorporate one new element at a time. What storytime strategies have you found successful at your library? Share them in the comments below!

Further Reading:

Storytime performance at the Brooklyn Public Library

She’s a children’s librarian, but you might be surprised where her job takes her,” Washington Post.

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