As libraries and librarians continue to struggle with setbacks and obstacles related to the Covid-19 pandemic, one of the largest challenges has been finding ways to engage with the community’s youngest learners in order to ensure that they have access to and encouragement to develop life-long literacy skills. Many librarians have turned to YouTube, Facebook Live, and other services in order to create virtual programming. However, many libraries across the country and around the world are bringing story-time outside in a way that is safe, fun for the whole family, and encourages a healthy lifestyle through StoryWalks®.
First created in 2007 by Anne Ferguson, StoryWalks® are set up in a public community space and along a path. Storywalks® have been installed in all fifty states, as well as several other countries around the world. At the beginning of the path is an indicator of the starting point and the cover of the picture book that is used for the StoryWalk®, usually accompanied with information about the library, sponsors, and how to proceed. At a designated distance, the walkers will find a page or two of the book to read before proceeding on to the next posting, a pattern that is repeated until the book is complete. StoryWalks® may just contain book pages, but some include activities, information, or critical-thinking questions that are posted with the story pages.
There are many ways and places to set up a StoryWalk®. If a StoryWalk® is placed in a public park, for example, it may be along a pre-existing path. However, StoryWalks® can go through neighborhoods, library grounds, and other places. StoryWalks® can even be set up indoors as part of special events or during seasons with extended periods of inhospitable weather.
Similarly, there are different ways to display the book. Some StoryWalks® may display the book pages on permanent wooden outdoor signage similar to that found in State and National Parks, such as the StoryWalks® installed at the Golden Gate National Parks. The company Barking Dog Exhibits creates outdoor signage of this nature, and has a special StoryWalk® Solutions line. Local Scouting Troops have also taken part in building StoryWalk® signage as community service projects, and may extend that service to provide maintenance work.
There are also ways to set up a temporary installment. For example, this past summer the Henderson County Public Library in Kentucky used custom-designed yard signs for their StoryWalk®. Another option is to pin laminated book pages to trees or attached to stakes in the ground. When creating StoryWalks®, Ferguson used Velcro to attach the laminated pages to stakes, which she says can deter vandals, as the StoryWalk® pages could be put up in the morning and taken down in the evening. One “poet technologist” from Britain, Christopher Jelley, has created a digital version of the StoryWalk®; Jelley’s versions rely on a device such as a tablet or smartphone being in a specific geographic location to unlock the next part of the story.
There are also several ways to obtain book pages for StoryWalks®. One option is the DIY method, using picture books specifically bought for the project. If utilizing this route, it is recommended to have at least two copies of the book in question (so that both the front and back of the page can be displayed) and in paperback, which are usually easier to dismantle. However, it is imperative that—in order to avoid copyright infringement—the art and text is not altered in any way; the pages cannot be scanned or be made larger or smaller. Any additional information that would accompany the pages would need to be placed in a way that is obvious that it is supplemental and not part of the original work.
There are other means and methods for finding books to display. One of those means is Curious City, a company that can custom-make files of book pages that are ready-to-print by a local print-shop. These files not only contain the book pages, but professional graphic design additions that explain StoryWalk®, list questions and activities, and contain information specific to the area—such as the library’s information, sponsors, and more. Curious City also has a selection of free books available, though these are unavailable for customization. By only creating and generating the files, Curiosity City and similar StoryWalk® sign makers provide a perfect opportunity for the library to partner with local print shops.
No matter the form they take, StoryWalks® are a fun way to connect with the community, encourage reading and being active together as a family, and show the world that the library is not limited to four walls—especially when the library may be inaccessible. Interested in learning more? Wondering what it takes to get started? Or want some inspiration? We highly recommend these resources: