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Virtual Storytimes Keep Families Engaged

A librarian holds a picture book open to an illustration of a fish

Families across the country count on library storytime programs to teach kids early literacy skills—but with most libraries closing to the public to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, these in-person read-alouds have been put on hold. Fortunately, America’s libraries have gotten creative, using video and audio technology to keep reading to children while maintaining social distancing.

Many librarians have found whimsical ways to make these virtual storytimes extra special. Amy Bayes, head supervisor of children’s services at Newton Public Library in Kansas, has been self-isolating at home on a farm, where she’s enlisted goats, pigs, and other animals to guest star in her videos. Denton Public Library in Texas has incorporated puppets, musical instruments, and crafts to keep their weekly livestreams engaging for viewers. And Betsy Thomas of Nebraska’s Kooser Elementary School has made such a splash with her creative backdrops and elaborate costumes that her virtual storytimes were featured on NBC’s Today.

Some libraries have even found high-profile guest readers to join their storytimes. Chicago Public Library’s Live From The Library series has featured appearances from actress Jane Lynch, Wilco singer Jeff Tweedy, and city mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Libraries have also worked with multilingual staff to offer storytimes in additional languages, thus reaching a larger segment of their communities. California’s Long Beach Public Library has converted their monthly Cuentos y Cantos series to a virtual format; in the videos, librarians Luisa Leija and Sheridan Cazarez share stories and songs in both English and Spanish.

Social media sites like Facebook and YouTube have been popular channels for libraries to share their storytimes with the public, but others have taken a different approach to meet the unique needs of their communities. Alaska’s Homer Public Library serves a rural population where many households lack reliable internet access, so they partnered with the local public radio station to broadcast read-aloud programs via AM radio. “We’ve been apart while the library is closed and we’re all staying home, but we’re still here together in our community,” youth services librarian Claudia Haines told Anchorage Daily News. “This is a way to stay connected.”

For more examples of how libraries are expanding their services during the pandemic, subscribe to the I Love Libraries newsletter.

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