VIRTUAL STORYTIME SERVICES RESOURCE GUIDE
Virtual programs are a valuable way to connect with our communities regardless of crisis. As libraries of all types expand their digital collections and explore virtual programming, we offer this guide as a resource to those seeking to offer or improve storytime services from afar. While this guide primarily focuses on virtual storytime, it also includes helpful resources and suggestions for other online library experiences and virtual children’s programs.
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This evolving resource was developed in collaboration with Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL), the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), and many other dedicated professionals in the field.
When this Guide was initially written, the vast majority of Americans were under stay-at-home orders issued in the hopes of containing the spread of COVID-19. Many libraries had closed their buildings in order to protect the health and safety of both public and staff. "It is very difficult for us to put forward this recommendation,” the American Library Association (ALA) Executive Board (2020) explained in a March statement. “We are often the only institutions to remain open during times of crisis… [but] keeping libraries open at this time has the potential to harm communities more than help.”
While closing libraries and other public placeswas necessary, it was also a significant disruption to many Americans’ routines. According to the ALA (2019), there were 1.4 billion visits to U.S. public libraries in 2016 - the equivalent of nearly 4 million visits each day and 2,664 visits per minute. Many of these visitors were children and caregivers. The PEW Research Center (2013) found that “94% of parents say libraries are important for their children… That is especially true of parents of young children (those under 6): 84% of them say libraries are very important.”
Access the full introduction, including explanation of the guide and acknowledgements
There are many ways for libraries to provide storytime services and programs from afar, including livestream videos (the transmission of video content in realtime), pre-recorded videos (video content filmed and possibly edited in advance) and audio-only options (such as podcasts). Which approach is best for your library? The answer depends on each library’s unique community, capacity and goals.
This section explores specific technology considerations for library leadership, departments involved in the virtual program editing and marketing processes, and virtual program providers. This section also includes further information and resources to assist libraries in navigating the following technology areas:
- Privacy and Cybersecurity
- Audio Hosting Platforms
- Video Hosting Platforms
- Video Editing & File Sharing Tools
- Video Recording Tools & Troubleshooting Tips
This section will include technology solutions to get your programs recorded, edited, and distributed to patrons. While we’ve linked some buying guides and articles as a starting point, we recommend you research and consider your library’s unique needs before committing to any product or process.
Access the full Technology Tools section of the Virtual Storytime Services Guide
- Check out this blog post: Virtual Programming and Patron Privacy
Promotion and marketing are key for any new program or service to reach their intended audience. An effective communications plan will require multiple library staff members to collaborate and strategize, identify target audiences, preferred platforms and channels, key messaging, and communication deliverables. The resulting plan will help your organization achieve its ultimate goal of connecting children and families to your virtual services.
This section features recommendations for three primary roles at your library, all of which play an integral part informing your library’s communication plan and marketing your library’s virtual programs and services:
- Library Leadership
- Virtual Program Editors and Marketers
- Storytime Staff & Virtual Program Providers
Access the full Promoting Virtual Storytimes section of the Virtual Storytime Services Guide
Copyright is a form of intellectual property law that protects original works of authorship, such as picture books and music. Publishers, authors and artists hold the rights to their materials and its uses, including the exclusive right to share music in a public performance. While it is generally considered fair use to share copyrighted stories and songs for library programs held in-house and for outreach programming, these implied permissions change when library programs go online. When using print or music resources in virtual storytime, it is critical to obtain permission from publishers or artists first (unless using original work or materials from the public domain). It is equally important to credit the publisher/artist appropriately.
Do these general best practices change during a time of crisis? During the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions are closed and the public’s usual routes to access library materials, programs and services are severely limited. Acknowledging this unprecedented situation, many publishers/creators have offered temporary, widespread permissions. These permissions often come with requests to avoid certain platforms and instructions to restrict, delete, or disable the video within a specified time frame. There is a large body of considered professional opinion from library copyright experts that using copyrighted materials in virtual storytime is fair use, and that seeking permission may not be necessary - but only for the duration of these exigent circumstances.
In addition to specific copyright considerations for library leadership, departments involved in the virtual program editing/marketing processes, and virtual storytime providers, this section includes further information and resources to assist libraries in navigating the following areas:
- Public Domain
- Seeking Permission from Copyright Holders
- Temporary and Limited Permissions
- Fair Use Factors
Access the full Copyright Considerations section of the Virtual Storytime Services Guide
- Check out this summarized blog post: Pausing to Talk About Copyright and Virtual Storytime
For many youth services professionals, storytime is our bread and butter, marmalade and jam. To create meaningful moments of screen time, storytime providers must adapt their existing routines to a constantly evolving set of technology, permissions, and best practice considerations. Staff must work together to ensure that virtual storytime services are meeting agreed upon goals and that the service itself is beneficial to the community. Without taking the time to consider the big questions, virtual storytime services become reactionary pieces of what could be.
In addition to specific considerations for library leadership, departments involved in the virtual program editing/marketing processes, and virtual storytime providers, this section includes further information and resources to assist libraries in navigating the following areas:
- Screen Time
Access the full Suggested Practices section of the Virtual Storytime Services Guide
- Check out this summarized blog post: Virtual Storytime Best Practices
As librarians serving youth, we make a commitment to serve all young people and their families in our communities. But despite our best intentions, the library – like so many institutions in our society – is more welcoming to some populations than others. The ALSC Strategic Plan for 2017-2020 lists Diversity and Inclusion as its first area of strategic action. One of the objectives under this area reads, in part, “Increase the cultural competency of library staff serving youth.” It is incumbent upon us, as library professionals, to model lifelong learning in our work. This section provides tools to help guide us all on our journeys.
All children deserve to be loved and to have their lives affirmed. It is past time for all children – from the familiar faces of our storytime and afterschool favorites to new communities for whom the library may always be physically inaccessible – to see themselves in the virtual programs that we provide. “When children never see their culture represented in a library storytime or in materials on the library shelves, they receive a resounding message that the librarian does not think their culture is important enough,” writes ALSC Past-President Dr. Jaime Campbell Naidoo (2014). Dr. Campbell Naidoo’s words pay homage to Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop (1990) and her seminal work, “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors”:
When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read… they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part.
During this time when many of our library buildings are closed, we still send messages about who we value as we choose virtual program models; when we make schedule decisions in regards to this virtual programming; when we curate recommendations and digital book lists; when selecting storytime materials. May we all choose wisely.
This section explores specific considerations for library leadership, departments involved in the video editing and marketing processes, and virtual storytime providers. This section also includes further information and resources to assist libraries in navigating service to the following groups, preceded by a subsection dedicated to COVID-19 and its impact on marginalized groups:
- COVID-19, Racism and Xenophobia
- African American Children and Families
- Asian, Asian American and Pacific Islander Children and Families
- Children and Families with Disabilities
- Latinx Children and Families
- LGBTQ+ Children and Families
- Native/Indigenous Children and Families
- Serving Families Across the Digital Divide
Access the full Serving Diverse Children and Families section of the Virtual Storytime Services Guide.
- Check out this blog post: Is Your Library Online for Everyone?
Storytimes are popular library programs that families look forward to attending on a regular basis. While storytimes differ from one library to the next, enjoyment and sharing stories together is at the core! By expanding ideas about what defines a storytime, librarians can also work creatively by offering library resources for use at home, day care centers, and community institutions. Libraries can also provide connections to other trusted storytime providers outside of their own institutions.
As information experts, libraries are well-placed to act as media mentors and “support children and their families in their decisions and practice around media use” (Campbell et al., 2015). This is particularly important when there may be an inability to provide in-person programming or during library closures (unexpected or planned), because it allows patrons to have continued access to high-quality, equitable educational content.
Parents are the experts on their children and are often cited as their child’s first and best teachers. As storytime professionals, library staff can empower these parents with the knowledge and confidence to create a joyful at-home storytime experience by referring them to storytime resources at their disposal. Within this context, staff may remind parents that they already have all of the tools that they need - themselves and their child (Ghoting 2018). Small intentional efforts to share books, songs, and rhymes have a positive and lasting impact on a child’s future (Lopez et al., 2016). If parents have a limited number of books at home, then they might consider sharing the same book in different ways, or even making up their own story! Staff can also encourage parents to use songs and rhymes from their own childhood or to create new ones with their child. In this same vein, parents should be encouraged to speak and share stories in the language they are the most comfortable with using. This consistent exposure to storytime related activities will build and strengthen early literacy skills and ultimately prepare young children to read.
This section explores specific considerations for library leadership, departments involved with curating and promoting digital resources for families, and library staff who wish to connect families with external resources during virtual programs (such as mentioning online zoo field trips during virtual storytime). This section further includes information and resources to assist libraries in navigating the following areas:
- Aligning Resources with Community Needs
- Evaluating Digital Media for Young Children
- Analyzing Accessibility, Privacy and Safety Features
- Analyzing Content Quality
- Recommended Digital Resources for Families
Access the full External Digital Resources to Support Early Literacy section of the Virtual Storytime Services Guide
- Check out this blog post: Connecting Communities to Other Virtual Storytime Providers and Resources
In addition to storytime, there are many opportunities for virtual programming to bring enriching and engaging content to patrons in their homes. Such programs can highlight your libraries' digital resources, offer a variety of options to engage young readers and their families, provide families with valuable information, and can work to build connections even while we maintain healthy distances. These programs can also address parental concerns with screen time for young children, diversify your library’s virtual program offerings, and provide multiple entry points for parents and caregivers to access material and for librarians to deliver programs.
This section explores specific considerations for library leadership, departments involved in the virtual program editing and marketing processes, and virtual program providers. This section also includes further information and resources to assist libraries in navigating the following areas:
- Activity & Content Selection
- Presentation Tips
- Summer Reading