Them's the Breaks!

I was so excited to see the issue of breaks in storytime being addressed over at Lisa's blog Libraryland. She and Mel are posting results and discussing implications from a recent survey on storytimes and workload.  I was as surprised as Lisa that almost a third of survey respondents didn't take breaks or weeks off in their annual storytime schedule.

I have often wondered what motivates people to raise storytimes (or let's face it, any program for kids, teens or adults) up to a no-break model. Is it:
  • administration requiring 52 week schedules
  • tradition - that's how it was when I came
  • fear of losing participants
  • service-to-the-community-above-and-beyond ethos 
  • love those little munchkins and need my weekly fix (the mutual "I can't do without them; they can't do without me" syndrome)
  • concern that patrons will complain 
  • anxiety that patrons will leave and use another library
  • or what?
I have seen alot of trepidation and tradition that keeps people from building in time for re-energizing, CE, conferences, service to other age groups,vacations, introduction of new types of early literacy programs etc. In order to keep up the pace, youth library staff take program preparation work home, only do storytimes as their program focus and often don't have the creative energy to develop their programs or services for other age groups or to serve the many families with preschoolers who cannot attend storytimes.

If storytimes are to entertain, than fear of losing the audience might be real. If storytimes are to model and help provide parents with the early lit support they need to be their child's first teacher, it seems that breaks are easily incorporated since parents have the tools that you provided to keep modeling awesome early lit work with their kids!

Once library staff start to take breaks, most see that their concerns were unfounded. Patrons do return. Time spent away from a routine helps create time to tackle other projects and plans that enhance services.

We are just off a ten week storytime hiatus (wait,  make that 13 weeks, I forgot we stopped mid December!). What happened? All but one storytime filled up when we re-started after the break. We had to add an additional storytime because of the demand. A poorly attended storytime that we morphed into a preschool "maker program (art and STEAM) filled up immediately (we could have added five more sessions based on demand). Staff and families came back refreshed, excited and happy.

What if YOU want to take breaks but your administration or co-workers are reluctant? 
  1. Share the thinking (like Lisa's post above) going on in the library world about breaks - here and here are two examples.
  2. Come to discussions prepared with a concrete plan for one thing you will use break time for (begin development of 1000 Books Before Kindergarten program; attend a conference or Roadtrip CE or have another staffer who covers desk while you are in storytime attend; develop a new type of tour or outreach; develop a program or series for an underserved age group or meet with school/daycare colleagues to start planning service partnership ideas).
  3. Honestly discuss what the programming philosophy of the whole library is and look at comparisons between service to other age groups and other staff responsibilities in this area. Sometimes, coworkers or administration don't see the efforts that go into storytime (Storytime Underground's "Literacy is NOT a luxury") - once they come to understand what is happening, they can more easily see why breaks to re-charge, offer other types of programs and etc are necessary.
What if YOU want to take breaks but your patrons are reluctant and push back? 
  1. Thank them for their support and love of your programs.
  2. Tell them what will happen during break that will help make your library even more uber (I will learn more to serve you better by attending training; other age groups will be served; you will still be coming in often for books and to say hi; we are excited to take the time to write a grant to create an early literacy area, etc)
  3. Consider adding a  simple "transition" activity - Book Bundles, Preschool Dance party, coupon book; stealth or DIY activity station; more frequent change-out of flannels or activity boards in early literacy corner - that makes parents want to keep up weekly or bi-weekly visits during the break.
  4. Let parents know you have been their stealth personal guru, equipping them with the know-how to be storytime ninjas themselves at home!  Ask them to be mighty and let you know how they do over break.
  5. Encourage them to use the break to get an extra level of 1000 Books Before Kindergarten finished.
  6. Introduce them to an Early Literacy calendar that has lots of activities for parents and kids to do together.
Breaks work. Storytimes continue strongly (and sometimes stronger!) after a pause. Really, try it, you will definitely like it!

1 comment:

  1. I'd like to sing the praises of doing storytime in pairs. It's less than 1/2 the work and after 14 years working together doing 8 storytimes per week during the school year and 5 per week during the summer we're still going strong. Yes we'll do it alone if the other is away on vacation or in a meeting and it is exhausting! I don't know how you all do it.