At our college-wide inservice day last fall, I sat in on a session on grant writing at my institution. After the session was over, a faculty from our Early Childhood Education (ECE) department approached me and asked if the Library had any interest in partnering to do a story time for students with kids. I said yes, and what would turn out to be a very productive partnership was born.
Fall term and its attendant craziness ended up passing too rapidly for us to plan much, but we met early in winter term to get the project off the ground. First, we had to answer some questions: how often? Where? When? Were there liability/risk issues that needed to be addressed? How would we pay for it? Since we didn’t know exactly what to expect, we decided to start with twice-a-term story times: at mid-terms and finals, to coincide with other “stress free” events sponsored by our Student Life office. Initially, I had envisioned the story time as an event that would pull parents into the Library and give them time to ask a librarian (me) questions or get help finding resources at some point. That meant the location would be the Library. We have two classrooms on our lower level, out of hearing of the main area, and a perfect spot for corralling the potential noise and energy of the kids who would attend. We decided to try Saturday mornings as a time. Our campus has a policy stipulating that children aren’t allowed on campus except under the supervision of a responsible adult. As long as we stayed within that policy, the risk/liability issues were adequately addressed, according to our campus risk assessment expert. Our Student Activities Coordinator came through with the funding, and we were able to purchase a rug, some art supplies, and snacks. Other faculty and staff heard about it and volunteered to help, as well as students in the ECE program.
We decided to call it “Paw Prints” (to tie in with our bobcat mascot), and advertised with posters, on the college and library websites, as well as the library’s social media outlets. Some faculty announced it in their classes. At our first story time, at the end of winter term, we had 60 attendees, which was, honestly, a lot more than we expected. No one much cared about the Library/research help station I had set up in a corner of the room (so they could get help while keeping an eye on their kiddos), but it was still a lot of fun, and a few library books did get checked out. We later heard positive feedback from students who had brought their kids.
In spring term, we had both a mid-term and a finals-week story time, but attendance was much lower. At the mid-term one, there were only about 20 attendees (including the children of the faculty who were helping out) and about the same number at the finals-week one. In both cases, we were competing with several other events in our community. I had purchased some newer kids’ books for our collection since the first story time, and several of those got checked out in the spring.
We wrapped up the year by organizing a kids’ event for the commencement ceremony. Students have to arrive an hour early for the ceremony, and many of them bring their families with them, leaving their families with an hour to kill before the ceremony starts. Remember how long an hour felt when you were 5 or 6? So, we set up a table near the back of the field where commencement is held with materials for making signs and cards. Our Associated Students (student government) liked the idea and graciously helped us purchase materials to put together goody bags for the kids attending, including coloring and other activities they could do at their seat and a little snack. This was immensely popular. We purchased enough stuff for 100 goody bags, and they were gone within 25 minutes. We had so many kids making signs and cards we had to go find more tables to give them all enough room.
We’re going forward next year with more story times (and with our very own budget that our student government granted to us), but we’re going to use some lessons learned from this year to make some changes: for one, we’re going to try a different time – maybe a weekday evening. Saturday mornings may not be a time when students want to make the drive to campus, and there’s often other family-oriented activities going on in the community at large. Instead of just offering a snack, we may be able to offer pizza and make it dinner/story time, which we know would really help our students out. We also need to have a more consistent marketing schedule and plan to make sure we’re reaching our target audience. We’re going to plan for more kids at graduation, for sure.
One thing that we’re going to continue to build is the collaborative, cross-campus coalition of people from all departments and levels (students, staff, faculty, and administrators) who want to be a part of this project. I’ve made connections with people I never would have otherwise, and it has led to increased visibility for the library and collaboration between our department and others, which is starting to spill over into non-story time related projects. Who knew that a chance meeting and something as simple as story time could turn into so much?