Keeping Libraries Alive

The Porirua Public Library’s children’s events are the stuff of local legend… or at least they were… then along came Covid19.

At the announcement of imminent lockdown, I found myself without any staff or patrons, in a library full of books we could not lend anyone. I had to come up with a way of serving people, and worried removing the library routine from people’s calendars would be as unsettling to my young regulars as it was to me. I came home that night and filmed a video in my dressing gown telling the kids I was very sad I couldn’t see them in the library, but not to worry, I would arrange to read to them from home during lockdown.

I contacted friends at Gecko Press and Book Island, and a couple of authors, and gained permission to read from their books. The next day, I went through the collection and pulled out every book I could find by both publishers, and they were one of the things I brought home when the library moved to strict lockdown.

That was how Story World at Your Place came about. I upload a new film every weekday in the Children’s Chat Group of Porirua Libraries Facebook. We sometimes pair a simple craft tutorial with it because children always enjoyed doing a craft after stories when Story World was in the library.

Bee starting Story Time at Your PlaceWith Story World at Your Place, my priorities were to take care of copyright and get the experience as close to the viewer as possible. I use a simple set-up, filming with my phone in my bedroom. I want the experience to seem intimate, like when someone reads especially for you. I want the pictures to be close enough to be savoured, but – when reading longer books, or those with less illustrations – for the telling of the tale to be engaging enough that you can wait for the illustration to be shown. Technically, this allows me to make better use of close-ups for the illustrations; holding the book up in the same – often shoulder- or chest-height – way we do when doing a Story World for a large group of people wouldn’t work effectively with my small screen capture.

All my videos are captured in one take – but the blooper reels are considerable. I get through each shoot remembering that in front of a crowd, sat in the story chair, it’s only one take. You can’t edit your performance then – when the challenges to continuity are so much greater! – and yet, you manage.

A second initiative we ran during lockdown was to provide a weekly Digital Outreach Digest: a week’s worth of information resources available via the internet. These included lots of online story times, activity sheets, play ideas, virtual tours, games, and puzzles. We encouraged older kids to read Dracula on Project Gutenberg, then take a virtual tour of the actual Count’s castle, for example. We sent the Digest out with genre-based booklists of items patrons could access via the Overdrive platform, through the Libby app. We also made an urgent budget investment into our digital collection.

Finding digital solutions to all our reference and reader advisory queries is challenging us to use a whole new way of thinking. The key for me is to behave as if the queries are physical, and then satisfy them digitally. This was a huge leap into the electronic world for my team – requiring us to override our natural book sniffing/page caressing/screen eschewing tendencies. When it comes to picture books, we yearn for the real thing … then deliver what we can within the size of a screen.

Children watching Bee
“I get asked for a Bee’s Story Time every night.”

I am enjoying the capacity to be able to read longer, more complex texts than reading to a live audience of little ones sometimes allows. There is more time for them to savour the wonder – perhaps repeatedly – on video, and fewer distractions from the library environment itself. I must admit, I do miss the answers to my audience questions though.

As we move out of lockdown, I will continue to present Story World at Your Place for as long as we are unable to present it in the library. The videos have been well-received by viewers of all ages around the world, which is a very strange feeling when they are filmed by me – and my Teds – in an empty room. I’ve received a few lovely photos of kids engaging with Story World on the screen, and I want them to know, I really do hold them in my focus when I’m reading.

Bee Trudgeon is the Children’s Librarian Kaitaki Pukapuka Tamariki, heading the team taking care of youth services for babies to teenagers, at the Porirua Public Library

Story World at Your Place is available on the Porirua Library Children’s Chat Facebook Group