Meet Brian Hart, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

A passionate youth services librarian, with a winning smile to boot! [photo courtesy of the Emerging Leaders profiles for American Libraries Magazine.]

A passionate youth services librarian, with a winning smile to boot! [photo courtesy of the Emerging Leaders profiles for American Libraries Magazine.]

Ninjas, we’d like you all to meet Brian Hart, an outstanding youth services librarian and the July Storytime Guerrilla of the Month. We met Brian at Guerrilla Storytimes at ALA in Las Vegas last month, where he shared some great storytime skills and perspective. Brian is a Children’s Services Manager at the Beatties Ford Regional Library of Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, and he was a 2014 Emerging Leader. We’re pleased as punch that he agreed to share his awesome as a guerrilla of the month.


Q: What’s your philosophy for choosing books and activities for storytime?

Brian: It often depends on the season, theme or objective of the program, but I try pay particular attention to the books’ vocabulary and illustrations when selecting which ones I will share during storytimes. I like for children to hear new words and expand their vocabulary so the manner in which an author writes and structures their sentences and stories is important to me.

Similarly, I feel that books are also a great way to expose children to art, so when choosing books I try to select those with awe-inspiring pictures that children and parents might connect with and appreciate.


Q: How do you make sure your storytimes are accessible to different audiences?

Brian: Accessibility and appropriateness are two facets of storytimes that are particularly important to me. I try to make sure that program offerings are varied, both in terms of the time of day and target audiences. I like to offer storytimes in the mornings, evenings and weekends to ensure that all persons have an opportunity to attend regardless of their work schedules or other commitments.

I also like to make sure our storytimes and other program offerings are varied enough to include something for all ages, interests and abilities. For instance, at the branch where I serve as Children’s Services Manager we offer a variety of preschool storytimes, baby storytimes, sensory programs for children who are “differently-abled” and book clubs focusing on a variety of themes and genres. While I certainly do not lead every program, I always encourage and appreciate my team making sure that no child’s needs or interest are ignored – and they have yet to disappoint!


Q: What have you learned through your storytime experience that you wish you had known when you started out?

Brian: With experience I have become more comfortable merely being myself during storytimes. When I first began leading storytimes, I felt that in order for the storytime to “measure up” to the children/adults’ expectations I had to follow a script/routine that they were accustomed to based on what they’d experienced in the past. However, I’ve grown to trust in my own abilities/knowledge and along the way have I have also realized that both children and adults appreciate variety.

Therefore, as opposed to sticking so closely to a “script” that may include alternating between a book and song, I now deviate from the script regularly and often allow the audience to share in the process – either by encouraging them to request songs they’d like to sing as a group, help “freestyle” finger plays or share anecdotes/stories themselves as I offer “suggestions” to the parents on how they might be able to simulate the experience and have success reading with their child at home.


Q: What one storytime skill are you really great at? Okay, you can share two things.

Brian: One of the more significant aspects of our roles as librarians is our responsibility to inform, connect and inspire. In addition to helping children develop early literacy skills, storytimes present an opportunity for us to share tools and literacy tips with parents, caregivers and childcare providers. In my experience I’ve found adult participants to be really appreciative and even inspired when they are given new pointers about relating to their child while sharing books.

Therefore, I like to take the time to engage and connect with the adults present during my storytimes and feel I have developed somewhat of a niche for doing so. I sometimes accomplish this through the welcome activities or even casual conversation prior to the program, which I use as an opportunity to connect and relate to parents and set the tone for storytime as a shared experience between them and their child. I’d like to think that I’ve become pretty good at this aspect of storytime and have established a really good rapport with the parents.

Also, as with most storytellers and children librarians, I love to incorporate music into the process. I enjoy writing my own songs, “tweaking” popular storytime sing-a-longs and using the instrumentals to pop, r&b or jazz songs that hopefully both parents and children will identify with and enjoy. This has also been an effective means of encouraging the parents to embrace and participate in the storytime process with their children.


Q: You’ve recently “emerged” from ALA’s Emerging Leader program. What can you share about your EL project? How might it connect to youth services?

Brian: The Emerging Leader project that I worked on was centered around the Librarians Build Communities initiative, which was a project that began many years ago and focused primarily on pairing interested library professionals with libraries and other organizations in need of skilled volunteers.

The team I served on was charged with the responsibility of creating a more sustainable means for the Librarians Build Communities initiative to grow and flourish as opposed to tapering off between Emerging Leader classes. We successfully established a Member Initiative Group (MIG) for Librarians Build Communities and now each of my Emerging Leader teammates serve as a de facto steering committee for Librarians Build Communities.

While this project was not directly related to children or youth services, it is centered around the idea of helping build/restore communities, and any community’s most viable resource is its children, so in a roundabout way, I suppose, building communities through service and volunteerism is a good example to set for both children and children services providers.

Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

Happy Birthday Amy!

Today, we want to celebrate Amy Koester, the Donatello of the Storytime Underground joint chiefs. She’s amazing at her job, passionate about youth services, and one of the hardest working people on the planet.

Wikipedia Definition- "depicted as the smartest of the four turtles. Donnie often speaks in technobabble with a natural aptitude for science and technology"

Wikipedia Definition- “depicted as the smartest of the four turtles. Donnie often speaks in technobabble with a natural aptitude for science and technology”


Amy is one of the top youth librarians in the game and she’s earned it. We call her a cyborg at times, but only because we’re jealous of how much she can accomplish in a single day. She’s someone all of the joint chiefs admire and we have no doubt that she will one day rule the world.


We hope she will let us walk next to her when it happens... preferably while linking arms.

We hope she will let us walk next to her when it happens… preferably while linking arms.

Happy Birthday Amy!



Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

Photo Diary: Your Storytime Face

Our final Photo Diary entry (for now) is the idea that started it all: to share your storytime face. We only got two submissions, but I hope the camaraderie of sharing your at-work visage will inspire YOU to share a photo in the comments or on our Facebook group page.


From Erin Davison:

Miss Erin Scary Face
I thought I’d submit this little picture from our SRP2014 Kickoff Party that made it into the local paper. I am reading “Can You Make A Scary Face” and..well..making a scary face.

The photographer should get an award for capturing that one.

I didn’t even know about it until a coworker from another department brought a copy to my desk. Her comment? “It’s not a very flattering picture.” My response: “You’ve never seen one of my storytimes and it captures the essence of a Miss Erin storytime perfectly! I LOVE IT!”

From Kendra Jones:

My “get them excited to start the book” storytime face at a Fancy Nancy party.

Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

Ask a Storytime Ninja: Projecting Without Straining

The second Ask a Ninja question is all about techniques for projecting your voice in storytime.  Are you a singer or know a lot about public speaking? Add your ideas in the comments section.


Ask a Storytime Ninja badge



Hi Ninjas! I have a question for the singers among you. Is there any way to teach storytime providers to improve their voice projection? I’m thinking particularly about the difference between your “head voice” and your “chest voice” (but I don’t have vocal instruction so maybe I have my terms wrong) and wondering if there are exercises to help people hear and feel the difference, but I’ll take any advice, especially if it comes with activities we can actually try together. Thanks!

And after a follow up by Michelle, for more clarification:

I’m thinking of staff…and speaking, not singing. When I hear someone straining to raise their voice and I know they could project better. As a kid In church choir I learned about “head” voice and “chest” voice but I don’t know how to teach this. But any techniques for breath support or projecting would be helpful!


Answers from July’s Featured Ninjas:


From Ingrid:
I don’t mean to brag or nothing, but I was a theatre major (Oh yes, I spelled it “re” instead of “er”. Deal with that!) in college. I’m also a classically trained musician. Or at least I was until I became a librarian. What I’m trying to say is, I have a majorly loud voice that can project. All it takes it some practice. You should check out the bajillion YouTube videos on how to project your voice without damaging your throat or losing your voice for the rest of the day.


Some tips from an ex-theatre dork:
1) Stand up straight. Good posture helps.
2) Drink lots of water, not sugary drinks or things with too much dairy or caffeine. Dairy makes lots of mucus, which is cool only if you’re into mucus.
3) Deep breaths. Don’t speak from your throat.
4) Don’t smoke. Just never smoke again.
5) Protect your throat during cold weather.
6) Rest your voice after lots of talking.
7) Know when you need a microphone. No shame in that. Better to use one than to screw up your voice.


The best tip I can give you is being aware of crowd control. I can make my voice pretty loud. I’m good at it. But if I have an overly excited storytime or a squirrelly group of uncooperative adults (the latter of which is more likely. Parents who talk during storytime are impossible to talk over), even my loud mouth voice will fall short. I have zero problem letting overly-chatty Cathies know when my voice is at maximum volume. I don’t try and talk over people who refuse to be quiet. Don’t try and shout over people who don’t want to listen. Public and Children’s Librarians do a lot of talking! We need to take good care of our voices.


From Michelle:

While voice projection is important for anyone doing public speaking, I do want to talk a little bit about styles. Some leaders have a louder presence, others have a softer one – both work. For example, my coworker and I have different styles, she has a bigger presence in the room, mine is a little bit more subtle. But we are both effective and engaging leaders. When you are a bit quieter of a presenter, you need to know effective crowd control. I have been known to stop reading a book and just wait for the room to get quiet. I know it seems old school, but it works (on the adults, I don’t worry about the kids noise level too much). Additionally, I often find parents like to park in the back of the room. I will always ask them to move closer. If you are quieter, you need to focus on creating a more intimate environment. Change the arrangement of the room if you need it, get creative, see what works, and use a microphone if you need it! Voice projection is important, but I think it is equally important to embrace your unique storytime style!


From Natasha:
The only thing I could add to any of this (and it might be piggy-backing on something already said) is if you are going for projection as a way to protect the voice, the two things I’ve been told and try to use myself
-warm up a little” by doing a little bit of humming the “mmmmm” sound (got that from an actor friend who also does the lip…wiggle?  The one that involves making a sound like a raspberry or Bronx cheer?  That one); and
-practice breathing from the diaphragm (breath in through the mouth, expand the belly instead of the chest, and then expel through the mouth, sucking the belly in as much as possible), not just in storytime, but as a regular relaxation technique.  I actually use it as a relaxation techniquie in storytime sometimes, having the kids and adults do it with me.



Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

Liberte. Egalite. Storytime.

For sure DO NOT let them eat cake, if “them” is a large group of toddlers and the cake is just before storytime.


Happy Bastille Day!


Erin (@erinisinire) started a new blog, which is exciting in and of itself, but it’s even more exciting because her first post was about using failure to move forward. I really think her management has the best possible idea, in supporting her finding out WHY things failed rather than ever taking her to task or making HER feel like a failure. Great management allows for great librarianship!! Also Erin is v. v. smarty pants.


Sandusky Library just launched a toy library, and it is really exciting. And the press materials look amazing! I deeply believe that the job of the public library is to provide access to literacy skills, especially to the least privileged, and we have as a profession agreed that play is an important piece of pre-literacy. If our patrons cannot afford toys, and we can lend them, why wouldn’t we?! Amazing. Congrats to EVERYONE involved in moving this project forward.


Speaking of play! Thanks to Gretchen Caserotti for passing on this article on why adults suck at playing with their kids. I think it’s really important. PS: Gretchen, congrats on IDAHO PUBLIC LIBRARY OF THE YEAR!


Katie Salo wrote about making connections with caregivers and has really smart tips, and scripts! She’s like the Captain Awkward of Librarian/Parent Interaction basically.


PBS ran a piece on closing the word gap that you can watch, and feel smug about all you’re already doing to make this happen/get fired up about all the work left to do.


Felt board table: You want one.


Beachfront Libraries: I want one.



Today is Ginger Rogers' birthday. She could do storytime backward, and in heels.

Today is Ginger Rogers’ birthday. She could do storytime backward, and in heels.

Also apparently play the ukulele.

Also apparently play the ukulele.


Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

Ask a Storytime Ninja: Adults with No Babies in Storytime

Welcome to the first Ask a Storytime Ninja for our Featured July Ninjas! They did a fabulous job, but if you have anything to add, please do so in the comments!

Ask a Storytime Ninja badge



I recently had a baby storytime that two grandparents attended without bringing a baby along with them. Never having had this happen, I wasn’t sure what to do. They pulled up chairs and sat in. However, because I tried to make sure they got something out of it, and was a bit flustered, the only actual baby got pretty restless, and the other caregiver seemed a bit puzzled.

Has this ever happened to you? How did/would you handle it? I hesitate to just ask them to leave, since they were genuinely interested, and since baby storytimes are largely for caregivers.




From Natasha: Although it doesn’t happen often, I have had random people come in to storytime without a child before, just sitting to watch and enjoy being around the little ones.​  Provided they aren’t disruptive, my usual strategy is to just do storytime as usual, focusing on the families and including the watcher with any comments directed at the adults.  I figure the observer will either continue watching/participating or will leave if they realize it’s not what they thought.

I also usually try to chat with them if I can catch them, just to give them a quick spiel about what storytimes “do”, and to find out more about their interest so I can guide them towards times they can attend with a child or direct them towards volunteer opportunities if that’s appropriate.


From Michelle: I have had guests arrive in storytime unannounced as well. It can feel a little awkward when it happens. Ideally people would ask if they can observe and state their intentions before the storytime, but that usually doesn’t happen. During these times, I just continue with the storytime as planned. In this particular situation, I can see how it would feel even more awkward since it is a smaller crowd in the baby storytime. I think what I would have done in that situation, I would have maybe done some introductions. That way the guests could maybe establish why they are observing, and then the regular attendees wouldn’t feel as awkward. However, sometimes guests show up later. If that is the case, I always try and catch them at the end and talk to them a little bit about what the storytime is all about.


From Ingrid: I work for a juggernaut of a library system, and to deal with the largeness of our institution, the powers that be have created a lot of policies. Sometimes the policies feel overreaching and unnecessary, but, other times, they come in handy. The majority of our childless storytime attendees are library school students who need to observe a program in order to satisfy a component of their studies. According to our current policy (and I couldn’t tell you if anyone follows it or not), when these students want to attend a class, they need to make an appointment. This way, in the “If You See Something, Say Something” capital of the country, where many of us tend to skew on the side of suspicious, if a childless person is going to attend class, we know who they are before-hand. Their intentions are obvious and there are no surprises. I can’t say that I’ve seen a childless person attend a storytime who wasn’t a student, but I think a policy like this could cover people like the aforementioned grandparents. It could prevent any sort of awkward situation for you and the other storytime participants. As Youth Services librarians, we tend to be awfully protective of “our children” and I think this is a good thing. I think it’s great that we remain aware of who is in our classes and for what reasons. Policies like this are there to support us and to protect our patrons. As long as we’re all consistent, they can be a great help to us.

Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

Ask a Storytime Ninja: July’s Featured Ninjas

This month’s ninjas have their work cut out for them as we already have a month’s worth of questions lined up for them to tackle. They are definitely up for the challenge!

Ask a Storytime Ninja badge

Introducing July’s Featured Ninjas



Ingrid Abrams: I have been a public children’s librarian in NYC since 2008. Currently, I am a Children’s and YA Librarian for Brooklyn Public Library’s Central Youth Wing. Before I was a librarian, I did serious time as a nanny, daycare worker, and a children’s theatre director. My life as an urban librarian has made me pretty skilled with dealing with very large crowds! Of course, I love each child as the special snowflakes that they are, but I have to say that toddlers are my absolute favorites.

Twitter: @magpielibrarian




michellekMichelle Kilty has been working in libraries since 2007 and has experience in storytimes with kids from 6 months old – preschool. Currently she is the Digital Literacy Librarian in Youth Services at Helen Plum Library in Lombard, IL. She works as part of a team presenting all types of youth oriented programs. She is passionate about exploring new technologies and ideas for children in libraries. You can find her on twitter @michelleannlib and on the blog Robot Test Kitchen:



darth vaderNatasha Forrester: I’ve been a Youth Librarian for…wow, seriously, has it been 12 years already?  My first 3 years were at a small, rural, stand-alone library in Kansas, and the last many years have been with a large, multi-branch county library in Oregon, and there are things I like and appreciate about both types.  While I was surprised at how much I like working with teens, early childhood is really my passion,and my two favorite library things are storytimes and doing programming for elementary-aged kids.  I’m also the in-house pop-culture and superhero geek, and rabid graphic novel consumer (as possibly obvious from my photo).

Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

TL;DR Advocacy

Today’s Boots on the Ground post comes from Amy Diegelman. Amy has an MLS with a specialization in Children’s and Youth Services, and works as a Young Adult Librarian at a small library on a popular island. Amy can be found almost constantly on twitter @amydieg, often wishes she was a werewolf, and used to write academic papers on the political philosophy of Batman.


TLDR Advocacy


I’m going to tell you a secret: I’m a YA Librarian! Okay, it isn’t a secret, but it IS unknown to many of our patrons. There is no desk in our YA area and I am often elsewhere in the library so, for me, every interaction is a chance for the most basic advocacy: showing I exist!


Patrons, young and old, are often in the YA area looking for particular books, guidance, etcAmy. with no idea there’s someone specifically meant to help them. This is when I get to advocate our services. I tell (and show) patrons that I’m literally a YA pro! Its not uncommon for adult patrons, particularly, to have no idea such a job even exists. Once they DO know, patrons usually ask new/more questions than they had of another librarian. And next time they visit, they know who to find!




Tell us your advocacy story in 149 words or less and we’ll put it up for the world to see. This is a great opportunity to refine your next elevator pitch, and to inspire others to step up their advocacy game.

Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

The Coolest Thing I Saw On the Internet This Week

As evidenced by our wrap up posts, Guerrilla Storytime at ALA 2014 was AMAZING. I am once again blown away by the incredible power of the GS model. Also the brilliance of our colleagues. We even got some good press! We were in Cognotes on page 6 (those of you from Britain will appreciate this), were mentioned in SLJ’s mega trends piece, and got a great write up in GalleyCat.


We were not the only great things happening on the Internet, though! Did you guys see that Angie FINALLLLLLY posted about her Epic and Legendary Baby Dance, and it was indeed both epic and legendary?


Are you having a hard time with this day/week/month/SRP? Here is A.A. Milne reading Winnie the Pooh aloud, so, now everything is all better and beautiful forever. Seriously. This is the best and most important thing that has ever happened in my life.


I’m not sure I’m with the American Academy of Pediatrics about screen time (I’m also a Doctor, didn’t you know? Not that kind, though. The kind that wears a Fez now because Fezes are cool) HOWEVER I love this post from Storytime Secrets about all kinds of other great stuff from around the house that babies can play with. Anything that encourages parents to PLAY, I say.


LOOK AT THIS AMAZING TODDLER EXPLORER SERIES over at Getting Giggles!! Don’t you want to do this RIGHT NOW? Yes. We all do.


Speaking of stuff you want to run back to work and do RIGHT NOW, may I present your new favorite website, Art Projects for Kids?


You know what I love about this Pete the Cat Party at Library Bonanza? EVERYTHING. BUT. What I love MOST is the painting with food and mud. Bestill my messy heart.


I hope you are all surviving SRP and doing kind things for yourself. You’re almost there, my beautiful Guerrillas! Take heart. Soon you’ll be doing back to school visits and planning Guerrilla Storytimes at your state conferences (see what I did there?). In the meantime, there are new Harry Potter stories in the world, and there are always more and more and more amazing picture books to be read and reread and loved into old friends.


Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page

July Photo Diary Prompt: or, the last photo diary (for now)

SU Photo Diary Badge

We’ve been doing Photo Diary for the better part of the time Storytime Underground has existed. And while we still love the idea behind it, we’ve got some other ideas up our sleeves that we’re itching to try.


And so this July Photo Diary will be the final photo diary, at least for now. The prompt is the one that initially launched the Photo Diary concept, and I do hope lots of you will participate.


July Photo Diary Theme:

Show us your silliest storytime face. It could be a face that you make on purpose to elicit laughs and participation. It could be a face that you make inadvertently as you’re in the midst of a really killer storytime. Whatever its cause, we want to see it.

How to participate:

Email your photo to us in either jpg or png format by July 19. We’ll let you know if we have questions.

The photo share:

Check back later in July for the photo roundup to see your fellow guerrillas’ most ridiculous storytime faces.



Share this!Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on TumblrEmail this to someonePrint this page