In the spirit of full disclosure and in the hopes that we can all learn from each other’s mistakes as well as victories, this post is about two patron complaints against me in reference to storytime. After getting over the initial shock, I reflected about the incidents surrounding these complaints to figure out what I might have done differently or could/should do differently in the future. And this got me thinking about the whole idea of storytime and it’s purpose in the world.
But before I get in to that… the complaints:
1) She made us stop talking during baby storytime but we were just excited that her (friend of complaint issuer) son took his first steps. She was condescending (this part I’ll work on!)
Response: this is true. Although my memory is that when this kid took those steps we were in between activities and everyone actually clapped for him. Then later, while I was attempting to share a book and they were talking more, I paused to say “Could you please wait until after storytime to continue your conversation?” It’s very possible that my tone was not that great as I was pretty frustrated at that point and I hate ever having to do this, even when I feel it is necessary. Especially when you cannot continue with your story or activity because the talking is so loud. An addition to this the mother of the walker also said loudly “Oh sh*t, I can’t believe he’s doing this.” That was the kicker for me to decide to quiet them. I’d rather have one mom upset with me for asking her to be quiet than 20 because I didn’t shush her, letting the language and disruption continue. It’s a pretty conservative community and judging by the faces of the other adults in the room the outburst was not appreciated.
Okay, so that one was easy. Sorry you are mad I made you stop talking, but frankly, TOUGH! It’s storytime. Be respectful of the presenter and of the time you have with your child and only open your mouth to sign along.
2) Kendra is rude and makes us clap and sing and do things with her (this is not verbatim as I don’t have the comment sheet, but the words, rude, clap and sing were used in the same sentence.)
Response: This is the one that really got me. All the training I have says “Get those parents participating!” For both baby and toddler storytime our advertisements say “participating adult”. At the beginning of every storytime I say “This is ____ ST and my name is Kendra. There are only 2 rules for storytime. You have to have fun and participate and play with your child. And please hold any conversations until after storytime because it can be really distracting for the children.” So, ok, I can change “have to participate” but anyone who knows me would see the smile on my face and know I’m not saying this like a boot camp leader. But, it’s easy to change so fine.
Also, I have kind of a dry, snarky sense of humor. Most parents appreciate (at least in my past experience) my terrible jokes and this has really helped with building a good rapport with them. So I’m thinking this complaint could have been compounded by the fact that in storytime last week a dad answered his phone and took a call right after our opening song. He has a booming dad voice so it wasn’t possible for me to continue storytime while he was talking and he’d slipped behind the post in the story room so eye contact to get him to stop was not an option. So, to stop the crickets in the room I jokingly said “Oh and one more rule: no cell phones in storytime!” Ha. Ha. Ha. There were lots of chuckles. But maybe that was too harsh. So hard to tell these days! The VERY embarrassed dad got off the phone, I did NOT feel the need to say anything to him and I continued with storytime.
Now on to the big picture of this complaint: why do we do storytime? And why is it important (if it is) for parents to participate when they clearly don’t want to? These might be the only formal complaints we’ve had, but I know it’s hard getting parents to participate because after all this time mine are still awfully lackluster in their participation. They just want to sit there and watch me entertain their babies and toddlers.
So, my question to you: what is the purpose of storytime? Do we just want to get these people in the library and give them a positive experience? In that case, can we just stop with all the early literacy message stuff? Just do a dog and pony show and say see ya later? Or, do we want to educate parents? Impart our knowledge of children, early literacy, books, music, playing, etc. and hammer in how important it all is? Is it too overwhelming? Do we even know for sure? We aren’t teachers, we’re librarians. While I have a degree in psychology with lots of early child development credits, it’s been a while and it’s not what I practice 40 hours a week. So, are we really the experts? Should we be giving them tips or leaving that to educators who are trained in that kind of thing?
I’m reserving how I feel about this topic for now because I’m really interested to see what all of you have to say (maybe you’ll change my mind about things!). It’s a topic that comes up fairly often in libraries, but it hasn’t come across my desk for a long while. So let’s hear what you have to say!