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Adventures in early literacy

Storytime: Relationship Building

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Yesterday was the first day of a new session after a three week break. Those babies grew so much in three weeks!

Welcoming people back got me thinking about the relationships we make with our young patrons and their caregivers.  I’ve seen so many “methods” of bonding that work really well, but here’s what has worked for me. Visually, I’d say my approach is to expect a big smile rather than a big hug after a break (from adults, not kids-what would life be without knee hugs?).

1) Learning the child’s name is the most important thing, but it doesn’t hurt to learn the names of caregivers who are regulars, especially those with babies. They appreciate the thought and greeting them by name makes them feel like a regular which means they’ll likely keep being a regular. Babies don’t care much about you knowing their name, but knowing it and their mom’s name can make a huge impression on Mom.

2) Don’t get too personal. Forming relationships doesn’t mean being friends. You might make some friends along the way, but you shouldn’t be thinking about friendship when talking with caregivers. Stick to conversation about the library, literacy, their babies, and the weather. Occasionally a topic turns political, etc. and that’s when I quietly exit the conversation and leave parents to talk amongst themselves. They don’t need me for that conversation any more and I need to remain neutral to keep and gain trust with all patrons.

3) Be friendly but genuine. We are all used to putting on a smile to help even the most difficult of patrons. That kind of smile isn’t going to cut it with storytime adults. They can tell if you aren’t being genuine and that’s going to put space between you. How can they believe the things you are telling them if they don’t even believe you are happy to see them? P.S. If you aren’t happy to see people at storytime, you might rethink doing storytimes…

4) Passion and enthusiasm. If you’re reading this, you’ve likely got this already. But are you expressing your passion enthusiastically to your patrons? I’m not talk cheerleading here, just be excited to talk about what you do! You have great, important things to say and caregivers would much rather hear those things coming from a happy, lively librarian (that they trust, see #2) than one who is giving a lecture and doesn’t seem to enjoy doing it at that. This goes the other way, too. open your mind and heart to what caregivers are sharing with you, too. They often have great tips and kernels of advice you can “steal” and incorporate into another storytime’s parent tip. Mom’s have shared free spots for parents to hang out with their kids (great after storytime announcement!), Grandmas have taught me new songs, and Dads have demonstrated the proper way to make elephant sounds. These may seem little, but when they see you share them in a subsequent storytime, you’ve made a forever storytime lover and you’ve learned something new-hooray!

5) Be honest. Honesty is the key to any good relationship, but especially in the library. If you can’t give a patron an answer to their question for privacy reasons, etc. simply tell them that. “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you that staff person’s schedule. You are welcome to stop in on the 4th floor when you are here and ask for her, however.” OR “Oh, thanks for your interest, but I really prefer not to discuss politics at work. But I’d love to hear more about Katie’s music class!” They will appreciate your candor and you will not have alienated other patrons within hearing distance. Honesty also applies to setting expectations. Make sure your groups know what you expect from them right from the get go (trust me on this!). If you expect them to sing with you, ask them to sing with you! If you want them to sit and be quiet (oh, I hope not!), ask them to. It’s that simple. You are the expert. They will follow your lead.

6) Ask them to sing along. Really, I’m sure you all do this, but I find the best way to bond with people in storytime is by singing as a group. Not only does this bond you to your patrons but it bonds patrons to each other. They giggle over being tone deaf or singing the wrong words (no such thing, I say, as long as you’re singing), and encourage each other. Singing also breaks the ice for future conversations-hopefully AFTER storytime. Mostly, music makes us happy! Happy adults=happy kids.

7) It’s about the adults AND the kids. This sums everything up, really.  We are modeling how to interact with children for the adults in the room, some of whom may never have had experience with kids before they had their own. This is a huge part of storytime, especially for parents of babies. Parents are learning rhymes (for the first time!) we hope they will repeat at home, getting tips from other parents in the room, making friends, and watching their babies grow. We facilitate all this by providing our expertise and a safe, welcoming environment for them so they will want to return again and again. And if they can’t, they’ll at the very least have a positive image of the library and hopefully plenty of rhymes to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

I’m sure there’s so much more that I’m forgetting!

What kinds of relationships do you build with your patrons and how do you maintain them?

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Author: Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

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