The New “Volunteer-delivered” Storytime…not so much…

I recently came across this promotional piece from Upstart Demco about their Very Ready Reading Program. Here is a link to the piece entitled “The New Storytime: Putting Research Into Action”. The short piece goes on to tell us about how their product has helped a children’s librarian to train and prepare volunteers to do storytimes. You can read it here…I will wait…

I am so convinced of the importance of our professional role that I was dismayed to see this practice of having volunteers deliver storytime programs, however necessary it may seem to be in this community, lauded, in print as an example of “The New Storytime”. It isn’t. Volunteer work can in no way be reflective of the extraordinarily complex, nuanced, balanced and well-researched professional practices that are currently underway in the field of children’s librarianship. There are many examples of such professional work all over the internet. I am not acquainted with the librarian featured in the piece, nor any of her volunteers. I am sure they are all committed and wonderful people. That does not make it acceptable for volunteers to do what I consider to be a professional children’s librarian’s core activity, for, you know, money?

All levels of government need to adequately fund libraries so that overworked and short-staffed children’s services staff do not need to rely on volunteers, however well-meaning (or well-trained they are via this product) to plan and deliver early literacy programs. If a volunteer can do what I do (i.e. face to face early literacy work with young children and their families in a public library) as well as I do it, I would argue vociferously that he or she is being exploited, period. Also, the use of volunteers sends the message that actual paid children’s staff of all levels (librarians, library technicians and library assistants)are superfluous. Haven’t all children’s librarians heard “Oh, your job must be so much fun, just reading to kids all day!” or some such other nonsense. Yes, my job is fun, and do love it. It is however NOT so much fun defending the salary I work for in a job I qualified for by completing 6 years of full-time university. In doing this PhD, I am striving/hoping/aiming for a future job educating students in children’s librarianship where I want to share my enthusiasm and expertise for doing what I think of as one of the Western world’s most important jobs. I really don’t want the exemplary work of a long history of children’s librarianship to be relegated to future corps of volunteers who follow a script.

Early Literacy is NOT FREE!

Early Literacy is NOT FREE!


2 responses to “The New “Volunteer-delivered” Storytime…not so much…

  1. While I understand and respect your opinion on this subject and in no way want to degrade your education or passion for your career and profession I would encourage you to keep an open mind on this subject.

    I have no knowledge of this specific ‘canned’ product, but in towns or areas where the choice is no literacy/Story Time program versus programming run by dedicated volunteers who put considerable time, effort, research and preparation into quality programs, I would choose a program run by a volunteer any day of the week. Literacy skills, love of reading and libraries should be encouraged and fostered whenever possible. We all bring different skills and tools to the table. No, my training is not the same as yours, and yes, my research into quality programming is greatly enhanced by the generosity of librarians and literacy specialists like you who share your ideas on the internet, in books, at conferences, but I run a great Story Time program and I am sure I am not the only dedicated volunteer doing so in this country.

    As a parent I have attended many excellent Story Times with my own children, some run by paid professionals and some by volunteers; but, the reverse is also true. I have seen some truly ghastly children’s programming run by librarians with advanced degrees.

    The bottom line is that without volunteers stepping up to fill in the gaps there would be no children’s programming in many communities including my own, and that would be a huge shame for the children and families of those communities. In fact, in my own town, there would not even be a library.

    So no, I do not begrudge you your salary, but nor do I feel at all exploited as a volunteer. I am thankful for trained professionals like you every time I sit down to plan a program and learn from the education, passion and experience that you so willingly share.

    Anne McKernan
    Volunteer since 1999
    Newtown Library Company
    (founded in 1760 and run almost exclusively for the last 254 years by volunteers)

  2. Anne, thank you so much for replying and I appreciate your role, I really do. As a big city girl, my response to the article I discuss is biased towards urban libraries. My disappointment is mainly with the company that ran the article as if it is no big deal. I would have been happier if it had included a broader spectrum of their product’s cache in the public library storytime world. It is a big deal for libraries in general to be portrayed as places where volunteers can run early literacy programs – many do – such as those in your community – which of course is better than nothing at all – but it remains in my mind problematic for the profession as a whole. Children’s librarians cannot defend their positions if prevailing notions tell us otherwise – that a purchased packaged curriculum and a volunteer can suffice for early literacy support in library settings. I have worked with volunteers who have been nothing short of inspiring – people with advanced degrees who volunteer their time in food banks making sure that families have books to take home along with their groceries, that kind of thing – so yes I completely appreciate the dedication and excellence of many volunteers and the fortunate families they provide their services to. There is indeed a lot “greyness” of this issue and thank you for pointing out the other side so clearly. I too have been witness to some pretty disappointing presentations delivered by degree-holding professionals. All this points out to me that we have to get on the same page with regards to ensuring that children and families are provided with the best early literacy resources.
    Thank you once again for your comment!

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