Offline Professional Development: Messaging Microscope

Here’s your next installment of some offline self directed exercises if you need some things to work on during your library closure. See the intro post here!

Today your assignment is going to be to take a look at your storytime messaging. On my team, messaging is what we call everything you say in storytime that’s NOT “content” (eg, reading a book, singing a song, doing a fingerplay, etc).

Why? Because we spend most of our time thinking about our content selection and delivery, which is great! But there’s a lot of in-between stuff we say, and it can have an impact on how our storytimes meet our goals or our mission, just like our content & materials do.

Start by choosing an existing storytime plan. If you don’t have your files with you, you can create a plan for this exercise. Then, pretend you are actually delivering that storytime, and write down every single thing you would typically say in real life as you are presenting. Here’s an example I wrote up a million years ago to give you an idea.

Be honest! No one has to see this but you!


Once you have this written up, get out your storytime mission statement. What are the big things you want storytime to do or be? For us, we want our storytimes to be welcoming, engaging, and literacy-based. So if I were doing this exercise again, some focused questions I could ask myself might be:

How am I welcoming families? What am I saying as we get started? Am I assuming they all know who I am? Am I assuming they all know how to behave at storytime? What can I say to make everyone feel more comfortable at storytime? Am I helping them learn about other library services or programs that might help them feel connected with this community? Am I using jargon or colloquialisms that are tricky to understand for families families who speak English as a second or third language?

How am I giving my families support and helping them engage with storytime? Am I giving instructions for how to do fingerplays? Am I being super clear that there’s more than one way to do this activity, so kids of all abilities feel included? Am I asking grownups to put down their phones so they can help their child be successful? What can I say to make sure they know what are good ways to participate and when to do that?

How am I making it clear to our grownups that I’m making intentional choices for our storytime materials that will support their child’s learning? Am I encouraging them for participating in our activities and learning how they can do these things outside of storytime? Is my literacy message clear and brief and accurate or am I rambling a bit?

If you’ve been doing storytimes for any length of time at all, I bet you have a little script that you say pretty automatically as you navigate through your storytime presentation. This isn’t bad! Having phrases and scripts locked and loaded frees up your attention for other things, like reading the room and managing your flannelboard pieces. But it’s worth it once in a while to check in with those scripts, and see where you can tweak your messages to be even more intentional about walking your talk and meeting your goals. And if you’re new to storytimes, awesome! Now’s your chance to be thoughtful as you launch your practice.

Bonus: Tell us anything that surprised you when you saw your messaging written down!

Keep Going: Be brave and swap notes with a coworker and ask for their feedback and ideas. Or think beyond storytime: What are your scripts when answering homework questions? Helping kids find books in the picture book area? Talking with a teacher?

Apply your learning: Thinking about your goals for storytime, write out ONE thing you would like to say differently in ONE part of your storytime and why you’re making the change.

Shout out: to my storytime team, who deal with me setting specific expectations around multiple types of messaging and do such an awesome job communicating with our families.

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