December 14, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Guerrilla Storytime Is Growing Up | ALA Midwinter 2015

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Librarians Brooke Newberry (far left) and Allison Watkins lead Guerrilla Storytime attendees in song.

Conference goers passing the Networking Uncommons at ALA Midwinter Meeting last weekend were greeted with the sounds of singing, rhyming, and clapping at around noon each day, as more than 30 youth services librarians gathered for Guerrilla Storytime—a professional development exercise facilitated by the organization and blogging group Storytime Underground. Now in its second year, Guerrilla Storytime has become a popular conference event, with many participants attending multiple times over several days.

Guerrilla Storytime took place for the first time at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference. The idea was originally conceived of by children’s librarian Cory Eckert, of the Post Oak School in Houston, TX, who saw a need for an advocacy network to support children’s librarians and allow for an open sharing of ideas. Eckert was encouraged by friends and colleagues to move forward with the idea, and eventually Guerrilla Storytime was born. Eckert has since joined with fellow children’s librarians Kendra Jones of Tacoma (WA) Public Library, Amy Koester of Skokie (IL) Public Library, Soraya Silverman-Montano of Clark County (NV) Library, and Brooke Newberry of La Crosse (WI) Public Library to form Storytime Underground, which has built a large online community to support youth services librarians and let them share their skills. “We are all experts,” Eckert explains, “and we come here to train each other.”

The setup for Guerrilla Storytime is deliberately simple and easy to re-create. All that is really needed is a space to gather and people to share their ideas. For these Midwinter sessions, members of the Storytime Underground leadership—called “Joint Chiefs”—were present to facilitate. Each day, the Uncommons were rearranged, with tables pushed to the side so that chairs could be arranged in a large circle, since the focus of Guerrilla Storytime is to have librarians educate one another. Unsurprisingly, each session kicked off with a welcome song, standard practice for any storytime, shared by a volunteer.

The bulk of each hour-long event was devoted to questions from attendees or challenges pulled randomly from a cup. Challenges on Saturday covered a variety of issues, asking attendees to say how they might deal with emotional children, an ambulance appearing outside the window, and even a power outage. For each challenge, multiple librarians stood to give tips or demonstrate songs.

Several librarians recommended preparing children in advance for books they might find a little scary or sad. One librarian recommended joining kids at the window if there was a major distraction and encouraging them to talk about the colors, numbers, and words they might see. The power outage challenge, inspired by a real situation that Early Literacy Librarian Katie Salo, of Indian Prairie Library (IL) recently faced during a school visit, produced a number of creative solutions, such as having the kids make sound effects to stories they knew by heart or using a mobile device, like a tablet, to provide light and pictures.

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Rapt attention for another Guerrilla Storytime speaker.

 

Sunday’s session focused strongly on acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of attendees, allowing the librarians to discuss the things they were proud of, such as ukulele skills and egg shaker songs, and to request tips in dealing with more difficult issues, like overplanning or overcoming a deep discomfort with puppets. Sunday also had the special treats of practicing with a storytime parachute and reading a new picture book graciously loaned to the session by a publisher.

The diversity of regions, situations, and library types represented by attendees proved invaluable, exposing attendees to material they hadn’t seen before. As many youth and storytime librarians know, much of this type of information is passed person to person, and even with growing online resources, it can be hard to be comfortable with a new song or finger play without the chance to see and practice it in front of others.

More than anything, however, it was clear that Guerrilla Storytime provided all present with the rare chance to share experience, excitement, and laughter with a large professional learning network. Jokes about the universal challenges of educating children, stories that seem too outrageous to be true, and an unusual willingness to do silly dances and sit on the floor created a warm and cathartic environment for everyone.

With the success of Guerrilla Storytime at multiple conferences over the last year and a half and nearly 3,000 members of the Storytime Underground group on Facebook, the program continues to expand. Storytime Underground has launched Storytime University, a system of online professional development that awards digital badges for completing various tasks. They also supported the January launch of the blog “Teen Services Underground,” which will apply the same philosophy of professional development. A schedule of Guerrilla Storytimes at state and local conferences across the United States can be found on Storytime Underground’s website, and the organization encourages librarians to contact them for tips on facilitating their own sessions.


Amy N. Diegelman is a Young Adult Librarian in Massachusetts. You can find her on Twitter @amydieg for talk about teen, public libraries, and all things fangirl.

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