Lights, Camera, Literacy! Create Digital Media for Early Learning | First Steps

From YouTube to TikTok, ­librarians’ videos are promoting early literacy and allowing access to learning activities. These tips and examples will inspire you to hit Record.

BPL’s Sheneatha Frison on Book World 


“I saw you on TV!” kids exclaimed during a recent school visit. They had! Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) Book World show for kids encourages early literacy and library use. On a previous visit, I’d asked teachers to share it with their students.

Lisa Flanigan, youth services librarian at Watauga County (NC) Public Library, also uses video to reach schools. “I made a short video promoting 10 ways our library supports literacy,” she says. “I sent the link to the teachers to share at kindergarten orientation,” plus bookmarks with the QR code for families.

From YouTube to TikTok, ­librarians’ videos are promoting early literacy and allowing access to learning activities. With people watching an average of 17 hours of video a week, these suggestions will inspire you to hit Record.

Use video to connect with story time regulars. Maribel ­Nuñez, BPL early literacy outreach associate, records songs and rhymes to share in her program’s newsletter. Include a QR code linking to videos with early literacy activities and tips on in-person program handouts.


Look for local partners. Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy collaborated with Rocky Mountain Public Broadcasting Service to create TV and web content, resulting in StoryBlocks. “We wanted to have a resource that would be available statewide,” says Carol Edwards, retired Denver Public Library children’s department manager. StoryBlocks pairs songs and rhymes with early literacy tips.

Consider videos for professional development. Canadian librarians Lindsey Krabbenhoft and Dana Horrocks created in 2013 for an MLIS project. Featuring story time song and book recommendations, it grew into a blog and YouTube channel with over 70,000 subscribers. King County (WA) Library System’s “Tell Me a Story” project includes thousands of song and rhyme videos, performed by staff, in over 20 languages. Both are go-to sites to learn story time basics.

Create multilingual early literacy content. BPL’s Tibetan story times led by Tenzin Kalsang, children’s librarian and native Tibetan speaker, have gone viral to the Tibetan diaspora as far as Australia, New Zealand, and India. Jbrary’s English-language content also has a big impact. “We hear from people in China, Japan, Afghanistan, who thank us for giving them a tool to use with students learning English,” Krabbenhoft says.

Not sure about your video skills? Recruit colleagues. At Milwaukee Public Library, analytics manager Derek Reilly acted as camera operator for the library’s TikTok videos, which got five million views the first month.

Create humorous and authentic videos. Think about your target audience and the best video-sharing/social media platform. If you have funds, boost the audience for your content.

Keep costs minimal by filming on phones or tablets in a quiet, well-lit space. Use editing software such as iMovie, Lumen5, or Animaker to create introductions and polish videos. Don’t stress about quality, Krabbenhoft says. “[We] intentionally kept production value low. If we can do it, anyone can!” Camera-shy? Use upbeat music, book covers, and catchy captions.

Only read whole books with publisher permission. ­During COVID lockdown, restrictions were looser, but they’ve ­tightened up. Use your own ditties or public-domain ­traditional songs, making sure they don’t have racist or ­sexist ­legacies. ­Accessibility is key: Most apps can generate ­subtitles; use them.

When funds are available, use outside talent. BPL’s Book World showcases libraries as magical, fun-filled worlds in every child’s neighborhood. Library staff wrote scripts and original songs and performed dance numbers. We hired a production company for filming and editing and featured book reviews starring Brooklyn kids. “I’m famous!” declared Winnie, an eight-year-old participant.

So what are you waiting for? Lights, camera, literacy!

Sheneatha Frison is a school outreach librarian at BPL; Rachel G. Payne is coordinator of early childhood services.

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