Many studies show that when parents get involved with early literacy, a child is better prepared for school—and life. That’s why North Liberty (Iowa) Community Library developed a monthly podcast aimed at busy, expecting families. Caregivers can learn about the literacy skills kids need to succeed—such as phonological awareness, letter knowledge, and print motivation—whenever and wherever they can.
The vision behind our Stork Storytime Talks podcast is simple: We want to enable new and expecting parents and caregivers to learn about early literacy skills at a time that is convenient for them, whether that’s during a daily drive or baby’s naptime.
The Talks podcast is a part of the larger Stork Storytime initiative I have been developing at North Liberty Community Library since 2015. This education series encourages expecting families to develop a reading routine before baby arrives, with help from three components: a read-aloud program; an annual expo that connects families with local businesses, resources, and social services; and the Talks podcast, which features experts and staffers from local libraries sharing useful information directly with caregivers. The initiative aims to get participants more confident about their role as a child’s first teacher.
The podcast grew out of an actual storytime at the library for expecting parents. Experts would talk about a specific early-literacy skill, and the library would share how we support that skill via programming and our collections. For instance, we had AmyRuth McGraw, lecturer at University of Iowa, discuss print motivation and how to read aloud to children. Karla McGregor, professor emeritus at University of Iowa, spoke about enriched vocabulary and the role of play in learning and development. At the end of the storytime, there would be social time for the adults. We wanted to provide a place where expecting parents could meet, start to build relationships and a network of support, and develop a habit of coming to the library.
But, as library programmers might empathize with me, I quickly realized that it’s hard to find a time that works for this specific population to attend. Even though North Liberty is a fast-growing community with a large number of young families, expecting parents have a lot going on in their lives—and a short time frame before baby arrives. Speaking from my own experience, not much during my first pregnancy could entice me back out of the house after a long day of work.
I knew sharing early-literacy concepts was important and wanted to see the program continued, so I decided to turn it into a podcast. This format would allow adults to listen and learn when they had the time, as well as expand the program’s reach beyond our community.
In 2016, we recorded our first session, “Welcome to Womb Literacy.” The podcasts were sporadic, but in 2018 we decided to rebrand the program as Stork Storytime Talks and commit to a monthly episode format.
I am the main host, and we alternate cohosting duties among staffers. The recording is done at the library or at the episode guest’s location. Prior to each episode, I research the topic and create an outline for my guests, which helps them know what to expect. Once the library has recorded an episode—installments average 20–40 minutes—the city’s communications department polishes up the audio. We host the podcast on SoundCloud.
Talks has expanded to topics beyond literacy, such as surrogacy, newborn screening, safe sleeping, and car seat safety. My favorite offsite recording was when I toured the Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa in Coralville and learned how this resource helps babies in need. There are actual banks that collect and distribute breast milk! We’ve also started recording a quarterly “Libraries and Literacy” series, which keeps with our original storytime concept. Each of these episodes features a different local library and focuses on a specific early-literacy skill.
We’re not professional podcasters, and we continue to learn and adapt as we go. But what’s important is that we have fun creating the episodes, and our guests are grateful to have an opportunity to share their expertise or help others going through a similar situation. Have a listen, and let us know what you think.