Guerrilla Storytime

January 26, 2014

On Sunday the Uncommons were rocking with the sound of some 40 children's librarians singing the classic children's rhyme “Open, Shut Them” together as one as they opened the first-ever Midwinter session of “Guerrilla Storytime.”

What’s Guerrilla Storytime? Launched by Cory Eckert at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference, the idea was to give youth services librarians from across the country a chance not only to learn from each other in a hands-on environment but to invite ALA attendees to witness the energy and engagement of a live storytime program. As designed by Eckert, Guerrilla Storytime is an open-mic-style storytime program wherein participants are invited to fulfill storytime challenges in front of an audience. From sharing strategies on how to deal with parents to singing songs and modeling dance moves, it is a lively and engaging program for participants and observers alike.

Part of the Guerrilla Storytime crowd. Photo by Angie Manfredi.All too often conferences can become overly theoretical. The theory of Guerrilla Storytime is to create a chance to show the power of storytime in actual practice and offer youth services librarians a chance to meet in person and build their professional networks. As an extra bonus, Guerrilla Storytime gave attendees with little or no youth services or storytime experience the opportunity to witness a public library core service performed live. Since the first one, sessions have been held across the United States and Canada at numerous library conferences. Guerrilla Storytime also expanded to include a blog: Storytime Underground, which is run by Cory Eckert, Houston Public Library; Amy Koester, St. Charles (Mo.) City-County Public Library; and Kendra Jones, Fort Vancouver (Wash.) Regional Library. 

Though Cory was unable to attend Midwinter because of a new job, Guerrilla Storytime went on anyway, thanks to the dedication of interested participants and the leadership of Amy Koester. I attended the session at Annual and, if anything, the excitement and enthusiasm here at Midwinter were even greater. In the six months since Guerrilla Storytime started, word of mouth and passion for it has only grown.

Choosing from the challenge cup. Photo by Angie Manfredi.We gathered together in a huge circle in the Uncommons and began pulling random challenges from the challenge cup. This gave us prompts to practice our skills and broke the ice. We also had time to ask questions and share our own best practices. Some of the things we shared at Sunday’s session were favorite goodbye songs, ways to deal with a rambunctious child during storytime, what to do if a parent starts filming one of your sessions, and songs to calm down wiggles. We discussed yoga storytimes, using props, and our favorite resources for learning new rhymes and songs. Many of us got up and sang and danced in front of the crowd and many more chimed in with their ideas and thoughts. Two librarians, Sara Hathaway and Meagan Albright, demonstrated favorite Shaker songs. Watch the videos, here and here.

And, best of all, we did it in front of crowds! Guerrilla Storytime is the most successful when all ALA attendees can observe and, if they feel inclined, drop in and observe or participate. You can see from the photos and videos some of the innovation and networking taking place. You can learn more about Guerrilla Storytime and the ongoing work of Storytime Underground at the blog. There were also many live tweets happening at the #GuerrillaStorytime hashtag on Twitter, which also tracks any other sessions held across the country.

If you’re a youth services librarian, you can get involved in the conversation today and join us at the next session. Even better, you can host one at your own library conference or event. If you’re not a youth services librarian, this is a great way for you to learn more about our work and how it impacts your library. We love visitors and observers, but we can’t promise you won’t be asked to pick up a shaker and start dancing!

ANGIE MANFREDI is head of youth services at Los Alamos County (N.Mex.) Library System.

See, hear, and read more about what’s going on at Midwinter—in real time and after. 

Twitter: @alamw and #alamw14