From bilingual storytime to just storytime: a learning experience

Last fall, we didn’t offer bilingual storytime at the library.  This was a really tough decision for me to make, and something that definitely made me feel like a failure. Bilingual storytime was something I was proud of, something I had started as soon as I was hired, and one of the biggest ways our library was serving Spanish speakers and creating awareness about diversity in our community.

But attendance had really been dropping; sometimes I had no one, once I had a single family, and many months I walked through the library asking the older kids who were there if they wanted to come to storytime, and by the way there were cookies. Not my proudest moments. I wanted to be able to focus on something that families really wanted and would come to. I did a survey, asking families about evening programs and times. I tried a few new things, some of which worked and some of which didn’t. I’m making some more changes for the spring.

But I still think that bilingual storytime is important, and I was dedicated to keeping it alive. So here’s what I did:

Outreach. I took bilingual storytime on the road!

Partnerships. One of our three elementary schools has the largest Spanish speaking population and ELL students, so I asked the LMC director if I could come do bilingual storytime. Starting in January, I’ll be visiting every K-2nd class once a month during their library time to read stories in English and Spanish! While I know that this goes against another current goal of trying to find a sustainable workload, I think it is important enough that I will give up that time and make it work.


Storytime. This is the big one. If I can’t have a bilingual storytime, why can’t I make storytime, my regular storytimes that I already do, bilingual? Oh wait, I CAN. And I did.

First up, my regular outreach. In September, I started each new visit by telling the teachers that I would be singing songs in Spanish this year, and handing over printed lyrics. I was prepared to explain why I was doing this and why it was important, but they were overwhelmingly thrilled, and almost everywhere has at least one Spanish speaking kid.

We sing hello in Spanish every month, and we usually do either Cabeza y Hombros, or my movement song. We often do Red is Rojo.  The kids are slowly learning the words, but that isn’t really the point. I want them to get used to hearing Spanish, and to know that Spanish is important and cool. And I LOVE when the Spanish speaking kids, maybe the ones who haven’t been paying attention, or acting out a little (duh. if they can’t understand what I’m saying they get bored!) sit up straighter and look at me like they suddenly see me.

Sometimes kids go home and tell their parents that they are “learning Spanish at school.” Recently, the kids have started asking for MORE SONGS IN SPANISH. Huge win. Stay tuned for a Spanish version of Jbrary’s Zoom Zoom Zoom.

This year, our Headstart and one of our Early Childhood classes are more than half native Spanish speakers, so those outreach storytimes are much more like my traditional bilingual storytimes. I do a lot of talking in Spanish, and make sure to do more activities in Spanish as well.

I’m still working on adding Spanish to my regular in-house toddler and baby storytimes. We’ve done a couple bilingual books, and we sing Red is Rojo pretty frequently. We always sing Cabeza y Hombros in Music+ Movement, and sometimes I add another song in Spanish to the playlist.

The moral of this story is that if people aren’t going to come to bilingual storytime, then I’m prepared to take bilingual storytime to them, any way I can.

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