A Letter in Defense of Story Hour

by Zach Tomaszewski

for LIS 685, Fall 2001, taught by Nyla Fujii-Babb

----- Original Message -----
From: Zach Tomaszewski <snarkdreams@hotmail.com>
To: Library Director <bigcheese@mylibrary.org>
Sent: Tuesday, December 11, 2001 3:34 PM
Subject: loss of children's story hour


I understand that our library is giving serious consideration to cutting children's story hour. I find this a disturbing chain of events. There are a number of excellent reasons to maintain the story hour, among these being that storytelling promotes community, literacy, and education.

First of all, we must remember why the library has programs at all. It is because we are part of the community, not just a warehouse of used book. Programs give people a reason to come to the library besides only for the printed world. They are a way of advertising our content and services to the public, of promoting new ideas in a personal way, and of not just waiting for patrons to come in and browse our shelves. They are good marketing, in other words.

With this in mind, we can see that story hour is an ideal vehicle for reaching out to the community. Telling stories, especially from memory, produces an intimate connection between the performer and the audience. This connection is present in any live performance, whether music, theatre, or a conversation. There is a quality, a personal immediacy, in these live performances that cannot be reproduced on a CD, in a movie, or in a book. I think if you've ever listened closely to a storytelling, you will know exactly what I mean. If you haven't, I urge you to attend a story hour before you decide on this issue.

It is through this human-to-human connection of storytelling that we build a bridge to reading and literacy. Indeed, isn't one of the goals of every librarian to bring great works to the attention of individuals of the public? Stories told in a story hour circulate more after being told than before. Beside sparking interest in stories, storytelling builds language skills by exposing children to a vocabulary higher than their current reading level. It emphasizes understanding the semantics and meaning of words of a story, rather than only pronouncing phonetics and syntax reading words on a page. At younger ages, storytelling can be interactive with questions and games, which increases comprehension.

Besides skills directly related to reading and literacy, storytelling has other benefits. It teaches those in the audience how to listen, especially in a public situation. In our fast-paced, technological world, most of the images are provided for us at home. With storytelling, however, the listener must picture the events for herself. This improves both the imagination and conceptual skills. She must learn also the simple etiquette of following a live performance and being part of an audience.

Libraries have a history of storytelling. When the art of storytelling nearly died completely in America at the end of the 19th century, it was librarians who kept it alive in the form of story times. And we have had story hours in our libraries for decades. It is something we do as librarians. It's a live part of us that we give that goes beyond reference questions and finding books on the shelves. It is a direct way to bring literature to an audience.

As you can see, a story hour does much to forward the goals of the library. It is a good marketing strategy to bring people to the library. It provides a live human-to-human form of entertainment that increases both literacy and information processing life skills. It can increase interest in the collection and reading in general. And it is something libraries have been doing for decades. For these reasons, I strongly advise against cutting the story hour program. Indeed, I would advocate introducing a story hour for adults.


Zach Tomaszewski.