Ask a Storytime Ninja: Snacks, Volunteers, and Baby Music

Three questions for this installment!  If you have anything to add to these answers, please add your thoughts to the comments.

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Question 1:

We currently serve packaged snacks after storytime. There are many reasons I would like to stop doing this: worry we will run out, choking hazard for some snacks, parent complaints. BUT, I’m worried the kids will be very upset if we stop the snacks and it has always been done this way in the past.  I have considered changing from prepackaged snacks to something like goldfish but worry about issues with non-packaged foods. Should I go this route, or just cut out the snack completely and risk being the mean librarian?

Answers 1:

Kim (@LibrarianMarian) says: I agree with snack being unnecessary and I totally can understand not wanting to be the mean librarian.  In this situation, I would invoke a higher power.  Usually, my manager will back me up on decisions like this and I can say, “Management has asked that we no longer serve snacks at story time,” then at his direction all complaints are addressed to him, since he doesn’t have to cultivate story time friendships quite like I do.  I realize that some might not want to pass the buck, or have a manager who is willing to take that on.  Most parents will probably not complain if you say that story time is no longer serving snacks for reasons of budget and healthy kids initiative, which would be true: we always need more money and want to teach our kids healthier eating.  I’m thinking the kids will forget pretty quickly, and you could also warn them a few weeks before you begin.

Anne (@sotomorrow) says: I would tell the parents ahead of time and then I would cut snack out. Blame budget woes, if they ask why.

Abby (@abbylibrarian) says: First of all, the prepackaged “rule” may stem from a liability concern. In case someone gets sick after eating the snack at the library, you can pin in on the company that made the snacks since you know that library staff didn’t touch the food or make the food.
But as to the issue you’re facing… I would bite the bullet and make the change. I suspect it will probably be less of a big deal than you fear. I think an important thing (when dealing with parents, anyway) is to have a message and stay on message. A very legitimate concern would be that your snack would exclude kids with food allergies or sensitivities. In order to include everyone in the program, you will no longer be providing snacks. If you feel like you need to make an announcement about it, maybe you can suggest that they bring their own snacks if they would like to have a snack at the end of storytime. That way they can still enjoy their social snack time, but you’re off the hook for providing it.
Or instead of a snack, maybe you could do something else special at the end of storytime – a few minutes of exercise time (yoga poses, action songs, etc.) or a mystery bag ( or a coloring sheet or die-cut shape or letter to take home and color. Maybe a puppet could do the songs/activities with them and that might be seen as a treat. “Nope, we don’t have a snack today but I DO have a special surprise for you at the end of storytime!”
Whenever we’ve made a major change to storytimes (example: switching from doing a craft at the program to providing a take-home craft packet), I’ve been scared to do it but it’s made life a LOT easier for me and my staff and my patrons have not minded nearly as much as I feared. Even if you do get some backlash at first, it sounds to me like it will be worth it in the long run.

Angela (@annavalley) says: It might be time for a Storytime survey… you could find out other info about your program at the same time. Create a simple evaluation for parents to fill out (most of the time they are pretty willing to give feedback). Hand it to them at the end of storytime. Find out how important the snacks really are. And if you decide to get rid of snacks, replace them with something fun! A new game? Puppets? A super-silly song that everyone loves? Toys?

Lisa (@lmulvenna) says: Ugh.  Let me start off by saying that you are going to have a hard time getting rid of the snack.  It is like anything else-once you do it, people expect it and it is hard to change.  Here are some things you can do:
1.  First, check with your library’s insurance company to see if food is covered.  We used to think the same thing as you, but found out that we are allowed to serve food.  With so many different allergies out there now, you want to be covered in case the unthinkable happens.
2.  Do you have multiple story times?  This may be one way to cut down on the snack too.  Set up certain story times where the snack is served.  I know that Amy Koester (Show Me Librarian) does a Milk & Cookies story time.  If you set up one special story time with a snack, maybe you can delete it from the others.  I have found that sometimes I can change the way things are going in September and January as I start a new round of programs.
3.  Advertise.  If you change things up, list what happens at each story time. For example, ” Preschoolers ages 3-6 are invited for stories, fingerplays, and a craft.”
4.  Substitute the coolness.  Around here, stamps and stickers are almost as cool as the possibility of a snack thanks to Gymboree.  Is there something else that kids would think is awesome that you could do instead of a snack?Good luck!

Kendra (@klmpeace) says:
Snacks are costly, and it is impossible to please every family with them. Though children might be upset for a few storytimes, they will get over it. And you may even see some new families who were avoiding storytime before due to allergies, etc. At the end of each of my storytimes I blow bubbles. If I ever got rid of the bubbles they would likely murder me. BUT they are a healthier alternative to snacks and I’m betting if you subbed something cool like that (stamps, an activity like playdough, free play with cool toys if your library has them) for the snack, the kids will forget all about it.  Good luck! Change is always hard.

Question 2:
“I’m curious about how everyone handles patrons who offer to do story time (or other programs) for you. Every once in a while, I’ll have a well-meaning patron, usually a grandmotherly type, who says they’d like to volunteer and read to the kids. My first reaction is: But that’s my favorite part of my job! And my second reaction is: I don’t just “read to kids,” lady!In these times of short staffing and increased patrons, I can see the benefit of bringing in outside programmers like this. But I am hesitant to hand over the my professional duties in this way. It becomes easier to make the case that we can be replaced by volunteers. Your thoughts?”

Answers 2:

Anna (@opinionsbyanna) says: I generally steer this sort of thing towards outreach. First I gently explain that Storytime itself is a part of the duties of a professional librarian and requires a lot of training. Unfortunately the library doesn’t have a set time for volunteers to read to children, and that most of the time that kids are in the library, it is with a caregiver who may read to them; we don’t generally have demand for extra readers here in the building.Then I suggest that they contact the local head start or a local daycare. Those places DO have large groups of kids and can nearly always use volunteers for reading. This may vary in some states due to childcare laws, but has worked really well in the states where I have worked.
I usually also invite the person to attend Storytime (in my experience these volunteer wannabes are not people who actually attend programs) so they can see some of the ways I promote early literacy during the program, and offer to help them select books/show off our kits/takehome Storytime kits etc. for when they find a group to read to.

That being said, I would love to start a program to match seniors with young readers. World enough and time!

Hope that helps!Abby (@abbylibrarian) says: We do not allow volunteers to do storytime, just for the reasons you stated. Storytime is part of our jobs and we have been professionally trained for it! If someone asks about reading to the kids, I might respond good-naturedly with “That’s what they pay us for!” and then explain the typical duties that we assign to volunteers (prepping craft pieces, cleaning toys, straightening bookshelves, etc.). Actually, our volunteers are now handled through our HR department, so we let her know what tasks we have and she contacts us when she gets people looking to volunteer. I now very rarely have to deal with these kinds of requests (and I think when we refer them to contact HR, very few of them actually do so… which might indicate what our volunteer attendance rate might be if we DID take them up on it…!).The one exception we have made is if a community member with special skills approaches me about partnering with us to provide a program, I have sometimes taken them up on it. For example, last year a volunteer offered several sign language storytimes and a couple of summers ago a volunteer partnered with us to do a Spanish language program. We have always had a staff person involved with the program, though, in addition to the volunteer. Also, these programs were in addition to (not replacing) our standard schedule of regular storytimes.

Kim (@LibrarianMarian) says:
Full disclosure, I’m a youth services provider and story time is listed as specifically mine job description, so our response is always “no” to well-meaning story tellers.  As you say, Story time isn’t just “reading to kids.”  Also, while I’m sure their grandchildren very much enjoy hearing story time on their lap, it’s a different thing to do it to full room of kids.  Short of “auditioning” them as I did on my own job interview, how can you be sure how well they will do?  We have had professional story tellers come in for special events as performers, but Story Time is a institution of the library and just for our staff.

Angela (@annavalley) says:
I work in a small rural library system that is always struggling to find funds for programming. We get many offers to do programs of all sorts. Our solution was to create a Program Suggestion/Presenter form. You can check it out here: have actually had a few people (mostly retired teachers or librarians) who have volunteered to do storytime, that we now contract with to do programs in several of our branches. We do interviews just like we would for our staff when we “hire” volunteers for programming; they also attend training sessions and staff continuing education days. I think it keeps it more professional and lessens that “anyone can do storytime” feeling you are worried about!

Question 3:

“I am working on my baby storytime plans (0-23 mos.) and while I have found many excellent resources for books, rhymes, songs, and fingerplays, I am a little at a loss when it comes to finding recorded music that I like. I usually play a song at the beginning of storytime while the caregivers and babies blow bubbles. Towards the end of storytime, I like to play a song while the children dance and sometimes play shakers or bells. What are your favorite music albums for baby storytime? I’m looking for songs with a good dancing beat especially.”

Answers 3:

Kim (@LibrarianMarian) says: Before and after baby story time, I play “Sesame Street Platinum Hits.”  There are some really fun upbeat songs on there!  I will also turn on Toddler Tunes or Toddler favorites, which are mostly the same fingerplays and songs that we do in baby lap time.

Emily (@PoesyGalore) says:
I have two songs I love for these moments. The first is “Boom Boom” by Robert Bobbert, which is lyric-less and joyful and can work at either end. You can hear it at Bobbert’s site ( It’s from the album Robert Bobbert and the Bubble Machine, and if your library subscribes to Freegal, it’s available for free download there.

The second is “Alligator Stomp”, an infectious cajun/zydeco classic you can find in lots of places. I use Anna Moo’s version from the compilation album “Classic Animal Songs” put out by Shout!Factory (you can hear a sample here: This one isn’t appropriate for the beginning of storytime–it’s a wild one and might overwhelm–but it’s perfect for shaking bells or shakers to.

Kirby (@kirby_mcc) says:
My ‘go to’ albums are–
“Baby Face” by Georgiana Stewart
“Funsies volumes 1 & 2” by Hunk ta Bunk ta
“Baby-o” by MaryLee
“Baby Games” by Priscilla Hegner

Abby (@abbylibrarian) says: We use recorded music while we ring our bells in my baby storytime, so I’m always on the lookout for recorded music that I like! My top favorite right now is Caspar Babypants, who has a lot of upbeat, catchy songs. I especially find myself singing “Crawl” to myself all the time. (Also “Bad Blue Jay”.)I like a lot of the Putumayo Kids international CDs to add some diversity. I discovered Asheba, a reggae children’s singer, through them, and I love love love love his song “No More Monkeys”. You can find it on his album or on the Putumayo Animal Playground CD.Other artists I love: Ralph’s World, Laurie Berkner, Jim Gill (at my previous library we used “Alabama Mississippi” at every baby storytime), Elizabeth Mitchell (love “Zousan” and “Little Bird, Little Bird”). I have also been known to break out some Beatles and Beach Boys!

Kendra (@klmpeace) says: Ok, I have the benefit of seeing all the responses before answering (heh heh) so I’m going to second Caspar Babypants and say that he is now available on Freegal (YAY!).  After storytime I play Splish Splash by Bobby Darin while blowing bubbles. Other albums I love: everything by Kathy Reid-Naiman (We’re Tapping is a favorite song for shakers during storytime), Neil Sedaka’s kid’s album Waking Up is Hard to Do (really easy to dance to and there are books for some of the songs, too). If you are looking for dance-type music specifically, check out my Dance Party pages here and here. There are playlists on both pages.

About Kendra

Children's Librarian in the Northwest. Lover of toddlers, twitter, and TV (T's, too, apparently!).

Posted on August 27, 2013, in Ask a Storytime Ninja. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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