Author Archives: Amy Koester

We’ve Moved! (and added some awesome)

Hello there, friends! I hope you will allow me to redirect your attention to our NEW site, This new site will be the location for all the Storytime Underground content you’ve come to love, like Ask a Ninja and Coolest Thing, as well as recaps of Guerrilla Storytimes–including from the Guerrilla Storytimes happening at ALA in Vegas later this week!

You’ll also want to head over to our new site to see the grand reveal of a new, exciting professional development initiative we’ve been working on. No spoilers here! Head on over to check it all out for yourself.

**Please note: Due to high traffic, the new site may not load on your first attempt. Please wait a few minutes, then try again.**

Once you’re at the new site, please bookmark it, add it to your RSS feed, subscribe…whatever you need to do to make sure you keep getting Storytime Underground content that will now appear at

Peace out, yo.

We'll Be Back with date 2

For the next 10 days, it’ll be radio silence here at the Storytime Underground website. Not for vacation purposes–no, no, no. Suffice it to say that we’ve got some things up our sleeves. Mark your calendars for June 23, when we’ll be back with bells on and the grand unveiling of [REDACTED]. In the mean time, keep on keeping on over at the Facebook group.

Tracking the Conversation on Giving Credit

Last Thursday, I wrote a little post on making sure you credit the folks who have inspired your library work, or whose library work you have borrowed from. That post has spurred a substantial conversation–a great thing, if you ask me, as our profession could benefit from more critical, respectful conversation on hard topics that affect us all.

Since this particular conversation started here on the Storytime Underground, I want to set up a post that will link to all the pieces that are contributing to the conversation. I’ll keep updating this list, so if you know of a piece that should be linked, let me know in the comments.

Happy critical reading!

1. “How to Not Be An Asshole: Or, Citing Your Colleagues’ Work” by Amy Koester on the Storytime Underground (June 5) — The post that got this discussion rolling

2. “Avoiding Additional Asshat-tery” by Marge Loch-Wouters on Tiny Tips for Library Fun (June 5) — The first response, opening the discussion for considering the scaffolding inherent in library creation

3. “Further Considerations on Citing Your Colleagues, and the Detrimental Effects of ‘We'” by Amy Koester on the Storytime Underground (June 5) — My response to Marge’s response, aiming to unpack the potential damage of the “we did it together” statement

4. “I v. We” by Marge Loch-Wouters on Tiny Tips for Library Fun (June 6) — Marge’s clarification of her original point: that citing colleagues is integral, but we need to recognize that nothing is created in a vacuum

5. “School Carnival: A Library Outreach Report” by S. Bryce Kozla on Bryce Don’t Play (June 6) — At the end of her post, Bryce weighs in on the discussion, including her rationale for using Creative Commons licensing for her work and personal examples of when her work has been used both academically responsibly and not

6. “Inspiration, Citation, and Collaboration: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due” by Molly Wetta on Wrapped Up in Books (June 8) — Molly shares her personal experience with her work being used by another library without citation, finishing up with a reminder that claiming your work is not bragging, it’s part of a culture of responsible sharing

Further Considerations on Citing Your Colleagues, and the Detrimental Effects of “We”

This morning, I posted here on Storytime Underground a piece about the importance of citing your colleagues’ work, and how to make sure you always give them credit. Take a moment to read it if you haven’t yet; there’s a “10 Things I Hate About You” gif at the bottom as a reward for making it all the way through.

Now, I love discussion, so I was pleased as punch when fellow librarian and friend Marge posted a response on her own blog. Now go take a look at that one.

Marge ends her post with the question: “What do you think?” So here we go.

I would like to respond to Marge’s response from the perspective that, actually, focusing on the “we” of a collaborative team effort isn’t covering all of your bases; it’s usually not academically responsible, and it’s often detrimental to individuals and the profession–even when it’s used with the best of intentions. And I’ve got a few arguments as to why.

First, I’d like to assert that there are multiple contexts in which we all have the opportunity to share programs, successes, and accomplishments, and they all require consideration as to how to talk about these feats.

Let’s take the perspective of a department manager:

Scenario One: The manager is going out into the community to discuss the great things the library can offer. The purpose of this meeting is to give a general overview of the library’s excellence; too much detail will possibly weigh down the advocacy. Verdict: “we” is okay; the manager is conveying the sum total accomplishments of a group.

Scenario Two: The manager is going to a meeting of the library administrators or board of trustees to give a report about what’s been happening in children’s services. Verdict: “we” is NOT okay; there are key decision-makers in this type of meeting, folks who can have immediate impact over the career trajectory of individual employees, and thus should have a full understanding of the specific accomplishments of those individuals. Credit for specific projects needs to be given to the project owner.

Scenario Three: The manager has a public platform from which to share program (etc.) information–a blog, a column in a journal, a conference presentation, a keynote, a teaching opportunity–and details a specific program, or a list of specific programs. Verdict: “we” is NOT okay; when you have a public platform associated with your career, that platform is, by default, an academic medium. As such, it is subject to standards about voice of the author and crediting intellectual property holders. When you say “we” in an academic context, it is implied that you as an individual are the mind behind the statement unless that “we” is immediately followed by the names of all contributors. Saying “we” without naming specific contributors is academically dishonest.

As a rule of thumb, “we” is generally acceptable, but only when it is immediately followed by naming the contributing parties.

(image from glitters123)

(image from glitters123)

I am a huge fan of the collaboration in this profession, and I recognize that many, many excellent services are the product of a melding of many minds. But “we” doesn’t cut it, because again, the person saying “we” is going to automatically be given the credit; it’s how the English language works. It is imperative that any “we” statements are immediately specified by the names of the contributors in order to give full and equal credit for collaborations. So when Blossom says on her conference panel that “We saved the day!” she needs to immediately say: “It was a collaborative effort between Bubbles, Buttercup, and myself.” Relatedly, when Splinter tells Channel 3 reporter April O’Neil that “My team saved the city,” that means diddly squat in terms of attributing accomplishments unless those team members are explicitly named.

There are a lot of unintended potential effects of a “we” mentality, and they are damaging to the individuals who make up that we.

When you say “we,” it devalues the individual strengths, skills, and accomplishments of your team members. It can be a huge drain to staff empowerment and morale to only feel like you’re an unnamed piece of a larger machine.

When you say “we,” you’re keeping your teammates from the potential opportunities that their accomplishments might bring them. If Ms. Frizzle’s name is never attached to her ideas about transformational field trips, she will never have the chance to get tapped to author an article, present a training, or contribute to a webinar on the topic in which she has seen great success. The worst case scenario for Ms. Frizzle is that her principal gets paid to present trainings on the Friz’s Field Trip Philosophy while she never has that chance.

When you say “we,” you’re reducing your teammates’ opportunities for advancement. Every smart HR team knows to do a Google search and talk to supervisors of candidates they’re thinking of hiring, whether for in-house promotion or a whole new job. If you, the one with the platform to talk about ideas, don’t name the names of your contributors when you talk about collaborative accomplishments, those contributors are left without a paper trail to speak for their excellent work. That’s a huge detriment in a competitive workforce.

The idea that because we’re a collaborative field we need to just go with the team mentality is misleading, and potentially very, very damaging.

Our culture often teaches us to prioritize the group above the individual. In the library world, for example, when a voice speaks up about sexually aggressive behavior at conferences, the disproportionate number of white people in the profession, or the disproportionate number of white men in positions of authority, the discussion is ultimately shut down by the assertion that “We need to stick together!” But all that does is preserve the status quo.

With regard to giving individuals credit for their work, that’s akin to implying to, or outright telling, professionals that their individual professional wellbeing isn’t that important in the scheme of things so long as we’re Doing! Great! Together! Like the library profession is utopian or something, as opposed to what it is: often patriarchal, frequently dismissive of the contributions of youth services folks, and bestowing of preferential treatment upon those with the biggest platform for spouting opinions. In fact, when librarianship is unabashedly excellent, the major reason is because of those individuals who passionately share their ideas outward.

If we keep saying “we” without qualifying it, we’re not promoting ideas and progress on a large scale. If we keep saying “we” without qualifying it, nothing will change. And there’s plenty that needs to change, my friends.

Excellent librarians are responsible for great changes every day, and I want them all to get full credit for their work.


How to Not Be An Asshole: Or, Citing Your Colleagues’ Work

This here is a collaborative profession, y’all, a fact about which we at the Storytime Underground are THRILLED every day. There wouldn’t be a Storytime Underground, or a Guerrilla Storytime movement, without your willingness to talk about your ideas and successes. The stuff you all freely share–on your blogs, on Facebook, on listservs, at conferences–why, it’s inspiring. Sharing is what helps us all keep things fresh, interesting, and as beneficial as possible for the folks we serve at the library.

When you don't cite your colleagues' ideas, we're judging. Do the right thing and give credit where credit is due. (image from absolutelyluvvie)

When you don’t cite your colleagues’ ideas…yikes. Do the right thing and give credit where credit is due. (image from absolutelyluvvie)

And yet, sometimes, in the midst of all that feel-good energy that comes from the sharing for the benefit of all, we neglect to do that most responsible of librarian duties: cite our sources.

Consider this post, then, firstly as a reminder that it is important to cite your colleagues. They do great inspiring work, after all, and they absolutely, 100% deserve the credit and recognition for that work. As do you, for the work you do.

You can also consider this post a how-to for doing right by your colleagues. A how-to for giving credit where credit is due and not being as asshole, as it were.

1) When you see something on another blog (or conference presentation, or webinar) that you’d like to try, make sure you note where you got your original idea.

Keep these inspiration links in a Google Doc or on Evernote, because chances are, if you have your own blog, newsletter, etc., you’re going to want to write about your awesome iteration of the idea. Any write-up you do is incomplete–and, frankly, misleading–if you don’t include your inspiration source material. I’m not talking about etymology of a program concept here; there’s no need to trace every single step back to the original idea person. Cite where you got your inspiration, and you’re covered.

2) Your colleagues’ ideas are not your ideas.

That is to say, if you are in a position to be a mouthpiece for the excellent work happening at your library or by your colleagues–be that in a meeting, in a conference presentation, in an online course, on a blog, etc.–don’t just state your colleagues’ ideas like they’re your own. Cite them! Drop their names! Give them mad props for their badass librarian skills. Not only will you be doing the right thing, you’ll also demonstrate that you’re all about supporting the folks doing great work in the profession.

3) When you use program photos and other image content from blogs in your own blog posts or presentation slides, include the blogger’s name and a full link back to their blog.

It’s polite. It’s academically responsible. And it’s also giving your readers/attendees a direct link back to your source material. If it inspired you, it’ll probably inspire them, and you want to make sure they can get to the goods.

You’ve got some straightforward tips for being on the responsible side of citing the colleagues who influence you, but you may be wondering: what happens if you’re on the other side of the equation?

What to do if you realize your work hasn’t been cited by a colleague:

If your intellectual property isn’t being credited to you, you should be all means contact the person failing to give credit. But contact that person in private–face to face if you work directly with them, via email if you don’t. And be respectful. Sometimes a lack of credit is due to a lost link, or a hurried wrap-up to a blog post process. And while none of you fine readers will ever encounter these obstacles in your own need-to-cite-scenarios again, when they do happen, it’s usually neither personal nor intentional.

And if you’ve talked to the person, and they continue to take credit for your ideas (either explicitly or tacitly)? If you work with them, I’d seriously consider talking to your supervisor about how to proceed. It’s not being a tattletale, it’s about YOU getting appropriate credit for YOUR work. If you don’t work with them? Start a blog and write up all your awesomeness as soon as possible. Timestamps don’t lie.

It's never asshole day when you credit the colleagues who inspire you. (image from gifmethat)

It’s never asshole day when you credit the colleagues who inspire you. (image from gifmethat)

June Photo Diary Prompt

SU Photo Diary Badge

At the beginning of each month, we post the Storytime Underground Photo Diary prompt for the month. Community members are invited to submit photos (and maybe a bit of text) to us, and we’ll feature all Photo Diary submissions in a roundup post at the end of the month. The idea is that we can share peeks into one another’s libraries and storytimes, hopefully finding some inspiration, ideas, and common ground along the way.

June Photo Diary Theme:

Share your go-to professional travel supplies. ALA Annual Conference is coming up, and that means plenty of library folks will be headed to Las Vegas to get their professional conference on. Whether you’ve never been before, or you’re a seasoned conference attendee, knowing what’s useful to pack with your luggage can be tough. We want to see your must-have item/s for conference travel–those supplies that make attending conference easier and more stress free.

How to participate:

Email your photo to us in either jpg or png format by June 21. We’ll let you know if we have questions.

The photo share:

Check back later in June for the photo roundup to see your fellow guerrillas’ must-have conference travel items.

Meet Joel Nichols, Storytime Guerrilla of the Month

Joel makes all of his storytimes so much fun, and you can totally tell that by his happy photo.

Joel makes all of his storytimes so much fun, and you can totally tell that by his happy photo.

Ninjas, meet Joel Nichols, an outstanding storytime provider and our May Storytime Guerrilla of the Month!

Joel Nichols is a Children’s Librarian and Branch Manager at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Past jobs there have included the Parkway Central Children’s Department and the Techmobile, a computer lab on wheels. He is the author of iPads in the Library (2013) and Teaching Internet Basics: The Can-Do Guide (forthcoming 2014), and also writes fiction. Recent stories can be found in the weird fiction magazine Phobos and in With: New Gay Fiction. He has an MSLIS from Drexel, an MA in Creative Writing from Temple, and BA in German from Wesleyan University. He lives in Philadelphia with his boyfriend and their child.

Q: What’s your philosophy for choosing books and activities for storytime?
Joel: For books, the art and book design have to catch my eye. The pictures need to tell the story. The text has to be clear and work on many levels: a preschool-appropriate message level, the right vocabulary level, to start, but it also has to offer something to adults in the group and, for the best ones, also in terms of symbology and reference to other texts.

For songs and rhymes: they have to be something I can sing/remember/recite! I’m no singer, so simple tunes work for me. I’m also drawn to anything about the moon and space, elephants, whales, insects, dinosaurs, and lots of other stuff.

That said, I test books out in storytime all the time that I don’t even necessarily like, but that have interesting connections to real-life events or other books. The final part of my philosophy for planning storytimes is that I try out lots of stuff and keep doing whatever seemed to work, whatever kids enjoyed, whatever they ask for, etc.

Go away, Big Green Monster!

Go away, Big Green Monster!

Q: If you had free reign to try anything in storytime, what would it be?
Joel: Crafts and writing activities. I work in a small branch and do storytimes on the floor. I wish there were appropriate space and furniture for preschoolers to have a chance to write/draw/make about something we just read or talked about in storytime. I’m constantly pairing storytime books that have lots of intertextual resonance, like Mr. Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown and Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester, and then asking kids to talk about the stories and books and what was the same and what was different. I’d love to be able to do more of that, but with big groups of preschool classes, it’s challenging.

Q: What piece of advice would you give to librarians just starting out in youth services?
Joel: Think of your professional practice and development as a “see one, do one, teach one” field, and observe as many other librarians doing their work as you can. Watching, assisting and asking questions to learn about the practice of others teaches you new practical skills and builds confidence through repetition.

Q: What one storytime skill are you really great at? Okay, you can share two things.
Joel: My favorite thing is being like a narrator for an amazing literacy experience. Sort of like Levar Burton on Reading Rainbow: setting the scene, introducing the books, and then also asking about and discussing them…I like taking storytimers on a magical journey where they are seeing some things and learning about some ideas for the very first time. That’s what I really enjoy.

Q: You’re in an elevator and an adult services librarian says something about storytime that makes it clear she just doesn’t get it. What do you say to convey the importance of storytime?
Joel: Sometimes people just don’t get it because they haven’t experienced it. You could ask her to join you in giving a storytime sometime, or just invite her to watch yours. In my community, storytime is a place where kids get access to a world of books, stories, art and ideas that’s more interesting and different (and maybe better) than the other media they are exposed to. It can be frustrating that this work is so often reduced to “reading with kids” by people who don’t understand the 5 early literacy areas and the role of children’s librarians in supporting literacy development, but go read to some kids and you’ll feel better.

Photo Diary: Zany Storytimes

This month, we tried something a wee bit different for the Photo Diary. Instead of asking you to share a first person photo of something to do with your library or storytime, we asked for submissions of stories of your zaniest storytime experiences–accompanied by ridiculous pictures and gifs, of course! As per usual, you did not disappoint.

Oh, my fellow librarians. The strange and wonderful things you’ve survived in your storytime tenure.

From an anonymous librarian who now lives in Nova Scotia:

When I was working in Oregon, I did outreach to Family Home Daycares. Once a month, I took a box of books and a storytime to home daycares and did storytime, then left the materials for the child care provider to use until the next month when I returned. Going into people’s homes is interesting, to say the least. Once while I was in the middle of reading Caps For Sale, one of the little girls just stood up and started peeing on the floor. Luckily, she was far enough away from me that the pee stayed off my books (and me). The woman in charge was pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. She just waited until she was done, and then wiped it up. I, of course, just kept reading the book.

zebra pee

From Lisa Mulvenna:

A couple of years ago the air conditioning went out at work during the middle of summer. If you haven’t experienced summer in Michigan, it is not unusual to have 90+ degrees and 100% humidity. Since we had storytimes running all morning, we propped open the outside door in the meeting room to let some air into the room while we set up. While this would seem like a good idea, multiple bees flew into the room and decided that they loved our fluorescent lights in the ceiling. We didn’t know this and they all decided to come out during the first program of the morning: baby storytime. The parents were pretty good natured about the situation, but in our 30-minute break between storytimes the two of us children’s librarians were trying to swat bees up in light fixtures in a 10-foot ceiling.


From Meagan Schiebel:

I’ve only been doing storytime for a couple years so I’m sure the worst of the horror stories is yet to come, but I had a failure of a storytime this past fall. It actually is the storytime that prompted me to completely redo my entire storytime.

I don’t even remember the theme or any of the books I read, probably because I was only about to get through about one book and then it all went downhill from there. It was a larger group than normal and all the kids who maybe aren’t on their best behavior (c’mon, I know you have some like that, too) were there. When you get one hyperactive kid around another hyperactive kid in a room with 15 other not hyperactive kids, then they all become hyperactive. The next part is expected: toddlers running around and screaming. Parents apologizing. Me struggling through, still attempting to sing and failing miserably. At one point the instigator of all this, a three year old girl, was running around with her pants around her ankles.

I closed up shop early and pulled a Merida in this GIF. Shock, tears, escape.

Guerrilla Storytimes @ 2014 ALA Annual Conference in Las Vegas!

It’s happening.

GS flyer

May Photo Diary Prompt

SU Photo Diary Badge

At the beginning of each month, we post the Storytime Underground Photo Diary prompt for the month. Community members are invited to submit photos (and maybe a bit of text) to us, and we’ll feature all Photo Diary submissions in a roundup post at the end of the month. The idea is that we can share peeks into one another’s libraries and storytimes, hopefully finding some inspiration, ideas, and common ground along the way.

May Photo Diary Theme:

Share your zaniest storytime experience! We’ve all had them: storytimes that could have been perfectly normal, but that turn out unbelievably crazy and sound like an unrealistic sitcom scenario when you tell your non-librarian friends. We here at Storytime Underground believe all the strange things that may have happened to you in storytime, though, and we want to hear about them! We’d love for you to accompany your story with an image of some sort, too. Think ridiculous gifs, grumpy cats, etc.

How to participate:

Email your photo and story to us in either jpg or png format by May 17. We’ll let you know if we have questions.

The photo share:

Check back later in May for the photo roundup to see your fellow guerrillas’ craziest storytime stories.

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