In these tech-savvy times, it’s easy to imagine that toddlers and preschoolers live in a world that no longer includes activities like visiting the library or having books read aloud to them.
That’s not the story, however, at Washington County Libraries.
Instead, the popularity of story times — a chance for parents and young children to listen to a librarian read books aloud — has grown exponentially at the county’s branch libraries.
“For people who say that the book is dead, stop by the library and just watch these kids,” said Chad Lubbers, branch manager at R.H. Stafford Library in Woodbury.
Since 2006, the number of story time attendees at all branch locations has grown by 88 percent. And at R.H. Stafford, toddler story times regularly bring in 90 to 150 attendees, including adults. This fall, the branch had to add another toddler session to accommodate everyone.
“Part of it is the demographics of Woodbury,” Lubbers said. “There are just a lot of young families with a lot of young kids.”
Dawn LaBrosse, R.H. Stafford’s youth services librarian, attributes the success to the time of day the sessions take place — mid-mornings — and to catering each story time to a specific age group, including babies, toddlers and preschoolers. She started the toddler story times in 2012.
“[Toddlers] are at that age where they’re ready to learn how to sit still and listen to stories, but they’re not going to listen to a long book,” LaBrosse said.
There may be another reason for the high turnout. “We’ve just got some darn excellent storytellers here,” Lubbers said.
‘Not just a quiet place’
Last Tuesday, about 100 people gathered at R.H. Stafford for toddler story time. Parents and grandparents lined up strollers along the walls, almost running out of room. “Every library wishes they had that problem,” Lubbers said.
LaBrosse read two books focused on the letter “G,” encouraging kids to trace it in the air. Some kids were hanging on her words, following the familiar “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” plot. Other 1- to 3-year-olds were babbling to themselves, squirming or crawling across the floor.
The activity is fine with LaBrosse, who has two kids of her own. Keeping kids quiet isn’t the point of story times — the goal is to get kids to participate, repeat letter sounds, sing songs and move around.
After reading books and singing a counting song about bubble gum, LaBrosse played a song about wiggling, a crowd favorite. Nearly 50 toddlers got up and shimmied.
“He loves the teacher, and he really loves to dance,” said Shan Quang of her son, Ian, 2½.
Zeba Parker said she’s been coming to toddler story time for a couple of months with her 2-year-old, Fariz, and her newborn, Zoya. It’s a chance to get out of the house, she said. “[Fariz] looks forward to it, for sure,” she said.
After story time, kids and parents hang around to look at books, chat and play in the nearby log cabin play area.
“We are changing,” said LaBrosse. “We want to send the message to families … a library is not just a quiet place anymore.”