In recent years budget cuts have sent Spokane Public Library staffers scrambling. Reductions in branch hours and personnel threatened one of the most popular services the libraries offer: storytime.
“We have one children’s librarian for three branches,” said Sally Chilson, youth services coordinator. “So, in 2006, we decided to take the leap and train storytime volunteers.”
Lara Voigtlaender was one of the first to volunteer. “I saw a sign posted when I brought my kids to storytime. They were going to have to eliminate storytime altogether.”
That was six years ago, and Voigtlaender, whose kids now range in age from 8 to 24, is still busy reading to crowds of toddlers and preschoolers at the Indian Trail Library.
Chilson is glad she took a chance on storytime volunteers. They’ve helped the library preserve a popular program for its youngest patrons. “You never know how something is going to go when you turn it over to volunteers,” she said. “But this has gone exceptionally well.”
On a recent Friday, as Voigtlaender prepared to read to a group of toddlers, a little boy sidled up to a girl in the front row and asked, “Would you give me a hug?” And she did. Storytime is always a friendly, welcoming event.
The first story of the day, “Where Is the Green Sheep?” drew excited comments from the kids when Voigtlaender asked, “What is green?”
Four-year-old Thomas Cary answered, “My Oregon Ducks blanket has green! And so do Oregon Ducks!”
Voigtlaender kept the kids entertained and engaged with fingerplays and songs between books. When she asked who had played “duck, duck, goose,” Thomas was again quick to answer: “I’ve played hammer, hammer, nail.”
The toddler program concluded with the much-anticipated hand stamp. One girl squealed, “Mom! She brought a stamp with her!”
Voigtlaender asked the children to place their hands on their heads if they wanted a stamp, and they quickly obliged.
“It’s a doggie!” shouted a delighted child. Several minutes of toddler admiration followed as the kids showed off their stamps.
As the children and their parents filed out, a group of waiting preschoolers and parents streamed in. A boy who’d been browsing the shelves during toddler storytime ran up to Voigtlaender.
“Look at the book I got!” he said.
“Oh, that’s a good one!” she replied.
Indeed, most of the children who attended spent time among the bookshelves and went home with their arms full of books.
Chilson said, “Early literacy is the heart of storytime. It makes language fun and gives someone besides Mom and Dad to say reading is fun.”
Eager enjoyment radiated from upturned faces as the preschool group settled in for their first story, “Here’s to You.”
As Voigtlaender turned the last page, a girl remarked, “There sure were a lot of ‘yous’ in that book.”
The crowd favorite proved to be “Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing.” Giggles and guffaws erupted as Voigtlaender turned the pages to reveal the unfortunate consequences of porcupines in dresses and pants-wearing hens.
“Kids love books with humor,” Voigtlaender said.
After dispensing the eagerly awaited stamps to the preschool crew, she gathered her books. Voigtlaender said she enjoyed the volunteer-training process through the Spokane Public Library. “Sally (Chilson) showed me the basics of storytime and how to pick books for each age group.”
Voigtlaender reads to the children about once a month. “I love the interaction with the kids and the fun things they share,” she said. “They really are the best.”