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VCU’s Robertson School, regional library create virtual children storytimes

A partnership with VCU has allowed the Pamunkey Regional Library system to offer “great literacy experiences to our community” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pamunkey Regional Library associate Christy Fones performs during a Storytime@Home video with equipment from the v.c.u. Robertson School of Media and Culture

Sitting on the floor in a circle with other kids. Mothers hanging out in the back. And at the front, someone energetically reading a book, complete with waving arms and funny voices.

It’s one of those great memories from childhood: storytime at the library. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut them all down this past March, Robin Bajkiewicz, a children’s programming specialist at the Atlee branch of the Pamunkey Regional Library, wondered how storytime could continue.

“How can we serve the community when we can’t see the community?” she remembers asking her husband, Tim Bajkiewicz, Ph.D., an associate professor of broadcast journalism in the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture in the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University.

And so began “Storytime@Home,” a collaboration between the Pamunkey Regional Library system and the Robertson School to produce storytime reading programming for the library’s YouTube channel and social media.

Before the pandemic, the library had about two dozen videos posted on assorted topics, most not more than a minute or two in length. By the end of July, children specialists from across the 10-library system serving Goochland, Hanover, King and Queen, and King William counties produced 116 videos averaging 15 to 20 minutes long, with the site receiving almost 600 total views.

“The feedback from the community has been wonderful, and many parents shared how much the kids enjoyed seeing their favorite storytellers from home,” said Jaime Stoops, supervising librarian.

Pamunkey Regional Library youth public services specialist Robin Bajkiewicz reads during a Storytime@Home video with equipment from the v.c.u. Robertson School of Media and Culture.
Pamunkey Regional Library youth public services specialist Robin Bajkiewicz reads during a Storytime@Home video with equipment from the VCU Robertson School of Media and Culture.

The Robertson School loaned the library system equipment such as tripods, frames and wireless microphones so each branch could record storytimes using library-owned iPads. Tim Bajkiewicz led training for the programming specialists in April using the online Zoom platform, and he remained available as a technical consultant throughout the project.

“We immediately recognized the chance to work together, and the library was fantastic about it. It felt good to help them produce some positive programming during the crisis,” Tim Bajkiewicz said.

“I felt excited that we could reach the kids who visit our library. To bring stories to them again. They’re the readers of the future,” Robin Bajkiewicz said.

According to the American Library Association, there are more than 9,000 public libraries in the United States, and research has shown that storytime activities increase literacy, socialization and other vital skills for young children, as well as instill a love of reading.

“Their staff provided a great service to children and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic. I'd like to thank Dr. Tim Bajkiewicz and Robin Bajkiewicz for initiating this impactful collaboration between the library and our school,” said Marcus Messner, Ph.D., director of the Robertson School.

In a typical month, more than 1,700 children attend storytime readings and other programs across the entire library system, according to Lisa Morgan, Atlee branch manager.

“Robin Bajkiewicz, Jackie Palmer, our youth librarian, and Carolyn Garner, reference librarian, have all worked closely together to make this project happen,” Morgan said. “The partnership with VCU has enabled us to continue storytime and offer great literacy experiences to our community.”

Stoops said working with the Robertson School has given the library system staff confidence to produce more online programs.

“We are planning to incorporate more virtual programming in the future and much of that is due to the confidence and technical skills staff have learned through this experience.”

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