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How I spent my summer vacation: Storytimes Around the World

What is multicultural storytime?

As a society, as a nation, as a world, we know history because humans are storytellers. A program like Storytime Around the World is an example of how diverse stories are an opportunity to have a conversation. Multicultural storytimes use resources that spark new ideas, test individual theories or knowledges and invite questions. A multicultural storytime is not a static curriculum with prescriptive content. Instead, it is a framework to encourage connections. In this way, the storytime does not generalize a particular group’s experiences nor concepts like “culture”, it invites collaborative definitions and creates a vocabulary with which to understand a multiplicity of stories. As a result, a multicultural storytime is about more than bilingualism or educating a “white” audience. It is about embracing everyone’s place in a global past, present and future.

However, libraries like all community organizations, are sustainable because they grow and change with the populations they serve. A multicultural storytime may also be thought of as means to intentionally address low attendance by identified groups, limited access or understanding of services or materials the library provides, and in general cycles of low literacy in marginalized groups. More than anything, a multicultural storytime is the structure in which you want to facilitate important themes or conversations. Keep this in mind as you consider if your program will be broadbased because you have previous experiences, or if your program will be small because it is the first step towards more programming of this type. A multicultural storytime may mirror a traditional storytime, but at your library the storytime definition may be expanded to be a series of exploration days similar to a makerspace, be intimate like a book club or informal like a series of adapted passive programming activities. More than anything, multicultural storytime is readers in the community connecting reading to its community.

Storytime Around the World is the result of two years of pilot sessions implemented as part of Hedberg Public Library outreach initiatives during summer programming. These sessions engaged children of mixed-age and families. Storytime Around the World grew from a foundation of family outreach established as multicultural events that celebrated community cultures (i.e. Faces of the World International Fair), cultural celebrations or traditions (i.e. Lunar New Year, Mardi Gras) and literacy as a multicultural celebration (i.e. Día de los Niños/Día de los Libros). These events worked in conjunction with other community initiatives and personnel, for example visiting teachers and students participating in Janesville School District’s International exchange programs.

Why is multicultural storytime important?

Literacy is present in all languages and all cultures as a result of diverse practice and varying values given to different practices. Those practices are often different than the reading, writing, speaking and listening defined as uniform literacy practices that bring success in school and society. Research has cited the positive outcomes of not only children but all individuals in seeing their faces and their experiences included in public spaces and as part of larger social and historical narratives. Statistics from public school enrollment show a more diverse student population than ever before, a demographic not mirrored by the limited diversity of current educational staff. Organizations are striving to create community networks so that families may be engaged more wholistically and invited to develop in spaces that address all of their needs. The basis for a multicultural storytime is a tool that may be integrated to address all of the above.

Multicultural storytime builds on the impact of storytime and outreach programs as a core part of the educational experience, not only by libraries but other federal and nonprofit efforts. Family literacy and family engagement are the most common umbrellas for framing the educational experience as multifaceted and in need of a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. The resources and planning components of a multicultural storytime are a means to build such a space through book collections, community coalitions, and distinct opportunities for staff training and programming for patrons. Multicultural programming also fosters relationships between children and parents, families and the school or library and the greater community.

A guide for staff training and program planning is currently in development!

For great photos and literacy programming check out

For another great community outreach project (and manual coming soon) check out

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