Imagine getting an email from a teacher in Islamabad, Pakistan, thanking you for providing a free resource that helps her Grade 2 students learn English. Imagine receiving a message from a father of an 18-month-old in Brazil telling you how much you’ve helped him bond with his baby. Imagine children’s librarians and educators in Nunavut, Washington, Ireland, France, and China writing to you with praise and thanks and asking for advice.
We expected none of this when, for a library school social media class in 2013, we created a video library of children’s storytime songs and an accompanying blog. We named the project Jbrary—as children’s librarians are often referred to as J Libs. And what began as a class project has become an invaluable resource for library staff, educators, and parents with young children.
What is Jbrary?
Jbrary is a regularly updated YouTube video library of storytime songs and rhymes, as well as a blog about topics related to youth services. We currently have more than 11,000 YouTube subscribers and more than 3.5 million views on our videos. The videos are simple in their execution: two women sitting in front of a camera singing, rhyming, and demonstrating how to use props such as egg shakers, scarves, rhythm sticks, and puppets. Our blog features ideas for children’s library programs and booklists, as well as the occasional reflection on hot topics in the youth services world.
How it started
Jbrary started, like all good things, as a project with no expectations. However, at its heart was a pure and simple information need: How to learn storytime songs based only on printed words from books or websites. When asked to plan and deliver a storytime for a children’s course during our MLIS program, we became frustrated when we couldn’t easily find free recorded versions of the tunes we saw listed on blogs. When we took a course on social media together, a light bulb went off in Lindsey’s mind. She thought, “I’m running into this information need. Many other people are encountering this information need. A free video platform exists that could fill this information need.”
Lindsey then roped in Dana and two other classmates to create Jbrary as a final class project. We filmed our first videos (Oh how wonderfully awkward they are to watch now!) to begin to populate our newly minted channel. Then as a group we set about naming, branding, and establishing a presence on social media. After the course was finished and we graduated in the spring of 2013, the two of us continued with Jbrary. We knew we were just getting started.
The Social media game
Although the main thrust of our project was to establish an easy-to-navigate YouTube channel with ad-free storytime materials, as a social media project we also wanted to connect with the amazingly supportive world of online youth services folks. We can still remember the early days when superstar Melissa Depper replied to one of our Tweets, or when someone we weren’t related to liked a post on Facebook. We worked hard to make our social media presence purposeful and well rounded.
Today we create new content on YouTube, aggregate resources on Pinterest, engage in discussions on Twitter and our blog, and share all of the above on Facebook. We see ourselves as part of an ever-expanding online world of youth services bloggers, and we use social media to share ideas and get inspiration. Twitter in particular has been an amazing way to meet children’s librarians around the world. We love using the platform to share programming ideas, answer reader’s advisory questions, and engage in thoughtful discussions. Making ourselves visible and helpful on social media has played a huge role in our success.
Running a social media empire (as we like to jokingly call it) can be a lot of work. One of our biggest challenges is finding the time to record videos, blog, and interact on social media all outside of our full-time children’s librarian jobs. We do everything for free and on our own time. This can be slightly confusing to our storytime parents and those who find us online.
Even trickier is navigating the line between paid consultant work and our work as public library children’s librarians when they are in the same field of work. Understanding our library’s Code of Conduct and having conversations with our supervisors has allowed us to do both successfully.
Lastly, dealing with the world of online trolls, especially as women, can be challenging. You learn where the “delete comment” key is real quick and develop a thick skin. Being part of a two-person team makes all of these challenges easier to field.
Where we’re going
Our next big project is to record some storytime songs and make them available on platforms such as iTunes. We are currently in the process of creating a song list and enlisting the help of instrument-playing family members. One of the things we’ve always maintained with Jbrary is our autonomy over the content. As we grow as professionals and as individuals we envision our website as a place where we can continue to explore librarianship and connect with others, even if the content grows outside of children’s librarianship. We can record whatever we want and write about whatever we want. It is our little space on the Internet and we are crafting it as we go.
Lindsey Krabbenhoft is a Children’s Librarian in Vancouver, British Columbia. She loves practicing her storytime ideas on her 5-year-old niece Sophie who is the source of much of her inspiration. As a lover of poetry, she also created A Poem for a Feeling. You can follow Lindsey on Twitter at @lmkrabbenhoft.
Strangely enough, Dana Horrocks is also a Children’s Librarian in Vancouver, BC! She can be found on the soccer field or out for a run—but more often than not, with her nose in a book. You can follow Dana on Twitter at @danachorrocks.