Children call Storyline to listen, learn

Stories: Kids make phone calls to hear library employees read their favorite tales on the Baltimore County library's Storyline.

January 02, 2000|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To the children at 1st Step Family Day Care Center in Perry Hall, story time often begins by picking up the phone.

Within seconds, children at the Baltimore County day care are connected to the world of fantasy, as "Gregory the Terrible Eater," "Insects from Outer Space" or the classic "Where the Wild Things Are" come alive from a storyteller through the receiver.

They are among the children countywide taking advantage of Baltimore County Public Library's Storyline, a year-old service that as of Monday had logged 40,606 calls -- an average of 113 calls per day -- from story lovers of all ages.

"They get self-esteem from it -- it builds them up," said Nancy Anderson, the day care provider at 1st Step. "It gives the child the independence of doing something and makes them feel important to be on the telephone."

The service offers two recorded tales of up to three minutes each, read by a devoted and eclectic group of library employees that includes librarians, a human resources administrator and delivery truck driver.

The success of Storyline has been a pleasant surprise to library officials who set up the $1,500 system in December 1998 as a way to promote literacy by meshing the written and spoken word. A similar service is offered through the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore.

Dialing for fiction

By dialing 410-887-6116, patrons are connected to an answering machine similar to the one that explains local weather forecasts at a radio station.

But at Storyline, dialers get fictional stories, many of them seasonal, some classics and other off-the-wall offerings such as "I Wish My Brother Was a Dog," "The Queen with Bees in Her Hair" and "Froggy's First Kiss."

"It's an adjunct to our service -- we like people to listen to these stories and then come in and check out the books," said Carl Birkmeyer, a technology specialist in the county's public library system who oversees the Storyline program. "We know that a number of day care centers use it, and hopefully, we can get the children reading more before they are 4 years old."

Birkmeyer said the library system has no way of tracking where the calls originate to measure who uses Storyline. But library officials estimate that in addition to day care centers, latchkey children and even adults frequently call the line to hear stories.

One day last year, after a brief public announcement about the service, 500 calls were received within a 24-hour period.

"We're very consistent now," said Birkmeyer. "The beauty of it is, it's so easy for kids to learn how great books can be. From one phone call, hopefully, they'll start reading more."

One mother, Janet Kozak of Perry Hall, has allowed her 4-year-old daughter, Alyssa, to listen to Storyline for the past year.

"I like it because it teaches her how to use the telephone and to identify numbers. And then her reward is to sit and listen to the story," said Kozak.

Another mother, Angel Smith, said she and her 4-year-old daughter, Gabby, are loyal Storyline listeners.

"Gabby likes to use the phone. It makes her feel like a big girl," said Smith, who works in the circulation department of the library system's Rosedale branch. "Sometimes we put the Storyline on the speaker phone, and sometimes we call it more than once if we like the stories."

Favorite yarns

The stories are changed every other week, Birkmeyer said. Some are selected by county librarians while others are suggested by Storyline readers, who like to revive favorite yarns, such as "The Night Before Christmas" and Dr. Seuss' "Too Many Daves."

"It's not just the librarians in- volved with this," Birkmeyer said. "We're getting the whole staff involved."

Anderson, the day care provider, often listens to the stories and sees a number of benefits from the Storyline program.

"It's good for a person who doesn't have access to books and for kids who don't have a parent to read to them," she said. "But mostly, it's a good way to learn to put more words together, to learn numbers and to learn freedom and independence."

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