LSTA Highlights: “Story Place” — A Storytelling Maker Space

This is part of a series of posts highlighting ongoing or recently completed LSTA grant projects in NC. Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) monies are federal funds from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, distributed by population via the federal Grants to States program. The  State Library of North Carolina uses a portion of these funds to award competitive grants to eligible North Carolina libraries.

Entrance to Story Place

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Photos taken by NHC TV:

Grant category: EZ Literacy and Lifelong Learning, FY2013-2014

Librarians Susan DeMarco and Julie Criser were interviewed for this post.

About the project

New Hanover County Public Library received a 2013-2014 LSTA grant to create Story Place: a Storytelling Maker Space in the Children’s Department of the Main Library in downtown Wilmington, NC. This innovative new space opened May 13th 2014 and is equipped with cutting edge technology and manipulatives for parents to explore with their children while creating stories. Story Place promotes family interaction through storytelling and reading at several different stations:

  • Music Recording
  • Film Making 
  • Animation 
  • iPad station for story creation, printing, and reading
  • AWE Early Literacy Station with Educational Games
  • Flannel Board Station
  • Puppetry
  • Interactive Panels
  • Reading Nook

Each station incorporates one or more of the five critical early literacy practices identified by Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR), a research-based parent education initiative sponsored by the Public Library Association and the Association of Library Services to Children. The five practices are reading, writing, talking, singing, and playing.

Initially, the Music Recording, Film Making, and Animation Stations will only be available during staff-led programs. This is because the library needs time to train staff on use of the equipment, figure out how patrons will want to use it, and determine how to best configure the space to meet patron needs. The library is also hoping to boost awareness of the space with school-aged children (who are the main audience for these three stations) via the monthly programs that showcase these technologies.

Story Place is open for families to utilize every hour that the library is open. There is always a staff person in the children’s department who can offer assistance. Clear instructions, tips and examples are provided at all stations. In addition, library staff  will provide monthly hands on sessions so families can learn to use the technology and apply sound literacy enhancing practices while in Story Place and at home. They can explore all the stations or focus on one to complete storytelling projects such as videos, songs, and print books. Copies of completed projects can be made available for others to enjoy on the library’s Facebook page or viewed while in Story Place on a flat screen TV.

“Our goal here is to get every child ready for kindergarten in New Hanover County, so that from every angle that we can see, we’re giving them an opportunity,” says Mr. Tuchmayer, Director of the New Hanover County Public Library.  “We want kids involved in the process of creating stories and using words and concepts all the time, because that’s what builds literacy…So the idea here is that we’re going to create a space where kids can build their own stories.”[1]

More details about the story stations:

The iPad Storytelling Station will have iPads (each protected by protective cases) with various apps to create written books, record audio books, and film stories. The app “Doodlecast for Kids” lets children draw on the iPad and narrate their stories. The story is recorded and can be played back as well as posted onto YouTube with parent permission. “I Tell a Story” allows a child to narrate and record their stories. The “Story Patch” app is used to create picture books. Books and other projects and pictures created can be printed for families to take home and share. A limited number of free pages will be determined. Both print and digital projects can be used to connect family members who may live far away. In addition, the iPad will have a variety of interactive books. The library subscription to Tumblebooks, animated read-along storybooks for preschool and early elementary readers and listeners, can be accessed on the iPad as well.

During music recording programs at the Music Recording Station families will tell stories through writing and singing songs. They will record their songs using a microphone and laptop. Music helps children develop phonological awareness and hear the smaller sounds in words. During one of the hands-on sessions families will learn how to rap! Children will write their own lyrics, choose the beat and record a song about the library or reading.

During film recording programs at the Film Making Station in Story Place will give children the opportunity to create their own films. Movie making is a great way for children to tell stories. Through pretend play and acting, children internalize stories and develop early literacy skills. Movie making lets children share ideas, negotiate conflicts and use narrative skills. Families will learn to use a Flip Video Camera and movie editing software.

During animation programs families at the Animation Station use a ReadyANIMATOR and iStopMotion to tell stories through animation. Children build sets and characters followed by capturing a series of pictures. Animation is a cooperative exercise and utilizes the varying skills of family members. While some can draw well, others will be better at operating equipment performing voices or acting as artistic directors.

At the Puppetry Station children can retell favorite books and make up their own stories using puppets. Puppetry encourages use of dialogue and develops reasoning, cognitive thinking and narrative skills. Pretend play with puppets is a great opportunity for children to develop their imagination. iPads can be used to film the puppet show. Additionally, library staff will periodically host Puppet Shows for families while explaining the benefits of puppetry.

The Reading Nook, supplied with books and soft seating, will encourage family reading time in the library and at home. The Burgeon Group Interactive Panels will be mounted to the wall. They are designed solely for use in public libraries and are specifically based on ECCR early literacy skills for ages 0-5.

The need

While library services are open to everyone, the primary target audience for the grant is economically disadvantaged families with children from birth to elementary school. These low income families typically do not have access to the latest technology at home and may fall behind on technology skills that are increasingly expected of all United States citizens. While school-age children may have access to some technology in their schools, many parents do not, and this puts them at a disadvantage when helping their children with school work or when technology related questions arise.

New Hanover County Public Library believes that these families need access to technology in a literacy-rich environment, which is provided by the public library. Story Place will help meet this need. It is the library’s mission to reach as many families as possible with the creation of Story Place, helping children and their caregivers on a daily basis, providing free hands-on workshops to parents and caregivers as well as local educators or educators in-training who might not otherwise have the opportunities to learn more about literacy-rich education and technology through storytelling and play. The Story Place design has the dual advantage of being available to the public during regular library hours, and being portable; portions can be taken offsite to bring the library’s lifelong educational opportunities to under-served populations in the community.

How they got the idea

In the past, the storytime room was open to scheduled public storytimes and other visiting groups. Otherwise, the room was kept closed as the room also served as storage for holiday book collection, popular teacher theme requests, and books for a resident literacy grant program. According to children’s librarian Julie Criser, the idea gradually evolved over a few years. Staff had several ideas for better use of the space, but there was no budget for it. The county’s strategic plan then came to include more of an emphasis on early literacy. Instead of “no,” staff were told to come up with a proposal for better use of the space. The staff researched other interactive “learning through play” rooms and presented it to library supervisors. Director Tuchmayer suggested applying for an LSTA grant. The idea was that this grant could include appropriate technology as well as manipulatives to create a room that emphasizes early literacy practices. All the children’s staff contributed ideas to the grant proposal. Criser started the writing process, using demographic data to support our reasoning. Susan DeMarco took over the writing of the grant after several more changes. Several brainstorming sessions later, including several re-writes of what was to become the grant application, they were ready to submit the grant.

What has the reaction been from patrons?

Even before the new space opened, patrons were very excited about the transformation. Currently the space has been open for one week. Some feedback from patrons in the first week includes:

  • “Wow, this room looks amazing! We can really use this anytime?”
  • “What a great idea!”
  • “It’s been a pleasure to see kids performing puppet shows for their parents and parents performing puppet shows for the kids!”

Tips for others working on a similar project

  • Come to a final group agreement of the mission and decide on the elements to be included before you write the grant. This will save much frustration and re-writing. Yes, some change is inevitable, but the closer one sticks to a general plan, much time will be saved.
  • Rather than having a wide scope, really focus on two or three elements from start to finish.
  • Think through technical details, storage, power supplies, staff time to utilize the technology.
  • Having one staff person take the lead on grant writing is critical. Everyone can contribute, but it’s essential to have one person assign sections to staff and to compile everything while keeping the big picture in mind.
  • If possible have an IT person be on the grant writing team.


Project Goals

Story Place will provide equal access to technology in a literacy rich environment which will result in improved literacy and technology skills for families in New Hanover County regardless of economic, developmental, or social status. Low income families often do not have access to technology and children in low income households are often behind with literacy skills when they enter kindergarten. Story Place will address both of these problems.

  • Increase in the number of library visits by families overall by at least 25%.
  • Increase the participation of low income families in events at the library that foster literacy and technology skills by a minimum of 30%.
  • We want families to interact through the creation of stories using technology and traditional methods.
  • We want parents and children to be more confident in their use of iPads, video cameras, and other developing technologies.
  • Each month we want to increase the number of story projects (movies, songs, books etc.) by families, with the ultimate goal of at least one project completed or attempted for every hour that the library is open.





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