Storytime at the library


In the name of expanding my horizons and getting out of my comfort zone, I did the most nerve-wracking public speaking exercise I think I’ve ever done: I read a story to five kids.

My work at the local library usually doesn’t comprise of more than book circulation – processing returns, issuing, and shelving. Yesterday the staff member who would usually do Storytime had a scratchy throat and would cough after speaking two words together, so the shift supervisor came to me as I was shelving Large Print westerns and told me this other staff member had nominated me to do it in her stead.

I gasped in fright. “Does she not like me?” I asked, as I felt my lungs get smaller.

The supervisor smiled reassuringly and said, “She thought you’d be good at it, since you have a little one of your own.”

This seemed an irrelevant point. I wasn’t being asked to read to the little one of my own, nor in the privacy of my living room. And said little one is only four months old — at the moment the extent of our storytime has been my making passing comments on pictures I see in the seconds before he enthusiastically closes the book on my fingers.

“She’s picked out a couple of books,” the supervisor was saying, “and there’s an activity all ready.”

My mouth was dry. My mind raced through the other staff of that shift. Who else could do it?

The supervisor was willing to do it when she saw how fearful (really palm-sweatingly fearful) of the assignment I was, but I didn’t think that was a good idea — we need the supervisor free to address curly questions or issues that arise with customers at the desk. Having her out of commission for an undetermined time while she read to kids seemed an unwise use of staff resources. As for the others…I could think of a reason for each, why they wouldn’t be the optimum choice.

It seemed I was the ‘obvious’ pick after all. I just intensely didn’t want to do it.

“I don’t want to make you do something you don’t want to,” said Supervisor.

“It’s alright, I’ll do it,” I said, after a pause.

What? Where did those words come from?

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, it’s good for me to try new things; expand my horizons.”

Who is saying these words?! Surely my mouth wasn’t connected to my own brain, but was being puppeted…clearly by someone who doesn’t like me very much.

My heart was knocking against all walls of my ribcage. I tried to calm myself by thinking of all the benefits to doing this task: I’ll be sitting down. I won’t have to tell any customers they have charges on their card. I won’t have to answer the phone…

I felt silly. I’ve done things before that should make this pale in comparison, I told myself. I’ve had to chase up old debts for an Australian publishing company, on the first day I was working for them. Would I rather be debt-chasing, or reading to kids?

Debt-chasing. I’ll take that one.

I imagined all the things that could go wrong. What if the kids were uncooperative and not listening? Should I keep reading? What if my mouth gets so dry I’m smacking my lips all the time as I read, making me look like a Hansel and Gretel witch? What if my nervousness makes me trip up on the words all the time, so I have to start sentences again? Children would soon get frustrated at that…

Why didn’t I take the escape offer?!

Children scare me. They don’t understand tact, so if they think you look silly, or if they noticed you did something wrong, they’ll have no qualms about pointing it out. Loudly. Perhaps under some impression they’re being helpful. They’re severe critics.

“There probably won’t be many in the group,” the supervisor had told me. “We struggle to get numbers. There may only be about five or eight.”


It was five kids, five adults, and one aloof adolescent who looked like she’d been dragged to the library by her toenails.

I began to read. No child was uncooperative. They were all hanging on to my every word.

That made it worse.

I can only hope I read the words that were actually on the page. My brain was busy doing other things, like constantly telling me to slow down, slow down, slow down… speak clearly… slow down…

The second book I was to read was a giant thing. How was I going to hold this, so I could read it?! I can’t read upside down! (Well, I can, but not when I’m already in a high-stress situation.) But the story had to be read, so I commenced my struggles with the giant book, its pages flapping all over the place as I attempted to open it at the beginning.

“Would you like me to hold it?” a little girl who looked about five, said.

Relief flooded my soul.

“That would be a wonderful help — thank you,” I said to the girl, who positioned herself professionally behind it and supported the book from the back. This girl will promote boats and cars on game shows, one day.

At one point in the story I accidentally pluralised something that wasn’t written that way. The sentence still made sense with my added ‘s’, but nonetheless, I hoped none of the kids who could read were following along.

Now to segue onto the activity: cutting out pictures of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet, and sticking them onto a landscape. How do I smoothly segue to that?

“Who wants to play with scissors?”

Oh. No. Did I just say that?

Apparently I did, judging by the stricken face on some of the parents.

“Under adult supervision, of course,” I added with a smile, as if that would rescue anything.

When the children were settled with their pictures, crayons, and scissors, all I had to do was sit there and wait for them to be finished with it all so I could pack it up. I expected that in this time my heart rate would slow, and my mouth dryness disappear.

It didn’t.

Even after I’d left the area and was back at the issues desk, I felt the remnants of fright. And when I had to tell a customer that they had charges on their card (rather big ones, too), it actually felt like slipping into a warm bath…

Despite the unpleasant experience of having done Storytime, I’m glad I did it, even if only to avoid the disappointment in myself if I’d passed it on to somebody else just because I was too scared.

It made for excellent blog fodder, anyway.



(3) Comments

  • Barb Bisley
    10 Sep 2012

    Well done Eve!

  • Rebekah
    11 Sep 2012

    I know what you mean about feeling disappointed in yourself for passing off a challenge. The other night at work, a whole bunch of phone calls needed to be made. Organising interview times for our potential new staff. I paid Brenden to do it. =S
    I was more disappointed in myself than my wallet was.

    • Eve
      12 Sep 2012

      I don’t know if I’d have been able to make myself do it, if I didn’t have the reassurance that I could cathartically blog about it later! Even as I walked to the children’s area, feeling like I was walking toward the end of a highboard, I was formulating the blog in my head. Fantastic therapy!

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