Filming Virtual Storytimes Webinar Archives & Follow Up Questions

So the blog has been pretty quiet lately… for obvious reasons! There’s many more important conversations to listen to right now, and many more important people to learn from than me and my blog.

One less obvious reason it’s been quiet on here is that I’ve been super busy with CLEL (Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy) related work. Here’s some of that work:

virtual storytime capture

Many thanks to the Colorado State Library for hosting our webinar “Virtual Storytimes: Filming Before, During and After COVID-19” in April, and to PCI Webinars for hosting a slightly updated version of our webinar in May! As many libraries decide to stick with virtual programs for the foreseeable future, it seems like sharing this recording might still be relevant.

Here is the link to the first archived webinar recording.

Here is the link to the second, slightly updated webinar recording.

Here is a link to the presentation slides.

And here is the continuously updated digital resources handout.

What changed the second time around? Mostly I revised how I framed our discussion of disability, emphasizing the social model of disability over the medical model. I also removed the word “impairment.” I apologize for using this word and I humbly thank those who made me aware of this issue!


The last section of our webinar is called “Questions and Opinions” because… does anyone really have answers right now?! šŸ¤£ Here are some common questions we frequently receive and my opinions on them. After working extensively with the ALSC Virtual Storytime Services Guide, I hope that they are well-informed!

Do I need publisher permission to do XYZ? (do a booktalk on YouTube, read an entire picture book for storytime on Facebook Live, read books for a phone-a-story recording, play a recorded song during virtual storytime, etc).

Okay I can actually answer the first one for you: NO! You do not need publisher permission to do digital booktalks. You are giving their books publicity and generating market interest. They love it! Book bloggers and podcasters and vloggers do this literally all the time.

The answer to these other questions depends on how your library interprets fair use. In the article “Online Story Time & Coronavirus: Itā€™s Fair Use, Folks,” Carrie Russell lays out the four factors of fair use:

  1. TheĀ purposeĀ of the use
  2. TheĀ natureĀ of the publication
  3. TheĀ amountĀ of the work used
  4. TheĀ effect on the market for the work

Fair use is flexible and open to interpretation! In order to protect the health and safety of staff and public right now, libraries cannot do in-person programming like we did before. Publishers and music artists know this, and they’ve issued widespread blanket temporary permissions to schools and libraries in response. Keep track of publisher permissions with this SLJ Publisher Information Directory and music permissions with this CLEL Blog Post. Please note that even with permission, playing recorded music during storytimes hosted on social media can cause your content to be flagged for removal or have the sound turned off.

Some libraries have decided that fair use during a pandemic means they don’t need permission AT ALL to use copyrighted materials for virtual programs. Others have decided to follow publisher permissions to the letter, or reached out to publishers with separate requests. Some storytime providers have decided to rely almost exclusively on songs, rhymes and stories found in the Public Domain just so they don’t have to deal with it.

Which decision is right for you? As your library works through how your organization will interpret fair use in this situation, it may help to frame fair use as a continuum. For example, it is probably much less “risky” and copyright respectful to share livestream storytimes that the public is unable to access again after that moment in time than it is to… keep recorded videos on social media for an extended period of time without express publisher permission. Phone-a-story recordings that are regularly replaced and unable to be re-distributed to the public fall more squarely within fair use than… a library podcast containing copyrighted material that is downloadable and available in perpetuity on a library website (without express publisher permission).

fair use

But libraries have to think about MORE than just copyright when taking storytimes online. For example, who benefits if you decide to livestream storytimes in the morning during working and online learning hours? Who is burdened? What can you do to mitigate that unfair burden on working caregivers? Can you livestream during different times of day (such as afternoon or evening) and on weekends?

If your library cares about equitable community access, you will create at least some storytime content that is available for on-demand viewing.

Access for our families is worth taking the extra time to find publishers with more flexible permissions, or to reach out to publishers with a request. IMHO.

What is the best video recording software/video editing software?

This answer depends on so many variables! What tech do you have and what do you need your tech to do? For example:

  • What kind of device are you using to film yourself? Your personal smartphone? A laptop from work?
  • Which device has the best video/audio quality,Ā  strongest internet connectivity, and most storage space?
  • How long do you need to record for? Is your library sharing full-length storytimes, or shorter song and rhyme segments?
  • Are you livestreaming or sharing pre-recorded videos?
  • If livestreaming, which platform is your library using?
  • Will you be editing the videos yourself afterwards, or sending them on to someone else to finish the video production process?
  • How much technical expertise do you bring to the table? How much time and capacity?
  • Will you be editing one large chunk of video, or stringing multiple clips together?
  • Are you limited to free options and what you have readily available on-hand, or does your library have some budget to actually invest in virtual programs and services?

For example, my library decided to use meeting software to livestream storytime performances. This meeting software works much better on my personal laptop than on my phone or my tablet (which frequently experiences wifi connectivity issues), so that’s what I use. If I was pre-recording content, I would definitely be going with the higher quality video camera on my tablet.

If you’re in charge of editing videos after recording them, it may be easiest to record and edit from the same device, rather than deal with transferring large video files. Jealous of you folks with iPads out there! iMovie is free for iOS and macOS and relatively easy to learn, plus there’s a ton of tutorials and support available. Karissa Fast over at The Ontarian Librarian has also had great success with DaVinci Resolve.

In the past, I personally have loved using products within the Adobe Creative Suite for video projects. These programs are definitely more costly, but they also come with a bunch of robust features that you don’t usually find in free editors, and there’s also a ton of product support/tutorials.

As both a video editing AND video hosting platform, I think Vimeo is also worth considering despite the cost – check out NYPL’s Storytime Channel for a great example. Also in this platform’s favor: Vimeo is now compatible with AblePlayer, a FREE and fully accessible cross-browser HTML5 media player designed from the ground up by the University of Washington.

Speaking of platforms for video hosting…

What is the best platform to host virtual storytimes?

Again, the answer depends a lot on your individual community and your library’s goals for virtual programs. For example, libraries serving rural communities or communities greatly impacted by the digital divide might want to pursue partnering with a local radio station or providing phone-a-story services. Web conference software like Zoom works well for interactive, live programs with known, closed groups (such as virtual book clubs or virtual classroom visits), but may be less appropriate if your program is open to the public.

There is no one perfect platform. The same platform that works well for one type of program is not going to work as well for others. Offering robust virtual programming will take a multi-platform approach!

There’s two things I’d like libraries to think about when picking a platform and figuring out their approach to virtual programming with young children – even more carefully than they consider Copyright. Has your library taken into account…

  • Accessibility?
  • Privacy and Cybersecurity?

When creating online content for children under thirteen, libraries should be VERY aware of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). Although COPPA does not apply to libraries and educational institutions, it does apply to the third-party vendors and applications we use.

It may be more appropriate to use social media platforms to promote (rather than provide) online library programs and services for children under thirteen. For many of us, our first impulse was to connect with our audiences where they were on Facebook or Instagram – myself included! But social media makes its bread and butter by selling personally identifiable information… and libraries have a professional responsibility to “limit the degree to which personally identifiable information is collected, monitored, disclosed, retained, and transmitted.”

How can we protect our youngest patrons online and still provide easily discoverable services? Consider YouTube as an option. Thanks to a recent lawsuit and a hefty fee, YouTube has taken several big steps towards becoming COPPA compliant. Creators can mark entire channels or individual videos/livestreams as “made for kids,” which prevents personalized ads from playing, disables comments and limits data collection.

Also in YouTube’s favor: videos hosted on YouTube areĀ compatible with AblePlayer, which matters because AblePlayer is a free and fully accessible media player. Libraries can host videos and share content with a wider audience on Youtube, but also embed videos on their websites using AblePlayer for a more accessible viewing experience.

Speaking of accessibility…

How can we make our virtual storytimes accessible?

Let me start by saying I am not an online accessibility expert. I am not even an expert yet of my own lived experience with a vestibular disorder and being Hard of Hearing! Hopefully your library already has established relationships with your local disability community (including your patrons, advocacy groups and staff members), and you’ve already started having this important conversation with them.

disability slide

If you think your community doesn’t include disabilities and this discussion doesn’t pertain to you… think again! According to the CDC, 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 6 children experiences disability. This myth of the mysteriously disability free library community (or that the onus is on people with disabilities to request accessible online content) is one of many disappointing takes I’ve seen floating around in library land since March. I wrote about some of these common myths and misconceptions on the ALSC Blog: Is Your Online Library for Everyone?

Just like patrons don’t have to call two weeks in advance to get a ramp set up to access your library building, they shouldn’t have to request accessible online content.

The good news is that just by taking storytimes online, you’ve already removed a BIG physical barrier! Your programs have probably never been so discoverable or reached so many families near and far. You can go even further by making these online library experiences accessible and enjoyable for all! Accessibility isn’t just “nice to have,” however – it’s the law. As public or educational institutions, libraries have a legal obligation to provide accessible online content, programs and services.

Making the case to your library? Remind them that decisions made with accessibility in mind improve EVERYONE’S experience! For example, picking a video platform that is forgiving of user errors benefits both users with limited fine motor control AND parents who are bouncing busy toddlers on their laps while watching virtual storytime.

There are steps everyone in the library can take towards making virtual storytimes and services more accessible, whether or not you’re the actual storytime provider. The collaborative ALSC and CLEL Virtual Storytime Services Guide contains information and resources about these topics and much more. Be sure to check out the Accessibility subsection within Technology Tools and the Children and Families with Disabilities subsection within Serving Diverse Children and Families!


I know this is (still) hard work and we are all on steep learning curves in a stressful world. I know there are a lot of factors to consider with virtual storytimes, and that some of them seem to outright contradict each other – like, publishers primarily want storytime videos that contain copyrighted content taken down immediately, BUT… families want content they can access on demand. Marketing wisdom typically tells us to go where our audience already is on social media, BUT… privacy laws mean that may not be the best way to provide virtual library services to children.

It’s complicated.

And really dependent on every library’s unique staff and community situation! What’s working well for you? How has your library changed and adapted their virtual storytime approach in these pandemic days? Would love to learn more in the comments below!

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