Online story time draws inspiration from vintage radio

With libraries closed, read-along programs have found a new home on Instagram

With inspiration from classic radio programs, Cordova Public Library has moved its read-along program onto Instagram. The program, initially designed for kindergarten-aged children, has now been adapted for elementary students and older people.

Beginning April 21, the Pajama Read Along has been broadcast at instagram.com/cordovapubliclibraryreads 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Librarian Anna Hernandez first selected “Charlotte’s Web,” an intermediate-level children’s novel about the unlikely friendship between a barn spider and a pig. This will be followed up with other chapter books. Hernandez hopes that these readings will serve as a source of stability and comfort for Cordova children, she said.

“I wanted to do story time, in a way, just to give some kind of normalcy for all the kids in our community who probably aren’t feeling the same way they usually feel,” Hernandez said.

Storytime is one of several arts activities, including the TEEN Art program, to have moved online using streaming technology. However, Hernandez also sees the program as harkening back to the days when families would gather around their radio in the evenings. One adult listener of the Pajama Read Along told Hernandez that her livestreamed reading reminded them of a vintage read-aloud program they recalled airing on KLAM radio.

“I like that idea a lot — that, although we’re in a different age where we use different technology, it seems kind of like olden times,” Hernandez said. “People are slowing down because they have to and they’re gathering around with their family in the evenings.”

For Hernandez, the most challenging part of moving online has not been mastering the technology, but reading to an invisible audience. Conducting a read-along in person allows the reader to gauge whether or not their listeners are engaged. However, there’s no easy way to do this when reading into an iPhone.

“This is an introvert’s nightmare!” Hernandez exclaimed. “It’s different if I’m talking to someone or I’m doing Zoom meetings, and I can see them, but here it’s just as if I’m talking into the void. It’s very strange!”

Hernandez appreciates it when viewers send chat messages and encouraging emojis while she reads, just to confirm that they’re engaged, she said. Readings are usually kept under 45 minutes so as not to unduly test the focus of younger listeners.

Hernandez is soliciting suggestions for the Pajama Read Along program, including ideas for a new program title. She can be reached at anna@cordovalibrary.org.