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January 09, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, January 09, 2004

Bedtime stories by phone Bedtime stories by phone (January 09, 2004)

Library offers Dial-A-Story for children

By Katie Vaughn

In a time when video games, television cartoons and blockbuster movies compete loudly and violently for the attention of children, the City of Mountain View Public Library presents a simpler option: listening to a story.

Karin Bricker, supervising librarian for children and teen services, said the library's storytelling hotline meets a need that other forms of entertainment fail to accommodate.

"American children have one skill less developed -- their listening skills," she said. "Everything else in their lives is over-stimulating."

The Dial-A-Story program is available to callers 24 hours a day. Each Monday, the library offers two new stories, one in English and one in Spanish, that are three to five minutes each.

Bricker said just listening to a story is unique for children.

"It's a pure listening experience," Bricker said. "They're simply listening and using their imaginations to create the pictures."

The program also gives parents a brief break while their children listen to a story. And the 24-hour availability is convenient for both parents and children, Bricker said.

"If you wake up in the middle of the night, you can listen to a story," Bricker said.

Library patron Marian Macuil said her children call the hotline every week. "They can do it themselves," she said. "They can help themselves to a story."

To create the English stories, librarians take turns recording readings. A bilingual librarian, two local teachers and a parent produce the Spanish stories.

The person who does the reading chooses the story. The only requirements are that the tale appeal to children ages 3 to 6 and that it doesn't rely on pictures for special understanding or meaning.

"We have to chose books where the words stand on their own," Bricker said. "There are many stories like that. We often pull things from the folk and fairy tale sections."

While the program has thrived at the library for about 20 years, it has evolved over that time. For example, its technology changed from answering machines to a voicemail system nine years ago, allowing more than two callers to hear a story at once.

"We used to have these two clunky answering machines," Bricker said. "It works very well to have it on the voicemail system. Now we never hear of people getting a busy signal."

A drawback to the technological advances, however, has been that the library can no longer track the number of callers the program receives. But librarians do receive feedback and when schools tour the library, most students say they've used the program, Bricker said.

"Anecdotally, people are listening," she said.

Children's librarian Maynard Martinez said callers have actually increased since the library added the Spanish stories this fall.

"With every tour I give in Spanish, I've seen the numbers grow of kids who have used the program," he said. "The word is definitely getting around."

Native Spanish-speakers also call for the English stories, Bricker has noticed. Both adults and children use the stories as a tool to improve their English.

Regardless of how many people use Dial-A-Story, Bricker said the library has no plans to eliminate the program, mainly due to how easy and uncostly it is to run.

"It's so inexpensive, it's something we don't have to even consider not doing."

To call Dial-A-Story, dial 903-6771. Then press 1 for English or 2 for Spanish.

E-mail Katie Vaughn at kvaughn@mv-voice.com


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