It’s nearing 11 on a Wednesday morning, and youngsters in the Dyersville area are eagerly anticipating Story Time with Miss Kim from Dyersville’s James Kennedy Public Library.
Youth Services Director Kimshiro Benton-Hermsen hosts a variety of storytimes for all ages throughout the year, offering spring, summer and fall programs.
The library has managed to continue its youth programs through the COVID-19 pandemic, and Benton-Hermsen’s sessions have evolved into Zoom events, with 16 regular participants during the current season.
Benton-Hermsen has worked with the James Kennedy Library in various roles for over 30 years, the last 14 coordinating the storytime program.
“I started here very part-time doing circulation,” she said. “They wanted a young adult librarian, so I started teen program development and collection development. Our children’s person left, and they split the job, so I was responsible for program development — like summer reading programs.
“I’ve been doing storytime for around 14 years. I do September through November, February through April and a six-week summer program.”
Benton-Hermsen saw a need for an expanded early-childhood program that includes a wider age range of youngsters.
“I felt very strongly that while they did a story for 3-to-5-year-olds, they needed a toddler storytime, so when our 3-to-5 person moved on, I took both storytimes.”
Benton-Hermsen ran a model storytime program in pre-pandemic days.
“I held morning and evening sessions for 3-to-5-year-olds and a session in the morning for under 3-year olds. We did our storytimes in the meeting room and always started with a song. Then I’d read a story and we would get the kids up between books to move,” Benton Hermsen said. “We get up and do something active — an activity between each book. I have puppets, we do flannel birds and finger-play-type things.
“We always try to have something for them that is interactive. It’s participatory as much as possible.”
That face-to-face interaction came to a halt due to COVID-19, leaving Benton-Hermsen and the library staff looking for alternatives that included recording sessions and posting on Facebook and YouTube. Benton-Hermsen soon learned recording and sharing online came with its own difficulties.
“When we do things online, each book we use has to be checked for the publisher’s policy on using it on Facebook or YouTube. It’s a violation of copyright to read online without permission. Every publisher has different rules,” she said. “It would literally take hours to find four or five books I could read and leave up for a month.”
That led to a decision to explore another avenue — Zoom.
“After we took a break from recording storytimes, I decided that when the current session started up, we’d go to Zoom. We decided on Zoom because we could have some interaction,” Benton-Hermsen said. “The interaction with the kids is priceless, and when you just record a storytime and put it out there, you don’t get the feedback from the little ones.”
Once the decision to go to Zoom Story Time was made, the library let the public know about the change, and it has been popular with youngsters and parents alike.
“We have 16 little ones signed up between the two sessions. This summer we’re going to do the Zoom storytimes once a week, but we are going to do two storytimes — June and July — in the park,” Benton-Hermsen said. “I love storytime. When I started here over 30 years ago, it was something I was not interested in, but now, I love it so much and I love the kids.”
Benton-Hermsen has been able to continue with some favorite activities during Zoom Story Time.
“Each week, every person who has signed up can come in and get a sheet and grab a bag with a craft. It’s abbreviated and it’s a shorter storytime,” she said. “It’s still interactive, but I can’t do puppets and flannel boards so much. We do our stories, we do a song and we do a craft together. We do things they can interact with and play with.”
An important part of Benton-Hermsen’s program is the development of pre-reading skills.
“Kids are so enthusiastic about anything. They love anybody reading them a book,” she said. “I teach the children how to understand stories. We stop and ask them what is going to happen next or to make predictions.
“We’re not teaching them to read, but library storytimes help develop pre-literacy skills to get their brains ready to read. When parents come to the storytime, and when the parents are in with us, they can see how to model reading behaviors to help the child develop.”