How to Run a Drive-In Library Storytime Program
“But what about library storytimes?!” was the refrain that echoed throughout children’s departments everywhere as public libraries began to close their doors in March of 2020.
While the virtual storytimes we posted on Facebook and YouTube were engaging and well-received by our patrons at the Hoover Public Library in Alabama, we knew that we wanted to be able to provide valuable in-person programming in a way that kept everyone safe. After several brainstorming sessions with our storytellers, we launched our drive-in library storytime.
Here’s how we did it.
The Basics of Drive-In Library Storytime
Modeled after a drive-in movie theater experience, drive-in storytimes allow patrons to safely stay in their cars and still see and hear storytime happening in person, in real time.
We chose to broadcast storytime using an FM transmitter, which allowed patrons to keep their cars running (air conditioning is very important in Alabama during the summer) and hear the storytime through their radio.
Time and Location
Since storytime could happen anywhere with a big enough parking lot, we had the event in a couple of different locations, including the library parking lot and local park parking lots. With the summertime heat, evening storytimes were the safest for our storytellers, though morning storytimes were the most popular among patrons.
We required registration and kept the maximum attendance to 12 cars in order to ensure that patrons could see the storytellers and that the FM transmitter would reach everyone. Patrons had to check in at the entrance of the parking lot before being directed to their parking spot.
Since 12 cars did not allow many children to experience library storytime all at once, we performed two storytimes back to back each time. Total time commitment, including setup, two storytimes, and take down, was about three hours.
We announced our drive-in storytime on social media only a couple of days before each event in order to prevent the same families from registering every time. By treating the storytimes almost as “pop-up” storytimes and by providing little notice, we hoped to reach a wider selection of patrons.
Our incredible team of storytellers adapted to a new stage in innovative ways. We knew that visibility would be an issue, so all storytimes included two storytellers who maintained social distancing and used props, costumes, and patron interaction to keep storytime engaging.
One of the most popular storytimes included the cars in the parking lot participating in the song “The Wheels on the Car.” Verses included “the wipers on the car go swish, swish, swish,” “the horn on the car goes honk, honk, honk,” and “the lights on the car go flash, flash, flash.” Overly dramatic storytelling kept the children engaged, even if they were separated from the storytellers by their car windshields.
The Tech You Need
All you need is power, a transmitter, an audio source, and a cable to connect your audio source to your transmitter (we used a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm).
If you are close to an outlet, you just need a cord long enough to reach your equipment. We were in a parking lot and were potentially moving a lot, so we used a battery with an outlet on it. The one we used was able to power our equipment for several hours. Another option is a power inverter; some cars may already have this built in. If not, you can pick one up online for around $20 to $30 that you can plug into your car.
We looked for one with good reviews that did not appear to go against FCC regulations. Make sure that the range listed is more than you think you need. It may reach one mile away, but it won’t sound very good at that point.
We used two microphones and a digital mixer to control them. We already had this equipment on hand so we just needed an adapter cable to connect the mixer to the transmitter. If you are starting from scratch, I would suggest going all digital for your equipment because it seemed that there was less noise that way.
If you already have microphones, you can probably use them if you have cables to connect everything. In a pinch, you can use a computer or tablet as an audio source. As long as you can get sound out it will probably work, but the internal microphones on those devices often pick up every little noise, as many of us have learned from Zoom calls recently.
Our equipment was made to sit in a rack in a room, so it uses different cables than the FM transmitter. We were able to find adapters online fairly cheap, and you can find them at local stores as well.
Making Patrons Happy, One Storytime at a Time
Our patrons’ responses to drive-in library storytime have been overwhelmingly positive. We have received calls, emails, and social media messages thanking our department for providing programming in a way that is accessible and still safe. Caregivers have commented that our commitment to going “above and beyond” has been a great help to them during the pandemic.
While the timeline of returning to in-house storytimes and programming remains unknown for us here at the Hoover Public Library, children’s librarians here and across the country continue to be innovative and to create new opportunities to serve their patrons!