WHAT IS A STORYWALK®?
StoryWalk® is an international initiative that, because of COVID-19, over the last two years has become popular worldwide. This includes 11 new StoryWalks by libraries in Aotearoa. StoryWalks inspire reading in a creative way – building youngsters’ literacy skills without them even knowing! The walk also encourages time with friends and whānau in a free outdoor space, where everyone is welcome.
Pages of a children’s book are displayed on boards, secured to posts along a path, usually through a park. StoryWalk® is a registered service trademark owned by creator Anne Ferguson of Vermont, USA in collaboration with the Kellogg-Hubbard Library. Acknowledgements should be made to Anne Ferguson, the book publisher, author and illustrator at the beginning or end of any StoryWalk® produced.
StoryWalks support literacy development as well as physical and social wellbeing, especially for children and families/whānau. They also provide a brilliant opportunity for community building and engagement outside the library walls.
A StoryWalk® is enticing for kids who have plenty of energy or are not usually keen on reading. The appearance of a new book on the StoryWalk® can encourage whānau to develop literacy rituals by exploring each story together. They are a novel way of presenting gorgeous books to not-yet-library-users outside the library walls and are ideal for highlighting our New Zealand authors and illustrators.
Getting kids active
StoryWalks also encourage tamariki and their whānau to spend time outdoors together, walking, biking or running from post to post as they follow the story. It gives a purpose to “going for a walk” and a helpful distraction for those unenthused about the value of fresh air and exercise. The development of cognitive skills, such as language learning, reading, predicting, and detail observation, go “hand-in-hand” with the gross motor skills used in physical activity. Simply put, when we move our body, our brain works better!
The flow on effect of people getting outdoors and reading together has a positive impact, not only on individuals and families/whānau, but on the wider community. StoryWalks allow libraries to connect with the community where they are, when in-person visits may be limited or unavailable.
The positive messages upheld in books chosen for the StoryWalk® are themselves significant in contributing to societal and cultural transformation. Connections can also be made between the stories and local or national celebrations such as Matariki, Conservation Week, Te wiki o te reo Māori, and Christmas.
Extending the library’s reach
The StoryWalk® boards can be a way to advertise events and resources at the library related to the story that the community may not be aware of. It is also a great way of linking in with events that are currently running, for example reading challenges, school holiday programmes, and wider council events and activities.
There is much potential to work with community groups such as Scouts or land care cooperatives who enjoy this free activity. StoryWalks also provide an opportunity for positive across-organisation collaboration with council staff members in a project that benefits community wellbeing.
Factor in damage
Inevitably, there will be damage or vandalism. Have backups of your books and hard materials to replace any damaged ones as keeping on top of this is important to the image of the library. Alternatively, with publisher permission, copying the pages onto synthetic waterproof paper cuts down preparation time and costs, and means the pages are fine in any weather and are reusable.
Involve the community
After experiencing vandalism in one location, one library resolved to involve their community in the next StoryWalk®. Children from the neighbouring school to the StoryWalk® location were invited to help in selecting a story and securing the pages of the book to the boards, thus becoming invested in the StoryWalk’s success.
The books have to be exciting
The most successful stories so far have been those with a strong, often adventurous storyline, eye-catching illustrations, seek and find objects hidden in the pictures, positive messaging, and even a well-known tune in the story text.
Communities genuinely love them
We only ever hear positive feedback from the community about our StoryWalks.
“Thank you so much to the librarians and assistants who have taken the time to come up with suitably illustrated short stories to engage young & old alike. Please keep up the good work.”
“The story was really good and a great bonus that it ended at the playground” Parent of four
“I love this SO much!!! It's such a brilliant idea, and I wish I could come down and do the StoryWalk® myself! I'm so happy you chose our book. Thanks so much for your dedication to children's literature - not to mention fitness and the community! It's inspiring. All I can say is: the world needs more librarians!” Author
“It looks great! Thanks so much for sending these pictures through – it’s lovely to see the story in situ.” publisher
Capitalise on marketing and promotion
Having a search and find, quiz questions to answer, activity packs or colouring pages associated with the StoryWalk® book provide a reason for children to come to the library after reading the story. It also opens opportunities for many valuable outcomes, including gathering feedback on the StoryWalk®, new or renewed membership, data collection for reporting on, promotion of libraries as a space for all, new resources, and upcoming events.
Think wider than your usual marketing avenues for promotion: a short video with local councillors and their children or grandchildren, newspaper articles, radio interviews, and an e-newsletter with details of the new StoryWalk® to local primary schools and ECE centres are some.
- Write up a proposal for your team lead or library manager
- Include all possible costs: installation labour, cost per board, marketing
- Get the community involved as much as possible
- Ask any of us for help or further information
We are three librarians who have set up Storywalks in our communities, many others have also done this around Aotearoa. This article was produced as a follow-up to a presentation by the authors to a LIANZA Children and Youth Service Network online meetup in March 2022.
Teresa Blackbeard has been working at Gore District Libraries through the NZLPP focusing on community engagement, reading for wellbeing and digital inclusion. Unsurprisingly, she enjoys the outdoors, tramping, good stories, and time with her family. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Hana Whaanga RLIANZA is a life-long learner and employed as the Learning & Discovery Librarian with Hastings District Libraries. Born in Wellington and now living in Hawke’s Bay, she enjoys deep and meaningful conversations, thinking big, and connecting people to information and ideas. You can contact her at email@example.com.
Kate Powis: has been part of the Community Engagement Team as a children’s librarian for Napier Libraries since August 2020. Kate is very passionate about delivering fun and exciting opportunities for the tamariki of Ahuriri. In her spare time, she studies Te Reo Māori L4, is a screenwriter, and enjoys hanging out with friends, family, and of course the dogs. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.