Volunteer Storyteller Interview: Alison Smith

1. Describe yourself in a nutshell.
We moved to Provo seven years ago from Orem. I grew up in Orem and loved the library.

2. How did you first hear about volunteer storytelling? What led to you becoming a volunteer storyteller?
I started volunteering over ten years ago. I went with my first daughter, who is now 14, to storytime and we liked it and I decided to try it. I was an elementary school teacher and a stay-at-home mom, so I knew how to work a room, you could say! I do fingerplays and rhymes with my kids. Being a teacher I wasn’t too nervous.

3. What is your approach to storytelling? How do you come up with your ideas?
I have a whole different “performing for kids” personality. I’m not so hung up on doing what I’ve planned. I’ve done it so many times that if something’s not working I am really flexible. I do have a general idea of what I want to do but like to gear it to the audience. My kids love to come. There are a lot of cute ideas online but I test them out on my kids—my life is laptime mode. I’ve learned there always needs to be something new and you have to be able to see if something’s working.

4. What is your favorite part of being a volunteer storyteller?
I really, really love the kids. It’s hard because sometimes the moms make me self-conscious, so I focus on the kids. I just block the adults out and do the fun things that I know the kids will like. I also try hard to leave moms with something they can sing and play throughout their day. A lot of songs we sing are different from how my family does it. There’s a Zoom Zoom song I learned at laptime and we sing a whole different version in my family. They don’t have to be caught up in doing it the right way—they just have to do whatever creates joy and connection and their kids like and they can remember.

5. What do you think it takes to make a good storyteller? Any tips or words of advice to offer aspiring storytellers?
Over-prepare. Feel the room. Don’t be afraid to be silly. Moms might seem intimidating, but they appreciate you. Don’t be self-conscious.

6. Do you have any memorable experiences or stories from your volunteer experience that you would like to share?
One of my kids thought laptime was the dumbest thing on the planet, but he’s just a wiggly kid. Bring them even if they are wiggly. Don’t worry if your kids are fussy. Don’t worry if things don’t go perfectly. Still come and participate. I bring my kids when I can. My 2-year-old was having a fit once. She didn’t want to sit. She wanted to hold the book. I just looked around and said, “This is real life! Even for me, who has done this for ten years, things aren’t perfect.” Just keep on trying.

7. Do you have any thoughts on the importance of volunteering or storytelling and how it has influenced your life or your family’s life, etc.?
For my kids, going to the library is normal. That’s what we do. I’ve done it when I was 8 ½ months pregnant and when my kids were 3 weeks old. Nothing keeps us from getting to the library. We regularly hit my 100-book limit on my library card. The library is part of my kids’ lives. Volunteering has helped me to stay connected with the library. And having no late fees really helps!

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