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December 8, 2010 / Christian M.

Santa’s Not Invited To This Story Time!

I joined a listserv that focuses on children and young adult services in public libraries. There was an interesting discussion this week about holiday-themed story times—whether they are appropriate, and how to deal with families who do not participate in the particular holiday.

The topic was started by a librarian in a medium-sized, mid-west community who usually has a themed story time for every holiday, and devotes the whole month of December to Christmas story times. This has been the practice for years. However, just recently a new family has told her that they cannot attend her Christmas story times because they do not celebrate Christmas. This librarian is curious as to how other librarians would handle the situation. She personally thinks that families who have an issue with content should just skip the story times they don’t agree with. She has an attitude of “this is what we’ve always done,” and doesn’t see any reason to adjust the content, or their approach to story time at all.  She ended her last email with: “Yes, all patrons matter but we cannot be all things to all people.”

There were over twenty responses from librarians all around the country, with differing views on the situation. Here are some of their suggestions:

  • If you choose to offer holiday-themed story times, publicize in advance so parents are aware.
  • Acknowledge various religions within your themes – don’t limit it to Christianity.
  • Use seasonal themes (winter, fall, etc.) instead of focusing on the holidays.
  • Use story time to “educate” vs. “celebrate.” Take a multicultural approach.
  • Don’t include any holiday themes during story time

As someone who was raised in a Christian household that did not celebrate Christmas, I can understand the dilemma of the new family at the mid-west library. When parents hold strong convictions (religious or otherwise), they are very particular about the literature, media, and activities their children are exposed to. It is a courtesy to all customers (because the library is for everyone) to provide advance notice when controversial content will be included. As one librarian in Wisconsin pointed out: “when patrons see that ‘Storytime will be held at 10am on Tuesdays’… they don’t expect it to come loaded down with any sort of religious, political or other angle.”  It is true that you cannot please everyone, and you cannot forsee all potential problems. However, it is a no-brainer that all communities have some level of diversity, and not everyone shares the same beliefs.

The purpose of story time is to promote literacy, not religion or holidays. The overall focus should be on the joy of reading, and the celebration of good books and good times with your neighbors. I agree with this librarian from Ohio: “As a community/social setting, the Library should strive to bring together as many people as possible.” Since a public library is for the entire community, librarians need to make an intentional effort to reach out to everyone, and make sure that no matter the race, religion, or political stance, all feel welcome.

Besides, Christmas stories for a whole month?? Seems like you would get tired of reading about Christmas stuff after a couple of weeks!


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