Director of Outreach Services, Brooklyn Public Library
MLS, Pratt Institute, 2009
Photo by Gregg Richards
Story Time for Everyone
For most parents, reading a story aloud to their children is a bond-building experience they wouldn’t trade for anything. Not everyone, though, has that opportunity. “For parents who are incarcerated, and for their children in particular, that loss of connection can take a devastating toll that could last a lifetime,” says Nick Higgins, who spearheaded TeleStory, a program at the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL) to help alter this particular unhappy ending.
TeleStory provides live video links between libraries in Brooklyn and parents in prison, allowing parents to talk to, tell stories to, and even sing along with their children. “TeleStory is a very simple way to increase opportunities for family and community connections,” Higgins says of the program, which began as a small pilot. Now, thanks to a nearly $400,000 Knight Foundation grant Higgins won in 2016, TeleStory is up and running in a dozen BPL branches.
Though story time is an important part of the program, it’s not where TeleStory ends. It has also become an opportunity to reach out to families with incarcerated parents and introduce them to other library services, as well as resources provided by other agencies.
On the heels of this success in Brooklyn, Higgins and his colleagues are taking TeleStory on the road. After expanding to the nearby New York Public and Queens libraries, Higgins recently headed upstate to help the Albany Public Library install a video unit and begin its own similar project. Higgins is hopeful that New York’s capital will be just the first stop on TeleStory’s tour. His ultimate goal is to build the service into a model that can spread to libraries nationwide.
“If public libraries are going to remain relevant, we need to be persistent and unafraid to deliver services that address specific needs of our most vulnerable neighbors,” Higgins says.