Story times and videos and copyrights, oh my!

My grandmother’s hand is wrapped around my tiny fingers, swinging back and forth as we walk up the sidewalk toward my hometown library. I look up at her, grinning, excited to go inside. She picks me up, and opens the large glass door decorated with paper cut outs of spring flowers and bunnies. We walk in and the librarian at the desk immediately to our left greets us with a smile. She points us toward the back where the program is about to begin. We walk past book shelves that seem enormously tall, even hoisted high in my grandma’s arms. Spines of different sizes, colors, and shapes flash before me as we walk. I can’t quite read every title – but I’m deeply curious about what’s inside each one. The rows of books come to an end and we arrive at the library’s back corner. A handful of kids are seated in a circle around a rocking chair. I join them. My grandmother takes a seat behind me, her hands on my shoulders. I can tell she’s excited too. The librarian from the front takes a seat in the rocking chair. She has a book in one arm and a caterpillar puppet in the other. I turn around to look at my grandma. She points back at the librarian and smiles. “It’s story time!” she exclaims. As I face the librarian again, she’s opening her book. I lean back and rest against my grandmother’s legs. The story starts. I can’t wait to hear what it’s about.

Story times: A library classic
One of my earliest memories of the library is a children’s story time with my grandmother. For most libraries, these story times are the staple of our children’s programing. It’s a fantastic way to share the joy of reading with kids at a young age. And so often when I talk to adults about the library, some of their earliest memories of the library (just like mine) involve a story time.

Providing these programs at a variety of times and on a variety of days is important so that kids everywhere, even with busy, working parents, have an opportunity to experience it. We also, of course, hope parents are able to replicate that joy at home too. Plenty of studies show reading aloud to kids is extremely important. (I know I’m preaching to the choir.)

Taking story times to the next level
At the beginning of the year, my library’s marketing team began looking ahead at various upcoming holidays. We saw World Read Aloud Day was set for Feb. 24 this year. We talked about some unique ways we could celebrate it. We decided to explore the idea of a “Virtual Story Time” of sorts. The idea: Have one of our enthusiastic children’s librarians read a children’s book while I record video of it, then post that video online via social media for parents to share with their kids. Our goal was to show parents a quality example of reading aloud, and also to create a way for children to get the experience of a library story time with just the click of a button.

We thought we could even make it a monthly series. Beyond just World Read Aloud Day. Post a new video each month of a librarian reading a different children’s book. We were super excited to share this project with our customers and add fresh, relevant video content to our social media channels.

It was perfect. What could go wrong? Well. It turns out, in one word: Copyright.

Getting the appropriate permission
The possibility of violating copyrights of the books we chose to read and record on video was a real concern. We knew going into this project we’d have to get express permission from all those involved before we published our videos. We reached out to some other libraries. Most had never pursued it due to the red tape. We hoped the fact we were using the videos strictly for educational purposes and wouldn’t be profiting off of them would make getting permission much easier. (Plus, we’d included text at the end of the video with the book’s title, author’s name, publisher’s name and any another other necessary information. We’d certainly give credit where credit was due.) For the most part, all of that helped. However, the process of getting permission turned out to be much more complicated than we expected.

Fortunately, we still had a few months until we wanted to publish the first video. The first step was to reach out to the author. Amazingly, this particular children’s book author listed his personal email address on his website. I shot off a friendly email explaining our project and asking for his blessing. I was pleased to get a very enthusiastic reply the next day from the author. He was honored we chose his book and excited to see the video. He graciously gave his, and his publisher’s, permission. I was relieved. Easy! So much easier than I thought.

Creating the video & final steps
We began our project, using our DSLR camera and lavalier mic (small, clip-on mic) to create a professional recording of the “story time for one.”

Recording our first Virtual Story Time.
Recording our first Virtual Story Time.
I edited the video using Adobe Premiere. Our very talented graphic designer used Adobe After Effects to create a fun animated intro with our logo, plus graphics branding the Virtual Storytime.

Screen Shot 2016-02-28 at 2.25.09 PM
Graphic made for video intro.
Our finished project was ready to go. Then. It came. A new email from the author. Bad news. He basically said that he’d brought up the idea with his agent and she had questions. She had hesitations about allowing the video to be published in its entirety and to standby while he discussed it with her further.

It was too good to be true before, I thought. So close! I held my breath, hoping the agent would change her mind. A few days later the author replied. The agent had agreed to a compromise. We could proceed with the project. But it could only be published for a period of two months, and then it had to be removed from all online platforms. She emailed over a paragraph full of legal speak explaining the position.

We agreed. It was a compromise I could definitely deal with. I was grateful our work wasn’t wasted and our idea could move on. It was a great first lesson. We knew we had to be careful, and I’m glad we were. And I’m glad we didn’t give up. In the end, it paid off and we’ve had a great response to the video. Our goal is still to publish similar videos each month. I’m excited about working with more authors, publishers, and agents to find a way that works for all of us.

Take away 
Coming up with new ideas to expand your traditional library programs, such as story times, is a great way to expand your library’s reach and grow your audience. Just make sure you do your research first and allow yourself plenty of time to investigate and get everything in order before launching your project.

Has your library dealt with any issues when it comes to copyrighted material? How did you handle the situation? Tell us in the comments below!


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Learn more about the author.

Opinions are my own. This post does not necessarily reflect the views of my past or present employers.

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