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Children's Story Line

San Francisco Public Library

Problem Statement

The public library is the community’s first classroom. Through resources and programming we partner with parents and caregivers to support them in their role as first teachers and preparing children to enter school ready to learn. Children’s librarians use story times as a vehicle to coach parents and caregivers in how to share books, rhymes and songs to establish the basics of early literacy. The Children’s Story Line serves as an additional free resource to make rhymes, songs and stories available at any time from any location.

The Children’s Story Line supports the development of two early literacy skills as it exposes children to an enriched vocabulary and engages the listener in word play and rhyme, thus fostering phonological awareness. It is one more way in which we let people know how important it is that they share stories, songs and rhymes with their children. It also fosters a connection with the library even for those unable to come into our buildings.

SFPL has maintained a “Dial-A-Story” program for more than 30 years and with the recent updates to a digital phone system, it was time to rethink the delivery method. The original Dial-A-Story content was recorded on very old tape cassettes and played on an outdated cassette machine. Because the content was started on an outdated system, it was difficult to add new stories and the sound quality of the tapes had diminished dramatically over time. In addition, the outdated equipment did not allow for use statistics so the library was unable to gather statistics for the program.


The innovation updated the SFPL “Dial a Story” by applying new technology offered by “Guide by Cell” creating more options for sharing the content and allowing for much more flexibility in adding new content. Guide by cell allowed for new content to be stored digitally so it could be made available by phone, on the SFPL web site, ITunes University, etc. The enhanced storage capacity allowed for expanding the content to multiple languages and for easy recording of local storytellers, traditional stories, and children’s songs.


  • Easy system for adding and changing content
  • Integrated system to gather use data including location (area code), time of day, and frequency Data from launch on October 2, 2009 through March 30, 2010 indicates 1660 calls(1113 English, 107 Spanish, 440 Cantonese/Mandarin)
  • Ability for users to leave feedback on the phone line
  • Recorded content is available in multiple locations including available via phone, web, and other social media sites
  • Recorded content is available at all times
  • Content in various languages provides better outreach to users whose home language is not English, including the addition of Mandarin to the previous English, Spanish and Cantonese
  • Local professional performers have expressed interest in contributing content in the future
  • Current Children’s Story Line content is useful for parents/caregivers of children ages 5 and younger as content has been expanded to include songs/rhymes that are also used at SFPL weekly storytime programs