Story time, on a telephone near you

Carol Fitzgerald, director of Sussex County’s libraries, is encouraging the parents of young children to consider an alternative to the video games, DVDs and Internet – a retro choice for entertaining youngsters with the joy of reading, apart from reading an old favorite with Mom, Dad, Grandma or Grandpa.

During National Library Week 2010, April 11 through April 17, the Sussex County Department of Libraries is reminding parents of the importance of reading to children, and Fitzgerald noted this week before the Sussex County Council that one way to do that is by using the county’s free Dial-A-Story program.

For nearly 30 years, Dial-A-Story has allowed children ages 3 to 6 and their parents to dial a local telephone number and listen to a two- to three-minute story, right over the phone.

“The goal is to prepare young children to be ready to read, and at an early age,” said Fitzgerald, director of the Department of Libraries. “One of the best ways to start the process is by having somebody read for them. Children respond to that.”

Twice a week, library staff members record new stories – usually from books in the department’s collection – for children to hear. The topics vary depending on the time of the year and holidays. On average, more than 1,600 calls are made each month to the County’s Dial-A-Story telephone numbers.

“We want residents to be aware of this free service for children, and remind them that it’s a popular, easy activity that kids can do themselves,” County Administrator David Baker said. “The County has offered this service to children since the early 1980s, and now the children who would have used Dial-A-Story back then are parents themselves. So this is neat way for parents and children to enjoy something together, and carry on a little tradition.”

Three telephone lines, including one with a story recorded in Spanish, are available 24 hours a day. All lines are a local telephone call within Sussex County. To use Dial-A-Story, call (302) 856-3535 or (302) 856-3536. For Dial-A-Story in Spanish, call (302) 856-3537.

Fitzgerald noted on Tuesday that the program was looking for a new volunteer to read stories in Spanish.

“It offers a different voice,” she noted of the service, saying it was a change for the usual reading by parents and grandparents. “It’s a very popular service, and we want to remind people that it is there for anyone, 24 hours a day.”