Tom Schween Rocks Digital Storytime

Community Profile

“I wanted to make a difference and be of service. I wanted to promote things I valued and cared about, such as stories, the arts, reading and lifelong learning.”

Tom Schween
Walnut Creek, California
MLIS Student, Expected Graduation Spring 2017

Tom Schween was living a Mad Man’s dream life, with a thriving career in New York producing ads and commercials for the popular music television network MTV. Working on projects like the 1999 Video Music Awards campaign and the world premiere promos for Madonna’s “Ray of Light” and Brandy/Monica’s “The Boy is Mine” videos, Schween was stretching his creative side, but something was missing.

“I loved producing promos (and I still do),” Schween admits, “but I wanted something more. I wanted to make a difference and be of service. I wanted to promote things I valued and cared about, such as stories, the arts, reading and lifelong learning.”

So Schween bought a truck and headed west to San Francisco, where he applied his production skills to projects like the longest running musical revue in live theater history, Steve Silver’s Beach Blanket Babylon. But it was while taking recreation and leisure courses at San Francisco State University that he was given what he refers to as the greatest academic assignment he ever received: the option to volunteer, anywhere, doing something just for fun.

What did Schween really want to do? “I wanted to read to kids.” 

Taking Storytime to the Next Level
Schween volunteered with the Oakland Public Library’s Books for Wider Horizons program, where he trained to be a story reader in Head Start preschool and childcare centers. He soon realized he could use his expertise as a promo producer to bring storytime into the digital age. 

“I recognized that I had the ability ‘produce’ entertaining children’s enrichment programs like traditional library storytime,” Schween explains. “Stories are magic, especially for young children who have unlimited imaginations. I love to see kids transported through books, songs and puppets. In storytime, you get to take them on adventures.”

Not a replacement for traditional picture-book storytime, Schween’s media-centric work is a complement. “Digital storytime can add many high-quality and relevant materials to your storytime bookshelf,” Schween explains. “It offers an excellent opportunity for librarians to act as media mentors by modeling media literacy skills and active screen time, and provides caregivers with application and ebook recommendations.”

Wanting to build up his storytime skills even further, Schween became a licensed Kindermusik Educator through ABC Music and Me, a story, music and movement pre-K enrichment curriculum, and was soon teaching weekly programs in classrooms. Teachers and parents appreciated the unique skills Schween brought to storytime, which encouraged him to augment those skills with an LIS education.

“I realized I wanted to do this professionally, full-time,” he says, “by becoming a children’s librarian.” And then Schween found the iSchool.

MLIS for Life

Schween is following the San José State University School of Information Youth Services career pathway, striving to become a “go to” expert on producing effective and relevant storytime programs for young children in the digital age. “I sought out a graduate program because I wanted to educate myself to deliver developmentally focused programs that are both entertaining and effective,” Schween says.

He adds to his storytime skills through relevant coursework, by cultivating 21st-century children’s librarian skillsets like media mentorship and by studying child development. He wants to help libraries integrate programs like digital storytime into their existing services and create new programs for young learners.

But he’s also learning to recognize the differences between “healthy” and “unhealthy” media behaviors and digital materials for children. Citing an Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) white paper written by leaders in the storytime field, Schween says that, when it comes to children’s applications, caregivers should be aware that the term “educational” is often used by app developers to market and sell apps without research. 

“Just like parents choose healthier food for children’s dinner time, they may choose healthier apps for digital storytime,” he elaborates. “Just as librarians do with books when making booklists and modeling early literacy skills when reading aloud, librarians are being called upon to recommend apps and model media literacy skills during digital storytime.”

Through an INFO 298: Special Studies course with instructor Beth Wrenn-Estes, Schween developed a plan to “research, understand, and prepare to teach best practices for integrating digital materials in storytime.” His impressive goals included conducting a survey of young children’s digital storytime materials and their formats, to identify appropriate standards for digital storytime materials. An outcome of the project was a database Schween curated, collecting examples of “high-quality digital material collections for storytime.” Schween will continue to add examples through his professional experiences on his website, storytimeWOW!, offering everything you’ll need to “add spark to storytime.”

Bringing it Home
Currently undertaking a youth library programming internship at California’s Pleasant Hill Library (PHL), Schween is helping to relaunch Thursday storytime as Science Storytime and researching project ideas for STEM programs. “I am also learning about how to effectively and efficiently suggest digital storytime and media mentorship initiatives for thriving libraries like PHL and the libraries in my future,” he adds. Schween is also taking INFO 281: Storytelling “with the amazing Beth Wrenn-Estes,” focusing his blog on digital storytelling. 

Through storytime, digital or otherwise, Schween is making a difference in young lives and putting his rich media expertise to educational, fun use. 

“Experiences are brain food, and storytime is all about providing children with rich multisensory experiences,” he says. “It’s a privilege to be there when kids have first experiences… to see the lights go on in kids’ brains through their eyes and smiles. Children’s laughter brings sheer joy, and it’s infectious. You carry it with you.”