By Sarah Brown
When Library Assistant Darcy Smith in youth services first started doing Storytime at the Lebanon Public Library, a little boy named Steven would sit in the front row to listen to her read.
“He loved the reading and he loved finger plays,” Smith said. “But whenever I got to singing, he would put his fingers in his ears.”
That’s one of the things she appreciates most about kids: their genuineness. She also loves their spontaneity. She can read the same book three times a year and get completely different reactions.
“I can be reading that book and have kids that are standing on their head not paying any attention, and one little guy in the front that’s just so enlarged that it’s powerful,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to get.”
Smith has presented Storytime for the kids since she started working at the library in 2010, and for the past two years she hasn’t missed one reading, despite COVID-19 closing or limiting other library activities.
The library shut down in March 2020 in observance of state guidelines, but that didn’t stop Storytime with “Miss Darcy,” as some of the kids called her. With help from her de ella “cohort and partner in adventures,” Library Assistant Julie Tibbetts, she started to read in front of a camera on social media.
She filmed her first videos at home, but changed locations over the next two years. Smith has read from a pumpkin patch and a Christmas tree farm, in front of the butterfly mural at the library, and even on a boat.
When Smith visited her sister in Alaska last year, the family took their boat out to the Misty Fjords National Monument near Ketchikan, where Smith read Neal Gilbertsen’s “Little Red Snapperhood: A Fishy Fairy Tale.”
Against a background of misted mountains, she told the story of a little red fish, the kind that may very well have been swimming below her at that very moment.
“I wanted to bring something to the kids that’s not something they see every day, something special,” she said.
Though the camera may have enhanced Storytime in some ways, Smith said she misses being able to feed off the children’s reactions as she reads.
“That’s a piece I miss,” she said, “the interaction and reactiveness of the audience of kids.”
She uses facial expressions and tone of voice to engage the children, bringing stories to life. She raises her eyebrows and opens her mouth in an o-shape, or makes her eyes big and gasps to show surprise. These animations are a little subtle, however. She’s not over-the-top, and her voice from Ella always seems to gently wash over the audience like a motherly hug.
Smith grew up in Albany and earned her degree in education and child psychology at Western Oregon State College (now Western Oregon University). Her mom de ella grew up in Lebanon, and her grandma de ella, Leneve Nichols, was Strawberry Queen in 1929.
She worked in Montessori schools for a few years before stepping away to become a stay-at-home mom. Part of her role de ella involved bedtime stories for her children de ella, Austin and Georgia, which is something her Grandma Nichols did for her when she was a child.
“She always read to us,” Smith said. “She read all kinds of books to us when we were kids. She has that very soothing grandma (voice).”
Reading seems to be a tradition passed through generations, from Nichols to Smith’s mom, Sue Parrott, and on to Smith and her sister. Parrott nurtured the joy of reading in her children by taking them to Storytime at the library, reading to them, and letting them read whatever they wanted.
Smith grew up reading Judy Blume and Stephen King, and today she prefers books by fiction authors Kristin Hannah and Jason Reynolds, as well as some nonfiction and lots of young-adults. She loves to read on her back porch de ella, with the sound of nature around her, or listen to audio books while quilting or doing puzzles.
“My favorite place to read is snuggled into bed,” she said. “That’s my happy place to read.”
As a kid, Smith developed her own library out of her bedroom for friends.
“I took all my books and put little envelopes in the back of them and then checked them out to all the neighborhood kids,” she explained. “If they ran late, I would even go knock on their door and say ‘your book is overdue.’”
That’s why working in the library’s youth services seems to be a natural fit.
“I’ve always enjoyed reading, I’ve always enjoyed reading to kids,” she said. “This job had a craft component to it and an imaginative component to it that I really was drawn to.”
When she started, however, she found she needed to practice reading at a proper pace. Every night before Storytime, she would bring a chosen book home and practice on her family. In fact, because of her dedication, her husband, Phillip, is able to recite Eric Litwin’s “Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes” by heart.
“It was one of my favorites to read here at Storytime,” she said. “Over and over again I would practice it because it definitely has a rhyme to it.”
When she chooses her books each week, Smith looks for ones centering around a theme. She picks titles that are interactive, informative, entertaining, and inclusive.
“It’s one way that I can reach the kids with diverse books, is at Storytime,” she said.
Though “Pete the Cat” may rank as an all-time favorite, she currently chooses Amanda Gorman’s “Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem.”
More than a decade after Smith took her position at the library, Storytime has evolved into programs that reach out to people from birth to adult, including the Summer Reading Program, which encourages reading during the summer slump.
“We’re really encouraging families to read together,” she said. “We’re encouraging parents to read to kids or with kids, so we want parents to be involved in the Summer Reading Program.”
Last summer, the Lebanon Public Library placed permanent installations for its new StoryWalk program, which features storybook pages along the path at Academy Square. Though summer would seem like the best time to walk and read, Smith finds evidence that it’s a popular feature even in winter.
During that brief period Lebanon saw some snow last December, one family had perused the StoryWalk, which featured Jan Brett’s “The Mitten.” The family went home and sent photos to the library of a mitten they’d built in the snow.
“It was spectacular,” Smith said. “And that’s how you know you’re connecting with families, especially with something like the StoryWalk.”
This summer, she intends to present Storytime in person again, outside. Though the mask mandate may be lifted by then, she has no plans as of yet to return it to indoors.
For now, Storytime is filmed live Tuesdays at 9 am on Instagram, and at 9:15 am on Facebook. A recorded yoga exercise geared for kids is posted on social media late mornings on Thursdays.
This story about Darcy Smith is dedicated to the staff at Lebanon Public Library. Director Kendra Antila and Library Assistant Julie Tibbetts bring a level of support that helps her deliver Storytime and other services to the kids.
“We really could not be successful here at this library without the staff we have,” Smith said. “I couldn’t do Storytime if we didn’t have three people at the desk corralling 50 families in here.”