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The History of Orange County Library System: The Storytelling Troupe

The History of Orange County Library System: The Storytelling Troupe

Storytelling is an ancient art form that has been around since the beginning of time. Storytellers have always been important in their communities. They are the people who teach life lessons and hold all the stories about their people’s history and culture. Since the inception of public libraries, storytelling has been a crucial offering to their local communities. That importance is apparent to Orange County Library System, which has hosted traditional storytimes presented by librarians since its founding in 1923. Despite the popularity and importance of these programs, professional storytellers being part of a library’s staff is a surprisingly uncommon occurrence. As a proponent of the art of storytelling, Library Director Glenn Miller wanted to offer the Orange County community a different and unique form of storytime. He wanted to hire professional storytellers.

This troupe would present storytimes strictly through the art of storytelling – no visuals were allowed. If a 6-month-old baby came in for storytime, they got a story. Four locations that represented the four corners of Orange County were targeted: North Orange, Southeast, West Colonial and South Orange. The downtown location was also in the lineup. All storytelling would now be performed by this new group. Storytimes were something that would be missed by the children’s librarians, but these changes would allow more time to concentrate on creating exciting new programs for kids. Despite some hesitancy by library staff, Mr. Miller believed that this was an innovative move that would attract patrons in droves.

In the spring of 1993, a call went out for storytellers. From librarians to clerical or maintenance staff, anyone within OCLS was invited to apply. I was a clerk in special services at the time. After getting a few nudges from several coworkers, I decided to apply. The applicants were to prepare and present a 20-minute audition. A week or so after my audition, I was offered the job. I had become a member of the Storytelling Troupe. It started with three storytellers, and a fourth was added a few months later. The troupe included me, Stefani Koorey, Jane Tracey and Charlie Hoeck. All five locations had designated story days in which the storytellers would be scheduled to present “Continuous Storytelling” – 20-minute storytelling sessions from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. We would also take our storytelling out on the road into schools, day cares, community centers, seniors’ facilities or almost any place we were invited. We would conduct storytelling and Sharing Literature with Children (SLWC) workshops for teachers and parents.

Library storyteller Crystal Sullivan telling a story to a group of children seated on the floor of the library

The storytelling went on like this until Glenn Miller retired on March 31, 1995. Up until this point, I felt that the storytelling troupe concept was a success and the community was coming out to support us. But something was missing. When Dorothy Field (read more about her below) was appointed as the new director of OCLS on May 1, 1995, several changes were on the horizon. While she liked the idea of having this troupe of storytellers being the only staff presenting storytimes, as it saved other library staff from having to create and present them, she thought that all locations deserved to have these amazing programs. So, our storytelling expanded to all locations. She also thought visuals were important, so we were now allowed to read books and show filmstrips and stories on VHS.

Having professional storytellers at OCLS has proven to be a unique commodity that I hope will last forever. Throughout the years, the library has had seven full-time and four part-time storytellers. Today five part-time storytellers perform stories both in-person and streaming online. I am the last of the original troupe and have become the Storyteller Coordinator of this crew.

For 30 years, I have enjoyed carrying the title Storyteller here at OCLS. I feel blessed to have a job that I truly love. There are times when storytelling has been a form of therapy for me. There are days when I’ll wake up with a dark cloud over my head, but by the time storytime is over, the dark cloud is gone, flowers are blossoming and the sun is shining. I feel rewarded whenever I’m able to share my craft with this new society of children who are drawn to computer screens or game systems. The idea that I have left an imprint on the memories of the thousands of children I’ve met over the years fills my heart with joy. The notion that adults are walking around with a love of reading because of their storytime visits to the library makes me happy. When many of them think of the library, they may think of that lady Miss Crystal who made them laugh and smile. After 30 years, I still love being an OCLS storyteller.

Get to Know Library Director Dorthy Field

Dorothy Field

Dorothy Field began her library career as a bookmobile librarian in Ohio before moving to Florida in 1974. On May 1, 1995, she became the fourth director of Orange County Library System. She had big plans to launch the library into the 21st century. During her tenure, Dorothy brought OCLS to new heights in technology with public access computers, internet connections and word processing programs. One of her biggest accomplishments was relocating the Children’s Library from the basement to a new, artistically stunning space on the first floor of Orlando Public Library. She also realized the need for more accessible library service in a growing community and opened three new branches – Alafaya, West Oaks and South Creek. Her innovative thinking created a strong and vibrant library system that would thrive well after her retirement. Dorothy retired in December 2001; her parting thoughts looked toward the future. “A library is a living institution that continues on between directors. Dynamic libraries exist because of change.