Two years after the program’s launching, the Brooklyn Public Library has received nearly $400,000 from the Knight Foundation to expand its TeleStory program, which allows children to read with their incarcerated parents through video conference technology. The library was one of 14 recipients to receive funding from the foundation’s ‘Knight News Challenge’ that asked “How might libraries serve 21st century information needs?”
In the beginning, it took people a while to get use to the uniqueness of having storytime over a television screen. Nick Higgins, Brooklyn Public Library’s Director of Outreach Services, described it, “You set up this video visitation with a family and they come in and it looks kind of strange. You turn on a TV screen and there’s a floating head. It’s kind of a strange way of interacting with your parent. But ultimately this is about family reunification, so there’s a moment that happens pretty early on in the visitation when all that technology seems to disappear and it becomes exactly what it is: a very simple interaction between a parent and their child, reading a book together.”
Now 160 families are using TeleStory at four library locations, and by the fall the program will be available at twelve branches in Brooklyn including sites in Brownsville and East New York.
According to Higgins, if this goes well, the Knight Foundation will be looking into replicate the TeleStory program across the country. “Because this technology is proliferating across the United States, if we do it right, then other cities will look at this model as the way to go, putting family reunification at the front of all of our expectations and goals,” said Higgins.
Higgins himself has great hopes for the program. He explained, “My hopes for the program is that kids who have an incarcerated parent will not feel stigmatized, because they can visit with them in such a welcoming controlled space like a public library,”
Higgins added, “I do hope that this will actually influence how this technology is being used across municipalities across the United States and that it moves the needle towards a program that is more focused on the family rather than on any sort of motive of profit. It’s really about connecting families,”