If you love a good story, the Enoch Pratt Free Library is the place to be - kind of. With the launch of its new online program, E-stories, folks can now enjoy a good story told by professional storytellers from the comfort of their home.
"We do storytelling all the time here," said Mona M. Rock, the Pratt's director of communications. "This is one way that if you can't make it to the physical library you can use your cyber-library to still be a part of the program."
Currently, there are five stories on the Pratt's Web site, http://www.epfl.net/kids/estories/, each running between four and six minutes and hailing from a wide range of cultures, including African, African-American, Appalachian, Indian, Iranian, Jewish, Irish and Native American. The library plans to post 35 more titles soon, and each week a new title will be highlighted as the e-story of the week.
"Baltimore is becoming more and more diverse and we wanted to offer something for everyone," said Rock. "Children and parents should always have as much opportunity as possible to learn about other cultures, and this is our way of providing that opportunity."
The program, with its meshing of purpose and technology, is the first of its kind in Maryland and is setting an example for libraries nationwide.
"Their choice of doing this with storytellers is just fantastic," said Mary Davis Fournier, public programs project director for the American Library Association. "I have a feeling it will get looked at widely."
This week's story, The Best Birthday Present, highlights the Jewish culture and tells the story of a wife and mother living during World War II who learns how to find gifts in unexpected places. This week's selections also include tales from African and African-American traditions.
"One thing storytelling will do, because all cultures have a tradition of telling stories, is that you get to see the humaneness in everybody and you look past what you might think were cultural differences," said storyteller Bunjo Butler, whose granddaughter, Imani, is also a featured storyteller on the site.
"The Jewish story might touch you in a certain way because of the lesson told, even though it was not told from a perspective that you know. You learn that we have more in common than we have differences," Butler said.
In addition to diversity, the library also hopes to encourage literacy with the E-story program. "Certainly storytelling is a literacy tool which encourages children to find stories they want to read and tell," said Gail Rosen, the storyteller of The Best Birthday Present. It also makes for a better world, she said.
"The basics of ethics is to be able to imagine what other people feel. Anything that builds up that imagination muscle is good for our society and the world," she said.
Once the stories have been posted, Pratt administrators plan to transfer all 41 taped stories onto DVD and distribute them to Maryland libraries.
Butler hopes that the program will help to put some of the fun back into the time-worn slogan, "Reading is fundamental." "I hope that [people] have a new appreciation or that they rekindle an appreciation ... for storytelling," he said.