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Library Story Time is Park Slope's Hottest Ticket

By Leslie Albrecht | December 5, 2012 9:50am

PARK SLOPE — On a recent Friday morning, more than a dozen adults and small children lined up eagerly along Sixth Avenue between Eighth and Ninth streets in Park Slope.

They weren't waiting for the new iPhone, a seat at a trendy new restaurant, or a new video game. The object of desire for these Park Slopers was a coveted slot at the public library's story time.

The library's two free weekly readings for little ones — Toddler Time on Wednesdays and Babies & Books on Friday — have grown so popular in family-filled Park Slope that tickets are required for entry.

"I've never seen anything like this," said branch librarian Stephanie Brueckel, who has worked for the Brooklyn Public Library since 1996. She recommends that patrons who want tickets for the 10:30 a.m. story time sessions get to the library before it opens at 10 a.m.

First on the queue Friday was a nanny who arrived at 9:15 a.m., because she had heard competition for the tickets was so fierce.

"I knew I had to get here early," said Caroline Delves, who was with 6-month-old Cooper. "It's winter time, and parents like the kids to go some place where they can interact with other kids."

Also waiting patiently outside in the cold was dad Adam Hollander, who was with his 16-month-old daughter Roberta. "I came once at 10:15 a.m. and was a little surprised to find I was too late," Hollander said.

Demand is so high that library employees recently had to take measures to control the growing crowds. Some stroller-pushers had been so eager to get tickets that they had hoisted their strollers in the air and raced up the main front steps in an attempt to beat people lined up at the library's side gate, where there's a ramp for strollers, said children's librarian Allison Nagel.

Now, instead of handing out tickets at the library's front door, employees are only giving out the prized paper slips at the gated side entrance, where people have to enter one at a time.

"It's been a mad rush," Nagel said. "People would carry their baby carriages up the front stairs instead of waiting for the ramp [at the side entrance]...That's a little dangerous."

Librarians recently upped the number of tickets for each session from 15 to 20, but they don't plan to add any more slots, because the quality of the program could suffer if the audience is too large, Brueckel said.

Librarians kick off each story time by reading a book aloud to the crowd. A popular choice at Toddler Time is "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" by Bill Martin, Jr.; at Babies & Books, "I Kissed the Baby!" by Mary Murphy is in heavy rotation.

After the stories, librarians lead the children in songs or rhymes, such as "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" for toddlers, or "One Two Buckle My Shoe" for the babies session. That's followed by half an hour of free play time with soft blocks or noisemakers. At some sessions librarians pull out a machine that fills the room with bubbles, a big hit with the young audiences.

The popularity of the program has led some parents and caretakers to try to slip into story time sessions with children who are older than the cutoff age, which is 3 years old for Toddler Time and 18 months for Babies & Books, librarians said.

But Nagel said she's got no plans to check IDs at the door to enforce the age limits.

"We're not going to card," Nagel said. "The only kind of IDs babies really have is a birth certificate. If someone brought that and lost it, we wouldn't want to be responsible for that."

Luckily for parents and caretakers, the library is adding a second Toddler Time in January on Wednesdays at 1 p.m. More sessions could be added after the library trains volunteers to lead them.

"The kids definitely like it," Nagel said. "A lot of times they don't want to leave, and they cry a little bit [when it's time to go]."