Baby Cafe at Thomastown Library, Melbourne Victoria

From Storytime to Baby Café at Thomastown Library

Jane Cowell
3 min readNov 3, 2022


At Yarra Plenty Regional Library (YPRL), supporting early years literacy development is a key part of our Library Plan. We are always striving to improve early years literacy outcomes for our communities. For years, regular Storytime activities at our branches have been at the core of our early literacy programming, but with frequent COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, our communities have faced many barriers attending Storytime sessions.

Library staff observed that the decrease in socialisation resulting from the pandemic has led to delays in language acquisition and the development of social skills in the young children coming into the library. This has, in turn, increased anxiety in some parents & carers, and highlighted the need for an increased understanding of childhood developmental milestones in the wider community.

Using codesign with parents as an approach, YPRL staff partnered with local families, Maternal and Child Health (MCH) and City of Whittlesea Family Services to investigate the early literacy needs of the community, and how we could redesign library storytimes to best meet these needs. We discovered that some members of the community found the phrase ‘storytime’ off-putting. Families suggested it be renamed to Baby Café, as this was more evocative of the experience had when parents and newborns come together to socialise, play, and learn at the library.

So, library staff redesigned Storytime sessions to keep the early literacy benefits of storytime, including language and brain development, but also incorporate the requested new features of Baby Café. These new Baby Café sessions still offer stories, singing and rhyming, but these elements are shorter than our previous storytime sessions. In addition, guest speakers such as speech pathologists, developmental and sleep specialists are regularly brought in. Families are also given regular information on the importance of reading, talking, singing, and playing with their children, and practical tips to best support their early literacy development. Toys are often put out for play sessions. Parents and carers stay and socialise over tea and coffee after the main session is complete and will often stay for hours. These Baby Café sessions are heavily supported by MCH and City of Whittlesea Family Services.

Feedback received from a parent attending the Baby Cafe

Listening to community and working with partners has led to creating a library program that is relevant and responsive. Partnering with MCH and Family Services means that we can all offer the families in our communities more relevant information in ways that meet their immediate needs. The Baby Café format has been a successful pilot. It will continue at Thomastown Library and may run in a modified form at other YPRL branches. It is flexible enough that it can adapt to changing community needs. Local families are more connected, both with the library and each other, and have been empowered with greater health and earlyliteracy information.

Our Library Plan actively supports the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals

Republished from the Yarra Plenty Regional Library Annual Report 2021–2022 Author credit Coralie Kouvelas, Branch Manager Thomastown Library



Jane Cowell

Librarian, interested in libraries, digital disruption, startups, Australian politics