`WHEN my Mommy doesn't have time to read to me I can call Dial-a-Story myself and listen. When I grow up I'm going to read stories and act them out,'' says pigtailed eight-year-old Bukola (Bukki) Adetayo, who was born in Nigeria and has lived in this country for four years. She is one of 250,000 people every year, children as well as adults, who listen to Martin Luther King Library's 3 1/2-minute recorded folk tale. The Dial-a-Story recording operates 24 hours daily. Every week there's a different tale. Since the service began in 1976, an estimated 3.5 million callers have listened to tales from around the world.
``Our purpose is to introduce a number of cultures and to interpret literature for children, encourage reading, and encourage use of the local public library,'' says Maria Salvadore, coordinator of the library's children's services. ``We want to bring the library into everyone's home at no cost to the callers in the metro area,'' she adds. We try to make the stories appropriate for kids five to 105,``The appeal of folk tales is their predictability, especially for a child.''
In folk tales, there's always a clear sense of right and wrong and the hero always vindicates himself. ``Kids remain in control because they know what's going to happen next,'' Salvadore says.
There are hundreds of thousands of folk tales. European cultures - France, England, and Germany - have given us the best known. African and Haitian tales have become popular, too. The library has more than 100 stories recorded and tries to play each only once a year.
Adetayo't nine-year-old brother Christopher listens to Dial-a-Story ``because I don't like to read books. Some have too much big words or little words and some I don't understand. My Mom wants me to read a book a day. I don't like reading every day because I'm lazy.'' Dial-a-Story suits him just fine. For three years he and his sister Bukki have listened to the telephone tales, occasionally several times a week. ``Dial-a-Story is not scary like books sometimes. It's fun,'' Christopher says.
The youngest child in the Adetayo household, Kemi, 5, listens just before going to bed. ``It's a substitute for my reading to her,'' explains her mother, Jeanne Adetayo, a children's librarian who works one night a week. ``A lot of times the children want the book so they can follow along with it as the story is being told. I leave Dial-a-Story's number by the phone so they can dial it themselves,'' Adetayo says. cho? The stories provide listeners with a way to handle life, believes Charlotte Smutko, assistant to the coordinator of Children's Services at Martin Luther King Library. ``They learn how to behave after seeing how other people have reacted to events. Children react to the goodness in the stories, usually the main characters,'' Smutko said. ``Without folk tales, children lose that imaginative tool of ideas from cultures. By holding these stories back, a parent holds a child back from the realities of life and a means to solutions to life's problems.''cho?
Adults enjoy the tales, too. ``They want to hear something other than the weather lady,'' says Charlotte Smutko, Ms. Salvatore's assistant.
Adults are fans, too
``Deep down we all like to be read to. It's reassuring, a structure with a beginning, a middle, and an end we can hold on to,'' says Carolyn Ward, project manager for disabilities studies, Electronic Industries Foundation. ``Dial-a-Story gives one a snippet of available literature and it's an invitation to use the library.''
Claudie Coates, a French native who's lived in the United States for 25 years and has taught at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute for 15, says ``I love Dial-a-Story. It's something unusual and refreshing.'' Children would love it for the tales' repetition.''
Not much equipment is needed: a heavy-duty answering machine adapted with a counter to log the number of calls; a leaderless audiocassette tape and a phone line. The total cost is less than $2,000. Ongoing costs include a monthly phone line(s) charge and staff time to record the stories.
The answering machine for Washington's Dial-a-Story has a Skutch Electronic Barge-In device. It allows four incoming callers to hear the story at one time. The first call cues the tape to begin. Callers two through four barge in on the first call and then can remain on the line for the story to begin again.
Dialers must prepare for a busy signal, no matter what time it is. ``I was bragging to friends at 2 a.m. about our service,'' says Dr. Hardy R. Franklin, director of the D.C. Public Library System. ``We couldn't get a line - so there are adult babies calling then,'' he laughs.
High praise from fourth-grader
Every week people place several hundred calls to the three languages - Cantonese, Spanish, and English - of San Francisco Public Library's Dial-a-Story, geared to preschool listeners and to English as a Second Language students. ``It's a good verbal and aural literary experience. Children and adults hear language spoken well. You can see expressions of delight and flickers of recognition when they're familiar with a story,'' says Grace Ruth, the library's book selection specialist.
A Maryland fourth-grader has high praise for Dial-a-Story: ``I wish all the TV channels from 7 to 9 p.m., before kids go to bed, would flash this announcement: `Call Dial-a-Story' and then give its phone number. Kids would see that and say, `I won't waste my time with TV anymore. I'll listen instead to Dial-a-Story and get happy and learn something.''
Martin Luther King Library's Dial-a-Story number: (202) 638-5717 (this is toll call outside the 202 area code). For more information, contact Maria Salvadore, Coordinator of Children's Services, Washington, D.C. Public Library, 901 G St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001.