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The Pandemic Has Made An Unlikely Star Out Of A Brooklyn Librarian

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Prepare to meet a global star, thanks to the pandemic. Her medium - kids' books. She is a bilingual Brooklyn public librarian who brought story time online. Sally Herships reports.

SALLY HERSHIPS, BYLINE: Last year, librarian Tenzin Kalsang had to move her story time online. She was so nervous, she remembers the exact day she had to make the switch.

TENZIN KALSANG: April 19. The night before my story time, I could not sleep. I was like, oh, my - how am I going to do this?

HERSHIPS: Kalsang was used to reading stories in person, and now she'd be going on camera, streamed live on Facebook.

KALSANG: Worst thing is when I get shy, my face turns really red. So then I was like, I don't know. How am I going to do it?

HERSHIPS: But she did it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KALSANG: Hello. Good morning, everyone. Hello. Good morning, everyone.

HERSHIPS: Still, Kalsang was right to be nervous. She had a pretty tough audience to impress. I know. I spoke with one of them.

Nice to meet you.

TSOJUNG YERUTSANG: Nice to meet you, too.

HERSHIPS: Nine-year-old Tsojung Yerutsang. She has black, shoulder-length hair, a pink T-shirt with a heart and one dimple. And when her mom suggested she watch story time, she had some serious doubts because she's in fourth grade.

YERUTSANG: Well, first, I honestly thought it was for babies. And I really didn't want to learn it because, you know, in, like, American reading levels, I'm very high - like, above my class, like, not to brag or anything.

HERSHIPS: But this story time is bilingual - in English and Tibetan. Tsojung's mom was a refugee from Tibet, one of tens of thousands who scattered around the globe. But Tsojung was born here in Queens. So on the one hand, she's pretty American.

Do you have a goal?

YERUTSANG: Yes. I want to be the first American woman president.

HERSHIPS: She loves Barbie and "Harry Potter."

YERUTSANG: Potterheads for life.

HERSHIPS: Still, her heritage is Tibetan.

YERUTSANG: When people ask me to describe it, like, I say, oh, I was born in America, but then my parents were Tibetans. So, like, I like to say it this way. My skin is American, but my blood is Tibetan.

HERSHIPS: In 1950, China invaded Tibet. Now it controls the region. Activists say China is trying to destroy Tibetan culture, banning the national flag, educating kids in Chinese. Tibetans fear their language will be lost. Here's Tsojung's mom, Tsering.

TSERING: Without language, culture cannot survive.

HERSHIPS: But it's not like Tsojung can watch Netflix in Tibetan.

TSERING: She have to go to school. Everything is English. So when first time I - in the story time Tibetan and English together, I'm so, so happy.

HERSHIPS: As for Tsojung, she says story time has made her feel closer to Tibetan culture.

YERUTSANG: I really like to watch her now. It's very educational. She does, like, one page in English, and then she reads the page again in Tibetan. It's really nice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KALSANG: Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? (Non-English language spoken).

HERSHIPS: Viewers are logging on from around the world to watch Kalsang the librarian - from Australia, Switzerland. One story time has been viewed 20,000 times. That's like selling out Madison Square Garden. Kalsang says bilingual story time tells people libraries celebrate diversity, and fourth-grader Tsojung agrees.

YERUTSANG: I think everyone's country should be remembered and shared to everyone because then we can all be remembered.

HERSHIPS: Since the pandemic hit, the Brooklyn Library has been offering other bilingual story times online in Russian, Spanish, Chinese. It says it's likely it'll keep them.

YERUTSANG: (Non-English language spoken).

HERSHIPS: Sally Herships, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.