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Library boost title

Public library training for parents, caregivers dramatically boosts early literacy across income, education levels

Significant rise in literacy behaviors sparks love of reading in children and adults,
plus leaps in library use

SEATTLE -  A new study of the impact of research-based early literacy practices in public libraries finds that parents and caregivers of young children from birth to 5 years who took part in public library early literacy programs across the United States from 2002-03 significantly increased their literacy behaviors.

The behaviors introduced led to significant gains in children's reading readiness, as parents and caregivers embraced new strategies that helped the children they care for enjoy reading. Participants in the study now flock to libraries to check out books for themselves, as well as age-appropriate materials for very young children.

More than 30,000 children were reached during the program, including 11,612 from birth to 23 months; 14,072 children aged 2 and 3; and 4,564 children aged 4 and 5. Of more than 1,300 parents and caregivers who attended the 304 early literacy sessions, approximately 500 parents and caregivers (including those with 14 first languages other than English) took part in intake and follow-up interviews. 

The results show:

* Parents of every age, educational background, income level and ethnicity who took part in library early literacy programs significantly increased literacy behaviors, including employing intentional, open questions (for 2-3 year olds) and increased their library use;

* Teen parents and low-education, low-income parents - who showed the fewest literacy behaviors at the outset - showed impressive, significant gains across the board, especially in reading to children 0-23 months old and a better understanding of which books are age appropriate. A month after the program began, differences between low- and middle-income parents had disappeared;

* Parents of 0-23 month olds made the largest percentage gains in sharing books - increasing weekly sharing of books with children by 16 percent and daily sharing by almost 25 percent;

* Early literacy training worked best when delivered in Head Start centers, schools, teen parent program sites, hospitals, prisons and other locations, and then drew participants into libraries; and

* Caregivers, while at first more knowledgeable about many early literacy behaviors
than parents, became more aware of the importance of sharing books daily, even with babies 0-23 months old; used more a playful, intentional approach to literacy; chose shorter books with fewer words which they discussed more and significantly increased library use as a result of their participation.


The Early Literacy Project began in 2000 with a partnership among the Public Library Association (PLA), the Association of Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), a division of the National Institutes of Health.  In October 2001, 20 demonstration public library sites tested the materials, and 14 libraries subsequently took part in the 2002-03 evaluation study. The results were released today at the Early Literacy Preconference, part of PLA's 10th National Conference in Seattle, February 24-28.

The study sought to answer two key questions: What effect do public libraries have on parent and caregiver education for early literacy and, when parents and caregivers of low-income children take part in early literacy programs designed by the PLA/ALSC Early Literacy Initiative, do they understand and use the best practices they learn?

"Libraries have always been critical to developing early reading skills," said PLA President Luis Herrera. "This study is significant proof of the important role of public libraries in training parents and caregivers on how to start and keep young children on the path to lifelong literacy."


The six behaviors introduced were:

Talking to babies about objects in their surroundings, encouraging toddlers to name objects in pictures in books and asking general questions to encourage them to say more than one word, and introducing preschoolers to letters (their sounds and names), playing word games and building their vocabulary.


Participant libraries are:  Allen Country Public Library (Ind.), Baltimore County Public Library (Md.), District of Columbia Public Library, Hennepin County Public Library (Minn.), King County Library System (Wash.), Metropolitan Library System (Okla.), Minneapolis Public Library (Minn.), Montgomery County Public Library (Md), Multnomah Country Public Library (Ore.), Phoenix Public Library, Pierce Country Public Library (Wash.), Provo City Library (Utah), San Antonio Public Library, and West Bloomfield Public Library (Mich.).

"Given these encouraging results, we urge more libraries to follow this model of parent and caregiver education.  They are eager for research-based content, and this study shows they will use what they learn," said Harriet Henderson, co-chair of the Early Childhood Literacy Project and past PLA President.  Elaine Meyers, head of children's and young adult services at Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix, also co-chaired the project.

According to the 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress, there is a 90 percent probability that a child will remain a poor reader at the end of the fourth grade if the child is a poor reader at the end of the first grade.

"These early literacy materials are exactly what we need to train our staff and to use in our Books Aloud! programs for parents and caregivers, so we all can help children get ready to be successful readers. Thank you!" said Hedra Packman, Chief, Office of Public Service Support, Free Library of Philadelphia.


The report recommends that libraries:

*Target parents of 0-23 month olds whose use of early literacy behaviors is the lowest among parents of preschoolers and who make dramatic increases after attending sessions;

* Continue to target teen parents and those with low education and low income, who are less likely to know or use early literacy behaviors but make dramatic gains once they learn them;

* Use nontraditional methods to continue to reach young, low-income, low-educated parents who don't visit libraries, especially given that transportation to the library was discovered to be a significant barrier for low-income teen parents.

* Use personal contacts with other organizations to attract parents and caregivers to early literacy programs rather than rely on internal posters or radio/TV ads;

* Help non-native-English-speaking parents understand that reading, talking and singing to children in their first language will help develop literacy skills; and

* Reconsider library fine and card policies that keep low-income, teen parents from libraries for fear of fees for lost or damaged books or the overdue fines they experienced as children, then find creative ways to let parents know.


"As a children's librarian, I have long appreciated how story time and other popular library reading initiatives can engage families and ignite a love of reading," said ALSC President Cynthia Richey. "This new research-based approach provides a substantial framework for librarians collaborating with parents and caregivers beyond story time."

A recent national poll conducted by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion found that Americans rank reading programs for children the top priority for library service.  Open hours on evenings and weekends and computers for public use ranked second and third.


Among the changes some libraries made while participating in the study were:

* King County conducted a popular program for teen moms at a local shopping mall, with free books, finger puppets and food for participating parents;

* West Bloomfield rearranged its children's section by reading levels;

* San Antonio launched "Lunch 'n Learn," an on-site corporate early literacy programs at Chase Manhattan and Pathologies Lab, which had excellent turnouts;

* Allen County created "story PACs," with four books, stamps, a puzzle, puppet and activity sheets on one letter or number for parents/caregivers to check out, as well as handout sheets with the librarian's phone number;

* Hennepin County secured funds for a yearlong early literacy planning process so all 30 youth service staff could attend three-day retreats that focused on early literacy research, engaging parents and story time training; and

* Phoenix began a "Bonding With Baby" story time in three libraries for children from birth to 23 months old.


"These results highlight the critical value libraries add to their communities, and show one invaluable way we reach far beyond our doors," added American Library Association President Carla Hayden, a former children's librarian who is now Executive Director of the Enoch Pratt Library in Baltimore.

PLA and ALSC are divisions of the ALA.

To interview project co-chairs and spokespeople from PLA and ALSC, please contact:
Larra Clark at 312.545.5043
Rochelle Lefkowitz at 650.599.9996 or
Aggie Ponickly at 212.245.0510
50 E. Huron Chicago, IL 60611 Call Us Toll Free 1-800-545-2433
2005 American Library Association.  Reprinted with permission.

 Release date: February 24, 2004




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