CHICAGO — A new report, Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement, released by Harvard Family Research Project and the Public Library Association issues a call to action for libraries to strengthen their efforts to engage families in children’s learning.
Harvard Family Research Project surveyed public library leaders from around the country about their family engagement practices, convened a learning community of librarians, conducted interviews with librarians and reviewed research to closely study family engagement practices in public libraries. This report highlights five promising ways that libraries engage families in children’s learning from early childhood and throughout the school years.
- Reach Out: Libraries reach out to families to promote the programs, collections, and services that are vital in a knowledge economy.
- Raise Up: Libraries elevate family views and voices in how library programs and services are developed and carried out.
- Reinforce: Libraries guide and model the specific actions that family members can take to support learning, reaffirming families’ important roles and strengthening feelings of efficacy.
- Relate: Libraries offer opportunities for families to build peer-to-peer relationships, social networks and parent-child relationships.
- Reimagine: Libraries are expanding their community partnerships; combining resources and extending their range; improving children’s and families’ well-being; and linking to new learning opportunities.
Children and youth learn in countless ways, anywhere, anytime. And one of the most powerful levers of children’s learning is the family. Libraries are supporting families and building pathways for promoting their children’s lifelong learning. Beginning in the early years, public library services such as story time and early literacy programming help children get ready for school. Libraries serve as pillars for school-age children’s afterschool and summer learning experiences and invite families to participate in diverse activities, from engaging in maker spaces and digital media labs to exploring healthy lifestyles. Through offerings in adult education, job seeking and computer skills, libraries are reinventing themselves as hubs of two-generation learning. According to Clara Bohrer and Kathleen Reif, co-chairs of the Public Library Association’s Family Engagement Task Force, “family engagement goes well beyond the support of early literacy and our youngest children, and encompasses the wide range of services offered by libraries for families and children of all ages.”
Furthermore, libraries are essential community partners in contributing to more equitable learning opportunities for children living in poverty or from low-income homes. For the many children without preschool experience, libraries fill gaps in their access to guided and research-based early learning experiences. For those without access to afterschool programs, libraries offer safe spaces for homework help and enrichment. And for those who are underconnected, free access to high-speed Internet connections and quality digital media and technology makes learning tools available.
Libraries are creating new ways to serve all families and their children. Heather B. Weiss, director of Harvard Family Research Project, says, “What we’ve learned is extraordinary. We’ve heard from a librarian in Alaska who reaches out to families—so geographically dispersed that you need a plane to get to them—by setting up satellite bookshelves in fire stations. We even heard from a library system in Pennsylvania that has reenvisioned the supportive role that libraries can play for families by running the city’s afterschool programming.”
The report also draws attention to the assets of public libraries for building a foundation for family engagement. These resources include the people they serve as well as the expertise of librarians; the place each holds as a trusted and welcoming institution in the community; and the role they play as a platform for children and families to use library materials for discovery, innovation and the creation of new knowledge.
The report and related resources are funded by a grant from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. They can be accessed at http://www.ala.org/pla/familyengagement. More information on Harvard Family Research Project’s public library project including the report can be accessed at http://www.hfrp.org/family-involvement/projects/libraries-for-the-21st-century-it-s-a-family-thing.
About Harvard Family Research Project
Harvard Family Research Project has more than 30 years of experience with promoting children’s learning and development through family and community engagement. We serve a diverse national audience that includes policymakers, researchers, educators, and practitioners. Network building, documentation, policy analysis, evaluation, and professional development are core elements of our family engagement work. Visit www.hfrp.org for more information.
About the Public Library Association
The Public Library Association (PLA) is the largest association dedicated to supporting the unique and evolving needs of public library professionals. Founded in 1944, PLA serves nearly 9,000 members in public libraries large and small in communities across the United States and Canada, with a growing presence around the world. PLA strives to help its members shape the essential institution of public libraries by serving as an indispensable ally for public library leaders. Visit www.pla.org for more information.