Family Engagement

PLA initiated its work on family engagement in early 2015. The PLA Family Engagement Task Force is co-chaired by Clara Bohrer, chair of the PLA advisory committee for the early literacy research grant, and Kathleen Reif, past chair of the PLA/ALSC Every Child Ready to Read Oversight Committee. The Task Force is charged with helping public libraries learn about and implement successful family engagement practices.

What is Family Engagement?

For families, family engagement is about the knowledge, attitudes, values, and behaviors that enable children to be motivated, enthusiastic, and successful learners. For schools and libraries, family engagement means respectful partnerships that offer the information, guidance, and opportunities for families to be active in their children’s learning and development.

Family engagement is no longer just about how families are involved in schools—it is much broader. Children spend only 20% of their waking hours in school. Learning happens both in school and out of school - as “anywhere, anytime learning” – and children and youth thrive when they have opportunities to explore and discover their interests in a variety of spaces, including at home, in the community, and in public libraries.

For public libraries, family engagement is a natural next step in supporting children’s learning and development. Early literacy efforts like Every Child Ready to Read@ your library® (ECRR) support parents and children and create a springboard for new ideas and practices libraries can use to engage families even more successfully. PLA’s work on family engagement will help libraries serve families of all types with children of all ages.

Current Activities

Libraries for the 21st Century: It’s a Family Thing

In late 2015, PLA and the Harvard Family Research Project developed a project entitled Libraries for the 21st Century: It’s a Family Thing. Funded by a grant to Harvard from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the project will:

  • Survey public library leaders about family engagement practices and perceptions;
  • Document promising family engagement practices in public libraries;
  • Establish a learning community of librarians to share practices that set children and families on a pathway to use libraries for lifelong learning; and
  • Develop publications including an IDEABOOK that libraries can use to encourage family participation in children’s learning.

Call to Action for PLA Members

Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement cover imageOn August 9, 2016, the publication Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement (PDF, 26 pgs.) was released. In the document, Harvard Family Research Project and the Public Library Association call for libraries to join together with schools and community organizations to establish a system of family engagement that extends throughout a child’s life, supports children and families, and prepares children for success.


Public Library Survey

In early 2016, Harvard and PLA surveyed library directors and managers about library leadership to promote family engagement; librarian’s roles in supporting family engagement and their relationships with families; and services that engage families with children from the early childhood years through high school age. Survey results from about 460 respondents were presented at the ALA 2016 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Orlando (see slides and audio recording).

Continuing Education

Click links below to access presentation resources such as recordings and handouts.

A New Approach to Building Family Engagement Pathways: The 5Rs Framework cover slide imageOn December 6, 2016, PLA and the Harvard Family Research Project presented a free webinar, A New Approach to Building Family Engagement Pathways: The 5Rs Framework. Nearly 500 librarians and educators registered to learn how to increase their outreach to families, elevate family voices in their work, and implement five processes to build successful family engagement pathways (Reach out, Raise up, Reinforce, Relate, and Reimagine). Speakers included Margaret Caspe, PhD, senior research analyst, Harvard Family Research Project; Michelle Jeske, Denver City Librarian; and Lesley Graham, Save the Children’s National Education and Health Team for U.S. Programs.


ALA 2016 Family Engagement in Public Libraries is Valued, But There is Work to Be Done cover slide imageAt the ALA 2016 Annual Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Fla., PLA presented Family Engagement in Public Libraries is Valued, But There is Work to Be Done. Speakers included Margaret Caspe, PhD, senior research analyst, Harvard Family Research Project; Clara Bohrer, director, West Bloomfield Township Public Library and co-chair, PLA Family Engagement Task Force.


PLA 2016 Library Leadership for Family Engagement cover slide imageAt the PLA 2016 Conference in Denver, Colo., PLA presented Library Leadership for Family Engagement. Speakers from Harvard Family Research Project discussed “anywhere, anytime learning” and how public libraries can create family engagement pathways from early childhood through college readiness.


Other Resources

Connect to PLA’s Family Engagement Projects

For more information on PLA and family engagement, or to share examples of what your library is doing to engage parents in the education of their children, contact Scott Allen at sallen@ala.org.