The Oceano Branch of the San Luis Obispo (SLO) City-County Public Library system is the first (SLO) branch library to implement the Raising a Reader Program. The newly opened branch, which is situated on a site next to the Oceano Elementary School and an adult learning center, is well positioned to provide services to both parents and their children. The program, which is partially supported by First 5 of San Luis Obispo and the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education, targets children and their families living in the predominantly Hispanic community surrounding Oceano Elementary School. The project is part of a broad initiative to provide educational support to parents, provide preschool and childcare, operate kindergarten transition programs, coordinate existing health and social services, and encourage schools to be ready for children, and vice versa. A preliminary review of the program results conducted by First 5 of San Luis Obispo indicate that the program is having a significant impact on the way parents approach learning in the household. Parents surveyed after three months of program participation reported statistically significant changes in the amount they read to their children (from 59% at baseline to 85%), their perceived importance of such reading (from 8.9% at baseline to 9.8%), and their increased use of the library system (from 38% at baseline to 69%) (First 5 SLO 2005) (p. 11).
Impact on Reading and Literacy
Our visits to libraries throughout the state show that these programs help develop strong reading skills in Pennsylvania’s children. The programs encourage children to enjoy reading and give them opportunities to spend lots of time with books—a first step toward developing strong reading skills. Children also benefit from the rich literacy experiences afforded by the many special events and organized programs the library offers. Finally, parents of children engaged in preschool and summer reading programs appear to be strongly invested in their children’s reading achievement. For thousands of children through Pennsylvania, preschool and summer reading programs offer a strong step in their climb toward reading achievement, and ultimately, success in school (40).
As these findings suggest, summer reading clubs encourage children to read, and to read often. Research has shown that the amount of time children spend with books is crucial to reading achievement, and ultimately, to school achievement in general. Parents, children, and librarians report that the goals and structure of the summer reading program are very conducive to promoting reading (37).
Observations at various libraries and interviews with parents, children, and library staff reveal that preschool and summer reading programs encourage children to spend significant amounts of time with books, a first step toward reading achievement. Observations and interviews also show that library programs encourage parents to play greater roles in the children’s literacy development—another factor leading to reading achievement (4).
In Alaska, the percentage of students scoring proficient or above on reading tests was higher for schools with more hours per typical week of professional librarian staffing; more staff time spent weekly delivering information literacy instruction to students, planning cooperatively with teachers, and providing in-service training to teachers; collection development policies that address the issue of reconsideration requests or challenges to library materials; computers with modem capability (to access the Internet); and a relationship—formal or informal—with the public library. In addition to these direct predictors of test scores, the Alaska study identified one series of relationships worthy of note: Schools with more librarian staffing spend more time teaching information literacy, resulting in more student visits to library media centers and, in turn, higher reading scores.In Pennsylvania, higher average reading scores for schools were associated with the presence of school librarians with more hours per week of support staff; higher expenditures on the library media program; larger collections of information resources (e.g., books, periodical subscriptions, Access Pennsylvania and other databases); more computers, both in the library media center and throughout the school, that provide access to information resources (e.g., licensed databases, the Internet); and spending more library media staff time integrating the teaching of information literacy into the school's curriculum and approach to addressing academic standards (8-9).
The autobiographies affirmed that the librarian has helped to develop the love of books and the sense of connectedness that students need in order to “want” to read. This in turn leads to choice reading, vocabulary increase, higher fluency and the ability to demonstrate those skills in a variety of ways. The individuals in the role of librarian have a huge impact on this willingness and interest in reading.
Public library programs offer wonderful opportunities for promoting school-readiness skills in children and creating positive associations with books while showing parents how important these skills are and how to reinforce them at home.
But by using readily available data about reading scores, children’s services in public libraries, and adult educational attainment, this analysis supports the widespread belief that the efforts of public libraries to promote early literacy pays off in terms of higher reading scores during elementary school. There is a positive and statistically significant relationship between children’s services in public libraries and early reading success at school.
The benefits go far beyond simply enjoyment and amusement, to being an essential form of relaxation for some people, helping to relieve stress, providing a break from the pressures of everyday life, and assisting others with the treatment of an illness. (p.138) The opportunities offered by libraries, in addition to providing access to books and other recreational materials such as videos, further enhance people's leisure time by giving them the chance to socialize and by providing access to activities many others in society take for granted because they can afford them. (p.139)
State-by-state data released by the National Center for Education Studies (NCES) in November 2007 provides evidence of a strong, positive link between the amount of children's materials circulated by public libraries and fourth-grade reading scores on the same agency's National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Of states ranking in the top half on readings scores, more than four-fifths (82 percent) ranked in the top half on circulation of children's materials per capita. Conversely, four out of five states (83 percent) in the bottom half on reading scores also rank in the bottom half on children's circulation. Of states ranking in the top half on reading scores, seven out of 10 (70 percent) ranked in the top half on attendance at children's programs per capita. By contrast, seven out of 10 states (71 percent) in the bottom half on reading scores also rank in the bottom half on children's program attendance.