For immediate release | February 5, 2016

Public Libraries to strengthen family engagement through new PLA project

CHICAGO – The Public Library Association (PLA) is excited to partner with the Harvard Family Research Project on a new initiative to help public libraries identify successful family engagement strategies and implement them to help children of all ages succeed in school and life.

“Family engagement” refers to the beliefs, attitudes and activities of families to support their children’s learning, whether at home, at school or in the community. Research confirms the importance of family engagement for children’s development and learning. Children exhibit healthy development and academic success when families foster warm and nurturing parent-child relationships, take responsibility for children’s learning and encourage children to focus on effort and learn from failure.

Out-of-school learning settings are growing and changing rapidly, and it is no longer fruitful to focus family engagement solely on what happens in school or in the home. Public libraries are an important family engagement space, but libraries need to know best practices related to family engagement. Libraries are not always seen as an institution that should be at the table as family engagement networks are developed.

PLA’s groundbreaking early literacy initiative, Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR), helped educate individuals and the broader community about the importance of early literacy and its lifelong impact. ECRR provides an excellent example of how libraries promote and create family engagement around early literacy. Just as PLA took the lead in early literacy through the ECRR initiative, PLA can lead in preparing public libraries to think about family engagement across a variety of services offered and for families from diverse cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.

The 2016 project, entitled Libraries for the 21st Century: It's a Family Thing, is supported by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation through a grant to the Harvard Family Research Project. PLA and the Harvard Family Research Project will focus on the early childhood years to:

  • Document existing practices and opportunities in family engagement. Data will be collected through a survey of public librarians, site visits to specific libraries, and suggestions from PLA members.
  • Create a learning community. PLA members in the learning community will interact over the spring and summer of 2016 in order to learn from each other while also providing models and resources to the project.
  • Create a toolkit or “ideabook” about family engagement in public libraries. Brief, relevant research about family engagement and best practices identified from the survey and learning community will be compiled into a toolkit. PLA will distribute the toolkit and hopes to develop additional publications and educational activities to support it.

The PLA Family Engagement Task Force is co-chaired by Clara Bohrer, past PLA president and chair of the PLA Early Literacy Research Grant Advisory Committee, and Kathleen Reif, past chair of the Every Child Ready to Read (ECRR) Committee. Members include Toni A. Garvey, Phoenix, Arizona; Christine Lind Hage, Rochester Hills (Michigan) Public Library; Susan H. Hildreth, Peninsula Library System, San Mateo, California; Felton Thomas, Jr., Cleveland (Ohio) Public Library; Michelle M. Jeske, Denver (Colorado) Public Library; Mary Jo Giudice, Dallas Public Library; and Meaghan K. O'Connor, D.C. Public Library.

The mission of Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP) is to shape 21st-century learning opportunities so that all children and youth thrive. Central to our work are addressing issues of access and equity in learning, and advancing family and community engagement practices that reinforce success for all children. Since it was founded in 1983, HFRP has served as a national platform for forward-thinking perspectives on family and community engagement research, practices, policies, and strategies. The HFRP team consists of Heather B. Weiss, M. Elena Lopez, Margaret Caspe, Lorette McWilliams and Carolina Buitrago

The Public Library Association (PLA) is a division of the American Library Association. PLA’s core purpose is to strengthen public libraries and their contribution to the communities they serve. Its mission is to enhance the development and effectiveness of public library staff and public library services.

For more information about PLA, contact the PLA office at 1 (800) 545-2433, ext.5PLA, or


Kara O'Keefe

Manager, Membership Marketing