Family Engagement

Because Student Outcomes Improve When Parents Are Involved - Libraries Transform -

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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?

Family engagement is a shared responsibility among families, educators, and communities to support children’s learning and development. Family engagement begins at birth and continues through young adulthood. The term is no longer limited to the involvement of families 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.

Why is it important?

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. ECRR is the foundation upon which PLA has established its Family Engagement Initiative. By incorporating ECRR into their programming, we encourage our member libraries to form respectful partnerships that offer the information, guidance, and opportunities for families to be active in their children’s learning and development. 

In 2013, PLA and the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) received a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to conduct a national study on the effect of library programming on parent behavior and engagement using the ECRR model. Dr. Susan B. Neuman, Professor and Chair of the Teaching and Learning Department at New York University, directed the research. Over the course of this 3-year study, Neuman et. al. observed and evaluated storytime programs at 60 public library locations across the U.S., and found significantly greater engagement of parents and caregivers in libraries that used the ECRR program.

Current Activities

Promotional Toolkit

In July 2018, PLA released a free promotional toolkit designed to library workers and advocates raise awareness of family engagement through libraries. This new resource can be used to supplement libraries’ marketing, fundraising, community relations and political advocacy work. The Family Engagement Toolkit was developed in partnership with ALA, as part of the Libraries Transform public awareness campaign. It offers both strategy and tactics for family engagement advocates, including message points, customizable graphics, promotional ideas, and program examples from Ideabook: Libraries for Families. Read the official announcement for more information and instructions on accessing the toolkit.

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.

Ideabook: Libraries for Families

Ideabook: Libraries for Families cover imageIn March 2017, PLA and the Harvard Family Research Project released their collaborative publication, Ideabook: Libraries for Families (PDF, 68 pgs.). Building on the Call to Action document, the Ideabook highlights case studies from more than 50 libraries and introduces the public library family engagement framework.

Public Library Family Engagement Framework

A critical component of PLA’s work is the “Framework to Support Family Engagement in Children’s Learning Through Libraries.” Developed in 2017 with the Harvard Family Research Project, the framework outlines how library leadership and library support services can advance caregiver engagement in learning with children, and explains the five “Rs” of engagement—reach out, raise up, reinforce, relate, and reimagine—which help libraries develop meaningful, lasting relationships with families in their communities.

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.

Enhancing Public Library Programs Through a Family Engagement Framework cover slide imageOn January 21, 2017, PLA presented Enhancing Public Library Programs Through a Family Engagement Framework as part of the Symposium on the Future of Libraries at the ALA 2017 Midwinter Meeting. The session featured the new, research-based 5Rs framework (reach out, raise up, reinforce, relate, and reimagine) and practical examples of family engagement programs from libraries featured in the new IDEABOOK. More information is on the ALA 2017 Midwinter Meeting archive and in the slide handout (PDF, 6 pgs.).

Improving Federal and State Policy to Support Family Engagement in Libraries cover slide imageOn January 21, 2017, PLA and the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) presented Improving Federal and State Policy to Support Family Engagement in Libraries (slide handout, PDF, 7 pgs.). This session focused on policy initiatives to maximize the assets and capacity of more than 100,000 libraries nationwide to promote family engagement. Topics included how ALA can work with federal agencies to identify, coordinate, and increase opportunities to foster family engagement; how state and local assets can be maximized and oriented to include libraries; and how library research and resources can provide a stronger foundation for action at local, state and national levels.

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, FL, 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, CO, 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.

PLA Family Engagement Interest Group

Join PLA’s Family Engagement interest group (login required*) to connect with members interested in helping children and families in their communities succeed in school and life. Please note that participation in PLA interest groups is limited to PLA personal members and login is required.

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 us at

*You will be asked to login with your ALA website login and password to confirm your current PLA personal membership. If you’ve forgotten your login information, you'll be able to retrieve your username/password or create a login if you don't have one from the "Login" page.