If you have ever dropped your kids at the library for story time, you know one way that libraries support families. If that’s all you know, you have hardly scratched the surface of what the library has to offer.
The Children’s Reading Foundation has determined that pre-schoolers need hundreds of hours of being read to in order to be adequately prepared for kindergarten. Even parents with minimal or no reading skills can make up stories to go along with the pictures in books. Twenty minutes a day beginning in babyhood will easily add up to that much time. Unfortunately, not all kindergarteners have received that kind of background. That’s one reason why families need help.
Children’s services at the library
The library has plenty of books suitable for children of every age, from pre-school through high school. The book collection comprises picture books, story books for young children, and juvenile fiction and non-fiction–including winners of the Newbery and Caldecott Awards. In addition, the collection has dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference materials appropriate for each age level, as well as a variety of children’s periodicals. Most libraries will also have large print and Braille books for seeing impaired and blind children.
It should go without saying that library collections have much more than books and magazines. You will find an audiovisual collection of music, books on CD, and a variety of movies and other visual materials. You will almost certainly also find computers with various special programs, educational games, and Internet access.
In addition, children’s libraries offer various special events and programs, of which the story times are just one. Kids Connect, the children’s website of the Orange County Library System (Orlando, Florida) shows a representative selection of the kinds of programs libraries have offered for years. Besides the various events, children’s librarians help children with homework.
Libraries serve not only children, but the entire family. All of these after-school programs and homework centers help the parents by providing a safe place for children to go between the time school lets out and the parents get home from work.
Since children’s librarians have special expertise in helping children with their information needs, and since they remain in communication with teachers, they can often give better and more appropriate help with homework than the parents. That, in turn, frees the parents to interact with their children in other ways.
Libraries also have materials on parenting. Larger public libraries often have parenting centers that gather all of this information (in print, online, and audiovisual) in one place. Other librarians besides the children’s librarians staff these centers, offering their different expertise.
In addition to traditional family services, some librarians are becoming Family Place Libraries™. Some 250 libraries have joined this organization. Besides the kinds of collections and welcoming spaces libraries have offered, Family Place Libraries offer a five-week parent/child workshop.
Besides coordinating with the schools, Family Place Libraries build coalitions with other community agencies that offer various family services. The librarians receive special training in family support in order to understand best practices in family needs beyond providing information.
Besides children’s services, I have previously written about how libraries help the unemployed and illiterate adults. This work directly helps not only the individuals they work with, but of course also their entire families.
With all of the services libraries offer to families, they serve the whole community. Libraries make up an important part of the solution to numerous social problems that face communities from large cities to small towns. Besides taking full advantage of library services, citizens need to make their voices heard so that city councils and county commissioners will fund them adequately.