by Karen Balsen
Families in communities large and small across New York State face a multitude of challenges in preparing their children to succeed in the school years ahead. Public libraries are already serving many of these families. However, to truly serve as centers for early learning, public libraries need staff with the skills, expertise and resources to reach out to families with young children and help these children enter their school years with the knowledge and skills to succeed.
The New York State Library, working with the 23 public library systems, local libraries and many early literacy organization and education partners, has developed a statewide early literacy initiative designed to help public libraries position themselves as early learning hubs in their communities. This initiative, called Ready to Read at New York Libraries, has multiple facets that will roll out during the next five years. Based on two years of extensive needs assessment, background research and federally-funded project planning work, one of the major outcomes thus far is the creation of the Ready to Read at New York Libraries: Early Childhood Public Library Staff Development Program. Through free training sessions offered by a training cohort of early literacy experts based at the public library systems, the library staff will learn how to:
- assess the early learning needs of families in your community,
- develop successful partnerships and reach out to the families most in need in your community,
- teach childcare providers and families pre-reading strategies to help their children succeed in the school years ahead, and
- learn affordable ways to design welcoming library spaces to serve families with young children.
In addition, library staff will also have access over the next few years to free web-based training offered by the State Library on new developments in child development and early learning. As a result, public libraries in New York State will be better positioned to provide quality library services for families, caregivers and the youngest New Yorkers.
Ready to Read at New York Libraries includes multiple ongoing efforts to offer additional resources for libraries and to expand valuable community partnerships. The State Library has developed two Ready to Read at New York Libraries websites and a Facebook page to share information and resources with various audiences:
- The DayByDayNY (http://daybydayny.org/) website offers an engaging virtual calendar that includes activities, stories, and information for parents and young children.
- The Ready to Read at New York Libraries website (http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/earlylit/index.html) targets libraries and partner organizations to share information about the program and other early literacy resources
- The Ready to Read at New York Libraries Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Ready2ReadNY?ref=hl) provides parents, childcare providers, library staff, and anyone working with young children with current resources, news, and information. Please visit the Facebook page and “like” us.
The State Library is also actively working with early childhood organizations to foster partnerships that will provide additional resources, expertise, access to families, and other partnership opportunities for local libraries. Some of these organizations include: NYS Council on Children and Families; NYS Head Start Collaboration; Family Reading Partnership; NYS Infancy Leadership Circles; NYS Parenting Education Partnership; NYS Educational Television and Public Broadcasting Stations; Library Trustees Association of New York State: and the NYS Education Department Office of Early Learning. For a growing list of partnerships and other resources visit the Ready to Read at New York Libraries Early Literacy Organizations and Resources web pages (http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/libdev/earlylit/resources.htm.)
Planning for the Ready to Read at New York Libraries project was funded through an IMLS Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Planning Grant awarded to the New York State Library in 2014. The current ongoing implementation of this program is providing all public library staff in the state with the training and materials needed to make the library a vital community partner and hub for early learning in every village, town, city, county and region in New York.