Professional Reading:
The Family-Centered Library Handbook

My goal with this monthly series is to encourage discussion about topics from our professional literature. I don’t plan to review a title, but rather will respond to portions of the work that speak to me and encourage others to do the same.

The book that I selected for January is The Family-Centered Library Handbook, which was reviewed (scroll to the second review) recently in Library Journal. (Thanks to Kathleen Deerr of Middle Country Public Library and one of the book’s authors for the link!) You may have received a brochure this past November about the upcoming fourth Family Place Librariesâ„¢ Symposium, The Power of Play: Its Impact on Early Literacy and Learning. It is a free event (for public librarians and administrators) taking place on Wed., March 26, 2008 from 8:30 to 11:30 AM at the Minneapolis Public Library. For more information and to register, visit

Why bring this up here? Well, Sandra Feinberg is the founder of the Family Place Libraries and director of the Middle Country (NY) Public Library. And one of the authors of The Family-Centered Library Handbook. I do enjoy these types of tie-ins.

The book’s contents are set up nicely, with an overview of child development theory, ways to evaluate basic competencies/willingness of staff, ways to collaborate with other agencies to pull together resources for parents and caregivers, ways to develop services for young children and special audiences (such as teen parent families). Let me say, it is a great deal of information. It helps that in the introduction the authors reassure the readers to take sections as fit their individual needs.

I completely agree with the authors’ point on page 104, that “Family Spaces are not just about the development of young children. Adults in children’s lives are also growing and developing in their roles as parents, grandparents, educators, childcare providers, and health and human service workers.” I was nodding my head while I continued reading on page 104:

Having a dedicated computer, collections, and displays for parents either in the children’s area or adjacent to it creates a sense of place for parents. […] An adult computer station featuring parenting, child development, and early literacy software and Web sites further expose adults to the wealth of resources available at the library.

The book’s authors stress the need for respect. I do worry that sometimes in our zeal to get children access to appropriate activities we alienate some parents, not respecting them as their child’s first teacher, but perceiving them as the child’s first stumbling block. That also leads me to the topic of intervention as encouraged in the book. When a librarian notices a problem, how to approach the child’s caregiver is discussed. My experience has been fairly limited in that I rarely had a consistent, long-term relationship with any family for me to think intervention. I believe that a relationship would need to be established first to truly understand if what you are seeing is a problem. Am I just rationalizing here? I am especially curious to hear other’s views and experiences with this.

But then, if I had a better knowledge of other community agencies to which to refer people, perhaps the intervention idea would not seem so awkward. The importance of forming coalitions and collaborations is another area of the book that truly speaks to me and how I need to grow professionally. With an understanding of what resources are available, I would be in a better position to intervene, to offer suggestions of places to help the children and caregivers with the challenges they are facing. Kathleen de la Pena McCook is cited on page 59, from her book, A Place at the Table, regarding the need for activism and “to permit staff sufficient time to engage in the important work of building community relationships.”

Oh, those collaborations and coalitions are tough work, aren’t they? I have found that the two biggest obstacles are getting through each agency’s bureaucracy and timelines (even my own) AND the high rate of turn-over of staff in those agencies with which I have sought partnerships. I’m not saying that it isn’t worth it, but I am saying it is hard work and time intensive. At this point, I want to make a concentrated effort to just KNOW what other agencies are out in my community and what services they offer.

Here is the item information for the book discussed in this post:
Title: The family-centered library handbook / Sandra Feinberg … [et al.].
Publication info: New York : Neal-Schuman Publishers, c2007.
Physical descrip: xv, 324 p. : ill. ; 28 cm.
ISBN: 9781555705411 (pbk. : alk. paper) :
ISBN: 1555705413 (alk. paper) :

Again, I encourage you to share your thoughts. The book for February’s Professional Reading post will be Crash Course in Children’s Services by Penny Peck. The titles that have been/will be discussed in this monthly column are listed at the ALSC Blog’s LibraryThing account. If you have any titles to suggest, please post them in the comment section here or send an email to I know that I will be adding McCook’s A Place at the Table to the list.


  1. jschultz

    Finding a county organization that’s made of members from local organizations is a good way to build multiple connections (ours is Fauquier Alliance for Youth). Our public services supervisor is on such an organization (I am the library representative when she is unable to attend), and we’ve made good connections, including one that led to funds for our teen summer activities. A coalition of local nonprofits in the area is a great way to make connections, if there is one in your area.

    Another way to build connections is to join the local Chamber of Commerce, which is also an organization made of representatives from local places of business and interest. This is an excellent networking opportunity.

    If you’re fortunate enough to have such organizations in your community, membership has very good benefits.

    Homeless shelters and Boys & Girls club are usually eager to work with librarians, in my experience.

    But it is difficult to establish connections with other agencies. It helps if you’re not the only one who wants to establish connections. If you are doing it on your own, it gets difficult.

  2. Teresa Walls Post author

    Excellent suggestions. Thanks, Jennifer! I know that our local library has created a resource guide of many help agencies and organizations. I need to do a better job of keeping up-to-date with that. I would like to have a better understanding of the organizations and their missions in order to talk about them in a more informed way.

    How does your public services supervisor share the information about the other local organizations with the rest of the library personnel?

  3. jschultz

    If there is a partnership in which she feels the library should develop with another organization, she will share it with senior staff (which includes me). Since this particular alliance organization is an alliance of organizations serving youth, she talks to me about it. I will usually also discuss with and involve the children’s librarian at our second largest branch (we have three branches).

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