Children’s librarians are experts at family engagement. Sure, these happy-faced public servants spend countless hours greeting the adults who accompany their young charges, but this is just the beginning. Engaging with families by meeting them where they are and making a meaningful connection is the children’s librarian’s super power. We are in a unique position to provide free, accessible services and spaces where families can spend time playing, learning and relaxing together in a low stakes environment. These early connections often lead to life long relationships with the library and its librarians.
Our programs are often the first places families come when they are new to the community, new to the country or new to the work of parenting. For example, our library has had a program which employed immigrant parents who had graduated from our ESL classes as bilingual “Discovery Guides” in our Children’s Discovery Library. By overcoming language and cultural barriers, we make the library a more welcoming and engaging place for our city’s diverse population.
As community builders, children’s librarians offer information and resources, both library-based and community-based, to connect families to one another or to their community at large. A story time father, new to the city, asked us about resources for finding an apartment for his family. The next week, we introduced him to another father who owned a multi-family house with a vacancy. Well, the rest was history and friendships were born!
Programming is often the first opportunity for librarians to begin to establish relationships and for families to engage with each other as well. Once a month, on Sundays, we feature a family learning experience such as dance, science, art or music. On a recent Sunday, we introduced the button maker and discovered the level of its appeal – to all ages! It was fascinating to watch as the children taught the parents how to navigate the button making process, how the families worked with each other to create art, all the while talking, laughing and connecting. One father even wanted to know how to get one to use at home!
All of these experiences demonstrate the importance of families feeling connected and part of a larger community through the library. These kinds of engagement opportunities provide families with support, friendship and a sense of belonging, all of which are components of healthy development in both parents and their children. Participation in programs, library usage and financial support of the institution all increase with the level of engagement felt by parents and other caregivers. More importantly, though, are the impacts made by the efforts of children’s librarians to reach out and connect with young patrons and their adults, and to continue to engage with them as the years go by. These relationships can sometimes dramatically change lives but they almost always provide opportunity for life-long learning and discovery.
“My experience would be completely different if I didn’t come here. It is a special place for both my daughter and me to meet others and build lasting relationships while she is learning.” – MOHAMMAD A.
This post addresses the Core Competencies of Commitment to Client Group & Outreach and Advocacy.
Today’s guest blogger is Anne Kilkenny, M. Ed. Anne is the Coordinator of Early Childhood Services at Providence Public Library in Providence RI. She is passionate about play, music, books and gardening. In addition to reading to infants and toddlers, and designing family friendly programs, she is guiding her young adult children and teaching aspiring educators at Community College of Rhode Island.
Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.
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