Here at the Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL), librarians from our nineteen branches make monthly visits to the county’s seven Women, Infants, Children (WIC) Centers. The goal is to let the families know about all the services and programs the library has to offer. In addition, BCPL placed Early Literacy Centers in each location which contain library books and educational toys. During the visit, librarians read to children, modeling literacy behaviors and talk to families about the benefits of reading to children, the families are also able take a free book home to keep. The Early Literacy Centers are child friendly, with colorful rugs, child-sized tables and chairs, library books, as well as educational toys promoting Talk, Sing, Read, Write, Play.
Which organization(s) do you partner with to make this program possible? Has this program led to any new partnerships?
Our Youth Family Engagement (YFE) Department partnered with our local county’s Department of Health and Human Services to get permission to have our staff visit the WIC centers on a monthly basis. We started with one WIC site a number of years ago, then grew to serving all seven WIC sites in 2017.
BCPL, and our Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC), partnered with Too Small To Fail, a National non-profit, to bring the message of Talk, Read, Sing, Write, Play, the building blocks of early literacy, to our visits and spaces. We are working on partnering with Laundry Cares and Too Small to Fail in the near future to add a literacy center at a laundromat in a target community.
What have been the benefits and drawbacks of the partnerships? Have there been any surprises?
The benefit to this partnership is that we can provide library services to a wider range of people. The WIC centers are not always close to the library branch, so this allows families who cannot get to a library branch to have a piece of the library brought to them. It also benefits the children because it provides learning opportunities for them where they normally wouldn’t get them. Prior to installing the Early Literacy Centers, the WIC was a place for parents to go and for kids to just tag along. Now, the WIC can be a place for them to read books, play, and learn new things. A potential drawback is materials going missing, however we are still in the early stages so luckily we haven’t seen that happen yet! Most people are very respectful and understand the materials are meant to stay at the WIC.
What are some tips and techniques that you would recommend for libraries who want to replicate or adapt this type of partnership?
I would say the library needs to be willing to go the WIC centers when they feel they will be able to reach the most people, so they need to be flexible with their time. Since we want to visit the WIC frequently, we have every full-time librarian trained on how to go on the visits. The benefit of the Early Literacy Centers is it is a way of reaching people and telling them about the library even when we are not there. I would also say it is important to know which programs to highlight when you go on the visits. Although the WIC is program for children and families to have access to healthy food, many of the programs we highlight are resources for adults. Things like job searching, budgeting, and tax preparation are all very well-received. Many people who come to the WIC don’t realize so many of the resources they are looking for are available at their local library!
Angelique Kopa works in the Collection Development Department of the Baltimore County Public Library, Maryland. She serves on the ALSC Building Partnerships Committee.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: III. Programming Skills and V. Outreach and Advocacy.