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Digital Outreach and Family Literacy: Children’s Programming in the Time of COVID-19

Over the last five years, there has been an increased awareness of the importance of digital resources and accessibility. In 2015, the New York Public Library began loaning hotspots, and just this past December, Library Journal published an article about how to better promote digital resources because many patrons are unaware they exist. As many libraries across the country have shut their physical doors in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, these e-resources have become even more vital, as has the concept of family literacy. One of the main questions this raises is how can we best continue to serve children and families at this time?  

In addition to promoting digital resources like e-books, a vast number of children’s librarians have begun doing virtual storytimes through their library’s social media accounts. In order to determine how effective these practices are, we can turn to O’Connor’s 2017 study Sociocultural Early Literacy Practices in the School and Home Context: The Role of a Digital Library. The literature review conducted with regard to e-books shows that they have the potential to increase literacy proficiency, even for those who are “low SES (socioeconomic status), at-risk for learning disabilities, and who were English language learners” (p. 24). Therefore, it seems that e-books are an adequate alternative to their physical counterparts. 

In this study, O’Connor discusses how best to implement the use of e-books to promote literacy; these practices may also be applied to virtual programs such as pre-recorded storytimes or chapter book read alouds. The benefits are found to be greatest when the child is actively participating, engaging in discussions of the stories, learning to identify letters and words, and discussing the meanings of new words (p. 15). One of the concerns surrounding this type of programming is increased screen time for young children, but a balance may be struck by making the programs as interactive as possible (i.e. include dancing and singing segments) and by providing off-screen activities related to the story, such as writing or drawing exercises. 

Family literacy impacts the effect of all of this, including the promotion of services. According to the language socialization theory discussed by O’Connor, children’s language and pre-literacy skills depend on the social and cultural practices of the home and community. Normally, children are influenced by the values and beliefs of both their families and their teachers. Since kids are no longer physically in school, the values and beliefs of their families have become the primary influence on them. If their families do not value the library, they are significantly less likely to tap into the digital resources currently being made available. 

While there is no perfect solution to the difficulties we are all currently facing, keeping these ideas in mind as we plan our programming and promotion may help improve our practice. For more resources on digital services, check out this digital strategies book list from ALA and this article on how the San Antonio Public Library began increasing their digital outreach. 

Today’s blog post was written by Kat Baumgartner, Children’s Librarian at the Great Neck Library in Great Neck, New York, on behalf of the ALSC Early and Family Literacy Committee. She can be reached at  

This blog relates to the ALSC Core Competencies of:

I. Commitment to Client Group

III. Programming Skills

V. Outreach and Advocacy

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