Nearly every October our library is asked by our local Educare group to provide a book-focused training for early childhood care providers to go hand-in-hand with Jumpstart’s Read for the Record Day. As in years past, this week I pulled a large stack of new books that provide early literacy experiences and work well in a childcare environment. Unlike years past, I presented from my home to attendees in their homes, over Zoom. While we couldn’t pass the books around like we normally do, attendees commented on how important it was for them to get to see new titles, especially in this year of CARES Act applications, extra cleaning procedures and heightened uncertainty.
An industry already struggling with low wages, low support and deep inequities, the pandemic has hit early childhood care extremely hard. High-quality child care is absolutely essential for our economy of working parents and especially for our future society but is chronically underfunded and unrespected. COVID has heightened these struggles. In some places, facilities (in-home and centers) have had to close completely, in others they are open but with not enough children attending to pay the bills, and in other places, they are open with heavy demand and not enough space, staff or supplies. It is a dire situation that has long-term ramifications and libraries alone cannot solve it, but each library can look at their own community and see if there steps that can be taken to support child care locally.
Stories Just like the attendees of my training, child care workers who are working are still needing high-quality books for the children in their care but may have less time to seek them out. Some may need titles and tips for sharing these books online, others may need physical books for their care environments. Providers may be looking extra hard for books that focus on social-emotional health as we know young children are struggling with stress and the child care provider is often the first person a family will ask for help. Depending on your library’s level of service, consider sending general booklists, creating individualized booklists, placing holds and preparing for easy pick-up or in some cases even delivering those materials to the site. And of course, if you are doing virtual programming, send links to online storytimes or explore ways to send recorded storytimes to your early childhood partners. Keep in mind that internet access or equipment may be lacking for some so virtual programming may not be possible.
Support Facilities may benefit from increased resources sent their way. Facilities that are providing learning opportunities virtually are likely looking for many of the same things libraries are – fun, developmentally appropriate learning activities that can be done at home. Those with children physically present may appreciate links to any recorded songs or other content you have on your library website so they can dance and move (again, keep in mind access and equipment barriers). Coping resources they can share with their staff or their families may be useful. And don’t forget that child care facilities are businesses – especially in-home providers. They need tools and support to run a business and may need additional help that your library offers during this time.
To get the word about your services to your local providers, look for local groups like Educare or Child Care Resource & Referral which may be willing to send emails out to their lists about library services. Advertise on your website, social media or other places you regularly post information. And if time and staff allows, consider calling local providers to let them know what your library can offer. Just like other patrons, some may not realize the level of service you are providing right now so a phone call letting them know that they can place holds and pick-up curbside may be very beneficial. Of course, what your system can offer will depend entirely on the level of service your library is offering, how “open for business” your community is and your own workload.
Stephanie Smallwood is the early literacy specialist at the Springfield-Greene County Library District in Springfield, Missouri. Smallwood wrote this piece as a member of the ALSC Early Childhood Programs and Services committee.
This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: Commitment to Client Group