Guest Blogger

Finding My Way on the First Day of #PLA2024

The Welcome Reception may have been cancelled in response to potentially dangerous weather, but Tuesday at the 2024 Public Library Association was still full of plenty of pre-conference conversations, laughter, and learning!

On my way to Registration to pick up my badge yesterday morning, I spotted a whole team of folks from Boulder Public Library in my home state of Colorado. They were hard at work assembling the incredible Library Lodge space they are hosting at the conference this year. The Lodge was fabricated in their makerspace and shipped all the way from the Rockies to the Midwest to bring a little laid back mountain chic to everyone at #PLA2024. The Library Lodge is right outside the Union Station ballrooms and the folks from Boulder have puzzles, crafts, charging stations, and oodles of Colorado-style hospitality to share.

Photo by K. Brunner

I was fortunate to be able to also attend a pre-conference session yesterday afternoon; Public Libraries and Schools: Everything You Need to Know about the Science of Reading. During this session, we had the opportunity to hear from folks at the Ohio Department of Education & Workforce and from library leaders in Ohio about how public library professionals utilized the state’s Libraries Accelerating Learning Grant to implement a variety of evidence-informed initiatives aimed at improving literacy outcomes in their communities.

Dr. Melissa Weber-Mayrer, Chief of Literacy at the Ohio Department of Education & Workforce, presented the first portion of the session. Dr. Weber-Mayrer shared how and why literacy has become a strategic priority in Ohio to include linking literacy achievement with workforce outcomes. She also acknowledged the mixed reactions people can have when they hear the phrase “science of reading” and that those reactions are sometimes the result of equating the phrase with strictly drill-based phonics instruction as opposed to understanding the robust array of concepts involved in structured literacy practices. (Structured literacy is the term I’ve personally come to prefer these days because it typically seems to lead to more curiosity about evidence-informed literacy practices than the often more charged “science of reading”). Her presentation included a brief review of the key elements of learning to read as identified by more than fifty years of research. Dr. Weber-Mayrer highlighted the Simple View of Reading model and Scarborough’s Reading Rope diagram; both of which are models that help illustrate how all of the skills including and beyond phonics combine together for a reader to successfully be able to decode, comprehend, and make meaning from written material. Many of these are skills we’ve been helping young children begin to develop for years now through Ever Child Ready to Read which is also reading science based.

During the remainder of the session, we heard from library leaders at six different library systems in Ohio about how they’ve creatively infused evidence-informed literacy development into their practices, services, and programs. While some of the activities they’ve undertaken – like high dosage tutoring programs – may not be scalable for many libraries, there were plenty of actionable tidbits that caught my attention as probably accessible for most public libraries. Here are a few of their suggestions:

  1. When trying to decide what titles to purchase to build a collection of high quality decodable books that will help children practice decoding and improve fluency, Nancy Eames from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library recommended utilizing The Reading League’s Decodable Text Sources as a trustworthy starting point.
  2. Amber Cristofaro from Dayton Metro Library also shared when they catalog new decodable books, they add the search terms “phonics” and “decodable” to the records for those books to improve discoverability for both staff and parents/caregivers as they search for those in the library’s catalog.
  3. Both Nancy and Amber also recommended learning about the phonics terminology your local schools are using in the classroom to improve the effectiveness of your readers advisory services for families who ask for library materials to supplement their children’s classroom learning. If you know what phrases like “magic E” or “trick words” mean, you can better connect caregivers with the materials they’re after.
  4. Several folks spoke to the impact of incorporating non-fiction texts into their literacy programming in developmentally appropriate ways (i.e., books with photographs for baby storytime, non-fiction picture books for preschoolers, etc.). Balancing fiction and non-fiction texts contributes to building children’s vocabulary and background knowledge which strengthens comprehension when they begin reading.
  5. Kacie Armstrong, Director of the Euclid Public Library, shared how they partnered with local news media to provide monthly evidence-informed literacy tips and promote library services for new readers to families through short articles in their newspapers. They even enlisted the help of their county executives to write some of these articles! (This strategy made me wonder about the possibility of partnering with and sharing literacy tips for caregivers through local radio stations too.)

Whatever specific strategies everyone was implementing in their library systems, one thing all the presenters seemed to agree on whole-heartedly was that it’s vital as literacy professionals for us to know and understand the key elements of learning to read so we can actively utilize that knowledge to intentionally build those elements into all aspects of library service for young children and their families/caregivers in our communities.

Kate Brunner (she/her) is Youth & Family Services Principal Consultant at the Colorado State Library. At PLA, she is looking forward to facilitating a roundtable discussion session on Friday about Colorado librarians’ work developing early literacy library services for informal/licensed-exempt childcare providers. Having been engaged in a seven-year project called Growing Readers Together has led to learning a lot about Colorado’s informal providers, their information needs, and how libraries can better support them. A fun fact about Kate is that, although it wasn’t until mid-life that she consciously realized her dream job was in public libraries, she created her own classification system for her personal library when she was in elementary school. She only let friends borrow her books if they signed them out in her lending ledger. Kate’s little Beatrix Potter books still have penciled “call numbers” inside their front covers! The opinions expressed in this blog post are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

This post addresses ALSC Core Competency VII: Professionalism and Professional Development

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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