It may surprise you to learn that libraries can be a place even for children so young they haven’t learned to read yet. Increasingly, public libraries are working toward including space and resources for infants and toddlers in the library, focusing on the needs of patrons who may not be reading yet, but can still benefit from time spent at the library.
On the Public Libraries Online blog, Debra Knoll of the Loudonville Public Library in Loudonville, Ohio, described an innovative redesign project at her library, where part of the children’s section was reworked to encourage literacy in the library’s youngest patrons. While babies can sometimes be seen as disruptive or loud in library settings, Knoll and her colleagues wanted to create an area tailored to their needs, encouraging very young children and their parents to feel more welcome in the library.
Knoll wrote that many existing child learning initiatives don’t provide guided learning experiences until age three, though research suggests that children much younger than that are already developing cognitive abilities that can lead to literacy.
By cooperating with designers, child development specialists, and the library’s Friends group, Knoll was able to put together a prototype play area that could be used to gauge patron interactions and determine what the final play area would look like. The final product included a comfortable bench for caregivers, lots of tactile options for the babies (“discovery” packets containing seeds, marbles, and corn), and, of course, books.
Knoll and her colleagues observed caregivers reading to children as young as six months, who followed along, lifted board book flaps, and played with puzzles and games, all setting the stage for an easier transition into literacy.
The efforts of the Loudonville Public Library are just one example of the push spearheaded by the American Library Association to encourage librarians to work with very young children and encourage them to become dedicated patrons as they get older. The ALA works to support these initiatives with ecourses like “Getting Babies into Books with Early Literacy Programs,” a four-week facilitated course starting on June 8 and taught by Kathy Kirchoefer. The course will focus on educating librarians about baby storytimes and other ways libraries can work with these youngest of patrons and their caregivers to make them feel welcome.