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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 105-176(WS)-E
Division Number: VII
Professional Group: Reading: Workshop
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 176
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

A public library enhances its services through family literacy

Kathy East
Wood County District Public Library
Bowling Green, Ohio, USA


The Wood County District Public Library is a mid-sized library among the 250 public libraries in the state of Ohio in the United States. In 1998, at the Strategic Planning Retreat, it was decided to include as a goal for the whole library, Family Literacy.

The family literacy effort is head-quartered in the Children's Room because statistics show that adults who are not literate often become interested in learning to read when their children are getting read to learn to read. Children's services saw the addition of Family Literacy as a way to enhance the activities already happening in the children's area. For example, during the regularly scheduled preschool storytimes, a program called "Parents, Let's Talk" was established. While the children are in storytime in the storytelling room, parenting issues and topics are discussed in the commons area. Input by the parents and caregivers in the group is essential. One week talk may be about allowing babies to have pacificers; another week, discussion centers on the safety restraints on car seats; and another week, parents and caregivers learn three or four new fingerplays. As another enhancement, the number of storytimes for two-year olds was increased to include an evening storytime. Also, "topical totes" were created, zippered bags complete with a collection of books and a bit of realia centered on a specific topic. Some subjects covered include, New Baby; Having a Babysitter; Going to the Hospital; A Death in the Family; etc.

The library owned a collection of adult basic literacy materials. These shelves were moved to the children's area and both the fiction and non-fiction collections were categorized and advertised to increase their use by patrons. The area was also enhanced with displays and additional appropriate new books - things attractive and readable by readers with low literacy skills. The collection grew to have an increased number of parenting resources and many books on basic concepts like colors, numbers, and letter sounds, safety, self-image and family relationships.

On the monthly programming calendar, an increasing number of children's programs were dubbed "family programs".Parents and care-givers were always welcome to attend programs with their children, but now they were invited to participate. A favorite program involved making galimotos. Those are vehicles made from scrap wire in the tradition of the children's book, Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams, the story of a little boy in South Africa who collects many pieces of wire to make a car. The library used the colorful wires inside the phone line wiring used in the library for hooking up the computers. Drop-in programs are held more often. Usually these are "make-it, take-it" activities where kids and parents can work together at their own pace. To "get into the Western mood" for an author visit this spring, families were invited to make Armadillo Shadow Boxes. The clay, shoeboxes, markers, construction paper scraps and instructions were set up in a small meeting room, and families could drop in anytime on Sunday or Monday before the author arrived on Thursday and create their own Western scene. Some finished boxes were very exact, and some kids loved just squishing the clay - and that was just fine with the library staff. These activities allow for discussion and sharing and a time to take pride in ones work.

Computer programs have proven to be a great attraction for literacy programs. Two stations in the children's area have been programmed for the "Living Books" CD-Roms like Grandma and Me and the DK CD-Roms, I Love Spelling and The Jolly Post Office. These interactive programs add delight to efforts to learn to read. A graded, self- teaching computer program, Academy of Reading was also purchased and loaded. This was put in place as a learning tool for adults wishing to followed a specific skills building program, complete with tests and progress reports.

Not everyone knows about and uses the library, so outreach was a definite goal for our family literacy program. Special outreach to the Wood County Health Department was established. A children's room staff member and a literacy volunteer are in the waiting room two evenings a month. Stories, complete with songs and music are provided for the children as they wait to get shots or have health examinations. The literacy volunteer often assists adults as they complete forms or write brief health histories for themselves or their children. In the summer, our area hosts many migrant families, mostly pickers from Mexico and Florida here to harvest the cucumbers and tomatoes grown in our rich soil. Spanish-speaking volunteers are used by the library at the health department to ease the language barriers and aid in accurate communication. Books and songs in Spanish supplement the regular children's program.

When crossing busy streets is a barrier to getting to the library in the summer, the library's Bookmobile sets up shop at several housing developments. Kids come with their summer baby-sitter and choose materials to read and enjoy. Getting families interested in the importance of books and reading (and talking) activities all seasons of the year is one of our biggest goals.

The local Head Start programs in the county have been very receptive to outreach programs by the library. Because Head Start requires regular parent programs, the library became a wonderful partner for planning programs which were informational to the parents and also provided a literacy activity for the family. One such program had a health provider talk about the importance of a good diet to keep a healthy heart. Families then made heart mobiles with little reminders written on each heart on how to keep your heart healthy. This program was held in February, when St. Valentine's Day is celebrated.

Our county schools have a supplementary reading program for reluctant readers know as Title I. In the fall a parent's meeting is held. Attendance had been very disappointing. By inviting the organizers to hold the meeting in the library, and offering a program for the children at the same time, the turn-out was terrific. Parents had a tour of the library, had a wonderful orientation by the Title I teachers, and were given a "study goody bag" of pencils, erasers, pens, paper, markers, note cards, colored pencils and other last minute supplies for doing homework. The kids attended a library program complete with stories and an art project of painting with cooked spaghetti! Everyone went home happy!

Martha's Kitchen is a free dinner provided each Friday at a local church for families who are having a hard time making ends meet. It is a nutritious and generous meal, a chance for blessing and fellowship and the library's literacy activity which means stories, songs, creative dramatics, storytelling and 20 minutes or so of escape to the fun of literature and its healing and unifying force.

The library has also adopted two activities to support the 3rd grade guarantee, which means, all 3rd graders will read at grade level. This is to support the 4th grade proficiency tests given annually in our state. Soon the requirement will be that to enter 5th grade, each student must pass the 4th grade proficiency. Family literacy supports the program by purchasing and circulating study materials and practice tests. The library is particularly interested in developing and providing study and coping hints for parents, especially information for parents who may have low-level literacy skills themselves. Their children may have great anxiety over the prospect of taking the test, let along the stress of passing the tests. Developing a series of bookmarks written in an easily understandable way is our goal.

Through an OhioREADS grant, the library will be cooperating with the county educational services department, to provide tutors and programs for a group of children far behind in basic literacy skills. Meeting at their school four days a week during the summer, Volunteens (young teens volunteers who assist with library programs and especially the summer reading program) and community volunteers will act as tutors and leaders in writing and art activities with these kids. The goal is to give them additional skills and put them on the right road to reading. It is hoped that they will be closer to grade level when school resumes in the fall.

The library has also reached out to a community of reading supporters to provide a magazine subscription to every child in the county who will be in second grade with the start of the new school year. A bank with many branches in the communities throughout the county, has paid for the 1600 subscriptions. The magazines will be mailed to each child at their home to give them the thrill of getting something addressed just to them! It is hoped that families will use the magazine as a family reading activity and the child will see the magazine as their own personal reading motivator. Such generosity shows just how important the corporate world feels being a skilled reader is. Getting kids excited about the fun of reading at an early age is the most positive way to assure a community of adults with adequate literacy skills.

As libraries build collections and plan programs for the public, they provide a wonderful service for their community when they keep in mind the wide range of reading levels within their community. Adults and children learn in many different ways. A wide range of materials, both print and non-print can also supplement learning. Programming which emphasizes the joy and satisfaction which comes from knowing books and stories and celebrating them through words, arts, music, song and memory is the biggest complement to the work we do.


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