The show is story time, a long tradition at libraries everywhere. But Edwards takes her act beyond the hush of the stacks to community centers, Head Start classrooms and, as on this day, day-care centers.
It would be nice if all the children who need to read — or be read to — came to the library. But the truth is they don’t. So the libraries are trying to go to them.
Armed with new research that validates what many have thought for years about the urgency of early literacy — that reading to children opens their minds, enriches their vocabularies, gets them ready to learn in school and helps keeps them from dropping out of high school later — libraries in recent years have expanded the role they play in the education of young children, some so young they are still learning to crawl.
In addition to going out into the community, libraries are beefing up collections geared toward babies between 6 and 18 months old, and they are developing programs designed to teach parents and caregivers the most effective ways to read to children.
“Early literacy has gotten increasing attention, which is really important because it points out the role public libraries play in helping children get ready for success in school,” said Mary Fellows, president of the Association of Library Service to Children. “Public libraries in many communities are the only game in town for these children.”
But the move comes as libraries budgets are being slashed, and the programs — deemed by some librarians as the most important work they can do, especially in disadvantaged communities — are limited.
In the District, for example, where the library budget has been slashed so much that last year the system considered closing its main facility on Sundays, branches drastically cut back the number of visits to day-care centers and classrooms, from 2,444 in fiscal 2010 to 1,100 last year, according to a spokesman.
“In the last couple of years, we have not had the funds to be able to continue a good many of our outreach activities,” said Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian of the D.C. Public Library system. “We need to focus on keeping our libraries open as many hours as possible.”
An increasing number of children between birth and 5 years old are coming to the District’s libraries, however, where there are an increasing number of baby books and programs such as STAR (Sing, Talk and Read), where parents learn to interact with their children. Recently, the library has taken its STAR program to high schools with teenage mothers. Last year, more than 115,000 children ages 5 and younger attended library programs, up from 89,000 the year before.