In the 21st century, libraries have evolved in their vision to provide far more than just books. Many libraries now offer digital resources, after school programs for kids, budgeting and cooking classes for families, and so much more. The Harvard Family Research Project and the Public Library Association partnered together to author a report entitled Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement.
In the opening, the report authors note that “Libraries are important learning spaces and poised to engage families more meaningfully across children’s development.” The guiding vision that many librarians are adopting is for the library to be a learning space for families from the time their children are just learning their letters all the way through when they’ve graduated high school and are ready to tackle the next big thing. The report points out:
The rich digital and hands-on resources libraries offer—especially when guided by librarians—can prompt families to steer children’s learning, pose questions, make connections, exchange information, and instill in children not only a love of learning but also the skills for learning that last a lifetime.
This goal of lifelong learning, which is also the heartbeat of Demme Learning, is multigenerational. The report says that “libraries embrace the entire family—from infants and toddlers to teens to grandparents—making it a space that is not limited to just one age group, but rather a place that spans generations.”
HFRP and PLA surveyed library directors around the country about their family engagement practices, met monthly with nearly twenty librarians interested in this topic, and interviewed librarians from cities and towns, in addition to studying relevant research. Their work even included talking with an Alaskan librarian who sets up satellite bookshelves in fire stations to reach across the state.
Insights from the Report
The report notes that libraries are crucial in expanding opportunities to low-income families. The report cites research that found that high-income families spend seven times more on enrichment than low-income families. Libraries are free and provide families of all income levels with a trusted place filled with resources, programs, and staff who can help expand opportunities. In fact, according to research the report cites, families that live in poverty are more likely to go to a library than other outlets.
As an example of the role libraries play in the lives of low-income families, the Ephrata Public Library in Lancaster County partners yearly with United Way to provide free tax preparation for families earning less than $54,000. As another example, many people are dependent on the library for internet access, and often this free service is essential to patrons as they conduct job searches. In addition, the report notes that libraries are a great place for children and adults to grow and learn together.
4 Ways Libraries Reach Families
• Raise Up: Libraries elevate family views and voices in how library programs and services are developed and carried out.
• Reinforce: Libraries provide guidance on and modeling of the specific actions that family members can take to support learning, reaffirming families’ important roles and strengthening feelings of efficacy.
• Relate: Libraries offer opportunities for families to build peer-to-peer relationships, social networks, and parent-child relationships.
• Reimagine: Libraries are expanding their community partnerships; combining resources and extending their range; improving children and families’ well-being; and linking new learning opportunities.
Families are the bedrock of society and libraries are increasingly functioning as a support to families of all income levels and backgrounds. By providing a space for intergenerational bonding and learning and resources for growth and development, libraries are as relevant now as they were before. Next time you visit the library, try to notice all the people benefiting from the library, point out what you notice to your children and have them share what they noticed with you. And considering thanking the staff for their service to your family and all the other families who benefit from the library.