The Daviess County Public Library was recently awarded a $20,000 grant from the Early Childhood Education Initiative, supported by the Public Life Foundation of Owensboro. This grant will enable DCPL to become Kentucky’s first Family Place Library.
According to the Family Place Libraries website, the organization is a nationwide network of children’s librarians who nourish literacy beginning at birth and support the local community to strengthen and nurture healthy families. Currently, 29 states with more than 450 sites have transformed their libraries into community centers where families can bring their children for early literacy, parent education, family support and connection to the local community.
What does this mean for DCPL? Shannon Sandefur, DCPL community engagement manager, said that becoming a Family Place Library will change the culture of the library.
“Staff will be more involved and interactive with families of young children,” she said. “This program will change the way we interact and connect with families who come in the library.”
Beginning in early 2020, the library will host parent-child workshops featuring DCPL staff and community professionals who serve to help develop early childhood skills and basic needs. Over the course of five weeks, the workshops will focus on early literacy, speech/language development and hearing, nutrition, play and movement, and child development and parenting.
In these workshops, DCPL staff will connect families to local resources and services by bringing professionals like dieticians, dentists and nutritionists in to the library to meet with them in a relaxed setting.
“When we do the workshops, that professional will be on the floor playing and talking to the children. They aren’t having an office evaluation. It’s more like a playdate,” Sandefur said. “In this kind of environment, parents are more likely to ask questions and interact with the specialist.”
DCPL Preschool Programming Coordinator Kim Meredith said the workshops will also provide opportunities for parents to connect with other parents and compare their children’s developmental levels.
“If a child isn’t in daycare or preschool, families will get to observe how that child behaves around other kids,” Sandefur said.
The library hopes to partner with local organizations like First Steps, the Daviess County Early Childhood Council, Head Start, Kindermusik and Building Stronger Families to make these workshops possible. Sandefur plans to ask healthcare professionals like local pediatric dentists, optometrists, nutritionists and speech therapists to participate as well.
Owensboro and Daviess County will benefit the most from the library’s increased knowledge of where to go for resources within the community. “The biggest change will be identifying community resources and connecting families to them,” Sandefur said. “Many people don’t know where to go for assistance.”
A total of six DCPL staff members, including Sandefur and Meredith, will receive Family Place Library training this fall in Centereach, New York to begin transforming DCPL.
“We all have a good basis of early childhood development, but the training will dive deeper,” Sandefur said.
Meredith said that the library’s 2018 remodel, which enclosed the children’s department, will play a significant role in the implementation of Family Place principles. The play area in the library will serve as the setting for the parent-child workshops that will be implemented after staff receive training.
There is a strong play literacy embedded in the toys and fixtures in the children’s department that encourages children to create, discover, and play with others through the usage of a magnetic ball wall, Lite Brite wall and imaginative play area.
According to Sandefur, the proven success of the program is best exemplified through the Texas State Library System. After huge successes with Family Place Libraries, Texas began providing grants to all their public libraries to become Family Place Libraries, including training and implementation. Texas now has 79 Family Place Libraries and is still expanding.