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Session Notes: The Importance of Family Place Libraries

This is part of a series of Session Notes from grantees who have received Professional Development grants from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries. Each grantee will share their professional development experience and include tips and other resources from the workshop or class. Grantees had their choice of an article for the Compendium, a webinar or a podcast. This project was made possible by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

by Cheryl Tumas,
Children’s Services Coordinator
Joseph T. Simpson Library

The Family Place Libraries Training Institute included three days of pack-filled information, observation, and collaboration. This training is required in order to become a designated Family Place Library.

What is a Family Place Library?
“The Family Place Libraries™ is a network of children’s librarians nationwide who believe that literacy begins at birth, and that libraries can help build healthy communities by nourishing healthy families. The Family Place Libraries network currently includes more than 400 sites in 27 states and continues to grow. Expanding the traditional role of children’s services, Family Place builds on the knowledge that good health, early learning, parental involvement and supportive communities play a critical role in young children’s growth and development.” (http://www.familyplacelibraries.com/whatMakes.html)

Family Place Libraries consist of two main components: the environment in the library itself and the programs offered to library families.

The environment consists of the collections of books and materials on the library floor. The floor plan of a Family Place Library is warm and welcoming, with low shelves, many age-appropriate toys and manipulatives for children birth through five years of age, a variety of activities for children (writing/drawing, role playing, reading, using computers), along with parent resources strategically placed and easily accessible. Shelves are low. Colors are bright. Furniture is comfortable. The environment is welcoming and the focus is on learning through play and children and parents interacting with one another.

The second component consists of programs. Once again, the programs (including the Parent-Child Workshop) are inviting and revolve around age-appropriate activities where children birth through three have the opportunity to play with parents/caregivers and with other children. There is a variety of educational toys, organized by various skills, where children can move throughout a room and choose what they want to do and when they want to do it. A resource expert is on hand each session to provide support and to answer questions. There is also a resource table filled with a plethora of parent resources, which have been obtained from various agencies at no charge.

There are also other programs where parents can attend to interact with one another, to develop a support system outside of the library, or to come to seek advice from a library staff member or someone who is attending the same program. These programs focus on families, healthy and developmentally appropriate interactions between parents/caregivers and their children, and learning through play.

My experience at the Family Place Libraries Training Institute was extremely beneficial. Although our library is already a designated Family Place Library, I gleaned several ideas to improve our environment and programs to make the library even better. Rearranging shelving to create more play areas and strategically placing the parent collection are two changes I feel we could fairly easily make regarding the environment. Program and resource changes such as adding programs for children and parents/caregivers to play and to interact more, updating the resource table, adding an additional week so that we have five sessions instead of four, taking a toy inventory and adding/removing/changing some of the toys that we use, and changing the art center to include open-ended projects and exploration are a few ideas which I feel would improve the current Parent and Toddlers Together Workshop that we offer at the library.

Family Place Libraries are libraries with a philosophy to better serve the families in the community through providing programs to meet their needs and to help their children learn and grow through literacy and play. Check out the Family Place Libraries website for additional information.  I was glad that I did, and you will be too!

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