During a recent visit to the Homer Public Library, a Paul Banks kindergarten class took over the children’s room. Many in the group were already familiar with the space thanks to storytimes and regular visits with family members to check out books or DVDs. For others, this visit was not just fun, but also a vital introduction to the many opportunities that the library offers.
The kindergarteners may have initially come for storytime or a class visit, but my not-so-secret plan, and the organization’s mission, is that the library will become an integral part of their lifelong learning well beyond their early years. Public libraries are community spaces rich with resources where all are welcome. They are dynamic organizations that have something to offer the youngest, oldest and those in between.
Since 2010, when the digital media shift accelerated, whole families have been using the library in different ways. They come to the library not just to check out books for free, but also for access to digital media and learning opportunities. Today, the Homer Public Library offers not just the latest bestsellers, but also access to the newest media formats, a wider array of resources, and innovative programs that encourage families to explore and learn something new.
We now live in a time when more and more essential resources for families are found online — homework assignments, grade reports, tax forms, applications for state benefits and jobs, to name a few. Digital access is not a luxury, but a necessity.
Many families do not have access to the Internet at home, have limited access via a mobile phone, or lack the know-how to find and use digital resources effectively. For these families, libraries offer an essential service. Public access computers, free Wi-Fi, and even makerspaces provide opportunities for entire families to learn essential digital literacy skills and participate in today’s society.
For families who have Internet access at home and even the latest mobile technology, the library has similarly become a beacon in the sea of digital media. The plethora of digital media, both good and bad, is growing exponentially. Even the savviest parent struggles to keep up with the latest research and find high quality media on their own.
Librarians, acting as media mentors, share and provide access to information that families can use to find and explore the right media to support their children’s learning. They also evaluate, review, and recommend what’s new and relevant just as they have done for centuries with other formats.
Public libraries are in the business of information equity and help “level the playing field.” Each and every day, librarians help whole families:
• Learn how to use the library so they can find what they want to read, watch or listen to, in the formats they need;
• Read, talk, play, sing and write in ways that support their young child’s early literacy;
• Research topics of interest and necessity;
• Develop a new skill or find a hobby;
• Connect with essential community services;
• Use and troubleshoot problems with their mobile devices, often a lifeline for people with limited resources;
• Access and navigate the Internet, email, and e-forms; and
• Vote online, or register to vote.
Back in the children’s room, the kindergarteners were buzzing with conversation, discovery, and sharing. They enthusiastically helped me retell the old tale of “The Three Little Pigs” using props from my “story basket” and then used their refreshed memories of the story to affirm and dispute Jon Sciezka’s version in “The True Story of the Three Little Pigs” as it was read. They finished the visit by searching for clues in book bins, at computers and on top of shelves as part of a just-for-fun team scavenger hunt.
As they readied for the short trip back to school, they stacked book after book into my arms with requests to hold each and every one until they could return to check it out afterschool or on the weekend with their family. I gladly obliged.
A version of this article was originally published on the Joan Ganz Cooney Center blog and can be found at: cooneycenter.org. Claudia Haines is the Youth Services Librarian at the Homer Public Library. She also writes the Growing Readers column that appears monthly in the Schools pages of the Homer News.