Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Family Literacy @ your library: A Brief History and Two Opportunities

By Dale P. Lipschultz, Ph.D., Literacy Officer, ALA Office for Literacy and Outreach Services

Dale P. Lipschultz, Ph.D.

Dale P. Lipschultz, Ph.D.

Family literacy programming has a long history in public libraries. Family literacy @ your  library probably started when a children’s librarian carefully selected a familiar storybook, gathered children and parents in a semi-circle, held the book so everyone could see the pictures, assumed her best storybook reading voice, and read the book from beginning to end. The children were drawn in by the words and images, the parents treasured the peace and quiet, and the librarian knew that she was reaching, engaging, and teaching her  youngest patrons and their parents.

Family literacy, as a national movement, emerged in the late 1980’s in response to the 1983 release of  the seminal report A Nation at Risk (http://teachertenure.procon.org/sourcefiles/a-nation-at-risk-tenure-april-1983.pdf, National Commission on Excellence in Education).  The report noted that the best predictor of a child’s success in school was the mother’s level of education (i.e. grade level completed).  Educators and policy makers agreed that the best way to help children succeed in school was to improve the parents’  literacy level.  An even better idea was to make school success a family issue. As family literacy programs sprang up across the country a national, four component model emerged. This new model included children’s literacy activities from play to print, adult literacy instruction (1:1 tutoring or small group instruction), family time where parents and children learned and played together, and finally, parenting classes.

In the 1990’s I was the director of a small (but powerful) family literacy program on Chicago’s Southside. Reach Out And Read (ROAR) was  funded by individual donations, staffed by remarkable volunteers, and generously supported by the Hyde Park community. ROAR soon became a nationally recognized model for family literacy programming receiving numerous awards and a grant from the Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation.

The Blackstone Public Library, the oldest branch in the Chicago Public Library system, was an essential partner in ROAR’s family literacy programming.  Staff and families made frequent trips to grand old library which was built in 1904 and  modeled after a temple on the Athenian Acropolis.   Thanks to the rich-voiced  library director and the warm-hearted children’s librarian this lofty space quickly became a welcoming, print-rich, family-focused environment. The librarians read stories, helped parents and children select books, and issued library cards. They taught everyone great deal about the pleasure and power of reading at the library.

If anything, the need to help children succeed in school is greater now than it was 30 years ago. Right now there are countless libraries with exemplary family literacy programs and many  more with the desire and determination to add this kind of intergenerational programming. In these challenging time, I’m delighted to share two very different family literacy funding opportunities.

  1. Talk Story: Sharing Stories, Sharing Culture is a literacy program for Asian Pacific American (APA) and American Indian/Alaska Native (AIAN) children and their families. Children and elder family members connect to rich cultural activities through Talk Story. This grant offers financial support to libraries and community organizations who want to introduce a Talk Story program into their library.  Talk Story is sponsored by AILA and APALA and funded supported by Toyota Financial Services. Applications must be received by February 1, 2012. For additional information go to: http://www.talkstorytogether.org/grants
  2. Better World Books and the National Center for Family Literacy (NCFL) are currently accepting applications for their annual Libraries and Families Award.  Each year, three winning libraries are awarded $10,000.00 to support their exceptional programming and fund additional innovation and collaboration. Applications are due February 6, 2012. For more information go to: http://www.famlit.org/award-grant-opportunities/libraries-and-families-award/2012-app/
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