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Library-School Partnerships for Early Literacy

  • What library programming and resources help improve the reading achievement among low-income struggling readers in K-3rd grade?
  • How can libraries and schools work together to best reach and serve these young readers most in need of extra support to be successful?

These are the questions that the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) had the opportunity to explore with diverse thought leaders from both inside and outside the library field through the National Forum on Closing the Opportunity Gap for Early Readers, an initiative supported by funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This project resulted in a new call-to action publication, Public Partners for Early Literacy: Library-School Partnerships Closing Opportunity Gaps, that discusses the ways in which public libraries help low-income children become more proficient readers and strategies for libraries and schools to strengthen their joint efforts to close the opportunity gap for early literacy success.

Conducting a National Scan

ULC and its leading partner, the Council of the Great City Schools (CGCS), first conducted a national field scan to identify promising programs, effective library-school partnerships, and challenges libraries face in reaching and engaging low-income K-3rd grade students to improve their reading proficiency. The national field scan consisted of a focus group of CGCS school district leaders and a survey of ULC member libraries and findings were compiled into a brief report titled Closing the Opportunity Gap for Early Readers. Among other key findings, the national field scan confirmed that libraries are already working to close the opportunity gap by providing a range of literacy programs for early readers who need extra support, yet connecting with low-income, struggling readers is an ongoing challenge for both schools and libraries. Findings from the scan also indicated that collaboration between libraries and schools is an effective course of action to identify and engage young readers who need assistance, design programs to meet their needs, and assess improvement.

Convening Expert Stakeholders

Findings from the field scan informed discussions during the National Forum meeting where ULC and CGCS convened 24 expert stakeholders including city and county library leaders, school district leaders, and early literacy, family learning, and community school network leaders.

The forum discussions provided a first-time opportunity to weave together three strands of current practices related to grade-level reading proficiency:

  1. The urgency of focusing on kindergarten through third grade as pivotal years for helping struggling readers become proficient before they enter the fourth grade, when they transition from learning to read to reading to learn.
  2. The work of libraries as education leaders with unique capacities to support low-income, young readers in ways that complement and enhance traditional classroom learning.
  3. The benefits of schools and libraries working together in a more seamless and intentional way to help at-risk students achieve the critical third-grade reading benchmark.

Sharing Best Practices and Innovative Strategies in a National Publication

The key ideas from the National Forum convening have been encapsulated in a new publication titled, Public Partners for Early Literacy: Library-School Partnerships Closing Opportunity Gaps. This call-to-action paper frames the urgent need to improve grade-level reading proficiency among low-income children and calls upon community anchor institutions to do more together to prevent the bleak prognosis suggested by research. Public Partners for Early Literacy explores the ways in which public libraries help children become more proficient readers and spotlights existing library-school partnerships that support a seamless approach to reaching and serving struggling readers. The report provides tangible strategies for libraries and schools to take now to work together in ways that leverage each institution’s unique assets and expertise. The report also includes recommendations for future actions and research to maximize impact and ensure that all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, have a strong chance of becoming proficient readers and continue on the path to success.