Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement

Aug 16 2016

Libraries provide families a welcoming environment in which to learn, to connect with other parents, and to find other community resources that can help them thrive. 

Children and youth learn in countless ways, anywhere, anytime. And one of the most powerful levers of children’s learning—from the early childhood years through adolescence—is families. For families, libraries provide the books, media, and activities that help them open doors for children’s literacy and lifelong learning.

Libraries are poised to engage families more meaningfully across children’s development. They embrace the entire family—from infants and toddlers to teens to grandparents—making libraries a space where children and adults can learn together and strengthen their relationships. The rich digital and hands-on resources libraries offer, especially when guided by librarians, can help families steer, guide, and support learning. And with the disparities between how children and youth from high- and low-income homes spend their out-of-school time growing, libraries – free, trusted, safe, and welcoming places in virtually every community – can help counterbalance these inequalities.

This call to action explores what family engagement is, the research behind why families matter for children’s learning, and why libraries matter for family engagement. The paper concludes with ways that libraries around the country are encouraging family engagement by:

  • Reaching Out: Libraries reach out to families to promote the programs, collections, and services that are vital in a knowledge economy;
  • Raising Up: Libraries elevate family views and voices in how library programs and services are developed and carried out;
  • Reinforcing: Libraries provide guidance on and modeling of the specific actions that family members can take to support learning, reaffirming families’ important roles and strengthening feelings of efficacy;
  • Relating: Libraries offer opportunities for families to build peer-to-peer relationships, social networks, and parent-child relationships; and by
  • Reimagining: Libraries are expanding their community partnerships, combining resources and extending their range, improving children and families’ well-being, and linking new learning opportunities.

This Call to Action is based on conversations with librarians and directors across the country, the results of a national survey, and a review of the current research. Taken together, this document shows that there is no better time than the present for libraries to join together with schools, community organizations, and service providers to establish a system of family engagement that extends throughout a child’s life, supports children and families, and optimally prepares children for success in school and life.

This report calls for libraries to join together with schools and community organizations to establish a system of family engagement that extends throughout a child’s life, supports children and families, and prepares children for success.

Public Libraries: A Vital Space for Family Engagement

M. Elena Lopez, Margaret Caspe, Lorette McWilliams