Early Literacy: A Sustainable Statewide Approach: A Coalition in Colorado May Serve as a Template for Other Regions to Establish Programs Critical to the Development of Our Youngest Citizens

Article excerpt

Public libraries have maintained that they are significant in fostering children's literacy since the first children's section was established in the late 1800s. But in times of economic uncertainty, decision-makers find it easy to levy budget cuts against discrete, relatively powerless entities such as libraries.

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Regional approaches create entree for libraries to gain greater visibility and positioning within the educational and political communities. We then are able to enhance coalitions with other community partners, as is occurring in Colorado, where a statewide approach to early literacy has been gaining momentum since 2004. The state's new coalition, Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy, serves as a template for statewide action.

The history of this successful coalition began in June 2003 with a conversation between the Colorado State Library community outreach staff person and a public-library librarian who had attended early literacy sessions at the American Library Association Annual Conference. Both became convinced that an early literacy initiative in the state was necessary and feasible.

As part of the Colorado Department of Education, the state library is aware and supportive of the department's emphasis on improving student achievement. The agency believes early literacy programs in libraries assist in that endeavor.

The state library's initiative originally was like Topsy: It just grew. ALA's Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children had created Every Child Ready to Read @ your library- - complete with research, training and tools--and the state library was ready to move from the general - advocacy @ your library campaign to a project that would produce positive change.

Major activities throughout the four years of the initiative (2004-08) included training workshops, grant or in-kind support, engagement in coalitions and strategic partnerships, and research and reporting.

Evaluating outcomes

Research and evaluation are often bugaboos for projects and programs. But unless you know where you are, how can you tell where to go? "We obtained an overview of the status of current public library activities in early literacy through an informal survey. We also measured attitude--did respondents feel libraries are, or could be, leaders in the field?

The first year of the project introduced around of workshops for public library staff along with inexpensive, colorful publications designed to reach caregivers. These brochures in English and Spanish were available free upon request to Colorado groups. Expenses were underwritten by an LSTA grant. We also provided small grants to libraries for the kits to increase their interest, supported by a grant from the Ceridian/Qwest Family and Work Development Fund.

In addition, we launched an effort to make libraries more visible as providers of services and resources in the early childhood community. The staff person became heavily involved in regional organizations, both volunteer and governmental, that address early childhood needs.

From the beginning, we depended on an easy-to-use survey of workshop participants to determine if progress was being made. The standard form measures not only satisfaction with the content and delivery of the workshop itself, but also the likelihood of participants actually changing their behavior.

For subsequent years, financial support for the initiative was part of the community programs budget rather than a separate LSTA grant. Regional workshops were presented annually.

Ongoing research in early 2006 measured quantitatively whether change was occurring over time as a result of our initiative. We located a pool of participants from the first year of training and surveyed them. Findings showed that public libraries and librarians throughout the state had earmarked both time and material resources toward enhancing their early literacy programming and services. …