Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Reading Is a Blast!

Academic journal article Reading Horizons (Online)

Reading Is a Blast!

Article excerpt

There has long been a close relationship between public libraries and public schools. Often it is based on the material resources that the public library is able to provide to teachers, with the latter borrowing bags of books every few weeks to supplement classroom libraries, complete author studies and support math, science or social studies units. In addition, teachers have often asked students to utilize the public library for assignments, with children's librarians assisting with homework and research reports. More recently, Internet access has become an important service that the library makes available to students, and this is especially critical in urban, high-poverty areas where technology may not be available in each child's home (Economic and Statistics Administration & National Telecommunications and Information Administration, 2011).

Until recently, libraries within schools have often been the source of additional materials and support for classroom teachers. However, with funding for school libraries in decline, public libraries are increasingly providing critical literacy services to students and teachers in their communities (Celano & Neuman, 2001). In addition, recent educational policy initiatives call for Comprehensive Literacy Plans that emphasize the vital role of community partners in facilitating student learning (Pennsylvania Comprehensive Literacy Plan, 2012). This article describes one such partnership: a collaborative literacy project between the Pittsburgh Public Schools and Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, which aimed to enrich the language arts experiences of urban elementary school students.

An Innovative Partnership

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (CLP) has been an influential institution in Western Pennsylvania since its inception in 1895. Early staff members included Frances Jenkins Olcott, a prominent children's librarian, who incorporated educational services to children as a primary goal of the library. The library has grown to include 19 locations in the Pittsburgh area, with staff creating baby, toddler, and preschool storytimes, as well as a plethora of other children's programs which are highly valued by the local community. This appreciation of the library's importance to the area was highlighted in 2011 when residents of the City of Pittsburgh voted overwhelmingly to provide dedicated funding to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, a telling feat for this former steel-mill city in the middle of an economic recession.

For decades, CLP children's librarians regularly made visits to local public schools to complete book talks, which are brief, engaging book descriptions, and promote library resources. However, in 2002, a School Outreach program was established, with staff hired and trained for that purpose. Bringing Libraries And Schools Together, or BLAST, was created to enable collaboration between library outreach specialists and literacy professionals in the Pittsburgh Public Schools in order to deliver high-quality literacy programs, books and materials to children in Pittsburgh (DeFilippo, 2010).

For the last decade, Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh's BLAST outreach team has implemented three major literacy outreach programs for students enrolled in grades K-5 in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. The primary goals are:

* Increase equitable access to the public library resources for children in the city of Pittsburgh, particularly in low-income neighborhoods

* Support the literacy instruction occurring in the Pittsburgh Public Schools

* Provide children with multiple exposures to high-quality fiction and informational text

In the early formation of BLAST, it was determined that certified elementary school teachers early in their careers would be ideal program designers and implementers of the BLAST literacy programs. With knowledge of classroom management, read-aloud techniques, and curriculum design, teachers who desired an opportunity for a unique and innovative application of their educational knowledge and skills would be comfortable working intensively with students and teachers in grades K-5. …

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