Magazine article American Libraries

Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice

Magazine article American Libraries

Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice

Article excerpt

Babies, toddlers, and care providers are only one set of many populations served by children's librarians. Nevertheless, baby brain research has galvanized the profession to try to do more, and it has.

Librarians are now beginning to realize the impact they have on a baby's development can influence his or her developing brain for a lifetime, and they are doing whatever it takes to make these early years happy and positive. The stakes here are high. After all, these are human lives growing and developing very quickly.

Dream big

It makes sense for librarians to contribute to a baby's brain development. Combining babies' vigorous growth with widespread public library facilities has the potential not only to promote healthy development all over the country but also to exert a positive cultural influence on the youngest patrons. Why wouldn't we want to be a part of something that meaningful?

So what would it look like for every community to have a librarian dedicated to serving just infants and toddlers, another librarian for the preschool population, a third for the early grades, and even a fourth for the upper grades, similar to how public schools are structured? Such a library would certainly look more adequately staffed. But it is unrealistic to think that smaller or cash-strapped libraries can replicate this model, or that one or two librarians can do it all. However, if the profession does not take these issues seriously, it runs the risk of becoming irrelevant and ineffective. Serving all children in this way would be optimal, but given the knowledge of infants' rapid brain growth, libraries should consider providing focused service most intensively to babies and toddlers.

If children's librarianship had it all-- ample personnel, funding, time, and the strong support of the administration and the community--what could the children's librarian bring to bear on the positive developmental trajectory of every child? More specifically, what if the vocation of librarianship allowed for a full-time position with fair compensation to exclusively serve babies, toddlers, and their care providers?

What to do?

Librarians can easily or inexpensively adopt or implement baby steps to begin serving their youngest patrons, or big steps with further investment, support, funding, and collaborative efforts.

Baby steps:

* Establish partnerships with hospital birthing units, introducing yourself as the baby's first professional education provider and offering a small gift and the library's contact information,

* Be available for spontaneous interactions that include infant play book engagement, and conversations with care providers.

* Advocate for the publication of books that will expand babies' and toddlers' growing vocabulary base,

* Create or provide programs specifically targeting this entire group with topics of interest to parents and caregivers, such as breast-feeding or nutrition as well as storytimes.

* Collaborate with public service providers for this population, attending professional meetings to stay aware of current issues and concerns,

* Join other community agencies, such as local service groups, faith-based efforts, and state and local job and family services departments, to reach out to this population through in-home visits,

* Mentor a librarian joining the ranks. Explain various publications that will keep him or her informed of best practices, including those outside the field of children's librarianship.

* Read more about the history of children's librarianship--its heartfelt mission to children, how it has grown and changed over the years, and how it has succeeded so far--for fresh inspiration,

* Stay informed of ongoing child development research. Zero to Three (zero tothree.org) is a wonderful gateway.

* Host a local services and health fair with professionals, intervention specialists, support groups, vendors, and other community entities interested in the welfare of families. …

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