Early Literacy in Public Libraries



Patrons enjoy Family Story Time at the Oshtemo Branch of the Kalamazoo Public Library

Early Literacy programs are offered in most public libraries and it is clear how necessary it is. Children who are read to are more likely to continue their education after high school, and less likely to drop out of high school. According to the American Library Association, children are twice as likely to recognize all letters, have word-sight recognition and understand words in context if they have been read to at least three times per week.

Contrary to popular belief, reading does not begin in Kindergarten. In fact, 90% of brain growth occurs at age 5 according to Make Way For Books. Literacy development begins at birth; a child who has not been read to will struggle in Kindergarten, and if they cannot catch up by the 4th grade they are four times as likely to drop out of high school. According to a study done by Book Springs, 37% of children enter Kindergarten unprepared and if those 37% cannot catch up by  4th grade they will continue to struggle throughout school.

Poverty plays a  role in literacy development. If a parent is working full time and is too exhausted to read to their child, or if they are unable to get to a public library during story-time, that child is already hindered academically. Achievement gaps are apparent by 18 months between children in poverty and children who aren’t. According to Neary from NPR, this is also known as the 30 million-word gap (2014). Those children in poverty who struggle to read by 4th grade and drop out of high school will remain in poverty because they will be less likely to get a good job. If they have children the vicious cycle will continue to repeat itself.


Image credit: Denver Public Library

Public libraries play an important role in early literacy through programs like story-time and Summer Reading, but they could be doing more for low income families. Story-time programs could be held in the evening, library events flyers should be sent to low income housing areas and be distributed at schools and daycare centers. Some libraries, such as the Kalamazoo Public Library, do not charge for children’s or teen books that are returned late because they believe it’s more important for those kids to be reading than paying fines. It’s important for this free resource to be well advertised for the families and children who need it.




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