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Family Place

Family Place is a concept that expands the traditional role of public libraries into community centers for early childhood information, parent education, socialization, emergent literacy, and family support.  Although most public libraries serve children through story times and summer reading programs, they usually focus on “children” only and not the child as part of the family unit.  Parents/caregivers are a child’s first teachers; through this program we can support these adults. 
 
The keystones of Family Place are the Parent/Child Workshop, specially designed space, collections, and trained staff.  A five-week series brings together toddlers and their parents (babies are welcome, too) in an informal, interactive setting with professionals from local agencies such as child care centers, hospitals, speech clinics, county extension agencies, universities, public schools and health departments.  The area used for these hour and a half sessions is filled with educational toys, developmentally appropriate activities, books, magazines and AV materials.  The sessions are facilitated by trained library staff who greet families, introduce guests from the community and end the sessions with a simple circle game, song, or finger play.   The staff’s other role is to get to know the families and promote the library’s resources.
 
The term “specially designed space” sounds intimidating, but it isn’t. It is all about creating an early childhood area that makes the library a “destination” for families with young children in your community. It doesn’t mean you need an addition, or have to turn a meeting room into a space only for young families.  It does mean you need comfortable furniture for adults in the children’s area and that there is a space, however small devoted to families/caregivers and young children.  In a small library it may just be a corner of a room.  Family Place libraries around the country have been creative and set up fun items of interest to very young children in this space such as an aquarium, a dollhouse, a Duplo table, puzzles, a puppet stage, a wooden train table, etc.  Many participating libraries also offer a computer loaded with early childhood software.
 
Library collections are of major importance to the program.  A good selection of board books, cloth books, picture books, audio tapes, CDs, and videos for young children is needed as is an up-to-date parent/teacher collection that includes books, magazines, audio tapes, videos, pamphlets and possibly access to electronic resources in the family space to support the adults who live and work with young children.
 
Last, but most important, are the staff members that have been trained at the Middle Country Library in New York and who will train the rest of the staff on how to better serve the needs of families.  The training includes learning how to better network with the education, social services, and health service providers in your community.  Outreach is another important part of the program.  Staff will visit appropriate agencies to help recruit families into the program.
 
You can find additional information at familyplacelibraries.org