Early Literacy & Libraries Brainstorming Activity, Part I

Last spring I had the fun of visiting my friend Priscilla’s LIS class, “Early Childhood Materials & Services.” It’s a class we developed and taught together a couple of times for the Early Childhood Librarian Fellowship program in the University of Denver School of Library & Information Science. Last spring I had too much on my plate to teach, and Priscilla graciously & VERY capably took on the class by herself–but I snuck in a visit as a guest lecturer!

I tweeted this picture of the activity I prepared for the group, and promised to blog about it–and, oh, 12 months later I finally am.


We started by talking about connecting early childhood services and library mission statements, and Priscilla and I shared that when we first started teaching this course, youth services professionals were working hard to show library decision makers that early learning and early literacy were essential aspects of the public library’s mission.

Several years later, the conversation is less and less about convincing people about the value of supporting early learning. There’s more and more agreement that storytimes are vehicles for early literacy and can support parent education, which is great. Now the conversation is more about how ELSE can we support our children’s learning? How else can libraries help families build early literacy skills in their children?

So I gave the class a brainstorming activity, to see if we could come up with strategies for children’s services, separate from storytime, that would support & model early literacy learning.

This is what we did:

I had that set of colored popsticks for them from the picture.

    Red was an early literacy practice (reading, writing, singing, talking, playing)
    Yellow was an early literacy skill (print awareness, print motivation, narrative skills, phonological awareness, letter knowledge, vocabulary–plus I added background knowledge after I took this photo)
    Green was a service area (library spaces, programs, storytime, advisory, reference, services, content–websites, newsletters, social media, etc.)

(Yes, this was totally inspired by Guerrilla Storytime, thank you, Storytime Underground!)

Each pair of students took one popstick from each color. They could do a couple of different things:

    Think of some way that those three things already exist together in a library
    Think of a new program or service that would combine these elements

If they struggled, I told them to skip the yellow “skills” stick.

Disclaimer! This exercise was NOT to tell them they should cram their future children’s areas with every possibility we generated. It was NOT to give them a checklist of things to do around each and every ECRR early literacy practice. It was NOT to suggest there was a viable service idea hidden in every single combination of popsticks.

Instead, it was meant as a way for them to think broadly about the relationship between the programs, materials, and services they might encounter in their future children’s areas and the early literacy skills & practices they were learning in class. I wanted them to have practice seeing that early learning is ALREADY embedded in youth services in many different ways. That early literacy is everywhere, inside AND outside of storytime. I wanted them to prepare themselves to be intentional about building and creating services in their future libraries.

Why? All libraries have limited resources. If you are advocating for new programs and services for your department, you are usually going to need a better sell than, “Hey, this looks like a cute idea.”

You’re going to be in a much better place if you can build robust offerings that you can tie to the library’s mission and goals. If you’re trying to win a grant, you’re going to want to show the benefits. If you’re trying to choose between two new ideas for your department, you’re going to want to have a clear picture of which better meets your current objectives or rounds out your current offerings. If your director asks you to cut a program or service, you’re going to want some help deciding.

So that was part one of the exercise! Come back Tuesday for part 2!

Do you want to play? Leave a comment with what comes to your mind when you mix and match these concepts!

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1 Response to Early Literacy & Libraries Brainstorming Activity, Part I

  1. marfita says:

    I had been planning a crafts program where kids made story stones – smooth rocks with pictures on them as either mnemonics or inspiration – but then couldn’t find the rocks at my usual place. But, aha! Story Sticks! Have those out with some paper to write and/or draw.

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