Statewide campaign encourages parents to visit local libraries

Goal is to get adults to read aloud to toddlers

March 25, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

In case you've noticed the growing crowds of moms, dads and tots cramming into library children's rooms, get ready - more are on the way.

At least, that's the hope of State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick, who will unveil a statewide early-reading campaign tomorrow at the Towson branch of the Baltimore County Public Library, 320 York Road.

In an effort to increase library use by parents and day-care professionals, libraries statewide are taking part in a two-year media blitz, titled "It's Never Too Early," featuring posters, billboards and radio ads, paid for with $147,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency.

Education researchers and librarians have long argued that early exposure to reading is a key part of preparing a child to enter school. But they say some parents and caregivers - including day care providers - aren't reading to babies, toddlers and preschoolers often enough.

"There is a positive link between exposing a child to books and a child's vocabulary," said Grasmick in a prepared statement. "When you read to infants, toddlers and preschoolers, you contribute to their language development."

Libraries offer a wealth of activities and resources for infants and toddlers, said Kathleen Reif, director of the Wicomico County Library. Unfortunately, not every parent or guardian is aware of the educational gold mine.

Recently, members of the Maryland Association of Public Library Administrators formed a "Birth to Five" task force to gauge their success at reaching out to parents with preschool-age children, said Reif.

What they found was that low-income parents and those with less education are less likely to visit the library, therefore denying their children a chance to benefit from the programs offered there.

"There's a direct correlation between income and education level and people sharing books," said Reif, who co-chairs the task force. "And what we found was that the target group we need to get to is not coming on their own."

Part of the reason might be that some adults have poor reading skills and are embarrassed to read aloud, she said. Others never learned to read.

Reif hopes the "It's Never Too Late" campaign will encourage all parents, guardians and child-care providers to visit the library. Many libraries provide literacy programs for adults. Also, there is an abundance of story-time sessions for parents who don't like to read aloud.

"This is an attempt to reach out to the parent or child-care provider who is uncomfortable in a library," she said. "It's more than saying, `Remember your local library.' It's so people aren't so darned intimidated."

Librarians are working hard to make sure they stock reading materials and offer reading programs that meet the needs of the preschool group, Reif said.

In the near future, experts from the Johns Hopkins University's Center for Reading Excellence will provide training for representatives from libraries across the state in what's known as "emergent literacy," a developmental stage at which children begin to understand the relationship between sounds and letters.

"My nightmare is that people will get out of this program that public librarians think children should be able to read by the age of 4," said Reif.

State officials hope Marylanders of all ages will notice the "It's Never Too Late" bus placards, billboards and posters and visit a library.

"People use libraries a lot when they are in school, and then they drop off when they become young adults," said Maurice Travillian, assistant state superintendent for libraries. "We want them back when they become parents. We really don't want to miss anyone."

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