LSC Journal Club Winter 2019: Early Literacy Information on Canadian Public Library Websites

Have you heard about the Library Services for Children Journal Club? It’s a side project I started with my friend Christie to encourage anyone serving children in libraries to read and discuss relevant research. We have a local Vancouver meetup quarterly and you can find a recap of all our discussions on my Professional Development page.

This month we discussed an article written by colleague Tess Prendergast called ” Growing Readers: A Critical Analysis of Early Literacy Content for Parents on Canadian Public Library Websites.” You can get the full article here. Here’s a recap of the article and what our group discussed.

Research Questions

Prendergast sets out to examine the assumptions and beliefs underlining early literacy messages we provide on our public library websites. As our communities continue to diversify linguistically, ethnically, and developmentally, she is curious if our websites reflect these changes in both words and images. She lays out the following two research questions:

  • What messages (text and images) about early literacy aimed at parents are found on English language urban Canadian public library websites?
  • Do early literacy messages (text and images) aimed at parents on English language urban Canadian library websites reflect or acknowledge family diversity?

She examines 20 libraries across six provinces.

Findings

This research was conducted in the fall of 2012, so Tess mentioned that things have likely changed since then, and it would be interesting to see a duplicate study performed today. Have we improved?

After collecting data on the websites Prendergast looked at cultural and/or linguistic diversity, developmental inclusion, and kindergarten and reading readiness. She found that all of the libraries promote storytimes and encourage caregivers to participate and have fun. She notes the influence of the branded Parent-Child Mother Goose program in the frequent references to bonding and attachment found in storytime descriptions. While 50% of the sample websites address cultural and/or linguistic diversity, most libraries do not provide translated webpages in languages outside of English. Similarly, about 50% of storytime descriptions mention kindergarten preparedness. Lastly, and most unfortunately, one one program was found that overly suggests the program is appropriate for children with disabilities. She recommends using the phrase “all ages and stages” in storytime descriptions to signal to caregivers that children with disabilities are welcome.

When looking at information aimed at caregivers, 90% of libraries sampled included early literacy messages with most of that content coming from both editions of Every Child Ready to Read @ Your Library. When looking at images on these websites, she discovered that kids are most often shown reading adult books, rather than books from the children’s section. In about 50% of the images cultural diversity is easy to discern, while only 4 out of 20 websites contain an image representing disability.

Discussion

Prendergast’s first argument is that the text and images we see on public library websites aimed at caregivers “point out dominant views held by public libraries about the promotion of early literacy within their communities” (245). With an increased interest and concern about the first five years in life from multiple sectors of society (health, education, government), it’s not surprising that initiatives like Every Child Ready to Read emerged and were eagerly adopted by libraries not only to justify our programming, but also to use in conversations with community members. Her criticism, which our group spent most of the meeting discussing, is that the research used to create ECRR privileges research studies that result in quantitative test results that can be tied to education goals. She states, “ECRR tenets were developed out of cognitive, skills-based educational research (not library and information studies research) about reading readiness” (246).

So what’s the issue? Firstly, if you look at it from the end goal first it means that our view of early literacy is rooted in school readiness. ECRR aims to help parents support their children so that when they start kindergarten they have measurable skills to accomplish tasks. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing – of course we want kids to succeed in school. But what Prendergast points out is that by drawing on only this type of research we exclude a more broad definition of early literacy, and one that is rooted in a library’s goals and values. With a narrow view of early literacy we are more susceptible to excluding diverse community groups who may face barriers to library access already.

Prendergast draws on research from Stooke and McKenzie (2011) that calls for a “counter-narrative” to the ECRR curriculum. I admit this part shook me. I’m actually planning on writing a whole other blog post about their article and how it made me question things. In sum, we need to be open to research that takes into account sociocultural and social and emotional learning in order to develop our own early literacy framework that places the library’s values as paramount. Understanding how diverse communities translate culture and literacy would help us support these communities and build meaningful community relationships, even if their practices are different from the tenets of ECRR.

This doesn’t mean we need to completely throw out ECRR. The second edition is broad enough that we discussed the different ways we’ve taken the 5 early literacy practices and applied them in our interactions with diverse communities. A lot of that is up to us in our one-on-one interactions with families. Overall though, this article led me to think more critically about a widely adopted curriculum which has a huge impact on our programming and our identity as children’s librarians.

Recommendations

Prendergast gives the following five recommendations for Canadian public library websites:

  1. Create and maintain separate parent pages on the website that are different than the information aimed at those who work with children.
  2. Translate and adapt all parents pages into common languages spoken in your community. Adding videos in multiple languages is an added bonus.
  3. Use expanded, sociocultural views of early literacy and strength-based approaches to help us write our content on our websites and to guide us in our interactions with diverse communities.
  4. Include photographic diversity of families in your community on your website and all promotional materials.
  5. Relax storytime rules to accommodate children of all ages and stages.

Did you read this quarter’s article? What were your thoughts and opinions? I’d love to discuss in the comments!

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