January 2011: Tribal Community Works together to Inspire Young Readers at the Library
"Children are reading more and learning to love the library."
Jill Conner, Library Director
Committing to 21st Century Skills
"Raising Readers through Programs and Outreach," an initiative of the Pueblo of Pojoaque Public Library in New Mexico, is designed to meet a critical community need for basic literacy, a foundational 21st Century skill that libraries across the country support and promote in innovative ways.
The library’s efforts are proving to be an on-the-ground experimental endeavor in flexibility and problem-solving that will benefit many communities that wish to implement similar programs. And the library has gained valuable experience in strengthening relationships within the native community by bringing everyone —children, parents, caregivers, teens, teachers, and tribal leaders—together for storytelling, reading, and creative activities. According to library director Jill Conner, "Children are reading more and learning to love the library."
In 2007, the library received a two-year enhancement grant of $120,600 from the IMLS Native American Library Services program, and then a second two-year enhancement grant of $132,400, starting in 2009. They developed and presented library and outreach programs emphasizing pre-literacy for pre-school children and their families, implemented reading programs for school age children, expanded the library collection, and shared their growing experience with their New Mexico neighbors.
Conner, along with Adam Becker, the Youth Services Librarian hired with grant funds, incorporated training and principles from the national Every Child Ready to Read®
(ECRR) program, a joint project of the Public Library Association and the Association for Library Service to Children. "We are using the enhancement grant funds to develop workshops for parents and caregivers, and to present storytimes that emphasize pre-literacy skills following the ECRR outline," said Conner.
The staff also enhanced their summer reading program and built an easy-access collection of high-interest books by age group to encourage the love of reading in the youngest tribal members.
The initiative’s impact on the local community has been dramatic, with the children’s collection circulation rates increasing by 260 percent. During the initial 2-year grant period, 267 storytime sessions were presented with an attendance totaling 3,049. To ensure that the Pueblo’s pre-school children were benefitting, storytimes with puppets and board books were also presented twice a week at the Pueblo’s Early Childhood Center (ECC). Evidence that local children are reading more books outside of the library is particularly energizing to library staff and the overall community as well.
As the circulation numbers have risen, children’s attitudes have also changed from apprehension to adoration of Becker, who has become a well-recognized library ambassador in the community. He tells the story of being in the local grocery store when a little boy ran up and enthusiastically hugged his leg. His parents were initially embarrassed but then their son cried out, "It’s the LIBRARY!"
Creating Engaging Pre-literacy and Summer Reading Programs
Prior to applying for the enhancement grants, the library facilitated meetings, surveys, and interviews, which indicated the need for pre-literacy and reading programs that involved parents and caregivers in the early childhood learning process. "We always knew that children’s services were the most requested," said Conner.
They began by building a pre-school collection and have expanded it to include an up-to-date school age range of materials, with a rapid response policy for any books that teens request for the library. During an initial series of parent and caregiver workshops, library staff introduced the six basic pre-reading skills, provided demonstrations on how to communicate these skills, and provided a list of recommended titles for caregivers to read outside of the library with their families, along with parent guides covering the workshop topics.
Becker has also continuously updated the ECRR collection with new books, including many with Native American authors and themes. After reading to children in the community for two years, he has new insight and awareness about his young audience plus extensive experience applying the ECRR pre-reading skills. In addition to ongoing ECRR activities, storytimes have become popular in the after-school tutoring program as a reward for finishing homework. The tutoring supervisor reported that the children began modeling Becker’s behavior while reading to each other.
Summer Reading Program participation has significantly increased in the past two years. In 2010, the New Mexico State Library chose the Pueblo of Pojoaque Public Library as the kick-off reading site for publicizing its statewide program, with Felicia Rivera, the Pojoaque Education Director, as a guest reader. In addition to the exciting themes of the summer programs, Pojoaque added incentives like books to take home and watercolor painting kits for an art exhibit in the library. One young reader authored and illustrated her own books over the summer and proudly brought them in to show Becker.
Responding to Changing Needs
As the "Raising Readers" initiative continued, new needs were emerging. For example, the library’s storytimes attendance figures dropped as many 4- to 5-year-olds aged out of this category. The staff became proactive and posted flyers in local businesses and promoted storytimes on the local online Pojoaque News. The ECC also started bringing 2- to 3-year-olds to the library, which helped maintain attendance figures. The collaboration between the library and the ECC has become such a success story that in a recent Tribal Council meeting, the ECC director commended the library for providing such a valuable service to Pojoaque children.
The library also responded to requests to customize workshops for teens because they are often primary readers to younger siblings, and they will learn valuable parenting skills for the future. The staff developed a revised "workshop" script and hopes to combine it with a new reading program for teens to read to younger children and earn reading rewards during the summer.
Reaching Out and New Collaborations
Collaboration and outreach have become the hallmark of the library’s efforts. The staff has shared their insights and skills not only with other tribal libraries, but with the Pojoaque Education Department, Head Start programs in the area, and surrounding schools and communities in New Mexico.
Conner and Becker have presented demonstration workshops at numerous tribal libraries, a Native American Libraries Special Interest Group meeting, a state-wide workshop for Youth Services Librarians at the State Library, and at a New Mexico Library Association conference. They also participated in enhancement grantee poster sessions at the national conference of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums in Portland, Oregon, in September 2010.
Another valuable collaboration has been joint programs and fundraising events with the Poeh Museum, operated by the Pueblo of Pojoaque, under the direction of Vernon Lujan. Special children’s programs were held in connection with the "Tribal Libraries: Where Dreams Take Flight" fundraising exhibit for the Friends of New Mexico Tribal Libraries. Becker held a storytime featuring art-related stories, and a local art teacher guided children and families through the exhibit and had them make sketches on materials provided by the library.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Getting busy parents involved has been the most challenging part of the initiative. On one occasion, a table was set up at the ECC with free balloons and books to interest parents picking up their children. No one had the time to stop and chat. One mother said that she was on her way from one job to another and had a third job on Saturdays, so staff tries to get feedback through casual conversations at the circulation desk. According to Conner, "Virtually every parent thanks us for the excellent choice of new books and organization by age group or reading level."
With the second grant ending on September 20, 2011, Conner said they will work to make their program permanent and enhance their Web site to make more information available beyond the workshops and outside of the library.
When asked to personally reflect on what they have accomplished, Conner immediately expressed appreciation for the IMLS staff and grants that helped them create desperately needed services for children and families, previously unavailable. "This is a rural community and you sometimes feel isolated. It was great to have support and connection with a national agency. They had faith in us."