July 29, 2021

Author Marcie Colleen reading to children at Jefferson CO Library
Author Marcie Colleen reads to children at the Jefferson County Library. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado State Library)

"This program helped many children in Colorado get their first library card."–Beth Crist, Youth and Family Services Consultant, Colorado State Library

Do you remember the first time you went to a library? Perhaps you can recall the overwhelming volume of choices, organized by topic and genre, then the thrill of selecting one (or many), and checking them out at the desk to take home. Well, the Colorado State Library (CSL) believes that even in our digital world, such thrills still await those accessing a library for the first time, and the sooner the better.

For more than a decade, CSL has coordinated early literacy initiatives across the state. Thanks to Grants to States funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, CSL’s Early Literacy Programming project has guided more children to read with their families and in the process develop essential lifelong learning skills.

Collaboration across the state has been key to creating and sustaining early literacy initiatives for CSL. Through partnerships with the Lieutenant Governor’s Office, Serve Colorado, Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy, private foundations, the Denver Preschool Program, and other organizations, this programming has allowed CSL to create and keep programs for libraries and Colorado residents active and engaging over the years.

One Book, Thousands of Lives Changed

Research has shown that children are more likely to show up to their kindergarten classroom ready to read if they have had regular access to books and adults who read with them frequently.

To prepare Colorado children for lifelong learning, CSL launched One Book Colorado to provide every 4-year-old in Colorado with a free copy of the same book in English or Spanish. In 2020, it was The Little Red Fort that helped promote early literacy skills before kindergarten and foster a culture of reading.

Denver Mayor giving reading books to children.
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock hands out books to Colorado kids in 2019. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado State Library)

“We created One Book with the idea that providing young children with access to books promotes early literacy skills and helps parents and families serve as their children’s first and most important teachers,” said Beth Crist, Youth and Family Services Consultant at Colorado State Library. “Watching the children get their free book and hearing all their wonderful stories has been fulfilling. For many of these kids, this was the first book they ever owned.”

The program spanned nine years and resulted in 675,000 books being given to Colorado 4-year-olds through all of the state’s public and military libraries and participating Denver Preschool Program classrooms. Most recently in 2020, the program provided 75,000 books to support Colorado families reading together.

CSL engaged children in exploring their copy of the selected book by hosting story times where local elected officials—or sometimes the author or illustrator of the book—would read it to the children. The program not only encouraged more children to visit public libraries, but it was especially helpful to low-income families who were less likely to have access to quality books in their homes.

Learning Never Stops

In January 2008, CSL and more than a dozen Colorado public libraries developed a comprehensive approach to deliver and support early literacy services statewide. This resulted in another program: Colorado Libraries for Early Literacy (CLEL), which is now in its 12th year.

This grassroots effort brings together library staff from across the state who support young children and their families to network and share ideas and successes.

“All children deserve to experience the joy of reading and the skills in life that literacy provides,” Crist said. “CLEL is passionately committed to strengthening children’s literacy through library services and community advocacy.”

CLEL’s goals include:

Little girl reading, Delta County Libraries
An eager young Delta County Libraries reader and One Book Colorado participant. (Photo courtesy of the Colorado State Library)
  • Educating and training library staff in providing early literacy story times for children and caregivers;
  • Increasing awareness of the importance of early literacy to all communities;
  • Cooperating with other state and national agencies involved with early literacy; and
  • Promoting the role of libraries in providing early literacy experiences.

CLEL also hosts an annual conference that, until recently, was the only one in the country to focus solely on continuing education for library staff that serve children from birth to five years old and their families.

In addition, CLEL provides training opportunities that include quarterly webinars, online content, and a blog for further learning opportunities. This year, CLEL organized study cohort groups for youth services staff through Project READY: Reimagining Equity & Access for Diverse Youth—a self-paced course funded by IMLS.

CLEL also developed Storyblocks, a collection of short videos designed to model early childhood songs and rhymes for parents, caregivers, and library staff. Each video features Colorado library staff offering helpful early literacy tips to increase caregivers’ understanding of child development. The videos are available in seven languages.

Starting a New Chapter

Although 2020 was the last year for One Book due to a pivot toward other early literacy efforts, CSL looks forward to continuing its partnerships to achieve additional success in early childhood education.

However, things are just gearing up for CLEL. Last year, CLEL provided its first virtual version of its annual conference, as well as its first Leadership Institute the day before. A total of 440 people participated in both days combined, with participants from 34 states and 2 Canadian provinces. Given its success, CLEL is again offering the Leadership Institute and Conference virtually in October this year.

Whatever future programming looks like at CSL, they strive to create excitement and foster a love for the library among children and all patrons across the state.

About the Project

Grant Project Name: Colorado State Library’s Early Literacy Programming
Grant Log Number: 2019-CO-83700
Year Awarded: 2019
Recipient: Colorado State Library
Project Contact:
Beth Crist
Youth and Family Services Consultant
Colorado State Library
Website: https://www.cde.state.co.us/cdelib

Grants to State Library Administrative Agencies