By Sherri Killins Stewart, Ed.D.,
BUILD Initiative Director of Systems Alignment and Integration

High-quality early childhood programs and services are critical to the healthy development of young children, and community organizations, like museums and libraries, are key players.  A partnership between the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the BUILD Initiative worked to strengthen collaboration among leaders in museums, libraries, and early childhood systems to increase opportunities for young children and families often identified as high need, particularly those without access to museums and libraries and lacking sufficient early learning and development opportunities.

A pilot project in five states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Washington) brought the leaders together for a series of discussions during 2014-2015.  The pilots were designed to yield a deeper understanding of common ground and a list of promising strategies to create more alignment between state, regional and community efforts and organizations that provide a range of early learning and development opportunities. These discussions served as a foundation for future discussions and collaborative work.  The primary product was the development of a toolkit to help other community and state partners increase their opportunities to cultivate similar partnerships. The toolkit, which is based on learning from the project, is available now, Building Supportive Communities with Libraries, Museums, and Early Childhood Systems: A Toolkit for Collaborative Efforts to Improve Outcomes for Young Children and Their Families (PDF, 1.79MB)

The toolkit is organized to support three distinct phases of developing partnerships and working groups:

  • Developing relationships and shared interests;
  • Understanding and articulating opportunities for shared benefit; and
  • Designing, implementing, and assessing strategies and action plans.

The partners in all three sectors (museums, libraries and early childhood) discovered much that they shared:

  • Examples of innovative and successful approaches to early learning;
  • A focus on the science of child development;
  • Outreach to thousands of children and families each year;
  • A reputation as trusted and engaging learning institutions; and
  • A strong commitment to help address inequities and reach children and families that don’t typically have access to the developmental and learning experiences they need to thrive.

The partners also discovered that they shared significant challenges as well. Although museums and libraries across the country reach millions of children each year, they often individually reach only a fraction of those in their community. Most child- and family-serving programs, including child care, preschool, health services, and family support programs, face similar challenges reaching all children and families, especially those with high needs. Other shared challenges include inconsistent funding from multiple funding streams, the need for multilingual staff and materials for families with various home languages, and lack of transportation to program and service sites.  And, too often museums and libraries are on the periphery of state and local conversations about early childhood systems.

By creating intentional relationships and working more closely together, all partners, and the families they serve, benefit.

The pilot project was informed by IMLS’ 2013 report, Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners and by the BUILD Initiative’s experience over the past 12 years working with state-level early childhood leaders as they work to set policy, offer services and advocate for children from birth to age five and their families.

The pilot participants concluded that working together in relationships can expand the range of formal and informal learning opportunities that are available to children and families, build on existing strategies, and create new ones.  By working together on common challenges, like data collection and transportation barriers, community programs can jointly problem solve and increase participation in their programs.  Creating shared messages across museums, libraries, and early childhood systems can help families see more clearly the rich community resources that are available to them.

About the BUILD Initiative
The BUILD Initiative supports state leaders in their work to develop comprehensive systems of programs, policies and services that serve the needs of young children and their families. This systems-building approach effectively prepares our youngest children for a successful future while carefully using private and public resources.