A Smorgasbord of Possibilities: How Maryland Libraries Activate Lifelong Learning for Families

What does a deliberate and steady pace to help families look like?

A Smorgasbord of Possibilities: How Maryland Libraries Activate Lifelong Learning for Families
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A Smorgasbord of Possibilities: How Maryland Libraries Activate Lifelong Learning for Families

A funny thing happened in the race to the top of the hill. The fast-paced Hare got distracted and smelled the flowers and sipped lemonade.

Striving to do his steady best, Tortoise marched forward a step at a time. Hare felt like taking a nap and did. When he woke up it was too late—Tortoise had, not surprisingly, won the race.

“Public libraries play a practical and strategic role in the fulfillment of family learning,” said Irene Padilla, Maryland State Librarian. We can find inventive ways to support our teammates –families, schools, and other agencies – and strengthen community results gradually but successfully through the years.

What does a deliberate and steady pace—to help families inspire their children to learn—look like?  Let’s take a peek.

Prince George's County Memorial Library System VR

Prince George’s County Memorial Library System VR

The room (physical or virtual) is humming with excitement and delight. Parents and children, library staff, and community partners are chattering away and enjoying conversation. As the formal discussion begins, a mother proudly tells her library story—“Being homeless a few short years ago I got into the routine of bringing my children into the library each day.

One day before we got to the library, Miss Sue [from the check-out desk] was walking down the street on her lunch break. She greeted us, “Hello, how are you? Will we see you in the library later today?” She talked to us as if we were any other family that goes to the library. That conversation was a turning point in my life. I began to think of myself in a more optimistic and confident way. In time, I was able to get out of a troubled marriage and move into an apartment with my children.”

This true story shows how far a gesture of goodwill and compassion can lead and the power and potential of libraries to touch local communities.  Ever since the introduction of the iPad in 2010, library staff have expanded their services to youth and families to include guidance in the selection, evaluation, and use of these “new media” resources, creating themselves a new role as media mentors.  Never has this media mentorship role been more vital to serve youth and families as in this past year when libraries shifted almost overnight to provide their programs and many services virtually to their communities.  Virtual activities – from fun-with-goats storytimes and robot pumpkin smash to pretend play and masked mad science programs – exemplify the effort by Maryland libraries to engage families in new and refreshing ways.

Maryland libraries are actively helping youth of all ages to develop media literacy skills to navigate these “new media” waters, evident through programs such as a news quiz for school-age youth and card games while discovering teaching moments that reinforce digital privacy strategies.  Librarians are rolling up their sleeves to do what they can to achieve tech equity and inclusion in their communities: extending their WIFI into parking lots and surrounding space; providing devices and hotspots for check-out as well as books; and offering remote printing services during the time of library closures.  Knowing that it’s not just about providing the hardware and the connection, librarians offer a human-centered touch, coming alongside families to help in the selection and use of technology, through phone-based, virtual, or in-person guidance and support.

Libraries strive to emulate the Tortoise by proceeding steadily, but deliberately, toward implementing the ideals of family engagement and keep a focus on the goal—the enjoyment of lifelong learning.

 

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