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FAMILY LITERACY: THE HIDDEN NEED.

Community expectations of children's proficiency in print, media and technological literacy often leave parents feeling inadequate and powerless. Public libraries can perform a special role through family literacy programs to address this need. Gosford City Library has developed a program to offer strategies and fun in the business of literacy in the home. Edited version of a paper presented at the Alia biennial conference Adelaide October 1998

There has always been a very solid program of storytimes at the main Gosford library and the three other branches. In recent years there have been nine storytimes every week of every month over the system. For a very long time there has been a children's bookmobile which services playgroups, as well as child care centres, preschools and schools. An adult bookmobile carries a range of children's materials. This van stops once per fortnight at a range of community locations scattered throughout the central coast of NSW.

All the assistance we give, in a thousand different ways, which link literature in all its formats with families, is a promotion of family literacy. When we offer material for a 3rd or 4th grader's project but suggest that mum or dad might have to assist the child in negotiating the index and be involved in the searching strategy, we are suggesting a reading relationship between the child and his family. When we enthuse about a children's story on tape or cd, we are subtly indicating that we as adults can derive genuine pleasure from this form of literacy and that even though it is essentially a child's story, it is still acceptable to appreciate it and share it over the generations. When we fill the display shelves with all the diverse formats available for literature in the conventional book form as well as stories on tape, cd and video, stories in flannelboard and puppetry kits, stories in graphic rather than literary form and so on, we are addressing the reality of many different kinds of necessary literacies in the modern world and inviting family sharing and mutual enjoyment.

This is the baseline of service provision in a library. The obligation of every professional in this area is to make this the best provision possible and to promote it for the most productive use possible.

Attitude and perception

Many of the messages we give about literacy are like this--they are subtle and a matter of attitude and perception. These subtle messages are often picked up by parents who are still developing their own attitudes and philosophies about behaviours and relationships. If we can wear an enthusiastic, appreciative and informed mantle in our dealings with children and their parents, then we may be a stronger influence for good than we realise.

From the other side, children also pick up very strongly on our inner feelings about all the different literacies within our care. A significant part of their entire belief in books and libraries will depend on their early experiences with a librarian and the collection to which they are introduced. We all know stories of the past involving the stereotypical librarian wearing the hair in a bun and heavy glasses on the end of her disapproving nose who everyone knew was closely related to a dragon, endlessly seated at a large, meticulously tidy, desk and posing with a raised finger to her lips as she whispered sh-sh-sh-sh-sh--!

Was it any wonder that children stayed away from libraries? Was it any wonder that many of these children grew up to be very caring parents who had no idea of the joys of sharing a book or the value of exploring the limitless supply of new and old stories, facts, songs and music, pictures, puzzles and toys in a library?

Many of the parents with whom we deal in the community are parents who can actually read. They read the newspaper and magazines, they read the occasional story to their children, they speak in a way that communicates, they fill in a form without assistance. These people could never be termed illiterate.

Yet in terms of the needs of their children they have a dysfunctional literacy which prevents them from offering the best of experiences in literature, language and creative, imaginative expression. They are unable to read to a baby, and would never even think of doing so. They do not have the knowledge, or even grasp the importance, of those rhymes and rhythms of early childhood collections that have been long enjoyed by some parents and their children. They are often unaware of the long, rich tradition of the fairytale genre which becomes part of the folklore of childhood, and have no idea of the incredibly rich culture we have access to in the form of modern stories for young children, which cover all the genres from realism to fantasy and from fable to whimsical. They are the parents who think you are doing something magical when you conduct a storytime in the library. In fact what we do is take something which is freely available and offer it within a prepared framework with a few embellishments. There is nothing magical about it at all. What we do could be done by many parents if they knew how. That is the hidden need--they do not know how to turn their children on to literature and language.

In an ideal world every parent would have the skills and imagination and the depth of experience to offer the child a free, loving, fun filled kind of literary experience. Every parent would truly appreciate the cleverness of the presentation of a simple information book, the creativity and flair of a good picture book, the imaginative plots and issues in junior fiction, the beauty and appropriateness of children's illustrating, the harmonious integration of story and music in some kits.

Storytelling

Many parents feel inadequate in the role of storyteller or storyreader. Perhaps they lack experience themselves from their own childhood. Perhaps they are not very competent readers and feel embarrassed to read aloud, or feel intimidated by the plethora of advice from every source that there is somehow a `right' way or a `best' way or an `essential' way to offer a child the very best in learning experiences in our competitive environment. For whatever reason, many parents feel unable to be relaxed and confident and happy in their dealings with things literary. They often feel tense about their child's progress, inhibited by their own lack of appreciation of this kind of literature, formal in their approach and inclined to timetable the reading/listening/ discussion experience to the ritual half hour before bedtime. As well, parents are often short of time, short of money and desperate for their child to succeed. It could be easy to overlook the value of this simple, happy, free and shared recreational experience that is possible within the family's ordinary life at any time of the day.

Family literacy

It is in the light of this, that family literacy has come into its own. It is not aimed at teaching children to read, although we have found that the main motivator in challenging parents to seek out our family literacy initiative has been the fact that their child has started school and is beginning to bring first `readers' home with all the attendant scaling of progress and ranking against norms. `Readers', small books which are part of a graded reading scheme with a controlled vocabulary and often repetitious language skills and appallingly bland story qualities, are sent home daily for reading practice and levels of reading proficiency measured.

Progress in reading becomes the focus of a great deal of attention in parent groups and in discussions with teachers. Yet the parent has no any idea how the child is supposed to learn to read, what this whole reading process is really about and how to approach the task. Add to this the new jargon attached to the business of reading and it all starts to seem like an insurmountable hurdle rather than a fun journey of discovery with infinite treasures along the way.

The family literacy courses at Gosford City Library are designed to answer some of these concerns but also to incorporate interactive fun for the parent or carer as they learn about aspects of literacy and learning. The courses are about injecting fun and mutual enjoyment into a family's development along the literacy path with their children. In the process we market the library as an endless, free resource for all this activity. The courses are not aimed at turning the parent into a teacher, although in an informal and caring way all parents are really the best natural teachers. It is not aimed at offering the definitive way to do anything.

A philosophy

It is a philosophy, with links that offer parents and carers strategies and skills for developing a literary environment within the home setting which embodies all the literacies, that informs parents and carers about the different ways in which children learn, and involves an exploration of the nature and value of different kinds of formats in the presentation of literature of the creative kind and of the informative kind. It has at its core a lack of timetabling and ritual and the potential for a maximum of fun and shared enjoyment for all the participants. Although it has a serious underlying purpose, the process and the outcomes are unashamedly enjoyable for both parents and their children.

How did we start along this exciting track at Gosford?

There were two events which were catalysts. One was a meeting at the State Library of NSW for adult literacy contacts from public libraries and elsewhere to network for mutual professional support, exchange information about programs in different libraries and communities and to see new resources and hear reports of research from periodical literature by staff of the State Library. The thought that leapt out and stayed was that there are probably thousands in the community who can read ie they can understand English and are not illiterate, but they do not function in a literary way. They have a kind of dysfunctional literacy. They do not really know how to find information in books or other sources, and they do not know how libraries work. In essence, they lack information literacy. The first time they are confronted with the problem of not living in a literary environment in their family is when their child at school needs more help with reading, speaking, listening, interpreting, than they can give.

The second event was an inspirational day long seminar on family literacy at the State Library. This took the above observations further and presented examples of family literacy initiatives in Singleton, Liverpool, Bankstown and other suburbs of Sydney.

Implementation

In consultation with Gosford library's adult literacy coordinator we gathered together three literacy specialists in our community. These were professionals providing specialist remedial work in reading, adult and student literacy and adult and migrant education in three different institutions. We met at a local small restaurant for the start of what was to become a series of enjoyable, professional and productive working lunches. Our first meeting explored the philosophy of family literacy and the idea of conducting a one day pilot project to test the water for community response. We knew immediately that we had an exciting and worthwhile product but we were not sure of the market. By the end of the first session we had decided

* there was a need for a community based project focused on family literacy and we would test the water with a free one day pilot program targeting parents/carets of different aged children. Sessions of about 90 minutes each were intended, one for parents of preschoolers, one for parents of infants and primary aged children and one for parents of teenagers. We decided to hold the teenager session in the early evening, reasoning that many parents of this age group work through the day. Of course we were excluding other parents who would be working. This was the best compromise we could work with, when it was to be added to our normal workloads

* each session was to be taken by a different presenter and there was to be a library segment in each to illustrate the collections of the library suited to each age group. For this project the presenters offered their expertise and time free of charge. Children would be invited to come with parents but no specific child care would be offered

* promotion for this experiment would be at saturation level. We would pin a bright promotional flier on every library wall and every community shopping centre noticeboard, we would post to every community group we could think of, every church group, every sporting club house, every preschool and child care centre, every school and college

* the sessions would be in the library to offer support for literary activities in the family and because we suspected that most would be surprised by the range of material available. Technology was to be referred to, but it was suggested that follow up in this area be by arrangement with the library

The next meeting was just as productive. These wonderful providers had met in the meantime and fine tuned their ideas for session content. The organisational detail was dealt with to decide the date for our trial run, on the length of sessions, the venue, the times in the day, the morning tea and informal welcoming arrangements, the kinds of handouts to be offered. Ideas for publicity were bounced around. We had no idea of the best areas to target so we made lists of every possible community body, school, club, association, group and church we could find. After devising a very striking canary yellow coloured flier with a plain but inviting graphic of a parent with a child and a minimum of written detail we launched into a frenzy of saturation promotion by mail. The date was set and we all prepared our parts for this exciting day. There were no bookings taken. It was strictly on a drop in basis--and bring your child with you.

This family literacy day was called Reading with your family. It was an overwhelming success. The context was empowerment of parents as the natural teacher for their child and suggested simple strategies and skills which could be employed. Mutual enjoyment and enthusiasm in every process was the key. All kinds of literacy materials were presented: books, posters, tapes and cds, kits and video and a large range of handout material was available. Attendance was much greater in the daytime compared with the evening sessions but we really valued the effort those evening parents put into their quest for the best for their children. A number of interesting observations were made on the evaluation forms. In our debriefing these were analysed very closely and they were to be very useful in tailoring the programs which followed.

It was obvious that parents were seeking assistance and it was an area in which the library was an obvious partner. Some librarians would be qualified and confident in providing this kind of outreach. Others would not. Yet even if the library did not have the staff to conduct such programs, by definition they have the means of providing a literary environment in situations beyond the library. They are the experts on readers' advising and information retrieval for all interests, ages and stages. They could use other professionals in a family literacy program but would be able to contribute at each session and all the times in between because of the expertise they can offer. It was evident that this kind of service could play an important role in the community.

The success of this one day trial was measured in terms of attendance and the qualitative comments contained on the evaluation sheets. In all best practice situations, preparatory investigations are essential and the outcomes of this stage analysed. It is not enough to have a good idea or to have a desire to offer the community the benefit of some acquired wisdom. The targeted client group has to want to consume the product before you can dedicate resources to that market with the expectation of a productive outcome. In our case, the trial justified moving on to the next stage.

Avenues for funding needed to be sought for the larger scale project which was now envisaged. Payment in a future project had to be made to the literacy presenters. We were now thinking of a much enlarged, firmly based, thoroughly professional, free course in family literacy for parents and caters, with free child care.

Readers digest get ahead program

The gods were with us. In late August we were preparing a family literacy submission for State Library funding when we heard about the possibility of Readers digest funding which was also coordinated by the State Library. We quickly wrote a submission for this and we were truly delighted to hear in September that we had been successful.

This sponsorship turned out to be deeply satisfying for all sorts of reasons. The main three were that

* the link to Readers digest and the State Library offered substantial value in terms of institutional support

* the terms of the sponsorship were very generous. It would allow us to very adequately pay our providers and a child care worker, pay for morning tea or supper at every session, plan special treats for a presentation day, purchase games and dedicated resources for sessions, purchase an urn and other material needs

* the third, wonderful, thing about this sponsorship is that Readers digest and the State Library realised that the establishment costs in terms of time, energy and money are quite high for any project. For these to give a truly productive return on an investment the length of the project should be longer than a year. The funding has offered continuity for a well developed project for three years

An exciting orientation day was held for the public library coordinators of Reader's digest literacy projects at the State Library of NSW. Approaches were discussed, possibilities outlined and responsibilities to the sponsors detailed. Various titles for the project were discussed. In the end it was called Readers digest get ahead program.

Planning and promotion

The next local meeting was a mixture of excitement and commitment. Financial support makes such a difference. We all agreed that it would be ideal to run four courses, each with seven sessions, through 1997. We tentatively agreed that three of the courses would be during daytime and one held in the evening. We would build on what we knew, look again at the evaluations following the one day pilot project and, we hoped, establish a foundation for family literacy in the community. A program for a seven session course was agreed upon, venues decided, dates established, responsibilities allocated, resource lists compiled and then saturation publicity sent out for the first series. This time the fliers for the Readers digest get ahead program were on bright purple paper with sponsorship logos. Basically it was still a home grown product on a word processor, with a very simple message and the barest of relevant details.

In the first year there were four courses as planned, three in the daytime and one in the evening. Huge mailings went out ahead of each of the courses. This was quite effective but represented much work. At the end of the year we reassessed our contact points with most of the participants through the details provided by them on the detailed evaluation form. Most had heard of the program through their school newsletter. So, in 1998, we established all the course dates from the beginning of the year and set out all the dates on the one flier and asked schools to reproduce it in their school newsletters. Many schools did so, and then we took free bookings for the course.

In the first year, the initial two courses were fully subscribed, with fifteen adults and attendant children. The third course was held in the evening and had six adults only, and the fourth course had twenty five adults with their children. This latter number was too many, for a number of reasons which included venue, child care and limited opportunities for personal discussion. However many people had begged to be allowed to attend because they had missed out on earlier courses and had heard how good the sessions were. It ran with twenty five and the attendant children but we learned from that session that an optimal number is about fifteen adults. In 1998, with everyone registering right from the beginning of the year for one of the four courses, it was a simple matter to write to the enrolled people a few weeks before each course, confirming the arrangement and reminding them of the seven week commitment, times, venue etc. In the first year, 1997, the evening course was not filled. This might always be so, because much of Gosford is a commuting community and it is often difficult for parents to get out at night through the week. However, we feel that it is important that we do not disadvantage anyone who may only be able to come at night. So despite fewer participants, we will probably conduct an evening course each year.

There are no seminar or meeting rooms at Gosford City Library. Courses could only be held when the library was closed to the public. This meant that some of the courses have been held at branch libraries on Monday mornings (10.00-12.00) and Wednesday mornings (10.00-12.00), and some have been held at the main library on Wednesday mornings (10.00-12.00) and Wednesday nights (7.00-9.00).

The participants arrived at the arranged time and were offered a simple morning tea/supper and the first fifteen minutes was an ice breaking time for adults and children and the presenters. It also meant that there was some built in flexibility concerning the starting time for parents with young babies where meeting too strict a starting time might be a problem. After about fifteen minutes, the child care worker offered the children a tantalising array of activities in a nearby children's area while the parents sat in a workshop area, generally around a table with a whiteboard to one side. The visual aids and practical examples offered during the session times were spread over the tables and there was always plenty of hands on experience. Most of the children have not been a problem. If they wanted to be reassured that a parent was still nearby they were encouraged to check and come back to the children's area. The parents were encouraged to send them back to the children's area. It has been one of the elements of the success of the project that parents were very comfortable with the child care arrangements and could learn and think without attending to a child.

The same providers who assisted with the one day pilot project are employed for these courses. After considering the Pact method, several other programs, and pooling our collective personal experience, we devised a seven week course program which loosely focuses on the areas of concern expressed by parents in the pilot project. It is really an amalgam of all kinds of courses, experience and requests. The program is planned with definite goals in mind but in practice there has been a great deal of flexibility. Often the discussion has led to matters quite different to the plan. However, the focus has been on children and their literary and literacy experiences. None of the discussion has been irrelevant to the broad mission of the project.

The course outline

Week 1 Your child is the expert This is an introductory time to establish a rapport with the parents and gain their confidence so that they will contribute to discussions. Presenters usually establish why each person has enrolled in the course and offer support by outlining the program. They then address the issues of how a child learns, what a child learns easily and what is hard, when a child learns best, why a child learns even without trying and the rationale of using fun games and experiments as reinforcement in the home rather than structured learning situations

Week 2 Reading The presenters illustrate the various techniques most commonly used in teaching reading and explains the jargon used by professionals, jargon which is often confusing for the uninitiated parent. Various strategies are offered to extend reading into the home situation without stress or formality. It is pointed out that being a good role model may well be the best strategy. Discussion takes place about the `readers' sent home with children from school for practice in reading (these are books graded into levels of difficulty with structured vocabularies) and the meaning of the various levels of achievement which are then plotted in the classroom. This reading reinforcement strategy is often a great source of anxiety among parents and it is important to demythologise the whole package.

Week 3 Writing Presenters in this session focus on the interrelationship between reading and writing, giving examples of what to write with a child, how to write it, where to write it, games and fun things to do with writing etc. The possibilities are endless and none of them need seem like a school lesson. The kinds of fun things used in these sessions are lunchbox notes, secret notes on pillows, invisible writing, messages on banana skins, and letters with drawings to grandparents.

Week 4 Comprehension The presenters point out the seemingly obvious fact that the whole point to reading and writing is to communicate something to somebody and that the real key to communication is comprehension. Examples are offered where participants accurately read nonsense material aloud which of course makes no sense (in much the same way as some reading and writing must appear to some children) and then different kinds of literacies are examined with each having differing comprehensions to match. As a natural part of this learning package, games and activities are played which depend on comprehension skills eg are trivial pursuit, monopoly

Week 5 Spelling Many parents are worried about spelling and may not be very good spellers themselves. The presenters have developed a unit on how to help your child become a more competent speller and then they expand the focus to explain the different methods used to teach spelling in schools, and the opportunities for having fun with spelling games such as junior scrabble and other word games. There is encouragement, with time allowed for making up original word games for family use and the adaptation of traditional ones eg spelling dominoes

Week 6 Resources There is a vast array of resources available on the market which relate to literacy in one form or another and most of these probably have value. However a collection of these could be expensive. This session encourages parents to look around them and make games, buy secondhand games, be inventive and use a game in a number of novel and creative ways. This can apply to card games, board games, pen and paper games and ordinary guessing games with labels stuck on things. Creativity with storytelling is a forgotten art and can be developed while driving in the car, doing household chores. Listening to professionally read taped stories and poetry can offer a flow of sentence and rhythm of language. All of these language based activities contribute to the overall grasp of reading and writing as part of the overall communication package, even for very small children.

Week 7 This is the last week of the course. Many participants are really reluctant to finish the course and often want to establish a meeting time in a park to swap ideas on activities and for shared enjoyment. For many it has been a sizeable exercise in raising their self empowerment and their self esteem as parents. Often they have started the course feeling that their child's world at school was beyond their capability. Yet just by being at the course they have demonstrated how sincerely they want to be part of their child's learning development.

This last session is taken by the children's librarian and in about one hour of show and tell the parents are shown and offered all the resources of the library in support of the previous sessions. The table is awash with picture books (where the classification method is explained and some features of the `best of' illustrated), big books, bridging books, puzzle books, junior fiction, nonfiction at the easiest reading level, posters, toys and games, stories on tape and cd, kits etc. Membership forms, information brochures and children's newsletters are spread out, children's activities for term time and holiday time advertised and participation encouraged. Generally, the programs of the library are marketed. The theme for this session is `How can the library support you as you progress on from today?'

After this vigorous and somewhat messy segment, a short ceremony takes place with a speech of congratulation followed by each participant being presented with a specially designed certificate of attendance for the course and given a book as a momento. The children are also given a book each, beautifully gift wrapped in cellophane with ribbon ties. For some parents this is almost overwhelming because it is their first presentation for anything. Many have treasured the certificate. After this, there is morning tea and everyone leaves on a high note of achievement.

As parents leave this session we hand them an evaluation sheet which has very specific questions, and ask them to fill it in at home and hand it in the next week. They have been heartening in their praise of the course but also very constructive in some of their suggestions

Within these outlines there has been very broad and flexible coverage and a variety of literacies has been addressed. The sessions are fun and supportive and the groups have developed their own ambience through the expression of a great deal of shared experience.

Tales, rhymes and games

One of the surprises we have encountered in many participants is the lack of a literary background and experience in games which have a literary content. Wordsmiths in library settings can overlook the fact that there must be thousands in the community with no tradition of classic fairy tales behind them, no tradition of the rhythms of ancient nursery rhymes, no tradition of anything literary at all let alone a family tradition of library use and regular shared enjoyment of reading. Add to this a lack of experience of any fun games using language as a basis and you can see why the course was offering something new and stimulating to many. In almost every session the participants played the games which the presenters referred to, so that they knew what the games were all about. There was very focused discussion about making games which used the same principles as the commercial games but which then allowed customisation to suit the various literacies of which they had become aware. This would include a hundred variations on the theme of `I spy', a hundred variations on the theme of `dominoes', assorted `sentence completion' games, all kinds of versions of `bingo', word and picture `snap' games and `happy families', and a great variety of card games.

Materials supplied by the library

The handouts and pamphlet material came from various sources and much was compiled by the library staff and the presenters. Some general pamphlet material originated in the NSW Department of School Education and other good material came from publications produced by the Australian School Libraries Association and the Children's Book Council.

Another source has been the very cheerful and lively booklet prepared by Scholastic for its book fair promotion for family literacy month in May. Each year it has been good enough to give us a bundle of booklets to leave about in the library and to distribute at courses.

Evaluation

Every course has had total completion of the evaluation sheets and these have been thoroughly analysed at the completion of each course. The presenters and the coordinator and the child care worker all met for debriefing after each course to discuss the evaluations, discuss any problems, possible modifications, and additional needs for the next series. In the first year we ran one course in first term, a day and a night course in second term and the fourth course in third term. We decided that the almost concurrent courses imposed too much stress on the coordinator because of the need to transfer resources between different venues every week. In the second year we have therefore spread the courses to one per term, with the last term being the evening course.

Through our experience and evaluation of each session there are a few basic secrets to success. Some of these were stumbled on, while others just confirmed our beliefs

The first is to have access to gifted special facilitators. The people who are now entrenched in the program team combine exceptional qualifications in their profession with outstanding talent in their personal approach. We met several times before our one day pilot project and then several times before the start of the first Get ahead program early in 1997. Now we meet at the end of each course to debrief, analyse the evaluations, make recommendations, update the resources box, and make any changes necessary for the next course.

The team consists of three experts in their field and they share the sessions out between themselves, depending on their particular interest and expertise. Often two of them share a single session. The other part of the team which had to be the right choice is the child care provider. This is critical for success. On a practical level we have had some difficulty in engaging this latter staff member.

We looked at possibilities within the fourth year university student group in the early childhood studies faculty and interviewed those highly recommended. After employment, we found their lecture times changed, they had practicums to fulfil and other casual employment to fit in. So there has not been the year long continuity we would have liked. However, each one we employed was outstanding. By the end of each course the children and the parents were totally admiring of these young, energetic, and dedicated people.

* The choice of venue is important for all kinds of reasons It was important to have this program in the library. This decision has been vindicated by the finding that most people attending the courses are not library users when starting. That has led to some problems because we do not have any meeting or seminar rooms. The time slots for the sessions not only had to fit in with the presenters but also had to be when the library was closed. Gosford library is far from suited for conducting such programs but this obstacle is not for a moment considered a barrier. A place with parking alongside is a plus for parents with strollers and prams. Again, the main library at Gosford is far from suited in this regard, but people manage. It is important to have a play area far enough away so that the noise of the children is not distracting but close enough so that if any little one gets upset, a parent is close by. Though there was the need for careful surveillance of the small children around computer connections, the participants became very familiar and comfortable with the library setting. Some had felt quite intimidated by the library previously. This expansion of the comfort zones to include libraries in the widest view of literacy outreach is part of the family literacy platform

* The program needs strong and constant coordination This starts from being in touch with the right literacy facilitators and finding the right child care worker; to organising the most productive marketing strategy to reach the targeted client group; and then to staying in touch by phone and letter with all who expressed interest and booked in. The coordinator has to check week by week that the equipment is still at the venue, that the morning tea supplies are ready, that pens, pencils, paper, glue, coloured cardboard and whatever else is needed is ready to go, that the games box is available and that books, if required to be selected for the session, are on hand. The child care provider may need easels, painting aprons, A3 sized paper, crayons, newspaper, glue, tape deck, toys, cardboard, stencils run off. This is quite time consuming but very important

* Funding needs to be adequate and sustained so that the program and the child care can be offered free of charge The importance of this for families with young children is obvious but the value for the organising body may not be so obvious. One of the most supportive feelings an innovator can have is to know that all the hard work of getting something established in a new field will be worth it for the times ahead when the strategies are in place, the lessons have been learned and the task is one of maintenance and vigilance and fine tuning. The Readers digest funding which enabled our program to become established was committed for three years as long as we demonstrated that we were offering productive programs of high quality for a responsive market. This corporate commitment allows a firm foundation to be established so that both the community and the library coodinators mature in the organisation of the project to enable a long term mission to be envisioned. We have now completed the second year and already people are asking if we will be running the program next year. The task in 1999 is to persuade the council that this worthwhile project deserves to continue in future years with local funding

* Relevant programming is crucial In the planning stages we reviewed several options for the content of the program. All of these had merit. Some were geared to specific teaching methods in schools. Those seemed to be a little limited when our participants would have connections in several different school systems, including home schooling. In the end we looked carefully at the evaluations of the one day pilot project and considered the concerns that parents expressed then. On top of this we laid a mantle of expertise from the coordinator and the facilitators. The program has not changed significantly since we began, although we were quite willing to change it. It seems that the topics we decided to use as the coathangers for discussion and learning each week, were the right ones. The overall drop out rate for the first year was five per cent. That is to say that once people started on the first session of a course the retention rate was almost total. The reason that a person ceased attending was not related to an irrelevant program but rather to family problems

* This last point seems trivial. It concerns the small things in life Many parents come feeling inadequate but they have a great desire to give their child the best chance possible. Some parents have started to meet difficulties with literacy when their child is in the first few years of school. Many were not very successful at school themselves and do not have very fond memories of school. Any course which has a school flavour is going to meet some difficulties. These barriers can prevent effective interaction and substantially reduce positive outcomes, one of which is the enjoyment possible from sharing literacy with children. We discovered that some very small things made a great deal of difference. Starting the session times with a simple morning tea not only allowed social interaction but put people at their ease in the library setting. Also, the mother with toddlers or a small baby was not under so much stress getting to the library for an absolute deadline. At the first session each person receives a personal legal folder with all of our relevant names and work phone numbers on a sticker on the front so that they can contact us if they are unable to come. This happens very rarely. Once they have been to the first session they come to all of the rest. We offer lots of handout sheets to tuck into their folders each week with ideas, puzzles, games, suggestions and anything relevant to the focus of each week. This reminds them of the ground covered and offers them examples to use for activities. We have a very informal loan system for the language games, cards and activities which are in the resource box each week. If a parent wants to try these out they just write their name in an exercise book and take the item for a week and return it for someone else the next week. Despite my library based scepticism, this has worked really well. Not a game nor any pieces of a game has gone missing. Lastly, because these parents have made the effort to come into the library once in the week, we try to arrange for a staff member to be on hand to allow any borrowing of books, toys, kits, posters, tapes etc before they leave at the end of each session. If they have been enthused to try some activities with books, it seems counter productive to ask them to return at another time to borrow when the library is open. These little touches appear to be trivial and it would be difficult to write them into a procedures manual, but they make a great difference. They put a human face on the provision of a very serious program.

Outcomes

This extension of our library mission has, of course, resulted in an increased workload. Gaining sponsorship was the result of hard work in the preparation of the submission. Deciding on the best and most manageable timeframe and designing the basic course outline took some thinking out. Selecting and liaising with the providers and then jointly preparing the course was very time consuming. Liaising and coordinating with other library staff was a diplomatic minefield. Coveting all the needs week by week for each session necessitated constant contact and communication.

The most worthwhile outcome has been the tremendous response from the community and the obvious satisfaction expressed by participants when a course is finished. What an opportunity this has presented for some parents and carers and for the library! The end result for both these interested parties extends into a multiplier effect in which everyone wins.

In terms of quantitative measurement the new memberships will not be overwhelming, although there has been a pleasing number. The real measurement has to be in qualitative terms. This has been one of the most worthwhile projects we have undertaken. We look forward to one more year of sponsorship and support from Readers digest and the State Library of NSW to put down firm roots for this longterm role for our library in the fabric of the community.

Heather Fisher is the Children's and Young Adult Librarian at Gosford City Library, where she has been for ten years. Her previous experience has included being a teacher and a teacher librarian in secondary schools, a teacher librarian in primary schools including one which was a disadvantaged school and provided two preschool classes, a teacher librarian in a school for teenage boys detained in a juvenile justice centre, a Tafe librarian, a Girl Guide leader for eighteen years and a full time mum. Recent highlights for Heather have included being the recipient of the inaugural Marjorie Cotton award for children's librarianship (Alia); the 1996 recipient of the Alia travel grant; the author of I can do that! Program for children, teenagers and their families in libraries; being the presenter of the 1998 Nancy Booker honour lecture at the State Library of NSW; and the facilitator of workshops at the Ifla conference (Amsterdam) and the Alia national conference (Adelaide). Address: Gosford City Library PO Box 21 Gosford NSW 2250 tel(02)43246711 hfisher@csir.iniaccess.net.au
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Author:Fisher, Heather
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 1999
Words:7381
Previous Article:TOWARDS BETTER SHELVING SOLUTIONS.
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