According to this Houston Public Media article, the Houston Public Library System has recently installed its fourth Family Place Libraries™ to address early literacy concerns for children prior to entering
elementary school. The city of Houston, the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation, and
Houston Public Library have formed a partnership to offer this investment in every library
branch through Harris County and the city of Houston by 2025. By the end of this calendar year
they are on track to have installed 19 Family Place Libraries that are “equipped and staff
So, what is a Family Place Library? And what do they set out to accomplish? Family
Place Libraries™ is an initiative created by the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach,
New York, with the goal of turning libraries into community centers for literacy, early childhood development, parent education and engagement, family support and community information. The model is for libraries to act as the key institution in the community, serving and supporting early childhood development and families. Libraries are charged with the responsibility to “reimagine their
role, change long-held programming practices, and open up new kinds of relationships with
- Trained Staff
- Parent Child Workshop
- Specially Designed Spaces
- Collaborations and Partnerships
- Additional Programs for Babies and Toddlers
Participating libraries had certain characteristics that qualified them as organizations that
had the capacity and institutional support to successfully implement the program. All libraries
had a children’s program in operation. All libraries had a form of a children’s space already.
Many of the libraries had been working to improve their early childhood and family program
offerings, and all had an interest in and willingness to transform their programs along the lines of
Family Place Libraries™ as a requirement of acceptance into the initiative.
Key features that facilitate the success of the program are in its four main goals:
1. Provide substantial training to librarians, leadership, and staff members to expose them to
core components of the Logic Model.
2. Create a unique interactive space that promotes research-based best practices for an early
3. Establish libraries as the key institution and community partner that serves the
information and education needs of families and young children.
4. Develop the caregiver’s knowledge and use of the library as an early childhood and
family resource center.
Program Outcomes and Impact
In 2012, The Middle Country Public Library asked Nagle & Associates (a national consulting firm) to develop and implement a multi-year evaluation of the Family Place Libraries™ initiative. They sought to evaluate the FPL model as a vehicle for institutional change (Final Evaluation Report). They assessed Staff Change, Library Culture Change, and Change in External Position of Library to measure the logic model in libraries from 2012-2015. The subjects of the study were twenty-five libraries from the Southwest to Midwest, and the Northeast to Central, all representing urban, suburban, and small-town communities. Here are a few key findings from the report:
Library administrators and staff participated in the Family Place Libraries™ Institute and online
training. The Institute increased library leadership’s knowledge of Family Place Libraries™
objectives and their role as a family support institution. When families visit the library, they
should become aware of the full-range of services available to them from the staff. When they
accepted FPL, they agreed to host The Parent-Child Workshop, a five-week program that
includes toddlers, their parents, and local professionals who can serve as resources for parents.
The workshop emphasizes to parents how they are the “first teachers of their children.”
In the beginning of the evaluation, the initial training included 28 libraries. At the
conclusion of the evaluation 25 branches were remaining. Of those 25 branches, 19 branches
were spread out amongst seven library systems, and six branches were stand-alone libraries. Of all participants, more than 50% of the trainees were in support of becoming an FPL program after
the Family Place Libraries™ institute.
Interactive Unique Space
The libraries created interactive early childhood and parenting spaces by rearranging their furniture so that smaller children could reach materials themselves, adding toys, strengthening their childrens’ collection, and adding or improving a parenting collection. At the beginning of the evaluation, only 56% of the libraries had some form of parenting collection. By the final report, 95% of the libraries had a parenting collection in their children’s department. They recognized and valued the benefits that the movement of furniture, collection, and toys served for children.
Eighty-five percent of librarians reported a positive change in their ability to reshape
their programs aimed towards child development’s best practices. The consultants also
employed interviews and surveys to gauge opinions and satisfaction with the program from
parents and community partners. When asked if the library supported them in their role as parent,
80% reported yes. 65% of parents reported that the library staff spoke with them about child
development. The Family Place Libraries™ were reported as vital and important links in their
local early childhood support systems.
Key Institution and Community Partner
Another part of accepting Family Place Libraries™ as a partner, libraries were charged with the
responsibility to create a communications plan in order to carry out outreach around the Early Literacy services and programming that are available through the library. Ideally, the library would
have needed to reach out to community partners to either co-create programs outside of the
library, or bring the outside resources into the library. Most libraries achieved the basic requirement for outreach. Many reported to not have the time to put forth more effort than the
bare minimum. There are opportunities to provide more outreach if libraries hire an employee
whose job is solely to lead that goal.
Develop Parent/Caregiver Knowledge
Family Place Libraries™ called for caregiver’s participation and involvement to constitute the
effectiveness of the initiative. In outreach efforts, parents are intended to meet family support
professionals. In participation in programs, such as the Parent-Child Workshop, parents are
intended to meet other parents to minimize the isolation parents had reported in raising their
children without the proper support system or ecosystem. Parent’s isolation reportedly decreased
from 15% at the start of evaluation to 9% at its conclusion.
Over the course of three years of hosting Parent-Child Workshops, at the Family Place Libraries, 3,200 children and 2,900 adults were served. Most parent participants were already regular users of their respective libraries, so it was difficult to track an increase in usage of the facilities. There is potential for growth in the relationship between parents and community service providers. However, community partners did report optimism in libraries’ new positioning and “willingness to be part of the safety net for
families.” Family Place Libraries™ has a presence in over 500 libraries across 32 states.