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Library Programming to Support New or Struggling Readers

by Morgan Hanrahan, Early Literacy Librarian, New Orleans Public Library, PLA 2024 Scholarship Recipient on June 28, 2024

Throughout the youth-oriented circles of the PLA 2024 Conference, one of the primary alarm bells rung was the consistent decline in reading performance and those lasting implications. From poor performance in school all the way to lower income and poverty, the bottom line is: literacy is imperative to ones future. How can public libraries address and empower their communities to not only love reading, but to master the skill itself? During the extremely informative panel “The Science of Reading in Public Libraries: Supporting Struggling Elementary-Age Readers”, librarians from San Francisco Public Library discussed their FOG (Free Orton-Gillingham) reading intervention program, and Chicago Public librarians shared the development of their reading science-based “Jump into Reading” initiative. Both libraries demonstrated the workflows and trainings they utilized to facilitate these programs and collections with the collective mission to help address the needs of struggling readers in their communities and help close the achievement gap.

Ruben Balderas (Literacy Manager, San Francisco Public Library) and William Alvites (Learning Differences Librarian, San Francisco Public Library) kicked off the panel by introducing the Orton-Gillingham approach: a structured, multisensory plan to teach reading and vocabulary skills. The library’s FOG program is a two-fold structure of eligible students and trained tutors. Students in grades 1-4 that are not at grade level reading may participate in the program, and must attend a Family Orientation to learn how the curriculum is structured and expected outcomes. Recruited tutors receive an 8 hour training to discuss the curriculum and session planning, and must undergo the routine background check and fingerprinting process. Once schedules are submitted on both ends, students and tutors will be matched and have their first benchmark meeting, and tutoring moves forward through the Orton-Gillingham approach.

Unlike school, a student’s skills determine how far and how fast they can go – tutors do not move on until the concept is mastered. While the tutor completes monthly reporting logs and provides quarterly feedback, the student is empowered to go through the session at a pace best suited to their needs. The library provides this in-depth reading remediation program for free, providing an equitable way to empower readers at a young age, and succeed in the future.

Chicago Public Library’s Katie Eckert (Early Learning Specialist) and Lori Frumkin (Senior Project Manager) described how they created their Jump into Reading initiative to support new and struggling readers and their caregivers as they transition from pre literacy skills to fluent readers. They both underwent a baseline IMSE (Institute for Multisensory Education) Training to understand the primary concepts around the science of reading, and partnered with a variety of local literacy experts and partners. This paved the way to their new decodable books collection, currently available at 9 locations, and organized by different decoding practices and sounds. These decodable books are designed to encourage children to practice their knowledge of letters and their corresponding sounds.

To help both staff and patrons understand how to use the decodable books collection, the librarians made a decodable book selection tool – a child reads aloud words in a structured order from a worksheet to help determine which decodable books best fit their skill level or phonics practice needs.  It’s a handy and user-friendly way to help patrons navigate in-depth reading skills to set their children on a path to success, all with free resources available at the library. This collection, along with Grab-and-Go Phonological Awareness Kits, Beginning Reader Storytimes, Small Group Read Louds and Teen Volunteer Read Alouds all are apart of CPL’s successful campaign to help struggling readers in an empowering and entertaining way.

Overall, SFPL and CPL both demonstrated how they are evolving their literacy programming to meet the needs of younger patrons, especially as reading rates continue to decline. While reading interventions and tutoring can often be pricy and difficult to find, having these specialized systems and resources in place can help make a larger, lasting impact for patrons – as was said in the panel, reading is how one can participate in society, and these programs are an effective way to combat low level literacy, and its impacts.


Morgan Hanrahan

Early Literacy Librarian, New Orleans Public Library

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