Baby Steps: Librarians and Reading Readiness
“I’m passionate about this, and that makes all the difference. I love what I do, and it’s so important for children. It’s been a really good experience, and so worthwhile.”
R. Lynn Baker
iSchool Alumna (MLIS, 2015)
San José State University School of Information alumna R. Lynn Baker decided, early on in her professional life as a youth services librarian, that if the library programs and instructional books she was looking for didn’t exist, she would just have to create them herself.
And she has the experience and expertise to do just that: as a youth services programming specialist at Kentucky’s Paul Sawyier Public Library, when Baker realized that there was very little on the shelves to instruct librarians to connect storytime programming to kindergarten readiness, she developed a library program aimed at preschool children, families and communities. She followed that up with a book to make the storytime-based literacy model even more accessible to other librarians: Counting Down to Kindergarten: A Complete Guide to Creating a School Readiness Program for Your Community was published by the American Library Association (ALA) in 2015, just in time for back to school.
The ABCs of Early Childhood Literacy
A business owner, author and teacher, Baker reached a point when it was time to accomplish a lifetime dream: to work in a library, and go back to school for a master’s degree in library and information science.
“If you can do it, it’s really nice to be working in the library and going through the program at the same time,” Baker says, “because you can apply everything as you’re learning it, in real time… and understand the importance of literacy and what our jobs are, as librarians.”
Baker is committed to early childhood literacy, which she connects to programs in the library. “We see a lot of children who don’t go to any other setting before kindergarten, and those are the children who come to the library with their parents,” she explains. Library storytime can help develop basic skills they will need for the transition to kindergarten. “It makes our job really important, more so than I think we realize sometimes. It’s a huge responsibility a lot of libraries don’t realize they have.”
Seeing the success of the school readiness program in her own library, Baker partnered with the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives and started a task force, READiness Matters. With a focus on the six early literacy skills from Every Child Ready to Read: (ECRR)—phonemic awareness, letter knowledge, print awareness, vocabulary, narrative skills, and print motivation—the program’s goal is to make librarians more aware of their storytime selections, understand why to pick certain songs and books. The key belief is that “public libraries should be early literacy authorities for their community.”
“It really pushes being intentional in your programs,” she says, “so you understand that I’m not just picking this cute book because it’s cute. I want to get the children to learn print awareness, or letter awareness. I want to get the children to learn.”
DIY Reading Readiness
Baker found that there weren’t many books offering step-by-step lesson plans for libraries, connecting school readiness with early literacy and best practices. So, while still working and still at the iSchool, she decided to write her own book, to share her success with other librarians and literacy champions.
Counting Down to Kindergarten follows Baker’s six-week schedule of “detailed lesson plans that combine the best practices of the ECRR program (talking, singing, reading, writing, playing) with nationally identified school readiness skills,” and examples of successful school readiness programs and partnerships from public library systems.
Through the book, Baker offers tips that anyone can follow to promote early childhood literacy at home, from arts and crafts with paint, play dough and scissors to showing children how to hold a pencil. “Make sure you’re reading every day with your child,” she stresses. “That is the most important thing. The more words that are spoken at home, the more the child will speak and be able to read later on.”
Baker connected with iSchool lecturer Beth Wrenn-Estes, whose research focuses on early childhood literacy and learning in library and nonlibrary environments, and has been a guest instructor for her INFO 269: Early Childhood Literacy course, which Baker describes as “groundbreaking.”
“As an online student you need to advocate and show how important these programs are,” Baker states. “Advocate for public libraries and librarian services that help children get ready for school, creating lifelong readers and lifelong learners.”
Baker and Wrenn-Estes are also collaborating on an iSchool colloquia presentation in November 2015, with a focus on the multiliteracy aspect of how children now are growing up as digital natives. “The focus is on library services and how programs impact children’s literacy development,” Baker says. “And helping children to to understand how to access information and use all of the digital components—textual, visual, social, emotional, sensory—to their advantage.”
“SJSU is probably the first [to be] taking early literacy and looking at childhood development, and brain development, how all of that factors in,” she adds proudly. That’s not been done in the past, that’s not traditional in LIS programs. San José State is on the cutting edge.”
Lifelong Learning Advocate
Thanks in part to the online learning and instruction skills she picked up through the iSchool, Baker is an adjunct professor at Northern Kentucky University, where she helped to develop a professional development credential in school readiness programming. The credential program is offered online nationwide for librarians who would like to start school readiness programming at their libraries.
Fittingly, when Baker was searching for a textbook for her course and couldn’t find something that provided lesson planning for kindergarten and beyond, she wasn’t daunted. “I contacted my editor at ALA for suggestions and she said, ‘You’ll have to write it!’ So that’s part of the next plan.”
For her library work and all of the programming she’s created to promote school readiness, Baker won the Stella Bunch Hills Award for outstanding contributions to youth services. It’s not just a job to her; it’s a lifelong mission. “I’m passionate about [this],” Baker says, “and that makes all the difference. I love what I do, and it’s so important for children. It’s been a really good experience, and so worthwhile.”