An extra effort must be made in order to reach certain segments of the population:
Children and parents who fall into the category of special populations are in desperate need of library materials and services. They are most likely non-users or underserved. Making use of some of the community organizations or social agencies you are in contact with will ease this process. It is best to reach these special populations through an organization they feel comfortable with or at community events such as festivals and fairs.
Depending upon the situation, services that would be most beneficial to persons within any special population are storytimes, rotating on-site material collections, adaptive technology and family programming. Logistics may make some services impossible, but finding at least one way to reach and serve the underserved or non-users is very important.
For families in shelters, teen parents and families in low income housing, it may be best to bring a program to them, to a common site and invite them to visit the library as they are able. There may also be a way you could arrange for group transportation to the library. If, however, your library were located very near a shelter or low income housing development it would be effective to ask staff on site or use flyers to promote attendance at a library program. Flyer/coupons offer a special treat to families who attend a program at the library and turn in the coupon for a free paperback picture book, book of rhymes and fingerplays or other item to use again. You may find it more effective to alter the time you offer a storytime—think evenings or weekends. Traditional storytimes, family storytimes or lapsit programs are effective.
Introducing teen parents to rhymes and fingerplays that may or may not be remembered from their own childhood, and stressing the importance of singing with and reading to their child, is very important in breaking cycles of illiteracy and in making a difference in the life of the child. The library can have a great impact on the future of the teen parent as well, introducing him or her to available resources, support and programs. Consider becoming a center for book give away programs such as “First Books.” It is a way to put a book in the home of someone who may not have the means to do so otherwise while stressing the importance of having materials in the home. Your State Library can assist you in applying for such a program or getting grant money to implement one of your own.
For non-English speaking families, it might also be best to present a first program at a familiar site and suggest the center bring families to the library next or invite individual families to the library. A family storytime format is best in this case as it provides an opportunity to comfortably interact together, offers introduction of simple language for adults, and music and activities that should not require command of English to be enjoyed. Librarian Linda Ernst, in Lapsit Services for the Very Young, (Neal-Schuman Publishers, 1995) provides other benefits for immigrant families:
Build bilingual or materials in other languages into your collection development plan, depending upon the needs in your community. Bilingual books, books in other languages, book and cassette kits, videos and CD-ROMs can be very useful for new immigrants, bilingual families or families where adults are learning English. Everyone can use children’s materials. All libraries should attempt to have a sampling of bilingual materials for many reasons including general exposure and foreign language study.
Libraries are an important resource for families of children with special needs. Special needs should be considered both in the collection and programming.
Sandra Feinberg, in Including Families of Children with Special Needs (Neal-Schuman, 1999) notes:
To fulfill its goal of being the “Preschooler’s Door to Learning” and the primary community resource in support of the lifelong learner, the library must provide collections that nurture various styles and modes of learning, respond to individual needs and preferences, and are appropriate for children with a range of developmental abilities.
Feinberg also notes the following materials appeal to all young children and are particularly suitable for those with special needs due to their multi-sensory appeal:
While designing programs for children and parents with special needs appears challenging, there is really not much more involved than preparing a program for “average” children. You can generally use the same materials with a few exceptions, depending upon the audience, such as enlarged pictures, simpler text, or more tactile items.
When it comes to implementation, there is no need to be nervous or apprehensive.
Linda Ernst in Lapsit Services for the Very Young reminds us that the presenter’s ability to be relaxed while displaying a positive attitude will let the adults know that sharing books and building a language-learning experience should be part of their children’s lives, just as it should be for other young children.
Ernst provides program ideas that help strengthen certain skills the children have including:
A few years ago, the American Library Association had a national campaign “Libraries Change Lives.” Never has that phrase meant so much as in the case of special populations. Your efforts can make a real difference.
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