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Early Ed Watch

A Blog from New America's Early Education Initiative

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Building Early Literacy Through Libraries and Museums

Published:  June 25, 2013
Publication Image
Photo of the Anacostia Public Library courtesy of Lindsey Tepe
Public libraries may seem like an easy place to trim some fat off local budgets. Indeed, according to the American Library Association, 40 percent of states cut library funding in 2011. But that approach may be undermining parallel efforts to boost investment in early childhood education.

A new report, Growing Young Minds: How Museums and Libraries Create Lifelong Learners*, highlights 10 ways that public museums and libraries work to support early learning, providing a bridge between informal and formal learning environments. Some of these supports include addressing the “summer slide” (learning lost over school vacations) and linking new digital technologies to learning.
The report, released by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in partnership with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, also spotlights innovative early learning programs offered by a number of libraries and museums throughout the country, from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Anchorage Public Library in Alaska. At an event introducing the report on June 20 at the Anacostia Public Library in Washington, DC, IMLS Director Susan Hildreth said, “Now is the time for policy makers and practitioners to fully use the capacity of libraries and museums in their early learning efforts.”
Research shows that the nation’s libraries enjoy high rates of public support, but that there is a lack of awareness of how public libraries are funded. Municipalities cutting funding to these institutions -- downsizing staff, limiting hours of operation and curtailing investment in new resources, such as books and computers -- may not face repercussions, as the public is unaware that local taxes provide the majority of library budgets.
Some cities are fighting against budget cuts, recognizing libraries’ value to the community. This week in New York City, after a political fight, public libraries won full funding for Fiscal Year 2014, reversing a downward budgetary trend in effect since 2008.
The Anacostia Public Library, where the IMLS event was held, is a new $14.7 million facility that demonstrates the District’s ongoing commitment to investing in its public libraries. The building itself is stunning with its floor-to-ceiling windows illuminating shelves of children’s books.
Libraries and museums continue to provide literacy-rich environments that are a critical foundation for early learning. Leveraging these assets is an important step to improve early learning.
*Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, participated in a consultative session to inform the development of this report.

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