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Libraries Target Early Literacy for Youngest Learners

I couldn't begin to count the number of hours that I spent at the local library when my children were toddlers, sitting cross-legged on the floor for story hour or squeezed into those miniature chairs as we pored over picture book after picture book.

These days, libraries nationwide are expanding services beyond the traditional story time as they increasingly recognize the role they can play in developing early-literacy skills in children.

Some libraries are purchasing special early-literacy computer stations, beefing up book collections for babies and heading out into the community to reach children who may not be exposed to books and reading at home. Others are offering school-readiness programs and interactive early-literacy learning centers.

"Early literacy has gotten increasing attention, which is really important because it points out the role public libraries play in helping children get ready for success in school," Mary Fellows, president of the Association of Library Service to Children, recently told The Washington Post. "Public libraries in many communities are the only game in town for these children."

In Fairfax County, Va., that means librarians are heading out to community centers, Head Start programs and day care centers to present story time, according to the Post.

In Michigan's Rochester Hills, the public library has added an early-literacy vehicle to its fleet of book mobiles. The Big Blue Bus, full of books, DVDs, CDs, puppets and story kits focusing on kids from birth to age 5, visits Head Start programs and community centers.

And some public libraries, like those in Livonia, N.Y., and Baker County, Ore., are purchasing special computers known as AWE Early Learning Stations with dozens of programs designed for kids ages 2 to 10.

Long gone are the days when librarians would shush young children who couldn't sit quietly and read.

Ginnie Cooper, chief librarian of the Washington, D.C., public library system, told the Post that librarians are happy to see kids as young as 6 months old in libraries. "We really think of ourselves as the first classroom for children and are pleased to play that role," she said.

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