How to: Engage with Families

While I look at Brazelton and Touchpoints I also want to look at the thought process around working with families in our diverse communities. So today I am referring to a publication from the Harvard Family Research Project entitled Public Libraries: a vital space for family engagement.

Family Engagement

What is family engagement? We engage families by…

  • Creating welcoming spaces for families and children;
  • Inviting families to participate in learning activities in the library;
  • Giving families opportunities to be involved in young children’s learning activities; and
  • Modeling specific actions that family members can take to support learning.

Family involvement in their children’s lives promotes their children’s development – not just literacy, although that’s part of it. Children in engaged families show better social-emotional development, better language and literacy skills, better math skills, and better digital citizenship skills. This is why we engage families, and not just children – and why we engage families, and don’t just put books on shelves for them to check out at the self-serve kiosk.

We have what the authors refer to the people, the place, and the platform to do this – we talk all the time (all the time!) about libraries’  unique role in the community, and here it is.

The 5 “R’s”

In this document, they’ve identified the “5 R’s” of family engagement. These are the active things we do on a daily basis to help families engage with the library, with their children, and with the community.


Let’s look at these and see what we can learn.

Reach Out
Make connections, provide resources, reach out to families who may not have accessed the library before, find ways to get the library out into the community.

Raise Up
Listen to what families tell you they need. Be co-creators with families. Exercise empathy. Put yourself in the shoes of families in your community. Promote the patron.

Partner with families. No, really – partner with families. Find ways to help families participate. Make it important, make it valuable, make it accessible.

Be a place where parents can make connections with other parents. Foster social connections.

Combine libraries’ expertise with other community resources. Engage professionals in the community. Look for the needs we can meet in our libraries in addition to the need for information resources and books to read.


The take-away

This beautiful, empowering, inspiring document – read the whole thing at the link at the top of this post – shows us why literacy is about more than just learning to read. Literacy is a way of being in this world, and we are a part of that bigger vision.

Involving the community – involving ourselves with the community – involving families with each other and with their children. Our communities are diverse; taking the needs of many segments of our communities into account, letting them tell us what they need, will help us do library practice better. Being respected in our communities may require being ever better connected and able to connect people not only with books and internet, but with resources in the community, resources for parenting, and resources for daily life.


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