Celebrating National Library Week!

by Erika Takada

It’s National Library Week, a time to celebrate the contributions of our nation’s libraries and library workers in our communities. In celebration, we would like to highlight one of our projects with public libraries and recognize the role libraries play to enrich the lives of people in their communities, including their youngest members.

Libraries have been called the “great equalizer.” Libraries were created to acquire and store a collection of books, periodicals, media, and resources to be made available to the public for free no matter their housing or financial status, race, sex, culture, language, nationality – that is, every community member can access the collection and facility. Modern public libraries are designed to reflect the communities that they serve by researching their community and building a collection and programming around what they learn. This may include acquiring books or organizing lectures in different languages, celebrating diverse holidays, or building out the children’s section to meet the needs of families with young children.  


One of our clients, the California State Library, (through their Early Learning with Families initiative) is working with local public library branches statewide to meet the unique needs of informal/family, friend or neighbor (FFN) caregivers. An informal/FFN caregiver is any adult who cares for a child but is unlicensed or license exempt and may receive pay or barter for equivalent services. In California, 80 percent of infants and toddlers are cared for by an informal/FFN caregiver, yet little is known about the quality of their care and there is a limited amount of dedicated resources for those caregivers. Based on a project that was started in the Oakland Public Libraries, the California State Library is piloting a project called Stay and Play in five local branches in California. Stay and Play enhances the children’s section and programming of the library to meet the unique needs of informal/FFN caregivers and the young children that they care for.

The ultimate goal of Stay and Play is to help build the capacity of all caregivers to prepare children for school. Early evaluations have shown that libraries are the ideal environment for this to happen. Each of the five pilot branches conducted a needs assessment to further understand who the FFN caregivers are in their community and designed a Stay and Play program that meets five key elements:

  1. Targeted and focused outreach to FFN caregivers. Depending on the community, examples include flyers in multiple languages, neighborhood and school outreach, or social media.

  2. Library story times specifically designed for informal/FFN caregivers and children. This may include selecting developmentally appropriate books, books that reflect the culture of the local community, and modeling good early literacy interactions.

  3. Play opportunities that model high quality care settings and encourage caregiver/child interactions. This may include library staff modeling quality interactions with children, having developmentally appropriate toys, and preparing activities that encourage FFN caregivers to interact with children in their care;

  4. Programming, resource materials, and community experts to better equip caregivers with child development and early learning information; and

  5. Provision of food or opportunities to accommodate the food needs of caregivers and children. Stay and Play time may overlap with a child’s snack time, so this can accommodate that need; additionally, it can be an opportunity to address health and wellness, as well as create a welcoming environment that encourages FFN caregivers to stay and play.    


Once they designed a program, local branches met with Engage R+D to develop their own logic models and data collection plans to allow them to more effectively monitor the progress of their pilots and make adjustments along the way. This helped them create the tools they need to meaningfully reflect on their work with their staff, community stakeholders, and the FFN community.  In the future, we also hope to evaluate how the project can be scaled so that public libraries can continue to serve more FFN caregivers and the children they care for; and what the early learning informal care field can learn from these pilots.

The five branches that were selected to pilot Stay and Play include:

These libraries represent diverse urban, rural, agricultural, large and small communities in California. The Stay and Play project of the California State Library is funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

This is yet another great example of how public libraries use and grow their spaces and collections to be inclusive of diverse families and their needs and further ensure equity of access. Visit your local public library to see what they have to offer to you!