To the Editor:

Ambika Kapur and Stephanie Sharp’s op-ed — “Education Success Starts With Family Involvement. Why Aren’t Donors Funding It?” — captures why it’s so crucial for parents and caregivers to take an active role in their children’s education.

But family involvement is far less effective if it doesn’t begin until kindergarten. Since so much brain development occurs before the age of three, preparing kids for the classroom needs to start long before a child is dropped off for their first day of school. That’s why many public libraries are doubling-down on activities focused on getting children and their families school-ready.

For instance, one popular approach integrates traditional literacy programs into interactive, museum-like library exhibits that are accessible even when school isn’t in session.

Naturally, parents and caregivers who didn’t have access to learning tools in their childhood are doing the best they can with what they know. Public libraries can provide spaces where adults learn alongside their children, building healthy habits — and happy memories — without anxiety or shame.

This requires two changes:

First, public-library leaders need to prioritize spontaneous interactions over neat-and-tidy collections and programs, and create the spaces, policies, and staff training to ensure this happens.

Second, philanthropists need to dedicate more of their attention and funding to providing public libraries with the resources to create engaging adult-child environments.

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Children’s museums have long provided this type of atmosphere. But they have an admission fee, and families eventually outgrow them. Even if schools adopt some of the approaches used in children’s museums, parents and caregivers aren’t present during the day to take part in them.

Only a community’s public library is accessible to all for free and for a lifetime, evolving as the child grows to adulthood, parenthood, grand-parenthood, and beyond. Public libraries are changing. Might philanthropists’ view of them do the same?

Public libraries are public spheres, often perceived as neutral ground within the community. This means they’re well-positioned to strengthen that community by welcoming everyone, increasing inclusivity and a sense of belonging, reducing polarization, and promoting cross-cultural understanding and new relationships.

What’s more, public libraries can serve as a place where other local organizations can deliver their own donor-supported services. Philanthropists should demand and reward such collaborations — and view them as part of larger efforts to engage families in the growth and education of all children.

Nick Dimassis
Library Director
Beloit (WI) Public Library