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A public library has been founded on the aim of getting children involved in their young children's education. Laura Marcus hears about a form of family support Sunshine Library is a leading light in encouraging parents to share books with their young children. The purpose-built early years library was the first of its kind when it opened in Lupset, Wakefield, in July 2001.

A public library has been founded on the aim of getting children involved in their young children's education. Laura Marcus hears about a form of family support

Sunshine Library is a leading light in encouraging parents to share books with their young children. The purpose-built early years library was the first of its kind when it opened in Lupset, Wakefield, in July 2001.

The library's success lies largely in the energy and flexibility of its team. Staff work hard to ensure that parents and children feel welcome and comfortable and they offer a wide range of activities.

Wakefield Libraries first considered setting up an early years library after a local librarian raised concerns about a lack of provision for young children in the area. The council service saw an opportunity to link up Sure Start to fund the idea with the St George's Partnership. Sunshine librarian Chris Barber describes it as 'a wonderful example of people being in the right place at the right time'. A joint bid to Sure Start led to the Sunshine Library being built on to the St George's Community Centre, which already housed an under-twos nursery and adult training centre.

Ingrid Kalisher, programme manager at Sure Start Wakefield West, credits Wakefield Libraries for making Sunshine a reality. 'It was in the imagination of the library service to develop an innovative library. And in fact it's much more than a library service.'

Sunshine Library reaches about 85 per cent of families in the area with a child under five.

Shared learning

The creators of the library built it upon the concept of involving parents in their children's education from the earliest stage. Parents contributed to the design, helped to select the stock and even chose the library's name and a theme - a bright and cheerful farmyard.

Chris Barber believes this approach makes a big difference to families.

'What we're doing is demystifying the school process, showing parents what they can do to help their children's learning,' she says.

The library is within the community centre, so joint child and parent activities provide opportunities for adult education too. For example, the computer room hosts 'Cybertots' sessions once a week, giving both toddlers and parents access to computers.

Wakefield has a large Pakistani community and has seen an influx of asylum seekers in recent years. One of the strengths of Sunshine Library is the practical resources it provides to children and parents who have a low level of reading and writing in English. The library stocks books in 19 different languages. Chris says, 'It's an important family support network.

The library has been built in an area where it's been recognised that there's a lot of deprivation.'

Raising awareness

Catherine Threapleton is the principal cultural officer for children and social cohesion at Wakefield Council. Sunshine Library was her vision and she praises the Sure Start programme in helping this to become a reality.

'The emphasis is on informality. We're trying to reach out to people who haven't used libraries before.'

Raising awareness of the library in the community was important in a practical sense. Access to childcare and health books, as well as friendly advice, was promoted by the distribution of leaflets to doctors' surgeries and the local nurseries. The Asian women's centre, Ashiana, holds a selection of books, handpicked by Chris, from Sunshine Library.

The outreach initiative was aided by two Bookstart co-ordinators who acted as intermediaries, visiting homes and promoting the library as a resource.

This role has now been taken on by health visitors. Catherine says, 'The good thing about working with Sure Start is the multiple partners helping to spread the message.'

Wakefield already has another early years library, called Rainbow, within a general library, and the library service is now planning to open a third in early autumn. Catherine says, 'Now we've been able to mainstream the idea into our other libraries. We were lucky we got the chance to experiment.'

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