R.I. libraries to benefit from federal grants

The funds will allow libraries to introduce programs addressing issues like school readiness

Contributing Writer
Monday, October 7, 2013

Three Rhode Island libraries will receive $800,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grants program, with the grants going to  Providence Community Library, Providence Public Library and University of Rhode Island Library System.

The initiatives funded by the grant — made possible by Sen. Jack Reed’s, D-R.I., Museum and Library Services Act of 2010 —  share a mission of fostering community collaboration to enhance literacy and learning.

Providence Community Library will partner with Ready to Learn Providence to head a two-year early learning literacy project called “Ready for K!” Providence Public Library will partner with statewide organizations to address digital literacy, adult education, learning resources and workforce services. URI will use the funds to integrate digital media with children’s libraries, according to a press release from Reed’s office.

School readiness is an issue important in Providence, where 46 percent of public school students do not read at grade level, said Michelle Novello, Providence Community Library program director. Kids “spend first through third grade learning to read, and then in fourth, they read to learn,” she said, adding that children who cannot read by the fourth grade fall behind.

Early learning literacy is largely affected by income level, Novello said, addingthat low-income children fall further behind over the summer when access to resources that would help them sustain their reading level is often limited. The IMLS grant will fund initiatives to ameliorate this backslide by attracting children to the city’s libraries during the summer and after school, she added.

Part of the initiative is “teaching parents and caregivers that the library has resources that would benefit and support them,” Novello said. Libraries should not assume families know what resources are available, accessible and free, she added. Providence Community Library will use the funds for community outreach to better inform residents about programs and help assess public school students entering kindergarten for literacy and preparedness problems.

But Providence Community Library will primarily use the money to buy new supplies and train and employ staff from partner organizations Ready to Learn Providence and Rhode Island Family Initiative to run new programs.

“We are proud that the Institute of Museum and Library Services has recognized the important contribution that we and our partners are making to the future of Providence’s children,” Novello wrote in an email to The Herald.

Providence Public Library  will use the money to institute initiatives that address issues of adult literacy and digital literacy, according to the press release.

“We are pleased and expect, along with our many high-performing partners who share our vision for helping Rhode Island adults achieve their education goals, that the expanded resources that this grant enables will substantially increase our ability to serve adults with low education attainment, low English-literacy, disabilities … or low digital literacy,” said Dale Thompson, Providence public library director, in the release.

Karisa Tashjian, literacy program coordinator at the Rhode Island Family Literacy Initiative, said the library’s new programs will make “education and work force services for adults visible and easily accessed.”

The library’s plans will integrate “little pockets of initiative” into a greater effort to support learning in the community, Tashjian said.

Because residents can file for services such as unemployment and disability online, those who lack digital literacy or computer access could be indirectly denied these services.

But Rhode Island Family Initiative aims to address the community’s needs by increasing available resources, Tashjian said, “particularly for lower literacy folks and people with disabilities where technology introduced into their lives could provide lots of opportunity.”

Through collaboration with Cranston Public Library and other organizations — including  Rhode Island Family Literacy Project, TechACCESS of Rhode Island, BroadBand Rhode Island and the Adult Education Professional Development Center — Providence Public Library  seeks to cut duplicate programs and resources in the state. The new programs should be implemented in 2014, Tashjian said.

Rhode Island’s grants are demonstration grants, so the impact of new library programs will be periodically evaluated by IMLS. If they are found to be effective, the state’s programs could potentially serve as models for the rest of the nation, Tashjian said.

IMLS was unavailable for comment because the offices were closed due to the government shutdown.