Reach Out and Read enlists physicians to promote reading

Robert Daseler
Senior Librarian, California State Library

In clinics all over California, health-care providers give parents prescriptions to read aloud for fifteen minutes each day to their children under five years of age.

In many communities libraries help clinics to provide children’s books to give to parents, and when the parents themselves are deficient in literacy skills, they can be referred to the libraries’ adult literacy programs. Many physicians find that their relationships with their patients improve when they talk to parents about reading aloud to small children. It adds another dimension to the doctor-patient relationship.

In fourteen library districts in California, Reach Out and Read, as this program is called, has funding under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA), federal money administered by the California State Library. The program’s statewide director is Suzanne Flint, formerly the director of the Family Resource Library at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford University.

Reach Out and Read is a national organization with headquarters in Massachusetts, and it has been running clinic-based programs in California for years. What is new in the LSTA-funded programs in California is the involvement of libraries.

“I think libraries are a natural partner for Reach Out and Read,” Flint says, “and it is my hope that the national Reach Out and Read organization will come to recognize this.”

Under the program, doctors and nurses give age-appropriate books to parents when they bring their infants and small children in for well-baby check-ups. They also give the parents guidance about how to share these books with young children. In many cases, the physicians actually write out a prescription that instructs the parents to read aloud to their children. Books given out at clinics are not only provided by the local libraries but selected by children’s librarians.

Libraries participating in the LSTA-funded Reach Out and Read program include Camarena Memorial, Chula Vista Public, Contra Costa County, Fresno County, Glendale Public, Humboldt County, Lompoc Public, Richmond Public, Riverside County, San Diego County, San Mateo County, Santa Clara City, South San Francisco Public, and Sutter County. Several other public libraries initiated Reach Out and Read programs before the California State Library decided to provide funding through LSTA, and they have served as models for the new projects. The LSTA funding is minimal-only $6,275 per library-but the results, in terms of preparing children for school, are going to be impressive, Flint confidently predicts.



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