California State Library programs support California’s youngest learners

Brain research1 suggests that young children who have secure and loving relationships with adults, and who are introduced to a high-quality learning environment during their earliest years, are better prepared to succeed when they enter kindergarten.

The California State Library (CSL) supports programs designed to help children ages 0-5 prepare for school so that those children can grow into healthy and productive citizens: the First 5 California Children and Families Commission and Early Learning with Families (ELF) Initiative are just two.

First 5 California Children and Families Commission and the CSL

In 1998, California voters passed the California Children and Families Act, legislation that established the First 5 California Children and Families Commission (First 5) whose mission is to give California’s youngest residents the educational and social advantages they need before starting school. In 2000, First 5 leaders determined that they had a need for specialized library service and approached CSL’s State Library Services Bureau Chief, John Jewell, to enlist the library’s expertise. The subsequent discussions resulted in an interagency agreement to set up a library in First 5’s office and to assist with their research.

Today, First 5’s library is overflowing with more than 4300 books, journals, CDs, DVDs, videos, kits and other unique items that are useful to their staff. CSL librarians support First 5’s research by performing literature searches, by consulting with a variety of experts, and by continually monitoring online sources, databases, and journals for early childhood research. Each week, lead librarian for the project, Julie Davidson, combs the children and families research field and produces an electronic bibliography of the latest early childhood studies which she sends to First 5 staff, local commissioners upon request, and others who are interested in the topic. Twice a week, CSL staff members visit the First 5 offices to touch base with staff, to learn about First 5 projects, to determine specific information needs, and to maintain their library’s collection.

Early Learning with Families (ELF) Initiative

Another CSL program designed to expand the early learning experiences of California’s babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and their parents and caregivers is the 2006/2007 Early Learning with Families (ELF) initiative. ELF, a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) project, will be a boon to California libraries as those libraries continue to evolve into family-friendly places where learning, literacy, and library-use become a way of life that lasts a lifetime.

Like First 5, ELF will encourage adults to understand that a child’s reading and writing development begins long before formal instruction in school and is closely linked to a child's earliest experiences with words, books, and stories.   ELF will support library activities that are based on children's developmental stages as well as current brain development research. Much of this research points to the importance of providing activities that prompt inquiry, encourage discovery, invite play, foster self-esteem, and nurture parent/child bonds among young children and their families. ELF is envisioned as a joint venture between a library's Children's and Literacy Services, with delivery of services taking place primarily through Children's Services.   

The ELF initiative will include individual grants to libraries as well as a grant to the North Bay Cooperative Library System. It will:

  • Provide three regional trainings regarding early learning concepts and program models;
  • Assist selected libraries with initial implementation of some aspect of an early learning model with mini-grants of up to $5,000;
  • Provide online resources to support early learning efforts in all libraries;
  • Develop promotional resources and a branding identity; as well as
  • Identify expanded opportunities for community collaborations.  

On the state level, the ELF initiative is already partnering with the California Department of Education, the California Children and Families Commission, and California Public Television, the statewide organization that represents all California public television stations.

CSL Library Programs Consultant Suzanne Flint says, "public libraries throughout California already have shown a considerable amount of interest in early learning programs and this ELF initiative." For more information about the ELF initiative please contact Flint at or 916-651-9796.

1Carnegie Corporation of New York .  April 1994.  Starting Points: Meeting the Needs of Our Youngest Children New York :  Carnegie Corporation.




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