UK Researchers Investigating How Public Libraries' Storytimes Support School Readiness

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 19, 2017) — Maria Cahill, associate professor in the University of Kentucky School of Information Science, has been awarded nearly $400,000 by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to investigate how public library storytime programs support school readiness of young children. 

The three-year, $393,876 project began on Dec. 1 and is a part of IMLS’s National Leadership Grant for Libraries, which “supports projects that address challenges faced by the library and archive fields and that have the potential to advance library and archival practice with new tools, research findings, models, services, or alliances that can be widely replicated,” per the IMLS website.

Public libraries are uniquely positioned to provide rich learning opportunities that support school readiness through programs with high quality language environments for young children and their caregivers; however, there is little empirical evidence to demonstrate the extent to which storytime programs, a cornerstone of public library programming efforts, provide supportive environments to prepare children for academic success nor to understand the extent to which they meet the needs of parents and early childhood educators. 

“The overarching goal of this project is to conduct research on storytimes that is both informed by practitioners and informative for their practice,” said Cahill.

In addition to her appointment in the UK College of Communication and Information's School of Information Science, Cahill holds a joint appointment in the Department of Educational Leadership Studies in the College of Education.

In collaboration with the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives, the State Library of Indiana and the State Library of Ohio, Cahill and co-investigators, Soohyung Joo, assistant professor in the School of Information Science, and Mary Howard, research and development associate at the UK Human Development Institute, will work with 36 public libraries across three states to observe interactions between librarians, children and adult participants. 

Complementary to the investigation of storytimes, the team also intends to explore the needs and expectations of parents, childcare providers, librarians and library administrators in relation to storytime and other programs and services aimed at young children. 

“This study will employ multiple methods to investigate different aspects of storytimes, such as structured observation, content analysis, surveys, textual analysis and hierarchical linear modeling,” Joo said. 

The project will produce findings that will be useful and applicable to librarians across a wide spectrum of public libraries in the United States. 

Cahill added, “The study will provide data to support the value of public library storytimes for school readiness and community building, as well as information to help librarians tailor storytimes and other programs and services to meet the needs of various stakeholders.” 

Year one of the three-year project will focus on data collection. The team will video record 72 storytime sessions and administer two surveys; one to parents and caregivers, and one to librarians. They will also administer a survey to public library directors, conduct interviews with librarians who provide story time programs and conduct focus group interviews with child care providers from a variety of early care settings. Based on findings and a comprehensive needs assessment, the team will develop guidelines and digital learning modules to train librarians and other community program providers.