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The Harvard Family Research Project separated from the Harvard Graduate School of Education to become the Global Family Research Project as of January 1, 2017. It is no longer affiliated with Harvard University.

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FINE Newsletter, Volume VIII, Issue 3
Issue Topic: Family Engagement in Children’s Learning Through Libraries

Tips & Tools

On June 26, 2016, Margaret Caspe, senior research analyst at Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP); Scott Allan, deputy director of the Public Library Association (PLA); and Clara Bohrer, director of the West Bloomfield Township Public Library in Michigan, presented to the American Library Association the main findings of HFRP and PLA’s national survey of family engagement. Their presentation, Family Engagement in Public Libraries Is Valued, but There Is Work to Be Done, highlights how library leadership promotes family engagement, the types of family engagement services that libraries offer, and the role of librarians in supporting family engagement. The survey, which was carried out as part of HFRP and PLA’s project Libraries for the 21st Century: It’s a Family Thing, was conducted online. It was sent via email to approximately 1,600 library directors from the PLA membership database and was also circulated to members of the Council of State Library Agencies and the Association for Rural and Small Libraries.

Family Engagement in Public Libraries Is Valued, but There Is Work to Be Done from HarvardFamilyResearchProject


1. Libraries engage families with a comprehensive set of family services. Offering opportunities for families to connect is the most frequent way that libraries support families (60% of libraries do this always or often), and providing digital access and technology programs is the second most frequent support service (54% of libraries do this always or often).  

2. Libraries are strong in helping families promote young children’s learning and development.
A total of 73% of librarians are engaging families in early childhood literacy programs daily or a few days a week, and 67% of librarians are engaging families in conversations about books and resources daily or a few days a week.

3. Libraries are beginning to create family engagement pathways from elementary through high school. In both elementary school and high school, family engagement in summer learning is extremely prevalent: 96% of libraries surveyed reported engaging families of elementary-age children in summer reading programs; 79% said that they offer family engagement opportunities in summer reading programs to middle and high school students.

4. Library leadership supports family engagement in library settings.
Most frequently, management teams are discussing the interests and needs of families (68% do this always or often), encouraging input from families (56% of libraries do this always or often), and participating in community-wide planning (46% do this always or often).
5. Librarians’ relationships with families support family engagement. Nearly all directors confirm this finding: 96% report that librarians are always or often greeting families warmly when they come through the doors; 82% report that libraries always or often communicate with families in multiple ways; and 78% report that librarians always or often try to understand families’ culture.

6. Libraries partner with a wide number of organizations to meet family needs.
Schools, early childhood programs, parks and recreation, and afterschool programs are the institutions libraries most commonly partner with.

7. Librarians bring a vast array of knowledge to their work with families.
Directors report that 64% of librarians are extremely or very knowledgeable about child development and that 52% are extremely or very knowledgeable about family engagement.

8. Librarians’ roles are evolving in support of families.
An impressive 99% of library directors believe it is important or very important for librarians to be catalysts to inspire a love of reading; 94% believe it is important or very important for librarians to be digital media experts; and 90% believe it is important or very important for librarians to be connectors between families and community resources to help parents meet their expressed needs. 

9. Librarians are interested in learning more about family engagement.
Overall, libraries are reporting that the top family engagement professional-development interests are: (a) making the library a welcoming space, (b) helping families feel confident in supporting young children’s learning and development, and (c) supporting families in using technology.  



This resource is part of the August 2016 FINE Newsletter. The FINE Newsletter shares the newest and best family engagement research and resources from Harvard Family Research Project and other field leaders. To access the archives of past issues, please visit


© 2016 Presidents and Fellows of Harvard College
Published by Harvard Family Research Project