Community Engagement

Supporting Children through Public Library Partnerships


Head Start, child care programs, and public libraries partner to help meet the educational needs of young children and their families. Public libraries provide centers for learning in nearly every community in the United States. It is important for children and families to learn about and recognize public libraries as a valuable resource. Libraries offer rich learning environments for children and their families and caregivers.

Specially-designed spaces accommodate diverse collections including books, multimedia (e.g., DVDs, CDs), and developmental and instructional materials. There are also computers with high speed internet access and online resources (e.g., databases, websites). Knowledgeable staff provide events and programs designed for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and their family members.

Libraries as Partners

It is important for early childhood programs to know that public libraries have developed a variety of early learning strategies. These strategies build on current scientific evidence about brain development, early childhood development, and school readiness. Services for young children and their families are designed with the recognition that the library may be the primary place in a community where parents and early educators can find specialized materials and programs.

Public libraries also create strong partnerships with community organizations to reach the children most at risk. Libraries offer critical intergenerational and interagency programs that educate not only children but their parents and caregivers as well.

Head Start and libraries have interacted since Head Start began in 1965. Much of the early relationship was between individual staff at the local level. From 1992 to 1997, the Library Head Start Partnership was administered after an interagency agreement was signed between the Center for the Book and the Head Start Bureau. This agreement set out to formalize these early relationships and elevate partnership. It highlighted more strategies on how libraries and early childhood programs could work together. Two areas that remain relevant today are:

  • Early childhood programs can use local librarians as consultants on such topics as extending lesson plans; aligning books with specific topics; providing material resources like puppets, music, and props; and providing ideas on expanding literacy throughout early childhood classrooms.
  • Libraries offer multi-generational programming and support literacy in the home. Libraries are a resource for families, providing programs and services for young children, parents, and caregivers. They invite parents to join their children in activities and can provide information on childrearing and ways to promote literacy in the home. Libraries also carry resources for people who are preparing to take the GED. They provide help with employment searches and have tools such as computers and copiers that can benefit adult learners.

Many early care and education programs connect with the public libraries in their communities to learn about successful ways to partner and enhance their work with the children and families they serve. Access the resources below to learn more about specific ways that public libraries and early childhood programs have partnered. Also, learn how to cultivate ideas based on the unique needs of your community and population. Review examples of projects supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).


Key resources include a handout and links to useful websites. The first resource is a handout, A Sampling of Public Libraries & Various Possible Benefits to Early Childhood Programs and the Children Families They Serve. It includes examples of programs and services within libraries of all sizes based upon the needs of their own unique community. Also find a sampling of both local and national websites sponsored by libraries and links to research articles.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services

The IMLS is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. IMLS encourages partnerships among libraries and community organizations. It also supports a wide range of early learning activities that engage children as well as their parents and caregivers. Visit the IMLS website at for more information.

Nearest Public Library

The Library Locator tool provides a search to locate public libraries in your area. Enter your city and state (or zip code) and the tool will provide the address and phone number for local libraries.