Addressing Dauphin County’s Literacy Deficit

There is need for library programming that focuses on the best practices in early learning. In Dauphin County there are 19,675 children from birth to age five. Family and community factors affect how well young children learn, leaving at-risk children behind. Research has shown that children affected by risk factors such as poverty, family status, or poor school system, are more likely to enter school behind their peers, struggle in school, or drop out altogether. Risk factors such as the following can hurt a child’s chances of doing well in school.


Risk factors of the Children in Dauphin County:

  • 40.2% of children under age five live in low-income families
  • 18.3% of births to mothers with less than a high school education
  • 28.8% of third graders scored below proficient on the 2009 PSSA reading test


20,993 adults in Dauphin County did not complete high school or the equivalent. Of those, 5,953 have less than a ninth grade education. Many of these adults are parents and may have no idea of the early learning potential for their child.

There are nearly 2,000 grandparents who are the primary caregiver for their grandchildren in Dauphin County. These grandparents had children in an era when there was little known about early learning and are now raising grandchildren without the benefit of the new research.

48,525 residents of Dauphin County have access to no vehicle or only one vehicle. For families, this means that with one vehicle that vehicle is most likely being used for transportation to work. This makes community libraries a valuable resource for early learning opportunities because the ability to travel is restricted.

Many children in Dauphin County are in a childcare environment. This offers some the high-quality early learning experiences that children need to succeed, but many children are either in unlicensed/unregulated, relative/neighbor care or are in other care environments where the caregiver does not have the education or knowledge-base to provide quality early learning experiences.

And in Harrisburg itself, the challenges are even greater:


Risk Factors of the Children in the City of Harrisburg:

  • 27% of adults do not have high school diploma or equivalent (This is higher than the State and National average)
  • 11% unemployment (This is higher than the State and National average)
  • 24.6% live in poverty (This is higher than the State average and more than double the National average)
  • 23% of families live below poverty

Finally, quality early learning and child development can open the doors of opportunity for every child to do well in school, in the workforce, and in life. But quality early learning requires the commitment of families, teachers, and the community in order for children to reach their promise.

Children learn best when they have proper health and nutrition, a safe and stable family and home life, and activities that stimulate creativity, curiosity, and all the skills they will need to succeed in school and life.

Research has taught us that the earliest years of childhood are critically important to children’s long term development. When children are thriving, their parents can provide for and support a more stable family. Quality education for our children today prepares them for high quality jobs tomorrow. A high quality workforce empowers Pennsylvania to compete nationally and globally, improving the quality of life for all.


Dauphin County Rated “High Risk” for Failure of Children in School

Pennsylvania’s Promise for Children, a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of providing Pennsylvania’s young children with access to quality early learning opportunities sponsored by the PA Build Initiative, Pennsylvania Early Learning Keys to Quality, The Grable Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and William Penn Foundation, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Office of Child Development and Early Learning (OCDEL), rates all counties in PA for risk of failure for children in school.  Dauphin County has a “High Risk” ranking.  This is higher than York, Lancaster, Lebanon, Schuylkill, Northumberland, Snyder, Juniatia, Perry or Cumberland Counties.  In fact, of the sixty-seven counties in PA, only eighteen of them are ranked as “High Risk.”


Positioning Dauphin County for Increased Early Learning

In order to position the Dauphin County Library System as the hub of early learning in the county, the library system must implement new and innovative ways of doing business.

This process began two years ago when the system began a comprehensive evaluation of Youth Services. As the evaluation progressed, changes have taken place.  Collection Development has been centralized for youth collections and a new position was created at the system level to guide Youth Services Programming and Outreach. These first steps have set the stage for the System to evolve its programming and outreach to a level that would position the library system as the forefront institution for helping families and practitioners build successful futures for the children of Harrisburg and Dauphin County.


Benchmarking Library Programs to State Educational Standards

Already the library system is working toward benchmarking its programming to the State's Standards for Early Learning in order to align library programming with Pennsylvania's best practices for the learning continuum. However, DCLS practices must evolve further. Youth Librarians, Library Managers and, in fact, all library staff, must learn the need for and practice of early learning experiences. This requires a new way of business that is supported by research, model programs that have shown success and an understanding of how children learn.

DCLS is working to provide training and support to DCLS staff to incorporate both state and national standards and initiatives into the services provided to families by the system.


Not Just for Children

DCLS is committed to providing quality programming and services to the children of Dauphin County.  However, to serve only the children would ignore the most crucial role that the library plays in the educational process.  The public library has a unique and important role to play in educating and empowering those who love and care for children; parent and caregivers.  Programming and services need to empower parents, grandparents, childcare practitioners and early education practitioners to understand and implement the best practices in early learning.  Programming for children incorporates information for parents and caregivers on how to extend learning into the home and provides information about what quality early learning experiences look like.  Trainings for parents and caregivers will become part of the service continuum at DCLS to ensure that those who spend the most time, and have the most impact on the educational success of children are informed and empowered to be a child’s “first and forever teacher.”


Improved and Expanded Library Programming

Programming has been evaluated and plans for expanding programming for children birth to six and their parents/caregivers are under way.  The system is examining how best to build partnerships within the early care and education community, is evaluating options for the most successful use of staff capacity in outreach opportunities and is identifying potential parent/caregiver training/programming as well.

To give just a brief snapshot of the power and impact of youth services at DCLS, in September alone 118 programs for children took place with 1,554 child contacts and 850 adults contacts.  Of those child contacts 1,110 of them were with children under that age of six.  These are significant as they serve a population at the most crucial time of their brain development.  These years are incredibly important.  The brain experiences more growth and development in the first years of life than it will at any other time. 

The library is serving children and families at a time in the child’s life when families often have the least support.  Families need to take advantage of those first years of life when a child’s brain is developing in ways that it will never do again in life.  The potential for learning and success are set in those first years and cannot be “gotten back” later in life.  However, these years come well before the formal educational process begins and parents and caregivers often do not have the background, skill sets or knowledge to best take advantage of the early learning opportunity. 

DCLS can provide valuable information and support during these crucial years.  The library is truly the preschoolers door to learning.  However, it is the parent or caregiver who has to open that door. 

DCLS will continue to explore and develop new and innovative ways of providing services that respond to the needs of children and families in Dauphin County.