Family learning in libraries boosts educational achievement, health, and life skills

A new report from the Society of Chief Librarians says both adults and children benefit from family learning activities.

Library-based interactive family learning activities such as treasure hunts, Pokemon Go type apps, art, and drama have huge potential to enhance family learning, according to a new report from the Society of Chief Librarians (SCL). The report points out that while a range of other local facilities and services provide may learning opportunities, "few have the unique blend of access to knowledge and information, physical spaces to facilitate learning, and community outreach that libraries offer".

SCL’s The Experiential Library report was produced together with think tank Common Vision and funded by the Arts Council. The study surveyed 30 local libraries and interviewed five local library authorities in England to find out more about what library-based family learning activities they delivered, and what the outcomes of these activities were.

Activities discussed include Bournemouth’s Storycise, where families improve their fitness by acting out stories; a digital literacy course for 3-4 year olds in Norfolk; and a Big Draw art workshop in Kirklees.

“This report demonstrates the positive impact that family learning experiences can have on educational achievement, health and well-being, and the encouragement of lifelong learning,’ said Neil MacInnes, President of SCL.

The report’s findings include:

  • Family learning benefits include increased confidence, improved communication, new life skills and better relationships with teachers and other professionals for both adults and children.
  • Men are still much less likely to participate in family learning than women however there are opportunities to engage men in activities that are geared specifically to them.
  • Most family learning activities are aimed at children under four but there are benefits to extending these activities to older children and even young adults.
  • Inter-generational learning, where children may have skills that adults lack (such as digital or language skills) or where both child and adult are learning a new skill at the same time, is a key area for growth.
  • Family learning can help to address digital divides.

The report also outlines a six step approach for libraries that are looking to develop their family learning offer in the future:

  1. identify the need: the impact of activities can be increased by being responsive to local needs and working with partners to identify what there are.
  2. adopt a family learning approach to existing activities: libraries can adopt a family learning approach by planning outcomes for other family members who may already be present during existing activities (but only engaging passively). Using phrases like ‘families welcome’ or ‘for all the family’ indicate where adults and children can have a shared experience.
  3. define the outcomes: outcomes may be a blend of taught knowledge and skills, behaviours developed through learning activities, effect on the relationships between adult and child participants, progression to other activities, or the wider impact on the community.
  4. tailor activities to the audience, and be aware that there is a risk of targeting a narrow audience based on unconscious assumptions about who makes up ‘the family’.
  5. take an asset based approach to programme delivery: while some activities require dedicated space or professional facilitation, many outcomes can be achieved by ‘lighter touch’ methods.  An ‘asset based’ model looks at how to enhance or make the most of what already exists.
  6. Use technology: both to promote activities (for example a video on YouTube), and to address the digital divide.

Read the full report here: The Experiential Library: The future of family learning

Many of the issues explored in the report are also discussed at Internet Librarian International (London, 17-18 October 2017), which includes sessions on Empowering the Digital Citizen (session A103), Mobilising Content on a Shoestring (session C103); Open All Hours (A106), Broadcasting the Library (B202), and Using Tech to Encourage Engagement (B204).