Share a Story - Shape a Future: The World Beyond the Library's Walls
Visiting your local library is one of the best first steps to improve the literacy of yourself or your children. The wealth of materials--books, music, movies, kits, and more--available for free or at very low cost presents an ideal opportunity during tough economic times to enhance your education.
Yet visiting the library is just a first step. What if your child is a reluctant reader? How can you fit in reading when you're so busy? You may not know it, but your local library probably offers a wealth of services you can enjoy from home, as long as you have a computer and an Internet connection. Or, if you're economizing by downsizing your online access, you can stop by the library and use their computers to explore the variety of online worlds.
Let's take a look at something for every age.
Toddlers, Preschoolers, and the Whole Family: Interactive Books
Here's a win-win situation: inspire your little ones with a love of reading while helping them gain valuable computer skills. There are a variety of websites, some of which may be provided by your library, that feature picture books that have been brought to life. TumbleBooks, for example, has digitized a wide range of picture books. BookFlix from Scholastic pairs picture book videos produced by Weston Woods with nonfiction tie-ins. And don't overlook the possibility that your library has electronic books for children.
Elementary Age: Interactive Websites
Publishers are now applying a wide range of tactics to improve literacy and promote reading. Perhaps the best-known example is The 39 Clues, a ten-book series that is packaged with trading cards and a website. The idea is to encourage children and young teens to go on a scavenger hunt for information within the books and then compete to solve the mystery. While there has been some criticism of this concept, for reluctant readers who need a hook to get into literature, this approach might be just what you need.
Middle School: Virtual Worlds
More than any other age group, tweens are being targed for a variety of online virtual worlds. Sites such as MySpace and LiveJournal have age limits that are designed to prevent sign-ups by children under the age of thirteen. Therefore, every day it seems like there's a new site for children ages nine through fourteen. Many of these are from corporate organizations and warrant scrutiny from parents. Happily, there are options, such as the Girl Scouts: now scouts are able to visit websites, videoconference with troops in other countries, and write their own blogs. These sites work to encourage self-expression and improve analytical and writing skills.
High School: Authors Online
For many authors now, writing their books is just the start. Their online presence is a way to connect with fans, solicit feedback, and promote their works. Sarah Dessen readers can become a fan of the author on Facebook; you can follow Coe Booth or Neil Gaiman on Twitter, the micro-blogging site; Ned Vizzini and David Levithan are just a few of the authors on MySpace. This is on top of websites and/or blogs that most authors now have. And for some authors, their online projects have become just as popular as their books. John Green started a project with his brother Hank to communicate through short videos, one posted each weekday, for a year. After the conclusion of the year, they've continued posting videos, gaining a large online following as the VLog Brothers.
Adults: Chapter-a-Day Emails and E-Audiobooks
With your busy day, you might have overlooked your own literacy needs. Yet there are ways to squeeze in some time for reading--which is important not just for yourself, but to model literacy behaviors for your children. For example, there's several chapter-a-day programs such as Dear Reader, where each week, you're sent an email a day with a chapter or excerpt from a book. At the end of the week, you can either get the book from your library or wait for next week's selection. Your library might also provide access to electronic audiobooks: you can download an audio version of a book and listen to it on your MP3 player or even burn a CD of the audiobook.
The next time you visit the library, talk with a librarian about what services are available from home. They can provide you with customized information about what products and databases are provided to library users. In addition, they can tell you about other websites and resources to improve your family's literacy.