Plans for developing library programming that helps prepare young children to contribute to the economic viability of their communities through creativity and innovation has received a significant grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

Funds of $248,986 have been awarded to a proposal submitted by School of Information Studies (iSchool) faculty member Marilyn Arnone, research associate professor and associate professor of practice. The project, supported by National Leadership Grants for Libraries programming funds, is titled, “Making the Literacy-Innovation Connection for Rural Libraries and their Youngest Patrons.” Co-principal investigator on the project is iSchool faculty member emerita and research professor Ruth Small.

The proposal supports the development of literacy and innovation skills in children grades kindergarten through three by creating and evaluating a replicable after-school project in eight rural public libraries. That kind of skill development is designed to support youth from an early age, in creative ideas and innovations, including entrepreneurship ventures. The initiative also emphasizes the importance of family literacy, acknowledging the positive role parents and caretakers can play in shaping children’s attitudes towards learning and literacy, according to Arnone.

“I’m excited about this project because reviewers acknowledged the importance and power of bringing together both inventive thinking and literacy skills (reading, information, and digital) in the same after-school program,” she said. “Rural areas suffer from lower economic growth rates and lower educational attainment rates, and rural public libraries and the programs they offer are an important part of the solution.”

Plans call for developing a carefully selected collection of paired literary and informational texts that will encourage children in their creativity and innovation efforts, and disseminating them through the website, The Innovation Destination.

That site was developed by Arnone and Small through an earlier IMLS grant and is the outgrowth of many years of observations by the professors regarding children’s creative and innovation processes, and the role that librarians and other adults can play in encouraging children’s ideation. The website currently contains information and resources and offers activities to promote those activities for children in grade levels four to eight. Those resources will now be expanded with materials appropriate for children in grade levels kindergarten through third grade.

The program will be designed next semester, formatively evaluated and iterated, and be ready for rollout with the first participating libraries in the Fall of 2019, according to Arnone. After assessing results, it will be fine-tuned then debuted with the rest of the libraries in the following semester.   

Three iSchool graduate students are working on the program’s launch. Nathan Keefe is coordinating a team of librarians to work with the project’s principal investigators and the project advisory committee to design the after-school program. Melissa Bennett is contributing to some of the video aspects of the project. Katie McGuiness, who worked on the previous innovation grant, will continue on this project. Student assistants also will be part of the program in its second year.