More ammunition for a national digital library system playing up early childhood education and a family literacy approach? Thanks, Messrs. Kristof and Friedman!

krucoffPriority One of a national digital library system should be early childhood education, bolstered by family literacy. I  made the point last week. Other areas also count, but early childhood ed is dearest to me and among those especially likely to give the taxpayers the most for their investment. We could use tablet computers and good old-fashioned tutoring and mentoring from librarians, educators, and volunteers to help the disadvantaged—parents as well as children.

Hello, Nicholas Kristof and Tom Friedman? Without your realizing it, both of your columns in the New York Times strengthened my case in the past few days:

1. Amid such facts as the finding that “the top one percent of Americans possess a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent,” Kristof noted: “Perhaps even more important” than fair tax policy “are educational investments, like early childhood education, to try to even the playing field. We can’t solve inequality unless we give poor and working-class kids better educational opportunities.” Of course, as I said in the earlier post, that means coupling educational goals with related ones such as improved nutrition and cultivation of parents’ own interest in reading; role models and all that.

2. In the family literacy vein,Tom Friedman quoted findings from the Program for Student Assessment (PISA):  “Fifteen-year-old students whose parents often read books with them during their first year of primary school show markedly higher scores in PISA 2009 than students whose parents read with them infrequently or not at all. The performance advantage among students whose parents read to them in their early school years is evident regardless of the family’s socioeconomic background. Parents’ engagement with their 15-year-olds is strongly associated with better performance in PISA.”

Instead of competing with existing programs in such areas as early childhood education and family literacy, a national digital library system could help reinvent them. One place to start might be a besieged nonprofit called Reading Is Fundamental, which has a network of more than 400,000 volunteers and which has distributed 380 million free paper books to children. According to RIF, most children in low-income families do not down books. What if RIF could still give away paper books to entice children to read but also could work with libraries to use e-tech to expand the range and drive down the costs of material reflecting the precise interests and needs, respectively, of both children and parents? If children and parents alike could enjoy permanent access to e-files of their very favorite digital titles—not ownership of paper books alone—then so much the better. Through the creation of new business models, while paying writers and publishers fairly, a national digital library system could help make this possible. Don’t underestimate the power of readers owning their favorites; RIF has a track record. Alas, for now, according to RIF, fewer than “50 percent of families read to their kindergarten-age kids each day.”
Check out RIF’s oh-so-logical mix of book distribution for kids and training programs for childcare center staffers and for parents.

Shouldn’t the Digital Public Library of America think about including a family literacy professional or volunteer on its 17-member steering committee? Of course, if the DPLA feels that the committee is already too big, this is yet another argument for two systems—one to serve the public at large and another to focus on upper-level academic needs. The systems could be universally accessible and tightly intertwined.

Related: A past appeal I made for the adequate funding of RIF.

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