Buda, on the edge of the Hill Country, just south of Austin, is one of the United States’ fastest-growing small cities, with a 2020 population of 15,643, but for four days last month—May 15-18, 2023—the population numbered at least 15,678.
While strolling through downtown, you can expect to see unique local restaurants and boutiques as well as a number of cultural attractions in the historic buildings lining Main Street. Not among the usual attractions, however, is a dozens-strong cadre of children’s librarians heading toward the city complex. Nonetheless, the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) partnered with Middle Country Public Library (MCPL) and Buda Public Library (BPL) to make that sight possible by hosting the inaugural Family Place Libraries™ Project Training Institute in Texas and bringing thirty-five library staff and administrators from across the state to learn from the comfort of the beautiful Buda Public Library building.
TSLAC initiated the Family Place Libraries™ Project in 2015 to help public libraries promote early learning to ensure that all children enter school ready and able to learn by supporting families to guide their children’s learning. This project funds tuition for staff from participating Texas libraries to attend the Family Place Libraries™ Training Institute, where they learn the core elements of the Family Place Libraries™ model and receive assistance with developing and maintaining a Family Place Library at their facility. Participating libraries can also expect three years of follow-up support from MCPL following the training. Tuition for the Institute and support are provided through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Moreover, TSLAC provided each attendee a travel stipend to offset the expense of traveling within Texas to attend. Finally, after attending the Institute, participants are eligible for an additional grant to assist with the development of their library’s program.
Like so many, I’ve attended numerous online trainings over the last three years, so now that in-person events are regaining currency, my librarian heart raced at this chance to not only strengthen my understanding of best practices for serving our communities’ youngest patrons, but also the opportunity to meet this year’s training cohort face-to-face. These are the moments which most resonated with me:
Day 1 – Welcome : Fresh from travel, this year’s training cohort hit the ground running. Monday evening, we gathered for the opening session, broke bread, and learned about the importance of family centered public libraries. As we focused on the need for families with young children to use our libraries as early childhood and family resource centers, a palpable excitement buzzed through the assembly. Recognizing that each one of our libraries can be key institutions and community partners that serve the early education information needs of families with young children, we were primed for the next three days!
Day 2 – Tour: We perused BPL’s early learning space—an exemplar for creating a welcoming environment—and noted its developmentally appropriate toys, writing station, and comfortable seating for parents in action! Furthermore, its toys included dramatic play settings for kitchen and house play, manipulatives, transportation toys, infant toys, blocks, and some gross motor toys.
Day 3 – Guest Speaker and Demonstration: This was the highlight of the Institute! The day began with a local expert featured as our guest speaker; Jai Certified Parent Coach Jhenisse Moreno from the Healed Inheritance Project taught us about child and brain development, executive function, and parent education within the context of helping parents feel grounded and supported in order to parent with intention and purpose so they can be the parents they want to be. As a follow-up, we observed one of BPL’s parent child workshops and saw how all that we’d been learning seamlessly came together.
Day 4 – Marketing and Public Relations: Having seen the goal manifest, we spent our final hours together exploring ideas for marketing these services to our various stakeholders, crafting targeted pitches, and practicing our approaches in a safe space. After communing one last time and decompressing over lunch, we bid each other adieu and set out for our respective homes.
As the TSLAC program administrator and a member of a previous online training cohort, I was most interested in determining how well the Institute translated to an in-person environment here in the Lone Star State. In short, it was more than I’d hoped for. Not only did remaining within the state for training greatly reduce barriers to participation, but it also fostered a camaraderie that can sometimes be elusive in virtual environments.