“Shhh… no playing in the library!”

Unlike typical library rules, these aren’t words you’ll hear in the family section of the Los Angeles County Carson Library. Home to the second and only West Coast Family Place Library™ training center, the L.A. County Carson Library has educated more than 149 librarians and counting on the core elements of Family Place Libraries™ since First 5 LA funded the program’s creation in 2008.

At any of the many certified Family Place Libraries™ in L.A. County, courtesy of investments made by First 5 LA and other partners, noise is permitted and kids and parents are encouraged to connect and play with toys and interactive materials in designated areas. As in all certified Family Place Libraries™, community building is central. Forming the foundation of many children’s first years are free early-literacy programs and classes for parents on how to access resources, along with other child-parent workshops.

Being able to talk with other parents while children learn and play is not the only unique thing about a certified Family Place Library™. Created to engage families at places they already frequent, the Family Place Library™ initiative was founded as a single program in 1996. Originating in New York, the idea to offer parenting and community resources in the children’s literature section of the library was sparked when advocates at Libraries for the Future were introduced to a parent/child workshop conducted by Middle County Public Library, which laid the groundwork for what would become the parent model.

With help from other partners, including the Hasbro Children’s Foundation and First 5 LA, Family Place Libraries is now a national initiative with more than 1,200 librarians trained on the core components and more than 450 libraries in 29 states officially certified.

As a leading advocate for young children and their families, First 5 LA has always upheld the benefits of early learning and literacy, as well as the value of intentional spaces for families and children to connect and learn together. When kids read and begin learning at a young age, research shows it has a positive neurological effect on the developing brain that has a lifelong impact on a child’s economic and academic success. With free programs that teach parents how to be their child’s first teacher, and material resources such as books and educational games, Family Place Libraries™ align with First 5 LA’s mission and early learning goals.

And while many public places welcome families, intentional spaces that are specifically designed with parents and children in mind support community building and parent networks. When parents can connect over shared experiences in safe spaces that aid their children’s healthy development, strong community foundations are formed, and a greater sense of community ownership and civic engagement takes shape.

Furthermore, when information on resources specific to each community’s needs — such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Medi-Cal, along with agency representatives available for questions and support — are made available at the places where families already go, the likelihood of engagement and impact are higher.

Witnessing this combination of early literacy and family-focused spaces flourish on the East Coast, First 5 LA saw an opportunity to bring the Family Place Library™ model to L.A. County, but knew that flying librarians out to the training center in New York was an unsustainable long-term plan.

This sparked an idea: First 5 LA would fund the creation of the Family Place Library™ training center on the West Coast, making it easier for Los Angeles librarians to become certified on the core components of Family Place Libraries™ so they could take this knowledge back to their places of work.

With First 5 LA’s investments, and in partnership with the Los Angeles County Library, the Carson training center was opened in 2008. The result was 20 Los Angeles County libraries becoming certified Family Place Libraries™. This included two-year funding for the libraries to meet the structural and material criteria of a Family Place Library™, including training for two librarians at each establishment.

While First 5 LA’s investments ended in 2009, the training center is still open today at the L.A. County Carson Library. The program offers information for librarians on how to assess the needs of their community and serve families through partnerships with other agencies, coalition building, infant and child brain development, parent engagement and emergent literacy, as well as sharing other information on how to make the structural and material changes to their library to make it more welcoming to families.

According to a recent impact summary on the initiative, librarians who received the training reported that it helped their library become a community hub for families with young children, implemented better family practice, policy and services into their library’s overall mission, and provided connections to more family-focused community resources.

Additionally, parents and children who frequented Family Place Libraries™ reported less feeling of isolation, a greater sense of community and increased confidence for parents as their child’s first teacher. Family Place Libraries™ were also shown to have other positive results, such as helping parents identify and access resources for developmental screenings and delays.

First 5 LA is proud to have played an integral part in bringing the Family Place Library™ to the West Coast. In partnership with others, First 5 LA is working towards creating a county where all children and families have the opportunity to access free, family-friendly spaces and resources that support each child’s happiness and development.

So next time you hear a child laughing and happily learning in a library, know that they are only following the Family Place Library™ rules!

To learn more about Family Place Libraries™, visit their website. To visit a Family Place Library™ in L.A. County, see the list of certified libraries.