By Aixa Dengate, Alexandria
To the editor:
Alexandria’s libraries provide wonderful opportunities for families and children to engage in activities that promote literacy for our youngest residents, including offering a variety of story times for children as young as 12 months old.
Books pave a child’s pathway to success in education and in later life. As an educator and resident of Alexandria, I was saddened to learn that approximately $25,000 would be cut from Alexandria’s libraries. This was money that could have gone towards buying books and other materials. Such cuts hurt our children and deprive Alexandria’s youngest residents of early learning opportunities.
Research shows that proficiency in oral language combined with vocabulary and early literacy skills lead to achievement in reading later in the academic career. A young child engaged in read-aloud sessions, where books are read to children and used interactively, receives aid in the learning of vocabulary and enjoys an increase in their use and knowledge of expressive and receptive oral language. Studies demonstrate that a child’s success in the first year of formal education is linked to their background knowledge and proficiency with oral language.
That our libraries offer early reading programs for children as young as 12 months is a positive for our city. However, I noticed on the Alexandria Library website that not all our libraries offer the same opportunities. At least one, the Charles Beatley Central Library, does not offer any programs where young children can listen to a story during the month of June, despite being across the street from Cameron Station, a community dominated by families. The Kate Waller Barrett branch offers three programs at various times on various days; the Ellen Coolidge Burke branch offers four different programs, including Paws to Read, which offers children in the first through sixth grades an opportunity to read to a dog for 15 minutes; and the James Duncan branch offers six programs, including a French story time and a Paws to Read program.
Imagine having all these programs available in all of our library locations at various times of the day, so that all residents can attend. The calendar section of the library system’s website shows the majority of story times are in the middle of the day. Unfortunately, these times are inconvenient for the children of our low-income residents, since the majority of their parents are working and unable to participate with their children. By bolstering the library’s funding in upcoming budget cycles, Saturday programs could be included for those families that can only access the library on weekends.
Public libraries are funded by our taxes and are meant to be for public use. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that Alexandria’s libraries serve the entire populace of Alexandria. I believe that if the library budget can be increased — or at least kept intact — there would be none of the time discrimination that affects our low-income families and their accessibility to story time for their children. I ask all the tax-paying residents of our beautiful city, whether you have children or not, to actively voice your support and demand that our libraries’ budget remain fully funded for the benefit of all the children of Alexandria.