Category Archives: Conference papers

Children’s Librarians in the Lives of Children with Disabilities: A Bio-ecological Perspective

A few months ago, I presented a poster at ALISE 2016, in Boston, MA.

Here is a summary of my poster’s content, with a link to the PDF version.

Children’s Librarians in the Lives of Children with Disabilities: A Bioecological Perspective
This poster explores the intersections of children’s librarianship and early literacy in the lives of children with disabilities. In what is referred to as his bioecological systems theory, Bronfenbrenner (1986, 2005) conceptualized a child’s development as taking place within nested systems of support. Each setting (i.e. home, preschool, library) is considered a microsystem within which the individual child interacts with objects, symbols and people in ways that advance or hinder that child’s development. Interactions between those people who surround the child constitute the mesosystem influence. To elaborate, the mesosystem may be constituted when an outside influence (such as a teacher or therapist) is exerted on a child within a specific microsystem. An example of this would be a father bringing his toddler to a storytime program and learning how to play a rhyming game with his child from a children’s librarian. The influence that the children’s librarian has had on the father (i.e. teaching him a new way to play and interact with his child in their home microsystem) constitutes the mesosystem.


This poster mainly explores actual examples of the children’s librarian’s mesosystem role and draws on evidence from a series of semi-structured interviews with groups of children’s librarians as well as parents of young children with disabilities. This study’s findings suggest that children’s librarians who are willing and (somewhat) able to offer responsive, inclusive services and parents who want and need such services rarely encounter each other but when they do the benefits of such interactions are obvious especially when viewed through Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems framework. This study suggests that librarians and their expertise in encouraging early literacy development via mesosystem interactions are under-utilized resources in the lives of families whose children have disabilities. Working with families around making accommodations to meet children’s learning needs represents a significant way that children’s librarians become part of children’s mesosystems of support and in this way provide equitable early literacy resources across diverse communities of children.


By considering Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological systems framework wherein children are afforded frequent and successful interactions with ‘objects, symbols and people’ in public library contexts, this study suggests that more frequent interactions around the early literacy resources of the public library could represent a positive force for individual children’s early literacy development, in much the same way as regular home reading supports early literacy growth. By the same token, fewer, or less successful interactions in the library context could inhibit literacy growth because of lost opportunities to engage with the resources that are freely available at the public library. This study concludes with a rationale for continuing to strengthen the role that children’s librarians play in the lives of all children, particularly those who may remain underserved.

Children’s Librarians in the Lives of Children with Disabilities: A Bioecological Perspective


Bronfenbrenner, U. (1986). Ecology of the family as a context for human development: Research perspectives. Developmental Psychology, 22(6), 723-742.

Bronfenbrenner, U. (2005). Making human beings human: bioecological perspectives on human development. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Photo credit: AdinaVoicu


Librarian as Early Literacy Coach

I recently presented at the British Columbia Library Conference about the work my library does to meet the needs of adults raising and caring for young children.

We are very proud of our work in this regard and I emphasized the role that librarians can and should play in their communities as early literacy experts and advocates.

You will find our conference handouts here.

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Aiming for Inclusion: Breakout Session at ALSC Institute Fairyland

Here is a summary of the Fairyland breakout session that I presented with my colleague Kelly. Thanks to all who attended!

Aiming for Inclusion at ALSC Institute 2014

What we are talking about: inclusive programs not “special needs” education or designing special programs for special kids. We are also not able to delve into specific features of children with different disabilities and what you might need to know to help include them – we are dealing in generalities, with some suggested techniques that both Kelly and I have found effective in inclusive settings where children with disabilities participate alongside their age peers.

Dealing with disability in history

Among other things, inclusion means we are working towards overcoming systemic exclusion and presumptions of incompetence. This is important to acknowledge: a great deal of social harm occurred/still occurs because of exclusionary practices with regards to those who had/have developmental disabilities/differences. It is important that we each acknowledge our own biases, fears and possible misunderstandings about disability in general as we begin to consider how we might approach our own programs and their inclusiveness.

Inclusion definition from NAEYC/DEC

Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports. (see links for URL to this statement)

Building on this definition, and drawing on the work of sociocultural literacy researchers, my own working definition of inclusive early literacy as I conduct my doctoral research is this:

Inclusive early literacy, refers to early literacy policies, discourses, programs, practices and opportunities that consider the needs of diverse children and their families in order for children to participate together in the same setting. One of the aims of inclusive early literacy is to ensure that young children with disabilities are given the same or similar opportunities to have appropriate early literacy experiences as their age peers without disabilities.

What are the implications of this statement and how can children’s librarians aim to emulate it when we create programs for young children and their families?

Since we all agree that everyone is indeed welcome to come to our programs, why are we

  1. noticing that children with disabilities tend NOT to come to regular programs and
  2.  creating “special” programs just for kids with disabilities?

We could have an entire conference just about barriers but for this discussion we are going to focus on 2 very significant ones and ones that, once addressed, serve to greatly increase the inclusiveness of all of your programs.

  • Size of group – why is this important?
  • Speech & Language, pacing & comprehension – why is this important?

 Some techniques to address some barriers

Language Fun Storytime began as a “special” program: in partnership with speech therapists, children’s librarians deliver small-group storytimes to children who are receiving or waiting for speech-language therapy. The program design was, in a large part, conceived by a speech therapist, who thought that a program that focussed on just one book per week, done 2 or 3 different ways would be appropriate for children with language delays. You can read more about this program in the book called Children’s Services: Partnerships for Success, edited by Betsy Diamant-Cohen. It was. It still is. However, the technique of repeating of only one story, and/or repeating thematic elements of a single story within the program can be applied to more diverse groups of children (what we call “population-based”). This means that the whole population is represented there. Interestingly, Betsy’s newer book “Transforming Preschool Storytime” promotes repetition of stories told in different ways across storytime series. These techniques are inclusive: they consider the needs of children who may need extra time and support to grasp concepts, new words etc. but they remain engaging and developmentally appropriate for children who have typical development.

Here is how this would work with Pete the Cat in a “regular” storytime program where children with diverse abilities were in attendance, along with your other usual storytime elements of songs, fingerplays, dances etc.

  • Book
  • Felt board
  • Sock activity

Moe the Mouse ™ Speech and Language Development Program: A Program of the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society

Speech sounds are the building blocks of verbal communication and in order to be understood when speaking, children must learn how to make the speech sounds of a language. (BC Aboriginal Child Care Society, Moe the Mouse ™ Curriculum Book)

Moe the Mouse ™ Curriculum Box is a speech and language resource, created by Speech Language Pathologists, that uses Aboriginal toys and stories to strengthen language development in young children. While developed for childcare settings, this rich resource has elements that can be incorporated into library storytime, including activities that help children produce speech sounds in isolation and then use them in words.

Who is Moe?  Moe is a charming little mouse mascot, who brings animal friends with him to storytime, each with their own speech sound. Moe cheers the children on as they use the various speech sounds to participate in storytelling, songs and activities.

Moe the Mouse ™ storytime is population-based and supports children’s language development in a natural setting.  It is also a lot of fun!

Discussion, Q&A



We all understand that social inclusion & inclusive education is still “a work in progress” in our society. As professionals who serve families, we commit to being part of the progress towards a time when we don’t need to worry about children with disabilities’ (or any other kind of barrier) access to early literacy experiences!

  • Investigate the possibility of working with speech therapists and others who serve preschoolers in your community.
  • Be open to trying new approaches to regular storytime programs that address some of the barriers we have identified
  • Continue to offer “special” programs as a way to build bridges with families whose children have disabilities and to invite their eventual participation in regular programs


NAEYC Inclusion Statements

NAEYC Diversity Statements

My Inclusive Early Literacy Discussion Summary on ALA Connect

Language Fun Storytime Links

Moe the Mouse Links

Inclusivity in Storytime Programs: Including Children with Disabilities

At the American Library Association Annual Conference in Las Vegas, I had a the honour of leading a discussion about inclusion in storytime programs. Follow the link to read my notes. Following my presentation, we had a roundtable discussion on the importance of finding ways to encourage the participation of children with disabilities in library programs: sometimes that means creating specialized, separate programs and sometimes it means rethinking the way we deliver regular programs to maximize the participation of children who may otherwise not be able to participate to their potential. Many thanks to my hosts with the ALSC Preschool Discussion Group, Sue McLeaf Nespeca and Linda Ernst for inviting me to present on this topic! Also, many thanks to the the discussion group attendees who shared their perspectives and thoughts on this topic. We all agreed that children’s librarians play extremely important roles in ensuring that children with disabilities are provided with early literacy learning opportunities in their communities.

2013-10-26 14.53.59



Early Years 2014 Conference Paper – The Intersection of Multimodality and Early Literacy

Early Years 2014 Conference Paper – The Intersection of Multimodality and Early Literacy

I recently presented at the Early Years 2014 conference in Vancouver, BC. My presentation summarized a case study I conducted last year for a graduate course called Literacy and Multimodality, taught by Dr. Maureen Kendrick, in the Department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia. By examining what two children with disabilities did in their daily lives to “make meaning / communicate”, I argue for expanded notions of early literacy that better position all children as competent meaning-makers. Multimodality theory helps to reframe notions of early literacy in such a way so that everyone has a place:  everyone has what Christopher Kliewer refers to as “literate citizenship” in the early childhood community. (see references list for citations to Kliewer’s research).

The link here is just a brief summary that accompanied my conference presentation.

I completely revised a much longer version of the original paper and submitted it to the Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. It is in peer review at the moment.

I have also submitted a slightly different version of this paper for consideration to NAEYC 2014 to take place in Dallas, TX.


Chicago, here I come! And a rant about inclusion…


I am busily doing laundry and starting to pack for my trip to Chicago the day after tomorrow for American Library Association’s Annual conference. My poster session Growing Readers at Storytime (see summary below) is ready, my business cards are at the print shop and I am buying a new backpack to save my shoulders from harm in the exhibits hall haul. Oh, and my ALA schedule is truly out of control. I am really looking forward to connecting with my colleagues and sharing our passion for all the ways we can work together to connect kids and literacy in all its wondrous formats.

My focus is on how we can make our early literacy programs and services more inclusive of children labelled with disabilities of all kinds. I also think librarians can set such a positive example and hopefully encourage other service providers to do the same thing with their programs (community recreation programs for example). It is really important to me that kids who have traditionally been excluded from mainstream early learning actually get to participate alongside their age peers. We can’t keep offering “special programs” for “special kids”. Inclusion works (especially in early childhood!)  when it is done mindfully, with the essential features of “access, accommodations and supports” woven right into the service or program, so there is no need to parcel kids off. While I see the value of things like Special Olympics and Easter Seals Camps (my own child attends regularly!) literacy experiences need not be segregated, at all, especially not in early childhood.  I have heard one too many times about kids who are denied placement in inclusive early childhood classrooms and are effectively segregated for their first years of schooling and beyond. Have we not already figured out that segregation is both wrong and harmful to everyone involved?

This blog is not just for librarians, and early childhood educators and others are welcome here at all times, but my focus is on the informal (but still very important) kinds of early literacy experiences that children can have in library contexts. For that reason, while I am in Chicago, I hope to have many conversations and brainstorms about how we can work together to advance inclusion aims in our own profession, and hopefully support inclusion on a wider societal scale. See you in Chicago!

Growing Readers at Storytime


My PhD coursework included a great class about family literacy, taught by Dr. Jim Anderson of UBC’s Department of Language and Literacy, Faculty of Education. It was a fantastically interesting course all around and I learned so much about different views of families and literacy. As I am a librarian by profession, I had some serious gaps in my knowledge of how schooling and family literacy intersect and the issues and tensions therein. So, it was a great course. Anyway, my final paper ended up being an analysis of library websites. My professor thought it would be a good exercise to take a critical look at how my own profession (children’s librarians) present and promote early literacy (my research focusses on early literacy in the lives of young children labelled with disabilities). So I went ahead and created a sample of 20 libraries from across Canada and took a good, long, hard look at the content about early literacy, including storytime information. While I do hope to publish my paper as a journal article someday soon, here is a brief summary of my analysis as well as my recommendations.  

Critical Stance

Diversity / Inclusion lens was used to explore how community resources can support or not support families whose children have non-normative development. Evidence was sought of intentional and authentic representations of family diversity that might include: ethnicity, culture, language, disability status among other features.  This approach was also a good opportunity to test whether public library websites are as representative of community diversity as their mission statements. Concerns persist about the universal accessibility of libraries, despite our best efforts to date, many are still “excluded” – outreach/community development work comprises a strong focus of contemporary public library work. Academic research about early literacy and public libraries is scant but what does exist does not inform enough about the needs of diverse families – mainly mainstream participants in studies that do exist to date.

Some Quantitative Data

  • 100% offered storytimes – at least 1 for 1 age group
  • Most offered 2 or more for different age groups
  • 25% offered Parent-Child Mother Goose or very similarly described programs for babies and their caregivers
  • 20% offered programs especially for Dads and other male caregivers
  • 50% offered programs in at least one other language in addition to English: these were mostly French with a few Mandarin, Punjabi, Spanish and Farsi storytime programs were found
  • 7% offered Aboriginal storytimes
  • 7% had ESL specific storytime programs (advertised as such in English)
  • 50% had programs specifically for preschoolers to attend “on their own” while caregivers remain elsewhere in the library
  • 90% offered a “family storytime” for all ages of children and their caregivers, often “drop-in”
  • Reading readiness, kindergarten prep and school readiness statements were common in both storytime descriptions and other early literacy resource information
  • Every Child Ready to Read inspired – material was found on 80% of the sample sites.
  • 0% advertised any ECRR workshops for parents during the data collection time
  • 0% had storytime program information (like times/places and descriptions) in any language other than English, or French (in a few cases) –even the few programs offered in languages like Mandarin and Farsi were promoted via English language descriptions on the web.


The top ten most frequently used words in storytime descriptions: books, love, fun, stories, learning, rhymes, reading, interactive, fingerplays and songs. (see wordle at the top of this post!)

Great examples of inclusive program descriptions:

  • Great for ESL! Library storytimes are an excellent introduction to English, and knowledge of English is not required to attend storytimes
  • A little bit of this and a little bit of that: stories, singing, dancing, puppets and lots of fun and laughter for kids of all ages and stages!



50% of the sites portrayed “diversity” in its pictures/images.A wider range of diversity (cultural and developmental) would better represent the diversity found in Canada’s communities, thereby reflecting the library’s goal of social inclusion.

Early Literacy Information Summary

Everychildreadytoread@yourlibrary ECRR/ reading readiness/ kindergarten skills are all “borrowed” concepts from the education paradigm and not as well suited to the library’s overall inclusion goals as we might wish them to be. They tend to idealize certain Western notions of “good” early literacy behaviours and support that parents should be giving their children. These idealized, Western notions of early literacy are problematic for librarians because our roles are significantly different than teachers and they may run counter to our own stated aims of being relevant to a diverse range of communities. Expanded views of early literacy need to be apparent in order for our early literacy aims to be truly inclusive and supportive of diverse families. Literacy (and indeed all early learning) is supported by diverse families in diverse ways: reading picture books to children is a commonplace Western way of doing so, but others exist and are legitimate. We have a role in helping families familiarize themselves with the kind of literacy their children will encounter once at school, but at the same time, their own cultural practices around literacy should be recognized, acknowledged and most importantly for this conversation, reflected on the libraries web pages. Additionally, parents whose children have speech disabilities may find many of the traditional ECRR activities irrelevant as they leverage speech / talking as ways into early literacy. Literacy can be built in many ways for children who are nonverbal, and these practices also need to be reflected in our web resources about early literacy.

Recommendations for Canadian public libraries

1)     Create and maintain separate parent pages (eliminate parent/teacher corners – different roles!) – and make sure they are ALL translated into the languages most frequently spoken in your communities

2)     Incorporate expanded (non-Western) views and notions of early childhood learning into both images and content offered on websites – emphasize library’s role in supporting families as they transmit and support early literacy for their children in ways that are culturally relevant to them.

3)     If you use EveryChildReadytoRead, adopt the 2nd edition’s revisions (Play, Sing, Talk, Read and Write) and be consistent – a mix of both editions is overkill and confusing.

4)     Use photographs that represent the ACTUAL diversity found in your communities (including children with developmental diversity) – this might take partnerships and work, but should not be expensive and will be worth it.

5)     Relax some storytime rules regarding ages and try to advertise programs as appropriate for a range of developmental stages in one place – and don’t forget to add that ESL families are welcome at all programs whether they or their children speak English or not – TRANSLATE storytime program offerings into the languages most frequently spoken in your communities.