Countdown to Success: The Kentucky Public Library School Readiness Task Force Addresses School Readiness

R Lynn Baker headshotCountdown to Success: The Kentucky Public Library School Readiness Task Force Addresses Kindergarten Readiness

by R. Lynn Baker

As a former preschool and kindergarten teacher, I have been able to apply my passion for early childhood education to my work as youth services specialist at Paul Sawyer Public Library in Frankfort, Kentucky. I am also fortunate to be working on my MLIS at San José State University while I am in this position at the library. While it is not necessarily easy to balance life, full-time work, and graduate school all at one time, the value of these three things overlapping is tremendous. I have been able to develop programs for the library based on a deeper level of library science knowledge, while also connecting back to my undergraduate work in early childhood education. The combination has enabled me to apply realtime research and hands-on professional work to class assignments as well. The culmination of these experiences led me to the development of a school readiness program at my library, and subsequently, to my involvement in the development of a statewide school readiness public library task force in the state of Kentucky, where I work.

In the spring of 2013, I proposed a school readiness program at my library in response to state testing scores which showed that the majority of children in Kentucky were not entering kindergarten ready for school. Not only were the children not ready, but their scores also showed that the lowest developmental area of entering kindergarten students was the area of language and communication—an area directly linked to literacy development. It was clear to me at that point, that public libraries are in the perfect position to help families, children, schools, and communities prepare for success in kindergarten through the early literacy services.

As a former teacher myself, I knew that the first step toward developing a new school readiness services was to understand the needs of the community.  I decided to invite local kindergarten teachers to a roundtable meeting in order to discuss the skills that they felt were most important to school readiness. I envisioned a program that would foster important readiness skills with the foundation of the program rooted in early literacy skill development.

The school readiness program which came about is now known as Countdown to Kindergarten. The program has evolved into a two-fold approach for our library. The first set of sessions are in the fall semester and are for parents of preschoolers who will be attending kindergarten at the start of next fall. The second set of sessions is for parents and their preschool children to attend together in the spring and summer semesters. While we have always offered programs that foster early literacy and other developmental skills, the Countdown program has helped us to be more intentional in our efforts. We have developed a strong relationship with schools that support and promote the program. We have also met with preschool and daycare teachers in order to gain their perspective on preparing families for the transition to kindergarten. Collaborating with teachers has helped us to gain important teacher input, support, and promotion of the program as well. We have been able to offer information about the Countdown program at kindergarten registration events at individual schools, and through preschool and daycare materials as well. Other components that are interwoven into the Countdown to Kindergarten program include the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood definition of school readiness, the six early literacy skills and five practices of  Every Child Ready to Read®, and national early childhood Common Core standards.

After having success with the Countdown to Kindergarten program, I was invited to present at the Kentucky Library Association/Kentucky Association of School Librarians Joint Conference in September of 2013. At the conference, I presented an outline of the program and how it was developed. Several public librarians who attended the session asked if I would be willing to collaborate and possibly share some of the components of the curriculum.  It dawned on me that all public libraries within the state needed to be on the same page, making a collective effort toward school readiness services. After the conference, I contacted Heather Dieffenbach, the Children’s and Youth Services Consultant at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives and spoke with her about the possibility of public libraries within our state coming together to develop standards for school readiness programming. I felt that it was important to develop an initiative to promote public library early literacy programming among the array of community school readiness services. Heather was very supportive of the idea and worked to organize the development of a task force.

The Kentucky Public Library School Readiness Task Force was announced in September of 2013, and within a couple of weeks over 50 state public library representatives from every region within the state had volunteered to be a part of the effort! Within the month, representatives from the Kentucky Department of Education, the University of Kentucky, the Governor’s Office of Early Childhood, and additional representatives from the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives agreed to be a part of the initiative. The Task Force met for the first time on November 22nd, 2013, and was addressed by Kentucky State Library Commissioner, Wayne Onkst, who spoke about the importance of public libraries collaborating with other service providers within their communities in order to best promote early literacy and public library involvement in school readiness initiatives across the state.

As the first step, the Kentucky Public Library School Readiness Task Force has now developed individual committees which will focus on furthering goals in the areas of research and advocacy, resource development and staff training, public awareness and outreach, as well as grants and funding. A steering committee will guide the overall mission of the Task Force as the team moves forward toward promoting Kentucky’s public libraries as early literacy experts among the spectrum of school readiness services. By working together to strengthen our efforts, Kentucky’s public libraries help by better preparing children, families, schools, communities, and the entire state—maybe even the nation—for success in school.




R. Lynn Baker is at the midpoint of her MLIS work at San Jose State University. She works as youth services specialist at Paul Sawyier Public Library in Frankfort, Kentucky. To reach Lynn, connect with her through LinkedIn or via email.