In January 2008, staff from more than a dozen Colorado public libraries and the Colorado State Library collaborated to develop a comprehensive approach to deliver and support early literacy services statewide. Membership in CLEL is open to anyone involved with children, libraries, or early childhood education who supports our mission statement. Our activities are directed by a Steering Committee appointed from the general membership.
Fiscal agency support has been provided by CLiC (Colorado Library Consortium) since 2011.
Another grant provided funding to begin StoryBlocks. This website, developed in partnership with Rocky Mountain PBS, features short videos of Colorado librarians demonstrating songs and rhymes for librarians, educators, and parents. For the next 8 years, CLEL members added videos each year to include 7 languages and 60 videos. While CLEL no longer adds new videos, StoryBlocks continues to be a valuable resource to many educators and parents.
Professional development for library staff has always been a key focus for CLEL. A small annual meeting has turned into a full day conference that attracts hundreds of attendees, including some from out of state, and is recognized nationwide as a premier early literacy professional development opportunity. From the beginning to the present, CLEL has been committed to accessibility. Membership is free and conference costs are kept to a minimum to encourage and allow broad participation for library staff, students, volunteers, and trustees in libraries in Colorado and beyond.
In 2020 the CLEL Conference pivoted to a virtual platform with the support of the entire Steering Committee and an Ad Hoc group of CLEL members. Continuing our tradition of providing low-cost, high quality professional development, the 2020 Virtual CLELCon drew speakers and participants from across the country. CLEL also introduced a new feature to the conference in 2020: the Leadership Institute.
CLEL Bell Picture Book Awards
In 2013, CLEL created the CLEL Bell Awards, an annual recognition of five high-quality picture books that provide excellent support of early literacy development in young children. Each year since then, the CLEL Bell Committee has selected winning titles in this program that has attracted national interest.
Virtual Storytime Services Guide
CLEL collaborated with ALSC to help libraries pivot to virtual programs and services when the COVID pandemic drastically altered library operations in 2020. The Training and Advocacy Committee led a group of more than 50 library professionals nationwide to create the Virtual Storytime Services Guide.
CLEL membership grew quickly as the group earned grants to provide professional development statewide in early literacy, and created a website to provide important information and professional development for library staff. The CLEL website has continued to grow over the years, to include a blog, content on Every Child Ready to Read, and information about its conference and the CLEL Bell Awards. It also includes Storytime Skill Builders, a series of videos demonstrating 10 storytime techniques that CLEL created in 2015, as well as storytime competency recommendations added in 2017. In 2022 the website underwent a major update, changing platform and expanding our resources beyond ECRR to encompass topics on school readiness, beginning readers, and Spanish storytime.
Professional Development Webinars
At the end of 2020, CLEL issued a general membership survey. This survey has driven our recent work, with an expanded focus on professional development webinars. In 2021 CLEL offered a free webinar each quarter, hosting panel discussions and distinguished speakers. The archives from these webinars have established the base of our members-only professional development resources, which CLEL expects to grow in the coming years.