2019 CLEL Conference Reflection

This is the second in a series of blog posts contributed by CLEL’s 2020 conference scholarship recipients.

I was particularly eager to attend the 2019 CLEL Conference because I’d heard about Reach Out and Read last year and was quite excited when I found out that Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, founding medical director of Reach Out and Read Wisconsin, would deliver the keynote address. Listening to Dr. Navsaria, I found myself nodding along to many of his comments (yep, bowties are cool!) and even nerding out a bit once I realized that we both attended U of I for children’s librarianship (that audible squeal from the back of the room? Yeah, that was me).

Dr. Navsaria talked about the unfortunate nature of our broadening society – we have branched out into so many fields and subfields of work beyond our ancestral ‘hunters and gatherers’ phase that it’s hard enough for us to communicate well within our individual spheres, not to think of building solid bridges between vastly disparate ones. I appreciate his example of someone seeking the good welfare of children to such a degree that he has taken the time to study the needs of their physical wellbeing and the needs of their intellectual potential in order to serve both – and to advocate for others to do so as well. Many public library systems lament the fact that the communities they serve have more people who don’t use (or underuse) the library compared to those who do – and as many outreaches as we do, we cannot get our early literacy messages out to everyone who isn’t coming in. But, as Dr. Navsaria pointed out, “nearly 90% of young children see a healthcare provider at least annually for a check-up [. . .]” What a perfect avenue to help spread the word!

Reach Out and Read (ROR) is a wonderful organization that partners with pediatric offices and trains pediatricians to ask and answer pertinent questions about early literacy. Partners fill their waiting rooms with books and each child gets a new book at every wellness visit. It does take commitment for offices to be ROR partners: in addition to undergoing the training, they must find avenues/monies to purchase the giveaway books and dedicate precious time in wellness visits to the early literacy exchanges. But what I love most about the program is the elegant simplicity of the “Prescription for Reading:” an efficient “Share books together.”

I’ve been thinking about what Dr. Navsaria pointed out was one of his primary lessons learned in library school, “Saving other peoples’ time is a Good Thing,” which harks back to one of Ranganathan’s 5 laws of library science. I can’t help but remember what my daughter’s pediatrician said when I asked her if she’d heard about the ROR program at our last wellness visit. She said she’d heard of it, and thought it was a great program, but there are so many questions they have to cover during the course of a wellness visit that reading doesn’t usually come up unless the parent asks. Now, I realize that not participating in this program might save the physician’s time in the short run, but I can’t agree that it saves our health care systems time (or money) in the long run. With all that research has shown on how vital early learning is for a person’s future potential, one would hope that more physicians would get on board with asking these kinds of questions.

In fact, I’m sure that 10/10 of librarians would agree that these questions belong at every child wellness visit – but we need to reach out to our local pediatricians to help them get on board. Reach Out and Read Colorado reports that there are currently 331+ clinics in CO participating in this program, but not every clinic out there is able or willing to do the full program – and maybe they don’t need to. I was delighted when I spoke with Anne Tengler, Executive Director of ROR CO, after Dr. Navsaria’s keynote about the potential development of a Reach Out and Read Lite program – one that wouldn’t necessarily require offices to fund/give out books, but would still train them to discuss early literacy. I hope that they are able to develop this eventually, and I would love to help advocate for the further implementation of ROR programs across the board.

In the meantime, I’m going to leave you with a few examples I was inspired to put together after Dr. Navsaria’s call to “Be more visible.” He gave some great information on writing op-eds for newspapers, but he also shared several of his wonderful Dr. Moo memes. The following were created using Pixabay images, which are free for commercial use with modification.

a young girl dressed in a doctor's costume; a speech bubble from her says "I want to be a real doctor when I grow up. I'm prescribing daily reading."

a doctor holding a clipboard; a speech bubble shows him saying "I'm writing you a new prescription: share books together daily."

a soldier smiles and shows a small stuffed dog to an infant with wide eyes; a thought bubble shows the infant thinking "A dog BARKS?!! That is BRAND NEW information! Tell me more every day!"