My First Bookshelf

The Cause

My First Bookshelf is a free program that supports children’s early literacy journey in targeted vulnerable communities by delivering through mail an age-appropriate, personalized book once a month from birth to age 5. The books are for the children to keep, helping to build an accessible home library for them and their families. There are many barriers, especially in marginalized communities, preventing children and families from accessing books and library programs. Children have no control over these barriers and even in a city as prosperous as Calgary, some are growing up in “book deserts”, households without book ownership. 1 in 4 children start school behind their peers in reading and language skills, however, evidence indicates the presence of even 20 books in a home significantly improves childhood academic achievement and fosters a love of learning.

Each monthly book is selected to address the child’s current development needs by early childhood experts and is curated for Canadian content. Book selections strongly align with Library values, emphasize Canadian content and authors (currently 60%) and Own Voices content (i.e., BIPOC, queer). In addition to receiving monthly books, children and families are invited to special Library programs such as storytimes and playdates designed to encourage literacy focused activities. Due to recent changes in public health restrictions, storytimes will be offered virtually this fall. The Library is also in the process of developing some digital resources for participants as well as a text-to-wireless device service (pending privacy policy alignment). With the help of My First Bookshelf, families will be introduced to the vast resources that Calgary Public Library has to offer for all ages.

My First Bookshelf is socially innovative as the program is the first and only of its kind delivered at-scale by a large Canadian municipal library system. In partnership with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, The Library established the program in January 2021, however, impacts from COVID-19 accelerated Calgary Public Library’s design and pilot implementation plans. By mailing the books, the Library’s early literacy mission was brought safely into the homes of high-needs children, mitigating significant risks to school-readiness as a result of school closures and ongoing economic uncertainty. We are confident that My First Bookshelf will withstand any changes in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Who Will it Benefit?

Working with community partners such as those involved in our integrated School Support Program (Calgary Police Services, YMCA, and others), United Way (as advisors, not funders) and Calgary Reads, My First Bookshelf will target children under the age of 5 years old and their families who qualify as low-income/high-risk for enrollment.

There are now more than 90,000 children under the age of 5 in Calgary. A smart, literate community is essential to sustaining our city’s economic prosperity. The public library is the only library available to children before they enter the school system, and for many families the Calgary Public Library is the only accessible portal to books and early learning experiences because the Library is free, inclusive and welcoming. We know there are children the Library hasn't yet reached, and My First Bookshelf will be a powerful and truly barrier-free early literacy tool for children.