child readingWe’ve all heard of the digital divide… but what about the word gap?

By the time kids enter kindergarten, those who are read to at home have been exposed to a lot more words—and “a lot” isn’t hyperbolic. Children whose caregivers read to them at least five books each day are exposed to almost 1.5 million more words than kids who don’t have that level of access to reading at home.

This deficit is known as the “million word gap” and, not surprisingly, it’s thought to be a factor in both reading and vocabulary development. Why? Because the more words kids hear, the more they’re prepared to experience the printed word when they enter school… and statistically, that means an easier time developing reading and writing skills, a.k.a. key indicators of future academic success.

And just like the digital divide—in which lower income families have less access to technology—the word gap is tied to income levels. Children who live in families with less resources have less access to books; a deficit that’s been correlated to lower education achievement.

The Impact of Low Access to Books

The link between poverty and reduced access to resources isn’t exactly breaking news. Libraries have long been aware of the issue, as well as their role in helping mitigate it; in fact, ALA adopted Policy 61, Library Services for the Poor, almost 30 years ago.

But too many kids still live in what some describe as “book deserts.” Research indicates that income disparities often manifest in children’s access to printed materials (or rather lack thereof), including the number of books kids can access at home.

This lack of access to print results in a number of disadvantages, especially when it comes to education. Kids who are read to at home tend to:

  • develop stronger vocabularies
  • be more ready for school
  • possess more background knowledge
  • show stronger phonological awareness
  • have better receptive and expressive language abilities

A large body of research underscores that growing up with access to books provides kids with the tools they need to be successful in school. And though digital devices have grown more widely available and do provide some access to reading materials, access to print is still key.

How Libraries Can Get More Books in Kids’ Hands

Increasing children’s access to books is a way to help bridge the word gap and help boost educational performance. But how can libraries use (already stretched) resources to reach underserved communities… especially when many families don’t have the means or the time to get to the nearest public library?

lending libraryA simple solution lies in ILS Lending Library. These portable units can be placed strategically around the community, including in underserved areas where library access is low or nonexistent, allowing you to meet your patrons where they are.

It’s all about increasing access. Library book kiosks get books and other printed materials to different parts of town, and even allow patrons to access materials after hours. With their see-through glass doors, the lending library kiosks are especially appealing to kids, who can look in and see exactly the books they want.

Take, for example, Missouri’s Morgan County Library. They worked with ILS to install a library book kiosk in The Ranch House Coffee Shop, which is 15 miles from the nearest physical location. Not only does the kiosk lending library serve patrons who can’t make it to the main library, it’s also become a center for community on its own. This remote location now offers a weekly children’s story time, with local retired librarians filling in as volunteer readers!

Lack of access to books in childhood can have an impact that reverberates through life, but libraries can help make a difference by getting more books in more kids’ hands. ILS Lending Library Kiosks are part of the solution.