What could be better than a friendly environment where young children can socialize with others, develop a love for learning, and gain valuable tools that will help them prepare for academic success? How about all that in a warm and inviting mobile classroom that comes right to their front door and is designed to help ensure that all children are ready for school by age 5?

California Children & Families CommissionLibrary, Literacy, and Book Services (LLABS) is a new program developed by the California State Library in partnership with the California Children and Families Commission. LLABS vehicles deliver literacy and other services to "hard to reach" and other underserved families in many parts of the state. (Click on LLABS Libraries at the bottom of this page to find one near you.)

LLABS vehicle
The Stockton LLABS vehicle

Nearly the size of a school bus, the 32-foot vehicles offer extensive programming similar to the literacy programs found in the public libraries. "There are story times, language development activities such as puppet shows, and books for circulating and giving away," says Carole Talan, Adult and Family Literacy Specialist for the California State Library. The programming models these behaviors for parents, so children can continue the learning at home.

The LLABS vehicles visit low-income housing developments, migrant camps, local day care centers, HeadStart programs, recreation centers, family resource centers and community health clinics to reach their target audience of families with children ages 0-5.

The vehicles were made possible initially by a $2.1 million grant from the California Children and Families Commission, now known as First 5 California. You may know this program better as Proposition 10 -- the $ .50 per pack of cigarettes initiative approved by California voters in 1998. The monies collected are to be used to fund education, health and child care programs that promote early childhood development, from prenatal to age 5. The initiative now raises about $700 million per year statewide – Eighty percent of the revenues go to local county Commissions, for local distribution based on a locally developed strategic plan. All these county commissions and their strategic plans can be found at www.ccfc.ca.gov) Twenty percent is used by the State Commission for statewide education and research.

The grant was for the years 2000 - 2002. Now, all 11 vehicles are fully operational, and locally funded -- most with a combination of local library and local Children and Families Commission funds.

LLABS vehicle
Rob Reiner, chair of the California
Children and Families Commission,
reads to children at the LLABS kickoff

LLABS Primary Goal is to ensure that all children will be ready for school by age 5


  • Provide children 0-5 and their parents/caregivers with a variety of preschool experiences and activities that support the successful development of school readiness.

  • Provide parents/caregivers free and convenient access to the materials and resources necessary to adequately support the school readiness of their children.

  • Provide parents/caregivers with the literacy skills necessary to adequately develop and support the school readiness of their children.

  • Train parents/caregivers in what, how and why to read aloud to the children in their lives so that they come to love books and reading before age 5.

  • Provide parents/caregivers with information about, and access to, other services needed by them and their children 0-5.

  • Provide parents/caregivers with training and information in the areas of parenting, health, nutrition, safety, smoking, addiction, and other aspects that impact their children.

  • Overcome the barriers of language, isolation, and lack of transportation for families and care providers most in need.

  • Support parents/caregivers in their efforts to provide a safe, nurturing and healthy environment for their 0-5 children.

A reading event at
South San Francisco's
LLABS vehicle

One key benefit to the vehicle is that it allows young children to interact in a group setting, helping them to gain social skills as well as reading readiness skills crucial for thriving once they enter school. This is especially helpful in rural areas, where children may stay at home with their mothers and arrive at kindergarten less socially prepared than their peers. LLABS will serve children 0-5 and their parents and/or care providers.

"There’s a wealth of understanding that both parents and children gain from group activities," says Talan. "Parents see their child sitting still and enjoying hearing a story, and they can talk with other parents and feel comfortable that they’re not the only one who feels insecure about their abilities."

Computers, powered by generators like you’d find on an RV, come loaded with pre-school software such as Blue’s Clues and Reader Rabbit. This access enables families without a computer in the home to become familiar with a mouse and keyboard. On-board staff encourage families to come to the public library to continue learning and exploring once they see how much fun it can be.

The local LLABS programs each named their program and designed their own exterior graphics, making each vehicle unique to the community it serves. At the Woodland Public Library, programmers held a contest at Sacramento State University to design the interior of the van as well. The winning entry is a playful and welcoming design that resembles a child's room — complete with a faux castle that’s a seating area and a faux window-seat where the computers are nestled.

Because researchers have found that early brain development benefits from proper nutrition, freedom from infection and lack of exposure to drugs and toxins, many programs are partnering with other community agencies to promote healthy development on a number of fronts. One site is bringing a nurse along to provide sound nutrition information. Another is partnering with a food bank to distribute food.

"Libraries have always been about much more than just providing books," Talan says. "They have always been about providing resources to the community, regardless of age or income." These programs are a natural fit, she says, and can have a long-lasting impact on the life of a child. "The kids who love books and can’t wait to learn to read," she says, "are the kids who have been read to, who have had book in their homes. That sets the foundation for all later literacy and learning." These LLABS will help ensure that children in California have the opportunity to receive books and have a positive experience with them prior to entering school.

Amazing Service Statistics A glimpse of program demonstrates the incredible service potential of these amazing vehicles. From January through June, 2002, the 11 original communities served:

  • 19,360 children ages 0 – 5
  • 3,830 parents of children ages 0 – 5
  • 1,796 caregivers of children ages 0 – 5
  • AND, 16,054 quality children’s books were distributed to assist in building home libraries for these families

Community Partnerships Expand and Enhance Services

Partnerships developed by local libraries have allowed them to offer access to a variety of important services such as bi-lingual parenting workshops; nutrition, dental and vaccination information; and low-income health insurance programs, in addition to providing services to address emergent literacy needs of children ages 0- 5. Storytimes, music, craft and reading activities for parents and children, as well as teaching parents the importance of reading to their young children, and age-appropriate strategies for helping young children meet kindergarten readiness standards are among the services offered. Families are also given free books to keep in order to help with building home libraries, and can also borrow additional books, games and parent education materials.

Each local LLABS coalition developed their vehicle's interior and exterior design to meet local program specifications, and worked as a group to select appropriate "bus stops," and create visitation schedules which address identified community needs.

A tremendous advantage of these mobile units to all the partnering organizations is that they allow comprehensive service delivery in locations that were previously not served because of lack of facilities and/or geographic isolation.

A highly successful strategy in the program is the practice of encouraging families to participate regularly by providing free quality children’s books to build a home library and engender a love of reading.

The LLABS utilize library literacy staff and materials, as well as a wealth of in-kind staff support and materials from the partner organizations and others in the community wishing to reach these populations. The "One-Stop-Shop" mentality pervades the service delivery plans in each community. Information and education about a variety of child development, parenting and health issues is provided on board these vehicles, in addition to the early literacy services.

Even More LLABS Programs Underway -- They're Home Grown! Another very exciting success of this two-year pilot project has been the development of several "home-grown" LLABS projects in additional locations across California. Libraries in Tuolumne County, Butte County, San Mateo County and Monrovia have received local Children and Families Commission grants to help them get started, and are each working on creative local fundraising to achieve full funding for their vehicle and program needs.

Evaluation Activities -- The State Library developed Pre-/Post-Surveys in both English and Spanish -- one for parents, and another for caregivers (day care providers) who participate in the program. The surveys are designed to measure program outcomes in the following areas:

  • Parental and caregiver involvement in promoting reading with children.

  • Access to parent education information on nutrition, child development, smoking, and children's health.

  • Standard child development skills in areas of cognitive, physical, speech, hand/eye and sensory development of preschool children.

  • School readiness skills of 4 year olds listed as benchmarks with the California Department of Education's Pre-Kindergarten Grade-Level Expectations and as preliminary Head Start Child Outcomes and Indicators for children's emergent literacy skills.

  • Use of the public library as a resource for lifelong learning.

In addition to measuring results of program activities on children who participate, we can also measure changed behaviors of parents and caregivers which will positively affect the children in their care. An added benefit is education and heightened awareness by day care providers and other caregivers of activities they can use to assist all the children in their care with emergent literacy skills.

LLABS programs began utilizing the survey about mid-way through Year 2 of the project. While currently the reported data represents a very small sample, we have found some very satisfying preliminary results, including:

  • A 66% increase in the number of parents/caregivers who increased the number of days they read to their child(ren).

  • A 72% increase in the number who report taking their child(ren) to the library to borrow books.

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