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Information and access to it are more available today than at any other time in history, usually at our fingertips with a click and a swipe. But in the digital age, the increased volume of information makes curation critical. Like other great pairings—peanut butter and jelly and cookies and cream—Head Start and libraries are perfect together. They are both essential in strengthening communities, championing education and knowledge, and preparing minds for the future.

Two Head Start alumna, Jami Livingston, and Sharon Julian-Milas, share stories of serving their communities as librarians and their love for all things literary.

Librarian and Head Start Alumna Jami Livingston

I am the director of the Adair County Public Library in Kirksville, Missouri. I’ve been in this role for about six years and previously, I served at the Drake Library in Centerville, Iowa, and the Putnam County Library in Unionville, Missouri. I attended Head Start in a small town in southern Iowa. I remember it shared space with the old armory in town—a big, brick building with military equipment. I remember handling a trumpet for the first time and I gained my first set of friends. I traveled with that group of friends through school after leaving Head Start. It was very positive for me. It served as my introduction to the classroom experience and set my expectations for what would come.

As a child, every Saturday, I would go with my mom to the library and we always came home with a bag full of books. I loved the librarians. They were always very kind. When I was in high school, I got a job at the Drake Library and embraced the 'library nerd' moniker. I've worked in libraries ever since. I obtained a Bachelor's degree and a few years later, I earned a Master of Science in Library Science. I love helping people and libraries are great equalizers in our society. Everyone can have access to all of a library’s resources. Those resources aren’t siphoned off for a select few.

One of my favorite board books is My First Book of Feminism. I love books that talk about girls going into science and that there are more books available in which children can see themselves.

I would encourage Head Start programs to look into 1000 Books for Kindergarten. It’s an initiative that encourages families to read and support reading with the goal of children reading 1,000 books before entering kindergarten. It’s such a fantastic and simple way to support early literacy and parent/child bonding.

Librarian and Head Start Alumna Sharon Julian-Milas

I am the director of Pleasant Hills Public Library in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My younger brother and I attended Clairton Head Start in Clairton, Pennsylvania, which is part of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

My Head Start program was on the bottom level in an old school. Our mother was a kindergarten teacher and she taught upstairs while my brother and I attended Head Start downstairs. Like Jami, I remember being introduced to new things. Oatmeal wasn’t something we ate at home and I ate it for the first time at Head Start.

My mom wanted me to be a teacher, but I chose to be a public servant in a different context. I received a Bachelor of Arts in English and then earned a Master of Science in Library Science. I worked as a children’s librarian for 13 years and then transitioned to adult titles and programming. Being in a library feels most comfortable for me. I love books and the self-directed education that libraries offer. They allow you to learn and explore at your own pace.

Promoting literacy, especially early literacy, is a priority for libraries so a partnership with Head Start is a natural one. I would suggest Head Start programs reach out and connect with the local library director and children’s librarian. They will work to fulfill whatever the need may be. The library is such a treasure trove of programming and resources.

Library Resources for Head Start Readers

When we think about the natural synergies between Head Start and libraries, we can look to the Head Start Family Resource Center in Hastings, Nebraska as a prime example. Serving children, families, schools, and home-based childcare programs across six counties, the center launched 25 years ago and has grown to be an accessible, educational hub.

"Students are able to come in and check out books to bring to their classroom or home," said Deb Ross, executive director of the Family Resource Center. "Programs and any school within the six counties can request books the same way an interlibrary loan service works at many public libraries."

Family Resource Center is a model of cross-collaboration and service sharing to meet the area’s need for knowledge, educational resources, and community building. In addition to books, the center offers multilingual materials, educational classes, employment information, and the use of tools like die-cutting machines, photocopiers, and in response to the pandemic, recently added sanitation equipment like ZONO machines all for free or at cost.

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Malkia Payton-Jackson

Malkia Payton-Jackson is NHSA’s first-ever director of alumni engagement. Back in Cambridge, Head Start is where she made her first best friend — and now, she’s inviting Head Start alumni to connect with one another, share their unique stories, and help keep Head Start strong for generations to come.

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