Salt Lake City Library System

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SALT LAKE CITY — Since 2011, local librarian Liesl Johnson has been fighting in the trenches of early childhood literacy.

“In order to really bolster early literacy in our community, we needed to do more than just provide resources and programs within our walls, ” said Johnson, who serves as the Salt Lake City Public Library System’s director of children and family services. “We needed to go out into the community.”

Johnson oversees the library system’s Smart Start program, a community outreach project that serves more than 1, 000 children each month. Born of a 2010 library-wide commitment to early literacy promotion, Smart Start aims to cultivate children’s love of reading while giving parents and teachers necessary literacy-building tools.

Through Smart Start, the library maintains a presence in more than 70 low-income classrooms throughout the city. The program’s traveling librarians visit roughly 30 pre-K classes in Title I elementary schools, as well as more than 40 Head Start classes.

The program is staffed by 12 of the Salt Lake City Public Library System’s branch librarians, who take short breaks from their permanent library posts to take reading on the road. Each librarian is matched with several local classrooms, to be visited each month with a full story time and a rotating selection of picture books.

“We really tried to localize things so that there will be a familiar face attached to the program, ” said Johnson, who served several Rose Park classrooms as a children’s librarian at the Day-Riverside branch. “When I started doing these outreaches, I saw that kids would drag their parents to the library and say things like, ‘See, mom? There’s my librarian! There’s Liesl!’”

Smart Start’s reach stretches beyond the classroom. Librarians regularly bring story time presentations to children staying at The Road Home, the YWCA women’s shelter and Odyssey House, a rehabilitation center with residential family programs.

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