Author Identifier

Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Integrated)


School of Education

First Supervisor

Lennie Barblett

Second Supervisor

Caroline Barratt-Pugh

Third Supervisor

Pauline Roberts


Early language and literacy skills develop rapidly during the first three years of children’s lives. Successful development of these skills is based on dynamic interactions and supportive relationships within children’s families and communities. However, nearly a quarter of Australia’s children do not receive the necessary support or proactive interactions, and therefore start their schooling at age four or five with inadequate language and literacy skills. Reducing early difficulties is beneficial since evidence indicates that children who struggle at the start of their education rarely catch up.

Children and their families may be supported with language and literacy learning by engaging with programs, activities and resources at local public libraries. Such programs, activities and resources are offered at no cost to the user and are found in more than 1,500 communities throughout Australia. Yet this study reveals that Western Australian libraries’ early language and literacy role is undervalued and often unknown. Policy makers have limited understanding of libraries’ capacities, and families lack awareness of what libraries provide. Impediments to library use by young families remain, including persistent out-dated perceptions of libraries as unsuitable places for young children.

This study engaged qualitative research methods to gather data on the lived experience of families with young children when engaging with library based language and literacy programs, activities and resources. It also gathered data from families with young children who did not engage with such services, and from library staff with a range of roles. Library based events offering language and literacy content for children from birth to age three years and their parents/carers were observed, along with library use by this cohort during regular opening hours.

Six different library facilities from Local Government Areas in metropolitan, regional and rural environments in Western Australia participated. Audits of facilities and resources were conducted to collect comprehensive information about public library services for young children and their families.

The study proposes that improving awareness of libraries and their role in early language and literacy learning may assist young children and their families in children’s years before formal schooling. Building awareness may involve libraries engaging in broader outreach, creating innovative promotional opportunities, and developing robust evaluative processes. This may result in increased engagement and more children arriving at school with effective language and literacy skills, prompting subsequent benefits for their educational, social, emotional and financial futures.


Author also known as Ruth Campbell-Hicks



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