Early in December the specialist I was seeing at the end of my pregnancy decided that it was safer for both me and my little girl to deliver her at 35 weeks rather than wait. I won’t bore you with the details, but needless to say we were incredibly blessed that both of us are healthy and she only spent nine days in the NICU.
Preemies sleep a lot, and so there is a lot of time both to think and to take in your surroundings during a NICU stay. Once we knew she would be fine and I was able to move around better my librarian brain kicked in.
Some of us are rather privileged when it comes to our own information needs. The ability to pull out a tablet and download a book on a subject by a reputable author or knowing how to conduct an internet search and be relatively confident our results are both accurate and presented in a way we can understand is a great advantage not just professionally but personally as well.
Try to imagine yourself as a young, mother of a premature, ill, or special needs newborn with a high school education. You may not have internet access at home, and even if you do you barely spend any time there between working the hours you need to pay your bills at your job and spending time with your child.
In that limited time you try typing your questions into Google, but when you do you find a bunch of message board posts where every answer contradicts the one before. There are a couple of other websites on the first page, but now you aren’t sure which to believe. You’ve never been a big reader, but you decide to stop at Walmart on the way home and see if they have a book. They have two, both of which cost a couple hours of pay and each of them only has a few pages on preemies.
Essentially the reason I’m choosing to stay home for a while served as a great reminder of how much I believe in what we do.
NICU parents (and new parents in general) face many challenges we can’t do much about, but low literacy, access to information, and information literacy are needs that create opportunities for librarians serving children and their caregivers.
While we as public librarians are sensitive to the first two sometimes it’s too easy to leave information literacy to the school and academic librarians. The problem with that kind of thinking is that it excludes a large number of people who need these basic skills in everyday life who may or may not have had the opportunity to continue formal education.
So what can we do to serve our tiniest patrons and their parents?
-Make an effort to seek out resources for our collections on topics like pregnancy and child care written on a lower reading level or at least set up to be less intimidating. Dr. Sear’s The Baby Book is well known but I can only imagine how intimidating its 784(!) pages would be to someone who struggles with reading.
-Partner with local NICU and PICU departments to provide resources for patients and parents. While the NICU had a small shelf of donated materials it included only a few board books for parents to read to their babies. Between regular life and spending time with their child NICU parents rarely have time to visit the library, and many times the large hospital where the child is cared for is not in the same area where they qualify for a library card. A deposit collection of some type can help meet these needs.
-Make contact with the social worker who handles the NICU. They can provide expertise on what kind of materials would be most useful to their patients as well as providing information on support resources for parents in your community.
-Seek out partnerships with organizations in your community that work with parents who are likely to struggle with these skills. Shelters, low cost health clinics, and alternative education programs are great places to start. Sometimes just knowing the library welcomes them and their children can make a world of difference.
-Create handouts in the library directing patrons to quality, research based materials including books, health databases geared for the general public, and reputable websites. Share these with your hospital and other community contacts.