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Newborns get their own library cards through expanded St. Louis County Library program

Fifteen-thousand newborns will get free books and a tote bag of swag as part of the St. Louis County Library's expanded "Born to Read" program.
Fifteen-thousand newborns will get free books and tote bags of swag as part of the St. Louis County Library's expanded "Born to Read" program.

A St. Louis County Library program that gives books to newborns to boost early childhood literacy is doubling in size this year.

The "Born to Read" program, started last year, will deliver 15,000 tote bags to new parents in 2016, each containing: a free book, a library card for the baby, a teether toy, a Cardinals beanie, and a card good for a birthday party at the library on the child’s first birthday.

As we have previously reported, the goal of the program  "is to encourage new parents to start regularly reading to their kids as early as possible."

"A lot of the studies today show that brain development is the most dramatic between birth and age 3, so it just gives them a leg up in reading from the beginning," said Library Director Kristen Sorth.

“We know about things like the 30 million word gap that exists between a child born in poverty and a child not born in poverty, and I think all these things just give a child the ability to start reading at grade school level and have a real appreciation for literature and for reading that starts from the beginning."

New to the program this year are the library cards for the babies, which will let parents check out books on their behalf. Sorth said the library plans to track the statistics to see how many parents activate and use the cards.

Sorth said babies born last year are just starting to have their first birthday parties at the library’s branches, with “lots of cute 1-year-olds crawling around and getting free books.” But she said in the last year, the library has also changed how parents sign up.

"We learned that there’s a lot of chaos in the hospital when a parent is leaving with their baby, so we changed that process to include it as a mail-in card, instead of them having to fill it out at the hospital," she said.

Sorth said the first year of the program was successful, reaching 6,500 families at four area hospitals. The program has expanded to several more area hospitals, including St. Mary’s and St. Luke’s. It also adds to the roster Mercy’s 11 pediatric clinics, where the baby will get the tote bag on his or her 1-month anniversary.

"That means doctors will actually have a conversation when they give the bag to the parents and the baby," Sorth said. “It will be interesting to see the impact with that."

The library also has a couple of new literacy-related programs in the works. One encourages parents to read 1,000 books with their children before they reach kindergarten, with incentives along the way to reach the goal. Additionally, kindergarten prep classes will be offered at branches to help parents "understand all the things their children need to be ready for before they start kindergarten," Sorth said.