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Notes from Executive Director Scott Garrison, April 2024

Staff from Ypsilanti District Library (YDL) and MCLS will promote Text and Learn for Kindergarten (TALK) at the Public Library Association (PLA) 2024 conference April 2-5 in Columbus, OH. Based on Every Child Ready to Read, TALK is a text messaging service that prompts parents and caregivers to talk, sing, read, write, and play with their children ages birth to 5, fostering early learning and Kindergarten readiness.   

If you’ll be at PLA and want to learn more about TALK, I encourage you to attend Lisa Hoenig, Jodi Krahnke, and Cathy Lancaster’s presentation Reaching Underserved Families with TALK: Text and Learn for Kindergarten on Friday, April 5 at 11:30 a.m. Eastern (GCCC A120-125). To learn about MCLS’s TALK service, come see us at exhibit booth #1418. You can request a quote via our online form. Read on for more about TALK and its transition from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant-funded project to MCLS service offering in 2024.  

TALK is by libraries, for libraries
Ninety public libraries are using TALK to prompt parents and caregivers of more than 3,200 pre-K children in Indiana and Michigan to increase the time they spend interacting with their children to foster early learning. The system sends crafted and curated text messages with activities carefully aligned to a child’s age to any caregiver with a cell phone, including underserved populations who may not use the library. In addition to helping prepare children for Kindergarten, TALK also builds engagement between caregivers and their library. With TALK, libraries may also send subscribers up to two text messages per month to promote library events such as storytime.  

TALK is different from other similar services in that it was created by a library for libraries and their patrons, designed for underserved populations, targets ages birth to 5 specifically, is based on Every Child Ready to Read practices, and comes with a variety of marketing and other materials to help promote early learning and the library. The following evaluation data from HighScope Educational Research Foundation surveys and interviews show that TALK users’ frequency and quality of their adult/child interactions increased: 

  •  60% of caregivers surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that because of TALK’s activities, they increased the amount of time they spend interacting with their children;  
  • 72% of caregivers surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that TALK’s activities improved the quality of their interactions with their children;  
  • and 92% of caregivers surveyed agreed or strongly agreed that they are more aware of activities to build their children’s literacy skills because of TALK. 

TALK is easy to use
To use TALK, libraries subscribe via the TALK website, and use text messages from an allotment they acquire from MCLS upon subscribing. Text messages are available at no cost to libraries in Indiana and Michigan via TALK’s current IMLS grant until July 31, 2024. After that, a library may purchase text messages in allotments of 1,500 messages as needed (this quantity will serve approximately 10 children per year). This makes now a great time to subscribe to TALK! 

TALK libraries receive the system’s 635 text messages in English and Spanish, access to TALK’s library portal, materials to get started and promote TALK, and basic support from MCLS.  

Caregivers sign up for TALK using their cell phone. Their subscribed library is determined by their ZIP code. Upon signup, they start receiving text messages automatically based on their child’s age. Text messages are debited from a subscribing library’s allotment, and do not expire as long as the library stays subscribed. A caregiver can enroll for up to two children 5 and under per cell phone number, and may opt out of receiving messages later if they choose. Each caregiver receives approximately 150 total text messages per year per enrolled child (including activities, custom event messages, and occasional system messages). 

A subscribed library can use the TALK portal to perform tasks including adding user accounts, scheduling customized event text messages, generating usage and other reports, and responding to any questions from caregivers. A subscribed group of libraries (called an “entity”) like a large public library system or cooperative can perform tasks at the entity level. 

In the portal, libraries can also access John Cotton Dana Award-winning TALK Toolkits for a wide variety of information on how to get started and how to promote TALK. Promotion, including through a library’s community partners, is key to reaching caregivers and increasing usage. Promoting TALK not only in the library, but also at doctors’ offices, day care centers, and other places caregivers and children go can help reach even more people. 

 TALK is affordable
MCLS TALK subscriptions are priced using a simple model: 

  • MCLS members: $50 per 10,000 service population 
  • Non-members: $60 per 10,000 service population 

TALK will alert a library when it is low on text messages. Libraries may purchase allotments of 1,500 messages for $20 each from MCLS. Contact us via our quote request form for discount pricing for larger library systems and groups.   

TALK’s history and next steps
YDL originally developed TALK in 2017 with Library Services Technology Act (LSTA) funds administered by the Library of Michigan. Their specific goals were to reach underserved communities in both rural and urban settings and address Kindergarten readiness gaps in children from low-income households in Michigan. TALK’s pilot phase gathered input from difficult-to-reach parents and caregivers via focus groups that informed the service’s further development. TALK promotes equity and inclusion in that anyone anywhere with a cellphone can receive TALK messages. Messages are available in both English and Spanish. 

In 2020, YDL engaged with MCLS to grow TALK from a statewide service to a regional and then national service, with a National Leadership Grant from IMLS. MCLS began offering our TALK service for a modest subscription fee in 2023, with the IMLS grant paying for the text messages the system sends to citizens of Indiana and Michigan (until July 31, 2024).  

TALK’s 635 early learning messages were developed by public library youth staff and reviewed by experts and caregivers for readability, accessibility, and cultural sensitivity. TALK’s activities include STEM and social emotional skill building. TALK was developed to increase community awareness about early literacy and the Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) and PLA’s five Every Child Ready to Read 2.0 practices (talk, sing, read, write, play), geared especially to under-resourced families who don’t use the library. YDL and MCLS have improved TALK further with support from IMLS and based on data, resulting in an easy-to-use texting service with supporting promotional and other toolkits that can be used by any library in collaboration with other local agencies to improve school readiness.  

Looking to the future, the MCLS staff are currently updating some of the TALK Toolkit materials, including making some available in Canva as libraries have requested. We are also considering logistics for potentially offering more custom event texts per library, how to collect input for future TALK development, whether to translate TALK into additional languages, and how to form a TALK user group so subscribing libraries may share and learn from one another. 

TALK is a great example of how MCLS can help scale a library service up. Have an idea you want to grow from your library to many, as we’ve helped YDL do with TALK? Let me know at In the meantime, thank you for reading, and I’ll hope to see you at PLA.