First 5 Forever is an early and family literacy initiative coordinated by State Library of Queensland (SLQ) and first implemented in 2015. It is delivered in partnership with local councils, the network of Queensland public libraries and Indigenous Knowledge Centres, and other government and non-government agencies throughout Queensland. SLQ has commissioned independent evaluations of the initiative, which have indicated positive outcomes in terms of reach, participation levels, and overall effectiveness (Morris Hargreaves McIntyre, 2017).
The aim of this report is to identify and evaluate the broader societal impacts of the initiative, building on the existing Libraries as Creative Spaces framework. Drawing on a contextual review, existing First 5 Forever data and evaluations, as well as interviews with First 5 Forever and public library staff, the First 5 Forever initiative was evaluated in terms of the framework’s eight primary criteria. It was found to have achieved impacts in every category:
- Provides access to resources – very strong impact
- Helps to build ideas – very strong impact
- Connects people to civic engagement – strong impact
- Supports the development of community – very strong impact
- Aids cultural participation – very strong impact
- Supports health and wellbeing – very strong impact
- Provides for educational attainment – very strong impact
- Encourages economic productivity – strong impact
The report breaks down these primary criteria into sub-criteria, providing evidence for each, and uses case studies to further highlight examples of best practice. The report demonstrates that public libraries are highly appropriate vehicles through which to support, facilitate, and lead early literacy development programs. While primarily built around promoting and improving early literacy, the First 5 Forever initiative is also a community facilitator and connector, supporting families and children through a culture of participation and lifelong learning.
The First 5 Forever initiative has enhanced families’ connections with health professionals and community organisations, and has provided a safe space to learn about parenting, connect with other families and discuss issues. The initiative encourages and inspires innovation and the support of local economies through skills development, engagement with local providers and the use of locally sourced materials. The partnerships facilitated by public libraries through First 5 Forever with other service providers from childcare, to health and community organisations create additional efficiencies and enhance community connections for families.