College of Nursing and iSchool collaborate for a $100,000 childhood development grant


Sculpted concrete bookcases in the Beck Family Gardens on the east side of Merrill Hall. 

Mateo Martin Reporter

The Supporting Healthy Infant Early Learning and Development project, or Project SHIELD, is a study led by three professors focused on gaining research on how children ages zero to 24 months could benefit from a library’s learning space.

The first two years of life are crucial for development, and the informal learning space of a library can be a bridge to underserved families with children in those stages.

SHIELD received a $100,000 planning grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. With this money, they hope to conduct enough research over the next year that will put them in a position for a larger grant. 

The principal investigator Katie Campana and co-investigator Michelle Baldini are both professors at the Kent State School of Information. Both have extensive experience in working with youth. The idea stemmed from a conversation on how important a child’s first three years of life are. Seeing how much a library can positively impact those years, they decided to collaborate.

Many families are amidst a time of health concerns because of COVID-19. When the team recognized how impactful community health practitioners are, they decided the College of Nursing needed to be involved. That’s when Elaine Thomas, a professor there, joined the team as a co-investigator.

They received the grant summer 2021, so they are beginning preliminary research. 

“We’re going to start out getting surveys together and ready to be sent out nationally to library practitioners and nurses,” Campana said. “And those will really focus on gathering information about how they’re working with families of very young children.”

They want to know what happens when library professionals and nurses come together to bridge the gap between learning access and families who need it. The next step will be working directly with families through focus groups across northeast Ohio to understand their views on early learning and the challenges they’ve experienced with it.

The final stage of SHIELD will host design workshops in the spring that will bring library practitioners and nurses together and identify ways to support families with very young children. 

The research team has a student project manager in order to include as many students as possible. The team plans to have both library and nursing students participate in workshops next semester. Through this grant, students will be able to watch professionals talk about their field and network as much as possible.

“We take it very seriously in terms of ‘students first’ and giving these students hands-on, immersive learning experiences,” Baldini said. “It makes a huge difference once they graduate by the networking they’re exposed to.”

This is a planning grant, so students will be able to have a larger role with a larger grant. However, they would have had a more intensive role if it wasn’t for COVID.

They were writing the grant proposal during the midst of the pandemic and they didn’t know if Kent State would offer in-person or virtual classes. The unprecedented nature of the virus forced Project SHIELD to be designed in a way that was COVID friendly.

“We felt like it was a safer route to dial back some of that participation for the initial planning grant,” Campana said.

The grant is part of a $22.7 million investment in U.S. library initiatives, according to a press release by the IMLS. The goal is to advance childhood theory and practice with new tools, research findings, models, services, practices or alliances that will be widely used. 

There were initially 172 preliminary proposals requesting almost $48 million, but the IMLS only awarded 78 of those proposals.

SHIELD will be serving the children through library and health services and it will remind us what libraries really do in the process. Libraries go beyond the lending of a book, they support the communities they serve. They work tirelessly to connect to families with young children who need the help, Baldini said.

“It’s difficult to see the reality of situations and our role is to try to inform in a way that resonates with parents and caretakers,” Baldini said. “We ultimately want to help the most vulnerable citizens, which are infants.”

 Mateo Martin covers research and the environment. Contact him at [email protected]