The Important Role of Libraries in the Hours After School

This blog was originally published on the Afterschool Snack blog.

By Jen Rinehart
Afterschool Alliance

In my 10 years with the Afterschool Alliance, there hadn’t really been any conferences that dealt specifically with how libraries are providing expanded learning opportunities for kids after school—but that seems to be changing.  Within the first six weeks of 2013, I had the opportunity to participate in two convenings comprised largely of public library staff members who are working to provide expanded learning opportunities for youth after school and during the summer months.

The first was a Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) convening focused on how libraries can better serve teens.  The Teens and Libraries Summit brought together individuals from the fields of education, technology, librarianship, youth development, research, afterschool and more to discuss the important role that libraries can play in meeting the needs of youth.

It was a really interesting discussion and the youth who participated were fantastic advocates for the importance of libraries.  I left with a strong sense of the important role that librarians play in the lives of teens and how much the youth value having access to library spaces and mentors.

The second convening was hosted by the Urban Libraries Council and the Association for Science and Technology Centers and brought together representatives from 30 Learning Labs located in libraries and museums across the country.  These labs are using the inspiration of the YOUmedia model at the Harold Washington Library Center of the Chicago Public Library to engage young people in learning, socializing and participating civically through the use of digital technologies—building on their interests and connecting them to valuable resources and peers. The Learning Labs are designed to help young people become makers and creators of content, rather than just consumers of it.

For those interested in understanding how to create teen tech spaces like the Learning Labs within local libraries or afterschool programs, I would highly recommend browsing the YOUmedia online toolkit.  It offers very practical resources, such as sample floor planscurriculum and programming ideasstaffing requirements, and estimated budgets.

At both of these convenings, I was especially encouraged to hear so many participants speak with enthusiasm about strengthening connections between public libraries and afterschool and summer programs.  I think the time is right to forge stronger relationships across these two valuable sectors that are helping to expand learning for children and youth in the hours after school.

The Afterschool Alliance has plans to help forge some of those connections this year and to highlight several of the promising library-based expanded learning programs that are currently serving youth.  Stay tuned for future blog posts and additional resources on the topic, including anupcoming webinar on March 21 titled, The New Normal: Public Libraries as Partners in 21stCentury Learning.

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