Sep 20

Library partnerships help keep the Lights On Afterschool

All across America, afterschool programs love their libraries! According to a 2017 study of more than 350 afterschool programs, nearly three-quarters reported that they were working with their local public library in diverse ways, from literacy initiatives to book lending programs and STEM activities. Those informal learning relationships deserve to be featured, and that’s why one of the major themes of this year’s Lights On Afterschool is library partnerships!

As you write your invitations, be sure to invite staff from your local library to participate in your Lights On Afterschool event. Here are a few possibilities for featuring the library in your celebration:

  • Reach out and ask the library if you can host your celebration there; libraries often serve as valuable community meeting places
  • Encourage librarians to promote and attend your event
  • Invite library staff to read to your students or work at an in-event library card sign-up booth as part of your event

If you’re not already in partnership with a library, it can be difficult to imagine the full spectrum of benefits that close collaboration can produce. But just as afterschool isn’t exclusively limited to child care, libraries aren’t just places for books and study! One of our Lights On Afterschool partners, STAR_Net, is working to connect science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning opportunities with local public libraries. The results are impressive!

For instance, the Ignacio Community Library in Colorado was able to use a STAR_Net curriculum to create a pop-up science museum for students and parents in the area. The success of the exhibit hinged on reaching out to local community-based organizations, including afterschool programs, to get their input about the needs of their students and foster collaboration.

“It was the first time we had done anything remotely like that,” Lucas Gass, Systems Librarian and Technology Coordinator, said of the STAR_Net Explore Space exhibit. “We would do it again in a heartbeat!”

Hosted for two months at the Ignacio Community Library, the STAR_Net Explore Space exhibit used hands-on materials and interactive displays to engage students and families with questions about the role of gravity in our planetary system and differences between Earth—and provided the public library with the opportunity to perform community outreach and forge strong partnerships with local afterschool programs. During the exhibit, the library hosted activities including stargazing with local experts, space-themed story nights, and an “international observe the moon” celebration.

In an interview, Gass went on to say that one of the keys to the success of the Explore Space exhibit was reaching out to local community-based organizations and afterschool programs. “We reached out as soon as we knew we had the grant, and we reached out to a few [programs] before we got the grant to make sure they would want to do programming with us.” 

A strategic approach to communication allowed the library to shape programming early on to suit the needs of community groups and gave the library insight into the kinds of programming that interested those groups and the resources local organizations could contribute. In rural communities, Gass said, it is sometimes difficult to ensure program attendance, but early outreach guaranteed community interest and ultimately boosted attendance at the library’s events.

The popularity of the Explore Space programming further demonstrated that the library and local youth-serving organizations have mutual goals that can be accomplished through partnership. 

“Our main goal at the library is to strengthen community,” said Gass. “So when groups bring children down they get to know the library, they get comfortable with the space, the staff, and it becomes a comfortable place for them whether they come with their groups or by themselves. It helps strengthen them and it helps strengthen us.”

Gass continued that as the library holds future programs, maintaining these relationships and continuing outreach to local programs can benefit the library and the Ignacio community at large.