America After 3 PM: How Do Libraries Fit In?

From Open Clip Art

From Open Clip Art

The Afterschool Alliance just published a study regarding after school programs in the United States. This is the third study of its kind, following in the results from the 2004 and 2009 studies. The group wants to document where and how children spend their time between 3 and 6 PM. The previous studies, along with this one, show that there is a demand for after school programs.’  However, more programming is needed to help reach the approximately 11.3 million children who are unsupervised after school.

The study is full of facts and figures. Such as: 18 percent (10.2 million) children participate in some after school program. This is an increase by nearly 2 million children when the study was conducted five years ago. We can only hope that number will continue to rise. Parents enroll their students in after school programs because it allows them to feel that their children are safe and also in an nurturing and creative environment. Parents that were polled were satisfied with their after school programs when the organization provided a snack, opportunity for physical activity, an environment to complete homework, and also a space for enrichment activities, such as STEM programs.

Income and ethnicity also played a role in the study; students from low-income families make up 45 percent of the students enrolled in after school programs and the most demand for after school programs is highest among African American families. This study confirmed that yes, we as a country are beginning to provide the after school programs our communities need, but a gap still exists.

So what does this mean for libraries and us as librarians? This is an opportunity to us to help out our community and potentially reach the population of people who feel underserved by after school programs. Of those 11.3 million children who are unsupervised, the majority are teens in middle and high school. For libraries, it can mean two things. The first is that we can either create some sort of informal (or formal) after school program or space for our teens to come to. If we foster an environment of learning and fun, we can help create a space the teens will flock to (at least, that’s what we hope). Our other option is reach out to after school programs in the area. We should ask ourselves, Where could the library fit in to their programming? Perhaps we could visit the program, or even just give them information about the library and events you offer. Regardless, establish some connection that says, “Hey, we’re the library and we are here for you.” If we can make our presence known, through establishing a place in our library or through outreach, we have the potential to make connections, ones that will last a long time. The study cited that students were more likely to continue the program into the summer. Hey, we do summer programming and wouldn’t it be great to get more kids involved? After school programs are our “in.” And in the process, we have the potential to do a lot of good.

So let’s get the conversation going. Are your libraries an after-school spot? What has worked for you? What has not? Since the study does not explicitly cite libraries as a spot for after-school program or programming, I’m curious to know what our librarians are already doing from that 3-6 PM time zone.

About Hailley Fargo

Hi, I'm a new professional working as the Student Engagement Librarian at Penn State University, University Park campus. As someone who provides reference to undergraduate students and teach information literacy to primarily freshman, I'm curious about the intersections of the work of YALSA and academic libraries (and how we can collaborate and work together to help our teens). In my spare time, I like to bike, read memoirs, watch TV shows, and consider myself an oatmeal connoisseur.
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One Comment

  1. Fantastic article! I love to see this topic addressed.

    I am going to start by saying that (in my opinion), 3-6 is kind of a “dead zone” at my library for tweens and teens because of sports and after school activities. Don’t get me wrong, we do have teens and tweens that come in during these hours, but their presence isn’t exactly overwhelming. It is a struggle to get in touch with people at our local schools, largely because the traditional media specialists no longer exist in our high schools. (Their jobs were changed into something else. We now have part time media assistants who, sadly for us, are doing the job of a full-time person who had a Master’s degree.) These media specialists had previously been our main points of contact. Now we are just sending emails to staff members that might be interested in our programs; we rarely get responses.

    Programs that we offer for teens between 3 and 6 include our TAB (we call it YOLO- Youth Offering Library Opinions) at 4, teen movie night at 5, Anime on Mondays at 4, and Yu-Gi-Oh tournaments at 4. Each of these programs is once a month and the turnout is a mixed bag. I have had some teens say that they have jobs and they work during these hours, and I have had other teens that have sports, or ROTC, or academic clubs that meet right after school. There are, of course, ways for the library to do outreach with these groups. Depending on the size of your library staff, and how many schools you have in your area, it may be a challenge. One of my biggest issues is overreaching; I want to get in with all of our local schools….right now! (We have about 8 local high schools and as many local middle schools. As far as local elementary schools, there are over a dozen.) Given the small staff at my library, this is going to take a bit of time.

    What it all comes down to is looking at what your community wants and needs. I can create programs, but if they do not interest the teens I serve, they will fail. I tried a teen book club; that did not work at all. I tried changing nights and times, but that didn’t help. This past summer, we even partnered with a local high school English teacher and offered to host the school’s book club meetings. No one showed for either meeting during the summer. However, just this past fall, I did a teen play (for which we received a grant to do) and the teens loved it! All of our meetings took place at 6 PM, giving teens that participated (and there were about 30) time to finish band, sports, ROTC, and after school jobs. Each meeting had anywhere from 4 to 20 teens present. There were some weeks that we had 4 meetings a week and each meeting had about 14 teens present. I thought about why this event was successful and I have determined that a big part of it was starting the meetings at 6 PM and staggering the meeting nights. I also think it was successful because the teens helped develop it. When I wrote my grant application, I had teen feedback on what they wanted to do. After the play was over, I had a few teens who wanted to do another one while others wanted to start a drama club at the library. We hosted a program that they were excited about and that they helped create. I think this is a the key to successful teen programs; let them take some ownership of their programs.

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