Programs for School-Age Youth in Public Libraries

Article excerpt

Report of a survey conducted for the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund

The DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund recently approved a long-term investment to increase the availability of high quality programs for school-age youth in public libraries, especially in low-income communities, and to build the capacity of the public libraries to support and sustain these programs. As a first step in this investment the Fund asked ALA to collect and disseminate information about current public library programs for youth. In 1998, questionnaires were mailed to 1,500 public libraries in the United States. All 461 public libraries serving populations of 100,000 or more received the questionnaire. Libraries serving from 5,000 to 100,000 were sampled if they met certain criteria regarding staff, hours open and annual operating expenditures. 1,256 libraries returned surveys (83 percent) and 1,248 of them reported offering programs for school-age youth. This report summarizes those 1,248 responses.

1. The questionnaire listed six common types of programs and asked if the library provided them. The programs are listed below in order of popularity.

* 99.6 percent provided reading programs. For example: a librarian leads youth in discussion on preselected books; a librarian or invited guest tells stories to youth; library staff prepare lists of books for summer reading and/or provide prizes for youth who read a specific number of books.

* 82.6 percent provided cultural programs. For example: authors of books are invited to talk about their work or read from it; local or national musical or dramatic groups are invited to present their work; librarian or other expert leads workshop on creative writing.

* 42.2 percent provided community service/leadership programs. For example: youth join the "Junior Friends," a group modeled on the adult Friends of Libraries groups that provide financial and moral support for public libraries; youth tutor younger students in the library; youth volunteer to do tasks around the library.

* 33.2 percent provided computer classes/workshops. For example: librarians or other local experts teach youth how to use the Internet, design and construct Web pages and use specific software packages.

* 23.4 percent provided homework assistance. For example: library sets aside space where youth can work in private and provides basic reference books for their use; library offers a special telephone "hotline" youth can call to get answers; library staff organize a tutoring program using volunteer tutors (adults or older youth).

* 19.2 percent provided career development programs. For example: library provides extensive information about careers; library staff organize or sponsor a "career fair" where youth can get information about many careers from people already working in them; library invites representatives of different occupational groups to demonstrate or talk about what they do.

Respondents providing each of the six types of programs were asked the same set of eight questions about each of the six types. Responses are summarized in the next seven points (numbers 2-8).

2. The questionnaire defined outlets as "main library, branches, book-mobiles." The percentage of outlets involved varied by type of program but libraries with more than one outlet always involved more than one (e.g., the main library plus one or more branches, several branches but not the main library, the main library plus several branches and several bookmobiles).

3. Paid library staff usually took responsibility for planning and implementing programs. The six other categories given as choices on the questionnaire (paid school district staff, paid community-based organization staff, parents/caregivers, school-age youth, Friends of Libraries, other volunteers) were selected much less often. "Other volunteers" was the most frequently selected of these other six. …