Be the Competition! Join the School Age Programming Movement


As I am taking the plunge into the school age programming pool and trying to get others to swim with me, I am noticing a trend…Some youth services librarians don’t think what they do for a living is important. (Amy, storytime ninja at Storytime Underground, wrote about this, too.) There are a number of reasons why some librarians do not want to test the waters in the school age arena:


  1. Afraid of drowning: Trying something new is scary! Every time an adult patron asks me to help with genealogy I hope they don’t notice the sweat that soon covers me and soaks through my shirt! But I try my best, which is really what any of us can do. Plus, I like the variety in my duties (working with preschool, school age, teen and adults patrons all in once day!). I truly learn something new every day.
    water up nose
  2. Afraid of getting water up the nose: No matter how seasoned we become at working with a particular age group, it is inevitable that we will fail every once in a while. We all have bad days, the kids have bad days, the weather will effect everyone, the activity we planned will not work. This happens. It happens in storytime, it happens while teaching computer classes, it happens working the circ desk. I don’t let it get me down. I keep a diary of “cute kid stories” that cheer me up, and I have drawings and thank you notes posted on my desk when I have the occasional bad program event.
    man alone in water
  3. Afraid of being the only one in the water: When I started doing school age programs, I had a handful of children attend. I was ecstatic! I had the same amount of patrons that the adult book club averages each month. I embraced the “small” group of children! I was so happy that they wanted to spend their time with me talking about books and doing activities. Their parents took time out of their day to get their children to and from the library. How awesome it was to be part of the community. Of course, my numbers have grown and yours will naturally, too. You’ll adjust to the different types of groups that come to your programs just as you adjust to the different types of preschool crowds you get attending different events. Even though I average 30 children at a program now, I still enjoy the times I get a small group. We really get to know each other during that hour. (And can you imagine telling your director that you are going to cancel the adult book club because only a handful of patrons showed up? No? Good. Why do we think that way about children’s programs?)
  4. There are too many pools: A lot of librarians don’t want to “compete” with sports, scouts, leadership, etc. I don’t understand this. Our culture relies on menus of options. By not offering an option to families you are essentially telling your community that you / the library / literacy / reading / lifelong learning is not important. You are saying to your community that extra-curricular school activities, sports, scouts, and fill-in-the-blank is more important. You may not reach children who love sports and sign up for multiple sports each season. You may not get children whose parents think our society is too scheduled. But you’ll get children who need a safe place to spend time, and you’ll offer a whole slew of benefits to these children. (See S.A.F.E. practices for more info.) Plus, I’ve never heard of libraries not offering preschool programs because they don’t want to “compete” with preschool programs.
  5. The children already know how to swim: Don’t stop offering programs after the preschool level. You already have a base of library users from preschool storytime. If you offer programs when they get into school, then become teens, and then adults you’ll have lifelong library users, supporters, and donors. They will grow up seeing how important libraries, literacy, and lifelong learning is to themselves, their families and their community. And, they will bring their own children to the library.


You are doing important work! Don’t forget it. So dive in! Who’s with me?!

8 thoughts on “Be the Competition! Join the School Age Programming Movement

    1. Thanks for sharing, Carol! It’s always fun to see other people’s ideas and which ones work and which don’t.

      And thanks for contributing to the monthly blog hop, Thrive Thursday. It’s starting to catch on! =)

  1. Thank you for being a spokesperson for this. I recently bought your book and am working on starting a free afterschool program in one of my small libraries. It’s new territory for me, but I’m not afraid to flop on things. I’ll know pretty quickly if it doesn’t work, and if it does work, I’ll be elated!

  2. I’m a middle years librarian, and I agree, this age group can definitely be more challenging to work with. Tween programming can be all about the slow burn – working for months to develop relationships and build connections with kids who can sometimes be a bit skeptical about the library. But that’s what makes this work so important! I’ve done writing groups, book clubs, journaling workshops, graphic novel making, ESL conversation clubs, even manga meetups with school age kids, it’s super fun. Working with school age kids can be so rewarding, and I’m very glad you’re championing this important age group!

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