Outside-the-Box Outreach

To connect with more kids, youth services librarians should look to adults

November 1, 2018

Youth Matters

I don’t have to convince librarians that the public library should be an integral part of its community, but it may take some outreach to get members of the community thinking that way.

Your youth services staffers may already be doing this outreach. For instance, your library might bring storytimes to local day cares or crafts to after-school programs. But what about reaching the adults in your community as a means of reaching the kids?

This outside-the-box approach to youth services outreach can reap results beyond what you might imagine. Phyllis Peter, youth services librarian at Newton (Iowa) Public Library, has noticed this in extending efforts to seniors. Peter was initially asked to provide general outreach to a nearby adult day care facility’s memory care unit, so she took the invitation and ran with it. The library partnered with a local day care interested in bringing children to the unit, and a preschool–senior storytime was born.

It soon became evident that the seniors were benefiting from regular programming and interactions with young people. Several clients talk about the visits for hours afterward, and even though they have memory loss, many remember when the children are scheduled to visit. Meanwhile, the children are getting more time with caring, attentive adults.

Peter has also gotten comments from patrons that program has developed the children’s empathy skills. “One mom of a child who attends each month said her 3-year-old was at a restaurant, saw an elderly man struggling with his walker, and went over to help him,” she says. “[The mother] was floored and realized that because her child was interacting with elderly persons regularly, she was now sensitive to their needs.”

The partnership has been so successful that the owner of the day care schedules additional visits each month and has started planning her own programming with the seniors.

Spreading the word about family programs and services that your library offers just might open up an avenue of grant funding or attract volunteers.

My own library, Floyd County (Ind.) Library, has partnered with local colleges and universities that offer degree programs in education. I contacted the education department of Indiana University Southeast in New Albany and asked if we could speak to the students during their first seminar of the year. Our staffers shared with them ideas about how to use the public library throughout their college careers and beyond, when they become teachers and have their own classrooms.

We have also partnered with our local community college’s early childhood education program and invited students in the curriculum work on their projects in our children’s room. They also spend one or two class sessions at the public library so we can introduce them to our resources and show them how our collection can support their lesson planning. My hope is that if we can reach them while they’re still training, the public library will become an integral part of their teaching.

There are many possibilities for reaching adults who have connections to children. Service groups like Kiwanis Clubs, Lions Clubs, or Altrusa International are often amenable to having guest speakers at their meetings. Spreading the word about family programs and services that your library offers just might open up an avenue of grant funding or attract volunteers.

Afterschool Alliance and United Way’s Success by 6 are two national programs that may have branches in your area. If these groups are meeting in your community, the library should have a seat at the table. These types of meetings are great for networking and figuring out how your library can partner with local organizations. These groups might not think to invite the library, so don’t be afraid to ask to attend—you’ll often find them receptive to including new attendees who care about children.

Reaching out to adults may not be the first idea that comes to mind for youth services librarians, but don’t let these opportunities escape you. This unlikely approach to outreach can be just the thing to establish your library as essential to the community.


Drew Alvey (in red shirt), manager of Houston Public Library's Stimley–Blue Ridge branch, models interactive play for families. Photo: Houston Public Library

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