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Libraries and Museums as Afterschool Allies

October 18, 2012

Afterschool Alliance logoBy Kamila Thigpen
Associate, Afterschool Alliance

Cross-posted from Afterschool Snack: The Afterschool Alliance Blog

This year, we’ve teamed up with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) as a national partner of Lights on Afterschool. The mission of IMLS is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Whereas many of us have memories of our neighborhood library providing a setting for solitary (and preferably quiet) learning opportunities, today’s youth are being introduced to an entirely different experience that is vibrant and—dare I say—cool.

For older youth especially, these bedrocks of the community are evolving into destinations for hands-on, collaborative and informal learning. They are undergoing a 21st century makeover and, in the process, taking a more active role in supporting children's learning and development in the hours after school. Through a mixture of in-house and outreach programs, museums and libraries are a hub for strategic community partnerships that extend beyond the walls of their buildings.

Take for example the 21st century learning labs that are being piloted in a dozen libraries located in major cities around the country. Based on new research about how young people learn and modeled after YOUmedia Chicago, these learning labs will use both digital and traditional media to build the skills and competencies that youth need to be successful in the 21st century. While these spaces will be intentionally designed to provide an unstructured environment for teens to explore interests and collaborate with peers, they’ll also involve partnerships with local educational, cultural and civic organizations to build a network of learning opportunities for young people. In the case of YOUmedia, this means tapping into community partners to lead skill-building workshops that range from one-time to multi-week sessions.

One of the benefits of using museums and libraries to bring together multiple community partners is that it offers a physical location that is accessible and open to youth from varied backgrounds and areas of the city. It’s an opportunity for youth to connect with a more diverse group of peers than they would in school-based or community-based programs. However, there are also great examples of these institutions reaching into communities to bring engaging learning experiences directly to youth.

In San Francisco, the Exploratorium (a museum of science, art and human perception) established the Community Outreach Program to target underserved children, teens and families by partnering with several community-based organizations in the area. These organizations include the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Francisco, YMCA and First Graduate. While the Exploratorium does provide its own in-house programming, it also sends its staff out to neighborhood programs on a regular basis to conduct workshops and activities. In addition, these programs are provided access to free educational materials, professional in-service workshops and Exploratorium resources.

For more information and resources about partnerships between libraries, museums and afterschool providers, check out the Afterschool/Out-of-School page on the IMLS website. Also, be sure to use the Lights On Afterschool event finder to locate libraries and museums in your area that are hosting an event!