Libraries are one of the few community spaces where people of all ages commingle. As a child my grandparents introduced me to the library, and we frequented their local branch during the week. When I became a librarian I was thrilled to serve not only in youth services, but also assist adults when the opportunity arose. Thinking back to my teen years volunteering at a local senior center, I wanted to introduce more library programs that could bridge the generation gap.
Since libraries are often seen as the heart of the community, offering intergenerational programming can only help to reflect that image. The EPA lists some of the Benefits of Intergenerational Programs, with many being relevant to libraries. Serving multiple needs, collaborating with local organizations, and building social skills for both children and seniors, are among the listed benefits.
One of the first intergenerational programs we hosted at the library was Grandparents’ Storytime. Deciding to make travel easier for seniors we contacted the local Senior Center to see if they were willing to host. Each month the librarians would recruit a few families to visit the Senior Center for a preschool storytime. The center would gather a few regulars to read aloud to the kids, and the librarians would share rhymes and songs to supplement. Inevitably there was always time remaining for all the adults and children to share stories and the occasional joke.
Each year during the One Book, One Community series, the children’s librarians have collaborated with the adult book group to hold a book discussion inviting both age groups. Some years have produced few kid participants, but we have continued to offer the program annually, fully believing in its importance. This year we rebranded the event as a Family Book Discussion and attendance skyrocketed.
Having other staff members who are passionate about intergenerational programming definitely helps in advocating to your administration. The Head of Adult Programming at our library has offered a technology class called Juniors Helping Seniors, where tech-savvy students assist seniors with new technologies. This month she will launch a series called Science CafÃ© where adults and kids will build quadcopters and learn the common misconceptions regarding UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).
As a librarian offering opportunities for kids and adults to collaborate gives each population a chance to learn from one another. Whether it’s tangible life skills, or the value of compassion and community, the library can be the perfect space to grow these relationships.
Here are a few resources for inspiration:
Claire Moore is the Assistant Head of Children’s Services at Darien Library in Darien, CT. Claire can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.