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Learning Beyond: 21 st Century Summer and Out-Of-School Time Toolkit

Long before COVID-19 upended what we know about informal youth learning in libraries, ALSC commissioned a Task Force to consider the shift in core activities that would mark learning in the 21st Century. From this planning task force, an Implementation Task Force was formed in 2019. The Summer and Out-of-School Time Task Force was charged with creating a national tool predicated upon evidence-based approaches for developing quality and impactful programs and services for children. Learning Beyond: 21st Century Summer and Out-of-School Time Toolkit is the culmination of the ensuing work. The Toolkit reveal happened at the 2021 Annual Conference of the National Summer Learning Association in Washington, DC, where ALSC President Lucia Gonzalez introduced the work as “an integral part of the roadmap we need to help our children move forward through public library service.” 

Learning Beyond advances our understanding and ability to anchor critical 21st Century skills and multiple literacies into our work serving youth. Further, it algins the urgent need for programming which reaches all segments of our communities through sections on equity-building and co-design. Recognizing that programming must be culturally affirming, created with the needs and interests of our community, and include youth voice in planning and implementation, Learning Beyond can help library professionals provide program design for this urgent time. 

The Toolkit has eight sections that include: 

  • Summer in the 21st Century & the Critical Skills of a 21st Century Learner
  • Building Equity 
  • Co-designing Effective Program
  • Working Together/Partnership
  • Evaluating Success
  • Role of Reflection in Learning
  • Online & Digital Programming
  • Positive Youth Development Framework for providing quality programs
 A student doing an engineering design challenge based on The Three Billy Goats Gruff
A student doing an engineering design challenge based on The Three Billy Goats Gruff

Each section contains a narrative overview, five facts to know, a resource list, and a case study from a public library to see the practical application of this work. 

Learning Beyond, created during the COVID-19 pandemic, will help libraries with the urgent need to help design programs and services that more deeply align to the recovery needs of our youth after two years of disrupted learning in both school and out-of-school programs. This ALSC authored work aligns with national research about trends in COVID-related learning recovery. Recent research from Future Ed states that “Summer learning and after-school programs emerge as the top strategies for helping students recover academically from the pandemic’s impacts.” Public libraries are essential to the learning ecosystem of a community. As such, we must align our efforts to the evidence and best practices we see helping our children during this unprecedented time. The Learning Beyond Toolkit offers a path forward for ensuring our public library programs are responsive and equity-based so all our children may rise and thrive.

Elizabeth McChesney is a career-long Children’s Services Librarian. She served at the Chicago Public Library for 31 years where she was the System-Wide Director of Children’s Services and Family Engagement and with her team transformed the first summer reading program to a summer learning program. She currently serves as a library consultant and works with the National Summer Learning Association, Urban Libraries Council, and Laundry Literacy Coalition. Liz chaired the ALSC Summer and OST Task Force and is the 2021 ALSC Distinguished Services Awardee. Her publications include Summer Matters: Making All Learning Count and Pairing STEAM with Stories, both ALA Editions publications. Liz is writing on behalf of the School-Age Programs and Services Committee and can be reached at

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, V. Outreach and Advocacy, VII. Professionalism and Professional Development

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