First off, let me say: I think we, youth services librarianship, do early literacy pretty darn well. Sure, we have room for improvement, could use more trainings and refreshers, would benefit from professional development and conference sessions on early literacy programming. But, for the most part, we do a pretty good job of understanding and meeting the need for early literacy programming.
That said, I think our (necessary) focus on early literacy programming has caused us to (unnecessarily) leave school-age programming by the wayside.
It is part of my personal philosophy of public library service that public libraries should offer diverse programming options to school-age children. In many libraries, these children age out of preschool early literacy programming and don't have much to look forward to at the library until they're old enough to enjoy the teen programs that libraries have been building over the past decade. Occasionally there's a craft, and maybe there's a LEGO Club--both great programs for sure. But that's not enough.
School-age children are at this wonderful age in which they are really starting to become their own people. They spend significant portions of their days away from Mom and Dad, be it at school and/or activities, and this time away helps them to see and experience things from their own personal perspectives. School-age children are starting to develop their own personal interests, and public libraries should help them develop these new interests. We should offer them programs in which they get a taste of science, of history, of fantasy, of mythology. We should offer them activities in a program setting to really explore topics and ideas they may not have really interacted with before, like building and mummification and zeppelins and every interesting thing about the world. We should offer school-age children programs in which kids can discover, learn about, and celebrate their interests with their peers.
I very strongly believe school-age programming is something that every public library with programming services should provide. To that end, I have a few things to say to the key players in making school-age programming happen.
Librarians and other library staff who plan and lead programs: Make school-age programming a professional goal. Think about the level of programming you currently provide to preschoolers and/or teens and then try to help school-age programming catch up in terms of number of options. Offer a combination of recurring programs (Kids Advisory Board, book discussion club, LEGO Club) and stand-alone programs at times that work for your community. Make sure to include literary elements or other ties to your library collections in your programs; after all, programming is about building a love and use of the library. And when it comes to planning programs, please don't feel like you have to go it alone. Use the myriad of terrific resources that exist, from blogs, conference content, and Pinterest boards that share great school-age programming ideas. Better yet, use your personal learning network. Ask your peers what's worked for them, and then think about modifying it to fit your library's needs. There are so many amazing programs out there (here's a post that shares just the tip of the iceberg of my go-to sources of inspiration) that you need never start totally from scratch unless you want to.
Library managers and administrators: Make school-age programming an institutional priority. There's no good reason for the continuum of library services to drop to minimum levels when we talk about grade schoolers. In fact, it's good business sense to offer free, fun activities for children this age--practically every other activity these kids might participate in costs money, from scouting to sports to arts lessons and classes. Having free alternatives readily available at the library not only levels the playing field in terms of who can participate, but it also sends a very important signal to caregivers that the library is here for them and their families' educational and leisure needs. There are few ways to so quickly become a vital institution in the eyes of parents.
Folks with influence in library staffing and hiring: Where are the school-age specialist positions? I love how more and more libraries are crafting specific early literacy specialist positions; what a great resource to have on staff, someone who can do all the things a youth librarian does and additionally offer early literacy-specific program planning and training. Pat yourselves on the back if you've hired one. But the school-age service area requires just as much focus. Imagine your library with a school-age specialist: that's a librarian who can create diverse programming options for use in multiple settings; who can serve as point person on educational initiatives that impact the library, such as Common Core; who can develop frameworks for services that help children achieve their developmental assets; and who can train colleagues to more effectively reach their school-age customers and their families through programs and services. That's a librarian with the capacity to add significant value across the whole institution, and yet not many libraries have thought of hiring one.
It all comes to this: all school-age children with access to a library should have the opportunity to enjoy regular, age-appropriate programming that interests them. Access is an entirely different issue in and of itself, but when the library is there, it should offer activities for school-age kids that kids want to attend. We need to better serve these young customers. We need to talk about school-age programming.