LIFT Program at Edith B. Ford Memorial Library
Submitted by Shannon O’Connor, Director
How Tweens Roll
It’s not hard to figure out why tweens are an often overlooked age group in library programming – they tend to be rambunctious and a bit unfocused as they see-saw between a child-like and teen existence. They are also a group that often lacks transportation to the library. But tweens are very receptive to creative programming and quickly become a library’s most loyal patrons and outspoken champions. For the Edith B. Ford Memorial Library in Ovid, New York, the secret to successful tween programming has been to provide a bus for students to and from the library.
When I began as the director of my small rural library in 2009, I noticed our middle school students loitering about our village gazebo enjoying their haul of processed foods from the nearby discount store. I wanted to get the youth into the library by creating an afterschool program that would introduce them to new books, provide a healthy snack that kids could learn to make at home, and to engage youth in hands- on art and science activities. Thus LIFT (LIbraries for Teens) was created.
The Ford Memorial Library serves two rural school districts with an average of 35 kids per grade level in each school. The biggest barrier for us to host middle school youth is transportation. As a member of the Finger Lakes Library System, I found the perfect way to bring sixth grade students into my library each and every week through a grant funded by the Bernard Carl and Shirley Rosen Library Fund as administered by the Community Foundation of Tompkins County. Through the Rosen Grant I have access to funds to pay the cost of busing students to the library after school and then busing individual students home after two hours of programming.
When I created LIFT in 2010, my main goal was to partner with local universities, local artists, and anyone with a talent willing to share knowledge and skills with our students. We have dissected ocean creatures, articulated hominoid skeletons, used power tools to build Bluebird houses, learned to cook Korean food, and we built a full-size trebuchet. We have also taken field trips to local businesses and historical sites and the kids have helped the library prepare for fundraising events.
LIFT has also created a very strong partnership between the library and our school districts. To initially set up the LIFT program, I had to meet with principals, superintendents, transportation departments and school secretaries. At the beginning of each school year I contact all sixth grade teachers to ask if I could speak directly with students to recruit for our LIFT program. In our two school districts, we average 83% and 70% of the total sixth grade class regularly attending LIFT. Use of our library by teachers has increased and we are now always invited to school open houses, special events and we have conducted book talks in classrooms. We are seen as an education partner and this has only bolstered our standing in the community.
There are days, especially around the holidays and again towards the end of the school year that hosting 20 sixth grade students in a single community room makes me second guess my sanity; however, as I look around at our group, I know many of our kids live far from the library and they never had a library card before LIFT. One of the kids will inevitably demand my attention to tell me about a book he read or to show me what she is making and I will smile amid the chaos knowing that we are helping to create a new generation of learners, readers and library supporters.