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The Intergenerational Library - Innovation from the Allegheny County Library Association

Posted: October 19, 2011

The Allegheny County Library Association has initiated programs aimed at bringing together older and younger people for purposeful and intentional intergenerational experiences.
Grandmother and granddaughter cut tissue paper in Collage Explorations: The Altered Book as Canvas with Create Together teach-ing artist Alison Zapata.

Grandmother and granddaughter cut tissue paper in Collage Explorations: The Altered Book as Canvas with Create Together teach-ing artist Alison Zapata.

By Charity Leonette, Community Partnerships Coordinator and Webmaster, Allegheny County Library Association

Libraries are found in almost every community across the United States. They are a natural community center for all ages, a space for spontaneity, creativity, socializing, and long stays. In that role, libraries are bringing together older and younger people for purposeful and intentional intergenerational experiences.

In 2004, the ACLA (Allegheny County Library Association) began interviewing library directors and conducted a needs assessment of libraries across the county related to intergenerational programming. Subsequent efforts included adding an intergenerational component to Summer Reading Clubs (which traditionally are separated for children and adults) and partnering with local organizations to establish new programs. ACLA partnered with the Brew House Association to pilot a visual arts program aimed at promoting intergenerational trust and understanding. Twelve participants took part in six weekly sessions, each lasting 1.5 hours. Activities included sculpting, collage, drawing, fabrics, acrylic painting and watercolor painting. The Andrew Bayne Memorial Library was chosen as the pilot library sites because of their enthusiasm for intergenerational activities as well as their strong local connection with populations of youth and older adults.

Over 60 works were included in the exhibit, and over fifty people from across the county visited the two hour gallery exhibit. Because of the success of this pilot, the program was replicated in four libraries during the summer of 2008 as Catch the Art Bug and in the summer of 2009 and 2011 as Create Together with expanded two-hour workshops and a collaborative art exhibit. In the planning of the program ACLA worked closely with the Brew House Association and Generations Together at the University of Pittsburgh. In addition the Valley Care Association, a local service organization for seniors and families, shared their successful intergenerational art program and exhibit with local schools.

At the pilot library for Create Together: An Intergenerational Art Program one of the older adult participants asked why everyone is not hosting intergenerational programs. We have a vision for an Intergenerational Academy where youth and older adults can explore multidisciplinary topics at local libraries across our region. With our vast array of community partners we are now planning for an expanded program this summer and fall; activities include writing, health & yoga, music and of course art. Partners for new demonstration series this fall include Yoga In Schools and Yoga on the Square, local singer and musician Ellen Gozion, and poets Judith R. Robinson and Jay Carson.

Yoga Together: An Intergenerational Wellness Experience will bring yoga-inspired exercise to the library for six weeks to pro-mote wellness for both students in grades 3-6 and older participants. Voices Together: An Intergenerational Singing Experience will feature singing circles for students in grades 5-8 and older participants to learn American folk songs together over four weeks. In Poetry Together: An Intergenerational Writing Experience students in grades 3-6 and a group of older adults will explore the creativity and imagination of poetry over five weeks. We are now in the brainstorming stages for a green program series in celebration of Rachel Carson. Each hosting library will provide a follow-up program that will engage current as well as new participants.

The ACLA Intergenerational Academy also includes the monthly Intergenerational PALS Book Clubs for high school students and older adults as well as a pilot program of an Intergenerational Conversation Salon and Wise Walk. To learn more about these programs visit Countywide Programming at aclalibraries.org.