Featured Library: Bartlett Public Library District
Brian Russell | September 04, 2012
Bartlett (Ill.) Public Library District’s intergenerational program, Pages Across the Ages, pairs senior citizens with children, ages six to twelve, as pen pals. The pilot program included twenty-two pairs of seniors and children, who began by simultaneously reading the same book each month. Originally the chosen titles were classic children’s books—such as Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit and Beverly Cleary’s Ramona the Pest—but now include contemporary works as well. After finishing reading the selection, each partner writes a letter to their pen pal with their impressions of the book, as well as anything else they wish to share.
Participants then “send” their letters by placing them in faux-mailboxes—one at the library, the other at the Clare Oaks Retirement Community, where the senior participants live—to be delivered by the program director, youth librarian Kimberly Gotches. The letters and upcoming reading assignments, are distributed at monthly meetings, held at Clare Oaks for seniors, and at the library for the younger participants.
Based on this format, the interaction between the pen pals is almost exclusively through their exchanged letters. Or was, rather, prior to last month, when the children were able to pay a visit to their older pen pals at a library-organized meet-and-greet held at Clare Oaks. During the gathering, the pen pals met in person for the first time, and learned more about one another as they played bingo, colored, and chatted together.
Broadening children’s understanding of the aging process is the goal of the program, and has proven successful. Children are often surprised by the vivacious content in the letters that they receive from their senior pen pals. The program also promotes children’s handwriting skills and helps motivate them to read. The benefits of this intergenerational communication are not one-sided, however. For seniors, who may be homebound, this is an opportunity to be in contact with both the library and another person. And for the seniors and children alike, this is a chance to interact with someone from a different generation, particularly for those whose grandchildren or grandparents live far away.
The program, which began last February, will continue into the fall, and beyond, as there is currently a waiting list of kids interested in taking part. To see this programming yourself, watch the library’s YouTube video about Pages Across the Ages.
Brian Russell is Program Coordinator at the ALA Public Programs Office.