ERIC Identifier: ED343687
Publication Date: 1992-00-00
Author: Dowd, Frances Smardo
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Library Latchkey Children. ERIC Digest.
Throughout the U.S. and Canada many children are spending their after-school
hours at public libraries until being picked up by a working parent
(Budziszewski, 1990). While public librarians have traditionally welcomed the
use of library resources by children, library latchkey youth are a controversial
issue among librarians because most public librarians feel that they are not
trained to be caregivers; that their libraries do not have sufficient staff to
provide child care; and that their facilities are not equipped or licensed to
function as a substitute for child care centers (American Library Association,
Results of a national study conducted by the
author in 1990 revealed that almost all of the 110 large, public libraries
surveyed encountered latchkey or unattended children who used the library for
child care purposes after school, but that innovative strategies were being
implemented to address the needs of this audience. The minority of libraries
sampled were adversely affected by latchkey children in regard to legal
liability (13%); medical emergencies or accidents (18%); reallocation of staff
to cover the after-school hours (20%); and need for increased security measures
(34%). The most frequently reported services offered by public libraries for
this clientele were: information and referral regarding reliable licensed child
care (63%); storyhours, clubs and other traditional library programs (51%);
drop-in activity programs (such as arts and crafts and films) (47%); and
volunteer opportunities for children (43%). Almost all the librarians learned
about services to latchkey children from reading or on-the-job experiences, and
only 20% felt ineffective in serving this clientele. Most preferred to increase
their knowledge about this group by attending conferences and in-service
presentations, and by communicating with other librarians who dealt with such
groups (Dowd, 1991).
SUCCESSFUL PROGRAMS FOR LIBRARY LATCHKEY CHILDREN
Fort Erie Public Library in Ontario, Canada, the Creative Afterschool Recreation
and Enrichment (C.A.R.E.) project, funded by the Ministry of Community and
Social Services, and coordinated by the Boys and Girls Clubs of Ontario,
features before- and after-school activities at two library sites;
transportation of children from schools to the library; nutritional snacks
prepared by children; the use of pool and recreational facilities at the YMCA;
and field trips to historic sites.
*Baltimore County's Public Library in Maryland operates LOCATE: Child Care
Referral Service, which helps parents identify appropriate child care options
*At the Charles County Public Library in Maryland students join the Teen
Scene Club and meet twice a week after school to participate in reader's theater
presentations; to use sources of information on etiquette to plan and host an
afternoon tea for library trustees, principals, teachers and friends; and to
publish a library newsletter.
*The DeKalb County Public Library in Georgia reaches latchkey children
through letters sent to parents regarding youngsters left unattended at their
branches. The library provides the Bruce Street and Tobie Grant Homework
Libraries, which include typewriters, computers, read-along books, and learning
games (Dekalb County Public Library, 1990).
*Grandparents and Books (GAB), initiated at the Los Angeles Public Library,
links older adult volunteers with children who have no one to care for them
after school. (Los Angeles Public Library, 1990). At the Charles E. Washington
branch of the Omaha Public Library in Nebraska, unattended children meet with
the 4-H Club once a week, and are assisted by older citizens from the local
Retired Senior Volunteer Program in making cookies, painting t-shirts, and other
*GASP (Great After School Program) at the Rolling Meadows Library in Illinois
is a cooperative effort with the local school district in which children, many
of whom speak English as a second language, are transported by school bus after
school to the library for refreshments, a film, a craft activity, or a booktalk.
*Latchkey children learn survival skills (fire and traffic safety, conduct
with strangers, food preparation, etc.) through the Project Home Safe program,
presented by a certified home economist at the Hillcrest Heights Branch of the
Prince George's County Memorial Library System in Maryland.
*Perhaps the most carefully planned and exemplary program for latchkey
children is SPLASH, Seattle's After School Happenings, which is in place at four
branches of the Seattle Public Library and, at this time, is financed by city
funds. At each site the activities, ranging from making doll house furniture and
maintaining the library's flower beds, to storytimes, sing-alongs and homework,
are tailored to meet the needs of the particular community served. Three of the
ten goals of SPLASH are to promote reading as a life-long activity, to establish
services for new Asian immigrants, and to provide activities which will help
develop self-esteem, self-worth, and creativity (Seattle Public Library, 1990).
Significantly, the Seattle Public Library revised its mission statement and
added organizational values, so that the wording of official statements now
meshes with the library's recent efforts on behalf of latchkey children (Seattle
Public Library, 1989).
RECOMMENDATIONS REGARDING LIBRARY LATCHKEY CHILDREN
on the author's research, the following recommendations are offered for public
librarians who wish to provide more effective service to latchkey children:
1. Interact with representatives from community agencies to develop
alternatives concerning latchkey children.
2. Learn about latchkey children in library school and by attending
3. Develop and publicize positively worded written policies and procedures
for dealing with latchkey children.
4. Conduct research about library latchkey children in public library
settings. For example, interview latchkey children to learn which activities
they prefer libraries to provide for them. Then implement and evaluate those
5. Consider library latchkey children as providing an opportunity to work
cooperatively with the community, to turn a captive audience into program
potential, and to recruit future library users who enjoy books.
6. Create a separate area where children involved in after-school activities
will not disturb other patrons.
7. Use the mission statement as a guide to determining the library's
appropriate role in serving latchkey children.
8. Use volunteers, and designate, if possible, a librarian to be solely
responsible for after-school programs.
9. Provide arts and crafts supplies, learning games, and a wide selection of
books for children to use independently.
This ERIC digest was adapted from the book, LATCHKEY CHILDREN
IN THE LIBRARY AND COMMUNITY: ISSUES, STRATEGIES, AND PROGRAMS,
written by Frances Smardo Dowd and copyrighted and published in 1991 by Oryx
Press, 4041 North Central at Indian School Road, Phoenix, Arizona, 85012
(1-800-279-ORYX). Addresses and phone numbers for each of the libraries
discussed above can be found in
LATCHKEY CHILDREN IN THE LIBRARY AND COMMUNITY.
NOTE: A national opinion poll on library issues, conducted in 1991 by the
Library Research Center of the Graduate School of Library and Information
Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, found that 39% of the
1,181 adults sampled felt that all libraries should provide after-school care
for children of working parents. A total of 29% felt that such care was useful
but not always necessary, and 29% felt that libraries should definitely not
provide the service.
More information about the latchkey child in the library can be obtained from
the ERIC Clearinghouse on Information Resources, Syracuse University, 030
Huntington Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244-2340; 315-443-3640.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
American Library Association (ALA).
ALA YEARBOOK. Chicago: American Library Association, 1989.
Budziszewski, M. "Latchkey Children in the Public Library Now Common."
FELICITER (July/August, 1990): 2.
DeKalb County Public Library. DEAR PARENT form letter and brochures. Decatur,
Dowd, Frances Smardo. LATCHKEY CHILDREN IN THE LIBRARY AND COMMUNITY: ISSUES,
STRATEGIES, AND PROGRAMS. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press, 1991.
Feldman, Sari. "The Library and the Latchkey." Syracuse, New York: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Information Resources, 1990. ERIC Digest no. EDO-IR-90-8.
Los Angeles Public Library. REPORT ON GRANDPARENTS AND BOOKS. Los Angeles,
Seattle Public Library. MISSION, GOALS, AND ORGANIZATIONAL VALUES. Seattle,
Seattle Public Library. S.P.L.A.S.H. flyer. Seattle, Washington, 1990.