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The Intergenerational Library

ACLA Intergenerational Academy

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 series this summer and fall including writing, health & yoga, music and of course art in collaboration with the Brew House Association. Partners for new demonstration series include Yoga In Schools, local singer and musician Ellen Gozion, and poet Judy Robinson.


The ACLA Intergenerational Academy will also include the monthly Intergenerational PALS Book Clubs hosted at additional libraries as well as a pilot program of an Intergenerational Conversation Salon and Wise Walk.

As a semi-finalist for the 2011 Eisner Prize for Intergenerational Excellence has become a springboard for exciting ideas on how the Allegheny County Library Association can continue to be a model of excellence to our member libraries, community partners and colleagues across the state and country.

Brief History of ACLA’s Intergenerational Philosophy

In 2002 ACLA sponsored a training workshop, How to Develop Intergenerational Programs, in partnership with Generations Together at the University of Pittsburgh. We were able to bring the library perspective to the table as part of an advisory group to Generations Together. As a result of this rich partnership, in 2004 ACLA provided scholarships for local library staff to attend Generations Together’s International Intergenerational Training Institute hosted in Pittsburgh.

Later that year ACLA began interviewing library directors and conducted a needs assessment of libraries across the county related to intergenerational programming. This led to creating a climate within local libraries to increase intergenerational programming, including within Summer Reading Clubs which traditionally are separated for children and adults.

Some of ACLA’s Intergenerational Programs & Initiatives

ACLA has a lengthy dedication to older adults in our county, one of the oldest in the nation. We began by hiring a staff member to focus on that group in 2000, and began expanding programs to include families and intergenerations as early as 2005.

  • ACLA works within its system of 45 libraries to offer, Creative Together: An Intergenerational Art Program in partnerships with local arts organization Brew House Association, in which 10-12 participants (children entering the 3rd grade-6th grade, and older adults between ages 60-80), are brought together in pairs as partners in a six-week-long arts media programs that included sculpting, collage, drawing, fabrics, photography, acrylic painting and watercolor painting and other mixed media, followed by a gallery exhibit and celebration. In this process of deepening their awareness and appreciation of the arts, participants also deepen their trust and understanding of each other.
  • Building upon this success and that of the PALS Book Clubs, ACLA has piloted and is expanding Intergenerational PALS Book Clubs in partnership with the Highmark PALS (People Able to Lend Support) Program that bring together teens (Grades 9 -12) and older adults who share discussions about the same book each month.
  • One Book, One Community is a countywide program where individuals and book clubs, both young and old, read the same book across the county. One library (Baldwin Borough Public Library) partners each year with their local high school for a dynamic intergenerational discussion of the annual title. This year the Intergenerational PALS Book Clubs also are discussing the title.
  • The Wise Walk, in partnership with AARP and the Highmark PALS Program, provides libraries the opportunity to host this ten week walking program geared for adults 50 and over. One library (Wilkinsburg Public Library - Eastridge Branch) successfully made the walks intergenerational by inviting local high school students to walk with the adults. We now encourage libraries to do the same.
  • ACLA offers an Intergenerational Library blog that provides links to local and national resources, intergenerational children’s book reviews and highlights of library initiatives.
  • ACLA Member Libraries have adopted intergenerational programming including 2005 winner of the Pennsylvania Public Libraries Best Practices in Early Literacy Adopt a Grandparent Storytimes (Bethel Park Public Library), Readers Theater, Chess Club (William E. Anderson Public Library), Intergenerational Scrapbooking (Mt. Lebanon Public Library), Wii Bowling Tournaments (Bethel Park Public Library), Reading Exchange Program (Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh - Main), and Grandmorning (Shaler North Hills Library).
  • ACLA’s programs have been presented at the PaLA Annual Conference and Intergenerational Pre-Conference in 2009 and shared in the online course “Introduction to Intergenerational Programs” presented through the Generations Together Intergenerational Studies Institute and the School of Social Work Continuing Education Program at the University of Pittsburgh.

More on Create Together: An Intergenerational Arts Program

Realizing that area libraries wanted to learn more about intergenerational programming, ACLA partnered with the Brew House Association. A pilot program was designed to enhance youth and older adults’ perspectives of each other, and used the vehicle of visual arts as the meeting ground. In this process of deepening their awareness and appreciation of the arts, participants also deepened their trust and understanding of each other. The six weekly medias for this program included sculpting, collage, drawing, fabrics, acrylic painting and watercolor painting. Sessions lasted 1.5 hrs., and had 12 participants per week. 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. Participants in the demonstration program (who ranged in age from 7-9, and 60-80) noted:

  • That [best part of this intergenerational art series] I got to spend time doing art and learning new things with my Grandfather.” — Youth participant
  • Please keep this program going. There are a lot of young creative minds out there that just need a nudge!” — Older adult participant
  • The children were just so creative and filled with excitement to participate in something with a grown up. This imagination just took hold and they burst with different artistic ideas.” — Older adult participant
  • [The best part of this intergenerational series] Working with the kids and seeing how truly creative they can be without a fixed notion of what something should look like.” — Older adult participant
  • I really liked the painting and my partner was really easy to talk to!” — Youth Participant
  • I think as the weeks went by we got more comfortable with each other and with the artists too. And we just talked; it got louder, and louder, and louder as each week progressed.” — Older adult participant

Over 60 works were included in the exhibit, and over fifty people visited the two hour gallery exhibit; coming from over 15 county zip codes. 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 as Create Together with expanded 2-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 through schools.


Why Libraries?

Libraries are found in almost every community across the United States. The romantic library model of old is out; the library as agora (public space), the third place, and community space is in. It is a natural community center for all ages. Using the new model of library as a space for spontaneity, creativity, socializing, and long stays, will enhance intergenerational mixing and is being encouraged by future thinking libraries. In this project, art became the focal point around which participants interacted, accepting each other as partners in a task. Through this shared artistic process, intergenerational relationships emerged. Differences are celebrated, and appreciated.

Libraries can act as a liaison between the community and other organizations in addition to serving as a connector among generations within that community. In this strategic position, libraries and librarians can find themselves in a role as a powerful convener, a vehicle through which youth of all ages gain a positive awareness of the aging process and older adults see a positive outlook on younger generations. The library usually has links into the schools, and into senior centers and nursing homes. Artists also reside in every community, and are often looking for a forum to teach or exhibit their own works. Libraries can find artists in their community at or through local and state arts councils. Exhibitions can be held in schools, churches, and many libraries have a community room. In this way, the entire community can celebrate and participate. The success of the program is based on a leveled playing field. And we found participants expressed a desire to “do it again next year”!



Click here to read more about the ACLA Intergenerational Academy in the Penn State Extension



















Allegheny County Library Association