Summer Learning Moves Outdoors
A public park on a sunny afternoon—walking paths spotted with sunlight, teens playing basketball on a nearby court, parents fanning themselves in the summer heat while their children run and play on the grass—may not be the setting you first imagine when thinking about the library. However, thanks to Hennepin County Library’s All Are Welcome Van, parks have become spaces for our library to bring services to the public, creating opportunities for connections and forging partnerships that focus on resources, learning, and engagement for young people.
The faces of children and parents quickly light up as the librarians joyfully exclaim, “Free books! Come get free books!”
Most years, Hennepin County Library’s Summer Learning programming takes place throughout its 41 locations. With the onset of a global pandemic in early 2020, library staff pivoted quickly to develop creative and safe ways to bring vital summer engagement opportunities to community youth and identify new places to host this summer’s youth-engaging activities. Staff connected with organizations like Minneapolis Park & Recreation, the Minneapolis Beacons Network, and several public schools across the county to plan how they could pool their resources, skills, and time to build enriching experiences across neighborhoods.
The van has allowed library staff to share books, activity kits, games, and other materials in parks across the county..
The All Are Welcome Van
The All Are Welcome Van, generously funded by Friends donors, became a key element in this planning. The van has allowed library staff to share books, activity kits, games, and other materials with youth in parks across the county – from Northeast Minneapolis to Brooklyn Park to the Minneapolis Longfellow neighborhood- bringing learning and delight to children where they are. One staff member said, “The All Are Welcome Van has made our outreach at the parks so much easier. The van, filled with brand new books, playful learning kits, hula hoops, stomp rockets, and PPE, has allowed us to reach 600 children! Kids love seeing the library at the parks, and I know it would be so much harder without the use of the van.”
...bringing learning and delight to children where they are.
One warm day at Brooklyn Center’s Lions Park, the local public school was offering free lunches under a picnic shelter. Turtle Town Books had set up an interactive science activity, complete with a live turtle, around which the children, both curious and enthralled, gathered. Knowledgeable library staff recommended titles from the free books stacked high on tables, selections ranging from picture books to young adult novels, from which each child could choose one book to take home and keep. Each book was placed in an activity bag filled with crayons, a notebook, stickers, and a newsletter of local resources. A young girl returned to the tables with a freshly picked dandelion to express her deep gratitude for her bag of treasures.
Each summer afternoon featured a new experience. Teen leaders from the library’s Teen Tech Squad attended some afternoons, bringing inventions, quizzes, and games for younger youth participants. Minneapolis Park & Recreation staff provided oversized chess sets and Frisbee golf equipment—unique ways for children to actively engage and learn from a safe distance.
Librarians at summer outdoor programs have shared how special it was to reconnect with familiar patrons
Missing Our Library
Summer Learning in the parks provided important opportunities for parents as well as their children. For those without internet access, the library’s presence in parks gave them a chance to learn more about available library services and connect to vital resources. For others, the All Are Welcome Van offered them a wonderful opportunity to speak with library staff in person and get answers to their questions accompanied by a friendly smile.
For those patrons longing for their regular visits to the library, the days in the park gave them the chance to see their local librarians again. And the feeling was mutual! Librarians at summer outdoor programs have shared how special it was to reconnect with familiar patrons, most of whom they hadn’t seen in months. Librarians treasure greatly the delight with which people came to their tables, patrons grateful to feel a connection with the library in an unexpected place.