The Where and What Fors of the Homework Assistance Program




Once upon a time children went to the public library after school and there were no after school programs.  They went there because they were latchkey kids and needed a safe place to stay until Mom and Dad arrived home.  Some students went there because they were desperate for help and went to ask the reference librarian for assistance with the assignment.  Librarians began to see a need in this area and the homework assistance program was born.


The Homework Assistance Program

What is the homework assistance program?  In a nutshell, it is a program within the public library which helps students in grades K-12 with their homework.   The library reserves a special area for a specific time block on certain days of the week where students come in for help with their homework assignments.  The library also staffs the program to make it work and provides a variety of resources.

 Libraries determine hours and days of operation of the homework assistance program depending on the staff available and student need.  Some libraries offer the program in the afternoons and everyday.  Others offer it in the afternoons Monday through Friday.  Others offer it in the afternoon, every other day (Mediavilla, online). 

 Areas which have been used for this program range from blocking off the reference section, to converting the children’s section by rearranging the furniture for the time stated, to allocating a private area like the basement as a permanent area, to reserving a conference room during this time period (Minkel, online).  If the space is not immediately available, the space is found in order to accommodate the program.  If the library offers the program for second through twelfth grade, they have two separate sections of the program.  One section is for the children with the second section being for the teens.

The library has volunteers and/or paid staff available to offer one-on-one assistance for students who come in.  The staff for the homework assistance program must enjoy working with students and be knowledgeable in a variety of subjects.  Libraries recruit from local colleges and universities as well high school students and teachers.  Community programs like the PAL (Police Athletic League) and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program may also be able to provide volunteers.

The volunteers and/or paid staff must be familiar with library policies as well as goals and policies of the program.

The target group also depends on the library.  Some libraries offer homework assistance to second grade through eighth grade.  Others offer it to fourth grade to twelfth grade.

The students who attend the program are latchkey kids who need a safe place to stay and work on their homework until their parents get home.  Some students are those who are ESL students and need assistance with their homework.  Other students are those who do not have academic support at home (Mediavilla, online). 

Kim Edson, in her article, “Changing Lives” quotes several students who participate in the program who tout success in their academic career.  They are able to do their homework with grades improving as a result.  One student, Kadra, states that as a result of the program she is able to understand her homework and do it.  Now, she doesn’t have to make excuses and her grades have gone up.

Libraries offer a variety of resources to assist students.  One such example is providing computers strictly for research, online resources such as databases, programs such as Word, and educational games to enhance academic skills.  Another example is providing print resources, such as the reference collection. Some libraries are providing a virtual reference collection on their websites.  This collection consists of databases and website links geared to assist with students’ homework.  The virtual reference collection is targeting those students who are unable to physically go into the library to participate in the program but have access to a computer at home.

The Future

Roadblocks to the program are funding, cooperation with the school, and volunteers.  Several libraries have been able to provide this program due to grants and the generosity of companies who provide necessary items (Mediavilla, online).  One such example is the Culver City Julian Dixon Branch in Los Angeles.  They have Sony Picture Studios as a neighbor and donor.  Sony Picture Studios donated $25,000 to their homework assistance program (Minkel, online).  However, not all libraries are as fortunate.  Public libraries also must increase their cooperation with area schools.  Having a good working relationship will benefit students and allow the public library to better serve this population.  The final issue is volunteers.  In some areas, there is a volunteer shortage.  Public libraries are constantly asking for help.  Without people to assist the students, the program will flounder.  Regardless of the roadblocks, the program appears to be a success.      

According to Cindy Mediavilla, “approximately one in seven public libraries nationwide offers formal and after-school homework assistance” (online).  It appears that the trend will continue to flourish considering that students who do participate in the program end up being successful in school.  As a result, students who are successful in school have higher self-esteem and better interpersonal skills (Mediavilla).


It appears that homework assistance programs are sprouting up all around the country in public libraries.  These programs are available to assist students with their homework who don’t have academic support at home, are ESL students, and are latchkey kids.  This program has several benefits.  It not only raises grades but also increases self-esteem and interpersonal skills.  Regardless of the potential roadblocks, the program continues to grow because the benefits far outweigh the risks.






Edson, Kim.  “Libraries Change Lives.”  Library News Bulletin.  February 2001.


Mediavilla, Cindy.  “Homework Helpers.”  School Library Journal.  March 2003: 56.  Academic Search Premier.  EBSCOhost.  April 18, 2003.  Http://


Minkel, Walter.  “If Two Apples Cost 50 Cents . . .” School Library Journal. March 2003: 58.  Academic Search Premier.  EBSCOhost.  April 18, 2003. Http://