I’ve been fortunate to be part of Limitless Libraries, Nashville’s ground-breaking collaboration between school and public libraries, from both the school and public library perspectives. Students and teachers in Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) are automatically enrolled in Limitless Libraries, meaning their student and teacher ID numbers are also public library card numbers. They can access all of Nashville Public Library’s (NPL’s) digital resources and request physical materials that arrive through school delivery. Additionally, Limitless Libraries supplements local schools’ library budgets to ensure all MNPS libraries have recent and relevant collections.
Shortly after Limitless Libraries began, a private donor, inspired by the collaborative spirit of the program, donated $1 million through the Nashville Public Library Foundation to renovate two MNPS libraries—one high school and one middle school. NPL’s funding and renovation experience combined with MNPS’s knowledge of their students and best school library practices to produce welcoming and functional school libraries. As the librarian at the selected middle school, I worked with MNPS and NPL to create a student-centered, flexible-use space to meet the needs of our school. We surveyed students and teachers to find out what they wanted in their library; their responses became part of the architect’s design. Students selected the color scheme. They told us they wanted a place to hang out in comfy chairs. When the library opened the following school year, students saw how much their input mattered and how integral they were to the design. Needless to say, they LOVED it.
I moved to the Limitless Libraries Coordinator position shortly after my school’s library was renovated and have been part of six additional school library renovations, all funded through Nashville’s Mayor’s Office. Each project turns out differently, but the goal is always the same: school libraries designed for students. Some of the new libraries have murals welcoming students in multiple languages, others have collaborative workspaces for meetings and small groups. All of them are beautiful and functional spaces resulting from collaborative planning between school and public libraries.
Not every school and public library system will have the opportunity to build (literally) new library spaces together. However, all libraries benefit from visiting other community spaces, often learning new ways to structure areas to meet students’ needs. Consider surveying students who use both public and school library spaces to find out what they love and what could be adjusted. Visit local school and public libraries, connecting with your librarian counterparts to discover new ways to serve students and library users. Remember that your library is part of a bigger community and collaborating can provide a much broader perspective.
Allison Barney is the coordinator of Nashville’s Limitless Libraries program, a partnership between Nashville Public Library and Metro Nashville Public Schools. She is a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Cooperation and currently serves on AASL’s Innovative Reading Grant subcommittee.