Gimme a C (for Collaboration!): Making the Public Library More Accessible to Students

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By Alexa Newman

In the course of my career, I have worked in almost every type of library (from academic to special), but I have spent the bulk of that time as a public librarian. One challenge that hasn’t changed in those 30+ years is providing students with access to materials.

At my first public library job in the early ‘90s, I worked closely with the librarians in the school district. They would fax over (because, yes, this was before email) assignment alerts for the various schools and I would pull materials for the students who would inevitably be coming in later to work on their assignments. The librarians of our community, public and school, worked as a team and the students benefited. It was helpful to me as well, because I could make sure there was a reserve cart pulled for specific projects before an over-zealous parent came in and checked out every single item in the library.

Fast forward 30 years, and some elements of this dynamic have remained while others have fundamentally changed. We have the internet; multiple school districts; reference collections are a thing of the past; 1:1 in some districts; cell phones; databases, staff reductions, elimination of school libraries, etc. All of these factors have changed the relationship between many schools and public libraries.

Students and teachers come to the public library in search of data and materials for assignments. In an effort to make sure that all students and teachers have access to materials in my library, we have created three new classes of library cards: limited library cards, digital library cards, and school library cards.

Our main library is located next door to one of our districts’ high school. We get many teens walking over after school to study. We observed that some of these students couldn’t access databases (from home) or check out materials because they don’t have library cards, and since they walked to the library, didn’t have a parent or caregiver available to check out materials.

Teens in the library

Teens in the library

In an effort to make these materials and services available to all of our teen students, we created limited library cards and digital library cards. Limited library cards are for teens 14-17 who want/need to check out materials but don’t have library cards. Since our card policy requires a parent or guardian to register minor children for a library card, we have encountered teens who want to check out materials, but don’t have cards. The limited card allows the teens to check out up to 3 items and give them access to our digital databases. Without a library card, these teens would not be able to check out materials. The digital library card is also for teens 14-17. It allows on-site and remote access to all of the library’s databases, but does not include access to materials charging.

The third type of card we created, a school library card, is designed for educators. They are helpful to teachers who want to stock their classrooms with supplemental materials, and who have traditionally taken on the responsibility for these items by checking them out on their personal library cards.  Unfortunately for the teachers, when materials are lost or overdue on a personal card, they are responsible for fines and replacement. Issuing school cards allows teachers access to the materials, but shifts financial responsibility to the school.

If your school library and public library don’t have cooperative borrowing in place, you might want to consider similar ways to provide access to students.

Alexa Newman is a Youth Services Librarian at the Algonquin Area Public Library in Illinois, where she focuses on community programming. Besides her regularly scheduled duties, Alexa created and runs the library’s annual drama camp, storytelling festival, and teaching garden. In her spare time she loves to read, dabble in the arts, and putter in as many gardens as possible. Alexa is currently serving on the School-Age Programs and Service Committee and on the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Joint Committee on School/Public Library Cooperation.



Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration

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  1. What wonderful ideas! I am a second year Elementary school Librarian, and I need to look into our public library to see if they have a similar program for teachers to borrow. Thanks for sharing.

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