Clarksville (Tenn.) is about 50 miles northwest of Nashville, so I often hear about the Limitless Libraries program, an innovative partnership between Nashville Public Library and the Metro Nashville Public Schools that could take up this entire post. While my school isn’t included that partnership, I can imagine how wonderful it is when public libraries and school libraries share resources between them.
Recently I’ve started wondering about some very basic ways school and public libraries can work together.
A first step can be sharing information about each other’s program, such as putting up posters and flyers on bulletin boards so students/patrons know about on-going programs and special events. At school libraries like mine, we have a somewhat captive audience, but that’s not the case in many public libraries. Anything I can do as a school librarian to promote programs at the local public library may get more students involved in those problems.
Another step for schools might be to promote the e-resources the local public library has to offer: Music, e-books, e-audiobooks, databases, and other resources students may not know are available. If students know about these e-resources and choose to use them, they would never be without a library.
When I talk to students about the public library, however, I find that many of them have never been there. In Clarksville, we have one main public library. They are no branch libraries, and the main location is geographically distant to my students. We do have a public transportation system, but very few middle school students use it.
While electronic access to public library resources can minimize the transportation barrier, many of my students do not have a public library card. Our public library, like many others, requires patrons to get a library card in person and show proof of residency. Without that card, students can’t access electronic resources.
I would like to see public libraries take a different approach to providing electronic access only to students at local schools. School libraries could distribute and collect library card applications and then distribute electronic access-only library cards to students after the public library has processed them. Students who need Wi-Fi to download electronic items can use the Wi-Fi at school to get the materials and then read or listen to the materials at home or even on the bus.
I know there are issues to think about like parental permission, CIPA, and probably more, but almost all problems have solutions if we keep trying to find them. If the students are only using electronic resources, there shouldn’t be an issue with overdue or lost items.
This electronic resource partnership program would be a small step toward bridging the digital divide. It may not be as robust a program as Limitless Libraries, but it would be a starting point for school and public libraries to work together.
Rebecca Jackman is School Librarian at New Providence Middle School in Clarksville, Tenn., and a member of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA Interdivisional Committee on School-Public Library Cooperation.