Blogger Children and Technology Committee

Serving Students and Families: A Collaborative Literacy Model in Support of Student Achievement

Much of my work as a public librarian centered on collaborating with school districts in an effort to connect with literacy and technology initiatives. This work was rewarding when we were able to center the needs of students and families, but building capacity to improve student success could also prove elusive. When I joined ALSC’s Children and Technology Committee one of my aims was to lift up stories of collaboration and achievement, so when I had the privilege of hearing about the efforts of the library and technology services staff at Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) and how they utilized their infrastructure support systems with the Nashville Public Library (NPL) during the pandemic, I knew it was a story worth sharing.

These are some of my takeaways from this interview: 

I interviewed MNPS team members Anna Turner, Learning Technology Specialist, Giumarra Duhart, Coordinator of Instructional Technology, and Connie Sharp, Librarian Training and Development. One of the most remarkable aspects of their story is the way each of them championed the work of the others. Each of them had a firm understanding of each other’s roles in the organization, viewed capacity building with a wide lens, and rooted their actions on behalf of students and families. Anna reached out to me in an effort to advocate for the incredible work Connie and her team of librarians carried out in the schools; Connie shined a light back on the work of the school librarians, public librarians, and her colleagues; and, Giumarra and Anna were both in sync as they shared the actions they took to implement their efforts. I walked away from our interview hopeful about collaborative efforts across ecosystems and grateful to have a platform to share their story.  Here are a few notable excerpts about the magic of how this team communicates and partners in support of student achievement and literacy.

The Evolution of a Collaboration:

Q: Could you explain how your partnerships work? 

A:  Library services teams up with technology services, all efforts are implemented together and shared across the schools. Anna, Giumarra, and Connie coordinate these efforts and the school librarian is the go-to staff member for library and technology services at each school. The school librarian serves many roles but has the ability to implement and move forward all initiatives in unison and has the support of Anna, Giumarra, and Connie. 

This team also works on building bridges and connected learning between home, school, and the community. They continue to foster an initiative that was created by the city to give kids access to limitless resources.

 Image courtesy of the
Limitless Libraries website.

Limitless Libraries is a partnership with the Nashville Public Library. It circulates items from the public library directly to the schools. Its main goal is to “give students easy access to the best educational resources and learning materials in our libraries and on the Internet.” Limitless Libraries is a partnership that continues to evolve to meet the needs of the community. In fact, during a challenging time for families, Limitless Libraries was a hub for learning. Students were still able to check out materials through Limitless Libraries and the public library when the school libraries were closed during the pandemic and families needed access to resources.

Anna, Giumarra, Connie, and the school librarians at MNPS switched over to one-to-one laptops so families could request resources online through their laptops at home. Limitless Libraries previously served 3rd-12th grade students and it was expanded during the pandemic to reach Kindergarten-2nd grade students. Another way the Limitless Libraries partnership allowed greater access to families included students being able to use their student IDs to check out books; not needing to come into the library for a print card, or go online to the public library’s website to create an online library card. All of these efforts worked to eliminate barriers.

Q: How did you reinvigorate Limitless Libraries during the pandemic? 

A: As a team, library services and technology services prioritized access to families on how to use the Limitless Libraries. We had to go back to basics when we realized students and families were having difficulty accessing the systems, but this allowed us to “regift” these services which was exciting to see. In addition to every student being provided a laptop, we made sure that families had access to hotspots to connect to the Internet.  We established a help desk for students and parents where we fielded questions from families which allowed us to understand the needs of the school community at this pivotal time. We broke down barriers that allowed us to help families with how-tos, parent workshops, and provided ways to communicate across languages. Sometimes, it seemed that we went back to the foundational information when it came to library services and technology services. This, however, allowed us to meet families where they were and not overload them with digital tools. 

Overall, the pandemic was a setback, but it also allowed us to see our own infrastructure with new eyes.  It wasn’t necessarily a time of innovation, but a time to reflect on what we had already had access to and how best to take action to help students and families.  By reflecting and listening we realized parents needed help accessing systems, and many did not know how to use the library.

Infographics courtesy of the Limitless Libraries website. Please, click on the site to see the full images and text.

Q: How does technology integrate into your partnerships? 

A:  During this moment, MNPS and NPL had to reinforce their mission. Teaming up, Anna, Giumarra, and Connie evaluated each barrier point to determine what solutions were needed at the moment.  More technology is not always the answer -sometimes it’s looking at the technology you have and making it more useful to where families and students are at as users. For example, this team decided that reintroducing families to how to access the physical resources in Limitless Libraries through a help desk was the best way to help families at the moment when their school libraries went remote.  Above all, literacy and technology can be intertwined. Finally, they can lift each other up while supporting families, kids, students, and community through their infrastructure, and their services, which are literacy-based.

Technology revolutions will continue without a doubt, but investing in helping kids get books in their hands (helping families access electronic resources, in other words) helps people use the technology.  This is ongoing work and may seem obvious, but we like shiny new technology, and sometimes we get shiny new technology, it’s key to remember that literacy is at the core of decision making, of prioritizing, of thinking about literacy as a public good. This is what needs to stay at the core during all of the whirlwinds of change.  

The Impact of Literacy, Library, and Technology Collaboration

  • Infrastructure is powerful, and cities that value and invest in literacy and learning will see results. Trust must be built between the school, public library, and community in order to support achievement. Trouble exists if one partner doesn’t feel equal. Operate in partnership, identify tensions and minimize. 
  • Be pragmatic, know what you control. Here’s what cities and school systems can control – infrastructure, such as hiring and supporting skilled professionals, building shared networks, like the Limitless Libraries. By building infrastructure to support literacy, cities and schools will have the resources and tools to support students, families, and teachers.
  • Focus on the access points. Intellectual freedom means building bridges for access. Continuously fortify bridges that have been built.  Value access. It is at the core of librarianship.  
  • Nashville is a place that envisioned what student achievement, community, and collaboration could look like and did not focus on what was presently available. They understood the value of investing in literacy and student achievement and built capacity towards this vision.  
  • Most importantly, this is a story that needs to be protected and maintained so community leaders invest in the ecosystem of community by making partnerships a priority.

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: II. Reference and User Services, V. Outreach and Advocacy.

Anne Bensfield serves as a member of the ALSC Children & Technology Committee.  She specializes and writes about library technology, collection development, programming, and services for youth. She’s written articles for School Library Journal, Cooney Center, Erikson Institute, and more. Her aim is to amplify the work of librarians who engage and partner with others on behalf of literacy and community well-being.

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