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2015 YALSA Young Adult Services Symposium: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Saturday afternoon I attended the session Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Connecting School and Public Libraries to Enhance Teen Services presented by school and public library representatives from Nashville who have been involved in amazing collaboration since 2009. It was in that year, thanks to then Mayor Karl Dean, that Limitless Libraries was started.

Limitless Libraries

Limitless Libraries (LL) is a program that seeks to bring together school and public libraries in order to provide students with access to the widest range of resources possible. The program not only allows for students at public schools to easily share materials, but also provides access to a much larger materials budget that has allowed school librarians to vastly improve their collections.

Just a few of the highlights of the program include:

  • All students are issued public library cards. Student ID numbers are also used as their library card numbers. (Students must opt out if they do not wish to participate.)
  • Students are able to request materials from the public library or through interlibrary loan and have them delivered directly to their schools.
  • LL has an annual collection development budget of over $1 million which is used to help schools meet state requirements and rejuvenate outdated collections.
  • School librarians can choose the extent to which they participate in the program. For example, some may wish for assistance in weeding and selecting materials to add to their collections while others may not.
  • LL will not work with schools that do not have a school librarian and that are not already designating funds for their school library’s collection development.

Nashville has found LL to be incredibly successful. Use of materials by students has skyrocketed, and a study of the benefits of LL found that students who made use of the program “tended to achieve at higher levels on state tests.” (LL Executive Summary, pg 9)

While the monumental Limitless Libraries program may not translate directly to every community, it is an inspirational example of how public and school libraries can work hand in hand to provide the best possible service to the children and teens in our communities.

The close partnership in Nashville has made many programs provided by the public library more accessible to students. When the Nashville Public Library (NPL) instituted a “Food for Fines” program allowing library patrons to donate canned goods in exchange for fine forgiveness, students were able to make donations at their schools rather than being required to make a trip to the public library. Similarly, at the end of summer reading, students were able to turn in finished reading forms to their schools in order to obtain prizes.

Collaboration also has allowed the public library to bring more programs ranging from author visits to book mark design competitions and Animanga programs into the schools. Also, by sharing materials such as posters, display ideas and book lists, public and school librarians avoid repeating work, spending their own funds on display and printing materials, and also are able to present a single cohesive image of an event, such as Banned Books Week, to their students.

Schools were also able to benefit directly from public library expertise in creating new library spaces where none had existed in the past, and creating makerspaces within existing school libraries.

If you would like to learn more about Limitless Libraries I recommend checking out the article published in School Library Journal this week about the program: “Libraries with No Bounds: How Limitless Libraries transformed Nashville Public Schools’ libraries” by Tricia Racke Bengel.

The website for the Limitless Libraries program also includes a great deal of helpful information for those wishing to learn more including a detailed report on the benefits of the program.

— Miriam Wallen, currently Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor and watching Doctor Who