Why It Benefits Public Libraries and School Districts to Work Together

Tech programs and strategies that cross between the two result in improved circulation, student engagement, readership, and literacy.  

GUEST COLUMN | by Tina Davis

Renelda Sells understands one of the most important benefits a public library can provide for its community is removing barriers to access. The manager of library collections for the Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library further greatly appreciates the value of connecting the public library system with school districts to enhance opportunities for lifelong, online learning.

‘…we wanted to help create that vital partnership between the public library and local school system where so much can be accomplished on behalf of the students.’

With that in mind, Sells turned to her school library colleagues at Hillsborough County Public Schools, and they began to collaborate in an effort to improve student engagement and circulation in the west central Florida school district serving more than 200,000 students. They knew that kind of collaboration would require powerful and innovative tools.

A Resource Bridge

Renelda Sells is Manager Collections & Technology at Hillsborough County Public Library.

As the librarians developed programs and strategies to get students at Hillsborough County Public Schools more interested in reading, they learned about a program called Community Share, which serves as a resource bridge from the public library into K-12 schools. Offered by Baker & Taylor, the goal is to expand student access to age- and grade-appropriate digital content from their local library, easily accessed via the public library’s Axis 360 Digital eReader.

As Amandeep Kochar, executive vice president and general manager for Baker & Taylor shared, the company has been focused on ways to make the shift from a library resource provider to a community outcomes partner by increasing access to books. “Beyond contributing to our overall mission of improving literacy rates, we wanted to help create that vital partnership between the public library and local school system where so much can be accomplished on behalf of the students. Community Share facilitates that partnership.”

Amandeep Kochar is EVP and GM for Baker & Taylor.

When a library and school partner with the Community Share Program, Kochar explained, their mutual goal is to reach students with an expanded wealth of content they would not be exposed to if they do not visit the library. Libraries can expand access to the student population early to further interest in what the library has to offer, while leveraging the capabilities of technology to improve student access to information. Community Share also gives visibility and provides services to students in foreign languages and on diverse topics that may be underserved in the school library.

For the public and school librarians in Hillsborough, the Community Share program seemed like a natural fit to achieve their common goals. Not long after implementing the program, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, providing a new challenge.

Reaching the Community

“When remote learning became a reality, Axis 360 became a valuable outlet for reaching the community,” Sells said. “Indeed, during the pandemic, the library saw a 400 percent leap in circulation for Axis 360; usage of online learning resources was up 32 percent, and circulation of virtual items downloadable and streaming — was up 28 percent over the previous year.”

Sells is enthusiastic about the wide variety of projects that have been developed in collaboration with the public schools, from summer reading lists, promotional materials, judges in district-wide reading contests, storytelling festivals, Internet safety training, and automatic library cards for all enrolled students (the Hillsborough All Access Library or HAAL Pass). As Sells attests, “through the Community Share program, both student access and outcomes have improved.”

“Our monthly reports indicate that most of the public library circulation in Axis 360 comes through Community Share,” Sells shared. “It has significantly increased circulation, particularly during the pandemic.”

Just as importantly, Sells said the program assists with one of the public library’s strategic goals of being a primary support for the education and literacy of children by creating collections that support school curricula. By integrating public library materials with the school’s online catalog and enabling easy access with each student’s seven-digit ID number, the Community Share Program improves the quality of, and access to, library materials within the school community.

Win-Win Situation

Technology and programs that connect public school libraries allow educators to dive deeper into subjects they are teaching and allow students to delve into an area of interest, both at school and from home via the school’s library management system, said librarian Martin Shupla, library director for the Pasadena Public Library.

Martin Shupla is Library Director at Pasadena Public Library in Texas.

As Shupla explained, collaborative programs give students access to more content and can start them on the path to becoming lifelong readers; at the same time, public libraries enjoy increased circulation on children’s, teens and educational content as they support literacy initiatives within the community.

In the school district in Pasadena, Texas, students previously had to rely on their parents or guardians to take them to the public library and register for a library card in order to gain access to digital materials from the public library. That is, until Shupla and his school library counterpart partnered on ways to work together to increase student engagement and circulation.

Melissa Rippy is Director of Libraries & Instructional Materials for Pasadena Independent School District.

“When Martin contacted me proposing that we share our resources, I was interested in broadening the digital resources available to our students,” said Melissa Rippy, director of libraries and instructional materials for Pasadena Independent School District. “Community Share allows our students to log in to our school library management system and access digital materials in our district as well as at the public library seamlessly using their school credentials.”

Both Shupla and Rippy described the partnership as a “win-win situation” for all audiences — the public library, local schools, educators and students.

Strength, Benefit and Alignment

At the conclusion of 2020, the Pasadena Public Library had experienced a 15-fold increase in circulation of K-12 collections of ebooks and audiobooks, according to Shupla.

“It is proof that the public library/school district cooperation strengthens both and is a great benefit to the students for the low price of zero dollars,” he said. “All this cost us was labor and time.”

Shupla noted a key to the success of the program has been the ease with which students can check out both ebooks and audiobooks using Axis 360, the digital eReader.

“A platform and collection that was greatly underutilized is now our most popular digital platform, going from a few hundred checkouts a month to thousands of checkouts a month,” he said. “We work with a community partner and for no cost greatly increased their digital collection during a time when the demand for digital checkouts has increased due to the pandemic.”

Rippy observed the school district has clearly seen an increase in usage of digital resources during remote learning last spring as well as the 2020-21 school year.

“I am most proud of our ability to work hand in hand with the public library in promoting literacy for students in our community,” Rippy said. “The mission of public libraries and school districts are definitely aligned when it comes to the importance of reading and access to reading materials.”

Tina Davis is a freelance education writer with a long history of experience with literacy and libraries. Based in the Pacific Northwest, Davis was previously a television journalist, and she has worked for education publishers and public libraries. Write to: [email protected].

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