Grade A Partnerships

Increasingly, public libraries have been finding creative ways to join forces with school administrators, librarians, and media specialists on collaborations that meet students’ evolving needs in and out of school. Clear lines of communication on both sides spell success for districtwide collaborations.

Of the many challenges school libraries confront—meeting the need for instruction in multiple literacies in the face of contracting budgets, changing regulations, and more—the most basic remains the need to maintain inspiring, wide-ranging collections that serve a diverse student body, often across sizable school districts. Increasingly, public libraries have been finding creative ways to join forces with school administrators, librarians, and media specialists on collaborations that meet students’ evolving needs in and out of school.

Public libraries and schools have discovered innovative methods for sharing collections, providing access to materials and services, and getting library cards into the hands of students. Increasingly they have developed citywide policy around their partnerships, ensuring that the work they have begun will be on­going and embedded in school and municipal civic culture.

Over the past few years, a number of these joint efforts have demonstrated not only imagination and replicable models but staying power. LJ looked at several such initiatives in “Public Partners” (LJ 3/15/17), and additional programs were surfaced at the LJ and School Library Journal summit “Stronger Together: Building Literacy-Rich Communities,” held May 10–12 in Omaha. At the two-day gathering, produced in partnership with Omaha Public Schools and the Omaha Public Library, key players discussed the challenges and rewards involved in several such citywide projects, offering a look at unexpected benefits, potential pitfalls, and best practices that public library and school partners can learn from and make their own.

Collaborative Roots

When it comes to durability, few alliances can beat the nearly 150 years of partnership between Indianapolis public libraries and schools. In the late 19th century, the city’s first school superintendent proposed that libraries provide reference materials for the schools. In 1879, small reference libraries were placed in 14 of the larger elementary schools. They proved so popular that the library was asked to provide them for all schools. This arrangement lasted until 1966, when a countywide public library was established and schools began to operate their own libraries.

In 1989, an anonymous donor bequeathed $24 million to Marion County college and high school libraries and the Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL). With leadership from IndyPL and the former Indiana Cooperative Library Services Authority, county high schools began to link their catalogs to the public library’s. IndyPL placed terminals in all high school libraries, allowing students direct access to its catalog, and the collaboration that became today’s Shared System was born.

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