By Brenna R. Kelly
The Allen County Public library gained more than 3,000 patrons in one day.
That was the day every kindergarten through 12th-grade student in the county – and their teachers – became library card holders and each school became a public library site.
“It was like one day I came in and had four branches,” said Allen County Public Library Director Sheila Stovall.
Under a partnership between Allen County Schools and the library, students, teachers and staff can now use all of the library’s resources. Under the One Library program, schools have access to the library’s computer system, public librarians drop off and pick up books at the schools and students and teachers can access the library’s numerous research databases both at school and at home.
“As budgets have dwindled over the last few years, we haven’t been able to spend as much on our school libraries as far as buying books and digital resources,” said Chad Cooper, Allen County schools’ curriculum supervisor, “so this really gives our kids an opportunity to access every resource found at our public library.”
It also gives the library a way to get students familiar with the public library’s offerings in the rural county where many students can’t make it to the library on a regular basis, Stovall said.
“My end goal is to create lifelong library users,” she said. “This may also help level the playing field for that child whose parents aren’t active library users.”
Many of Kentucky’s public libraries work with local school districts, said Kathy Mansfield, the Kentucky Department of Education’s library media consultant. In Louisville, Westport Middle School serves as a branch of the Louisville Public Library and in northern Kentucky, several counties have strong school/library partnerships, she said.
But Allen County is first in the state to have a fully integrated public and school library system, Mansfield said. The KDE’s school library guidelines, Beyond Proficiency @ Your Library support and encourage such a partnership, she said.
“Students are getting the benefit of additional resources and a wider variety of resources to support their informational access needs, as well as sources for reading for pleasure,” she said. “I also see the benefit of more resources to support teachers in their instruction. They now have a wider variety of materials to choose from to supplement their curriculum.”
The partnership came about after Stovall learned about similar arrangements in St. Louis and Nashville. She brought the idea to Cooper, who at the time served on the library board.
Once the Allen County Library Board and the Kentucky Department of Library and Archives approved the plan, Stovall presented it school officials.
While the school district was on board, it has just implemented a new library management system, so the public library spent $8,679 to get the schools converted to its system, Stovall said. The public library will spend $1,989 extra each year to support the school branches, she said.
But Stovall believes the benefits of exposing more children to public libraries is well worth the cost.
“We want them to continue to use the library resources after they graduate,” she said, “so someday when they get their tax bill as adults, they’re not going to mind paying the minimal library tax because they use the library.”
Stovall plans to hand each Allen County High School graduate a new library card at graduation practice next spring to encourage graduates to keep using the library.
Working together to merge the two systems wasn’t a big deal for the school and public librarians because they have been working together for years, said Myra Little, Allen County High School librarian.
“We had a good relationship prior to this, which I think facilitated this bigger partnership working so well. We all know each other, we’ve all worked together,” she said.
Little said she’s already seen her students benefit from the partnership.
“Our students now have access to so many more resources and so many more books and all of the things that they could have had access to, but now it’s just easier,” she said.
Now when she doesn’t have enough copies of a book, Little can pull more from the public library. Teachers also can use the public library’s digital resources to allow each student in the class to have a copy of a book on a tablet, she said.
The online resources include magazines, encyclopedias, Mango Languages, Kentucky Legal Form, Cypress Resume, other databases and 85,000 digital books. Students and teachers have access to online test preparation materials for AP exams, ACT and SAT, she said. There’s also a homework help line students can call after school.
Students also have access to the Kentucky Virtual Library (KYVL), a collection of more than 60 research databases run by the Council on Postsecondary Education.
“And it’s free, everything is free to our kids,” she said.
Students are using the resources, both Little and Stovall said.
The public library has seen an increase in the circulation of both hard copy and digital resources. The number of items checked out in September, October and November 2016 increased 7.6 percent over the same time in 2015. The number of digital books used in those three months in 2016 increased 64.7 percent over the same time in 2015, Stovall said.
The partnership doesn’t eliminate the need for school librarians, but simply adds to the resources they are able to offer students, Cooper said.
“There are two things that make this partnership work. You have to have a good relationship with your public library and your school librarians have to be on board,” he said. “They were all on board, they saw the advantages for our kids, they were excited about it.”
School librarians and public librarians have a similar, but different, roles in promoting learning, Mansfield said.
“School librarians serve a dual role in the school as a teacher of information literacy and as a promoter of lifelong learning and reading,” she said. “They also provide access to resources and materials to support teaching and learning in the school.”
Mansfield believes the Allen County students will benefit from learning to use research databases, especially those available through KYVL. Students who use those databases in high school have an advantage when they get to college, where they will use similar databases, she said.
In addition to the online resources for academics, students have access to online classes including everything from writing, to software programs, to cooking. Little said the public library has seen an increase in enrollment in those classes.
“That makes me think that some of our students are finding things that they are really interested in and they are going and learning about those things on their own,” she said, “which to me is what we want kids to do anyway. We want them to be lifelong learners.”
Chad Cooper Chad.Cooper@allen.kyschools.us
Myra Little Myra.Little@allen.kyschools.us
Sheila Stovall Sstovall@allencountylibrary.com
Kathy Mansfield Kathy.Mansfield@education.ky.gov