Magazine article American Libraries

The Power of School Libraries: Tales from Two Cities

Magazine article American Libraries

The Power of School Libraries: Tales from Two Cities

Article excerpt


The decline in school libraries noted by Jonathan Kozol (see p. 66) led to a national initiative that began in the late 1980s called Library Power. The DeWitt Wallace-Readers Digest Fund invested more than $40 million in the project, matched by an additional $25 million in private funds from the 19 communities involved in the project. The Library Power Initiative began in 1988 in New York City and continued over the next decade, in partnership with the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and the Public Education Network. By the time it was over, school libraries in these communities had full-time staff, improved facilities, and increased holdings; but the initiative also focused on less tangible goals such as fostering and strengthening learning and cooperation within schools and engaging the larger community to sustain and expand these resources.

Here are brief reports on how Library Power played out in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Philadelphia.

Lincoln Initiative Shows How Far Libraries Really Reach

Deborah Levitov

Trixie Schmidt

The Dewitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Library Power Initiative in Lincoln, Nebraska, was a collaborative effort between the Lincoln Public Schools Foundation and the Library Media Services Department of Lincoln Public Schools. Under the auspices of the $1.2-million grant, 46 schools, grades K-9, were involved in three phases of Library Power over the course of four years. With additional private monies, the initiative was extended to include the district's four high schools. Ultimately, all of Lincoln's public schools were involved.

From the beginning, one of the major program goals and sustaining philosophies of this project was inclusion of the entire school community and of the overall Lincoln community in its development and implementation. This approach served as well in achieving both short-term and long-term goals.

Establishing a common vision and sense of ownership was crucial. With this in mind, each school was required to forms a Building Advisory Committee (BAC) made up of teachers, library media specialists, administrators, and community members that was the decision-making body for the Library Power Initiative at that school. The BAC's were encouraged to add library- and community-related concerns to the building goals, which are usually academic in nature, and they were required to create a staff development plan that involved the themes of Library Power.

At the district level, Library Power provided materials and resources to support and confirm the school plans. The district also worked to communicate the importance of library programs to teachers, administrators, and parents. Tools were created for schools to use in helping teachers and library media specialists integrate and deliver information literacy skills, as they occur within the curriculum, using library resources. By relating the goals of Library Power to curriculum planning and implementation, the district's Library Media Services Department showed how relevant is was to the education goals of the district.

The larger Lincoln community was involved in the project from the beginning--not just "informed" about what we were doing, but integrated into the overall process. Community members comprised more than 65% of the administrative and working committees, and their views expanded the vision of what Library Power could become. We discovered early on that nothing works in isolation and that the more we could integrate, the stronger we became.

Library Power linked with the public libraries, universities, community cultural centers, businesses, private schools, retired citizens, and professional organizations in Lincoln in a number of ways:

* Collaboration with the public libraries involved joint summer reading programs along with shared staff training and program goal development. …

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