Volume 3, Issue 10
Check Your Calendars!!
National Novel Writing Month
Native American Heritage Month
National Gaming Day
American Education Week
SDLA Legislative Day
ALA Midwinter Meeting
PLA Annual Conference
Featured e-Resources of the Month
Downloadables now available in State Library electronic resources
3 R’s for the public and school library - rethink, redefine, repurpose
By Daria Bossman, Asst. State Librarian for Development Services
You hear a lot of words tossed around these days when the topic of “combining” school and public libraries comes up. Unfortunately it is a current favorite among city and county leaders who have little knowledge of what they are speaking and are motivated almost exclusively by the stretched and limited local city/county budgets. Usually there is also little understanding of the differing roles, mission and services between a public and school library. And with so many varying definitions, it is difficult to know what an individual’s background knowledge and assumptions are.
Here in South Dakota we tend to toss that word, “combo library,” around a bit too loosely. For instance, we have “combo” libraries which have true school/public “joint use” agreements (i.e. signed contracts) and then we have those which are merely public school libraries which allow citizens some degree of access and services. The latter type can vary widely in access, hours open to the public and services offered. In some communities it works very well and in others there are high degrees of dysfunction and mutual distrust. If there is no specific public funding supplementing the school library budget, services like interlibrary loan may be prohibited or severely limited. And though we librarians know that the word “public library” carries with it specific federal guidelines and very definite SD code requirements, we have historically done a poor job of communicating to our citizens exactly what a legal public library is. It is part of our perception problem as any gas station with a shelf of books to trade or check-out could be called by the locals “their public library.” In fact, most states do have these little “mom and pop” shops and try hard to differentiate them from the legally established public libraries within the state.
South Dakota has over two dozen local “libraries” which do not meet federal and state guidelines and thus we call them “reading rooms.” Fortunately, they can receive all the services the SDSL has to offer, including access to the 38 statewide resource databases. While a few are very productive libraries who for all intent and purposes meet the definition of a “public library” except for one or several small issues, most of these reading rooms chose to limit their contact with us, some refuse to have computers, Internet access, or even a telephone. That is their local choice.
However, regardless of the local situation, collaboration between the local public and school libraries is a growing necessity and may be the healthiest solution for both institutions’ future viability and sustainability in these difficult economic times. Well-known technology and 21st century futurist, Stephen Abram wrote in a September/ October 2011 issue of Internet@Schools, “Research shows that school library/public library partnerships can increase standardized testing scores above and beyond the transformative school librarian/classroom teacher partnership efforts…”
Collaboration is something that can take place in any setting—from large metropolitan areas to small rural communities. Here I am primarily speaking about small communities, largely with populations under 1,000. In SD over one-third of all our legal public libraries are in towns with populations of less than 1,000 – 39 libraries to be exact. Will they be there, standing strong and serving their local patrons in ten years? My fear is that unless we quickly rethink, redefine and repurpose our public library’s role within those communities, many will not. No one will vote them out of existence as SD code prescribes, but they may wither on a vine deprived of any sustenance. And if they are no longer serving a younger generation’s high tech demands and aptitude these local libraries may die for lack of local emotional and civic support as well.
While not everyone is a prime candidate for the physical combining of facilities, staff and resources, how could it be argued that the librarians (and the governing boards) from both the school and the public library should not be collaborating for the good of the entire community and most especially for their students? And in instances where the public library is currently in a very poor or limited facility and /or has diminishing public funding, perhaps a physical merger into the school with a joint-use agreement is the best long-term solution? The important thing is that local residents do not lose services such as computer/Internet access, ILL, and access to information and recreational reading and resources while our school children continue to have vibrant and safe school libraries equipped to assist them with technology and project-based learning opportunities they need to compete in this century.
In the coming months we will discuss in greater detail what it takes to begin local community discussions toward a review and possible merger of facilities, resources and services. In most situations, such mergers do not (should not) reduce staff. Roles, responsibilities and functions are very different. City and school leaders need to understand that. It is more complicated than one might think and yet with the best interests of all in the forefront, it can be a rewarding and mutually beneficial process for small communities. We here at the State Library can offer our advice and consultation. We can give you a list of very successful “joint-use” combo libraries within South Dakota. In the meantime I urge all local library boards to have a discussion about how you can begin to collaborate…or initiate more collaboration and partnerships with your local school systems. (More on that topic in a later article as well.)
Your job as a public library board member is to ask the questions and think at times “outside the box.” Your responsibility is to do all you can to create an economically sustainable environment for the future of your community’s library. Is it time to rethink, redefine and repurpose some of the library’s traditional roles within your community? With the Internet, technology and information revolutions, rural communities have never had such opportunities to be so connected. Local libraries have never been more necessary for the town to survive and thrive. Your community needs your leadership. Good luck! Don’t forget to give us a call. We are here to assist you in your service to your community.
1. Abram, S. (2011). School Library/Public library partnerships.
Internet@Schools, 18(4), 21-21-22, 4. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/888578501?accountid=44871