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Limitless Libraries

Nashville Public Library, TN
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Innovation Summary

Limitless Libraries is a cooperative program between Nashville Public Library and Metro Nashville Public Schools with the goal of improving school libraries. Limitless Libraries has taught a new generation of students what they can access and how to use the wealth of resources that are shared by our two institutions.

Problem Statement

In 2009, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean asked Nashville Public Library to take the lead in a new partnership between the public and school libraries, with NPL recommending specific steps to improve the school libraries, to foster resource sharing between the two institutions, and to improve student access to learning materials. NPL was charged with collection development and purchasing for school libraries to meet state standards for volumes and quality of materials. A pilot project with 3 high schools and a 9th grade academy began 2009. City funding was expanded to carry the program forward to all 16 area high schools in 2010. The 2011-2012 school year brought more expansion to the program as it now includes 35 middle schools and 3 exceptional education schools. With the 2012-2013 school year, Limitless Libraries is now serving all 128 MNPS schools! At the beginning, only 14 of 16 high school libraries had the volumes required per student to meet State Department of Education standards and the average age of materials in the collections exceeded 20 years. With weeding, it was estimated that most of the schools would not meet their targets. Funding was inadequate at $7.50 per student and did not stretch to allow the integration of ebooks, AV or digital resources. Additionally, there was little collaboration between NPL & MNPS librarians.


Currently, Limitless Libraries serves 81,000 public schools students and 7,000 educators. The program offers collection development assistance to schools, with two full time collection development librarians on staff and a materials budget of $1,050,792. Prior to the program’s inception, many school libraries in Nashville housed collections with an average materials age in the 1980’s. Individual school budgets were too small to support good collection management practices, and students were forced to wade through painfully outdated books. With the addition of collection development services from Limitless Libraries, schools have been able to tackle large-scale materials updates. School librarian Marla Streit raves that her budget was “tripled” by her Limitless Libraries funding, and that she has been able to jumpstart the formerly “slow process” of refreshing her outdated collection. Additionally, Limitless Libraries provides delivery of NPL materials to students and educators at their schools, boosting access to books, movies, and music and integrating library use into students’ daily lives. Because the digital divide is tremendous for MNPS students – 90% are on free and reduced lunch and most do not have good access to technology, Limitless Libraries supports digital literacy by providing e-books, web-based databases, and other digital content to schools. The program has also furnished schools with 192 netbooks, 108 Nooks, and 115 iPad Minis, enabling students to learn how to use these devices even if they do not have access to technology in their homes. The Limitless Libraries staff has participated in over 200 school visits thus far in the 2012-2013 school year. These visits most commonly involve collaborative planning sessions, assistance with weeding and other collection maintenance projects, and programming support.


We have met the goals of the program so that all collections in the 128 Limitless Libraries schools have 9 good items per student to meet State Standards and all schools have access to NPL materials. Since the implementation of Limitless Libraries, circulation at the schools has increased 79%. It is estimated that with the discounts negotiated with vendors, almost $271,000 in saving were realized. 72% of the school librarians believe Limitless Libraries is the reason for increased usage and visits to the library this year. We now have 28,007 Registered LL Users which is 59% of MNPS Middle & High Students. 12,000 of those students had never had a library card before. This librarian says it best however We get asked at least 25 times a day, “Is the green bag here, yet?”. They want their books and other materials! We have even had students skip class to come to the library to check out materials from LL. They asked their teacher if they could go to the restroom and/or locker and showed up to the library instead. While I don’t want them to get in trouble, it is a testament to how much the program means to the students. They are also reading more! One student said, “I have to check out something for the weekend….I am grounded and need something to do.” Thanks again for all your help! I know there are more good things to come.” –Melissa Raines, Librarian, Dupont-Tyler Middle School