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Teacher in the Library

Chicago Public Library
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Innovation Summary

Accredited teachers are hired to provide free, drop-in homework help for all school students visiting the library. They provide homework help and academic supports as well as teach successful school skills to children and their adult caregivers in underrepresented communities.

Problem Statement

The Chicago Public Library serves communities with a high percentage of traditionally underserved children based on socio-economic levels, school performance scores and indicators of poverty within the school district. 86% of children in the District live below the poverty level. A majority of the schools report low third grade ISAT scores in reading, a predictor of later school success. Many of these children—and their families--have nowhere else to turn for free assistance and live in neighborhoods with limited resources. Some children lack caring adults in their lives. Others have supportive adults in their lives whose own literacy and limited mastery of English limit their ability to help with homework and the culture of school. Many children are from homes with few books and attend schools with inadequate or no school libraries. The program provides homework help to over 30,000 Chicago’s youth each school year. The Teacher in the Library program provides crucial homework help to children, and provides one on one and small group assistance with a variety of homework assignments and the larger learning concepts behind them. From math worksheets to research projects, the Teachers In the Library coach children in essential skills required for effective formal learning, and inspire them to explore new worlds through the library’s resources and through striving for academic excellence.


The Teacher in the Library program not only provides essential academic support to children and their families, but also provides the one-on-one attention around learning that many children simply do not receive at school or at home and that is critical to success. Teachers in the Library assist and informally help families succeed within a structured school environment. Over 30,000 children are helped across the city each school year by a Teacher in the Library. The school system can feel overwhelming and complicated, and many parents are not comfortable communicating with teachers or school administration. The Teacher in the Library program provides supports to families in order to help a child succeed academically and assists them in understanding and navigating the school system for a successful outcome.


Beginning with teachers in six branch libraries in 2000, the program has greatly expanded throughout the decade. The program has grown to 57 locations and includes a new partnership with the Library’s CyberNavigator computer tutor program, which provides technological homework assistance. Annual trainings of the teachers have helped assist students with Autism Spectrum Disorder and coached teachers to monitor student engagement in learning. Through generous pro bono consultation from The Boston Consulting Group, a strategic plan for Chicago's public libraries was jointly created by the Boards and staff of the Chicago Public Library and the Chicago Public Library Foundation. The resultant strategic plan, Chicago Public Library 2010, identified expansion of the Teacher in the Library program as a major area of opportunity in examining how the Library can have an optimal impact on the community. Measuring the effectiveness of the Teacher in the Library program through child and parent surveys is a high priority and a process began this year. Success of the program is currently measured by the number of participants and by anecdotal information collected from children, parents, librarians, teachers, volunteers and community representatives. Current success is measured by homework engagement, improved grades and motivation to complete school work and better social functioning for children. For parents, a better understanding of the Chicago Public School system and an increased comfort level in asking Teachers in the Library for help demonstrate program success.