The Leaders Library Card Challenge is a national call to action to ensure that every child enrolled in school has access to the valuable learning resources available at public libraries. Launched in 2015 by President Obama as part of his ConnectED Initiative, The Leaders Library Card Challenge grew out of a belief that more intentional collaboration among chief elected officials, school superintendents and library directors could improve education outcomes for all students, begin to close achievement gaps and create a framework for an integrated approach to education. Participation in the Challenge begins with a letter of commitment signed by the chief elected official, school superintendent and library director to emphasize the importance of high-level collaboration.
Sixty communities responded to the first call to action and collectively issued new library cards to more than one million school children in less than one year of work. Many of those cards were first-time virtual cards giving students instant 24/7 access to library resources using their student IDs. A report on the work of the first 60 communities is available here.
The Leaders Library Card Challenge is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and is led by the Urban Libraries Council.
Building Successful Partnerships
Key lessons about building successful partnerships for education that have emerged from the continuing work of the Challenge communities include:
- High-level collaboration involving the elected leader, school superintendent and library director contributes to sustained attention to the learning needs of all children regardless of socio-economic status.
- While a handshake and an ad-hoc commitment to work together is a good start, education partnerships thrive when there is a formal structure that defines specific roles and responsibilities to ensure sustained collaboration.
- Even with a formal agreement, regular leader-to-leader and staff-to-staff communication is essential to sustain the relationships, focus on specific needs, respond to emerging challenges and monitor progress.
- Patience and perseverance are essential when building partnerships. While all participating communities started with commitment letters signed by top leaders, moving from a letter to productive action took anywhere from several months to more than a year.
Challenge Success Stories
- Charlotte Mecklenburg, North Carolina – ONE Access is a collaboration between Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Charlotte Mecklenburg Library which provided virtual library cards to all 147,000 CMS students using their student ID numbers to access and check out CML resources. ONE Access style accounts were also created for more than 18,000 CMS teachers and staff with monthly emails highlighting library resources.
- Indianapolis, Indiana – Indianapolis Public Library is taking an incremental approach to distributing library cards to all students in the 10 school districts within the library’s service area. More than 30,000 new library cards have been distributed in three school districts using the state testing number (STN) for the library account. The STN is a unique identifier that stays with students throughout their academic life even if they change schools or districts.
- Jacksonville, Florida – Jacksonville Public Library and Duval County Public Schools worked together to distribute virtual student cards using student IDs to all 117,000 students in the county school system. The collaboration grew out of a shared commitment to improve grade-level reading, increase the county high-school graduation rate and broaden awareness and use of the library as a vital education resource. As part of the collaborative effort, nearly 30,000 students participated in trips to a library branch.
While implementation approaches will vary among communities, the following steps provide a framework for getting started:
- Convene the Challenge leadership team – chief elected official, school superintendent and library CEO – to review the purpose of the Challenge and reconfirm the commitment to work together to ensure that all children have access to library resources.
- Agree on a desired outcome for your work together and a time frame for achieving that outcome. Examples of desired outcomes include (a) virtual library cards using student IDs created and distributed to an agreed-upon target audience; (b) a pilot program launched in one school to increase library use among those students; (c) a draft agreement/MOU developed and signed to initiate collaboration between the library and the school district.
- Identify obstacles that have interfered with school-library collaboration in the past and/or with ensuring that all students have access to the library.
- Agree on a general plan of action to move forward to achieve the outcome and eliminate the obstacles.
Designate key staff to lead the day-to-day effort and a process for reporting on progress.