1. What is The Leaders Library Card Challenge?
The Leaders Library Card Challenge is a national effort to ensure every child enrolled in school has access to the valuable learning resources available at public libraries. Launched in 2015, the 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, begin to close achievement gaps and create a framework for an integrated approach to education. To date, more than 100 communities have joined the Challenge - 60 during the first year and nearly 50 more for the second round - all with a starting goal of ensuring that K-12 students have library cards, are familiar with learning resources at their public library and know how to use their cards to use those resources. The Challenge is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and led by the Urban Libraries Council (ULC).
2. How does a community join the Challenge?
Participation starts with a commitment letter signed by the chief elected official, a school superintendent and the library director to work together to ensure that the public library is an integral part of every K-12 student’s learning experience. By requiring the three community leaders to pledge their support, the Challenge helps guarantee that responsibility for ensuring library access for all children will be shared among leaders equally, rather than only the library director. Communities are also required to complete an online profile to provide information about the community, team members, and plans for the Challenge. The community profile provides data that will be valuable for showing progress and demonstrating local and national impacts.
3. Does participation in the Challenge always begin with the library?
No. Because the Challenge focuses on ensuring access to library learning resources, the library director usually initiates the partnership by inviting the elected leader and a school superintendent to work together on getting library cards to all children. However, in some cases, school officials have approached the library about working together on the Challenge, particularly when there is interest in creating virtual cards using student IDs. Once the partnership is launched, school and library officials work together closely on day-to-day implementation of agreed-upon goals.
4. If the library is an independent agency, non-profit organization, taxing authority or other structure that is separate from any local government, is the chief elected official's involvement still needed?
Yes. Regardless of government structure and formal reporting relationships, a commitment from the chief elected official is key to ensuring sustained progress. The mayor or county executive sets the tone for an integrated approach to education and often serves as a catalyst for innovative action. Participants in the first round of the Challenge said the mayor/county executive's commitment to the purpose of the Challenge and involvement in its implementation were essential in moving action forward.
5. Many libraries serve multiple school districts. Can more than one school district join the Challenge with the local government and library?
Yes. Each community team must include at least one school superintendent. However, if multiple school leaders are committed to joining the partnership, they may sign the letter to pledge their support. Incremental roll-out has proven successful in communities by building on existing informal relationships or strategically choosing a library-school district partnership that has a high likelihood of success and can be replicated one district at a time.
6. What are the benefits of joining The Leaders Library Card Challenge?
Challenge communities become part of a national network committed to building partnerships to ensure library access for all and improving education outcomes. Participants share information on their work through an online collaborative community, periodic webinars on topics related to Challenge work and other resources including a national report on the work of the first 60 communities and brief case studies. The national report is available on both the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Urban Libraries Council websites. Case studies, additional webinars and other resources will be available as the work proceeds with input from participating communities.
7. Is there a deadline for finishing work on the Challenge?
No. The work of Challenge community teams is ongoing and builds on existing programs and existing staff capacity. For example, during the first year of the Challenge, some libraries learned that their long-standing approaches to distributing library cards to school children were cumbersome and inadvertently created obstacles to ensuring library access. By working closely with school partners, libraries found ways to make it easier and quicker for students to get access, often introducing virtual cards using student ID numbers. The overall purpose of The Leaders Library Card Challenge is to create, strengthen and sustain local government-school-library partnerships over time to ensure access to the learning resources available in public libraries as a foundation for improving education outcomes and closing achievement gaps. Sustained collaboration among local governments, libraries and schools will make a difference in the lives of all school children.