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Cards in the Classroom: Libraries Building Digital Literacy

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Cards in the Classroom: Libraries Building Digital Literacy

Skokie Public Library

Advocacy & Awareness | 2012 |

Innovation Synopsis

Working in partnership with five local elementary school districts, Skokie Public Library created a student gateway providing direct links to valuable electronic resources. The project has led to near-universal student sign-up for library cards, a 30% increase in database use, and reinforced the importance of digital literacy in the classroom.


The Village of Skokie, a suburban community of 65,000 residents with a large and growing population of immigrants and refugees, includes five public school districts serving Kindergarten through 8th grade. The ESL students, and their families, present a unique challenge because of their need to learn English and their lack of familiarity with community resources such as library services. Addressing these challenges stretches school resources.

Diminished budgets in each of Skokie’s school districts left teachers and students with few electronic research resources for curriculum development. This had a negative impact on each school’s ability to make high-quality information, as well as resources particularly suited to English Language Learners, available to students. It also served as a barrier to offering critical training in research skills and digital literacy. As a result, students were less prepared to meet the challenges of increasingly digital learning environments in high school and beyond.

Another problem that dovetailed with the lack of resources for schools was the issue of database use at Skokie Public Library. The Library contracts with vendors to provide a broad range of quality electronic databases for patron use. Historically, these electronic study aids have been under-utilized. During its strategic planning process the Library identified an opportunity to partner with local public schools and share these essential resources, marketing the library to non-using families. Not every student possessed a library card which is necessary for database access. Furthermore, many families were unaware of the resources available to them and their children through the Library. Complicating matters even further, some vendor contracts expressly prohibited individual access to databases from schools and other community locations.

Key Elements of Innovation

Library staff members worked with each participating school district to launch a publicity campaign extolling the value of a public library card. Library and school staff co-authored an explanation of the partnership project that was sent to all families

in participating school districts. Library staff gave database demonstrations at PTA meetings. The Library attended Parent Nights and new student registration days in an effort to maximize the number of new card signups.

At the same time, the Library consulted with the school’s technology staff to customize a gateway that allows students direct, easy access to the Library’s resources from the school’s website. Once the gateway was in place, the Library conducted a training to familiarize teachers and administrators with the available resources. Particular attention was paid to those resources that benefit English Language Learner students. Refresher training is available annually to keep teachers abreast of changes.

The Library was convinced that with the increased portability of computers and other devices, students have a right to use their public library card to access library resources from any location in the community. The Library reviewed vendor contracts and aggressively negotiated with vendors to ensure that resident students would have no trouble accessing databases from their school. Stakeholders from the Library and each school district also created a Database Advisory Committee to allow for school input into the Library’s resource selection process.

Achieved Outcomes

The results of this initiative have been overwhelmingly positive, and will have far-reaching long-term effects. Nearly 95% of students in participating school districts now have library cards – up from an approximately 60% saturation rate just 2 years prior. Having access to a wide range of electronic resources has allowed instructors to better integrate digital learning resources into the curriculum. This in turn has led to an approximate 30% increase in overall database traffic at Skokie Public Library.

The program has also helped to bolster the ongoing partnership between the Library and the local school districts. This year, three elementary school districts participated in the Library’s village-wide cultural initiative Coming Together in Skokie, up from only one district last year. The newly created database advisory committee has helped identify new ways the Library can tailor its materials and services to meet the needs of students and faculty. In the words of Skokie School District 73.5 Superintendent Kate Donegan:

“We have gained access to all of the resources that the Skokie Public Library has to offer. Seeing that the Library is an award winning institution, the resources are many. This allows teachers and students to select databases that are beyond what the school offers, ensures that every student has access to the databases for projects, and encourages families to embrace literacy ‘free of cost!’”

Finally, the effort to encourage greater database use from a young age further positions Skokie Public Library as an essential resource for students as they go on to high school and college. By learning to evaluate online information from an earlier age, Skokie schoolchildren will develop stronger critical reasoning and digital literacy skills.