School, public libraries should be reimagined as digital hubs – officials


Libraries need to be dusted off and reimagined for the digital age, federal officials and school leaders said Tuesday at a White House ConnectED event.

As part of President Barack Obama’s vision to get 99 percent of all students connected to high-speed broadband, schools around the country have adopted the ConnectED Library Challenge to build upon their resources by adding online materials, eBooks and Internet connectivity so they can become digital hubs for students.

Officials from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools in North Carolina, in one of 60 cities that have adopted the challenge, said at the ConnectED Library Challenge Convening that they gave out public library cards to more than 100,000 students since September. The students can check out up to 10 books at a time and access electronic resources and databases.

Public library officials said the program has boosted readership among students – about 50 percent of student library activity involves print books, a third of students use electronic resources and borrow eBooks, and the remaining 16 percent takes advantage of computers in the libraries.

“The circulation of juvenile and young adult eBooks has gone up about 100 percent,” said Lee Keesler, CEO of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library.

“Our TumbleBook usage went from about 8,000 usages per month to 50,000, and we think that number is going to continue to grow,” he added, referring to eBooks for children.

Federal officials said repurposing libraries can reduce the homework gap and provide more devices, resources, tutors and Internet access to students after school.

“The U.S. Department of Education understands that the full community is needed to increase and improve all opportunities for our nation’s youth,” said Ursula Wright, associate assistant deputy secretary for special projects of U.S. Department of Education. “And that anchor institutions like public libraries are absolutely essential in helping us get that done.”

School district superintendents can sign the Future Ready District Pledge to get help from the Office of Educational Technology to start their own programs similar to the one at Charlotte-Mecklenburg.

“When the superintendent works with the community to achieve a vision of digital learning, they’re incredibly more effective than if they are trying to do that in a silo,” said Joseph South, acting director of the Office of Educational Technology. “Just thinking beyond the library part. Thinking how can you support active use of technology inside and outside the library, how can we expand that to be across the entire community.”

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