Libraries have been a staple for knowledge for thousands of years, but in Bloomington-Normal some schoolchildren have yet to take that first step—their very own library card.
A new partnership between Bloomington and Normal public libraries aims to give every Unit 5 student living in the Twin Cities their very own library card by the end of 2018. It’s expanding on a project first launched only in District 87 and then piloted last year at Unit 5’s Prairieland Elementary.
Bloomington Public Library started the school/public library initiative in 2016 at the request of District 87 assistant superintendent Cindy Helmers. The goal was to increase access for everyone in the BPL service area. The pilot project distributed more than 2,600 library cards in District 87.
The initiative proved successful and Normal Public Library picked it up, piloting the Unit 5 project with Prairieland Elementary, which distributed 300 library cards.
However, Unit 5 is a challenge because five different libraries provide resources to its students.
“The two largest libraries are Bloomington and Normal, and so we started this project together and we’re able to provide library cards to the majority of Unit 5 students,” said Bloomington Public Library director Jeanne Hamilton.
Unit 5 elementary students should receive their cards no later than early March. Junior high and high school students will receive their cards later in the year.
Hamilton said the cards start as student cards with limited access, but it is easy to switch to full-access library cards.
“We’ve seen a lot of people using the resources and are very excited about it. The schools are using some of our electronic resources in their classrooms too,” said Hamilton.
Barriers To Library Cards
With the collaborative Unit 5 initiative in place, NPL will distribute 1,600 library cards and BPL will distribute 1,700. But why are there so many students without library cards?
“There are some kids that, maybe their parents work jobs where they’re not able to bring the kids into the library, and we do require a parent signature for the child to get a card. So we do see that as a little bit of a barrier sometimes for kids who might be able to make it here after school but their parents aren’t able to make it with them,” explained Hamilton.
With thousands of kids receiving cards, Hamilton said there was a lot of data to work out with the schools to ensure there were not any duplicate cards for children who might already own one.
“We did have to work through if the cards work differently at each library, but I think overall we’ve crossed most of those hurdles and we’re seeing students use their cards at each other’s library, too. They just have to get their card from their home library and once they have that, they’re able to register it.”
By distributing the cards, both libraries hope to make personal or scholastic knowledge easily accessible with its resources, databases and knowledgeable staff.
“By offering these library cards automatically at no inconvenience to the students or their families, the libraries hope to encourage new patrons to explore the myriad resources and tools available at their local libraries,” said NPL Children’s Outreach Librarian Randi Sutter.
Hamilton said it is an exciting project for the two libraries to partner on.
“Literacy is very important. I think we can have a really big impact by encouraging a love of reading and learning at an early age,” Hamilton said.
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