Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Most Powerful FREE Educational Tool for HS Students? A Library Card!

I want to share with you a powerful idea for your school and your students. I wish this were my idea but it isn't. A very wise, energetic and inspiring librarian shared this idea with me and shared her fantastic experiences with this program. As I have the platform to share the idea with many others, it brings me great satisfaction and pleasure to share her idea with you.

I know of no school in the nation whose librarians, tech team and media specialists believe their school has at their disposal every book, every database, every subscription they need to offer their students. Here in Houston, at least, a number of schools have partnered with the Houston Public Library System to help bridge that gap for their students. At my school, as well as at other schools throughout the city, high school students are required to register for one of the most powerful weapons available in education today - a library card.

The idea struck me as a good, if not great, idea but I decided to dig deeper. I went straight to the source and found Sandy Farmer at the Houston Public Library. Sandy graciously offered to answer a few questions for me, all of which are provided for your information below. I urge you to take the time to read the entire interview. I dare say you may be surprised at what you find. Then, stick around after the interview for a brief conclusion and challenge.

Please note that I'll use the term "library card" below to mean not only the card but also all the tools and resources to which it provides access. Also, the library referred to below is the amazing Houston Public Library.

(ME)What are the obvious advantages of a teen (MS or HS student) owning a library card from a public library? (Sandy) Checking out books, magazines, graphic novels, CD's, DVD's, etc. Access to our entire database collection including periodicals, streaming video, reference sources, medical information, etc.

What are the not-so-obvious advantages of a teen (MS or HS student) owning a library card from a public library? Use of our video gaming equipment. Central has 3 Wii's and 6 Playstation 3 consoles, along with 25 Nintendo DSi's and an extensive game collection that teens can use with a library card. The check out of game and controller insures that the equipment stays at the library. Three of our branches also have equipment available and we are about to push out DSi's to an additional 10 branches. The card, with birthdate on it, insures access to Teen our area for teens ages 13 to 18. Other ID is required if you do not have a library card.

How has your library system campaigned to increase library card registration and use among teens? In past years we did a campaign called Powercard that won the John Cotton Dana Award from ALA for a PR campaign and the Texas Library Association Library Project of the Year award. TV ads, billboards, newspaper advertising, outreaches at every event imaginable put a Powercard (the HPL library card pictured above) in the hands of about 3 million children and teens in the City of Houston and the surrounding area. We are currently not doing a promotion due to staffing shortages.

Should schools encourage students to register for library cards? If so, what do you recommend educational leaders/admin in schools do to encourage students to do so? What might the public library provide that schools do not or cannot provide? Schools should and do encourage students to get library cards. Some of our local private schools require one. Some schools give extra credit for having one. Many allow us to come to parents' night or to speak to students. We will also do entire classes at one time for teachers. We provide access to a wide range of resources that schools cannot afford. The library card gives access to our online resources from school. It also gives access to our extensive print collections which number about 3.7 million items that no school could afford or house.

What are some ways you envision schools working with your library system to put the library card to good use? Library cards are used at school to access our databases which are much more extensive than schools can provide. We do trainings for teachers and offer Continuing Education Credits for doing so. We also offer trainings for students at the library during school visits and at schools if requested. Teachers use their cards to check out materials for the classroom that the school cannot provide. Teens use their library cards to access virtual environments that provide training in information use, sharing, and sorting. Teens also can access a wide range of materials selected with them in mind. Our collections for teens have seen circulation growth every year for the last 5 or 6 years.

Is there anything else you'd like to add to the discussion of teens, libraries, library cards, etc.? Teens who enter the library and get cards find a far different environment than existed at our libraries even 5 years ago. We are striving to become even more relevant to them every day. Library cards provide access to the technology and resources that all teens need to learn to use and understand to be successful in the future.

Thank you, Sandy, for taking the time to share this information with us.

As you can see, one of the most powerful tools you can put in the hands of a high school student today may be a library card. Being the nerd that I am, I registered for my own Powercard the first week here in town. I have used the online research databases extensively already, checked out scores of books, downloaded audio and e-text format books, and more. Coupled with the bundle of resources I have available through school, the sky is the limit for what I can find to read and study and research. Why wouldn't we want the same thing for our students? (As if that weren't enough, museums here in Houston offer discounted or free admission for students with the Powercard!) Did I mention that the library card (sleek, slim, powerful) is FREE? Encourage your students to add a library card to their pile of educational tools (laptop, calculator, cell phone, old-fashioned books and notebooks) and see what a difference the library card can make.

*OK, if you live in small-town America and not in a major urban center, I can hear you grumbling now about lack of resources compared to Houston. Check out (no pun intended) your own library system before you send me hate email out of jealousy. You might be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the library system in your hometown. One of the most pleasant surprises related to living in Louisiana was the quality of their library system!

1 comment:

Jim Brown said...

Linked this to my class blog.