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Libraries and Schools: Allies in Education

A Pew Research Center study examining the future of libraries showed that 85% of Americans strongly believe that schools and libraries should work more closely together and many libraries are rising to the need. As schools implement one-to-one computing programs, giving students individual laptops or tablets to use, the devices require content—such as e-books, audiobooks, and video footage—to be effective. Most libraries already have this content available and some are tailoring their online environments to assist schools.

The school district in Ludington, Michigan provides iPads for all students, from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Students familiarize themselves with the device at school and at home, acquiring valuable technology skills regardless of income, geography, or other factors exacerbating the digital divide. While the school supplies textbooks, lectures, and classwork on the iPad, local library programs are helping students get the most out of their device.

The Mason County District Library (MCDL), serving Ludington and the county of Mason, uses the applications Overdrive and Tumblebooks to supply e-books and other digital content to their users. Overdrive uses a lending library model, allowing users to check out an e-book for a limited time and then put it back in the “library,” so others can read it. Tumblebooks works on a subscription basis, allowing multiple people to check out an ebook at the same time, but drawing from a smaller pool of books. MCDL staff members have helped students add and learn to use these apps on their iPads, while using the library's existing subscription. Together, Tumblebooks and Overdrive offer over a million e-books and even more extra digital content, giving Ludington students access to a wealth of knowledge, without demanding a larger budget.

“It makes financial sense because it prevents the schools from having to set up parallel services,” said Eric Smith, Director of MCDL. “It's significant cost savings for the local community and taxpayers.”

While libraries are champions fighting censorship, schools have to be more careful about the content to which their students have access. MCDL solves this problem by creating a virtual safe zone where younger students using the app are protected from content intended for more mature users.

“Children's materials are available in Overdrive with the express purpose of being able to take those to school and give the content to kids. It's specifically for kids, so they're not wandering into adult books. That makes it easier on the administrators when they can use something that is walled off,” Smith explained. “Libraries are offering everything without censorship, but the schools have to provide age-appropriate materials. That's one of the key elements that makes it work; it meets everybody's content needs.”

Americans have expressed an interest in joining the educational missions of libraries and schools, and the institutions have reacted. Linked by technology and joined by e-books, more collaboration and new functions are on the horizon for both schools and libraries.

Learn about other educational programs supported by broadband and many other new initiatives at