Local Libraries in Virtual Education

Friday, September 27, 2013 -- Scott Lobdell

A Blog Series on Local Virtual Initiatives

In 2003 I oversaw the implementation of the Palm Beach County School District’s virtual credit recovery program and was approached by the Palm Beach County Library System and the West Palm Beach Municipal Recreation Department. They both wanted to show me what their facilities could offer the students in my program throughout the city and county. The library system told us about a great new virtual tutoring program they had for free to all county students and the city of West Palm Beach wanted to share the six fully loaded computer labs they just opened at their community centers. It was a great collaboration. Here were two local agencies reaching out and helping kids who needed support beyond the school day.

This concept has really caught on and is happening more frequently around the United States. Libraries, museums, and other municipal organizations are reaching out to schools across the country to partner with and provide students with far more than textbooks. Don’t worry, the books and the exhibits are still there, but now they are providing so much more.    

Here are some things that are happening in local libraries across the county:

Free Library of Philadelphia: Creating multimedia learning “labs” for grades 6 -12 from grants totaling $2.4 million.

Chicago: YOUmedia, provides students access to digital technologies, multimedia workshops and classes, and opportunities for self-driven projects like recording and producing music. The City of Miami also has YOUmedia in one of its libraries.

Columbus, OH: Started a program called “Surge Columbus: A creative Circuit for Youth” where they partnered with a local radio station, the city science museum, and the performing arts center. It is designed to empower teens to discover and pursue their learning interests outside of school by connecting them with mentors, digital and cultural resources, and each other.

Other Cities with major initiatives from its libraries and museums are Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Detroit.

Library systems across the country are also reaching out to students and setting up advisory boards to collect their thoughts on how to better leverage the local libraries in their communities.  Reaching out to students in this digital age is the smart thing to do because the library or the museum is the perfect place for learning outside of the school.

students do not want a repeat of school which is why the more interactive they can be, the better. Using the full scope of technology will draw the students in and capture their imaginations. It will also increase the relevance of these institutions and secure them a future and funding – a smart thing to do.

How does this help with virtual learning and virtual curriculum? Easy – the school now has a willing partner with hardware that students have access to. The libraries can work with local schools to set up tutoring sessions and learning labs using the curriculum the schools have purchased and students have access to without cost to the library. They can allow students, who have nowhere else to go, to work on their virtual courses and even proctor exams. Libraries can even become purchasers themselves of virtual curriculum and offer test prep courses to students who need these services.

There is money, a willingness to serve, and a need on behalf of the libraries to stay up to date and relevant in the digital age - which sounds like a good combination to take advantage of for students and their success. After all, it takes a village to educate our students and the local library system is stepping up to help.  

Bright ideas for tech-savvy educators, right to your inbox