By Allison Barney
Limitless Library Coordinator
Nashville Public Library
At Nashville Public Library (NPL), our story is about more than books. It’s about education, community, and enabling others to thrive. Our award-winning programs allow our entire city to dream, learn, see, do, and become more. Better yet, these programs don’t just happen inside our buildings. We connect with them right in their own communities. In fact, two of our very successful community programs, Limitless Libraries and the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), use this model to reach thousands of children and youth through the public schools who might not otherwise have access to library resources.
Limitless Libraries serves 3rd-12th grade students in Nashville, turning over 60,000 students’ school ID numbers into public library card numbers. The partnership between Metro Nashville Public Schools enables students and teachers to request materials from NPL and receive them at school. Limitless Libraries also purchases more than $1 million worth of print and digital resources for Nashville’s school libraries each year. Access to enhanced school library collections and the entire public library collection—with no transportation barriers—allows students to explore and investigate topics that interest them and relate to their studies. As reported in a 2013 study conducted by RSL Research Group, students who utilize Limitless Libraries are more likely to reach proficiency-level or higher on state assessments than their peers who do not use the service. Students have embraced Limitless Libraries, requesting hundreds of thousands of materials from NPL’s collection each year since 2010. Some even use the program to help their families. Middle school students request picture books to read to their brothers and sisters, and high school students request English-learning materials for their parents. One middle school student even declared himself his family’s librarian!
In addition to programs during the school day, NPL offers after-school enrichment through the Nashville After Zone Alliance. NAZA inspires youth by providing free, high-quality, after-school opportunities through a city-wide network of school and community partners. Youth can choose from a variety of hands- on, active learning activities, including the visual arts, theater, dance, athletics, music production, robotics, culinary arts, and much more. Activities, transportation, and meals are free of charge to youth, which helps remove barriers that could have possibly prevented them from participating in the program. Professionally trained youth workers create structured, intentional opportunities in an effort to help youth cultivate their own ideas, passions, and interests and learn how to work with others. Since 2010, NAZA–sponsored programs have been delivered to over 6,500 youth. Four instructional domains (safe environment, supportive environment, peer interaction, and engagement) are targeted to empower them to participate and achieve more. In a report issued by the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality for 2015-2016, youth engagement in particular saw a significant increase from the beginning to the end of the program year.
The successes of NAZA and Limitless Libraries have strengthened our partnership with the public school system and created new opportunities to reach more students. For example, both of our programs are exploring ways to adapt our model for charter schools, a growing segment of our district. NAZA and Limitless Libraries exemplify how community partnerships empower students. And together, we are building a brighter future by inspiring reading, advancing learning, and connecting our community.