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One City, One Library

In 2010, a national study commissioned by the Annie E. Casey Foundation revealed that students who don't read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely to leave high school without a diploma than proficient readers. In the City of Worcester, according to the Worcester Education Collaborative, 59% of students in our public schools are failing to reach this benchmark.

National studies conducted over the past two decades have also demonstrated that students with access to school-based librarians score higher on standardized achievement tests in reading, compared with students in schools without access to libraries or trained librarians. The advantages of school libraries, such as librarians teaching information literacy skills, librarians providing in-service training to parents and teachers, and current, up-to-date collections, are also associated with better tests results and improved literacy levels.

Many years of funding challenges had left our public elementary schools without libraries and/or professional library staff. Prior to One City, One Library (OCOL), within our Worcester Public Schools, six out of 34 elementary schools did not have functioning libraries at all. Of the few school libraries that were open, one wasn't staffed, and 13 were run exclusively by volunteers.

Similarly, our public library system - once rich with nine branch libraries - had been reduced to two branch libraries. The Main Library currently serves one million visitors annually and a community of 200,000+. A city of Worcester's size should expect to serve more than twice that number, but had been limited to service only at the Frances Perkins Branch at Greendale and Great Brook Valley's after-school branch. The lack of public libraries that were accessible to our residents, and in particular our young people, had to be addressed.

Our Proposal - Partners in Success:

In an effort to respond to the overwhelming need to help our students achieve grade-level reading proficiency, we seek to link the expertise and resources of our public library system to our public elementary schools. The concept - known as One City, One Library, is establishing children's services branch libraries in four Worcester Public Elementary Schools. The facilities are open to students and teachers during school hours and open to the public when school is not in session. These libraries are updated with new materials, technology, shelving, furniture, etc.

This collaboration between the Worcester Public Library and the Worcester Public Schools places professionally trained Public Library librarians in public school settings, providing students, their families, and teachers access to the wealth of resources available through our public libraries, books, learning tablets, literacy programming, technology, and summer reading programs. These libraries also support and enhance the school’s curriculum by integrating teacher requested materials into the library’s offerings. 

The public library connects its world-wide inventory system to these new branch libraries so that students and teachers have access to more than one million items in all mediums and for all reading levels. Furthermore, the city's mobile libraries, Libby and Lilly (part of the One City, One Library initiative), are visiting more neighborhoods, community events, and the elementary schools that had not been selected for OCOL.

The following schools were selected for the program: Goddard School of Science and Technology, Roosevelt Elementary, Tatnuck Magnet, and Burncoat Preparatory School. To date, we have successfully opened three of the four school branch libraries. The fourth school branch library at Burncoat Preparatory is scheduled to open in late 2015.

Our Goals: The goals of this project are to: 1.) empower students to become lifelong learners with the skills, resources, and tools to think, create, share and grow in school and beyond; 2.) improve third grade reading levels and student performance; 3.) build hubs that support teaching and learning and foster independent, motivated readers and; 4.) to ensure and encourage the child's family members to participate in reading activities by providing equitable access to staff, students, and parents/guardians.

Successes

The success of this initiative is evidenced in the smiling faces of the students and patrons who use the libraries, and also in the findings of the UMass Donahue Institute’s research evaluating the progress of One City, One Library. According to the study, parents and students responding to the surveys indicated that the OCOL branch libraries have motivated their children/them to read more, have helped their children/them improve their reading skills, have helped their children/them find stories they liked, and have provided a safe place for their children/them to spend time outside of school hours.

Awards

The success of OCOL has been noticed. In early 2015, the Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University recognized OCOL with a Bright Ideas designation, which is given to creative and promising government programs and partnerships. In the spring of 2015, OCOL received the United Way’s Ted Coghlin Community Citizen Award given for its outstanding community focus and leadership, with an emphasis on placing children’s success in the forefront. And most recently, OCOL received the Massachusetts Nonprofit Network’s 2015 Excellence in Collaboration Award. For this award, OCOL was selected from a field of nearly 200 nominations for exemplifying the most innovative, creative and effective work being done throughout the Commonwealth. Finally, the OCOL branch librarians were recognized for their outstanding service to the community when they received the City of Worcester’s Eleanor Riik Service Excellence Award earlier this year.

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