Bright Spots showcase the work that Grade-Level Reading communities are doing to make progress on school readiness, school attendance and summer learning by 2016. Continue reading below or download the file.

The central Massachusetts city of Worcester recently dramatically increased the library facilities available to its young children by coming up with an unusual solution.  

“It meant having the public library run libraries in the schools,” explains Tim Garvin, president and CEO of the United Way of Central Massachusetts, which is a member of Worcester’s Grade-Level Reading Coalition. 

“It sounds simple,” he adds. But this solution required multi-partner collaboration, creative thinking, a $2 million fundraising goal (with $1.3 million collected to date), and “great good will on all sides to understand each other’s needs and give the ‘Yes.’”

The net result: Four public elementary schools that had no or limited library facilities due to long-ago budget issues will each house a children’s services branch of the Worcester Public Library. Two have opened since fall 2013. The other two are slated for spring. 

 Between fall 2013 and January 2014, the two new libraries combined have hosted 16,000 visitors, 4,397 students and 231 classroom visits.

The community-at-large also benefits because the new school-based libraries provide neighborhood-based library services and literacy programming when school is not in session, including summer.  The city’s main library will have six branches, up from two.

 These efforts are the result of Worcester’s One City, One Library initiative to increase access to public library services — and to create more school-based libraries. A major goal is to increase students’ reading proficiency and academic performance, which a local university will evaluate.

 “Access to books is solid but having access to library services and a librarian who can direct kids moves it up a level. Connecting library services to the school day and curriculum supports elementary school teachers,” says Garvin, adding these efforts were inspired by the GLR Campaign.

“Adding literacy activities for kids, youth development organizations and families has programmatic effects. Opening the libraries up to the communities and families creates more community cohesiveness.”

And by having the new libraries open during the summer, plus the two mobile libraries, he says, “we hope to increase or at least hold firm literacy gains made in the school year.”

The initiative involves an unprecedented partnership between the Worcester Public Library and the Worcester Public Schools. The public library manages the school libraries’ now-bountiful materials and services. The public schools make the libraries available beyond school hours for library and community programs.

 During the school day, the new libraries are for the school’s students and focus on supporting teachers, grade-appropriate curriculum and increasing literacy. After the school day and on Saturday afternoons, the school building may close but the sectioned-off library remains open for the general public to pick up a book (transferred from another library), attend a children’s program or use the Internet. 

Others involved include the United Way, the city of Worcester and the Worcester Education Collaborative, which focuses on advancing student achievement.

Funding came from Worcester-based University of Massachusetts Medical School, the city and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, a health benefits company in Worcester and beyond. Local businesses and colleges — including a construction company, paint store and the Worcester-based College of the Holy Cross — donated goods and services. Community volunteers, including some private school students and one of their mothers, inspired and fueled the work.

 “I hope what’s happening in Worcester could be replicated in other communities that have faced not having enough money and having to close libraries in schools,” says Garvin. “This is a different way, connecting to the private community and public library.” 

For more information, contact Tim Garvin at 508-757-5631 ex: 227 ortim.garvin@unitedwaycm.org.

Photos: United Way of Central Massachusetts

You can nominate a Bright Spot in your community by emailing Betsy Rubiner at brubiner@gradelevelreading.net

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