MyLibraryNYC: a successful public and school library partnership

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Date: Feb. 2014
From: Teacher Librarian(Vol. 41, Issue 3)
Publisher: E L Kurdyla Publishing LLC
Document Type: Essay
Length: 2,551 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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MYLibraryNYC is a shared program of the New York City Department of Education and New York City's three public library systems: Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library.

The program is based on a shared public catalog system to increase digital and print resource access for participating schools by delivering books directly from NYC public libraries upon teacher request. It provides a fresh start for student borrowers with new library cards who have had trouble with overdue fines at their public library.

The New York City Department of Education is the largest public school system in the United States, serving 1.1 million students in 1,800 schools with more than 100,000 teachers, administrators, and support staff. School staff are currently working to improve student achievement in an era of standardized testing, teacher accountability, and the new Common Core Learning Standards (CCSS).

NYC schools face many obstacles in their quest to procure the range of complex texts needed to plan instruction and assessment around the critical-thinking skills the CCSS demand. The advent of the MyLibraryNYC program provides unlimited access to millions of print and digital resources and free delivery of print materials to participating schools; 35 percent of NYC public and charter schools are now enrolled in MyLibraryNYC.


In 2010, the New York Public Library (NYPL) was first approached by Barbara Stripling, former director of NYC School Library Services (NYCSLS) about developing a union catalog for school libraries enabling federated searches of public libraries and other schools to expand resource access. A union catalog also provides school librarians with insight into collection development as they research the selection choices of other libraries. NYPL had just launched a new, innovative online catalog for its own branches using a BiblioCommons platform. Users could comment and give ratings for books, create booklists, track their reading history, and engage with other users to find new things to read.

The launch of MyLibraryNYC on an existing platform meant that schools got a tested catalog system prepopulated with user reviews and ratings, rather than being forced to research an interface from multiple vendors (and adding in an arduous bidding process). The interactive interface presented new professional collaborative possibilities and student-teacher connections. In the discussions that followed, however, it soon became clear that there was potential beyond simply sharing a catalog for public and school libraries: If the catalogs could be shared, why not their vast collections as well?

The Department of Education and NYPL planners also noted that the library offers floating collections among all its branches in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Staten Island. It moves books and other items through an automated sorting system at the rate of over 40,000 books per day while instantly updating records in the library's integrated library system (ILS) at the same time. The system utilizes the largest mechanical book sorter in the world and is now shared with the Brooklyn Public Library as well.

The planners therefore decided to provide teachers direct access to all circulating public library materials for classroom use, both recreational and school materials, fine-free, for student use. Books from existing NYPL collections and new purchases were bundled into "teacher sets" of twenty to thirty-five books on a topic for ease of ordering.

The system was designed to help plan instruction, promote independent reading, and enhance collaborative relationships among librarians, teachers, and administrators. A $5 million multiyear grant from Citibank provided the funding to start the program.

A pilot program was developed for fifty-one schools in the NYPL service areas of Manhattan, Staten Island, and the Bronx. During the first year, the selected school holdings were added to the public library system's branch listings in the NYPL ILS. This was the only means available since the ILSs--Millennium for NYPL and Follett Destiny for schools--could not communicate with each other. Instances of each of the school catalogs were then created in the public library's BiblioCommons system.

The school catalogs were customized to show only the school's own books in the default view, with the ability to add public library holdings with a click of the mouse. NYPL purchased PCs for the schools loaded with its Millennium ILS software. School librarians were trained how to use Millennium for circulation, searching, and reporting. The cataloging and ILS teams at NYPL uploaded new catalog records as the year progressed. Library cards capable of working at both the school and public libraries were issued to both educators and students. A contract for school delivery was negotiated with UPS to deliver books from the sorter facility to each of the participating schools. The pilot was under way.

The first year was a success, with thousands of public library items enhancing classroom instruction across the city and many more borrowed by students who had previously been blocked from borrowing. Challenges included introducing a new ILS to participating schools, timely delivery of books on the school curriculum schedule, school barcode readability, contracts for data sharing, ordering and distribution of educator and student library cards, and generating awareness among teachers and students of the program's benefits.

The success of the first year led to the expansion of MyLibraryNYC to nearly 250 schools throughout the five boroughs, as the Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Public Library joined the pilot with twenty-five schools each. One of the most significant achievements in the second year was building an APIconnector between Follett's Destiny ILS and BiblioCommons. This eliminated the need for a unified ILS between school and public libraries. As a result, it was no longer necessary to import collections and patron data from the schools into the public library system and to purchase additional ILS terminals for the schools.

The original fifty-one schools, and all new schools joining MyLibraryNYC, could now use their Destiny ILS for administrative and circulation functions while using the shared public catalog from BiblioCommons for searching, placing holds, and identifying resources for instructional use and collection development.

In year three, 2013-2014, the program grew to approximately 540 schools in all five boroughs, with only 7 schools out of 292 opting not to renew. Upgraded catalog interfaces were developed with increased functionality to view and check out school e-books, link school and public library accounts and view checkouts from both systems, and import lists from Destiny into BiblioCommons. Hundreds of additional teacher sets were added to the collection. An online form was set up to enable the issuing of public library cards at schools, for both educators and students, with fast transfer of barcodes and patron information to the public library. Circulation figures indicate substantial growth over previous years, especially in schools that have continued in the program.


Fine-free borrowing for both teachers and students: Educators receive new library card privileges, including 100 simultaneous checkouts, 60-day loan period, 50 simultaneous holds, fine-free borrowing, and free school delivery. Students get a fresh start from any debts they may have owed the library previously and either fine-free borrowing (Brooklyn and New York Public Library) or the opportunity to Read Down their fines (Queens Library). It is a tremendous benefit for students who may not have borrowed for years because of an inability to pay for lost materials and/or outstanding fines. Early figures show that materials in the pilot are actually returned on time more frequently than materials borrowed on regular cards.

Teacher sets: These collections are considered one checkout item and consist of twenty-five to thirty books per set, grouped by academic topic or class sets of a single title. Teacher sets are assembled from both new purchases and existing collections. An analysis of existing collections identified low-circulation items that might have more usage in a classroom setting than a public library. One NYPL staff member has been hired to work full time on the selection and creation of teacher sets and actively works to align these sets with the Common Core. The public libraries are exploring supplementing books with primary source documents, lesson plans, and digital materials, which would be provided online or through flash drives.

Delivery of teacher sets and individual rifles to schools: In order to accommodate the large traffic of books, the book sorter now runs an automatic "batch checkout" of all the books going to schools. When books pass through the sorter, they are scanned and checked out to each individual teacher, eliminating checkout by hand. School librarians receive notifications of all books in transit to their school so they can help direct the flow. Moving large numbers of books quickly offers students and teachers a much wider selection of materials to meet Common Core requirements and new instructional goals and also increases independent reading.

Development of multicopy holds for educators (in progress): For years NYPL has enabled its own staff to place multiple holds on single titles for the purpose of starting book discussion groups at branches. As part of MyLibraryNYC, NYPL expanded access to this function to educators so they could assemble their own teacher sets. This feature will be helpful for educators to assemble multiple copies of single titles not offered in teacher sets to assist with paired fiction and nonfiction content and support learning differentiation.

BiblioCommons catalog development: The BiblioCommons platform was developed as a public library user interface. As a result of this project, changes to the interface to enhance its use as a true citywide catalog include:

* Linking school and public library accounts

* Enabling teachers to limit searches to teacher sets and other item types

* Enabling combined school and public library searches with easy sorting by item location

* Enhancing item status information

* Enhancing discoverability of both school and public library e-books

* Importing book lists from Destiny to BiblioCommons

* Seamless registration process


These websites provide detailed information and support services about the program and enable students and teachers to locate their school's iteration of the shared catalog:


The MyLibraryNYC program is a boon to school libraries in NYC for the following reasons:

* Increased resource options, especially the nonfiction text required for Common Core implementation

* Opportunities for professional growth and collaborative partnerships

* Increased student achievement through exposure to multiple resources of varied genre and text complexity

NYC schools face several difficulties in meeting Common Core requirements for resources of depth and diversity, including tight budgets, little time to research quality titles, and administrative directives to purchase prescribed curricula. MyLibraryNYC helps schools overcome these constraints. The school librarian works with teachers to search and reserve teacher sets and multiple copies of needed print titles from the 17 million circulating items in NYC public libraries. This process allows the librarian to make strategic collection development decisions by targeting gaps in curricular areas, as well as genres and rifles unavailable through the MyLibraryNYC program. In addition, the program gives each teacher and student a public library card to access e-content ranging from digitized primary sources to e-books to databases.

MyLibraryNYC promotes the professional growth of librarians and recognition of their role within the school community. All participants attend workshops that cover the tenets of the program:

* BiblioCommons Interface: registration, searching, and placing holds

* Library cards: how the cards work on-and offline

* Delivery: shipping procedures and requirements

* Digital resource availability

* Program support: telephone and online collaboration via a dedicated Edmodo. com to network

At the trainings, school librarians have the chance to reconnect or be introduced to the NYCSLS. NYCSLS supports librarians in becoming instructional leaders in their schools through mentoring relationships, professional conferences, workshops, and school visits. NYCSLS recently hired three part-time support specialists to help school librarians review the program, handle administrative tasks, and/or copresent the program to teachers and students as needed.

All too often, school administrators and teachers find themselves overwhelmed by the triple demands of testing, data, and assessment. The MyLibraryNYC program allows librarians to claim the attention of their fellow educators despite these time impediments. How? Librarians launch MyLibraryNYC with hands-on professional development that results in teachers placing immediate resource requests to help with planning and instruction. School librarians become the de facto program manager of MyLibraryNYC-navigating issues with registration, delivery, and training-so teacher and student entree into the program emphasizes the benefits of having thousands of in-demand books and resource selections.

Lastly, the MyLibraryNYC program gives NYCSLS the ability to automate school libraries and upgrade those libraries running stand-alone systems on outdated servers. NYCSLS weeded and automated thirty-five libraries in the past year and upgraded an additional twenty. This year's goal is to complete an additional seventy-five schools--next year, another seventy-five, until all school libraries participate in a shared citywide web-based catalog with rich digital content and robust data options.


MyLibraryNYC program strengthens the partnerships between school and public libraries through shared staff development and communication. Each public library system has dedicated staff--Outreach Coordinators, branch staff, and/or phone and technical support--to help their school counterparts copresent the program to teachers and/or students. They also assist with associated administrative tasks. Public librarians tell the school community about upcoming events and programs at the local branches during the presentations and collaborate with the school librarian to schedule class visits to the branch.

Last summer, NYPL hosted an Education Innovation Institute that brought together teachers from the New York area and beyond to use their collections to develop Common Core aligned lessons. The lessons have posted to the NYPL For Teachers blog channel at blogs/blog-channels/for-teachers. Such work reflects the public libraries' broader efforts to align and package their resources to the Common Core and improve their discoverability for classroom use. Later this year, the public library systems and NYCSLS will offer a second round of training for school librarians who are ready to take this program to the next level by developing and sharing their own text sets.

Access to resources is just the first step in supporting the Common Core; the next step is to refine the process of building text sets based on the content and instructional tasks of each unit. Public and school libraries can then share these resources with others, guiding educators to adapt these collections for use in their own collaborative planning.


For the 2014-2015 year, the plan for MyLibraryNYC is to invite every school in NYC with a school library space and a school librarian or an assigned library teacher to the library. Our hope is to include private and parochial schools in this innovative and much-needed program. We believe that public and school libraries should be at the center of resource selection and delivery, collaborative instructional planning, and reading motivation in all of our schools. All of our teachers and students deserve equitable access and guidance to the resources needed to make learning available, engaging, and rigorous.

Andrew Wilson has been a librarian at The New York Public Library since 1987 and a manager for the MyLibraryNYC program since t's launch. He is the recipient of a New York Times Librarian Award for his longtime work with New York City schools.

Leanne Ellis is a School Library Coordinator for the New York City School Library System. She supports schools and librarians across the city with grants, library programs, and professional development. She also serves as the Project Manager for the Destiny Library Program and MyLibraryNYC.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A360798030