Teen services librarian Sara Sunshine Holloway was tired of telling kids “no.”
Often, she said, students would come to the Tacoma Public Library for an event or program. They’d get excited about the library, and ask to check out a book or CD.
But without a library card, they couldn’t.
A partnership between the library and Tacoma Public Schools, known as the Pathway Pilot Project, will soon change the “no” to “yes” for many students.
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Beginning in mid-January, the estimated 15,000 middle-school and high-school students from Tacoma Public Schools will be able to use their student identification cards to check out library materials.
Holloway is happy for students, but the former school librarian is also excited for teachers.
“This is going to greatly expand their capability to assign research projects,” she said.
Currently, only about 2,400 Tacoma middle and high school students have library cards that have been used or renewed in the last 12 months, according to library statistics.
Kids often face obstacles in obtaining library cards, Holloway said. Their parents may not be card holders, or they may not know that a library card is free, so they don’t sign their kids up.
A student who wants to sign up for a library card either needs to have a parent co-sign for it or else the student must possess a state-issued ID card such as a driver’s license.
Allowing students to use their school ID cards will remove some of those barriers, Holloway said.
Tacoma middle- and high-school students will be automatically enrolled in the Pathway project. Parents who don’t want their child to participate can sign an opt-out form provided by the school district.
To provide student access to the library, the school district will share a limited amount of information with the library: the student’s name, school, grade level and student ID number.
Pathway students can borrow up to five library items at a time.
They will be able to borrow written materials and CDs, but not DVDs. Holloway said there are two reasons for that restriction: The checkout period for DVDs is short, and librarians said they didn’t want to give students unlimited access to movies that might have an “R” rating.
The project will also let students:
• Use library computers with Internet access;
• Receive free online chat-based homework help in English or Spanish;
• Borrow e-books, which can be read on their smart phones or home computers;
• Have access to the “ask-a-librarian” service, a cooperative of libraries nationwide that offers 24/7 answers to research questions by email or chat;
• Have access to the library’s Testing and Education Reference Center, which can help students research careers and colleges, as well as prepare them to take college admission tests, the GED test or tests for entering the military.
Another bonus: no late fees.
“We have never done that before,” Holloway said.
She said most student users respect the library and its rules. But she said kids sometimes struggle with returning materials on time.
If they acquire too many late fees, she said, they may stop using the library. So the library has decided to waive those fees for Pathway students. But students, or their parents, will be responsible for lost or damaged materials.
Holloway said the project is an experiment for now, but that both the library and the school district hope it can grow. Right now, it doesn’t include elementary school students; officials hope to meet over the summer to see about expanding it to the younger kids.
Holloway notes that the library is a place where children can simply learn to love reading.
“We want them to have the benefits of the library beyond just the student years,” Holloway said. “This is a way for them to get their feet wet and see the benefits.”