November 22, 2017

Nashville Mayor Proposes Public Library Run School Libraries

By Norman Oder

  • Consolidation would start with high school libraries
  • Procurement savings seen
  • Challenges regarding organization, technology
  • Schools chair expresses concern

Karl Dean, mayor of Nashville, has requested the school Nashville Public Librarylibraries be consolidated under the Nashville Public Library (NPL)—an apparent first-ever move in which a major city’s school libraries would be run by a public library, offering potential synergies but also posing significant implementation challenges. 

As stated in a letter from Dean to Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools acting chief Chris Henson, the initial focus would be on high school libraries. NPL director Donna Nicely, Dean wrote, “has identified a recommended timeline for consolidation, with preparation starting in January 2009 and the first phase, primarily focused on combining the procurement of materials, taking effect July 1.”

Potential benefits
Dean suggested that many benefits could be achieved, including consolidated procurement of materials and attendant cost savings; centralized collection development; combined check-out systems to increase efficiency; consolidated staff with ongoing staff training; private fundraising efforts for school libraries; and improved school library space.

The hours of school library service would be increased to include after-school and summer hours. Public access to school libraries is not yet on the table.

“To me, this decision is common sense,” Dean wrote. “A consolidated library system will immediately increase and improve the resources available to our students, and allow them to move seamlessly between their school and community libraries.

School board resistance
David Fox, chairman of the school board, expressed concern about Dean’s statements, suggesting that it would lead to public misunderstanding.

“[Y]our reference to a conversation with Mr. Henson,” he wrote in a letter to Dean, “gives the false impression that Mr. Henson has engaged in a meaningful convesation with you on the topic.” Because Henson considered Dean’s comments merely exploratory, he hadn’t brought it up with school board employees or board members.

“Second, a change of this magnitude is one that would be considered on the front end by the Metro Nashville Board of Education and school system employees, and ultimately would be decided upon by the school board, itself,” he wrote, suggesting that Dean advise Nicely to contact the school board administrator, Alvesia Hawkins.

Challenges
Spokespeople for both the city and NPL acknowledged that many details remain to be discussed, should the plan go forward.

Would the plan increase burdens on the public library, and would it get new funds? Would NPL need new staffers? “All these are good questions,” NPL spokeswoman Deanna Larson told LJ. “It would definitely make sharing materials and programming more fluid.”

Also, school librarians are members of a union and public librarians are not; it is unclear whether school librarians would become employees of NPL. Another challenge is that NPL uses a III Millennium automation system, while the school system uses a TLC system.

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