February 5, 2016

Tricia Racke Bengel | Movers & Shakers 2012 — Recession Busters

Limitless Librarian

Tricia Racke Bengel Movers & Shakers 2012


Emerging Technologies Administrator and Interim Director
Nashville Public Library

MLS, University of Kentucky, Lexington, 1996

As Regional Library Director at the Kentucky Department for Library and Archives, successfully lobbied to raise tax rates, expanding services for five libraries

Is building an RV-7 single-engine two-seater plane with her husband

Photo ©Sean McGinty Photography LLC

In 2008, following a plea for help from Nashville mayor Karl Dean, Tricia Racke Bengel launched a program that would transform Nashville’s 16 struggling public high school libraries and revolutionize how students used the Nashville Public Library (NPL). She used seed funds from the mayor to start Limitless Libraries, a partnership with Metro Nashville Public Schools that has bolstered school library collections, allowed student IDs to double as NPL library cards, and brought NPL books to the school libraries daily, giving kids irresistibly easy access to the nearly two million items in NPL’s collection.

Initially, Racke Bengel was bent on ensuring that school libraries met the state standard of nine items per student and updating collections whose average nonfiction item was over 20 years old, she says. She purchased 50 ebooks to launch a common core collection and introduced audiovisual collections to each school.

Today, NPL couriers deliver more than 400 requested items to the city’s 54 middle and high schools daily—more than circulate at some NPL branches. Many schools report an increase of over 200 percent in their own materials’ circulation, and NPL has gained an additional 15,000 patrons. Following one of Racke Bengel’s presentations, a private donor pledged $1 million to renovate a 5000 square foot school library. “Needless to say, she made a compelling case,” says Tari Hughes, executive director of the Nashville Public Library Foundation.

What’s next? A smartphone app allowing students to request delivery. Racke Bengel is also working with a $100,000 Institute of Museum and Library Services/MacArthur Foundation grant she received to plan an NPL Digital Media Lab. Meanwhile, she says, Limitless Libraries is so popular at one school that it set a new policy: “When students get hall passes to use the bathroom, they cannot slip into the library to see if their NPL deliveries are in.”

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  1. So glad that Library Journal is recognizing Tricia! She is definitely someone who is always “moving libraries ahead”even if she has to “shake it up.” I was fortunate to be a librarian at one of the Limitless Libraries pilot schools. It has been a career highlight to get to work with her. She is a true leader who always listens and continues to learn.

  2. I have worked with Tricia over the years dating back to when she was at the State Library and she has been moving libraries for years. It’s good to see her recognized for such a worthwhile project and to see how public and school libraries can work together. She is a born Mover & Shaker!