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Introducing the Universal School Library, a new Internet Archive collection

Last week, the Internet Archive announced the opening of the Universal School Library (USL), “a growing collection of digitized books within the Internet Archive’s larger holdings, made available through controlled digital lending, and curated by a national advisory group of school librarians, librarian educators and researchers.”

Currently in an early phase of its development, USL’s ultimate goal is to increase equitable access to education through the availability of a set of diverse and inclusive books for all learners.

USL Creator browse

The plan is to make available

a curated collection of 15,000 high-quality books, especially for students in schools who no longer have access to school libraries. The collection is organized around three pillars of literacy: academic literacy, cultural literacy, and college/career literacy. And, in addition, the collection is designed using principles of diversity, equity and inclusion as central to the curatorial approach.

To view the announcement advance the video of the Archive’s annual LIVE From Internet Archive celebration to around 48:28 where you will see ISKME’s, Lisa Petrides, discuss the building of the Universal School Library as a strategy to mitigate the crisis relating to school libraries.

Petrides explains that the model leverages the Archive’s book scanning initiative and is based on the CDL model: basically if you own one you can lend one.

The library currently contains 2300 items. Though the foundational titles added are at the high school level, the plan is to curate 15,000 high quality accessible titles at all grade levels including scanned books from selected school libraries across the country, as well as titles chosen from nationally book awards and respected recommendation lists. The curators are intentionally building a collection through a lens of equity, diversity and inclusion.

Users may filter by reading level, topic/subject, language and across the collections three major themes: academic literacy, cultural literacy and humanities, and career and vocational literacy. The collection may be sorted by views, title, date published, date archived, date reviewed and creator/author.

In her introduction at the Internet Archive celebration, Petrides, the founder and CEO of the global nonprofit, spoke of crisis situations in Detroit and Los Angeles, and other cities around the country. Proudly calling herself: an education researcher by training, an information geek by passion and a social justice activist, Petrides explained that ISKME’s mission is to democratize access to education seeking more diverse and equitable and inclusive educational opportunities to all learners.

USL is a collaboration between ISKME and Internet Archive, engaging the help of what Petrides calls a dedicated group of school librarian freedom fighters. The project began with an initial planning grant from the Kayla Austin Foundation allowing ISKME to assemble a diverse group of school librarians from across the country who began by asking the simple question: If we could create a universal school library how would we begin to select and curate it?

In her talk, Petrides discussed the connections between school libraries and literacy and inquiry skills and she shared statistics that keep her up at night. The data reveal that access to knowledge in underserved communities is disappearing right before our eyes.

Petrides shared:

We have school libraries being closed in droves we have states passing legislation that holds back students if they’re not reading at a third-grade level we have schools where students have no opportunity to find books that pique their interest and their passion about subjects they care about, which is where we know the desire to read is born. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that yourselves. So the Universal School Library powered by controlled digital lending is really a step forward to help address this gap.

So the goal is to ensure all students have access to a high quality, diverse collection of books. This is not a program that can replace a robust school library, but it will address gaps in access for students without libraries and for students in existing libraries with more limited collections.

Petrides asks the public to help by sponsoring a book to be scanned and made accessible via controlled digital lending. She asks librarians to ask about volunteering to help catalog the collection with complete metadata.


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Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza

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