Questions for Donna Nicely Friday December 12, 2008 via telephone interview:
Diane Chen: Newspaper and web articles have referred to this project as the school libraries being merged/taken over/and consolidated into the Nashville Public Library (NPL) system. What term are you using to discuss this project?
Donna Nicely: “How about “enfold?” The project is more an idea of creating very strong libraries especially high school libraries than taking over libraries.”
“This is an enormous idea to strengthen libraries,” stated Nicely. “We are thinking of students having access to materials at schools and community libraries.”
Chen: What are the reasons why this project received Mayor Karl Dean and your attention? What needs does the project intend to meet?
Nicely: “Libraries should be the beacons of information in Nashville.” This project could revive the good principles of library power and provide opportunities for collegiality. The Mayor wishes to improve the school system. He feels strong school libraries are essential to that goal.
Nicely continued to explain the mayor of Nashville and the Nashville Public Library wanted to start thinking of enfolding from a collection standpoint for high school libraries first. That would provide a place to begin and a way to measure progress. This would give a starting place for “improving libraries” as public library forum groups expressed this need. Other more complex issues would be discussed further down the road.
Chen: How long have you been working on this project with the mayor?
Donna Nicely: “The Mayor and I talked about this idea in general terms for about 2 months. In a separate study undertaken for the public library, we heard from the public that they favor stronger partnerships between the public and school libraries. I hope people will take an open look at this.”
Chen: How long have you personally been working with MNPS officials including the district library services coordinator Dr. Susan Whitworth? Were you aware that Dr. Whitworth had not been informed of any of these suggestions until her arrival November 21st at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians (TASL) conference after your press conference on the 20th?
Donna Nicely: Our first meeting with MNPS district officials was Dec. 9th. It was a very positive meeting.
Chen: During the November 20th press conference, you were quoted as “prepared to move forward with this endeavor…with preparation starting in January 2009 and the first phase, primarily focused on combining the procurement of materials [for the public library and high school libraries], taking effect July 1.” You must have steps already planned. What are these steps?
Nicely: “By the beginning of 2010 we should be delivering materials." Nicely added that her plan is to begin with the 16 high schools to strengthen and upgrade them. Possibly they could be open after school and on Saturdays. The staff issue is preliminary and she could not provide details. Foremost was keeping the image of high schools being open with programming available. “Then parents could go in, too, to help their children.”
Chen: What about security? There are issues in schools with security that you may not face in the public library. For example, all students must be supervised by certificated personnel (teachers) and not by assistants. Most schools are secure facilities with visitors buzzed in, identifications checked, SRO and campus security personnel available, and often libraries are located on the second floor or away from the front of the building.
Nicely: These are issues we need to discuss when we plan programming.
Chen: You were quoted for seeing benefits for high school students in accessing the NPL’s resources including the link to area universities. This seems to be describing the Athena project which has been available to MNPS schools and which is already managed by NPL. There is a lot of paperwork to participate in Athena and it must be re-applied for each year by each individual school.
Nicely: “I want to make that more accessible to all, to strengthen our resource sharing and provide an opportunity to raise visibility and to make libraries the centers of life in schools & communities.”
Chen: If hours are extended, how will the issue of transportation equity be addressed? For example, at my school we have 20 busloads of students daily. Most of those do not have transportation means to return for after school or weekend programming.
Nicely: Transportation was one of many issues to be researched and explored.
Chen: Where will the savings occur? Will they come from materials, technology, or personnel? Will there be additional funds moved from Nashville Public Library to the schools? Are you aware of the formula used by MNPS to fund school library materials? For example, at my middle school library since I meet the minimal state standards for number of items per pupil, I receive only $7.50 per student. Of that amount 20% is deducted to fund district databases which leaves an actual amount of $6.00 per child. With the average price of a book according to School Library Journal being over $21, this leaves school libraries struggling to meet the academic and recreational needs of students. With this project, will additional funds be available to the school librarians for purchasing?
Nicely: I didn’t know exactly how the funding figures worked, but we will work to help the high schools immediately with our resources.
Chen: Obviously staffing is important to me because I like my job, earned my teaching certificate and my master’s degree specifically in school library information science, and have a great deal of experience. You have been quoted as musing “If we’re going to make this work, then the school libraries need to be under the purview of the public library. If you think about all the staff as one entity, then you’re moving among and strengthening all the libraries.”
How will this affect the contracts of nearly 200 certified library information specialists and assistants in MNPS? Who will staff after-school hours and at what salary level? Have you met with MNEA union officials? You discussed programming going on after school for teens. Who would provide this programming at schools?
Nicely: I won’t rule out administering school libraries enfolded into the Nashville Public Library in the future. There are many issues to be researched regarding personnel. Staffing issues are further done the road.
Chen: Are you aware of the State Department of Education requirements to be a Library Information Specialist in the state of Tennessee? How many staff members of NPL have teaching certificates and licensure as Library Information Specialists with the DOE? How many have taken the Praxis exam to be certified in Tennessee?
Nicely: It’s still too preliminary to make decisions about staffing. We are going to focus on collections first and working with the high schools.
Chen: What about issues of filtering, censorship, access to technology, our automation systems, and sharing of e-books?
Nicely: Those are issues we need to explore.
Chen: Have you read these articles?
Public Libraries and School Libraries: Perfect Together?
The New Jersey Library Association carefully examines the different natures, needs and specific roles of public and school libraries in this official statement.
School/Public Library Joint Use Facility Standards
This document provides guidelines for joint use of school and public library facilities. It was developed by The New Jersey Association of School Librarians, The New Jersey Library Association and The New Jersey State Library.
Massachusetts School Library Association and Massachusetts Library Association have developed three joint statements regarding joint ventures located at http://maschoolibraries.org/content/view/158/43 These include statements on Similarities and Differences , Collaboration ; and Collection Development.
Nicely: We will be studying this project carefully and welcome any suggestions for articles to read.
Chen: Do you have a committee looking at all aspects of this project? How can school librarians be involved in this directly? Could we participate in forums with public library staff?
Nicely: We will be exploring ways to involve everyone in the project. We will let everyone know when plans are in place.
Chen: Do you envision this project being replicated anywhere else in the country?
Nicely: I don’t think so. We get the chance to do something absolutely brand new in Nashville.