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Nashville Public Libraries Enfolding School Libraries project

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 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.


  1. Brian Kenney says:

    Thanks for posting this Diane. Very interesting.

  2. Alice Yucht says:

    Excellent questions, Diane! Nicely’s answers are so vague that it sure sounds like they didn’t *really* think this through, and are just now starting to consider some of the realities involved.

  3. Still researching a name... says:

    So let me get this straight…Nicely can’t give us a direct answer on staffing, security, transportation, funding, etc. because they need to conduct more research and explore and discuss the issues further? Aren’t these things one should plan BEFORE beginning the ”

  4. Still researching a name... says:

    “enfolding” (consolidation) process? As educators, we understand that in order to ensure a students’ success in education and in life, we must PLAN and COLLABORATE, neither of which are happening here. Then again, neither Nicely nor Mayor Dean are educators and it is apparent they do not possess the knowledge about effective school library programs.

  5. Ed Sullivan says:

    Great questions, Diane! Judging from Ms. Niceley’s answers, it sounds like not a lot research or thought on the part of the public library system or the mayor’s office has been put into this initiative. That’s extremely unfortunate.

  6. Bryn Samuels says:

    Thanks for this. It’s frustrating for something so potentially beneficial (if done right and I’m off to read those articles and find out if that’s a possibility) to be so absolutely lacking in everything but well wishes.

  7. Ruth Hemphill says:

    I have no personal opinion pro or con, but I hope the experience of the Kansas City Missouri Public Library is studied. It’s a little different in that the Public Library was organized under the auspices of the School Board, but, it didn’t work and, eventually, was separated. The idea is not exactly “absolutely brand new.”

  8. MeMe Carter says:

    I agree that a lot of areas have obviously not been thought out. But what bothers me most is the quote about including librarians on the planning….we’ll let you know when things are in place?! in other words you don’t need to be involved in the planning.

  9. Will Deere says:

    I am appalled at the lack of research performed by Donna Nicely before moving forward with this “enfolding.” What a wonderful word for hostile takeover! If she or the Mayor believes this “enfolding” will save any money, they are both ignorant and mistaken. This is nothing more than a political move on the mayor’s part. He wants to take over the entire school system and then make a bid for governor or U.S. senator.

  10. Kelly Smith says:

    Great job Diane on asking to-the-point questions. Too bad the “powers that be” didn’t use your immense knowledge and experience to help plan out this project! Good luck.

  11. If I tried to present a lesson to a class and could answer about half the questions asked, I would be considered an incompetent teacher. Donna Nicely had definite answers to approximately half the questions asked by Diane Chen. I consider that to be incompetent. A student who correctly answers only half the questions on a test receives a failing grade. I believe Ms. Nicely needs to be better prepared to answer questions before presenting her project to the public. The project may be wonderful and have many advantages over the present system-or it may be totally unacceptable because it will not work. How could anyone possibly make a fair
    judgement based on so many questions being unanswered?

  12. unipanther says:

    I thought that journalists were supposed to be impartial. Is everyone wanting this idea to fail?

  13. Carol Teeters says:

    Great questions. I will definitely be watching this issue.

  14. I believe all the vitriol is premature. I wonder what kind of response would have been elicited if all the details had been worked out in advance and delivered as a nonnegotiable plan? Leaders who keep an open mind before and during serious discussions are supposed to be a good thing.

  15. In the actual phone interview did Ms. Nicely directly answer any of your questions? Because if she did you did not do her justice. However If you quoted her directly and fairly, as I am sure that you did it appears that this is not well thought out at all but simply an idea that popped into her head one day that she mentioned to the mayor. Since the mayor is groping for any idea that will show leadership in the failing nashville schools he has latched onto it and told Ms. Nicely to run with it. Unfortunately it appears that her research staff has failed her. How many times was her answer simply a call for added exploration or research? Too many times to be moving forward with a plan of this magnitude. The interview ended with a question of other districts replicating this model and Ms. Nicely candidly said she did not thin other districts would replicate it. Ms. Nicely, are the red flags not registering with you? If you have a program worthy of implementation than other districts will want to do it too. To admit from the start that Nashville will be the only district running this plan tells you that other, more successful, districts do not see it achieving their goals. Mayor Dean and Ms. Nicely need to take a hint from that answer alone. Pedro Garcia left a legacy of lurching from whim to whim in his management style and left the district in receivership by the state. Karl Dean seems to think that continuing with that legacy is the best way to get Nashville Public Schools out from under state control. Mayor, Dean, leadership by whim is not leadership at all.

  16. public librarian says:

    The reason people are hostile to the idea before it even starts is that the school system was not included in any meeting or even notified before the public announcement…not a way to encourage teamwork. Since that gaffe can’t be undone, NPL should be trying extra hard to include the school system in the process, yet the opposite is occurring. I am not impacted by this takeover at all and am still appalled by the lack of basic social skills displayed thus far…I can only imagine how upsetting it would be to school librarians who are not receiving any reassurances or representation on the project.

  17. Hi Unipanther, Despite the fact that this personally affects me, I was trying to be very fair in the interview. We had a very pleasant conversation and discussed fears that school librarians have about this project.

    I really believe I gave an outlet for communicating responses to Ms Nicely. After the interview, I emailed the content of this to her to doublecheck for accuracy and allow for additions or corrections. This interview was the result of serious considerations.

    With all of that said, I will work with the NPL and all public libraries on any collaborative projects because I, too, want “stronger partnerships between the public and school libraries.”

    This interview was an opportunity for both of us to share information. I am a strong supporter of public libraries and try to educate myself on all types of libraries as a member of ALA.

    The difference is in our approach. As a blogger, I wanted to keep the conversation in the open so that we are not shocked by any press conferences in the future. That seems fair…

  18. I have been a librarian for over 20 years, working in public, state, special and school libraries. public and school libraries do have much in common, primarily budget issues. It appears that a ”

  19. At the beginning of the blog post, I thought OK, this doesn’t sound so bad. Strengthening libraries is a good thing. But I, too, was appalled by the lack of definitive answers. And I was especially appalled by her responses concerning personnel. You hit all the points of concern, Diane. Good job. I hope the new director of schools will make sure this idea either stalls or moves in an acceptable direction for all concerned.

  20. Your questions wer excellent! It’s a shame that Ms. Nicely either conveniently or purposely avoided answering the majority of the questions. Her responses included: issues need to be discussed, researched, and/or explored.

  21. Thank you, Diane for doing this interview and bringing some more light on this issue! As a library media specialist in Metro, I do collaborate with my local NPL branch. However, this “enfolding” idea gives me great concern. This whole deal seems to come down to dollars … more than sense!!!

  22. Hello Pearl, It could seem that school librarians are over-reacting to this idea, but look at the alternatives. If there is no reaction or communication, the plan will fail. Joint ventures need to be planned, researched, and coordinated jointly. That didn’t happen in the beginning and we need the spotlight to stay on this project so that we can insist a proper procedure is followed.

  23. AND, more to address our fears, if this wasn’t a joint project from the get-go, is it actually a hostile take-over? Wow! I can’t believe I wrote that phrase?! No, after talking to Donna, I realized she does not want to fire school librarians and take over operations – particularly in elementary. Now, high schools to Ms Nicely are much more similar in goals so she is more comfortable helping there first. She currently manages 20 public libraries and isn’t prepared to manage 140 HS, MS, and elementary school libraries on top of that. I know Ms Nicely is a good person and didn’t want everyone to panic. But someone has to be out there asking the questions and making people do the research. I’m not the only person asking questions but I’m the lucky one with the blog.

  24. Your questions were a bit like Katie Couric, Diane….and Donna’s answers were a bit like Sarah Palin’s. I have to ask, did she wink? There is simply not enough meat here to tell what has been discussed, AND a further concern is the lack of interest in getting acquainted with the school librarians and seeking collaboration.

    As you point out this is not a ‘brand new’ idea. There is much out there about places that have tried similar mixes.

    I think that collaboration, since both entitites are under Nashville’s metropolitan government should be pursued. I am all for public and school libraries working in harmony, but I believe that enfolding is too confusing and vague a term to have any idea where this is headed.

  25. Floyd Pentlin says:

    The responses to your questions were terribly frightening because of their lack specificity. This whole thing comes across as an idea someone had over cocktails — Hey, Mickey! Hey, Judy! “Let’s put on a show.”

    The whole development process is insulting to education and educators.