When libraries and schools work together, everyone wins

Boy looking at books in Charlotte Mecklenburg Library

ONE Access is a unique partnership between Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools that allows over 147,000 students in Kindergarten through 12th grade to use their Student ID number in place of a library card to access public library resources in Charlotte, North Carolina.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Library is one of America’s leading urban public libraries, serving a community of over one million citizens in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina with 20 branches scattered all over the county.  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) provides academic instruction, rigor and support each school day to more than 147,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade in 168 schools throughout the cities and towns of Mecklenburg County.

The partnership begins

In April 2015, President Obama announced the ConnectEd Library Challenge, calling upon library executives to work with their mayors, county managers, school leaders and school librarians to create or strengthen partnerships so that every child enrolled in school can receive a library card.

Inspired by the ConnectEd Challenge and a Pew Research Center study which found that 85% of Americans want their libraries to work more closely with local schools to provide resources, the Library and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) began conversations about how to work together to improve student success in our community.  The idea emerged that one of the foundations of student achievement is access to books and information, and from that grew the notion that every single student in CMS should have a public library card. About half of low-income children have few, if any, books in their homes.  The goal is for students to gain the ability to check out books to take home for school work and to read for pleasure. 

The challenge was to integrate access to the public library using an identifier that was already unique to each student, an identification number that is issued when a child enrolls in CMS and follows them through graduation.  That one number could act as a library account number and provide equal access to all that the public library has to offer.  

A Memo of Understanding (MOU) between the Library and CMS spelled out the responsibilities of each organization.  The MOU also included the legal provisions necessary for secure data sharing from CMS to the Library to allow an upload of student information into the Library’s Integrated Library System, automatically creating a library account for each student. Thus ONE Access, or “One Number Equals Access,” was born.

What is ONE Access?

ONE Access uses students' school identification numbers instead of separate library cards. With their ONE Access account, students can:

  • Access Library research databases including encyclopedias, newspapers, multimedia science knowledge suites, and more
  • Receive free online tutoring and homework help
  • Borrow digital materials such as e-books, e-audiobooks, magazines, music and video
  • Borrow up to 10 print or audio books from one of 20 Library locations (no DVDs or music CDs)

Since most students are dependent on an adult for transportation, and may spend time in multiple homes, there are no overdue fines for ONE Access accounts;however, users are responsible for fees on lost or damaged books.

The Library has conducted over 20 training opportunities for CMS staff to assist in information literacy and curriculum support using the Library’s resources.  Teachers and students alike have enjoyed and appreciated this expanded opportunity to learn and expolore.

A teacher assistant at Newell Elementary School reported that her first grade class “went on safari” during their media time, using Library resources TumbleBooks (an online collection of animated talking picture books) and PowerKnowledge (an online science resource for learners in grades 3-6).

“They took turns choosing an animal to investigate. They loved the sounds and watching the videos! A volunteer said, ‘you would think they are at a real zoo from all the screams and excitement.’ Thank you for this awesome opportunity!”

Early Success

ONE Access is in its beginning stages and will continue to grow and evolve as the partnership between the Library and school system strengthens. One of the Library’s goals has been to have active library cardholders in 1 in 3 homes in the community by 2019.  ONE Access has enabled the realization of that goal three years early, as over 100,000 students used their ONE Access accounts to interact with the Library in some way between September 1 and December 31, 2015.

CMS Superintendent Ann Clark put it well when she said, "ONE Access is a powerful tool to give students access to the books and materials they need to develop reading proficiency, but ONE Access is also a partnership that brings the resources schools and libraries together in support of students. We are so pleased to see that so many students have benefited from this partnership, and look forward to seeing many more as this collaboration grows." 

With such promising early results, it is clear that the Charlotte community has realized the potential of the ConnectEd challenge, and will continue to benefit from this exceptional partnership.


Image credit: Charlotte Mecklenburg Library


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