The Universal School Library: Addressing Access to School Libraries Across the Country

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ISKME is developing the Universal School Library (USL), a project to offer equitable access to high quality reading for K-12 learners, in partnership with the Internet Archive, the Florida State University School of Information, and Wayne State University, as well as a national cohort of school librarians and advisers. 

The USL is a response to the persistent problem of inequitable access to high quality literature for learners—and especially those in under-resourced schools and districts. 

School libraries, particularly those in underserved communities, have seen a steep cut in services, less access to trained librarians, as well as schools that have either shut down the library entirely, or no longer have trained librarians to work in them. By some accounts, public schools have lost 20 percent of their librarians since 2000, even in districts that have seen increased student enrollment. In Michigan, for example, 90% of schools lack a librarian or media specialist on staff, and schools without librarians are witnessing their reading scores decline, raising concerns that students without librarians will be at a disadvantage in developing inquiry and literacy skills needed for college and career. 

Starting with the basic premise of equal access to educational materials—not only textbooks, but the rich array of books and media that all members of a school community need access to, in order to gain new knowledge, and have access to information that reinforces basic tenets to learning, including problem-solving, curiosity, and exposure to new ways of thinking and being, the school library has been and continues to be a critical link for teaching and learning.

Currently, the prototype of the Universal School Library can be seen here at the Internet Archive.

The USL will include over 15,000 digitized books, thoughtfully selected and described by school librarians to help elementary, middle and high school students build literacy in the following areas:

  • Academic literacy

  • Cultural literacy  

  • Career readiness 

USL’s book titles will be available through a digital lending system, based on the Internet Archive’s use of Controlled Digital Lending (CDL), which enables anyone to borrow a digital version of a scanned physical book on a 1:1 basis.

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