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60 Communities Tackle Barriers to Learning Through the President's ConnectED Library Challenge

Over a hundred city and local officials met at the White House this week to discuss their progress on the President's ConnectED Library Challenge.

Earlier this week, over a hundred city and local officials met at the White House to discuss their progress on meeting President Obama’s bold challenge to put a library card into the hand of every student. At the Anacostia Library last year, the President called upon community, school, and library officials to create and strengthen partnerships, so that every student can receive a library card and gain access to the important learning resources and community support that libraries provide. The President announced this transformative effort as part of his ConnectED Initiative, which aims to improve the infrastructure and tools needed to accelerate student learning. 

This week's "ConnectED Library Challenge: Answering the Call” gathering brought together mayors and county executives, school superintendents and librarians, and directors of public library systems, with the ultimate goal of building stronger partnerships between schools and libraries to improve education outcomes for all children.

ConnectED Library Challenge Photo 1
    (L-R) Michael B. Hancock, Mayor of Denver, CO; Isiah Leggett, County Executive, Montgomery County, MD; and Chris Coleman, Mayor of Saint Paul, MN, at the ConnectED Library Challenge Event. (Photo Credit: Gediyon Kifle, courtesy of Institute of Museum and Library Services).

This White House event, convened with the Institute of Museum and Library Services, was both a celebration and a strategy session for the 60 communities—from Cincinnati to Denver, Chattanooga to Saint Paul—that have been participating in the Challenge since it was announced last April. The Urban Library Council and the American Library Association are also joining in this national initiative.

ConnectED Library Challenge Photo 2
(Standing) Maura Marx, IMLS Deputy Director; (Seated L-R) Toni Harp, Mayor of New Haven, CT; Martha L. Brogan, New Haven City Librarian and Director; and Garth Harries, New Haven Superintendent of Schools, at the ConnectED Library Challenge event. (Photo Credit: Gediyon Kifle, courtesy of Institute of Museum and Library Services).

Speakers, who also included civil society champions and students, described how libraries are vital community links that promote literacy and the skills children need for success in school and life. Not only do libraries foster curiosity and love of reading with books and Internet access, but today’s libraries provide innovative classes and programming, as well as tools and spaces that spark exploration and learning that extend beyond the school hours and which will last throughout a lifetime: 

  • Library maker spaces enable creative, hands-on learning where ideas can be made tangible. 
  • Library mentor-led workshops teach young people skills, such as coding, video production, and website development. 
  • And learners of all ages can also take classes on digital literacy, job readiness, health and wellness, and financial literacy at public libraries across the country. 

The ConnectED Library Challenge is one part of the broader ConnectED Initiative launched two and a half years ago by President Obama. By harnessing the great technological revolution that’s underway, this initiative helps young people learn by bringing broadband connectivity and other digital resources to every student. Since its inception, the ConnectED Initiative has connected 20 million more students to high-speed broadband in their schools and libraries. In addition, all schools and libraries can obtain next-gen Wi-Fi equipment to provide high-speed wireless connectivity. Now, through the ConnectED Library Challenge, thousands of students across the country and gaining access to the many digital and print learning opportunities that libraries offer.

Many ConnectED Library Challenge success stories are already coming in from across the country – here are a few: 

  • In Washington, D.C., approximately 70,000 public school and charter students now have library access through their DC One Card.
  • More than 100,000 children in Denver, CO. now have access to local libraries through the MY Denver Card program.
  • And in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, NC, about 145,000 students are now able to use their student identification as a public library card.

The ConnectED Library Challenge is the result of President Obama’s recognition of the critical role that libraries play as trusted community anchors that support learning and connectivity. More than 70 percent of libraries report that they are the only providers of free public internet access in their community.

Reading and resource access are great equalizers for opening doors to expanded opportunities for all, yet studies show that more than 60 percent of children living below the poverty level do not have a library card.

Whether turning a page or clicking a mouse, children who connect with ideas in books and online can develop skills which bridge some of the vast socioeconomic divides that exist in communities today. Libraries are expansive learning spaces, uniquely situated to synthesize community data with a goal to targeting and effectively addressing community needs. This is the transformative potential of the Library Challenge and the overall ConnectED initiative.

Improving education for all children will require key leaders to continue to collaborate in new and powerful ways. We are extremely grateful for the leaders who have stepped up thus far, and invite librarians, city leaders, and school leaders who are interested in the program to learn more about ConnectED and follow the discussion and updates on social media via #LibrariesforAll. 

President Obama is working to support our communities to ensure that every child, regardless of where she lives or his circumstances, deserves every opportunity to learn and succeed in school and in life. As part of the ConnectED Initiative, the successes shared today are an important step to help make that a reality. Help your community join in! 

Megan Smith is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer.

Kathryn K. Matthew is Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.