Fourth-graders at PS 146 in Carroll Gardens can’t wait for their teacher, Malika Willis, to open the big, red plastic bin that’s just arrived. They reach eagerly for the vividly illustrated books that bring terra-cotta warriors, dragons and emperors to life, adding a new dimension to her unit on China.
The din of their excitement quiets as they begin turning pages and drift off to long ago and far away. As one student whispers with a sigh, “These books are so awesome.”
The books are courtesy of the MyLibraryNYC program, which is a partnership of the New York Public Library, the Brooklyn Public Library, the Queens Library and the Department of Education. The program delivers class sets of the same book and collections of age-appropriate books on a single topic — all for free — to 550 participating schools in all five boroughs.
The books travel in their trademark red bins, which roll off conveyor belts in the library’s distribution center every Friday afternoon and onto United Parcel Service trucks that carry them to schools like IS 24 on Staten Island.
The middle school students go to their school library asking if the latest volume of “The Hunger Games” or the “Twilight” series has arrived this week. Librarian Chris Poser describes such books as the “hot titles that encourage personal reading.”
“The program has expanded the walls of our library,” says Poser. “The sets of books that arrive each week are brand-new and beautiful, and the kids can’t stop looking at them.”
On the Martin Luther King Jr. Campus on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, 10th-grade English teacher Kristen Kalick discovered that the MyLibraryNYC program “opens up doors to fresh titles” for her small groups of students, who are assigned to read different books on the same theme. “To be able to change books year to year would be cost-prohibitive without the program,” she said.
ESL teacher Michele Rayvid at the Brooklyn Secondary School for Collaborative Studies, which shares its building with PS 146 and another school, says access to New York Public Library resources made possible by the program has been a “powerful tool” in breaking the isolation of students who arrive in 9th and 10th grade not knowing a word of English. Now, she says, they can read “The Diary of Anne Frank” in a Spanish translation while their classmates read it in English.
“The translated books provide a bridge to the curriculum and help them access prior learning,” Rayvid explains.
MyLibraryNYC, which began as a pilot program in 50 schools in 2011, is a partnership between the city's three public library systems and the nation’s largest school system to promote reading, research and independent study. It provides participating schools with fine-free student and educator library cards, free delivery and pickup of books, as well as access to the public library systems' unparalleled digital resources.
Beth Mowry, a science teacher at the School for Collaborative Studies, takes her students who are working on performance-based projects to the main branch of the New York Public Library to learn about its database, which she pointed out “allows students access to peer-reviewed professional journals they would otherwise not have access to.”
Librarian Susan Westover, whose busy school library serves the three schools in the Carroll Gardens building, says the public library program opens up endless possibilities once far beyond the reach of her cash-strapped school. Westover is the MyLibraryNYC gatekeeper for a constant flow of classroom collections that meet the reading levels of all students as well as books that teachers and paraprofessionals order for their own professional learning. She also helps with orders for the lunchtime book club that includes parents, and sets for classroom book clubs.
What it’s all about, says Westover, is “giving kids choices.”
While the MyLibraryNYC program has expanded to 550 schools this year, only schools with functioning libraries staffed with librarians are eligible to participate for now. The goal, say library officials, is to eventually expand the program to all schools.
For more details, go to mylibrarynyc.org. To find out about the chances of your school becoming eligible in the future, contact the DOE Office of Library Services.