July 21, 2024

Nashville’s Limitless Libraries Hopes to Merge School and Public Library ILS

Limitless Libraries LogoLimitless Libraries, an ongoing partnership between Nashville Public Library (NPL) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS), is planning a move to a shared ILS system, and has requested funding for the transition from the office of Nashville’s mayor.

Launched in 2009 as a pilot test involving NPL and four local schools, Limitless Libraries has grown into a comprehensive program fostering resource sharing between NPL and all 128 MNPS schools. MNPS student IDs are recognized as library cards at all of NPL’s 21 branches and three special services libraries, and students can access NPL’s online subscription resources, or use NPL’s OPAC to have books, CDs, DVDs, and other materials delivered to their school for convenient pickup. Collaboration between the two institutions also led to a weeding and centralized procurement program which enhanced and modernized MNPS school library collections, and included the launch of a new collection of Common Core ebooks.

The program has become a much-watched success, demonstrating how partnerships between school libraries and public libraries can help boost usage of both systems. In fact, a steady, significant increase in demand for books and other materials has posed a bit of a challenge for NPL, according to NPL Associate Director and 2012 LJ Mover & Shaker Tricia Racke Bengel.

Growing demand “is a really good problem to have,” she told LJ. “We didn’t expect our own circulation to go up so much, especially in juvenile nonfiction and juvenile materials, where circulation had been dwindling over the past several years. We really had to beef up our own collection, so that’s been a great thing.” Donations from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, based in nearby Goodlettsville, TN, helped Limitless Libraries shore up its materials budget as the project got started, she added.

Currently, MNPS uses Library.Solution for Schools by The Library Corporation (TLC) while NPL uses Millennium by Innovative Interfaces Inc. (III), and running the program with ILS systems from two separate vendors requires workarounds. Directing users to each catalog from a school library site or from the Limitless Libraries homepage is simple enough. But, students still have to search their school catalog and the NPL catalog separately to find materials. Once a student checks out an item from NPL and requests for it to be sent to his or her school, NPL has a provisional workflow system in which NPL staff use self-check stations at an NPL branch to assign those items to that student’s account before shipping them.

Students must log in separately to each system to find their account information. And, there is also no way for school librarians to check and see if students have overdue materials or fines from NPL, which poses a particular challenge for both systems, since MNPS students are a highly transitory population. About 30 percent of student families move and switch schools within a given year, according to Meredith Libbey, Special Assistant to the Director of Schools for MNPS.

“We really want to go to a single [ILS] system,” said Racke Bengel. “It truly would be the last barrier between us…. It will make Limitless Libraries not just a program that we’ve been running separate and outside of both of our institutions.”

Since the 2010-2011 academic year, MNPS has worked with NPL to update student account information in NPL’s Millennium system on a nightly basis, enabling NPL to keep track of where students are enrolled and where checked out materials are. If the city approves this next phase of Limitless Libraries, MNPS libraries will be fully merged into the Millennium ILS, greatly simplifying the management of account and circulation information, as well as collection development and other project initiatives.

A single ILS “will just make things so much easier,” said Racke Bengel.

The library systems have built “a really compelling case” for the ILS merger, and they hope to learn soon whether the city is willing to fund the project. Other recent developments would seem to indicate that the mayor’s office remains committed to Limitless Libraries and has been pleased with its results. Notably, Limitless Libraries was recently asked to take the reins of another successful city initiative, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), which offers after-school enrichment activities at school libraries and community centers.

Asked whether the prospect of the ILS merger had raised concerns at MNPS regarding job redundancies or whether school libraries would play a diminished role in a more fully merged system, Racke Bengel said that most of these concerns were resolved during earlier stages of the project. It is clear that usage is continuing to rise for both systems, and there is plenty of work for everyone.

“This program would not be successful without local school librarians,” she said. “It is a true partnership…. Without the school librarians teaching the kids the digital literacy skills they need and the library skills that they have always taught, without them promoting the program to their students and teachers, we would not be successful. Whenever we’ve been able to take back-of-house work off their plate, they are able to spend more of their time teaching.”

[CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly cited a 70 percent mobility rate for students at MNPS schools].

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.


  1. The Indianapolis Public Library has a Shared System including 21 schools and two art museums. All use the public library’s ILS, and have been since the mid 1990s. Students and teachers use their IndyPL cards to check out and request materials from IndyPL or other schools, and materials are delivered to the schools as part of our library delivery service. Schools also share their materials with each other and with IndyPL patrons throughout the city. People who want to know more about Limitless Libraries, New York City Public Library’s MyLibraryNYC, and the IndyPL’s Shared System. might want to attend our panel presentation at PLA next month. We each do some things a little differently and have enjoyed learning from each other’s successes and challenges!