Jay Greenlinger knew there was little he could do to restore the school librarian positions that had been cut from his district. So he tackled what he knew best—ebooks, devices, online subscriptions, and technology—to support students’ access to materials for their learning.
“Most schools do not have a functioning library,” says Greenlinger, director of instructional technology at the Pleasant Valley School District (PVSD) in Camarillo, California. “It’s a great place to hold meetings or display student work, but it’s no longer a center of learning, no longer a hub.”
PVSD’s budget went from $65 million in the 2007-2008 school year to $49 million for 2013-2014, while the district gained about 600 additional children, he says. Cuts over the past six years meant fewer hours for custodians, afterschool positions, and library media specialists. Greenlinger, a former principal, had a full-time media specialist at the time. He had to split her time the second year and completely lost the budget for the position by 2011-2012. He transitioned to his current position in 2013; before that, he served as principal of Camarillo’s La Mariposa Elementary School for four years.
Noting that there was a shift in learning content toward digital materials, Greenlinger began to look at what was available online that could dovetail with school curriculum and allow students to, at least, find books and other resources. For the 2013-2014 school year, he launched a 1:1 iPad program in five elementary classrooms across the district at Title 1 schools, partnering with the public library and bringing 130 students to a local branch to learn how much they could get online through OverDrive on their devices.
“The kids were hooked, reading books on their iPads that morning,” he says. “One girl was distraught that Nancy Drew was not on OverDrive.”
That’s when Greenlinger knew he had a solution. With the school district allocating funds for Common Core implementation over the next two years, he drew from those resources, budgeting $65,000 for the 2014-2015 school year—and the same for the next—to build a high-interest digital stopgap containing non-fiction, fiction, and professional reading for both students and teachers.
Students at Las Colinas Middle School in Camarillo are already putting the library to use, accessing the OverDrive library on the school’s 106 Chromebooks and on their own mobile devices. The school is looking to add five more sets of 36 Chromebooks for the 2014-2015 school year, and the PTSA is also raising funds for additional devices for the 1,000 6-8 grade students, says the school’s principal, Pam Gonzalez.
“I will not say that we have a vast majority of students bringing their own devices at this time, but I see that growing,” she says. “The goal is to get more devices into the hands of kids.”
Greenlinger is also transitioning two teachers to manage the new online library. This year, they worked one day a week growing the district’s online subscriptions, video content, and digital materials. Next year, they’ll be full-time, assigned as Teachers on Special Assignment on Digital Media Integration.
“Most of my time will be looking at what’s available to bring the best and most appropriate books into our library,” says Shirleen Oplustic, a sixth grade language arts and history teacher at Las Colinas. “I’ll also be promoting the library so students and teachers who aren’t aware now will know it’s there and know it’s able to be used.”
Already, every student in the district has an OverDrive account accessible from wherever they want to work. Greenlinger, concerned about ensuring kids having access from home (as 30 percent of the student body qualifies for free or reduced lunch), ran a technology survey in February 2014 within the community among grades 3 through 8. What he found reassured him. Ninty-five percent of students had wireless access from home, and therefore could connect to OverDrive from home even if that meant it would be through a parent’s tablet or e-reader. Now, his goal now is to find a way to fill that five percent gap.
“We don’t know what that means, but we recognize this is a solvable problem,” he says. “We’re going to see if there are any municipal partnerships we can form to solve it.”
What he’s also sure about is that while he’d love to see school librarians restored to his district—and across the state—he will at least focus on what he can do to ensure that the students he serves are not left completely without access. To him, that means staying on top of digital resources—so students can at least have the materials they need, when they need them.
“Everything is Web based,” he says. “This shift is content in classrooms is now going digital. You’re either all in with that, or left behind.”