BLOOMINGTON — All Bloomington-Normal public school students are being given access to fortresses full of knowledge, exploration and entertainment — their public libraries.

Starting in 2016, in partnership with Bloomington Public Library, Bloomington District 87 began issuing library cards directly to the 5,000-plus students in the district. Normal-based McLean County Unit 5 has followed suit with BPL and Normal Public Library, having recently delivered its first batch of cards to 3,600 elementary students Unit 5 serves in both communities.

“We really want to create lifelong learners. The primary way to do that is to offer cards at no cost and very little inconvenience,” said Randi Sutter, NPL children’s outreach librarian.

“PebbleGo is perfect for elementary school researchers, Hoopla is like Netflix but free for library users and there are several other academic subscriptions students can access. If they have a device and internet connection at home, they can access the materials from there,” said Sutter.

Carmen Bergmann, director of elementary education at Unit 5, said introducing children to their local library will keep them attending in the future.

“A lot of people just don’t think about the library and this initiative was a good reminder to get kids in the doors. Not only is it a good connection for the students, but the schools and library can share subscriptions and programs instead of buying them separately,” said Bergmann.

Unit 5 and District 87 students living in Bloomington have access to BPL where they can browse print items, interact in the “teen zone,” explore online resources and check out movies and games with approval from a parent.

“Getting the word out there that these resources exist is hard to do,” said Rhonda Massie, BPL marketing manager. “By handing a library card to each student, this will form in their minds. It’s going to produce a love of reading for some people and they’ll know their libraries offer resources in addition to books.”

Stevenson Elementary School student Lillian Eyres selected some books at BPL on Saturday with her brother Jacob, 5. 

"I like audio books and regular books. I love coming to the library because you know you'll be picking your entertainment for the next few days," said Lillian, 9.

A library card is a way to “open up this whole new world to kids,” said Cindy Helmers, District 87 assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

“The whole vision behind this was to increase the opportunities for all students and bring resources that align with students’ passion and interests,” said Helmers. “It can become a natural part of the educational experience in and out of the classroom.”

Bloomington and Normal libraries regularly send representatives to work with the media specialists at school libraries, and that creates a cohesive learning environment for educators and students.

“It’s definitely a good two-way partnership that has benefited everyone,” said Helmers.

Officials at both libraries hope the increase in students with library cards will attract more kids to the summer reading programs, which begins May 29 in Bloomington and May 30 in Normal.

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Follow Julia Evelsizer on Twitter: @pg_evelsizer


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