San Jose: 40,000 students will get library card under new program

In an unprecedented move, every student in four major San Jose school districts will receive a library card — providing tens of thousands of students access to books and other public library resources.

The idea comes as an extension of the elimination of late fees on children’s materials adopted by the library system last year. Research has shown that late fees are a greater deterrent for minorities and low-income households, said San Jose Library Director Jill Bourne.

And when families struggle to make ends meet, fees incurred from an overdue library book shuts children out of what should be a free and open resource for learning.

“We weren’t collecting (the fees),” said Bourne. “It was just becoming a barrier, these outstanding fines were just getting larger and larger.”

In fact, in data tracked in the first six months following the elimination of fees on children’s materials, Bourne says there was no additional loss of library items. “There wasn’t any growth in lost items, but there was significant growth in usership, especially with teens,” she said.

Bourne says many students stopped using their library cards after getting hit with a fine and being blocked from checking out more materials. Eliminating the fines removed one barrier, bringing the cards directly to the students eliminates another.

The program will roll out in the fall at schools within the Moreland, Union, Mount Pleasant Elementary and San José Unified school districts — reaching a total of 40,000 students. By the following year, Bourne says the library hopes to include all 19 districts in the city. That means every student in San Jose will be armed with a library card — a first for the city.

San José Unified approved the agreement at its June 27 board meeting. In a Facebook video the next day, San Jose Unified School District Board Member José Magaña spoke about the importance of the move.

“One of the easiest ways to eliminate the literacy gap for kids is to just have access to books,” Magaña said. “Whether that’s access to hardcover books or literacy resources online.”

Magaña, who also serves as an early education commissioner for the city of San Jose, says he grew up in a low-income household and understands the struggles of gaining access to public resources such as the library.

“Many times we were unable to check out books because of the fear of having to pay fees for the books being late,” Magaña told San José Spotlight. “The idea is to build a strong, strategic partnership to develop infrastructure to allow students to access all electronic and print resources through the use of a joint student ID/library card.”

Bourne noted that many teachers make use of online library resources in the classroom, but struggle to do so if not all students have a card. She added that the students in the Moreland District had fun with the concept of combining a school ID and library card and held a design contest for the new cards.

Bourne says the library doesn’t track how many students have library cards but says that many students will be getting their first card through this program.

“There will be thousands of children who will be getting their first card for sure,” she said.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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