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Fifteen Years In, Limitless Libraries Is Still A Super Machine for Student Reading

April 15, 2024

Celebrating Books, Ideas, and the Power of “Yes” During School Library Month

For many school libraries, providing a robust collection for students can be tough.

In 2021, schools only spent an average of $11.35 per student on library resources like books, digital media, and databases — less than 1% of the average per student budget. Additionally, roughly a third of school librarians reported having to spend between $100 and $299 of their own money every year to keep their library afloat, according to Ed Week.

But things are different in Nashville, thanks to Limitless Libraries, a nationally recognized school lending partnership between Nashville Public Library (NPL) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).

For 15 years, Limitless Libraries has worked alongside Metro’s librarians, teachers, and students, supporting their reading, research, curriculum projects — and, yes, reading just for pure fun.

As we celebrate School Library Month, we heard from people who have been on the front lines of Limitless Libraries for years.

Delivering in More Ways Than One

In 2009, a group of Metro Nashville’s elected officials, educators, librarians, and administrators — spearheaded by then-Mayor Karl Dean — gathered together to explore an idea.

The idea was simple — straightforward, even: what if Nashville’s school libraries were able to access millions of books and materials, regardless of shelf space and budget constraints?

The solution: take the materials NPL already had and make them all available to MNPS students, teachers, and school librarians.

That’s how Limitless Libraries was born, and Hume-Fogg Academic High School Librarian Amanda Smithfield was there from the start. Amanda was one of the original school librarians who participated in the Limitless Libraries pilot program.

“We had many, many meetings, and as Mayor Dean explained more of what his vision was — and brought us in as school and public librarians to form what could happen — we became more excited about what this program could be,” Amanda said.

What began as a pilot at four locations has grown into a powerhouse that serves nearly 150 schools across Davidson County. And in 2023, Limitless Libraries saved Nashville roughly $650,000 in books and materials.

Access to Everything, All the Time

For many teachers and school librarians, accessing a wide variety of materials is a challenge. Costs are one issue, and having the space to keep multiple copies of a textbook or popular Young Adult title is another.

“You know what’s really expensive? Artbooks. Knowing how art changes over time really helps our students transform their art, and do big art history projects,” Amanda said. “I don’t have to have every single book on Pablo Picasso. Kids can order big, expensive, expansive books of Picasso’s art from NPL. If I had to order those, I’d be spending $150 to 200 on a single one of these books. Because Limitless exists, I don’t have to.”

It’s a sentiment that Elise DeTrude — 3rd Grade Teacher at Westmeade Elementary School — shares.

“I’ve used Limitless since I started teaching, and I love it. It’s very efficient and convenient for teachers,” Elise said. “I use Limitless for whatever type of unit we’re working on, because I don’t keep a huge stock of books in my classroom.

“For instance, I just ordered a lot of books on animal adaptations, because that’s our next science unit. I try to order them before so students can preview them, get them interested, and maybe order a book for themselves from Limitless that’s similar.”

Beyond books, Limitless allows teachers and students to access NPL’s extensive collection of databases, from PowerKnowledge to New York Times Online, for classes, research projects, and more.

And for students with reading challenges, it’s a boon.

“I know, for a lot of struggling readers, they really love the confidence that audiobooks and other read-for-you books gives them,” Elise said. “It’s the feeling of being able to do something on their own, just like their classmates. It opens up a whole new world for them.”

The Power of “Yes”

More than a decade in, Limitless Libraries is going strong.

“As a young school librarian, I swore to myself that I would never have to tell my students, ‘No, I don’t have that,’” Amanda said. “What Limitless Libraries has done is it has allowed me to always say, ‘Yes.’ And that’s an amazing feeling.

“That’s what sets Limitless Libraries apart.”

To view the full breadth of what Limitless Libraries offers, please visit our website.

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Ed's a proud member of NPL's Marketing and Communications team. Some of his favorite books include Dracula, Once an EagleNeuromancerStarship TroopersThe Black CompanyBerserkBlade of the ImmortalBlame! and Vampire Hunter D. When not at the Library, you'll find him spending time with his wife and son, doing interval training, reading, or waiting for the next FromSoftware game.