Howard County Library System
A+ Partners in Education Toolkit

This toolkit explains how A+ Partners in Education works in Howard County. You are welcome to use all that is outlined below as a guide to develop a similar partnership in your area.

Part One: Laying the Groundwork for the A+ Partnership

I. Education

Above all else, education drives economic advancement and quality of life. While public libraries focus on education for everyone, the schools represent a key customer base. It therefore makes perfect sense for the schools and public library system to team up in this comprehensive fashion, offering the community’s students the best possible chances of overall academic success. Library instructors supplement and complement that which is delivered at school. The community benefits in that all of the public education entities are working together to leverage funding and expertise that is dedicated to students from pre-Kindergarten through college.

While our A+ Partnership now includes both school system and community college, we recommend beginning with the school system, then adding a college or university once the initial partnership is solid. The samples below outline a partnership with a school system.

II. Everyone is an A+ Partner

Top Management in the partnership should include both the school system's superintendent and the library system's president and chief executive officer, along with both organizations' chief operating officers. This gives the partnership authority and credibility.

Middle Management should include school district administrators, such as the Coordinator of Media and Educational Technology and his or her support staff, an ESOL Family Liaison Coordinator, and teacher representatives from elementary, middle, and high school levels. Public library administrators should include those in charge of children and teen curriculum, materials management, and public relations. In addition, a children's instructor and teen instructor should join this group to represent various library branches. Together, this group comprises the A+ Advisory Committee, which meets on a monthly basis to convey information, discuss ideas, estimate costs, and monitor progress.

Front-line Staff are the school-based library media specialists and a teacher coordinator or assistant principal from each school and public library instructors from each branch.

III. Agree on Partnership Goals and Objectives

During initial discussions, both the school and library system must come to the table with what they will agree to provide. This is based on concrete objectives. For example, you might agree that, “The library will register students for library cards with the assistance of the faculty and staff.” Even better, you might agree to what has been tremendously advantageous for all parties involved here in Howard County, “The schools will distribute library card applications through Kindergarten and new student registration packets. In addition, Kindergarten fields trips to the library will be incorporated into the school’s curriculum.”

The agreement should be signed by the Board of Education chair, the library's Board of Trustees chair, the school system's superintendent, library president & CEO, and upper level management from both partners. Establishing regular communication between designated school and library staff ensures that all needs are met. Reviewing and updating the agreement, at least annually, is recommended to reflect progress and new goals.

IV. Key Partnership Components

Each School Assigned a Library Branch and Liaison
  • Each elementary, middle and high school is assigned a public library branch, and assigns a school liaison, typically a media or reading specialist*
  • Each public library branch assigns a designated liaison, an instructor who is responsible for regular communications with the schools in its vicinity that have been assigned to that branch*
  • All these representatives develop, coordinate, and and promote partnership activities and components.
*For a college, each department is assigned a branch an branch liaison, with department chiefs serving as liaison, connecting with assigned library liaisons, typically adult instructors.

Pre-K Kindergarten, and all New Students – Library card applications (downloadable as PDF) are included with the school forms to be filled out by parents of incoming pre-K and Kindergarten students. Schools distribute library card applications attached to a letter signed by the superintendent of schools and library president & CEO encouraging parents to get library cards for their children and themselves (the A+ library card application form allows for parents and siblings to receive cards as well). Schools forward completed application forms to the library for processing and mailing of cards. A welcome letter and a sticker saying “I got my library card today” accompany the new library card.

Field Trips to HCLS as part of the school’s curriculum – One of the most beneficial A+ components is field trips to the public library as part of the curriculum for all pre-K and full day Kindergarten students. These trips establish the public library as a key component of the student’s education from the start. Considering the number of elementary schools in a particular jurisdiction, students in the lowest performing schools should be scheduled to visit first, and the remaining schools thereafter. The field trip is preceded by a mapping lesson and a post trip survey indicating what the children remembered from the trip and accounting for any return visits by the students' families.

V. Promote the Partnerships' benefits to everyone

Library staff must understand that positioning the library with the commonly understood definition of education assists with conveying the library’s full value to the community. School administrators and faculty need to know how the partnership supplements their own resources and helps bridge achievement gaps. Finally, elected officials, community leaders, and the general public need to know how the partnership contributes to the academic success of students, since education is the key factor in economic advancement and quality of life. Library staff should make presentations at Chamber of Commerce events, civic organization meetings and community events, as well as school board and PTA meetings.

VI. Partnerships attract funding

Partnerships of this kind are attractive to funders. Grants may be obtained from the state's division of library development and from other philanthropic organizations and foundations. The library's own fund raising organization(s) (e.g., the Friends or foundations) may also contribute monies. The school system contributes staff time and shares in costs (e.g., online tutoring service fees and venues for A+ signature initiatives such as Battle of the Books). The public library incorporates partnership costs into its operational budget. These costs may include staffing, supplies and materials, and promotion or marketing.

Part Two: Implementing the Partnership's Activities and Initiatives

I. Who manages the Partnership?

The A+ Advisory Committee meets on a monthly basis to administer the partnership, develop curriculum, and convey information between the library and the school system. It is co-chaired by a representative from the school system and a representative from the library. Members from individual schools sit on the committee, including a high school media specialist and a reading resource teacher for middle schools, as well as administrators such as the Coordinator of Media and Educational Technology and ESOL Family Liaison Coordinator. Library staff in a variety of positions, such as the Head of Children and Teen Curriculum, Director of Public Relations, Head of Materials Management, a children's instructor, and a teen instructor serve on the committee as well. Members may rotate on or off to provide different perspectives on projects.

II. Setting priorities makes the Partnership work efficiently

Work with the school system to identify priority populations. Since the number of schools in a system often outnumber library branches, the committee must set priorities, determining the schools which would benefit the most from the partnership. The school system can identify the schools whose students need the most improvement. These schools often serve more students for whom English is a second language and/or students who read below grade level.

Find ways to simplify. Tailoring specific partnership components to address specific classroom needs is beneficial for both library and school staff as well as students. Some designing and re-designing is necessary in the first year of the partnership. The ultimate goal is to develop a line-up of curriculum classes ready for library instructors to teach on demand—either in the school classrooms at the invitation of a teacher, or in the library. Library instructors will then spend less time planning and more time teaching (see e.g., A+ Curriculum Guides).

III. Partnership activities increase use of the public library

Targeting Students - Library instructors teach students and teachers how to use library research tools through classroom demonstrations. PowerPoint presentations about the library’s homework-related databases, Live Homework Help, and AskUsNow! augment classroom instruction. Presentations also include specific print resources useful for homework assignments. As a time-saver, library instructors should develop pre-packaged, curriculum-related classes designed to enhance and enrich student learning in specific subject areas. Classes are outlined in a curriculum guide given to teachers. Teachers may then choose the appropriate class, and schedule a classroom presentation.

Targeting Teachers - New teacher orientations and teacher in-service days are ideal opportunities to highlight library research tools, provide training, and showcase new materials, A+ curriculum, and A+ signature events. All participating teachers may own an special-privilege library card, the A+ Educator Card, which allows them to borrow select items for twice the usual checkout period, and includes a due-date grace period.

Targeting Parents - Via the PTA, library staff may present topics from a guide for parents, including homework resources, reading instruction, and Internet safety.

Targeting Students
Book Promotions. HCLS instructors are available to promote books, either on specific topics or topics of general interest. At the conclusions of the class, students typically borrow the books the instructor has brought with him/her.

Other Classes. A+ Curriculum-related classes extend educational opportunities in additional fun ways, with games, puzzles, music, and storytelling related to a topic students are studying in school.

Book Clubs. Book clubs are offered at various library branches as well as in some schools. Library instructors participate in school-based book clubs by co-facilitating, suggesting titles to read, and providing book club guidelines.

Book Clubs for Boys. Targeting under-performing middle school boys, boys' book clubs may be held either at lunch time or after school, and are jointly facilitated by school and library staff.

Summer Reading. Annually, each school is offered a visit from library instructors to promote the Summer Reading Club. A Book Promotions class can accompany the visits. Library instructors work with media specialists to develop summer reading lists so that all library branches have the titles. The “Breakfast Buddies” initiative, where HCLS instructors read books to children attending summer school, counts toward summer reading club goals. Schools also assist with bringing authors to audiences of children by providing large auditorium space, translating flyers announcing the upcoming author visit, promoting the event, and providing school grant funds for author visits.

Targeting Teachers - The A+ Curriculum Guide for teachers contains classes that supplement the school’s curriculum. These classes incorporate games, music, storytelling, and book presentation to extend learning. Teachers evaluate the classes for effectiveness and offer suggestions for future topics. Administrators and teachers appreciate involving library instructors at staff in-service days to highlight new materials and suggest good reads for themselves and their students.

Targeting Parents - Suggested book titles on various topics should be available on the library’s web site and presented at PTA meetings. Topics for parents and PTAs may include bullying, drug, alcohol and tobacco use, Internet safety, homework research tools, and assisting new readers. Additional topics for PTA presentations are accommodated whenever possible. Media specialists and library teen instructors meet annually to create joint summer reading lists and ensure that adequate copies of titles are available. Early childhood education initiatives target parents of pre-K and early elementary children who are struggling with the building blocks of reading. Children gain the foundations of reading as parents learn techniques for reading aloud and conversational skills. During “Family Nights” at the library and “Reading/Math Nights” at school, library instructors incorporate storytelling and showcase library research tools that directly relate to what children are learning in school.

IV. A+ Components of Note for English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL)

The A+ curriculum can include components for new Americans. Examples include:

  • Family Nights. Library instructors teach basic research skills to parents as part of school sponsored ESOL nights while their children participate in a separate literature-based class.
  • Bilingual Children's Classes. Spanish/English, Chinese/English and Korean/English children’s classes are held at library branches.
  • Translations. Library card applications and selected other materials are translated into the top five foreign languages spoken by students and their families. The school system’s ESOL Office translates the materials.
  • Community Events. Library instructors attend community sponsored events targeting ESOL populations.
  • Even Start and Judy Center. Library instructors teach preschool classes to Even Start and Judy Center students in both English and Spanish, and serve on Even Start and Judy Center Advisory Boards.

V. A+ Signature Initiatives

The A+ Partnership has grown to include an impressive line-up of signature initiatives that showcase student achievement and the partnership in fun, highly visible ways. Examples include:

Dogs Educating and Assisting Readers (DEAR) – Sponsored by Friends of HCLS, DEAR is a partnership among HCLS, HCPSS, and Fidos for Freedom. DEAR matches struggling third grade readers with a loving, nonjudgmental, attentive audience: trained therapy dogs. Students read to their dog over a nine-week session, achieving their target reading level during this time, while gaining self-confidence.

Writing Competition - HCLS sponsors a Sherlock Holmes essay contest for seventh graders. The school system promotes these contest by announcing them to students and posting flyers. Winners read their essays on the school system's dedicated public cable television channel.

HCLS Spelling Bee - Registered as a regional bee, HCLS organizes the HCLS Spelling Bee each year, inviting public and private schools, as well as home school associations, in the county to participate. Classroom and school bees determine contestants for the Howard County Spelling Bee. The winner advances to the National Spelling Bee.

BumbleBee - A companion initiative to the HCLS Spelling Bee, the BumbleBee inspires students in grades one through three to improve their spelling and vocabularies. View photos.

Battle of the Books - This academic competition is designed to increase reading comprehension and build vocabularies for fifth grade students. Teams read 16 books covering a range of reading levels and interests, then answer questions about the books at the event. Details.

Children's Discovery Fair
- View photos.

Money Matters Fair - Launched in 2010, this event delivers financial education for all ages and features interactive activities for children and teens, seminars for adults, and exhibits by financial institutions and other organizations. View photos.

Summer Reading Kickoff - A systemwide event kicks off the library's summer reading club and attracts record participation each year. Details.

VI. Promoting A+

A+ Celebration - A+ Celebration - Each fall, Howard County Library System hosts A+ Partners in Education Celebration, an event that showcases the successes of the past year and looks ahead to the next year. Elected officials and community leaders attend to hear school faculty and Library staff relate examples of how the partnership benefits students. (Initially, HCLS worked with HCPSS to produce a video which included interviews with principals, teachers, and administrators and demonstrated partnership activities. The video served as a powerful marketing tool to explain and promote the partnership.) In 2010, we produced three-minute videos summarizing the past year’s signature initiatives. Click here for the video highlighting HCLS/HCPSS initiatives, and here for HCLS/HCC initiatives.

Presentations – Consider finding appropriate venues to make presentations about the partnership. Invite school faculty to join you. Initially, HCLS instructors teamed up with media specialists to talk about how the partnership worked and why it was effective. These presentations took place at the local, regional, state, and national level – both within the library community and the school community. While no longer necessary (as A+ is now firmly embedded in Howard County’s vocabulary and culture), we continue with “What’s New at HCLS” kinds of presentations that include impressive A+ components.

Publicity - The partnership provides an excellent opportunity to promote the library's entire curriculum—Self-Directed Education (books, e-resources), Research Assistance & Instruction, and Instructive & Enlightening Experiences—for all ages to faculty, students, and parents. HCLS staff send press releases to the school system to include in their school and internal newsletters, and media specialists promote HCLS events to their students through the media centers. If your school system has its own cable television station, take advantage of it. In Howard County, one of HCLS’s children’s instructors hosts a monthly show on the school system’s cable television station. She interviews authors and discusses books of interest to students and parents. The station also covers many HCLS events. For instance, it airs the HCLS Spelling Bee for one month following the event. Don’t forget to promote the partnership internally. Use your library system’s internal newsletter to inform staff about partnership activities.

Credibility - As the partnership progresses and public library instructors become viewed as credible educators, they will be sought as expert presenters at individual schools, library professional meetings (e.g. Maryland Library Association, Public Library Association), and media specialist and reading teacher professional meetings. In addition, publishing articles about the partnership in professional journal articles elevates credibility and perceived value.

Part Three: Evaluating the Partnership's Success

I. Measure the Partnership's success

At least five measurable goals can determine if the partnership is a success - an increase in:

  • Student use of specialized online research tools
  • Student use of online homework assistance
  • Research assistance interactions
  • The number of students holding library cards
  • Attendance at classes and events
  • The perceived value of the library by parents and teachers

Online homework services send monthly usage reports that also contain student comments. Additional tools include surveys, which can be given to teachers at the end of each curriculum class to assist with continuous improvement for public library instructor and for A+ class content and teaching effectiveness.

Testimonials from parents, teachers and students and increases in public funding are additional ways to measure the partnership's success. If the library is extolled as essential to the commonly understood definition of education, more funding will follow at budget time, positioning the library to then promote its broader curriculum (that everything public libraries do is education). (See “Transforming Our Image through Words that Work: Perception is Everything,” by Valerie J. Gross. Public Libraries, PLA/ALA, Vol. 48, No. 5, September/October 2009, p. 24-32, as well as the book Transforming Our Image, Building Our Brand: The Education Advantage, by Valerie J. Gross. Libraries Unlimited/ABC-CLIO, 2013.)

II. Learn from the Partnership

Howard County Library System learned valuable lessons as it developed the A+ Partnership:

Involve library staff from the beginning by explaining how the partnership is important to the future success of the library. Train staff and give them foundational skills and knowledge to fulfill the partnership's goals as they perform their jobs. For example, some staff members may not be as skilled at speaking to middle schoolers as they would preschool or elementary school students, so practicing presentation skills to address that age group might be essential.

Reward staff for their commitment to the partnership and for their willingness to expand their horizons to ensure the partnership's success. This includes abundant recognition and public praise.

Part Four: Use of the Name and Logo

A+ Partners in Education is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You are welcome to use the A+ Partners in Education name, associated names ( e.g., “the A+ Partnership”), and logo. We ask only that you provide the following attribution on your web site, as well as in major publications, articles, and brochures:

A+ Partners in Education is licensed by Howard County Library System (MD).

As to the logo, feel free to use the generic version as is. You may also edit the logo to reflect your library and schools. Our tailored version is provided here as an example.


a plus partners in education logo


Download the A+ Partners in Education logo here as a PNG, TIFF, EPS


A+ Partners in Education is licensed by Howard County Library System (MD) under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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A+ Partners in Education