Taking on New Roles: How the Library Can Become a Platform for Learning

Posted by Sara Kennedy on September 20, 2017 at 9:25 AM

Editor’s note: This is a story of how Green Hills Public Library District (GHPLD) took on a new role as a platform for learning in the community and how other libraries can leverage regional support in their effort. 


Providing someone the opportunity to obtain their high school diploma through their local library is still fairly new to the industry.  We’ve traditionally offered resources to help someone on their own education journey, such as public computers, test preparation books, and other study guides. If you attend library networking meetings, workshops, or conferences, you’re probably familiar with different trending services offered at libraries and how you can get your library involved.  It’s true, we’re doing things differently.  This isn’t a way to stay relevant; it’s simply a response to the ever-changing needs in the communities we serve.

Green Hills Public Library District (GHPLD) is a medium-sized library with one central location.  We are located in Palos Hills, Illinois, which is just about 14 miles southwest of Chicago.  Our district includes the cities of Hickory Hills and Palos Hills for a total population served of approximately 31,000.

I’ve been part of the team at GHPLD since 2003 but my role as a manager did not begin until 2012.  As someone who embraces change, it has always been exciting to watch libraries evolve.  From circulating fishing poles to opening recording studios, libraries are different now than they were decades ago. 

A few years ago, I heard about another library offering a new program called Career Online High School.  I investigated and found that, while it sounded like an amazing program, it wasn’t something we could fit into our budget. 

GHPLD is a member of the Reaching Across Illinois Library System (RAILS), which is comprised of approximately 1300 private, public, school, and university libraries in the state.  RAILS offers many services to its members, one of them being deals and discounts for vendors, trials, and group purchases.  A little over a year ago, I learned that RAILS was offering a significant discount to member libraries that might be interested in Career Online High School.   As I mentioned earlier, the program itself was cost-prohibitive to us, though we remained interested.   The deal from RAILS provided us the option to fund the scholarships alone, while RAILS picked up the cost of the self-assessment portion.  This made the program affordable for us, which brought us to the decision to move forward.  As of this writing, ten other RAILS member libraries have also taken advantage of this deal to bring the program to their communities.

I learned a lot about how Career Online High School can help support our mission of encouraging lifelong learning and enrichment as well as contributing to a well-informed and literate community.   Career Online High School is a fully accredited, private online school district with board-certified instructors.  It is powered by Gale, a Cengage company, with which many libraries are familiar.  Applicants must be at least 21 years of age, live within the Library District boundaries, and successfully pass the pre-requisite course.  Scholarship recipients can graduate in as little as six months but are allowed up to 18 months to complete the program.  Each student is paired with an academic coach who will encourage and guide them along the way.  Students can also turn to the library for support.  This is a second chance for prospective students with barriers to continuing their education or furthering their career. 

The effects and direct benefit to the community are tremendous.  Graduating students can contribute so much more to the workforce upon receiving their high school diploma.  They can even go on to college and pursue higher education. 

This isn’t the first time we’ve taken advantage of a discount or deal offered by RAILS.  We are very impressed with the services that the system offers to its member libraries.  They are communicative, organized, and make every effort to understand what libraries need to best serve their communities.  We are very grateful to have taken advantage of this opportunity and that we were able to take on a new role in our community. 

Sara Kennedy
Deputy Director
Green Hills Public Library District (Palos Hills, IL)

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