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Tribune: Libraries Stock Textbooks

    Chicago Tribune
    October 17, 2006

    Library Textbooks Leave Few Homework Excuses
    School district fills Lake Villa shelves

    By Lisa Black
    Tribune staff reporter

    By the time Mesa Schmidt realized she had left her weekend algebra homework at school, it was Sunday afternoon and impossible to enter the building.

    This time, though, the 13-year-old was able to find the pages she needed on intercepts and linear equations at Lake Villa District Library, which recently stocked three shelves with textbooks supplied by the local school district.

    The library began carrying the textbooks in September to assist pupils who ask for homework help while attracting youths who aren't regular library patrons.

    Some school districts use technology to make textbooks available online. But when that's not available, there's no substitute for a good old-fashioned workbook in an emergency, pupils and parents said.

    "I was really worried I wasn't going to get my homework done, that I would turn it in late and it would lower my grade," said Mesa, an 8th grader at Palombi Middle School in Lake Villa.Kerry Reed, head of the library's youth services, can easily spot the desperate pupils.

    Often, they race in at 8:45 p.m., minutes before the library closes, frantic to make photocopies of some worksheet they left at school.

    "That's when they realize they've forgotten their homework," said Reed, who points them to the shelves that hold every textbook, from kindergarten through 8th grade, for Lake Villa School District 41.

    "In the first week we had a dozen students come in," she said.

    Alex Schmidt of Lake Villa said he expects that his triplets, age 10 and in 5th grade, will use the textbooks.

    "One of them is always forgetting something and it's always after dinner when they tell us," said Schmidt, at the library with his son, Brandon.

    Micah Riordan, a teacher who tutors Brandon in reading, agreed.

    "It's a great idea because our school pretty much locks down at 4 o'clock," he said. "If you don't get there on time you're out of luck."

    The school district has lent one copy of each book to the library. The books are held as reference materials only and cannot be checked out.

    Public libraries in Arlington Heights, Barrington, Park Forest and Skokie have a similar setup with area schools, which librarians say is rare.

    While it seems like a simple solution to a common problem, few libraries are willing to sacrifice valuable shelf space for books that the schools already supply, librarians said. The public library workers rely on school districts to donate the books, which cost hundreds of dollars, and to keep the materials current.

    "My guess would be that it's not common," said Robert Doyle, executive director Illinois Library Association, based in Chicago.

    "A lot of times a library might serve several school districts. Then you get into, well, do we have the books for the middle school and the grade school and the high school?"

    Some libraries have taken homework help a step further by subscribing to an online tutoring service that allows students to log on to get help from professional teachers through instant-messaging.

    Skokie Public Library pays more than $15,000 annually for the service, which offers tutoring for Grades 4 through early college levels, said Ruth Sinker, Skokie's youth services technology coordinator.

    She recorded more than 2,000 tutoring sessions logged during the fiscal year that ended in May. The users were mostly in 8th and 9th grades, who spent an average of 18.9 minutes receiving help.

    Sinker also said the students rely heavily on the textbooks, which have been available for three years.

    Students can look on a Web site to find out which ones are available, she said.

    "Parents say, 'Wow, I wish we had this,'" Sinker said.

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