21st Century Libraries- Innovation, Information and High School Diplomas!

[Dear Reader-While I have made the decision that I will only include details about my own library very sparingly on this blog- I prefer to rely on my experiences in broad strokes rather than specifics about my current library- I felt that yesterday marked a milestone I would be remiss if I did not share. I certainly would have blogged about it if I had seen it in the news at any other Library.  So here you have it:]

Beginning October 9, 2014, Trenton Free Public Library will offer Trenton residents the opportunity to earn an accredited high school diploma at the Library at no cost.

This program, an initiative brought to public libraries by Cengage Learning/Gale, is the world’s first accredited, private online school district. Career Online High School and is specifically designed to reengage adults into the education system and prepare them for entry into post-secondary career education or the workforce. This is NOT a GED program. Successful graduates will earn a high school diploma and a career certification through an accredited high school. Learning and literacy will be accessible to students in a non-traditional, online environment, allowing them to take classes remotely or at their local public library. Adult students will have the ability to select a career pathway and gain career skills in high-demand job disciplines. Upon completion of the program, these students will be able to combine literacy skills with occupational skills.

With Library budgets stretched as they are, you may be wondering, “How on Earth did they afford such a program?” As with so many wonderful things that come to libraries, it came in the form of an award (grant).

Select New Jersey Libraries will begin offering Online Certified High School Programs to their Patrons from the University Herald Oct 8, 2014:

New Jersey residents will have the opportunity to earn accredited high school diplomas and credentialed career certificates through six public libraries.

“Libraries are evolving beyond books into true educational institutions and Gale is delighted to be the partner to make that happen,” Frank Menchaca, senior vice president for global product management at Gale, said in a statement. “This is the first statewide implementation of Career Online High School and we can’t wait to see the impact it will have on communities and the students themselves.”

“This innovative project is the latest step in the transformation of public libraries in the digital age into full-fledged community resources,” said Mary Chute, New Jersey State Librarian. “New Jersey’s libraries are committed to supporting the development of a well-educated and well-trained workforce, which will enable New Jersey’s employers to compete in the global market.”

New Jersey residents interested in the Career Online High School program should visit www.njstatelib.org/yourdiploma.


Now, if you are like me, you are probably thinking “Wow. I always read these stories but how do libraries actually GET these awards/grants?!” Well this is how it happened for us:

In January of this year I read an article that literally made me pick up the phone and call Gale Cengage- not the next day but that very moment! This was that article:

LA Public Library to Offer High School Diplomas! CBS News Jan 9, 2014.

and this was the quote that really made me sit up and think:

“The exciting thing about public libraries is they are places people trust,” he [Howard A. Liebman of Gale] said. “So people, who may have felt ashamed about not having a high school diploma, will feel safe going there to get one.”

Public Libraries ARE a place of trust, acceptance, support, and openness that can create the perfect “judgement free” zone for this type of program. In addition, as a stong proponent of the Public LIbrary’s mission to support the existance of an ‘Informed Citizenry’ this was a no brainer! I HAD to have this program at my Library!!

So, like a crazed shop-a-holic watching the HSN at 2am, I picked up the phone and called Gale’s sales department. They politely informed me that they had no information on the product but someone would return my call. SIGH! Thwarted!! But wait- they said they would call and so they did! In the form of Brian Risse, Vice President – National Sales Manager, Public Libraries Cengage Learning- Gale. And by February I had him live and in person in my office making the sales pitch. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, despite my deepest desires, we were unable to acquire the program as the cost was simply outside our grasp.

But wait! Luckily for us, the NJ State Library had the same vision and was able to secure funding for the initiative from the NJ Department of Labor and this summer it was announced that they would begin accepting applications for Libraries wishing to participate.

So, after months of writing, meetings with community partners and the installation of a computer classroom funded by Community Development Block Grant monies, our application to be selected for the New Jersey pilot program to offer the Career Online High School was accepted and we rejoiced! From the first article on Jan 9th to the launch on October 6th- nearly 9 months elapsed and it does feel a bit like we have ‘given birth’ to something truly special.

As with many urban communities the educational situation in Trenton is a near constant topic of concern and conversation. This year the State “report card” lists us dead last in NJ- again- with a drop out rate of 48%.  The situation is dire!  But while there are many committed, smart people working on solutions for today and tomorrow’s students…what about yesterday’s?  There are an estimated 13,000 Trentonians in their 20s&30s without a High School diploma.  ANY educational solutions for our Schools will be too late for them.  THIS program is a real solution with the potential to start having a REAL impact with real High School graduates as soon this Spring! 

Earning a high school diploma is a life-changing achievement. By offering this opportunity through public libraries rather than ONLY in a ‘for-profit’ model by institutions of higher learning (as it has been previously) , we are empowering our library patrons to seek new opportunities and transform their lives. We are helping to solidify our core mission “to provide the open and equal access to information that is necessary for the existence of an informed citizenry able to participate in their government.” in a fundamental way. A High School Diploma!

Is it ideal that anyone does or must leave school before graduation? Of course NOT! Do we want our young people to stay in school and graduate in the natural course? Of Course!! And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we lived in a world where no one ever stumbled, life was easy, and we all chose wisely the first time around? It would! But how many decisions in life do you regret? How many times do you wish you could call a do-over? Unfortunately that opportunity is rare. But imagine if that regretted decision concerned something as fundamental to your existence and participation in our society as your high school diploma? Now imagine if you were offered a second chance? This program is that concept in practice and goes directly to the heart of our Mission.


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8 responses to “21st Century Libraries- Innovation, Information and High School Diplomas!

  1. An intriguing idea. Congratulations on offering this innovative program. I am curious: what has been the response from the public school system and the education community in general, including those affiliated with traditional GED or continuing education programs? Our patron base includes a number of potential candidates for the type of opportunity you describe and I took the liberty of sharing your description with an associate at the Connecticut State Library.

    • Kimberly Matthews

      Thanks! The response from the public has been overwhelming already! They are thrilled and intrigued. The staff does feel a bit deluged with questions; but they are all fully versed in the program and performing admirably.
      Your questions are well-founded. Indeed there has been some pushback from the educational community about the program. It is my understanding that the NJ State Library did a beautiful job of negotiating the concerns about the program from the Department of Education. There was (again- this is third hand so I am relaying the information precisely as it was given to me) some concern over conflicts between the support of a certified degree program and the revamped GED. In the end, logic won out and everyone realized there were far more NJ residents without a high school diploma than the established GED testing centers could accommodate annually and that there was enough demand to meet (and likely exceed) the supply of BOTH programs.
      In addition, any time you step into the realm of higher education you are quick to realize they are a force to be reckoned with… that was also the case here. Feedback from higher education institutions centered around concerns that libraries would offer a service at no-cost to which they apply a fee. This was quickly followed up with questions about how the program is administered and if Librarians will act as mentors and teachers. These concerns were addressed fairly easily, in my opinion. First- yes the Online Career High School is offered at no-cost for the patrons. However, that is different than it actually ‘being free’. These are scholarships funded by state dollars. Simply another model of educational resource. As to the issue of Librarians teaching the classes, the answer is a simple and resounding “Absolutely Not!” This program, like so many others, is an example of librarians putting their users in contact with information and resources.
      I hope your associate’s interest is sparked! This is a fabulous program and would, I’m sure, be of tremendous benefit to CT Libraries and their users. I will provide blog updates in a few months as the program progresses; but if you need any additional info in the meantime please do not hesitate to reach out!
      Good Luck!!

      • After composing that missive I immediately contacted our state library. There has been some interest in a similar program, but also a strong affinity for existing alternatives such as Job Corps and adult continuing education.Regardless, I think the program you describe merits further advocacy and consideration. I’ll add it to my list of recommendations.!

      • I spoke with a representative of the state library and they speaking further with the Department of Labor about a similar program. I am hoping for positive results!

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  4. Khanh Kim P. Lu

    Hello, Kimberly.

    Very informative post, Kimberly. I enjoyed reading it. I came across your post while looking for an informed citizenry for my school paper. The program, “Libraries will begin offering Online Certified High School Programs to their Patrons” is a perfect. I can definitely use that on my paper. I am wondering if you happen to know any other ways and programs that public libraries now a day are using to support an informed citizenry, Kimberly. Thanks in advanced.


    • Kimberly Matthews


      The number of programs and ways are as numerous as our libraries. I would argue, in fact I believe I have, the entire purpose of the public library is to ‘provide the access to information that allows for an informed citizenry’. Therefore one could say that everything we do in public libraries from materials to resources, programs to partnerships is designed to support an informed citizenry.


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