The L!BRARY INitiative

An alarming 60 percent of New York City's public school students in grades 3 through 8 are reading below grade level. Their inability to read and understand limits their opportunities for success in school and in life. To make matters worse, often these students come from homes and attend schools that lack the capacity and resources to help them develop their ability to read, to comprehend, and to explore the world.

The L!brary Initiative, a partnership of the Robin Hood Foundation and the New York City Department of Education, with support from the Mayor, corporate donors, and a team of architects, seeks to reverse these patterns of low literacy skills and underachievement by working with community school districts and public elementary schools to design, build, equip, and staff new elementary school libraries. Working with schools in high poverty neighborhoods that have low academic achievement, the partners are committed to fundamentally transforming school libraries into vital resources for the whole school community — students, teachers, and parents — that will impact and contribute to improved student performance.

Robin Hood sought and received major funding and support for the Initiative from two major children's book publishers, Scholastic and HarperCollins, each donating one million books. The Initiative also attracted cash as well as in-kind donations to cover everything from architectural services to computers for a total of $40 million for the project. Major donors include Credit Suisse, Apple, USA Networks, Pentagram, Sciame Construction, and HMGA architects, along with nine other top architectural firms.

Additionally, Robin Hood and the New York City Department of Education partnered with Syracuse University's Masters of Library Science Program to train New York City elementary school librarians. Tuition for the program will be underwritten by Syracuse University and the Department of Education. Robin Hood is also providing professional development for a core group of teachers and every principal involved in the Initiative, as well as developing innovative educational programs that extend the reach of the project, such as creating a learning garden for a school in a neighborhood with little outdoor space and a summer reading program called Camp Bookaweek.

Since 2002, 62 libraries were reinvented in an unprecedented effort to improve the educational opportunities of New York's neediest children.