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School libraries no longer just defined by Dewey Decimal System

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Mike Moen

(Wisconsin News Connection) American Education Week is underway, and those who work with school libraries are highlighting the value they provide to students. 

School libraries are often associated with study halls and research materials. But Kay Koepsel-Benning, president of the Wisconsin Educational Media and Technology Association, said it's more than that. 

She pointed to the "Battle of the Books" program her group helps facilitate for districts around the state. 

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Students can form teams, get a list of selected books from the library, and eventually compete in a contest to show how much they understand what they read. 

"And that is one of our really successful programs," said Koepsel-Benning. "We have a high level of participation with districts around the state, you know - we appeal to everybody's competitive spirit."

Koepsel-Benning also directs library services at Elmbrook Schools in the Milwaukee area. Through partnerships with independent bookstores, her staff has been able to invite well-known authors to do readings at district libraries. 

She said that's another way to get kids excited about literature and making use of the library system. 

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Koepsel-Benning said finding successful ways to engage with students can create a "word-of-mouth" situation for a service that's always been there but doesn't automatically appeal to everyone. 

"A lot of times, a student will invite a friend who is maybe not one of our 'frequent fliers' into the library," said Koepsel-Benning, "and that program will capture their interest."

She said making those connections hopefully inspires these students to be patrons of their community libraries after they finish school. 

The association also helps school library systems manage their budgets, and officials say staff could always use more resources, including volunteers. Parents are urged to learn more about library programs and see if they can help.