The Los Angeles Public Library is evolving from a place where people can check out books and surf the Web to one where residents can also earn an accredited high school diploma.
The library announced Thursday that it is teaming up with a private online learning company to debut the program for high school dropouts, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.
It's the latest step in the transformation of public libraries in the digital age as they move to establish themselves beyond just being a repository of books to a full educational institution, said the library's director, John Szabo.
Since taking over the helm in 2012, Szabo has pledged to reconnect the library system to the community and has introduced a number of new initiatives to that end, including offering 850 online courses for continuing education and running a program that helps immigrants complete the requirements for U.S. citizenship.
The library hopes to grant high school diplomas to 150 adults in the first year at a cost to the library of $150,000, Szabo said. Many public libraries offer programs to prepare students and in some cases administer the General Educational Development test, which for decades was the brand name for the high school equivalency exam.
But Szabo believes this is the first time a public library will be offering an accredited high school diploma to adult students, who will take courses online but will meet at the library for assistance and to interact with fellow adult learners.
High school course work is not required for a GED diploma, which can be obtained by passing an extensive test. The online high school program, however, will require its students to take courses to earn high school credits. The program is slated to begin this month.
"I believe with every cell in my body that public libraries absolutely change lives and change lives in very big ways," Szabo said.
"We're excited to think about how we'll do graduation," he added.
Applicants must pass an initial evaluation to become eligible for a library-sponsored scholarship to attend Career Online High School, a kind of private online school district through the Smart Horizons corporation, based in Pensacola, Fla. Career Online High School has been accredited through AdvancED Accreditation Commission, a private nonprofit agency, said spokeswoman Jennifer Oliver.
The program is expected to grow from there, and may be introduced to other public library systems in the country, said Nader Qaimari of Gale-Cengage Learning, a leading provider of content and software to libraries, which introduced the program to the Los Angeles Public Library.
Howard A. Liebman, who is the superintendent of the corporation's online schools, said public libraries offer the perfect place for serving dropouts, who often left high school because of a traumatic experience, be it a teen pregnancy, a discipline problem or other issue.
"The exciting thing about public libraries is they are places people trust," he said. "So people, who may have felt ashamed about not having a high school diploma, will feel safe going there to get one."
Unlike traditional high school students, the online adult learners must choose a career path so their education can be geared toward their future job. Library staff will be trained to help the adult learners and the library system is looking at making available spaces for the students so they can meet their fellow pupils. Szabo said the library will target about a dozen areas with high percentages of high school dropouts to offer the program at those neighborhood branches initially. The Los Angeles public library system has 72 branch libraries and 22 literacy centers.
"I'm all for it if there is a program via the library that will get people credentials, because in this society if you don't have credentials, you can't get a job, you can't support your family, you can't move forward," Marty Finsterbusch, president of ValueUSA, a resource organization for adult learners, said.