Forest Park’s District 91 elementary schools are in the process of bringing their libraries up to date by replacing their old-fashioned card catalogs with automated systems.

With the help of parent and student volunteers, Betsy Ross, Grant-White and Garfield schools are looking to soon have the new systems up and running. The process of bar-coding the books is nearly complete, and cataloging the collection will soon begin.

“We want the kids to have the latest in technology for learning how to research and becoming effective producers and consumers of information,” said media specialist Dave Vargo, a recent recipient of the school board’s monthly Spotlight Award.

Recent assistance from the Proviso East National Honor Society on March 1 and March 15 jump-started the process, which first began last May.

“It’s just phenomenal to have a large group like that working hard for a few hours. We almost finished the Grant White library and made tremendous headway into the Garfield library,” said Vargo.

Once the project is complete, he added, students will benefit from the ability to find books from home and then come to the library the next day knowing what they’re looking for.

“The great thing about this system is it’ll be web-based so students will actually be able to do research from home-“it’s also a lot less intensive on our side in terms of technology and upkeep,” he said.

An automated system will ensure that the libraries comply with the No Child Left Behind Act’s requirements for library technology, which will help it qualify for grants that could help further enhance its catalog.

Vargo said similar upgrades are in store for the district’s other two schools, Field Stevenson and the Forest Park Middle School.

Once all the libraries are automated, he said, the district will explore the possibility of allowing students to search for books from libraries in schools other than the one they attend.

“That would be down the road”because it’s web-based, they can go to a different page and search, and eventually we can have a union catalog,” he said. Currently, inquiries regarding the availability of materials at other libraries must go through library staff.

The new system, he said, would also create capabilities that could eventually lead to an interlibrary loan system with the Forest Park Public Library.

“This is a critical skill to learn for future academic progress. From here on out, all the other libraries the students will be using will have automated systems,” noted Vargo.