Los Angeles Library Evolves From Lending Books To Offering Diplomas

The Los Angeles Public Library is evolving  from a place where people can check out books and surf the Web into a place where residents can earn an accredited high school diploma.

Believed to be the first program of its kind in the nation, the library happily announced that it is teaming up with a private online learning company to debut the program for high school dropouts. According to the library’s director John Szabo, it is 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 toward becoming a full educational institution.

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, since taking over the helm in 2012. Additionally, Szabo said that the library hopes to grant high school diplomas to 150 adults in the first year at a cost to the library of $150,000. 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, are being offered by many public libraries, but 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, as Szabo believes.

For a GED diploma, which can be obtained by passing an extensive test, high school coursework is not required. However, the online high school program will require its students to take courses to earn high school credits.

‘‘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.”

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., applicants must pass an initial evaluation. A spokeswoman said that Career Online High School has been accredited through AdvancED Accreditation Commission, a private nonprofit agency. 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, said that the program is expected to grow and may be introduced to other public library systems in the country.

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, according to Howard A. Liebman, who is the superintendent of the corporation’s online schools.

‘‘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.’’

According to Julie Watson of Associated Press, the online adult learners must choose a career path so their education can be geared toward their future job, unlike traditional high school students.