February 23, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Six IL High Schools to Use Library App Created by Local Teen

Located in Arlington Heights, IL, John Hersey High School is one of six high schools in Township HS District 214. The district has 12,000 students and is located in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. After an iPad pilot phase, all schools were fully implemented this year as 1:1 iPad schools.

While this was great, a solution was still needed to make resources more readily available to staff and students. Shouldn’t it be possible, I wondered, to put all of the district’s library resources in a single iOS app?

High school senior Blake Spoerry

High school senior Blake Spoerry

The district’s entry level programming class, partnered with Mobile Makers LLC, includes an introduction to app development. So I approached the teacher, Bob Brown, this past fall and asked about the development of a library app. Brown identified a student, Blake Spoerry, who had taken every computer course offered at our high school. Meeting on a daily basis, they worked out together what, ideally, the app would do.

Beginning with a process called storyboarding, Spoerry determined how the app would navigate through all the library resources. He created the user interface to be as clear and concise as possible. Once the planning was completed, he began coding. The app itself was created using Apple’s Xcode software and the code was written in Apple’s programming language, Swift.

With my help, Spoerry made sure that complete information for each of the many library resources was gathered. He then tackled the login process. Using EZproxy, the app authenticates whether or not the user is in District 214. If the credentials provided are correct, the app allows the user full access to all of the district resources. After about five months of planning and coding (and re-coding and re-planning), Spoerry’s app, LibraryXs (pronounced library access), was born.

“Let’s say a student needed to do a research project. Well, with just a one-time login through the app, you can access the entire school’s database for any subject without having to log on multiple times or search through pages on the school website,” explains Spoerry. “It lets you choose the school you attend to load that specific school’s resources and interface.”

Overdrive, Flipster, Schoology, Gale PowerSearch and many other resources are all available with a single sign-on. The library has subscriptions to our local newspapers, which the students can now use without needing to know the various log-ins. Our school newspaper is included, and plans are in place to make our daily announcements available through the app as well.

Almost every resource in LibraryXs contains a help button that provides a description of what the resource covers, making it easy for students to find what they need to complete any research project. LibraryXs also contains a file structure allowing each subject matter its own directory for ease of navigation. Once a resource is found to be relevant to a current project, the app includes functionality to push files to Notability and other apps. This way, teachers can share an article with students, while students can save information found on multiple sources into a single place.

For staff, the app allows access to the school management system, email, and learning management accounts. If an app is not yet installed on the iPad, LibraryXs even takes the user to the app store to be downloaded.

Hersey High School juniors are currently beta testing the app. We plan to have LibraryXs on all District 214 iPads for the 2016-17 school year. With access to resources made easier, we, obviously, hope for an increase in usage.

Right up until his graduation day on June 7, Spoerry will be refining his app. He plans to study computer science at Harper College in Palatine, IL. He has begun the process of creating his own small business in order to work with other school districts on their own versions of LibraryXs.


Katie Alexander is head librarian and divisional technology coach at John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, IL.

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  1. Nicholas Alexander says:

    This is awesome!

  2. Sarah Hill says:

    This is so cool!