Before students could skip off for summer, the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district handed them one last assignment: to take advantage of their local libraries.

The school district partnered with the Scott County and Dakota libraries to sign up Burnsville High School students for fine-free library cards before the end of school.

All ninth through 11th grade students at the schools can take advantage of their virtual library cards to peruse e-books, digital magazines and library databases and to visit their libraries to borrow books. The cards expire upon graduation.

Dakota County Library Director Margaret Stone said she hopes the fine-free program removes barriers for teens who would not use library resources otherwise.

"I hope it broadens their horizons and gives them access to something they have never used before," she said.

The fine-free option will be available only at Dakota County Libraries. Scott County has its own fine-free services or youth welcome cards where students can check out two items without fear of overdue fines for one year. Students who fail to return items or lose them will still be billed. In Dakota County, the service is completely fine- and fee-free.

"I would hate to see a student who is maybe disadvantaged economically not feel welcome in the library and not be able to use the library because they returned books a few days late," Jake Grussing, Scott County Library director, said.

Burnsville district officials decided to partner with both Dakota and Scott because the district itself spreads into both counties.

The library leaders came together earlier this year with the hopes of rolling out then-President Barack Obama's Connected initiative to empower students through technology. The program's library initiative worked to created partnerships between schools and libraries to give students more access to learning resources.

"The idea was to get library cards in the hands of students," Stone said.

Students can use their cards seamlessly at Dakota or Scott libraries. When using their virtual card at the library, students simply have to tell the librarian their student ID number and they can check out a book.

Burnsville district officials initiated the program with the goal of implementing it with its One-to-One program, where all district high school students received Chromebooks. The district enrolled all students in the library card service. Students had to opt out if they preferred not to participate. Students created their own accounts during their English classes in May.

Doug Johnson, director of technology for the district, spearheaded the program for the district. Johnson, a former librarian, said the district will pioneer its One-to-One program for middle school students in the upcoming school year, along with the library card initiative.

"Our real goal next year is to remind kids and familiarize them in greater depth about the resources available to them in the public library system," Johnson said.

Another example of the library program is running nearby: St. Paul Public Schools and the St. Paul Public Library system joined forces to launch their own library card service for students in November. Through the "Library Go" program, the district signed up all of its students for library cards.

The Burnsville Alternative High School will pilot the initiative in the fall. Dakota County also plans on collaborating with the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district to implement a similar roll out for students.

"We are excited about expanding and working with other districts in the future," said Renee Grassi, Youth Services Manager for Dakota County Library.

Grassi said librarians are already hearing positive feedback from students about the service in Dakota County.

One student had arrived at the library wanting to register for a library card only to learn the district had signed him up virtually. More than 200 students have used their cards within the first month of the program.

Grassi said partnering with schools will create a community of library users.

"The library is a resource that will help beyond high school," Grassi said.

Beatrice Dupuy • 612-673-1707