Uncertainty Doesn't Stop School Librarians From Planning | SLJ COVID-19 Mini Poll

School librarians are preparing despite many still not knowing whether they will report in person for the first day of classes. Learn how they are adapting and some of the many contingency plans they have made for the 2020-21 school year.

SLJ asked our readers about  preparations for the start of a new year amid the pandemic in a COVID-19 mini poll. Here is some of what we learned from 122 librarians who responded between July 6 and July 20: More than 40 percent still didn’t know what their school plans were for the beginning of the 202021 year, and nearly 40 percent weren’t involved in the school reopening plans. And 10 percent are starting the new academic year at a school that has lost someone to COVID-19.

The responses reflect what we all know: Planning for the unknown is impossible. But that doesn’t mean school librarians won’t try. Answer after answer showed that people are working on plans, contingency plans on top of contingency plan

“I'm hoping for the opportunity to do book deliveries to classrooms or to a drive-thru location since I am uncertain at this time about book browsing and check out,” a school librarian wrote. “I'm not sure if we can be open for drop-in students. I'm hoping to provide limited access to study areas for students who need better wireless than their homes or a better place to study. This may be on a reservation basis. I know that I will be continuing to serve as a tech support hub for my 9-12 school. I'm on their committee for improving distance learning.  I'm extremely interested in hearing from my library colleagues around the nation on this."

“I created a plan in cooperation with our University library with input from our state and local public libraries that use up to date safety measures for student checkout,” said one respondent. “My administration has been 100% supportive in working with me so that our library can open as a library focusing on meetings no the needs of our students.”

Many pressed forward as if staff and students would be learning on site, and some didn’t anticipate a huge limitation of services.

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“Right now, I am planning to limit the number of book browsers in the library at a time, as well as the number of students that I can serve at a time while teaching (although my space is larger than most in my building so this shouldn't be an issue). We are purchasing tubs on wheels to use in place of our book drop so that we can simply wheel the books that are returned on a given day to an area for the 3-day recommended quarantine period before checking them in and re-circulating them. We are also planning on a remote checkout system where we will deliver books to students who have been moved from our building to another location in order to meet social distancing requirements.”

Others planned for the reality that students won't be able to come to the library under current public health guidelines.

“I'd like to convert to a flexible schedule rather than a fixed one. I'm going to look into having students place holds on books that I can deliver to the classrooms. In my current library configuration it isn't possible to separate students six feet, and then there's the issue of looking for/checking out books. I'm the only adult in the library and I would need an aide and new furniture to meet CDC guidelines adequately.”

Those who were asked about planning by their administrators were, of course, ready with suggestions.

“My principal and I discussed ways kids could safely access books, and I shared with him my ideas for collaborating with teachers while distance learning programming such as virtual trips (SS), digital escapes (math), streaming Skypes (science), and author chats (ELA) to cover both their standards and mine,” wrote one.

"I have proposed to my principal a Learning Resources for Families program that would allow access to take-home learning kits/activities/games,” said one librarian. “I have begun creating the kits and am collaborating with other library staff in the district.”

Others have already started creating resources and collaborating with teachers who are facing more months of online learning.

“I'm providing more video tutorials and one-on-one help to access our digital collection, teachers are reaching out to me more to find resources in case we remain virtual.”

And, of course, there is the task of tending to the social-emotional issues from the pandemic, which will be very specific to a school’s location and to each student.

“I am opening the library in the morning for students with anxiety,” one librarian wrote. “Most students will be sitting on socially distance marks on the floor of the gym or in the auditorium with masks on. The library can socially distance 25 students. Guidance counselors are recognizing which students need a smaller and quieter place to be before school. They will be wearing masks in the library.”

Other focused on the power of books.

“I'm going to try to focus my read-alouds on positive books about kindness and social-emotional health issues,” wrote one respondent.

“The library has always been an emotional and mental health unofficial support hub,” said another. “I plan to stock our shelves with emotional/mental health materials for students and promote that material as well. We will also run some sort of campaign that promotes reading as an escape from the real world.”

Look for SLJ's upcoming feature on COVID, SEL, and learning loss in out September issue.

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