Librarians Prepare Students and Patrons for Solar Eclipse

School and public librarians across the U.S. are preparing lessons and programming to educate and excite kids about the April 8th solar eclipse, which will appear in totality in parts of 13 states.

Seven years ago, Jayme Sandberg’s town was in the path of totality for a solar eclipse. She was unfazed. Sandberg didn’t believe that "eclipse tourists" would invade her rural town. Even when visitors started arriving and camping in a nearby field, she didn’t believe the hype.

“I was still like, it cannot possibly be that good, right?” she says.

She didn’t even know if she’d leave the house to check it out.

“Then I did, and it was just the most amazing two minutes of my life,” she says. “There's no way to explain it to people without sounding crazy. But I went from, you know, not being sure I was going to be bothered to go outside to look at me now—I'm the crazy eclipse lady.”

Sandberg even wrote a book, Total Solar Eclipse: A Stellar Friendship Story, published in July 2023. As another North American solar eclipse is coming on April 8, she has been working with school and public librarians on author visits, education, and programming. There is also a companion workbook available for purchase on her book’s website.

Those with a chance to be in a place in the path of totality should make the effort to get there, says Sandberg. Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are all in the path.

“When you see totality, you are able to see the solar corona, which is the sun's atmosphere," she says. "It's the only time we get to see that, and you just have this sense of how powerful the sun is. It literally, in that moment, changes your perspective on the universe and your place in it.”

The next solar eclipse for the contiguous United States will be August 2044 and only areas in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota will experience a total eclipse.

Not living in the path of totality this time around, Sandberg’s headed to the Dallas-Fort Worth, TX, area where she connected with librarians from the Richardson (TX) Independent School District and will be taking part in a week of readings and activities leading up to the big day.

Librarian Blaire Beathard at Mohawk Elementary in Richardson is bringing Sandberg in to read her book on Thursday, April 4. Beathard says students are getting excited about being part of a rare event and being able to look at the sun without hurting their eyes.

In addition to Sandberg’s visit, in the week leading up to the eclipse, teachers will be talking about the eclipse in class and doing activities from the Total Solar Eclipse companion workbook, according to Beathard. The district curriculum department has also provided lessons for teachers to use in their classrooms.

While some schools in the path of totality are closing that day because of issues with tourist traffic and busing during the event, Mohawk Elementary will be open and, with parental permission, students will go outside to safely watch the eclipse. The Perot Museum in Dallas donated solar glasses to all the students in the school district. Some parents have even offered to bring in telescopes for the kids to look through.

“It will be fun to see all the excitement and watch our kids take it all in,” says Beathard. “This is a great way to showcase that learning can be fun and exciting.”

Public libraries are doing their best to educate and excite patrons about the event, with many handing out free pairs of glasses, whether in the path of totality or not. 

At M.N. Spear Memorial Library, Shutesbury, MA—where the eclipse will reach 94.7 percent—staff made a space/solar system-themed story time backpack for young patrons to borrow with five themed books and a related toy. On the Sunday before the eclipse, they are hosting a program to make eclipse viewers and inviting community members to watch the eclipse on the town common.

Patten, ME, is in the path of totality, and staff at Veteran's Memorial Library are making the most of the opportunity. There is an outdoor story walk with Sandberg's book, and library director Julie Buhler created a tic-tac-toe board eclipse reading challenge (left), put up a bulletin board with information on the solar system, totality and the solar corona, and will be educating patrons on eye safety as they come in to get their free eclipse glasses. Buhler is also reaching out to the large homeschool community in the area to offer information. 

Also in the path of totality, Morley Library in Painesville, OH, will be closed on the day of the eclipse, but is offering two programs the weekend before: Stories About the Eclipse for up to age 12, which will also include a craft, and DIY Eclipse Crafts for Teens and Adults, where participants will learn about the eclipse and make a protective case for eclipse glasses as well as a bracelet using UV sun beads. Patrons participating in either program will receive eclipse glasses (while supplies last).

As the day gets closer, the excitement builds. When Sandberg reads her book to kids, they are most engaged when the eclipse reaches the moment of totality, she says.

“You learn in the book that the moon isn't hiding the sun, it’s actually helping that shine in a different way,” she says.

Sandberg tries to make social-emotional learning connections along with the science.

“Who among us hasn't felt like someone is trying to steal our spotlight?” Sandberg says. “Then once we work together and we see that, oh my gosh, we can be even better together. To me, that's what the solar eclipse and totality show us in such a dramatic way. That's my favorite part to share with the kids.”

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