COVID-19 and the school library don't particularly go well together. Whether your school is closing or you're increasing your focus on health and safety, the coronavirus pandemic has likely affected the way you do business in the library. We wanted to take a moment and outline some procedures and resources that school librarians can adopt or use during this uncertain time.
If your school is still in session, you should take precautions to reduce the spread of germs in your library. Just like you do during cold and flu season, encourage students to wash their hands before coming to the library and handling books. Have a supply of hand sanitizer on hand for use after students cough, blow their noses, or touch their faces. Wipe down books with a microfiber cloth or a safe book cleaning solution.
If you know a student has been sick, maybe encourage him or her to keep an overdue book just a little while longer and if you do the shelving of books on your own, wear gloves so you're not exposing yourself to anything icky.
Even though it might make waiting lists a bit longer, consider quarantining recently returned books for 48-72 hours to ensure any germs have had time to wear off.
Overdue Books and Checkout Limits
Trying to return a library book on time should be the last thing a student worries about at this time. If you restrict students from checking out new books if they have overdue titles, consider suspending the rule for now. If you have checkout limits, increase them so students have books to read at home if school closes unexpectedly. And when school is finally back in session, give students and parents a little extra grace and time to get back into the swing of things before gently reminding them to return their books.
Getting Books in the Hands of Students
If you're not sure about having students come in to browse the shelves or aren't opening school in-person, consider alternate opportunities to help get books in the hands of students.
Many local libraries have adopted a drive-up pickup option where patrons reserve books and they're ready to pick up when they arrive. If your administration allows, give parents or students the option to e-mail book requests or submit them using a Google Form, and then schedule a time to come pick them up. If students aren't sure what books they would like to read, consider having them fill out an online questionnaire, and then choose 2-3 books you think they might enjoy.
Once in school, schedule appointments for students to visit the library. If you only have a few students visit at a time, it will be easier to control where students go and pay attention to areas that might need to be disinfected. Leave bins or baskets around the library for students to place books they've touched, even if it was only briefly and encourage students not to run their hands along the books on the shelves. Keep a bottle of hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes near your checkout station and other areas students touch frequently to ensure they're cleaned regularly.
If you'll be visiting classrooms, put together a mobile library cart featuring a selection of books students might enjoy. Use their past checkout history, interests, and reading levels to guide you. If you have a laptop you can use for checkout, bring it along too. Otherwise, just write down student names and titles and update your system when you get back to the library.
Rearranging Your Space
Are there sections of your library that often get more traffic than others? Consider temporarily pulling some of those sections off of the shelves and placing them between bookends on tables or the tops of shelves to give students more space to browse them. In some instances, you may have to push less popular shelves closer together to make more room for more popular shelves or to help you spread out tables and reading areas.
To help keep students spread out, make sure that you open up areas where students might congregate when they first enter the library or where they line up to checkout books. If you typically allow student checkout. Consider using cute signs or stacks of books to block off chairs where you don't want students to sit. You might need to add plastic or plexiglass barriers beteween computers or seats at tables to help keep students distanced.
Engaging Students Online
As the school librarian, there are things you can to ensure students still have the ability to access books online. Items that you post and ideas you share may also help make parents' and teachers' lives a little bit easier.
Some ideas include:
- Send out weekly reading challenges
- Create a digital reading log and offer prizes
- Record yourself reading stories (but be mindful of copyright issues). Your students might enjoy seeing your face!
- Highlight a different book from the library every day
- Play a game of mystery book where you reveal the cover of a book throughout the day with a clue about its contents. Encourage studnets or families to guess what the book is.
- Point students to free read-alouds or digital books online
- Create escape room style research challenges
- Post your favorite facts from informational texts
- Encourage students to write their own stories using Google Docs or Slides and share them in a library-wide Google Drive
- Look for fun and educational days to celebrate and share books, resoruces, or online reading passages about them
- Adapt existing lesson plans to an online format. A PowerPoint can easily become a Google Slides presentation or be exported to video. A PDF worksheet can be adapted to be filled in online.
- Ask students to submit book reviews online either using a Google Form or a more formal resource such as Scholastic's Share What You're Reading. If it's a form you control, you can share student reviews on a website for other students to see.
Need some resources to share with students to help them learn online while school is closed?
HelpTeaching.com has made all of its online lessons free. These include many read-alouds of public domain and original texts.
Epic! is offering free remote access for students if they have a code from their teacher.
Newsela is offering temporary free access to many of its articles.
Loving2Read always offers a free selection of children's books for PreK - Grade 3.
You should also check out the websites and Facebook pages of popular children's authors. Many of them already share free resources and have ramped up what they're offering to help get teachers and students through this uncertain time. For example, Mo Willems is offering a free drawing lesson for kids every day.
Sharing Resources with Teachers and Families
Rather than sending out a million e-mails, Remind texts, or even Google Classroom updates, find a way to share new resources with teachers and parents without overwhelming them. This may be a running list of resources on your library website, a Facebook group parents can join, or even a weekly newsletter where you highlight some of your recent finds.
We hope that you and your students stay healthy and happy during this unique time in our educational world. COVID-19 and the school library doesn't have to be a negative relationship.