Keeping the Library Alive Online

October 5, 2020

Media literacy

The school library is often called the heart of the school. It serves as a place of refuge and safety for many students, as well as a hub for learning, making, and creativity. And then there’s books–thousands of titles for students to get lost in, see themselves in, and imagine lives outside of their own. As a former school librarian, I know that if the library is the heart of the school, the librarian is the heart of the library. Librarians build relationships with students, foster passion for reading, and collaborate with teachers to design dynamic learning experiences. 

And yet, many of these physical spaces are quiet and empty.

Just like that, school librarians are left contemplating how to provide library services in a virtual space. On the one hand, they are supporting students and families with materials distribution and technical support for devices and connectivity. On the other hand, they are helping fellow educators become more confident in their ability to provide quality digital instruction. 

With virtual teaching and learning as the new normal, school librarians are working tirelessly to navigate the transformation from a physical space to a digital one. I recently caught up with five school librarians who shared their experiences, creativity, and spirit of innovation with me: 

  • Alicia Ray, Middle School Librarian and Digital Coach, NC 
  • Ben Kort, Elementary School Teacher-Librarian, WA
  • Gabriel Graña, Middle School Librarian, NC
  • Lauren Schultz, High School Media Coordinator, NC
  • Scott Tomlinson, High School Teacher-Librarian, WA

Embracing Change

As Scott’s assistant was furloughed this school year, he, like many school librarians, finds himself spending much more time on clerical work like tech support and checking out devices and textbooks. Ben and Lauren have been working with their colleagues to help them master digital tools such as Canvas, Google Classroom, Flipgrid, and Seesaw. Lauren is also working with a community group called ARLA (Anti-Racist Library Advocates) to tackle accessibility issues within her community, specifically relating to internet access during remote learning.

A huge part of school librarianship—co-teaching—has also seen a change in the digital space. Alicia used to support teachers during synchronous, face-to-face instruction; she could offer hands-on help during a lesson. Now, that has shifted to pre- and co-planning, as she finds new ways to provide a safety net for teachers to try out new instructional strategies without actually being present during class. Meanwhile, Scott has partnered with his school’s instructional coach to offer “Tech Talks,” where teachers can ideate on subjects such as student engagement with online learning and how to leverage their new teaching schedule. Gabriel is also assisting teachers with their planning, as he researches and prepares content for teachers so that it’s ready to use. He is a human filter, attempting to help mitigate what his teachers feel: information fatigue and overload. 

While the focus for school librarians seems to revolve around technology, literacy and the joy of reading is still at the forefront. Providing safe and accessible access to books, resources, and information is a top priority. Some libraries are still offering check outs, while others have ceased these services and are relying on ebooks for students and educators. Lauren and Gabriel are both utilizing Sora’s ebook and audiobook collection to provide more alternatives to students. After a large project to remove duplicate titles from her shelves, Alicia packaged these books and left them out for students to take with them to new, forever homes. Ben, Scott, and Lauren are all working with their school communities to provide curbside pick up of books and resources, and coordinating bus delivery for anyone who doesn’t have transportation. And all of their libraries are currently partnering with local public libraries to provide students with expanded access to more books, ebooks, and audiobooks for checkout.

Moving Forward

While their realities are changing daily, the one thing that remains the same for each of these school librarians is the “why”: their students. I asked each of them to share one goal for this school year: 

  • Alicia: “Don’t let literacy get lost in a STEM environment during digital learning.”
  • Ben: “Do as much of my normal job as I possibly can, even if students are at home.”
  • Lauren: “My number one priority is to do the best I can with the resources I have access to during this time. I know my job is challenging right now, and I refuse to get down on myself. I am not measuring my success based on others, but rather what I see as success based upon my students’ needs.”
  • Scott: “Collect student stories and amplify their voices. Make student stories a centerpiece.”
  • Gabriel: “I want students to know that the library is a place where their voice matters, their voice will be amplified, and their stories will be told. I want to keep the library alive online.”

And that just might be the motto of these times: “Keep the library alive online.”