Survey: School libraries adjust to continue services, support teachers and students

Dive Brief:

  • As coronavirus-related school closures continue to grip the education system, 17% of district libraries will be fully operational this year, according to a survey from the American Association of School Librarians (AASL). Another 17% of districts will have no libraries open, with the remainder of respondents reporting the library will be used in varying capacities for purposes such as classes, meetings or as a resource.
  • At the building level, 50% of librarians who are losing their library to closure or needs for additional classroom space will continue to provide services and checkouts through carts, and 64% will be continuing or adding remote library activities. For most schools and districts, the majority will still have funding for the coming year.
  • As far as worries about contracting COVID-19, school building librarians rated their level of concern as 77 out of 100, while district librarians reported their concern levels at 71 out of 100. Librarians also report they will be teaching in classrooms, supporting teachers with materials, providing concierge school library services and curb-side pick, providing tech support for teachers, or creating tutorials on research and media literacy topics.

Dive Insight:

When schools closed last spring, districts struggled to connect students with online resources. Fearing exaggerated learning losses, librarians quickly pivoted to get books — in print or digital — in the hands of students. Summer reading is a critical component to avoid the summer slide, Idaho State Librarian Stephanie Bailey White recently told Education Dive.

Students who read over the summer will gain a year or two of academic progress over their peers who don’t. In Idaho, where Latinx students make up 18% of the state’s school population, the library system provides books in several languages in an effort to bridge learning gaps. The state is also seeking ways to purchase more e-books.

Most academic libraries have tech-savvy staff who are finding ways to stay in touch with students. Pre-COVID-19, librarians’ roles grew to support teachers with online learning platforms. Librarians also say they help teachers update lesson plans, increase student engagement, and assist both students and educators in understanding tech tools, citations and resources. Librarians are also a resource for home-school families with resources such as databases, resource kits and individualized help and tutoring.

Additionally, librarians are keeping students engaged with reading through audiobooks. Julie Torres, a teacher librarian with Denver Public Schools in Colorado, told Education Dive audiobooks can play a significant role in classrooms and should be valued the same as physical books. Audiobooks expand access for all learners, at home or in the classroom.

However, librarians also stress the importance of physical books. Nina Livingston, library media specialist at North Shore Middle School on Long Island, New York, scrambled to get 600 hardcover books into the hands of her students this summer after they spent the last three months reading digitally. She believes hardcover books are “magical,” as they can be brought outside, go in the car and don’t run low on battery power.

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