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In the Time of COVID-19, School Libraries Still Have Much to Offer

Friday, November 13, 2020

Last spring, many school librarians shut off the lights and closed the doors on their libraries with great sadness when schools pivoted to remote learning.  Like other teacher-librarians, I threw myself into providing robust resources to students who were suddenly trying to access all the information they needed to do their school work from home.

Fortunately, Heathwood already had many digital resources in place, and students were already familiar with our online reading resources, digital research materials, and state- and locally-provided database access.  While it was a blow not being together, my students did a wonderful job of connecting online and navigating the plethora of online resources available to them.  We also shared read-alouds, book recommendations, and dramatic recordings of a variety of literary genres.  I was so grateful to see their faces every week, and to keep those connections going that we had established over the first part of the year, as well as all the previous years we have been together.

This fall, when it was determined that there would be a safe way for all of us to come back to campus, I was so excited to set foot in the library again!  That said, I knew things would have to be done very differently in the library this year.  There were safety precautions distributed by the American Library Association, with lots of new rules about handling print materials.  (Books, it turned out, have to be isolated too!)  Print magazines had to go into hiding.  Shared items like the iPads used to search the library catalog, the study tables and carrells, and the circulation desk, have to be wiped down frequently.  Sanitizer in hand, I was ready to spring into action!

Even so, those first couple of weeks back at school were hard: no Early Childhood class visits to the library; no Lower School chapter book read alouds or group research or genre lessons; no Great Used Book Sale or Visiting Author on campus.  I knew why all of this had to be, but of course I still had to grieve a little over what we had (temporarily, I hope!) lost.

While it’s true that we don’t have as many students coming in and out, the library still has a lot to offer.  Print books may still be checked out (they just have to be isolated for 4 days when they come back in); our national newspaper subscriptions are available to read online, as are an increasing number of our magazines.  Fortunately, we have long focused on digital research materials as part of our library instruction here at Heathwood, and students moved nearly seamlessly to searching for information through the myriad subscription databases the school provides, as well as the resources provided by the South Carolina State Library.  Our digital book resources, provided through Sora/Overdrive, allow access to over 40,000 ebooks and audiobooks, with more being added every month. I have had a ball recording virtual storytimes and chapter book read-alouds for our students, and our Upper School students are exploring opportunities to record and share storytimes with the EC and Lower School as a part of their community service.  Happily, I do still get to see students; my Middle School library classes still meet here in the library, and other students have made a point to stop by and say hello (even through masks and six feet away, it is a joy to see them!).

There is still so much libraries have to offer--we are not bound by four walls and printed pages. Great stories, reliable information, strong connections and community are not limited to one physical space.  This past year, we have confirmed what we already knew: the benefits of our libraries are available to us anywhere, finding their way to us wherever we are and bringing us together as readers, learners and Highlanders.