Not Our First Pandemic
Working at a school that has been around for 150 years means that this is not our first pandemic. Our school historian and our archivist are closely reading the documents from the 1918 influenza outbreak. We have files and files of correspondence from concerned parents and school faculty about students’ health from 1918.
Some of the same protocols that we are following this year for in-person learning were used in 1918. These precautions include wearing masks, temperature checks, and quarantines. We were fortunate not to lose any students to the turn-of-the-century pandemic, but at least 70 students contracted the flu. The 1918 influenza changed the world in many ways. And we know that COVID-19 will certainly change our world in the future.
Permanently Altered Systems
In an Atlantic article, behavioral scientist Katy Milkman notes, “Normally we go about our daily lives and… tend not to change our behaviors — We need some triggering event that leads us to step back and think bigger picture.” She explains that the pandemic provides two significant reasons for seeing more-permanent change. First, there is a “temporal landmark” that often indicates a fresh start. Additionally, the pandemic has created situations where we must adapt and find new solutions to problems we may have never encountered. There have certainly been unusual problems and solutions this year.
As we reflect on what has worked well, we might ask, as all industries are asking, “What do we hope stays after the pandemic?” Here is my list or at least my top seven things that I hope stick around after things go back to “normal.”
1. Online Collaboration
This year as many schools adopt an online learning management system, librarians may find new ways to use the online classroom technology for collaboration with teachers. Whether it is Schoology, Canvas, Moodle, or another platform, there are groups of librarians working on ways to collaborate. An example of digital collaboration is this LibGuide: Embedding Library Content into Canvas.
2. Personal Devices
As a result of COVID-19, our BYOD and 1:1 movements gained momentum. Consequently, even with in-person learning, the number of public-use computers in the library was greatly reduced this year. The hope is that this is the trend in the future, especially in the upper school. There is hesitation about younger students and personal devices. However, we have realized that the thinking surrounding this technology perhaps needs to progress. David Rauf with Education Week writes, “Experts who viewed 1-to-1 programs at elementary schools as optional now say it’s worth another look because of the need to keep students and teachers connected during distance learning.”
3. Growing Electronic Library Collections
According to an article in Fortune, “The e-book market had been in decline for the past six years.” And, “The COVID-19 crisis…ignited a revival in reading electronic books.” Some librarians scrambled to quickly build electronic collections and teach students how to use the electronic books and resources remotely. This could be difficult for students who had limited training and access before shutdowns. This October, School Library Journal offered this crash course article on the ins and outs of buying e-books.
Another reason to hope for more electronic books in the future is that, in some cases, it leads to a smaller carbon footprint. Anthropocene magazine covered an environmental comparison of paper books and e-books. It seems that for heavy readers that electronic books are the greener choice.
4. Reading for Pleasure and Personal Growth Reading.
Our in-person school has built in additional time for students, and many have rediscovered reading for pleasure. Though we select high-quality fiction for students, we have had more student leisure reading book requests than ever before. Another reason for the additional time for pleasure reading and personal growth reading is the temporary change in high-stakes testing. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, author Eric Hoover contemplates how our relationship with tests is unraveling and asks why Is everyone so conflicted about it? He concludes that “Sometimes when you lose something, you gain something, too.” It would be great if students continue to read independently for personal growth, escape, and relaxation well after the pandemic.
5. Appreciation of Time Offline
Because online time has become “work” for students, many are craving time offline. Whether it be time outdoors, curling up with a good book, or playing chess with a close friend or sibling, I find students are intentionally choosing offline time. The time offline will be beneficial for physical and mental wellness. Additionally, students did not appreciate all of the face-to-face social interaction of simple things like going to school until it was taken away. Hopefully, there will be a renewed appreciation for the company of others.
6. Space Design and Additional Personal Space
Quickly re-designing our facility for social distancing when our focus has been collaboration is a challenge. We were fortunate still to have the old-school study carrels in our library. Moving forward, we have to think about different ways to arrange and design our spaces. If we have outdoor spaces, it might be good to develop areas for students. These spaces will extend the library’s capacity when the weather cooperates. Extending the space will also take advantage of the newfound interest in nature many have developed post-pandemic. If your library has a patio, porch, or garden, now is a great time to develop the space.
7. Uniform Electronic Publishing
Finally, this last change may be wishful thinking. The hope is that educators and librarians will work with digital publishers to develop more uniform technologies for electronic books and electronic textbooks. We already see cooperation between learning management systems and library databases and some textbooks. However, the digital book industry has been complex and lacks a standard format for purchase and delivery that print books have enjoyed for more than seventy years. Steve Sieck from Publishers Weekly urges that “publishers should recognize that a more virtual, digital future is not as far away as it used to be and plan accordingly.”
What do you want to see continue when schools go back to normal?
Author: Hannah Byrd Little
Hello, I am the Library Director at The Webb School of Bell Buckle. I use my past experience in college and university libraries to help my current students in school libraries transition into college, career, and life. I am currently the lead Senior Class Adviser for the Capstone Project. I also served at the state level with the Tennessee Association of School Librarians executive board from 2009-2013 and was the TASL president in 2012. I am certified as a Library Information Specialist for PreK-12th grade, have a BS in Communications with a concentration in Advertising and Public Relations, a BS in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Education and Information Systems and a Masters in Library and Information Science.