Not the Disaster We Were Preparing For

We prepare for fires, earthquakes, tornadoes, but not a pandemic.

There are so many disasters for which we prepare. Our school has drills for tornadoes, earthquakes, and fires. We even have emergency plans for chemical spills at the nearby railroad. However, many schools did not have a proper plan for a pandemic. And if there is a plan, it does not address some of the educational struggles that have occurred following COVID-19.

For years preppers and dystopian authors have warned about the inevitability of a pandemic. Empty World by John Christopher, a novel written in the 1970s, is about an epidemic that kills the elderly population and leaves only teens and young people. And Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, wrote The Last Man a dystopian novel about the annihilation of humanity following a plague. Some popular prepper videos make specific suggestions about preparing for a pandemic. One fairly accurate predictive video is by the City Prepper from September 2019 titled “Coronavirus: How to Prepare for a Pandemic.”

How we did not prepare

One might question what did the preppers and dystopian authors miss when predicting the pandemic? The missing piece from the preppers’ advice is about how important the Internet and connectivity is. Instead of going “off-the-grid” and “bugging out,” the opposite has happened. Instead, we are at home and connected almost every waking hour. Businesses are creating a “work from home” culture that may extend beyond the current crisis. Many schools began work from home policies in March of 2020. But not everyone is connected. Students and teachers in rural areas still need proper broadband coverage. And the economic disparity in some urban areas creates inequality in access to online education in the time of pandemic distance learning.


The near future

What can we do to prepare for reopening in the coming year? Many schools may need to offer a hybrid of in-person and distance learning classes. Will schools recommend technology for checking temperature? Or require testing for COVID-19? Will our school buildings need to add touch-free technology like electronic doors and automated restroom accessories for washing and drying hands? How can we make the library somewhat touch-free?  Our library is offering self-checkout circulation to work on a student’s smartphone, and we are encouraging the use of electronic books and audiobooks. There are many things for which we are still seeking solutions. Many are asking how to clean exposed books.  Another question school librarians may have is how to clean the dusty library after a possible 5-6 month vacancy. Here is further reading on the topics.

Lessons Learned

When looking to prepare for the next outbreak or designing hybrid or flipped courses in the fall, there are technologies to investigate and incorporate into the curriculum. And it is time to beef up our virtual learning commons. Checkout Heather Lister’s AASL Webinar “5 Elements of a Virtual Learning Commons.” My library needs a better idea of what streaming services and electronic resources are offered and are comfortable and accessible. So many are using Zoom for instruction delivery and we might explore which vendor is ideal for our classrooms moving forward.

I have noticed that students and teachers could be more comfortable with the electronic submission of assessments. Some might struggle with video instruction and video conferencing. Going forward, educators will be thinking about work at home stations and being more mobile with their technology. The big question is, how will school librarians collaborate and lead in this mix?


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.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, Technology

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