Reopening School Libraries: A Plan of Action

The COVID-19 pandemic brings exceptional challenges to school districts nationwide. Do schools reopen to students in-person, online, or as a hybrid model of blended learning? And a decision made one day could change the next.

Most importantly, working in a school library brings additional questions and problems to this fraught situation. How to cope? Have a plan of action!

Below are suggestions from the New York City School System and its members.

Space Considerations

Reposition or remove seating and tables to ensure proper distancing. Use tape or markers on the floor to indicate six feet. Provide sanitizer at crucial entry and exit points. Follow all disinfecting guidelines outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Circulation for Print Materials

Set up a system for students and teachers to place holds. 

If your catalog does not have student and staff usernames and passwords, create them yourself, or upload them from another source. Once the holds become available, check out the books to the student or staff member. Deliver the books to patrons in classrooms, or designate a specific area where patrons pick up their items.

Returning Books

Assign a book cart, shelves, or part of the circulation desk as the return area with a date. Quarantine books for seven days per guidelines/testing from the REALM Project before checking in the books/materials and reshelving them.


Put all your library funds into ordering e-books! Talk to your school administration about the need for students to equitably access digital resources for independent reading, research, and to build knowledge. Consider the following:

  • The type of e-books to purchase (one book/one user, unlimited use, 12-month, free) 
  • The vendors
  • Access point for students and staff (your library catalog, a link, a shared school/district portal, single sign-on, individual username, how to communicate usernames to the patron)
  • Platform: Overdrive, Sora, MackinVia, Follett, etc.


Host student clubs using Google Meet/Zoom/Microsoft Teams. Mute all participants and call on individuals to speak one at a time. Use the discussion/chat feature for students to post questions, comments, and resources.

Use Google Meet, Microsoft Bookings, or Google Forms to schedule office hours for one-on-one support and to continue small group discussions.

If possible, clubs should meet outdoors with social distancing in schools that have adequate schoolyard spaces. 


Collaborate with teachers on synchronous or asynchronous learning. If prerecording presentations, use a tool like to record your mini-lesson or guided practice. 

You should select resources to engage and challenge student thinking, curiosity, and problem-solving. Write questions for discussions to promote critical thinking and reflection. Record your synchronous lessons, if possible, for students to review. Download the chat/discussion features from Google Meets, Teams, or Zoom and share with students to study. Improve your skills on numerous tech tools to instruct, facilitate, and assess student learning with the Epic eBook of Web Tools and Apps.

Most importantly, remember our instruction is about the process, not just the content. You may use a primary source, editorial, or image to teach about a topic, but expect students to analyze the source itself as much as its content.

Digital Presence

Post critical resources on your library catalog, create or update a dynamic website with pages dedicated to specific audiences, or for particular purposes (e-books, remote learning resources, virtual gaming, etc.). Use tools such as or to design interactive newsletters with embedded resources and ideas.


Meet your students, teachers, and parents where they are: on e-mail, through social media, texting apps such as Remind, or virtual town halls or meetings. Design Google Forms or surveys to elicit feedback and make sure to schedule open office hours!

For more detailed information on your plan of action, please consult our draft form of the “Reopening School Libraries Plan from the New York City”:

 A Year Like No Other

The 2020-2021 school year will be the most difficult one of our lives, without a doubt. But by having a plan in place, we school librarians can maximize our expertise, resources, and creativity to benefit student learning, livelihoods, and joy.


Author: Leanne Ellis

I am a School Library Coordinator for the New York City Department of Education’s Department of Library Services. I plan and deliver workshops, provide on-site instructional and program support to school librarians, coordinate programs, administer grants, and am program coordinator for MyLibraryNYC, a program administered with our three public library systems.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Collection Development, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models, Technology

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1 reply

  1. What library funds?

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