Support for School Librarian Roles during a Pandemic

In a May 22 post to the Virginia Association of School Librarians listserv, AASL Past President and Longwood professor Audrey Church posted an uplifting message urging school librarians to be “visible, vocal, positive, and proactive.”

I needed to hear her reminder because after two months of distance learning, I did not embody those four words even though I live by them during a normal school year. A global pandemic robbed me of the in-person techniques that build relationships with students and colleagues and fuel my contributions to my school’s culture. In the spirit of true honesty, I felt resentful, despairing, and fearful (sometimes in the same day) while working more hours without the daily interactions that focus me. More multitasking and less ability to focus seemed to characterize those spring months of sitting in my home office and having my cats chime in on department meetings and one-on-one research conversations with students.

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In my exchanges with other school librarians on listservs, Zoom sessions, and chat windows of webinars responding to the pandemic, I heard the same anxieties from other school librarians. By the time schools began to shut down for the summer–many of them weeks earlier than usual–we all took a breath, but on the exhale wondered, “What on earth is next year going to look like? How am I going to do my work during a continued pandemic?”

AASL to the rescue! During a virtual AASL Board Meeting at the end of June (the first one I have not entered with a shoulder almost dislocated from my exhibit hall ARC haul), the board discussed a fantastic document the AASL Practice Committee collated detailing comments and notes from the spring AASL Town Halls on how school librarians were responding to distance learning. While we considered sharing the quality ideas collected from school librarians across the country, a few of us wondered if they could be organized in a slightly different way to increase their impact.

Becky Calzada, Anita Cellucci, and I joined AASL Executive Director Sylvia Knight Norton to brainstorm what form these ideas could take. Two themes quickly emerged:

  • There were three major approaches to the school year happening across the country (face-to-face with social distancing measures, hybrid models, and full distance learning).
  • The core of school librarian relationships could be seen in the five school librarian roles detailed in the AASL Standards (instructional partner, teacher, leader, information specialist, and program administrator).

The resulting nine-page document, “School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning Conditions,” presents the crowd-sourced ideas from across the country by role and by learning condition. We hope it provides inspiration for school librarians while honestly acknowledging the challenges and opportunities that each potential learning condition poses. Under each role, bullet points of ideas from school librarians are placed under a different learning condition to give readers a sense of what other school librarians have identified as useful for these circumstances. Each role section outlines helpful AASL webpages or articles you might have missed, and the bibliography at the end is chock full of specific resources. Never learned to budget? Not sure which end of a grant application to start with? Panic at the thought of finding quality social and emotional learning ideas? The document provides resources for all those topics and more.

But the school librarian’s impact often depends on the support of our administrator, and they are too busy building the plane we are currently flying to casually read a multi-page document on the school librarian’s role. Effective advocacy always rests on understanding the needs of your audience, so the condensed chart that accompanies the document takes the same structure (school librarian roles across the top, learning conditions along the side, and bullet points of ideas in the intersection of the two) and presents information most likely to hit school administrator worries, while demonstrating how the school librarian can fill some of the school’s needs and solve looming concerns.

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The document was attached to a letter sent under AASL President Kathy Carroll’s signature to the National Education Association (NEA) President, alerting the NEA that the  school librarian’s role was omitted from its “All Hands on Deck: Initial Guidance Regarding Reopening School Guidelines.” The letter provides quality data, references pertinent studies, and politely points out the NEA’s own resolutions supporting school librarians, offering a strong example of what being “visible, vocal, positive, and proactive” looks like for school librarians.

Each person associated with the creation of “School Librarian Role in Pandemic Learning Conditions honed it with the hope that it will offer timely empowerment to every school librarian and support the leadership they offer every day to their community. Advocacy frequently feels like one more thing to do, but in the months to come, it is simply highlighting all the good leadership we are already doing to promote teaching and learning so we can be of more use to the learners we serve.

Author: Courtney Lewis

Courtney Lewis is the Director of Library Services and Innovative Research at St. Catherine’s School, an all-girls Episcopal day school in Richmond, Virginia. The former AASL Region 4 Director, she cheerfully voted herself out of existence to support the streamlined board structure which now leads AASL more effectively. While she thinks being a school librarian during a global pandemic feels like juggling fire batons in a thunderstorm, her amazing colleagues and the wonderful girls she serves makes the effort worthwhile. Courtney is currently on AASL’s Membership Committee and can be reached at cllewis@st.catherines.org or on Instagram or Twitter as @sassylibr.



Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Professional Development

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