The New Virtual Reality: Surviving and Thriving as a School Librarian during a Pandemic

We are currently living through unprecedented times. The global pandemic of COVID-19 has led, in many places, to abandoned streets, empty store shelves, and shuttered school buildings. Even though your school library space may be closed right now, your library continues online and through you! How can you make the most of this time and transform how your school library operates in this new environment? Here are some suggestions for middle- and high-school librarians for doing just that.

Maintaining Access

You can still make sure that library services and information are readily available to as much of your school community as possible. If your building is open but not accessible to students, talk to your administrator about offering a curbside book pick-up option for families. Also, promote your digital resources, like e-books and databases, in every way you can. A video book talk about an e-book can be as effective in encouraging reading as the in-person version. Use your library’s social media accounts (or take this opportunity to create some or dust off ones that haven’t been used in a while) to communicate with your staff, students, and community about books, digital resources, and library news. Just as you would in your physical school library, advertise various ways you can be contacted. Also, consider offering virtual “office hours” through an online meeting platform to allow staff and students to reach out to you. To help communicate all this information to your community, make sure your library website is updated and promotes important information, and ask your administrator about including a blurb about the library in a newsletter or community bulletin.

Engaging Students

Having a virtual library can be a challenge, but it can also be fun! Consider how you can still engage students online like you would in your physical library space. For example, host passive programming on your website or social media, like Maker Challenge Mondays or (Virtual) Field Trip Tuesdays. Students can check out the links or challenges you post and respond in a Flipgrid or with a hashtag on social media. Consider hosting virtual open library hours for your students to come check in with you or each other, like they would before school starts. If you have book clubs, brainstorm how those groups could interact virtually using Zoom, Flipgrid, or your district’s learning management system such as Blackboard or Schoology. If you have a student library advisory board, ask them for suggestions for activities you could offer online to get student participation. You could host a virtual spirit week, designating days to dress up as a character, favorite genre, or school colors. Finally, offer special programming or social media posts for observances such as National Library Week (April 19-25), National Poetry Month (April), or Mental Health Awareness Month (May). Engaging students with these ideas and more will provide them a glimmer of normalcy and fun ways to interact with the school library as well as each other.

Working with Staff

You can work with and be a resource for your staff as well. Many educational technology companies and organizations have opened up their platforms and resources during social distancing, with some even offering free premium access to their services. The sheer number of these resources can be overwhelming for educators, so consider curating some of these offers for staff to use with students or their own children. If your school is engaging in distance learning, you can still collaborate with educators much like you would in person. Attend virtual meetings, share resources, and offer collaboration and co-teaching opportunities, so that educators know that they are not alone. If you’re not involved in online learning, think about how you can lay the groundwork for next year and beyond by collecting resources, enhancing your library collection, or building relationships with your staff, that you can leverage in the years to come.

Prioritizing Self-Care

Like the regular school year, develop self-care strategies that will help maintain your work-life balance. Be proactive about setting time boundaries for when you will respond to e-mails and work on library tasks. Even though students and staff can contact you 24/7, that doesn’t mean you need to respond the moment you hear an e-mail alert. Hold firm to office hours or regular school hours, and use the rest of the day to take care of yourself, your family, and household tasks. Take time to read for yourself; enjoy an adult book or titles from your school library. If you’re looking to refresh yourself professionally, consider reaching out to librarian friends or join one of the several librarian groups on social media, such as Facebook or Twitter.

Conclusion

Just like a typical school year, it is up to us to determine how to best engage our school communities. Whether you offer book clubs, readers’ advisory, or other activities, keep it manageable for you and your students; they are navigating this strange time, too. Above all, give grace to yourself and others. We are all in uncharted waters and coping in ways that may be out of the ordinary. No matter how you engage your students and staff during this challenging time, the efforts you make to check in with them and provide support will make all the difference.

Author: Rachel Grover and Stacy Gilbert



Categories: Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models, Technology

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