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Librarians

An inside look at Smithtown school libraries. Photo from district

School libraries are looking a little different nowadays.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithtown Central School District had to revamp its library protocols, said Vincenza Graham, director of world languages, ESL & library media services. Like many districts across Long Island, new initiatives have changed how students take out books, read and learn.

“Pandemic or not, libraries are used to constant change,” Catherine Masrour, a librarian at High School West, said. “For years, libraries have been evolving as a result of the rise in access to digital information and the constant and ever-changing world of technological innovations.”

Masrour said that as librarians, they are constantly looking at their students’ needs, trying to provide them with the best resources to be successful — including in a virtual world. 

Students distanced by barriers at Smithtown High School West. Photo from Smithtown School District

“I felt so proud last week when one of my students contacted me to share the news of her college acceptance,” she said. “She thanked me for helping her with her college essay last spring via several Google Meets, and then again, this fall just before she submitted her final application. Hearing the excitement in this student’s voice gave me one more reason to say that I love what I am doing.”

Smithtown elementary schools began virtual programs and fully remote options to students and had to revamp book circulation to keep the library safe for students and staff.

“This system has required the students to truly look beyond the cover of a story, and many have shared that they wouldn’t have taken out some of the books they truly enjoyed if they hadn’t utilized this system,” said Ellie Eichenlaub, a librarian at Dogwood Elementary School and Smithtown West High School. “While this school year has brought some unique challenges, it is nice to reflect on some of the good that it has brought to our students.”

And when staff was back at school in September, Michelle Robinson, a librarian at Tackan Elementary School, said her students wanted to pick up right where they left off in March.

“My fourth-graders were asking if we were going to continue working with author Robin Newman as we did in third grade, and my fifth-graders were asking if we were going to work on our Summer Olympics sport research project that we began at the end of February of fourth grade,” she said. “It made me realize how much they had missed our library as well.”

Keely Schuppert, a librarian at St. James Elementary School, said librarians at her level are in a unique situation of being able to watch their students grow as readers each year from kindergarten through fifth grade.

“It’s the greatest feeling to be able to provide a student with a book they’ve really been wanting to read,” she said. “With masks being a necessity, we have all become very skilled at reading our students’ eyes. It’s the beautiful glimmer in a child’s eyes that reminds me why I love what I do each and every day.” 

Middle schoolers have been able to take out e-books through a new digital platform and are gaining access to print resources by placing holds on books via the library catalog, according to director Graham.

“After our revamped library orientation for sixth-graders, one student asked if we had any manga [Japanese publications],” said Sheila Tobin Cavooris, a librarian at Great Hollow Middle School. “She was so excited when I showed her our graphic format collection, and her enthusiasm was echoed by a number of other students who shared her interest.”

Accompsett Middle School librarian Donna DeLuca said that while sixth-grade orientation was a bit challenging this year, she wanted to keep things as close to normal as possible. 

“At AMS, we had our usual scavenger hunt throughout the library to learn about the different sections and resources available,” she said. “In each section, students recorded themselves talking about what they learned. Even though we followed mask, social distancing and ‘no touch’ guidelines, students were so happy to be up and about and not sitting in front of a screen.”

The human touch is still all important. “When I run after-hours office hours through Google Meet, sometimes from 8 to 9 at night, the kids are appreciative to see a friendly face, happy to be able to ask questions and relieved to know the library safety net is still there,” Smithtown High School East librarian Jean Marie Kliphuis said. “I’ve always told them that our job is to support their work, and whether we are digital or in person, that hasn’t changed.”

How libraries look during COVID times. Photo from Comsewogue School District

Nine months into the coronavirus pandemic and schools are still adjusting. The school library, a place of solace for elementary schoolers and high school seniors alike, has had to adhere to the new and ever-changing COVID-19 protocols.

Local districts, however, have embraced the changes and have implemented new services that they never would have started if it wasn’t for the crisis.

A silver lining, school librarians across the North Shore explained how the changes have impacted them, their schools and their students.

Alice Wolcott, librarian at Elwood-John Glenn High School, said that COVID changed the landscape of public education, meaning they had to reimagine their space.

“This year we transitioned the book loan program to a digital platform, which will continue to support students’ pleasure and academic reading while still observing COVID restrictions,” she said. “Students can browse the collection online via Follett Destiny [a library management system], and if they find a title they’d like to borrow, they can request that book through our book request form.”

To adhere to COVID rules, the books are delivered in a Ziploc bag to first period teachers.

Since some students are not physically in their first period classes, the district also increased their digital library as a main focus.

Shoreham-Wading River High School librarian Kristine Hanson and Albert G. Prodell Middle School librarian Ann-Marie Kalin created an initiative to meet the need for printed books while reimagining the online presence in concert with OPALS, the open-source library system.

They created a book delivery service at their schools called BookDash, which allows students to electronically submit requests with their student ID. Then, physical books are either delivered to students at Prodell or picked up at the high school library doors at the end of the school day. The initiative is promoted through English classes, and a multitude of book recommendations are available via the OPALS pages, blogs and links.

“Kids are reliant on what’s in the catalog, books that never went out before are going out like wild,” Kalin said. “For the time being we’re making the best of it all.”

With the BookDash initiative, Kalin said students are excited to get their hands on actual books.

“So many kids are so tired of being on the screen and are desperate for that interaction with each other,” she said. “I’m seeing readers I never saw before, and there are so many requests for books. It’s very successful.”

Along with Shoreham-Wading River, other districts across Long Island are using an e-book platform called Sora, including Joseph A. Edgar Intermediate School in Rocky Point.

Monica DiGiovanni teaches Sora to third graders in Rocky Point. Photo from RPSD.

Librarian Monica DiGiovanni has been visiting classrooms, having students log into their Chromebooks. She is teaching them how to check out library books with the new service, which enables students to borrow a book and read it right on their devices. Another program, Destiny Discover, enables students to find a physical book in the library and have it delivered directly to them since their libraries are currently not open.

DiGiovanni said that their school libraries have become break rooms for teachers and classroom spaces to accommodate kids in a socially distanced way.

“The library has become an interactive thing,” she said. “Students are definitely utilizing it.”

Although Rocky Point school libraries had to reshape themselves and close the doors to students, Elwood school district was able to open the doors at the high school last week. Wolcott said that right now 15 students are allowed in the library at a time, with designated seating and other stipulations in place.

“The students are really responsive and they’re following all the protocols,” she said. “It’s great to have them back.”

She even sees students, who were not her typical regulars, interacting with the library catalog more than they did before.

“Now it’s nice they’re browsing the shelves,” Wolcott said. “They’re picking books they would not have chosen otherwise.”

Donna Fife, library media specialist at Elwood Middle School, said that early on, the district was keeping library services running smoothly, while her younger students are opting to read more.

“I am seeing names I never saw before requesting books more frequently,” she said. “I know how I feel at the end of the day ­— I would have a hard time playing video games after screen learning.”
Fife said she thinks students are looking for something tangible now that some are looking at a computer all day long.
“They’re requesting to hold a physical copy instead of looking at another screen,” she said.

Nicole Taormina, librarian at Boyle Road Elementary School in the Comsewogue school district, said that new regulars have blossomed throughout the pandemic.

“They really love browsing online,” she said. “It’s a different experience — they are really excited now because they use their Chromebooks and have their own accounts.”

Taormina said that while the changes have been different, she’s looking forward to some normalcy in 2021, and is grateful for what 2020 helped her with.

“I’ve been able to tweak things,” she said. “And the students have been able to learn things that they may have not been able to learn before.”

Also in Comsewogue, Deniz Yildirim, a librarian at Terryville Road Elementary School, said that teaching her library classes has been different compared to years past.

“It’s been a huge change,” she said. “We can’t hand out worksheets anymore, and we do a lot online to cut down on contamination. No other class can come in other than what’s assigned in this room.”

When Yildirim visits classrooms at her school now, she will deliver books that children ask her for.

“It breaks my heart that they can’t browse,” she said. “But we’re making it work.”

And she said that all school libraries have made progress in 2020 than the past 10 years.

“Publishers, authors and librarians are working very hard to make sure kids are reading,” she said. “It’s the least we can do for them during these trying times.”

Taylor Kinsley, a librarian at Minnesauke Elementary School in the Three Village school district, said their schools have been allowing browsing within the libraries.

She said students have to use hand sanitizer before and after touching the books to be sure they have clean hands, and they reorganized the setup of the library, featuring no reading carpets on the floor.

“Elementary students are always excited to have the freedom to pick the books they want,” she said.

The district sanitizes the used books and quarantines them for about a week before putting them back on the shelves.

“I think normalcy is really important for them,” Kinsley added, referring to her students. “We’re being supercautious so why take that away from them?”

Northport-East Northport teachers picket over contract negotiations earlier this year. Photo by Rohma Abbas

By Susan Risoli

The United Teachers of Northport union has reached a tentative employment contract settlement with the Northport-East Northport school district.

School board counsel John Gross, of the Hauppauge firm Ingerman Smith LLP, said in a phone interview Monday that a memorandum of agreement containing details of the settlement had been delivered to Sean Callahan, the NYSUT labor relations specialist, that day.

Callahan will have the opportunity to make changes or comments on the agreement, he said. After that, Smith said, he expects it will take “another week or so before it’s signed.”

After signature by the negotiating team, Smith said, the agreement will go to UTN members for ratification, then to the Northport-East Northport school board for approval “and then it becomes public.”

The union’s previous contract expired June 30, 2014.

Union President Antoinette Blanck said in a phone interview Tuesday night that the union had received a draft of the memorandum of agreement and “we’re in the middle of reviewing it.”

She sent an email to union members Tuesday to update them on the contract’s progress, she said. A meeting was set for Wednesday with Callahan, she said, to review the agreement. Callahan’s office is in the same building as Ingerman Smith, she added, which she hoped would hasten the process if there are further discussions about the agreement.

After the memorandum is signed, each of the union’s 720 members will get a hard copy to read. There will be a ratification meeting, Blanck said, at which the settlement agreement will be explained. Then there will be a ratification vote “by secret ballot, in each building” no less than five days and no more than 10 days after the meeting, she said.

Although she said she couldn’t yet speak publicly about details of the new contract, Blanck said she felt positively about the settlement.

“We would have been still at the [negotiating] table if we felt this wasn’t an appropriate settlement to bring back to our members,” she said. “We’re hopeful that the rank-and-file members agree that this is an agreement that is respectful of the membership and respectful of the community of taxpayers.”

Blanck said the settlement was a long time coming “but certainly we’ve been very happy with the process” of negotiations.

The union represents the district’s teachers, teaching assistants, nurses, librarians, psychologists and counselors.