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.
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?”