Pandemic Programming

School librarians discuss how COVID-19 has changed their work

January 24, 2021

How are school librarians changing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

That question and many others were answered in “Pandemic Programming: Changes to School Library Instruction during a Global Pandemic,” held Sunday at ALA Midwinter Virtual 2021 on January 24. Facilitated by Christina Norman, textbook library media coordinator for Birmingham (Ala.) City Schools, and Jennifer J. Sturge, specialist for school libraries and digital learning at Calvert County (Md.) Public Schools, the program included an open discussion among school librarians, who chimed in via Zoom about the pandemic and their response to it.

The program covered five areas: programming, services, advocacy, lessons learned, and moving forward. Each topic presented its own set of struggles and frustrations—but also fostered resilience, creativity, and pride in accomplishment, according to the speakers.

“The pandemic has made us better librarians,” Norman said.

Jen Hossack, director of libraries at Missoula (Mont.) Catholic Schools and librarian at Missoula County Public Schools, said that despite creating a library website for students that featured access to Gale’s database of materials, she still had concerns about moving forward.

“I am still struggling with what comes next and how to reach out to do more,” she said.

That struggle extended to parents and teachers as well, said Marie St. Germain, a librarian at the Fessenden School in West Newton, Massachusetts.

“Parents and students didn’t understand our remote learning platform,” she said. “So the library had to work to get everyone set up.”

Erika Dickens, a librarian at Sunset Elementary School in Bellevue, Washington, described how she started recording videos of herself reading books for kids to enjoy while sequestered at home early in the pandemic. She said she kept the program going through spring break and into the summer months when school wasn’t in session, because she knew it was important to the kids.

“I knew the kids needed access to stories and seeing people they knew,” she said. “Their parents said, ‘You were always there for our kids.’”

Advocacy is incredibly important, especially now, said Norman. Letting parents, teachers, and the community know about new programs and services implemented during the pandemic can help create new supporters and funding avenues, she said.

Joyce Soto, library media specialist at Hazel Avenue School in West Orange, New Jersey, said that she created an advocacy newsletter to spread the word. “If you’re doing something, get it in front of supervisors and parents,” she said.

Sturge said that she learned a lesson about advocacy during the pandemic: “I learned that I have to continue to power through and advocate for my school librarians and insist that they’re still essential,” she said.

Multiple librarians said that maintaining self-care regimes and looking out for each other’s wellbeing has become incredibly important.

“We have to find that common ground and maintain our connections,” Norman said. “We need to check on all of our coworkers to make sure we’re all doing OK. I’ll be taking that forward.”

Pamela Moore, assistant professor of library media education at University of Southern Alabama, summed up the session and her colleagues’ thoughts.

“We will never go back to what we consider ‘normal,’” she said. “As an optimist, I believe we’re going to be better and different them we were. If we hold on to the past, we’re doing ourselves a disservice.”


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