It's finally happening: the school libraries are reopening. The experiences of school librarians are vast, especially in the context of interrupted schooling due to the pandemic. Remote, on a cart, providing tech help, recording lessons, introducing digital book platforms — no one working in school libraries has been untouched by a huge amount of change. While we’re far from out of the woods, many schools have committed to concentrating resources to in-person schooling, and that means that many librarians are grappling with what it means to reopen the library.
The whiplash that accompanied our constantly changing daily lives will leave its mark for some time. If you are currently trying to plan or (even just picture) what next year might look like in the school library, you are not alone. Below are some ideas that might help you ease into the 2021–2022 school year.
Plan for Book Events
When things started shutting down in the spring of 2020, we were smack in the middle of our spring book fair. When teachers were allowed back in the building to grab materials in May, seeing the large silver cases of untouched books was positively GHOSTLY. While some schools have been able to pivot to online fairs or even make in person events work, my district has held off, which means that the constant loop of rebooking the fair a year out has been broken.
This is not a disaster; everyone is playing catch up. However, I was shocked at how grounding it felt to reach out to my Scholastic representative and put tentative dates on the calendar. And book fairs are not the only events that could give you this kick. As you plan for the library to reopen, you might be planning author visits or special themed weeks that require dates on the calendar pretty far out. It feels almost brazen to assume that something I dreamed up will definitely happen in March 2022, but I’ve put it into the universe.
Figure Out the Book Situation
As you reopen your library, you might notice that your shelves are looking a little rough. My district has flip flopped between full remote, hybrid, and full in-person learning for 13 months now, and for a good portion of that time, teachers have been allowed to teach from the building. A lot was in flux, but read-alouds were always a good choice, and this means that the library has been pillaged. The biggest offender? My own self, the former librarian, who often knew of the perfect text to address a current problem or curriculum topic, and just happened to know exactly where said book was sitting on the shelf. I personally believe it was better that the books were being used (weren’t they lonely in there by themselves?), but obviously they need to go home.
Between what has been borrowed and what has been lost from books that were checked out when schools closed last March, it might be worth the monumental task of doing an inventory. This would give you an excellent picture of where your collection is at the moment. It also might exhaust you, and we're all a little burned right now. If a full inventory not in the cards, at least glance around and take stock of what seems to be missing. It's also time to start actively asking for books to be returned. Send out the message to your staff that you’ll come and collect books, or leave a couple of book trucks clearly labelled in a common, open space. Like any end-of-school season, it’s time to hunt the books down.
Figure Out the Cleaning Situation
Unlike any other end-of-school season, you probably have some sort of COVID protocol to consider when collecting materials that have been out in the world. There are many different ideas about the best ways to sanitize and disinfect books. The most important thing is that you figure out something workable for your library and make sure you run it by someone who would need to have your back if things were ever called into question.
Some things to consider when setting up these new systems: how much space to do you have for quarantining books? What kinds of materials do you use for book covering? When the library reopens, who will be checking things out? Will things other than books be in circulation? Honestly, there are probably more questions than answers at this point, but getting ahead of the nitty gritty cleaning details will leave you a lot more time for the fun stuff when the library can finally reopen.
Get Excited About…Anything
Everything I’ve mentioned so far is a lot of work, and I don’t know any educators who aren’t exhausted and overwhelmed. I encourage you to find something to get excited about. It might be as elaborate as a new piece of equipment or a big curriculum shift. It might be as simple and small as moving some furniture or choosing a new bulletin border. Honestly, this year has drained so many of us. Anything that can spark some joy and anticipation should be grabbed and clung to.
Personally, I have not allowed myself to browse through library-specific magazines and catalogs at all this year. Knowing that everything I had been working towards in the library was on hold was another layer of pain in the trauma of being an educator during the pandemic. Now that we are planning to reopen the school library, I'm cautiously letting myself dream a little. The budget needs to be rebuilt, the books are scattered, the lab is in tatters, but it's okay to get excited about what might be coming. In fact, it's crucial.
Decide What Is Coming With You
Speaking of anticipation and ease moving into next year, take a look at the work you’ve laid out during this grind. What can you bring with you as the library reopens? Are there tech tutorials that will be valuable even after remote learning is the only option for teaching? Have you developed recorded lessons that you could leave for substitutes in the future? If you work in schools, you’ve busted your hump this year. Even if things look different in the coming months, a lot of that work is replicable and could save you valuable time as we adjust to yet another change that comes with reopening the library. The goal is to work smarter, not harder, and you just worked for at LEAST a solid year pushing hard on every brain cell you possess!
School librarians have been doing incredible work through out a global crisis in a world where we are often not considered essential. There is going to be a lot to unpack and heal from as libraries reopen and we go back to the old battle of constantly trying to prove our value to skeptical stakeholders. However, as things begin to more closely resemble the old normal, we’ll have even more work to do as we work to provide stability and comfort to our students. It's never been simple, but I've never been happier to trade my new problems for my old ones.