7 Things a National Survey of Librarians Told Us About the State of School Libraries Amid the Pandemic
In light of the increase in remote online learning for American students, the traditional aspects of physical school buildings are being reevaluated during this extended period of distance instruction. The pandemic has disrupted the normal functioning of facilities like cafeterias, gyms, auditoriums, and maker labs.
Libraries are also affected by these changes. From the physical collection of books to the design of the learning space and the role of librarians in students’ educational journeys, the library experience for students across the country has become unfamiliar.
To gain insight into how library resources will be utilized in the upcoming school year, the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conducted a back-to-school survey in August. More than 1,000 professionals, mainly building-level librarians, participated in the survey, representing all 50 states. The results of this survey were recently released.
The respondents, who are dedicated school librarian professionals, expressed their concerns about their roles within schools, student learning, adjusted budgets, and their plans for adaptation. AASL President Kathy Carroll emphasized that school librarians are at the forefront of teaching and learning. They possess the expertise to assist students, parents, and educators in adapting and thriving in the current digital environment while fulfilling their educational responsibilities. Carroll added that by providing access to a well-managed range of resources, school librarians encourage students’ natural curiosity, support inquiry, and facilitate personalized deeper learning.
Here are seven noteworthy observations from this snapshot of libraries during the coronavirus pandemic:
1. Approximately 24 percent of school libraries, according to building librarians, are currently closed and will not be available for use during the fall semester. Only 12 percent stated that their libraries will be fully operational.
2. Libraries that are open will be utilized in a different manner. Around 17 percent of libraries will be converted into classrooms to accommodate social distancing. A majority of respondents, 58 percent, stated that any activities or gatherings within the library will be prohibited or limited in order to maintain greater physical distance.
3. Many schools are exploring mobile and virtual options for their libraries due to the limitations of physical spaces. Respondents mentioned plans to bring book carts to classrooms for in-class checkouts (50 percent), expand remote instruction (55 percent), and collaborate with classroom teachers (38 percent). They also highlighted their involvement in curbside technology pickups and providing tech support to teachers.
4. Librarians anticipate allocating 6 percent of their current budgets towards purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks, hand sanitizers, and disinfectants to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff. This percentage exceeds the anticipated expenditure on periodicals, hardware, and software.
5. Despite the ongoing pandemic, the majority of library budgets will still be allocated towards physical books. Of those surveyed, 58 percent reported adjustments to their budget plans compared to the previous school year. The shifting funds will primarily go towards physical books (48 percent), followed by e-books (30 percent) and online databases (19 percent). Additional estimated expenses include non-COVID-related supplies, COVID-related supplies, technology hardware, technology software, print periodicals, and online periodicals.
6. Librarians have concerns beyond academic aspects. When surveying librarians about their top concerns for students, they highlighted potential ramifications of prolonged closures, such as missed meals, exposure to unsafe environments, limited socialization, and falling behind in reaching key milestones. Furthermore, librarians expressed personal safety concerns when exposed to students, with an average rating of 77 on a scale from 0 (no increased risk) to 100 (significant risk of contracting COVID).
7. The top concern for librarians is the uncertainty of whether students are falling behind academically during this period of remote learning.
Several participants mentioned that they intend to address the needs of students by creating video tutorials on research and media literacy subjects.
Klibanoff: Enhancing Empathy and Bridging the Gap Between the Past, Present, and Future Through Books. This is Why We are Supporting Educators in Expanding Their Classroom Libraries.
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