Librarians Link Schools and Students

in 2019-20 School Year/Community Engagement/Innovative Teaching

by Erica Zimmerman

We have all long known that libraries are the shared heart and hub for learning in schools. But even the librarians in our schools were surprised at the extent to which that role grew during the remote learning period this spring. 

I recently joined a staff meeting of Washington Central librarians — of course connected via Zoom — to hear how they fulfilled their work this spring. Alyson Mahoney of Rumney and Doty, Amy Young of Berlin, Stacey Rupp of Calais, Arlyn Bruccoli of East Montpelier and Meg Allison of U-32 all shared their reflections.

First, when it became clear that schools were going to be dismissed, the librarians rallied to send home as many books as possible with students. Out came the summer borrowing bags, and down went the normal limits on numbers of books. Then in came the school faculty, stocking up on books for their at-home work, music and movies for relaxing amid the uncertainty, and picture books and videos for entertaining their own children while they worked. Meg noted that U-32 faculty appreciated its all-ages collection. (Question: How to keep teachers as happy as possible when they can’t be with their students? Answer: Books!)

Then, the normal library traffic of children with questions and teachers with resource needs took a new turn: parents began emailing with inquiries of all sorts. Many of the questions concerned technology as parents helped their children navigate their learning from home. They all knew that librarians could help with tech problems and resources. Amy remembered a parent asking, “When you send my Chromebook back, could you also send a book?” But then lots of other topics followed. Stacey said, “It’s definitely the most parent communication I’ve ever had. I’ve really gotten to know more families.” 

Once safe protocols were established for loaning out books, the librarians were deluged with requests from students for all sorts of reading. Some children would simply email, “You know what I like.” Parents of young children requested books by topic, and students sought the subsequent books of their favorite series. 

 The librarians found themselves with hundreds of requests to get out the door and into the hands of students, but how? Books learned to ride the buses along with the lunch deliveries! Staff organized the book bags by bus route, delivering them to U-32 where a table stood ready for each bus. In Berlin, paraeducators carried them right out themselves. Indeed, many staff helped the librarians meet the increased need for collecting, sorting, stashing and cleaning the materials, as everything had to sit untouched for a week after it returned from homes to ensure safety.  Much work and patience led to Library Wednesdays becoming the favorite day of the week for many, reported Alyson.

Books ready to go out by bus.

How interesting that the separation of the StayHome period also created new channels for communication. As students learned to request books via email, librarians noticed that the quietest students were making more requests than usual. While these librarians are used to hearing lots of individual interests, discussing them privately and keeping them confidential, they began to hear from students who seemed to find email a more comfortable means of communication than face-to-face. One student in fact emailed interest in a gender identity book for the first time. That librarian was so reassured that the student had found a comfortable way to access new and sensitive information in this time. 

I always learn new things when I talk with a librarian. Imagine getting to talk with five all at once! That was one of the most interesting Zooms I’ve had during my StayHome time. But it ended with real excitement as Arlyn invited me to join East Montpelier’s AfterSchool Book Club end-of- year party! 25 kids and several faculty gathered on Zoom to play the emoji game — guessing titles of the DCF books from emoji rebuses. (I lost.)

Playing “Guess the DCF book” with emoji rebuses.

And the party went on long after I left… There were more and more books to discuss and summer reading adventures to plan!