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Librarians under lockdown: rising to the challenge

Posted By Bev Humphrey, 04 June 2020
Bev Humphrey, Literacy and Technology Consultant and Digital Content Manager at the School Library Association (SLA), shares some of the ways in which school librarians are rising to meet the challenges of lockdown life.

These strange times during the coronavirus pandemic have left many school librarians feeling as though they’d gone to sleep and woken up in one of their least-liked dystopian novels. New skills have had to be learnt and different ways of communication sought, amidst worries about staff and students’ mental health whilst stuck at home.

Some of the challenges and creative responses so far include:

Finding new ways to share inspiring reading material

Naturally, with schools closed, librarians have not been able to loan out books in the usual way. This has been very distressing, especially with all the evidence regarding the positive effect of reading on the brain and mental wellbeing.

Some schools were lucky enough to have already invested in an online reading platform and this has made things easier for them, but many librarians have needed to hastily arrange some e-reading options for their students. Others have advised staff and students of the digital offerings from their local public libraries or have taken advantage of the limited-time offers from companies allowing access to their platforms on an extended trial basis. Some authors are reading their own books aloud online too – Cathy Cassidy and Marcus Sedgwick for example – and alerting students to these helps keep their love of reading alive.

Librarians have created a wealth of online content to keep kids reading, often learning new techniques at the same time – as with this fantastic Sway created by Ms Williams from Addey & Stanhope School. Some colleagues are involved in leading online reading periods that are slotted into the virtual timetable set up by their schools. Others are keeping the reading excitement alive by monitoring online book quizzes and giving out praise and prizes.

Collaborating with teachers to support learning online

Although not currently able to collaborate in person, countless librarians are even more involved than ever in helping their teaching colleagues plan online lessons and projects. Many have turned to sites such as to create collated lists of resources for school staff to access, and are constantly on the lookout for more content to flag up to teachers. The lists provided by the School Library Association, CILIP School Library Group and others have enabled librarians to disseminate information about fantastic resource banks like the Massolit collection of over 3,000 lectures.

Promoting information literacy and tackling fake news

Misinformation and fake news have been rife during this pandemic and who better to lead you through this confusing tangle of facts than information professionals for whom this is second nature – definitely a case of Librarians Assemble! On social media librarians have been the calm voice of reason on numerous occasions, with large numbers of them using this time to build on their own knowledge, especially of inquiry-based learning systems such as FOSIL. This method of inquiry is of huge benefit across the curriculum and is a highly effective way of embedding information literacy skills in every subject.

Investing time in online CPD

Unfortunately some school library staff have been furloughed and therefore have had their hands tied and felt frustrated at being unable to help their students and fellow staff members. Many have turned to online CPD to fill their days productively: embarking on massive open online courses (MOOCs), completing courses with the Open University, and taking part in webinars run by the School Library Association, CILIP and Elizabeth Hutchinson, for example. At the end of this month the SLA weekend course, due to take place in Ashford, has been moved online with a range of excellent keynote speakers from the world of education (see below for details). For some staff this has been the first time they have used apps like Zoom and GoToMeeting, but they have met the challenge of adapting to new technology with equanimity and enthusiasm.

Planning for the future

As we slowly start to come out of this most unusual time and education returns to something approaching “normal”, there are many considerations to take into account in the school library and countless questions causing sleepless nights. How will we ensure students adhere to social distancing? Will we have to disinfect all the books? How can we best support students and staff who are displaying signs of having poor mental health? SLA and CILIP SLG have produced comprehensive guidance on the return to work and school library staff have been extremely proactive in putting plans in place for when their library reopens.

In a time of chaos society needs professionals to be the voice of reason and librarians are definitely rising to this challenge admirably.

SLA annual conference (19-20 June 2020) – 10% discount for NACE members

The School Library Association (SLA) is running its annual weekend conference “Digital Education: Reading and Learning Opportunities” as a virtual event on Friday 19 and Saturday 20 June, featuring an impressive line-up of experts in online education and learning technologies, joining authors and publishers in live presentations, discussions and demonstrations. Use the code NACE19 for a 10% discount when booking.

Tags:  collaboration  CPD  free resources  libraries  literacy  lockdown  reading  technology 

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