School Libraries: Your Planning Guide for Reopening

School Libraries: Your Planning Guide for ReopeningDisclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only. Information on COVID-19 is changing rapidly, and you should refer to the rules and recommendations of your local authorities and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up-to-date information.

There are many unknowns about what school will look like in the fall of 2020. Along with classroom teachers, school librarians will have to adapt their services and their spaces to ensure staff and student safety. Read the tips below to put together a planning guide for reopening your school library with the lowest possible risk to everyone who walks through the door.

How you handle any of these steps should be based on the direction of your local authorities, public health officials, and school leadership. Consult with your school legal counsel before putting any new policies into place.

Start with Preventing the Spread of Germs  

The best defense against germs is prevention. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends staff members wear masks throughout the school day (students too, if feasible) and enforce frequent disinfecting and hand-washing.

Provide a hand-washing or disinfectant station at the entrance to your library, and ask students to clean their hands as they enter. Use a disinfectant or UV sterilizer and follow the cleaning procedures recommended by the CDC for high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, railings, faucets, computers, phones, and furniture arms. Display printed cleaning schedules in shared spaces to let students and staff know when these areas have been disinfected.

Hand out Germ Fighter Bookmarks to remind students to practice healthy habits to fight the spread of germs, and display clear signage in high-profile areas. You’ll also want to ensure there are wastebaskets available throughout your library. If possible, provide additional hand-washing or disinfectant stations at strategic points within your space.

If a student becomes symptomatic while in your library, follow your school’s plan for isolating them until they can leave school. You’ll then want to disinfect any objects you know may have been handled by them.

Rearrange Your Furnishings and Define Traffic Flow 

Consider how you want students to move through your library. Then use floor decals and clear signage to define one-way traffic routes and show students where to stand, as well as mark clear entrances and exits to help avoid “traffic jams” of students.

Many libraries have mobile tables and chairs that can be easily rearranged to accommodate small or large groups or that can be folded, nested, and stored to reduce the number of seating spaces. Focus on retaining your furniture that has antimicrobial coverings or is easily cleaned, such as vinyl or plastic pieces. If your library has adaptable furniture, arrange it to separate students by at least 6 feet (following CDC guidelines for schools), and cut down on students congregating near power outlets by placing portable power stations throughout your space.

For furniture that can’t be moved easily, you can remove chairs or place “do not use” signs on them to let students know they are off-limits. Place acrylic shields or mobile desk barriers on tables and work surfaces to provide a barrier between students. You may also wish to use acrylic shields with pass-through windows at your circulation desk to create a germ barrier.

Computer labs may be replaced by individual devices; however, if computer use is essential to your library activities, you may wish to spread them out among different areas, place them in individual carrels, or implement acrylic barriers between them. Observe CDC guidelines for cleaning computer equipment, or space out computer time between users to allow for quarantine time in between.

As many school leaders look for more room to accommodate smaller class sizes and social distancing, they may turn to the library to create more instructional space. For libraries that already have flexible furnishings, you can rearrange work surfaces to separate students, and you’ll know best how to arrange your space while maintaining essential library services. You can also consider options for creating barriers, such as using mobile whiteboards between tables or rope barriers to define spaces.

You’ll also want to create a plan for collecting and quarantining books and designate specific areas for these activities. Read “How to Quarantine Books in Your School Library” for more information.

Prepare Your Library for Staff and Student Safety

Explore products that will help you provide services to your school’s community while ensuring student and staff well-being.

Consider How to Best Deliver Services

How you adapt your services will depend on your school’s overall pandemic plan and will likely require that you create plans for a few different stages.

Start by reconsidering your instructional space. Can you set up work surfaces and chairs to accommodate social distancing? If you are utilizing your floor space, use taped Xs or carpet squares to show students where to stand or sit and keep them separated.

Take a look at your process for getting books in the hands of students. Options may include the following:

  • Provide increased access to e-books through a partnership with your public library.
  • Have students create their own shelf markers to use when browsing for books and keep them with their individual belongings. Wipe down book covers and implement hand-washing at checkout time.
  • Poll students on their interests and pull several books for them to choose from.
  • Create reading lists around popular topics, and allow students to choose books from the list, and then pull the books for them.
  • Create displays of themed books. Generate buzz and excitement around those topics and help students choose from your selection.
  • If you have the capabilities, allow students to browse your electronic catalog and select books for you to pull, checkout, and deliver to them.
  • Bring a mobile library to classrooms once a week, lead a library lesson, and help students choose reading material from your mini library.
  • If holding library classes outside is an option and the weather permits, get outside and enjoy the fresh air. Bring along a library cart and allow students to choose books you deliver to them from the cart.
  • Review your centers and see if you can adapt the activities by providing each student with their own supplies instead of having them rotate through.
  • Collaborate with classroom teachers to pull books to support student interests and curriculum topics.
  • Work with classroom teachers to build out small, age-appropriate classroom libraries that switch out quarterly. This allows the same books to stay with the same kids for a period of time in their classroom. Share quarantining measures with teachers, and ensure books students choose are kept separate in each student’s individual bin.

You can also leverage your technology capabilities to bring the outside world into your library while keeping everyone safe. Bring experiences into your library or classrooms with these resources:

Adjust Your Makerspace Activities

For those with a thriving makerspace or even those just getting started, it can feel discouraging to think you might not be able to allow students to work freely with makerspace supplies right now. However, there are still plenty of ways to keep kids making safely.

Start by taking a look at your tools to see which ones can be disinfected. Plastic robotics and devices such as iPads can be cleaned between uses, according to CDC guidelines. Remind students that they should not share devices or handle other students’ supplies while they are working.

For engineering challenges, focus on consumables like cardboard, and assign each student their own supply of reusable tools, such as Makedo screws or TeacherGeek parts. When students are finished with their projects, the plastic screws and parts can be disinfected in a cleaning solution. Make sure that when students disassemble their projects, they place the parts in a designated bin or box to be cleaned.

Some collaborative projects may need to be placed on hold for the time being, but you can also find ways to partner students up from a 6-foot distance. Ideas include the following:

  • One student tackles a building challenge while taking instruction from their partner across the table, and then they switch roles.
  • One student builds an obstacle course while the other programs a robot to move through it.
  • Each student works separately on a themed art project (a school quilt, for instance), and then all projects are brought together to create a display.

For creative projects, you can provide presorted sets of craft supplies for each student, such as Perler beads, basket weaving supplies, or origami and coloring bookmarks. Find more creative ideas in these articles:

Inform, Instruct, Model, and Repeat 

You’ve spent a lot of time helping students understand how to use the library, and now things are changing. But the good news is, you already have an instructional model in place for teaching students about library use. As with any new rules, the new procedures will take some time for students to learn and get used to, and you may find that you need to make adjustments along the way.

Start by outlining the new library protocol for students and displaying visual reminders throughout your space. Then demonstrate new procedures and have each student practice them. Talk about the right way and the wrong way to do things. As with any new school year, this will take time and repeated practice.

If your school is requiring that you wear a mask or a face shield, this may be one of the first topics you address with students, especially younger students. Use these tips from KidsHealth to help them get used to adults and kids wearing masks.

You’ll also want to be sure you provide parents with clear communication about your new library procedures to help them feel comfortable and safe sending their kids to school and to help them support you if their kids have questions.

Continue Learning, Adapting, and Preparing for the Future

Because there are so many unknowns around the 2020–2021 school year, educators and librarians will need to continually learn and adapt. Your input will be invaluable in debriefing meetings with school leaders and colleagues where you discuss the procedures that have been working and not working and brainstorm alternatives for problem areas.

Take your learnings and use them to prepare to act quickly in the future should you be forced to respond to another similar situation. How easily can you adapt your services? Are you prepared to make the switch to virtual services fairly seamlessly? Fortunately, learning, exploring, and innovating are areas in which school librarians excel, and with self-care and compassion, you and your students can continue to thrive.


Liz Bowie

Liz Bowie

Marketing Content Manager at Demco, Inc.
Liz is the Marketing Content Manager for Demco. Her background includes editorial management and product development of innovative and time-saving tools for schools and libraries, with an emphasis on Common Core, literacy and math. The products she and her team have developed, including classroom games, learning centers and professional development resources, have garnered 46 industry awards for excellence in education. Liz is passionate about promoting literacy through her work and the work of others. If you are interested in sharing your ideas and programming tips on Demco’s Ideas and Inspiration blog or have ideas for topics you’d like to see covered, contact Liz at