Ways School Librarians Can Serve Students in Fall 2020

Students listen as their school librarian brings a lesson to their classroom.If anything has been consistent about this time of social distancing, it’s the unpredictability of the future. That can be anxiety-inducing, but we’re also living in a time of hope, opportunity, and potential. We know that as school librarians, we will face unique circumstances in terms of our library space and how we engage children this fall. Your district’s and your state’s health guidelines will determine how students will interact with materials, and your exact needs will be dictated by how and where you are able to execute your library program. It can feel like the options are out of your control, but there are things you can do to plan for the future. 

First, know that we see you. 

We see how much you want to serve your students, support your readers, and engage your learners. 

We see you fighting to have a library to return to, to secure funds for more materials or electronic materials, to protect your position and all library personnel positions. 

We see the challenge of distance learning, of giving up your physical space to accommodate social distancing, of being asked to work outside of your held degree as class sizes are reduced.

We see you, and we are grateful for all you are doing, considering, thinking about, planning, and dreaming up in order to best meet the diverse needs of your learners.

Keeping in mind the AASL Standards Framework for Learners, we have curated a list of program considerations and ideas to aid, support, and inspire you. As you adjust to new guidelines, you will undoubtedly find new ways to innovate. The suggestions we’ve gathered below are here to serve you on that journey.

Nurture Lifelong Readers

One of our most important tasks during these uncharted times is making sure that children can connect with stories. Here are some ideas for ensuring access to books and stories while maintaining social distancing guidelines. 

  • Implement a holds request system so that only library personnel are handling materials and can ensure that these materials make their way safely to children. If your district is using a hybrid or virtual school model, consider designating dates and times that students and families can come to school to pick up library materials you have pulled for them. Learn the safety guidelines that many public libraries have put into place for curbside pickup in “Checklist for Library Curbside Pickup Services.”
  • Return to read alouds. You might be providing the only opportunity a child has to hear a book read to them that day. And what you share with them might help them to better understand themselves or others, process their emotions, or feel the much-needed sense of hope and belonging.
  • Promote the use of digital book sites such as Sora and Epic! to provide your students with access to thousands of e-books for free.
  • Hold a virtual book club using a title from your state book award list or other award lists.  
  • Connect students with authors and the stories behind their books via the session archives of the Everywhere Book Fest and other virtual book festivals.

Innovate and Collaborate

Reduced staff in a hybrid school model may mean special area teachers are no longer able to teach traditionally. But just because some of us won’t have a library to return to just yet, that doesn’t mean we won’t still be librarians!

Prepare Your School for Reopening

Explore products that will help you reopen your doors safely and help ensure staff and student well-being.

Go Mobile!

If your students can’t come to the library just yet, take the library to them. Use the following ideas to bring your lessons and programming to classrooms.

  • Deliver classroom or virtual lessons on how to place holds on books and use your library’s digital resources to get kids familiar with everything the library has to offer.
  • Create a book “take-out service” on a cart. Have students place holds on books, and then deliver them to classrooms. To add some fun, ask your local pizza place for some large empty pizza boxes, decorate your cart, don an apron, and roll through the classroom door with your deliveries. Tie reading goals to your BOOK IT! program, or collaborate with a local restaurant so your students can earn mini pizzas.
  • Outfit a maker cart with individual student supplies.
    • Create individual maker kits. For building challenges, gather student sets of building bricks, KEVA planks, Strawbees, or other building tools and place them in individual bags or bins. Introduce the challenge to the class and have students work individually at their desks and then present to the rest of the class. Follow quarantining measures for materials and rotate the tools and activities through the next class after the quarantine period. If you’re not ready to break your makerspace tools out yet, use materials such as toothpicks and marshmallows for engineering challenges.
    • Create individual maker kits with craft supplies that are consumable. Tie crafts to your themed read alouds.
  • Have your students fill out a survey at the beginning of the year like this survey created by Donalyn Miller. Use their responses to curate interest-driven book lists and to pull individual titles based on student interest. You can also pull books for the most popular topics and visit classrooms to do book talks. Encourage students to give their own booktalks and recommendations for their peers on a class Flipgrid.
  • Host a reading challenge! Challenge your readers to read anything, anytime, anywhere by using these monthly reading challenge ideas from Brightly or create a reading challenge of your own. Things to read might include a graphic novel, a translated book, a book that was adapted into a movie, a book that won an award, an e-book, or an audiobook. There are countless ways to challenge your readers to expand their reading horizons.
  • We can’t get out into the world, but we can bring the world to our carts and to our classrooms. Utilize Skype in the Classroom to engage your learners in hands-free learning, complete with engaging speakers and the opportunity for social interactions.
  • Do author studies with specific authors by sharing author interviews, audiobook performances, recordings of authors in their studios, and more at TeachingBooks. Fill your cart with books and encourage checkouts of the authors’ works.
  • With the virtual learning boom, students are gaining more opportunities than ever to practice their digital citizenship skills. Share videos, interactive games, and activity sheets from Common Sense Media.

Be Indispensable

What makes your library matter? You do! Consider what skills or specialties you could lend to your school. Are you particularly adept at supporting student access online? Could you offer virtual instructional support to students? Can you help teachers build online courses or deliver online instruction? Keep reading for more ways you can help.

  • Offer tech drop-off help. Respect social distancing while still providing support for staff and students using digital devices. Designate drop-off procedures to a secure location or bin so that repairs can be made safely and with minimal interactions with others.
  • Promote digital resources and online databases. Offer to build out resources and activities using online databases for teachers to use with students, or offer to teach or support a class remotely.
  • Work with administration to support learning and the delivery of instruction through multiple means, including for those students whose parents may choose to continue virtual learning. One of the greatest ways we can help is by being a help to others. And in a time when so many are pulled so thin, you might be just the support they’re looking for.
  • In March, many publishers granted limited-time permissions for individuals to read aloud books online on websites such as Youtube. Be sure your school community is aware of copyright law and acts in accordance with publisher guidelines.
  • Is your school on social media? Help to coordinate posts of student work, classroom activities, and school community initiatives during this time of social distancing. Doing so can help instill a feeling of connectedness and a communal effort in supporting learners across the school and district.

No matter how your school or district moves forward in the fall, remember that there is a network of educators and librarians ready and excited to support one another. You are not alone, and what you do matters, so keep on being awesome!


Matthew Winner

Matthew Winner

Library Media Specialist and Host of The Children’s Book Podcast
Matthew Winner is an elementary school librarian in Howard County, Maryland. He is the host of The Children's Book Podcast (formerly All The Wonders), a weekly podcast featuring insightful and sincere interviews with authors, illustrators and everyone involved in taking a book from drawing board to bookshelf. He is the author of Asha Went Walking, a webcomic for young readers illustrated by Lorian Tu-Dean, about a girl, her arctic fox companion and her magic bag. In 2013, Matthew was named a Library Journal Mover & Shaker and was invited to the White House as part of the Champions of Change program. Visit Matthew online at www.matthewcwinner.com/blog or on Twitter at @MatthewWinner.