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Keeping School Libraries Safe during the time of Covid-19

By Joy Court & Tricia Adams on 21st September 2020

The last few months have knocked us all off kilter – Covid 19 is such an unprecedented situation, even national emergencies from the past don’t seem to come near to the effects this virus has had on all the different phases of our lives. As a country we are trying to piece things back together and start operating services again in the best interests of all – but not as simple as it sounds!

The governments of the UK nations have all issued detailed Covid 19 guidance – the latest of which can be found on their websites – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But all of this is very detailed and covers the whole school not just the library. There are other less daunting ways to find out what your school could do to make library services available to the pupils – here are just some of them!

CILIP (the Library and Information Association) has worked with several partners to help guide school librarians through the maze of resources out there. The Covid 19 Guidance for School Libraries – is an active document being amended as situations change,  and was drawn up by CILIP School Libraries Group and the School Library Association. Helping you avoid reinventing the wheel, they have risk assessment form examples, personal shopper questionnaires as well as detailed guidance on all different aspects of using a school library including the use of space, how to handle the books, events and activities, contingency planning, anxiety and stress. A good place to start.

Libraries Connected, CILIP and architects IF_DO have created a Covid 19 Safer Libraries document – aimed at public libraries but presented in a very visual format which could help schools grapple with their own library environment and layout. Also, on the Libraries Connected Covid webpage, there is a very useful ‘List of Publishers Licensing Restrictions for UK Children’s Publishers’– in case you are wanting to record and make available readings of books to groups and  are worried about the copyright situation. Each publisher explains clearly the correct procedures to follow.

The other places to help you with ideas are different blogs – as just three examples here show, there is some excellent advice out there!

  • LIPPSSEE (Librarians in Independent Prep Schools in SE England) with a long, detailed article
  • Booktrust with some lovely ideas from past School Librarian of the Year, Lucas Maxwell.
  • Gresswell and Demco US, library designers, offer useful advice as well as being the source of signage and resources you will need to make your library safe!

But here are a few things to think about to get you started. Can you increase your use of e-books, both audio and other formats? A potential problem arises in how can you help those children without their own devices for accessing these resources – is there a policy in school for supplying devices? But this underlines the need to make physical resources available as soon as possible to ensure these pupils are not totally excluded from reading opportunities.

Currently we are hearing that lots of school libraries can’t use their library space – it’s being used as a classroom or it’s too small to enable social distancing so ebooks and online activity may continue to be the best way forward. You can create safe online spaces (on the school’s own system) or via curated spaces, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom and the like to have online book talk – and that can be for staff groups as well as pupil groups. The Reading Agency produced a handy guide to running virtual book groups during lockdown. Your library management system may have facilities for student blogs and safe social networking capacity and enable personal messaging and interaction with your borrowers.

Create a click and collect personal shopper service for books (there is a suggested form in the CILIP guidance) Many public libraries are using this system currently. – individualised recommendations for your readers. Curate tutor group/ class collections and deliver. We have even read of one school in a rural location managing home deliveries!!  

Newsletters and big screens around school or on your library homepage, Twitter or Instagram can announce new stock into the library – and most library systems in use have online reservations– you will control the quarantining of books between users, so the chances of infection are minimised. NB plastic jacketed books are deemed safe after 72 hours, cardboard jackets (i.e. uncovered paperbacks) usually within 24 hours. If your school allows or has a Youtube channel you can provide regular Book Boosts by you or by pupils to promote books. Make full use of corridors, walls and doors to display book jackets and snappy reviews. Shamelessly use rewards to incentivise pupils to provide them! 

Of course, it will all depend on your situation. But, in this climate it is more important than ever that students get the chance to relax, read and escape as well as learn - through access to a wide variety of reading materials.  

Keep safe and keep them reading!

Tricia Adams & Joy Court

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