To say it’s been an interesting school year so far would be an understatement. This has definitely been the most challenging year of my career. I consider myself lucky to be working at a school that has the resources and leadership to keep us safe. I know that many, many schools have been left behind. But even with that, this year has been exhausting. I’ve had to almost completely rethink and reimagine how I run my library program. This while also living with the constant low-grade anxiety of living in a global pandemic.
This is a multiple post series. In this first part, I want to give you an overview of what my school has been doing during COVID and how my library’s physical space has adapted. For the second post, I’ll talk about programs I’ve done to encourage reading, plus collaborations with teachers. In the last post, I’ll share how we’ve adapted our makerspace activities to make them work in our current environment.
A Quick Preface
But before I start, I want to preface with this: I know that we’re all in different places right now. Many of us are grieving loved ones we’ve lost. Some of us have no access to our library space at all and are only seeing students on screens. Others have had to go back into a school that they didn’t feel safe in. Some of us took leave of positions and schools we loved to protect vulnerable family members. We are all suffering in some way and our students are suffering. So please, please do not let this post make you feel like you are not doing enough, like you are not a good librarian.
The most important thing about this year is getting ourselves and our students through it. Don’t get caught up in things like circulation numbers, or how many programs you have. Give yourself some grace and recognize that this is an incredibly difficult time. Now more than ever, it’s okay to not do ALL the things.
With that said, here’s how my year’s been going:
How My School is Doing Hybrid Learning
We have a student body of about 700 students, grades 6-12. We split the students evenly into two cohorts, Group A and Group B. Group A attends in person classes on Mondays and Wednesdays, while Group B attends in person classes on Tuesday and Thursdays. On the non-in-person days, students check in with their teacher via Zoom at the beginning of each period, then spend the rest of the time completing asynchronous work. On Fridays, everyone Zooms together.
Every classroom is set up to provide six feet between desks, students sanitize their desks each period. At the beginning of the year, lunch was eaten in classrooms, socially distanced. Now we allow students to sit outside on our field distanced or distanced in the gym. This helps give teachers a lunch break and provides an opportunity for socialization. We have had beautiful Florida weather (most of the time) these last few months that made that doable.
Sports and a handful of afterschool activities are going on. Most clubs meet via Zoom, though we’ve started having some hybrid club meetings in larger spaces on campus (including the library). We’re also on a block schedule this year, so students are only interacting with other students in four classes instead of eight, and the number of transition times are reduced.
Everyday, everyone who comes on campus has to fill out a health survey app which will tell them whether or not they’re cleared to come on campus, and they have to have their temperature taken. If there is a concern of a COVID infection, we have a policy setup in place to get students/faculty tested at a local hospital.
How We’ve Adapted Our Library Space
For many schools that have some form of in-person learning right now, their physical library space may be closed or have limited access. For my library, we currently have a lot of excess furniture stored in the space to help facilitate social distancing in the classrooms. There’s still about a two foot pathway for me to access my non-fiction stacks, but it’s not exactly ideal for browsing. We also are using a section of the library as a US History classroom to help reduce the number of teachers having to share rooms, which limits access to the fiction section during classes.
All this means that the only area of my library that is accessible for student browsing is the fiction area and display shelves, and students can only come in before school, in-between classes and afterschool. There are also tables (one chair at each, spaced six feet apart) where students can study for a bit afterschool.
Planning for the future
I had a lot of ideas of things I wanted to do to change the physical space this year. Those have had to go on the backburner. But that doesn’t mean I’m not planning. At the end of last school year, I spent some concentrated time conducting a library space analysis and working on possibilities. I’ve been working on advocating for new furniture and will be replacing all my wooden chairs this year (and hopefully the tables next year). My Pinterest boards and inspiration folders have new images of spaces that inspire me and that I might want to draw elements from as I plan (in particular Pernille Ripp’s classroom wall shelves and Lucas Maxwell’s library shelves). I’ve made wishlists of items I’d like to get when funding becomes available. I’m ready to hit the ground running next year.
Overhauling the Collection
Access to our non-fiction section is pretty limited right now. And I don’t have students using the library during classes. Because of this, I’ve been able to do a deep weeding and re-evaluation of the collection. In a normal year, these sorts of things would have been limited to teacher planning days when no one was on campus, but this year I’ve been able to keep making progress on these projects everyday. While I’ve been weeding my collection pretty regularly for the last three years, it still needs a lot of work to make up for years of little weeding before I started.
How I Weed by the Numbers
This year, a big part of my weeding has been for space. I’ve emphasized purchasing fiction for the 3+ years I’ve been at Tampa Prep. Now it’s outgrown the space originally allotted for it, even with the four mobile bookshelves I’ve been able to acquire. So I’ve weeded non-fiction even more ruthlessly than usual. To make it easier, I’m weeding by the numbers.
I start with a Follett Titlewave aged titles list. I cross-referenced this spreadsheet with my circulation data for the ten years. Because I’m a spreadsheet nerd, I used conditional formatting to highlight in red any books that are more than 20 years old. I also highlight in red anything with 0 circs. I then have orange and yellow for things that I might want to look at but aren’t as dire. When I go over a section (say the 600s) I tilt every book with two red cells on its side. After I go through the section, I scan the copy status of each of these books to check and see other data. Most of these books, I weed. It’s been a huge undertaking, but last week I was able to consolidate and shift my non-fiction section enough to open up the space I need for fiction.
Building the collection
I’ve also spent a good chunk of my budget building our collection this year. Much of that went towards eBooks (which I’ll talk about more in the next post). But a good amount also went into our physical books. I’ve been intentional about increasing the diversity of our fiction collection and I’m really happy to finally be seeing progress. This year, I also created a Relationships and Romance genre and have been building that up from scratch. I’ve also been paying attention to student requests (murder mysteries, humor and books with LGBTQ+ characters have been common requests lately).
This time to be able to focus on my collection and plan for the future of my space has been a silver lining to this pandemic. Come next year, I feel like my library is going to be in a much stronger place.
What silver linings have you found in this school year? How have you worked on your library space and collection during the pandemic?