How Libraries Stretch Their Capabilities to Serve Kids During a Pandemic - MindShift

Libraries have taken creative measures – such as hosting more conversations and camps online – in order to meet kids' needs during the pandemic.

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Since shutdowns began, the use of library services has rocketed. Across the country, libraries are stepping up for their communities — expanding WiFi access, helping kids stay engaged and hosting online events. (MindShiftKQED)

Libraries have taken creative measures – such as hosting more conversations and camps online – in order to meet kids' needs during the pandemic.

. Though it doesn’t look like it has in years before, what’s important is that the library is still there for kids, said Lee Hope, director of children’s services in Chattanooga. “How[ever] we can support families, whatever the model looks like, is what we want to do,” she said.  

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Providing essential services in a time of distance and upheaval One of the library’s key missions is to provide services to entire communities, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. And during tumultuous times, the need for information, access to literacy, and digital access have become even greater. 

For schools that closed and moved to online learning due to the coronavirus, digital access became a necessity overnight. School libraries had always been central to digital access for the entire school, and when learning moved online they became tech hubs for both teachers and students. The librarians at Leander Independent School District in suburban Austin, Texas, say their “front line” relationships helping teachers connect to printers and setting up laptops in classrooms just shifted when learning moved online. Librarians were instrumental in helping guide teachers in those first weeks, said Leander district library coordinator Becky Calzada, sitting in on staff meetings, helping set up Google classrooms and Zoom calls, and answering copyright questions and curating digital resources.

 “Everyone in the school turns to you,” when dealing with computers and setting up online learning, said Four Points Middle School librarian April Stone. “Librarians stepped in to help teachers navigate those new tools and shift what they were doing physically versus virtually. We were always on the front lines for campus tech anyway, and it’s the librarians helping not only navigate Zoom, but also best practices on how to use the tools.” 

At the San Francisco Public Library, family engagement specialist Christina Mitra has invested heavily in developing deep lines of digital communication with families through a targeted newsletter and their social media channels. The newsletter keeps families informed of upcoming digital events and services, and keeps kids reading and learning with “play date at home” ideas, links to other online happenings for kids, and of course, curated book lists in several languages. Named Library Journal’s 2018 “Library of the Year” for their emphasis on “human touch,” Mitra

said in a webinarthat the library is striving for the same feeling of “connected community” even when families can’t be together in library buildings. For St. Louis, Missouri, kids, the diverse and wide-ranging menu of summer camp offerings provided by the St. Louis Public Library have moved completely online. After struggling with what to do about the digital divide, and a parent survey showing that families were interested in digital camps, program coordinator Jenny Song said the library decided to move forward with digital programming to help parents out with long summer days at home. Families can pick up a Chromebook and hot spot from the library. Joining with local community arts groups and organizations, the library was able to provide 54 of the original 70 in-person camps they had planned for. For some of the more popular camps, like ukelele and clay creations, kids receive a free ukulele or box of clay in the mail, which adds to the excitement. Their well-attended 2-hour Hogwarts camp, featuring Dumbledore guest appearances and magic, gives Harry Potter fanatics a chance to “geek out” over their favorite books. 

“Summer slide is something we are really conscious of,” Song said. “We want to make sure that everybody in our community has access, so all of our camps are free. Kids get to have fun and it’s something exciting they can do at home. But at the same time, they’re not stopping their learning and forgetting everything from the school year.” 

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When historic events collide  Librarians have also worked to support students as national crises compounded—not just the effects of coronavirus, but the murder of George Floyd and the ensuing protests for racial justice that happened while many were still stuck at home. 

Vihn Tran(Courtesy of Vihn Tran)School librarian Vinh Tran at Edward Hynes Charter School, a prek-8 school in New Orleans, Louisiana, had been meeting with students throughout school closures in the spring, doing online read-alouds and assisting teachers with online lessons. But George Floyd’s murder happened right before their summer school program began, and Tran felt like she needed to address it on the very first day with her students. At the eleventh hour, she scrapped her carefully crafted lesson plans and decided instead to read

The Undefeatedby Kwame Alexander to some of the older students, even though they’d read it earlier that year. “I wanted them to know they didn’t have to ignore all the stuff that was happening in the world,” Tran said on a Zoom call. “There was space here to discuss, process, and explore these issues. It's important for kids to know they are seen, they matter, and that whatever they're feeling is valid.”

School librarians are also making connections on social media during this time of social and cultural upheaval, sharing tips and support with fellow librarians. When schools closed, Julie Stivers, a middle school librarian in Raleigh, North Carolina, sent out a tweet asking if other librarians wanted to brainstorm solutions to the challenges they were up against, like digital access. Using the hashtag

, Stivers and another librarian, Kathryn Cole, created a professional learning community that began by discussing online learning but soon moved to Black Lives Matter, and how libraries can promote inclusivity and anti-racism. Preparing for the future, whatever that might look like

 Librarians interviewed for this story agreed that, whether they work inside schools or in public libraries, they’re unsure of what the future holds with regards to the autumn and back-to-school. Most librarians are spending the summer preparing for a variety of scenarios, in which libraries are open, partially open, or staying digital. 

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Libraries as a whole are also reflecting on how they can better serve the public in uncertain times. At the American Library Association’s virtual conference in June, executive directorTracie D. Hall, the first African-American to hold that office in the association’s history, called for a three-pronged approach for libraries to address their communities’ current challenges: the need for universal broadband, the diversification of libraries, and a broader, stronger base of library funding. 

“Let our legacy be justice,” Hall told librarians on the conference’s Zoom call. “When I say let our legacy be justice, I am inviting us to explore the construct of the library as both the vehicle and driver of justice, as both a means to justice and an arbiter.”

Librarians predict that after rolling closures and the move to greater digital access, things will never be the same. Lessons learned during pandemic closures will stay with them long after COVID-19 is no longer a threat, with a focus on increased access to digital materials staying on as part of the libraries’ core mission to serve communities equally.

Sponsored“We stepped up and did things differently, immediately,” said Mary Keeling, president of the American Association of School Librarians, on the quick transfer to digital service. “Libraries aren’t closed, we are still open and providing services. What’s closed are the buildings.” 

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MindShiftKQED Libraries miss our Patrons too; we will be together again! Let’s all follow rules to stay safe together!!🙏📚♥️ MindShiftKQED Always love libraries 🐋🌷😍 MindShiftKQED 👍🏾👍🏾 MindShiftKQED My son has read so many books during the pandemic. Mainly from the app we use to check out online books. We love our library and reading!

MindShiftKQED Libraries are like a second home, always welcoming and safe! 💗 MindShiftKQED Library worker here. Yeah I'm so glad to still have a job and that we've found a way to provide curbside services and keep our workers safe but we're extremely underfunded! We've had to close seven of our branches with no real hope of opening them up again because despite the (1)

MindShiftKQED CarolynMcC Imagine if we had just as many public primary care clinics modeled on library as public good model. MindShiftKQED That’s cuz librarians are da bomb MindShiftKQED Ummmmm wouldn't this be a large gathering? How is it not okay to attend church, go to school, go to restaurants or even go to work, but going to the library is perfectly fine?

MindShiftKQED Librarians should run the world MindShiftKQED I know librarians who feel forced into unsafe indoor conditions by their district, so I’m curious where most libraries are at on reopening in-person services, and how staff feel - especially with demand up. MindShiftKQED And closing completely in my town

MindShiftKQED Kanopy juliaerin80 MindShiftKQED 💖🙌🏾 GeometricRabbit MindShiftKQED Thank you! Librarians have worked tirelessly!! In PA, we are waiting for budget cut news due to the State hemorrhaging money during the shutdown. I fear what the future holds for the smaller communities where their library/librarian are all they have...

MindShiftKQED We love libraries and librarians!! MindShiftKQED Because libraries are keystones in successful communities. Mine is great! JeffcolibMo MindShiftKQED Except in a liberal towns, where it’s just a bathroom and shooting gallery for bums and junkies MindShiftKQED Yea!! School libraries too! I saw circulation double in our shutdown, and kids logging in after school to TALK about BOOKS.😍 The quietest kids were the most talkative on social media. There are negatives to online learning, but in the spring we were safe, and we were READING!

MindShiftKQED But but socialism! MindShiftKQED I ❤️ my library MindShiftKQED I am proud of how my library system quickly transformed to provide programs and resources to all ages digitally. Now many of our branches are also open for limited services. But we are scared because patrons are nor wearing masks properly and some are belligerent.

MindShiftKQED I'm jealous. We've next to no library's left in Scotland, and now there's none open anywhere in the country. MindShiftKQED ❤️❤️❤️ I have read so many great books since feb ...reading is FUNdamental MindShiftKQED Unfornately florida has not done the same limited to less then an hour entrance no extra support to recieve books much less internet for those that don't have access

MindShiftKQED Free libraries are amongst the top greatest human rights we have, as it nourishes our internal worlds. MindShiftKQED Not just kids. Libraries have lots of online services that I’m really enjoying! MindShiftKQED When in doubt, go to the library! MindShiftKQED The best thing about the 'free' world is librairies

MindShiftKQED This is wonderful to hear. books MindShiftKQED Does the library carry adult materials?

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