School libraries in a ‘learning from home’ era

June Wall, Library Coordinator, NSW Department of Education, offers guidance and practical suggestions for teacher librarians supporting learning from home.

In a time of rapid change and disruption for everyone, the school sector has also had to swiftly and radically adapt its approach to teaching and learning. This type of rapid change, coupled with our core commitment to students’ learning and wellbeing, has created concern, confusion and anxiety amongst some as to how we continue to operate. School libraries are no different in these responses, except that many of our resources and key tools for learning have been physical items – books!

When libraries and their key resources are not easily accessible, new ways of thinking and opportunities not previously considered are ripe for exploration.

Take this time as an opportunity, develop your skill set (as many other teachers are), and let your curiosity drive strategies to engage students in learning.

What is the situation in regard to school libraries – from the NSW Department of Education?

School libraries in NSW Public Schools are considered to be a core resource for every school community and it is each community’s decision as to how the library may be accessed and the type of learning continuity that takes place from the teacher librarian. Essentially:

  • School libraries are available as a resource for teachers and students as determined by each school.
  • Teacher librarians maintain support for classroom teachers’ work by providing resources as needed. They deliver teaching and learning support for the information literacy process or literacy needs within the curriculum.
  • Those teacher librarians in a high-risk group (as identified by NSW Health) will continue to be supported to work from home. If you are in this group, other avenues to have the library available for students and staff should be explored with your principal.
  • Hygiene practices, as determined by NSW Health, should be put in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to keep you safe. For example, these measures could include:
    • reducing the number of students in the library at any one time in line with recommended space
    • wiping down hard surfaces after student or staff use with antiseptic wipes or equivalent
    • determining appropriate procedures for how to deal with returned books – either wiping down or leaving for a period in quarantine
    • determining a schedule or procedures as to how students may borrow books from the library while keeping everyone safe.
    • Current advice about infection control can be found in the fact sheets.
  • The role of the teacher librarian in supporting learning from home is outlined within the Suggested roles and responsibilities page on the department’s website.

What is the role of the teacher librarian in a primary school?

As each primary school has its own unique attributes and needs, a primary teacher librarian may have different roles at this time. Some ideas for teaching and learning are below:

  • Collaborative development of online learning units with classroom teachers. This may or may not include collaborative teaching online with the classroom teacher.
  • Negotiated story time on a weekly basis for each stage. Identify a day and time appropriate for each stage or year level to live stream, or record the session in advance. (Please consider relevant copyright conditions, noted later in this article.) A learning activity could be prepared to support the story, with students submitting their work as part of their requirements.
  • Online teaching of specific skills that support current units of work from an information literacy perspective.
  • Development of online tutorials for students to use as needed that focus on:
    • the information process
    • digital tools
    • cross curricular projects.

These tutorials could then be embedded at the appropriate time within classroom teachers’ units of work.

  • Selection of appropriate resources for each year or stage within each unit of work that would be provided to teachers.
  • Development of content or online objects for student learning. For example, at a simple level, use PowerPoint to develop a quiz or game on a specific topic for teacher use.

Circulation

  • Schedule year or stage levels to come to the library to collect books previously reserved through Oliver. In this scenario, the library would be a collection point only.
  • Once students are back 1 or 2 days a week, borrowing for the students in attendance will need to be organised on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Extend borrowing limits so each student has enough books for 2 weeks at home.
  • Negotiate with your principal about library opening at lunchtime. Depending on the number of students in attendance this may be able to occur. However, if playground duties are spread across all staff, it may be the library is not opened at lunchtime for students.

What is the role of the teacher librarian in a secondary school?

Each school will have different levels of attendance and different student needs, especially as the weather gets cooler! Possible ideas for teaching and learning could include:

  • Online teaching of specific skills on a small group basis that support current units of work from an information literacy perspective.
  • Development of online tutorials for students to use as needed that focus on:
    • the information process
    • digital tools
    • cross curricular projects.

These tutorials could then be embedded at the appropriate time within classroom teachers’ units of work and would be valuable, ongoing tools post COVID-19.

  • Selection of appropriate resources for each year or stage within each unit of work that would be provided to teachers.
  • Development of content or online objects for student learning. For example, at a simple level, use PowerPoint to develop a quiz or game on a specific topic for teacher use.
  • Development of a study skills online course for students in Years 10 to 11.
  • Online drop-in times for Years 11 and 12 students to support their research needs.
  • Online book clubs to encourage reading. These could be based on the CBCA shortlist or a selection of books that have a food aspect to them, facilitating a gourmet book club – this would encourage students to cook at home! Or form a virtual travel book club, and so on. There are many ways you can personalise the idea to what you know your students would enjoy and be engaged in.
  • Sourcing online reading material in a variety of ways – ebooks, fan fiction, magazines, Project Gutenberg.

Circulation

  • Schedule year or stage levels to come to the library to collect books previously reserved through Oliver. In this scenario, the library would be a collection point only.
  • Once students are back 1 or 2 days a week, borrowing for the students in attendance will need to be through lunchtime or if you can negotiate a time for each student to borrow as they are all in online learning mode. Extend borrowing limits so each student has enough books for 2 weeks at home.
  • If your library is open at lunchtime, ensuring numbers are controlled for the size of the space will be critical. You may need to consider that only those who actually need to work will be allowed in as other activities normally held in the library at lunchtime could create social distancing problems.

The key to this is collaboration and sharing

As you can see, there could be a lot of development work on content and resources from the teacher librarian. So why would we all be doing the same? For NSW DoE staff, the Teacher librarian statewide staffroom should be the place where we collaborate to build resources and digital objects and then copy them to the staffroom so that all teacher librarians across the state can share in each other’s expertise. Now is the time to bring the strength of the profession – our collegiality and collaboration – to the fore. Let’s help each other by sharing anything we build with everyone.

How is your learning curve?

  1. Where do we stand with copyright?
    Check out Smartcopying’s Remote & Online Learning during the Covid-19 Outbreak page for accurate information.
  2. Students (and staff) will need to explore outside their home without physically going out – how can they do this?
    There are many ideas available on virtual excursions and webcams, and so on. From a library perspective, why not build a virtual escape room related to a specific topic or literature item?
  3. How else can we support learning and information literacy in an online environment?
    View the recorded online session, Teaching programs in a virtual library (NSW DoE staff only). Presented live on 27 April 2020, this practical 90 minute professional learning workshop explored a variety of strategies that teacher librarians can use to support students who are learning from home.
Now is the time to bring the strength of the profession – our collegiality and collaboration – to the fore.

When you have spare time (said with tongue-in-cheek!)

While this could be an ideal time to do the following, concentrate on the teaching and learning as your core focus. However, if you do have time, you could consider:

  • examining, developing and/or updating the following:
    • School Library Policy
    • Collection Development Policy
    • Procedures Manual
    • Strategic Plan for the library, in line with the School Plan and School Excellence Framework.
  • engaging in professional learning. For example, every teacher librarian should know about:
    • Google classrooms
    • MS Teams
    • Seesaw
    • Zoom
    • Skype
  • checking out the learning modes and digital tools suggested on Learning from home: Learning modes

As we enter Term 2, look after yourself and your students, and think about what may be possible for your library on the other side of this crisis.

References and further reading

Jones, A. (2020, 21 April). Leading Digital Escape Rooms Online during COVID-19 [Web blog post].

National Copyright Unit. (2020). Remote & Online Learning during the Covid-19 Outbreak.

NSW Department of Education. (2020). Learning from home: Learning modes.

NSW Department of Education. (2020). Statewide staffrooms (NSW DoE staff).

NSW Department of Education. (2020). Suggested roles and responsibilities.

Wall, J. (2020, 27 April). Teaching programs in a virtual library [video file] (NSW DoE staff).

How to cite this article – Wall, J. (2020). ‘School libraries in a “learning from home” era’. Scan, 39(4).

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