School librarians provide critical assist during pandemic

As teachers and students have struggled with the move to remote and hybrid learning, they have been there as a backbone of support

Whether by drone or bus or curbside pickup, school librarians have managed to get materials in the hands of teachers and students throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Though many of their physical spaces remain off limits or limited in use, library professionals still have been providing critical resources and assistance to schools. For example, they have played a massive part in the shift to remote learning as conduits for both teachers and parents, sharing their knowledge about the digital space while getting them the tools they need to help maintain consistency from classrooms to virtual worlds.

They’ve also been a last line of defense for many schools by providing direct assistance to teachers, while ensuring that both equity and access are maintained.

In the past few months, they’ve been watching closely as schools have scrambled to find the right balance for students. In early August, more than 1,100 were asked to discuss their roles and their thoughts in a Back to School Snapshot Survey done by The American Association of School Librarians (AASL).

One of their takeaways: students are not prepared with the necessary “research and social-ethical skills” required for remote or hybrid learning models.

“All learners and educators do not have equal technological supports which is often needed to apply information technology appropriately to ensure academic success,” said Kathy Carroll, president of AASL. “Yet school librarians are at the forefront of teaching and learning. Success in life and work includes the use of critical thinking skills, collaboration, innovation, and information and digital literacy.”

The AASL says librarians can play a key role in helping students with digital literacy, from simple tasks such as coming up with keywords in research studies to helping glean information from sources once they find them. Students, who have struggled with differentiating the validity and accuracy of information online, can also turn to libraries for assistance with any articles.

Inside the numbers

According to the American Library Association, of the more than 82,000 public and private K-12 schools in the US with libraries, only 60% employ full-time certified librarians. That number is only 8% in the state of Michigan. Students at schools that don’t have one have less of a chance to succeed, notes the ALA, citing numerous studies.

How many school libraries were slated to be fully opened and operational when the school year started?

Only 12% at the building level, according to the AASL survey, whose respondents covered more than 1.3 million students. A deeper dive shows that 29% had social distancing measures in place, another 29% were fully open but had no activities allowed and 17% were using their spaces as classrooms.

Many librarians polled noted that their jobs were ever-changing, with 50% says they were taking bookcarts to classrooms for “in-class” checkouts. While 55% said they were teaching remotely, another 38% said they were co-teaching on campus.

Despite all of the changes, librarians report that teachers and students have had little problem getting their hands on books they need. Those at the school district level said 94% of books continue to be circulated. Librarians in the survey did note that school budgets continue to trend more on spending for e-books for libraries (48%) than on physical texts (41%).

Their biggest concerns for students during the pandemic and this school year? Aside from digital citizenship and research skills, they noted that identifying students in need of non-academic support is difficult and that students are falling behind in hitting key milestones. Lack of socialization and safety also were highlighted by the group.

Chris Burt is a reporter and editor with District Administration. He can be reached at

Most Popular