How Are You Doing? Parsing the Response to Our Survey of School Librarians. | From the Editor

For educators, a lot has changed amid a global pandemic—and at the same time, much hasn’t. 

For educators, a lot has changed amid a global pandemic—and at the same time, much hasn’t.

The shift to online learning, for one, was a daunting enough prospect with a longer, albeit theoretical runway. Now, plunged headfirst into the unknown, with little, if any time for preparation, school librarians have sudden, firsthand knowledge of guiding students at some remove and for an extended period. 

“We had no online learning before the crisis. Now everything has to be online.” “Teachers are struggling and overwhelmed. The deluge of available online resources is confusing.... Right now, it is basically sink or swim.” “Online coursework takes two to three times longer than in-person.” That’s just some of the candid feedback School Library Journal received in our April survey of the K–12 field.

While more than three-quarters of the 1,035 survey respondents had received training to provide online learning, and about as many reported informal assistance from librarian networks and other educators, the actual on-the-ground experience of school at home still left plenty to improvise on. 

For one high school librarian in upstate New York, it’s been an evolving process. “A major concern is the roughly 10 percent of our students without internet access,” they said. “The first two weeks were focused on setting up a system that works for teachers, students, and parents; finding a pace that is not overwhelming; providing support for parents, students, and teachers with limited tech skills; and finding a way to deliver the same content to those students who can’t access Zoom or Google Classroom.”

Across the board, librarians cited the challenges facing students and their families, reflecting the broader gulf in this country between the haves and have nots, set into high relief by the COVID-19 crisis.

“Distance learning has highlighted the disparity in our school district, and even within our school community, of access to technology/internet and the need to assist students with IEPs and special needs,” shared an elementary librarian in California.

 Read: What Librarians Are Doing to Support Students and Teachers in the Shutdown | SLJ COVID-19 Survey

But as they always do, librarians dug in, applying themselves toward narrowing the gaps and working to aid teachers and students wherever they encounter need, from providing tech support and remote research help to performing read-alouds via video call. 

Sixty-three percent of librarians have provided students and families with technical assistance during the shutdown, 57 percent have provided access to online learning software, and 57 percent have helped prepare teachers in their school for online learning.

This is all occurring within a more flexible iteration of the “school day.” Most schools (about three-fourths) have rolled out distance learning as a combination of regularly scheduled classes and independent student work time, the survey finds. Very few (six percent) attempt to replicate the schedule and curriculum of the traditional school day.

And for now, at least, testing has fallen by the wayside.

When asked how the crisis has changed their priorities, many librarians related a shift in focus: from instruction to connection, physical to digital, assessment to content.

If there’s an upside to our current collective circumstance, it is our reliance on one another.

As an elementary school librarian in Connecticut said of the relationships and emotional well-being of colleagues, students, and families: “I think this is always the most important thing. But it is now so apparent how critical this is.”


Kathy Ishizuka

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Kathy Ishizuka

Kathy Ishizuka is editor in chief of School Library Journal.

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