In partnership with the Lebanon County Library Association, LebTown is proud to introduce “Library Letters,” a series of columns about the programming, people, and possibilities offered by libraries around the county.

Today’s letter is from Pamela Raytick, Librarian at Cedar Crest Middle School

Note to Readers: “This Isn’t Your Mom’s School Library” began last winter as a way to feature the innovations and learning happening in school libraries throughout the county. Because of the current restrictions within our buildings, this article shares how our libraries are working during the pandemic.

School libraries throughout the county are open and serving students. COVID 19 has caused many changes in schools – the libraries are no exception. This is definitely not your mom’s school library.

Almost all the school libraries in the county are open to students for book exchange. Even book exchange looks different. Students are asked to clean their hands before handling the books in the library in the schools where they are allowed to browse the shelves. Students are asked to maintain social distance.

Returned books are quarantined, so many librarians have had to disappoint readers by asking them to wait for a title returned by a friend or classmate. Librarians clean the tables between classes. Most middle school and high school libraries are encouraging students to browse online catalogs for books. When they find a book they would like to read, they place a hold to reserve it. Then the book is delivered to the students when they are in the building for in-person learning.

At both Cedar Crest MS and Palmyra MS, librarians are processing books for the students in the districts’ virtual schools.

Louise Lerch, librarian at Palmyra MS, said, “My biggest challenge is time. We are pushing putting books on hold through Destiny,” the electronic card catalog (which replaced the drawers filled with index cards your mom used to search for books). Then the librarian pulls the books, processes them for pick up, and emails the student that their books are ready.

Library programs have also changed. Many of the librarians surveyed are guiding students to digital sources for both independent reading and research.

Susan Kidron, librarian at Lebanon HS and Lebanon MS, has invested time this fall to inform the students and the faculty about the electronic resources available to them.

At Cedar Crest MS we introduced a new digital book source in October to provide more electronic books for students to read, especially when they do not have access to books on a library shelf.

ELCO High School librarian Amanda Templeton, is emphasizing information literacy to assist students in identifying misinformation in a digital news world.

Collaborative instruction with teachers has changed too, as some schools are not allowing the librarian to be physically in the classroom. Instead they lead the class lesson and activity virtually.

Librarians also have stepped up to meet school, student and faculty needs. Like all county teachers, school librarians are teaching both in-person classes and online classes. Many librarians have also assumed a variety of duties to help districts fill staffing needs – from door duty, or providing tech support to students and staff, to circulating loaner iPads/laptops.

At Cornwall-Lebanon two elementary librarians have returned to the classroom to reduce class sizes in their buildings; Katy Gerhart, the high school librarian, has returned to her roots and is teaching a high school English class.

At Annville-Cleona MS/HS librarian Yvonne Rothstein has always coordinated the online classes. However, this year she spends the majority of her day teaching English and Business classes online. She noted, “I know that I am filling a need, and it is nice to be the teacher of record again.”

Clearly we’re all in the same boat: school librarians reported their biggest challenge is connecting with students and sharing books through read alouds and book talks.

“I miss being able to gather students near to enjoy a book together. Sharing a picture book is just not the same when you are physically distanced,” said Michelle Forker, librarian at Cornwall and Ebenezer elementary schools. 

Karen Mohn, ELCO Intermediate School librarian, misses “the excitement of high fives. We used to celebrate achievements as simple as they might be with fives … Not being able to do this is terribly saddening.”

JoDell Thomas, Palmyra HS librarian, summed up the changes in our school libraries. “It is not just one activity I miss. I miss the energy and atmosphere of students and classes using the library throughout the day. I miss seeing students who are ‘library regulars’, because in our current schedule, students report to class when they get to school and leave the building at the end of the day, with no free time during the day.”

We’re all looking forward to the 2021-2022 school year when our libraries will return to the loud, active, and interactive spaces we love – not your mom’s school library.

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