As most schools returned to study spaces in September, there is one learning space whose future looks uncertain. The school library provides students with a wealth of knowledge, gives them access to resources they wouldn’t otherwise have and acts as a safe space that nurtures their curiosity. They're also a Covid-19 nightmare!
What's the problem? - It’s not hard to see the issue when you consider the school library's main functions. For many students, the library is a place where they meet their friends at lunchtime and get a head start on their homework. For others, it’s a place to stop by at break-time and browse for their next inspiring read. They’re also a space that teachers use to as an alternative to the usual classroom teaching. Many schools would previously designate at least an hour per fortnight to these library lessons. Within this time, teachers would encourage students to walk around with their peers and explore the titles on the shelves. It’s hard to imagine any of these activities happening now.
The thought of even a single student wandering around the library furniture picking up as many books as they want is likely to send shivers down the spine of the librarian in charge of the disinfect bottle. The idea of 30 students in there at once is positively laughable. So, how can we make sure that libraries are still able to function within the ‘new normal’?
Are there any solutions? - There’s no denying that the current culture of libraries as a social space is going to have to change. As is allowing the students unrestricted access to their contents. Instead, schools should consider making their school’s library contents available online or through their current eLearning platform. Most school libraries will already be equipped with software that keeps track of their catalogues. It is therefore feasible that they could consider making this visible to parents and students in a similar way to what most public libraries now offer. That way students can still browse to their heart's content. They could then use the system to reserve a book and pick it up at a designated time following social distancing guidelines.
There’s also no need for teachers to stop using the library as a teaching space. In fact, the larger space and ability to spread out school desks much more effectively makes the library a much safer alternative to most standard size classroom where social distancing is near on impossible. Students' time in the library may need to be more structured and controlled than they are used to, but there is no need to cut off their access to this stimulating and vital space altogether.