Distance Learning in Elementary School: How One School Library Operates

Last year, I had volunteered in or had visited all of the elementary school libraries in my district. The books were shelved, the librarians were calm, and the students were all somewhere between eager and exasperated. The typical day’s priorities consisted of shelving, reading books aloud during hourly class visitations, and managing circulation. While shelving has remained consistent, there has been a major shift in daily responsibilities and tasks since COVID-19 has led to school closures and the implementation of distance learning in California. As a student in an online LIS program, many of the skills I’ve developed while earning my degree virtually have proven vital during this uncertain time in my workplace.

Additional background information: I started work as a part-time library technician in an elementary school on August 3, 2020. This was the first day back on campus for the majority of staff. At the moment, the district librarian and library technicians are in the process of rolling out library services and resources online for students and their families to access.

Reading Promotion

Because students are unable to access the physical collections at school sites in the previously normal fashion, all library technicians are heavily promoting reading through other methods. Our district has subscriptions to several sites that provide access to e-books and audiobooks, with Tumblebooks and Epic! being the main two. Aside from these, each school site is responsible for two read aloud videos (one for kindergarten through second grade and the other for third through sixth grade) posted on two separate and uniquely designed slides. The slides are uploaded to a website managed by our district librarian. Students from each of the six schools in our district have access to the both of the read aloud videos from each of the sites, meaning that they will have access to 12 new read aloud videos per week. Our school site has also begun a virtual book club for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders with closed discussion boards for the chapters for each week.


A recent study released on September 3rd revealed that COVID-19 can live on stacked books for 6 days rather than the 3 days previously thought. While we had been stacking books in a corner for 4 days prior to sanitizing and re-shelving them, one of the more difficult parts of working in a library is knowing that the information that we are currently working around is subject to change as more studies are conducted. We now do not stack books during the quarantine period.

Materials and Internet Hotspot Providers

Living in a rural area has its benefits, but dependable Internet access is not one of them. One of the main issues that library technicians in my district have been working on is checking out Wifi Hotspot devices to students who don’t currently have reliable Internet access. So far, we have assigned and distributed approximately 50 for our elementary site alone, but there are more that need to be picked up. Besides Wifi devices, checking out textbooks and Chromebooks to students presented a challenging decision to make that was left to the discretion of each school. Usually, students leave their textbooks and Chromebooks at school; obviously, that was not an option. Instead, we had to go into classrooms and individually check out materials to each student prior to their orientation. For teachers who hadn’t yet organized their materials numerically, they had to hand-write the barcode numbers for each item assigned to each student. After all materials had been checked out, the list was passed on to the library for us to type out each barcode to check out the items to the correct students. This left room for human error (of which there was plenty).

How Library School Has Helped

As an online library and information science student, I’ve utilized many of the tips, tricks, and tools that I have learned since the start of the program. Functioning in a virtual workspace and learning environment is comfortable and well-recognized territory for me, though this has proven to not be the case for many of the other library technicians in our school district. There’s nothing wrong with the usual approach, but adaptability is key – especially in an ever-changing school situation that’s dependent on an unpredictable virus. Those of us who have been attending online graduate school are at an advantage: we’d been introduced to the essentials (such as conferencing software like Zoom and online course websites like Canvas) at the beginning of our programs. Now’s the time to show what we know, assist those who need it, and put our skills to use to create the best online schooling services for students!

To learn more about recommended ways to improve school library services during COVID-19 and distance learning, I encourage you to read “Ways School Librarians Can Serve Students in Fall 2020” by Matthew Winner. It’s important to remember that school librarians are not only working to get books to students but that we’re also attempting to bridge the gap back to a sense of normalcy by meeting students’ needs. To read another Hacker’s experience returning to their own library during COVID-19, visit “‘I’m baaaaack’ – My experiences with going back to campus and back to the library during the COVID-19 pandemic” by Lauren.

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