Planning Post-COVID in a Junior High School Library

Last September, I wrote on how the elementary school library I worked in was providing services despite distance learning. Now, at a new school site and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re prepping for the next school year.

Taking into account that we’ll run into speed bumps during the process of kicking the next school year off on campus, I’ve heard the library chatter both online and in my own school district. All the voices are beginning to plan for the “return.” For some, that return comes earlier than for others. Our district plans to bring students back on campus at full capacity within the next month. Other libraries will have more time or have already had substantially less.

What’s the plan, then? Will school library technicians continue to sit behind their desks and serve patrons online? Yes. That is precisely our district’s plan for the remainder of this school year. Come August, though, the library will begin to return to “normal” (which I claim only if COVID-19 cases continue to decline).

That brings to light the more daunting task ahead of us – acclimating students to a junior high school library when just a handful of them have set foot on campus for more than a few hours before. But, to what “normal” are we acclimating them?

Unlike previous years, the return to campus in Fall will begin a school year that is unique for both the incoming seventh graders and the returning eighth graders who spent the last year learning from home. None of them will have stepped into the library (as we currently meet students at the door for book and technology exchanges and fine payments). None of them will have browsed the collection. None of them will even realize that the genrefication of the library is less than a year old and that the fiction collection had been entirely alphabetical until just a few months ago!

Instead of asking How do we introduce the students to the library?, our school library technicians are asking How are we going to introduce the library to the students? We have a unique opportunity in middle schools – to enact change and redefine the library without student resistance, and I use that term loosely. In other words, there will be no student who will point out that, “That’s not how things were done last year!” Even small changes in circulation policy or adherence to Accelerated Reader ZPDs will be met with more pliable minds and less resolution that “this isn’t how it’s done.”

While this isn’t the case for elementary schools and high schools, junior high school library technicians and librarians have the chance to take control of their library, its programs, and the services offered before the start of the next “normal” school year.

Our library is planning to promote both the genrefication of the library and the library in general by introducing them to students through a 10-genre challenge. Out of the 13 genres, we want students to read a book in their ZPD range from 10 genres of their choice. At the end, they’ll take the AR test (which aligns with the ELA department’s goals) and write a short book review which will be posted in the library for others to read. Additionally, we’ll be starting a book club to engage students and encourage reading outside of the classroom. Reading promotion can be a struggle, especially with the middle school age group. While reading books may not be students’ first goal coming back to school, it’s the library’s responsibility to offer fun, enjoyable, and educational services that promote not only reading but the library as a safe space on their school’s campus. The two goals that we have – the challenge and the book club – both focus on driving interaction with individual books, the collections, the library itself, the library technicians, and other readers!

If you currently work in any library setting, I understand that it’s difficult just to make it through the day without the stress and anxiety that adding new services and programs brings. If there is a bright side to COVID-19, though, it’s that it has offered those who are willing and able the chance to step back, assess, and create with a fresh perspective. If you are not overwhelmed, consider what you can do to enact change in your library prior to your patrons’ return!

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