By Laura Vallejo, Intermountain Catholic
SALT LAKE CITY — As Utah Catholic Schools opened for the 2020-2021 academic year with in-person instruction, officials implemented many new health and safety procedures to keep students safe amid the coronavirus pandemic. In keeping with that, many school libraries are closed for now, but two schools have created innovative procedures to allow students access to books.
This year, St. Vincent de Paul Catholic School in Salt Lake City has subscribed to Sora, a student reading app. Also, Anna Zanarini, the school librarian, has created a mobile library – a cart containing eight bins of books that she takes into classrooms.
“I choose books for the bins based on genre, format, grade-level and what each class might be studying. I also take requests from the kids,” she said.
In the classroom, she places the bins in different locations “so there is room for social distancing while browsing,” she said. “I try to bring something for the students to work on while in their seats, and then call kids up two to three at a time to browse.”
Before browsing the books, the students apply hand sanitizer. Once they make their selection, Zanarini checks the books out to them.
“Then they use sanitizer again and return to their seats to either continue their project or read,” she said.
Afterward, all surfaces such as the bins and carts are wiped down with disinfectant.
Books that are returned to the library are quarantined for four days before being checked in and put back into circulation; they also may be cleaned with disinfectant wipes, Zanarini said.
To create this system, Zanarini did extensive research.
“I’m part of some different national organizations and belong to several professional learning networks and listened to what others were doing and why,” she said. “I also looked at CDC and American Library Association guidelines and best practices on how to safely handle books and material.”
Students seem excited to have the opportunity to check out books, she said.
“It was pretty fun going into the classrooms this week and having them so happy to check out books,” she said. “It’s hard because they do miss coming to the library and having a greater selection of books, but most of them have been able to find something that interests them. I’m letting them request things, too, so I can make sure they can find books that they want to read.”
This new system also gives her the opportunity to teach the students and their families about the school’s online catalog, where they can see all the books in the library and make requests, she said.
“This is especially important for home learners, as I want them to know that they also have access to the library collection. I’m happy to pull books for home learners and set them aside for pickup,” she said.
“It’s a lot more work with the mobile library – selecting books to take to classrooms, filling requests, switching out the browsing bins for the different classes, and keeping things organized for safe check ins and check outs,” Zanarini said. “But it’s great to be able to bring curated collections of books to the students and promote things that they might otherwise not pick up. The most important thing is having students excited about books and reading and getting books into their hands – and we are accomplishing this in the safest way we can.”
Across town, The Madeleine Choir School has closed its library for now, but Jennifer Foy, the librarian and information and technology literacy teacher, is planning a book request and delivery service to the classrooms.
“Our school library is a vital service for our student population,” Foy said.
The school’s top priority is the health and safety of students, she said, so first the children will need to learn the procedures that have been put in place because of the pandemic. Then the school will implement a book request and delivery service to classrooms from the school library, she said.
The planned system will allow students to request a book from the library’s online catalog; the materials will be delivered directly to students’ classrooms.
When books are returned to the library, they will be quarantined for a minimum of four days, then they will be sanitized before being returned to the collection, Foy said. Most of the library’s books are covered with a Mylar jacket or laminate, which makes it easier for them to be cleaned with a disinfectant solution.
This system will follow the health and safety guidelines in place in Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, as well as follow the best practices and protocols for materials handling during a pandemic as outlined by the American Library Association.
Although students miss being able to visit the library to get the books they want, they “are resilient, though, and understand that this is a temporary situation and we are all called upon to make changes for the greater good of our community at this time,” Foy said.
When she teaches classes, she mentions the planned book delivery service, and “I see many smiles from our students,” she said. “They are eager to get their hands on the latest releases or finish up a series they have been reading through. While our library will operate differently this year, I will do my best to fulfil this important obligation for our school community and to do that as safely as possible.”