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On the importance of making a (reopening) plan

UPDATE: You may copy and edit this PSLA Crowdsourced Tiered Library Reopening Plan & COVID Response, inspired by Kim Borden. The graphic was created w/ Canva template & adapted from Eanes ISD Library Dept. (Texas)

It’s always been my personal philosophy, whenever possible, to walk into tricky situations with solutions. Before walking into an administrator’s office, I usually had a proposal in my pocket.

Regardless of how we return to school this fall, your district’s or your administrator’s plan will not fully address the specifics of your practice or your program. You need to do some forward-thinking. And, you need to define your own role in the reopening process. Having a plan may be more important than ever.

PSLA has been thinking ahead about the great return. In fact, in the face of our unprecedented situation, PSLA President, Cathi Fuhrman recently shared a space for sharing Reopening Plans or Protocols and a space to view the submitted examples.

Cathi Fuhrman’s PSLA Pulse Post

After seeing Cathi’s message on the Future Ready Librarians’ Facebook Group, librarian Kim Borden, from the Penn Argyl (PA) School District, responded to the call.

Kim shares that her own Plainfield Elementary School Library Reopening Plan and COVID Response was heavily inspired by the New York City Department of Education School Library System’s Translation of Practice for School Librarians as well as the recent Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Preliminary Guidance
for Phased Reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools

Indeed, the introduction to Kim’s plan powerfully and eloquently asserts the value of the librarian in school leadership, especially in times of crisis.

What do we know?

  • Pen Argyl schools are the heart of the local community.
  • Pen Argyl school libraries are where you find the pulse of the schools.
  • Eliminating school library programs and certified school librarian positions deprive students of rich learning opportunities, jeopardize academic and reading achievement, and perpetuate educational inequities.
  • Only when there is a trained and certified school librarian present are students taught essential inquiry and information literacy skills aligned to PA Core and Academic Standards, as outlined in the Pennsylvania Library Model Curriculum.
  • School librarians form relationships and connections with every single student and teacher who walks through the doors of that school.
  • Library programming services can continue to be provided in a safe manner for both library staff and students following CDC, PA DOH guidelines and our locally developed Health & Safety Plan.
  • Plans should be flexible and change fluidly as new data is provided.

What do students need to be successful during a pandemic?

  • Continued and uninterrupted access to high-quality, librarian curated resources (digital and print)
  • Continued and frequent access to their school librarian
  • To know that their school library is a safe place
  • To know that their relationship with the librarian and school library are at the center for all planning and decision making in this process

What can we do?

  • Acknowledge the role of the librarian and the tools/strengths they bring to the table.
  • Librarians are masters of curating and organizing resources. Take advantage of their expertise.
  • Develop plans to continue to provide library services during a time when teachers and students need it the most
  • Provide funding to invest in the once free resources that are no longer free Provide funding in order for all Pen Argyl schools to participate in Overdrive(allowing access to thousands of high-quality, IU20 librarian curated eBooks)
  • Invest in materials needed to make the library as safe as possible for students and staff (see links in Yellow Phase)

I asked Kim to share a little more about her work:

When schools closed in March, I smelled trouble. As soon as I saw the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s Preliminary Guidance
for Phased Reopening of Pre-K to 12 Schools
document, I thought this is exactly what I am doing. So I set off to create a road map for moving forward and defining where I fit, things I regularly do.

Our governor was using the familiar red, yellow, green system and so I chose to use that common language to communicate with our central office administrators.

Since we finished our year on May 28th, I’ve been concerned about the library and our students. Being proactive feels so much better. Even if things don’t go my way I know at least I’ve put in the effort. You know what Lady Gaga always says, figure out what you stand for then fight like hell for it. Lady Gaga is always right.

Kim shared that she and her colleagues often describe advocacy in the context of the neverending burden of Sysyphus. That heavy boulder may have taken on even more weight in the context of a pandemic and competing priorities. That mountain has become steeper in the face of uncertainties relating to dramatic losses in funding. In the coming months, we will likely face dilemmas of deciding when to stand up and fight for our programs and when it is necessary to compromise as a team player.

As a librarian, the boulder is always there. We carry it all the time. Sometimes it’s about repurposing to cover a duty or adjusting to emergency uses of library space. But I was hired to a job. Part of that job is to advocate for the library program on behalf of the students and families we serve. In many schools, the librarian is the only tech person. With online learning so essential, we are the last person you should cut.

At the elementary level, thinking about high-touch items like shelf markers, returns, magazine use and hugs from kindergartners kept her up late at night. She reminds us that a plan needs to go through higher-level scrutiny.

Every school has to have a health and safety plan approved by PDE. Overnight I had to become an expert in health and safety. One of the resources her district was using came from CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia).

What advice does Kim share about planning for an unprecedented reopening? She shared:

  • Come up with a clear position that supports your vision. How can you be the success point for your students and families during and after the crisis?
  • Identify the liabilities, the problems, and consider the solutions.
  • Identify your assets and gather more assets, usually in the shape of other people in the same boat.
  • Lean on those others. We have other librarians to lean on in times when we are emotional and worried. But also gather with other special area teachers. Gym teachers and art teachers may be similarly concerned about their programs and their spaces may be used as classrooms. Page 10 of the Pennsylvania Preliminary Guidance Plan suggests schools hold classes in gyms, auditoriums, or other large spaces. Districts may also be looking to emergency certify special area educators to provide more classroom teachers for smaller more distanced classrooms.

Kim Borden has a plan. She is hopeful and she has her concerns.

I woke up this morning thinking about the incoming kindergartners might not even know who I am or what a school library is and that makes me sad.

Our job is about relationships. I love going to work. Getting hugs from little kids who just lost a tooth, or tell me about their cat. How do stay six feet apart from a five-year-old?

Greetings from Kim and her friend, Will

Joyce Valenza About Joyce Valenza

Joyce is an Assistant Professor of Teaching at Rutgers University School of Information and Communication, a technology writer, speaker, blogger and learner. Follow her on Twitter: @joycevalenza


  1. Mary Ann Scheuer says

    Thank you so much — this is invaluable. I’m wondering if AASL is working on any guidelines or advice.

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