I have updated my library back-to-school checklist with a hybrid or virtual learning option. You can read my full post on how to get ready for a new school year here. In this post I am only going to provide information about some of the (many) changes we are facing.
I have no idea if these ideas and suggestions will be effective. Just about everything we try will be trial and error. And what works for one person or school could be a disaster for another. I know how isolating it can feel being the only librarian in the building during a normal year. This year will be unlike anything we have ever experienced. By working together and sharing ideas that work and ideas that don’t work, we can be more successful and in turn provide better learning opportunities for our students.
Back-To-School Checklist: Organize
First up on my back-to-school checklist–organization. Even if your school is doing an all-virtual start to the school year, you likely will still have to work from school. So you will want to organize the library to allow you to do this efficiently and effectively. If you will be teaching virtual lessons over Zoom or Google Meet you will want to set up your work area. You will need plenty of space to spread out. Try to anticipate any supplies or materials you will be using and have them close by.
If students are able to come to the library you will need to make sure the library is as organized and uncluttered as possible. I would remove the shelf markers to start with. Do not unpack any of your stuffed animals or other soft surface items. If possible, put away anything that students are likely to touch (book displays, book bins that usually go on the floor, maker space activities, center materials, etc.) You do not want to have to sanitize any extra items.
Back-To-School Checklist: Decorate
As far as I know schools can still put up posters and bulletin boards so you will want to make sure you make the library as welcoming and inviting as possible. Since you will have to put everything else away the signs and posters you choose will be more important than ever. You will also have to add plenty of signage with all the new policies and procedures students will need to follow. You may need to put arrows and social distancing floor stickers to remind students to stay 6 feet apart. If you can, purchase ones that are bright and colorful.
You can create your own social distancing floor stickers different carpet markers and sit spots. They are much cheaper than ones that are labeled specifically for social distancing. You can buy footprints, arrows, and circles with positive sayings and quotes. Place the arrows on the floor with a circle in the middle. It will help remind students which direction to walk and to stay 6 feet apart. Put them down where students will line up so they know where to stand and how far apart from each other. There are so many ways you can use these and there are so many different kinds you can buy. I also found some colorful paw prints too. If you would like to take a look at any of these carpet spots, I added them to my Distance Learning Amazon List.
If you do not have carpet in your library you might want to try these tennis court line boundary markers. I have not used them personally, but I think they might be a good option to remind students where to stand and how to to stay socially distant from others. Talk to your P.E. teacher and see what they think.
If you are teaching virtually, try to add some colorful posters behind where you will be teaching from. Now you can put out your Pigeon or Pete the Cat stuffed animals. Even if you are pushing into classrooms, you can decorate the library door or the hallway (if allowed).
I just added a set of editable posters to my store that you can use to remind students of distance learning procedures and how to stay healthy. There are also 4 posters specifically for libraries where you can add your own updated book checkout routines.
Back-To-School Checklist: Lesson Planning
Besides different check-out procedures, this will be the biggest change we face this year. Since there are so many unknowns, I am going to provide a generic list of things you should do to get ready.
First, plan for virtual lessons. No matter how your school year starts, most likely you will have to teach some online lessons this year. One of the first things you will want to do is know what learning management system your school will be using and become familiar with it. Google Classroom and SeeSaw are two of the most popular ones. Will you be able to create your own classes or will teachers add you as a co-teacher? For younger grades you may use SeeSaw. My advice is to create or purchase some Google slides lessons and keep them in your drive. You can easily upload a Google slides resource to SeeSaw so you will be ready no matter which platform you are using. And if you are able to teach in-person then you can still use these lessons.
Plan to start with simple, easy lessons. Do not stress yourself out too much with trying to learn how to share your screen with students or create complicated lessons using multiple apps and websites. Even though we ended the year with virtual teaching, everyone is still learning and adapting. Give yourself some grace and ease into the process. Even if all you do for the first few weeks is read a story or do some get to know you activities with students. You are still working at building a relationship with students and setting the foundation for what could be a long school year. These things are just as important.
Also, grab some sturdy boxes and begin gathering picture books and other materials that you might use while teaching from home. You do not need to take them home with you yet, just have something ready in case you have to close at a moment’s notice. You do not want to be teaching from home and not have plenty of books to read to your students. No matter what you can always come up with a lesson to go along with a picture book. And you can do this for all grades.
A few book suggestions:
- Non-seasonal books that can be read any time of the year
- Pair fiction and nonfiction books on the same topic
- Short chapter books that you can read to older grades
- Poetry books that you can use to teach figurative language
- Look through my list of Picture Books for Upper Elementary Students and choose some of these titles
Back-To-School Checklist: Circulation Preparation
Hopefully you will have a plan in place on how to check-out books to students and teachers. Even if you do not have a concrete plan, there are still some things you can do to prepare. Two big questions to keep in mind: how will students physically get the books and how will they be returned?
From what I have read, CDC guidelines state books and other library materials should be quarantined for at least 24 hours. I believe most schools are opting for 72 hours. This means you will have to leave the books untouched for this length of time. Book return drops are very expensive, upwards of $1000. Instead, purchase something like this rolling bin.
This is a 40 gallon plastic storage container with wheels and a handle from You can find these at Walmart, Target or home improvement stores. This is a 2 pack set from Amazon for $53.29. You will probably need 5 or 6 of these. You can cut a hole in the top so you don’t have to take off the lid. Place them around the school or wheel them to classrooms. Once the books are in the bin, leave it sit for whatever length of time your school recommends until it’s time to check them in. You can also deliver books to classrooms this way as well. Try asking the store to donate these to your library. Chances are good they will, especially since they are not very expensive.
These totes may not be the most durable so if you have the funds available look into some heavier duty commercial totes. You can find ones for under $60. And think outside of the box. I found a lockable tote made to store hunting supplies for under $30. It was more durable and the lid was fully removable.
Book Check Out
You will also need to know how students will choose their books. If students are coming to the library will they be allowed to browse? If they start touching books and pulling them off the shelves you may need to quarantine those books in the same way as the ones they are returning. Unfortunately book browsing will need to be closely monitored. You need a spot for the books students do touch to be stored until they can be safely put back on the shelf. Use another of the book return bins. Have them clearly labeled. and spaced throughout the library.
Other circulation considerations
One change I would make for this school year is to look at your checkout limits for students. Students will likely not be able to return books every week like normal so set the loan period for longer. Otherwise you will end up with hundreds of overdue books. You may want to increase the number of books a student can check out too. This way you don’t have to override the permission each time.
Think about allowing students to put books on hold. This may be a really useful option for you to implement or it could cause more work for you. Try it and see. You might also want to create a Google form for students to request books instead. You can make it generic with just topics instead of specific titles.
This is a big list for a back-to-school checklist, I know. And it does not cover everything that we do to get ready for a new year. But hopefully it will help you to organize your thoughts and began to plan for what will be a wonderful and successful new school year! You can click the image below to download your checklist.
I will be talking more in-depth about preparing for virtual learning during my membership launch in a few weeks. Click here to join the wait list! There will be exclusive webinars and tutorials on how to use Google Classroom and other tech tools in the library. Plus a few other bonuses as well.