If there is one thing that is considered the cornerstone tool of what I do with students it is the sharing of the books that we read throughout the year. Our classroom and school library collection is vast, it is varied, it is inclusive, and it is always a work in progress. For many years the books that we read are what brings us together, what centers all of the work we do within our reading identity and the time we spend on independent reading is what students tell me year after year makes the biggest difference in their own reading lives. I spend a lot of time watching kids and how they handle their books; do they dive right in, eagerly open up the book when it is time to read? Do they hesitate? Do they ignore my request to find a book altogether? Do they avoid touching books at all costs? How a child handles a book will often give us great insight into how they feel about reading. That is something that e-books and audio, while both amazing, simply doesn’t provide us in the same way.
We know that COVID-19 is cruel in many facets. We know more about the potentiality of spread and the risk of exposure due to the diligent research happening globally. What we know today may be further refined tomorrow and so this post is not meant as a guidelines post, but rather as an idea post, ultimately, whatever guidelines we are handed from districts or other governing policies trump any ideas. There are ways to still have kids book shop and browse books, there are ideas we can implement to keep them safe. We know that COVID-19 lands on surfaces including paper but the CDC has told us, “Children’s books, like other paper-based materials such as mail or envelopes, are not considered a high risk for transmission and do not need additional cleaning or disinfection procedures.” (CDC, Apr 21, 2020). However, a new study says that some print materials such as board books need at least 96 hours of quarantine.
I am not as worried about kids getting exposure by touching a book briefly and then another child touching it, at least not if I read what the CDC has to say about it: There is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and how it spreads. Coronaviruses are thought to be spread most often by respiratory droplets. Although the virus can survive for a short period on some surfaces, it is unlikely to be spread from domestic or international mail, products or packaging. However, it may be possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads...but more about the social proximity that tends to come when we book shop and such which can lend to increased exposure. While all people in our school are required to wear a mask if/when we open, I still want to minimize risks as much as possible. So how can we still have kids book shop and browse books without increasing their exposure risk, because surely, telling teachers and librarians to close their book access and solely focus on digital is not the only solution. And neither is going crazy with ideas without knowing the risks.
So I wanted to share few ideas but also direct you toward ALA’s guidelines (some of them are from the spring and the guidelines may have changed since then.)
My own ideas for my classroom collection include:
A quarantine space for books that have been handled. If I am teaching in a hybrid fashion, I will have three classes a day with the the same kids for two days, then a different cohort with also three classes another two days (Online will not be with live, they will be in a separate cohort – so some kids will start with me at the the beginning of week and the other cohort will end with me live. So cohort A: Live M + T, Virtual W + R + F, Cohort B: Virtual: M + T + W, Live: R + F, it’s a lot to navigate. I plan on having a basket for kids to place books they have touched into and then removing them from the room with gloves if I can get some. Then books will be left to wait it out for at least 96 hours before being placed back in our collection.
A highly requested and read book cart. The titles that tend to fly off the shelves, like the ones listed here, will be on a separate cart so that kids don’t have to dig through anything to get them. I will have some form of electronic synopsis available for kids to browse through in our Google Classroom so they can read the blurb and not handle the book. They can then grab the book they would like when they have found one to try. I can also be the one handling the book and act as curator when we are bookshopping.
Touchless browsing. Another idea I have is to grab collections of books and leave them out with the back or blurb facing up. Kids will be encouraged to write down potential titles on their to-be-read list and then check out a few books to try. When they leave us for the week, they should bring the books home to try as part of their online learning.
Lysol and Clorox browsing. Every students browses books with disinfectant wipes in hand. If they touch a book and they end up not grabbing it, it gets wiped down by them right after and then handed to me to be set aside. Books should be cleaned if dirty and then disinfected. (Do at your own risk, me wiping down a book once in a while in my classroom is not the same as a book in a school or public library being wiped down all of the time).
Electronic browsing. I don’t have a digital library collection of titles but will start working on one for the coming year, that way students can browse through titles we have in our classroom and put in a request through a google form for a book they would like. I may even just do this in Google Slides. While I am not going to do anything super fancy, I know there are fancy ways to do this.
Video book talks. There are many already made and to be found on Youtube which will help me speed up the processing time, but I also want to start recording electronic book talks to have for throughout the year. Besides, we all do book talks differently and I want to use them as another way for students to create connection to our community. This approach not only allows me to curate a collection that I can use year after year if I want, it helps me audit what I am book talking since I will be pulling specific book stacks to use. I am allowed into my classroom right now for the sole purpose of grabbing books and I will be grabbing as many inclusive titles as I can to use.
A video tour of our library. I will be recording a tour of our classroom library when I head in so kids can see different genres available, how it is organized, and also just get ready for using it at some point. This will be part of their online learning so they are preloaded with some info before they are in the classroom. That way I can also pull out books to show, showcase how things are shelved, and build some book excitement.
If we are fully online, I am hoping to set up some sort of concierge service to drop off sanitized books for kids. Much like librarians have done throughout the country, kids would be able to request books and then have them placed in quarantine for a drop off or pick up. In the spring we were not able to get into our schools which greatly limited physical book access for all of us. We were able to get some books in the hands of kids who had none through a google from and mailoing but it was nowhere enough to what we would have liked to see. We know book access in a major inequity and so my district right now is also discussing ways to get physical books to all kids and not just e-books.
Also, I am hoping to drop a book off to each student as we begin the year if we start online. I would choose selections from Books4School under $3 each and then drop them off when we do our scheduled “yard visits.”
I asked on twitter what other people were doing and was once again deluged with wonderful ideas, thank you to everyone who shared!
While we wait for districts to release our fall plans, I know we will find a way to get books in the hands of kids. We have to so feel free to share more resources and ideas in the comments.
Also, if your district or conference are interested in bringing me in virtually throughout the school year, please see information here. I have been supporting teachers remotely as they plan for meaningful literacy instruction in a virtual and hybrid model throughout the summer and would love to help others as well.