We Can’t Afford To Close The Doors

Primary schools will have a collection of books somewhere in school, whether that’s a designated library, shelves in a corridor or book corners in a classroom. Suddenly, these are all looking like risky environments. Pupil and staff safety is paramount and finding ways to create safe learning environments means that in many schools, it’s hard to see how the closed library can be avoided.

With concerns over learning gaps and the knowledge that reading is crucial to the ability of a child to access the rest of the curriculum, images of taped off book shelves appearing in the media recently have been disturbing.

Libraries are fundamentally a shared resource and sharing any item in school now requires a set of protocols. So, rather than close them off completely we need to look at adaptions that will allow library provision to continue or restart. Given that we’ll be living with this for some time, it’s essential that what is a valuable resource, both educationally and financially, doesn’t just shut its doors.

Identify Risks And Challenges

Firstly, identify the risk and challenges you now face, thinking both about the physical space and the risks posed by handling a book.

The Physical Space
  • The function of the space might have changed. As classrooms have had to be redesigned to make them safe maybe the library has become a storage area for resources.
  • Library areas may be too small to use as a shared space, social distancing is impossible and all access will need to be managed.
  • Book corners have been packed away or sealed off.
Book Handling
  • Library procedures usually involve the handling of books by multiple people.
  • Choosing a book to read or browsing through books involves picking up and handling the item.
Guidance Indicates That:
  • The risk from books covered in a plastic cover handled by someone who is a possible COVID-19 case is negligible after 72 hours.
  • The risk from books with a cardboard/paper cover is negligible after 24 hours.

Guidance provided to CILIP and DCMS from the COVID-19 Guidance Cell of Public Health England’s National Infection Service.

Finding (Partial) Solutions

Where the library space is still accessible, put in place procedures to make it safe, as you would do in any other shared area in the building:

  • Limit numbers so that you can still observe social distancing.
  • Add physical barriers and signs so that you can control how children access the books and move about the space.
Manage Procedures Carefully

Establish low-risk book selection procedures so that you can safely allow books to be borrowed. This might mean that browsing is very carefully managed or limited. For example:

  • A pupil bubble chooses from a preselected shelf or box of books either in the library or from a selection taken to the classroom.
  • Pupils make individual author/title/genre requests by using a library management system (if you have one) to browse.
  • Pupils use each other’s and staff knowledge to recommend authors, titles or genres.
  • Requested books are delivered to the classroom or collected from the library.
Handling Books On Return

Put protocols in place ensuring that books are handled safely on return, you might consider:

  • Quarantining returned books before making them available to other pupils. Rather than a standard ‘returns’ box, have a series of ‘quarantined on ….’ boxes so that books can be rotated back into circulation. Store the boxes safely whilst they still pose a risk.
  • Reduce the risk by assigning responsibility for managing the returns process to a small number of staff.

Consider relaxing due back dates or increasing the number of books that a pupil can take home. This will reduce the frequency with which books are handled and swapped in school. Also, identify pupils who are less likely to have access to books at home and give them priority to books in school.

Alternative Ways To Keep The Focus On Reading

With the limitations in place, find alternative ways of encouraging reading that doesn’t rely on handling physical resources, but keeps the focus on books:

  • Borrow multiple copies (one copy per child) for shared reading from a school library service who will have their own safe handling protocols in place.
  • Look at audio and ebook options. Encourage children and parents to access the digital library services available from public libraries.
  • Allow more time for reading aloud to a class or bubble including outdoor storytimes.
  • Find author online readings – look at the SLA list, there are some excellent ones! Share in school or add to your home learning offer.
  • Encourage reading at home with reading challenges. Look out for the Summer Reading Challenge or our Juniper Reading Challenge.

Further Guidance

Further guidance on reopening school libraries has been produced by the School Library Association and CILIP School Libraries Group.

Take Part In The Juniper Reading Challenge!

This six-book challenge is designed to keep children KS1 – KS2 reading at home, to engage parents with their child’s reading and to make choosing a book a little bit easier.

Find Out More
Sally Harrison

Sally Harrison

Sally is the School Library Service manager for Juniper Education. She has worked in primary school and public libraries for 17 years and as a children’s book reviewer. She is a chartered librarian, a member of the Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians and has been a board member of the School Library Association.

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