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How Public Libraries Can Support Students Amid Distance Learning

Written by Kajeet on August 13, 2020

student in library

The recent, large-scale shift from in-class to distance learning models – and other transformations in the way schools operate and in how students access information – are providing new opportunities for libraries to help improve student learning outcomes. We discuss some of these opportunities here, with an emphasis on how libraries can help with distance learning.

Libraries provide students, teachers, families, and others with more than just access to books, research material, and a place to work or study. They also play an important role in coordinating educational initiatives with schools, providing literacy programs, and – perhaps more important today than ever – providing internet access and other IT services, especially to those who do not have such access at home. What can libraries do to support students who may face obstacles when it comes to distance learning?

Here are a few ideas worth considering.

SUPPORT ONLINE TEACHING AND LEARNING

A big challenge for everyone – including teachers, students, parents, and administrators – has been in making the move from in-class to online learning. Delivering educational material in-person is very different from delivering it remotely or online. Libraries can help educators develop courses that are custom-built for online delivery, such as tutorials, instructional videos, and course management tools tailored to specific needs. Libraries can also help support digital literacy, which involves teaching everyone from students and teachers to parents and others how to use technology to teach, learn, and communicate.

PROVIDE STUDY SPACES

Modern libraries tend to have open floor plans that encourage collaborative study. In the post-COVID-19 world, students may prefer or may even be forced to use individual study spaces. Libraries can facilitate this new trend by removing tables, chairs, and other fixtures to help with social distancing. Various technological solutions can be used to assist patrons to avoid clusters of people or perhaps identify and reserve seats in low-traffic areas. Changes in library layouts, hours of operation, and use protocols can help encourage healthy – and ongoing – learning for all, especially those who do not have IT access at home.

All of this is, of course, within the space and resource limitations available within the library itself. However, with a renewed focus on digitization and providing IT services within the physical library – as we discuss below – study spaces and internet access within the library are critical aspects of how libraries will provide services in the future.

MASS DIGITIZATION

The value of print collections has fallen dramatically with the coronavirus pandemic. Libraries reduced print access early during the pandemic because of concerns regarding virus spread, but there’s another lesson here.

In the past, printed material was often digitized only for “just-in-case” purposes. Copyright issues will undoubtedly have to be addressed, but libraries now have more reason than ever to initiate mass digitization efforts, leverage agreements as necessary to facilitate storage and access, and make library collections more accessible to all.

Along with lower demand for printed material, many libraries have seen interest in their electronic resources grow significantly. Electronic collections can be developed, even though doing so with budget restrictions may necessitate some creativity. Libraries can work on new strategies for negotiating deals and demanding better funding, so that they can help students and educators make the move from using print collections and having in-person library visits to using virtual tools and learning from digital collections.

In support of 2020’s summer learning week, the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) put together a resource page for families and educators to get ideas and support for their summer enrichment programs.

Are you planning to offer a summer learning program this year? What will it look like? Do you have any summer learning resource you’d like to share with other educators and caregivers? We’d love to hear all about your summer learning plans in the comments section below.

LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT

The move from in-class to remote learning has proved to be very challenging for many, and unfamiliarity with collaborative tools such as Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and WebEx has widened the digital divide between students who have regular IT access and those who do not. Libraries can harness some of this momentum to invest in technology training and in upskilling students and teachers to help them prepare for what is likely the ‘new normal.’

OPEN CONTENT AND EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES

COVID-19 – and the worldwide lockdown it brought with it – showed us just how important it is to have access to information from sources other than just libraries and schools. For years, many groups have lobbied for publicly accessible information repositories and open-access publishing to provide the public with the information they need, when they need it. The time to advocate for open data policies and federal grants and to educate teachers, students, and education leaders about using alternative information sources – especially openly accessible digital information – is now, and libraries can play an important role in this movement.

TEACHER-STUDENT-LIBRARY MODELS

Embedding the library within the teacher-student educational workflow can help students gain the information literacy skills that are so critical to their success. Librarians can provide teachers with assistance in the development of course content and provide co-teaching services, as well as research consultations and virtual office hours, all while providing students with resource lists needed to complete school assignments or projects.

ONLINE ACCESS

The internet is increasingly the primary method through with people will access and use library resources. Without easily navigable interfaces, intuitive research tools, and reliable services that are designed for use by people of all types and from all backgrounds, library resources will continue to be accessible to only the select few. Many library solutions are tailored for use by librarians. A revamp of these tools and interfaces to make them better suited to the needs of patrons can significantly improve user access and engagement between users and their local libraries.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The role of libraries in the new normal is a work-in-progress, and it will take time for states, districts, and communities to understand what works for them, what resources they have at their disposal, and what services can be most efficiently provisioned by libraries to address gaps in student learning and information access. Decision-makers should conduct a needs assessment to see where things stand and then, taking a holistic approach to allocating funds and working on initiatives, work on making the changes that promise the highest yields, and iteratively improve things based on the data gathered.

Now is the time to revisit how parents, students, and educators are addressing the challenges posed by distance learning. A Solutions Engineers at Kajeet can help you plan, set up, and run an IT solution that is secure, performant, and tailored to the needs of your end-users – whether teachers, students, administrators, or otherwise. Please contact us here to speak with a member of our team.

Topics: Digital Equity, Digital Divide, WiFi for Students, Libraries, distance learning


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