The numbers are staggering. According to UNESCO:
- 91% of the world’s learners have been impacted by school closures.
- 1,576,021,818 learners are cut off from their classrooms
- 188 countries have shut down schools nationwide.
Obscured in those figures are the individual teachers, librarians and students struggling to carry on classroom instruction without the books they need. Since this pandemic began, we have heard from hundreds of them, reaching out to figure out some way to keep teaching and learning going in their town, church, library or home school.
Here are some dispatches from teachers, librarians and students on the frontlines of online schooling.
Helping K-12 students connect with books
In one of the first states to shutter schools and order residents to shelter at home, Erin S. is a 6th grade teacher of history and English in Sacramento, California. She’s been scrambling to teach virtually a unit onThe Adventures of Ulysses by Bernard Evslin. Her middle school has hundreds of copies of this book, locked away and now beyond reach. We received this urgent message from Erin, signed, Desperate Teachers!:
At our school site, we have enough copies of this book for all of the 6th-grade students (300). However, since we are not allowed to come to campus to check these books out we were looking for online PDF or ‘checkout’ possibilities.
I came across your website and services, found the copy we are looking for, and it is amazing because it looks like an actual book instead of just a word document. I checked it out, but then noticed it says I can only borrow it for 14 days. This unit takes us longer than 2 weeks and we also have a lot of students who need this book. Is there a way to lift the restrictions to borrow this book while we are in school closure?
I am so grateful and excited to share your services with our students. Teachers are desperate for any and all help right now and luckily our communities and beyond are coming to the front lines to help advocate for us! We really appreciate all you have done to help us!
At Downtown College Prep school in San Jose, California, one hard-pressed instructor sent us this call for help:
I am an instructional coach at a middle school charter school in San Jose, CA. Currently all the schools in our area are shut down as I’m sure you are aware. I am also leading the teaching of our two 5th grade classes right now. Here is my problem. One of our fifth grade classes was sent home without books to read. The class that I have been teaching literacy in (we lost a teacher mid-year), I sent home with 4 books. Eventually these books are going to run out and I am desperate to get books in these kids hands…or on their screens.
Teacher Terri S. of Cloudcroft, NM writes:
I teach all of the 6th, 7th and 8th grade students in my district, and Quarter Four (the time we are in right now) is set aside for a novel study. I cannot pass out our classroom sets of novels and was looking for a way for students to read the books digitally. Your site is a Godsend. Thank you for your help.
From a 7th grade teacher in Fairfield, PA we received this request:
I have taught “The Pushcart War” novel in my class for most of my 25 years in education, and it is my favorite novel. I notice that you have it on your website to borrow as well as listen.
With schools being shut down indefinitely in the state of Pennsylvania, I was not able to give each student a copy of this novel from my classroom before we closed, and I had no idea that schools would be shut down this long. Is there any way my students can have an Open Library account set up…in order for them to enjoy this book during this unprecedented time?
About one hundred miles from the epicenter of the outbreak, in Franklinville, New Jersey, Anne Papiano is the Media Specialist for the Delsea Regional High School District. It’s April, but she’s already worrying about how to get summer reading list books to students in her district. Her district owns physical copies of these books, but if schools remain closed for the entire school year, she won’t be able to reach them. She explains:
Our students will be unable to check out our schools’ physical copies of the required summer reading books. I am writing to you to request that access to the National Emergency Library be extended throughout the summer (perhaps until September 2020). This will give students who do not have the means to purchase their own copies to have equitable access to digital copies…for their summer assignments.
Thank you for working on behalf of those of us who are promoting literacy, even through difficult times.
From college professors and librarians
The impact is not limited to public K-12 school students. In the University of Washington article, “Why the National Emergency Library Matters to Huskies,” UW Libraries answered this central question:
As a Librarian, how does this impact your work to facilitate e-book orders for classes?
UW Librarians have been fielding ebook requests for required textbooks over the last week. Before the Emergency Library was announced, Librarians faced a common challenge– in many cases, there was simply no multi-user ebook available for the Libraries to order — this changed dramatically with the opening of the National Emergency Library.
History Librarian, Theresa Mudrock says this has made a real difference, but challenges still exist.
“Today, I was able to inform 10 instructors that the books they needed were now available, whereas yesterday they were not,” said Mudrock.
Over at George Washington University in Washington, DC, history professor, Tyler Anbinder, explained how his students are using the National Emergency Library:
My students could not finish the semester without the National Emergency Library. It has been a total lifesaver. Not for books that are “in print” electronically. My library has been buying those. But for all the 30 to 50-year-old books that are out of print but essential for doing good history research.
Professor Anbinder also shared this message with consent from a sophomore in his course on Abraham Lincoln, caught off guard without access to her university’s library for this week’s reading:
Dear Professor Anbinder,
I have spent the past two days searching every inch of my house to find my copy of Lincoln’s Quest for Union. After trying to think of any place where this book might have gone, I remembered that the reason I cannot find it is because I do not have it. I was planning on borrowing it from the library because I was not able to buy each book. I would have gotten it from Gelman before I left DC, but we were all under the impression that we would be returning to campus on April 5th.
I am so sorry, this is a huge mistake on my part. How should I proceed with this?
Professor Anbinder was able to send her directly to this copy in the National Emergency Library so Meaghan could do the class reading in time.
Another college librarian, Amanda Dinscore, from Fresno State Library, sent us this note:
Many thanks to you and your IA colleagues for the National Emergency Library. Just found a book for a faculty member who was really frustrated about not being able to access a print copy of a book that I immediately found on the NEL. Win!
But what is a win for teachers, librarians and students, comes at a cost, some say, in lost book sales for publishers and authors. Katie Smith offered perspectives from both authors and learners in her article for Book & Film Globe, including this viewpoint from a writer and homeschooling parent:
Writer and parent Amber DeGrace cites the Internet Archive as pivotal in her ability to transition to homeschooling her children. “What makes the Internet Archive so beneficial for educational purposes is that many older or out-of-print books that might not be available on bookselling sites are readily available here,” she tells Book & Film Globe. “For instance, a recommended book for my kids’ history curriculum is Morning Girl by Michael Dorris. While I could have purchased it on Amazon, I can’t afford to buy all these supplemental resources, and our local libraries have been closed for weeks.” It was, however, available for borrowing in the National Emergency Library.
Even Professor Anbinder, who is enthusiastic about the availability of older literature in the National Emergency Library, closed his message acknowledging, “I certainly understand how the authors of recent books would be mad to find their books there.”
No one has criticized the National Emergency Library more forcefully than New York Times bestselling author, Chuck Wendig. So we appreciated this honest exchange following Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog, with a writer and public librarian named Rachel:
March 31, 2020 @ 11:39 AM
Your argument is very compelling. It will certainly make me rethink telling any patrons to take a look at the “emergency” library.
The only counterarguments I could offer are from problems we are having on this side of the publishing/reader process.
For example: as I am a fan, I have already purchased your books for my patrons the old-fashioned way. We own them. But no one can use them. Is that your problem? Eh– no. Because of this issue, though, I’ve spent $3,000 of my materials money this month buying digital versions of books we already own. And… that’s it. No more money. It took everything I have to buy all those stupid Erin Hunter books so middle schoolers will stop doing the unspeakable things middle schoolers do when left idle. Also not your problem– unless they start roving in 6th grade gangs a la The Warriors.
It would help if digital books weren’t insanely expensive. On average, an adult book costs me about $65. THEN, it can only be checked out 26 times. After 26 checkouts, it disappears from the collection and I have to buy it again. That’s $2.50 every time someone checks a book out. And digital readers have a bad habit of checking out multiple books at a time whether they read them or not because they don’t have to return them.
So I feel like THAT is the actual problem. And if digital providers weren’t trying to gouge the eyeballs out of public libraries, this conversation would be over.
Just some thoughts. Stay safe.
March 31, 2020 @ 11:54 AM
There is a huge issue with how pricing is set up, and different publishers have made that more (and in some cases less) difficult, in what I assume is an effort to promote print and not yield the field to digital. And there’s a big conversation to have in that, and about that, and authors have attempted (sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much) to facilitate a better deal for libraries on behalf of the author/publisher.
Last week we released a first look at some trends in use of the National Emergency Library. Corroborating what we are hearing from professors, our patrons are seeking older books: more than 90% of the books borrowed were published more than 10 years ago and two-thirds were published during the 20th century. Most patrons who borrow books from the National Emergency Library are reading them for less than 30 minutes, suggesting they are using the book for research as a reference check, or perhaps they are simply browsing as in a library or bookstore.
In the few weeks since the National Emergency Library was established, much has been said in the Twittersphere about the very real needs of publishers and authors. Completely missing in the debate are the voices of the 1,576,021,818 students worldwide cut off from their books—books already purchased by their schools, public libraries and community colleges. For a few weeks, until this educational and public health crisis subsides, the National Emergency Library is trying to help fill this void.