Educator at board

Reopening Schools Safely: Planning for Our Digital Fall Semester

by Matthew Poland, educational specialist

Across the country, educators are already anticipating Fall 2020, their first new school year in the time of COVID-19. While district leaders were forced to react quickly to state shutdowns months ago, they are now working on detailed plans with multiple strategic priorities for the Fall. Schools will likely need to limit the number of students and staff in physical spaces as much as possible and ramp up classroom cleaning protocols. At the same time, districts want to improve digital literacy and ensure students have remote access to engaging instructional materials.

With its online access to digitized books, the Internet Archive’s Open Library can be a strategic solution to address these issues. Open Library is a free, digital lending library of more than 3 million digitized books that can be read in a browser or downloaded for reading offline. They are protected from redistribution using publisher industry-standard controls. Below, we outline several key reasons why districts should consider making this powerful tool part of their plan for the 2020-21 school year.

With the pandemic still expected to be an issue in the Fall, districts will need to plan for social distancing and other safety precautions for students and staff. The CDC is advising schools to “close communal use shared spaces” such as the school library and to “avoid sharing books.” Decontaminating library surfaces and materials after student use may not be feasible and is probably not the best use of library staff time. Schools will need to rely more heavily on digital solutions to provide continuity of library service. Open Library can be one part of the solution, supplementing existing school online periodical subscriptions and services such as OverDrive.

Improving Digital Fluency
Being able to navigate a digital environment to conduct research, complete assignments and eventually perform job duties is a necessity for all students. This is referred to as digital fluency and is considered a key 21st century skill needed for success in both education and work. Teaching students how to navigate digital resources such as the Open Library can help build digital fluency as they search for information, develop lists of relevant materials and add edits to library entries if needed for their studies.

Building Out the Library Collection
The reality for most school districts is that they have a limited collection due to funding and physical constraints. Adding a free resource like the Open Library can augment a school library’s collection. From Where the Sidewalk Ends for younger students to The Great Gatsby for high school students, there are popular titles for every grade.

Offering Accessible Materials
Finally, the Open Library allows school districts to offer digital material in an accessible format, as well as offering additional digital titles to print disabled students. When viewing a book online, students can click an icon in the lower right to use screen reading software and have the book read aloud. Print disabled books specially formatted in DAISY are also available for those who are visually impaired and have special software to use this format (learn more about the program). Digital books can also be downloaded to the Adobe Digital Editions application for offline access. 

School district leaders have a lot on their minds in planning to reopen in the fall. Thankfully, the Internet Archive’s Open Library can be leveraged to increase safety, digital literacy, library collections, and resource accessibility. The fall checklist just got a bit shorter.

Matthew Poland is an educational specialist who works with educators and businesses on workforce development issues.