Coronavirus closes the library, day 5

Thursday, March 19, 2020.  Day 4 at home, day 5 off school, day 1 of Spring 🙂

Popped by the neighborhood QFC this morning before school.  Downright civil, save the person trying to buy 6 packs of paper towels that were clearly labeled ‘1 per customer’. Even after the attendant told the customer ‘1 item limit’, they tried to do 6 separate transactions.  Um…no.  That’s not how this works these days.

These days. I fear that we will be put on shelter in place soon – that time when we cannot leave our home or property save the grocery or pharmacy or work (for those who still go).

On the work front, it was pretty good:

  1. I finished updating our library Symbaloo with more links for online resources.

2. Families were emailed. I could not wait any longer.  No assignments were sent, no requirements made. Simply sharing information. There are loads of parents feel like they don’t know what ‘good’ resources are, so the email was intended to help.  It also informed them of online events they could attend with their students.  The result:

Thanks for sending these resources; they will be welcome additions to the [name] Schoolhouse curriculum.  [A] says, “Hello!  Thanks for the bingo game.  We are already marking off squares!”  Stay well.


Thank you! … I really appreciate you being in touch and your care for our kids!

3. An hour-long Zoom meeting with 16 colleagues. No issues logging in, which is always a win.  A few new-to-me resources shared (Capstone is offering its app for free!? must investigate!), a discussion on what the district is doing and what we think our jobs will be next week, and another meeting set up for next Tuesday (to likely talk about our job).

4. A phone call with a district colleague, where we discussed using YouTube, potential lesson ideas, and teaching LRCII.

5. More think time. Creating a video is like storytelling, and I want to create something amazing yet accessible for our learners. My current plan: YouTube for sharing, iMovie for creating, giving credit to publishers & authors at the beginning & end AND explaining how this copyright works at the beginning (short & sweet, of course).  I’m leaning toward 2 lessons a week: 1 for K-2, 1 for 3-5.  Each would have a read-aloud, and each would have an extension component that would be completely optional.  The extension could use our databases, or it could be STEM-based, or it could be writing.

The sun has been out in our suburb of Seattle, so there were 2 walks and 1 huge bike ride today.  Gotta get the sunshine while the sunshine is out (and we’re allowed to be out).

…and that was Day 5.

Coronavirus closes the library, Day 4

Wednesday, March 18. Day 3 at home, Day 4 off school.

More social isolation. More virus cases & deaths.  More news on mask shortages.  Less lecturing my children (they finally – FINALLY – seem to be practicing social isolation, even if their friends don’t). They spend 8:30-3p each day on ‘school’…which includes breaks for recess, PE, music, art via YouTube, and storytime via IG live.


These social moments with authors & illustrators are the highlight of our day. I tune in with my kids. My husband joins when his work schedule allows. We talk about the things we learn at dinner together.  I am so, so thankful.

As for my library work today: let’s be honest…it was not my most productive day.  And I know why.

  1. I did some work in our library’s Symbaloo…but didn’t finish.
  2. I tested learning resource links & websites that I planned to send families.
  3. A few emails:  one teacher let me know she got her whole class signed up to use Epic! at home (this was a big win), another wondered if I should be sharing about the online author events that are happening daily.
  4. PD – downloaded & learned how to use Screencastify. I don’t know what I’ll be asked to do yet, but learning a new (potential) tech seems like a good idea right now.
  5. I talked to a colleague in another nearby district, discussing what her school/district was doing for learning these next six weeks. What I learned didn’t help my overall feeling of being behind & unable to help.
  6. I spent a lot of time thinking.  What will I be doing next week?  What will my job look like?  Can I do what I do best – read stories to kids – and share them over YouTube (where I know that every single student & adult knows how to access it)?  What would I read?  How would the ‘performance’ go – because a video is a performance, and these readings may be seen by entire families & would be the first time some families have ever seen me do my thing.

Mostly, I was frustrated. All teachers are being told by district leadership NOT to share information with families yet. You read that right.  This goes so far away from my belief of what a librarian does: we connect resources (books, websites, etc) to people who need them when they need them. So hearing that I should NOT be doing this is just eating me up on the inside.

Frustration high, I spent the last hour of the day on the couch, snuggled with my kids, watching Project Runway. I love this show, but I miss host Tim Gunn. When things weren’t going according to the designer’s plan, he’d offer advice and tell them to ‘make it work’ or ‘have a make it work moment’.  I think that’s what I need to hear these days – Make it work – but some advice on how to move forward wouldn’t hurt.

…and that was Day 4.


Coronavirus closes the library, Day 3

Tuesday, March 17.

Before opening emails, I jetted off to our neighborhood QFC at 7:00am to pick up supplies. Good news: I got almost everything I was looking for. Bad news: who is hoarding all the dried beans?! We regularly cook with those, and they are gone, gone, gone. My kids were ready for a day of learning: we have cued up YouTube art from an author/illustrator at 11am and Instagram Live storytime with an author at 12p. Those provide our “in person” instruction…soon to be followed by another author’s prolific YouTube series on science & social studies topics. One day, I’ll be able to talk books & authors again. Until then: Newbery 2021.

Back to library work.

Today, I:

1. Catalogued books

I didn’t finish – nor am I printing spine labels (no home printer) – but a big chunk are dealt with.

2. Answered parent emails

More emails today from parents. One was looking for books for her ELL daughter at F&P level A,  so a quick email to her homeroom teacher got her access to Headsprouts & RazKids.  Another was looking for Epic! access, so I added the students to my homeroom & got the family signed up.

[Gentle reminder to me on Epic!: give a tutorial on this product next year at the start of the school year!  Too many teachers didn’t have accounts & had never heard of it.  Argh.  I can do better.]

3. Emailed colleagues re: setting up a Zoom meeting…then figured out how to download and set up a Zoom meeting.

Oh, Zoom. I hope using your platform is as easy as setting up a meeting. Because it was pretty darn easy. It’s really generous how they’re offering their platform FREE for educators through June 30, too.

Head to to get started.

4. I wondered & worried.

Not productive in the sense of creating a final product, but I spent time thinking.  I wondered what my ‘teaching’ will look like after Friday. How will teachers in my building learn the tech required to make this distance ed thing ‘work’?  I had a long chat with a colleague in a nearby district, and she shared her experience & knowledge in how they’re operating. She also promised to share what her librarian rolls out.  Then the worry started: how are my students doing? Do they have what they need?  Is there any way for me to help, save donating $$ to the local food & clothing bank?  Our public libraries are closed, and some kiddos never got extra books.  Thinking on the pack-horse librarians & the modern-day biblioburro – those librarians didn’t let anything stand in their way of meeting patrons where they’re at. I planted the seed with my principal regarding taking book deliveries on the road (i have freebies I can hand out, and I can circulate from my phone if kids want to swap books). All this done with 6′ of social distancing, of course. Nothing permanent, but I’m thinking.

Pack Horse Librarians. Photo: Wikipedia.

…and that was Day 3.


Coronavirus Closes the School Library: Day 2

Day 2 was also Day 1 of my two kids (ages 10&12) having school at home.  And my spouse continuing to work from home.

Here in WA, social distancing is a very, very real thing. Restaurants and gyms and salons are closing. And the entry at Costco looking like never before. (FYI: my Costco is next to Costco’s worldwide headquarters…but that doesn’t mean we have any more toilet paper than you, ’cause i checked)

But: back to the library.

My plan for Monday was to go to work and, well, work.  But Friday evening, certificated staff were informed that they’d be working from home the week of March 16-20.  We could go to work on Monday, March 16 only to pick up necessary items…not to work in the building.

ARGH! I had piles of work waiting for me AND work to do. So I went in really early – before most people were in the building – and grabbed my stuff (and did some work…because).

Three hours later, I left: hard copies of the BINGO sheets were on a cart outside the library’s exterior door, ready for pick-up; new books were in boxes, ready for at-home cataloging; numerous Destiny lists were ready to be dealt with (what books are ‘lost’, anyways…and do we need new copies??); office was deep-cleaned (because the library office never gets a good clean); books were ready for shelving by paras; and bags of books for potential YouTube read-alouds were in tow.

I know: Read-alouds on YouTube?  Isn’t that a major violation copyright??  In normal circumstances: yes.  But coronavirus is not normal. The world has been brought to its knees by this bug.  And authors – many authors – realized it.  They starting giving educators permission to use their books in videos over the weekend, as they wanted to help learners have access (and they expect the videos to come down when the school closures end). One publisher went a step further, allowing educators to use any of its books in read-aloud videos, so long as proper credit is given & videos are deleted in a timely manner.  I can totally do that.

But back to that list: the paras.  While certificated staff were instructed to work from home, paras had to report to work…for the whole day.  Those with health exceptions had different circumstances, but the para who works with me an hour a day wasn’t excused.  Walking out, leaving her there to shelve, felt terrible. Her only pro: she was happy to be working in the (clean) library.

When I got home, job 1 was curating more online learning resources & author experiences to email to families.  However: these have not been shared as stipulated by our district’s admin team…but I’ll leave them here for you.  Know that the below list is current as of March 16.



Scholastic has a site with daily projects “to keep kids reading, thinking, and growing”:

  • Arika’s tip: These are fabulous lessons that incorporate literacy, science, research, and more. They even have read-aloud capabilities!

Mystery Doug makes Inquiry-based science fun for K-5 learners with videos & lessons, now with instant access:

Age of Learning has 3 learning platforms that now offer free access (you’ll create a free account):

ABCmouse, Early Learning Academy:


Adventure Academy

VIRTUAL AUTHOR EXPERIENCES: again, these are free. Some require adult social media accounts to access.

  • [Here, in my drafted email, I detail a handful of experiences. As I don’t want to list any author/illustrator names here – that’s a big no-no for this year’s Newbery work – use the link below to find author/illustrator events.  Note that it is NOT my work]

There are many, many more online author events & resources. Some are on this website.  Others are in this Google Doc (note: I did not create it).


Curating resources takes work. A LOT OF WORK. And families were noticing!  I’d received a half-dozen messages on Monday in response to Sunday’s email.  One of them:

Hi Arika,

Thank you so much for your communication to parents to assist with resources during “corona break” (as our kindergartener is calling it!). … You have done the hard work of curating the sites to narrow down from a huge sea of options, and […]

Another email:

Hi Arika,

Thank you for your email.  Would you also have a class code for [name] to access Epic, so that he can read books online? It asks for a class code on [redacted].

This prompted more research.  The result: that Epic! was now FREE for students to use at home…provided teachers input parent emails.  A quick email to my staff, and at least 3 teachers were able to quickly connect their students to Epic at home.

Busy? Yes. Productive? Absolutely. Let there be no doubt: there is loads of library work being done while not at work (and even at work, but don’t tell).

…and that was Day 2.


Newbery 2021: how it happened

Last year, at this exact time, I was waiting.

By the grace of the librarians at ALA, I’d been nominated to stand for election to the 2021 Newbery Committee.

“HOW did this happen?”, you may be wondering.  That is a good question.  As it turns out, it was the result of years of showing up, some very recent knowledge & efforts…and a bit of luck.

Step 1 – become a member of ALA & ALSC.

  • I am a longtime member of ALA and ALSC – the Association for Library Service to Children. People think ALSC is for public librarians…but look at the name. Library Service to Children. That is what I do.  And ALSC is the group that awards the shiny medals like Newbery, Caldecott, Geisel & more.  Committee members must be members of ALSC & ALA.

Step 2 – show up at ALA.

  • I attended ALA, usually Annual, and as often as I could.  Yes, it gets expensive. I always had a hotel roommate: Charleen, Nannette, Alpha…lots of roommates over the years. Once at conference, I attend the ALSC events.  Not surprisingly, continuing to show up helps.

Step 3: volunteer to serve on any ALSC committee.

  • Each year, I filled out the volunteer form for ALSC. They have loads of committees. I was trying to get my foot in the door in any way possible.  ANY committee would be a good committee.  I filled this form out for YEARS with no luck.  But fill out the form.

Step 4: talk, talk, talk.

  • This gets hard, but talk & network while at ALA & ALSC events.  This talking & connecting was my stroke of luck. Prior to one ALA (maybe it was in 2016), I replied to an email that was gathering ALSC members to garner feedback while at the conference. I had no idea that by replying, I’d be at a small table with people who would literally change my professional career. I met Eric, Marianne, and Susan – three people who have been movers, shakers, and influencers. Susan, in. particular, became my mentor and answered dozens of questions for me over the years.

Step 5: email, email, email.

  • Remember that volunteer form? I did.  It wasn’t getting me anywhere.  So in 2017 I emailed the president of ALSC, asking of there were ANY opportunities to serve.  The answer: no.  The next year, I emailed ALSC’s new president. Same answer: no.  But not long after, I got a message: they needed someone!  But I couldn’t serve…because:

Step 6: be aware of learning opportunities.

Every other year, ALSC runs the Bill Morris Seminar. It is, in short, a place to learn how to professionally critique children’s books & serve on award committees. My mentor told me to apply.  The application was, suffice to say, extensive.  My answers to their questions weren’t that amazing – I had not served on ANY committees! – but I was honest. I have done a lot of work in WA with book awards, so I focused on that.

As it turns out, I was accepted to the 2018 Bill Morris Seminar – one of 30 librarians (I was the only international librarian, coming in from London).  The hosts were a veritable who’s who of youth librarians in the USA. Participants were observed discussing pre-selected books, and lectures were given by prior award committee chairs.  No one knows how you ‘do’ … except the hosts.

Fast-forward a year: Spring 2019. My name was on the ballot to be elected to the Newbery. I turned down the opportunity to volunteer in 2018 because of the nomination to the ballot.

The elections happen in March/April. Sixteen people are nominated. Eight are elected. Ultimately, a chair and 6 other librarians will be appointed.

Voters had to actively go click & vote. I was the only elementary librarian on the Newbery ballot, but I had public library experience, international experience, and I’d lived loads of places.

On April 10, 2019, I got the email: CONGRATULATIONS. You’ve been elected to serve on the  2021 Newbery Committee.  

What does that mean? Reading. Lots of reading.  But I can do that. Harder is that, until the committee decides the winning book in January 2021, committee members may not:

  1. Post about children’s books.
  2. Post about children’s authors or illustrators .
  3. Interact with anything children’s lit-related on social media.
  4. Blog about current reads or lessons I’m teaching with books. ARGH!

On a normal day, this is hard. I tweet photos of kids holding books All The Time.  But no more.

Yes, this is made more difficult with the current coronavirus situation. After reaching out to my Newbery Chair, I *can* do my job.  I expect to make videos of older books to share online with my students (it’s best if they do NOT have a book coming out in 2020) and do my job in whatever method possible.  But that’s it.

And that is my path to Newbery 2021, in a long nutshell.

cheers, y’all. arika.

Coronavirus Closes the School Library: Day 1.5

Sunday. The day where teachers usually avoid work like the plague if they can.  But I couldn’t avoid coronavirus & the driving need to give parents information.

There were 20% or more of students hadn’t been in the building to receive hard copies of School Break Reading BINGO & electronic resource logins/passwords.

There was the end of trimester learning update to write & share.

And there were 600 students who I was missing and thinking about.

So I wrote an email. It began:

Dear Sockeye Readers,

To keep this shorter & more readable, this message is in list form.

I will miss your student.  A lot.  They – and you – are in the forefront of my mind as we embark on these weeks of uncharted territory.

Following that was a bit of information for them, including how to pick up hardcopies of the BINGO paper & where to find it online as well as details on our extra book check-out experience. This was good to share, as our public libraries closed two days prior.

The email ended:

Engaging & inspiring all children to read, think, and explore is why I teach library. Please know I am working hard to find ways to reach them as readers and learners as we experience closures & practice social distancing.

…and I am. I don’t know how I’ll do this yet – we are awaiting instruction from our admin leadership team and union – but you better believe I’m working toward being ready.

And that was Day 1.5


Coronavirus closes the school library: day 1

Day 1: no school for students. All staff to report to buildings.

What do you do on a no-student day?  Usually: report cards. Prep materials. Professional development & meetings. Generally, it is low-stress.

Not this day.  Students were out due to coronavirus, which is sweeping across the PNW & the world. Staff were told to report to the building Friday (no meetings, just work time) & Monday (meeting & time TBD).

It was not low-stress.  NO ONE knew what was coming. How long would staff be reporting? What would teaching look like in the coming days?  Many staff were worried.  They were cleaning, tidying, and talking.

In the library, I cleaned. A lot.  Thanks to the graciousness of a grade 3 teacher, I had antibac wipes (those are worth their weight in gold around here).

I tidied.  A lot.  Those teetering piles in my office? Gone. The random stacks of books & papers on a cart? Books were discarded, papers recycled.

And I talked – mostly with my 1 hr/day para who had no ‘job’ for the day due to no students. We tried to keep things light as we scanned EVERY SINGLE BOOK in the library.  You might call it ‘inventory’. I called it ‘hunting for the needles in the haystack’, or scanning to find the books that had been shelved but not checked in.

Why do this massive scan?  Well, there were numerous books in the previous days that were showing as ‘checked out’ when students came to check them out. Students were finding books on the shelf they’d returned earlier in the year.  In order to send parents an accurate report of what their child has out after the coronavirus closure, I wanted to be certain that no book was actually in the library. Our scanning found at least 50 books that were ‘checked out’…but not.

As I left, with an extra bag of books, it was with the understanding that we’d all be back on Monday.

And that was Day 1.




Coronavirus closes the school library: day 0

As you may know, I teach elementary library to 600-ish students in suburban Seattle.

As you may also know, suburban Seattle is Ground Zero for coronavirus in the USA.

In the days leading up to our school closing (Thur., Mar 12), attendance was in sharp decline.  The first week of March saw about a 13% absentee rate.  The second week of March – the week we ultimately closed – saw a 20%+ absentee rate. No volunteers were allowed in the building: only students & staff.  Kids were passing hand sanitizer like it was contraband gum.  It was a surreal time to be a teacher, to say the very least.

As I mentioned, our school closed March 12.  The writing was on the wall,  though: neighboring districts (like Northshore,  LWSD, & Seattle) had already closed. So when the announcement was made at 2:20pm to everyone – staff & families found out at the same time – it wasn’t a complete surprise. What was a surprise was the duration of the closure: 6 weeks, as mandated by our governor.

But before the 2:20 announcement, I knew closure was imminent. With literally no idea of what to expect or what was expected, this is what I did:

1. I listened to my gut & got books in the hands of readers.

I knew the school would close…I just didn’t know when or for how long (we were guessing 2 weeks).  So on Thursday, when I had a break in my teaching schedule, I emailed all classrooms & invited them to the library for an extra check out. Literally ANY TIME before the end of the day.  Teachers could come with students or they could send students in pairs or small groups or solo.  My job: to get them books…as many as they needed, before any possible closure. Remember, we only found out about an hour prior to dismissal.  Kids were walking out with stacks of books, with bags of books. The library looked like a picked-over book fair.  It felt good.

2. I prepped & disseminated just-in-time resources.

Every year, all families are given a library access bookmark at back-to-school night.  It has everything: websites, logins, passwords, etc.

That was in September, though. It was now March. Families likely needed the information RIGHT NOW.  So I sent it out – but, this time, on the back of a School Break Reading BINGO.  Yep – the BINGO game was back.

How did I pull this off with little to no time? Most of the hard work was already done. The database access info was already curated in one spot.  The BINGO sheet was from a prior project.  I made some tweaks, copied them front to back, and sent every child home with a hard-copy (optional) BINGO with the school’s electronic resources on the other side.

When I started making the BINGO & resource sheet, I still thought we had school on Friday. But, that old mantra of ‘better safe than sorry’ had me moving fast. The doc was created, copied 600 times, and given out to classroom teachers before the end of Thursday.

Seeing the students walk out that day felt like the strangest day of school.  We weren’t supposed to give hugs (social distancing had started). There were tears & scared kids – far more than the overjoyed kids (and there were some…they are kids, after all). All we knew is that we’d be back in (hopefully) 6 weeks. Anything more was yet to come.

And that was Day 0.


Reflecting on Students Reading…or not

Developing students into readers who read & talk about books, who clamor to get their hands on the next hot title: this is one of my goals as an elementary librarian. I want to build a generation of passionate readers.

So as I reflect on this school year – on my students, on their reading needs – I look at all aspects of my program to see if the choices I’m making best meets this goal.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my current grade 3 & 4 students. They’ll be the grade 4/5 students next year who need continued inspiration to jump into and continue exploring the wonders of middle grade novels.  They deserve something amazing, something inspiring, something that will awaken their passion for reading.  And as the person they come to for book advice, I can’t let them down.

So next year, I’m trying something new to inspire them to read with wild abandon.  My students, along with others in some nearby schools, will be participating in the first (possibly annual) Rainier Reading Challenge.  It’s a bracket-style competition with 8 books vying to make it to the top of Mt. Rainier (which we can see on a clear day here in the PNW).  Voting will happen in stages, so student engagement should stay high.  Student interest, diversity of authors/characters, reading levels, professional reviews, genres, and cover images were all considered when selecting the 8 titles.

You’re welcome to join.  More info on the award and its eight titles to be shared tomorrow.

Cheers, y’all!


PS: a huge shout-out to my friends Julie, Leah, Sarah, Christina, Juliana, and Elizabeth – thank you for listening, for offering feedback, and for being an awesome Professional Learning Community.  This wouldn’t exist without you.  Thank you to my son H for coming up with the name Rainer Reading Challenge.  You’re one of those I hope to inspire to read with wild abandon.

Library Lessons: Feb 25-Mar 1, 2019


Week 1 of our new author/illustrator study with Deborah Freedman!  Her stories are brilliant tie-ins to the SEL / social-emotional learning happening in our building this year.

Grade 1:

It’s WCCPBA time.  We will spend 4-8 weeks on this unit.  We’ll look at all types of books, at characters and how they act, and consider which story is our favorite and why.

Grades 2&3:

Shark Weeks!  Combining a few WA State Book Awards (WCCPBA & Towner) AND research AND critical thinking, this 3-4 week unit promises to be fun.  Week 1: SHAWN LOVES SHARKS by Curtis Manley.

Grades 4&5:

More media literacy on being aware online.  When discussing phishing a few weeks ago, a grade 4 student brought up catfishing. While it wasn’t part of what I expected to teach, I decided to include a lesson on it…because if a 9 year old has heard the term (but isn’t clear on what it means), then it’s worth the time.

Is catfishing this?

Nope!  It’s not fishing for catfish, either.  As we learned, catfishing is:

There was a LOT of conversation about this topic.  It seemed like half of the students in each class had examples they were willing to share when either they or their parents had seen a catfishing scam.

Led by Google’s Be Internet Awesome slides & curriculum, our discussion focused on “Let’s Talk” – how do you know it’s really them?  Students shared many ways they could identify if a person was real.  Then I shared a screen cap I’d taken a few weeks earlier from Instagram of a new follower (only the first slide).  I asked what they noticed and what they’d do if they were me.  Many knew about blocking, but only a handful knew that they could look in the account to “see” more about the follower (the second & third slides).

One student brought up how sometimes people care about their number of followers.  This was a good conversation point!  Another mentioned that they don’t have Instagram so they don’t have to worry about this.  To that end, I reiterated that the focus was on being aware when online in any situation: social networking, gaming, email, research, etc.

Cheers, y’all! –arika