Serving Teens During COVID-19

Like many of you, my anxiety levels are high due to all the changes in our current world. In Illinois, most K-12 schools have been closed since March 16, and the transition to e-learning is in full swing.  My community college moved to the online environment on March 23 after an extended Spring Break. I’m privileged and thankful to be able to work from home, but it’s difficult to keep my teenager on track with e-learning and to balance the home and work duties, especially on the lovely Spring day last week when it was 70 degrees outside!

My library was in a fairly good place to transition all services to the virtual environment.  We already use LibGuides and have subscriptions to many databases. I’m able to update everything from home, and login to my work computer through a virtual machine. But the quick transition to virtual meant learning to use quickly purchased campus-wide technologies like chat, Zoom, and Skype. All of these technology updates were sorely needed, but the learning curve was steep for many faculty and staff members! But we’re surviving. And serving our students the best way that we can.

And I know you all are, too.  I reached out via Twitter to see how YALSA members were serving their teen patrons, and heard from two Illinois librarians. Tracey Virrorio, Teen Services Librarian at Plainfield Public Library District, utilized the teen-focused Instagram account (@plainfieldteens) to issue a call for a Virtual Teen Art Show.

Plainfield Public Library Virtual Teen Art Show

Screenshot from @plainfieldteens Instagram

Tracey is posting one piece of art daily and will be showcasing a gallery of images on the library’s Facebook account. What a great way to showcase teen quarantine creations!

School librarians are facing an uphill battle in some school districts. Worksheet packets and e-learning can only go so far. Belleville Public Schools are parking their wifi-enabled buses around town so that more people can use their wifi, but what about those students who have no one to drive them to a bus? Or don’t even own a device?  How do we tackle issues like equity when the state orders e-learning to occur?

Mariela Martinez Siegert, School Librarian at Westfield Middle School, addressed the concerns that many of us have about equity:

“I think one of the things that concerns me so much as a school librarian is the elitist idea that everybody has Internet access or devices to participate in e-learning, remote learning or virtual learning. Or even the time. We have some students who are taking care of their younger siblings because their parents are working still or working from home. We have families whose only internet access is their phones data plan. We have families in rural areas that have no internet access and devices might be limited depending on the needs of the family. And, yes, there are some programs out there for free internet access, but there are some serious flaws with these programs. Our lower- and middle-class working families who are on a tight budget, or even a tighter budget now, can’t afford the Internet or the larger phone data plan at the moment.”

The stay-at-home edicts are widening the learning gaps that already exist and librarians are finding ways to help. Many educators in my professional learning network are stressing that the internet needs to be a public utility, available to all. Broadband needs to be everywhere and all students need to be equipped with a learning device to take home. Why are some districts more privileged than others?

YALSA has already been working to remove inequities within its own organization.  An Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Statement and EDI Plan guides our work and much of our work already exists in the online environment. But how do these documents apply to your own library during COVID-19? How can libraries strive to eliminate inequities? How can YALSA help you do so? If you have any suggestions, please post in the comments!

Also, if you haven’t already, please consider donating to YALSA’s Give $20 in 2020 campaign. We want to continue to strengthen Friends of YALSA to fund member grants and awards because these help to eliminate inequities between our own members.

Stay safe,

Sarah Hill, Financial Advancement Committee Member

YALSA President 2016-2017

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