Thanks to a creative media specialist, distance learners at Woodland Middle School have the same access to library books that the in-person students have.
Just before preplanning for the 2020-21 school year began, media specialist Sabrina Price came across a blog by fellow media specialist Shannon McClintock Miller that discussed creating a BookHub delivery service to get library books into the hands of distance learners.
"Once the school start date was confirmed and options were given for in-person or digital learning, I knew I needed to start developing a plan to connect with our digital learners and to meet the needs of our in-person students while books are quarantined," Price said.
The blog, in which Miller wrote about students "ordering" the books they wanted and media specialists doing the "shopping" for them, gave Price the inspiration she needed to find a way to connect with students, both distance learners and in-person students.
"It caught my eye because it was a cute spinoff of the popular delivery service, GrubHub," Price said. "It was a concept that would already be familiar with parents and students without having to give much explanation. I loved the idea of 'ordering books' so I set out to make BookHub work for our school and our students."
Price said middle schoolers are "at the age where they need to be encouraged and engaged with reading," and she didn't want the "unexpected circumstances we currently face" due to COVID-19 to cause any student to miss out on the chance to check out library books.
"These few years are some of the most important when it comes to them creating a love or hate relationship with reading," she said. "I wanted to develop a program that would give me the opportunity to get books into their hands while giving them both guidance and a sense of ownership in what they choose to read."
Enabling distance learners to check out library books is essential to keeping them connected to their school, according to Price.
"Our distance learners are still our students," she said. "The only difference is the location in which their learning takes place. We expect them to act and work as if they are 'regular' students so they should be able to have the same expectations for us. I am sure I could find websites to access books online, but it just isn’t the same. With our library, they have an abundance of books to choose from instead of just a small collection they might find elsewhere."
When the school began doing distance learning, the teachers and administrators wanted to "find ways to include those students as part of our everyday school experience as much as possible," Principal Michael Blankenship said.
"We want them to still feel as if they are a part of the school," he said. "Most importantly, we want them to maintain their academic growth. This is just one way that we can try to provide a high-quality learning experience for our distance learning students."
The WMS BookHub was introduced to teachers and students on Sept. 1, Price said, and teachers were sent a screencast to show their students on how to access and use the school's online catalog Destiny Discover.
"Our digital learners were the first to learn about it," she said. "Then, it was introduced to everyone else about a week later."
Using Destiny Discover, distance learners can place an order for the books they want, and Price will deliver it to their vehicles curbside. In-person students can enter their orders and pick them up in the media center.
"Students can access their accounts in Destiny Discover from school or home," Price said. "Once there, they can browse our entire library collection of print books and e-books and can instantly see the availability of each book. They have the option to 'favorite' books they may want to check out later or they can place a 'hold' on a book, which starts the BookHub process."
Until now, WMS hasn't had a digital option to place holds on books, but technology specialists at the central office created the feature at Price’s request.
"Once students place books on hold, I receive an alert that requests are waiting to be filled," she said. "If holds are placed on available books, I pull those books from the collection, check them out to the students, tag them and notify the students that their books are ready for pick up. If they request books that aren’t currently available, the request remains until the book is returned and is then available. It seems to be an overwhelming process, but Follett Destiny, our online system, is designed to keep track and send alerts when the status of an item changes."
When students get to the school for pick up, "they call the media center, and I deliver the books to the car," Price said.
"If use of the program continues to increase, I may have to enlist the aid of others [to help deliver], but for now, I want to be able to have that face-to-face contact with our digital learners," she said.
In-person learners are allowed to visit the media center so Price sends the students a message through Schoology to let them know their orders are ready to be picked up there.
"I want to be able to interact with the students as much as possible so unless the media center is forced to close — due to the virus — I plan for students to stop by once their books are ready," she said.
Students at school have been "very impressed with what Destiny Discover allows them to do," Price said.
"They seem even more impressed when they are able to walk into the library, knowing the book they chose is waiting on them," she said. "It may be somewhat time-consuming on my end, but those reactions have made my day."
Right now, Price said she is "open for deliveries and pickups every day."
"With digital learners, I need to be flexible so that it doesn’t become an inconvenience for the parents," she said. "For this age group, the students must rely on someone else to get them here, and I don’t want inconveniences to be the reason why someone may not get a book."
Wait times on certain books could become longer "based on the availability of a book, necessary lengths for book quarantines [24-36 hours] or the traffic in the media center on any given day," Price said.
"My goal, however, is to have as quick of a turnaround as possible," she said. "If students are eager to read, I don’t want to put their interest on hold any longer than necessary."
The return process for digital learners is the same as pickup — curbside.
"The hope is that as they return one book, I am already handing them another one," Price said.
The media specialist said there "seems to be a great response" to BookHub so far.
"Of course, it is still in the beginning phases, but book requests are coming in every day from both in-person and digital learners," she said. "I am very excited to see our students taking advantage of the opportunity and showing such an interest in reading."
Though she hasn't had any feedback from parents yet, Price said they "seem very willing to bring the students to pick up their books."
"That seems like a good sign to me," she said.
Blankenship said he is "very proud" of BookHub and of Price for the work she's doing.
"When Ms. Price shared the idea with me, I was excited to hear the news," he said. "This kind of 'coloring-outside-the-lines' creative thinking is what we need as we try to do in-person learning and distance learning at the same time. Reading is so very important for all students."
With BookHub up and running, Price's next project will be creating collections within the catalog.
"Within Destiny Discover, I can go in and create groups of books from our collection that have something in common," she said. "I could create a collection of books that I have read and loved. I could create collections of books that are considered dystopian fiction — books where governments have created unbearable societies for humans to live in, books like 'The Hunger Games.' Students who know they like that type of story can look at the collection to find similar books they might like. I could create classroom collections based on topics being covered in a certain class. The possibilities are basically endless."
Price said she's "very thankful to be at a school that places importance on the media center and my position as a media specialist."
"Many schools throughout the state have chosen not to open their media centers, but the administration at WMS and at the county level have been very open to ideas and have been very helpful in finding a way to maintain safety while still providing access to what should be a very central part of any school," she said.