When the library goes digital

Neena Girish

“Never underestimate the silence, shyness of a child as his or her weakness or incapability”. This is what the pandemic has taught us, especially library educators. This thought struck me as students belonging to different socio-economic backgrounds overcame all challenges to attend the online library classes. My story revolves around these shy and silent students who proved that they are as capable as their boisterous counterparts. It talks about their struggle to adopt and adapt to online platforms, the help from the community and the students’ own resilience that helped them spread their wings. It also talks about my journey from a librarian to a library educator who transcends limitations of space and time with her vision.

The 2019-2020 academic session began on a good note for all of us until corona knocked on our doors. Pandemic and lockdown! The new academic session was to begin online in April 2020. I was taken aback, when our principal ma’am said that she wanted a library period also included in the time-table for the primary classes. Filled with fear and gratitude to my principal and school management for including library periods along with other subjects during the online classes, I began to explore…

This sudden shift from physical books to the online mode for library classes…how could it be possible? That was the first thought that struck me.

On second thoughts, I decided to do a few things: start small, seek support and training and explore the virtual world. I began to take my junior classes through WhatsApp, interacting with students through voice messages while narrating stories. The feel of normal interaction was missing in the beginning days. In our school, the library was never considered as a place to issue and return storybooks alone; students often had interactive sessions using puppets, creating bookmarks, comic strips, etc. Now it was time to look for online options to bring the space and role of the library alive! This shift from offline to technology-based classes was challenging and adventurous too. And then came a call of support from the school library association. My fellow librarians and I underwent training on how to use different online library tools and platforms.

The School Library Association of India (SLA India) is the first registered national association for school libraries and librarians in India, which came into being on June 26, 2018 under the Societies Act 1860.The foundation of SLA was laid with an international leadership skills training workshop funded by the International Federation of Library Association, Netherlands at the GD Goenka* University campus, Gurugram. During the summer, before COVID struck, 20 selected librarians from across India attended the workshop mentored by Ms. Ingrid Bon and Ms. Premila Gamage of the IFLA. Being one among those lucky 20 librarians was a boon for me. That was the turning point.

After the summer break when the library classes were conducted through zoom, I was ready. Students were introduced to online tools and platforms, their use and benefits. In the beginning, a few parents objected as their kids were too small to handle online platforms on their own. At this point, the librarian stepped into the shoes of a counsellor, helping parents understand the concept of foster reading and the major role a parent can play in his or her child’s learning during the pandemic. Foster reading was a collaborative program where parents read with their children, both online and offline. The concept of foster reading did wonders in the later classes as those students who kept themselves away from participation and hesitated to speak started coming forward.

After these baby steps, we started the journey of not just stories and storytelling but a plethora of activities/creativities exploring many online platforms through the library classes.

Students’ Views
I came across my school’s own “E-Library”, where students can post pictures, their thoughts and many more things according to their wish. At the same time, people who visit this website can witness the creativity of students. Our teacher also introduced us to a website named – Readworks.org, where we can read a lot of stories. Also, assignments are provided. This enhances our vocabulary. I have read stories and also gave a speech on our Missile Man –
Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, which has been uploaded on my school’s E-Library.
– Edwin Binoy, Class 6

Our library ma’am gave us many online opportunities during the pandemic. Storyweaver is one platform where we can create and read stories. Readworks is another platform where we can read stories and after that we need to answer the questions given. So that we can improve our comprehension. Padlet is another way to create stories and collage. This is more interesting than physical library classes.
– Aashi G Wilson, Class 5

Library periods before the pandemic were better than online as we could feel the presence of classroom and you could do an open conversation of a story, we would pick books that we are interested in and of course have to return it. We could discuss with our friends if it was a group project. I have some great memories of our library period. In online class I don’t have much to say but it was kind of fun and we also found many fun websites such as Padlet, Bookcreator, Readworks, Canva, Audible and a lot more. The activity I enjoyed the most was Bookcreator and Padlet. It was practical but at the same time fun! And I know we all are missing our schools, playgrounds, classrooms, teachers and friends and we also are kind of bored at home.
– Jiya Justin

The library is an essential part of our educational system and our librarian has made library period interesting by adding innovative online activities to it. Other than conventional book reading, we are doing activities like Readworks, Storymapping. I love weaving stories and telling them via podcast.
– Varnika Garg, Class 5

Students took part in online competitions conducted by the School Library Association by creating lockdown diaries and guess what happened! One of the students won the first prize at the national level in the class 9-12 category. This brought in a wave of enthusiasm!

It was during these lockdown classes that these children showcased their potential using online platforms like Wakelet, Padlet and Storyweaver. Some participated in the inter-school competition conducted for classes I to V. The topic was “Twist a tale”. One of the participants in the category of grade III to V created a book using bookcreator.com. This was an online tool that was totally new to her but she experimented and learned the technicalities of the application. She won the third prize under the category of grade V, her first ever inter-school competition and prize!

Now, during online classes students have begun to volunteer to help friends in need through foster reading. Students with potential but at the same time hesitant to come forward during offline classes showed that they just needed a platform to showcase their creativity. Another technique that kept children connected to books and reading, was the concept of podcast that I came across during my certificate course in storytelling. I named my podcast little storytellers. Here, one can hear budding storytellers of classes 1 to 6 narrate their stories with expression and voice modulation. Parents too played an important role by being part of the narration or storytelling along with their children.

The pandemic taught us many important lessons. A training session conducted by Mr.S.L. Faizal (Gen.secretary SLA India) on “how to create a library blog’’ using WordPress helped me create my school library blog. Some of the students were unable to save all the links used during the library class. The school library blog helped them locate websites and links easily and also kept them connected to books and stories.

No challenge can keep readers away from books. Be it physical books or digital books. Most schools and libraries have limitations but those limitations should not be the reason for not giving our best. Let’s make the best out of what we have rather than waiting for things to get better.

*www.slaindia.org (School Library Association India)
Online tools and websites used for library classes

  1. padlet.com
  2. wakelet.com
  3. storyweaver.org.in
  4. readworks.org.in
    Link address of my podcast and school library blog

The author is a librarian at St. Paul’s School, New Delhi. She can be reached at neenagirish9604@gmail.com

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