Virtual Library Community Space (Keeping Students Connected Pt. 2)

Hey everyone! Well this is the start of week 3 of school closures for my district. This week is our first week of distance learning! For the first two weeks while our schools were closed, and distance learning was not yet officially begun, my main focus has been on keeping the students feeling connected with each other and with our library community.

Shifting Gears

As you’ll notice from the other posts in this blog, our HS library is a social hub of the school. We truly have become the heart of the school. And though my motto for our library has always been “The Library: not just a room, but a community.” the fact is that much of our community does happen in the physical library space. So I had to shift gears and really put a lot of focus on brainstorming ways of moving the community into the virtual world. Luckily I started this process several years ago when I began the social media accounts for our library. In the last several years I have put a lot of energy into building up the library instagram (@gvhslibrary) and so I fortunately had a good base to build from.

Community Building Phase 1

In recent months I have gotten so much positive feedback about the library’s instagram account. At a recent student-admin forum, when asked what method would be most successful for the district to use to convey important messages and information to the teenagers, the students told administration that “the library instagram is the best method” because “so many students go there for information.”  My heart sang at that feedback! So two weeks ago I began doing community building and outreach on the instagram. I did lots of goodmorning and goodnight video messages, funny tiktoks to keep students laughing, and every single night I did a Live chat and bedtime story readaloud.  You can read more about that in this post.  (p.s. Most of the videos and messages were done in our Instagram Stories, which only live for 24 hours, so if you go to my instagram page now you won’t see everything.)

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Community Building, Phase 2

As we enter phase 2, where we are actually beginning distance learning, I knew that I would need to change things a bit. For the last two weeks students have been completely stuck at home with little to no contact with their school community (classes, teachers, admin, etc) so the nightly Live chats on Instagram filled a definite need for socialization. However, now that students will be attending live virtual classes each day, I don’t think there will be as much of a critical need for the Instagram Live chats for social connection. So I have decided to scale those back to twice a week (wednesdays and saturdays) for now.

Building a Virtual Library Community Space

That left me with thinking up ways of continuing to provide a library “community space.” Our school has Canvas as our LMS, so I have the virtual “room” to create such a place. All I needed was to think of activities that would be:

  • unstructured
  • not stressful
  • optional
  • varied
  • engaging
  • promote brain breaks and social-collaboration (which is a huge priority in our physical library space)

Idea #1: Virtual Community Coloring Poster

I came up with a few ideas, and I received more ideas from the lovely librarians on the Future Ready Librarians Facebook page! My first idea was to try to create virtual versions of some of the most popular physical activities we host in the library. One of the most popular activities are our “Giant Community Coloring Pages” (see more about them here) so I tried to come up with a way of creating a virtual version of that. And I did!

What I came up with was to use Microsoft Whiteboard. All of our students have accounts for Office 365 through the school, so they all have Whiteboard access.  So I created a shared Whiteboard.

Then, in Canva.com I created the coloring sheet.  I do this by simply finding a “free to reuse” adult coloring sheet via google. I paste that into the Canvas page. Then I place a white shape on the center of it. Then I type some kind of quote or message on top. Then download it as an image and upload the image into Whiteboard. You can see the directions for how I create the designs here. Then I just copied the “shareable link.”

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In Canvas, our LMS, I created a module called “Virtual Library Playground” and that is where I posted the shared link to the whiteboard. I also included the video “how to tutorial.”

After the setup was all complete, I advertised the Virtual Coloring Poster on our instagram, and via an email newsletter I sent to all students.

dl newsletter screenshot

Do I think all or even most students will participate in the virtual library playground? No.

Do I think they really need more virtual activities in their lives right now, what with the distance learning, and all of the COVID anxiety? No!

But do I think it is really important that students know that I am still here, and that the library community we’ve worked so hard to build is still there for them even during these trying and frightening times? Yes!

Even if not a single students uses the activities I provide, this will still be worth my time. Because at the very least, my students will know that their librarian is still accessible and is still trying to provide for them. That sense of connection, and of mattering, is what is important right now.

Stay Tuned

Stay tuned for the next blog post, where I’ll share information on the other collaborative activities I’ll be adding to our new Virtual Library Playground space. Upcoming ideas include collaborative word searches, collaborative crossword puzzles, trivia, riddles, suggested “brain breaks” like live zoo cams, museum virtual tours, origami instruction, paper airplane contents, and more!  Our state has just announced schools to remain physically closed until at least the end of April, so I’ll be releasing activities like these to students a little at a time. Just to give them a sense of a shared virtual “community space” they can go to to reconnect, unwind, and have fun, if they need it.

I hope everyone reading this is doing well. And thanks for reading all the way down to the bottom, this was a loooonnnggg post and I appreciate you spending your time with me. 🙂

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