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Library on Wheels

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Elementary schools throughout the East Meadow School District have been safely distributing books to students with a “library on wheels.” Frank Lukasik, the district’s director of literacy and funded programs, along with Jim Mendonis, director of social studies and 21st century learning, and district librarians, devised this plan to ensure students could continue to have access to reading.

Ellen O’Neill, the librarian at George McVey Elementary School, considers this mobile asset to be vitally important. “It was priority number one to get books in the hands of as many of our students as we could,” she said. “It was a sense of normalcy for children returning to school.”

Every morning, Ms. O’Neill curates a collection of books for students in grades K-5. Since students are not currently permitted to visit the library, her mode of delivery is a 70-pound cart, which she pushes around the school to visit each class.

The thoughtful selection of titles for the cart is based on such factors as grade level and interest. There are also favorite authors, series and characters. The cart returns the power of choice to students in their reading, something that is very important to the district.

“Before school closures, students had multiple opportunities to shop for books in our classrooms and school libraries, but the pandemic changed all of that,” Mr. Lukasik said. “Our focus on student choice and helping kids get quality texts remains a priority.”

In the COVID-19 era, an attention to cleanliness and safety was also taken into consideration when planning the distribution of books. Ms. O’Neill “quarantines” books before and after they are checked out by students. Additionally, students are required to wash and sanitize their hands before making their selection, and then must do so again before they return to their desks.

Although curating a specific and safe library cart for multiple classes is a tedious task, Ms. O’Neill recalls how one student’s reaction made it all worth it. “The first child that went up to the cart and took a book off, the smile was absolutely beautiful,” she said. “This little child was hugging the book.”

Another focus of this initiative was equity of materials for students learning from home. Utilizing the Sora K-12 reading app from OverDrive, Ms. O’Neill has her remote students digitally check out the same titles she offers to her in-person students. The students who tune into class virtually are able to read along, forging a vital connection to the classroom and to reading.

“The ‘library on wheels’ is an exciting part of the school day for our kids,” Mr. Lukasik said. “We continue to stress the importance of reading at home, and this provides additional access to books for our families.”