Berkeley school district libraries continue distributing books using COVID-19 safety protocols

Photo of Sylvia Mendez School
Sunny Shen/File
A COVID-19 safety protocols-abiding book distribution program has been set up at all Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, libraries to continue to provide students with access to books amid the pandemic. Since the start of the 2020 school year, BUSD has distributed more than 24,000 library books.

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Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, has implemented a library book distribution program across all of its schools that abides to COVID-19 safety protocols.

According to Jessica Lee, BUSD district library coordinator, the program began with textbook distribution in early September at Berkeley High School, or BHS, and later expanded to elementary schools and middle schools in October. The books come to all students free of charge, without late fees and without any penalties for lost books.

The district has checked out more than 24,000 library books since the start of the school year, Lee said in an email.

“Reading is an essential part of every student’s education,” Lee added in the email. “Many students don’t have access to books outside of school.”

Across all BUSD schools, libraries are preparing bags of books for students, Lee said in the email. At middle schools and high schools, books are being bagged by request, according to Lee. At elementary schools, however, libraries are preparing bags for every student — about one grade per week — and sending notifications to families when they are ready for pickup.

According to BUSD’s official safety protocols for libraries, in order to pick up their books, families must hold up a paper with both their student’s and teacher’s names on it. Books are then picked up by families on a table or placed directly in the trunk of their cars.

Each school site also features bins and shopping carts for collecting book returns, Lee added.

“Families can return books to any BUSD school, so they can drop off BHS books at an elementary school if that is more convenient,” Lee said in the email. “We will deal with moving the books around.”

In addition to training library staff and volunteers on safety protocols and providing face coverings, gloves, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes on-site, BUSD libraries are quarantining returned items for 72 hours before returning them to bookshelves, according to the official safety protocols.

According to Lee, the biggest challenge has been that only employees have been allowed on campus.

“Volunteers can help distribute the bags, but they can’t come into the library to help with organizing the bags,” Lee said in the email. “All of the book selection, checkout, writing kids’ names on bags, etc. have to be done by the single person who works at each elementary school site.”

While challenging to coordinate, Lee said in the email, it is important for all students to continue having access to books at this time, and she expects the program to last as long as students continue learning remotely.

According to Lee, BUSD is prepared to adapt the program as circumstances change and expect access to libraries will remain limited, even when students finally do return to campus.

“While all students have access to ebooks and audiobooks, we think it is important for students to get time to read away from their screens,” Lee said in the email. “There is something so special about being able to hold a physical book and turn pages.”

Contact Katia Pokotylo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @katiapokotylo_.