Lane library fosters engagement even during remote learning


Once replete with students coming to print, read and study before and after school, the library now lies empty since the school building closed to students in March 2020. (Photo courtesy of Hope Kuvalja)

By Finley Williams, Editor-in-Chief

On a typical in-person school day, students in need of cheap printing, a good book recommendation or a quiet place to study would wander into the Lane library, tucked like an oyster’s pearl between staircases D and A. 

Upon entering the doors, usually propped open in welcome, students were greeted with an artful display of books coordinated for the season: Ray Bradbury’s “The October Country” before Halloween, one of Jane Austen’s classics around Valentine’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. and Maya Angelou biographies during Black History Month. And of course, there were the wide north-facing windows, which in the winter revealed a lawn dotted with snow-covered trees and a busy Addison St. beyond.

In the virtual landscape, though, the library has had to apply an online twist to what used to be physical staples. Instead of viewing library recommendations in the library itself, students can open their tri-weekly Student News email to find student- and staff-recommended books. Students can also check out ebooks and access a vast variety of scholarly databases, most of which were available even before remote learning.

According to Lane library assistant Maya Joyce, the book recommendations came about as a way to keep students engaged with the library.

“At the beginning of this year, Mrs. K. [the other library assistant] and I talked and we really wanted to have the library be more accessible to students, and we thought a way to do that was to put out, OK, here’s one book every Monday, Wednesday, Friday,” Joyce said. “[It’s] the launch point of, OK, they have this book, so now I can kind of find my way into the virtual library and everything.”

According to Joyce, since returning from Winter Break, recommendations from the student community come on Mondays and Fridays, and staff recommendations are on Wednesdays. Throughout September, October, November and December, the weekly recommendations aligned with the month’s respective theme. For example, on Mondays in October, recommendations were related to Dog Adoption Month, and Fridays were horror recommendations. Every Wednesday focused on books related to anti-racism, all curated by Joyce and Lane’s second library assistant, Hope Kuvalja.

Abby Mac Kenzie, Div. 183, who recommended “The House in the Cerulean Sea” last month, said she was excited to be able to share a book she loved with her peers.

“[It was] harder for me during quarantine to encourage people to read the stuff I’m reading, so I was glad that the library gave me an opportunity to be like, ‘Hey, I’m really obsessed with this right now and I kind of just need to talk about it,’” Mac Kenzie said. “So I was grateful that they did that, gave me that platform.”

The library has also begun providing social justice resources in the wake of an increased focus on anti-racism following George Floyd’s killing in May, which at Lane resulted in student-led social justice advisory lessons.

The Friday after the BIPOC Advisory Committee’s Dec. 2 lesson on racial biases, for example, the library released a list of book recommendations that would help students further explore the topic. Last month, Joyce and Kuvalja put together a list of classics specifically by Black authors.

According to Kuvalja, the administration reached out and asked if she and Joyce would gather these resources.

“I thought it was a brilliant idea because the library truly does have a massive amount of resources, in person, obviously, and then also through our ebooks, through our articles, and just the Internet as a whole has a massive amount of resources that can be kind of hard to sift through,” Kuvalja said. “So we found it easier to provide a sort of launch pad for students to see what we recommend and then go off and find their own information if that’s what they’d like to do.”

Joyce said she saw these initiatives as a way to create an experience comparable to physically being in the library.

“I know that a lot of times, there would be students that would come to us and ask for specific topics including either race or sexuality or gender expression or gender identity, and asking us, ‘What does the library have to offer for these topics, and what can I find that is either interesting to me or specifically has to do with my life,’ and it would lead to really wonderful conversations, at least for me, about what does the library have to offer and maybe what are we missing and how can we supplement that,” Joyce said.

Aside from books and anti-racism information, Lane library page on the school’s website reveals a slew of databases available for student and staff use: the Gale Virtual Reference Library for online encyclopedia access; Opposing Viewpoints in Context for academic papers on hot-button social issues; JSTOR for academic and scholarly papers, and at least a half dozen other resources. Students are also able to check out over 5,000 ebooks with a few simple clicks on the library website.

Alpha English teacher Nathan Nordlund told The Warrior via email that he and other Alpha teachers require their students to use Gale and JSTOR for research purposes. Joyce said that these resources are similar to the ones students might encounter in college.

According to Kuvalja, the library plans to keep the community recommendations and anti-racism resources even when in-person learning resumes.

“What I’m very excited about is that I really think that we could adopt what we’re doing now virtually and keep it,” she said. “Keep the equity powerpoints [that complement the BIPOC Advisory Committee’s presentations], keep the student news recommendations to foster more of a community in the library and a little more communication between us and our students.”

In the meantime, Kuvalja said, she and Joyce are here to help students navigate the trove of library resources at Lane.

“Students can reach out about anything,” Kuvalja said. “They can reach out about poems from the 1800s, they can reach out about hydroponics, they can reach out about even more equity resources if they have a really specific thing that they’re looking for, please contact us. That’s what our job is, is to help you guys find what you need.”