Library weathers pandemic year, diversifying stacks, updating archives

Ms. Lisa Snyder and Ms. Cinnie Slack at Severinghaus Library’s front desk- Jack Suter ’23

For the past school year, everything was unusual. The school campus, bound by new regulations and limitations, felt like an entirely different place. Severinghaus Library was no exception. The pandemic has greatly altered the library’s norms.

     “We couldn’t have as many people in [the library]. All the students had to be supervised for mask-wearing, but we couldn’t really do that,” said Head of Information Services Ms. Lisa Synder. “Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t allow people to go to the stacks and get books. We didn’t get to function in the way that we most like to function, which is as a community hub.”

     Library events were also limited, but staff sustained some activities during the pandemic.

      “During lockdown we would have virtual Open Library Sessions for kids to come in and build connections. We were also doing the head of school’s History Behind the Headlines, where the headmaster would just come in and talk about what was happening on the headlines,” Ms. Snyder said. “This year we didn’t do a whole lot of programming. But I’m looking forward to being able to start that back up.”

     The new schedule and the lack of free periods during the pandemic also hindered students from going to the library.

     “Because of the pandemic, our room capacity had to be reduced by about a quarter. But it’s really strange, as we didn’t even get to that capacity. The thing is that everybody had class all day long. We didn’t have students here during their usual free period. Nobody had a free period,” Ms. Snyder said.

“Not having free periods or time to work during the day, there wasn’t really any time to be spent in the library.”

Jack Suter ’23

     “I entered the library almost every day this whole year,” Fourth Former Jack Suter said. “The most I spent in the library this year was an hour. Not having free periods or time to work during the day, there wasn’t really any time to be spent in the library.” 

     Although events at the library seem to be heavily limited due to the pandemic, there’s also a positive aspect to the library’s new-found tranquility.

Severinghaus Libray’s exterior sign- Index Staff

     “The library wasn’t like a hangout spot for our class like it was last year. Now I often use the library as a place to meet people when we need to get something done or when we need to work on a project, ” Suter said.

     “It’s actually been really nice because more students come in to find a place to study or to do some work,” Ms. Snyder said. “The other thing I noticed is when they needed to take some meetings and Zoom with a college counselor, we don’t really have those spaces readily available for kids. But they would come in anyway.”

“Before, if you wanted to chill out and just get some work done, you could also go literally anywhere else. Now, the library is the only place to go when people have free time at school.”

Nathan Miran ’23

     The closures of other study hubs around the school have also attracted students to the library. 

     Fourth Former Nathan Mirin said, “Before, if you wanted to chill out and just get some work done, you could also go literally anywhere else. Now, the library is the only place to go when people have free time at school.”

     Aside from students who found this new norm to be enjoyable, the library staff also took advantage of their new-found free time to organize things happening backstage. 

     “We were able to do things that were centered around our collections,” Ms. Snyder said. “We were doing a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) audit of our collection. We also run the archives, so we’ve also been able to work downstairs in the archives a little more,” Ms. Snyder said. “The benefit is that there have been some other opportunities like this, but we do want the kids back. We really want people who weren’t able to come this year to be able to come here next year.”

Author: Jingyuan Chen '23

Jingyuan Chen has written for The Index since 2019. His news piece “Inside the middle school construction project” and his opinion “What can the U.S. learn from Chinese media censorship?” each earned a Silver Key from the 2020 Philadelphia-area Writing Awards.