Illinois college librarian turns the web page and adjusts to pandemic information



Emerson Elementary School Librarian Lauren Blanford poses for a photo in Elmhurst on Wednesday, February 24, 2021.



ELMHURST – Lauren Blanford was reading the children’s picture book “The Undefeated” when a student raised a hand.

“Mrs. Blanford, what was this book about?”

“It’s about black people,” said another student.

“It’s about love,” said one of her classmates.

Over the past year, the pandemic has forced Blanford to rethink almost every aspect of her job at Emerson Elementary School in Elmhurst. She is known among her peers for her ingenuity in bringing the world of books to children who study at home.

But that moment in a class of kindergarten teachers captures the essence of what Blanford is doing: making the school library a place where children are reflected in the pages of a book, a place where students learn from one another and become more connected, A pandemic cannot feel more pandemic or similar.



Exchange Virus Outbreak Librarian

Lauren Blanford, Emerson Elementary Librarian, on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 in Elmhurst.



“It was one of the best moments of the year,” said Blanford.

Before becoming a school librarian, Blanford’s career took a few twists and turns.

She received her college degree in psychology, worked in human resources, and provided home counseling while raising her two children.

When she volunteered at her school library in District 105 of La Grange and her children discovered award-winning literature and new technology, she realized she wanted to work in one.

Blanford also wanted students to experience the freedom she felt while reading books she had picked herself from her public library in Oak Park.

Blanford usually had her nose in the modern classics. “Bridge to Terabithia” and “Harriet the Spy” were some of her favorites.

“It’s a very visceral experience to remember what it was like to walk through those doors and go in and choose what I wanted to read,” said Blanford.



Exchange Virus Outbreak Librarian

Lauren Blanford, Emerson Elementary Librarian, on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 in Elmhurst.



She also remembers what was missing on those formative trips to the library: children’s books that were written by people with color and show them. Therefore, Blanford places great emphasis on promoting diversity in the selection of books on offer in the Emerson Library, where nearly 16% are Hispanic and 9% are Asian.

One such book is The Undefeated, a celebration of black history written by the poet Kwame Alexander and illustrated by Kadir Nelson.



Exchange Virus Outbreak Librarian

Lauren Blanford, Emerson Elementary Librarian, on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 in Elmhurst.



“I want to make sure you have them in our collection,” said Blanford. “We really worked to make sure we had a collection of multicultural resources where students can see other kids who look like them.”

Blanford entered the role seven years ago under the tutelage of her mentor Mary Greska, a former attorney who also found a second career as a librarian in Elmhurst Unit District 205.

“Mary is extremely enthusiastic and incredibly energetic,” said Blanford.

This is exactly what Greska says about her former protégé. Greska realized early on that Blanford had a lot of energy and ideas and that the relationship skills – “that might very well be her HR background” – made her indispensable to teachers and curricula.



Exchange Virus Outbreak Librarian

Lauren Blanford, Emerson Elementary Librarian, on Wednesday, February 24, 2021 in Elmhurst.



“You are recognized as a leader pretty quickly because of your reach,” said Greska. “Librarians have a pretty wide reach across all grades. They’re quickly seen as leaders because you’re so involved.”

Greska immediately realized that everyone shared the same philosophy about running a school library. It’s not a museum. There is no stuffy library label or silence between the piles.

“It’s a very welcoming environment,” said Greska. “She will, and I think she managed to make the library the center of the school.”

But what if the library has to be closed?

Blanford poured her limitless energy into virtual library programs and all the other changes that were brought about over the past year of the pandemic.

Almost weekly during the fall, she organized roadside book collections requested by students studying at home.

Every Friday, Elmhurst mother Beth Cliffel and daughter Stella picked up books that were reserved in the library’s online catalog and saw the librarian the 10-year-old “always adored”, albeit at a safe distance.

During the holidays, Blanford offered books on Halloween or Thanksgiving so the kids could still feel like they were celebrating. She even set picture books aside so younger siblings like Stella’s first-grade brother could remotely access the library.

“That was like the highlight of their week,” said Cliffel.

Blanford came up with another idea to create videos of school librarians across the district reading from the books nominated for the Monarch Award, an annual recognition sponsored by the Illinois School Library Media Association.

Pupils in kindergarten through third grade can vote for their favorites from the list of 20 titles.

Typically, librarians read Monarch books to a class of students in elementary school libraries. With a shortened school day, librarians instead recorded the videos for a virtual audience.

Blanford read “How to Bath Your Cat in Five Easy Steps” by Nicola Winstanley and “What If …” by Samantha Berger.

“It really takes a team, and I’m so grateful for the hard work everyone has done, both here at Emerson and in our school district,” said Blanford.

Blanford also encouraged some students to use the WeVideo platform to create book trailers so they could recommend good reading to their classmates.

“I think our role as educators is to help students feel more connected to us than their teachers and to each other, and hopefully inspire them to keep learning during this time,” said Blanford.

International travel should slowly be reopened, with any traffic light system having the potential to be “leaky” for Covid variants, said a senior scientist. Professor Robin Shattock, head of the Department of Mucosal Infection and Immunity at Imperial College London’s Medical Department, said an ideal scenario would be quarantine when people are returning from a country – although this is likely not seen as a practical option. In a long-range interview, he said it is possible that the coronavirus will become a “much more trivial infection” for most people, while it is still uncertain whether the entire population will need to be vaccinated again each winter.

“And I feel like the educators here at Emerson did a fantastic job and really looked for ways to keep in touch with the students, whether they study here or at home.”

The district plans to return to five full days of face-to-face study at all grade levels beginning April 12. Students who are already studying in person come to the library for weekly classes.

Blanford hopes to get back to a normal routine at some point – robotics, coding, all the activities that make the library a busy and inclusive place.

“I think it brings a whole new level of gratitude for the time we can spend both as staff and with our students, and I’m really grateful for whatever it is.”

PHOTOS: St. Louis Cardinals 2021

Cardinals Nationals Spring Baseball

Cardinals Nationals Spring Baseball

St. Louis Cardinals’ Nolan Arenado looks on after hitting a sacrificial fly to hit Jose Rondon during the seventh inning of a spring training baseball session on Wednesday March 10th.



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Cardinals Marlins Spring Baseball

Paul Goldschmidt of the St. Louis Cardinals runs after a double strike in the first inning of a baseball training session in spring training against the Miami Marlins on Monday, March 22, 2021 in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky).



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Cardinals Marlins Spring Baseball

St. Louis Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson scores during the second inning of a baseball game in spring practice against the Miami Marlins on Monday, March 22, 2021 in Jupiter, Fla. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky).



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Cardinals Astros Spring Baseball

Nolan Arenado (28) of the St. Louis Cardinals during the first innings of a baseball practice session against the Houston Astros on Thursday, March 25. The addition of Arenado was big for the franchise, but do they have enough to win? ?



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Cardinals Astros Spring Baseball

Paul DeJong (11) of the St. Louis Cardinals hits during the second inning of a baseball training session against the Houston Astros on Thursday, March 25, 2021 in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky).



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Tyler O’Neill of the St. Louis Cardinals prepares to strike during the second innings of a baseball game in spring training against the Houston Astros on Thursday March 25, 2021 in West Palm Beach, Florida. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)



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