BEMIDJI -- Gov. Tim Walz declared April 20 ‘School Library Media Specialists Day’ statewide. On Tuesday, five library media specialists from Bemidji Area Schools gathered (albeit virtually) to discuss.

One sentiment they all agreed on: they miss being around the students and want to help them access reading materials during this uncertain time.

“I think (the governor’s proclamation) was just recognition for a lot of things that we do that people don’t realize," said Steve Pfleger, media specialist at Bemidji Middle School and Gene Dillon Elementary. "Because we do wear a lot of hats, and moving this way to distance learning, I think we are a crucial part of how that all came together.’

The group does wear many hats and were integral to the distance learning transition: helping teachers transition to new technologies, providing tech support, and helping students and parents access reading and research materials.

“Today I’m wearing the troubleshooting hat, tomorrow, I’m wearing the book suggestion hat or the teacher hat,” said Gretchen Rusch, media specialist at J.W. Smith Elementary.

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The roles look different across the district -- at Bemidji Middle School, Pfleger is helping students to access e-books with the new resources available to students due to COVID-19. Erin Curran, media specialist at the high school, is helping find research sources and books for students and parents. Elementary library media specialists are connecting with younger children to encourage daily reading and asking them questions about their current books.

They miss the one on one interaction with students in the library. “We know exactly who they are and what they like to read,” Rusch said of her library-regulars.

The feeling seems to be a mutual one as Kate Molde, the specialist at Northern and Central Elementaries, said that one student was so excited about their distance learning library activities that she wanted to read Molde a book she had written about red foxes.

While some students were unable to take home books prior to the school closures, Bemidji High School students checked out hundreds of books in the two days prior to school closures last month.

“It was my busiest check out day ever,” Curran said, and described the check-outs as ‘opening the floodgates.’

The group expressed the sentiment that a greater appreciation for all that school libraries and media specialists provide might stem from this situation and hoped their online presence reminds students that not only are classroom teachers supporting them, but a whole school community is.

“More than anything, we want the kids to know we care about them,” Curran said.

Walz’s declaration cited the reasoning for the proclamation as: “School library media specialists are trained professional workers alongside school district administrators, teachers in every content area, and technology personnel facing the unique challenges currently taking place during distance learning, and that they are integral to a quality educational program.”