New year’s resolutions

Inspired by the great advice in Christina’s recent post, and getting pretty excited about welcoming kids back on September 6th, I offer my new (school) year’s resolutions:

  1. The first comes out of one of the roles I play at TCS: as advisor committee coordinator, I see the incredible things that some of my colleagues are doing with their advisees. While I have a great relationship with current and former (meeting two of them for coffee tomorrow!) advisees, comparison can make me feel like I don’t always measure up. This is completely applicable to my work as librarian, so my chosen mantra for 16/17 is from my current ear worm, Let it go: thank you James Bay, for suggesting that “you be you and I’ll be me”. On it!
  2. We are so very fortunate to have a beautifully and functionally renovated space within our new Cirne Commons, so I was quite surprised to find myself having trouble with the transition last spring. Who would not love and be eternally grateful for such a beautiful library?! I do love it, and I am grateful – but the kids use it differently, and more quietly. Which freaks me out  – ironic, huh? Having regained my equilibrium, I pledge to embrace the changes & identify opportunities inherent in this new space.
  3. Finding challenge and fulfillment in so much of my work does not give me the right, or the excuse, to try and do it all. I have two enthusiastic, more-than-capable and willing colleagues in my senior school library who are eager to take on pretty much anything. So I will share the wealth and delegate more.

All the best to those of you who are already in full swing, and to those who are just gearing up!

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Back to school advice from new(ish) teachers and librarians

David Wee really hit the nail on the head this spring when he admitted that He doesn’t always feel like he knows what he’s doing. I can’t believe that I’m entering my 10th year of librarianship. I’ll still leave conversations with professionals talking about what “the adults” are saying. My colleagues have repeatedly reassured me that, yes, I’m an adult too, but I never woke up and said, “Henceforth I shall be known as a professional adult.” When a friend posted this on Facebook, I couldn’t have given it more thumbs up.

Over the last few months, I queried some teachers and librarians who have a few years experience and asked them for the most practical tip they would have liked their less experienced selves to have known. I loved their answers and found them timely as we’re planning our new year back at school. You’ll notice there’s a theme with the first few….keep reading.

“Get to know students’ names! It changes everything.”

Remember back to the Grimm tale Rumpelstilkskin and the power of names. This works when kids are testing the boundaries on the library as an afterschool game space and also encourages them to participate more in class. It’s an all-around win.

“Getting to know your students can be more helpful than content. Think about covering students, not material.”

As a librarian who teaches more skills than content, this is totally applicable. If you listen to your students talk about their interests, there are natural connections to information literacy. Sponsoring a club, attending a game, and watching a theater performance all lead to better connections with students.

“You aren’t a professional automaton.”

This honest wording makes me laugh. Let the kids know your interests and maybe some information about your pets or your hobbies. I bike to school; it’s a conversation starter. In practicality, it also means that my search examples might change from first to fourth period. Since you’re not a robot, you can personalize each class a bit based on student comments.

“You won’t teach like your mentors.”

The teacher who told me this stressed that he loves watching master teachers teach. But he felt like he was filling a role his first year trying to teach the ways they did. It was much better to take a step back and think about the goals they had from teaching a lesson a certain way and how he could achieve those same goals.

“If something doesn’t work, it may be that class and not the material.”

If something is a horrible abysmal failure, sure you can write it off and never try it again. But if it’s a lesson that was well planned where something went amiss in the execution, don’t be afraid to try the same lesson with a different group. There is so much beyond your control, especially when you’re working with multiple classes and grades each day. Even now, it’s magical to me that the same lesson that’s genius with one group falls flat with the next.

“Silence isn’t your fault.”

So true, and yet it never would have occurred to me to share this with a new librarian or teacher. If you are working with a class that’s new to you, questions may go unanswered. This is natural, especially with teenagers. You can reframe the question to let them puzzle through, but keep trying. As you work with the same group, they’ll get more comfortable talking and you’ll be more comfortable with the silences.

“When students say, ‘I’ve never learned this before, take it with a grain of salt.’ But if you want to get your message across, there’s nothing wrong with telling them the same thing again and again.”

Love this! I wrote the library scope and sequence for grades 6-12, so I know who learned what when. That doesn’t stop students from claiming something is new. Keeping in mind the ultimate goal of teaching students to be information literate, smile and repeat. And smile and repeat.

“Provide guides so students know where you expect them to go.”

Students access library materials all hours of the day and night. Give them the tools to succeed in their searches whenever they occur by providing guides that let them know how to access electronic resources even when you’re not around.

“Wear comfortable shoes. Don’t stand in front of a mirror and look at your outfit. Think about bending down to pick up a book from a shelf and leaning over student table to help with assignments. Think about what you do all day.”

Cannot second this enough. You spend very little of the day standing silently in front of a mirror. What does your clothing look like when you do your job? Being able to walk easily at the end of the day should be standard.

“The kids will cry during Homecoming week. It isn’t you.”

When you work with high schoolers, there is SO MUCH going on in their worlds. They’re applying to colleges, interested in dating their classmates, pumped for an upcoming game, worried about the test they just took… At our school, the students love Homecoming week and the daily spirit and costume competitions, but they only have so much energy to give. Pressure is high and tears happen. Coincidentally, teachers know that this is a week of distraction and thus love to schedule library time. It’s one of my busiest weeks. Thinking back to library skills, when you’re able to tie your lessons into their worlds, teens are much more likely to remember. But some days there’s just a lot happening.

Those are ten to start you off. What are yours? Think back to what you’ve learned over the years and the advice you wish you had heard. Share your favorite in the comments below, and let’s make this a great year for librarians new and old experienced. Happy back to school!

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Design Thinking @ Your Library, a SI2016 Recap

Librarians are, by our very nature, selfless creatures. We think about our users constantly, in just about every area of our work. From collection development to research instruction, web design to furniture and paint colors. But do we really know them and understand the full spectrum of their needs?

Enter Design Thinking @ Your Library, the 2016 AISL Summer Institute.

This June, 36 librarians came together from the four corners of the United States, representing Lower, Middle, and Upper Division libraries, all with a single mission: to learn how to “do” Design Thinking and to return to our schools ready to tackle challenges, great and small.

My background in Design Thinking is varied. Three years ago I participated in an awesome Leadership & Design Design Thinking workshop here at Emma Willard. We designed around the downtown Troy revitalization effort. This spring, I took an ALA course that applied DT to information literacy instruction.  I have read about it and watched videos on it. I was on a committee at school where we used it to study the effectiveness of blended learning in our classrooms. There have been some awesome Independent Idea blog posts in the past that dealt with the DT in the library, but in the vein of all the other awesome posts of late where bloggers admit their limitations,

I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how it would work, from start to finish, in the library world. There, I said it.

The Summer Institute changed all of that.

We started with an opening cocktail party where we mingled and got to know one another. We enjoyed delicious food and drink but then…it was time to get down to business. We split up into teams for a quick, fun Marshmallow Design Challenge.

Photo Jun 21, 7 37 57 PM (1)Many a group has attempted this challenge before, from Kindergartners to PhDs , engineers to corporate executives. Who do you think is the most successful? The engineers? Think again! It’s the little ones! Why? Because they are completely open minded. They jump right in and start building. Adults plan, contemplate the “what ifs”, and basically eat up their 18 minutes. Kids aren’t afraid to fail. They build. It falls down. They try again. If you need a great team building activity for a faculty meeting, this is a great one.

Photo Jun 22, 2 04 45 PM

Highlights of the SI included a fantastic keynote by Steven Bell giving us a birds eye view, or WHY Design Thinking works in tackling our “wicked problems”. Two of my amazing colleagues, science teachers and experienced design thinkers, then stepped in to teach us HOW to do it. We practiced as a group designing around my nemesis: a rickety wooden book cart circa 1960-somethin’, that hurts me, literally, falling over when I least expect it, bruising my shins. My assistant and I explained our many problems with the cart, the group interviewed us further to practice the empathy stage of the DT process, then everyone broke into teams to determine what they thought the “real” problem was (ie: was it a physical cart issue or a process issue?). That was an interesting conversation in and of itself! Their prototypes were AMAZING, and included, among other features, a student-led shelving system, fancy carts with huge tires, device charging stations so that we can listen to music while we shelve, flat, adjustable shelves to accommodate oversize books and a laptop for doing inventory, among other things. Designs shared via Twitter were picked up by Demco. How cool is that? I digress…

The final part of the conference was the one that my colleagues and I were most anxious about. How could we divide such a diverse group into balanced teams, around shared challenges in varied divisions, in a way that made sense and provided them with real, applicable, takeaways from the SI?

On the fly, we asked them to take a piece of paper, write their division at the top, their challenge as a headline, and at the bottom, which “track” of the SI their challenge fell under: Research, Physical Space, Maker, or simply “Other”.

You know what? IT TOTALLY WORKED.

Rather than tell you about their intriguing challenges, their thoughtful “What If…” statements, their design horizons, and their prototypes, why don’t you check it out on your own in this SI Libguide I created? While you’re there, feel free to visit the presentations, see the recommended reading, and download the free DT Toolkit provided by IDEO.

How can we ensure that we are creating the spaces, programs, and lessons that our community needs, both now and in the future? We do what we do best: we observe, we question, we listen, we invite other perspectives to the table, we think outside the box, we take risks, we try things! Whether we realize it or not, the skill set emphasized in design thinking is very much what we as librarians do best.

SI Participants, feel free to share your reflections below. If anyone has questions or if you would like to discuss the experience further, please let me know!

SI2017 will be here before you know it! It will be hosted by Caroline Bartels at the Horace Mann School in NYC focusing on One Book One School. More info to come as planning progresses.

I wish you all an excellent start to the ’16-’17 school year!


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True Confessions: Librarian Edition

Maggie w bag on headPardon the disguise. Excuse the furtive, over the shoulder glances. It’s time for True Confessions: Librarian Edition. These comments may not generalize to everyone who  reads this blog, but from reading past posts and from friendly conversations with other librarians, I suspect I am not completely alone! Thank you to everyone who reveals a part of themselves with posts and comments. Thank you to those who help me learn by sharing through AISL channels, and via LM_Net, and at conferences, through personal learning networks,  the AISL listserv and in other ways. After you read my confessions, feel free to add a few of your own!

I Download Way More Ebooks Than I Actually Read

A friend once said that once she obtains a book (whether through purchase, borrowing or download), it dispels the pressure she feels to actually read it. Could I  possibly I have 20+
not-even-opened books on my shelf at NetGalley? Yes. Did I download an ebook from the public library, and let it turn itself in, without getting past Chapter One? Yes. I love ebooks in certain situations, and I e-read certain types of things. I also find it very easy to forget my slender ereader is holding many (many!) unread books.

My ARC Stack is Teeteringly High

I fully intend to read every ARC I pick up or request, or enter to win. A little time passes. I vow to catch up over the summer, or during winter break, or in some magical all-weekend speed-readathon. Somehow it never gets smaller.

When I Say I Will Find a Book “A Good Home” …

that might be the recycle bin. Shelagh Straughan, from Trinity College School, brought up this topic in her post on difficult conversations. I will give myself credit here: I let donors know that after we have considered it for the library, offered it to teachers, offered it to students and considered it for outside donation, it may be that some books just don’t have an audience any more. I offer to notify them before we recycle, so they can come pick up any books that remain. So far, no one has taken me up on that. Some people find it so hard to part with physical books that they can’t bring themselves to do it. Instead, they donate them, while realizing that the books will probably be recycled. From the viewpoint of the person carting them to the recycle bin, that can be easier to do with books that were not purchased under my watch. I’ve got some “should probably recycle but haven’t” books at home and in my office.

I Love the Summer (Even Though I Love My Job)

I am excited about seeing students and colleagues. I get great professional satisfaction from my job. I am eager to try new ideas. I am energetic and enthusiastic. But who isn’t a little sad as the summer rhythm gives way to the school year?

I Occasionally Manipulate Technology

It seems like bad karma to do this too often, but sometimes I respond to an email with a question, to buy myself time while the other person responds. I “reply all” with a trivial comment to show the higher-ups that I read the message. I call when I know the person is out, so I can leave a voice mail. For what it’s worth, from time to time, I’ve think I’ve been on the receiving end of technology massaging as well. *smile*

Please post a comment and share your True Confessions!

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Physical Space + Thinking = Cultures of Learning

Creating Cultures of Thinking

At the STLinSTL summer institute hosted by MICDS, I attended a fascinating session by Ron Ritchhart, co-author of Making Thinking Visible.  Ritchhart’s recent book, Creating Cultures of Thinking: The 8 Forces We Must Master to Truly Transform Our Schools, provided many thinking routines to incorporate in teaching, but what impressed me most was a chapter on the physical environment of the classroom.  Ritchhart contends that the physical environment should reflect the type of learning that is occurring. The learning environment shifts from the model of teachers passing on knowledge to students to a collaborative model in which students and teachers both engage in an interactive exploration of learning. Here are a few highlights from Creating Cultures of Learning and suggestions of how libraries can adapt spaces to become conducive to creativity and collaborative learning.

Provide a Variety of Spaces as a Catalyst for Learning
Ritchhart cites David Thornburg’s book, From the Campfire to the Holodeck,
and identifies 3 types of spaces: caves (quiet areas for individual thought);
watering holes (spaces for discussions with peers); and campfires (large group
gatherings led by a “storyteller”).

For an assortment of ideas on creating a variety of learning spaces, see AISL wiki discussion board “Learning Commons.” 

Document Student Learning
Are students engaged in chart talks, concept mapping, poster presentations, model building, or Readers Theater presentations?  Consider displaying samples of work, photos of group interactions, as well as dialogue excerpts from student conversations so that the school community can view the process of thinking. Set aside a space for an interactive idea wall by using post-it notes or paint a wall with Idea Paint for use with dry erase markers.  See David Wee’s blog for photos of library spaces converted to active, collaborative learning.

Author Ritchhart further contends that educators need to “stop hiding learning and thinking by keeping it private” and that by making thinking visible, transparent, it can energize that school learning community across all grade levels.

Incorporate Surprise or Humor
An advantageous pairing of the latest Harry Potter publication with students’ summer reading inspired a whimsical display at my middle school library.  A Harry Potter-themed display and essay contest challenges students to put on their “sorting hats” and decide if a character from their summer reading would be a good fit for the Gryffindor or Slytherin House.

Gryffindor or Slytherin? Book Display and Contest

As students brainstorm character traits like friendship or rivalry, the interactive Visual Thesaurus is a handy tool for pondering how individual traits set characters in conflict or, sometimes, provide characters a moment of epiphany and empathy as they discover shared character traits.

Go on a Ghost Walk
A final suggestion from Ritchhart’s book is go on a “ghost walk.”  Schedule a time with fellow educators to step into their classrooms when rooms are not occupied and note the “spirit” based on physical space arrangement, display of student work, inspirational messages, etc.  How is this empty room energized by the type of learning that occurs in the space?  What ideas can you glean from other professionals in how they create cultures of learning?

As a new school year launches, I look forward to assessing how the library can provide an exciting environment for student learning and energize the school community of learners. Please share your ideas on how library environments can make thinking visible!

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Reading Promotion Events

After reading several articles on one of our main goals as teacher librarians to teach our students a love of reading, I felt one, in particular (TL June 2016), had some food for thought. One of our goals is for our students to choose to read independently and acquire a love of reading for pleasure. One way to accomplish this goal is to have a calendar of yearly reading events.
Studies have been done that show extrinsic rewards can temporarily increase motivation but do not have a lasting impact on developing the reading habits we are seeking for them. (Pavonetti et al., 2002) Recently, research has found that by maximizing opportunities for student choice of reading materials students increased their involvement in reading and enabled them to engage in conversations about their book selections (Hall et al., 2014) Through these studies, it was evident that students need time, resources, and support from both teachers and other adults to allow them the opportunity to read for pleasure, stressing the importance of intrinsic motivation and student choice when selecting their books. We teacher librarians, can provide reading promotional events throughout the school library to create a culture of reading. The following list and sites are primary for students in K- grade 6, but older students can be involved as well since many of the events would be interesting to them. I hope you will find something you can share with your students and faculty in the coming year.


International Dot Day

Talk Like a Pirate Day

Banned Book Week

Library Card Sign-Up Month


Read for the Record

National Hispanic Heritage Month


Family Literacy Day

World Kindness Day _classroom

Picture Book Month

International Games Day


Caldecott, Newbery, Geisel Book Awards

Letters About Literature


Science Fiction Day

Multicultural Children’s Book Day

FREE Diversity Books for Teachers


Groundhog Job Shadow Day

Black History Month

Presidents’ Day

World Read Aloud Day


Read Across America

Children’s Choice Awards


D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything and Read)

School Library Month

National Poetry Month


Star Wars Day

Free Comic Book Day



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An Answer to David Wee’s “I Have No Idea What I Am Doing…”

By CD McLean (Berkeley Preparatory School)


This post is my first in a couple of years.  They don’t have a login for me yet, so the top bit says Christina, but don’t blame her if you disagree with anything in the post! Blame me (CD McLean).  I was in a bit of a quandary about what to write in my first back to blogging post. What would be the most interesting subject? What would capture AISL librarians’ attention? I thought about doing one on collaboration as I have a big collaboration project coming up with our new personal librarian program kicking off in the upper school this school year.  Then I thought, why not go topical?  Perhaps an entry on plagiarism might be thing since we had the speech kerfuffle at the Republican National Convention; we could look at the ins and outs of plagiarism and how to examine it in the classroom.  In the end though, I fell back on the tried and true for intriguing: David Wee. As most of you are whenever he posts, I was enthralled by David Wee’s post on “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”.  And I heard his call for comments and thought, “I will answer the call.”  Also, I frequently stand in the middle of the library staring out at the students and think “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” 😎

What does it mean to be “information literate?”

 A good question, but I think perhaps the question needs to be “what does it mean to be information literate to librarians and to administrators and to department chairs? (And perhaps should we check those people to see if THEY are information literate?) Wesleyan University defines information literacy as “ a crucial skill in the pursuit of knowledge. It involves recognizing when information is needed and being able to efficiently locate, accurately evaluate, effectively use, and clearly communicate information in various formats.” However, the American Library Association (ALA) defines it as “… a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.””

Student Looking for Book on Library Shelves (photo from wikimedia).

The difference between the two: the university librarians added the clear communication. What do you think of these two definitions? Are they enough? Is the added clear communication enough for your students? Or do you need something more?

A third definition comes from the Association of American School Librarians (AASL) and AASL has taken a more skills-based approach at the definition. Consequently, it is a bit more detailed. Their definition comes from their Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. While AASL does say that the definition of information literacy has become more complex as resources and technologies have changed” (meaning: Hey everybody, this is tough!”), I think that the closest they come to a definition that we can use is on the right hand side of their pamphlet where they define the skills for the 21st-century learner. 

Cover of the front page of AASL’s 21st-Century Learner Pamphlet (via AASL website).

Learners use skills, resources and tools to: 

  1. Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge. 
  2. Draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge. 
  3. Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society. 
  4. Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.

So, out of the three definitions, which one do you prefer? All in all, I like the AASL definition best.  IMO, it is more comprehensive. It allows for us to teach ethics (plagiarism, copyright), that the other two definitions leave out. And I really like number 4: Pursue personal and aesthetic growth.  Every year I wrack my brain for how I can help students achieve this.  This year it is my goal is to create research projects that help students pursue personal and aesthetic growth.  I’ll keep you posted.  What are your goals for the new school year related to information literacy?

What does it mean to be “college ready?”

Short bad answer: a diploma.  Real librarian answer: Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it? At several of our conferences, we have had panels of lovely college librarians tell us what they are looking for in their  college freshmen.  I think the part of the problem lies with us.  Are we passing on the information we receive?  By passing on, I mean, adding this info to our scope and sequence?  Do we go back and talk with department chairs and then redesign projects?  We are certainly not the only people responsible for making our graduates college ready, but I think we do bear responsibility for making them information literate and able to research at the college level. We are part of the team.  We need to help our team be the best it can be and part of that responsibility is passing on information about how we can redesign or look at projects differently so that our students can be better able to succeed in college. 

One group activity that we all might do is a quick survey of our own graduates and then share that information with the list (or, share it with me and I will compile it for my next post put in the subject heading graduate survey).  The end goal of the task would be to take the results and then publish them in an NAIS, AASL or another publication so that we are disseminating the information discovered.  This survey is something I did with my former students. It was quick and dirty, essentially, I asked them to send me research assignments that they had been given.  I also asked them to tell me whether they felt that they had been adequately prepared by the library department.  I also asked about how they conducted their own research in college and what resources they used, if they felt there was something we should have taught them, but didn’t, if there was something that we did teach them that they were thankful for.  On the whole, they said, we did a great job on the humanities side, but we needed more upper level science writing/research assignments because that was what they were encountering in school and they didn’t know how to do it.  In particular, one graduate spoke of a free science database (the PDB) that they were using for a science research project. Because of this info, I was able to go to the Upper Division Director and ask about the state of research in the Upper Division.  The library had been off the curriculum committee for two years.  I think it is because of this that we have been reinstated for this coming school year.  If any of you remember my talk from the Tampa conference, energetic persistence is my first game plan. If that doesn’t work, then having an elephant’s memory does.  I never forget what I have asked for and I ask for it year after year until I get it.

Are colleges truly doing a good job of preparing young adults to be thoughtful and productive citizens?  

IDK.  I think it depends on the college and the student.  If that is the mission of the school, then yes, but for the majority, no.  

If no, do we continue to build PK-12 curriculum around helping students be “college ready” or do we bravely go where other schools have not?

I think this all comes back to your school’s mission statement.  Ours is that we put students into the world who make a positive difference.  So from a Berkeley Prep perspective, we are invested in making sure that our graduates have a solid character and service learning foundation.  My school has added a director of community service and she has done amazing things with our students.  Or rather, I should say, she has been able to spotlight the amazing things our students have been doing.  Our Global Scholars Program is doing more community service oriented items.  Even in the library, where we did fundraising in the past, we have kicked it up a notch and have embarked on a major community service learning project with middle division that we hope will connect with upper division in time.  Our student library proctors are leading the charge on this effort and will be mentors to the 8th graders. 

How much of my collection should be eBooks vs. print vs. databases vs. audiobooks?

OMGosh.  I have nightmares about this question.  I also have tours that come through the library with tour guides who say, “One day print…” you know how that sentence ends!  We will be renovating our library in the Spring and it will be all packed up and we will be completely electronic for at least five months, perhaps more.  So, we are facing this question of purchasing more databases for this year to use. The question being, what if we like them?  Do we keep them?  What does that do to my budget?  

A very tiny survey of Battle of the Books students from several Bay area schools showed that the majority of them preferred print books to electronic or audio, but we are still putting our money on Overdrive and audiobooks. I think this is a “If you have them, they will use them” situation. Our entire collection isn’t electronic, but it’s a slow slide.

What platforms should I use to host my eBooks and audiobooks? 

IMO whatever works for your situation. Currently, we use Overdrive for fiction and audiobooks because they have a consortium price that is amazing; they have collections for both lower and middle and upper; and when we did the original research, we liked them best.  So, most of our kids are trained on this device.  Our public libraries use this platform as well.  

How many eBook and audiobook platforms is too many?

I was going to say not more than one.  But then I realized that we have Overdrive for fiction and for reference eBooks, we have Gale, Ebsco, and so on and so on.  We also have ACLS Humanities Ebooks, which is a completely separate platform and we have onesies out in the Destiny collection from other sources.  So, in an effort not to be a hypocrite, you should have lots!

Should I have my own “library research process” like Big6 or ISP or should we be aiming to contextualize library skills/concepts/tasks into a broader framework like Design Thinking?  

Please let me know on this one.  We don’t have my own library research process.  But we are working with history to come up with one that is similar to Guided Inquiry for this year so that we can have a process that follows our scope and sequence. Lower Division has committed to Guided Inquiry.  I feel like Guided Inquiry is the closest one that will allow me to design projects that achieve that #4 skill AASL talks about (see above definition).

Is it okay to rip the DVD of our legal copy of Supersize Me so students can view it within Vialogues on our Moodle site? Guidelines don’t count. I want someone to tell me yes or no and if they’re wrong, they get fired or sued instead of me.

Look.  If people can’t even tell if there is one monkey making three faces or three monkeys making one face, then how can we really know the answer to anything? 42.  Either way, I’m not going to answer that question or David’s.

Is the return on investment for EBSCO Discovery worth it by measurably getting many more student eyeballs on my expensive database content or is it still a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time thing that everybody is excited about and signing on for until two years from now when we’ll all want to move on to something else that is still not-quite-ready-for-prime-time?

We aren’t going there…bleeding edge and all that…

I know library research skills are necessary and important for students’ future success, but how do I get teachers to believe what I believe?

Energetic persistence and an elephant’s memory (“Why, Martha, are you still doing that luau project in March?  I have just the thing for you!  If you come by tomorrow, when I have your favorite snack in my office, we can chat about it.”)

Why do we have to change libraries into “Learning Commons” rather just calling them libraries and adding/evolving the functionality and work that happens within a “library?” (Modern hospitals seem to still be called “hospitals” without the messy historical baggage associated with the fact that physicians used to use leeches to suck blood from sick people. Things change, people, move on!).  

I’m a librarian and I work in a library. End of story.

Is coffee bad for me or is it good? What about salt? Butter? I’m a librarian. If I can’t figure out what to eat or not eat, how am I supposed to teach students in a health class what sources of information are to be believed?  

Coffee good. Coffee with chicory, better! I’ll stop there. And I want coffee in the LIBRARY…;-)

MLA 8 has landed. Should I stay with MLA 7 for this year or make the jump in August?

Now you might look at my comment on bleeding edge and have bet that I would arguing sticking with MLA 7 for this year.  You would be wrong.  MLA 8 is out.  The books are out.  Whether the English department likes it or not, MLA 8 is here to stay.  One way that you can make yourself indispensable to your English department is to point out that you and your library staff has MLA 8 books and are all trained on MLA 8.  Additionally, you would be OVERJOYED  to give them all a brief primer on how to teach the new MLA 8 style to their students.  MLA 8 is not bleeding edge, it is concrete, here to stay, in your face, deal with it, change.  Be the happy, helpful librarian that those overwhelmed teachers need to help them deal with that one more thing they didn’t want to learn! 

Easybib Schools got murdered. Easybib Scholar didn’t look worth the cost difference for my school needs so we planned to migrate to NoodleTools, but now Easybibwhatever it is called now is, supposedly, free. Go or stay?

I am biased.  We have been a Noodletools house for 14 years.  In those 14 years we have had exceptional service and service that has grown from not just a works cited generator, but a research platform for students. I have gone from one or two history teachers, to a committed history department.  It connects with Google docs, allows for notecards, outlines and also allows for all of those to be printed as well.  Everything is electronic, paperless and allows for teachers to grade online, at the bank while waiting in line for a teller (which my US History teacher tells me he does). Photos can be saved, colors can be used, everything can be moved around and shifted according to the neatness or messiness of your process.  We happen to love it.  We have complaints at the beginning of the process from those complainer kids, but when it comes to the end and they put their notecards together and they see what they have and realize that their paper is all there, they are converts. Amazing converts. My answer is go.  We love it.  And it will be updated to MLA 8. 

What am I not doing that I should be doing? I don’t know what I don’t know…

You are way ahead of the game, Mr. Wee.  Because you are a seeker of knowledge, you may be in the  13.5% of people who are early adopters or you may be in the early majority, two key early adopter groups from the bell curve for the adoption of technology chart that explains the innovation adoption lifecycle.  Or we could look at the more humorous and more likely scenario of the Pencil Metaphor put out by Australian teachers.  

The Pencil Metaphor: I believe Mr. Wee is one of the Sharp Ones.

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What your AISL Board is up to …

With reference to Christina Pommer’s great blog post on Podcasts earlier this week, maybe we should approach Slate to arrange an interview with some independent school librarians … you know, in the spirit of full disclosure and stereotype busting 🙂

At this point in the summer, we’re all in various stages of unwinding or gearing up for the next school year, so what better time to offer the first of many updates from your AISL Board?

IMG_2364.JPG pic for blog post

As a result of all the great feedback you provided in our membership survey earlier this year (192 respondents), we have a clearer idea of how the Board can support you in your independent school librarian career.  Here is an overview of some of our initiatives:

Enhanced orientation package for new members.  Several of you commented that you were not aware of the range of resources and PD opportunities AISL provides.  The volume of listserv posts can be overwhelming at times (resist that temptation to delete!), so we’d like to ensure that members understand the many benefits of AISL right from the moment they join.  Priceless … well, actually it’s USD $30, but what a bargain!  We will outline the value of the listserv, blog, wiki, annual conference, Summer Institute, etc., so you are aware of and can access information as you need it throughout the year.  I will work with Jean Bruce on this initiative, but you should be aware also of the many behind-the-scenes contributions Jean–this year’s deserving Marky Award winner–makes to AISL as treasurer.  She and Claire Hazzard (former AISL Board technology director) were instrumental in the launch and maintenance of our new WildApricot website, the annual membership renewals, the registrations and funding for the annual conference and the Summer Institute, and much more.  Just so you know!

A mentorship program.  50% of survey respondents are enthusiastic about participating in this program, either as mentor or mentee.  The logistics and time commitment of a program like this can be challenging, so we are working to create a simple, flexible offering that is entirely voluntary.  Watch for an email from Allison Peters Jensen with details of a pilot project this fall, and please speak up if you have insight or experiences to share – we are working together to share our expertise as both our libraries and we continue to adapt to new circumstances and newer technologies.  Please use the “Comments” section below if you have up-front advice!

Conference Affordability Scholarships.  Beginning in 2016/2017, we will offer not one but TWO scholarships for first-time AISL conference attendees.  Often we are members of this association for years before we attend an annual conference – so here’s your chance to receive $1,000 to help cover your first conference registration, transportation and hotel accommodation costs.  Watch your email for details from Phoebe Warmack this fall; when the application form is circulated, there is a hard deadline for applications, as we need to review and select the recipients while the “early bird” registration fee is still in effect (so these dollars go further).  All you have to do in exchange for this cash donation is attend the conference and prepare a blog post to share your first-time annual conference experience here with other AISL members.

Interested in hosting an Annual Conference or Summer Institute?  We are thrilled that we have a great line-up of conference hosts for the next few years:  New Orleans (2017), Atlanta (2018) and Boston (2019).  We also have hosts for the Summer Institute: New York City (2017) and Los Angeles (2018).  But if you’re interested in organizing a committee to host either of these events in future, let us know!  The AISL Board has produced a step-by-step planning guide for hosting an annual conference (kudos to CD McLean and Jean Bruce for their hard work on this!), and a similar guide is underway for hosting a Summer Institute, thanks to Katie Archambault (host of this year’s SI) and Linda Mercer (founder of the SI).  These guides provide a framework for organizing an AISL event, and allow you to benefit from the expertise of past event organizers.  We also provide an opportunity at each annual conference for the current hosts to meet with the organizers of the following year’s conference, with an AISL Board member in attendance to provide additional support.  Renee Chevallier has been doing a great job liaising with conference planners to ensure everything is on track, providing support and advice as needed.

How about managing a social media channel for AISL?  Following in the footsteps of CD McLean, AISL innovator extraordinaire, for the past few years Claire Hazzard has done an unsung but awesome job of maintaining and innovating with the technologies to support AISL.  She has had assistance from other unsung contributors like Brian Collier (wiki) and Barbara Share (this Independent Ideas blog), and as Claire transitions out of this role, she is now joined by Christina Pommer to lead the Board’s technology forward.  Over the next few months, we anticipate opportunities for new volunteers to manage social media channels like Facebook or Twitter under Christina’s direction.  Christina will put out a call for interested applicants, so please consider volunteering your time and expertise to help grow our association.

Even retirement offers no escape!  Thanks to the advocacy of retired AISL member Milly Rawlings and the enthusiastic survey response from retiring AISL members, we are piloting a “retiree track” at next year’s annual conference. Retired AISL members (a new membership category introduced last year, with a lower annual fee that offers continued listserv access) will have the opportunity to join a concurrent but separate program in the host conference city, which offers some overlap with the annual conference and will provide continued networking to share expertise.  As the organizer and lead cheerleader for this KARL (Kick-ass retired librarians) initiative, Milly will provide details of the inaugural event this fall as she works out a program in conjunction with the New Orleans conference planning team.  Stay tuned for good times, as we welcome back many of our recently-retired colleagues who are keen to stay connected.

But wait, there’s more!  (Just like the K-Tel ad promises)  We understand that we need to better communicate the work of the volunteer AISL Board, not just for accountability purposes, but also to foster interest so new members can be attracted to the Board as people’s terms end.  To begin, we will enhance the info provided on our website to include the terms of office for Board members, with links to bios and position descriptions.  In spring 2017, there will be an opportunity for new members to join the AISL Board in an “at-large” capacity, as existing Board members will be moving into executive roles.  In case you haven’t heard, I’m delighted to introduce Katie Archambault as the president-elect of AISL — she will assume this new role after next year’s conference in New Orleans.  We will be in good hands with Katie at the helm, as she will combine continuity with innovation moving forward.  But no president can do this alone, as the ongoing success of AISL is truly the result of a consistent team effort.  We hope in the months and years ahead you will consider joining the Board as opportunities arise – we strive to attract representation from across North America and welcome librarians at all stages of career development.

On that happy note, I’ll head off to pack for my Newfoundland camping trip.  Enjoy the rest of your summer, and all the best for a smooth transition into the new school year.


Sandy Gray, AISL Board President, 2015-2017

Head Librarian, St. Michael’s College School, Toronto, Canada



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Podcast Recommendations: Because why stop at just books?

Raise your hand if you’ve been asked for a book recommendation because you’re a librarian.

I’ve been in the car a lot this summer, and audio books are a real commitment. Do I want to devote 12 hours to learning about presidential assassinations ? Or trends in education? The gender pay gap? Podcasts have filled the gap for me for nonfiction, letting me learn an hour’s worth of information, without the commitment of an audiobook. They’re perfect for shorter roadtrips, bike rides around the neighborhood, and dinner preparation time.

Last month, I wrote about professional books, and here are some of my favorite podcasts. The ones that aren’t, you know, well-known on NPR…

5. Slate’s Working

Summary: Slate interviews Americans about their jobs and what they do all day. It’s a polished conversation that often answers specific questions about the details of day-to-day life for professions ranging from zumba instructor to used book seller.

Best For: Nosy workaholics

Started: Fall 2014

Average Length: 25 minutes

Sample Episode: What does a principal do all day?

  1. American Libraries’ Dewey Decibel

Summary: ALA introduced this podcast recently to educate people on the world of libraries today. As a young podcast, it’s still getting its footing though it’s been interesting to learn about the field of librarianship outside of schools.

Started: Spring 2016

Best For: practical librarians

Average Length: 30 minutes, monthly

Sample Episode: There are only three; you can easily catch up.

  1. Gastropod

Summary: Co-hosted show by journalist-foodies with expert interviews that discuss the history, culture, and science of food.  Topics vary from ice cream to food packaging.

Best For: sciencey foodies

Started: Fall 2014

Average Length: 20-40 minutes, every two weeks

Sample Episode: The United States of Chinese Food

  1. Good Job, Brain

Summary: Started through Kickstarter from a pub trivia team, this podcast covers pop culture, trivia, and the all-encompassing interests of the four co-hosts. Every fifth show is an all-quiz show.

Best For: unabashed nerds

Started: Winter 2011

Average Length: 45 minutes, weekly

Sample Episode: Eggsellect (Because this show refers to current events, I’d start with a relatively recent one.)

  1. 99% Invisible (99pi)

Summary: I would listen to this podcast just to hear host Roman Mars’ voice. But, on a content level, it “exposes the unseen and overlooked aspects of design, architecture, and activity in the world.” Have you wondered about water fountains, ice production, or tall skyscrapers?

Best For: curious city-lovers

Started: Fall 2010, weekly

Average Length: 15-25 minutes

Sample Episode: Atmospherians (Straight out of Central Casting)

Your turn!



Best For:


Average Length:

Sample Episode:

 I have a 16 hour drive to Florida coming up. Please make my drive feel faster, and happy listening.

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Tales from the Front: Real Research

I write research papers for money. No, no not like that! Not one of those horrible paper mills where you can purchase your English grade with a credit card. The shame! Rather, I spend every summer vacation (er, “vacation”) authenticating art for a private company that provides expert opinions to insurance underwriters, auction houses, galleries and museums, and so forth. This is right up my alley: I have sharply honed research skills, as do you all; years of experience in art history; plus I like to write – it’s the trifecta of awesome and I know how lucky I got when I fell into this opportunity. For security reasons I can’t discuss details of individual cases here, but if you’re curious, ask away and I’ll answer what I can in the comments or in a private message. (Come on, you know you want to!) I do this on a freelance basis, and am one of several writers who work for this firm.

For all of you who have ever gotten the eye-roll combined with the “Oh my GAWD, Librarian, when am I ever going to use this again, please go back to reading your books,” this is for you. I realize that most students will not grow up to write research papers for a living, but I believe there are useful lessons here for everyone. Also, I hate mentioning this, but it does seem to matter, so . . . for some reason students are way more inclined to take me seriously when I mention that I get paid to do this, as in, “Oh, well, if it was for money I guess I would be super-careful with my notecards and bibliography and deadlines.” At which point I give them Teacher Face and say, “Is your grade worth less than money? Is your integrity worth less than a few months’ allowance?” Then I raise one eyebrow meaningfully and continue on. Practice doing this in the mirror before school starts.

A lot of my process will seem very familiar to any student or teacher in a general sense, though some aspects are peculiar to art history as a discipline. Like any student researcher, I receive my assignment, note the deadline, ask for any clarification, and then begin. Where? Say it with me, everybody: “Wikipedia.” Because as we all know, it’s a fine place to begin, in order to get correct spellings, birth and death dates, a general overview, some useful search terms, pertinent-looking sources. And then that’s enough Wikipedia!

Then, I check to see if I have adequate resources at my disposal. Art history is especially dependent on printed books, so I look in WorldCat to see what’s available nearby. On one occasion I declined a project because there was not a single book in the whole state I could use. If I were a student, I’d ask the teacher to change my subject slightly. In my case, I asked for a different task and was cheerfully given one.

Next, I open up a working document and start taking notes into it. I have really terrible handwriting but I type like a house on fire, so this way I can work fast and stay legible. I write down every little thing that occurs to me into that file. Nobody sees it but me, and I can cut and paste as much as I want. Better to leave in too much and cut later, rather than overlooking something that proves essential further out and suffer through trying to track it down. Do I document sources along the way? You bet I do!

Then, I search for relevant articles. For authentication purposes these aren’t always that useful, but sometimes articles can tell me if something was recently sold, if there has been a big shift in scholarly thinking, maybe a work was stolen or declared a forgery. I’d hate to NOT read a relevant article and miss some important piece of news like that, so at least skimming a results page in a database is worth it.

That brings me to the bibliography, which is where it gets really interesting for you and me. The bibliography isn’t just a way to prove to your teacher that you worked hard, credited your sources and didn’t plagiarize – it’s a way to give other scholars who read your work a chance to examine the same sources you used and come to the same or different conclusion. No ninth grader can imagine a circumstance in which that would happen to him or her. Well, it happened to me: Two years ago I was asked to a take over a project someone else had abandoned. I was given her notes and the same reference materials she received for the assignment, but I discovered she left absolutely no record of where she had gotten her preliminary information. Imagine my surprise (or lack of it) when I discovered the biography the previous researcher had submitted was lifted virtually in toto from a not-very-credible website. So, I cleared up the problem of plagiarism by rewriting the biography from scratch using more authoritative sources, then set about finding the right materials for the authentication report and documenting them correctly. For my bibliographies I use MLA format, since it’s widely accepted in the humanities, and I let NoodleTools do the heavy lifting.

It’s rare, but there are times when these works of art are referred to in matters of legal consequence: divorce proceedings, insurance claims, and inheritance, for example. So, it’s essential that whatever I use to prove that something is real (or not real, as is the case in about 75 percent of the reports I write) is pretty airtight. I don’t expect to ever be called to the witness stand, but if I do, I sure hope that the presiding judge doesn’t look at me and ask how I formulated my expert opinion and I stammer out, “Uh, I l-l-l- I looked it up on Wiki . . . Wikipedia, your Honor.” Nope. So, a solid bibliography, properly formatted, and everyone wins.

My final piece of advice is for the procrastinators. We’ve all heard this: “I work better when I’m under pressure. I’m awesome at all-nighters!” You are not. You are laboring under a teenage delusion that Mountain Dew is some kind of magic potion that makes you write like David McCullough. Not so! You need to leave yourself some time for serendipitous discovery, and waiting till the last minute does not allow that. I spent four solid days this week researching what I thought was a painting of David slaying Goliath, and about three minutes before the library closed for the day today, I read something that made me realize it was probably Achilles killing Hector. If this report were due tomorrow instead of next month, I would miss my deadline and not collect my check. If I were in school, I would miss my deadline and fail my class, something that will surely hit home with all but the most callous and unreachable students.

So, feel free to pluck any useful tidbits from these experiences when you are teaching research skills and bibliography to your charges this year. If real-life examples help you drive home your point, take what you need and let me know how it goes!

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