Poetrees and Flutterbies

IMG_0428At this time of year we celebrate Spring, Poetry, and Butterflies in the Primary wing of the Lower School.  Many classes read books about the seasons, all classes read and write poems, and our second graders learn about butterflies, each “hatching” a real butterfly from a chrysalis.  To support classroom curriculum, we create a Poetree where first graders write poems about spring to help the Poetree sprout its leaves.  Second graders create their own beautiful butterflies to adorn the Poetree.

How does this happen?

Well, Poetrees need a lot of students to make them grow!  We start by sharing the book Poetrees by Douglas Florian.  The students see the beautiful art, read the poems, and share their own knowledge of trees and poetry.  It is fun to hear the first graders explain what you learn by counting the rings of a tree and their surprise when they learn that a tiny acorn will grow into a big oak tree.  Next, we talk about the season of Spring.  Students explain what happens in Spring with the plants and flowers, what activities they like to do in Spring, and list Spring ‘things’ like mud, frogs, baby birds, and so on.  Next, the students write their own spring poems, starting with a rough draft on lined paper.  When their poems are done, they copy them onto a leaf template and illustrate the poem.  When the leaves are cut out, the Poetree begins to grow.  This project happens over two class periods.

In the last trimester of the year, second graders learn everything you can imagine about butterflies and then visit The Butterfly Pavilion just outside of Denver.  I love connecting to this unit in the library!  We begin our Flutterby lesson by having the students share important and interesting facts they learned about butterflies in our cozy corner.  Then we read together.  There are many butterfly stories to choose from for a read-aloud and one of my favorites is The Beautiful Butterfly: a Folktale from Spain by Judy Sierra and Victoria Chess.  The story is about love, death, grief, and underwear.  Students always love it in the end, even if the *mushy* stuff at the beginning makes some of them groan.  After the story, I show students how to make a colorful butterfly out of two pieces of tissue paper and a pipe cleaner.  It is easy, fun, and helps create a colorful hallway display that is enjoyed by students, teachers, and parents.  This lesson takes one library class period.

The Poetree is an annual event for the primary wing students and they love learning that it is their turn to make the Poetree grow.


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Best Practices for Creating (and Using!) a Diverse YA Collection

With a groundswell of readily available resources on diverse books and increasingly wide representation in YA and children’s books, this is a fantastic time to be a school librarian. For some of us, myself included, making the most of these riches may require a shift in mindset.

Question assumptions: What is universal? What is niche?

I remember with embarrassment how, as a sensitive but ultimately clueless young white bookworm, I grew to resent the “diverse books” assigned in my middle-school Language Arts class. To me, they all seemed to have the same story — a child’s home culture conflicted with the white, Americanized culture at school, and the protagonist had to find some way to reconcile the two and figure out who he or she truly was. This is no light, simplistic subject matter, but after three or four books with what struck me as the same narrative arc, I thought, “I get it — can’t we read about something else now?”

There’s a reason I recall this with embarrassment. After all, there’s no shortage of white, American coming-of-age stories, and I don’t remember thinking that A Separate Peace and The Catcher in the Rye were ‘basically the same book.’ I took those books on their merits, looking for their characters’ idiosyncrasies and how the authors varied the familiar growing-up story. I read them as individual works, not as ‘white books.’ It’s clear to me now that my reactions were colored by internalized racism, specifically these two biases:

  1. that a dominant group’s stories and experiences are universal (Holden Caulfield is “an exquisitely rendered character with whom nearly anyone can identify“), or even ‘normal’ (yikes), but others’ are not, and
  2. that a protagonist from an overrepresented group can be an individual (‘this book is about Holden Caulfield…’), while a protagonist from an underrepresented group must represent his or her entire group (‘this is an Asian book’).

I’m unlearning these biases, and I don’t want to pass them on to my students. Fortunately, many of them seem less burdened by the assumption that a book with a marginalized protagonist is for a similarly marginalized reader. How can we encourage these broad, inclusive reading interests?

Beyond oppression narratives and issue books

As irresponsible as it would be to pretend that marginalized people don’t face hardship due to their identities, it is also harmful to reduce an entire identity to hardship. The impetus for the roundtable on this topic at last month’s conference in Los Angeles was a Black AISL librarian’s own experience: Her daughter, reading To Kill a Mockingbird for class, asked why the stories she read with Black characters were all about suffering.

Consider also that the first YA novel about lesbian teens that had a happy ending (Annie on My Mind, 1982) is famous for that fact. Previously, stories about gay men and lesbians were dominated by tragedy. (Bisexual, transgender, and nonbinary people rarely appeared at all.) The literature honestly reflected the violent, widespread homophobia of the time, but this had an unintended consequence: The complete lack of happy endings sent a strong message about how much suffering and how little happiness gay and lesbian teens could hope for. In our collections, with access to more diverse books than ever before, we must honor the very real struggles that marginalized people face while also allowing all of our students to imagine happy endings for themselves and others.

At a panel during the first annual YALLWEST festival in 2015, author E. Lockhart mentioned a common progression in representation: First you get issue books, then the issue becomes more and more normalized, and finally the identity is represented in an honest, matter-of-fact way and not as the entire conflict of the story. Personally, I think of this as the “These are the people in your neighborhood” test (with apologies to Sesame Street): Is this character’s identity presented in such a way that a young child would (correctly) assume that such people exist and are normal parts of the world?

Let’s pause to take youth literature’s temperature. I Am Jazz, a picture book co-authored by transgender teen Jazz Jennings, is very much about being transgender. Its aim is in large part to help young children and their caregivers understand trans identities and gender variance more broadly. The conflict is that Jazz is a girl and the people around her expect her to be a boy. This is an issue book, which makes perfect sense given that American society has a long way to go before truly understanding trans experiences and protecting trans rights.

Similarly, None of the Above is about a young woman who finds out that she is intersex. The conflict of the story is rooted in this discovery and in her learning more about and coming to terms with her intersexuality. Tellingly, Amazon reviews call it “educational” and “eye-opening.” Again, this makes sense given how little mainstream awareness there is of intersexuality.

Conversely, The Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake is a middle-grade mystery novel focusing on a young Black girl in 1953. Race influences the characters’ experiences in realistic ways, yet the novel has hooks (mystery, historical fiction, possibly vampires?) beyond being About Race. To my knowledge, there is no similar published novel about a trans child right now — so much of the book might be taken up explaining what it means to be trans that there would be little room for a mystery, a historical setting, and the hint of supernatural intrigue.

In “The Case Against Colorblind Casting,” Angelica Jade Bastién writes, “There needs to be a broader middle ground for actors of color—between the 12 Years a Slave and the Rocky Horror remake, between stories where race is everything and stories where it’s not even an afterthought.” Extending this vision to youth literature and to the representation of many identities (from race to ability to gender identity and beyond), we can consider I Am Jazz and None of the Above as “stories where [gender and sex are] everything,” while The Unstoppable Octobia May exists in the “middle ground” between the issue book and invisibility.

In the future, hopefully sooner rather than later, trans and intersex kids will also be able to see themselves in that middle ground: fighting crime, unraveling mysteries, going on adventures, meeting dragons, and more, with their identities and the prejudices they may still face acknowledged but not all-consuming. When they are allowed into that middle ground, there will be room in their stories for more than just struggle — for adventure, romance, sci-fi and fantasy elements, and a wide range of stories and dynamics.

Beyond tokenism

I doubt that any of us would say, “We have Anne of Green Gables and The Hunger Games, so girls are covered.” It’s fairly obvious that women and girls, as roughly half the world’s population, can be the protagonists of as many kinds of stories as there are people.

The importance of moving past tokenism for all identities is the subject of Laurel Snyder’s post “Looking Back: Sometimes the All of a Kind Family Isn’t.” She writes:

no “Jewish” book will ever encapsulate “The Jewish experience.”  Any more than a “black” or “Chinese” (much less “Asian”) book will ever define those experiences.  When people ask me, “How many Jewish books do we need?” I have to answer, “ALL of them.”  However many books we produce to satisfy a quota is too few.  Because not every kid came from The All of a Kind Family.

I think it’s important we remain aware of this, as writers.  Because there’s an impulse, sometimes, to broaden our stories. We want to be available to the greatest number of readers, so we reach for the lowest common denominator. But this feels wrong to me. Backwards.  This is how we lose authenticity, particularity.  No book I can write will ever meet the needs of “The Jewish World” or “Girls 8-12.”  The best I can do is to write one story, for one reader, in one moment, and hope it feels true, and resonates.

While Snyder devoured all of Chaim Potok’s work — all of which could be referred to as “Jewish books” — only Davita’s Harp reflected her “messy, confused, conflicted, ashamed Jewish self.” As obvious as it sounds, these works are not interchangeable, and we have little way of knowing which book will reach which child. Providing depth and variety of representation, as well as breadth, helps ensure that students find what they need in our collections.

Everyone needs diverse books

We know how important representation is. A wealth of research demonstrates that children from underrepresented and misrepresented groups need to see themselves reflected in media. What is easier to overlook, however, is the importance of diverse media to overrepresented groups.

Alvin Irby writes, in Education Week and at Barbershop Books, about the importance of racially diverse stories and characters for white readers: “Reflecting on the importance of who gets seen, when, where, and doing what in books for children has led me to conclude that children’s literature represents one of the most valuable pieces of real estate in the fight against bigotry and racism in American culture.”

Educators play a crucial role in framing children’s experiences with books, Irby points out: “Relegating books with nonwhite main characters to diversity/ethnic book lists or social studies units created for Black History Month, National Hispanic Heritage Month, or Native American Heritage Month creates a form of implicit and de facto segregation.”

Likewise, failing to recommend books across identity lines — such as The Unstoppable Octobia May for a non-Black fan of mysteries or Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda for a straight or asexual fan of love stories — perpetuates the incorrect idea that these are niche experiences and identities, not everyday ones.

Segregating books by identity is especially harmful for readers steeped in the kinds of homogeneity and privilege that can typify independent schools. When few people of color, disabled people, and otherwise marginalized people are visible in students’ everyday lives, widespread and balanced representation in media becomes even more important in order to expand kids’ circles of concern. In other words, when the people in students’ neighborhoods aren’t actually diverse, their books need to be even more so. Otherwise, we risk perpetuating the racial empathy gap and other incalculably harmful phenomena. Hey, no one said that the stakes were low.

For those of us with the mental habit of segregating books, the Summer Reading Series at We Need Diverse Books models a more holistic way of thinking about titles and their commonalities:

“If you liked John Green’s and David Levithan’s WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, read Eric Gansworth’s IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE because both feature teens whose difficult lives are somehow, somewhat alleviated by the power of good music. Read more about IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE at the Smithsonian BookDragon.”

Conventional thinking, informed by decades of tokenizing marketing, would segregate Will Grayson, Will Grayson with another book featuring LGBT characters and If I Ever Get Out of Here with another book with a Native American protagonist. Instead, Terry Hong of BookDragon has connected titles across identity lines by isolating one of the many other themes present in each book. Instead of reducing these books to “LGBT” or “Native American,” Hong keeps an open mind to subtler commonalities across human experiences, allowing for connections between titles and between human beings alike.

Cultivating this way of thinking about books will allow us to share and recommend titles across identity lines, connecting students to much-needed reflections of their own experiences and the experiences of others.

Our students live in a diverse world, and they need to see a reflection of the reality that people of all races, genders, sexual orientations, abilities and disabilities, ethnic backgrounds, and more are, in fact, the people in their neighborhood, figuratively speaking — especially if not literally.

More resources for finding diverse books and learning how to use them:

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Librarian as library user

While it’s no surprise that I view much of my school life (and personal, for that matter), through the lens of a librarian, I don’t want to forget that I am also a library user.

Unfortunately, a library user who feels delinquent in a number of ways. In the interest of keeping positive, here are some areas where I have opportunity for improvement, with specific action items included:

I am the worst overdue offender. 

Well, maybe not the worst, but I’m still appallingly lax when it comes to due dates. I find it amusing that one of my responsibilities at school is to be ‘the heavy’ when students (and staff) don’t respond to lovely email reminders about their overdue materials – especially on days when I’m heading to my local public library after work to pay yet another overdue fine.

Action item: Celebrate my on-going support of libraries through revenue generation!

I have been known to borrow a book from my own school library without checking it out.

Is it only me who picks up a book in my school library with such joyful anticipation that it makes it home without being checked out? If I did this in a public library or bookstore, I would be in serious trouble – and beyond the ethical (and legal) issues, there’s the fact that I’m robbing my own library’s circulation statistics of vital data. Yeesh.


I pass judgement on what I read.

I am militant about not judging anyone, particularly my students, for what they choose to read. Former YA librarian Patrick Jones often speaks about a too-familiar experience:

“I summon up all my twelve-year-old courage and ask the librarian if the library has any wrestling magazines. That is what I thought I asked; instead I think I asked her to show me what her face would look like if she sucked on lemon for a hundred years. She looked like she was about to stroke out at the mere mention of wrestling magazines in her library. She made me feel stupid, and I never went back.”

Like you, I don’t want anyone to feel that what they choose to read is unworthy of their attention. However, I don’t often extend this sentiment to myself when reading something others might describe as less literary and more beachy. There’s a lot of negative self-talk going on when I pick up something light in lieu of more intellectual tomes.

Action item: Don’t beat myself up for reading a wide variety of books and magazines, and use it as an opportunity to role model. With the exception of the flight back from AISL Denver when I read 50 Shades of Grey: I seemed to have been the only librarian at that conference who hadn’t read it. For research purposes, of course.

I have a very small personal library.

I worry that this one might get me banished from the ranks. How can I call myself a librarian when my personal bookshelf (note the singular) contains mostly childhood favourites (Montgomery, Alcott, Ingalls Wilder, Blume) and books given to me as gifts? I’ve had kids say  ‘You must have a whole room full of books at home! ” or “Do you have one of those cool ladders in your own library?”  I feel like such a fraud because 99% of my reading material comes from my school and public libraries.

Action item: Recognize that this actually makes me an exemplary library user 🙂

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Barriers to Access

If it is possible for one’s PD cup to run over, mine is. In the past two weeks, I have been to two amazing conferences. First,  NEAISL at the lovely Milton Academy for a one day, action packed conference. Just a few days later, I headed to Los Angeles for the annual AISL conference, where I found myself surrounded, once again, by world class librarians from across the US and Canada, visiting beautiful, innovative library spaces in and around LA. My next thousand blog posts could be reflections on the new ideas that I have come home with, consider yourself warned.

What I thought I  might attempt in this first reflection piece is to identify a common theme that ran through both conferences. It’s about access to information.

NEAISL & Ebsco’s Discovery Service

NEAISL proved that our regional EBSCO rep has been very, very busy of late. Most of us are either-mid trial, in our first year or two with the product, and a few of us are well seasoned, early adopters of the technology.  I don’t refer to EDS here in the ‘to have or not to have’ context, Alyssa did an excellent job in sharing the pros and cons of the program in an earlier post. I do want to share a catchy quote that I heard at NEAISL though. One librarian observed, “Our students don’t care which database their information came from. They only want to access the information quickly, to find valid results that are easy to cite,  rich and varied enough to make their teacher happy, then they’re moving on.” Truth. So yes, I do like Discovery. That isn’t the point of this post, though. The point is ACCESS, with or without Discovery.

Jenny Barrows of the Hopkins School said,  “our students will never find our best materials if we have crappy records”. She and her colleagues believe that our shelves can practically sparkle with a quality, well honed collection, but the reality is that our students are still going through the computer to search for sources. Like all the time. They do not browse. They WILL NOT find our books if they are badly cataloged.

She and her team of 3  began a descriptive catalog project, hoping to increase access points. Read all about it and learn the steps it takes to implement in your own library here.

In essence, bad cataloging blocks our students’ access to information. This is going to take some time, but we need to be as diligent in weeding our records as we are in weeding our shelves. 

Welcome to Katie’s Summer Project Numero Uno. Good times! 

Speaking of cataloging/barriers to access, Liz Gray just shared this thought provoking article via Facebook. Do you check to make sure that your records are politically correct and not potentially offensive to your community?

On a semi-related note, do you think about teenagers’ natural language searching  or do you stick with standardized subject headings?

AISL16 & Access: Source Illiteracy as block to access

How can we access that which we are not aware of?

The next ‘access issue’ that I want to address is one that I thought long and hard about after attending what was easily one of the best conference sessions I have ever experienced. It was given by Nora Murphy of Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, and is taken from an article that will soon be published in KQ…be on the lookout! Note: Nora is one of my new librarian sHeros. Check out her amazing library website.

Nora did not present the material as an access-issue, per se. I’m taking liberties with that part, but just go with it for a moment. I think hope that it will make sense in the end.

frog   axolotl




Nora began her presentation by showing us an image of a frog and an axolotl. Frogs are the publications that we are familiar with–magazines, newspapers, scholarly journals, etc. (Note: not all of our kids know that these frogs are frogs.) Axolotls are things that resemble frogs, but really aren’t–they could include trade journals, government documents, blogs, and social media.

We as adults and professionals observe, categorize, ask questions. Our students aren’t typically this savvy (or simply have no exposure from which to draw).

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

From the Virtual Library. Used with permission via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Nora argues that we are missing a piece between location & selection of sources.

<——-Source Literacy goes here. This gap gets in the way of research in a serious way.

Source literacy requires knowledge of source types. What it is, where it exists, what it contains, who creates it, and why. Like anything we teach, we have to expose kids repeatedly to sources or they will forget. Nora suggests that we systematically create a bank of knowledge for them to draw on in the future.

She is all about the Source Bank.

Here’s an example she gave:

9th health class asks, “Why isn’t everything in the grocery store organic?”. What sources do you imagine will have relevant information on this topic? They think of some newspapers, a magazine or two, but really they don’t know much and aren’t able to predict what kinds of sources would have good information on farming, the food industry, or current trends.

How do we expand their source literacy beyond basic, standard publications?

Here’s another idea for a US History class. Convince their teachers that kids MUST know what an oral history is. It’s critical. Invite the teacher(s) to plan with you, to co-teach, co-assess—a unit, a year long goal, over next 3 years we will x, y, and z, whatever fits your school culture, but knowing that the repetition of a concept is what it takes to place it into long term memory.

9th Create assignment, what is an oral history? Characteristics? Do something with it.

10th grade: Studying the impact of religious, cultural, or racial persecution.

Explore sources that contain oral histories:

  • Holocaust Museum
  • Documents of the American South
  • LOC Civil Rights Project

Create a Digital Sourcebank. She likes Trello because it allows students to annotate (how they used a source, what they thought of it at the time, etc.

Nora is piloting Trello with a few of her students. She showed us an example of a students’ work exploring the China/Tibet Relationship. The student had created columns in her source bank which included: Preliminary/Informal sources (idea generation), Core sources (print and digital), Necessary Bias—she needs to consider, but knows it represents a particular point of view (HOW GREAT IS THAT REALIZATION?!), and finally, Visual Texts. Notice: the student is categorizing her own sources.

The benefit of the source bank being formed early in the research process is that it allows for source assessment EARLY ON, not when the bibliography is turned in.

There are so many wonderful, free resources out there, but if our students haven’t had exposure to a lot of different kinds of publications, frogs and axolotls alike, how can they possibly generate the kind of sophisticated, open source, research that could lead them to relevant results?

If we do not make source knowledge a priority, then aren’t we ourselves, a sort of human barrier to our students’ access?

I’ve hit you with a lot of information here. What are your thoughts? Please comment below. And please, if someone’s comment resonates with you, chime in! The more we can discuss, the better.

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Rough Day? 7 Ideas to Get the Zing Back

Every so often I hit a wall. I look at how much I have to weed, or I think about the reports I need to prepare for the Trustees. Maybe I feel a bit beaten down having gotten the “How clueless can you be?” eye roll from a 7th grader. Maybe the brand new copy of a popular new book has mysteriously disappeared from a display, or a teacher is dissatisfied with all 35 of the Greek mythology books in the collection.DisplayWithBookMissing

Experience tells me this will pass. I believe most school library folks are naturally helpful people, drawn to a job they know includes a lot of human contact. When I give myself a pep talk, here are some things that can coax my usually cheerful and optimistic outlook back to the forefront.

1. Remember: Friday is Coming

Sometimes I am just plain tired. Shorting ourselves on sleep not only saps daily energy, but too little sleep can weaken your immune system, upset the smooth function of your metabolism, and cause moodiness and irritability. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t give all to their job — sometimes stepping back to find balance is important. Continue reading

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Need an Extra Body? Create It At The Makerspace!

That’s exactly what the first graders students at my school did. Their PBL (project based learning) unit was on their bodies and “the big question was, ” What part of your body is the most important and why? ” Each student could decide how they wanted to do their final project share, after they did all their research. Several students wanted to design their project in the maker space and came to the area with their ideas and some materials.
After discussing what they wanted to display, one group used littlebits to depict how the brain sends messages to all parts of the body. They used colored tissue paper to make the brain, and traced an outline of their body out of out of butcher paper. By tinkering with the different components of the littlebits, they used the long led light wire to represent the messages sent by the brain through the nervous system.They taped all of these items to the paper model and here is their final design: IMG_3724
Another group was interested in the skeletal system and started collecting and cutting up different sizes, shapes, and textures of cardboard. They used the tool kits and bolts in the MakdoKits to give the cardboard skeleton movable joints ! A round piece of cardboard was selected for the head and of course they added the smiling face. IMG_3723IMG_3789
The group that picked the circulatory system brought plastic blue and red straws to use for their project. Using another paper outline cut out for their body, they decided to glue straws on it showing the veins (blue) and arteries (red) that had been oxygenized. They also had balloons to represent the lungs and borrowed the balloon inflator from the maker space to demonstrate how the lungs work in the circulatory system.IMG_3731IMG_3754
For the digestive system, students from another group made an esophogus using a cardboard toweling paper tube, a plastic zip lock bag for the stomach, clear egg cartons filled with food representations for the lower intestines, and yarn measured exactly the length of our upper intestines. IMG_3762
One group made a puppet show on the senses and the puppets included a nose on a stick, a tongue on a stick, an ear on a stick, an eye on a stick, and a hand on a stick. It was amazing how they came up with this idea by themselves and during the show it was evident they knew how the senses worked individually and collectively. IMG_3764           The parents were invited for the final project share and the students were dressed like museum guides. The classroom was transformed into a body museum and the students directed the tour. Each station was taught by the students, their projects were explained and the facts and information they researched was shared by the students. The teachers were on the side watching and listening to the comments of the visitors.IMG_3756
In a world where the 3D printer is being used to actually make body parts and prosthetics, these first graders were truly an inspiration for the future. Recently, I read that a student actually made his own 3D braces and saved over $7,000.00 by doing it. Once again the belief that if students are given the opportunity to take ownership of their projects and are given some direction they get excited about what they do and learning does take place in a more exciting manner. Let them go….watch them….and be amazed….I always am!

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Hello LA!

Welcome to Los Angeles, and a huge thank you to the Committee for planning an organized conference with diverse programming! Even though I’ve only been involved in AISL for 4 years, every time I enter the hospitality suite at the start of a conference, I feel like I’m finally with my “tribe.” Here’s my takeaways from day one.


Willows – maker space signage

After an hour exploring first-hand the highway system of LA, we all got the LA native experience to start the day. The Willows School has model STEAM and library programs, and everything they shared showed that theirs is a culture that fosters collaboration. You know you are in the right place when the headmaster starts the day by saying, “The library is the heart and soul of the school.”

Part One: The Willows School

Maker Spaces and STEAM Curriculum

The three maker teachers shared their own backgrounds and their belief that you can come to the maker world through literacy, science, or the arts and all learn from each other. One of the presenters, Mr Wittenburg, talked about the transformations and “aha moments” that come with agency and ownership in a makerspace. At Willows, they teach maker classes in co-units with teachers as well as doing projects before and after classroom subject lessons. I liked the analogy that the easiest way to do start collaboration is to take two courses and basically build a Venn diagram about what overlaps. The presenters advocated that maker spaces provide opportunities for authentic interdisciplinary learning. Students are motivated to solve problems that they have identified in their work, and they don’t think in terms of specific classes. The librarian is in a unique position to oversee collaboration and resource and to make sure that there is a scope and sequence followed between grades.


Willows – bracing with newspaper

To consider: Specific recommendations include Google Drive, Scratch, iMovie, GarageBand, and Makey Makey.


Willows – STEAM project

Creating Ever-Evolving, School-Specific Learning Commons

The second session discussed the idea of a learning commons and how libraries are evolving in today’s educational landscape. A team of architects led the session. As learning becomes more project-based and interdisciplinary, and as digital resources become more vital to library collections, libraries don’t have to be limited by physical location. Learning commons are adaptable and may be satellites for the “library” or may replace the traditional library model entirely.


Willows – Fun color-changing lights (loved them!)

If your school is considering making structural changes and brings in an architect, here’s what to expect. Designers need to be asking school personnel and students a lot of questions. They should also survey the space to see what works and what doesn’t. Then they will talk with the librarian! So, you should visit places (not just schools but also companies and other areas of interest-explore) to figure out what inspires you. The architects will work with you to translate your inspirations and the school’s educational philosophy in the library-learning commons transition. Though it’s obvious, the architects also need to know the budget considerations and work within the school’s budget. This may involve a multi-stage plan.


Willow – ideas on whiteboard wall

To consider: How will acoustics work, especially if you have combined group and silent workspaces? Do you have enough electrical outlets? Is the furniture comfortable, and do you want some of the furniture to be mobile so that the space can easily transition uses? Who will be responsible for the management of common spaces?

Part Two: Marlborough School

The Marlborough School is a 7-12 girls’ school located in the beautiful Hancock Park neighborhood. As we lunched underneath the enormous skylight and watched the palms wave outside the window, we learned about their transition from library to Academic Resource Center (ARC). There is a large open central space, stacks, 2 computer labs, and 3 group study rooms. Future plans call for more collaboration space, better sightlines, and a makerspace. The space is already lovely, and I hope I’m able to return one day to see what they’re able to do.


Marlborough – first tech defense

Integrating a Library Program with Information Technology Department

The librarians and technology staff have been one department at Marlborough since 2009. They all attend all team meetings, and thus are crosstrained across departments and have many opportunities for conversation. It keeps the librarian from being limited as the “book person” and helps teachers realize the librarian’s role in teaching both teachers and students. Noise and acoustics were mentioned as a concern, and that’s something to always consider when you have increased collaborative use of the library.

I loved that this presentation included both the student and teacher perspective on the 7th grade Digital Citizenship Project and Tech Tools classes. I highly recommend this conference to anyone, and if you attended, you know that seeing the class lessons and projects on the school’s Haiku site provided plenty of ideas. They are models for providing interactive, student-centered 21st century information literacy lessons!


Marlborough – graduation dress display


Marlborough – a great idea for students and alums

1:1 Transition

If I could only say one thing about this panel discussion, it’s that there’s no one path to successful 1:1, but there are a lot of questions you should ask along the way. The panel was both positive and honest, sharing the experiences of their schools with 1:1, which ranged from 3 to 20 years.


Marlborough – coloring station

Questions to ask:
Do you want to purchase devices or have students bring their own? If the school purchases, will the students be allowed to make their own in-device purchases? What is a succession plan for new devices in future years?
Have you considered a pilot program for one grade or faculty before a school-wide implementation?
Do you have a technology plan for device maintenance? This should include a schedule for replacing devices, funding for this, and staff for tech support.
What is the purpose of the devices? iPads and computers have different functions, particularly as they relate to research, paper writing, and citations.
Will the school offer charging stations, and will the librarian play a role in this? What happens if students forget their devices or if they are being repaired?

Suggestions, Ideas, and Thoughts:
The role of the library might change, but there are many opportunities for mobile integration.
The school may want to require cases. Students have been known to damage devices. 🙂
Keep searching for and trying new apps. New apps appear daily.
It’s fine to have downtime from tech. No one should feel compelled to use technology in every lesson.
Students will be on social media. Educate parents and teachers about appropriate use, and offer monitoring suggestions.
Train teachers so that they are comfortable with devices. If funds permit, the school might want to offer money for teachers to purchase technology programs, apps, or training.
The computer labs will likely see less use, so you may want to consider alternate uses for them.
Students may use their devices to contact teachers all hours of the day and night. Consider boundaries and expectations for these interactions.


Marlborough – I want glassed-in group study spaces so badly!

Specific recommended programs include Google Drive, Nearpod, TouchCast, Turnitin, Geometer’s Sketchpad, and Artsonia.


LA Central Library – Original Card Catalog

Part Three: Central Branch of the LA Public Library


LA Central Library – Zodiac Chandelier

We finished our day with 3 sessions at the downtown art deco masterpiece that is the Central Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. They offer tours daily for visitors, and they offer reading programs, tutoring services, technology classes, STEAM projects, performances, and life skills courses for youth throughout the city. Whether you’re a local or a tourist, it’s worth a visit!


LA Central Library – Augmented Reality Display

In case you’re wondering what life is like in the day of an AISL conference attendee or what you’ll learn, this is my snapshot for day one. Next up are informal dinners with librarians throughout the city and time for exploring the city. In my case, that means an evening at a superfun used bookstore, The Last Bookstore.  Thanks for sharing my notes.


LA Central Library – Children’s Room(s)

Conference attendees, please feel free to add your own observations from the day in the comments below. And definitely follow #aisl16la on twitter and instagram!


LA Central Library – Puppet Premiere of The Tortoise and the Hare

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on weeding…


Hello from Hollywood!

As you read this, we’re in the midst of a thrilling week of exploration, networking, sharing, whining/wining, dining, learning, fun, and rejuvenation in Los Angeles at #AISL16LA! So many great things learned so far! The most significant, perhaps, being that the VAST MAJORITY of male librarians in independent schools are named Dave/David! There will be more to come on that phenomenon, but experience from prior AISL Annual Conferences has taught me that there is NO WAY that I was going to have the time or energy to write a post about the conference in real time so…

Not So Fast

This post is being written in the week before the conference and it is business as usual in our library. This week we have librarian-led lessons for 6th grade science classes, 10th grade MPX humanities classes, 10th grade English classes, 10th grade history classes, ELD classes, health classes, a librarian accompanying a class to the Japanese Cultural Center Archives to research the internment of Japanese-Americans in Hawaii during WWII, and a whole bunch of other classes coming in to use the library for class sessions led by teachers rather than librarians. It’s all very exciting. We’ve invited folks into the library and they’ve taken us up on our offer. Except for the bald spots on the sides of my head where I’ve pulled all the hair out while trying to schedule elementary, middle, and high school classes running on different schedules into our space, it’s all amazingly good!

Getting Ready to Get Ready

While all of that is happening, a library still has to be a library and a collection still needs loving care and nurturing. Over the past few months, I worked my way through the 900 section, embarking on D. Wee’s Big Adventure in Cataloging as documented here and here. I’m thrilled to report that my recon and shifting project is now done and we’ve started to weed!

Weeding vs. Clear-Cutting?

Weeding my print collection is hard for me because I find myself squeezed between the two sometimes conflicting visceral instincts of librarianship:

Keep everything “just in case” because you might need it someday!


Provide users the best content that is available.

How do you decide what to weed?  Not so very long ago, this meme fell into my Facebook feed. I only have family and personal friends on Facebook so very few of them are librarians. Interestingly, it was promptly liked by hoards of my Facebook friends.


While thinking about how to best put “weeding theories” into practice, I came across To Weed or Not To Weed? Criteria to Ensure that Your Nonfiction Collection Remains Up to Date by Deborah B. Ford via School Library Journal. Ford offers up much great advice and insight, but the MUSTIE method had a concise, pithy appeal that spoke to me particularly because a decent many books in my 900s are ugly, superseded, or have information easily obtainable from other resources.

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Finally, in a totally unplanned coincidence, during the time that I was thinking a lot about weeding, I happened to finish Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. This is, by no means, a fair summary of the whole of Marie Kondo’s “KonMari” method, but since finishing the (truly wonderful) book, I have had a tendency to facetiously boil the method down to holding an object in my hands and asking myself, “Do you spark joy?” and if the answer is “no.” Throwing the item out.


One of my life’s great ironies is that this book is one that I am now “hoarding” on a shelf at home! Hahaha!

Theory Into Action

At some point, you can gather all of the information in the world, but information can only be empowering when you put it to action so eventually, I had little choice but to pull up a book truck and begin the weeding process. As it stands, there were OLD books that stayed on shelves because they offered unique perspectives or content; books that were slam dunks for weeding just because they were beyond repair and/or just gross; books that were just NEVER going to be borrowed by ANY child or young adult; and, ultimately, books that stayed on the shelves because I just could not make up my mind.

Hall of Fame: Weeding Edition!

Hmmm! When did this country cease to exist? Was it 1995?

Hmmm! When did this country cease to exist? Was it 1995?

Things have changed!

Times change! Things have changed! Books need to be changed!

Contemporary Political Leaders

Most of these guys are dead so, yeah, not quite “contemporary” enough! LOL!


The “failed to spark joy” truck. Just one of MANY!

Silk Purses from Sows’ Ears

Weeded books with some possible usefulness in other contexts get boxed and stored until they can be picked up by our local Friends of the Library group. We have, however, saved some to use for future source evaluation lessons. “Take a look at the book on your group’s table. Why do you think this book should be removed from our library? Discuss amongst yourselves.” We don’t want students to just assume that just because a book resides on our shelves, that it doesn’t merit active and thorough evaluation before the information in it can be put to use. I think we can find ways to shape this into a meaty, but fun, mini-lesson or focus activity on source evaluation.

It Never Ends…

Weeding of our 900s continues, but when we finish there will always be other beds to weed.


Our planet section got a not-so-long-ago refresh, but Pluto continues to taunt us.

Scan 1

Hahaha!!! Maybe we do sports next!

  • What are your weeding challenges?
  • What hits/tips/tricks might you offer to a weeding novice like me?
  • What’s the funniest weed you’ve ever found in your collection?
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Celebrating student choice by giving them the $$$

Last year I wrote and received a grant from my state school library association to allow an eager group of students to select books to purchase for our library. Inspired by David Barrow’s Student Book Budget project, I created a Librarians-In-Training group composed of about a dozen 3rd and 4th grade students. Their task was to survey the student body to gauge reading interests, analyze the results to determine goals for book purchasing, browse book catalogs and meet with vendors to select books to purchase, and finally, make tough budget decisions about what to actually buy. 

By giving students the power to choose, I saw them become thoughtful problem-solvers and decision-makers, focusing on the wants and needs of the many, rather than their own personal desires. This is, after all, their library, and they should take part in the process of selecting books for it. At the end of this project, students were able to see the results of their efforts – books actually purchased for the library. Best of all, students took pride and ownership of the new materials selected for the library.IMG_9720

So, how did we do it? Slowly and methodically!

At our first meeting, I talked to students about my job as librarian – how to select books, what to consider, where to look for books, etc. We discussed our diverse student population and focused on the need to choose books for ALL readers. This led into the sharing of my simplified selection criteria pulled from my Collection Development Policy: community need, quality, appropriateness, and diversity.

We then moved into talking about creating selection goals. What kinds of books should we buy? Well, in order to answer that question, we first needed to find out what kinds of books our Lower School students wanted! I created a simple Google survey for our Librarians-In-Training to fill out and critique.


They spent the next week helping our student body fill out the survey during lunch recess. They emphasized the fact that we would most likely buy the books and genres that students suggested.

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After the surveys were done, we met back as a group to analyze the results and create selection goals focused on specific genres or types of books. I created charts and graphs to illustrate the survey’s results and let students discuss the findings.

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Time with this group ended and another picked up where we left off a few weeks later. Armed with our selection goals (which later changed to account for my recent purchases), we then explored two sources – Follett Titlewave (and print catalogs) and our local independent bookstore. We were lucky to have our independent bookseller come to us to share a box full of the latest and greatest children’s books (which we pre-selected together earlier in the week, selection goals in mind). Students browsed the books and created yes/no piles for purchase.

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After two weeks of compiling our lists and making sure we stayed on budget, I placed the final orders! Students were buzzing with excitement and couldn’t wait for the books to come in. Our bookstore order arrived first, and students helped process them after I cataloged them. The Follett order came in over a month later, and students were anxious to get these books on the shelf already!

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And this is where we are now. The Follett books just went on the shelf yesterday (!!!), and there is still more work to be done. I would love to have some of my Librarians-In-Training create a promotional video for the new books. I would also like to find a way to track checkouts of these new books, so that at the end of the year, we can analyze our success. But for now, I consider this project a win.


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Paying a visit

At next month’s conference in LA, school library visits are sure to once again be a key part of the annual event. During the rest of the year, I know I am one of many who benefit from visiting other schools’ libraries as part of regional/provincial/state library groups. And I know I’m preaching to the converted when I say that seeing school libraries in action, in person, has proven invaluable to both the improvement of my own library, and to my growth as a librarian.

So much so that I often take advantage of my personal travel to visit other libraries – school, public, academic (or special, if possible). Some visits are serendipitous, some planned. This break, I’ve been lucky to be in Florida, and reached out to the librarian at an independent school in the area, who was kind to welcome me for a visit. Visits such as this allow me the opportunity to:

  • Explore physical library space, see different furniture and equipment in use and get great leads on recommended vendors (as well as finding out what hasn’t lived up to expectations)
  • Examine physical collections, talk about digital collections and be inspired by creative displays
  • At school libraries, see class scheduling in action and think about what how it might inform what I’m currently doing; discuss similar program and service challenges and possible resolutions, in and out of the library; learn about school culture and speak with students; and talk about the benefits of AISL with independent school librarians, some who may not belong (yet 🙂 )
  • At public libraries, pick the brains of the teen librarian (hot titles! cool programs!) and talk with staff about any partnerships they may have with local schools
  • At university libraries, ask about what skills they would like first-year students to have already mastered (and consider how aligned my programme is with these expectations), and look into special programming (eg. supporting students during exams)

Why do YOU like to visit other libraries?

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