How about a high school book fair?

After watching our Junior School (Gr 5-8) Librarian, Sarah Torrible, host 2 very successful book fairs in partnership with Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Ontario, those of us in the Senior School (Gr 9-12) started wondering if we could pull one off in our high school library.

Informal surveying of kids indicated considerable interest, so in the spirit of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, we booked it for earlier this month. Now that the dust has settled, here’s a bit about how it went…

Blue Heron drove the items to us for set up (I returned the ‘leftovers’ the following weekend). You can see from this photo that some of the kids couldn’t even wait until the boxes were unpacked to start perusing the goods!

It was a ton of fun watching the students’ faces when they came through the doors – “I haven’t been to a book fair since I was in elementary school!”.

Blue Heron and library staff worked together to set up displays, with over 700 items for students & staff to choose from…

We ran the sale for 2 full days, including evenings. Books were charged to account (the bookstore was happy to accommodate cash/credit sales, but we decided to keep it simple and got approval from school admin to allow charging to accounts).

Both student and staff response was very positive:

  • It was lots of fun connecting readers with genres that are less represented in our collection (eg. cookbooks – we have a few and I’ll get more once we get a student kitchen, I’m going to make it happen! –  sold like hotcakes, particularly the new Eat like a Gilmore)
  • The bookstore was thrilled with the number of classics we sold – the Word Cloud Classics in particular did well, selling out the first day
  • Poetry, unsurprisingly, was a big seller – just wish we had more copies of Milk and Honey available for sale
  • It was fun to have book-related merchandise as well – journals, tshirts, jewellery, pillows – although they didn’t sell quite as well as the books
  • Timing the sale near a holiday helps with gift sales (we sold quite a bit for Mother’s Day, but Sarah does even better just before Christmas).

In addition to putting smiles on faces, we ended up with over $400 in bookstore credit to spend on items for our collection. We’ll definitely do this again. As we have such a large boarding population, I think we’ll try to tie it in with a parent weekend. And we’ll definitely add extra staffing, as running the sale while running the library kept us hopping!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The Gift of Summer Reading

There has been no shortage of discussion on the topic of summer reading, but as ’tis the season, here’s another piece! As the end of the year approaches and a flurry of school events come and go, it seems to be the library-mission related topic that is most visible and most on the minds of school community members at the moment.

This will be our third year of using a student-driven summer reading model first inspired by a presentation from a fellow independent school librarian at our state affiliate organization conference several years ago. I know many schools have been approaching summer reading in similar ways and each school whose summer reading process I’ve taken note of “does” summer reading a little differently to fit their own school mission and reading community. I’ve learned a few things about summer reading at our school over the last two years and I’m sure I have more to learn this year as things come together.

To sum up our method: starting in the winter, I recruit Summer Reading Leaders (SRLs) from the ranks of returning students in grades 9-11 (rising sophomores-seniors). I make announcements, send out visually appealing emails, and speak face-to-face with students.

Together we select a book for each of them to put forth as an Upper School summer reading option. Some of these students know a book they’d like to share immediately, others need suggestions to choose from or a little re-direction. Once the list is final, the rest of the students rising to grades 9-12 fill out a Google form asking for their top three favorites from the list. I arrange the students into reading groups based on these preferences. Nearly everyone is assigned to their first choice reading group.

When we return to school, a one-hour Summer Reading Group session is built into the orientation/pre-season sports days. The SRLs are in charge of leading discussions, or, for the more ambitious, activities during this time.

I am always thrilled to see which students might volunteer to be SRLs and to see positive responses from those who are so happy to be asked. I am often tickled by their book choices, too.

The benefits of this approach:

  • More choice means more student buy-in and excitement around summer reading. The peer-chosen factor is a big one here.
  • We start the year on a positive note around reading. The idea is that everyone is reading something of their choice which ideally they also enjoyed.
  • Through their choices, I get to know the students better as readers; especially those who don’t read for pleasure as much or new students who need to be welcomed into the library.
  • When a SRL needs help choosing a book, I get a chance to promote something that deserves more readers, or else provide overlap with Reading Olympics or the PA Young Readers Choice Award.

Of course there are also The Challenges

  • When it comes to recruiting SRLs, it’s easy to think first of the students you know to be voracious readers. However, other students want to be involved too. They might just need to be asked. They are likely to bring great additions to the list. (I aim for enough SRLs to have reading groups of about ten students and to provide enough diversity in the book options.) 
  • Relatedly, balancing the list takes careful consideration, as Christina Pommer posted a few years ago. The list has to appeal to many different reading preferences.
  • There are some students who don’t read the summer reading book. I survey the students anonymously after the groups meet, with one of the questions being “Did you read the book?” Most have either responded “Yes” or “I read most of it.”

Lessons learned

  • Last year we had a couple of repeated books from the year before led by new SRLs. I was happy that I still had the previous year’s reading group rosters, as some students wanted to sign up for the book they had already read the previous year. While I was pleased they had enjoyed it so much the first time, I could refer to the old roster and assign them to their second choice.
  • Keep Admissions informed of the process. Make book selection easy and friendly for new students. Seeing their book choices come in during the summer is a great entry to getting to know them before the year starts.
  • It may be that the students who initially resist assigned Summer Reading will make great SRLs because it’s the SRLs who have the most choice in their Summer Reading selection. 
  • Check that the books are easily available; internationally, if applicable. A book fair can really help with this, or hold a book downloading help session before the end of the year.

Through most of the school year, I worry that Upper School students generally don’t seem to be reading for pleasure very much. Though we put together physical and virtual book displays, promote new and seasonal titles through email and social media, set up pop-up libraries in different spots around campus, participate in Reading Olympics and book talk for classes and clubs, often it seems that this dynamic collection of super-awesome books is going unnoticed, spines in near-perfect condition with nary a stamp on the date due slip. I wonder whether I am promoting the collection enough, or selecting and purchasing books the students want to read. Maybe students are just not interested in reading library books, preferring to watch TV shows or read on Wattpad when their hearts and minds need a story.

While these are important things to evaluate, I often forget about the simple and real factor of time. Like many of us, our busy college-prepping students just don’t have that much time during the school year to curl up with a good book that they love. Some make the time, but it’s hard to do. When a break rolls around, I am delighted by the reading that is all of a sudden part of the imagery of “how I will spend my summer vacation.” That’s when many students are ready to have a book put in their hands. When given the chance and an enticing array of  choices many will welcome summer reading as the gift a good book is.

There are a lot of great summer reading ideas to be found on the AISL wiki, listserv, and other places. I’d love to see a comprehensive database of different summer reading approaches in our schools, so we can see others’ ideas and lessons learned. Anyone with me? 

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

All The News About Fake News

While this is not exactly new “news,” this year I did a 7th grade history lesson on fake news and wanted to share resources that we used from the Stanford History in Education Group. Stanford collected data from over 7,800 students and researchers were “shocked” by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of information. Intrigued, I decided to test our students with the assessments that you can find in the executive summary of the study. More exercises from this study should be released before the end of the school year.

First, we had students complete the assessments. The majority of our students were not able to recognize that “sponsored content” meant that something was an advertisement and not a news story. Additionally, many students failed to note the source (pleasegoogle…..) of the flower image and instead focused on the flowers themselves to explain their reasoning. Finally, the tweet proved especially difficult, but I think this is likely due to the fact that many 7th graders are not familiar with Twitter! I was not surprised by these results and used this as a “teachable” moment. (My professors would be proud! :))

We then went through a presentation that explained to the students what fake news is and the importance of triple checking sources. The flower image was a useful transition to our presentation since the creators of the photo were trying to deceive people with a fake image that purported to provide real information.

Next, we split the students into two groups. One group wrote a real news story and the other group wrote a fake news story. On the board we wrote criteria for a real news story (author’s name, contact information, about us, quotes, reliable sources, etc.) and what you might expect in a fake news story (no contact information, no names, unnamed sources, stretching the truth, etc.)

After the students completed their stories we shared them with 6th grade history classes. The students in these classes did not know if they were reading a real news story or a fake news story. We used this as another “teachable” moment 🙂 to introduce 6th graders to fake news. After our lesson on fake news, we had a reveal to see which students had a real news story and which ones had a fake news story.

This was a fun, collaborative project to do across grade levels. Students were intrigued by the fake news, and I like that they got a bit of writing practice as well….and some of our 6th grade students were definitely fooled! 🙂



Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

on #macgyverlibrarianship part deux…

I love my job! If I were someone who didn’t love job job quite as much as I love mine, I might know that as of the time that I click “publish” on this post, there are two weeks and 36 hours between me and the start of my summer break! Since, however, I love my job so much, I don’t really keep track of these things. You know how it is. I get into that cataloging flow state. Time flies by. I dive into the Dewey manuals engrossed in the joy of number building (and, you know, that satisfaction of building just that right call number to the 9th decimal place…), then I look up and think, “Oh my goodness, summer already? I’m going to miss everybody!” before I leave campus longing for more time that we can share in the library together.


Last year at about this time I posted about coming across the very cool things librarians were doing in the #macgyverlibrarianship movement. While I realize that my library space has a lot going for it and, indeed, many librarians would kill to trade spaces with me, I always seem to want more. Our library is well supported by our school administration, but the costs associated with running a library on an island 2500 miles away from free Demco shipping (poor HI and AK always get treated like Cinderella, the poor step-sister who has to pay unbelievable shipping fees to her step-parent) means that there isn’t a lot of room in the budget for the “nice to haves” that we all want in our libraries. As a result, my staff and I have accepted the challenge and we’ve turned making our space feel loved while stretching our budget as far as it can possibly be stretched as our personal challenge.

Here’s What We’ve Been Up To!

I’ve been taking a really interesting AASL online course called Making Your Library Epic: Creating Innovative Spaces for Student Learning with instructor Diana Rendina. This quick 3-week course is taking us through the process of evaluating our spaces and planning ways that we can support learning in our library spaces. Her Renovated Learning Blog is full of wonderful resources ranging from building maker culture in your library to grant writing and finding sources of funding. It is well worth a look. She has plans to offer the course again in the future, but does not have exact dates yet. There is a link to subscribe to her newsletter if you think you might be interested in future course offerings.

One of our activities (that I started but didn’t finish) was to create a scaled floor plan of our library space in order to be able to virtually explore layouts for shelving and furniture. As it turned out, my library had so many random angles that I, unfortunately, gave up before completing the task.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 11.36.06 AM

Really, dude? What’s with all these angles? If we could just straighten out these walls, I could probably have 4 study rooms in that space rather than three!

Along the way, however, I did discover an inexpensive iPhone app called RoomScan Pro that allowed me to hold my phone to each wall of a room after which the app mapped the space. If you have even a slightly more rationally shaped library than I, it might be a great option if you are interested in experimenting with layouts in your library space virtually before moving heavy things in real life.


We’d been hoping to get funding to reupholster the chairs in our library teaching space. Unfortunately, other things around school needed to be prioritized so we weren’t able to outsource the work. We found some 10 oz “canvas duck cloth” at a local fabric store, broke out a staple gun, our sharp scissors (the ones my library assistant refuses to loan out to students or non-library staff. LOL!), and a yard stick, then set about re-covering the chairs that were making us feel sad and depressed.


Before: #Sad #Shudder!


After: #Happy #Yay!


The day I was “ninja librarian.” Kids could only see me if I wanted them to see me. #FashionChoicesMatter

It is amazing what you can learn to do with eHow and Youtube. Just over $250 of fabric and about a thousand, two-hundred staples (I used a box and a half) allowed us to cover 30 chairs (including the purchase of other colors of fabric that we purchased to see how they looked on the chairs). Because we weren’t able to get enough blue to finish all of the chairs (again, it’s a freaking island…), two-thirds of them are blue and a third are EXTREMELY ORANGE!!! I actually like the mix and pop that the orange gives to our very drab institutional gray walls.

Sew What?

We had quite a bit of leftover black duck cloth from our color sample experiments and we found a sewing machine in another department on campus so our multi-talented library assistant, Anne, went to work giving new life to two office chairs that had, indeed, seen better days. IMG_8610


Yes, this probably should have been discarded a while ago, but kids seemed to be able to see past the disgustingness and see down to its “inner beauty.” This chair and its equally ugly sibling are much loved and coveted seating. They were, however, hidden away in a FAR OUT OF THE WAY study room never seen by visitors–not unlike Cinderella herself…


One thing to keep in mind if you use a sewing machine and work with a much younger librarian like I do, when the sewing machine starts to run she just might squeal with delight and declare, “I’ve never, ever seen a sewing machine actually working in real life!!!” On top of that, after being shown how this mysterious machine works and doing some sewing herself, she may call both her mom and her grandmother to inform them of her professional growth (looking at you @nikilibrarian) for the day.

As her supervisor, I generously offered to show her how to use a telephone with a rotary dial sometime, but she, claims to already know how to do that…

Chalking it up to experience…

For a long while now, I have hated… HATED!!! … the way that our gigantic circ desk at the front of the library looks. At some point, AISL librarian Tiffany Whitehead, who tweets as @librarian_tiff, posted a picture of her circ desk that had been adorned with chalkboard paint. I tweeted her with some questions and she kindly sent along a link to her post describing the process – Chalkboard Paint Circ Desk & Word Cloud. I ran out to my local Home Depot and purchased primer, chalkboard paint, and painting supplies, then I totally chickened out and returned everything.

The idea of an enormous expanse of black paint at the front of my library took more courage, daring, and guts than I possess so I decided to try chalkboard contact paper to give the concept a lower risk trial run. To my way of thinking, with contact paper, if it’s ugly you peel it off and throw it away. There are many types of vinyl chalkboard paper available. I decided on Versachalk Self Adhesive Contact Paper because it was the first one listed that had free shipping on Amazon Prime (Yes, sometimes I just pick stuff because it is the first link on the results list as evaluating EVERYTHING in life is really exhausting–even for librarians!!!).


Before: #Sad


After: #Happy! #Yay! Our resident artist, @Nikilibrarian, doing her thing…



To break up the black we purchased some Chalk by Blik circles that I learned about from AISL librarian @AlyssaMandel. We cut them up and used them to break up the expanse of black a bit and to highlight the book return that nobody ever seems to notice. It makes me happy every time I walk into the library!

What Kind of Accent is That?

I discussed getting the library painted with our campus facilities crew. The process would involve boxing my entire collection and closing the library so a major repainting job doesn’t look like it will happen in the near future.

Me [Thinking]: “Hmmm… The gray is ugly, but it isn’t ugly enough to make me want to box this whole collection. Well maybe it would be worth it if we could get the carpet replaced at the same time. When they throw carpeting into this deal, we might be in business!!! For now, though, the gray is gonna be gray.”

It’s funny, but gray doesn’t look quite as gray as you thought after you learn that boxing your collection is part of the deal for getting rid of it. I’m considering, therefore, some ways to add friendly color to the library just by painting some accent walls. Though it requires a free registration, Benjamin Moore has a fun Design Your Own Room tool that will let you upload a picture and see what different colored paint will look like without getting actual paint all over your work aloha shirts.

We are currently duking it out over what color we should try on the wall behind our circ desk and could use your impartial input. We’d love to hear your thoughts on some colors we’re considering!

I personally like Fresh Lime, but I’m not a dictator so I’m keeping an open mind about other colors–even the inferior, uglier ones…


Our current institutional gray

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 8.02.32 AM

The beautifully intense and amazing, Fresh Lime

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 8.28.20 AM

The contending, Paradise Valley Green

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 8.27.49 AM.png

Slightly less beautiful, but still attractive Killala Green

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 8.17.25 AM.png

Zzzzz… Shore House Green. Meh…

We want your honest, impartial opinions without, you know, undue influence so please hit reply below and tell us what you think.

But especially if it’s the absolutely lovely Fresh Lime… 

It’s the home stretch to the end of our school year. Finish strong, but remember to have fun and enjoy it. Life’s too short not to!

Posted in Uncategorized | 22 Comments

Take a Reading Field Trip

“History is more than war and politics; it is literature, the arts, engineering…above all, history is human.”

This quote is a constant refrain in David McCullough’s recent book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand Forwhich is a collection of lectures he gave on the importance of developing connections to history.

His commencement addresses often close with a plea for graduates to read and learn about the history of their country.  Several years ago, I attended a lecture by McCullough at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and he mentioned that one of the best ways for families to encourage a love of history is to visit and walk historic sites with their children.

Taking to heart McCullough’s emphasis on encouraging reading and learning about our human history, I would like to suggest a few pairings of books with history museums that you might visit.  The list is far from comprehensive; it would be wonderful to expand this list with suggestions of your favorite books and museums.

City Museum
St. Louis, Mo.
This museum has to be seen to be believed.  Started by a salvager who did not wish to discard the beautiful history of St. Louis, the museum took shape as local artisans created an artistic, interactive environment of salvaged history.
Book to Pair:
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
When forced to complete community service hours with a junk man, a young boy discovers the beauty of this junk through the man’s artistic creation.

Gettysburg National Military Park
Book to Pair:
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Shaara’s son, Jeff Shaara, continued the Civil War sagas. Jeff recounted in a lecture that as a boy he toured Gettysburg on several occasions with his father—his father talked as they walked the battlefield, imaginatively plotting what would become the classic Civil War story.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
New York
A museum dedicated to understanding the daily life and struggles of immigrants
who came to America for new opportunities.
Books to Pair:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Francie Nolan and her Irish-American family struggle with poverty, but their lives are rich in their love for each other.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Intended as a way to remove tenement children from dangerous living conditions and bleak futures, the orphan trains supplied cheap labor for farmers and business owners.

Peabody Essex Museum (Historic Homes Tour)
Salem, Massachusetts
The historic homes tour provides insight into how early colonists viewed the New World, an environment that was often perceived as dangerous.
Book to Pair:
All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry
Though the location of the village is never mentioned in this book, this Edgar-winning novel is described as Speak meets The Scarlet Letter.

Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Salem, Massachusetts
Book to Pair:
Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill
This novel in verse tells the events through the eyes of several girls who were the accusers in the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel
Memphis, Tennessee
The site of Martin Luther King’s assassination, this museum combines a timeline of civil rights events, primary sources, oral histories, and a burned-out bus to dramatize the danger faced by the freedom riders. Visitors even can walk near the balcony where King was assassinated.
Book to Pair:
March: Book 2 by John Lewis
Congressman Lewis recounts how the Freedom Riders boarded buses headed to the South to challenge racial desegregation laws.  Their efforts were met with violence.

Chinese-American History Museum
San Francisco, California
Book to Pair:
Bubonic Panic:  When Plague Invaded America
The Chinese Exclusion Act and the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire are some of the events as this epidemic unfolds.  Good tie-in for STEM and wonderful incorporation of primary sources.

Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago, Illinois
A naturalist’s dream, this museum shows fossils, skeletal remains, and dioramas of life as it evolved.
Book to Pair:
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Gothic thriller set in Victorian Age when the Theory of Evolution inspired fossil hunting “wars” as well as animosity from religious fronts who saw Darwin’s theory as negating the bible.  Central to the plot is the young daughter, Faith, who aspires to be a naturalist like her father, but who is constrained by social conventions of her period.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If At First You Don’t Succeed: Reading Rosie Revere, Engineer with 2nd Grade

“Your brilliant first flop as a raging success!
Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!”
She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere,
Who smiled at her aunt as it all became clear.
Life might have its failures, but this was notit.
The only true failure can come if you quit.*

My first year as a school librarian was a lesson in letting go of fear of failure. I didn’t learn it so much as I didn’t fight against it- failure was happening every day and I could either lean into it and accept what was or be miserable. Here I was prepared as I could be with a careful, color-coded spreadsheet and lesson plans and yet, I could not seem to predict how it each class would go. These days I find others words for what I would have called failure in the past- when I walk into a lesson without expectations, I am able to see what I might have missed.

The last three weeks of library class for second grade are a lesson for the students and for me, too, about getting comfortable with making “failure” a challenge. It also serves as great chance to practice the design thinking process implicitly or explicitly. A row of books that’s been carefully set will inevitably be accidently knocked down and need to be redone. An unplanned start often shows us where our chain is weak and can allow us to tweak something we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. We practice how we talk to each other in collaboration and examine our perspective. The measure of success in these weeks are quiet but brilliant: overhearing one student tell another “It’s ok, we’re learning” as they cleaned up a turn that didn’t quite work out or watching four separate groups decide on their own to join forces.

Below is a rough outline of this lesson:

Part 1: Read “Rosie, Revere Engineer,” “Iggy Peck, Architect,” or “Ada Twist, Scientist” together as a class.

Part 2: Watch the Seattle Public Library launch their 2013 Summer Reading Program by breaking the world record for longest book domino chain. We generally watch the video twice, focused the second time on the details of the set up (How far apart were the books? Were they all the same size?)

Part 3: Break into groups of 4 and create prototypes. We film these trials so that we can watch them later and learn what worked and what didn’t. The students do the filming with our library iPads.

Part 4: Come together as a class and create a big chain together (if this hasn’t happen organically).

*Beaty, Andrea, and David Roberts. Rosie Revere, Engineer. New York: Abrams, 2015. Print.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

One is not the loneliest number….

Shoutout to Shannon Acedo who reminded me of one of the (many) golden nuggets from #aislnola2017: reference to a wonderful fact from Katie Archambault & CD McLean’s presentation, that a 10% increase is “substantial and verifiable..and so can be considered a marker of success” (Acedo, 2017). Please note that Shannon, a thoroughly professional librarian, is still looking into the actual wording, but I think her reflection is more than sufficient for the purpose of this post.

This has been a timely touchstone for me. I tend to judge the success of a program by the sheer number of student participants. Picture me buoyant: “We ran out of the many pages we’d prepared for our blackout poetry event!” Picture me gnashing my teeth: “Fewer kids signed up for our reading marathon this year than last!”

If it were you saying this to me,  I’d tell you to give your head a shake. Quantity is one (often narrow) indicator of value, and there is too much meaning to be found in the other ways we reach kids to be ignored.

I’m over the moon when a program or event really lands – but I will endeavour to also celebrate the minuscule successes:

  • Running a Sunday mindfulness exercise for the one student who shows up
  • Valuing time with the one young man who participates in a pilot community book club
  • Taking time to really listen to the few kids who make it to school bookclub every cycle, shelving my frustration about schedule conflicts that keeps others away

What’s your 10%

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Interactive summer reading

I know it’s (only) April, but with just seven weeks of school left, my mind is on the finish line – summer! I don’t want to think about database renewals or cleaning the mess that is the workroom, nor do I care to give another thought to the book hospital that is overflowing with patients or the inventory that is calling my name. That can all wait until tomorrow (or the next day). No, right now, I’m planning summer reading!

For the past two years, I have created recommended summer reading magazines – my favorite picks from the year (here’s 2015 and 2016). I include them in my end-of-the-year library newsletter and send black-and-white copies in our end-of-year reports which go out mid-June. I print some in color and place them on our Parent bookshelf in the lobby, so that all who walk by can see and take them. I have ideas in mind for this year’s magazine, but I want to do more – I want this year’s summer reading to be interactive.

Lower school students do not have required reading over the summer, but I know they are reading voraciously. I have wondered about how to stay connected with students and their reading over the summer and have dismissed many ideas because I didn’t think they would work with our population. Send me a picture? Write me a letter? Blog about it? What’s a quick and easy way to collect and share our summer reading?

I am always looking to connect the right student with the right book at the right time, and now I find myself in need of the right tool. Books, I’m pretty good at and manage to stay updated. Tech tools, I always feel a step behind. So, please try not to roll your eyes when I introduce the new (ahem: four years old) tool that I plan on using for summer reading this year:

I don’t know why I hadn’t heard of Flipgrid until just recently, but I feel like I am seeing it everywhere nowadays. For those of you, maybe like me, who may not know what it is – Flipgrid is essentially a video discussion board. Imagine if Padlet and Voicethread had a baby (though I wonder about the ages of those two…). For my summer reading Flipgrid, I plan on taking video of myself talking to students about sharing their summer reading. Then, they can go to my Flipgrid page and add their own video about what they’re reading. In the end, I hope to have tons of videos of students sharing with me and each other. What I love about Flipgrid is how easy it is to use – go to the board, click the plus sign, and record yourself! It organizes the videos much in the same way as Pinterest, very neat rows, and students can watch each other’s videos.

I’m looking forward to introducing this next month and might encourage some beta testers to add videos of what they want to read over summer break. Have you done anything similar? Advice to share?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Don’t Judge a “Book” by its Cover by Lorrie Culver

I have been wracking my brain … what should I write about for my first blog post? A recent blogger wrote about book covers and how students don’t check out books with dated covers. I loved the blog but was somewhat disappointed that I hadn’t thought of it first. As an upper school librarian, I could write about readers’ advisory or research, the two areas of librarianship that presumably take most of my time. I say “presumably” because I just spent the last half an hour assisting students with their printing needs (they needed both double-sided and extra dark copies). However, none of the above activities are “sexy enough” for our administration … so we are constantly tasked with coming up with unique and exciting programming options.


Donna Hicks, the author of the lovely book Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, visited our school in the fall. Her book was the all-school read two summers ago and all (students, faculty and staff) have been tasked with treating one another with dignity (having a Director of Diversity would help, but that’s another conversation). One way that we librarians are promoting dignity is to spotlight diverse literature and authors. Poet/author and diversity advocate Kwame Alexander will be the visiting author next month for our annual Newbery assembly. Also following the dignity theme, we librarians are collaborating with world language and social studies teachers in the planning of our first ever “Human Library.”


The concept of the “Human Library” began in Denmark (and I will return to this small Scandinavian country and its incredibly high Happiness quotient in another blog post). The “Human Library” idea is rooted in dignity and how to best combat prejudice, intolerance and violence toward those who are different from us (if you get a chance, listen to a YouTube interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer, Viet Nguyen, on his feelings of being an “other”).


Since the first Human Library in Copenhagen in 2000, there have been others all over the world, including in Singapore and Belarus. The San Diego Public Library recently hosted a Human Library event at their central location. People are the “books” in this library and their “stories” are their lives. It reminds me of the people in Fahrenheit 451 who memorized books so they wouldn’t be lost to history … but the “books” in the Human Library tell their own stories. The goal is to find “books” who are diverse in every way – religion, age, race, gender identity, occupation & life circumstances, and to have them tell their stories to patrons who “check them out” for a short period of time, usually between 20 and 45 minutes. Sometimes one is able to “renew” a book for an additional period of time if the conversation is especially inspiring.


We are planning our own “Human Library” project to be held in our library next fall. This should give us plenty of time to find willing “books.” Books are not paid for their time but feeding them is a must! I will keep you updated on the progress of our Human Library Project. If interested, please check out the website.


 | Real People Real Conversations

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Turnitin – Plagiarism Catcher vs. Originality Checker


Following up on April’s themes of controversial topics in library land…

When I attended my first AISL conference in Baltimore, I remember being surprised when a casual conversation between calm librarians heated up quickly.  The culprit?

Turnitin, the iParadigms software that reviews student work for plagiarism.

I don’t have any records of how many independent schools use Turnitin, though overall the website claims…

I inherited administration of Turnitin when I started at my current school, and I knew little of the service beyond its scary reputation. (Admit it, how many of you are happy to have graduated before the age of information overload and originality algorithms?) The students called it the “cheating program,” and from what I could tell, the purpose of Turnitin did indeed seem to be ferreting out plagiarism. I doubt my students were some of the 30 million who “trusted’ the program. In the past few years though, I’ve been very impressed with Turnitin’s services.

We are now very conscientious about the ways that we refer to it with students, most particularly in calling it an “originality checker.” Teachers set up assignments to allow for multiple submissions until the deadline so students can check their own work. I’ve heard fear from others that this will lead to students figuring out how to change just enough of their work not to be caught. But, our hope for a synthesis paper is incorporating other’s ideas, and it’s something we are trying to teach them to do effectively while citing their sources. Why not make the process a bit more transparent to students who are just learning? In my experience on my school’s Honor Council, students generally cheat out of laziness. Thus anything that gets them to spend more time interacting with the source texts and their own writing is a benefit.

For our school, here are the positives:

-Turnitin provides a visual representation of synthesis. We ask students to review their own work and to look for color mixing rather than color blocks. This gives them a way to scan their own material and see if they are integrating sources effectively or writing a series of article reviews. It’s also helpful for research-based papers for students to see the green-yellow-red marking of the similarity index. If they are at a blue 0% match, they probably haven’t done enough research to prove that experts agree with their argument. If they are above 20%, they probably haven’t done the hard work of translating the experts’ research into their own paper.

-The ways that Turnitin lets readers offer feedback on assignments are fabulous. We don’t even regularly use all of the features, like the grammar checker or the rubrics, though I hope that use increases more next year with our integration (see below.) Students love hearing voice comments from their teachers. Tone carries better in verbal communication, and teachers are forced to comment on the papers as a whole, rather than specific grammar issues. Students can also review each other’s papers, and this works well for an entire grade to receive peer review that can be completed electronically, anonymously, and outside of class. The extra time spent revising shows the importance of writing as a process and improves the overall product.

-Turnitin relieves pressure from teachers, especially in fields outside of History and English, to know when plagiarism has occurred. All papers are submitted to Turnitin, and so teachers don’t get the reputation of being “easy” or “tough” on plagiarism. It is a part of the school culture and standardized across departments.

-Finally, on cases when plagiarism is suspected and students are sent to Honor Council, the Turnitin report is a valuable tool in showing the student what he did wrong. Honor Council representatives have this report to validate their assessment of the case and can use it as a teaching tool for the inevitable revision that will occur in the weeks following the case.

On the other side, not everything has gone well.

-The customer service relies on an antiquated email ticket system. It can take days to communicate back and forth to solve seemingly minor issues.

-With no apparent pattern, Turnitin has occasionally flagged student work as plagiarized from an earlier version of the same assignment. This has not happened frequently but causes student panic when it does.

-Students tend to forget the email that they used in middle school to sign up for the account, and the site asks asinine questions to authenticate the account. How would the “you” from eighteen months ago have answered some of these?

-The filter features for turnitin are unreasonably blunt. While the site claims that you can filter by quotation and by number of words, I haven’t found that these work particularly well. Even worse, my Tech team can’t figure out how Turnitin decides where to place the origin of words that appear on multiple sites on the web. Think of cases where something is printed in a magazine article, copied to Wikipedia and then used in many student papers. How does Turnitin decide which particular source to list, and why can’t it list all the sources?

Our next step:

Turnitin has finally created integration software for our course management system. We used to have this integration with Schoology, but they didn’t offer it for our current platform. Starting next fall, teachers will be able to create assignments that students will submit to Turnitin straight from SSESonline. I can’t wait!

Please continue the conversation below. Do you use Turnitin or some similar software? How does it work for your school community? Do you have suggestions for how to use it better? 

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments