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

By CD McLean (Berkeley Preparatory School)


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

What does it mean to be “information literate?”

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

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

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

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

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

Learners use skills, resources and tools to: 

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

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

What does it mean to be “college ready?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many eBook and audiobook platforms is too many?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What your AISL Board is up to …

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

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

IMG_2364.JPG pic for blog post

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Sandy Gray, AISL Board President, 2015-2017

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



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Podcast Recommendations: Because why stop at just books?

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

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

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

5. Slate’s Working

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

Best For: Nosy workaholics

Started: Fall 2014

Average Length: 25 minutes

Sample Episode: What does a principal do all day?

  1. American Libraries’ Dewey Decibel

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

Started: Spring 2016

Best For: practical librarians

Average Length: 30 minutes, monthly

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

  1. Gastropod

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

Best For: sciencey foodies

Started: Fall 2014

Average Length: 20-40 minutes, every two weeks

Sample Episode: The United States of Chinese Food

  1. Good Job, Brain

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

Best For: unabashed nerds

Started: Winter 2011

Average Length: 45 minutes, weekly

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

  1. 99% Invisible (99pi)

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

Best For: curious city-lovers

Started: Fall 2010, weekly

Average Length: 15-25 minutes

Sample Episode: Atmospherians (Straight out of Central Casting)

Your turn!



Best For:


Average Length:

Sample Episode:

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

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Tales from the Front: Real Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Puppy Tales


In the spring, we welcomed a puppy into our little family.  As we cuddle, house train, walk around the neighborhood, and feed him, characters and moments in children’s literature spring to mind.  Here are some examples:

During an in-house Nathaniel Rateliff dance party, little Honker jumped up and started doing his own little doggy dance.  His puppy dance moves resembled those of Gloria in Officer Buckle & Gloria by Peggy Rathmann.  Gloria is the personality-filled pup who dazzles child audiences with her dance moves while Officer Buckle bores them by reciting Safety Rules.


Like most puppies, Honker loves to chew.  Hands, shoe laces, pieces of mulch, sticks, cardboard, and occasionally, his own toys.  Chewy Louie, the title character in the picture book by Howie Schneider, seems to be Honker’s role model.


We feel lucky that Honker found his home with us.  He seems to also be finding a happy home in our neighborhood, his puppy training class, and even at the veterinarian’s office.  Could Honker could join Tupelo from Tupelo Rides the Rails by Melissa Sweet in the BONEHEADS (Benevolent Order of Nature’s Exalted Hounds Earnest and Doggedly Sublime).  Would Honker be able to sit still long enough to gaze up at the stars with the BONEHEADS to learn about dog astronomy?


If you work with Lower School Students then you have, no doubt, met Hally Tosis, the infamous character in Dav Pilkey’s book Dog Breath!: The Horrible Trouble with Hally Tosis.  Luckily, Honker is not suffering from that ailment.


Honker does not bark often.  When he does bark or yip he sounds like a dog, not a duck or a cat or a pig or a cow.  In that way, he does not have much in common with George, from Bark, George by Jules Feiffer.  Honker does, however, seem to put just about everything he sees in his mouth.  For all we know his belly is full of a duck, a cat, a pig, and a cow.


Dogs needs baths.  That’s just the way it is.  Honker is pretty calm during bath time.  He doesn’t avoid it like Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion.


Do you have favorite picture books about dogs?

Following are a few more popular dog books in our Lower School Library:

Little Dog Lost: the true story of a brave dog called Baltic by Monica Carnesi

Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio

Dog Days of School by Kelly DiPucchio

Dog in Boots by Greg Gormley

Charley’s First Night by Amy Hest

18637132 GASTON cover

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I have seen the future….

…and it is filled with me having difficult conversations.

While I get phone calls about donations from time to time, a recent reunion on campus allowed me to connect with a number of wonderful alumni who are downsizing and eager to find a new home for their considerable book collections. These are tremendously supportive members of our school community – how to respectfully respond to these offers, considering our responsibility to maintain a current and appealing collection that fits 2016 curriculum and reading interests?

As I’ve shared before, with the exception of my dog-eared Lucy Maud Montgomeries, I am not sentimental about print books, so I have to step away from my perspective and appreciate the intent behind these offers, despite the fact that unfortunately, many of these books are not a good fit for our collection.

Wanting to handle each situation with grace and sensitivity, I have been trying to relinquish my anxiety about the outcome of these conversations (“very sorry, but we can’t accept 15 boxes of 1970-era political science texts”) and focus on the following: –

  • Gratitude > Thank them for their thoughtfulness and generosity
  • Curiosity > Ask about reading interests,  how the collection developed, which books are favourites…this usually leads to an interesting conversation, and both potential donor and I enjoy the chance to chat about something about which they are so passionate
  • Commiseration > “I know, isn’t it a shame that the Grade 10 Canadian History curriculum begins at WWI?” (which is why, in the interest of shelf space, we have to maintain a small section of pre-1914 Canadiana;  suggest that perhaps a university library may be a better fit)
  • Careful consideration > “I’d love to take a closer look at our needs in this area, may I follow up with you by phone at the end of this week?” Sometimes a bit of time allows me to feel more confident about my decision, and better able to frame a proper response
  • Spirit of sharing > Some of our faculty have been grateful to receive uniquely subject-specific texts that aren’t a good match for the library, but are wonderful to have in class or office

My hope is that the potential donor feels valued and appreciated, even we aren’t able to accept the donation: we are truly fortunate to have people in our midst who so love the printed word, and want to share a lifetime of treasures with us.

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Thinking about design & delivery

At the end of this school year, like many of you, I compiled a summer reading list for my Lower School students and an annual report for their families. Though this is something that I have been doing for the past six years, I’m always reinventing how it’s done so that it’s most effective for my current community. To that end, I believe design matters.

For my summer reading lists, I have previously used Goodreads, in-text blog posts, and shared Google Docs – nothing too fancy or elaborate but what was simply needed to deliver the message. For the annual reports, I’ve exclusively used Pages, either modifying templates or creating my own design. Last year, I designed my summer reading list in Pages to look more like a magazine, something like the BookPage or the The Horn Book‘s publications, something more visually appealing. For this year’s summer reading list, I knew that I could essentially use last year’s template and just change the books. Nothing about the design really needed to be updated. But I challenged myself, used a new-to-me tool, and changed the look of it because I want to grow in the same way I teach my students – as a creator and designer and someone who thinks intentionally about audience and purpose.

I think that we, collectively, look for and appreciate well-designed media. Free tools like Canva help amateurs like me design something beautiful and professional. Honestly, I wish I had known about it sooner. Though it’s been around a few years, I hadn’t heard of it until recently – but I had seen many examples of banners and flyers created with it. Before this turns into too much of a Canva commercial (no, they’re not paying me), I will say that there are probably many other similar design tools out there. This is just the one that I decided to try out! Because I wanted my products to look like a magazine, I also tried out FlipHTML5 to create the flipping pages.

Lower School Summer Reading 2016

(Click the image for the FlipHTML5 version. Here’s the doc version.)


LS Library Annual Report 2016

(Click the image for the FlipHTML5 version. Here’s the doc version.)


Though I’m particularly happy with these two promotional products, I know that next year, I will be trying something new yet again. I have yet to brand myself like some libraries and librarians, and I don’t know if that will be my next step. I enjoy the freedom to be creative in whatever way inspires me and connects with my audience at the time.

As a side-note, I appreciate that this is also a way for me to grow as a technology leader in my school, to try out new tools and be able to knowledgeably recommend them to students and teachers.  For these two products, I learned how to use Canva for the design and FlipHTML5 for the delivery.

Is anyone else out there thinking design? Share your work! I’d love to have something new to try out over the summer. 🙂

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The Purge, or I Love CSV Files So Much I Want to Marry Them (sorry Brian!)

With apologies to those of you who may serve in *twelve-month positions . . . IT’S SUMMER! WHOOPEE! *flings hat towards sky and does happy dance.*

(OK, to be honest, I do check work email at least once a day, and I’m actually awaiting a call from the facilities manager alerting me to when I’ll be able to shift the entire collection into new bookcases before the start of school, so I’m not totally checked out. Still.)

So, how did I work towards this oasis of delight, and what am I doing to prepare for the autumn that will inexorably arrive? Many of you, I’m sure, have a year-end routine, so at this point feel free to either compare yours to mine or dismiss this post entirely and grab your summer reading instead.

I didn’t do inventory this year – given that I’m moving the entire collection for the third time, I figured I had handled each and every book in our library quite enough and like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll think about that another day. I also handled the usual renewals and cleared my desk of personal effects – I’d hate for my Jane Austen bobble-head doll to go walking this summer. As for the rest, here are some helpful hints for users of Follett, Questia, NoodleTools and other common library resources. The real lowdown: CSV files. I love them. I loooove them. Each May like clockwork I walk into my work-bestie’s office and declare once again my love for CSV files, because they save me so much boring, repetitive data entry work.

The first step is purging, hence the title. I begin by purging all the seniors from Follett using its global update criteria feature. Then I increment the sixth through eleventh grades upwards using the same global update. I’m sure everyone has a variant of this, but mine has a peculiar twist: our lower school is on another campus on Siesta Key, and although we both use Follett as our LMS, we have it divided into a lower school catalog and a Middle/Upper school catalog. Instead of adding the entire incoming sixth grade one at a time by hand, the lower school librarian exported the fifth grade patrons as a .out file and emailed it to me, and with the magic of CSV files I was able to update their patron info and then simply import them into my side of Follett. Poof! Welcome, sixth grade! How did I do it? Keep reading.

One of the best things I have done for myself as the Questia administrator is divide our upper school users by class level instead of adding them all as one massive group. Although we only have about 350 ninth through twelfth graders, it’s much easier to deal with their accounts if they are divided into smaller packages. For example, I can easily delete all the graduating seniors, increment the other students upwards into their respective grade levels, and add the new ninth graders coming up from eighth grade. It’s very easy to extract data from Follett and turn it into a CSV file and use that to bulk-upload all the new users. Here’s the trick, because Follett will give you a .out file, which I defy you to open and use. Save the .out file to your desktop, manually change the file extension to .csv (it will ask you if you really mean to do this – you do. Forge bravely ahead!), and then you can open it in Excel and manipulate the data fields any way you want, adding or subtracting whatever columns you need to in order to conform to the template for uploading users.

Armed with CSV files at the ready, you can update or add NoodleTools folders easily too – the possibilities start to look endless. Stop yourself before you discover that it’s July and you’re still looking for ways to exploit CSV’s in every aspect of your library life.

*Twelve-month librarians, do you have a particular routine you attend to in the slower summer months? Here’s your chance: weigh in and share your approach, and ease your burden by sharing your tale of woe with your cohort – I promise virtual tea and actual sympathy.

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A Professional Reading List

In the board survey this spring, there was a request for more book recommendations on the blog. While it’s always fun to think about reading by the beach over the summer, it’s also when we might have more time to delve into professional books. Each year, my school requires a professional read for faculty, and while these have been fine, none have been overtly influential. I thought carefully, and mined my Goodreads shelf, and here are the five books library management/education/productivity books that have made the biggest difference in how I teach and organize the library on a day-to-day basis. They’re not new or flashy, but they have for me been “the right books in the right hands at the right time.” Perhaps they’ll do the same for you, or I’d love to hear your selections below!AISL-UCUnderstanding Comics: the Invisible Art by Scott McCloud (1993)

We do a lesson on visual analysis with the AP Lang students and show selections from McCloud’s Ted talk ( They are teens, so they immediately notice that he’s a lot older now than when he wrote this book. But then they settle down to listening to his message. I think the first graphic novel I read was Lynda Barry’s What it Is when I was in library school, and I honestly didn’t know how to parse the visuals and text. McCloud demystifies the genre, sharing its history and common conventions in graphic novel format. I’ve realized that my facility and speed with print does not translate to the visual realm, and some of my students are more adept at picking up the nuances than I am. It’s been helpful in understanding how comics work and for convincing teachers to take them seriously. As culture today becomes more and more visual, this book shares insights that translate to human psychology and marketing.AISL-TSISThey Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein (2006)

I may have bought a copy of this book and read it before cataloging, at which point I may have handed it to the English department chair who immediately made it his own and included it in the AP writing curriculum. Though written by teachers at community college, there is tremendous applicability for high school writing assignments. It’s also a teeny-tiny book, full of writing templates. The writers’ premise is that students are often entering a conversation when they begin writing, and they need to recognize their position in respect to what has already been said. The structure of a template isn’t confining but instead encourages students to be more creative and original as they are learning writing skills. This book probably isn’t groundbreaking, but it is accessible for both teachers and students as they work to improve their writing.AISL-GoTThe Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why by Richard Nisbett (2003)

This is a book written by a psychologist, and it isn’t specifically focused on education, but it approached an idea that was new to me: that the way we physically view the world is not universal but is strongly culturally dependent. The way that this is presented is not obvious as it might seem from that summary and begins with Ancient Greek and Confucian philosophies and carries through to present-day child rearing and business transactions.  The author is an academic who draws heavily on his own research: to deeply explore notions of attention, independence and cognition. The idea of Western independence compared to Eastern interdependence recurs throughout the book, starting from Western children learning nouns first while Eastern children learn verbs first, emphasizing the interconnectedness of items that they are taught from birth. I work in a multicultural school, and reading the ways that some of my students may see what I present in different ways was helpful to me.AISL-SaWThe Students are Watching: Schools and the Moral Contract by Nancy and Ted Sizer (2000)

This was the first book I read from the Sizer family, and the main idea is timeless. It’s about the growth that we want to see in our students, not in knowledge, which is covered in many other books, but in morality, ie. character. Unlike They Say/I Say, there are no templates here, just a thoughtful contemplation about the ways that schools are set up and the structure of the school day. This book looks at informal teaching and the ways teachers model the behaviors they expect (or don’t) throughout all their interactions with students. Students look up to us as examples, and they don’t stop paying attention the second the bell rings. The authors believe that relationships are important in schools, and that getting to know students makes a huge difference in what we are able to teach. As independent school librarians, I think we’ll all agree. One of the main reasons that I work in a school is my ability to get to know the students personally and having the chance to help them navigate the confusion of teenagerness to end up as confident and caring adults. This book gave me specific strategies for doing that. AISL-GTDGetting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen (2001)

I read this book at the recommendation of a friend in grad school, and it’s a sneaky bugger. I didn’t know until a Wired article this year that there’s a whole GTD community on the web. Frankly, at the time I thought the book was similar to many self-help/organizational books, repetitive and self-evident. But Allen tugged at my mind with his accurate diagnosis of the items keeping me from being as productive as I had hoped. Allen has a process for everything, outsourcing the nagging section of your brain. Wikipedia, at this writing, has a good overview, and I’ll try to trim it down even further. I don’t follow everything and my inbox is never at zero, but these are the direct changes that have definitely amped my productivity.

-Break your “to do” list into next steps. If you are hung up on a specific step, write that step down exactly as it’s hanging you up. Inventory is not an actionable item. For me, the tasks went something along the lines of:
        1. Find inventory netbook and get it updated.
                       2. Start inventory in Follett.
                       3. Create circulation type .rtf files.
                       4. Scan fiction, Scan 900s, etc and front the shelves as I scan…
If you take nothing from this book except this, this advice can be targeted specifically to help struggling students. Too often, they think the next step is “write research paper.” It never is.
-If a task is not complete but you are waiting for a step from another person, put the action you are “waiting for” on a separate list. You won’t forget it, and you know the status of item in question.
-Don’t put something on your calendar unless it needs to be done that day. All else is added to the “to do” list where it best fits.
-Ideas and big picture items go into the “someday/maybe” file. This is my personal Pinterest for ideas I want to keep for the indefinite future. Set a reminder to review these items if you’re worried you’ll forget about them.

Like many librarians, I love to talk about books. Rather than standing up on a podium and talking about books that have influenced me, I want to follow Katie’s lead. Do any readers have thoughts on the books I’ve mentioned or suggestions of their own? It’s tough not to ramble while summarizing several thousand pages of texts into five paragraphs, so let’s continue the conversation below.


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on knowing (not) what I am doing…

I’ve been struggling to figure out what to write about this month. While I’ve been doing a lot of professional development, I don’t know what to do with all of it yet, which is nothing new. Therefore, what follows is a lot about the reality that, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

I’m guessing that some of you are probably on summer break, and some of you may be finally finishing up with school year 2015-2016. Our school calendar is a bit of an oddity in that we finished school in May, had a week off, and are already in our second week of summer school.

As a very young child, summer for me meant “summer fun” (day camp). As I got older, it became pretty clear that I was a student for whom learning didn’t come very easily–old report cards indicate that I read extremely poorly until sometime in about the 5th grade. I think that starting sometime around the 4th grade instead of summer fun, I was always enrolled in summer school classes to help me catch up to my peers. School wasn’t easy, but I was blessed with good teachers and enough parental cajoling, love, support, and demand that I always managed to make it through.

I know that others’ experiences may be different, but it’s pretty clear that, for me, the adult that I’ve become is, fundamentally, not so very different than the struggling learner I was as a child. I’ve wondered recently, whether all of those schooling and learning struggles were just ways for the universe to prepare me for life as a school librarian because I don’t know about the rest of you, but…everyday I wake up, get dressed, and come to work, and spend most of my day secretly feeling deep down inside that, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

As of the end of May, I’ve been an educator for 29 years–16 of which have been as a librarian. As a 20 year old with a newly minted BEd, I stood in front of my 22 first graders on the first day of school and thought, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

I SO MUCH didn’t know what I was doing that I kept taking classes to figure all the teaching and learning stuff out until I ended up with a second Ed degree and still, I thought, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

Through a whole bunch of weird twists and detours, I ended up in library school and a job as a middle school librarian and thought, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” and then 14 years later moved into my current job where we’ve already established that, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…”

I actually feel like I could probably end this post right here with “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” but clicking the publish button here would take more guts than I actually possess so I’m going to qualify this a bit before pressing publish.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” because in a world where the way information is created, published, disseminated, accessed, and used is, literally, changing everyday…

  • What does it mean to be “information literate?”
  • What does it mean to be “college ready?”
  • Are colleges truly doing a good job of preparing young adults to be thoughtful and productive citizens?
    • If no, do we continue to build PK-12 curriculum around helping students be “college ready” or do we bravely go where other schools have not?
  • How much of my collection should be eBooks vs. print vs. databases vs. audiobooks?
  • What platforms should I use to host my eBooks and audiobooks?
  • How many eBook and audiobook platforms is too many?
  • Should I have my own “library research process” like Big6 or ISP or should we be aiming to contextualize library skills/concepts/tasks into a broader framework like Design Thinking?
  • Is it okay to rip the DVD of our legal copy of Supersize Me so students can view it within Vialogues on our Moodle site?
    • Guidelines don’t count. I want someone to tell me yes or no and if they’re wrong, they get fired or sued instead of me.
  • Is the return on investment for EBSCO Discovery worth it by measurably getting many more student eyeballs on my expensive database content or is it still a not-quite-ready-for-prime-time thing that everybody is excited about and signing on for until two years from now when we’ll all want to move on to something else that is still not-quite-ready-for-prime-time?
  • I know library research skills are necessary and important for students’ future success, but how do I get teachers to believe what I believe?
  • Why do we have to change libraries into “Learning Commons” rather just calling them libraries and adding/evolving the functionality and work that happens within a “library?” (Modern hospitals seem to still be called “hospitals” without the messy historical baggage associated with the fact that physicians used to use leeches to suck blood from sick people. Things change, people, move on!).
  • Is coffee bad for me or is it good? What about salt? Butter? I’m a librarian. If I can’t figure out what to eat or not eat, how am I supposed to teach students in a health class what sources of information are to be believed?
  • MLA 8 has landed. Should I stay with MLA 7 for this year or make the jump in August?
  • Easybib Schools got murdered. Easybib Scholar didn’t look worth the cost difference for my school needs so we planned to migrate to NoodleTools, but now Easybib whatever it is called now is, supposedly, free. Go or stay?
  • What am I not doing that I should be doing? I don’t know what I don’t know…

Okay, so, that’s just a small sampling of my particular brand of crazy-librarian-mind-thinking and that’s what I mean when I say, “I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I AM DOING…” 

Please click on the comment link and weigh in.

  • Do you actually feel like you know what you’re doing? How did you get to that space?
  • What do you do to make decisions when you feel like you don’t yet know all that you need to know, but have to make a decision one way or another?

Somebody at least post a comment if only because otherwise I’ll spend the rest of the summer worrying that:

  • I have no idea what I am doing…

and that

  • I’m the only one that has no idea what he is doing…

Happy summer, all!

By the way, the AISL Summer Institute Design Thinking @ Your Library hosted by Katie Archambault at the Emma Willard School in Troy, NY starts in a week! Hope to see you there, but if you can’t make it this year follow the goodness at #aislSI16

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