Creating Presentations That Resonate

A Closeup of Handblown Glass. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

A Closeup of Handblown Glass. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Are you zombified by student PowerPoint presentations and a bit dizzy after viewing spinning Prezis? This year I have been rethinking the librarian’s role as literacy expert.  Whether you use the term media literacy, digital literacy, data literacy, or New Literacies—all of these concepts have in common an emerging need:  librarians guiding students to grapple with meaning and communicate their insights in multi-modal formats and, potentially, sharing and publishing their work digitally.

This article suggests books and online resources to more effectively plan and animate presentations, thereby creating messages that will resonate with your audiences.

Nancy Duarte is a persuasive presentation expert who maps the structure of effective communicators (see her TED talk comparing the structure of great speeches by Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King). Duarte presents her strategies in two books Slide:ology and

Duarte, Nancy. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations.

Duarte, Nancy. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations.

In Slide:ology, Duarte estimates that an effective  presentation requires 36 or more hours to research; evaluate audience; brainstorm ideas; organize; solicit feedback; storyboard; build slides; and rehearse.  Tips include brainstorming with sticky notes and by sketching diagrams; highlighting data; designing with color and selective choice of text; and crafting a story flow through animations and slide transitions. Though 36 hours for creating presentations may seem unrealistic with demanding class schedules, sharing tips with students will aid their message making.


I was able to demonstrate some of these techniques in a serendipitous teaching opportunity; a freshman physics teacher asked me to advise students on incorporating their science experiment data into slides. I rented a Kindle version of Slide:ology and projected on a large screen examples of data graphs and charts, inviting freshmen to evaluate ineffective/effective design and to keep in mind Duarte’s mantra: “Data slides are not really about the data. They are about the meaning of data” (64).  Visually highlighting or emphasizing a part of the data can show an emerging trend or complication–a moment when data results challenge assumptions and cause a rethinking for the student scientists. As students discuss the highlighted data, they begin to show the audience the meaning behind the data.

Duarte, Nancy. Resonate.

Duarte, Nancy. Resonate.

In Resonate:Present Visual Stories That Transform Audiences, Duarte explores the power of stories to connect with audiences and to deepen understanding.  I adapted a suggestion from the book, “amplify the signal, minimize the noise,” to aid freshmen in reading and assessing a quote by Adolph Hitler on the power of persuasive media messages (170).  In the slide example below, the quote was first read and then a series of animated graphics appeared in an equation format to distill meaning of Hitler’s message:

(All images from Britannica Image Quest.)

(All images from Britannica Image Quest.)

If you desire to share an example of how we perceive images based on entry into a slide (scene), show this movie clip from Hitchcock’s thriller, Strangers on a Train. Notice which direction the “good” character enters the scene versus the “bad” character’s entrance.  Since Westerners’ eyes are use to a left to right movement, entries from the right are viewed as disconcerting.  Students can consider this as they animate visuals or text appearances on their slides (left to right and top to bottom are more familiar ways of reading messages).

Hitchcock, Alfred. Strangers on a Train. 1951. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Hitchcock, Alfred. Strangers on a Train. 1951. Photography. Encyclopedia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 May 2016.

Explore more ideas on storytelling and making meaning from data in this archived webinar, “Storytelling with Infographics,” presented by Debbie Abilock and Connie Williams.  Abilock and Williams will also be presenters in an upcoming conference:
Virtual Conference on Data Literacy: Creating Data Literate Students hosted by the University of Michigan School of Information and University Library (see website for free registration to this virtual conference).

And for something totally different, listen to NPR’s interview with artist/rocker David Byrne as his explains his use of PowerPoint as Art.  Wising you a summer filled with stimulating reading and rethinking the tools we use to communicate meaning.

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What do we mean by “information literacy anyway?

(Sidenote—our school has had no Internet for the past two days. This is exam week, aka the throes of “end of year” activities. It’s been fascinating to see the way that technology has snaked its way into so much of our daily lives. Next time someone describes a library as “quaint, old-fashioned, or book-filled” think about your life without Internet, let along without computers. 

Things I cannot do
:Check out or return books, Update overdue lists
:Run usage statistics from library databases and catalogs for end-of-year report
:Place my MISBO order for 2016
:Access collaborative files on Google Drive
:Check the time Amazon is supposed to deliver a box of books for our administrator(needed today)
:Download summer reading books on Overdrive
:Write this blog post on WordPress or get the screenshots I need
:Waste time Googling things that pop into my head

Things I can do
: put class assignments with my feedback into their relevant folders
:Remove extra icons from the library computer desktops
:Reshelve books
:Sort book donations           
:Look at print books (but I’m still not brave enough to read during the day)           
:Write this post in Microsoft Word and plan to post it later

Libraries are technology hubs! But away from my digression…)

In 2010, a forward-thinking administrator added digital citizenship/information literacy units to grades 6, 9, and 10. I usually prefer teaching within specific classes, but he gave me a lot of leeway in terms of the types of units I could create, so I feel like it’s a pretty creative and engaging series of lessons. At the end of my days with the 10th grade, I give them the TRAILS information literacy assessment. For 5 years, they’ve rocked the 9th grade assessment, with questions like:TRAILS-Rowling9so this year we changed it up do see how they’d do with the 12th grade assessment. Most of you are probably familiar with TRAILS, the information literacy assessment out of Kent State University. It was designed with AASL’s Standards for the 21st Century Learner and the Common Core standards in mind. Students answer multiple choice questions on research and technology use in the following categories: develop topics; identify potential sources; develop, use, and revise search strategies; evaluate sources and information; and use information responsibly, ethically, and legally. Plus it’s free! Though I think it can be tough to identify digital literacy skills in an abstract test like this, it’s helpful for me to see trends and also to be able to use the results to advocate for more time spent learning specific tasks. For example, TRAILS-biasAs adults, I want my students to be able to identify bias in the media. This is as varied as evaluating the current electoral debates to browsing sponsored content on Instagram. It’s an important life skill. And thus it’s helpful for me to know that it’s one my students aren’t getting. (Yet, Carol Dweck!)  Just over half chose one of the other options. It seems so straightforward to me that I probably haven’t done enough to address it directly during my time with them. (Luckily I shared this with an 8th grade teacher and we’re adapting the Visible Thinking Headlines routine that we do to show both unbiased and unbiased options. Advocacy goal met.)

In general, it’s a world of difference between the 9th and 12th grade sets. For example, one of the topic selection questions in the 9th assessment is: TRAILS-topic9Here’s is a topic selection question from the 12th assessment: TRAILS-amendmentBecause I recognize that there’s a tough balance between getting teens, who I don’t teach on a daily basis and do not grade, to take something seriously but not stress about it, I told them that this was for me to grade myself. I also showed the way that I receive their responses as a class rather than as individuals, which fed class competitive spirit without individual pressure. But, the other way I tried to keep their interest was by telling them that there were three questions where I felt that more than one answer was entirely valid. This is one of them. Well, actually I think the second answer is correct. But I can see some justification for the first.

Curious about the other ones? My kids didn’t particularly answer this “correctly,” and I’m okay with that. I’m saying that I value this assessment at the same time I’m questioning some of the questions. And that can be a reflective tool for both me and my students. They loved guessing the ones where I struggled to find the “correct” answer, and I was happy to have them initiating conversations about information literacy. TRAILS-mathTo be fair, we don’t purchase any math databases, nor do we require any math research projects. But if a student came to me with this open-ended assignment, the first place I’d suggest looking is the table of contents in her math book, followed closely by a Google search on the topic. I probably wouldn’t search through a math magazine, but guess what, neither would any of my students.TRAILS-powerpointWhen I think Powerpoints, I think images. Our teachers are pretty strict about using slides to illustrate discussion points rather than as a teleprompter. But even so, for information for a health class, which in our school would be a basic elective, any of these would be fine places to get information. The first site for diabetes (not exactly nutrition but related) that comes up with the .gov limiter is the National Institute of Health ( The Diabetes Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital, number two on US News and World Reports “Best Hospitals for Adult Diabetes, has a comprehensive and trustworthy page ( And just last October, Newsweek published an article about the link between sleep deprivation and diabetes ( Of course I’d trust the science database. But if you are trying to find information to share with your classmates who may have less of a background in a topic, I wouldn’t limit myself.

Returning to the idea of how seriously the students take this, it was helpful to me to see that almost half of my students got this wrong because they selected the library catalog. I never would have believed it otherwise. It’s a terrible answer; even if we took it to the next step, I have no books in my collection that would answer this! Their responses show that I’m likely still favoring library resources over some others. Yet again, for the millionth time in the last month, I’m inspired and challenged by Nora Murphy’s Source Illiteracy presentation. TRAILS-catalogAnd saving the best for last, I learned that the tree octopus has been around long enough that it’s new again! Unlike a few years ago, this year’s sophomores weren’t familiar with it, and I loved the statement, “ It’s just so cool I want it to be true!” Guess that can go back into my information literacy lessons in the younger grades, huzzah!TRAILS-tree octopusPlease share your thoughts below. Am I off base in questioning some of the questions? Do you use TRAILS with your students and what do you do with the results? In what grades have you tested the students and how has your teaching changed based on what you’ve learned?


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Personalizing the Library/Research Experience

I dare say that if we all shared our independent school mission statements,  a theme would emerge offering assurance of a deeply personalized educational experience. We tend to promise smaller class sizes, world class faculty, group and individual advisory programs, a multitude of electives, practicums, and then there are the capstone programs, the plethora of PE options, and team sports.

We as librarians strive to know our kids’ names, their interests, and their reading  preferences so that we can be ready to suggest their next favorite book. We ask for syllabi, we interview teachers about upcoming assignments, we lurk on the school’s LMS to anticipate potential collaborations. [Dave admitted to snooping through cabinets. I will admit to snooping through syllabi. There, I said it.]

We have to know what research topics our teachers are assigning and/or what our kids are interested in so that we can develop the best print + digital collections and so that we can tailor research lessons for the group and their grade level. I’m preaching to the choir, right? Our sincere effort at deep personalization is in many ways these families’ return on investment.

My assistant and I have been discussing ways to deepen our library program’s personalization for the ’16-’17 school year. After reading and discussing The Personal Librarian: Enhancing the Student Experience for the #AISL16LA Board Book social, and then coming home to explore the concept of the embedded librarian, we have decided to pilot two programs starting this summer.

PROGRAM 1: Personal Librarians

Our school serves grades 9-12. My assistant and I will divide the incoming 9th grade class, not alphabetically, but by history class. We will reach out to said students via email (or emailed Youtube video?) this  summer and we’ll introduce ourselves, tell them a little bit about our families (pets, hobbies, strange and unusual tricks?!?!), our roles on campus, and we’ll introduce ourselves as their personal librarian and explain what this means.
[What it means for us: we will reach out to them quarterly, suggest some resources that could help in an upcoming assignment, tell them about some new books we have in the library that they might like to check out before an upcoming break, and we’ll remind them that we’re available for 1:1 appointments any time that they need us. No pressure, no requirements, only demonstrating that we know their names, we’re familiar with their assignments, and we’re hoping to make their lives easier.]

This isn’t really a new idea, is it? It’s just a marketing technique. A marketing technique that we mentioned recently during an admissions speed dating event with prospective parents. Parents whose eyes absolutely lit up when they heard about it. They wanted their own personal librarian! “Why can’t we all have personal librarians?!”, they asked. {Please know that I pointed them in the direction of their local public libraries in that moment.} Anyway, it went over really well. Admissions loves it. It’s another layer of personalization and it’s coming from the LIBRARY. To quote my  kids’ favorite mindless Disney Channel show, “Bam! What?!“.

Oh em gee, this Personal Librarian has pet prairie dogs. Reason no. 1,926,823 why librarians are the most interesting people ever. My intro will NOT be this interesting. However, I’m sort of loving the Youtube intro idea.

PROGRAM  2: Embedded librarians

We are meeting this week with the 9th grade history teachers to discuss just how embedded we might be. Everyone agrees that the one and done research lesson is not working for any of us. We can’t fit all that we need to fit into a single class period, we’re talking like auctioneers, our girls’ eyes are glazing over, and teachers aren’t seeing discernible improvements in their students’ processes or products. We can do better! What we’re proposing is this:

My assistant and I will divide the freshman history courses and we will go with the classes for which we are the girls’ personal librarians. We want to know their names, we want them to know that we are real, non-scary, non-shooshy people. In short, we want to build relationships and trust with our students and we find that that rapport is more easily obtained by regular face to face interaction.  Our school operates on an 8 day rotation with 50 minute periods. Each course gets one grab block per week, giving them a 75 minute meeting. We will use the weekly 9th grade history grab block to work with the girls on research skills, breaking our research lessons into 15 minute “mini-lessons”.

I want to use those mini lessons in two ways: one, to introduce them to the research process slowly and with repetition;  to our library catalog, our physical tools, and to teach them about our digital resources, as well as those critical web evaluation skills. Secondly, I  want to target source literacy.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was totally inspired by Nora Murphy’s #AISL16LA talk about the need for source literacy. I see us creating 15 minute source ‘petting zoo’ opportunities for our freshmen. I’m making notes as we speak on sources that I feel we could introduce in those 15 minute sessions, and homework we could assign to cement search processes of each. Off-hand I can think of print magazines (scholarly & popular) that we could expose the girls to, trade publications,  digital repositories: LOC, PBS, NPR, museum collections, NYPL, the National Archives, etc.

With all of this time spent in the classroom, I feel like we can use bigger chunks of time in the weeks leading up to research projects, quilting the skills together. Asking better questions. Anticipating relevant sources. Building keywords. Mining data. Employing advanced search techniques in the physical and digital worlds. Note taking. Paraphrasing. Citation.

If you could use the comments below, I’m interested in hearing what else you think might be appropriate to include in the information literacy/source petting zoo. Are you already doing the personalized or embedded thing? If so, how’s it working for you?

We’re thinking of proposing a session at NOLA to engage in a conversation about personalizing library services.  If you are employing either of the strategies we’re piloting, or if you’re doing something completely different, and might like to apply to co-present, please let me know!

Wishing you all the best as you leave APs and slide into finals. Happy spring, ya’ll!


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Less stress in the MS

The tension is so palpable you can practically see it in the air: it’s mid-May, and that can only mean one thing . . . it’s exam season.

“Stress” is perhaps a too-general term. Some students are exhibiting a disinterest so pronounced it’s akin to a state of coma; others are verging on hysteria. This month I consider ways to help all parties (yourself as well!), including some ways to get involved as the librarian. I spoke to my own middle school advisees as well as our school’s director of academic services and counseling, Melinda Lloyd, for some expert information. I also consulted our wellness coach, Kelly Lavieri, for some physical and nutritional advice. (Don’t we always encourage the students to seek expert opinions?)

I have it on good authority that it’s not your 7th grade history final that gets you into Harvard, so why the agony? Predictably, my bunch reported that they still worry about getting a bad grade. I’m assuming that it’s parental disappointment driving that particular fear, along with perhaps a sense of failure that all humans would sooner avoid. Interestingly, another student said that it was the issue of having so many all at once. One student said aloud that he didn’t think they were that bad, and appreciated being let out at noon for five days – the kids have one final each morning for five days, with Memorial Day in the middle, and go home each day after a brief review session for the next exam.

And that right there is exactly what Ms. Lloyd said to me: one’s attitude towards the exam goes a very long way towards affecting the stress level of the test taker. Research, she said, (yay research!) suggests that the way we view stress changes our response to it. If we look at exams as a threat, we are pessimistic and feel no control over our situation. If we see exams as a challenge, we can control our approach to them and feel more optimistic as a result.

So, how to equip our youngsters with the right attitude during this fraught time in their lives? Start by validating their feelings, Ms. Lloyd said, and then move on to ways in which the kids can take control and feel as though they’re in charge of their destinies. In my group, we talked about ways in which they combat stress, so here are the words right from their very own mouths:

  • “I prepare and organize notes,” said one enterprising and with-it student. This is a way of taking that control Ms. Lloyd mentioned.
  • Sleep, said another. Our wellness coach echoed this. Good sleep is vital to good brain function.
  • Eat well, they said (while munching on donuts a parent provided for a snack.) This is true: good nutrition also supports good brain function, which the wellness coach also pointed out. But, said Ms. Lloyd, “They know what to say, but they don’t follow through with their behavior.”
  • “Punch a pillow,” said a tiny but fierce girl. “Swimming,” said another. Another student reported she likes to ride her Penny board around the neighborhood to relieve stress too, and I have a young equestrienne in the group who rides her horse to de-stress – physical activity is good for body and mind, and a dose of nature is healthy too.
  • “Dream about summer,” one said at last. Way to keep your eyes on the prize, kid!

In the library we don’t have horses, a pool, or a half-pipe for gnarly thrashing, but here’s what we do have:

It’s an office–supply paradise here. Notecards, a hole punch, highlighters, glue sticks, you name it – if a kid needs it for preparing flashcards or exam notes, we’ve got it. Tons of tables for working in groups, too, and some private rooms for group study like vocabulary review. I try to schedule the rooms fairly with a sign-up sheet so they can study together the morning of the test without disturbing others.

Crafty Corner – this is new this year. I bought some coloring books, including something called Intrepid Coloring: Adult Coloring for Burly Men. We’ll have scented markers (remember those?) and colored pencils. I’m also going to set up some yarn and needles, and have a few projects already cast-on so users can just focus on knitting meditatively instead of choosing a pattern, casting on stitches, etc. There will be a kitten jigsaw puzzle – who doesn’t love kittens? – and our rather fancy inlaid chess board gets a lot of use, so I’m putting out some extra cheap chess sets so more people can de-stress with the Queen’s Gambit.

Caffeine – We have a Keurig machine here in the Student Center but I still feel conflicted about sending 12-year-olds zooming into the stratosphere with dark roast. I know they walk into school with Starbucks cups, but I don’t have to enable them. I may limit a library-sponsored basket of coffee pods to upper school only.

Healthy snacks – to be consumed off-premises, obviously! Coach Kelly, our wellness guru, told me that protein-rich snacks are key to good brain function, and shared this fascinating fact: just taking a sip of water before any intellectual task can actually improve brain function measurably.  So, bottled water too, and ample recycling bins strategically placed to avoid the usual stuff-the-bottle-in-the-reference-section response.

Take care of them, and that palpable tension will be tamed. Less stress for you too!



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on #macgyverlibrarianship…

One of my favorite things about the AISL Annual Conference is the opportunity to visit the libraries of friends and colleagues from different places and act on my nosy tendencies. I like to look in the workroom cupboards and I often peek behind the circ desks, and in the closets and drawers (Hahaha! Now none of you will ever invite me to your homes…). The opportunity to spend time wandering about in someone else’s “library home” is invaluable. I like seeing how people organize their work flows. Seeing what kinds of books they order. Seeing the kind of book stops they use. Seeing  the wording of their signage. Seeing what supplies and things they put out for students to use. I like seeing all of it.

To be very honest, sometimes the opportunity turns me green with envy–I really, really want the NanaWall that I saw at The Willows School. #ShakesFistInAirAtCathyLeverkus


The Nanawall at The Willows School

Sometimes it sparks appreciation–Wow, I am SO fortunate to have as many small group-study rooms as I do.

Sometimes the opportunity sparks inspiration–Hey, I never thought of doing that. I can do that!

One of the challenging things about the conference is that we, very understandably, typically see gorgeous, newly renovated spaces that are architectural showcases. The vast majority of AISL librarians, however, have to find innovative and creative ways to meet the evolving needs of our school communities in our existing facilities, and typically, within existing budgets.

Upon returning from #AISL16LA, I had a fun exchange on Twitter with @emmalibrarylove (Katie), @researchwell (Tasha), @bonnieubarnes (Bonnie), @annalynnmartino (Anna), and Sara from Milton Academy. Through this tweet thread, I learned about the #macgyverlibrarianship movement.


As far as I can tell, the #macgyverlibrarianship hashtag is the brainchild of @jenniferlagarde a librarian in North Carolina who blogs at The Adventures of Library Girl. Basically, the #macgyverlibrarianship movement is a whole bunch of librarians sharing budget-friendly, creative hacks they have used to wring more functionality from their spaces and from their budgets. They share their creations and ideas on twitter and add the hashtag so it can be found.

If you are not a Twitter user or you haven’t searched hashtags much before, take a moment and click on the link below to give it a try.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 9.32.10 AM

How cool is that, huh? Be careful, though, if you’re anything like me you’ll find yourself drilling down through the tweet stream and it’s a rabbit hole. You could be lost for hours… #YouveBeenWarned

Things these librarians are doing with paint, fishing line, a glue gun, and some nails is astonishing.

#macgyverlibrarianship Wannabe

I must say, that I have never been able to count myself amongst the smartest kids in my classes, but my two saving talents to this point in my life have been my ability to choose good people to hang out with and my ability to steal borrow appropriate use steal the ideas of other people and find useful ways to incorporate them into my work.

Aside: Since returning from #AISL16LA I’ve been madly stealing incorporating @FSHALibrarian ‘s (Nora) research scope and sequence as well as her source literacy concepts into our program and instructional goals for next year. It’s a work in progress so will probably be a post down the road.

Here’s what I’ve stolen so far (apologies, but some of this is a retread of stuff that’s been shared in various places previously):




After: 4″ locking casters from Home Depot

Note: If you make your furniture easily moveable, people will move your furniture around. It makes total sense, but you need to be mentally prepared as users of your library will do what you have invited them to do. Teachers are polite and move tables back where they belong, but plan on getting over obsessing about the precise placement of tables and chairs in the places where they “belong.” #IfISayItIWillEventuallyBelieveIt



English teachers like seminar-style seating. And that’s the whole point, right?


While we’re not a designated “maker space,” kids are making stuff in our library all the time. We repurposed one of our student-built carts and turned it into our supply station. Just in time for end-of-year display board season.


Rolling white boards


On a budget…


Before. Sarah Richardson from HGTV would not approve…

After! Who knew what could be done with fabric and a staple gun before Youtube?

After! Who knew what could be done with fabric and a staple gun before Youtube? Not sure if Sarah would approve, but it’s a lot better than it was a week ago! Hahaha!


There is something about writing on the walls that appeals to kids of all ages. Not cheap, but maybe some of the best money I’ve spent. Gets FAR more use than white boards mounted in other rooms.

A number of people have asked about an idea that got shared on using time lapse video to show library use as a tool for library advocacy. There are many time lapse apps available, but I use the Lapse It app for iPad  largely because it was free and it was first on the list. #BadLibrarian

Here is a short sample from a random day last April.

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 11.45.50 AM



My price-is-right video rig!

I would experiment with the duration between shots in order to best capture the ebb and flow of students in your space. Haven’t used it myself yet, but I just discovered this handy Timelapse Calculator that might be worth a try. #ThisIsExciting

I hope something in this very random mix of things has been helpful to someone out there. If you’ve got any great #macgyverlibrarianship ideas to share, post them to Twitter! #SharingIsCaring

While you’re at it, go ahead and also try searching #AISL16LA The great notes, ideas, and pics make it a great hunting ground for ideas whether you were able to attend the LA Conference this year or not!

A final note on hashtags: If you’re not a big Twitter user, hashtags, while typically used very much like subject headings to make like-content searchable in the Twitterverse, are also commonly used to give context to/for a Tweet.



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Books about books…

Our recent AISL survey asked independent school librarians what they liked to read on this blog. A number of respondents replied that they liked to read about BOOKS! And, well, I love to talk about books – especially books ABOUT books, so I thought I’d share some of my favourite library / book-related reads of the past few months…


Lit Up by David Denby

New Yorker writer David Denby has written a quite remarkable book on reading, how English is taught in high schools, and how teenagers in the 21st century interact with literature and poetry. Set over the course of a school year, the book investigates teenagers and their relationships with screens, how teachers engage and inspire youth, and what teens are reading versus what they should be reading. The book also inspired an article in the New Yorker – even if you don’t have time to read the full book, take five minutes to read this interesting article.

You Could Look it Up

You Could Look it Up by Jack Lynch

Although we no longer have a reference section in my library (reference works are simply interfiled with other non-fiction materials), I frequently consult the reference works we do have both in print and online, because, well, ‘that’s what librarians do’. This fascinating book by Jack Lynch takes a look at key reference works from the Doomsday Book to Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary, as well as some of the more unusual reference works that librarians refer to again and again.

world between two covers

The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe by Ann Morgan

This interesting memoir was inspired by Morgan’s blog: A Year of Reading the World. She decided to read one book from each country around the globe during 2012, setting out to discover new and interesting authors and poets. Her book is a great record of her reading life, but be warned – it will seriously add to your (probably already towering) To-Be-Read pile.

Running the books

Running the Books by Avi Steinberg

It takes a special kind of librarian to run programs for those who are incarcerated. In this fascinating memoir, Steinberg shares his story of being the librarian in a Boston prison. From the inmates he helps complete their high school and college diplomas, to the men who are trying to write their memoirs, to the inmate who wants to pitch a cooking show to a TV network, this book is in-depth look at life in a very different type of library.


Bibliotech by John Palfrey

Author John Palfrey makes the point that libraries are more important than ever, and that they must step up to bring equality, intellectual freedom and democracy to ordinary people. Referring particularly to the digitization of materials, Palfrey discusses why libraries must be cutting edge in meeting the information needs of the population, especially when “the library is the last free space for the gathering and sharing of knowledge”. None of this is new to librarians, but this slim volume is written in an engaging and passionate style that calls librarians across the world to action.

This is a great book

This is a Great Book by Larry Swartz &  Shelley Stagg Peterson

This book is an excellent collection of classroom and library-ready ideas for librarians and teachers who are looking to help their students enjoy, reflect on, and get as much out of reading as possible. With lesson ideas, journal prompts and ideas for how to make the most of leisure reading and ideas for finding the right novel for the right reader, this book is full of inspiring ideas and activities, even for those of us who have been around for a while and have our own proven methods for getting the right book to the right student, and for raising excitement amongst our readers.

So, if you’re inspired to pick up some professional reading, why not join a group of fellow librarians online to do so?

Change by Design

AISL librarian Dave Wee is running an online book club to discuss Change by Design by Tim Brown,  a book about Design Thinking which is the AISL Summer Institute’s recommended pre-reading selection. Head on over to his website if you’re interested in reading along!

And if you weren’t at the Board Books event at #AISL16LA, consider reading one or both of the following. Each generated lots of discussion!

This book is overdue

This Book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson

Personal Librarian

The Personal Librarian by Richard J. Moniz & Jean Moats (ed.)

Do you have any similar titles to recommend? Please share in the comments below!

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Poetrees and Flutterbies

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

How does this happen?

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

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

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


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

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

Question assumptions: What is universal? What is niche?

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

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

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

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

Beyond oppression narratives and issue books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond tokenism

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone needs diverse books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Librarian as library user

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

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

I am the worst overdue offender. 

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

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

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

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


I pass judgement on what I read.

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

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

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

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

I have a very small personal library.

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

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

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Barriers to Access

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

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

NEAISL & Ebsco’s Discovery Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AISL16 & Access: Source Illiteracy as block to access

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

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

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

frog   axolotl




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

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

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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

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

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

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

She is all about the Source Bank.

Here’s an example she gave:

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

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

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

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

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

Explore sources that contain oral histories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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