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Why I’m Not “Weeding” Right Now


FlickrCommons: WorldStreetPhotos.com

FlickrCommons: WorldStreetPhotos.com

I am pretty sure I’m not the only person who struggles with removing books from the collection.  Not the easy calls. Not the books that meet the MUSTY (Misleading, Ugly, Superseded, Trivial or not right for Your collection) guidelines.  We can all laugh at the science text that says “Someday, computers will fit on a desktop” or the copy of Twilight with the cover half off and the text block falling out.  When I came here 10 years ago, this library had sections in need of heavy culling, and I was equal to the task. But I have worked here for a while now.  Many of these books were purchased under my watch.  Maybe that’s why the word “weeding” sticks in my craw. Weeds are interlopers. Weeds are things that pop up where they are not wanted.  These books I am contemplating removing don’t feel like “weeds” to me.  I can look at many of them and tell you exactly why it was purchased, and which readers loved it…six years ago.  I can remember when we couldn’t keep that one on the shelf….in 2010.  When a teacher (now retired) used this video every semester, like clockwork.

The CREW standards (Continuous Review Evaluation Weeding) from the Texas Library and Archives Commission, updated by Jeanette Larson in 2012, offer ongoing ideas for a continuous process of …what shall I call it?  “Deaccessioning” is a bit unwieldy, but accurate.  Downsizing? Right Sizing? Grooming? (Thanks to my colleague, Cindy, for that one!) Removing books from the collection?  Lots of phrases sit more easily on my heart.

Part two of the process is what to do with what is removed.  Since the collection is fairly current, much of what is removed is in good condition (just outdated or low in popularity) so we are making categories.  I will take a batch to give away at the 7th /8th grade study hall, where the pop-up library sets up once a week.  We will invite interested 5th and 6th graders to take a book home.  Upper School students will have their chance.  We will invite teachers to come by — in the past we have invited the whole school at once, but I think we will sort by discipline, and invite smaller groups, with the hope they can more easily see books for their classroom collections.  Less “look at the weeds on our compost heap” and more “look at these interesting things that have fallen out of fashion.”  We will undoubtedly end up with a “free to a good home table” and then a trip to the recycle bin, but I am not coming from a place of yanking something out but from a place of cultivating and grooming a collection.

What sounds right to you, when removing books?  Do you have tips and tricks to share?


Spring is Sprung!


Here in Southern California it’s been garden time for awhile now. I’m already into my second wave of bulbs, and the forget-me-nots have shown that they have not yet forgotten me, spreading throughout my garden with their cheerful blue flowers. We’ve had AISL blog posts on weeding lately, and on tending our collections, and I find myself continuing the “Library as Garden” metaphor as I sit out in my back yard pondering possibilities.

Spring is our biggest research season at Harvard-Westlake Upper School. A solid 66% of our student body is actively working on serious research projects, and an additional 15% or so has research going on in some fashion. We love it– it really is exciting, and the interaction with students looking for one more primary source or additional material on Degenerate Art (oooh, fun!) is invigorating. But we can only manage this level of activity if we’ve done our own ‘homework’, if we’ve built the collection to support all these projects. Every year we have a number of repeat projects, so we are not surprised when all the Pope Pius XII books go out, or Stalin, or the aforementioned Degenerate Art in Germany titles are in high demand. If we’ve done our Collection Management well, we’re set.

Then there are the cycles. Topics that go out of fashion for one reason or other. For years we had very little research done on the Revolutionary War era. After a quiet spell, out of the blue (or sometimes, due to changes in curriculum or some big anniversary of an event) suddenly Revolutionary America is all the rage again.  Often all it takes is one really good Ken Burns Documentary Series and suddenly there is new interest in … Jazz! or Baseball!

Because most of the research done in our library is through the History department, we know there will always be interest in primary sources and good solid standard scholarship.  If something is on the list of suggested topics for sophomores, we know there will likely be interest. Where it gets trickier is the open ended topics chosen by juniors. Our job as librarians is to develop our collection, our garden as it were, to make sure it includes items that will be needed by our students. As with any garden, we can’t build just for this one year.

Here’s where the long view comes into play. Occasionally there’s a new wave in education, or (as they say in Country Music) The Next Big Thing. If the rising tide of momentum gets too powerful without having a focus on proper priorities, then you might end up with a long term solution to a short term problem. The issue might be space, for example. Some bright-eyed administrator might come sweeping in saying that since no one uses books anymore, you need to weed 50% of your collection and they’ll be using that space for… something important. So– major weeding project, loss of books and shelf space, reconfiguration. You might get rid of all those American Revolution books. Just wait 5 years, and you can be sure they’ll be back in demand. Only then you’ll need to fork out good money to build your collection again. Sure, you can weed the chaff (if you have any left after the previous weeding projects) but there are a lot of treasures by experts in the field that are a lot harder to replace than they were to get rid of.

wildflowers, blanket 016

There was an article in American Libraries (January/February 2015) expanding on the Library as Garden motif in a very creative way. “Not Your Garden-Variety Library,” by Greg Landgraf, tells the story of the Fairfield Woods branch of the Fairfield (Conn.) Public Library. They have developed a seed catalog where patrons can ‘check out’ seeds, complete with instructions for growing them, and can even ‘return’ seeds harvested from their crops. Apparently there are hundreds of seed libraries operating in the United States. Who knew?!? The Common Soil Seed Library in Nebraska organizes its seeds by how difficult they are to save, and their whole collection is housed in an old card catalog cabinet. How cool is that?


(photo from article)

Whether you’re planting, weeding, or still dreaming of golden garden hours in the warm spring sun (while you’re all cozy by your fire), gardens everywhere are an inspiration. Springtime in our library is inspiring as well, with all that youthful energy directed towards the treasure hunt that is a good research project. Spring is a time of renewal, fresh starts, new energy, and the return of the sun’s warmth.

Happy Spring, everyone!

Garden April 2012 021


Messages in the Media

Eager for a collaborative project that engages students? A “Messages in the Media” unit holds great potential because it targets critical thinking and engages students in real-world contexts:  evaluating how media shapes decisions such as cultural values, consumerism, personal health, and self-perception.  It also provides an opportunity for students to be media creators, communicating their own knowledge in a variety of ways.  Several years ago I partnered with our Freshman Health classes, creating a media literacy unit to evaluate health claims of sports and energy drinks. This project meets goals of both National Health Education Standards (NHES) and American Association of School Librarians (AASL), such as

Standard 2:   Analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media technology,
and other factors on health behaviors.

Standard 3:   Demonstrate the ability to access valid information,
products, and services to enhance health.

Standard 1:        Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge.

Standard 3.3.3  Use knowledge to engage in public conversation and
debate around issues of common concern; 3.3.4 Create products
that apply to authentic, real-world contexts.

In this six-meeting, sports drinks unit, we evaluate advertising using a five-statement media literacy checklist developed by Elizabeth Thoman and Center for Media Literacy.

1.     All media messages are constructed

2.     Media messages are constructed using a media language with its own rules.

3.     Different people experience the same media message differently.

4.     Media have embedded values and points of view.

5.     Most media messages are organized to gain profit and/or power.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 7.49.57 PM

Students view a Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) “Got Milk” ad to analyze the construction of media language such as the signature milk moustache, dramatic lighting and shadows (to enhance Wolverine’s bulging biceps), and angles of the claws that bring the viewer’s eye to the slogan “Got Milk.”  Students also discuss the embedded message—milk will get you pumped—and the embedded point of view—guys need to be muscular.  Contrast this embedded message with a Japanese commercial featuring the pop group AKB48 and the unusual girl member, Eguchi Aimi (computer generated from each of the “most perfect” features of the other group members).  See this funny sendup by Kaleb Nation as he argues why a “virtually perfected” pop star is a disturbing idea.

Armed with an understanding of media techniques, student groups explore samples of drink products—from Gatorade to Muscle Milk to Vitamin Water to Energy Drinks– developing a checklist of health claims from ingredient labels and packaging design and then suggesting health topics (such as caffeine or sugar content in these drinks) that will be researched using library databases and PubMed.  A Gatorade website evaluation also provides a critical look at marketing and health claims—this is a sophisticated website with many health research articles published by the GSSI (Gatorade Sports Science Institute).  Discussion follows on purpose and possible bias in this site and research articles.

A challenging aspect of this project is finding a dynamic way to communicate new knowledge and research findings with an audience.  Over the years, students have shared their research in Glogsters and PowerPoints with embedded media ads, but this year I set up a LibGuide to showcase excerpts of student Analysis Essays and Infomercial Videos.  One student, Anthony, created a “counter ad” spoofing Red Bull energy drinks and the slogan “Red Bull Gives you Wings” (see the ad on tab 2 of the LibGuide). His ad shows a cherubic angel guzzling a can of Red Bull with the slogan, “Get Your Wings Early.”  Anthony described his design techniques:  “(I used) rays of sunshine shining on the angel which moves your eyes to the angel (rather than) the warning labels on the bottom of the ad.”

New directions for next year?  If more class time can be provided for the project, students might create their own webpages using GoogleDocs or Weebly, and Videonot.es could be used to look closely at video commercials prior to writing analysis essays.  Here is a sample Lucozade Videonot.es I created to evaluate sports drink health claims (you will need to add the videonot.es app to your GoogleDrive to view).

Looking forward to reading your comments on how you are engaging students in media literacy.

 Recommended Research on Media Literacy

Pechmann, Cornelia and Susan J. Knight.  “An Experimental Investigation of the Joint Effects of Advertising and Peers on Adolescents’ Beliefs and Intentions about Cigarette Consumption.” Journal of Consumer Research 29.1 (June 2002): 5019.
JSTOR.  Web. 17 Mar. 2015. < http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/339918>.

Siegel, Michael. “Mass Media Antismoking Campaigns: A Powerful Tool for Health Promotion.”  Annals of Internal Medicine 129.2 (July 1998): 128-132. Web. 17 Mar. 2015. <http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/

Thoman, Elizabeth and Tessa Jolls. “Media Literacy Education: Lessons from the Center for Media Literacy.”  Media Literacy: Transforming Curriculum and Teaching.  Ed. Gretchen Schwarz and Pamela Brown. Malden: Blackwell, 205. Print.




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Accreditation 2.0…from the other side of the equation

Do you have initiative? Do you like traveling to new places and talking to other teachers and administrators? Do you enjoy offering evaluative feedback? Can you keep things confidential? Do you like to write?

Before I sound too much like a midnight infomercial, let me back up. I’m talking about serving on an independent school accreditation team. In January I wrote about my experiences being on the school library side of an accreditation in Accreditation 2.0, and now I’m just getting my feet back on the ground after serving on an accreditation team. If you’re like me, you’re not really sure what it involves and specifically if the extra work is worth leaving your school library for a few days. I’m here to lift that curtain a bit.

But first, there are a few caveats. Consider the curtain lifted a few feet off the ground, not open for performance.

  1. I signed a confidentiality agreement. I have permission to post generally, but I can’t share any specifics about the school or what the team found. Also no photos.
  2. I’ve only done one visit, so I can provide a fresh perspective, not a universal guide.
  3. While standards are similar state-to-state, there are differences. See number 2; this is just one story.

Inspired by Katie Archamault’s fabulously read-worthy post on attending your first AISL conference  (Still reading this? Take a break if you’re going to AISL next month to check it out. ….It’s okay. I’ll wait…..) Here are 10 of my thoughts on deciding if you want to serve on an accreditation team and figuring out how to do it well.

1. There is homework first. You’ll receive your assigned review areas ahead of time, and you need to familiarize yourself with the standards that these areas must meet. You may also electronically receive the school’s self study and accompanying documents (possibly 500+ pages) a few weeks before. Don’t read everything carefully. Familiarize yourself with the overall organization and your specific review areas. You’ll also want to look at the school’s website and other online information to get a sense of how it portrays itself and how it’s seen in the community. You’ll probably also have a conference call or virtual meeting with your team where you run through the schedule of the evaluation and everyone’s roles.

2. Note the school’s mission. I can’t overstate the importance of this. You are not comparing this school to yours, nor are you interviewing for a job there. Your role is to see if the school is doing what it sets out to do. Does it stress academics? Progressive technology? Arts? As evaluators, you want to make sure that the school is meeting the goals that it has set for itself in keeping with the standards for your state or evaluation group. You shouldn’t talk about yourself or your school either. Focus on them.

3. Be professional. Be comfortable. There’s always a more standard template for men’s dress. Having met many of you at conferences, there’s a good chance that the majority of people reading this are women. My observations pointed towards dress that was a step above what’s worn in my school on a daily basis, but not necessarily a suit for women. (Then again, this is Florida. We’re more casual here.) Make sure that you can move easily in whatever you choose to wear because you’ll be walking back and forth indoors and outdoors throughout the evaluation. Comfortable shoes are a must. You’ll also want to think about layering. When you’re sequestered for writing and finally sitting in one place, the air conditioning can feel downright arctic.

4. Fun accoutrements. We were told to bring a laptop. That’s a given; I just wrote four single-spaced pages in a day and a half, and that’s after compiling seven handwritten notebook pages of observations. This is the time to glam it up with all your favorite office supplies. I’d personally recommend a computer mouse, and a highlighter and sticky notes for marking up a physical copy of the self study. (If only this post had come to me three days ago before I packed…)

5. Sleep…or coffee? These are long days! Note in the dress section I didn’t mention a bathing suit for the hotel pool. The days will start early, end late, and be full of interesting new experiences. There’s time to catch up on bad hotel TV at a different point. At least one day, you’ll need to be at school before people begin to arrive so you can watch the dropoff procedure. From then on, you’ll be attending classes, meeting with staff and administrators, and talking with students. After school you may attend a faculty meeting, athletic event or extracurricular activities. When you’re finally done at school, you’ll have dinner with your teammates. The point is, when the days start, you begin a marathon. Prepare well in whatever way suits you best, from an early bedtime to chocolate covered espresso beans. The choice is up to you.

6. Pace yourself. For the motivated overachiever, this is an all-you-can-eat buffet. You don’t want to fill up to quickly or only sample items from the dessert bar. You will have hours to visit classes, talk with administators, and see the students in various settings. Take notes as you go because you won’t be able to remember it all. Make sure you note the people you need to meet with to complete your specific review areas, and find them early in the day. You’ll probably want to jot down some notes of questions based on the self study, so that you remember to get all of the answers that you’ll need to write your narrative analysis.

7. Talk to students. I’m always impressed by the articulateness of student feedback and with student honesty about their experiences. If you work in a school, you enjoy working with students. Right? Meet some new ones. Listen to the ways that they are describing their school experience, their successes and their fears. This doesn’t have to be formal. With permission, join a small group in a class you’re observing or watch students as they enter the cafeteria for lunch.

8. Go to Yearbook class. Maybe others will find this to be a newbie mistake, but following on 7, find the Yearbook class if one exists. Yearbooks tell a lot about the values and priorities of the school. Their visual format opens the possibility for conversations to describe further what’s happening in pictures, and students who are interested in Yearbook are often friendly, enjoy their school experience, and want to preserve memories for all to share.

9. Talk to your teammates. Don’t think of it as networking; you’re hanging out with like-minded people. You’ll be working with motivated, accomplished educators. Use your downtime with them (before school in the mornings, dinners, etc) to ask about what’s working at their school. Or maybe you want to find out what a learning specialist “does” all day or how other schools are integrating iPads. These are your colleagues and the quick intense nature of a visit facilitates deep conversations.

10. Incorporate ideas into your own work. Sure, you’re there to evaluate a school’s strengths and weaknesses, but in every school, many things are working right. As librarians, we have a central role in our own school communities. Reflecting on my own library program as I sat in a different environment led to some inspirations about ways I can re-imagine my work and continue to improve.

That’s it.

Thus ends what is probably my longest post so far. For me, the experience was worthwhile, and while today has been stressful catching up after two days away, it was a positive experience. I feel professionally fulfilled, and while the hours were long and the writing schedule was demanding, I feel more strongly than ever that the accreditation process methods are valid and valuable.

I’d love to hear from others who have been on accreditation committees or who are entertaining the idea. What would you add or take away from this list? Does this mirror your experiences? Does this make you more or less open to the idea of applying to serve on a committee in the future?


Reverse-engineering the library

For the second time in four years I am tasked with the job of weeding a very large portion of the collection, packing what is left, storing it and then moving it back onto the shelves at a future point. The first time I did this, I weeded, then boxed, then unboxed, then shelved. What else did I do? I listened to a whole bunch of complaints about all the wonderful books I was just throwing out and some subtle questioning of my professional judgment. (I also took a lot of ibuprofen and shredded the knees of several pairs of Dockers. Librarianship is way more physical than the general public imagines.)

Anyone who’s ever done more than the gentlest of weeding is right now nodding along in sympathy. “You know,” I said, at a faculty meeting when I faced some oblique criticism, “I didn’t go into this profession because I hate books. I love them. But you have to prune back the dead wood to stimulate new growth. If you want them, give them a home.” And at that point the naysayers kind of scuttled back into their lairs and mumbled something about not having space, the books were outdated, et cetera and yadda.

So it was with some trepidation that I am facing this second round of weeding, but I determined to stay firm in my resolve to create a lean, perfectly curated physical collection to complement our expansive digital holdings and avoid the psychic toll that kind of criticism can breed.

At present I am tagging the whole collection with colored stickers to indicate their destiny: green stays on the shelf in the high school collection, yellow means I need to check the books against our curriculum or to see if it has a digital equivalent, blue goes on the shelf of the new middle school space, and red means it will be finding a new home somewhere else. That “somewhere else” can take a variety of forms. Some books will be donated to a new private school that’s just opened up and needs resources, others will be sent to Thrift Books for reselling, some must by necessity be pulped for their paper content, and some can go to faculty who want to adopt them into personal or *classroom collections.

Previously I simply took the weeds out of the catalog, then parked the weeded books on a cart in the faculty room for cherry-picking, and that’s where the trouble lay – these discards were the subject of constant questions every time I walked by to get mail or coffee for months on end. How dare I? What was I thinking? Haven’t I read this? This is a really good book! Don’t I understand? I have. I do. And yet . . .

And that’s when I hit upon the idea of reverse-engineering the final weeding process. I’m going to pluck all the keepers and stash them on rented carts in order, to be rolled to their new home and shelved before opening day in August. Whatever is left on the current library shelves gets taken out of the catalog, has a DISCARD sticker placed over the barcode and can then be perused by faculty over the course of three days so they can pick anything they feel compelled to rescue. Then I’m going to pack the rest for distribution elsewhere as I’ve described. This condenses all the criticism and second-guessing into one short window, and then it’s over. I’m also working on greeting this opportunity as a teachable moment for the faculty: outdated science books do no one any good; multiple volumes about a single minor battle in military history take up space better spent on art technique books; kids don’t want to read stained books with worn covers. (I know – all books deserve love, but all librarians make hard choices based on these very criteria.)

In reading this over, I’m struck by how much of my day is spent mostly in the digital realm, and yet the biggest project I have going on right now is the management of the physical assets. There is a romance to books, and I appreciate that, but there are also days when they are things to be dusted, shifted, moved and packed, which makes me a little less dreamy-eyed about saving them and a little more inclined to work harder at converting those yellow stickers into e-book equivalents.


*I have mixed feelings about classroom collections. I’m not territorial – I just happen to think that if a book is valuable enough to several students for a teacher to want to keep it in his or her classroom, it’s probably worth keeping it in circulation for everyone’s benefit. Personal scholarly reference is different, of course.

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Is Information Literacy as Vital as Health Class?

Like 99.9% of you, my school requires the core academic courses, the arts and languages, the movement piece,  our students must pass a swim test, and they are required to complete a semester long health and wellness class. I get it. These are all good, necessary pieces.  However, I would argue that an information literacy course is an equally important requirement for our students’ future success.

Try as we may to make the “one and done” research lesson, embedded within an assignment, meaningful, thought provoking, and long-lasting, let’s be honest: they just aren’t for the typical high school student. What kid learns to ride his or her bike after one or two lessons? When we continue on with an assignment, working alongside the classroom teacher to reinforce concepts and to answer questions, it’s better, but allow me to beat that poor dead horse once again when I say that time is the enemy of the solo librarian.

What can we do to fix this?

I am pitching a required semester-long stand alone information literacy course. I know that this isn’t a new concept. Some of you are surely doing it. I recently scoured the AISL listserv archives in search of past discussion on this topic, hoping to find a course description to use as a foundation of my own,  and I found an email from the soon to be retired library Wonder Woman, Betty Niver. Who better to learn from than someone whose history chair has deemed “Best Librarian Ever” (or tied, according to Shannon ;-))? I asked Betty if her course had launched and if so, how it had gone?  She responded, in true Betty-fashion, with an incredibly thoughtful reflection on her experience:

“The short story is that my course happened within the context of an existing course.  All freshmen are required to take freshmen wellness, so I “embedded” myself into that course.  I spent about six sessions with this class in the first semester.  I based everything in Haiku, our online learning management system.  Basically the curriculum was a variety of resources I put together from a number of different sources.  The first class involved a library tour and learning Destiny (which was a bit of review for most).  It included creating resource lists, logging into one’s account for due dates and an assignment with specific searches to complete.   The next class focused on information and information literacy.  In August of 2014 I attended a conference at Indiana University South Bend that focused on the new Higher Ed information literacy competency standards.  Aside from AISL in 2014, it was one of the finest experiences of my career.  It reaffirmed that many of the info lit models have a lot of overlap.  They may use different terminology but there is so much common ground.  I loved the IUSB presentation by two Notre Dame librarians that detailed their initiative, Remix, which had its roots in the new higher ed standards.  It was developed by Notre Dame librarians in conjunction with Notre Dame’s ed tech people.  Remix is Discover, Mix, Share.  That’s the boiled down strategy of do your research, create something from the knowledge and share it with the world.  That’s what school libraries are all about! The rest of the sessions focused on specific resources and a variety of strategies.  I included modules from ResearchReady, which I subscribed to this summer as well as JSTOR’s Research Basics, which is truly amazing.  There were several quick projects to complete as part of the course.  What I’ve just described is what I did this year, as the “course” has evolved over two years.


Has it been effective?  I think it has been helpful and I’ve been mostly pleased, though it was still a bit isolated.  Courses like this are better than nothing but without a hook from a collaborating teacher, they lack something.  What I am very pleased about is that I’ve collaborated with more teachers on more projects over the last three years than ever before.  More teachers knew about my embedded course and I think it reinforced my other efforts to work with teachers on various projects.  It has taken longer to respond to this email because I taught six classes yesterday at the request of teachers!”


I love Betty’s ideas. I understand that embedding within an existing course is oftentimes the only solution given scheduling challenges, but let’s dream together, shall we? If our course knew no boundaries, if we included everything that a student should know to build a solid information literacy foundation, what would we include?

I’ll start:

Library orientation, both print and digital. Know your way around the books themselves as well as the stacks. Be able to differentiate between different types of publications and know how to cite them. Familiarize yourself with the location, downloading, and accessing of information in e-texts.

Mining for background info, keywords, etc.

Databases. ‘Nuff said.

Google. Ditto.

Note taking—this is critical in the minds of my history faculty. Our kids need some help here.

Copyright (text, images, music, etc.)


Developing a thesis for various types of arguments (thanks Dave Wee!)

Presentation technology

Basic IT (adding printers, using Google Docs, saving to the cloud, embedding hyperlinks, etc.)

If we could collaborate with multiple departments and give assignments that support these existing courses, assignments, etc. even better!

What have I missed? What else should we add to this list?

If you already teach this course, could you share your course description? karchambault at emmawillard.org. I’ll compile and add to the Wiki.


on the week that was: a success and a FAiL…

I know that my pop culture references get older and more obscure by the day, but I have these really clear memories of watching That Was the Week that Was on TV. This truly obscure show satirizing the news of the day seemed a lot like the Daily Show of its time and, according to Wikipedia (which, as librarians, we know is ALWAYS accurate because it is in print on the Internet), the show only ran in 1962 and 1963. I was born in 1964, so there is no possible way that I watched this show in its first run, but as I said I have very clear memories of the theme song and watching the show.

Anyway, what a week it was for the library!

Our Success!

It was Scholastic Book Fair week.  My librarian partner, Mrs. G., ran the show from beginning to end. Goodness! My wish for everyone in the independent school library world is for each of you to be fortunate enough to work with a partner like Mrs. G. Believe me when I say, that she’s got energy and creativity to spare! Over the course of the week during our “Under the Sea” themed fair, lines of fish were hoisted into the air, puffer fish with lollipop spines appeared out of the blue, the faculty room refrigerator somehow got COMPLETELY filled by hundreds of cups of deep sea blue jello, and fair hours even got extended into an early evening “family night” to allow our many working parents to drop in with their little ones. Watching all of it unfold was amazing. Working with great people is something for which I am grateful everyday!

Mrs. G. was too busy, basically squeezing two weeks worth of work hours into one week, to take many pictures during the fair so we have just a few pics to share.

Note to self: always assign a student or parent volunteer to take pictures of library events.  You will want the pictures later!

It is always a good idea to make a shopping list!

It is always a good idea to make a shopping list!

So many good books!

So many good books!

As Mrs. G. was toiling away at the book fair in the Tech Plaza which is in another building on campus, I sat in my office and enjoyed coffee and bonbons.  Okay…Just kidding! I just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

A FAiL – (First Attempt in Learning):

I put my coffee cup and bonbons aside for just long enough to do some really fun lessons with some of our frosh English classes.  They finished reading The Odyssey and their teacher asked, “Why do we have you read a book that’s 2900 years old?” the question set our students off on a quest to find out why the Greeks matter to us in 2015. We did some presearching and researching and things were all going heroically well until it was time for our students to develop a thesis at which point it turned into a Greek tragedy.

Because of the cultural idiosyncrasies of the institutions I have worked in over the years, I have had very little opportunity to work with English teachers.  I felt thoroughly prepared for my lessons on building a thesis statement. I’ve been trying to see if I can explain the main ideas in my library lessons in 3-minutes or less via Powtoon so I had my spiffy new Powtoon on building a thesis, a slideshow, and a worksheet.  As it turns out, the librarian needed a lesson on the effective use of information because my approach to building a thesis was…Yeah…NOT GOOD!

In history and social studies classes, and in rhetoric and debate classes, I have had success teaching the “3-part and although” thesis:

ID: Identify the topic –> Claim: What do you believe? –> Direction: Why you believe your claim to be true

We have students build their 3-part thesis, then have them add an “although” statement to force them to deal with the counter-claim.  It looks like this:

Pretty slick, right?!?! The problem, though, was that the task our students were addressing didn’t really focus on having to persuade as much as it was about asking for analysis. This rather significant aspect of the information task wasn’t… Alas… Very clear to me until I was working with students and seeing how much of a forced fit it turned out to be.

T’was a rough time…

Mr. N., the English teacher, and I went back to the drawing board and rethought it all.  Here’s the result:

It was time to move on from the Greeks, so we didn’t have an opportunity to try the analytical thesis approach with Mr. N’s students just yet, but he had a good debrief with his classes about why the information task needed to be approached in a different way and, in the end I think they REALLY DID understand and learn about information use from the experience.

They are moving on to Shakepeare’s Julius Caesar next and we’ll be exploring “why Shakespeare and the Renaissance matters in 2015″ as part of the process so we’ll give the analytical thesis approach a shot in the near future.

Our school endeavors to foster growth mindsets in the students we teach. Growth mindsets, though, are really useful for teachers and librarians as well. Do I aim to FAIL? Absolutely not! I hate failing! There, I said it. I hate failing and I fear failing because failing feels awful. Sometimes though, as a teacher or a librarian, a First Attempt in Learning provides the, small “s”, stress needed in order for us to be spurred on to learn how something can be better the next time around!

It is really wonderful to realize that I get to come to work everyday in an amazing place that allows us to fail so that I can pick myself up and be better the next time around. I’ve come to realize that getting to learn something every single day in the course of my work is a BIG part of what makes being a teacher and a librarian one of the best jobs one could ever hope to have!


ALA Media Awards – Books I love!

In February, I eagerly watched the announcements for the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards. These awards are a professional highlight and the final selections never cease to surprise me! Though there will always be debate over what makes the final cut, at root I see these awards as a way to highlight great books for my students and discuss collection development.

For the past several years I have presented an overview of the award winning books and authors during our lower school morning meeting. The girls and the faculty look forward to seeing familiar titles and surprises as much as I do. The presentation is also a vehicle for informing students about the numerous awards for which the American Library Association recognizes books and authors with distinction.  The following books are selections that I was so pleased to see earn recognition!

El Deafo by Cece Bell

2015 Newbery Honor Book: El Deafo by Cece Bell – It was such a pleasure to see this book gain recognition at the national level! Written as an autobiographical account of her own deafness brought on by childhood illness, this book was a title I had pre-ordered through Amazon months in advance and I was not disappointed after I spent an afternoon reading it straight through. Ms. Bell does a masterful job capturing her own isolating experience of deafness in all its complexity.  The author’s struggle to make friends, survive school, and find a place within her family, are all so expertly captured and illustrated that I cannot wait to reread it.

Frida by Yuyi Morales

2015 Caldecott Honor Book and 2015 Pura Belpré Illustrator Award: Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales – I have long been an ardent admirer of Frida Kahlo and although there are several biographies for children about her, this is the most authentic one I have read. Frida Kahlo was such an incredibly unique artist that encapsulating her dynamic force in modern art is a challenge for an author that writes biography for children.  In this exploration of the imagery of artist Frida Kahlo, the ethereal narration in both English and Spanish, guides the reader through the heart and soul of Frida! The art for the book was created using stop-motion puppets made from steel, polymer clay, and wool. The artist illustrator Yuyi Morales also employed painting and digital manipulation of the photographs to create a warm, accessible view of her career. Viva Frida uses technology in a way that makes the pictures truly captivating for the reader. Through Yuyi Morales’ work we get a chance to follow the life of Frida and discover her own world of fantasy that is full of animals, love, and creativity. I am going to use this book to compliment Frida: Viva La Vida! Long Live Life! by Carmen Bernier-Grand to promote National Poetry month in April.

Roget and his Thesaurus

2015 Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet – Established in 2001, this medal is awarded annually to the author and illustrator of the most distinguished informational book published in the United States in English during the preceding year. I love Melissa Sweet’s illustrations and she has carved a niche creating visually accessible non-fiction for some of our youngest students. This book details the life of the Peter Mark Roget who created the original thesaurus first published in 1852 under the full title: Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases, Classified and Arranged so as to facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition.  The list of principal events provide context to Roget’s accomplishment and give the audience a lot to explore beyond his own contribution to writing. My favorite passage from the book was one that I will invariably use in time to come!

“Peter’s family moved often, so making friends was difficult.

But books, Peter discovered, were also good friends. There were always plenty of them around, and he never had to leave them behind.”

What were your favorite 2015 ALA award winners?


What’s Your Sign?

What’s Your Sign?


Well, I don’t know your sign, but I do know mine. Or should I say ours, our new Lower School Library Signs.

At the beginning of the school year I noticed that the signage in our library was very dated. In addition, it didn’t have the professional look of other signage on our campus. Time for a change!

Like many schools, our Upper School now has an Innovation Lab, where students are able to bring life (not breath–not yet!) to their designs. After a conversation with the Innovation Lab teacher three students stopped in to talk about making new signs for the library for their trimester long class project. We discussed colors, materials, fonts, and how to hang signs in their respective areas. The students had a lot of ideas about all of these things. Their knowledge and creativity was impressive and it felt like meeting with a team of professional contractors. We in the Lower School library were very excited about the prototypes they promised to share with us the following week.

When the students returned with prototypes, we were in love. The whimsical rainbow lettering, modern font, and shiny white backgrounds were refreshing after the old poster board and foam lettered signs. We were excited! Over the next several weeks they stopped by once or twice per week with in-process signs and lots of enthusiasm, despite the many times they had to sand and paint everything to get that bright sheen we loved.

Three months later, we have our signs. There are a few small issues to take care of regarding the hardware used to display the signs, but otherwise, mission accomplished. We are grateful to three creative and hardworking Upper School students.

Would you like to see the results?  Here is a look at some of the new signs.





Oh, you might want to meet the most popular residents of our Lower School Library.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARamona Quimby is our Library Dog and our Library Pet Rock is Henry Huggins.  They like the new signs too!


The little things…

Recent blog posts have detailed some visionary work happening in your schools – with my brain busy exploring how I can implement some of these inspired programs, today’s post is simple.

Here are four little (non-library-related) things that kids love about our library:


I’m not kidding. This appliance is the best thing ever – in terms of attracting kids who may not otherwise swing by the library. We added a paper cup dispenser and have been off the races ever since. (Environmental note: cups are compostable but we encourage use of water bottles, and the jugs are refilled through our in-house water system). For maximum impact, we display new materials prominently in this area!

Birthday Board

Inspired by the late Margaret Donnelly (of Crescent School in Toronto), we feature a board noting student birthdays. We know that the kids keep a keen eye on it, because they let us know when we’ve got something (spelling, date) wrong. We get an updated list from Admissions every fall, and once again, take advantage of the traffic by advertising library programs & materials close by. It’s a rare day when I don’t notice a kid surreptitiously checking out his/her name.

Chess Table

Easily the best money we have ever spent in the Library. Not being a player myself, I’m in awe of the spirited competition that breaks out on a regular basis. It’s incredible to see how many kids know how to play chess: we love hearing about how their parent or grandparent taught them to play, and seeing an experienced player teaching a newbie the basics.



With no dedicated instructional space in our temporary location, our large whiteboard went on the only open wall available. The location is not the most useful for class visits, but turned out to be perfect for student use. A question appeared one day – “What inspires you?” – and responses bloomed across the space. We clean it off once it’s full to the point of illegibility, and someone (sometimes us, sometimes a student) puts up another question. Yes, we keep a close eye & monitor the more colourful responses.

My favourite response to this week’s question (“What’s hot / What’s not”):


 What little things in your library keep your students coming back?