Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground

In the school library world, it is important to have a vision. We need a philosophy. Developing curricular support, information literacy lesson plans, and community involvement requires a large chunk of our time. The Big Picture is all-important.

But, as Napoleon knew, an army marches on its stomach (an image I always found distracting). Lines of supply are sine qua non, and a starving army isn’t going anywhere. A library ‘marches’ on its resources. To make the vision become a reality a library needs books, databases, and other useful resources, available and at hand when needed. Uncounted minuscule details lay the foundation of library success in bringing the Big Picture to life.

We spend serious amounts of time and money keeping our resources up to date and available. Even that task is colored by our vision and philosophy, and so it should be. With our efforts to stay on top of 21st century library issues, much of that time and money is spent on managing databases, ebook bundles, and consortium pricing of e-resources, among other exciting e-topics.

In making sure that all our resources are available, we at Harvard-Westlake’s Upper School Library have been addressing a chore that, frankly, we’ve put off as long as we could. Recent revisions to our inventory procedures gave us a more complete picture of items– primarily print books– marked ‘Lost’, and so in preparation for this season’s research projects we launched a coordinated effort to clean up the catalog and replace lost items as needed.

We have always kept up with newly published titles, but have not spent as much time on older titles that have been lost. I can think of few topics more mundane, and in a library where there is no end of tasks to do, this one kept falling to the bottom of the list. Unfortunately, it got to the point where the number of ‘Lost’ titles was enough to muddy the waters and make it unclear what resources were available. The time had come to clear this up. Carpe Diem!

To say it was a daunting chore is an understatement. I pulled the list of titles missing longer than 18 months, went through and marked those we could simply delete from the catalog, and those we should reorder. Putting a priority on the titles to be reordered, I pulled those cards from the shelf-list. Yes– we still have a shelf-list, subject of an annual debate about keeping it or not, but for this project it was actually helpful in clearing up some bibliographic snarls.

A good school library exists primarily to support the curriculum. In our case most of our formal research projects occur through the History department. All sophomores choose from the same list of  35 topics. This is good for us as it allows us to build a collection to support these topics. Our History teachers are wonderful to work with; the departmental philosophy reflects the firm belief that a strong grounding in traditional research skills is key to academic success. Our students are required to use a variety of resources, in a variety of formats.

Because our students are required to really dig deep, we have a strong collection of history books. Some of these titles are new, some are older. Our students do a lot of work in the stacks. Our collection of e-resources is rich, and is another tool for our students’ use, but many of the standard titles and texts are available in print only. In addition, a strong majority of our students prefer to work with print books, even if that title is available both in print and digitally.

Ordering replacements for over a hundred lost titles was an eye-opening experience. I was surprised at the number of relatively recent titles — published within the last 10 years– that were NOT available as a new title from our primary vendor, Ingram.  I ended up ordering perhaps half of these titles from Ingram and half from Amazon, with most of the Amazon titles listed as “used”. There were a handful that were not available in any form.

As all these books came in, the cataloging procedures caused their own headaches. Slowly we developed a streamlined workflow that got the books out on the shelves in good time to be available for classes. At the same time the catalog got a serious cleaning, with a good sweeping out of old records for titles we no longer have, and upgrades to records we kept.

As we finish this project up, I am surprised at how good it feels. Like weeding the garden, like having one’s teeth cleaned, I wouldn’t call this a ‘fun’ process but it is most definitely satisfying. Lessons learned:

  • Some recent titles aren’t available from standard vendors, and some lost books aren’t available from anyone, in any format. Not everything can be replaced.
  • When reviewing lost titles, we sometimes found that updated editions or other new publications were available to replace them. This is a useful double check for our regular “new publications” selection process.
  • The bulk of our lost titles were from areas used for history research, prompting a useful review of our holdings in these much-used sections.

While we school librarians spend much of our time with our head in the clouds, pondering important philosophical issues of vision and purpose, and wrestling with big-issue topics, we need to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground in order to make our vision a reality. A good librarian is able to do both with equal flair. Occasionally I’ll hear from administrators about the importance of a librarian having vision, but I would suggest it’s important for a librarian to have both vision and a strong grasp of practicalities. Head in the clouds, feet on the ground, and you’re good to go.

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Accreditation (2.0)

I don’t know how many of you grew up going to private schools, but I have strong memories of the process of accreditation back from when I was a student. Teachers were nervous. Visitors watched our classes. Rumors flew that the school could be shut down.

Now that I’m on the adult side of the equation, accreditation is much less mysterious. Sure the process is stressful, but it’s ultimately helpful for us to reflect on and clarify our goals. I think it’s good for students to know that experts are examining how we operate; many didn’t realize that we voluntarily work with accrediting organizations (for us, FCIS, SAIS, FKC, and SACS) to demonstrate that we are meeting our mission. For this most recent visit, which concluded six days ago, we began preparing in earnest January of 2014. Our headmaster likened the experience to when visitors come to your house for dinner. Even though they won’t leave the kitchen, when you’re setting up, you’re fluffing the pillows in the bedroom and lighting candles there. That analogy totally worked for me.

In the libraries, we caught up on all sorts of tasks. We revamped our Policies and Procedures Manual. We updated the organization of the library’s electronic subscriptions webpage. We completed a thorough inventory and subsequent weeding. We expanded the Lower School library into an adjacent former computer lab. We felt pretty much ready for anything.

Except this form, which was the only information specifically requested from the libraries. (Perhaps I should clarify that this was the five-year check up visit, not the full one. However, with all of the information other departments were asked to provide, this still seems sparse.)

 Number of librarians:_____                            Number of clerks: _____

 Amount spent on books and periodicals: _____

Average monthly circulation of books: _____

Number of volumes: _____     Number of subscriptions: _____

Number of volumes per student: _____         

Number of volumes added last year: _____

Seating Capacity in library: _____

 Please tell me that some of you are cringing a bit right now. This isn’t the 1950’s. We’re a 1-to-1 iPad school. I don’t think that my print circulation statistics or the number of seats in my library hold the key to the success of my library program. In fact, I don’t even think they shed light on that success. I dutifully filled out the form, and with it, I included the following information to the school’s accreditation chairs.

 This is the type of document that makes me realize how much libraries have changed in the past few decades! Collection numbers aren’t representative of the library as much as how we are teaching students to wade through resources available to them in whatever format they find most beneficial. For example, our EBSCO database subscription contains digital access to thousands of magazines through its databases, but that isn’t reflected in our total number of periodicals. My circulation numbers are lower because we often reserve shelves of books for in-class use so students aren’t hoarding books that have a few pages on a subject when all members of a class are researching similar topics. (What about when students take pictures of pages with their iPads instead of checking out books?) Even items like library seating are less helpful when you’re working with a preschool population! :) I think that our number of volumes per student is going to be lower than some schools because we’re a younger school, but we do seem to be doing pretty well overall.

So I’ve been thinking about questions that are imperative for libraries today. I understand the need to keep everything easy to browse, but I think a narrative approach (one paragraph short answer) would provide more substantive answers. Fun questions like:

How do you balance digital and print resources in your collection?

Describe a time when you collaborated to teach library skills.

How do you respond when people say libraries aren’t necessary because of the Internet?

 These are just some ideas I’ve been throwing around half seriously. I’m sure anything that was used officially would need to be more quantitative, but we’re more than our measurements. :) Think about it before your next accreditation year. What do you think needs to be part of a library accreditation in the years 2015 and beyond? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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Oh yes, the books!

Do you ever feel so busy juggling your <insert a thousand library related duties here> along with ‘big projects’, faculty meetings, team meetings, committee meetings, collaborative meetings, research lessons, EMAIL, Libguide design, and oh yes, working with students, teaching classes, and other various non-library related school responsibilities that sometimes you look longingly at the cart of new books that you’ve  purchased, knowing you won’t get to many of them until summertime?

This comes to mind:

I drew a line in the sand for myself a month ago. It might have been around the time that reeeeeaaallly cold temperatures arrived and I went into hibernation, I’m not sure, but I basically said “no more putting the kids to bed and escaping into mindless Netflix, no more half-hearted attempts at professional journals when I’ve been neck deep in the issues all day long. Nope, I’m escaping into the books.”

I’ve read three books in three weeks, people. I’m in heaven. I thought I would share them with you here and then maybe you’ll reciprocate with some good reads of your own?

I started with two National Book Award finalists:Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The most beautifully written dystopian book I believe I’ve ever read. The premise is this: set in the present day United States, an absolutely deadly, fast moving flu has wiped out over 99% of the world population. The entire infrastructure has collapsed: there is no gasoline, no electricity, no medicine, no security. A troop of traveling Shakespearean actors and musicians makes a loop through a region, risking much, honoring the Star Trek quote that dons the side of their makeshift caravan, Because Survival is Insufficient. This is a survival story and so would be most appropriate for mature middle schoolers or high schoolers, but it’s a good one that I highly recommend.

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. If you or your students are fans of historic fiction, this is your book! Written in alternating perspectives, it’s the story of Marie-Laure, the French daughter of the locksmith of the Museum of Natural History, who has gone blind at a young age and whose natural curiosity is in itself a thing of wonder. You then get to know a German orphan named Werner whose gift at assembling radios and deciphering radio frequencies gains the attention of German officials as Hitler begins his quest for world domination. The story weaves together like a beautiful, albeit tragic wartime tapestry.

It’s quite clear why both of these books were nominated for the NBA. They are excellent. Now onto my third book, which I’m honestly still reeling from. It’s not for the faint of heart, so consider yourself warned.

It’s An Untamed State by Roxane Gay. Ms. Gay is coming to visit our school this spring so I purchased both of her highly acclaimed books (Bad Feminist, a collection of witty, culturally and politically charged essays is her other).  Our faculty book club selected the novel as our February read so I went ahead and read it over the weekend. I knew from the blurb that it would be tough: an affluent woman of Haitian descent, living in Miami, living a pretty idyllic life with her loving husband and adorable baby boy, goes to visit her parents back in Haiti. As they leave the family compound to go spend a day on the beach, three SUVs pull up with masked armed men, the wife is kidnapped, and a mighty ransom is demanded. Her father refuses to pay and the ultimate stand-off begins, one in which some pretty graphic torture scenes take place and Mireille does her best to survive with her sanity intact.

If you have a strong fortitude, I say read it. It’s brilliantly written, the character development is superb, there are some really interesting relationships, and the tension is palpable when you experience the desperation that abject poverty brings. My blinders were removed regarding how routine kidnapping is in other parts of the world and this story, the good and the bad, is going to stick with me for a very long time, I can already tell. All marks of a good book in my opinion.

So now I ask you, what books have you read lately that you would suggest? Ready, set, comment below!

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Design Thinking in the Library

The onset of the internet ushered in us into the Information Age. Now the with access to unlimited information, video tutorials combined with new personal fabrication machines (3D printers  and laser cutters) we are now entering the Innovation Age. Co-working facilities, fab labs and makerspaces are popping up in cities all over offering a place to create and collaborate to spark new businesses and industries. Our libraries can parallel this real-world trend by assisting and promoting a framework of creative thinking through the design thinking model with or without a dedicated makerspace.

As the focus on creativity and innovation in education increases, libraries can bring design-thinking into their programs. Librarians can implement design thinking into their programming to advance creative thinking alongside the critical thinking for our schools supporting the pedagogy and curriculum of project-based learning and STEM/STEAM initiatives of recent years. Fast Company defines it as, “the methodology commonly referred to as design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business, or profession can employ to achieve extraordinary results.*” There are different variations of the design thinking model, but generally in falls into 5 categories:


  1. Discovering or Defining a problem
  2. Ideating or Brainstorming approaches
  3. Prototyping and Tinkering
  4. Test, Analyze and Refine
  5. Feedback loop and User-Studies

The transition to adding a design-thinking approach should be easy for librarians as we have taught research frameworks like “The Big 6” and “Guided Inquiry” and other methods to simplify and organize the complex processes of research.  Now librarians can help teachers experiment with the design process for their next creative project with students. An easy entry point with the curriculum would be outreach to capstone programs and project-based learning. Offer sessions on each step of the process as students work through their design problems. Employ the same questioning skills you used with the reference interview in traditional research, but with the new focus of looking at the form and function of what the student trying to achieve. An added benefit of incorporating design thinking in your regular programming is that there is organic, on-the-spot research, so you can continue to reinforce research skills. Additionally, the librarian can help the teacher focus on documentation throughout the creative process by referring to Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks and others as examples. The documentation is not formal like MLA or APA, etc, but it underpins the necessary skills of documenting the progress of a major work. Take it a step further by suggesting students create an “Instructable” in which they share the steps of their creative process in a public forum in which effective documentation is a core competency.

The library with the access to all disciplines of knowledge is a great place to incorporate creative thinking processes. Modeling design thinking in your program can invigorate your teaching practice as an added tool in your teaching toolbox.  Offering your skills and time as a teaching-partner on PBL teams within your school makes you a linchpin in your organization. Have fun and enjoy the creative process with your patrons by offering design challenges in your library alongside reading initiatives. If you are looking for more about design thinking the following resources can help you dive deeper into design.


Design Thinking Comes to Independent Schools by Peter Gow

Recasting Teachers and Students as Designers by Mindshift

Iterating and Ideating: Teachers Think Like Designer by Tina Barseghian

Putting Power In the Hands of Kids Through Design Thinking by Tina Barseghian

What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School? by Katrina Schwartz

Design Thinking for Educators by IDEO

Scaffolding Creativity Through Design Thinking by Mindy Ahrens

How to Apply Design Thinking in Class, Step By Step by Mindshift

*Design Thinking…What is That? by Fast Company



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Reading Statistics

In fall 2014, several AISL librarians shared lists of their libraries’ top-circulated books. The lists were particularly interesting because while the titles were indicative of the types of collections curated by the AISL librarians, the lists included a number of common titles. So when Renaissance Learning released the 2015 edition of its What are Kids Reading and Why it Matters report, I eagerly got to work to see how those lists compared to the reading tastes and habits reflected by the independent schools’ circulation lists. I should note that our school does not use the Accelerated Reader program, but the Renaissance Learning (RL) report was mentioned by several media outlets, and I felt it was worth reading. I believe it is vital for librarians to cast a wide net when seeking new influences and benchmarking performance.

The data source for the RL report is the Accelerated Reader database, which includes book reading records for more than 9.8 million students in grades 1-12. The Accelerated Reader program is used in 31,363 schools nationwide, the students in which read approximately 330 million books during the 2013-2014 school year. The lists of books published in the report represent the most popular selections delineated by grade and gender. Below are a few items that may be of interest from the report.

  • Students in grades 2 and 3 read the most books, and students in grades 11 and 12 read the fewest
  • On average, girls read 3.8 million words by grade 12, whereas boys read 3.0 million words by the same grade
  • The average number of words read by a student in each school year peaks around grade 6 at 436,000 words and then decreases to the low 300,000’s by the end of high school.

The report repeatedly emphasizes a connection between academic achievement and independent reading practice. Supplemented throughout with essays by prominent children’s authors such as Phyllis Reynolds Naylor and Andrew Clements, the report provides excellent discussion of why robust collections and their use matter to our students. Moreover, the rationale for reading and its multilayered benefits for students could be used to encourage faculty members to assign more independent reading.

The study states that the students who set reading goals for themselves through the Accelerated Reader database read more difficult books and read for more time on a daily basis than their peers who did not set goals. How might this outcome of goal setting help us to redefine projects so that our students may push themselves in their own achievement?

An entry in the report that especially resonated with me was written by Dr. Christine King Farris, author of My Brother Martin: A Sister Remembers Growing Up With the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. Farris describes reading as the gateway to “emotional and intellectual expansion” while growing up in a segregated society. Dr. Farris provides anecdotal evidence that reading empowered and motivated her and her brother. She notes that Dr. King learned about Mahatma Gandhi and his unwavering devotion to the practice of nonviolence through books. Perhaps the greatest example of the influence of reading on Dr. Farris and her brother Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is that, understanding the positive power for change that books hold, they both eventually became authors!

At root, the What Kids are Reading report provides a framework for comparison of reading programs in our own schools. It also provides a basis for comparison of overall reading habits. Do you observe a peak in the amount students read in sixth grade or is reading truly sustained throughout high school? If you work in a co-ed environment, do you note differences in the amount read by boys and girls?  In my own library, the second and third grade students, as the report would predict, are circulating the most books. My challenge now is not to sit back and corroborate the data, but to help promote reading in the other grades to match that of my most voracious readers!

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What Does a Yellow Light Mean?

Start your day with a laugh and watch this brief clip from a classic sitcom, TAXI.

Honestly, it is one of the funniest things that I have watched in a long time.

So, what does a yellow light mean?

Simple: Slow Down!

It was nice to get the yellow light over the winter break and slow down, but now we are back at school.  Let’s pick up the pace again and talk about something that can happen quickly, efficiently, and informally: MEETINGS!

I’ve been reflecting on the last few months of school and realize that the best meetings I’ve had with teachers regarding curriculum have started on the fly.  Quick.  Blammo.  Zap and they are done.  No specific meeting location or agenda or meeting norms.  No yellow light.

For example, I am driving to school and an idea (Lightbulb!) regarding an upcoming project pops into my head. That morning, I bump into the classroom teacher (green light!) while we are both on our way to get some water.  In three minutes we have an additional research activity or literature extension in the works for an upcoming lesson.  Hooray!

Meetings like this happen all the time.  I’m sure you know exactly what I am talking about.  We meet with teachers in the hall, at recess duty, or on our way to the parking lot at the end of the day.  We meet for a minute before a regularly scheduled faculty meeting.  We share a quick text or email exchange.  Some of my best collaborations have come out of a brief and informal lunchtime conversation.

Most often these spontaneous meetings are followed by a few emails and an actual in-person, planned meeting.  Things start quick and then settle in s-l-o-w-l-y as we take our time to work out all the fuzzy bits together.

For a refresher on collaboration models travel back in time to a 2013 Independent Ideas post, What Type of Labrador Are You?

How do your best collaborations start?

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College Research: Do They or Don’t They?

A colleague recently asked me for my thoughts. One of her teachers approached her, wanting to cancel a long-standing research project because ‘college students aren’t writing research papers anymore’. My colleague was a bit dumbfounded. This was an involved and engaged teacher with whom she had a strong working relationship. When we are presented with a proposition so far outside our realm of experience our first thought is often confusion. Was there a memo that I didn’t receive, cancelling all college research? Is this a trend that I somehow missed?

I set out to collect information, and didn’t have to look far.  My daughter Gillian has just returned to her alma mater, University of California, Irvine, for a post-bac program in Psychology, working toward a higher degree in that field. Who better to ask about ‘college research’ than a current college student? I asked her: is it true that ”college students aren’t writing research papers anymore”?  I’m going to let Gilly take it from here (her response follows).

“The very first class I took at UCI was a year-long course, which was an intensive lower division course that required a year commitment when every other freshman course only required one quarter commitment, making it arguably the hardest college course for a freshman to take in terms of commitment and follow-through. In this course that I was required not only to write a research paper using our campus on and offline resources, but was also responsible for coming up with a valid, researchable, and in depth research question for myself- something this 18 year old right out of high school found very difficult to do and would probably have been near impossible without the preparation I got in earlier years. I know that was quite some time ago [2007], so I looked up the course on the UCI website (www.uci.edu) and, while each quarter is not completely updated yet, it still looks as though there is a heavy emphasis on writing and research. Here is the link to take a look at the course: http://hcc.humanities.uci.edu/humcore/Student/Fall2014/index.html.

“This link is for the fall quarter, but as you can see when you there, you can take a look at what the next quarters will look like. This was one of the most influential courses in my college career, which I would not have done well in if I hadn’t learned how to research or write at a high level from my high school education (or had a smarty pants librarian for a mom:)).

“That was for the humanities side. I am currently enrolled in a class called Social Ecology 10- Research Design, where my entire quarter’s grade is dependent upon creating and successfully carrying out a research project with an experiment, data collection, finding/using research in our campus on and offline resources, citation, and compilation using APA format to report my scientific findings. Again, even though APA formatting is completely new for me, If I didn’t have a humanities background or if I didn’t have the experience in high school (or home) with MLA format, I would be totally lost in APA formatting and wouldn’t even have the skills to begin to learn how to conduct my research project.

“I’ve attached my SE10 syllabus and the requirements for my research project, in case this is helpful for what college classes look like in present day. Sorry for the lengthy email, but not emphasizing research education is a huge mistake and I owe much of my college success, past and present, to knowing how to research and write well. It is certainly a skill I value.” [emphasis added]

SE10 Syllabus 2014 SE10 Research Project

Thank you, Gilly, for your passionate eloquence!

To be sure I had a well-rounded view of the issue, I checked with another colleague’s brother-in-law who is a professor at Oberlin College. His response parallels Gilly’s:

We still definitely assign papers at Oberlin in Humanities/S. Sciences and my impression is that this is true at all top-tier places, though maybe a little less so in lower division classes at big state schools.” [emphasis added]

Perhaps this should be part of our response to teachers who are sure that “college students aren’t writing research papers anymore.”  This lack of emphasis on research could be more likely to be found at “lower division classes at big state schools”, but apparently not at “top-tier places”.  We can at least ask –in a non-defensive and engaging way :-) — where their information about college research is coming from.

Another question I have is why are we hearing about so many unfounded ‘certainties’ lately: ‘No one does research in college anymore’, ‘Kids don’t read anymore’, ‘No one uses books anymore’. I have my own theories, having to do with alternate uses for space and the desire for square footage, but we’ll leave that for another post.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!

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The most wonderful time of the year?

I’ve been the librarian here at ODA for the past six years, and one of the things we prize here is maintaining a nimble quality that allows us to be flexible and responsive. We have a constituency that assumes we will fulfill certain expectations of our brand, but part of that brand is being small and friendly enough to try new things once in a while.

Traditionally in the upper school we have had exams in December just before the winter holidays and again in late May. I know there are variations on this theme: some schools hold exams immediately after a winter break, presumably to relieve teachers of the burden of grading over what is supposed to be a vacation. This method seems to shift the burden instead to the students, who must now spend part of their time off studying for looming exams that cast a pall over a festive season.

Our usual method has its challenges too, because it cuts out a few weeks of precious instructional time. The last week or two of the term is spent in review and preparation rather than teaching and assessment; and subsequent to that we have an entire week of exams, one per day, scheduled for three hours at a time, on a rotating docket. After each exam, students are released, presumably to recover and study for the next one. Grades are due quickly, so most teachers breathe a quick sigh of relief, and then put their heads right back down to get them all read and marked before traveling, staycationing, welcoming visitors (or putting their houses back in order after a whirlwind first semester.)

In the middle school it was not much different: the sixth grade has always had end-of-semester projects, but the seventh and eighth grades sat for shorter, but still pretty monumental, exams just like the upper school.

This year we are trying something different in the hopes of reclaiming instructional time; lowering stress levels on both students and faculty; and asking for work that is more collaborative and allows students to prove what they have learned more holistically. To that end, all grades are working on end-of-semester projects. As an example, I offer the ninth grade history assignment. Students were allowed to choose one historical question to ask, and then attempt to answer. Questions were vetted by the history teachers for appropriateness, and then students were paired up to make movie trailers with iMovie that answered their historical questions. Guidelines stated that each student had to help with at least one other pair’s assignment as an actor, cameraperson, narrator, art director, etc. Movie trailers will be presented to the class, and each pair has to submit a one-page abstract of the answer with a bibliography. Other classes or disciplines have assigned oral presentations, traditional papers, mock trials by jury, web page creation, infographic posters and so forth.

I should add here that in either case the library’s role has mostly been supportive: during the traditional exam sessions we provided a good place to study and bottomless office supplies for crafting flash cards, study packets and the like (the idea of library as “makerspace” at times like these being rather more established than we often recognize); in the new approach I conducted research-skills workshops four to six times a day across all grade levels throughout the fall, and also created LibGuides by discipline or project to support these collaborative projects. By now most of the research work has been done and it’s presentation and movie trailer time. So, for the last week or two I have been concentrating on things like weeding, budgeting and planning for my new space. It almost feels like a parallel to agriculturalism: a flurry of frenzied activity at harvest time, then a measured readying for a season of inward-looking hearthside solitude.

Reviews have been surprisingly mixed on both sides. All that extra instructional time teachers were hoping for? Well, they got it. And now they have to fill it. The students who were wishing for a way to obviate the pressure of proving everything they knew in a single three-hour exam? That cataclysm is over, but instead they’re accountable for proving their knowledge to each other and their teachers in projects that take two or three weeks and require collaboration and creativity.

So, naturally there has been some water-cooler discussion burbling here and there: teachers are exhausted by two or three more weeks of instruction, students preferred “getting it over with” and enjoying a week of half-days, et cetera. At one point I said this aloud:

Just because we don’t like it as much doesn’t mean it isn’t better for us. I do not enjoy broccoli as much as I like ice cream, but I recognize that one is clearly more beneficial to me than the other. As neither current classroom teacher nor student I don’t feel like I have a right to weigh in on which approach is ultimately better, but as a citizen of the world with more than four decades’ experience I know that “liking” a thing is not always based on its actual merit. This was an experiment, and I have no insight into whether we will return to our usual arrangement or not. If your institution has variations on this theme or has similarly experimented and come to a conclusion, please feel free to share in the comments below.

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So you want to make a flowchart?

At many of our schools, we are currently celebrating the Christmas season, aka the season of giving. This seems to be the time when many families purge through their homes to clear out items to make way for new presents that will be arriving shortly. A few weeks ago, on a morning when I had two boxes of book donations set aside to mail to Better World Books, I had the following conversation with myself:

“Hey Christina, I bet people have no idea what goes through your head when they ask about donating books to the library.”

“Yes, I bet only librarians would understand that there’s a whole flowchart of questions I want to ask.”

“A flowchart!?! What a great idea. You should make that flowchart and share it with other librarians.”

Silly mind, how you trick me. I did indeed make a flow chart, and I can promise you that it’s not the 15 minute task that I envisioned. It was completed over a few days as I waited for classes to come to the library or proctored lunch or found other pockets of free time. And I’m sharing that process as well as the result because it made be reconsider some of the tasks that we are asking our students.

I have known teachers who have assigned students tasks like podcasts or mural.ly posters without knowing how to use the technology themselves. These assignments come to my attention because I hear from the students when they have questions about how to best use the technology to complete their vision. Teachers can be comfortable mastering the content while leave the technology mastery to others. I think this is good to a point. There is a limited amount of time that students will spend on an individual task and sometimes they get caught up on the “bells and whistles” rather than the “meat and potatoes.” (For example, rather than proofreading an essay for content, they’ll make sure that they have beautiful headers with page numbers and a perfectly-formatted bibliography.) Not always, but sometimes. Which is why it’s important to use thoughful backwards design and rubrics to make sure the focus is where it was intended.

In my case, I had a general idea, and I started by talking with the Technology Integration Coordinator. Did she have any ideas for good flowchart apps? She did not but suggested I play around with some to figure what I liked best. Totally fine, but we all know what kind of rabbit hole this slips into… I ended up settling on Google Drive’s drawing feature, and I began building my flowchart. Shapes moved and moved back and there were many iterations. At one point I actually cut out my little pieces from the printout and moved them around on my desk because manual manipulation was easier for me. For most of the time, I was thinking about how to organize it, not what to say.

Donation Flowchart

Anyway, here’s the final result. I’ve included the editable link. That way, you can enlarge it enough to read it in your screen. Or you can save it and adapt it for your own population.


Discussions on the AISL listserv have shown me that Better World Books has been a more helpful resource for some schools than for others, and I’m betting that not every school has a consignment store. But I thought I’d share just a bit of what runs through my head when someone stops by with a box of books and tells me, “I think the library might want these.”
Do you accept unsolicited donations? Any other solutions that have worked well for your school in the past?

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The All-Powerful Portfolio

Someone recently referred to me as being “mid-career”. I did a double take and gave them my best


With that said, I will admit that library schools have changed a bit since I graduated in ’03. In addition to a required thesis or a comprehensive exam, many schools insist that their students create a digital portfolio of their projects, not only to organize their work and to give them experience in web design and features, but also to help them market themselves to future employers. I first learned of this shift years ago when my friend Melinda Holmes, Library Director at Darlington School, emailed me excitedly to tell me of her fantastic new hire. Even though the young lady was fresh out of library school, Melinda was so thrilled with all that she would bring to the table. How could she predict the impact of this hire?

I give you Exhibit A: the one and only  Liz Overberg  (sharing with permission).

Are you thinking to yourself, “What a great idea! Why haven’t I thought of that?!”, then you aren’t alone. I did too.  I wasn’t looking to leave my job, but at the same time, I knew that if that time ever came [spoiler alert: it did.] or if I ever needed to show administration what I’d been up to, I didn’t want to be going back through my documents, my pictures, my calendars, to try to remember all that I had done.

This is my portfolio . I created it using Weebly, but you can use whichever platform you like best. Liz tells me that her first portfolio was on Yola, but that she too liked Weebly so she migrated. When I did apply for another job, I embedded some Google Analytics code within the header of each page as well so that I would get pinged when someone viewed my portfolio. The report tells me things like where the ping came from, the user’s behavior: how many pages they viewed, how much time they spent on each page, the network they used, etc. It’s interesting.

In the coming months, positions will open all over the country. Contracts will go out, people will plan moves, shifts will occur. You might consider taking some time over winter break to get something started, or if you’re like me, get those updates loaded that you never seem to have time to do. I dare say no cover letter will catch an employer’s attention the way a link out to real world examples of your work will and it’s really as simple as this (in closing your cover letter):

For examples of my work, please refer to my electronic porfolio (insert link here). I look forward to discussing my qualifications with you further.


Your Name

In this one move, you not only demonstrate your comfort with technology, but you give examples of displays that you have created, newsletters that you have generated, web pages you have designed, classes you have taught, Libguides that you are proficient in creating. You can list publications, conference presentations, shoot, you can even have an RSS feed to blogs or other social media you’re speaking through to demonstrate your ‘voice’, your creativity, your marketing skills, your values, and your collegiality.

No wonder Melinda was so excited about her find in Liz! If her listserv contributions and conference conversations are any indication, I would say that the portfolio correctly identified Liz as a mover and shaker in the independent school library world. Thanks for the inspiration, Liz!

Do you already have a portfolio? Thinking of creating one now? If so, won’t you share your URL or tell us of your experience  in the comments below?

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