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Librarians of AISL – Christina from Saint Stephen’s

Welcome! If you’re attending the Tampa AISL conference this year, you know that we had a wonderful first day yesterday exploring libraries and creativity. This morning, you’ll be visiting Saint Stephen’s, my school.

If you’re not able to attend, you can get a glimpse here.

Thanks Allison for the inspiration for Librarians of AISL! Who will be next?


on library potpourri for 500 please, alex…

When you grow up to the far, far left of the “left coast” of the continental United States, one of the things you take for granted is that sports events that are broadcast live to the rest of the U.S. are tape delayed and broadcast “plausibly live” during the evening. Sportscasters on the 6:00 news would tell viewers, “If you don’t want to know the results of tonight’s Monday Night Football game, turn away from your screen…” They would post the score on the screen in silence and island residents would all look away so that we could pretend that the game had not been won by the San Fransisco 49ers hours before we gathered around our TVs for the start of Monday Night Football with Howard Cosell and Don Meredith. We didn’t know who had won so it was…”plausibly live.”

If you have ever been to an AISL conference, you know that once the conference begins the chance that I would have ample time to compose a blog post in the moment are slim to none. Therefore, because this post is coming to you while many of us are in the midst of the hustle and bustle of #AISLTampa15, I wrote this post back on April 9, 2015, but am posting it “plausibly live” as if I have just finished composing from the pool deck of the Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront Hotel – April 15, 2015.


Didn’t want to take a cliched selfie, but I’m sitting on the lounge chair just to the right of the frame. Just kidding…This is from the hotel website.

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS to the Tampa organizing group for an AMAZING first conference day! It was an exhausting, but rewarding day of learning and fun!  #LOL

Okay, now that, that piece of business has been addressed, we’ll time warp ourselves back to April 9th.  I’m swamped! As a matter of fact, I’m SO swamped that I don’t really have much time to think, reflect, and compose anything with any real analytical depth so this is me throwing a whole lot of mud up on walls and hoping that something sticks. “Potpourri for 500,” though, sounded a lot classier so that’s the title.

Good Problems – I posted previously, about having an opportunity to run a faculty meeting to promote library services. Well, it went well. It went SO well, that Nicole Goff, my library partner, and I have been overwhelmed with requests for library lessons and Libguides. It’s a wonderful problem to have, but it’s still overwhelming. Most of all, it is hugely dismaying to build Libguides for teachers, but LITERALLY not have any instructional spots to be able schedule them in for lessons.  I’ve come to the conclusion that our reality is that we are responsible to make sure that information instruction is happening in our curriculum, but that it is not realistic to think that the two librarians can DELIVER all of the instruction that is necessary.  This means, then, rethinking the way that our lessons and our Libguides are structured and organized.


This is what the scheduling calendar looked like last week! Yay! And whoa!

To say that I am a bit of a control freak is an understatement. I want my information curriculum lessons taught how I want them taught, but in the real world of real school libraries, we can’t have it all. We will deliver as much as we can, but there will just be times when I might develop a lesson, team teach the lessons with the content area teacher, then have to have faith that he/she will be able to deliver the lesson to his/her remaining sections well.  It’s hard and there are probably some folk reading this thinking “I’d NEVER do that,” but I have the great fortune to work with a fantastic cohort of teachers and I can honestly say that while they may not teach the lessons like a librarian would, I am very comfortable that they are carrying out the instruction at a high level!  This whole concept is probably something that I’ll come back around to in a future post.

Write on the Walls, Please! – We have some small collaboration rooms available to students. Sometimes they are just used as “cave spaces” for groups of kids, but I must say that our kids have been pretty good about either making good use of the rooms or very willingly giving up the space for other kids looking for places to do voice recordings or other activities where they need a quiet space. Our kids seem to do a lot of “draw my life” style drawn animations so we invested some money and put dry erase paint up on the walls.  The dry erase clear coat from ReMARKable Coatings is EXPENSIVE so we stretched the budget and just put the clear coat over the blue stripe that goes around the room. It gets a lot of use and has been a big hit. We’ve had the walls up since January and the walls do not always erase COMPLETELY clearly (purple and red have been banned because they seem to be particularly problematic), but I’d still say that it has been a worthwhile experiment!

Dear Dry Erase Wall Paint, please do not make me regret taking a chance on you!

Dear Dry Erase Wall Paint, please do not make me regret taking a chance on you!

Our morning crew...

Our morning crew…

Magazines: Why Won’t Anyone Read Our Magazines? – The number of magazine subscriptions that our library subscribes to has, apparently, steadily declined over the years to the point that we only subscribe to a handful of titles. Since I’ve been here, though, I really can’t say that even the few magazines we have on hand are getting any audience at all.  I’m not quite ready to give up on our magazines completely yet, but I’m close. We’re giving our magazines one last shot to attract an audience. Part of the problem could well be that our magazines have been living in wall mounted racks that hid all but the top 2-3 inches of the covers. Because I’ve pretty much blown through my budget for this fiscal year, we needed to find a way to display and front our magazines for as close to nothing as possible. Behold our under $25 magazine display!





Silence is Golden (For Some At Least) – The amazingly vibrant listserv thread on “hanging out in the library” demonstrated the challenge that, seemingly, most of us are wrestling with. Our library space does not afford us the luxury of a lot of unused space that we can re-purpose, but the sheer raucousness of our space made it pretty evident that we were not meeting the needs of our kids with a need for quiet. Our educational VHS/DVD collection got moved into our workroom, six study carrels got moved in, and our Silent Study was born.  It doesn’t seat 42 like Shannon Acedo’s silent study at Harvard-Westlake Upper School, but we have a steady group of regulars who make good use of the space.

What was once a closet has been reborn as our silent study. Happier paint is on the way!

What was once a closet has been reborn as our silent study. Happier paint is on the way!

Puzzled! – One of the biggest, low cost, surprise hits this year has been puzzles in the library. Young men and women who have NEVER, EVER been seen without their iPads propped up before them seem to have become some of our most avid library puzzle fanatics. Years ago, my colleague Karen Wareham shared the insight that one of the reasons we needed to allow students to talk and socialize reasonably in the library could well be a gender issue.  Most boys, she hypothesized, won’t sit under a tree and talk with their friends. Her theory was that men typically socialize by “doing stuff.” 18 holes of golf is 30 minutes of ACTUAL physical activity and 4.5 hours sitting side-by-side on a cart talking to your buddy. Many high school and middle school boys socialize by “studying together” at tables in the library. Our puzzles seem to give them an outlet to socialize around by “doing stuff.” Our puzzlers are often the first ones at the door in the morning and the ones that will continue to work on the puzzle even after I’ve turned off all of the lights on the floor at the end of the day. Added bonus: I’ve even seen some of my most awkward and shy boys TALKING TO GIRLS as they puzzled together!

Puzzle cohort at work AND play!

Puzzle cohort at work AND play!

Who would've guessed, huh?

Who would’ve guessed, huh?

Sorry, that’s quite literally, all that I have time for this week. I’ve got conference attendees to meet!

Please all, remember to heed Katie Archambault’s advice! “When at #AISLTampa15, talk to boys!”


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Lit of the Millennium, English Elective Librarian-Style

Picture it.  A world in which a group of dedicated seniors constantly read for pleasure, who play with web design,  find their blogging voice, who learn to deliver book talks, to create book trailers, and who discuss a variety of books, authors, and…well…life and the lessons that reading offers, all within a senior English elective? What if you used their work to create QR code covered book displays? Library blog posts and pre-school break reading promotion within your school community?

Welcome to my world. It’s Literature of the Millennium, a course that I am inventing as I go and enjoying every moment of it.

If an upper school librarian is going to be required to teach an elective, this is it. {Note, I floated two offerings during last year’s pre-registration time, a research methods course and this one. One ambitious student signed up for the research class. This fun-sounding one was full. Go figure.}

Here’s my course description:

Many argue that reading for pleasure is on the decline in the fast-paced lives of teens today. Tech savvy librarians work to create lifelong readers in the digital age, utilizing technology to meet teens where they are. This course explores the fundamentals of pleasure reading and reading promotion in a variety of ways. From scholarly research on the long-term benefits of reading in our lives, its importance for our brains and psychological growth, to the design of an electronic portfolio where you will document your exploration of text as well as new technologies. You will select, read, analyze, and blog about four age-appropriate novels. You will then create digital projects to demonstrate your creativity, your understanding of the texts, and the concept of reading promotion in the digital age.

We began the semester with the girls “introducing themselves” via post it notes, which they placed on a white board, as anonymously as possible.

Here’s our board:


We identified 5 themes from this list from which to select books to read. Can I tell you how excited they were to get to SELECT their own books for this reading workshop-style course?!

Keep in mind that these are SPRING SEMESTER SENIORS. The five themes that we identified are:

Anxiety/Uncertain Future (book 1)

Relationships (book 2)

Thought Provoking (book 3)

Adventure (book 4)

Relatable (book 5–if we have time)

We have studied:

Who we are as readers. Fast or slow? What permissions do we give ourselves? Do we skip around? Do we read the last word and determine if the book is a keeper or a ‘toss it back’ (someone does this! Seriously!). Do we read in bed? At a desk? Upright or upside down?

How to find good books. Library, book store, blogs, book reviews, peers, apps like Goodreads, Amazon “more like this”, etc.

Award winners–what do they all mean? Who decides? Do awards matter?

A study on genres–who knew there were so many? (One student’s blog post on “Amish Bonnet-busters” had me guffawing. Loudly. Here, you can too.)

Is there a “right” way to read or is it only important that you’re reading? SAT vocab building vs. relatability,  the Classics vs. Contemporary debate. Audio vs. Print vs. Digital.

Blogging voice, writing as one would converse with a smart friend, use of images, graphics, and punctuation to insert personality, play with timing, etc.

Copyright in the digital age <insert scary music here>. Music & images especially for use in digital projects in class. Creative commons, public domain, etc. I tried to create a game for this to make it fun. I’m still working on it.

How to create effective book trailers.

“Sell it, don’t tell it!” book talks.

Blogged book reviews…how they differ. (Read and evaluated reviews of “Eleanor and Park” the NYT (written by John Green–woot!), one from the Horn Book, and one written by a 16 year old British YA blogger; the kicker is that they had to guess where each review came from.) This one was a really fun discussion.

Read & discussed a number of scholarly articles dealing with “your brain on books”.

We have had two thematic book discussions so far, where each student speaks about how her book fits within the theme. This has been challenging, but fun. I am quickly learning that some themes lend themselves to discussions more easily, like relationships (healthy vs. unhealthy, friendship or love, peer, family, bonds with pets, with drugs and alcohol, etc.). That was an easier discussion than anxiety. Some books were chosen specifically because they were anxiety-inducing, others were chosen because their protagonist was dealing with anxiety.  Still interesting, just less cohesive discussion. What can I say? We’re learning as we go, emphasis on the WE.

While I am in Tampa, the class will be scripting, story boarding, and shooting footage to create 1-2 minute persuasive commercials, our own campus “READ campaign” if you will, calling on ethos, logos, and/or pathos, to convince their peers to make time for pleasure reading in their lives. We will work with our digital photography/videography teacher once I return in editing their footage, adding public domain music, that kind of thing.

One concrete takeaway from the class has been the importance of CHOICE in pleasure reading. ie: A book like The Book Thief, if assigned for English class, then broken down as English classes tend to, looking for themes, literary devices, symbols, historic tie-ins with history curriculum or other books that they’ve read…it no longer feels like pleasure reading, even if it’s a book they would normally love. It’s the work vs. pleasure principle. The majority of busy teenagers don’t love more hard work. Shocker, I know.

These things that we are doing, though, they are FUN. The girls are loving the books that they’re reading, they’re loving our built in library reading day (one of our three meetings each week is typically reading time in the library). They love when I make them read for homework! They are so tech savvy that I’ll show them examples of book trailers, then give them a choice of which app they use, and away they go to Animoto or iMovie, or Youtube’s built in trailer creator (who knew?!). Same for almost every project.

Here are a few  examples of the work that they are producing. I would be glad to share a complete portfolio for the course once I’ve finished pulling it together at the end of the semester.


Book Review

Book Talk

Book Trailer

Animoto book trailer

So, creative brain, what have I missed? What should I add to the course next year?

Are any of you teaching a fun elective that you’re enjoying and would like to share here? Please use the comments below.





Everyone has their favourite social media channels for keeping up to date with news and professional issues. I am a Twitter devotee, I’m starting to experiment with Instagram, and I admit to a slight addiction to Pinterest. So where can you find AISL on the web? And how can you use social media to follow the fun at the AISL 2015 conference in Tampa?

Find Independent Ideas blog posts, interesting articles, pictures and conference news here.

Twitter is great for short, interesting links. AISL tweets using the hashtags #aisl, #aislibrarians, #aislblog, and for the duration of the Tampa conference, #aisltampa2015.

Follow our YouTube channel for lots of great multimedia resources! You can see the stars of our Librarians of AISL series, and during the Tampa conference you’ll be able to see footage of each day’s events.

Our dedicated and enthusiastic pinners are continuously adding new pins to the AISL boards, including Book Displays, Library Ideas, Plagiarism Tools and Ideas, and Books Librarians Love. If you’d like to pin to these boards, you need to add yourself as a pinner. More information on how to do this will be sent to the AISL list. The boards are a great source of inspiration!

New for Spring 2015 is the AISL instagram account. Add your pictures using the hashtags #aisl, #aislibrarians, #aislblog, and for the duration of the Tampa conference, #aisltampa2015. We’d love to see and share your pictures of the conference!

I won’t be attending the conference this year, so am looking forward to experiencing the full AISL conference via social media. Also note that session materials and handouts will be posted to the wiki, so if you’ve not signed up to access our useful wiki, please do so before the conference begins!

Have fun in Tampa, and remember to use #aisltampa15!



It’s Conference Time! No Foolin’!

It’s April 1st. This means two things, my bibliophile friends:

1. Pranks, they are abounding. Awesome.

2. It’s T-Minus 2 weeks until AISL Annual Conference, “Bridging Our Differences“, kicks off in warm, sunny TAMPA!! HOORAY!!!

So for Barbara Share, the Blogging Goddess, who requested that I re-post this and for anyone else who might be interested,  I give you a geographically edited bit of conference advice, originally posted last year around this time as To Conference (verb).


As I contemplate what to pack for Dallas Tampa and worry about blinding new and old friends with my pasty winter legs, I can barely contain my excitement.  You see, professionally AND personally, this is one of my favorite weeks of the year.

This post is for conference veterans and newbies alike. A bit of AISL conference advice. Please use the comments section to build on this.

How do you conference?

What to wear?

During the day, you’ll find a little bit of everything, from jeans to dresses and heels. I vote for business casual during the day with comfortable shoes as you’ll be doing a lot of walking. I also layer so I’m ready for heat and AC. Bring something fun for the Skip Anthony banquet. It’s your chance to exchange your Clark Kent façade for fun, stylin’ Superlibrarian.


The hospitality suite: when you arrive at the hotel you might find yourself feeling road weary. You probably have a fantastic new book in your carry-on and some comfy pants calling your name. Fight it. Go by your room to drop your bags, freshen up, then head to the hospitality suite. When you arrive there, grab a snack and a glass of wine and get ready to mingle. It might be uncomfortable at first, but putting faces with names and learning who you might have some things in common with (Single sex or co-ed? Elementary, middle, or upper?) can open up doors to meaningful conversation and perhaps even genuine friendships by the end of the conference.  Not your first time? Look for new faces and make them feel welcome. Revel in reconnecting with old friends and putting listserv names with faces, but look for conference newbies to draw into conversations. I really appreciated those that did this for me my first year.

Meals and bus rides are equally valuable. Even if you are an introvert, don’t miss this opportunity to connect. At times, these conversations can be as educational as the workshops that you will attend.

Talk to boys! Men tend to be in the minority at our conference. It’s uncomfortable to be in the minority. Ladies, let’s make sure we’re making them feel welcome and included as well.

 Practical Advice

Carry a notebook or device for note taking at all times. When you’re on the bus and someone starts talking about a fantastic book they’ve read that you or your students might also like to read, write. it. down. You probably think you’ll remember. You might. But if you’re like me and your “brain plate” gets full, these details might fall right off. I also take people’s cards and write on them what it is we discussed and anything that I want to follow up on when I get home. It will help, trust me. Try to sit with someone new on the bus each time. It’s quality time built into your day as you travel.

Bring a camera or device to take pictures. Take a picture of the name of the library before you start snapping away—you might want to email the librarian to discuss specifics later. You will see some awesome displays, new titles, furniture, spaces, quotes, technology, programming, etc.  Take pix of slides in a presentation if they are particularly good or relevant to something you’re interested in. Record all of this inspiration to recreate in your own space or to include in your conference report when you get home.

Take pix of student art to share with your art teachers. Do the same for other student work displayed in the library or on campus that might inspire a class project. Innovative recycling program in San Fran you say? Bring it to your school! I first saw Read posters done for middle and upper school teachers of the year at a school I visited during an AISL conference and that became an awesome tradition at my last school. Reading programs, book displays, ways to integrate book carts into 3D book displays, tech integration…pix are always good to show administrators great ideas in action when you get home.

Use social media to engage in conversation with our colleagues who are unable to attend this year (#) on both Twitter and Instagram).

Have FUN, but not too much fun. Be remembered for your fabulous ideas, not for your fabulous table dance moves. ;-)

Take advantage of every opportunity offered to you. The planning committee has spent an incredible amount of time and energy thinking through what you should see and do in their town. Even if you’re really tired, push yourself to go on that tour, visit that museum, see that sight. Some of my favorite AISL memories include seeing Niagara falls for the first time, visiting wine country, touring the Country Music Hall of Fame, catching a Rockies game in Denver, dancing the night away with a 360 degree view of the San Francisco skyline, touring the Naval Academy, and last year’s tour of the private collection…if you missed it, you need to ask someone about it STAT.  Holy cow.

I absolutely love this conference. It is my professional ‘cup filler’ for the year. To avoid information overload, I come back and choose 3 action items to either begin on immediately or to plan for the next year. I keep my notes and refer back to them at least once a year. It’s amazing to see some of the same issues from my first conference in ’07 still relevant today.

These are just some of my suggestions for getting the most from your time in Tampa. What did I miss? Please share comments, questions, or suggestions of your own below. Until then, I’ll pack my boots sunglasses and flip flops and count the days until I see you in Margarittaville.



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.





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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