Reading creates community

Sorry for the delayed posting; last week was Book Fair week!

“She’s quiet, shy, and always has her nose in a book.”

“She needs to connect with those around her.”

“She isn’t learning how to navigate the real world.”

“She reads so quickly; I don’t think she understands what she is reading.”

These are often comments I hear from concerned parents about their child reader. I want to rephrase these statements.

Books allow us to travel the world, meet amazing people, and try experiences we never thought were possible. I believe that reading is the foundation of lifelong learning. Every subject requires reading and understanding, by creating a passion for reading we create better scholars, engineers, scientists, and artists. This is the goal of silent sustained reading times. Yet, we are seeing that sitting and silently reading for 50 minutes is difficult, and students are not benefiting from the designated reading time, even when the time is dedicated to books that students choose for themselves.

Recently, I proposed to reframe our 5th/6th grade SSR: Silent Sustained Reading class. Moving from a SILENT sustained reading model to a STRUCTURED sustained reading model. My goal for this change would be to provide the opportunity to create discussion and evaluation around books for students in a relaxed format. While pleasure reading can be an individual activity, structured sustained reading creates the expectation of community. “Research has shown that reading ability is positively correlated with the extent to which students [independently] read recreationally,” according to the “Reading and Writing Habits of Students” section of The Condition of Education 1997, published by the National Center for Education Statistics (Hopkins). However, 20 years later, we know that silent independent reading is not enough. “Reading comprehension is not a single ability,” as the title of Hugh W. Catts and Alan G. Kamhi 2017 article states. Catts and Kamhi conclude that “the multidimensionality of reading comprehension means that instruction will be more effective when tailored to student performance with specific texts and tasks.” Our students need to be mentored through the pleasure reading process and when we provide the opportunity to discuss their personal reading, reading comprehension will grow.

Every student needs time to read for self-improvement. Structured sustained reading is a time to create positive relationships with mentoring teachers over personal reading. Such a model, as described by Michelle Gabriel, ED. M. in her 2017 presentation “Structured Independent Reading”, would include:

  • conferencing with students during reading time
  • discussing book choices for independent reading that will yield more successful reading experiences.
  • informally checking for understanding as students read
  • group discussions to make connections to what students have learned to capitalize on the teachable moment.
  • set expectations for students’ reading behaviors and habits
  • exploring a variety of genres.

The goal of the course is to create lifelong readers that set goals, discuss their reading, and build reading comprehension skills. Creating motivated readers increases facetime with texts and develops key reading comprehension skills.

“She reads so quickly; she understands what she is reading.

She is learning how to navigate the real world

and connect with those around her

because she’s quiet, shy, and always has her nose in a book”

Mentoring teachers and I will be prepping with Teacher Resources:

  • No More Independent Reading Without Support (Not This But That) by Debbie Miller and Barbara Moss
  • Creating Lifelong Readers Through Independent Reading by Barbara Moss

I’m interested to share experiences with other middle school librarians who have implemented similar changes to their reading programs.

Work Cited
Catts, Hugh W. and Alan G. Kamhi. “Reading Comprehension Is Not a Single Ability.” Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, April 2017, Vol. 48, 73-76. doi:10.1044/2017_LSHSS-16-0033.
Gabriel, Michelle and Maria Acero-Castillo. “Structured Independent Reading.” 2017, Microsoft Powerpoint online file.
Hopkins, Gary. “Sustained Silent Reading” Helps Develop Independent Readers (and Writers).” Education World, 19 November 1997,
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Peripheral Vision

At this point it almost seems like a habit to spend time early in the new year reflecting on research. As many of you know from past posts, my school has a solid co-taught embedded research unit for all 9th graders each January. We collect papers in the days on either side of the Superbowl and meet in early February to tweak for next year. Today I’m not thinking about how we teach research per se, but rather the peripherals. For example,  

Eat when you’re hungry.    

My younger self would have shaken this off as unprofessional, but make sure you take care of your own needs too. So many of us put any help we can give a student or teacher first, which is great, but starts to become more difficult if you haven’t had a solid lunch in two weeks. During January, my base schedule is five teaching periods a day before adding other classes and lunch meetings, and, you know, running a library. Freshmen invaded the library (in the best possible way) during their study halls. Recipe for getting hangry? It was awesome that I could look at the teacher on the craziest days, and she’d motion for me to take a brief banana-peanut butter break. Those few minutes of silent sugary protein brought me the next 85 minutes of helpful answers.

This is true for students too.

Not just with food, but in a broader sense that there is a lot going on in their lives. Concerns about friendships, other course work, jobs, or a basketball regional might be foremost in their heads on any given day. Giving a brief brain break to stretch or grab water or just listening to their concerns works wonders with getting them focused again.

Ask for student volunteers as class examples.

We always tell students that their paper (student translation: grade) will be better for students willing to volunteer “to share the current state of their project with the entire class on the projector.” I was shocked at first when perfectionists eschewed the opportunity because they were afraid to share their works-in-progress. It’s more realistic for classes to see an example that looks like theirs. Then we either demonstrate the next research step on that student’s paper or have them model for the class. (Side note—for the first time this year, we had a class fall in love with a student’s paper—on the Cod Wars—and follow a single volunteer for the entire month. From our sample size of one, it worked really well. Of course, it’s possible that you need a topic that is particularly exciting to freshmen. Like cod, apparently. Who knew?)

Rally your school community.

Use your voice and those of your collaborators to build a culture around research in your school. This may require some creativity on your part, but it helps legitimize student work. Build an advisory session where students reflect on their budding research skills. Ask English teachers to talk about the ways that History and English research papers compare. Have Writing Center tutors “pop into” Western Civ classes unexpectedly to advertise their services. When the whole community rallies around you to help you succeed, you want to try just a bit harder to make that happen.

Separate process and product.

The inspirational Alyssa Mandel will be speaking about Not-Papers at AISL Atlanta next month, so mark your calendars. For the research project I’ve been discussing here, we do have a final paper. But that final paper is worth 50% of the project grade. The other 50%, for which students could theoretically earn full credit even if they never submitted a final paper, is entirely process. There are over fifteen daily checkmark grades. Items like creating a Google Drive folder, sharing three topic ideas, writing a half page of notes, sketching an outline, and completing a peer’s Ladder of Feedback. I must admit, however, that we adapted the full-credit process grading a few years ago. Now the full outline and rough drafts earn both checkmark grades and more nuanced grades. We did this for three reasons. It helps them take these deadlines seriously. It gives them a sense of whether they are on track to successfully write a paper. And it keeps them automatically from earning 100% for an entire month in our online grading system. Other than that, as long as the student follows along, I get to focus on process and the teacher can focus on product.

Give “easy points” so procedural tasks earn 100%.

I love the structure of a rubric, but I hate thinking about points. I have joked with kids that I became a librarian so that I could just help them learn without grading their work. But we are a school driven by grades, and for most of our students, grades matter. They are likely to struggle with conceptual tasks like analysis and synthesis. But the little structural pieces matter too because they suggest a level of seriousness to the work. I believe those structural pieces, like a title page, correct spelling, and a perfectly formatted bibliography, trick the reader into trusting the argument a little more readily. Plus it’s good training for future writing where the details matter: little things like a college resume or job cover letter. I think it’s important to waste spend my time going over bibliography drafts individually with students, asking them pointed questions about alphabetization and spacing even though we just covered this together as a class. They pay attention when an adult asks about their work, and they’re more comfortable returning for future projects. They get the sense that I really care about helping them perfect this part of their work and they get the easy points, as much as it pains me to say it.

Let them flounder…a bit.

When our alums return for a panel discussion about life in college, they stress time management. Not that they don’t procrastinate, but that they are more strategic procrastinators. Have you tried giving your students a little space during working sessions to use their time wisely…or not? We are explicit that this is part of their learning process and we won’t make them work. We give suggestions about limiting distractions—like turning off device notifications, sitting at individual computer carrels, or listening to a preplanned “focus” playlist. During the first block research period, we observe but don’t interfere. In future individual research meetings, we ask them to reflect on how they’ve been using class time, and we do sometimes assign specifics for students who aren’t quite ready to motivate themselves on their own. But our goal isn’t for them to work when we are looking over their shoulders; it’s to prepare them to work on their own when no one is watching.

20 minute tasks.

Since the lesson plan and the lived experience don’t always match, here is my addendum to the previous paragraph. Last month, 3 classes were on track with learning age-appropriate time management skills. Two weren’t. In frustration, the teacher and I turned to each other after a boisterous block period and asked, aren’t people supposed to be able to focus for 20 minutes? Because I love Post-it notes, the next day we showed up in class and had everyone write their goal for the period. Then, we talked about breaking that into smaller goals, specifically identifying a silent 20 minute task to start. If they had questions on their individual papers or wanted to be first to talk to us after the 20 minute “test,” they wrote it on the back. It may have been born of necessity, but it worked amazingly. And kids kept asking for Post-its during future classes. We all know it, but it’s new to high schoolers that their next task isn’t to “write their paper” but to write three sentences or check that their As have Bs in their outlines.

Where’s your average middle?

If you’ve worked with classes where students are working independently, you know that two types of students tend to dominate your time. There are weak students, who you don’t want to get left behind, even as they try to stay invisible. And there are the strong go-getters, who would probably sit right next to you for the entire project and ask a question every step if they could. But what are you doing to make sure you’re reaching the quiet average students, the ones who complete every assignment and who would never think to interrupt you while you’re meeting with another student? Can you schedule individual meetings with students once a week? Or comment more thoroughly on their work? These are the kids that it’s easy to overlook when others are vying for your attention, and it’s worth some effort to make sure these good kids aren’t forgotten. This is a particular weakness of mine. I tend to focus on the students in front of me, and I’d greatly appreciate your suggestions about how to strategically plan to serve this demographic.

Debrief with students and with teachers.

20 minute tasks wasn’t anything I thought I’d be writing about. Honestly, I didn’t think I’d be thinking about it after a random Wednesday when I just wanted students to pay attention. But in debriefing sessions with their advisors, where students presumably felt the most comfortable, this was the top lesson they said they learned. Every time I complete a collaborative project with a teacher, I take a Post-it note and paper clip it to the top of the lesson with the dates, what we did, and what I’d change for next time. Then it gets filed away. This process has helped me prepare more efficiently for last-minute requests, and it provides me a few minutes to reflect. With whatever kind of organization system you keep, this is something I’d recommend.

Perhaps a plane ride was a bit long for uninterrupted writing, so I apologize for the Giant Block of Test ™. You get a sense of the types of questions I ask myself as I transition from one task to the next. Please add any thoughts below. I’d love to hear what tips I can learn from each of you.

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on alert…

No, not Hawaii Emergency Management Agency practice alerts! Google alerts…

One of the things I have been doing this month is working with 10th graders in one of our Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) Humanities classes. Students have been building research outlines for debates on U.S. History oriented topics.

  • The US should allow undocumented immigrants currently in the U.S. a pathway to citizenship.
  • The US should consider implementing a single-payer health care system for all.
  • The #Metoo movement has done more good than harm.
  • Sit-lie bans should be repealed.
  • The U.S. should have stricter gun control laws.

We recommended our standard debate and current events database for 10th graders:

  • Opposing ViewPoints from Gale
  • Issues and Controversies from Infobase
  • Issues from ABC-CLIO
  • MasterFile Complete for current events
  • Statista for statistical evidence

Given the the currency of most of the topics in Congress at the moment, it seemed like a nice opportunity to introduce students to Google Alerts.

If you haven’t used Google Alerts before you basically sign in to your Google Account then go to

Screen Shot 2018-02-13 at 1.00.59 PM

Enter your initial search query.

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Once you have an initial search query, you will see an Alert preview at the bottom of the page. Check this preview to be sure that you are getting helpful results.

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If your preview results look good, you can go into your Alert options to set the Alert parameters.

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A nice option for students doing research on global topics is to set the region for a non-North American region.

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Alerts are delivered to your email inbox like this. The links take you out to the original article.

As is my wont, when I was thinking about introducing Alerts to my kids for the first time, I sent a query out to the list and received these very helpful tips.

From Tasha Bergson-Michelson:

I do teach some students to set up alerts. Make sure they look at/think abut all the options. Depending on the length of the project, I like to have them go back in about 2 weeks after setting them up and tweak their search. Honestly, they can feel aggravated by what they get, and should be empowered to change it, rather than ignore it.  Wonder if you could have them print and annotate the search results from the first several results they receive to decide how to tweak.

Or, run the search they are putting in the alert and annotate those results?

Something to make it a more thoughtful process, set up for success.

From Shelagh Straughan:

My main thing is that I encourage kids to be very deliberate with their alert query (eg. use a search string that has already had success) so that they’re not inundated with irrelevant stuff!

From Alicia Kalan:

I teach Google Alerts for a similar research / debate project with juniors and just have to remind them to set the alerts once a day instead of “as-it-happens” to keep their inbox more manageable and to set the sources to “news” instead of automatic. But I think the big thing, while it seems simple, is just reminding / showing them how to turn the alerts off after the project is done. 

If you haven’t thought about Google Alerts, give them a try. I’m considering suggesting that we have students set up an Alert for their names and user names as part of our work in the digital citizenship arena.

How are you using Google Alerts?

If they’re new to you, how might you use them?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!


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Hyper Docs for Hyper Connectivity: a librarian and teacher collaboration for information literacy

As librarians many of us maintain websites, course management sites, or libguides so that the library resources are accessible to our school population within the systems they currently use, but I am always wondering how frequently they are used outside our presence. So every time I receive a request for collaboration with a teacher I always want to learn the media, apps, and programs they are using so that I can adopt the protocols the students are immersed in to make the experience is as seamless as possible. Recently, a 5th grade science teacher remarked about how her students struggle when they do internet searches for topics in her science program. So we talked about ways to help this age group be more independent when searching online. We knew we wanted to provide students with a plan and approach that they can revisited and reuse.  I had mentioned to her that I had developed a checklist and document to help older student navigating the infobesity of the internet, but that I wanted to scaffold a similar guide for younger students for the continuity of the research program. Through this process I learned from her that she uses HyperDocs with students continuously as they work through the concepts in her course. She shared a example one with me. So I could develop research and information literacy concept in the medium most useful to the processes of the daily classroom.  

So what is a HyperDoc?

Selene Willis, the teacher I was collaborating with, described that it is a guided practice in digital form. She operates her class in an inquiry process so the HyperDocs she designs become the living, breathing “textbook” of the course. She shares which document they need to work on that day. It contains directions, links, and response tasks.  The students go to multiple sources online to learn the science concepts they need, but in a scaffolded way. I want to be clear that it is not an old worksheet dressed up and on display on a shiny screen; it is actually adaptive to the pace and focus of class. With mindful design they steer students in higher level thinking processes. Incorporating HyperDocs works wells for our middle school because we are a Google app school with a one-to-one iPad program at that level. She designs them in Google Docs, but the students import them through their Notability app so they can draw, doodle, as well as type answers. I loved witnessing this parallel process with the research process I share with students. In fact, the concept should be familiar to librarians because for years we have been masters of sharing links. Even before learning this terminology, I reflected that I had been doing an iteration of this with the Google Docs I share with students anyway. Which lead me to ask?

So what makes HyperDocs different from our Libguides and shared Google Docs?

One major difference I observed from Selene’s example is the design layout. Great attention is made to the readability and graphical interface of the document. I also noticed that Willis choreographs the engagement into the HyperDocs; directions, clarifications at the onset, individual inquiry into the links and reading material, and then a whole class return to sharing understandings. So I was excited to adapt some of my own approaches to this medium and process.

Crafting a Library HyperDoc

In tailoring my online research checklist to a 5th grade audience I wanted to use graphics that 5th graders relate to in their daily lives. I notice that the game four square is still alive and well in middle school as it was for me. This lead me to a new phrasing I use with middle schoolers to help them with search terms and the early parts of research. I used the image of a four square court as the area for them to generate the search terms before ever going to a website or database link. And I tell them to four-square their search terms.

The students fill the boxes with search terms and check off the list. My next checkboxes make them think about where they go online prior to them going there. This is one of the best features of a HyperDoc because you can build in habits of mind or nudge them into behaviors of good research strategy. Another reason to adopt similar formats of teachers is that now students have this process in with their daily work and links back to the school library page .

Since I had been working with fact-checking in the upper school I wanted to parse it down and start introducing it to younger students. So I put a fact-checking machine in the HyperDoc at a level that I thought would make sense for 5th grade students. I also was able to give them specific fact-checking sites for science.

Finally, the rest of my session with the students was having them use the library page with databases for their age group and add information to their HyperDoc. Ms. Willis was excited to know about some of the resources that would work for her students. I was happy share the digital resources the library has that pair nicely with their HyperDocs. I think the students were more receptive to my tips because it was in a procedure and format they recognize. While it is faster to share a regular Google Doc for library lessons I found that thinking through the imagery for the HyperDoc heightened my awareness of how students approach research.

Resources  on HyperDocs

Hyperdoc Handbook

Librarians using HyperDocs– In researching for this article I stumbled on these librarians that have written about HyperDocs in a library setting.


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Keep Your “Maker” Dream Alive…

Four years ago, I started an afterschool maker club. The concept of a “Maker Space” was fairly new and only 3 students signed up. The minimum was 6, but since the director believed that this was a valuable program, she approved of my very small club. We always started with a design challenge of some kind and the rest of the time was spent on the students “making” their individual projects. Ever since then, every club session has been filled to capacity. In fact, students were turned away once the 10 slots were filled and many disappointed parents told me how their child wanted to be in the club. We now have enrolled up to 20 students from grades 2-4 and another teacher is helping me run the club. There have been groups of students who voted not to have a design challenge so they can spend the entire hour of the club “making”. It is just a fascinating experiece to supervise so many creative minds and watching them making, inventing, and creating. There have been “moans and growns” when their parents come to pick them up because they are so involoved in the making process. I can honestly say there are no discipline problems during this time, since each child is excited about what they are doing and are self directed and vested in their activities.

Recently, one of my students said he wanted to make a boat. For three club periods (3 hours) he designe a cardboard boat made with foam, duct tape and other materials he found in the makerspace. His mother told me how excited he was after the first club meeting. He took the boat home and the next day was running to the library to tell me his boat floated. He put it in his pool that night and he sat in it while his sister videotaped him. He was glowing with pride and excitement. I told him I definitely wanted to see that video. That was also the highlight of my day. Who would have thought a box, 2 rolls of duct tape, and some left over foam could be so important in the learning process of a third grader? I have shared some photos and hope you can find this one.       

I was reflecting on my past teaching experience when I used to have a “hobby day” every Friday afternoon with my self-contained fifth grade class. They looked forward to bringing their hobbies to school to share or work on them. It seems that those students were in fact, early “makers” too! Giving students time to be creative, and have hands on experiences supports innovation and entrepreneurship as well as design thinking. When something does not turn out the way they wanted it to, they learn to redesign it using their past knowledge. These are valuable lessons that will help them be life long learners. Isn’t this one of the reasons we are in this profession? And remember, “What Happens in the Makerspace…..Stays in the Makerspace”. 🙂


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AISL Publications Group

AISL Publications Group is a subcommittee of the AISL Board Communications Committee. The members of the AISL Publications Group are available to assist any members that are interested in creating a blog, writing for professional publications, applying to speak at conferences, or writing a book. If you are interested in any of these activities, feel free to contact one of the Publication Group members for help.

A recent AISL blog mentioned the number of private schools that are members of NAIS and the member count at AISL. One way we might be able to encourage more independent school librarians to join AISL is to write an article for Independent School the NAIS magazine.

Publications Group Expertise:

Debbie Abilock, School Library Connection columnist, speaker and education consultant, is the co-founder of NoodleTools, a teaching platform for student research. Recently she has been “noodling” on how to evaluate government information, why to teach data-rich infographics and when to collaborate with teachers using AASL’s new framework.

• Matching your ideas to publishing venues
• Feedback on writing content

Tasha Bergson-Michelson is the Instructional and Programming Librarian at Castilleja School. Tasha presents at a variety of library-and education-related conferences on topics like data literacy, imagining sources, and engaging with news sources, with a preference for discussing targeted instructional strategies. She was a guest editor for Knowledge Quest and has also written articles for other library journals.

• Writing conference session descriptions and proposals
• Planning conference sessions
• Brainstorming topics
• Editing feedback

Dorcas Hand has written articles for School Library Connection and Knowledge Quest, which will be published in Jan/Feb 2018 – as well as articles for non-library outlets including Independent School Magazine. She edits the TASLTalks blog (, and has practice editing all kinds of professional pieces. She also manages Students Need Libraries in HISD in support of local public schools, advocacy IRL. Personal Website: Strong School Libraries.

• Blogging
• Topic ideas
• Editing

Christina Karvounis has presented to her faculty on a range of topics relating to creating classroom blogs, writing for teaching publications and preparing documents for conferences. Publishing an article and/or presenting at a conference are in her 3 year goals.

• Brainstorming topics or flows
• Finding the right venue for your piece/research
• Editing content
• Blogging in all iterations

Sara Kelley-Mudie has worked at both boarding and day schools, and is currently the Director of Southworth Library at Thayer Academy. She has written articles for library journals and presented on creating collaborative relationships with faculty, question development, and ideas for sparking inquiry.

• Brainstorming topics
• Editing feedback
• Crafting presentations and slide decks

Cathy Leverkus is Director of Library Services at The Willows Community School and a member of AASL’s Publications Advisory Group. She coauthored the book Ebooks and the School Library Program: A Practical Guide for the School Librarian with Shannon Acedo. Cathy has written articles for library journals, and recently presented at AASL on collaboration.

•  Exploring the latest journal topic requests
• Brainstorming book ideas
• Finding book publishers

Nora Murphy, Librarian at Flintridge Sacred Heart Academy, has recently presented on source literacy, the topic selection process, and using video blogs as a way for students to report research results. She has also written articles for library journals.

• Feedback on writing content
• Pre-writing/planning strategies
• Collaborative writing strategies
• Video Blogs

The AISL Publications Group looks forward to serving you.

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It’s the Thought That Counts

Most would say that I am in a happy position: Head Librarian at a school with a forward-thinking Head of School.  Still, this has caused me no end of trouble.

If you think about it for a minute, I’m sure you can agree that it is much easier (I didn’t say Better, so don’t @ me) to be stuck someplace with an immovable and archaic administration, or at least miles of daunting red tape, so that one’s only responsibility is to bemoan in a vague way the fact that so much Could be Done, if only you had administrative support, or funding, or the right alignment of stars and omens.

But when, instead, your HOS sits right there and says “What would your dream library look like?” with the idea of trying to work as much toward that goal as possible—well Hell’s Bells, that puts some pressure on a person!  Instead of self-righteously falling asleep at night secure in the knowledge that there is Nothing to be Done, one has to start coming up with plans and ideas and links to pages. It’s terrifying!

Once the panic subsided, I indulged my fondness for impractical and abstract thinking (so helpful).  I began to ponder: what would my dream library look like?  What is my grand vision for the Dorothy and Chalmers Poston Library?

My first thought:


Not sure installing flying buttresses is what my HOS has in mind.  But this lovely picture of the library at Mount Holyoke College (my alma mater!) got me thinking: what do I love so much about that library, or any of the other great libraries (big or small) I have known?  It is beautiful, of course–notice those nice sight lines all the way across the library; no high shelves blocking the main area, lots of comfy seating [fell asleep there many a time..but I digress]).  What are the essential elements of a great library space? Wood and stained glass are nice, but so are bright steel, clean modern lines and expanses of clear glass.

Maybe it is the different functions of the space.  These have seen a lot of changes.  Way back in my day as an undergraduate, the library was mostly a place of study, but there were group study spaces, quiet carrels, all sorts of different rooms (even one where they served tea once a week!), and a language lab, and a nascent computer lab.  Today of course libraries have maker spaces and collaborative creative spaces with equipment of all kinds.  As fast as someone can think of a new permutation, there is a space for it.

So pleasant and useful furniture is nice, sight lines are nice, different areas for different purposes are nice–is that the key to a thriving library?  I think not (that’s kind of a pun–you’ll see).  Thus far my answer–and certainly many of you may disagree–is not in the mutable functions or definitions of our space (media center, learning commons, research commons, information hub, design lab, tinker lab, maker space), but rather a focus, no matter what shiny new trend we are riding, on the immutable intent of our space–of its enduring purpose and function–of how we think of the library in connection with the mission and life of the school.

The libraries I have loved–and any library worth its salt–is the heart of its school; a vital part of sustaining and supporting not just its academics but also its community.  Though it seems we spend more and more of our lives online, school libraries are essential spaces for students, faculty, and all members of the school community to investigate, discover, collaborate, share, recharge, and just hang out.  For this to happen, the library must be a vital and active presence in all aspects of school life: in daily academic work, in extra-curricular learning and entertainment, in community connections, and in future planning; it must be at or near the forefront of thinking and planning how best to serve the entire school community.

Because our 21st-century lives are increasingly digital, it is easy for some people– administrators, parents, community members, even faculty–to wonder why we even have a physical library space at all.  Some schools have eliminated formal library space, or at least print collections.  Yet it is precisely because of the ubiquity of electronic media that we need a place to connect face-to-face and learn the skills we need to evaluate and manage information and learn the difficult rules of the road on the digital freeway.  Those skills are best taught together, and even better if they are taught within the context of a physical space dedicated to the multality (made another new word!) of wide-ranging, thorough and conscientious academic endeavor alongside community connection, digital skill-building, and recreational events.  The library, with its seemingly contradictory elements of static print materials alongside the quicksilver material of the digital world, underscores the code-switching inherent to life in the 21st century.  Where else but the library, then, is it not just possible but natural to do print and digital research, work on a paper, connect for a group project in Google Docs, meet with a manga fan group (Insta of us all with flower crowns!), read poetry during coffee-house (catch it on my YouTube channel!), and post the play-by-play of a book discussion on Twitter?

So if the most important thing is how we think about our libraries, will that dream list my HOS has asked for have anything on it?  Sure!  I’ve been collecting ideas from a number of wonderful independent schools in the Southeast (I’m open to travel farther afield in the name of thorough research. Dave Wee–I’m sure you’ve got library stuff I need to see, right??), and I am developing quite a list of desirable features for our library renovation: lower shelves and clear sight lines; varied lighting; moveable tables and bookcases; toddler-friendly book bins; comfy seating with charging ports; multi-configureable study spaces; bean bags and lounge chairs; expanded digital collections and updated print resources; special display space for yearbooks and memorabilia. These are all great things, ones I hope we can talk about adding to our space.  The most important design element of our library, however, will continue to be be how we think about it, continually reimagining its role as the heart of the school.

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Shining a light

While southern Ontario can hardly be considered the Great White North, we do have cold, dark winter months, so we have a number of initiatives to try and keep student spirits up.

Our administration is enthusiastically supporting a few ‘sleep-ins’ (where classes begin at 10am), our prefects have launched some great events for Spirit Week and our library has been experimenting with light therapy. It kept coming up on my radar through professional journals and social media, as light therapy lamps have been shown to help with lifting mood (and in more formal settings than ours, combatting seasonal depression).  With our library open 11+ supervised hours on most days, it offers a comfortable and supervised location for use of a light therapy lamp.  Before purchase, we consulted with both our Dean of Academic & Student Support and our Director of Health Services, both of whom are in full support.

Based on recommendations from 2 public libraries who’ve had light therapy lamps in use for over a year (and found a floor model more flexible), we chose this model  We’ve had ours in use for 3 months now, located beside some of our soft seating. We laminated the information sheet that came with the lamp and keep it immediately adjacent. If we notice that someone has turned it on but doesn’t have the light shining directly on their face, we will suggest they re-position (as per the information sheet).

As the lamp is located near our staff desk, we don’t monitor use, although we do notice who is using it regularly. Interestingly enough, it has been exclusively female students who are taking advantage of this resource in our co-ed school. Recently, I sat down with a female boarding student in Grade 11 who uses the lamp regularly:

  • She heard our announcement about the lamp in chapel, and so sought it out, using it
    while doing work during her spares
  • While she hadn’t used one before, she was familiar with light therapy as her mom uses a lamp at home
  • Rather than use it to lift her mood (as I know is the case for at least 2 other users), she finds that it helps her focus better when studying

While it’s entirely possible that there is a placebo effect for those who use it at less than a therapeutic level (ideally a minimum of 15 min/day, every day or alternate days), the lamp does seem to be providing benefit to some of our users. We will continue promoting it: writing this article has made me realize that I need to add a tab about the lamp on our LibGuides webpage (similar to TPL). This would provide us with an opportunity to direct users to other resources at our school that can help with keeping healthy (food services, housemasters, peer support, health centre, etc).

Now to figure out the gender issue….

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What does AISL mean to you? Please share widely!

Happy New Year from the AISL board! After mapping our membership last year, we wanted to share our new year’s resolution with you and ask for your assistance in helping us meet it. If you’re reading this as a subscriber or as a link from AISL media channels, you’re already a member of the Association of Independent School Librarians. You know our value; we thank you for your membership.

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NAIS currently has 1541 member schools. We have 641 members from 390 schools. There are many professional organizations for librarians, but we are the only one that’s entirely focused on k12 independent school education. We would like to spread the word and grow our membership; we are stronger as a profession if we learn from and advocate for each other. As you can see from the map, we have strong representation across the East Coast, with membership extending as far west as Hawaii.

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While this blog and our social media channels are available to all, there are many member benefits. The primary benefit is the listserv, with virtual help available 24 hours a day. We have a burgeoning webinar series with presentations from experts and vendors.  There is an Annual Conference hosted by a team of school librarians each spring, and a Summer Institute, with in-depth study of a topic each June. We are constantly responding to members and offering services members request. In fact, our KARLS (kick ass retired librarians) formed 3 years ago because some retired librarians still wanted to be involved on a personal level even after retiring from the profession. How often do you hear that from other librarians? One founding KARL said:

“AISL is an organization that has members who are extraordinary librarians, dedicated to their students, creative, innovative, and passionate about sharing the joy of learning.  If I could recommend one professional development opportunity to independent school librarians, it would be to join AISL and take advantage of the opportunity to network with these extraordinary librarians. I was delighted when I retired and the opportunity came to help plan a retirement track for those of us who wanted to remain connected to AISL.  I am so happy that I am able to keep looking forward to the annual spring AISL conference to keep learning and see dear friends.”

AISL is run entirely run by a volunteer board. Membership fees are kept low so cost is not a factor inhibiting people from joining. The yearly membership fee is $30, and all memberships renew at the start of the school year in September.  Other common questions:

What if I am currently a library student?

We offer a discounted $15 membership for students earning library degrees. Many jobs are advertised on the site in the spring.

Why should I join this if I’m already part of a regional library group?

Library trends and challenges transcend local geographic boundaries. With AISL, your reach is all across North America, and AISL members are quick to respond to requests for information and advice.

Are your conferences popular?

The conferences are very popular and sell out quickly. Librarians love the tours of independent school libraries and the distinctive character of each conference based on the hosting city. We are working to increase registration slots at future conferences so more members can attend.

Is there a digest option for the listserv?

           There is. You can either receive emails throughout the day or one daily digest.


Please share this post widely, personalizing with your own AISL experiences. The board is happy to answer questions about membership. We’re looking forward to broadening our community. Let’s do more together!  

With warm wishes for a healthy, happy 2018.

Your AISL Board

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Following Through on Book Clubs, Part 2

In a post back in November, I shared my hopes for a new Windows & Mirrors book club that was kicking off that month at our school, with The Hate U Give as our first read. I am happy to share now that it was a success! We opened the library and provided pizza during both lunch periods, and had eighteen participants in total. While readers munched on their pizza, I played a video featuring Angie Thomas talking about her inspiration for the book, and then read aloud a lengthier piece on the same. I had the publisher’s discussion guide with me, but really didn’t need it. After eating lunch the readers enjoyed casually talking about the characters and moments that resonated with them, the parts that made them angriest, the book’s humor, and how they identified with the relationships among characters. In both meetings conversation spread to memories of learning about Emmett Till in Middle School and viewing that particular image for the first time.

Our Upper School readers loved this book. It was a strong first choice to start things off, being a pretty new book that has generated plenty of buzz with relevance to students and a movie on the horizon. It didn’t hurt that we had some readers ready to go – The Hate U Give was one of our Upper School Summer Reading options in 2017, and it is on this year’s county Reading Olympics list, so when it came to extracurricular reading time busy Upper Schoolers could cover more than one base with this book.

Since this book club is a collaboration between the library and our Global Diversity Council, the GDC faculty leader and I talk over book choices and logistics. We agree that student input on book choices would be a good thing, but to keep the ball rolling and get a few copies of the next book before winter break we chose the second book ourselves. This month we’re reading Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee. This choice allows us to open up this session to Middle School students and reveal new windows and mirrors.

Things that seem important so far:

  • Collaboration with another campus group. Many of the readers are also involved in the GDC, so they are able to maximize and diversify their participation in that as well as help publicize the book club.
  • We have been fortunate to be able to order a few copies of the books to circulate among interested readers over school breaks and leading up to the meetings. All copies of Outrun the Moon, including the library’s hardcover, eBook, and audiobook copies, were claimed within the first two days of the announcement and a few have come back and gone out again. Being able to provide access to a few copies is simple but important.
  • One of our ESL teachers has offered extra credit for participating!
  • I tend to err on the side of over-ordering when it comes to food, but it turned out two slices of pizza per person was enough.

Last week a student asked how she could get on the “selection committee” for the book club, so students are engaged in this concept and thinking of titles themselves. I created a Google Form to get the GDC members’ input on a selection with an LGBTQ focus to coincide with Day of Silence in April.

This morning I overheard a student tour guide in the library telling prospective families about the club, and while writing this post, two faculty members have emailed me with book ideas. I will really feel like this new try at an old idea is a success if our next meeting goes as well as the first and if the excitement can continue at least until the end of the year, or for a few more books. So far, so good!   

Please feel free to leave book suggestions in the comments. All advice welcome!

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