Using Design Thinking to Re-imagine the Library by Lorrie Culver

I wonder (as I teach the book Wonder to fifth graders during summer school) how many of us independent school librarians work at schools that just don’t seem to know where the library fits within the hierarchy of the school.

I’ve now worked in the library at La Jolla Country Day for ten years. For the first several years, the library was under the supervision of the assistant head for curriculum. Four years ago the board chose not to renew the contracts for the head of school or for our supervisor, the assistant head. They instead hired an interim head for the new school year. While the interim was on campus, we worked under her and then under our respective divisions (lower, middle and upper schools). When our current head of school came on board three years ago, we worked directly for him. Then this past school year, several employees were elevated to assistant heads. We now work for the Assistant Head for Innovation and Design. For the upcoming school year (finally), a new Assistant Head in charge of Curriculum was hired (actually the Middle School Head was promoted). I asked for the library to be put under her umbrella and was not completely turned down … I was just told that it wouldn’t happen for the upcoming school year. Sigh…

So, what is it like working for an engineer whose focus is to expand the robotics, coding and virtual reality programs? We librarians have been tasked with “re-imagining the library.” At first, I was resistant as our library had just been renovated during the interim head’s tenure … and, as has happened with other school libraries, we were only “consulted” at the end of the process. The renovations were really a construct for the board … they wanted the library to be more “welcoming,” i.e., a lounge for students to hang out, eat and play video games while others were trying to study. So my feeling was that the school was not going to shell out more money even if we came up with some really great “re-imagining” ideas.

However, we librarians set to work and interviewed students, teachers and parents and asked each how they used the library. The interviews with students were the most illuminating. Evidently, certain areas of the library were designated for seniors and were seen and be seen areas. Also, the stairs were used to evade deans and to play hide-and-seek.

Each librarian was also asked to use pro grow funds to visit museums and specialty libraries  and to see how they curate their collections and utilize their space. We held meetings and over the course of the school year, came up with three insight statements and problem statements.

Research and library skills are not being consistently taught across campus because teachers and students may not understand the value of good research, resources are complex and unintuitive, or teachers are unaware of the librarian’s skills, expertise and mobility.

PROBLEM STATEMENT 1: How might we create a better understanding of the value of good research, reduce the complexity and increase the usability of our resources throughout the campus while increasing the awareness of the librarians and their skills, expertise and mobility?

There is an unclear culture in the library that allows for varying and often times conflicting activities creating an unwelcome environment for the current minority because of a lack of well-designated and planned spaces.

How might we create a clear culture in the library that allows for a range of concurrent activities while creating a welcoming environment and improving the usability of our space?

The library is being utilized for many other services beyond research and reader’s advisory because of open hours, centralized location and proximity to other services such as IT.

How might we support the variety of needs of our community beyond our core competencies that have been so far met in an ad hoc manner?

So, after working on our re-imagining project for the 2016/2017 school year, we are still in the planning phases. Also, to be clear, even though our school serves students from age 3 through grade twelve, much of our discussion focused on our middle and upper school library. Our lower school library is in the same building but separated by floors (the lower school library is on the ground floor and the middle/upper school library is on the second floor).

The library will look different when students return as we are trying out a few changes based on our insights. We will no longer allow all food – just covered drinks. We also are looking into Ebsco’s Discovery Streaming. Our students definitely have to click too many times to access our databases now. One last change is that we have eliminated most of our desktop computers. We have a BYOD policy and we found that students were using the large screens of the desktops to play games … loudly and with other students.

We will continue our re-imagining meetings in the fall and monitor how the changes affect the students and their use of the library. I’ll also post a follow-up blog.
Happy Summer all!

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“We’ll see you soon, mate”

Like you, I’m done. Between the flurry of exams, graduation and end-of-year meetings, my brain is heading into hibernation. It doesn’t help that a ton of my wonderful library nerds graduated this year:

However, a few days spent with colleagues, looking ahead to next year, has been amazingly rejuvenating. I’m still excited about packing up and heading out for a bit, but I’ve already got a little butterfly in my stomach about 2017-18.

Looks like I chose the right career – happy summer all!

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[New Tech] Killed the [Old Tech] Star

Placing myself firmly in the Retro club:

330px-Buggles_Video_Killed_the_Radio_Star image

image:; video:

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

There have been many discussions of the virtues/dangers of tech-enhanced learning (and living).  One of the most interesting players on the field is the Waldorf School of Orange County which, according to several articles, eschews technology of all types while educating the children of quite a few Silicon Valley bigwigs ( for one article, among many).

Yet most schools across the country have embraced technology-enhanced learning, and efforts continue to provide all students access to what we hope will be transformational technology.  At our school, we have very thoughtfully rolled out 1:1 technology over a number of years; at this point, we provide classroom sets of iPads to our younger grades, 1:1 at-school devices to 3rd and 4th graders, byod iPads to middle schoolers (5th-8th), and byod laptops to upper schoolers (9-12).  They are all used in myriad ways over the course of the year—from keeping track of assignments, to taking tests, to creating interactive projects, to (inevitably) endless selfies.

So what do you do after you have fully integrated tech into your learning program?  You try turning it all off!   Seriously, though, part of being a responsive and effective learning community is continuously evaluating the effectiveness of your teaching and learning tools.  Hence: Tech-Free Day.

Nothing to See Here

The original day scheduled for the event, as you may or may not remember, turned out to be one of those Spring-with-a-chance-of-Tornadoes sort of days, so we rescheduled for April 19th.

The [insert technical invention here] Will be the End of Civilization

The day was designed, as Head of School Chris Hinchey said, “[to] help students and adults step back and gain perspective on their media habits and set goals for healthy habits moving forward.”  With this goal in mind, we undertook a busy spring-semester Wednesday without using tech of any kind (yep, not even FitBits).  That evening, the school partnered with another local school to show Screenagers, a powerful documentary about the effects of screen time on young people ( –highly recommend).  No homework was assigned, and families were encouraged to remain tech-free through the evening at home as well.

A sampling of comments after the day:


“What I like about no-tech day is that it is relaxing.  You can just sit back, relax, and read books. This is a good idea because you get to have social interaction with other people, not just look at your phone all day…. This day was fun but kind of hard for me because I have never done this before.”

“At first, I thought no-tech day was awful, then I realized that I was wrong. It actually feels kinda good to put down the phone or iPad, not worry about Instagram or Facebook, and go outside and play.”


“I walked away realizing exactly how much I depend on devices to connect with you, colleagues, my children, and my husband. In reflecting, I also recognize that I am guilty of not always being present with my family, because my device is very distracting.”

“It was very hard not to send emails the minute I thought of something. It felt like I was behind or avoiding tasks that needed to be done, but I just kept a list. I did enjoy not feeling obligated to READ emails sent to me!”

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the adults on campus were the ones who found it the most difficult to disconnect for the day.  Full disclosure: at one point, two of my daughter’s friends caught me holed up in the drama room, sending an email that *had* to go out that day. (Busted!)

So what was my takeaway from going tech-free?  (Other than the fact that it makes me very grumpy when I can’t use my Starbucks app to have my flat white waiting for me on the way to school)?

The Good, the Bad, and the Just Plain Silly, or, I See Your Pencil, and I Raise You a Laptop!

I would respond to the Waldorf School (look at their video—they knit: it’s very cool: the way I respond to the occasional visitor who comes into the library and asks why we still have books:  Progress doesn’t mean throwing out what came before.  We didn’t throw away bicycles when we invented cars–we just added more choices for getting the errands done.

Being mindful about our use of technology (ok—about everything) is a great way to stay grounded in our ever faster-moving world.  Going forward, I am going to be talking with my coworkers and my family about Tech Awareness, even more than Tech Free (because, Me Hiding in Drama Room).

Here are some ideas I have stolen discovered:

  • Tech Tracking: keep a log of tech time–device/app or function/time spent—for a day (or a week)
  • Device-Free Dinners: my kids still like to do “Highs and Lows” of the day
  • Connected Tech: use technology to connect with your family and friends: watch a movie and discuss; read the same book on your devices and discuss; write a song/create a stop-action video with your kids; create a book trailer for your book club [you DO belong to a book club, right? If not, FaceTime your friends and start one!].
  • Teen Tech Talk: talk to your teen (or tween, or third-grader) about the tech in their lives. What is their favorite tech tool?  How does it enhance their lives (ironic tone/air quotes not allowed)?

Ultimately, going tech-free for a day gave us (me) the chance to evaluate the role technology plays in our (my) daily teaching, learning and communicating.  My teenagers tell me that I too often stare at my lap when we are together.  As the mom of soon-to-be-fledged young adults, that is insanely stupid.  My kids still want to talk to me!  Put down the phone!





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Review: AISL’s First Mentor Program

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”
― Robert Frost

At the close of the school year, it is important to reflect on the months gone by: the challenging, the good, and the great.  I’ve been reflecting on AISL’s first Mentor Program and I asked the mentor partners to share their reflections as well.

However, I need to begin at the beginning with a big Thank You from the AISL Board to those who took a chance on this first year of mentoring with AISL.  In last year’s AISL Members Survey, it became clear that AISL members were interested in a program that would help new and experienced librarians who were facing a challenge or needed coaching to achieve a professional goal.  As a result, we developed a program that paired librarians to work together on specific goals and challenges.  The results of the program were mixed and gave us a lot of great information to use in the program’s improvement for next year.  We are excited for year two if the AISL Mentor Program.

Following are some of the survey results, as reported by about half of the Mentor Program participants:

  • 57% felt that they were well matched with their partners
  • 70% of partners used email to communicate
  • 33% communicated with their partners sporadically
  • 44% communicated only a few times over the course of the program
  • 37% created action plans
  • 62% of mentor partners communicated informally, sharing goals, experiences, advice, and ideas
  • 66% of respondents recommended that next year the program have more structure

Here are some of the great things we heard about the experience of working with a mentor partner:

  • meeting someone new
  • having benefited from some wonderful mentoring, I was grateful for an opportunity to ‘pass it on’
  • feeling that I had something to contribute
  • being encouraged to stay on task
  • making a new professional friend
  • bouncing ideas off of someone outside my school
  • hearing about someone’s progress towards goals

Here are some suggestions for improvement:

  • more structure
  • offer tools for creating a concrete action plan
  • send mentor partners powerful questions & challenges every month
  • create a hashtag for partners to share experiences
  • create a gathering for mentor partners at the AISL conference

Well, AISL Mentor Program partners, we are listening!  Your comments are essential to the development of our mentoring initiative.

As the organizer of the Mentor Program, the feedback on the survey resonated with me.  There were clear indications that the free-for-all format of the program was a little too loosey-goosey for many.  It can be hard enough to get all of our work done in our libraries every day, let alone prioritizing a program with no set structure or deadline. One participant bravely admitted that she had “failure to launch” and it was related to the open nature of the program.

Ideas for next year’s AISL Mentor Program are currently bouncing back and forth between myself and Kate Patin, the new Board-Member-at-Large and incoming facilitator of the Mentor Program.  We are talking about ways to create a structured program that is balanced with plenty of free-form space for partners to work together to meet goals.  There may also be new ways for members to connect around specific issues.  Stay tuned for more opportunities to help us help you through the AISL Mentor Program.  Your participation and ideas are vital to the growth of this new program.

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How about a high school book fair?

After watching our Junior School (Gr 5-8) Librarian, Sarah Torrible, host 2 very successful book fairs in partnership with Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Ontario, those of us in the Senior School (Gr 9-12) started wondering if we could pull one off in our high school library.

Informal surveying of kids indicated considerable interest, so in the spirit of ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’, we booked it for earlier this month. Now that the dust has settled, here’s a bit about how it went…

Blue Heron drove the items to us for set up (I returned the ‘leftovers’ the following weekend). You can see from this photo that some of the kids couldn’t even wait until the boxes were unpacked to start perusing the goods!

It was a ton of fun watching the students’ faces when they came through the doors – “I haven’t been to a book fair since I was in elementary school!”.

Blue Heron and library staff worked together to set up displays, with over 700 items for students & staff to choose from…

We ran the sale for 2 full days, including evenings. Books were charged to account (the bookstore was happy to accommodate cash/credit sales, but we decided to keep it simple and got approval from school admin to allow charging to accounts).

Both student and staff response was very positive:

  • It was lots of fun connecting readers with genres that are less represented in our collection (eg. cookbooks – we have a few and I’ll get more once we get a student kitchen, I’m going to make it happen! –  sold like hotcakes, particularly the new Eat like a Gilmore)
  • The bookstore was thrilled with the number of classics we sold – the Word Cloud Classics in particular did well, selling out the first day
  • Poetry, unsurprisingly, was a big seller – just wish we had more copies of Milk and Honey available for sale
  • It was fun to have book-related merchandise as well – journals, tshirts, jewellery, pillows – although they didn’t sell quite as well as the books
  • Timing the sale near a holiday helps with gift sales (we sold quite a bit for Mother’s Day, but Sarah does even better just before Christmas).

In addition to putting smiles on faces, we ended up with over $400 in bookstore credit to spend on items for our collection. We’ll definitely do this again. As we have such a large boarding population, I think we’ll try to tie it in with a parent weekend. And we’ll definitely add extra staffing, as running the sale while running the library kept us hopping!

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The Gift of Summer Reading

There has been no shortage of discussion on the topic of summer reading, but as ’tis the season, here’s another piece! As the end of the year approaches and a flurry of school events come and go, it seems to be the library-mission related topic that is most visible and most on the minds of school community members at the moment.

This will be our third year of using a student-driven summer reading model first inspired by a presentation from a fellow independent school librarian at our state affiliate organization conference several years ago. I know many schools have been approaching summer reading in similar ways and each school whose summer reading process I’ve taken note of “does” summer reading a little differently to fit their own school mission and reading community. I’ve learned a few things about summer reading at our school over the last two years and I’m sure I have more to learn this year as things come together.

To sum up our method: starting in the winter, I recruit Summer Reading Leaders (SRLs) from the ranks of returning students in grades 9-11 (rising sophomores-seniors). I make announcements, send out visually appealing emails, and speak face-to-face with students.

Together we select a book for each of them to put forth as an Upper School summer reading option. Some of these students know a book they’d like to share immediately, others need suggestions to choose from or a little re-direction. Once the list is final, the rest of the students rising to grades 9-12 fill out a Google form asking for their top three favorites from the list. I arrange the students into reading groups based on these preferences. Nearly everyone is assigned to their first choice reading group.

When we return to school, a one-hour Summer Reading Group session is built into the orientation/pre-season sports days. The SRLs are in charge of leading discussions, or, for the more ambitious, activities during this time.

I am always thrilled to see which students might volunteer to be SRLs and to see positive responses from those who are so happy to be asked. I am often tickled by their book choices, too.

The benefits of this approach:

  • More choice means more student buy-in and excitement around summer reading. The peer-chosen factor is a big one here.
  • We start the year on a positive note around reading. The idea is that everyone is reading something of their choice which ideally they also enjoyed.
  • Through their choices, I get to know the students better as readers; especially those who don’t read for pleasure as much or new students who need to be welcomed into the library.
  • When a SRL needs help choosing a book, I get a chance to promote something that deserves more readers, or else provide overlap with Reading Olympics or the PA Young Readers Choice Award.

Of course there are also The Challenges

  • When it comes to recruiting SRLs, it’s easy to think first of the students you know to be voracious readers. However, other students want to be involved too. They might just need to be asked. They are likely to bring great additions to the list. (I aim for enough SRLs to have reading groups of about ten students and to provide enough diversity in the book options.) 
  • Relatedly, balancing the list takes careful consideration, as Christina Pommer posted a few years ago. The list has to appeal to many different reading preferences.
  • There are some students who don’t read the summer reading book. I survey the students anonymously after the groups meet, with one of the questions being “Did you read the book?” Most have either responded “Yes” or “I read most of it.”

Lessons learned

  • Last year we had a couple of repeated books from the year before led by new SRLs. I was happy that I still had the previous year’s reading group rosters, as some students wanted to sign up for the book they had already read the previous year. While I was pleased they had enjoyed it so much the first time, I could refer to the old roster and assign them to their second choice.
  • Keep Admissions informed of the process. Make book selection easy and friendly for new students. Seeing their book choices come in during the summer is a great entry to getting to know them before the year starts.
  • It may be that the students who initially resist assigned Summer Reading will make great SRLs because it’s the SRLs who have the most choice in their Summer Reading selection. 
  • Check that the books are easily available; internationally, if applicable. A book fair can really help with this, or hold a book downloading help session before the end of the year.

Through most of the school year, I worry that Upper School students generally don’t seem to be reading for pleasure very much. Though we put together physical and virtual book displays, promote new and seasonal titles through email and social media, set up pop-up libraries in different spots around campus, participate in Reading Olympics and book talk for classes and clubs, often it seems that this dynamic collection of super-awesome books is going unnoticed, spines in near-perfect condition with nary a stamp on the date due slip. I wonder whether I am promoting the collection enough, or selecting and purchasing books the students want to read. Maybe students are just not interested in reading library books, preferring to watch TV shows or read on Wattpad when their hearts and minds need a story.

While these are important things to evaluate, I often forget about the simple and real factor of time. Like many of us, our busy college-prepping students just don’t have that much time during the school year to curl up with a good book that they love. Some make the time, but it’s hard to do. When a break rolls around, I am delighted by the reading that is all of a sudden part of the imagery of “how I will spend my summer vacation.” That’s when many students are ready to have a book put in their hands. When given the chance and an enticing array of  choices many will welcome summer reading as the gift a good book is.

There are a lot of great summer reading ideas to be found on the AISL wiki, listserv, and other places. I’d love to see a comprehensive database of different summer reading approaches in our schools, so we can see others’ ideas and lessons learned. Anyone with me? 

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All The News About Fake News

While this is not exactly new “news,” this year I did a 7th grade history lesson on fake news and wanted to share resources that we used from the Stanford History in Education Group. Stanford collected data from over 7,800 students and researchers were “shocked” by how many students failed to effectively evaluate the credibility of information. Intrigued, I decided to test our students with the assessments that you can find in the executive summary of the study. More exercises from this study should be released before the end of the school year.

First, we had students complete the assessments. The majority of our students were not able to recognize that “sponsored content” meant that something was an advertisement and not a news story. Additionally, many students failed to note the source (pleasegoogle…..) of the flower image and instead focused on the flowers themselves to explain their reasoning. Finally, the tweet proved especially difficult, but I think this is likely due to the fact that many 7th graders are not familiar with Twitter! I was not surprised by these results and used this as a “teachable” moment. (My professors would be proud! :))

We then went through a presentation that explained to the students what fake news is and the importance of triple checking sources. The flower image was a useful transition to our presentation since the creators of the photo were trying to deceive people with a fake image that purported to provide real information.

Next, we split the students into two groups. One group wrote a real news story and the other group wrote a fake news story. On the board we wrote criteria for a real news story (author’s name, contact information, about us, quotes, reliable sources, etc.) and what you might expect in a fake news story (no contact information, no names, unnamed sources, stretching the truth, etc.)

After the students completed their stories we shared them with 6th grade history classes. The students in these classes did not know if they were reading a real news story or a fake news story. We used this as another “teachable” moment 🙂 to introduce 6th graders to fake news. After our lesson on fake news, we had a reveal to see which students had a real news story and which ones had a fake news story.

This was a fun, collaborative project to do across grade levels. Students were intrigued by the fake news, and I like that they got a bit of writing practice as well….and some of our 6th grade students were definitely fooled! 🙂



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on #macgyverlibrarianship part deux…

I love my job! If I were someone who didn’t love job job quite as much as I love mine, I might know that as of the time that I click “publish” on this post, there are two weeks and 36 hours between me and the start of my summer break! Since, however, I love my job so much, I don’t really keep track of these things. You know how it is. I get into that cataloging flow state. Time flies by. I dive into the Dewey manuals engrossed in the joy of number building (and, you know, that satisfaction of building just that right call number to the 9th decimal place…), then I look up and think, “Oh my goodness, summer already? I’m going to miss everybody!” before I leave campus longing for more time that we can share in the library together.


Last year at about this time I posted about coming across the very cool things librarians were doing in the #macgyverlibrarianship movement. While I realize that my library space has a lot going for it and, indeed, many librarians would kill to trade spaces with me, I always seem to want more. Our library is well supported by our school administration, but the costs associated with running a library on an island 2500 miles away from free Demco shipping (poor HI and AK always get treated like Cinderella, the poor step-sister who has to pay unbelievable shipping fees to her step-parent) means that there isn’t a lot of room in the budget for the “nice to haves” that we all want in our libraries. As a result, my staff and I have accepted the challenge and we’ve turned making our space feel loved while stretching our budget as far as it can possibly be stretched as our personal challenge.

Here’s What We’ve Been Up To!

I’ve been taking a really interesting AASL online course called Making Your Library Epic: Creating Innovative Spaces for Student Learning with instructor Diana Rendina. This quick 3-week course is taking us through the process of evaluating our spaces and planning ways that we can support learning in our library spaces. Her Renovated Learning Blog is full of wonderful resources ranging from building maker culture in your library to grant writing and finding sources of funding. It is well worth a look. She has plans to offer the course again in the future, but does not have exact dates yet. There is a link to subscribe to her newsletter if you think you might be interested in future course offerings.

One of our activities (that I started but didn’t finish) was to create a scaled floor plan of our library space in order to be able to virtually explore layouts for shelving and furniture. As it turned out, my library had so many random angles that I, unfortunately, gave up before completing the task.

Screen Shot 2017-05-04 at 11.36.06 AM

Really, dude? What’s with all these angles? If we could just straighten out these walls, I could probably have 4 study rooms in that space rather than three!

Along the way, however, I did discover an inexpensive iPhone app called RoomScan Pro that allowed me to hold my phone to each wall of a room after which the app mapped the space. If you have even a slightly more rationally shaped library than I, it might be a great option if you are interested in experimenting with layouts in your library space virtually before moving heavy things in real life.


We’d been hoping to get funding to reupholster the chairs in our library teaching space. Unfortunately, other things around school needed to be prioritized so we weren’t able to outsource the work. We found some 10 oz “canvas duck cloth” at a local fabric store, broke out a staple gun, our sharp scissors (the ones my library assistant refuses to loan out to students or non-library staff. LOL!), and a yard stick, then set about re-covering the chairs that were making us feel sad and depressed.


Before: #Sad #Shudder!


After: #Happy #Yay!


The day I was “ninja librarian.” Kids could only see me if I wanted them to see me. #FashionChoicesMatter

It is amazing what you can learn to do with eHow and Youtube. Just over $250 of fabric and about a thousand, two-hundred staples (I used a box and a half) allowed us to cover 30 chairs (including the purchase of other colors of fabric that we purchased to see how they looked on the chairs). Because we weren’t able to get enough blue to finish all of the chairs (again, it’s a freaking island…), two-thirds of them are blue and a third are EXTREMELY ORANGE!!! I actually like the mix and pop that the orange gives to our very drab institutional gray walls.

Sew What?

We had quite a bit of leftover black duck cloth from our color sample experiments and we found a sewing machine in another department on campus so our multi-talented library assistant, Anne, went to work giving new life to two office chairs that had, indeed, seen better days. IMG_8610


Yes, this probably should have been discarded a while ago, but kids seemed to be able to see past the disgustingness and see down to its “inner beauty.” This chair and its equally ugly sibling are much loved and coveted seating. They were, however, hidden away in a FAR OUT OF THE WAY study room never seen by visitors–not unlike Cinderella herself…


One thing to keep in mind if you use a sewing machine and work with a much younger librarian like I do, when the sewing machine starts to run she just might squeal with delight and declare, “I’ve never, ever seen a sewing machine actually working in real life!!!” On top of that, after being shown how this mysterious machine works and doing some sewing herself, she may call both her mom and her grandmother to inform them of her professional growth (looking at you @nikilibrarian) for the day.

As her supervisor, I generously offered to show her how to use a telephone with a rotary dial sometime, but she, claims to already know how to do that…

Chalking it up to experience…

For a long while now, I have hated… HATED!!! … the way that our gigantic circ desk at the front of the library looks. At some point, AISL librarian Tiffany Whitehead, who tweets as @librarian_tiff, posted a picture of her circ desk that had been adorned with chalkboard paint. I tweeted her with some questions and she kindly sent along a link to her post describing the process – Chalkboard Paint Circ Desk & Word Cloud. I ran out to my local Home Depot and purchased primer, chalkboard paint, and painting supplies, then I totally chickened out and returned everything.

The idea of an enormous expanse of black paint at the front of my library took more courage, daring, and guts than I possess so I decided to try chalkboard contact paper to give the concept a lower risk trial run. To my way of thinking, with contact paper, if it’s ugly you peel it off and throw it away. There are many types of vinyl chalkboard paper available. I decided on Versachalk Self Adhesive Contact Paper because it was the first one listed that had free shipping on Amazon Prime (Yes, sometimes I just pick stuff because it is the first link on the results list as evaluating EVERYTHING in life is really exhausting–even for librarians!!!).


Before: #Sad


After: #Happy! #Yay! Our resident artist, @Nikilibrarian, doing her thing…



To break up the black we purchased some Chalk by Blik circles that I learned about from AISL librarian @AlyssaMandel. We cut them up and used them to break up the expanse of black a bit and to highlight the book return that nobody ever seems to notice. It makes me happy every time I walk into the library!

What Kind of Accent is That?

I discussed getting the library painted with our campus facilities crew. The process would involve boxing my entire collection and closing the library so a major repainting job doesn’t look like it will happen in the near future.

Me [Thinking]: “Hmmm… The gray is ugly, but it isn’t ugly enough to make me want to box this whole collection. Well maybe it would be worth it if we could get the carpet replaced at the same time. When they throw carpeting into this deal, we might be in business!!! For now, though, the gray is gonna be gray.”

It’s funny, but gray doesn’t look quite as gray as you thought after you learn that boxing your collection is part of the deal for getting rid of it. I’m considering, therefore, some ways to add friendly color to the library just by painting some accent walls. Though it requires a free registration, Benjamin Moore has a fun Design Your Own Room tool that will let you upload a picture and see what different colored paint will look like without getting actual paint all over your work aloha shirts.

We are currently duking it out over what color we should try on the wall behind our circ desk and could use your impartial input. We’d love to hear your thoughts on some colors we’re considering!

I personally like Fresh Lime, but I’m not a dictator so I’m keeping an open mind about other colors–even the inferior, uglier ones…


Our current institutional gray

Screen Shot 2017-05-03 at 8.02.32 AM

The beautifully intense and amazing, Fresh Lime

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The contending, Paradise Valley Green

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Slightly less beautiful, but still attractive Killala Green

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Zzzzz… Shore House Green. Meh…

We want your honest, impartial opinions without, you know, undue influence so please hit reply below and tell us what you think.

But especially if it’s the absolutely lovely Fresh Lime… 

It’s the home stretch to the end of our school year. Finish strong, but remember to have fun and enjoy it. Life’s too short not to!

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Take a Reading Field Trip

“History is more than war and politics; it is literature, the arts, engineering…above all, history is human.”

This quote is a constant refrain in David McCullough’s recent book, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand Forwhich is a collection of lectures he gave on the importance of developing connections to history.

His commencement addresses often close with a plea for graduates to read and learn about the history of their country.  Several years ago, I attended a lecture by McCullough at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee, and he mentioned that one of the best ways for families to encourage a love of history is to visit and walk historic sites with their children.

Taking to heart McCullough’s emphasis on encouraging reading and learning about our human history, I would like to suggest a few pairings of books with history museums that you might visit.  The list is far from comprehensive; it would be wonderful to expand this list with suggestions of your favorite books and museums.

City Museum
St. Louis, Mo.
This museum has to be seen to be believed.  Started by a salvager who did not wish to discard the beautiful history of St. Louis, the museum took shape as local artisans created an artistic, interactive environment of salvaged history.
Book to Pair:
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
When forced to complete community service hours with a junk man, a young boy discovers the beauty of this junk through the man’s artistic creation.

Gettysburg National Military Park
Book to Pair:
The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
Shaara’s son, Jeff Shaara, continued the Civil War sagas. Jeff recounted in a lecture that as a boy he toured Gettysburg on several occasions with his father—his father talked as they walked the battlefield, imaginatively plotting what would become the classic Civil War story.

Lower East Side Tenement Museum
New York
A museum dedicated to understanding the daily life and struggles of immigrants
who came to America for new opportunities.
Books to Pair:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Francie Nolan and her Irish-American family struggle with poverty, but their lives are rich in their love for each other.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Intended as a way to remove tenement children from dangerous living conditions and bleak futures, the orphan trains supplied cheap labor for farmers and business owners.

Peabody Essex Museum (Historic Homes Tour)
Salem, Massachusetts
The historic homes tour provides insight into how early colonists viewed the New World, an environment that was often perceived as dangerous.
Book to Pair:
All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry
Though the location of the village is never mentioned in this book, this Edgar-winning novel is described as Speak meets The Scarlet Letter.

Salem Witch Trials Memorial
Salem, Massachusetts
Book to Pair:
Wicked Girls: A Novel of the Salem Witch Trials by Stephanie Hemphill
This novel in verse tells the events through the eyes of several girls who were the accusers in the infamous Salem Witch Trials.

The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Hotel
Memphis, Tennessee
The site of Martin Luther King’s assassination, this museum combines a timeline of civil rights events, primary sources, oral histories, and a burned-out bus to dramatize the danger faced by the freedom riders. Visitors even can walk near the balcony where King was assassinated.
Book to Pair:
March: Book 2 by John Lewis
Congressman Lewis recounts how the Freedom Riders boarded buses headed to the South to challenge racial desegregation laws.  Their efforts were met with violence.

Chinese-American History Museum
San Francisco, California
Book to Pair:
Bubonic Panic:  When Plague Invaded America
The Chinese Exclusion Act and the San Francisco Earthquake and Fire are some of the events as this epidemic unfolds.  Good tie-in for STEM and wonderful incorporation of primary sources.

Field Museum of Natural History
Chicago, Illinois
A naturalist’s dream, this museum shows fossils, skeletal remains, and dioramas of life as it evolved.
Book to Pair:
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
Gothic thriller set in Victorian Age when the Theory of Evolution inspired fossil hunting “wars” as well as animosity from religious fronts who saw Darwin’s theory as negating the bible.  Central to the plot is the young daughter, Faith, who aspires to be a naturalist like her father, but who is constrained by social conventions of her period.



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If At First You Don’t Succeed: Reading Rosie Revere, Engineer with 2nd Grade

“Your brilliant first flop as a raging success!
Come on, let’s get busy and on to the next!”
She handed a notebook to Rosie Revere,
Who smiled at her aunt as it all became clear.
Life might have its failures, but this was notit.
The only true failure can come if you quit.*

My first year as a school librarian was a lesson in letting go of fear of failure. I didn’t learn it so much as I didn’t fight against it- failure was happening every day and I could either lean into it and accept what was or be miserable. Here I was prepared as I could be with a careful, color-coded spreadsheet and lesson plans and yet, I could not seem to predict how it each class would go. These days I find others words for what I would have called failure in the past- when I walk into a lesson without expectations, I am able to see what I might have missed.

The last three weeks of library class for second grade are a lesson for the students and for me, too, about getting comfortable with making “failure” a challenge. It also serves as great chance to practice the design thinking process implicitly or explicitly. A row of books that’s been carefully set will inevitably be accidently knocked down and need to be redone. An unplanned start often shows us where our chain is weak and can allow us to tweak something we wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. We practice how we talk to each other in collaboration and examine our perspective. The measure of success in these weeks are quiet but brilliant: overhearing one student tell another “It’s ok, we’re learning” as they cleaned up a turn that didn’t quite work out or watching four separate groups decide on their own to join forces.

Below is a rough outline of this lesson:

Part 1: Read “Rosie, Revere Engineer,” “Iggy Peck, Architect,” or “Ada Twist, Scientist” together as a class.

Part 2: Watch the Seattle Public Library launch their 2013 Summer Reading Program by breaking the world record for longest book domino chain. We generally watch the video twice, focused the second time on the details of the set up (How far apart were the books? Were they all the same size?)

Part 3: Break into groups of 4 and create prototypes. We film these trials so that we can watch them later and learn what worked and what didn’t. The students do the filming with our library iPads.

Part 4: Come together as a class and create a big chain together (if this hasn’t happen organically).

*Beaty, Andrea, and David Roberts. Rosie Revere, Engineer. New York: Abrams, 2015. Print.

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