Staying Centered in Trying Times

Some of you may know that I’m a potter by avocation. I’ve been making pottery longer than I’ve done anything else in my life, including my 20+ years as a librarian. While I occasionally hand-build—my real passion is throwing on the wheel. There is something soothing and Zen-like about turning a lump of clay into functional pieces for everyday use. Throwing on the wheel requires me to be present with the clay and the wheel and the tools. No matter how much effort I put into throwing a pot, if I don’t center the clay to begin with, there’s little chance I’ll end up with a finished piece I want to keep. The act of being focused on what I’m doing has a restorative effect in and of itself on my well-being, and in these trying times, I find I need that now more than ever.

Librarian vs. Entropy

Every year at this time I’m happy to be back at school with students after Winter Break. This year, however, I’m back but our students and faculty aren’t. Even though we did have a long Winter Break, somehow I feel more drained and less rested than before it started. I’m sure the fact that it’s lonely without our students, who won’t return to campus until the first week in February, doesn’t help. So my return to a mostly empty campus amid the more contagious variant of COVID-19 and the violent insurgence at our nation’s Capitol and the aftermath has made it difficult to focus on projects generally reserved for those times when students aren’t on campus. I’ll be spending the next month completing behind-the-scenes work necessary for the smooth running of any K-12 library—weeding, checking digital resources for currency and accuracy, reviewing lesson plans, and developing new instructional material for research classes. Necessary yes, but restorative? I’m not so sure. From my point of view, a majority of our time and energy as librarians is spent trying to counteract the effects of entropy—the tendency of systems to devolve into randomness and disorder. Take your eye off any part of your library for too long and things quickly fall apart.

The first thing I tackled was checking and updating my guides with new information (when relevant). I just finished working with two of our APUSH classes on their long form research paper, so that guide is in good shape for the next classes I’ll work with during the remaining weeks of our Winter term. We have a new Black American Studies class so I’ve been working to add as many resources as possible to a new LibGuide to support the curriculum. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll check for broken links. Broken links can undermine a user’s confidence in the usefulness of your guides, so every few months I run a report through the Link Checker function. There are frequently a large percentage of false positives, but I don’t mind checking each link as it gives me a chance to review it for relevancy to the guide it’s on. This can be a time-consuming task so this is a good time to work through them. The most recent report had roughly100 broken links, the majority of those checked so far being false positives, so the guides will be in good shape once they’ve all been resolved.


Weeding is one of my least favorite tasks: it’s just so final. Before I started work on our reference collection, I reviewed the CREW manual from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

This manual was clearly written by working professionals and is full of helpful and down-to-earth advice to help you organize your thoughts and prioritize your goals for weeding. Your print reference collection may be similar to ours—taking up prime shelf space yet rarely, if ever, used. A decision was made to interfile these titles with the circulating collection, making this the ideal time to weed. Ultimately I used the following criteria as a guideline and eventually found I was able to get into the “weeding zone” where I wasn’t so stressed about what I was getting rid of, but instead focused on what remained and the value it added to our collection:
1. Age and condition of book
2. Is it relevant to the curriculum or our community?
3. Is it unique in any way?
4. Does it add to the diversity of the circulating collection?
5. Do we have other books on this topic/ subject area?
6. Do we have databases that provide tertiary/ reference information similar to this title?

This ultimately meant that a number of our general and subject-specific encyclopedias were removed from the collection and will find new homes if the information isn’t currently inaccurate (think science) or dated (think current history topics and the language of older publications). Since many of our faculty only allow the use of tertiary sources for background information when writing research papers and much of the general information provided in these sources can be found freely online or in our databases, these titles were easy to cull. You know when your Oxford Companion to (insert random topic here) was published 30 years ago but has an unbroken spine, it’s time for it to go. We are, however, going to keep a small ready reference collection at the front desk, although that’s more for our benefit than our students who rarely, if ever, consult handbooks, dictionaries, and almanacs in print.

In the next week, I will be turning my attention to our Professional Development section, one area I am looking forward to weeding and possibly organizing by topic in more of a bookstore format. I would really like to move the collection to an area with a bit of privacy and a comfy chair where faculty could put their feet up, relax, and browse a while. We’ll see how the weeding goes first, though.

Final Thoughts

Although I’m not sure I experience the same sense of Zen when working on these tasks that I experience when throwing on the wheel, I do feel that same sense of calm when I look at a well-organized shelf or visually pleasing LibGuide—the feeling of accomplishment for a job well-done. These are a few of the things that I hold onto in turbulent times and hope they’ll make a difference in some small way.

Musings, PD Courses, and Applying to Present at Conferences


What a sad, frightening, and demoralizing few weeks we have experienced. Our democratic process was challenged by insurrection and intimidation. Members of Congress questioned valid ballot verification, and insurgents terrorized the House and Senate. Conversely, we also witnessed members of both the democratic and republican parties unite in condemning the insurrection and confirming Biden’s victory. Many members in the House and Senate soundly condemned the malcontents that stormed the capital. Media literacy lessons are extremely important now, so we can help students make sense of this turmoil. Thank you, David for sharing Media Literacy lesson ideas last week.

Professional Development

There are so many wonderful Professional Development opportunities available to help us update our curriculum. Last summer, I participated in a three-week course through KQED/PBS that focused on new techniques for teaching some areas of media literacy, such as: lateral reading for resource evaluation, reliability, bias, media production, evaluating images, and more. Evaluating data and images with Javin West was probably my favorite section of the course. KQED offers Media Literacy PD courses throughout the year. Their instruction focuses on helping you create curriculum.

Professional Development courses can help us stay current, and abreast of the latest education and library research and techniques.

Conference Applications

We can share our knowledge we glean from Professional Development by providing PD for others through speaking at conferences and writing articles.

This year, I was on the ALA summer conference committee as a conference program reviewer. I graded conference applications using a reviewer’s rubric. There are a few suggestions/observations I would like to share with you.

  1. Have someone check your work.
    1. Members of the publication committee are available to help you proof and critique your application.
  2. Check you work for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes.
    1. These types of mistakes will affect your grading on the reviewer’s report.
  3. Read the directions for each section “carefully,” before filling in the required information.
    1. For instance: Writing about how great your presentation content is doesn’t address how your presentation will benefit others. 
    2. Or, If you have chosen curriculum as a category, focus on how your idea will fit in the school or library curriculum. Provide examples of lesson plans, or curriculum collaboration.
  4. List your qualifications to present with the topic in mind.
    1. If you are presenting on distance learning list your experiences/expertise with distance learning.
      1. Example: I have been teaching online classes since March 2020 and have been attending courses through Explo Elevate and KQED on distance learning teaching techniques and strategies.
  5. Include specific examples about how you will interact with the audience
    1. Conferences are looking for presentations that will be engaging, and interactive.
      1. Plan an activity that supports the presentation concept.
      2. Mention current tools and techniques.
        1. Provide time to let the audience experience these current items.
  6. Is your proposal creative and innovative?
    1. You are unique, and your presentation should reflect how you uniquely apply the topic in your classroom curriculum, PD for teachers, etc.
    2. Do a little research before you apply to present.
      1. Look at what other schools are doing.
      2. List how your approach is unique and innovative.

Don’t hesitate to contact publication committee members. We want to help you with your writing and presentations.

The Publications Committee Members

Debbie Abilock

Tasha Bergson-Michelson

Sarah Davis

Christina Karvounis

Cathy Leverkus

Alyssa Mandel

on January 6, 2021…

Under different circumstances, I would be opening my first post of 2021 by offering a platitude wishing everyone a Happy New Year accompanied by a humorous-to-me gif, but given the events that unfolded in Washington, D.C. today, that just isn’t what I’m feeling at the moment. In fact, I’m not sure what to feel in this moment beyond feeling rather heartbroken for the where we find ourselves.

When it comes to my work, I tend to be someone who is averse to risk. I don’t perform well in “brainstorming sessions” because I so dislike/fear sharing thoughts and ideas that aren’t well formed that I spend all my energy managing my anxiety rather than participating in the process. The thing is that when it comes to things like the US Capitol Building being stormed by a mob of protestors seemingly based largely on misinformation and disinformation, the teachers, administrators, and students with whom we work are going to expect librarians to say SOMETHING. What I’m struggling with this afternoon is what this means for my work tomorrow and in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Be warned… This is kind of a mess… It is, what it is…

On Breaking News…

I’m thinking that this might be a good time to talk with teachers and students about how to contextualize “breaking news.” This came to mind. It’s old, but holds up very well…

On Quality Journalism…

I need to stop being so afraid to explicitly tell kids, “I generally give more weight to mainstream media sources. Here is why I do that…” This entire module on quality journalism is good, but I sometimes have just used sections 1-6 as a way to contextualize source evaluation lessons. I will be talking about this a LOT more.

On “Motivated Reasoning”…

I will be labeling “motivated reasoning” more explicitly. Graphic via the News Literacy Project. Click here for more on motivated reasoning via Wikipedia

On Types of Misinformation…

We need to talk about the different types of misinformation that kids are likely to encounter.

Click here for more information on the 5 Types of Misinformation via the News Literacy Project

On Emotional Health…

Talking about the news of the day is depressing or anxiety inducing for some–It is for me… I tend to be a “defensive-pessimist.” Basically, my kind of flippant personal motto since I was kid has always kind of been, “Hope for the best, but expect the worst.” That is, when I took tests in my HS chemistry class I always left the room hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I recently came across this piece on The Stockdale Paradox that actually helped me understand why it seemed to work for me. Maybe it will speak to one of you…

A Final Thought for Now…

Our school President, shared a lengthy message with our faculty today and I read it in a moment when i was struggling to deal with what I was seeing. This excerpt from his longer message spoke to me and maybe it’ll speak to you.

I think I found my theme for the coming year, “Character will prevail…”

Hoping you are all safe and doing as well as might be expected. Wishing you all the very best, friends.

Survey and Future Planning for AISL

Hindsight is indeed finally 2020. Happy 2021! (I didn’t even make it to 10pm but did watch Sweet Home Alabama in pajamas with my mom and the dog. Please confirm that I’m not the only person who spent the last 20 years thinking Matthew McConoughey was the Southern husband.)

Meet Wolfgang. He loves laps.

Many members have already seen the email on the 1st about the board’s strategic planning survey. Basically:

Every five years, the board asks members to complete a survey that will guide us in our planning for the future. This survey is organized around the categories of demographics, position information, professional development, and ideas for the future. We will be sharing aggregated statistics related to questions about variances in librarian roles and position expectations to the listserv this spring, and we are going to review your experiences with past professional development and hopes for the future so AISL can continue to be a valuable resource for members.

Every September when renewals are due, the board declares the $30 membership fee the best professional deal around, and this year’s half day virtual conference will be an included member benefit as a thank you for your support and dedication to the profession during the challenges of 2020. If I needed a reminder that librarians are phenomenal, I sent the survey email at 5pm on Friday, New Year’s Day, and by Monday morning we already had over 60 responses! Can I say holiday weekend? Thank you to those who have already provided their feedback, and for those who haven’t yet done so, it can be found through February 1st on the AISL website once you’ve logged in with your account.

The remainder of this post will relate to three specific survey questions I’ve been mulling over throughout the design process.

Most Helpful Professional Development this Year

The “right book at the right time for the right child” cliché corresponds perfectly to my thoughts about this year’s professional development. My most fun professional development was certainly the AISL Zoom sessions. AISL members are my friends and my global support network. I don’t think I’ve yet asked a question that didn’t get a thoughtful response. But that doesn’t feel like it answers the question the survey asked about what was most helpful this year. I spent a lot of time listening to webinars for administrators, specifically the ones through the virtual school One Schoolhouse. Throughout my career, I’ve been part of multiple conversations where librarians lament that administrators don’t understand (*best case) or appreciate (*worst case) the role of the library. This groups discussion topics included admissions, standardized testing, accreditation requirements, finances, safety protocols, scope of the school’s reach, parent communication, mission alignment, and yes, also curriculum. Librarians balance a lot within our libraries, but we generally don’t have to think through all the details of running a school. None of the presenters seemed to have come to administration through the path of librarianship. As they, like us, balanced their “new normal,” there were plenty of logistical hurdles, and libraries, specifically well-run libraries, weren’t on the top of their minds. I’ll continue to think about advocacy, as I don’t have answers yet, but I found it incredibly helpful to hear directly from administrators about what’s on their minds when they talk to each other. This isn’t an opportunity I would have had – or sought out – in other years, but it’s one that was impactful.

Identify Your Strengths as a Leader

As president of this organization, perhaps I should feel qualified to quickly check some of the boxes where I self identify as a leader. This is simply asking for a self assessment. No one is going to question the check marks. Heck, only the AISL board will even see the results! Yet my self identification falls more to the girl hugging a dog in the photo and less towards my linkedin profile. Is this related to age? Gender? The way I was raised? This is another paragraph ending without definitive answers, but if you’re someone who experienced the same hesitation, you’re not alone.

Is there an AISL member you admire?

Yes! Too many to name in the survey and too many to name here. For members who have attended conferences, the friendships made during those days together are what cemented AISL’s value. And this is a year that lets us connect more frequently and easily, but only mediated by computer screens. It’s not the same.

Lunch at the Key School in Maryland, 2013

Last week, I read The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow about the effects of randomness on our lives. (Case in point: an alum brought a friend to an Academic Team meet where she was reading a book with a cool cover. Based on that cover, I read Subliminal and wanted to read Mlodinow’s other work. I mentioned it to my dad over the holidays, and he happened to have a copy given to him by my father in law back in 2008. Random…) Which is to say that I ended up as a librarian in Florida in 2007, never imagining I would settle in the state. I was introduced that fall to our regional BAAIS group and CD McLean. At the time, CD was a board member of AISL and encouraged all the Tampa Bay Librarians to join the group. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t until 2013. That’s the year the conference was being held in my hometown of Baltimore, the same week as my college reunion, giving me almost a week to hang out with my parents and college friends. I still remember calling CD and asking why I should pay for a hotel when I could borrow a car and drive 45 minutes into the city each day. Yet from that first bus ride and breakfast at St. Paul’s school, it was obvious what I had been missing without AISL. CD encouraged me to get more involved, and she’s always taken the time to problem solve with me when I’m stressed at work. Among many other librarians, thank you CD.

If you filled out the survey and have a librarian you admire, I’d encourage you to reach out directly and let them know. This has been a tough year. It can feel a bit vulnerable, but can you think of a time when those affirmations wouldn’t have been appreciated in your own life? Little actions, random though they might seem, can make a difference.

Team AISL Tampa Bay Area. 2015

I wish everyone a smooth semester two no matter how you’re returning. I’ve been talking throughout the fall with some of the department chairs about how we don’t want to be told to care less, even when we’re complaining and stressed. We’re in this profession because we care about our students, and they are experiencing this pandemic in a way that is likely much more distinctive to their schooling experience than it is to ours. How can we care strategically about our students, our libraries and ourselves? The answer to that is unique to each of us, and I hope it’s something you can find as we begin 2021.

Join the Mask Maker Movement

I had the good fortune to have a mother who was an excellent seamstress. She made most of the clothes my sister and I wore through middle school, back in the dark ages when girls were forbidden to wear pants to school (can you imagine!) and the length of your skirt was closely monitored. Lucky for me, my mom patiently taught me everything she knew about sewing. By the time I was in high school, dress codes eventually relaxed and I was soon making the obligatory dirndl skirt in Home Ec, but on my own time I also made mini skirts and granny gowns—quite the dichotomy—but that was the 70s for you. Exploring the internet in search of the perfect mask, I was thrilled to discover an amazing array of DIY mask tutorials from a wide array of sewists—including Marcy Harriell of Broadway fame who starred in In the Heights and Rent. Her tutorial on 3D masks is the uplifting video you didn’t know you needed.

Masks Required

My school requires everyone to wear masks all the time except when eating or in a dorm room (for students) or a private office (for faculty and staff). That means when it comes to masks, I’ve pretty much tried them all looking for a style that offers protection from COVID-19, doesn’t hinder my ability to breathe during normal activity, and allows others to understand me whether I’m teaching in front of a socially distanced classroom or helping a patron at the front desk. As our understanding of how the COVID-19 virus spreads has changed over time, I have found my requirements for my masks has changed with it. At the beginning of the year I felt fairly confident that sanitizing surfaces, washing my hands or using a hand-sanitizer religiously after touching any surface, and maintaining a social distance of six feet would keep me as safe as possible when we returned to on ground classes. I worked hard to keep my hands off my mask, remove it by the ear straps, and wash it as soon as I got home. I carried a couple spare masks and my biggest concern then was foggy glasses and a muffled voice.

Aerosol Transmission

Now that transmission of the virus through aerosols in closed spaces without adequate ventilation has been documented (see the recent editorial in The Lancet), I decided to see what I could do to improve or replace the masks I was using to protect myself from aerosol transmission. In the early months of mask wearing when we weren’t aware of this risk, I bought several brands trying to find the one that I could wear comfortably for a solid eight hours. Probably one of the biggest problems with trying out masks is that they understandably aren’t returnable—so I ultimately ended up buying quite a few that I never used and turned to sewing several different styles in my quest for the perfect fit: pleated, Olson, and 3D. I now wear all three and have found each has their positive points. And as with everything related to the pandemic, I try not to focus on the negative but look for solutions for the problem at hand.

Pleated Masks

For everyday wear, the pleated mask is my favorite: it’s comfortable, provides full coverage from the bridge of my nose to under my chin and most importantly, doesn’t slip as I talk, and can be sewn to include a filter pocket. A nose wire helps to secure the mask, but the real game changer is the addition of an inverted pleat at the top that makes foggy glasses a thing of the past. I came across this mask hack on UK artist Sophie Passmore’s YouTube channel and for those of you working with young children or others who need to lip read or see facial expressions, she has a tutorial for a fantastic 3D window mask. There are an unlimited number of mask tutorials on YouTube, you only have to search to find the one that suits your learning style. If you aren’t a sewist, there are also tutorials on sewing masks by hand, so don’t be deterred if you don’t have a sewing machine and are interested in creating your own.

Fit Over the Nose

Probably the most important thing I’m looking for is a secure fit of the mask around the bridge of my nose. I want a tight fit—the object being to block airborne particles. I find having an adjustable metal bar allows me to shape the mask to the contours of my face ensuring as snug a fit as possible. While I know this fit isn’t as secure as that of an N95 mask, I’m not working in a medical setting that requires an air-tight fit. Any flexible wire can be used, but I prefer to use aluminum nose wires that I purchase through Amazon. If you’re making your own mask, create a tube, insert the wire, then sew closed. I recommend using clips in place of pins to avoid making holes in your mask. You can also add nose wires to any masks you currently use as they have an adhesive back and will stick to your mask so you can get the fit you want.

Olson Masks

The Olson mask was designed by Clayton Skousen & Rose Hedgesand, clinicians at Unity Point Health, and donated masks of this style are frequently used by hospital personnel as a protective barrier over their N95 masks. I usually need to make some adjustment to get this style pattern to fit properly as it doesn’t have the extra fabric afforded by the pleated style to accommodate variations in individual faces. The Olson mask is comfortable once you get the fit right (I added a side tuck) and is much easier to insert filters into than the pleated style.

3D Masks

If you teach or do any amount of public speaking, then you’re probably familiar with the sensation of eating the fabric of your face mask while gasping for air so you can project your muffled voice. Just think of all the new teaching skills we’ve learned in 2020! I tried various silicone mask brackets and they were effective at keeping the mask out of my mouth, but I found they made my voice sound even more muffled. Enter the 3D mask. This mask reminds me of origami in that the dimension is created by folding and sewing the fabric. I like this mask especially for teaching and found it the best one for creating some space between my mask and my face. But, it still wasn’t great and it moved in and out with each breath I took. Enter the 3D mask hack by Sophie Passmore. She posted a video using cable ties to create a permanent 3D area (see the link to her YouTube channel above). You create a channel at the top and bottom of the front of the mask and insert the cable tie. The tension on the ties results in them bowing out and is created when you fold the top and bottom to make the mask. It sounds more complicated than it is – watch the tutorial and see for yourself!

Filti Face Mask Filter

I came across the Filti site while looking for an an effective filter material to use that offered the best protection against aerosol transmission. Tests by an engineering team at Washington University found Filti to be 85% effective at filtering 300-nanometer particles. In comparison, N95 filters are 95% effective. I use Filti for the filters in my face masks and also make disposable-type masks for quick trips out using it in place of material. Instead of tossing it after use, I quarantine the filters and masks for seven days in a paper bag and reuse. After several uses, I also sterilize them in the oven following the instructions on the Filti site. I haven’t thrown any away yet, but when I do, I’ll remove the ear cords and reuse.

Disclaimer: I am not recommending that you use Filti, just sharing my experience with the product.

Stay Safe and Healthy

So whether you are a member of the DIY mask maker movement, support one of the many DIY mask makers on Etsy, or have found your perfect fit from a commercially made mask, stay safe and healthy, and please share your experience with masks as we’re all in this together and it looks like we’ll be wearing them for quite some time.

Links to Information and Material for Face Masks

The Use of Batik for Face Masks
Original Olson Mask Pattern link
Hospital Approved Mask Patterns
Batik Fat Quarters on Etsy (I usually can get three masks from one fat quarter)
Video by Lorri Nunemaker (with Olson and pleated mask patterns plus a 25% off coupon for Filti Face Mask Products)

on CSI: News Literacy?

I hope my final AISL post of 2020 finds you either already enjoying some well deserved time away from your libraries or that you will be heading off to start your winter break very shortly.

Butter Cookies, Beignets, and Gingerbread Man Time…

Here at Mid-Pacific we begin our school year in the first week of August so, for us, this week marks the end of our first semester. I know that the end of a term is typically extremely busy for many libraries, but in our heavily project-based learning curriculum, demand for library services tends to come early in the semester when projects launch and then about a month before the end of a term when the bulk of work is in progress. Interestingly, the very end of a term tends to be the time when we catch up on cataloging, weeding, cleaning up catalog records, and other “good librarian’s do this” stuff that I HATE doing. I’ve deemed this period butter cookie, beignet, and gingerbread man time because I hate these tasks so much that the only way I can make myself do them is by telling myself, “Catalog 5 things, then you can go to the work room and have a butter cookie, one of the chocolate beignets, or one of the gingerbread men.” It means that I usually have to swap over to the fat pants in my closet about two weeks in, but it also means that I don’t get fired so… #TradeOffs #Pragmatism


A Gift from Santa Your Email Inbox (and No, Not the SPAM Kind from Random Library Vendors that Want to Meet Your Printer Toner Needs) …

Sometimes, though, as you’re wiping the stray powdered sugar from that delicious chocolate beignet off your face, your email notification chimes and you get a random gift that’s so unexpected that all you can do is rub your eyes (you know, metaphorically, because it’s a pandemic and you should never touch your eyeballs) and read it over and over…

I got this email from a 10th grade STEM teacher in our multidisciplinary Mid-Pacific eXploratory [MPX] program:

Hi Dave, saw this.  We have been following the vaccine in class.  How do we turn this into a lesson?

Happy friends
Me in my head…

So, I’ve been thinking about what to do with this…

When Trying to Grow Information Literate Humans, Can Less be More?

I recently came across this article on Why the ‘Paradox Mindset’ is the Key to Success on how “embracing contradictory ideas may actually be the secret to creativity and leadership.” I’ve been thinking about that piece a lot lately. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I feel like I’m working super hard getting all sweaty everyday, and teaching bundles of skills, yet never seeming to get to the point where I feel like we’re sending students out into the world with the degree of information literacy that they need in order to thrive in a networked, polarized world. I’m ready to try something different. I’m wondering if 5 minutes of library instruction can be more productive than 85 minutes. I know that’s crazy talk, but hear me out.

When I think back to my days as an elementary classroom teacher focusing on developing students’ reading literacy, nobody ever expected that reading literacy would come in 6 discrete reading lessons a year. Literacy just doesn’t develop that way. I don’t know why, but it occurs to me that I seem to be trying grow information literate young adults in 6 library lessons a year. When I really think about it, it looks a lot like a fool’s errand.

This is grossly oversimplifying, but literacies, I suppose, develop when students are able to put skills, concepts, and strategies together and apply them to complex, faceted contexts that they haven’t seen before. With reading literacy, when I say skills and concepts I’m thinking things like:

  • Letter-sound relationships
  • Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends
  • In English we read from left to right and from top to bottom
  • Etc.

And when I say strategies, I’m thinking about things like:

  • What should I do when I come to word I don’t know?
  • Based on the title and the illustration, can I predict what this book is about?
  • Does the information that I think I’m getting as I read this story match my prediction or is it causing cognitive dissonance?
  • Etc.

When it Comes to Information Literacy or News Literacy Instruction, We Need to Keep it Simple, but Keeping it Simple is Super Not Simple… 👀

If we ever hope to help students truly become #NewsLiterate or #InformationLiterate, I think we’re going to have to make our news literacy and information literacy instruction look and feel more like reading instruction looks in our elementary classrooms. We need to find ways to teach specific discrete skills and specific strategies in multiple ways over sustained periods of time with lots of opportunities for students to practice application in different contexts. I know that’s a horribly constructed sentence, but I hope you get what I mean.

Half-Baked Thoughts: What If…?

I think that’s what we need to do, but I’m in uncharted territory so I’m feeling stuck and all I have to offer here is my half-baked thoughts on a half-baked plan for some news literacy instruction that we hope to begin working on sometime in January.

What if, instead an 80-minute library lesson, we taught news literacy skills and concepts in the form of short 5-10 minute lessons and activities over a sustained period of time? The pandemic hasn’t been any fun, but if we’re going to have to take the negatives, we may as well embrace the silver linings in the black clouds. We’ve gotten pretty good a making short instructional screencasts and teachers here have become really comfortable having librarians Zooming into their hybrid (most of our students, PK-12, are on campus for face-to-face instruction, but almost every class or section has a few students who are learning virtually) for short “just in time” instruction. We are finding that having the technology in place and working with teachers who are now comfortable with virtual/hybrid instruction is giving us a lot more freedom and flexibility to deliver library instruction in different ways. As in:

“Hey Dave, my kids don’t know anything about in-text citation or works cited!”

“Yeah… No, the frosh haven’t had any instruction on it yet, but do you want me to Zoom into your class RIGHT NOW? I can if you want…”

Sometimes our service is a screencast; sometimes it is a short Zoom session with a class; sometimes it is meeting in a breakout room with a segment of a class; and sometimes is is face-to-face in a teacher’s room.

Here’s What I’m Thinking, But I Need Help Figuring Out How to Make It Work – CSI: InfoLit Edition…

Rather than schedule an 80 minute library lesson on news literacy or source evaluation, I want to try 3-10 minutes of instruction or activities with our 10th grade MPX STEM sections, everyday for 2 weeks. Some days, we’ll teach or demonstrate a skill or concept and on other days we’ll try some guided practice applying the fact checking or source evaluation skills and strategies that we’ve introduced. At the end of two weeks, I’d like students to have to come up with a deliverable of some kind that demonstrates their ability to apply the skills, concepts, and strategies presented.

At some point earlier this year, I had a conversation with AISL librarian Nancy Florio who mentioned that she had her research seminar students record narrated screencasts of their database search efforts to demonstrate what they’d learned in her class. I thought the idea was genius so we’re thinking that at the end of the instructional module, perhaps we can give students sample sources and have them create narrated instructional screencast that demonstrate how they would fact check, verify, and/or place the source in a broader context before sharing it on social media or using it for a research project which we’ll then share out to their parents as a virtual presentation of learning.

The Format…

On instructional days, show or review an information literacy video that we already have on hand or record new screencasts presenting the skill or concept.

Something kind of like this:

Click on the image to view my awesome colleague, Nicole’s, screencast on tracing claims back to their origin.

During the next class meeting, present students with a source for them to fact check and evaluate, then briefly debrief the techniques members of the class used to achieve success.

I’ve lined out the image to indicate that I’ve manipulated the tweet to present a headline out of context. Students simply need to click through the link to read the full headline to see that by removing just a single word, I can make it seem that Bill Gates has taken an anti-vaccination position. READ THE ARTICLE BEFORE SHARING IT, KIDS!!!
This is the actual full headline.

Hoping to Hear from You!

I know it’s not a lot, but that’s where I am right now. That’s all we’ve got. I’ve love to hear about any thoughts, suggestions, concerns, better ideas…

I’m not completed wedded to these ideas, but I’m hoping that getting students to think about source evaluation concepts, skills, and strategies over a more sustained period of time might help to build an information mindsets that leans toward skepticism and determining context, but that avoid turning students into cynics–skepticism is good, cynicism not so much…

I’ve come to believe that when students feel overwhelmed by source evaluation they either:

  • Become cynical and believe that there’s no way to discern “truth” in any form so they just use the first thing they find that le’s them fill their perceived information need get that assignment off of their todo lists.


  • They literally don’t know HOW to investigate a source’s accuracy; origin of a claim; or discern whether a source’s creator has political or financial conflicts of interest that may influence the context for the information presented.

I’m hoping this might be a way to combat those scenarios with a little more success.

That’s All I’ve Got, Friends…

Wishing you all a restful, safe, socially-distanced, healthy, well deserved time away from your libraries. I’m so grateful for everyone in AISL. In spite of the year that has been 2020, you all help me to remember that the world is #MostlyGood and will continue to be so because we choose to make it so. Thank you for being my community!

[Edited: 12/19/2020] Checkology and NewsLitCamps!

Thank you to AISL Librarian, Lia, for her reminder about resources available through Checkology and the News Literacy Project! While we’re at it, please consider attended one of the News Literacy Project’s NewsLItCamps for educators! A number of AISL librarians attended the December 10th event. I thought it was an amazing experience! There is a NewsLitCamp scheduled for January 23rd. Details and registration information is available here: Jan. 26: CNN (Virtual: Open to educators nationwide). The event is free!

Digital Interactive Notebooks for Research

I remember using interactive notebooks when I was an English teacher many years ago. I have always personally loved projects in which students construct books as a process to help them construct their knowledge. So my mind drifted back to this idea recently when my English department reached out to me for help with background research for context knowledge before reading a book. The teachers were looking for something different than infographic posters, slide presentations, or videos. So, I looked into a digital version of interactive notebooks and found an abundance of resources.

While this is not a new educational concept, I love to revisit golden oldies and think about how to put a new twist on it. I was drawn to resources that showed how to make templates for a digital notebook using Google Slides as the medium.  I thought this would be a perfect match for conducting background historical research and not a full blown research project. I am working with 7th grade language arts teachers, so I like that interactive notebooks allow educators to design the level of scaffolding research skills. 

There are many tutorials circulating about making digital interactive notebooks, but I found the following one useful by Jessica Wilding of Blended Learning in Texas: Getting Started with Digital Interactive Notebooks. I picked up many new tech tricks to use with the Google Slides environment. My favorite new insight is learning how to use the “master” view to set-up templates and create fixed text and images. This is what makes the digital notebook look, feel and act like a physical notebook or scrapbook. As I played around with it, it reminded me of the old mac software Hyperstudio of putting in icons and active features to make learning more engaging. I know that is a throwback tech reference, but I could not help myself. The great thing about using Google Slides is that students are familiar with it, and they can pick up new tricks in the process of recording their research. Additionally, it shows them how to break out of using Google Slides only for slide presentations as well.

I have also written about creating Hyperdocs with Google Docs, but I see Interactive Notebooks through Google Slides as leveling up a notch because it provides more possibilities for interaction. Working in the “master” view of google slides is like the underlay and then switching to the “normal” view allows students to input or enter text and move around objects and pictures. There are so many fun features you can put in an interactive notebook to simulate manipulatives like in real life. You can also leave a minimal template and let students embellish depending on how much support and guided inquiry you want to provide.

I am in the planning stages of this project, so this is just a preview of a project for after the holiday break. The book 7th grade students are reading is The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney. The research is on the Darfur conflict in Sudan during the early 2000s.  Since the story focuses on a character receiving a red pencil I thought the digital notebook concept a nice pairing with the pencil. For the cover design of the notebook, I intentionally embedded African fabrics in a composition book style in which students can choose amongst six designs.

Here is a sneak peak to see the interactive part.

Map Puzzle

I really enjoyed designing the notebook and think there are many more uses that librarians can incorporate into their repertoire. I could see interactive notebooks as a scrapbook for a novel, a book of poems for poetry month, or a reader’s journal over a semester. I am interested in seeing how other librarians are using interactive notebooks as well. Please share any more applications for libraries in the comments.

Top Ten Resources I Can’t Live Without!

(In no particular order)

I am the sole librarian at a Prekindergarten-12 school so I need all the help I can get! I am with first through fifth graders more than other grade levels, so most of these resources are tailored towards younger students.

1. SLJ online. While the full magazine is free online to librarians right now, I often visit the SLJ website to explore the range of noteworthy blogs, particularly “The Classroom Bookshelf” and “100 Scope Notes.”

Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. I have used his “Name that Lego Book Cover” and “One Star Review, Guess Who?” (ridiculous reviews from Goodreads) for library contests.

2. Lucas Maxwell’s Portable Magic Dispenser! Lucas Maxwell is a school librarian at Glenthorne High School in London. He’s quite creative and very generous. When I need book suggestions, library lessons, research and tech tips, literary games, book displays and things I didn’t even know I needed, I refer to his blog and newsletter.

3. This subscription is worth every penny even though I could probably find most of the resources independently. I use it every single day.

4. Talented authors who generously share their creativity, and so many have stepped it up big time since Covid -19!

Mo Willems’ wonderful website and inimitable resources can be found here: Mo Willems/Kennedy Center (Also, if you haven’t watched Mo Willems making slop, you are missing out:  I Really Like Slop!)
If you found this entertaining, try Carnivores from the talented and truly funny Dan Santat: Carnivores

Jerry Pallotta has a terrific website: JerryPallotta. He visited our school last year. He’s hilarious and student – focused.

Grace Lin Activities are well worth a look; there’s games, crafts, drawing and writing activities to supplement her books.

My students love Dan Gutman’s books and enjoy visits to his website for trailers, writing tips, videos with Dan and games: Gutman.

Jarrett Krosoczka’s Draw Every Day with JJK is a program designed to “educate, entertain, and empower young artists.”

Jason Reynolds’ “Write. Right. Rite” series: GrabtheMic. On January 13, 2020, Jason Reynolds was appointed the seventh National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature.. Our English teachers AND their students have fully embraced this series sponsored by the Library of Congress. It’s superb.

Jarrett Lerner Jarrett’s Doodles & More: JarrettLerner. An abundance of FREE writing and drawing prompts, and activity sheets that marvelously supplement literature.

Read, Wonder and Learn– read alouds from a variety of authors and illustrators curated by author Kate Messer.

5. Ted Ed Talks/Videos. I use these videos all the time as they are well done, engaging and include review and discussion questions. The Electoral College video was a game changer for me in teaching lower and middle school students how our voting system works.

Does your vote count? The Electoral College explained - Christina Greer -  YouTube

6. AISL BLOG! I refer to it constantly – thank you!

7. Twitter. This is my go to and sole social media platform. Twitter provides me with a plethora of information from the authors, librarians, educators and colleagues I follow.

8. Shannon Miller. Her blog, TheLibraryVoice, is outstanding.
Shannon shares technology tools, incredible library rotation choice
boards, and ways to connect with classroom content.

9. ReadBrightly. I love ReadBrightly! I use it to locate
book recommendations, printables, activities based on books,
and read alouds.

10. DAISLA – We are a very supportive and flourishing group of
Dallas and Fort Worth librarians. Our organization is beginning to offer more
PD opportunities including guest speakers, virtual field trips (for
now), and member presentations.

I continue to be inspired and energized by the people who share their brilliance and creativity! And, to the many librarians who have taken the time to mentor me, particularly Renee Chevallier!

Revisiting Creative Commons: the 4th Prong to Copyright, Public Domain, and Fair Use

I was recently asked by an administrator to share with our faculty tips about finding images and media for projects so that we can model for our students how to find appropriate and licensed images and media for use. This led me to review, revisit, and revise how I tackle and present concepts of copyright, fair use and Creative Commons licenses. Most academic institutions realize it is important to revisit topics of academic property and intellectual rights with staff every couple of years; if not, annually. In the process of dusting off my own knowledge of the topic and looking at the ways our students and faculty are using media I stumbled upon some new angles to share efficient and relevant ways to find images and media.

It started with a question from a teacher,” Can you share that website that has the ‘free’ images with students?” I am sure many of you have been asked this question and have offered up resources that direct teachers to places to find images labeled “free to use.” While this is one of the most common ways many librarians tackle the complex intersection of copyright, fair use, and creative common license; I specifically and purposefully, have shifted my language away from using the words “free” to “licensed to use” as a slight paradigm shift in this topic. I choose this shift because of the role Creative Commons has emerged over the years for offering ways for creatives, artists, and  content creators to share and take control of how their works are offered for use in our digital landscape. I see CC licenses now as the fourth prong to the discussion of copyright, public domain and fair use. I went down the “rabbit hole” of reviewing my own understanding of these concepts. Then of course, I created a libguide for our faculty built from the previous work of my librarian colleagues with the addition of new perspectives I gathered. In my mind’s eye, I pictured this information as a Venn diagram, albeit in the shape of the square content boxes of libguide construction. I felt renewed in my understanding of how these concepts of attribution and use relate to each other, and I nerded out on how I could convey these complexities to teachers that have limited time; and in this year, of especially strained circumstances, limited bandwidth. I had ten minutes of a “captured audience” in a morning faculty meeting in which to convey this information, so the libguide would need to serve as the follow up resource for anything I did not get to cover in the meeting. Here is my attempt at thoroughness while navigable (click image below to view the libguide).

So needless to say, I did not start the presentation with, “ today, we are going to look at copyright, fair use, and creative commons.” Instead, I shifted to sharing tools they could immediately use as a backdoor to eventually addressing the copyright conversation. Which brings me to the question: have any of you noticed lately that Google image search usage tools are now using Creative Commons Licensing language as a filtering choice? So I showed them how to use the usage tool in a Google image search. Some of you will remember that Google used to have four different filters for searching images, now they have broken down to two: Creative Commons Licenses and Commercial Licenses. Because Google made the switch I could move our faculty and students to the switch too. It gave me the opportunity to discuss what Creative Commons licenses are, and how it relates to copyright. Additionally, Google is linking licensing details and source links to the original work more clearly. By showing them a tool they could use immediately, I captured their attention and many of them found this useful for class projects. I additionally showed them how to find CC licensing information on an image when they are using the internal image insert tool in Google slides as well. The little magnifying glass in the bottom right corner of the images lets your track back to the original images to check on its license for use. The following pictures illustrate the steps.

Google Image Search Usage Tool

Google Slides Internal Image Search

Video Demos

Here is the same information in video form to see the search process.

I am grateful for the faculty I work with and learn from in a symbiotic relationship. They were attentive and receptive to the information I shared. Several of them immediately sent me an email thanking me for the useful information. Several 6th grade language arts teachers invited me to do a mini-lesson of these searching for “images license to use”  with their classes. Additionally, a math teacher shared that they were adding this process to one of their presentation assignments in which students would add photo credits and attributions on all images in their slides. This made my librarian heart sing that our sixth graders were starting on the pathway to proper photo attribution in creative projects; normally, a skill introduced in later grades.

I am always reminded that when we have to teach a concept to others we learn and retain more ourselves. I am thankful that my administration always loops the library program into faculty information sessions. I have learned more and refreshed my view of copyright, fair use, and now Creative Commons. I have even started to license my own content with the CC nomenclature. The following post is licensed under .


Back in the summer, I had… a very strong notion about what library instruction would look like this school year. There was no way to have a clear picture, given all of the uncertainties inherent in planning for a year like this, but I felt like I’d developed a clear plan and was ready to put it into action. 

I shared an earlier version of my research instruction menu in the summer, and had further refined it before sharing with teachers as we prepared to head back to school. I was excited! This seemed like a great way to communicate what we do, and to build on existing collaborative relationships.

And I honestly believe that in a “typical” school year, it would have been. But this year is, as we know, anything but typical. In addition to managing the challenges of a hybrid schedule, we’ve also switched to semester-based classes for the year – which means teachers are trying to teach in a semester what they used to teach in a year. And while the number of contact hours has not been cut in half, there is still less time overall, and less time for students to process information and skills in the way that is so important to information literacy development. We’ve been collaborating on some familiar projects, but others have been abbreviated or cut. I am a little nervous that many teachers are going to try and do a research project in January before the semester ends. I know that the impact we saw on research instruction last spring and throughout this year means that we’re going to need to adapt future instruction in order to fill in some gaps.

Another challenge has been the way we deliver instruction. My original plan was to do flipped instruction, providing video tutorials of instruction and then following up with student check-ins or other formative feedback. This, also, has not gone how I thought it would. We’ve created some instructional videos, and many of the shorter “how to” ones are useful, but I’m not sure about the longer ones. One issue is that few, if any, other teachers are using videos for flipped instruction. Given that we’re an outlier, I’m not sure if students know what to make of these instructional videos. And, honestly, I miss the connection of being with students. So much of good instruction is built on relationships, and those are harder to build in videos. We’ve been able to get into the classroom a little more, and to Zoom with students, and will continue to adapt.

I am holding onto my research instruction menu, and will try again with it next year. But for this year, I’m focusing on being flexible and adapting as we all figure out how to make the most of a very challenging year.