Don’t Shhh, or The Importance of Eavesdropping in the Library

As I frantically figured out what to write about for this post, one of my students jokingly offered “Well you can talk about how important it is to listen in on all the gossip that goes on in the library.” 

Me, trying to figure out what to write about.

“OH MY GLOB, THAT’S PERFECT!” 

He paled. “I… I was joking?” 

“Nope! It’s happening now!” 

And so it is. Because even though Dominic was joking, I’ve come to appreciate that one of the best tools in our tool boxes as librarians, especially solo librarians, is listening in on our students’ conversations. 

Our library is large and well-used; we have a student population of 535 boys and during the week, we’ll often have over 150 of them in the library at a time. We have study carrels, group work tables, bookcase nooks, comfy chairs, windowsills and the floor, and at our busiest they’ll be sitting on or at all of those. (Or sometimes on each other. That happens, too– does anyone else do a lot of “Every butt needs a chair” reminders?) 

It’s my first time working in an all-boys school but something I learned very quickly is a) they’re hilarious and b) they are all incredible gossips.

And oh, do they love to sit in the library and spill the tea with each other. My students gossip about which kid is bad news; which teacher is a harsh grader; which assemblies they can sleep through. They whisper about how they’re using ChatGPT; who is totally screwed for the physics test tomorrow; which weeks are going to be Hell-Weeks and which ones are going to be “Gimmies.”

Me, being super mature and just sipping normal, non-metaphoric peppermint tea.

Now, in my personal life I am of course a very serious and mature person who has no interest in gossip. But in my professional life, as someone who has to support students on a daily basis in a very rigorous academic environment, gossip is a lifeline. The kid who’s bad news? I can tell his advisor that he might need a bit of love; if I see him in the library doing work I can engage with him and make him feel seen for the work he’s doing to improve. I can cheer on nervous students when they’re up against the harsh grader, and talk to that teacher to see how the library can help support students in their latest assignment. The assemblies with a high sleep-to-awake ratio call for more crowd management, and maybe an email to that presenter offering help with slides if they want it.

Hell-Week Rush? I laugh in the face of a Hell-Week Rush.

My guys are using ChatGPT like a supercharged Google where they ask it for examples of an idea they already have, and adapt accordingly; the Comp Sci Department Chair is thrilled to hear about this and is working it into his presentation at our faculty meeting next week. The physics test means a run on our calculator supply: I should make sure they’re all charged and accounted for. The Hell-Week might mean the library needs to stay open later, or that a period after a big exam will be extra raucous as they celebrate or bemoan their performance; the Gimmies means lots of kids playing board games after school– let’s make sure none of the chess pieces have gone missing. 

The best librarians I’ve worked with were driven by the principle that librarianship is a service profession: we are here to meet and support the needs of our specific communities. Now that I’m a solo, entrusted with the care of a community of my own, it’s more important than ever to be tapped into exactly what those needs are and anticipate them. 

Hence, eavesdropping. 

And the best part is, you can do it, too, with our (un)patented system of GASPS.

  1. Gear: Footwear that doesn’t squeak is key. Get yourself a pair of shoes they won’t hear you walking up on them in (and wait for the teacher sale because who doesn’t like a sale.) The leopard print gives you a +2 to stealth. Live the print. Be the leopard. 
  1. Attitude: A thousand yard stare is helpful; if you make eye contact with students, the game is up. If it seems like eye contact might occur, immediately look at a bookshelf. Students believe that all librarians do is look at books all day; use that.
  1. Speed: Make sure you move slowly and smoothly– student vision is movement based.
  1. Purpose: Remember, you are a librarian looking for information. The information. The information to help your students. The information specially targeted to help your students. The student information. 
  1. Singing/Silence: As I walk, I will occasionally do my own theme music, but it’s kind of a spur of the moment thing– don’t force it if it doesn’t feel right. 
Actual picture of me in the stacks. Note the quiet footwear.

Our role in schools is a special one. As I’m polishing this, 15 minutes before closing on a Friday, the library is full, because an English paper is due at 5 in two separate grades. If I hadn’t listened to what my kids were saying to each other, I would have closed the space early to go to the triple header basketball game that ends Spirit Week. Multiple teachers have come in to say: “Wow, it’s so crowded in here! What’s that about?” 

My students just say: “You’re open? Oh that’s amazing, I’ve got this thing I have to finish and I am so screwed.”

All photos from The Emperor’s New Grove, arguably the best Disney movie of the millennium.

In Acknowledgement

I resent that what most students know about plagiarism is merely that “it’s bad.” Lately I’ve had the opportunity to glean an insight to how students see–and often don’t see–plagiarism in the work they submit, and it has gotten me thinking.

Mostly in my own teaching and writing experience, plagiarism is fairly easy and obvious to define–we focus on quoting, paraphrasing, and summary of the ideas of other writers, scholars, and primary sources. We assume plagiarism is coming from extant print sources–the original exists somewhere to be seen and compared against.*

Until recently, I’ve had very little practice with the trouble posed by ideas that aren’t so clearly traceable–like when a parent does too much work editing their student’s paper. What is too much? Our English teachers have eloquently articulated the ways that individual word choice, something that a parent or student may see as subtle editing, can actually change the inflection or specificity of an argument enough to substantively change the meaning of the paper. Our policy is that nobody else should take pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), otherwise it is not wholly the students’ own work. But, what about tutors? If the tutor never touches the student’s document but coaches them through the argument and structure of an essay is that the student’s work, or are the ideas really the tutor’s? At what point in that process does it become so muddy whose ideas are whose that the student feels like the ideas are their own? There is a lot bound up in the question of plagiarism, editing, proofreading, and tutors. Some of it is culture, some is about equity, others about policy, pedagogy, and more.

As my school works to unify, clarify, and share our policies, I found myself mulling over how these issues play out in “the real world,” that is, in publishing and professional writing. How can I draw on long established practices that, while there are legal consequences for copyright infringement, are essentially ethical and therefore not always absolutely cut and dry?

In scholarly writing, we rely on citations for attribution. But, citations are for the scholarship and evidence, not for how the writing process was guided by the ideas, conversations, editing, and peer review of others. And yet, those other contributions are indeed acknowledged in scholarship. The opening sentence of the acknowledgements for the historical monograph, To Her Credit, puts it nicely: “This study is born from an assurance that, when we break down an act into its component practices, the essential contributions of previously unseen individuals come into view. That insight is even more true with the publication of my book which would not have been possible without the generous help of numerous individuals and institutions.” She then acknowledges the contributions of thesis advisors, graduate advisors, faculty members, mentors, and seminars, all of whom shaped the way she thought about her subject and her scholarship. The graphic artist who produced the maps, the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript, the editor and copyeditor at the press all are credited for the role they played in the finished book, along with librarians and archivists. A scholarly monograph is never the sole product of one individual. Nor, would we want it to be so. The work is improved by the contributions of others in so many ways.

Fictional works are the same. Smart writers recognize the many people who influenced their work for the better. In There, There, Tommy Orange thanks writers communities, mentors, faculty, and his editor and agent. When Leigh Bardugo thanks two folks who “helped me find the heart of this story when all I could see were its bones,” you can feel the importance of their conversations and the impact on the author and the shape of her book. She also thanks folks who contributed to her knowledge needed for the book, for “help in thinking about sleight of hand and grand illusions,” and another for “helping me finesse the chemical weevil and auric acid.” Deborah Harkness does the same in A Discovery of Witches, listing the colleagues who “generously lent me their expertise as I wandered far from my own area of specialization.”

I suspect that our students don’t read acknowledgements. Which means that they also don’t see all of the conversation, support, and work that goes into a published work of writing. If we make the contributions of others more visible we create a novel (haha) opportunity to discuss the role of authors and contributors in creating new works. Once the work, and the need to acknowledge it, is visible and modeled for students perhaps they will be able to reflect more meaningfully on their own efforts. An English teacher who is clear that a student’s paper should only be their own could, for example, have students practice drafting an acknowledgment for their essay. If a student finds that they would need to include someone other than their teacher it is a cue that someone else’s work is being co opted as their own, and that they are committing academic dishonesty.

I admit too, that astute students may parry, pointing out that many authors do thank their family members (parents, spouses, siblings) for contributions, that those authors have editors who help to copy edit and polish the authors’ writing, so why can’t they have a parent edit their work or a tutor assist them with their assignment. I can imagine that “well then I’ll just put a line on my paper that thank’s my mom for helping me proofread,” will be brought up somewhere. And that is where we open the space to be transparent about the fact that their essay project is not a published piece of writing, the appropriate person to give feedback is the teacher, and that is not just about acknowledgement but about pedagogy. That a teacher cannot help them grow as writers when their feedback is on mom’s (or dad’s or big sibling’s, etc.) words and ideas. That essay writing and other creative and information driven projects at school need to be wholly their own for a host of pedagogical reasons. Rather than enumerate those reasons, I’ll simply suggest that anyone who is having this conversation with their students has made more meaningful inroads to a robust understanding of plagiarism and academic integrity than I have seen among high school students to date.

Please share your reflections in the comments! How does your school address the too-much-outside-involvement type of plagiarism? What has worked best for you in getting students to understand plagiarism and academic dishonesty?

*I’m putting a pin in the AI wrinkle to all of this for the time being.

References:

Sara Damiano, To Her Credit: Women, Finance, and the Law in Eighteenth Century New England Cities, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021.
Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches, New York: Viking, 2011.
Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2016.
Tommy Orange, There, There, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.

Research Season is Here

For me, the third quarter of the school year is my Research Season. Teachers of course assign small research projects all year long, and I work with them on most of those, but this time of year is when we do the big US History Research Paper. This is the biggest research project that many of our students do in their high school careers, and it is also the project where I get to collaborate the most with the teachers who teach it. Each year, we take a look at the results from the previous year, and what we’ve learned in professional development opportunities that year, and make any changes to the process that we think will help our students learn the process of research better. We’ve been tweaking this project together, year by year, for 7 years now, and here are 2 recent changes that we feel have made a positive impact.

The Synthesis Matrix

For a several years we tried to incorporate an annotated bibliography into the project, but the students never quite understood it or it’s place in the research process. Students would find things that had something to do with their topic in order to write the annotated bibliography entry, but when they started actually writing the paper, they would often need to find all new sources because they weren’t paying attention to how the sources answered their research questions. Then, in 2021 at the AASL conference, I attended a session that talked about using a synthesis matrix as an alternative to an annotated bibliography. We added it to the project last winter with great success.

Image from University of Arizona Global Campus Writing Center, https://writingcenter.uagc.edu/synthesis-matrix

In a synthesis matrix, you place the research questions or themes in the top row, and then add each source down the side of the grid. For each source, you answer how it fits each of the research questions/themes across the top, leaving a blank if that source doesn’t fit one of your questions. Our students create their synthesis matrix as soon as we start looking for sources and fill it in as we go. If a source is blank across all of their questions, they discard that source and keep looking. It helps students see right away that just because a source talks about the Civil War doesn’t mean that it’s useful for their specific research. It also helps them see which of their research questions aren’t addressed with the sources they have so that they can tailor their future searches for those questions. As a personal bonus, I end up with fewer freaked-out students who suddenly don’t have enough sources the day before the paper is due.

Free Research Goals + 1 Minute of Knowledge

Both of the following tips came from the AISL community in some way, and they go hand-in-hand. Shoutout to Erinn Salge, who got this tip from Dave Wee and then shared it on the list-serv – every time you have students do free research in class, set a goal for students to reach by the end of class. You could do this as an exit ticket, or like Erinn you could work with teachers to add it into the classroom participation for the day. I usually just have students tell me something they found. For example, in 2 recent biography projects, students had to tell me an interesting fact about their chosen person at the end of class.

For the US history research paper, I’ve combined this with the 1 minute goal from William Badke’s Research Strategies, a book that several of us read together last spring in a discussion group (it’s worth a read, though none of us agreed with everything Badke says). Badke points out that you need a working knowledge of a topic before you can dive in to full-on research, and a rule of thumb for what constitutes working knowledge is to be able to talk about a topic for 1 minute without repeating yourself. Today, we are exploring possible topics for the US history paper, and students are reading reference sources about whatever topic/s they’re interested in. The students’ daily goal is to be able to talk about their potential topic to a partner for 1 minute; if they run out of things to say, they know that they need to read a bit more. This is all taking place before students even turn in their topic proposals, so by the time we start looking for primary sources, students should have a decent working knowledge of their topic.

Replacing Dewey? Rearranging Knowledge? Perspectives on Genres in Nonfiction

Dewey is dead or dying.  There seems to be consensus in libraries across the spectrum that the Dewey Decimal System  is both problematic and outdated. Some of the many reasons cited include:

  1. Categories based in the Nineteenth Century fail to incorporate modern scientific and technological changes ranging from computers to the Space Age, and are then “plugged” in to odd, and often inconsistent, places such as 000s, 600s, and more.
  2. There are considerable biases in religion (most of the 200s are dedicated to Christianity with other religions declared to be “other” and crowded into the 290s.
  3.  The social sciences are rife with outdated and biased approaches to 21st Century problems and conditions.

For all these reasons, and many more, I decided to rearrange/genrify Dewey within my High School library.  Developing a new genre-based system is certainly not as easy as it might seem on paper.

Given the move to digital resources and limited space, I weeded a considerable number of print books from the collection.  Even so, I still had to reckon with arranging nonfiction since I was not eliminating it altogether.

What I came up with provoked philosophical and intellectual questions even as I moved titles around, playing “musical books:”

Essentially, I broke up everything and merged areas together to arrive at:

  • Philosophy and religious studies–however I merged mythology with folk and fairy tales (regardless of origins, and rightly or wrongly, readers now see them simply as another form of story)
  • Arts and music (however, sports and games are moved to a new section entitled “Daily Life” which encompasses cooking, food, holidays, etc.)
  • I created a new Health and Wellness section which includes psychology from the 100s, anxiety from the 600s, and biology from the 500s. 
  • A new civil rights section includes African Americans works from the 300s, and criminal justice reform (which could equally well go in my constitution/law/politics section)
  • A new media/journalism area now includes internet and social media as well as propaganda.
  • History now features Ancient History (all civilizations, no more emphasis just on Rome, Greece and Egypt) 
  • Middle Ages (throughout the world) This time period was the zenith of civilization for many cultures who had no “dark ages.”
  • The Twentieth Century unfortunately is broken into wars: World Wars One, Two, etc. Here, I combined all books on the subjects including literature and arts–all books on Vietnam were previously divided into American, Vietnamese, etc, similar to the Cold War which brings together related titles from the 300s and 900s, bridging disciplines and countries.

On a related note, the 800s no longer exist, with every form of literature joining novels in a literary section. Focused on the idea of story, there are subsections for novels (in turn divided by genre), short stories, poems. Dramatic works merged with theater from the 700s. As mentioned, this area also includes the myths/fairytales. It is interesting that for ages libraries considered novels “fiction” but other forms were “nonfiction.” 

My next conundrum is Graphic Novels.  I believe these are a literary form of their own right.  But what of Graphic Nonfiction?  These are not fiction.  I think I would place them in the best subject area.

This process is a work in progress.  I welcome suggestions. It has certainly opened my eyes to the complexity of revising Dewey. This process instilled a new awareness of interconnectedness and the arbitrary compartmentalization of knowledge, however necessary it is to facilitate easy tracking of materials.

Chat GPT, Write Me a Blog Post

My goal for this blog post was to have some organized thoughts about ChatGPT to share, but I think the best I can do is still just some disorganized thoughts. There is, of course, lots to talk about and think about, but I’ve been spending some time thinking specifically about the role ChatGPT could play in research. I’m going to spare myself from trying to write transitions and just go for some bullet points.

  • Students can struggle with finding an appropriate source to build background knowledge on a topic. I experimented with asking ChatGPT to give me a paragraph about different topics students are researching, and the writing it produced was full of expert vocabulary, important ideas, and potential search terms. It could be useful for modeling how to use background sources, but also for helping students find a jumping-off point when they’re new to a topic.
  • This is not an idea I came up with, but I’ve had fun playing with it: ask ChatGPT to write you the table of contents for a book about something. I was working with some colleagues on a course about media influences, so I asked ChatGPT to give me the table of contents for a textbook we could use. It gave a really solid outline of what we could think about. When using it for research, it could provide some guidance about what subtopics you could explore. You can also ask ChatGPT to expand on different chapters of your imaginary textbook!
  • I’ve played a little with asking ChatGPT directly for search terms, and am still deciding what I think about it. Admittedly I’ve given it pretty vague prompts, so the search terms have also been pretty broad. I did notice, however, that it generated search terms that represented different political viewpoints – and it also encouraged me to be more specific in my research. 🙂 
  • I think prompt crafting is going to become an important skill. When I gave ChatGPT a vague prompt, I got unimpressive answers. As I refined my request, the responses got better. The advantage of ChatGPT is that I can keep asking for refinements to the previous response. This means that I need to clarify my own thinking so I can ask for what I want – either on the first try, or by evaluating the response and making further requests. Being clear on what you’re looking for (both for yourself, and when creating a search) is such an important skill and the conversational nature of ChatGPT could provide some practice.

I’m aware of the ethical and practical concerns around ChatGPT and AI (and my colleagues can assure you that I will share them at even the hint of an opportunity), but I’m also aware that our students will have access to these tools as they move through the world. I’m hoping we can skip the years of hand-wringing (*coughcough* Wikipedia *coughcough*) and instead help shape the conversation about how we can meaningfully and ethically make use of these tools.

So, how are you thinking about the role ChatGPT can play in your work?

Promoting eBooks

When our library first started acquiring Overdrive eBooks several years ago, I felt we had to make an effort to advertise them, to justify the cost. As creative forms of advertising have never been my strong suit, I stuck with basic flyers, but I knew I could get creative with the content. Of course, Overdrive does provide subscribers lots of publicity materials, and we have used some of theirs, but I wanted to include some with a more personal touch.

I love to write and I love injecting humor into anything I do with the students, so my first round of flyers, posted prior to a break, imagined all sorts of place you could be bored and in need of a book. Here’s a sample:

The next time around, not wanting to repeat myself, I kicked it up a notch. I started thinking up more ridiculous situations in which a book might help—and eBooks are always available! Here’s a sample:

Still, there’s only so much you can do with flyers, and there’s no guarantee that people will look at one flyer in the usual mosaic of them on doors and windows. So I decided to create short videos to share before winter and summer breaks, screening them at middle school announcements to a captive audience. In the beginning, I created the videos with PowerPoint, following a similar format to my flyers. The videos showed times when students might need a book, and ended with more information about Overdrive/Sora (Overdrive’s school app) and how to download books.

After running several of these, I wanted to try something different. Over time, I experimented with an online comic creator (sadly, I forget which one, and I cited all of my other images but not the comic creator!), used a school green-screen and the Keystone Kops, and an iPad-app stop-motion Harry Potter animation combined with our green screen. All still involved ridiculous or realistic reasons—such as Harry Potter being locked in by the Dursleys or an annoyingly perky mom—a student might need a book in a hurry. I posted these videos on a free account on Vimeo.

While those were all fun, they did take a decent amount of effort to put together, since I’m not naturally technically adept. Being always busy, I started looking for ways that took less time, and as a bonus, involved more members of my school community. I started with a fairly straightforward (but still silly!) video skit with the head of the middle school about how easy it is to use eBooks, and wouldn’t that be more fun than watching paint dry? Then came a skit with the then-current 5th grade listening to a pedantic story hour inspired by Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”

I have always found Geico ads really funny, as they appealed to my deadpan sense of humor. I realized I could model my videos on some of their premises, such as their “…It’s what you do” ads. In one of my lunchtime contests, students write excuses about why their homework is late. So I wrote a skit in which students used these student-written excuses in class, and then the camera panned to two “reporters” who opined that if you’re a student, you make excuses, but if you’re a kid on vacation in desperate need of a book, you use Overdrive. “It’s what you do.” Other videos I did with this premise involved Broadway Kids in science class, and a Latin class’ celebration of Saturnalia with the sacrifice of a stuffed sheep.

Another premise I used, though I can’t remember if it came from Geico, was what you can count on during quarantine. Students I recruited shot their own videos and sent them to me, and I put them together with some help from our Communications Department. Still another Geico premise I used was “How happy are…?” With help from several homerooms, I filmed skits about Pi Day and Star Wars Day. Last month, I used the premise of Geico’s “Did you know” ads to write a skit about Roombas in the forest, filmed with the help of our green screen.

At this point, I have changed a couple of things about how I create the videos and their content. In terms of creation, I found that individual students and homerooms are eager to participate, and I love involving students and teachers as a community-building activity, and as promotion for the library and the librarians in general. I also found that if I collaborate with the Communications Department on filming and editing, the videos look a whole lot more professional than the ones I film on a library iPad! I’ve also pulled in our Drama Department for costuming sometimes, in a further collaboration.

In terms of content, I realized that many videos ran too long, partially because I get carried away when I write skits, and partially because I always appended details about how to access eBooks through Overdrive/Sora. After consulting with Kelly, our head librarian, we decided that since all of the access details are on our website, videos should include only a slide telling students to consult us or the library website for more information. While I do wish I could give students more direct information on how to use the Sora app and access our eBooks, I realize it’s fairly dry, detailed information that would only hold the attention of those actively attempting to access eBooks. So now I focus on attempting to fix in students’ brains the fact that we have a few thousand eBooks, and that the Sora app is the way to access them.

Of course, the big question is whether the videos actually increase eBook usage, but that would be hard to assess. We have about 2,300 Sora eBooks, and in the past twelve months we circulated 1,687 to 219 users, or about 30% of our total student/faculty/staff population. We’d love to see more usage, naturally, and may start thinking about even more ways to promote our collection.

I think at this point the purpose of the videos, in no particular order, is: 1. Remind students about eBooks and Sora; 2. Remind students about the library in general; 3. Build a positive representation of the library in students’ minds as a place with not just resources, but a sense of humor and a warm welcome; 4. Build community by offering students and teachers the opportunity to participate and see themselves on the big screen; 5. Build community by collaborating with other departments to improve the videos; 6. Connect with the wider school community when the Communications Department posts the videos on school social media; 7. Have fun!

How do you promote eBooks at your school? Let us know in the comments!

Librarian, Meet the Left-Handed Whelk

The job of librarian is one that continues to show up on polls as one of the most trusted professions.

Like many independent schools, my school has several signature programs intended to distinguish it from other area schools. Since our campus includes a bayou that is just south of the Manatee River, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico, all of our students learn a ton about marine ecosystems. At the high school level, the Marine Science signature program includes the required 9th grade Biology course followed by three years of Marine Biology electives. Marine 3 is a research-based seminar in which students design and complete a year-long study; they ultimately write a paper, create a scientific poster, and present their findings at RISE (Research and Independent Study Expo) in early May. Five to ten students pursue this path each year, which earns them the Ocean Academy graduation distinction. Many continue their marine studies in college.

RISE: Marine Presentations

Enough with the advertisement—oh wait — let me also share with readers that teachers are requested to supervise student boat and kayak trips, so we also get to spend classes out on the water with students!

Just an “average” monthly boat trip for the students

If you ask our students why they’ve chosen to devote many of their electives to the Ocean Academy distinction, you’ll get a variety of answers.

“Concern for our planet.”

“Love the teachers.”

“My older brother said it was like a family.”

“Labs on the water.” “Get to fish during school.

To recap the past few paragraphs. Ocean Academy graduates have had some sort of Marine focus in science classes each year they’ve attended the school, and students in Marine 3 have taken, you guessed it, 3 years of Marine Science. Also librarians are a trusted profession.

I think this is a powerful program for all the reasons students mention. As a coastal community, we’ll be affected by climate change sooner than some further inland, and many of our families are deeply connected to local waterways. Because it doesn’t have an AP designation, it draws those students most passionate about marine science, not the ones most focused on their GPAs and the weighted bump they receive from AP courses.

So many seahorses

They aren’t always the ones who have excelled in previous History and English research papers, the projects more typically associated with the library.

So unlike the world they are close to entering of university research and discipline-specific librarians, they are stuck with me. I’m no academic slouch, but I lack almost all of their marine knowledge. I last took a science course that wasn’t labeled “information science” in the year 1999. They know more than me. Years more.

But they often don’t trust their own deep subject-specific knowledge, and our first few classes together are always an interesting dance of questions and responses. Many assume I’m asking them questions I already know the answers to, as I would with courses where I have more of a background. “Why is Lady Macbeth jealous?” “How did planes influence WWI?” etc.

Bayou on a foggy morning

But this is a different use of the librarian’s knowledge. When I ask what they mean by a ghost crab trap, I want to know the definition so we can look up synonyms. For their paper on cast netting, I am being serious in asking if they need to plan their collection time around tides or time of day — or whether either of these factors even matter when monitoring water quality? I’m curious if a “water goat” is something used at the individual or municipal level because we are eligible to apply for grants if this is something that would make sense to purchase for our bayou.  And when they tell me they are looking into a whelk’s “left-handedness,” come on, that’s just like click bait for librarians to follow up with more questions!

This is one of the first times that they are the content experts, and I want to help them learn to own that expertise. The teacher will help with experimental design, but I can use the “reference interview” to get a handle on the scope of their experiment, specialized vocabulary related to their topic, and ways to search in scholarly journals. I can help them parse an academic paper and design an academic poster, even if I can’t assess if all the information is factually correct. I can tell them “I don’t know” and that some questions are better directed to their teacher. In this project I’m no longer teaching them information skills as they progress; instead, I’m helping them build their confidence in using the library as a targeted resource to stay up to date on their topic. It’s the closest they can get to researching in a college library while still in high school.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

When I got the calendar alert reminding me I had a blog post due soon, I thought I’d write about ChatGPT – it’s been a big topic of conversation at my school and I have been in many really interesting conversations about what it is, what it means, and how we can use it. But then I caught Covid (my first time!) and the post-break return to school is always hectic so I haven’t really had the brain space to put my thoughts into words. 

Instead, I thought I’d share about an activity I did with our Media and Its Influences class yesterday. It was our first day of classes back from break, and a few of us are doing a “guest teacher” unit for the month of January. We wanted to both get students’ brains back in gear, and also learn a bit more about how they think about and evaluate news coverage. 

I went to Newseum’s collection of front pages from key moments in history and picked four events – Hurricane Katrina, the Supreme Court decision about same-sex marriage, the 2016 election, and the release of the Mueller report. I chose four front pages from each event, looking for a range of front pages – in tone, layout, location, etc. – and printed them on big pieces of paper and posted them around the room. 

After introducing the activity, we set students loose to examine the front pages and add notes/reflections responding to the following prompts: 

  1. What are the “vibes” of what you’re seeing?
    • What stands out to you about the word choice?
    • The imagery?
    • The physical layout of the article?
  2. What do you notice or wonder about regarding the different ways the event was covered by these sources?
  3. What questions do you have?

After everyone had a chance to look at all collections, we divided students into groups and gave them each a collection to discuss and to share takeaways with the group.

It definitely took some prodding to get students to offer the “why” of their interpretations, but with some gentle nudges they had some really great insights. One student noticed that almost all of the pictures from the same-sex marriage front pages were of white women (which was not something I’d done on purpose, but when I went back to look at the rest of the front pages was accurate overall). Another student noted that one of the front pages about Trump’s election looked like a poster, so we talked about the role of “front pages” historically. After a student noted that he’d never actually seen the front page of a newspaper (because no one in his house subscribes to a print paper) another student countered that “home pages” for websites work much the same way. There were lots of other great observations and discussions as well, and there will be lots we can refer back to and build on in order to deepen their understanding of how news media works.

Launch Learning for Student Engagement

Engaging student learning is one of the most important aspects of planning experiences that will “stick” with students and promote independent learning. Creating an effective launch into a topic or project is one way to jumpstart students’ own curiosity, questioning, and exploration. This libguide of resources assembles some of the methods that have proven successful in librarian collaborations with teachers and students. These recommendations for launches include resources for the following:

  • Storytelling and poetry to develop student voice
  • Novel Engineering to promote problem solving
  • Videos to spark curiosity
  • Discussion activities for delving deep into questioning
  • Primary sources to immerse students in close looking and critical thinking
  • Visible Thinking routines for building perspectives and empathy

    Enjoy exploring!

After a busy term — compelling professional development and a bit of musical library love

Work has been delightfully and overwhelmingly busy the last several months, and so it has been hard to think about much beyond the next project in the queue. There was a week back there where I was excited about a number of Webinars on fascinating topics, but was unable to participate with any of them.

As a result, I’ve been enjoying catching up with archived professional development while washing dishes, making myself do a little crafting for fun, or prepping dinner. For those of you who might want to do the same over break (or, after break!) here are two excellent options:

Search Engines as Gates and Gateways to Misinformation From the University of Maryland College of Information Science’s Search Mastery Speaker Series comes Jevin West, Associate Professor at the University of Washington. He looked at the ways search engines can prioritize quality content but can also give credence to misinformation. Particularly interesting was his research on how academic recommendations tools impact the shape of scientific literature.

Through Chokepoint Capitalism – How Big Tech Captured Creative Labor Markets, Cory Doctorow and Rebecca Giblin taught me a lot about the behind-the-scenes (or purposefully hidden) impact on authors of both the winnowing of companies in the field of publishing and the practices that Amazon has created, as a monopsony – creating a single-buyer market for creative output.

Also, a fun addition from librarian-in-training and host of the Broad… Wait for It… podcast, Rebecca Barabas: Matilda: The Musical (available on Netflix) apparently offers a healthy dose of library joy. Highly recommended for the pure fun of it!

Wishing all a restorative break and a wonderful new year!