Edible Book Fest During a Pandemic

One of our favorite events at my school is the Edible Book Fest. (I’m going to pretend it’s not just because we have a HUGE bake sale afterwards of all the amazing entries.)

Definitely not this year!
Sigh. Also not this year.

Clearly, this was not an ideal activity during a pandemic. We certainly couldn’t maintain social distancing throughout the day as the entire school came through the library to look at the entries and then outside to buy them. (You knew that wasn’t going to happen IN the library!)

After brainstorming with amazing English teachers, we came up with the idea that each entry would be a single cupcake and voting would be digital rather than in person. This served two purposes: safety during a pandemic and challenging the students to think more critically in order to distill their ideas onto a single cupcake.

Submissions were digital as well as in person, which gave students the option to photograph their entry before they made the potential entry-destroying trek to school. With their submission, students were able to choose their categories: Most Creative, Most Likely to be Eaten, and Most Edible Author. (Yes, you read that correctly. We gave them the opportunity to make cupcakes that looked like their favorite author!)

A screenshot of our digital voting form using Google Forms

Overall, I am extremely pleased with our pandemic-friendly Edible Book Fest. We learned a few things for next year when, hopefully, we do not need to take as many precautions:

  1. Require a digital submission in order to keep all the entries straight and cuts down on drop-off madness
  2. Offer digital voting for more flexibility
  3. Creating a new category for a cupcake-sized entry since it was so well received
  4. Emphasize critical thinking

One thing we did miss this year was the “Punniest” category, since we were trying to simplify the entire process. However, I did want to leave you with one of our favorite entries from previous years…

Get it? Haha

I’d love to hear some of the ways you successfully adapted programs for pandemic life!

Whimsical Wednesdays in the Library

While I know today is Monday, I want to share about the Whimsical Wednesdays I started hosting in the library for my middle division students. Like many of you, I see the library as a place of creativity as well as productivity and scholarship. I have loved being part of the maker movement and arts integration in libraries. Wherever I am in my career or program, I always want to share my own creative processes. This year as we all acclimated to new norms of navigating a pandemic I saw the opportunity to bring whimsy back to the library.

On Wednesdays after school I host an hour of creative exploration in the creative commons area of the library. I offer a theme or craft exploration for students based on my own creative meanderings and students’ interests. Some of the mediums we explore are journals, scrapbooks, upcycled book arts, book binding, zines and graphics. Actually, over the past couple of years I have tried to start a club or elective based on these concepts, but it did not make traction among my middle division students at the time. The impetus to try again came from a student and their parent asking about activities after school. I realized this as an opportunity to offer this creative hour on the day that I am already designated for staying later. This year our creative area was not open to the general public because of our safety precautions, but hosting Whimsical Wednesdays as a designated time under supervision re-engaged this part of our library.

To kick it off I pulled many of our crafts and art books from the 745s of the stacks along with some of the books from my own stash. These serve to inspire and instruct students to follow their creative whims. I also share my own collages, journaling, and art both in-the-works and finished to emphasize the process over the final product. In my own creative practice I have learned from local creatives. Through Keep St. Pete Lit I attended many intuitive journaling classes that sparked my own creative well. One of my library department’s professional development and mini-retreat activities was taking a bookbinding class together at Print St. Pete Community Letterpress. I have also taken online art and illustration classes from Minneapolis School of Art and Design as well as fallen down the rabbit hole of classes offered by Creative Live and Domestika. Bits and pieces of all of these endeavors are remixed in the Whimsical Wednesdays. I love facilitating a time and space of creativity for my students.

A Few of My Favorites

image by Courtney Walker

I have been heavily inspired by Sabrina Ward Harrison’s art journal Spilling Open: The Art of Becoming Yourself, and I show examples of her pages to illustrate expression takes many forms and to let them know not to be afraid to get messy. I have also found that books geared towards creative writing offer prompts that I tell students can take flight in any form of expression. Another of my personal favorites is PoemCrazy by Susan Goldsmith Woolridge; even though it is intended for poetry it can be translated to any medium as well. I let students know that any of the prompts that I offer are suggestions and they can use any form that moves them. The Brooklyn Art Library’s sketchbook project also has many sketchbooks to view online and a program for people to submit a sketchbook to their collection. I learned about them a few years ago when they had their traveling library in town. There are so many more books in this vain to make this a turn key program for busy librarians.

For professional resources, I always turn to The Library as Incubator Project founded by librarians , Erinn Batykefer, Laura Damon-Moore and Christina Jones (Endres). While the original blog is static now there are still many resources housed there, and they have two books that are great references for librarians. If any of you were at the 2015 AISL Convention in Tampa Bay they were the kick-off speakers and held sessions on The Book to Art Club and The Artist’s Library session. I am also so excited to see them back with AISL programming through the AISL Summer Institute 2021: Incubating Creativity hosted by member Melinda Holmes of the Darlington School on June 21, 2021. I will definitely refill my creative well by attending the online session with them this summer so that my Wednesdays with students stay whimsical.

Is my research program a house of cards? How the pandemic will lead to re-building, and that’s maybe not a bad thing.

As some of you know, I’ve been working to build a research program at my school for the past ten years with some really positive results. What started as a grassroots effort among ninth-grade teachers and myself grew into a hugely collaborative program that every student experiences across four years and a number of disciplines. Today, every senior takes a full year research seminar in one of the following disciplines: Statistics, Engineering for Social Good, Women’s and Gender Studies, Religious Studies, Psychology, and Biochemistry. Every junior completes a year-long research paper/project in a required Social Justice course. And every sophomore…..hmmmm, what do they do again? And the freshmen? Here is where the house of cards begins to teeter a bit, especially during a global pandemic.

The basic gist of the program is that 9th and 10th grade students complete a wide variety of research experiences in order to build skills, expose them to a variety of source types and research methods, and help them learn to communicate effectively. They do this in health, biology, religion, English, world history, and a few other places. We structure these experiences to happen on a staggered calendar so they are not completing multiple research projects simultaneously. Every teacher and discipline plays their part, everyone takes their turn, and by the time they get to junior year they have the chops to tackle the first really sustained project in the Social Justice course. This is the model, and it is a fragile one. Very, very fragile.

Why? Well, things change. Since I started this process we have had three health teachers, all of whom needed to be brought up to speed, trained, and convinced this work has a place in their class. We’ve had five biology teachers. Same goes. Rotations in each department happen, people retire or leave, new people come in, teachers switch up grade levels they are teaching, content changes, pacing changes, and so on. The 9th and 10th grade portions of this program have therefore always been incredibly dynamic. We don’t care what the topics are, right? As long as we can teach the skills. Source literacy in biology research is great, and that knowledge can transfer to source literacy in religious studies. The skills are the important part and the projects or experiences can change from year to year, teacher to teacher. That has worked both theoretically and practically since 2011. We constantly re-imagine, re-invent, and try new things. We adjust to the needs of the day. Yay for flexibility.

Now, let’s throw in a global pandemic, a school that has been closed for a year, a bell schedule with fewer instructional minutes to guard against screen fatigue and to protect the emotional health of our community. Throw in teachers being asked to cut, cut, cut! Cut homework, cut screen time, cut the fat. I am in agreement with all of this because zoom school is really, really hard. I am in agreement with all of this, and I am still kind of freaked out about what it has meant or will mean for this program I have nurtured for so long.

Working backwards, 

The current seniors were slightly less prepared for their senior research seminars because they went home mid-March of 2020 and we truncated their junior project to some extent to preserve everyone’s ability to make it through the crisis teaching and learning phase.

The current juniors did not complete their spring project in 10th grade for the same reason.

The current sophomores completed a scaled-back version of their 9th grade spring project for the same reason.

So, all the classes and projects this year needed to be modified to accommodate the missed opportunities for research instruction last spring. Totally fine, totally doable. Of course, that’s if this thing ends quickly and those projects go back to pre-pandemic times for spring of 2021, right? But of course that didn’t happen. The stopgap measures that one year ago we thought would be just minor inconveniences for one school year have grown into what I think will be a big ‘ol need for adjustment for the next several years.

Looking forward, 

This year’s freshmen did only one of the usual four research projects in which we teach critical skills like source evaluation, image citation, anything citation really, and so on. We might be squeezing in one more thing after spring break, but honestly, everyone is just SO tired I don’t know how.

This year’s sophomores are doing one of three usual research projects.

This year’s juniors are completing their junior project (hooray) and so are the seniors (double-hooray).

But do you see the house of cards? Next year’s juniors won’t be ready. Next year’s sophomores won’t be ready. And will we get those lost projects back, or are they gone forever? As I think more and more about this, I remember so clearly what it was like to build this program in the first place. It was really hard. I got a lot of pushback. Some people didn’t see the value. But (and this is a big but), it was also super exciting. I would find a teacher who was willing to listen and say “Hey, I have this really cool idea. Want to try it with me?” Some would say no, but others said yes and we would collaborate, co-teach, evaluate, iterate, and build. And then another teacher would see us doing that and say “Hey, what’re you doing over there. Can I try?” 

So maybe this pandemic has a silver lining when it comes to my beautiful house of cards? Maybe it’s a little like a healthy forest fire, and the undergrowth just needs to get cleared out periodically to make some space. Maybe it’s time to look again at the 9th and 10th grade model and see if it needs a little tune-up, or even a total overhaul. The 11th and 12th grade pieces are so strong now, so well-formed. Am I afraid everything could come crashing down? Yes and no. Yes, because I’m that kind of person and I have anxiety. No, because I’m deciding to spin this as an opportunity to innovate, which is what I think this program has always been. Think big, I say! How can I turn this house of cards into something better, stronger, more stable than before? I don’t have the answer yet, but the more I turn away from the fear and towards the excitement of building something new, the more confident I feel that we can figure this out. 

Do you have a house of cards? Has the pandemic caused you to re-imagine, re-invent, or totally overhaul research projects at your school? What did this year force you to change that turned out to be a positive? I’d love to hear how you are all coping with “lost” instruction, “lost” projects, and what you think next year might look like when it comes to student research. Thanks for reading!

Agency from anywhere: Why you should learn to edit Wikipedia, and teach your students, too!

Recently, my younger child declared I have a new motto. He even put it on a shirt for me:



“When life gives you lemons, write Wikipedia pages about amazing women”

My child observed that I spent the afternoon of January 6, 2021, watching coverage of the insurrection in DC while editing Wikipedia furiously, and that I used editing to manage my worries during other periods of uncertainty over the last year. He is not wrong, but here is how I see it:

  • From my armchair I tangle with systemic inequities arising from the specific guidelines meant to make Wikipedia “more reliable.” 
  • Even while sheltering in place, I have the ability to broaden the narrative of our nation and our world as it is shaped by a source which is, arguably, a de facto arbiter of truth in our time.

While I have been guiding students in Wikipedia editing lessons since about 2010, I worked primarily with upper elementary and middle school students editing Simple English Wikipedia. When I joined the Castilleja faculty in 2013, I took over a similar project my library director, Jole Seroff, had developed. Along with the project came her notes on gender imbalance among editors and how the skew towards male editors (85% of editors, and something like 91% of all edits) impacted the content we see when we access Wikipedia. A 2011 article in the New York Times noted that who edits impacts the emphasis of the source, comparing a four-paragraph page on friendship bracelets (“A topic generally restricted to teenage girls”) to the much longer page about “something boys might favor” like baseball cards. Setting aside for a moment the gendering of topics, it is notable that today these discrepancies remain:

Sources: “All page views: ‘Baseball Cards'” and “All page views: ‘Friendship Bracelets'”

Similarly, a study released in October 2014, noted that only 15.53% of English Wikipedia’s biographies were about women. A number of groups, including WomenInRed, have focused on adding biographies about females, and they count that number rising to 18.79% as of 15 March 2021. Mountains of evidence point to lower number of pages being written about women and topics to do with women, as well as fewer editors adding information and a significantly higher deletion rate of pages about women/women’s issues because the subjects are apparently “not notable” (especially regarding STEM-focused topics).

If the numbers are so grim for women, imagine what inclusion might look like for other individuals and topics related to minoritized identities.

During the 2019-2020 school year some of my high school students became interested in hosting an edit-a-thon, and I decided it was time to actually learn how to edit for real. I attended my first in-person edit-a-thon at a local library in February, and then everything shut down. In June, my students and I decided to host a virtual edit-a-thon for Upper School students, and the real fun began.

In preparation, a number of our school librarian colleagues kindly joined me in an experimental edit-a-thon, which sufficed to demonstrate that I had picked a terrible way to organize my event. However, that afternoon also demonstrated the value of editing in community, as we each noticed different aspects of systemic prejudices in the structure of this venerated source. For example, one of our number is a classroom teacher in an English department, with a specialty in Southeast Asian American Literature. When she decided to work on the page Asian American Literature, another of our number called our attention to the Talk page, where editors discuss issues and challenges that arise in writing the page itself. In addition, due to the very reasonable desire to keep an eye on coverage in specific fields, and point out what work needs to be done, WikiProjects on various topics rate the importance of specific pages under their purview, like this:

Talk page for Asian American literature

…in which WikiProject Literature (that is, people who are interested in Wikiedia’s coverage in the field of literature) rated the Asian American literature page Low-importance.

Similarly, I was reading up on Patricia Roberts Harris. She was the first Black American female: 1. ambassador, 2. cabinet member (third Black American cabinet member overall), 3. dean of a law school, and 4. director of a Fortune 500 corporation. Here is her talk page:

Talk page for Patricia Roberts Harris

Over time, that original meeting of teachers grew into a weekly editing group. We learn by doing together, and we have learned very well just how hard it is to prove notability for genuinely notable people of color. It was actually in trying to set up a middle school Wikipedia editing project in 2018, covering notable female activists, that I really ran up against to problem of databases containing predominantly-white-perspective sources and the challenges that ensued in finding articles about non-white, non-cis-male individuals. That lesson has held firm as I try to write about women of color and struggle to meet the standard that Wikipedia articles should be “based on reliable, published sources,” meeting Wikipedia’s definition of reliable sources. There is no question that these guidelines are needed so that people do not fill pages with self-promotional material, as often used to happen. However, there is also no question that the guidelines to block self-promotion make it extremely hard to write about many genuinely notable people, as well, especially if they are not media darlings.

As an instructional librarian, I focus on teaching research skills. Therefore, I find joy in digging and in piecing together sources and arguing for their reliability (when necessary), all while avoiding running afoul of Wikipedia’s “No original research” policy. I’ve come to believe strongly in the many benefits of teaching others to edit and editing in community. I now help run three Wikipedia editing groups for: alums from my college, my students and colleagues, and other librarians/teachers.

Editing Wikipedia is a way to:

  1. “Do the work”:
    1. Decolonize your mind – if the only astrophysicist you have spent time thinking about is a LatinX transgender individual, then the picture you have in your head of an astrophysicist will be of a LatinX transgender individual
    2. Make people with minoritized identities discoverable
    3. Create or expand or improve pages that will be seen by millions of people – the least-used page I have worked on has been accessed 14 times since March 1, others have been accessed several thousand times
    4. Give others access to role models – a.k.a.: the perfect gift — I add women to Wikipedia as graduation gifts for young women who might not easily see role models in fields that interest them
  2. Build information literacy skills (for students):
    1. Explore the notion that “authority is constructed and contextual”
    2. Develop a strong sense of what a range of authoritative sources might look like
    3. Synthesize evidence to create a narrative
    4. Practice writing in the register of an encyclopedia
    5. Experience gatekeeping and its impact on knowledge construction
    6. Question why needed systems give rise to systemic prejudice
    7. Encounter systemic racism and other systemic prejudices and begin to understand their prevalence and impact
    8. Construct authority

If you would like to learn more about editing Wikipedia with students or for yourself, please join Corey Baker, Amy Pelman, Linda Swarlis, and myself at the upcoming AISL conference on April 9 for “Equity through Editing: Contributing to Wikipedia for Social Justice Inside and Outside the Classroom,” or reach out to any of us for more information.

Did you get a “virtual promotion?”

Have you wondered recently if your job description actually reflects what you currently do? I started thinking about this as I was adding additional titles to our streaming services so teachers can show content to our face-to-face and remote students at the same time. We now have two campuses that require library materials: online and physical, which is vastly different than “just having electronic resources.”

My current job title is Director of the Rich Library. This implies that my work is centered in the physical library. I don’t know about you, but that is definitely not the case anymore. We have been face-to-face since August, but I’ve remotely visited classrooms, homes, meetings, conferences, and author festivals. I’ve made it possible for teachers to support their lessons without having to come to the physical library. Our virtual collection ROCKS, and it’s used by students and teachers around the central Florida area as well as on all corners of our 104-acre campus as we attempt to social distance. Clearly, my job in no longer just in the Rich Library.

Distance course isometric Free Vector
Attributed to School vector created by macrovector_official – www.freepik.com

I’d say that my position is now more accurately described as the Director of Library Services. This encompasses the fact that our services have moved beyond the physical space as well as taking into account both physical and virtual collections. I guess the question is: do you work to get your title and job description changed? Which brings up more questions… How important to our profession is it that our duties are accurately described? Does this impact the respect we sometimes struggle with on our campuses?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Making the most of April 9th

Aways appreciative of PD opportunities, I have been particularly eager for ways to connect with others through virtual workshops, blog posts, Zoom meets, etc. during this heck of a year.

So I’m pretty excited about our upcoming AISL conference – but also a little trepidatious. To be honest, as incredible as the lineup is, it’s only going to be valuable to me if I have a game plan to focus as much as possible. While I appreciate virtual PD, it has proven far too easy for me to be interrupted and distracted. So here ‘s the plan –

In advance

I’ll make sure to carefully review the conference schedule in advance; with the banquet, presentations, seminars & table talks all happening in the span of just a few hours, I need to have a strategy (priorities with alternatives noted)

Being in the moment

I hereby acknowledge that taking part in virtual PD from my office is not going to happen in any meaningful way. Maybe my supervisor is supportive of me leaving school early to connect from home?  Maybe there’s a corner of my library, or even better, hidden away in my school? I’ll plan to put a sign on the door,  email on out-of-office, and phone on silent. I’ll also give myself ½ hour in advance to eat, fill my water bottle and take a bio break.

Wrapping up

A few years back, disheartened by the number of conference bags sitting in the corner of my office – filled with valuable notes not looked at since the day of return – I began using travel time home to create a list of actionable items that can be implemented either short- or long-term. I’ll do the same on Apr 9th. Fewer things done is better than more things stagnated.

After the fact

While I will miss sitting around with friends (preferably by a pool with drink in hand), nothing is stopping me from reaching out and connecting virtually – so join me in reaching out to someone! I took part in a recent AISL Zoom chat and ‘met’ some people I’d love to get to know better. Here’s to checking in with people we miss and making new friends!

How do YOU prepare to make the most of your online PD?

UN Sustainability Goals and our Libraries

Over the past year, how many free zoom presentations or conferences have you signed up for in advance, only to be too tired, zoomed out, or busy to attend? I haven’t counted, but for me that number would be embarrassingly high. Sometimes I suddenly have a class to teach, an unexpected meeting to attend, or I am just exhausted from the computer and life in general to feel I was open to learning. 

I have attended some really valuable presentations however, and I am excited to share about one in particular, that was short, kept my attention, and inspired new ideas. I am a longtime member of ALA and AASL, because I enjoy learning about what other types of libraries are doing and what I could bring to my library and professional life. In February I finally went to my first ALA Connect presentation, over zoom.

The email caught my eye with the subject line ALA Connect Live – Let’s talk Sustainability. Brentwood School teachers have highlighted the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in different projects, so I had some familiarity with them but hadn’t really thought about them in the context of our library. This presentation helped me make that connection and wonder why I hadn’t before.

Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership.

-from “The 17 Goals”

I am admittedly a bit late to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) party and grappling with how to incorporate them into my library, so I wanted to share some links and first ideas with you. Maybe sometime we can brainstorm together.

Here are the helpful slides from the ALA Connect presentation. The description is: ALA recognizes the important and unique role libraries play in wider community conversations about resiliency, climate change, a sustainable future, and what libraries themselves can do. This extends to being part of global initiatives to achieve sustainable development. Listen to learn about ALA efforts and new resources for you – and how you and your library can be change agents. This important ALA Connect Live included Loida Garcia-Febo, Chair of the ALA Task Force on UN Sustainable Development Goal and Casey Conlin, Coordinator, SustainRT.

Major takeaways: 

  • We can continue to learn so much from the different types of libraries.
  • ALA made the UN goals a priority by starting a Task Force, and has joined with the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) to promote them.
    • “IFLA’s consistent position is that access to information is essential in achieving the SDGs, and that libraries are not only key partners for governments but are already contributing to progress towards the achievement of the 17 Goals.” From IFLA’s page, “Libraries, Development and the United Nations 2030 Agenda
  • What if my student library advisory council took on the sustainability goals through a library lens? What would that look like? 
    • Would we discover alternatives to plastic book covers? 
    • Would we re-think our maker activities?
    • How will it change my collection development or programming?
    • What would my fiction book club read?
  • I will join the Sustainability Round Table next time I renew my ALA membership. They have great resources like the Earth Day 50 for 50 document, which has creative ideas for Earth Day programming such as fact checking science articles online about the environment, or hosting a clothing swap meet, or a “stitch club” where you gather and mend clothes instead of tossing them.
  • I joined the SustainRT: Libraries Fostering Resilient Communities Facebook group to keep up with conversations, and continue learning (and already sent our Food Science teacher one of the ideas: making a cookbook of recipes that use seasonal local ingredients).

The presenters used the amazing Los Angeles Public Library’s goals chart as an example, and in #4 Quality Education, they highlighted the Student Success Cards, library cards given to every LAUSD student and now also independent school students in Los Angeles. We just got the cards for our students this academic year, thanks to a presentation from LAPL librarians at one of our local consortium’s (SoCaLIS) conferences. 

OCLC has a 5 part series on the UN SDGs and libraries, and one session is tomorrow (Tuesday March 9th). See you there?

How are you using the UN SDGs at your library or with your students? Would anyone like to collaborate on how to bring these goals to the independent school libraries? Let me know in the comments!

What’s an Information Professional Anyway?

Later this month, the board will share some demographic results from this winter’s planning survey. Thank you to the members who took the time to share their thoughts, especially those who wrote about what AISL has meant to them and how it can stay professionally relevant in coming years. One of the questions elicited an interesting conversation at my school about titles. Teacher titles are more standardized across schools, administrator titles less so. Librarian titles, the least of all. Do titles matter? What do we learn from titles?

In tabulating survey responses to this question, there were 91 unique responses, even with combining some titles like Middle School and Middle Division Librarian into one response. There were 47 different supervisory titles!

AISL supervisory titles

Those outside our profession tend not to understand why we care about being named a Librarian over Media Specialist, or Media Generalist over Library Specialist. My own director calls me Director of Libraries though I prefer the streamlined Library Director that’s listed on my nametag.

More AISL member titles

Perhaps this is the first part of our advocacy outside of the profession, an advocacy that’s so clearly needed about the training an MLIS offers and the ways that a strong library curriculum can enhance the mission of a school. Those who are virtual indicated that it’s become clearer in the absence of physical facilities that many administrators think of libraries more as static places for student supervision and book circulation rather than dynamic instructional and technology leaders.

Thinking back to the high school I attended as well as the one where I work, a teacher who is told they are teaching Geometry or Spanish One has a pretty good sense of what to expect. With changes in education over the past twenty-five years, this is less true for course like Engineering or American Literature, though many goals are still the same. But how similar are the roles of Instructional Librarian, School Librarian, and Teacher Librarian? And let’s tread carefully into speculating the job responsibilities of the Director of Library and Technology Integration, the Director of Libraries and Strategic Research and the 21st Century Learning Coordinator.

Current NAIS postings

One of the other survey questions asked what your administration would say based on their own knowledge if asked to choose the top three roles the library plays in the school. The top three answers provided by members were “collection management,” “reading advocacy and support,” and “student instruction.” That’s a positive statement about their understanding of the library, though it’s less heartening that fewer members chose “faculty instruction” than “I don’t think they have a sense of what the library does.” Even in informal settings, educating faculty and keeping them up-to-date on new trends is incredibly important in the library.

I was curious about this in my own school. While planning this post, I asked my Division Director and Academic Dean to choose three based on their knowledge of my job. I’m happy that each of them chose two of the ones I had chosen for myself.

Member responses about administrative knowledge of library roles

(For those keeping track, I’d say: Student Instruction, Faculty Instruction, and Technology Support. They said respectively – Student Instruction, Reading Advocacy and Instruction, and Technology Support – and – Student Instruction, Student Supervision, and Faculty Instruction. I’ll take it, especially since they both immediately listed Student Instruction as the top priority.)

In thoughts on advocacy, the plethora of titles got me thinking about a longer plan to collate expectations in job descriptions and share this with the larger educational community. From listserv queries and casual conversations, we’ve all had the sense that what library means at one school doesn’t correlate with its meaning at another. Even basic data collection shows there is no independent school consensus that defines our profession. I’m not suggesting that the job expectations should be standardized, just that we —and our schools —need to understand the variance about what happens in the library.

Sidenote: Whoever decided that librarians should be called school library media specialists must have had the most effective PR campaign ever! Even though AASL decided to revert to the title school librarian eleven years ago in 2010, I still have people (generally older) apologize each month for using the outdated term librarian and not media specialist.

Stay tuned for more detailed survey information and feel free to share if you have any thoughts on your job title or the expectation for the library’s role at your school.

Low Stakes Book Club: serving my faculty and staff

We do plenty in our library that is not academic. We try to make space for students to unwind, to commune, to take a little break, as well as a space for study. When our campus is open we have events like many of you do: board game days, trivia contests, crafting days, and so on. We have jigsaw puzzles, bean bags, magnetic poetry boards, and all the fixings for a great community space. Now that we are all on zoom (we’ve been home since 3/13/20 with no end in sight), those events have transformed into new things. We have book and movie fan parties, for example, with trivia and sticker prizes sent to students’ homes via snail mail. Our zoom events that are just for fun are a bit more sparsely attended, which isn’t a surprise. Who wants to go to another zoom after a long day of school?

But what about the adults on our campus? How can I serve them better in a non-academic way? The academic support, I’ve got down. I think we’ve done a pretty decent job reformatting our instruction, collaboration, and research projects for this moment. We have new services and digital resources to replace what teachers cannot access in the physical space. And while I guest-teach in classes all the time, my teaching load is nothing compared to our faculty. We have teachers with overloads, teachers with three different preps, not to mention grading, parenting, planning, being a club moderator, and wearing all the many hats one often does at a small, independent school. While we have been home, not only have I been looking for new ways to serve our student patrons, I’ve also been trying to keep present in my mind that our teachers and staff are also our library patrons. 

This topic might be on my mind at the moment because this is one of my heavy teaching weeks. I am teaching twelve classes this week, so the same number of blocks as a teacher with an overload. I am currently writing this in the last part of my lunch break after having taught the first three blocks of the day and getting ready to hop into the last. I haven’t returned emails, looked at my to-do list, or come up for air more than to get a glass of water and pass snacks to my third-grade child. When I have weeks like this, I can’t stop thinking “How are they doing this week after week?” For me, and perhaps for you, some weeks are heavy teaching weeks and others are not. They are all busy weeks, but this is next-level. 

If I believe that the library is meant to serve the students’ academic as well as non-academic needs, then I also want to consider the same for our faculty and staff. If I believe that the library is a learning space and a community space, how am I helping our teachers maintain community while we are all at home? 

Many of you probably have faculty and staff book clubs, right? Well, we didn’t. Years ago we did, but the teacher who ran it retired and I wasn’t in a position at the time to take it on. As the 2019-2020 school year came to a screeching halt (and somehow also took forever to end), I spoke with several friends and colleagues about how little we’d all been reading for pleasure since the pandemic hit. People were watching Tiger King and making shared movie/tv show lists, but our brains were fried. Yet, we all missed reading. It felt unnatural not to have one, two, or three books going at the same time. People seemed to feel that they should be reading, but also that they should be reading certain books. To that I say phooey! Well, not entirely.

I do think that informed people who intend to grow as humans should read certain books or certain authors or at least read on certain topics and about certain experiences. I do not, however, think that any reader should reject a book they want to read because it’s not on someone’s should list. I also know that sometimes, to kickstart reading after a slump, I need a particular kind of book to get me going again. Once I’m out of the slump I can tackle something more serious or challenging, but the kickstart book can be really hard to find. I wanted to end my own slump, and I knew some of my colleagues did too. To that end, I created the Low Stakes Book Club for faculty and staff. What does low stakes mean? For us, it means a few things.

  1. The book selection will not necessarily be a great work of literature, though it may be. It will often be a popular mystery, a page-turner, or a celebrity’s book club selection. We often choose books on the fly, though sometimes I send out a poll.
  2. The book club meeting is itself low stakes. Didn’t read the book? Who cares? You can show up anyway and hear about it from those who did. Maybe you read three chapters, hated it, and put it down. That’s cool! We hope to see you there.
  3. The purpose and administration of the club is low stakes. There is no theme, no pattern, no goal except to come together (on zoom) and keep our wonderful community going in a totally low stakes way. I might plan a game or trivia or discussion questions, but I really might not.

It’s been great. We have teachers and staff who faithfully read the book and show up every time, and people who never show up even though they always say they will. We’ve read some serious things and some less serious things. It’s been a nice way to connect with colleagues that I have no other chance to see since we’ve left the hallways and the dining hall (and the library!) to collect dust in our absence. And when we return to a new normal, the library will have played a role in bringing some happiness to a few teachers and staff along the way, which feels pretty good. 

The Low Stakes Book Club has read:

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Stamped by Jason Reynolds

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Girl from Widow Hills by Megan Miranda

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

Ask Me Anything, Fair Use edition

“‘Is that Fair Use?’: Copyright in Schools, Conferences, and Publications” with librarian Alyssa Mandel and editorial operations specialist Erin Ryan, on March 8 at 4:00 PM Eastern/1:00 PM Pacific.

This is an Ask Me Anything, as the kids say, approach to copyright and fair use. Well, not me exactly. On March 8, I will be co-presenting a webinar with Erin Ryan, whose position as editorial operations specialist for ABC-CLIO (publisher of School Library Connection, among other things) includes permission acquisition, on the subject of copyright and fair use specifically geared for situations in which librarians may find themselves. It will also be a great source of help for you to use when working with faculty and students, too.  As a member of the AISL Publications Committee, I have been fortunate enough to have published three articles in School Library Connection and have another forthcoming in April. The committee helps AISL members find publication opportunities individually or as groups and identifies trends in the professional literature that merit our attention. Headed by Cathy Leverkus (CathyL@thewillows.org), the Committee also includes:

  • Darla Magana: Darla.Magana@smes.org
  • Debbie Abilock: dabilock@gmail.com
  • Tasha Bergson-Michelson: tbergsonmichelson@castilleja.org
  • Nora Murphy: NMurphy@fsha@org
  • Christina Karvounis: KarvounisC@bolles.org
  • Sara Kelley-Mudie: sara.kelleymudie@gmail.com

My charge to you  is to leave in the comments either direct questions you may have, or real-life examples in which issues of fair use and copyright have played a major part. I recognize that can be sticky – you may not want to directly identify elements that could open you or your institution up to negative attention, but if there is something you can share for the sake of illumination, please do so. Erin and I will be using these examples to help guide our webinar and make it as targeted as possible so it serves the greater good. 

I’ll go first! The upcoming webinar grew out of a learning experience I had when I presented a webinar in October of 2020 about incorporating art research into library skills curriculum. I created a slide presentation to illustrate my webinar: I captured screenshots of museum websites and found images of paintings and sculptures that were clearly marked as being in the public domain, and thought I was home free. Readers, I was not. The artwork itself may be in the public domain, and we were careful to give a credit line for each work based on the museums’ own guidelines, but it turns out that the explanatory text accompanying the art is copyrighted, and even though the museum websites themselves are clearly meant for free public consumption, the museums have a vested interest in ensuring the sites are presented in a positive light. Furthermore, although I was giving the webinar as a form of education its sponsor is a commercial press. What I learned from that experience is that the rules for fair use and copyright are completely different under those circumstances. Erin gave me expert guidance and opened my eyes in such a way that I exclaimed at the time I think I learned more as a presenter than I might have taught to attendees, and thus was born the upcoming webinar on copyright and fair use for librarians.

By now you may be thinking, “Uh, we already went through this – as the pandemic took root we all started navigating whether we can and cannot share read-alouds over Zoom and on YouTube; we know the Internet Archive is a wilderness; we’re only presenting stuff in the classroom only or behind the wall of our learning management systems, so what’s the fuss?”

Not so fast, y’all. 

Just this week I was presented with several scenarios in which the guidance of someone like Erin would have been invaluable. Try these on and see if they sound familiar:

•Our middle school students are recording podcasts for the NPR Student Podcast Challenge. Right now, those podcasts are within school confines only, and they are being created under educational auspices. However, should one or more of our students be among the lucky winners, their work would then be shared with a wider audience. Any music, sounds, or other elements created by someone other than the students would be subject to copyright laws. The official rules spell this out on the website:

 “Entries will be disqualified if they contain materials that appear to infringe copyrights, trademarks, or other intellectual property rights of others. Songs or chants made up by Entrants are acceptable as long as they are performed live on the recording and Entrant notes in Entrant’s submission form that the song/chant was composed by Entrant. By submitting an entry, you affirm that you own all the rights to any and all musical content in your submission, including but not limited to: the right to reproduce, distribute, and publicly perform.”

•A librarian friend at another school asked about whether music played in schools needs to be (or could be) licensed in the same way that Swank licenses movies for situations like on-campus movie nights that are more social than educational. Friend specifically asked about music used in dance classes and played in classrooms. The information I found suggests only music played in public places like a reception area would need to be licensed, but I am asking for Erin’s help in addressing this during the webinar.

•Recently I gave a presentation to members of a branch of the local county government about public research databases available to residents of the state of Florida. One member asked if I knew of any sources for things like bird calls and video clips of nature. I said I would look around, and then went on to say that I wasn’t sure how copyright and fair use would affect them. They’re a branch of government, and definitely a not-for-profit, but if they charge a fee to cover materials in a public program they sponsor, or use an image in an advertisement, I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as one might imagine. 

•Many of us have given, or plan to give, presentations or poster sessions at conferences. Such presentations are usually illustrated by some kind of accompanying image – a full slide presentation, or even a single drawing or short passage of text. A conference clearly seems to be an educational setting, but if the conference charges an attendance fee or the presenter receives an honorarium for his or her time, then the fair use waters become more murky. 

So drop your comments, questions, and observations below, and join Erin and me on March 8 for the lowdown on what is covered, what is not, and how to find out more information to help us all navigate this more clearly as professionals. Your students, faculty, and administrators look to you for guidance on these questions, so here’s a way to be better-prepared with answers.