Comfort Dogs in the Library

Figure 1. Comfort dog and AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate holder Tamar McLean at home. Tamar is a black lab who started life as a Southeastern Guide Dog Puppy in Training.  She was on track to be a guide dog when the pandemic hit and 60 dogs from Southeastern were furloughed.  CD McLean and her husband, who had also been Tamar’s puppy raisers, adopted her back.

Comfort Dogs in the Jean Ann Cone Library

(serving Grades 6-12)

By CD McLean and Courtney Walker

Comfort + Library = Comfort Dogs in the Library

We wanted to give you all an overview of how our dogs in the library program got its start and how it has morphed into something much more complex than what was originally envisioned. So I turned to our Library Director, CD McLean to share the journey of our comfort dog program.

Humble Origins

CD has been the Upper Division librarian at Berkeley Prep School in Tampa, FL for the last 21 years and the library director for 20.  For the first ten of those years, she tried various methods to get the headmaster at the time (Joseph A. Merluzzi) to agree to let her bring her dog to school.  She wrote an opinion piece for the school newspaper on the benefits of dogs at school.  She would email him articles on how literacy improved when children read to dogs.  He was pretty firm in his decision not to have dogs on campus.  

However, one member of the Berkeley Board of Trustees was also on the board of Southeastern Guide Dogs: Bobby Newman. He helped Southeastern start their veteran service dog program and has been a long-time donor to the organization.  At the same time, CD was thinking about how she could incorporate more giving into her and her husband’s lives.  

Years before, she had expressed an interest in Southeastern and becoming a puppy raiser, but her husband said she would never give the puppies back.  So this time, CD gave her husband two choices: become a puppy raiser or go on a medical mission to Haiti.  Fred, who was at heart a dog lover, picked Southeastern. Once they had that decided, between CD bringing in a Southeastern representative and Bobby talking about all the good work Southeastern and their dogs do, it was a pretty easy yes for the headmaster.  

Eleven years and eleven puppies later, CD and Fred had adopted back several of their former puppies.  In particular, Tamar was certified with the Alliance of Therapy Dogs and she and Slater have earned their AKC Canine Good Citizen certification.  After eleven years of puppies, CD was looking for something a little calmer. Tamar was an exceptional dog who was on track to make it as a guide dog, according to her trainer. Tamar was well known at school and loved by the students.  She has a special knack for picking out students who might be having a stressful day.

With that in mind, CD decided to propose the idea of a comfort dog at Berkeley. A dog who would be available all the time to students.

Certifications/Qualifications of Handler

CD McLean has been raising and training Southeastern Guide dog puppies for over 10 years. Last year,  CD was inducted into Southeastern’s Puppy Raiser Hall of Fame. For the last two years, she has also been a puppy kindergarten teacher for Southeastern, which involves running a six-week course for new puppy raisers on how to train and socialize their puppies.  In addition, she has been asked by Southeastern to be a dog assessor for their Basic Skills Training Assessment (BSTA) program where guide dog puppies in training are evaluated for readiness before they go back in for training to Southeastern. 

About Tamar and Slater

Tamar was on her way to being a guide dog when the pandemic hit.  She and 59 other dogs were furloughed.  Her trainer told McLean that she was on her way to be a guide dog if not for Covid.  Here is one of the last comments from her trainer on her abilities:

Tamar has made a lot of improvement, especially with her obedience. She is sitting and laying close rather than pulling back to sit or laying out to the side. She is a very trainable dog who loves to learn and loves to do well. She is just a love of a dog…so affectionate and fun!

Slater is also a former Southeastern Guide Dog puppy and spent a year at Berkeley while McLean and her husband were raising him.  He was dropped from consideration for being a guide dog because of anxiety and a dog distraction, but at Berkeley he is able to take away a student’s anxiety just by being cuddled.

Figure 2. An Upper Division Student Chills with Slater.

Tamar is a former guide dog in training, meaning she was on our campus for a year with our students.  Tamar quickly gained a reputation for being very empathetic.  Her favorite thing to do was to walk around the library and pick out the students she thought were stressed.  She would go over and lay down next to them for some belly rubs or, sometimes, if it was convenient, she just climbed right up into their laps.

Figure 3. Ross was having a tough day so Tamar curled up in his lap.

Recommendation from rising senior Kellen Furmaniak:

“Tamar was the sweetest puppy I’ve ever met! It was my first year at Berkeley in 9th grade and I was pretty shy since the Berkeley atmosphere was extremely different than the other ones I had been familiar with. I would spend most afternoons waiting for my Dad in the library while sitting in the bean bags alone, and next thing I knew, I had a round plush cow next to me with Tamar’s happy face and wagging tail pointing straight towards me. I remember how gentle she was with her toy and how she would lean into me when I gave her pets, all while holding that plush. She brought me so much joy in my first year and was the most amazing puppy ever!”

Figure 4. Baby Tamar at a puppy palooza at school.

Tamar has attended three exam week puppy paloozas.  The puppy paloozas were all extremely well attended by grades 9-12.  Counselor Landau said that students asked when the puppies would be back on her Stress Less surveys.

Figure 5. Tamar was a big napper and she often helped stressed out high school students to relax enough to sleep.

Figure 6. Tamar just loves to be loved.

Berkeley graduate Rajshree Chettiyar had this to say about Tamar:

“It is no secret that Mrs. McLean’s guide dog puppies attract a lot of students to the library for lunch or after school playtime. While the pretense of those visits may seem light-hearted, most of these students come to momentarily forget their stress or anxieties relating to school and beyond. Thus, having a designated therapy dog would be so valuable for the Berkeley community who can now confidently walk into Mrs. McLean’s office without feeling like an intrusion or fearing rejection if the puppy has their coat on. Having worked with Mrs. McLean and her guide dogs closely, it is without a doubt that all her puppies are friendly and sweet. Even so, there isn’t a better dog to recruit as a therapy dog than Tamar. Having known Tamar since she was a puppy, she has grown into such a confident and loving dog. She loves pets and gives plenty of kisses but seldom gets over-energetic or rowdy which is an important trait for a therapy dog. Tamar’s composed demeanor makes her a perfect candidate for a therapy dog, especially for students who are not well-acquainted with dogs. Tamar is a very confident and empathetic dog who stays calm and sweet in most situations, but can also show her goofy side when she knows the student is comfortable and happy around her. This duality is priceless in a therapy dog, and with her added experience in the Berkeley community, there is no better candidate for a therapy dog than Tamar.”

About Certification

This fall, Tamar and Slater were tested for the AKC Canine Good Companion Certification (CGC). They both passed on their first try.  The AKC CGC assesses the following things:

  • Being accepting of a nice stranger
  • Sitting politely while being petted
  • Standard grooming and appearance
  • Walking on a leash
  • Being around a crowd
  • Sitting and staying on command
  • Coming when called
  • Reacting suitably to distractions (“Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety”)

In addition to being able to do the above items, Tamar’s temperament was also evaluated at Southeastern.  She was 

  • Able to remain calm in difficult or stressful environments (she has been through several fire drills with no problems)
  • Capable of being around other dogs and/or animals (she is a very dog-friendly dog, she is not distracted by birds, lizards, etc.)
  • React well to distractions (she is calm in the presence of distractions)
  • Isn’t bothered by older adults and younger children (Tamar loves adults, but in particular, she loves all ages of children) (“Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety”)

Tamar has also been certified as a therapy dog with Alliance of Therapy Dogs (ATD).  

Mission Statement

The mission of Berkeley Preparatory School’s comfort dog program is to offer love and support opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance a student’s quality of life.  

A study at the University of Ottawa found that therapy dogs unequivocally offer love and support to students.  Love was understood as having reciprocal love for dogs and gaining a positive feeling from visiting them.  Support was understood as de-stressing and relaxing from interacting with the dogs and to a much lesser extent with the handlers (Dell, Colleen et al). 

Benefits to Students, Faculty and Staff

Hundreds of universities around the country have launched pet therapy programs for students since 2005, when the first colleges and universities set up programs.

Berkeley’s AP Psychology teacher and clinical psychologist Dr. Michelle Barrett had this to say about having a therapy or emotional support dog (ESD)  on campus for students: 

For me, the most convincing evidence in support for an ESD is how petting these dogs actually brings about physiological changes, particularly when stressed or anxious. Research consistently supports a reduction in heart rate and blood pressure when petting an animal. Even more significant is the documented reduction in cortisol levels (stress hormone) and increase in oxytocin (feel good/social connection hormone). This is really strong evidence that there can be a decrease in stress/anxiety and a mood boost, potentially for depression/loneliness, simply by petting a dog. There are very few interventions that are this simple, fast, and effective.

Some resources she recommends:

Our UD Counselor Tiffany Landau was also supportive of having Tamar on campus for students.  Landau and our other UD counselor Michele Khalife run the Stress Less Week which is the week before Thanksgiving.  It is a week of fun activities such as meditation, yoga, etc. for students to do during lunch to take some of the pressure off of them.  Landau mentioned that there were many responses to her surveys on Stress Less Week where students asked when the puppies would come back for exam stress relief.  McLean has worked with the counselors in prior years to create an event called Puppy Palooza, which is held on the Friday of BRAK week.  BRAK stands for Berkeley Random Acts of Kindness.  This week occurs on the week after Thanksgiving and before final exams.  For puppy palooza, McLean sent an email to area puppy raisers with Southeastern Guide Dogs to come to school on that Friday from 10-2 pm. We also provide them lunch.

Figure 7. Poster advertising the puppies that will be at the Puppy Palooza

Having a dog on campus isn’t just for stress. Inside Higher Ed recently published their analysis of a recent report on at-risk students: 

“College students who were at risk for failing and who spent more time with therapy dogs over the course of a four-week academic stress management program were more likely to experience improvements in their executive functioning skills, such as time management and coping techniques, than students who spent less time interacting with the dogs, found a study published in the American Educational Research Association’s journal, AERA Open.”

“It’s a really powerful finding,” said Patricia Pendry, associate professor in WSU’s Department of Human Development. “Universities are doing a lot of great work trying to help students succeed academically, especially those who may be at risk due to a history of mental health issues or academic and learning issues. This study shows that traditional stress management approaches aren’t as effective for this population compared with programs that focus on providing opportunities to interact with therapy dogs.”

Yale Law Library was one of the first universities to start a therapy dog program to help with law student stress. The culture of the Yale Law Library is similar to the Jean Ann Cone Library in that the library has a culture of creating community with its users. Like the Cone Library checking out frisbees during sunny days, the Yale law library checks out games and, wait for it, their therapy dog (Aiken; Aiken and Cadmus; Xu; Prihar).

Librarians at the Yale Law Library sought to fit into the architectural concept of the “3rd space:” which is a place where people come, not for the purposes of living (1st space) or working (2nd space), but rather for some other purpose like studying or research, socializing or just enjoying themselves  (Aiken; Aiken and Cadmus; Xu; Prihar).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found that having a dog present in the classroom promotes a positive mood and provides significant anti-stress effects on the body. Petting a dog lowers the blood pressure and heart rate. Pet therapy lowers the body’s stress hormones like cortisol and increases oxytocin. It found that a therapy dog session calms students and helps to keep anxiety in check. 

Interacting with a therapy dog has a social catalyst effect which leads to increased stimulation of social behavior. In essence, it helps students develop a greater capacity for empathy. The NIH found that “the presence of a dog in an educational setting seems to support concentration, attention, motivation and relaxation reflecting the reduction of high-stress levels which inhibit effective learning and performance. (Mulvahill)”

Berkeley rising junior Katie Dann certainly found that having a dog at school was a great stress reliever.

I’ve always found relief in being around dogs. After I got my dog in fifth grade, I learned that for me, there was nothing more stress-relieving than just petting and being around her. When I began my freshman year, I was experiencing pretty heavy amounts of stress and anxiety due to the new environment, rigorous work, and social situations. I was extremely lucky to have made a connection with Slater when I did. During my frequent trips to go visit Slater, I always left feeling calmer and more grounded. His comforting snuggles can always make me feel better. I believe that Slater truly is the best dog for an emotional support dog. He can almost tell whenever I’m stressed and he’ll always respond by giving me a couple of kisses or laying his head on my lap and falling asleep. Slater truly has been one of the reasons I am where I am today. Without his support during those tough days, I could have really struggled elsewhere. His constant love and support for everyone he interacts with is why I think Slater would truly be the most perfect emotional support animal.

In the article “Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety,” the author lists the following benefits of having a therapy/comfort dog in your school:

Mental and Emotional Benefits:

  • Lowered anxiety
  • Decreased loneliness
  • Ease in talking about distressing or troubling events
  • Release of happy hormones, such as oxytocin
  • Lowering of stress hormones, such as cortisol
  • Increased socialization
  • Improved connections with others on campus
  • Increased clarity and focus

Physical Benefits

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Slowing of heart rate
  • Slower, more controlled breathing, especially in those with anxiety

Some thoughts on dogs at school from Berkeley History teacher Scott Saposnik:

It has been said that, “dogs are man’s best friend,” and after this past year of enormous and unprecedented challenges, I cannot think of a better example of how our canine friends are always there for us, in good times, and in bad.  Dogs are the living reflections of our best selves: compassionate, giving, loving, loyal, and always eager and ready to lend a hand, or paw, as the case may be. While I know many of my days in the past year at Berkeley have been buoyed by the friendly presence of the dog Hagrid, I also know that I am hardly alone: Many of my fellow colleagues, and many of my students have commented to me about a moment of pure joy they experienced by just having a few quiet moments with the puppy in the library.  I can think of no better way to further the goal of fostering a community that is well, than to embrace the presence of our furry friends, the therapy dogs. 

Figure 8. History teacher Scott Saposnik and Slater.

A study of small southeastern colleges found a reduction of self-reported anxiety and loneliness in 60% of the participants of a therapy dog program.  Additionally, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America found that students experience stress and anxiety in staggering numbers (“Animal Assisted Therapy”).

  • 30% of students said stress affected their academic performance
  • 41.6% said anxiety was a top concern 
  • 85% told researchers they felt overwhelmed by expectations and demands in the previous academic year

Therapy/comfort dogs can also help students – particularly introverts – with socializing (“Helping Students Deal”). 

“Having a dog to focus on takes some of the anxiety out of having a conversation with someone new,” said Carol O’Saben, a licensed psychologist and pet therapy expert (“Helping Students Deal”).

Essentially, dogs don’t see color, gender, size or shape.  They don’t see grades.  Dogs are good listeners who don’t make judgments.

Service Dog v. Comfort Dog

A SE Guide Dog puppy in training is considered a service dog. A service dog is trained to help one person in a certain task. As such, its goal is not to provide comfort to many students. A therapy/comfort dog is trained and certified to provide psychological and physiological therapy to individuals or groups of people who are not their handler.  Unlike service and emotional support animals, therapy/comfort animals are encouraged to socialize and interact with other people while on-duty (“Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety”).

Our goal with bringing a comfort dog to Berkeley is to provide daily support to students (especially students in grades 6-12) to help with their stress and anxiety.  A secondary goal would be to build community in the library and be a place where students come to relax and renew.

What Does a Typical Day Look Like?

While  both Slater and Tamar love coming to school and interacting with students and faculty, it is emotionally draining.  That is why we have Tamar come on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Slater comes on Tuesday and Thursday.  That allows both dogs to have some time off to just be a dog.  

Any of the library staff can handle the two comfort dogs.  We have had Tamar go spend the morning in College Counseling when there was a stressful due dates and we anticipated stressed out seniors.  Since we just enacted this comfort dog program, there are many possibilities for how the dogs could be used on campus. 

Since Tamar is particularly adept at helping new students feel more comfortable (see comments by students Kellen and Katie), she and McLean are happy to be incorporated into any programs/meetings/retreats for new students.

Possible Concerns

Fortunately, we have had 11 years, problem-free with having dogs on campus, as we have had a Southeastern Guide Dog puppy in training on campus for the past 11 years.  Additionally, the Middle Division counselor had her personal pet Wells for several years without problems.  Below are some of the concerns that might come up.  In regards to a therapy/comfort dog, the most relevant concerns would be cleanliness, allergies and students/faculty who might have a fear of dogs. 


  1. The library is vacuumed every evening eliminating all pet hair/dander that might result from having the comfort dog in the library.
  2. We provide hand sanitizer for students and faculty to use after a session with the comfort dog. Additionally, we usually have a lint roller, because labs shed constantly. 


  1. Vacuuming every evening will take care of any loose pet dander in the library.
  2. The comfort dog is bathed and groomed regularly.
  3. Hand washing and sanitizer should take care of any dander from a visit with the dog.
  4. If a student is severely allergic to dogs, Mrs McLean won’t bring the dog to their class.  We can also make accommodations for study halls if they let us know the morning they will be stopping by so we can put Tamar in her crate in Mrs. McLean’s office.

Fear of Dogs

  1. “One of the most powerful ways to reshape fearful behavior response is by providing a positive peer behavioral model. Watching children enjoy and safely interact with a dog may encourage a fearful child to give it a try (Mulvahill).”
  2. While Tamar was on campus, we did have a student who was severely afraid of dogs.  McLean did not bring Tamar into the classroom with that student.  She also put Tamar into her crate if the student was in the library. 

Who Else Has a Therapy Dog?

It is hard to get a firm number on how many schools (public and private) have a therapy dog program. According to the Facebook Group School Therapy Dogs, which is a moderated group allowing only handlers at schools to join, their membership list is over 6,000. The table below is just a few of the names of independent and private schools that allow comfort dogs on campus or that have a comfort dog program. The list is not exhaustive.  

Table 1. List of Independent Schools that Have a Comfort Dog.

Independent/Private School Name
St. Paul Academy and Summit School, St. Paul, MN (the director of teaching and learning brings her dog to campus)
Trinity Preparatory School, Winter Park, FL (guidance counselor raises therapy dogs and they also bring in therapy dogs during exams)
Marlborough School, Los Angeles, CA (has therapy dog on campus)
Marist School, Atlanta, GA (only use therapy dogs for exam stress)
St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, San Juan Capistrano, CA (had therapy dogs on campus after death of a student)
Trinity Episcopal School, New Orleans, LA (therapy dog is in the library)
Roland Park Country School, Baltimore, MD (therapy dog is in the library)
Webb School of Knoxville, Knoxville, TN (various faculty bring their dogs through HABIT, which is a therapy dog program in Tenn. They also bring therapy dogs in during exams.)
Menlo School, Atherton, CA (supports students training service dogs and allows those dogs on campus)

Figure 9. River is Librarian Diane Haneski’s therapy dog that she brings to Marjoried Stoneman Douglass high school every day.

The following list is just a few of the colleges and Universities who have instituted a therapy/comfort dog program for their students.  In addition, half of the 98 universities in Canada have either a permanent therapy dog program or bring therapy dogs on campus at exams.

Table 2. Universities with Comfort Dog Programs.

University Name
Harvard University
Yale Law School
Univ. of Ottawa
University of Connecticut
Occidental College
Fordham university
Pratt Institute
The Rochester Institute of Technology
Tufts University
UC Riverside
California State University, San Bernardino
UC San Diego
La Sierra University in Riverside
Caldwell College
Oberlin College
Mercy College
Miami University
Kent State University
University of Minnesota
University of Northern Colorado
Stetson University
Washington & Jefferson College
University of Central Florida
Drexel University
University of Central Lancashire
University of Iowa
UC Berkeley
Marquette University
Colgate University
University of British Columbia

Works Consulted

Aiken, Julian. “Meet Monty.” Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School, 19 Sept. 2012, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Aiken, Julian, and Femi Cadmus. “Who Let the Dog Out? Implementing a Success Therapy Dog Program in an Academic Law Library.” Trends in Law Library Management and Technology, vol. 21, pp. 13-21, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Anderson, Katherine Terras and Myrna R. Olson. “‘Dog’Gone Crazy Schools: Models for Incorporating Dogs into the School Setting.” Children, Youth and Environments, vol. 20, no. 1, 2010, pp. 318–328. JSTOR, Accessed 20 May 2021.

“Animal-Assisted Therapy: A Creative Solution for College Counseling Centers.” Mindwise Innovations, Riverside Community Care, 2021, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Bell, Allison. “Paws for a Study Break: Running an Animal Assisted Therapy Program at the Gerstein Science Information Centre.” The Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, vol. 8, no. 1, 2013, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Dell, Collen Anne, et al. “PAWSing Student Stress: A Pilot Evaluation Study of the St. John Ambulance Therapy Dog Program on Three University Campuses in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Counseling and Psychotherapy, vol. 49, no. 4, 2015, pp. 332-59, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Ein, Natalie, et al. “The Effect of Pet Therapy on the Physiological and Subjective Stress Response: A Meta‐analysis.” Stress & Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, vol. 34, no. 4, Oct. 2018, pp. 477–489. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1002/smi.2812.

“First Day Jitters? Here Are the Best Pets for Anxiety.” Vercida, 14 Jan. 2019, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Green, Ranny. “Pets Can Help Ease Stress.” Dog World, vol. 87, no. 8, Aug. 2002, p. 16. EBSCOhost,,ip,url&db=ulh&AN=6877403&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

“Helping Students Deal with Stress and Anxiety.” Affordable Colleges Online, Red Ventures Company, 6 Apr. 2021, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Lalonde, Rebecca, et al. “PAWS Your Stress: The Student Experience of Therapy Dog Programming.” Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education, vol. 11, no. 2, 2020, pp. 78-90, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Mulvahill, Elizabeth. “Dogs in the Classroom Improve SEL, Cognitive and Even Reading Skills.” We Are Teachers, 25 Oct. 2019, Accessed 20 May 2021.

“Pets May Tame High Blood Pressure.” Modern Medicine, vol. 67, no. 12, Dec. 1999, p. 13. EBSCOhost,,ip,url&db=sch&AN=2698159&site=ehost-live&scope=site.

Prihar, Asha. “The Dog with the Dolphin Smile.” Yale Daily News, Yale, 8 Feb. 2019, Accessed 20 May 2021.

Wood, Emily et al. “The feasibility of brief dog-assisted therapy on university students stress levels: the PAwS study.” Journal of mental health (Abingdon, England) vol. 27,3 (2018): 263-268. doi:10.1080/09638237.2017.1385737

Xu, Qi. “Yale’s Therapy Dog Program Spreads.” Yale Daily News, Yale, 9 Dec. 2015, Accessed 20 May 2021.

A Window into Visible Thinking

As part of a professional development course through Harvard University, five teachers at my school collaborated to engage students in Visible Thinking. This Thinglink compiles some examples of this collaboration and highlights observations about student thinking and learning.
I hope you enjoy exploring this window into the minds of our students that showcases their thinking and deep learning experiences.

“Maker” Connections…

Finding creative ways to expand curriculum is always foremost on my mind as an educator, teacher, and “maker” media specialist. Recently, while going through my files I found a great connection for extending our yearly celebration of Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead. Last year our art teacher used our “closed” media center to display the offering table and classes were scheduled to come in to view it. This year the media center is open and the art teacher has a new display area. So when I approached her with my idea, she was immediately willing to add this “maker” feature into the student’s artwork.
I found the idea on By creating a light -up paper circuit the eyes of the sugar skulls would be able to actually light up and give the artwork a totally different appearance than just a colored skull. We decided to use the projects of the fourth grade students to do this and I used part of their library check out time to do a mini lesson on circuits. I have a LED Puppet that I had purchased from adafruit named Gus the Green Led to demonstrate the positive and negative charges.

We also purchased the Paper Circuit Starter Kit from for the cooper tape, LED’s and CR2032 batteries. The students were very excited to learn the simple circuit basis and soon their colorful sugar skullls actually came to “life”. Here are some of the finished projects.

Here is the finished display – the offering table with photos, candles, sugar skulls, and special items in memory of the loved ones. The celebration also included tasting the delicious Pan do los Muertos, a sweet bread made especially for the holiday.

Another “maker” connection occurred when the MD/Upper division media specialist and myself collaborated about 3D book posters involving books that the 7th grade students were creating in the maker space. We decided to invite students in third and fourth grade to visit the display in the MD/Upper division library. They would bring their ipads, headphones, and a writing tool with them for their visit. Each poster was displayed along with the actual book and it had a QR code for the students to listen to. After viewing all the projects, students used 2 different post-it-notes which were provided to write down their favorite 3D element and which book would they want to read after looking at the posters. Their answers were to be placed on the appropriate parking lot posters. Here are some of the designs:

This was a very beneficial project for all the students since it definitely supported our literacy program while giving feedback to the middle school students. Our hope is that the lower division students will share a similar project with the middle division student in the future and continue this “maker” connection.

on source type struggles…

Helping kids understand source types is hard.

When I’m trying to teach kids about types of sources and what they do, I find myself feeling like more and more of an information dinosaur with each passing year. My reality is that the vast majority of my students’ research is digital. But… I’m a “librarian of a certain age” and my first instinct is to draw analogies to the print collection. When I’m working with kids I often want to use examples like, “These are like ‘World Book Encyclopedia’ type articles…” then realize that there is a very high likelihood that not a single student the class has ever actually used a print version of the World Book. #SoOld

Over time, I’ve learned to substitute web native equivalents to help students build mental models of source types that might be useful in their database searches. “If I imagine my perfect source right now, it probably looks like a Wikipedia article and in ‘database language’ they’d call that a reference source so let’s click on that reference link and see what we find.”

Increasingly, however, we’ve been finding that students just don’t have adequate mental models of source types to help them grow as online researchers. What follows is my messy, messy in-process of figuring stuff out efforts to help students build mental models for the information they inquire. #UnderConstruction

Putting a Tool Kit Together…

We emailed community college and university libraries in our area to see if anyone had copies of trade or academic journals that they were weeding and would share with us. We gathered two class sets worth of materials (we have two librarians and sometimes both of us are doing research lessons at the same time) and labeled magazine for a general audience with green stickers, trade/professional journals with orange stickers, and academic/scholarly journals with a yellow sticker.

When we’re working with classes we’ll typically have students take a sample of each type so they can thumb through each and maybe look through a neighbor’s. As someone who grew up (50 years ago) in a home that got, probably more than a dozen magazines a month, it’s wild to me that some of my kids seemingly very, very little experience with actual print periodicals. I’ve found that having these artifacts has been incredibly helpful for students! Sometimes #PhysicalArtifactsMatter

I’ve Given Up on Known Sources First As My Default…

Another vestigial tail I’ve had to shed because I’m old is that I clung to the idea that research always should go from print sources to database sources to web sources–in that order. In the perfect controlled world of my fantasies, this is great in theory. As a school librarian at a school with a heavy emphasis on project-based learning, a small print collection that serves 3rd-12th graders, and where projects and topics change every year, emphasizing print first just does not work for purely pragmatic reasons that are completely out of my control. Rather than die on that hill, we’ve worked on emphasizing SIFT source evaluation across the board and chosen to figure out how to arrive at instruction that fits the process our teachers and students actually use to do research rather than trying to impose my process on their assignments and projects. #NoFrozen #LetItGo

What This Looks Like When the Rubber Meets the Road…

When I’m doing a research lesson, I typically have students grab one copy of a source from each category. We have kids look through periodicals for a general audience and have them point out typical features. “There are colored pictures… It’s pretty understandable… Some are about lots of topics, but some are, like about one thing like surfing…

I then have them look at scholarly journals. “Looks super boring… Why is this only in black and white? Is this even English? …” #GottaLoveHSKids #Hahaha At this point, I like to ask the teacher to explain peer review and/or scholarly journals as they apply to their field/subject.

The last category we tackle are trade/professional publications.

Once students have some familiarity with types of print serials, we chat about who typically creates the content for each category and how each type of source might be helpful at different points in their research process.

Some on-the-fly white board notes from a class discussion on source types.

How It’s Going

We’ve got a ways to go, but I’ve been happy with the progress we’ve made by moving in this direction. One of the HAPPIEST outcomes has been that by giving students side-by-side samples of different source types, most come to an understanding that just because your assignment sheet requires “at least two citations from scholarly sources” that short circuiting the process and just searching for a peer reviewed journal article without doing the other foundational research is going to be a largely futile endeavor because if you can’t understand the concepts or vocabulary you end up with sources that are relevant, but not pertinent–they may was well be written in Greek… #Grin

A second, welcomed outcome has been that once they know that different types of print sources exist, showing students how to limit database search results by type actually makes some sense to them. By giving students reference points for “this is a magazine, but this is a trade publication, and this is a peer reviewed article” they seem much more able to parse the slight variations of source type labels used in different databases.

Again, it’s all messy and ugly and “in-process.”

I’d love so much to hear about how you are teaching source types and searching. Please hit the reply button below and share what you’re doing!

Happy Wednesday, all!

Did you hear what I said?

My school just hosted our first in-person conference day since October of 2019, and since I graduated out my previous advisees from the Class of 2021 in May, this was my first time meeting many of the families of my new group of Class of 2025 advisees. In preparation, I watched the NAIS webinar “Less Stress, More Success: Managing Back-to-School Nights and Parent Conferences for Maximum Impact” with Michael Thompson and Robert Evans. One of my main takeaways was reaffirming something I already believe. Take people seriously. They may be anxious or excited; either way, their feelings are real and valid to them. I will also put in a plug for the book Hopes and Fears Thompson and Evans released this summer. It is some of the most directly helpful professional reading I’ve done in years, and I can share with folks the five pages of notes I took as a result, particularly the toolkits that are geared towards helping educators communicate more constructively with families.

Which brings me to a conversation I had with one of my senior Capstone students, someone who is in the library 90 minutes each day building her research project. She and I talk multiple times each day, about academic sources, about college plans, about theater. One day I found a book on her Capstone I thought she’d find fascinating, but I was feeling pretty lazy as she sat twenty feet away.

Me: “Hey, can you come here for a sec?”
Student: “Yeah, yeah. I know what this is about. My 20 overdue books.”

Of my passions about library work, tracking down overdues is not in the top twenty. I run overdue notes once a month and then ramp up my attempts in December and May to talk to students directly to get the books back on the shelves. Needless to say, I don’t sit around on a random Tuesday stalking students who choose to study in the library and questioning their reading habits. My thought process was more, “I’m thrilled you’ve taken all the Psychology books home and are reading a ton. You’re a fabulous fit for Capstone.” But I can see how she might think, “I have a huge piles of books I need to return but keep forgetting, and why can I never remember to bring them in and why do I never remember. I just shouldn’t borrow books…”

Whenever the receptionist calls me to ask a student to stop by the front desk and they and their friends give the inevitable “oooh you’re in trouble” face, I remind them that I was called down earlier this year because a mom had baked cookies for a club I sponsor and had to wait until they were cool enough to pack for travel. So yes it could be detention but it could also be cookies. Cookies!

I’m counting on the inimitable Dottie Smay to confirm this next example. During the AISL Boston conference, we were eating at a bistro in the North End. When the waiter found out we were librarians, he was quick to share his memories of those dreaded buildings. He had been shushed as a child. Repeatedly. And I might be conflating library stereotypes but I’m pretty sure there was a strong association with fines and money collection. Dottie, ever the library cheerleader, offered to pay him an additional tip if he would walk through the doors of a library in the next year. Have you seen the Boston Public Library’s central branch? No dice. That negative connotation was just too strong.

 In our professional and personal lives, we’re all bringing our own histories—those hopes and fears—into the ways we approach each day and the interactions within. The words we say matter, as does the tone we use, and the subtext the listener hears. Returning to the notion of overdue notifications, my student’s response to receiving a note is grossly disproportionate to the occasion, even with the old text, “The following title is currently checked out to you. Please return to the library. If you believe you are receiving this note in error, see Mrs. Pommer.” Their worry over receiving such notes, however, did not correlate with a prompt book return rate.  On the listserv last spring, I shared how I changed my notifications.

The library is trying to locate all materials before inventory this spring.
Please return this slip to your advisor with one of the following options circled:
Thank you for using the library! Mrs. Pommer

While there were still students concerned I was judging them for keeping out books, I found many more students were perfectly willing to let me know the status of a book — including that it was lost — than ever before. Giving students the opportunity to explain themselves, even in a basic way, made a huge difference in their engagement.

Thoughts from others about ways their tone has been perceived differently than their intentions or how they’ve changed up procedures based on the responses they had received?

#GlobalFact8: Learning fact-checking from the experts

This past week, I was fortunate enough to spend four days “attending” the International Fact-Checking Network’s eighth annual conference. It was compelling and eye-opening!

Many of the discussions really could have been taking place at a school library conference: questioning how to better teach media literacy, grappling to understand why mistrust in journalism and fact-checking is so high, wrestling with necessary relationships with certain corporations to maintain funding and access without letting those companies set the global fact-checking agenda, and discussing how to do more work with less money. Other topics, like the massive mental toll of both spending your days lurking on lists that are promoting misinformation and possibly worse, and harassment ranging from insulting comments to imprisonment to death threats made or carried out, are elements I am deeply grateful are much less a part of our work lives.

I’ve been noodling on what to share with you all, but also suffering a bit from screen fatigue. Furthermore, I neither want to simply hand out the intellectual property of these individuals who work so hard to find and share what is true, and I want to be thoughtful about naming individuals who are already suffering from harassment.

Due to our very similar fields and goals, however, I am in contact with the IFCN about how our professions might work together — so stay tuned for more (and keep your fingers crossed).

A few, random hot tips, though:

  1. The preponderance of research suggests that educating people to recognize misinformation (“prebunking” or “inoculation”) is much more effective than trying to debunk misinformation in the moment.
  2. TickToc is by far fact checkers’ favorite tool for prebunking education about how algorithms work, since they say (sorry, I have to take their word for it!) it is so very, very clear what the algorithm is doing within that social network.
  3. Fact-checking videos is the hardest, YouTube is not interested in transparency, collaboration or funding fact-checking, and their algorithm very decisively recommends videos that blatantly run afoul of their takedown policy but are up and running and being promoted.
  4. In many countries, the national statistics agencies are run by political appointees. And the resulting statistics may be re-tabulated and/or deleted by subsequent administrations. May be whole different agencies, as well.
  5. The absolute best video for teaching the technicalities of researching if a video is real or a deep fake is this aerobics class. (Reach out if you want more about doing so — don’t want to just share out someone else’s lesson, but here is the actual fact-check on the video.)

In the meantime, at the risk of giving you just a list of resources, I would like to share a slightly annotated … list of resources. The following are some of the most compelling reports, slide decks, and videos that were shared over the course of the conference:

Some context on US situation from the American Press Institute:
*Report: A new way of looking at trust in media: Do Americans share journalism’s core values?
Slides – not from this talk, but much of the same content in shorter form
*Also check out:
–2016 Report: A new understanding: What makes people trust and rely on news
–2018 Report: Americans and the News Media: What they do — and don’t — understand about each other

Sponsors of the conference: International Fact-Checking Network – Poynter
*IFCN Code of Principles
*International Fact-Checking Network YouTube Channel — lots of great content!
–Including: Fact-checking in school: Best practices from around the world (I have not watched this yet, but I did see some of these speakers on other, related topics)
*MediaWise – Poynter – they have a teen fact-checking group

Verification Handbook – a detailed primer by a number of strong professionals in the field.

Inoculation Theory – one researcher argued there is the most evidence that this is the most effective, others have supported the approach in their talks. One paper, as an example. A field that can really guide us in thinking about the most impactful use of our limited time with students.

First Draft News
*A guide to prebunking: a promising way to inoculate against misinformation
*The psychology of misinformation
*Many other useful reports – worth a look!

Global Trends in Fact-Checking: A Data-Driven Analysis of ClaimReview by Thomas Van Damme
*Data visualizations

Why Gendered Disinformation — #SHEPERSISTED – Explains the issue of gendered disinformation that targets female politicians, etc.

Lead Stories – has a “red feed” and a “blue feed” and is clearly run by a beloved and respected member of the fact checking community

Disinformation for Export: how false content generated in the United States reaches Latin America

YouTube Regrets – how YouTube algorithm surfaces and recommends misinformation
*Press release for shorter read

A typology of caveats (from FullFact) – We’re continuing to investigate the type of contextual information that statistics need in order to be meaningful and used correctly.


Is it a Marvel film or a fact-checking newsroom? How uses its readers’ ‘superpowers’
This reminds me of some programs that could be built on preexisting TA programs, etc. in schools

A framework for information incidents – exploring how fact checking organizations should best respond in different incidents that can give rise to misinformation

GlobalFact 8 talk – Why good national statistics are so important for fact checkers – 2021-10-12
Gives insight into why it is so hard to use different country’s statistical data

Fact-Checking – Duke school of journalism

A comparison of reverse image search tools – has a handy summary chart if you scroll down

Weaponizing fact-checking: What Canada needs to know The Facts4All – Schools as community hubs against disinformation is a one year project co-funded by the European Commission’s Media Literacy for All Programme project, which aims to increase awareness and critical thinking in relation to online disinformation across generations – in particular young people and their (grand)parents. — There is a MOOC

Headlines Network – Drive conversations towards improving mental health in the media and communications industries.

A Lower School Library: Renovated!

A photo essay.

First Day at my new job August 2017 – lots of potential!

Immobile furniture, no soft seating, awkward browsing, but lots and lots of great light, a solid collection, and it’s an octagon!

At the start of my job as Lower School Librarian and Information Specialist in August of 2017, I was in meetings about a possible renovation. I reached out to everyone I knew who had completed a reno recently, researched furnishings and finishes, and, later, took detailed notes at AISL ATLANTA. Visiting Atlanta area independent school libraries made a lasting impact. In the mean time, I encouraged my space to sing as best I could.

Year after year went by. No renovation. Meeting after meeting. Promises not kept. Then COVID.

And then, the renovation magically made it to the top of the CFO’s to do list!

In the Fall of 2020, there was a glimmer of hope. I started updating all of my planning documents. The fun part happened in Spring 2021. We met with architects, and held listening sessions. I shared a slideshow and a document of the vision with stakeholders:

Come May 2021, the packing began. I was on my own – thanks to mentors from my past roles, I had a system: box books spine up and in shelf order. Label each box exhaustively with contents and number order.
This is what I returned to in August 2021: boxes in scary heaps, but the carpet was down and the walls were painted! Supply chain issues plagued our furniture…
waiting and waiting and waiting…then the day came!

The first two months of school I held “library classes” in the library. I gave public library website browsing lessons to older grades, borrowed books from the public library, and taught my digital citizenship lesson earlier in the year than usual – figured might as well get the nuts and bolts of non-library space instruction completed before furniture arrived!

Two months into the school year, after multiple false starts, we got the call! Would we accept delivery of we-don’t-know-what-will-arrive…? Of course I said SEND IT!

I was able to get help from our maintenance crew to open boxes, and take and break down empty boxes. Over 200 boxes of PK-5 library books were unpacked over 2 days.

The space is reflective of my library program: warm, welcoming, open, vibrant, inviting, curious and exciting!

Circ desk area
The Last Box. #moodattheend

All in all, this project was 5 years in the making. Folders and folders of quotes, scribbles, ideas, furniture books and linear feet measurements! 3 months for wall removals, painting and carpet. 1 full day of assembly from the furniture company. 3 days to unpack and put everything away. And all the months of the school year ahead to share and celebrate!

All that is left is some soft seating still “stuck somewhere in the COVID supply chain disruption” and art for the walls.

There were many silver linings to the delay – I learned more about my students, my school, my space. I developed tastes and interests in ways to reflect the library program with the space and furnishings.

And grand opening week has been magical! Here is an album from one class visit!

Renovation was an exhilarating experience. Reach out with questions!

Facebook and Insta were DOWN!

My students are still reeling from the fact that Instagram was down for HOURS a week ago. (Apparently the longest hours of their lives.)

WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram have been down for so long even Twitter's  Jack Dorsey is now making jokes - Technology News

I’m still reeling by how much more focus I had for work, conversations, my dog, etc.

In fact, I was shocked at how liberating it was to not be present on social media. I do not consider myself addicted (and only suffer from FOMO a tad), but I realized that during downtimes I’d mindlessly scroll on Facebook, etc. instead of reading or, well, thinking.

I decided to experiment with my “free time.” Instead of going online, I’d simply do something else and limit social media time to the evenings after dinner for no more than an hour. (This was completely arbitrary, but seems to mostly work.) This meant I had scads more time during the day for other stuff. I’ve already finished a book, listened to one and a half others, and thought about stuff. You know, lived in my head instead of being distracted by the cute thing so-and-so’s kid did that morning.

My daughter at one point asked me what I was doing, and I had to laugh when I replied, “thinking.” I know it’s not reasonable to expect that we would stay off social media completely, because life (and #BookTok, for goodness’ sake), but it was a valuable experiment for me to realize exactly how much time I spent distracting myself. I felt it gave me insight into my students, too, at least in terms of how their brains are pulled every day.

I guess the real question is: how can I use this information for my students? For now, I’m looking into low-tech activities with face-to-face time. (StickTogether posters have been really effective in a low-pressure way.) How do you inspire tech-free time in your library?

Making Connections with Virtual Museums

Museums are fascinating places. The curation and design of a museum display has the potential to captivate viewers and engage them in looking closely, thinking critically, expanding perspectives, and building empathy. For me, an epiphany moment occurred at the Frist Art Museum in the hands-on Martin ArtQuest room. One activity contained a blank map of Gallery Rooms, a collection of art reproductions on magnets, and the invitation to “Be a Curator!” This became an intriguing exploration of ways to organize the artwork in the empty gallery rooms. Should one curate by time period, art movements, thematically, or even as a comparison/contrast of artists? How would Van Gogh’s expressionistic field of iris dialogue with the abstracted desert landscapes by Georgia O’Keefe or the thrilling iceberg and volcano landscapes romanticized by Frederic Edwin Church? A 2019 visit to the National Museum of the American Indian provoked a different type of response as I viewed an expansive wall of merchandise, posters, commercials, and movies that throughout history had “branded” indigenous peoples to sell an American product and a perspective about these people. Part of the power of this display was the opportunity for viewers to linger with the images that they felt compelling and invite them to make their own meaning.

Curation is an art in itself, calling upon skills of discerning relevancy and critical thinking, and AASL recognizes this in the Curate Standard, part of which states that “Learners add value to a collection of resources by organizing and annotating them.” This school year provided an opportunity to immerse students in curation. As part of a Civil War investigation, 7th graders are being challenged to use their research notes to create a digital presentation (a virtual museum) of primary source images, historic documents, and analysis paragraphs. Though this type of multimodal exploration could be done in GoogleSlides by linking content to slides within the slide deck, these 7th graders will use ThingLink. With Thinglink, interactive tag markers can be placed on locations in an image to allow viewers to link to additional text boxes, images, or media (audio, video). Here is one example of a ThingLink by the Smithsonian Institution:
Fort Sumter Telegram. The organization of this ThingLink invites close analysis of a single primary source document.

Virtual Museums

For our students, the goal is to simulate the experience of a museum so that viewers can explore the students’ own thinking about the Civil War. Making Thinking Visible, a book describing Harvard Project Zero’s research, offered several helpful routines to deepen students’ thinking. One thinking routine, Generate–Sort–Connect–Elaborate, delineated the type of thinking students would use in this curation of a virtual museum.

In the note-taking phase of student research, students generated several ideas as they researched questions about the Civil War.

Students used the NoodleTools note card feature and titled note cards with brief descriptions. These note cards were used in the sorting process. Students sorted main ideas and supporting ideas; or gathered notes in groups for a comparison/contrast or cause and effect organization. This diagram shows an example of sorting into main and supporting ideas for a discussion of Civil War Technology:

The next step is to connect ideas and explain connections. Here is an example of how the sorted ideas would be connected in Thinglink. Note that links are not active on the following screenshots.

Example of ThingLink Link 7 that expands to a discussion of strategy. (See next screenshot.)
Strategy: Civil War Band Music
Discussion of how military band music was used by General Grant as a strategy to conceal the sounds of troop movements. Note that an additional link on the slide accesses an audio clip of the band music (links not active on screenshot, but you can click this link to hear the music).

A final text box (indicated by Star tag) links to a paragraph that elaborates on connected ideas and shares insights (see following examples). The more information tag on the ThingLink (indicated by an i tag) links to a bibliography of sources.

Example of elaborating on connections with own insights.

This is just the beginning phase as our students curate their research. It will be exciting to watch their thinking evolve as they generate, sort, connect, and elaborate their ideas in ThingLink and share with an audience their insights about the Civil War.

Who has History? And who has Issues?

Last week, I was preparing a lesson for a Global History class that’s doing some research on South Africa. I’m new at my school, and we’ve just added several Gale In Context databases to our collection, so I wanted to introduce students to how those resources are organized. So I navigated to the Topics list on Gale In Context: World History and boldly scrolled to where the South Africa Topic should be.

I say “should”, because there was no South Africa Topic. In fact, all of Africa – all 64 countries – was under four Topics, separated by time periods. Germany alone has four Topics (also separated by time periods), in addition to separate topics for the Holocaust and Hitler. The British Isles have a total of 13 different Topics (two for Great Britain, three for England, three for Scotland, and five for Ireland). It does not get better when I look at the individuals who have Topic pages. The only three Africans I could find were Nelson Mandela, Idi Amin, and Musa, Sultan of Mali (but there are no Topics for either Uganda or Mali).

I have not gone in-depth on all of these pages, but I will also note that the African History during the Colonial Period Topic has a total of 534 sources. Germany: The Middle Ages has 777 news articles alone.

Next, I moved over to Global Issues in Context, where I did find a Topic for South Africa. And the Congo. And Zimbabwe. And Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Mayotte, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and others. 

So, who has History, and who’s an Issue? 

After showing students what I’d discovered, I posed that exact question to them. One student pointed out that Great Britain has been a pretty major issue in global history – and has, in fact, made significant “contributions” to the issues in other countries. But there is very little representation for Great Britain on Issues in Context.

There are two issues here: what’s being collected, and what’s being curated. I’m guessing that there is a fair amount of overlap in terms of sources between these two databases, but the way they are organized is very different. And that framing matters. It’s similar to having a diverse print collection, but only displaying and promoting books with cis, hetero, white protagonists. However, I also suspect that the collection of resources that Gale is pulling from to curate these Topics could stand to be significantly more diverse in any number of ways. It’s hard to curate materials you don’t collect. 

Other than being mad, what do we do with this information? Like many of you, I’m taking a close look at my database collection, and which voices are included (many thanks to Tasha Bergson-Michelson for her leadership in this work), and also pushing our vendors to expand the representation in their collections. But that kind of change does not happen quickly. So until that change happens, we have an obligation to be transparent with our students and our teachers about the shortcomings of our database collections. We need to actively resist the “if it’s in a database, then it’s trustworthy” messaging that many teachers and students have internalized, because that includes an implicit message that resources found outside of databases are less trustworthy – and that’s simply not true. If we give more weight to databases sources, knowing full well that our databases do not include a full range of perspectives and sources, we are discounting those perspectives. Endorsing the idea that database = “quality” reinforces the systems of inequity that got us here in the first place.

UPDATE: I’ve been in conversation with some folks at Gale, and they’ve added Topic pages on South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, and Ghana to World History in Context! There is still more work to be done, but Gale has been responsive to questions and concerns. If you’re noticing issues, I encourage you to reach out to your rep!