The Onus of Collaboration

We are in the midst of a search for a senior administrator role at my school, and as I crafted my question for our open sessions with the candidates I got to thinking (again) about structures and unspoken norms within school communities. As librarians, it seems like we are always seeking, depending on, and managing collaborations. As an upper school librarian, my ability to get in a classroom requires collaboration. Even programs that are internal to the library cannot wholly thrive without buy-in or collaboration from other parts of the school. Here are my initial thoughts on the systemic ways our upper schools place the onus of collaboration squarely on the shoulders of librarians.

But first, two caveats. While some elements of this may ring true for LS/MS librarians, I cannot speak to that directly, so I am speaking particularly about upper schools. Secondly, what I say herein is about structure. Each of the issues in faculty-librarian collaborations I speak to here are not an issue with faculty, rather about why the expectation of collaboration resides unduly on librarians because of how our schools are set up. I expect we all have some examples of successful, ongoing, meaningful collaborations with exceptional faculty who really “get it.” Which is great. Truly.

And yet, in most upper schools, librarians teach at the invitation of curricular faculty. Our job descriptions all (I suspect) have a key statement along the lines of “support, collaborate, and co-teach with faculty,” a clear expectation that we will be working with faculty on research projects and instilling information literacy in our students through collective work with teachers. Do faculty job descriptions implore them to “collaborate and co-teach with librarians?” Nope. So, if there is no structural support that reinforces collaboration from both parties, is it surprising that the onus of collaboration lies on the librarians?

inequality by Creative Mania from Noun Project (CC BY 3.0)

Because it is part of our jobs, librarians can be evaluated on our collaborations and co-teaching, whether that is by the number of these collaborations or instruction sessions “co-taught” with faculty, or by the depth or impact of such collaboration. But, to what degree can that be a meaningful assessment when there is no equality to the expectation? A teacher may choose not to collaborate with librarians at all for a host of reasons–they feel they have too much content to cover to “give up” a day, they may not recognize that there is a connection between the library and the content or skills they are teaching, they may not have done it in the past and don’t want to do the work to change their course to find the time, or any number of other reasons. And while, sure, a librarian could keep at it with such a teacher, or work to convince them of the IL skills in the class they could help with, or even pitch a lesson idea, the only one invested in making that collaboration work is the librarian. I doubt many faculty have annual goals that mention library co-teaching, but I bet a lot of librarians have goals to work with more departments or improve or expand instructional collaborations.

Even successful collaborations can potentially fall apart from year to year through no fault of the librarian or ill will of the teacher–maybe they got sick and missed a day or two so they bump the library day to catch up, or perhaps changed an assignment that the collaboration was tied to so that the instruction session disappears. Or, a great collaborator teaches a different course, retires, moves to a new school. So now, the librarian has to explain why they have fewer sessions than in the past. Are teachers ever asked why they have failed to co-teach with the librarian?

Let’s also look a bit closer at the idea of co-teaching. According to Wikipedia, co-teaching is “the division of labor between educators to plan, organize, instruct, and make assessments on the same group of students.” When we consider the structure of a school, the “co” is undermined by the fact that one partner has a codified curriculum and one does not. Without IL as a formal curriculum in the school and without the librarian allocated time to teach, the underlying power dynamic will always disadvantage the librarian in collaborations and co-teaching. Inherently, this amounts to something more akin to librarian as guest-speaker than librarian as co-teacher.

If our schools are earnest about library collaborations and co-teaching, administrators need to distribute the onus of those collaborations between librarians and our faculty collaborators in a systematic way. If we are meant to develop information literacy skills in our students through faculty collaborations then we need to have school structures that support clear scope and sequence of IL curriculum as well as time to do that teaching. And, we need to be supported in creating and implementing assessment of that learning as well as the collaborations themselves. Then, when librarians and faculty come together to collaborate on a research project, or to plan to co-teach, it might look a lot more like sharing.

partnership by Gargantia from Noun Project (CC BY 3.0)

Worth a 1000 Words?: Judging a Book by the Cover

Despite having a perfectly decent copy of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I ordered another one this Fall. This order was not driven by increased patron demand either, at least not at the time of the order, but reflected an intention to create demand for that older copy as well as the new one. At the time of purchase, I  was seeking a copy with an interesting cover for a book display.  I realized I do indeed judge a book by its cover. at least when “selling” books. And I think potential readers do too.

Seeking readers, I frequently promote books with covers out as new books and by themes, most recently Halloween–and soon, Christmas. I also highlight books on the shelves, but only those with compelling covers will do.  As well, I create digital slideshows of new items, and thematically.  With the rise of face-out shelving, bookstore type shelving, books with good covers are becoming ever more important to the collection.  In these cases, a picture is indeed worth 1,000 words.  In order to entice readers to embrace various texts, I first need to capture their interest visually.  I notice authors are placing more attention to covers, often acknowledging graphic designers and cover development in their acknowledgements. 

Covers are important to self-publishing as well.  A quick Google search indicates easy templates for creating one’s own cover, including from well-known sites such as Canva. One could now create appealing covers with Dall-E or other AI programs.  So, the question becomes, in this market, with these resources, why publish a book with a bland, boring cover? And there are many, especially in nonfiction.  I once nearly weeded a book while browsing the stacks, thinking the book looked old, possibly decades old; it was published two years ago. The truth is if I think a book looks dated and boring, how would patrons feel?  The truth is many  readers judge a book by the cover. Maybe they still choose a book despite a boring one, especially if reading an eBook, but covers can certainly help “sell” a book.

So, what makes a good, interesting cover? Beauty, of course, is in the eye of the beholder. But some recent covers I have liked include those for Remarkably Bright Creatures and Yellowface, both very different yet compelling.   In terms of nonfiction, Traffic by Ben Smith attracts the reader to take a look as does Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies. There are many factors involved. But in order to appeal to readers to engage with 1,000 words, we first need good artwork.

Connecting Outside Interests With Your Job

The other day, I was thinking about how librarians find ways to connect their outside interests and talents with their work, such as how I incorporate my love of writing into my career. Here are many of the ways I do that, and I would love to hear how others connect their interests and talents to their jobs!


I review almost everything I read in GoodReads, both for my own use—remembering what I read—and for school use. I often add my GoodReads summaries to catalog records as a “general” note to offer more information about the book, and may also use those summaries in booktalks. As I usually summarize every story in short story books I read, I find those helpful when searching for a short story about something specific, either for a teacher or for an AISL query. The tags and stars I add to reviews also help when I’m looking for books to recommend or add to a to-buy list.

In addition, I write professional reviews for a couple of library magazines, which requires more meticulous work than a GoodReads review. It also gets me reading and thinking about books I might not have otherwise encountered, and helps me hone my ability to write concisely. And it’s always nice to open a magazine and see your own name there!

While I’m not sure if blurbs count as reviews, I write those as well, for our new middle school fiction. We paste them onto bookmarks that go into books on display, hoping to interest students in the books. My colleague also writes blurbs, and she captures the key, intriguing points of a book more concisely than I, I must admit.


For eighteen years at my current school (and five years at my previous school) I ran the middle school literary magazine. While I’ve given it up due to lack of student interest and lack of time, I always enjoyed reading student writing and finding unexpected literary gems.

I also run a “Writing Time” club for students who like to write, but can’t find a moment in their packed schedules. While some students occasionally share writing and ask for feedback, for the most part, we just write.

For ten years, a colleague and I ran a picture-book writing project for our school’s Project Week, and I’m considering reviving it this year. It’s based on the book Written & Illustrated by, by David Melton, and I always love helping students craft their stories and create their books. I also participated with the same colleague in a poetry-writing Project Week project, and learned how to write sestinas and ballads along with the kids. I wrote a ballad about a pony-riding mishap when I was a kid; the ballad was more fun than the incident, and kids always appreciate the chance to laugh at teacher mishaps!

I run multiple contests each year, as I wrote about in two AISL blog posts (Contests Part One, Contests Part Two), and many of those involve writing. It’s fun to think up things that require some creative writing and thinking, but in a one to three sentence form. While most entries are not winner-level, many always impress me.

I recently read a KQ article about a “Reading Quest” that motivated me to create my own version. The authors mentioned that students loved poking around in the quests to find the cute drawings the authors had done. Since drawing is not my strong suit, I peppered my quest with characters saying ridiculous things, instead. I tried this out with our 6th grade, and it went pretty well—though I don’t know if the jokes helped!

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed writing silly skits to introduce various contests, activities, and so forth. While I still do that, where I mostly flex my skit-writing skills these days is in scripts for videos my colleagues, students, and I put together to advertise my library’s eBooks. Writing about those videos was part of my first AISL blog post this year, and the skits are always such fun to write and film!


For many years, I wrote articles on books and other library matters for VOYA magazine, which unfortunately appears defunct. That is one reason I’m happy to be able to write for the AISL blog!

For the retirements of two recent colleagues, I chose “patter” songs (such as the Major General song from The Pirates of Penzance) and wrote lyrics about my colleagues. I asked the choir teacher to perform them at the faculty end-of-year party, and she did a wonderful job. I had such fun writing these, and was especially proud that I managed to use the word “defenestrate” in one of the songs!

Though I quickly learned that the traditional publishing world is too rejection-heavy for me, I continue to write novels, both fanfiction and original. I’ve self-published a couple through Amazon so I could have a printed book to my name, and as they were YA titles, I donated copies to my school library. (Shameless self-promotion: Summergreen, and Tales From Camp Brightlake.)

Your Turn

How do you bring your hobbies, interests, and passions to your job?

Bringing Sources into Conversation: Teaching Literature Review to High School Students (Part 1)

Over the past few years, we have had an increasing number of courses that ask 11th and 12th graders to write literature reviews, most frequently employing approximately ten sources. It turns out to be a wonderful assignment to get at the idea that scholarship is conversation, and one that I would like to see every student experience before heading off to college. It turns out you read scholarly papers a lot differently when you understand what a lit review is, and it makes the work of college much more meaningful.

In my next post, I want to share how I have arrived at teaching lit review after many years of experimentation. But this week, I want to feature the FAQ put together by Assiya Memon (’24), my first Research TA dedicated to supporting student understanding of literature reviews. Assiya’s comprehension of the genre is magical; she has an innate sense of the work, the tone, and the “moves” (as Graff and Birkenstien might say) of a strong literature review.

At the end of last year we interviewed every student on campus who had written more than one lit review in their time at our school. We asked about what they learned in class, what they figured out for themselves, and what tips they would most want to offer future students. Assiya went through those interviews looking for common themes, added a bit of wisdom of her own, and made the following tip sheet. My gratitude to this insightful TA, who personally tutored four sections of Stats and Advanced Bio students through the lit review writing process with humor and grace, even as she worked on her own college applications. (Find Google Doc version of this tip sheet here.)

The Literature Review: Reminders, Tips, & FAQs

First, a few reminders:

What claim are you making?
A common misconception students have about writing a literature review is that it is similar to preparing for a debate—that you are on the hunt for sources that prove your research question right, and should leave out studies that are contradictory to that narrative. While researching, remember that you are not yet arguing the claim of your study, but rather that the study you want to conduct is relevant. Do not shy away from disagreement in the field; let your research be comprehensive and acknowledge the brilliant back-and-forths that have been had! Maybe your research question will change to reflect the existing research, or maybe it’s perfect the way it is. Keep your mind open!

Does it feel hard to find the proper professional “tone” for a lit review? Do you just “not like research”? Remember that you already exercise many of these skills in other classes! While certainly not identical, you know how to put primary sources or quotations in conversation in humanities essays, or write narrative and transition-based problem sets. Your job with the lit review is to consolidate what research already exists, trace how scholars have bounced off each other’s work, and summarize it for your readers. Treat it like putting together a discussion or relevant historical context if you get stuck!

Lastly, literature reviews are unquestionably tricky. It’s easy to get lost in the research process, the narrative flow, or the quantity of sources—regularly stepping back and checking in with teachers/librarians/peers for feedback on what you’ve written can go a long way.

FAQ/Common Challenges:

➡ I’m encountering a lot of unfamiliar vocab in these studies! How much should I Google?
A: Note down any frequently-used terms that you do not understand. Remember that you’re doing a lot of research on a lot of cool new things: a librarian-approved rule of thumb is to only look up a word once you’ve seen it five times!

➡ There doesn’t seem to be much unique or original research done on my topic.
A: First, try refining your search. Talk to your teacher or a librarian if you think there are relevant studies out there that you just aren’t finding. Otherwise, it might be time to step back, recognize that there may not be enough with which to conduct meaningful analysis in a high school class, and consider widening your scope. 🙁

➡ Uh oh… system overload… too many sources
A: It’s hard to resist overcomplicating your lit review, especially if you’re passionate about what you’re researching. Avoid spending too much of your valuable time clicking through rabbit holes; intentionally focus on what studies you need to contextualize your research question. Remind yourself that you don’t have to use every source you look into (even if they’re interesting or cool). If a source doesn’t play a meaningful role in the discussion, it might be better not to reference it! More studies referenced ≠ better lit review.

➡ But I know that my sources are important for my lit review! How do I extract their significance without spending hours pouring over entire research papers?
A: You want to get to the findings—or “main idea”—of a study. All you likely need is the what, so what, and now what* of a given article. Remember to check its abstract, intro, and conclusion. Only delve into the rest of the source if those places are missing information that you know is critical to your lit review or your understanding. Again, you have a lot of sources to parse: resist the temptation to go on too many research deep-dives!

➡ I have so, so much citing and annotation to do…
A: The best thing you can do for yourself is to start citing/annotating early. Do not put it off. It’s remarkably easy to forget where you got a specific piece of information, or what significance a certain source had. Citing is a form of source evaluation. Utilize it!
— Plus, the empirical side effects to opening a fresh NoodleTools project the night before the deadline include extreme panic and exactly no hours of sleep. You don’t want that for yourself. Try your best to get rid of those 20 open tabs and stay organized with your research!

*”What, So what, Now what” is a reflection model that my teaching colleague, Helen Shanks, adapted as a framework for high school students reading scholarly work. I guess that routine may be the topic of Part 3 of this series of blogs…. TBM

“The Collection”

I recently misunderstood a request being asked of me. I thought I was asked to share the book that had most influenced me as a professional. Noooooo, not a superlative! This is the way to get me into my head considering everything of professional importance that’s ever crossed my path. Here was the actual request: “share a reading / resource / book / video that has been particularly helpful for you professionally.” Okay, I can breathe with that! Not that I’m stress-free, but I can focus and answer.  

Well, kinda. I ultimately chose a book (Getting Things Done) and a podcast (Hidden Brain), one for practical skills and one for developing a more nuanced understanding of how others’ view the world.  

After being a solo librarian for my whole career, it was unexpected last week to read Seth’s take on “the collection.” When Rebecca posted earlier this fall on how we select and familiarize ourselves with books in our collections, I eagerly participated and read the responses. Because, for me, it’s rote at this point. I hadn’t gotten out of my routine to think metacognitively about what I did, nor even the path that led me to develop these routines in the first place. But this reflection is what helps us grow, and it’s worth it to take time out to reflect.

Because we are a relatively small school, I’ve bought or accepted as a donation every book for the Sunshine Library for over fifteen years. I’ve spent untold hours on Titlewave and Amazon. I’ve set up thousands of seasonal displays. I’ve checked out the books and subsequently added them back to the return cart. I’ve waited outside students’ classrooms to try to get popular titles returned. As the collection has changed size over the years, both with purchases and weeding, I’ve reallocated shelf space by moving books. I’ve dusted the shelves. Occasionally. Perhaps some of you are with me. Without thinking, I can answer these questions:               

“Where can I learn about the Gilded Age?”        
“Where’s that creepy book that Will recommended during book talks?”        
“Do you have the India book in this Countries series?”

If you ask me about books with orange spines for a Halloween display, I can picture where they sit on the shelves and the general design of the cover.  It’s deep knowledge. Invisible knowledge. But it’s also relatively useless outside this collection, this library. It makes sense that many librarians settle in at their schools and with their collections. While the learning gap is high for a teacher moving to a new school, it’s higher for the librarian. Because the same projects are offered year over year, it’s easy to seem like an expert on Greek mythology, vitamins, or the city of Boston. It easy to be enough of an expert on citations that you know which teachers care that the citations are perfect and which care more that students include the right parts. You are perhaps legitimately the “printer whisperer.”

 Between Rebecca and Seth and the questions that come through AISL each week, I want to thank you for making us all better librarians who think not only about what we do but why we do it, and thus ways to continue to improve. There are parts of the job that feel like second nature after a while but actually involve deep knowledge continually reinforced. Our community of librarians is there to remind us to nurture that knowledge. That way the library continues to stay relevant and be a useful resource for our students, a helpful resource for our teachers, and maybe a slight mystery for the people who wonder how we know the exact physical location of the book they’ve just vaguely described….

A Portrait of the Teacher as a Young Librarian

*Guest post by Seth Carlson*

I’m going to preface this by (1) saying I’m not Christina, I’m Seth, the new Middle and Upper School Librarian at Saint Stephen’s, and (2) apologizing that there aren’t any bits of practical advice or helpful tips the way there are in most of these posts. This is just one newcomer’s impression of what it’s been like to don the librarians’ robes. If that sounds interesting, read on! If not, the regular, useful posts will be back soon! 

The students keep asking me if I’m happier in my new role as librarian than I was in my old one as physics teacher, and it’s weird to me how frustrating one small word can make a question. It’s not a comparison to me. I wasn’t unhappy teaching physics, but I am really excited to be taking on the new challenges the library offers. Because I’m in the somewhat unusual position of moving from teaching to librarianship at the same school, Christina suggested I take over her AISL blogging account and write about what it’s been like. I sincerely hope you all know how amazing and important your work is already, but I’ll try to give a sense of what it’s been like diving in during my first two months. As a nod to the Book Awards my school gives students based on their particular skills and interests, I’m going to do this Book Award style.

The Lord of the Flies Award for not knowing what I don’t know. (This was an introduction to symbolism for me, and wow did I not pick up on it at first.)

This award goes to the collection, for suddenly seeming much larger and more daunting than I realized. Christina was in charge of the Middle and Upper School library on her own for the last fifteen years, but I’ve helped out some here and there and read, ummm, a very few of the books, it turns out. How does one learn what the thousands of books in one’s care are really about? I’ve been trying to do some random book tastings (I mostly refrain from actually licking them!)  at least a couple of times a day, but often when a student comes in asking if we have a book I say, “Let’s find out together!”

Also, right now the first sentence of the last paragraph is reminding me that every time I think the words “the collection,” they’re in a booming voice with dramatic music swelling. It’s kind of fun.

The Fellowship of the Ring “Mines of Moria” Award for dark, slightly concerning corners

This goes to the Study Pod, which didn’t have working lights for a month and a half. This award might be more literal than others. (As far as I know, there were no Balrog sightings …)

The A Room of One’s Own Award

Presented to Christina’s new office (which is still in the library, but is now slightly farther away in the library) because she’s calling it “a room of my own.” I would like to emphasize that I am 95% certain that the fact she is calling it that is meant as a cheeky reference to the book title and reaching a new state of adulthood where she can close a door to the surprises of the library on occasion.

Honorable mention for this award goes to the physics lab, for really, really not feeling like my room anymore. When I go in there now, after twelve years of teaching physics, it isn’t nearly as messy as it used to be!

The From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Award for how many more things I have to keep track of as a librarian

This goes to my calendar. I never actually had to keep a digital calendar of my own as a teacher (we have a school one that has important dates when things like comments or grades are due). I knew that would change, but I didn’t realize the true level of change. I actually have three digital calendars right now and one in print: one for the library, one for the reading room, and two for me. 

The Things Fall Apart Award

This award is given to my Google Drive and about 10,000 Post-it notes. I desperately need to reorganize my Google Drive, or future Seth is going to be really mad next fall when he can’t find any of the things from this fall. But how do I do it – by subject, then class? Do I need grade-level folders? Do I create overarching folders by month? Do I include notes on managing the space somewhere?

The Post-it notes are only for things that I want to deal with as soon as possible. Some of them are two weeks old.

Let’s move on.

The Odd Couple Award

This goes to getting to co-teach. When I worked at The Seas at EPCOT, my favorite days were the ones where we had large school groups and I would get to co-teach our conservation lessons with other instructors. It’s so energizing to get to bounce ideas back and forth with someone else building on what I’m doing in real time. When planning a lesson, I always talk to teachers about how I’d love for them to jump in any time they want when I’m in their classes, and sometimes directly ask them if there’s anything they’d like to add (especially if I know they really like a topic or I heard them say something cool in a previous period). This also ties directly into …

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Award for changing a plan on the fly

Presented to needing improv skills (and a towel). Sometimes teachers realize day-of that they’d like to do something in the library (or show up because the internet went down). Sometimes we have good plans, but they get better each period as we see how the students interact with the lesson. There’s a certain element of improv in new lessons, and while they haven’t all been new to the teachers this year, some have. And they’ve all been new to me. There’s also a certain amount of improvisation with two teachers in the room that I think can take lessons to a new level while modeling (hopefully) effective collaboration to the students.

The Sideways Stories from Wayside School Award for getting to put a new spin on things

This is for the math and science departments. It’s really interesting to me how quickly I’ve been able to jump in with the math and science teachers, and obviously part of that is the fact that I was in the science department for years (and still am … a story for another time). But I’m also extra passionate about the part of information literacy that will help students who aren’t going to be scientists understand the language of science better. I’ve gotten to use Harry Potter to teach logic in math class. In 7th grade science, we investigated satellites with online data sources leading us to think about what sorts of information we would want from a particular satellite and how to collect it. Then we analyzed data from that type of satellite using free online sources. In physical science we used the idea of … errr … stylish? … cat collars to talk about how to evaluate online information and the results of scientific studies (after, of course, talking about the Australian drop bear). And I’ve gotten to talk about how the same data could be graphed in different ways to tell entirely different stories! (If you zoom in on the y-axis, it really looks like I became a beast when doing daily push-ups for thirty days.)

Birdbesafe collar

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also really loved working with the history and English departments, which leads me to…

The Dragon Hoops Award for getting to show people a “new” side of yourself that’s been there all along

This goes to everyone who knows that I would have 15 different degrees if I could. I joke. Or do I? 

Many people at school were, I think, pretty surprised when I told them I was applying for the library job. It seemed like a huge change from teaching physics. And of course it is a huge change! But for some of the folks who’ve known me the longest, it wasn’t quite as surprising because they knew I had a writing degree and had taught subjects like English and filmmaking before. So yes, I’ve always had a background in writing and English as well, but it’s still a big change to be talking to people about books and reading on a daily basis. Not to mention going into English and history classes and helping students learn in those spaces. I’ve been part of my first Harkness discussions, literary salons, and student booktalks. And that’s been a blast! I now have extra appreciation for how much students have to quickly shift academic gears over the course of a day.

I’ve got one more official award, and I’ve saved this one for now because (a) it’s hard for me to feel like I can do it justice and (b) I think it really gets to the heart of what I love about libraries and librarians. So, without further ado …

The Un Lun Dun Award for having a really important job and not feeling quite prepared

This goes to me as a librarian. I’ve seen firsthand the amount of trust that a school community places in the role, and now I’ve felt the – is there a word that mashes up burden, responsibility, and honor? – bursponsinor myself when someone asks for a book recommendation for something that starts fast with maybe some romance plus a bit of horror, or when a teacher invites me into a class by saying they didn’t really like how this lesson went last year, but maybe with two of us it will go better. Still, it’s not only with tough questions I get the feeling, it’s also with ones that are probably pretty easy for everyone who’s been doing this longer than I have. But I bet that no matter how many times a librarian hears a particular question, there’s still that gut feeling of bursponsinor. And I honestly hope it never goes away for me, because I want it as a reminder to take the next task, or question, or concern I get as seriously as each one that’s come before.

Okay, one more. The Marvel Comics Award and a huge thank you goes to all of you out there in the AISLverse for being an invaluable resource for me and so many others, and for answering the 10,000 (one for each Post-it) silly and not-so-silly questions I’m bound to have. This month.

Glimpses of the Future in Fiction: Simulations and Lost Knowledge?

Note: Some plot reveals

Truth is stranger than fiction. This saying is cited often, and now with advances in AI, it may well be more apt than ever. However, lately, I find that novels can call us to consider the features of our new world in innovative ways.

Seemingly unconnected to each other, two novels have some similar themes, related to concerns of our “real world” and a possible escape to better ones. For example, The Ferryman by Justin Cronin and Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land each feature certain similar plots relating to “new worlds” that aren’t quite as they seem. At the same time, each of these bears similarities to The Truman Show, in which Truman realizes he lives in his own artificial world. I am sure there are even more books and films that share these ideas of simulations. It is clear that the idea of space travel to another alternate safer place is buzzing our collective imagination. And yet, there is often an important catch to that dream, according to these works. Sometimes, we can’t quite reach our destination. And what collective knowledge should we bring with us on the journey as we begin anew?

These novels also share a concern with preserving knowledge, or discovering lost knowledge. Each has a secret trove of literature stored just in case. I wonder if there is a collective concern for a new era of information richness and clarity as our current information sources become muddled and distressed. This fiction coincides with at least two relatively recent nonfiction titles related to the idea of lost knowledge: The Library: a Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Richard Ovenden’s Burning the Books: A History of the Deliberate Destruction of Knowledge. Meanwhile, Simon Winchester’s Knowing What We Know: The Transmission of Knowledge: From Ancient Wisdom to Modern Magic details the changing ways society views the concepts and conveying of shared knowledge. Interestingly, issues with disinformation and misinformation lurk throughout the centuries; they are not new. But perhaps more prevalent now.

These titles, nonfiction and fiction, could constitute an interdisciplinary course on these interrelated themes. At the same time, the rise of AI will add new dimensions to these issues, and how we address them. As the use of AI chatbots increases, there could come a time when we will no longer reference one standard “body of knowledge.” At least the newer iterations add live links to their cited source material. Meanwhile, a related worry is that of “model collapse” in which the data sets are distorted and unreliable; another concern is “Catastrophic forgetting” which “refers to the phenomenon where neural networks lose the ability to complete previously learned tasks after training on new ones.” Each of these issues highlight real anxiety about the future of knowledge in our new age.

In these revolutionary times, fiction can open new avenues for deliberation and exploration of these important issues. A central plot feature in Cloud Cuckoo Land is the discovery of a missing Greek text–does this portend our own future scramble for lost sources of information from within our constructed new worlds? When coupled with relevant nonfiction, these fictional texts offer engaging and thought-provoking ways to explore solutions to current concerns and they are also fun to read.

When, Why, and How I Say ‘No’

I’ve been reading Let ‘no’ Be ‘no’: When Librarians Say ‘no’ To Instruction Opportunities by Anna White over on In the Library with the Lead Pipe and it has me thinking about when, why, and how I say ‘no’ to instruction opportunities. Upon first reflection, my thinking was that I almost never say ‘no’ unless there is an unresolvable scheduling conflict. But I don’t think it’s actually that simple.

When I get a request from a teacher that’s unclear (either because I’m not sure where in the research process students are, or if it’s a project I’m unfamiliar with, my typical response is either ‘yes, and…’ or (more likely) ‘yes, if…’ If a teacher is coming to me, I want to work with them – but I also want to make sure that the work I do with them is helping students build skills, and also laying the groundwork for future collaborations. The ‘if’ can be about what kind of lesson I’ll do, where in the process I’ll work with students, or how research skills may be assessed. When a request comes midway through a project there’s often less room for adjustment. In that case, my ‘if’ is often about sitting down with the teacher after the project to look at student work and to think about what comes next – either for that class or for future iterations of the project.

Like many librarians, I came into this work with some heavily rose-colored glasses about what collaboration would look like. And I have had some amazing collaborators throughout the years. But I have also worked with lots of folks where the relationship is far closer to parallel play than to true collaboration. Which can be frustrating! Even though I know I can’t maintain deep collaborative relationships with as many colleagues as I’d like to, I still wish it were possible. The longer I do this work, however, I’ve realized that there can still be positive outcomes from one-shot lessons or instruction that feels out of sync with either my or the teacher’s goals. It may not have the outcomes I hope for, but getting to spend time with students and building relationships makes it more likely that they’ll come to me for help outside of class. 

There are times I say ‘yes’ to requests that, in my heart of hearts, I would like to say ‘no’ to, and I’m thinking more and more about those. Sometimes I’ll say ‘yes’ to a teacher who hasn’t tried to work with me before, in the hopes it will lead to more collaboration. Sometimes I say ‘yes’ if it will give me an opportunity to teach a new or different skill/lesson that I’ve been wanting to try. And, if I’m being honest, sometimes I say ‘yes’ because I worry about the reaction if I say ‘no’ – am I closing the door? Am I abdicating responsibility? Am I making it seem like integrating the skills I teach is optional – no big deal if I can’t come to class? 

I have had increasing demands on my time in the past year, and I am truly excited about so much of the work I get to do with colleagues. But if I want to do more truly collaborative work I simply do not have the time or the bandwidth for all of the requests I get. I haven’t figured out what to always say ‘yes’ to, what to say ‘yes, if’ to, and what to say ‘no’ (or, ‘no, but…’) to, but I am looking closely at my goals and at my school’s priorities as I figure out how to make those decisions. 

If you want to go fast…

I have been active in AASL and AISL since I began as a librarian 20 years ago. I won’t be at AASL in Tampa this year. I always learn so much at these gatherings, and I will miss the learning and the fellowship (not to mention the free books and swag 🙂). I served on this year’s AASL social media committee, and I will miss seeing my fellow committee members in person (our work was virtual), and will diligently read social media to follow along as best I can.  

If you haven’t heard me talk about it before, both my kids are/were rowers.  As my oldest is an English teacher and rowing coach (and Masters level competitor) at an Independent School in Princeton, NJ, I still follow the rowing scene closely (don’t get me started…). Today I saw this in a social media post.

True, that!  Attending conferences, especially in person has confirmed this over and over.  There is always something new to learn, even if it’s not something you can apply In toto to your personal practice. Meeting and talking with other Librarians brings us so much.  These takeaways can come in bits and pieces.  They will form connections to other snippets, many from your own experiences. You might make something no one has thought of before (and you can present it at your next conference)!

A few years ago, in Louisville, KY, I was fortunate enough to attend a session with a Battle Creek, MI high school librarian.  Her students participated the National Holocaust Memorial Museum’s History Unfolded project.  This crowdsourced collaboration allowed the students to learn just what America knew about Hitler and the atrocities in Germany, and when they knew it. These scholars-in-progress (aren’t we all?) searched and read newspapers on historical events from the 1930s and 1940s.  Their project culminated in town-wide exhibits, visits from Holocaust survivors, and an award from Michigan’s governor, among other accolades and opportunities.  

After the session (which was too short!), many of us gathered with the presenter, Gigi Lincoln, and chatted.  We exchanged takeaways, business cards, and a promise from Ms. Lincoln to respond to any questions we had.  For the next several months (until the pandemic), we exchanged ideas and resources and cherished the wisdom of Gigi Lincoln.

While I have not put the entire project into use, I have used many smaller aspects.  

Crowdsourcing:  The Library of Congress is crowd-sourcing its collection of musical theater sheet music.  Our musical theater students have been pouring over the collection…adding lyrics, composers, titles, and publishers to the LOC archives, while adding to their knowledge of themes, techniques, and the history of American musical theater. 

The Research Sprint: Gigi Lincoln spoke in detail about the “research sprint”. The state organization in Michigan provides a robust suite of databases to its school and public libraries.  However, these would not be enough for her students to find the local newspapers needed for information on the project. Gigi’s idea?  A “research sprint”!  Students visited Michigan State University’s libraries.  In collaboration with an MSU History professor, and the US History librarian, the students used America’s Historical Newspapers to search for information.  The students enjoyed lunch in one of the cafeterias and also had a tour of the MSU campus.  In our Advanced US History (offered through Indiana Univeristy) we didn’t travel far – we searched African American newspapers available at the LOC for an “in-school field trip”.  With the assistance of the History Librarian from a nearby college we spent four hours (and a pizza lunch) pouring over the magnificent collection, looking for evidence on the social accomplishments of significant African Americans in the late 1800s.  The kids loved it (and not just the pizza and Halloween candy)!  I’m always preaching the “community of scholars” (thanks Courtney Lewis!), but on this occasion, they experienced it for themselves.  

Attending conferences – whether local or far away – is one way to experience the “together” we need to continue to advance our practice and our profession.  I encourage you to take advantage of as many as you can!  And, registration is open for AISL 2024, in sunny Orlando.  Together we’ll go far!

Selecting and Familiarizing Ourselves with Books

Thanks so much to the 100+ people who filled out my survey about selecting and familiarizing yourself with books! Here’s the breakdown of respondents by grade levels, so you can see that most serve grades 9-12, followed by grades 5-8, followed by K-4. The “other” responses included Pre-K students.

Selecting Books

By Reviews

For selecting books by reviews, respondents most often use:

  • Print magazines
  • Sites that curate multiple professional reviews
  • Book-related websites
  • Online versions of print sources
  • Professional blogs.

Least used:

  • Online video reviews
  • Databases

Responses in the “other” category included:

Other Ways to Select Overall

In other ways to select books, almost everyone buys:

  • Books recommended by students or faculty
  • Books from popular series or books written by popular authors

Least used other sources include:

  • Sales reps
  • Bookfairs

In the “other” category, sources mentioned include:

Top Two Selection Sources

When it comes to respondents’ “top two” sources for selecting books, we are a diverse bunch! I parsed the responses, and the most frequent responses included:

  • Print magazines or other review sources/sites (cumulative or not)
  • Student or other patron requests

Top print sources mentioned, by frequency, are:

Top cumulative review sites were:

See the end of this post for a full list of specific sources mentioned.

Familiarizing Ourselves With Books

Familiarization Methods Overall

When it comes to familiarizing ourselves with books, top methods included:

  • Using new books in displays
  • Reading book jackets and back-of-book summaries
  • Skimming new books
  • Reading new books

Least popular included:

  • Reading reviews on social media/ blogs/ YouTube/ etc.
  • Reading social media posts

Answers in the “other” category included:

  • “We get 30+ books on a biweekly basis so that simply isn’t possible!”
  • “Read the ones that don’t seem like they’d be popular so I can \”sell\” them!”
  • Give books to students and request feedback
  • “Read specific ones with an eye toward adding them to the HAISLN list.”

Top Two Familiarization Methods

The most popular methods for familiarizing ourselves with books include:

  • Reading
  • Skimming
  • Reading book jackets
  • Reading summaries

Interesting answers given by one person each included:

  • Watching author videos
  • Reading ARCs
  • Social media
  • Ingram Advance
  • Checking trigger warning sites

Selected comments:

  • “An interesting follow-up survey could be about people’s feelings on paying for acquisitions services. Ingram is coming out with a paid service that will supposedly select books for your school.”
  • “I familiarize myself with books as part of the evaluation process.”
  • “I’m a slow reader so skimming is as good as it gets unless I think the book will be popular or if it’s a book we’re choosing for book club.”
  • “I just look at the covers. 🙂 I know what I’m ordering and know what to expect when those boxes arrive; I read summaries as I order and listen to from webinars; I have lists ready of who requested what and I set aside those titles I know I should read for readers’ advisory.”
  • “I read a lot! And I skim the ones I don’t fully read. I handle every book I purchase.”
  • “I catalog all of our new books; Follett’s cataloging often leaves much to be desired, so I usually do a little digging with each book to create a good record. I also do weekly book talks during our all upper school gathering where I promote new books in the library and our new books libguide weekly.”
  • “I use the 10-minute read technique. Secondly, I enhance the resource records when processing, during which I read the entire cover information and perhaps the first few pages.”
  • “When I order them I familiarize myself with what they are about. I read some, but there is no way to read them all!!”
  • “I use Titlewave, especially Kirkus Review that usually includes information such as “characters cue white” or “protagonist is Southeast Asian.” I also like that it has multiple reviews that include age ranges. Reading the books is also helpful although I’m a slow reader and there are many books! I tend to let the popular books sell themselves and read or read excerpts of the books that might not be as popular but that I know will be good.”
  • “Read the book. If I like it, I read the entire book. Otherwise, I stop when I know enough to book talk it to students.”
  • “Sadly I do very little of this, other then trying to match the titles with the content I saw when reading the reviews.”

Resources Mentioned

These are resources mentioned in the survey, as well as resources from an earlier query by Sarah Davis of Viewpoint School (CA), who compiled this list.

Awards/Best-Of ListsYALSA Awards
Pulitzer Prize for Literature
 National Book Awards
 Carnegie Awards
 New York Times Best Seller Lists
 Capitol Choices
Book WebsitesRead Aloud Revival
Redeemed Reader
Book Riot
 Read Brightly
 Fiction DB Book Release Calendar
 The Graphic Library
 We Need Diverse Books
 Epic Reads
 YALSA Teen Book Finder
 Shelf Awareness
 Indie Next
 Reading Middle Grade
BooksellersBarnes & Noble
Local Independents (Indie Bookstore Finder)
Titlewave (Follett)
Crowd-Sourced ReviewsTikTok/BookTok
Crowd-Sourced Reviews/SummariesGoodReads
Cumulative Prof/Non-Prof ReviewsAmazon
Cumulative Professional ReviewsIngram
 Titlewave (Follett)
Magazines for ReadersThe New Yorker
 Bookmarks Magazine
 New York Review of Books
Professional Reviews/SummariesHorn Book
 Kirkus Reviews
 School Library Journal
 Bulletin from the Center for Children’s Books (BCCB)
 Library Journal
 New York Times Book Review
 Book Pulse (Library Journal)
 Publisher’s Weekly (PW)
 Choice Magazine/Choice Reviews (ACRL)
Publisher NewsletterLibraryAware
Recommended Reading ListsHAISLN Recommended Reading Lists
 Bank Street College of Education Summer Reading Lists
 ALSC Summer Reading Lists
 YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens
Review/Read-Alike DatabasesNovelist
Social MediaInstagram
WebinarsSchool Library Journal
Book Riot