Perfect is the enemy of the good.

If you are reading this, you believe that collaborations between teachers and librarians make a difference and are worthwhile. Whenever librarians come together, we invariably end up discussing collaborations – our successes and our frustrations.

“Making Co-teaching Stick” at AISL Boston

My AP Language students are just finishing a unit on Rogerian argumentation, making me think about the shared ground for collaboration between teachers and librarians. The best collaborations need shared time (for planning and for implantation), shared goals, shared vocabulary and shared respect.

We all have our *gold* standard of collaboration, that project that looks like it was designed to ace our MLIS Research Methods class. And we all have our practical “yay we collaborated because we talked” standard. Getting the foot in the door and setting the tone for research might be enough for some projects because it shows that the library skills are being integrated across the curriculum even if students don’t set foot in the library. For the purpose of this post, teachers fall into three categories:

  1. Eager Beaver collaborators look for any opportunity to co-teach. Students are used to seeing me in their classes and the teacher and I can finish each other’s sentences. This is where I spend most of my time, designing curriculum, in the classroom, and meeting with students.
  2. I Appreciate Libraries collaborators believe in school libraries. They tell their students to use the library and incorporate research but don’t necessarily include the librarian in their planning or scheduled library time.  
  3. Someday Maybe collaborators is the optimistic term for teachers who don’t fit into the above categories. These individuals don’t tend to see any connection between their curriculum and the library program. It’s (hopefully!) not that they dislike the library, just that they don’t see a place for it in their classrooms.

Recognize that teachers also feel the time crunch familiar to all of us. Many conversations with my Physics teacher husband led to my thoughts on how to best reach the I Appreciate Libraries contingent. Eager Beavers don’t need more encouragement, and Someday Maybes are, well, someday maybe when the time is right. But for I Appreciate Libraries; I can offer support in a way that enhances their projects while preventing me from trying to find a way to schedule three different classes during the same period.

Offer virtual help. The library webpage, libguides, slideshows, and help videos are available on demand for students in the midst of researching. Not as personal as a class session, but they can be accessed anytime students are researching. They also have the advantage of being available for multiple classes and shared between department members. 

“Some of the students were asking how to get to History Reference Center, so here’s a visual help sheet with arrows they can follow if you want to post to SSESonline.”

Offer in-person help at surprising times. Office hours, popping by classes, and having teachers recommend students meet with me during study hall have led to conversations and research consultations with individual students. I know I’m not the only librarian whose desk is next to a printer. A friendly question when students pick up work is a great opening for project assistance.

“I heard the outline is due Friday and it’s supposed to be at least two pages. How much do you have so far?”

Offer suggestions for next year. It’s hard to fix a project that isn’t working mid-stream. Personally, I’ve never been successful at it. Students are already working towards their goal, and the class as a whole gets a bit of tunnel vision. By taking notes on what’s not working and approaching the teacher afterwards, you can set the tone for a more successful project next year.

“I noticed those MLA bibliographies seemed to be in a new format that I’d call untraditional at best. If you want me to work on that before they turn them in next year when you do this, just let me know.”

Teach the teacher. I was surprised in a chance conversation in the faculty room earlier this year to learn that a teacher wasn’t bringing his classes to the library because he “knows how busy I am.” True, but my passion is teaching. I will put off cataloging and user analytics for any time with students. But also, sometimes teachers don’t plan ahead as much as would be ideal or our schedules don’t work. (Might I mention that you can all think of me next Friday when I’ll have 8 classes in 5 periods?!?) Many of my teachers know how to use JSTOR or evaluate websites after seeing me work with their classes before. It’s been really hard for me to think that it might be a sign of a successful program that teachers feel empowered to conquer these subjects on their own and that it’s really an endorsement of what the library offers, even though it feels like a rejection in the moment.

“I heard you’re evaluating health sites tomorrow. That’s awesome! Let me know if you want me to pop by or if your students have any questions you weren’t anticipating that we can work on in the future.”

Much as I want to collaborate with every teacher, I know that amongst all the classes, I’m reaching all the students in my Middle and Upper School in at least one of their courses. Instead of spending my energy worrying about teachers who aren’t looking to collaborate, I’m working on providing the skills that my students need for college and career readiness in a format that works for more of my teachers.

It’s time to think creatively. Please leave any suggestions or recommendations below.

School and Public Library Collaborations

Reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean caused me to reminisce about my lifelong love for public libraries. In the beginning of the book, she describes trips to the library with her mother, and how special these times were for her. I fondly remember similar trips with my own mother, taking the bus to the local library when I was five years old. How grown up I felt when I checked out books for myself! When I was in high school the public library was my refuge; I spent countless hours reading through their (small but growing) teen section, and checked out many a DVD and CD (remember those?).

As a high school librarian, one of my goals is to continually stress the importance of and resources offered by local public libraries. Living in Pittsburgh, we are lucky to have access not only to numerous community libraries and the Carnegie Library system. The Carnegie is a network of city libraries anchored by the beautiful Main branch in the Oakland neighborhood. Over the years, I have collaborated with my faculty and the librarians at the public libraries to offer my students the opportunity to discover these valuable institutions. Below are a few examples!

Community Library Collaborations:

The closest library to our campus is the Cooper-Siegel Community Library. This lovely space offers so many digital and print resources to our students, as well as study space. Throughout the past years, we have collaborated with the amazing staff at Cooper-Siegel to share resources with students and conduct different events. Here are some examples of what we have done thus far:

  • Library Card Sign-Up Day
    • Some of our students have grown up going to the library, but others have not had that wonderful experience. To encourage students to use the library resources, I work with the librarians at Cooper-Siegel to offer “Library Card Sign-Up Day” at least once a year (sometimes during Library Card Month in September, but it can be done whenever!). We create packets of information and the sign up form, and I visit classes to explain the event and encourage students and faculty/staff to sign up. On Sign-Up Day, librarians come from Cooper-Siegel and camp out in our library, signing up students, renewing cards, and answering questions about library resources. Not only is it a great opportunity for students to sign up, but it also is a great PR moment for the public library!
  • Boarding Student Library Visits
    • We have a growing boarding community, and we do want to give our boarding students the same opportunity to visit the library as our day students. So, we work with the librarians to offer cards to boarding students, and take them to the library various times throughout the year to explore. This is a simple and fun way to connect with these students while promoting the library!
  • Library Club- Story Time
    • I have a wonderful group of students who take part in the Library Ambassadors (our version of the Library Club!). We have various events throughout the year, but one of the students’ favorites is to design and perform a Story TIme at Cooper-Siegel. We select a theme, choose books, and prepare a craft.  We always have a great crowd, and the students enjoy seeing the happy faces of the various children and caregivers in attendance.
  • Battle of the Books
    • Many of the Library Ambassadors eagerly await the yearly Battle of the Books. They break into teams and read a set list of books, and then participate in a trivia contest at the library. In the past the event was held at a Carnegie Library branch, but this year Cooper-Siegel hosted, and it was wonderful! We had a short trip to the library, and a more personal experience with the librarians and staff.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: Field Trip!

All students at my independent school are required to complete an extensive research paper as part of their U.S. History course. This research project typically lasts an entire term, and asks students to put to use all of the research tools in their arsenal to explore a topic of interest to them. Though at first overwhelmed, many students find themselves quickly immersed in their topic and enjoy locating information. Because of the extensive print collection available at the Carnegie Library Main Branch, I always encourage students to visit the library or at least review the catalog and have books sent to their closest branch.  In the past, I made myself available various Saturdays or Sundays at the Main Library, assisting students with locating materials and making use of the wonderful staff of librarians at the library. This year, working with the history department, we organized a field trip for all of the U.S. History classes to go to the Main Library. Students were given a brief tour of the space, and then spent a few hours on their own, researching to their heart’s content. Many students mentioned making return visits to the library- music to any librarian’s ears!

In the future, I hope to extend my collaborations with public libraries to include more frequent visits and possibly even some joint programing. Have you completed any fun projects with or field trips to the public libraries in your neighborhoods? Please share in the comments below!

Relentless Optimism

Most people who have spent time with me have noticed my “Relentless Optimism” stickers. There’s one on my laptop, one on my phone, and one on my water bottle–and usually a small stash of them in my bag that I hand out to people. In fact, I gave a few to some folks at the the AISL conference, and they encouraged me to share what I’d written about relentless optimism with the readers of the AISL blog.

People often ask me where my motto of Relentless Optimism came from, and what it means. I wish I had some grand origin story to share. I wish I could point to some major life event, some epiphany, some moment of insight that came after intense struggle or deep self-reflection. But no. All I can point to is a status update on Facebook.

I don’t know why that phrase came into my head. I don’t why it came at that moment. But as little as I understand about how I came up with that phrase, I am even more baffled by how and why it caught on. Very few people reacted to it on Facebook, but the next day at school a colleague looked at me and said, “Relentless.” And I said, “Relentless.” And then it took on a life of its own.

I started having text exchanges that looked like this:

I’d also get one word, all caps emails.

These texts and emails came at seemingly random moments, but it was also exactly when I needed to hear it. It was a challenging time at my school, and the days were long and the work was draining, but we were in it together.

I made buttons and handed them out. Initially I ordered 20, figuring I’d probably have some leftover. A week later I ordered 100 more because I’d had so many requests.  

And while walking across campus I would often hear, in the distance, someone yelling “Relentless!” I had, completely by accident, started a movement.

It was a weird and wonderful time in my life.

But the more people that shouted it, and the more it spread, the more I got the question:

But what does relentless optimism mean?

It’s a fair question, and one I’m never quite sure how to answer. I have a complicated relationship with optimism. For most of my life I described myself as a “realist”, which is what cynics call themselves when they don’t want to own up to being cynics.

Optimism does not come naturally to me, which is why it sometimes surprises me that that’s the word people focus on when they see the sticker.

I focus on the word relentless. There’s a reason it’s on there twice.

“Relentless” can, as adjectives go, get a bad reputation. It’s connotation is something or someone that is harsh, inflexible, unforgiving.

A relentless enemy.
The relentless heat of the desert.
The relentless beat of the drums

Of course, when I went to look up some more usage examples I found this, which undermines my larger point, but was too delightful not to share. I like to think I’m doing my part to change the connotation of the word relentless

Relentless optimism is, for me, a particular kind of optimism. It’s an optimism that is deliberately and consciously chosen. It’s an optimism that is unyielding, even when the situation at hand might make it easy to succumb to “realism.” It’s the optimism you find deep within yourself when you’re not sure how you got where you are, and you’re holding on for dear life.

There is a fair amount of research pointing to the idea that humans are hard-wired for optimism–to believe that everything’s going to turn out okay for us.

We are also, however, prone to optimism bias–a tendency to underestimate the likelihood that we will experience negative consequences as a result of our actions. Optimism bias leads you to believe that nothing bad could possibly happen to you, no matter what you do. Over a decade of working in schools has provided me with plenty of examples of the pitfalls of optimism bias, but the one that sticks out in my memory is the student who decided to dunk a basketball by jumping off a chair. Because what could possibly go wrong. Besides, of course, breaking both his arms. The  student in question (an advisee of mine from a previous school) would want me to point out that he did, in fact, make the basket.

But as we get older, we are less optimistic. We have more evidence that things don’t always turn out well (though research indicates that as we get even older, we get optimistic again–perhaps because even though things haven’t always worked out, we know we can survive setbacks).

This is where relentless comes in. When our innate optimism wanes, being optimistic requires making a choice, and being unyielding in that choice.

And the interesting thing is, by choosing optimism and priming ourselves to expect good results, we actually make it more likely that we’ll recognize bad ones and be able to adjust accordingly. We’re more likely to notice it than “realists” (who are sort of expecting things to go poorly).

Because relentless optimism is not just about believing that something will turn out well–it’s about doing the work necessary to make it turn out well. The relentlessness is how we turn our optimism into results, and—more importantly– how we avoid the pitfalls of optimism bias.

This tree, for me, is the arboreal embodiment of the kind of relentless I’m thinking about when I think about relentless optimism. It was struck by lightning, and split into multiple pieces. But before it could be chopped up and carted away, it started growing again. Not in the way it originally planned, not in the way anyone expected it to. But it grew.

There are times when the challenges seem insurmountable, when we have been felled by powers beyond our control. But we find a new and different way to grow.

Relentless optimism is about believing in (and working for) the possibility of change despite evidence that would lead you to believe that change isn’t possible. It’s about believing that we’re all in this (whatever “this” is) together. It’s about moving forward, even when moving forward is frustrating and difficult and overwhelming and seemingly pointless because it feels like you’ve never gotten anywhere before (or even lost ground).

If you don’t try, you are almost guaranteed to feel disappointed. If you try, and things don’t work the way you wanted them to, you might still feel disappointed, but at least you’ll know you tried. It can be easy–and comfortable–to succumb to negativity and defeatism. Relentless optimism involves risk; it can mean working without a net. It might not feel safe, but it’s exhilarating.

And I want to be clear: relentless optimism does not mean I don’t have bad days. It does not mean I never get frustrated and complain.

It means I take the moment to vent, and then I start looking for solutions. It means I find people who share my frustrations, and we figure out how to keep moving forward together.

I will encounter challenges beyond my abilities, and I will develop new skills.
I will hit roadblocks, but I will find another path.
I will be defeated, and I will get up again.

This motto is both affirmation, and aspiration.

Being optimistic (and being relentless) is a choice. It’s not always the easy one. But the more often and more deliberately I make it, the easier and more powerful it gets. And I love watching people around me make that choice, too.

This relentless optimism movement I accidentally founded gave me something I never could have anticipated—it helped me build a community. Because the power of relentless optimism is not that I believe in it. The power is that I have surrounded myself with other people who believe in it, too. I still gets those texts that are just the word “relentless” in all caps. I still send out stickers and buttons, and friends send me pictures of where they’ve put them. The real power of yelling “relentless” is that I know I’m not in this alone.

Because as important as it is to find something that energizes you, it’s even more important to find the people who share your vision and support you.

We need that passion, and we need that community to sustain us through the Journey.

At some point, without me even really noticing it was happening, my love of “Don’t’ Stop Believin’” went from ironic to real, true, and pure. And that’s when I knew I was no longer a realist. I am a relentless optimist.


April is for Poetry, Earth Day, and – Hey, wait, it’s School Library Month!

One evening last week I was driving a van full of Upper School readers to our county Reading Olympics competition; one of my favorite nights of the year. We were pulling into the parking lot of the large public high school where the competition was taking place, when I saw the proud sign at the entrance to the school:

It’s National Library Week!    

I cheered aloud and my students obligingly echoed. However, inside I was thinking, “Dang it, what?!? How could I have missed that? An opportunity to make some noise about our library, and I’ve blown it!” Then I remembered that April, I was pretty sure, is School Library Month, and maybe I could still rally. But what to do with only two weeks left to celebrate?

Luckily, in a past April, an earlier me was a little more on top of things. I remembered that it’s actually been a few years since I have set up pop-up libraries in different parts of campus, with themes and genres relevant to their locations around school. Having already created much of the signage to reuse or edit, and with new books, new institutes, and new students (for whom these good old displays are new and fresh), I can pull off School Library Month. Instead of bringing students into the library, I’m taking over – bringing the school library to them.

An Entrepreneurship/Innovation Pop-up Library in the Innovation Center

Years ago I created Smore flyers to showcase books that would tie-in with areas around school suitable for a small book display – sports for the athletics center, books on food and eating for the dining hall, writing for the Writing Center, and other topics or genres that could go anywhere. Now I just need to swap out a few book covers for some newer related acquisitions, make connections to new programs and renovated spaces, and dust off @perklibrary on Instagram. In the chosen locations, I display just a few books with a printout of the flyer and a self-checkout form similar to the one we use when we’re out of the library, so the students are familiar with it.

Thanks to a fun half-forgotten project recycled from a few years ago, I have a new spring in my step, and a promotion for School Library Month. I can’t wait to think of new pop-up ideas and ways to promote them.

Bringing new titles into parts of campus where they aren’t normally seen but still seem at home is a great way to promote reading and showcase the library as the heart of the school. I love AASL’s theme for this year: Everyone Belongs @ your School Library. How could it be said any better? But I like the flip of that idea, too: Your school library belongs everywhere.

Take a Reading Inventory

“Summer slump” is an oppressive-sounding term, describing loss of learning during the summer when reading can stagnate. How do you avoid the summer reading doldrums and learning loss? A recent Harvard study stresses the importance of teachers personalizing the reading experience for students, shaping “lessons and activities” to support the reading experience. One way that our school is personalizing reading is through the Teacher Favorites program. Teachers sponsor books, allowing a wide variety of choice for students, and each book has a plus factor, suggested videos, websites, and art/writing activities that can enhance the experience of reading the book. (A big nod to McCallie School which shared their plus factor reading program through our AISL listserv.)

Whether students and teachers are blogging “what if” scenarios about a Harry Potter book or visiting online Holocaust museums as they read The Diary of a Young Girl, student engagement in the activities can enhance the reading of the book and enliven the small group book discussion with teachers and students in August. View our school’s suggested books and activities: Teacher Favorites 7/8 and Teacher Favorites 5/6.

Families can also build excitement for summer reading by placing an importance on reading habits in their home. This suggested Reading Inventory provides ideas to start conversations about the enjoyment of reading and how books can be an important part of the summer routine. Below is a checklist to jumpstart how families can infuse a reading climate in the home and include the reading habit alongside the demands of summer activities.

Step One: Make a Shelfie.
What were the books that ignited you as a young reader? Arrange those books for a “Shelfie” photo and share with your child the meaning books had for you. If you no longer have the books, capture screenshots of book covers or use GoogleSlides to arrange your Shelfie stack. Interesting conversations about books can arise as you share the types of books you loved to read and how your reading grew or changed. Modeling your love of reading and your reading habits is a powerful message to children.

Fairy Tales (upper left to right): Andrew Lang’s Fairy Tales, Brothers Grimm Folk and Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes, Andersen’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1945), and Grimm’s Fairy Tales (copyright 1928).

Step Two: Create Book Reading Corners.
Where are the prime locations for Book Reading Corners in your home? Do you have a basket of books by a favorite reading chair, bedside table, and even magazines or books in the bathroom? All of these are prime locations to make reading opportunities readily available and enjoyable, and these reading corners are a visible reminder of the value your family places on reading. Encourage your child to personalize and develop their own favorite reading corner.

Step Three: Read Poetry, Aloud.
My mother loved to share a large volume of children’s poetry, and she dramatized, sang, and engaged us in choral reading of the poems. She even (gasp!) invited us to write our initials next to our favorite poems and color in the line drawing illustrations. This poetry book became a living, breathing reflection of our time shared in enjoying poetry. Discover your own poetry anthology such as those by poets Shel Silverstein, Jack Prelutsky, J. Patrick Lewis, Paul Fleischman, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Margarita Engle, Naomi Shihab Nye, Jacqueline Woodson, and Nikki Grimes. Poetry anthologies are also themed to experiencing art (Hopkin’s Make the World New: New Poems Inspired by Art from the Metropolitan Museum) and even objects (The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50 Objects, selected by Paul B. Janeczko).

And, poetry is not just for young children. Poetry connects to tweens and teens in dynamic ways that reflect their own voices and concerns. Poetry can transport the reader through a historic moment (such as the sinking of the Titanic in The Watch that Ends the Night) and personal crisis (such as Jason Reynold’s Long Way Down), or celebrate heroes (such as Margarita Engle’s Bravo! Poems About Amazing Hispanics) and feature voices of hope (such as Naomi Shihab Nye’s Voices in the Air: Poems for Listeners). Encourage your tween or teen to perform a Poetry Slam of a favorite poem. Poems spoken aloud allow us to savor the sounds and rhythms of words and connect powerfully to emotions.

Step Four. Read Aloud.
Reading aloud creates moments of bonding with your child as you share the mutual love of a book. Dive in and do the voices, and invite the child to chime in on favorite lines or read a page in the story. You can read aloud a chapter book that is above the reading level of your child, thereby building vocabulary and encouraging empathetic listening. Many children’s books have cliff-hanger chapters and cause children to beg for the next chapter to be read. For an extensive list of read-aloud books for all ages and genres, see Jim Trelease’s The Read-Aloud Handbook. Jim Trelease stresses that reading aloud not only increases I.Q., but also H.Q.(the heart quotient). Award-winning children’s books from ALA and books for young adults from YALSA are another way to select excellent writing from diverse voices.

Step Five: Books on the Road.
Summers are busy with family road trips and commutes to activities such as swimming lessons and ball games–perfect opportunities for stretches of time to enjoy books. Encourage your child to pack favorite books in the car (I always traveled with collections of fairy tales) or take advantage of wonderful audio performances of books to enjoy as a family. Many public libraries have audiobook collections, and our own school library is showcasing new audiobooks through Overdrive this summer. For quick free browsing and sampling, you can search a book title in Amazon Audible and listen to a few minutes of a book. Listening to audiobooks can be a delightful way to fill long car commutes, and children can read along to reinforce the experience of the book.

Illustrated books, nonfiction informational books, and short story collections travel well because these books invite browsing, lingering over illustrations and short text boxes, and short chapter reading. Author Melissa Stewart’s Celebrate Science website has wonderful recommendations for informational books and activities. Graphic novels, magazines, and comics can also be good choices for books on the road. Classic Comics were my first exposure to the “classics,” and new graphic novels adaptations include Anne Frank’s Diary, the Graphic Adaptation, The Giver, Manga Classics, and Shakespeare, Poe, and The Odyssey adaptations by graphic artist Gareth Hinds, not to mention the hilarious Hazardous Tales history series by Nathan Hale.

This five-step Reading Inventory may help families re-evaluate the importance of reading and reading habits in the home. See also the National Education Association, which features research on preventing the “summer slump” and provides tips to encourage reading. Spark enthusiasm with families for reading this summer!

2019 Marky Award winner: Renee Chevallier

The Marky Award was inspired by Mark Hillsamer, the Librarian at St. Alban’s School, Washington, DC for 36 years. Mark helped to establish AISL in 1987 and fostered its growth for 14 years.  It very well may have been “Mark’s smiling face, soothing voice, and wry sense of humor” that kept the organization going during those years. Walter DeMelle formally announced Mark’s retirement at the Skip Anthony Lecture Banquet in 2001 and presented Mark with a special gift: a mask from Thailand of a lovely lady who holds her index finger gently to her lips in a familiar shushing gesture.

The Marky Award has been given annually since 2002, honoring AISL members who had made a significant contribution to the organization over a long period of time. A mounted replica of Mark’s gift is given to the winner to be displayed in his or her library until the next conference, together with a small unpainted replica of the mask for the honoree to keep.  The honoree is chosen by the past Marky winners and is presented with the award at the annual Skip Anthony banquet. You can see a list of past winners here.

We are thrilled to announce that the 2019 winner of the Marky Award is Renee Chevallier!

Renee joined AISL in 2004, and her first conference was Dallas ’04. She has been at Ursuline Academy of Dallas for 20 years as their library director, and most recently has also become their archivist (although she wears many different hats at school!).

Renee was the conference co-chair for Dallas ’14, and has been a valued member of the AISL board for five years. Currently, she is our hardworking and diligent treasurer.

Renee followed in her mother’s footsteps as a librarian; she “was like Belle in Beauty and the Beast and always had a book in her hand.” 

“Renee has been a wonderful boss and role model during the time that I’ve been at Ursuline Academy and I’m looking forward to continuing to learn from her as her assistant.” Carolyn Croley

“The 2 words that come to mind when I think of Renee are positive and professional.  She helped organize an exceptional Dallas conference and has been a stellar treasurer for the organization (and for all the conferences since 2017), including this one. No matter what, she manages to keep a level and cool head!” Liz Gray

“Renee was indefatigable in helping with both the AISL LA conference and the Summer LA workshop. From all of us, we are happy to have Renee as the 2019 Marky recipient, – please raise your glasses for Renee!!” Shannon Acedo

Thank you to Barbara Share, Marky Award winner ’18 for sharing her speech. I have amended the original for the blog format.

Sharing is Caring with our Youngest Learners: Bibliographies in the Lower School

Research in the Lower School in one word: kaleidoscope.

The range of skillsets, prior knowledge, teacher applications and expectations, and scope is wide and always shifting. One place where I can create consistency is in the writing of a bibliography. I apply a few basic principles in my teaching of this essential part of a complete research experience.

I. All Lower School students can appreciate the power of MINE, YOURS and OURS.

Figure 1 Venn diagram retrieved from

Developmentally, Lower School students can fully appreciate what belongs to whom. Giving credit to someone for their hard work is well in the grasp of our youngest learners. Bridging understanding from the physical book to the work that went into it by one or more authors can be compared to an art piece a student just completed, or a fiction story just written. All Lower School students can appreciate their own hard work! When we do research, we are using previously published material to create something of our own. We are borrowing the work of others. Writing the Bibliography as a part of the complete research experience is a great way to show sharing and caring for the work of the authors.

Figure 2 Overview image of hurricane retrieved from

II. Do we really expect Lower School students to write bibliographies? You bet!

Ready to dive into the eye of the storm? Bibliographies contain the sorts of material that our youngest learners have little or no connection to other than TITLE and/or AUTHOR. The copyright page is nearly always in font sizes you need a magnifying glass to read, and is largely passed over in early reading experiences. As has been posted previously on the blog, teaching the vocabulary of a bibliography is a natural and necessary first step. I have made it a point to embed lessons that include awareness around AUTHOR, TITLE, PUBLISHER, CITY OF PUBLICATION, COPYRIGHT DATE.

Figure 3 Figure with magnifying glass retrieved from

III. Lower School students relish being a super sleuth.

Developmentally, students in the Lower School are curious seekers and love a challenge. When beginning bibliography lessons, I first turn it into a game. I start with the easiest information first, then mix it up until we get to what I have found to be the most challenging: publisher.

Once I have introduced vocabulary, here is a framework I use:

PK, AUTHOR, TITLE: even though not fully reading, PK students can look at the front of most nonfiction books and point to where the title is and where the author’s name is located.

K, AUTHOR, TITLE: emerging readers, K students can look at the front of most nonfiction books and point to where the title is and where the author’s name is located, and can occasionally read this information.

Grade 1, AUTHOR, TITLE, COPYRIGHT DATE: emerging and beginning readers, Grade 1 students can find the author and the title, and when shown the copyright page, can find the copyright date.

Grades 2-5, AUTHOR, TITLE, CITY OF PUBLICATION, PUBLISHER, COPYRIGHT DATE: students aged 7 and up can find all of this information with varying degrees of support.

At each age and stage, I provide a simple way to record the information except for PK where we create a group bibliography, as the research is usually done at the class level. In K, my students can copy the author and title onto paper and include at the end of their report OR the tech integrator can assist with having them type it into a new document. In Grades 1 through 5, I have created graphic organizers that stair-step up with developmental stages.

Figure 4 Rainbow check mark retrieved from

IV. Checking it once, checking it twice!

When recording information for a bibliography, I encourage students to trade their organizers and assist in the super sleuth checking. When we are finished, these organizers go back to the classroom for the students to connect to their completed research project. My faculty especially appreciates the collaboration because of the hybrid need-hate relationship most have with this step of the research process. However, it is ESSENTIAL to build these habits young, and with relative ease of use, so that the task is less daunting as an older student – and seen as an essential, credible part of the research experience.

Share your Bibliography experiences in the comments below!

It’s Raining Poems!

With April showers come.. Poetry Month! Here in the Northeast, I am still (occasionally) scraping ice off my windshield in the morning, but I know elsewhere trees are in bloom, birds are singing and everyone is in shorts. OK, the boys in my school are in shorts, even though it’s hardly above 40. However, that’s due to the “Why?” chromosome more than outside temperature! (Sorry for the tangent – back to the blog!) April was designated as Poetry Month by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 in order to celebrate and recognize the role poetry plays in our culture.

The Academy provides a myriad of resources for poetry month including lesson plans, web site resources, and links to poem collections that kids like. You can also hold a “Poem in Your Pocket” day on April 18th. Other free educational websites like Reading Rocket, PBS Learning Media, and yes, Pinterest contain resources to make poetry come alive for your students. Another interesting project is a crowd sourced bilingual poem with contributions from second and third graders by former poet laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera on the Library of Congress website entitled, The Technicolor Adventures of Catalina Neon. You can choose to hear it read aloud or see the pictures with amazing illustrations by Juana Medina. To hear poetry read aloud, Youtube and Vimeo are full of poetry read by both the famous and the not-so-famous.

Novels in Verse on display with the word “Poems” in lit letters.

April is also a good time to evaluate your poetry collection. Maybe you need to “weed” some of the more tired books that may not have traveled much beyond your library walls. Give an old book a facelift by recovering some of your more classic volumes. Check your representation at this time as well. There are so many new books that feature poets of color. Some of my new favorites are 28 Days of Poetry Celebrating Black History, Bravo: Poems about Amazing Hispanics, and Can I Touch your hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship.

For those of us that love literacy, playing with words is icing on the cake. If you would like to share what YOU are doing for poetry month, please feel free to leave your ideas in the comments below. It’s also a great way to brainstorm what might work at your school! This year, we will once again have fourth graders recite their favorite poem at morning meeting – and I’m promoting “Poem in your Pocket”. What are your ideas?

The Care and Keeping of Student Book Clubs

There are many ways to do book clubs, and I’m sure we all do it a little differently. I wanted to share a little bit about how we facilitate book groups at Mercersburg Academy in the hopes that maybe it’ll inspire some new ways of thinking about book groups at your school. At the end of the post, I have some tips for affording book club so don’t miss those!

Here’s how we do it:

  1. Students submit books that they’d like to read. I usually ask at a book club meeting to see if anyone has suggestions and students email me throughout the month to add things to the list. Cost IS a factor since we buy a copy of the book for each student. If we can’t get a good price, we either offer it to them as an eBook only choice OR we put it on the “we’ll try later” list.
  2. The library staff supplements the list of books submitted by students. We are looking for diversity: are all authors women? Add some men. Were all the books written in English? Add some books in translation. Generally we are shooting for a well-rounded list of 4-6 books.
  3. I send out the list to students and they vote via google form.The google form includes link to the amazon wishlist with all the books on this month’s list. This allows students to read the descriptions and reviews, without those things clogging up the google form.
  4. The top 2 choices are the ones we read…within reason. If they top 2 choices are incredibly similar, sometimes we do the top choice and the 3rd choice. Usually this happens when there are 2 YA fantasy choices on the list. I know that a lot of my students would prefer to read books based in reality (either nonfiction or fiction) and so I try to give them an option for that.
  5. I buy copies of the books for all students. I know. It sounds crazy and expensive…and in some ways it is. I am lucky to have a healthy book buying budget AND a community that believes deeply in reading. We’ve decided that money devoted to individual books for students is a priority for us. However, I realize this isn’t the case for everyone so here are some ways to offset the cost a bit:
  • GalleyMatch – This is a relatively new service to match book groups to publishers. Publishers are looking to send particular titles to groups and you can either accept or reject the book offer. We signed up with the service right when it launched and our first box of books is on the way. When I emailed with a GalleyMatch rep, she said they are looking for more young adults to send books to!
  • YALSA book groups – Though it requires your book program to be more established, applying to be one of the teen book selection groups through YALSA is a great way to get books…a lot of books. We haven’t done this at Mercersburg Academy yet because we can’t keep up with the volume of books publishers send, but it sounds like a really awesome program if you’ve got some very avid readers.
  • Book Depository – order international versions of books, often for less than the cost of the US versions! Since my group tends to read a lot of international titles, we often find that Book Depository has a better price. Sometimes this is because there is a paperback already available internationally. The best thing is, there aren’t any shipping costs!
  • Book Outlet – Did you know that when publishers move a book to paperback, they often are looking to offload their hardcovers somewhere? This is where a lot of publishers sell copies of books they can’t sell otherwise. It’s a great place to get hardcovers of titles that aren’t really new, but also aren’t the old standards. Shipping generally takes about 2 weeks so you need to plan ahead, but other than that it’s a really wonderful way to get books inexpensively.

I’d love to hear from you – what does book club look like at your school? How do you acquire books? Have you used any of the services I listed above?

Know Their Name

I know that I am not a disservice to my school, but I can’t help but wonder how I can do more, do better, and fulfill my mission more completely.

Like many of you, I’m sure, I often question whether I am doing a good enough job. In many ways – and for many of the same reasons as you – I am quite sure I’m not! I don’t have enough staff. I don’t have enough hours in the day. Many of my colleagues don’t fully appreciate the resources we offer. Students are more interested in their smartphones than books.The list goes on. I ask myself if I am under serving my school community. I wonder if I’m a fraud. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t lie awake in bed at night stressing about if all of our students truly understand the importance of proper citation (because I know they don’t). Part of the awesomeness of being a member of AISL is being exposed to the exceptional work that my librarian colleagues across the country are doing. I am in awe of your energy, enthusiasm, professionalism, and dedication to our mutual passion. The downside of being aware of the your wondrous deeds is being painfully sensitive of exactly how I am falling short. I know that I am not a disservice to my school, but I can’t help but wonder how I can do more, do better, and fulfill my mission more completely.

It was with this feeling that my lone colleague and I traveled last spring to a small but highly selective liberal arts college last spring to spend some time in exactly the kind of college library into which many of our students will transition after they graduate. We went to see if we were adequately preparing our students for the college library experience. In addition to touring the library, we were also lucky to be able to spend an hour with the Director of Research Support and Instruction. Finally, we met in the student center with three students there who were graduates of our school: a freshman, a sophomore and a senior. If we were to boil our visit’s mission to an essential question it was: are we, as a library, aligning our efforts and environment to sufficiently prepare students for college?

Visiting with former students who are now in college to see if we set them up for success

I’ll spare you the dramatic build up. The answer is: yes! But how is that possible? We don’t have nearly the utilization of our databases that we ought to. We don’t have nearly the number of strategic partnerships with classroom teachers that we ought to. There’s too many students who still can’t find a book without our help. We have a collection that desperately needs more weeding. I haven’t done inventory in two years (at least)! So with all our admitted failings, the sorts of things that would cause a less tired person to lay awake in bed at night, how are we meeting the mission? Like a lot of beautiful solutions, the answer is quite simple. The relationship you have with your students is the most important part of your job, the library, and its mission.

Our school is a four year boarding school with about 350 students. The library staff is me and my colleague (who is part time). That’s it. Together we hold every title a library can manufacture. We are the directors, catalogers, liaisons to humanities, technical services, circulation managers and whatever other titles you might conceive – we are librarians. (And at our boarding school, we are also advisors, coaches, and dorm parents.) There’s no realistic way we can do each of these things exceptionally well. We just have to do them well enough. What’s more important is that we have a relationship with all our students. We know their names – each and every student, where they went on spring break, what their favorite sport is; we talk to them about food, pop culture, fashion, and music. In school meetings, when I have an announcement, I make it funny. I walk up the aisles, and project to the back of the room (a background in acting helps!) When they walk through on their way in or out, I say hello and engage them, directly. You’d be hard pressed to walk by me without at least a brief conversation. What’s the result of this engagement, this effort we put into making connections with students, investing in the relationship? Students feel comfortable in the library and comfortable with the librarian. They are less self-conscious about asking for help, admitting they actually don’t know how to use a database or find a resource. They are less bashful about asking for a book they might have interest in. You get to know the student, their interests, their tastes. I can tailor purchases of books to them because I know them.

When we toured the college library, we saw that, though the scale was different, we had nearly all the same elements as they did. We had quiet areas, active areas, books, technical resources, databases, magazines, staff at the ready. The librarians were knowledgeable and dedicated. The librarian told us that they didn’t expect students to arrive as junior MLS candidates. They expected them to arrive as college freshmen who still had much to learn. They expected them to be able to know what a library was and what the librarian might do for them, but not to be expert researchers. Sure, there will always be a few students who are proficient in their library skills, but more important is that they feel comfortable going to the librarian and asking for help.

When a senior graduates from our school they have to get a paper signed by various departments making sure that they are in good standing (athletics, business office, etc.). One of their stops is the library. I’m grateful that we get to see each student before they depart. Without fail, some senior will say, I’m not sure if I even ever checked out a book from the library. I tell them, always in good humor, that that’s nothing to brag about, and we have a laugh. Then I tell them to make sure they make friends with a college librarian. I tell them that they don’t have to go to parties with them, but that they should get to know a librarian by name because when you form a personal relationship with that person, you will be well disposed to get the information, get the best that library and librarian has to offer, and the benefits will be mutual.

I know that there’s much more I can do as a librarian. I won’t likely ever stop feeling that I am falling short in many ways. What I also know is that so long as I never stop making the effort to know each student, to greet them warmly – not just in the library – but wherever I encounter students, that I am the best librarian they’ve ever had!