Takeaways from California Research and Academic Libraries Conference, 2024

This week I am fortunate to join our academic library colleagues at their statewide conference. I am encountering a variety of products and ideas that might be of use to US/HS-serving colleagues (and a few that might be helpful to all), so I am going to record them here.

The theme was The Insufficient Librarian. It was about both justice work and also the need to fight the feelings of insufficiency at work and learn to embrace boundaries and joy. So, below you will find notes about both IL skills and joy skills! (Let’s work on those JOY skills!)

For everyone, from our keynote speaker, Mychal Threets:

*I have long been wishing for a replacement for “How are you?” and am now considering “Are you ready for joy?” Might need to develop a follow-up questions along the lines of “How can I help you get there?”

*Do you use social media to promote your library? Mr. Threets reminded us that screen readers need help with hashtags. While they can see the separate words in #LibraryJoy (capitalizing the first letter of each word), they cannot parse #libraryjoy into readable parts.

Important new framing from Librarian Amy Gilgan from University of San Francisco:

Multipartiality,” not neutrality

“Neutrality” tends to favor people in power, multi partial acknowledges all but also power operating in the room.

Lit review of literature about joy at work, Kitty Luce and Margot Hanson

Here are the slides of their review. I mean, who doesn’t love a lit review!?!

True Fun from Stef Baldivia and Elizabeth Tibbitts

*We did a very cool “joy audit” to consider elements of our personal life and then our work life. It was awesome, actually. We looked for “fun magnets”: “Fun magnets are what bring the true fun alive for you.”

*The main focus was on library events, and making traditionally bureaucratic, dreadful draggy events into fun, joyful spaces in which your collaborators want to come. They based their thinking on the framework of SPARK:

S (making space – decluttering, taking space when needed, featuring your space, everyone is welcome)

P (pursuing passions – find something people can really get into)

A (Attracting fun – just really thinking about and opening oneself up to places where fun can enter into generally laborious moments)

R (rebelling – fun at work is rebellious)

K (keeping it going – make it a habit)

Example: These particular librarians took the meeting in which the disciplinary department representatives got trained in how to request books from the library collection (which never included the subject librarians!) and turned it into a passport-based fair. They invited all departments of the library to table at the fair, and were able to stimulate a bunch of conversations between faculty members and library folks offering services of which the faculty were not aware.

Virtue Information Literacy: Flourishing in an Age of Anarchy, by Wayne Bivens-Tatum

Virtues: open-mindedness, humility, modesty, courage, caution, thoroughness, justice, and information vigilance. This book draws heavily on “virtue ethics” from the discipline of philosophy, is highly interdisciplinary in its roots, and sounds quite intellectual — an interesting concept overall.

TikTok analogies for information lit instruction, from Laura Wimberley of California State University, Northridge (you are going to have to do your own self-education on TikTok, as I am so not there):

*Finding a strong initial article for citation tracing is like your first follow that indicates to the algorithm what you like and want to see more of in your feed

*Literature reviews are like explainers (I will try to get my hands on her example and share it, if I can)

*A citation is a stich (you are on your own here, I am working on growth mindset re: understanding stiches)

The National Library of Medicine has an online Medical History hub and a very interesting Know the Science tool

Pheonix Bioinformatics has some very interesting tools for K-12, including:

*Tair, a reference for gene function data that can be free for K-12

*MorphoBank, a paleontology database

Reflections and Learning from AISL Professional Book Discussion by Faith Ward

Why did we engage in a group book study of Embracing Culturally Responsive Practice in School Libraries?: As leaders in our school communities, we are confronted with shifting expectations of the librarian, the role they play in cultivating the culture of the school, and the many curricular demands placed on the school library program. School librarians have always connected learners’ life experiences, cultures, and communities to materials, projects, and processes. That expertise, and its continual development, is essential to our profession today. We knew that reading and discussing this book would help us continue to lead and model meaningful steps toward a culturally responsive mindset. Elisabet Kennedy’s book, Embracing Culturally Responsive Practice in School Libraries, celebrates how learners’ cultures shape everything from their communication to how they process information. By reading and discussing the book together, we hoped to learn new approaches and ground our understanding of culturally responsive practices in our Libraries.

What we did: The aim of this communal reading was to challenge us as readers to embrace and nurture our own personal and professional growth. Through our joint reading and discussion we shared our insights and takeaways about concepts covered in the book, actionable steps, and activities based on culturally responsive principles that directly relate to AASL Standards. Elisabet Kennedy’s knowledgeable experiences engaged us as professional colleagues with reflective exercises and challenges. Because our reading and virtual discussions were planned over three months, we had the opportunity to reflect on the readings and our own challenges and successes in our Library programs.

Our collective reading included the discussion of topics such as culture, identity, and bias: the creation of norms and upholding those standards in our spaces; library displays, signage and policies that make an example of culturally responsive work; planning yearly goals with internal and external partners. Through our reading and time spent with Elisabet Kennedy, we built connections, celebrated the many innovative and thoughtful approaches that AISL librarians are facilitating in their school libraries, and expanded ideas for how we as a profession can continue to foster growth in our learning communities. Feel welcome to reach out to Faith Ward or Tricia DeWinter for more information and ideas for starting another book discussion such as this.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this title for our next book study/discussion:

Research Reflections

Winter is over… spring is springing and…

…research season is (almost) over!  I love helping our students practice their research skills — it is the main reason that I became a librarian.  But I would be deluding myself if I said it was all rainbows and unicorns.  Research skills are not intuitive. There is much trial and error involved and some of my students are frustrated at the slower pace that the classroom teacher and I insist on during this process. As I reflect upon my first real full-time year in the middle school, I can count some definite wins and see room for improvement.

My biggest hurdle was how to divide my time between 3 grade levels (approximately 290 students) so that I can provide the instructional time and maintain an open library.  For the bulk of the third quarter all in person instruction time was spent with our English department. Instruction for the other departments was primarily via Libguides, which naturally limited the types of lessons that I could do with these departments. The English teachers and I planned our library visits prior to the start of the semester, and we had a solid plan in place for how to stagger the instructional time.  Losing a week to snow caused us to shift plans, but we managed.  The timing of all three grades starting the major research project at almost the same time isn’t great, but I doubt that it can be adjusted in future years.  The third quarter is the best time for all three grades to work on the research project.  It is what it is.

My plan for individual meetings with all students mostly worked.  We shifted to small group meetings for both 7th and 8th grade, and we narrowed down the number of groups. For our honors classes, I was able to quickly move through the research forms during a few class times.  I joined the classroom and worked with students as the classroom teacher worked with groups on the technical writing skills.  The remaining groups came to me in the library over the course of a few weeks and I worked with the students on individual issues and gave them a chance to receive feedback on quality of sources and citations.  These meetings strengthened their confidence when evaluating sources and, I believe, provided a stronger set of sources and notecards. I also did the primary grading for source lists and notecards, and I found far fewer mistakes and omissions than in years past.

The sixth grade is moving more slowly through the research process and will not complete the project for another two weeks.  The groundwork laid in the fall semester is showing as we work together.  The students have a much stronger understanding of the research process as whole than in previous years.  Students are not frustrated with the cyclical nature of research and are more willing to go down the rabbit trails that make research so interesting.  Another win is the improvement of the citations created by students.  Our work together on the parts of the citations and the reasons we include the information is showing in the works cited pages that I am seeing at this point.

Moving forward, my goal is to become a more embedded librarian in these classes.  Luckily, my classroom teachers are willing to collaborate with me on various projects.  My success with the sixth grade will be a springboard to increased involvement in the remaining two grades. This is my 22nd year as a librarian and I’ve worked with students from college age to elementary. These middle school students keep me on my toes and keep me laughing (most days).  I appreciate the opportunity I have to work with these students and teachers.

As the only librarian in my building, I often feel on an island and do not have the opportunity to bounce ideas off others.  What are some of your tips for engaging students in the research process?  How do you keep your instruction fresh each year, while still covering the necessary steps

What I Mean When I Say Information Literacy

When I arrived at my current school months before Covid, I was told that the only department that had traditionally collaborated with the library was the history department. This was shared in a self-evident way–the history classes were the only ones that did research. My gut reactions were 1) I/the library can collaborate on more than traditional research, 2) surely there is research happening in other classes, and 3) my goal is to start collaborating with more departments. So, I started reaching out to department chairs to come pitch the library in department meetings. Some chairs were happy to let me have some time. Others were friendly but skeptical in the “we don’t do research” kind of way. 

When I said “library” or “information” or variations of that, all anybody could hear was “formal research.”

And then, on this very day in 2020, we started teaching virtually and my goals and priorities were radically altered. Which is how I found myself not fully revisiting my goal of building stronger relationships with all departments until this past fall. With a new chair in our Arts Department I reached out again and heard a similar response–our arts classes are performance/product oriented: the chorus sings, the ensembles play, the theater students act, the photography students take pictures, etc.–so they don’t really need instruction from the library. Of course, my librarian brain could think of loads of ways our arts students use information and need information literacy, but what I realized, in this case and others,is that something kept being stuck in translation. When I said “library” or “information” or variations of that, all anybody could hear was “formal research.”


To remedy this I’ve taken a two pronged approach. The first step has been to address the semantics challenge. Starting with our Vice Principal for Academic Affairs, I’m working to develop a broader, shared understanding of information literacy (IL) drawing on the ACRL Frameworks. We also discussed how to develop a mutual understanding of IL so that faculty can start to see how they already teach IL within their disciplines and also possibilities for collaboration that they had not considered before. Next, I will be joining a department heads meeting to explain IL, and later in the spring doing a mini-PD at a faculty meeting. When our faculty and I are speaking the same language we will be able to have more productive conversations, and hopefully collaborations.

The second step is a targeted approach of pitching hypothetical IL lessons to teachers and departments who don’t expect to have a need for library instruction. A fruitful example from this fall turned into a two-day collaboration with our Advanced Photography class. I approached the Photo teacher and asked if/to what extent her class discussed ethical use of images, particularly in light of the spread of AI image generators, or how students are copyright holders of the images they take. By offering a idea that I saw as a potential intersection of IL and the work the photo students were doing we were able to design a teaching collaboration. On the first class period I introduced students to copyright, their rights as a copyright holder of the photos they create, Creative Commons licenses and how to include those on works they share online, and how to understand some of the issues in determining the ethical ways of engaging with other peoples images. On our second day we discussed the impact of AI on the authority of photographs in photojournalism and the bias in AI image generators. This collaboration would never have developed if we stayed at the misunderstanding of library=research. 

By recognizing this bottleneck in library outreach, I have been able to take the steps to build a shared understanding among our faculty about the broader possibilities of what the library can mean for them and their students. But, shared understanding is only one step. By offering new ideas of how to build students’ IL skills in their own disciplines, I have helped faculty start to see what that broader definition of “library” can look like own classes. These demonstrations of non-research information skills in action are already starting to spread roots in departments, opening doors to new collaboration opportunities by showing, rather than just telling, what teaching our students IL can really include.

What lessons do you teach outside the traditional research projects? How have you engaged with less obvious (to them) classes or departments?

Author Visits from the Author Perspective: Part One

Recently, as I arranged an author visit, I started wondering about how authors view those events. What advice might they have for librarians planning an in-person author visit? I put together a survey which I sent to a few author friends (and friends-of-friends), and though my sample size wasn’t large, the authors offered a lot of useful information for librarians planning author events.

Due to the survey’s length, I am breaking it into three posts. Today, I will cover demographics of responding authors, and logistics planning for visits. In April, I will cover preparing for and promoting an author visit. In May, I will cover making the event go smoothly on the day it happens.

Author Demographics

The kind souls who gave their time to answer my survey are: Martha Brockenbrough, Margriet Ruurs, Phoebe Fox, Dianne White, Kirby Larson, Kelly Jones, Lily LaMotte, and Dori Hillestad Butler.

I first asked what grades they generally wrote for. Most write for elementary school students as well as other grades (see chart), and Margriet Ruurs also writes for educators and parents (“other”).

Next I asked how many in-school visits they made each year. Most landed in the 1-10 range, though Margriet Ruurs makes over 21 visits a year, and Dori Hillestad Butler may make 1-25 visits, depending on the year!

Thirdly, I asked how long they’d been making school visits. Most have been doing so for eight or more years, and Dori Hillestad Butler estimates she’s been visiting schools for over thirty years!

Preparing for an Author Visit


What’s the best way to contact an author about a visit? For all surveyed, contact information on their website is the place to start, but other ways may also work. In the “other” category, Kirby Larson uses a booking agent, How Now Booking, and Lily LaMotte is also exploring that option.

Determining Fit

When you contact an author, what should you ask to determine if they are a good fit for your school and your students? The authors offered varied answers, many of which boiled down to librarians being familiar with the author’s work, and knowing what they are looking for in terms of a presentation. As Dori Hillestad Butler says, “Not everyone who reaches out to me knows what they want,” which can make it harder to determine if an author is a good fit. While some authors list details of their presentations on their websites, that doesn’t necessarily mean they couldn’t tailor a workshop or presentation to a school’s needs.

In terms of more specific questions, librarians could ask what an author’s typical school visits look like, how many visits they’ve done, and the focus of their presentations. Kelly Jones recommends asking: “What will our students leave your presentation with that they may not have known before? What new tools might be in their toolboxes?” Practical details are also key, such as travel distances, number and age of students, and fees.

Deal Breakers

What might make an author turn down a visit? For most, it was scheduling issues, with too many sessions and too great distance coming in next, though as Lily LaMotte adds, “If the school is part of a larger trip to the general area or en route to somewhere I’m already going, then distance isn’t a factor.” Kelly Jones feels that “restrictions on what I can present that would negatively affect what I try to teach students” would be a deal breaker, and another author dislikes background checks, especially if she’s expected to pay. As she says: “It shouldn’t ever be needed because I shouldn’t ever be alone with students.” Margriet Ruurs stated, “I have never turned [a visit] down and worked through any concerns with the librarian,” so it’s always worth asking!

Time Frame

How far in advance of a visit should you contact an author? Answers varied widely, so it’s great if you know far in advance, but worth asking even if you don’t. Kelly Jones suggests: “If it’s coming right up, more date options make it more likely we can find one that works.”


How should a librarian approach asking about an author’s fees? Among the authors’ varied answers, several said their website lists their fees, or that a librarian should simply describe the number of students and number of sessions needed, and ask based on that. It would also help for authors to know your budget, if you have that available. Says one author: “This is a business conversation! I also appreciate knowing if you’re considering creative cost-saving measures like sharing travel costs with a nearby school or library.” Another author recommends that librarians also “touch base about how payments happen because that’s awkward to ask.”

What’s not okay is requesting free visits. As one author says: “Asking for free visits is never OK–it puts us in an absolutely terrible spot.” Says another: “What is discouraging on my side of things is when a librarian reaches out (expecting a visit to be free) and then never replies back when they learn that an author values their time as much as any other type of presenter would.”

Travel Needs

How does an author like to have their travel arranged? The answer varied, so it’s best to ask directly. Sometimes authors prefer the school make the arrangements, some prefer a travel stipend so they can make their own plans, and some prefer a combination. In some instances, for example, the school might have a connection with a local hotel and get a discount, so it would make more sense for the school to make that reservation.


There are many details to consider when you’re organizing an author visit. What sort of communication is most helpful for the authors before the event? I asked them to rank the importance of different kinds of information, and the many topics they ranked highly illustrate the value of clear communication!

Answers in the “other” category included knowing which of the author’s books the school has, directions and parking, goods/services tax, student safety rules (i.e., is the campus nut-free?), and whether translators will be present. Lily LaMotte likes to meet virtually with the event organizer beforehand to answer all of the outstanding questions.

Book Sales

Often, you’ll want to sell books at your event, so students can get their books signed. Asked where they prefer you get books for the event, the authors had different answers, so it’s best to check. Several said that whatever worked best for the school was fine, though Margriet Ruurs added, “Anywhere but Amazon!”


What else can happen on an author visit? Says Dianne White: “Basically, if a librarian has something in mind, they should always ask!” Several authors were enthusiastic about meeting students and teachers for lunch. Says Kirby Larson: “Those informal moments generate amazing conversations.” However, at least one author prefers quiet time during an energetic day, so ask before scheduling lunch sessions. Several authors also enjoy attending book club meetings.

Kirby Larson is “always happy to do interviews with student reporters, if the school has a newspaper/news program. And I know I can’t answer every question that comes up during Q&A so am happy to receive a list of student questions from the librarian following my visit that I can answer after I’ve returned home.”

Martha Brockenbrough enjoys “teaching teachers how to write/teach writing,” and Kelly Jones adds, “I’m also happy to talk to any available teachers or staff about how to follow up on the exercises I teach, if they have time and their students are interested. Often, I hear that the students who don’t already see themselves as readers or writers are inspired by what they learn, so it feels like a great moment to build on that excitement.”

Dori Hillestad Butler likes to do a “small group ‘critique the author’ session where I’ll read from my work in progress and ask the kids for feedback. I model how to give and receive constructive criticism and this is a great opportunity for me to connect with my audience before the work is published and see how it’s landing.”

Next week, I’ll cover preparing for and promoting your author visit. Thanks again to the authors for their time and thought!

on preparing for the zombie apocalypse…

Way, way, way back when I was in library school, I remember our professor talking about developing policy and procedures manuals. “What would happen to your library and your program if, for some reason, you unexpectedly weren’t able to return to you position. Would the person taking over for you know how to keep your library running?”

Policies and Procedures are Boring…

So… This is a post about documenting and organizing your library’s policies and procedures manuals, but if I made that the title, let’s face it, it’d sound boring as hell and nobody would want to read it so let’s go with zombies instead!

Don’t Eat That Cannoli!!!

What would happen to your library and your program if you and the entirety of your staff were served delicious cream filled cannoli that, unbeknownst to you, were tainted with a parasite that turned all of you into zombies and thus, unable to fulfill the responsibilities and duties that you carry out so gracefully and effortlessly day in and day out?

Well realistically (because we should always be realistic when thinking through what we’d do in a zombie apocalypse) people would, you know, be trying to not have their faces eaten off by roaming hoards of zombies so I’m guessing that maybe database access or reserving study room space might not be at the VERY TOP of everyone’s lists of of things to do, but let’s just go with this and see what happens… 🤣🤣🤣

Anyway… Would the surviving souls (plural because they’re gonna find out that each member of a library staff does at least 1.5 FTE amount of work) asked to fill your sizable shoes know that the library opens at 7:30 AM everyday? Would they know how to start-up and login to all of your hardware? Would your database subscriptions get renewed on time? Would they know how to order new books? Would they know how to process new books that have been ordered and received?

Documenting is One Thing…

My staff and I have been trying to think through, document, and organize all of the tasks that we do over the course of a school year. The task is a lot harder than you’d think simply because we do so much of our work automatically. It’s hard to describe a task that you do virtually automatically in writing on a page. You need to include enough detail so that the instructions are clear, yet concise enough so that the instructions are so overwhelming that they are virtually unusable.

We started by making time to document tasks as we did them. As I saw our library assistant processing new books there was a constant stream of “Can you please write down EVERYTHING YOU DO from the time that you open the box to the time you put the book on the ‘to be cataloged’ cart in the workroom, please?”

Need to order copy paper for the Faculty Work Room? Here’s how you do it…

Organizing for Discovery is Another…

Getting all of your disparate instructions for various tasks together is one thing, but putting them together and organizing them in some form so that another human being might actually be able to find and make use of them is completely another!

In our case, Nicole, new AISL blogger and the librarian I have worked with and shared an office with for the last 10 years will be taking over as Director of Library Services here next year so we largely left the task of putting our various documents together to the person who, ultimately, will be the one looking for them 5 months from now. Here is her organizational scheme. Ultimately, I’m guessing that in the event of a zombie apocalypse even someone who is not Nicole, would be able to look through the folder list and figure out where to look for what they needed.

Note: Every library needs a *Library Junk Drawer 🤣🤣🤣

Institutional Access is Key…

When I took over as Director of Library Services here 10 years ago, one of the most challenging things to deal with was the fact that Shared Google Drives were not yet available so most of our library’s documents were owned by my predecessor. Though the document was shared with people who still worked at the institution and IT services purposely kept my predecessor’s gmail account active, there is something deeply unsettling about relying on Google docs and sheets to manage your program THAT YOU DO NOT OWN!!! It was a long process, but we eventually transferred ownership of all of our documents.

A number of years ago, our school started the process of moving important common documents such as library policy and procedures manuals to SHARED DRIVES owned by the school rather than by individual employees who may retire or move on to other adventures, but if you’re in the process of creating your library’s polices and procedures manuals, consider ways to assure that they’ll be accessible long after you have moved on.

What Else…?

My next task is to go through everything that lives on our library’s Libguides site and make sure that every linked slideshow, image, and document get moved to our shared drive space so that should a Libguide get reused in the future, that eveything will be able to be revised and updated.

What else should go into a policies and procedures manual? What else should I do before I consume that last delicious cannoli, become a zombie, and head off into the sunset?

Please hit reply below and make a suggestion. We need to know what we’ve missed!

Thank you!

Reading Comprehension, Resilience, and Identifying Aboutness

I don’t know about you, but I am noticing quite a drop in students’ ability to read for information. We are experiencing a lot less resilience and a lot more rebellion against reading activities. Students complain “this isn’t English class,” when asked to engage with text in their other subjects. Thus, some teachers and I are reviving an old lesson in strategic reading as students prepare to undertake background research for their science fair projects.

I would love to hear how you are handling these challenges, as I think about how to repurpose the following lesson.

An age-old problem, of course, is a lack of reading-level appropriate materials on certain topics, especially for our middle school students. Two years ago, our seventh grade science teacher asked me to help students tackle navigating a slightly too hard article to learn some necessary information. My then-TA Anna came up with a lesson that met with great success.

Each group of students were assigned one article from a series taken from a single source. For homework, the skimmed the article. In class, we gave them a second copy of their articles and a specific prompt:

What are the abiotic factors (of your topic) and how do they interact with the biotic factors in the ecosystem?

We asked them to go back to their article and identify which parts of the article would help them answer their prompt. They were to note the text that looked useful and cross out any text that did not appear to help them answer their question.

Students stared at us, open-mouthed. We explained that they would only be working to read closely the parts of the article that had the information they needed (remember, they had looked at the entire article already…though they probably had not understood large parts of it), so we needed them to cross out anything that would not be helpful so they would feel freed from the need to read and understand it.

They continued staring at us. We next reminded them that each student had a second, clean copy of their article. If they crossed something out by mistake, it would not be lost — they had a back-up copy. (My TA had been very clear that fear of missing something would keep students from eliminating unhelpful text, and they needed the safety blanket of the ability to retrieve text, if necessary.)

Finally, they stopped starting, and started crossing out. With vigor and glee.

We then moved on to comprehending significantly smaller chunks of text, and the students felt gratified by the practice. They were able to speak to their prompts by the end of class. Our learning specialist even adopted the strategy to teach to specific students across the grades.

It is a tricky thing, balancing the need to know the context in which your needed information appears with the ability to target your reading successfully. It is my hope that employing this technique again this year will help students view reading for information not just as something being done to them, but as an incisive tool they can wield as needed.

But I would be really grateful to hear, if you have encountered similar challenges, how you responded!

Quiz Bowl Part II

Here’s the second part of my interview with my Overlake colleague, Kelly Vikstrom-Hoyt, about her Quiz Bowl experiences. Part I posted on February 14.

Rebecca: What’s a memorable success or achievement your teams have experienced?

Kelly: The Middle School team had just started competing in online tournaments through TQBA (Texas Quiz Bowl Alliance) in 2022. We did one tournament and entered the top division, and got 23rd out of 25 teams. The tournament director suggested that we enter the elementary bracket for the next tournament (because most of the kids were in 6th grade anyway), and we ended up getting second in the division. So for the next tournament, we moved up to the middle division and ended up winning and qualifying for nationals! Now we regularly compete in the upper division and usually place in the top 10.

Rebecca: How do you handle setbacks or disappointments with the kids?

Kelly: Quiz bowl is all in your head – literally. So it is easy for kids to get down on themselves or get psyched out by another team that buzzes quickly or knows more of the answers. I encourage the kids to get out of their heads and try to get them to be more playful. When I took the Upper School team to Chicago for nationals, we had a disappointing day with a lot more losses than we were used to. I knew we needed to shake it off, so we left the hotel and took the train to a pizza place, got Chicago pizza and took it to a park (it was a lovely day). Then the kids asked if they were allowed to go on the playground, and I told them they were REQUIRED to play on the playground. And after all the running and playing (remember these are upper school kids), they got out of their heads and were able to have fun and win more rounds the next day.

Rebecca: How do you foster a sense of inclusivity, teamwork, and participation among a diverse group of students?

Kelly: It can be really challenging because some kids are just fast and know a lot of random information. This can make the other kids feel as if they aren’t contributing as much. But since there are both tossups (which are answered individually), and bonuses (which are answered as a team), I try to get everyone involved in the bonuses, even if just as a sounding board to double check that answers are right. The other thing I try to do is encourage kids to take risks, including sometimes buzzing and getting it wrong, and praising them when they do. One of our strongest upper school players is also the person who gets the most wrong answers. And I point this out regularly so that students don’t feel embarrassed when they get something wrong.

Rebecca: Have you observed any positive impacts on academic performance or enthusiasm for learning as a result of quiz bowl participation?

Kelly: These kids are already super academically motivated. But it is interesting to see them making connections between information they learned in class and questions in Quiz Bowl. When there’s a question about something they “just did in class that day,” they love it. Students will also let the younger kids know “you haven’t learned that yet” when they know a concept is taught later in the year in that grade. 

Rebecca: What advice would you give to librarians who want to support or initiate quiz bowl activities in their schools?

Kelly: We have a lot of random knowledge and information at our fingertips! This is a great way to market that and remind people that you hold the key to accessing that knowledge. I was afraid, at first, that I’d have to come up with all the questions – but there are so many resources out there already that I have literally never had to make up questions. But I do point out resources that will be helpful to kids who want to study or learn more about something. Start small – I started out with middle school just being a trivia club and we did lots of different activities related to trivia. But then they really enjoyed the more formal structure of regular quiz bowl, so we shifted to just that.

Rebecca: What has been the most rewarding aspect of running quiz bowl teams for you?

Kelly: It is another way for me to connect with kids and see them in a different way that they typically show up in the library. The relationship building is really what keeps me going, even when I sacrifice my weekend for a tournament.


“Quiz Bowl.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia, 31 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiz_bowl.

“For an article aimed at librarians, I am interviewing a colleague who runs quiz bowl teams for middle and upper school, including weekly meetings and local, online, and travel tournaments. What questions should I ask her?” prompt. ChatGPT, version 3.5, OpenAI, 2023, chat.openai.com/c/dfd0c6bd-f1dd-4a59-aea9-98ffef558101.

Lower School Research and Database Trials

Is Research Season underway at your schools?

February brings the start of a flurry of circulation, requests for articles, database mini-lessons and, of course, a time when the databases are celebrated, criticized – or – yikes, underutilized.

At the Lower School Campuses of my school, we have remained steadfast promoters of databases. At the First and Second Grade levels, we are teaching the compound word, breaking up it’s “big word feel” into something that feels approachable. We also teach the difference between a “search engine” and a “database” – which is an interesting conversation for another blog post!

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As we begin the Research Season, we ask our students to become the “Royalty of Research” and to become the academic researchers that we are teaching them to be. We also call to mind our Bolles Way which is “pursuing excellence through courage, integrity and compassion.” These practices set a foundation for our expectation of students as they begin to build practices of research.

We have a variety of digital resources for our students to use in tandem with print resources as required by their teachers. Our resources that have remained constant over the years are: Gale Elementary, PebbleGo and PebbleGoNext.

These have been excellent products that have stood the test of time (and changes in research focus), have excellent customer service, and truly improve and expand year over year. These products also routinely provide students with academic support needs various modalities in which to use the interfaces.

We enjoyed Britannica and Britannica Kids, but this year their pricing schedule jumped and it was time to go out into the marketplace and see what is currently available to Lower School students pursuing academic research.

After a quick request from the Listserv, I decided to initiate a trial with WorldBook and Ebsco.


Many of you may already enjoy this wonderful resource. We have not had it at the Lower School level here at my school. Brittanica got mixed reviews from teachers, so I decided to go ahead and try another encyclopedia. VERDICT: it has been fantastic! I highly recommend to schools seeking a companion to a more generalized database.

Gave us all the flexibility of an online encyclopedia with all the modality options as well as topical availability to match our research needs.

For example, our Fifth Graders do a research project in tandem with their reading of Lois Lowry’s NUMBER THE STARS. I did a quick preview of what students would encounter with WORLDBOOK with the search term “World War II” and found the resource friendly to navigate, friendly to evaluate (for type of material) and friendly to read. A win all around.


After poking around, I have determined EBSCO is a solid product for Middle and Upper School environments. I found navigational tools to be cumbersome for newer computer users, and frankly, the layouts were not designed for younger researchers. VERDICT: Not for us at the current moment. Great for our MS/US campuses to explore if they felt the need to add to their Gale suite.

I did a quick preview of what students would encounter with EBSCO for “World War II” research, and while would be very interesting for some of our students, the majority would be left frustrated and unsure of how to narrow down source material. Plus, the reading level of EBSCO’s overview articles was going to be just right for some and too high for most.

At the Lower School level, I work with teachers to scaffold lateral reading, citations, source evaluation and notetaking. When evaluating these two options, it was very clear that WorldBook would be the best option to provide students. It has been revealing to talk with teachers about student experiences during the trial – and how I can best leverage my budget to meet the research and informational needs of Lower School students.

What are the sources your Lower School students use for academic research?

#WebbReads Wednesday and Friday Updates

For several years now, I’ve sent out two weekly newsletters – one to students and one to teachers. When I first started at Webb, the library was in a separate building from both of the divisions that it served, so it was hard to keep students, faculty, and staff updated on what was happening unless they specifically sought out the library. We have since gotten new libraries within the buildings of the divisions we serve, but my newsletters have become a tradition. They’re an easy form of advocacy and a weekly reminder to the school that we are here and have something to offer them. Here’s what I’ve learned from seven years of newsletters.

Pick a newsletter creation software. There are tons of choices here, some free. My favorite is Smore, which does require a subscription but is super easy to use. It is all drag and drop, and they make it easy to keep the same format each week. Currently, I’m using a tool that is built in to our learning management system. The biggest advantages of this is that everyone gets the newsletter in 2 places – their email and in the LMS – and, they can’t unsubscribe from me (yes I’ve had teachers unsubscribe and I will forever hold a petty grudge for that). Canva has newsletter templates, and you can get a free educator account to access their pro content. However, the newsletters I’ve seen come out of Canva get sent out as a link to the news rather than including it in the email, and I know my students, and many faculty, will never click on the link to read. I don’t know if Canva offers a different option, but I wanted to put that out there. MailChimp, Microsoft Publisher, and Adobe Spark are also options.

Choose whatever day works for you. Student news goes out on Wednesday because #WebbReads Wednesday is cute. Teachers get a Friday update because I often have time on Friday and I can choose whether it is a look back on the previous week or a look ahead to the next. I also know that a lot of the campus wide communications happen earlier in the week, so I have slightly less competition. If there’s no school on a specific Friday, I don’t worry about a newsletter. Pick whatever works for you and your community.

Don’t bury the lede. The first few times I sent out a newsletter, I sent it out monthly. However, after a full month, there would be a million things that I wanted to include, and a newsletter just doesn’t have space for that. Just like in journalism, you need to think about what will appear above the fold – what shows up in the email preview, and what will people see if they never scroll down? I decided to focus on one big story weekly, rather than try to focus on multiple things monthly.

Things to include. I have one main story that changes every week, and I keep a running list of ideas in my notes app for times that I feel stuck. For teachers: new databases, educator-specific databases, non-book resources (Breakout boxes anyone?), book award news (not just YMA but Mathical awards, etc.), library events (book fair, author visits), test-prep resources, resources for cultural heritage month lessons, items from AASL’s Best Digital Tools, graphs/stats about library usage. For students: new books, new book displays, books on a theme, state book award books, test prep resources, library events, contests, reading challenge updates, Sora magazines. Every newsletter I send out has our recent Instagram posts and the librarians’ currently reading titles, while teachers get links to the library calendar and students get links to the reading challenge and Sora.

Keep going – I promise someone is reading it. I won’t lie – occasionally I feel like I’m screaming into the void when I send out newsletters. Sure, I can check the official stats of how many people opened the email and clicked on a link, and my stats are pretty good, but it’s the other small ways I see my newsletters’ impact that make me happier. A math teacher will ask to borrow the book that I was reading last week, or an English teacher will tell me they didn’t know there was a Stonewall Book Award and ask to check out previous winners. A new teacher didn’t know we had Breakout boxes and now wants help setting one up for a class. I even have teachers reply to the newsletter saying they’ve been meaning to get with me to schedule research classes all week and the newsletter reminded them. I’ve had students ask for help signing up for the test prep resources I shared a week later. Last week I reminded students about our state book award process and 3 of those titles got checked out by the end of the week.

Some weeks, the newsletter is as quick as I can make it, while other weeks it’s a labor of love, but either way it is reminding my school community that the we are here for them. And don’t forget to include your admin to your email list – let them see all the ways you and your library are awesome! What ways do you communicate with your school community? Do you have any advice to add? Share in the comments!