on time…

Goodness, there are so many amazing things people are sharing about out the world of AISL libraries. Reflections on ways to improve library spaces that I’d love to call mine! Ways to make citation lessons engaging! Pieces on lunch book clubs; think pieces on publishing, loan policies, and the nature of research; 3D printing collaborations based on literature; and more! Wow!

So, I thought long and hard about what i could share this month and well, we took an ugly sad wall and… We made a clock!


Seriously, how long can your company take to fill an order? We need our seven, nine, and ten!
The offending wall…
It’s harder than you’d think to get differently-sized books to feel balanced…

The clock mechanism was ordered online. We glued the outside edges of the books’ pages together with a mixture of1-part white glue to 1-part water so the books wouldn’t swing open while they were mounted on the wall. The books are secured to the wall with 3M hook and loop Command Strips made for mounting photo frames to walls and they seem to work fine.

I suspect that about 80% of our students and perhaps more than one or two of our youngest faculty may possibly be a tad flummoxed by the analog hands, but it’s all good! LOL!!!

Waka! Waka! Waka!

In the end, every time I walk through the front doors of the library and see our clock, It makes me feel…

We have a day of professional learning focusing on self-care so as you’re reading this I might be in a book club session with faculty and staff colleagues discussing our reading of No Hard Feelings by Liz Fosslien and Molly West Duffy, learning about healthy microwave cooking, or doing yoga with heart.

Happy Valentine’s Day, all!

Taking a Step Back

Taking a Step Back: Assessing needs after four years in a new space

by Stacy Nockowitz

Email: nockowitzs@columbusacademy.org

The Reinberger Middle School Library at Columbus Academy, Columbus, Ohio

Four years ago, our school completed a huge construction and renovation project. The Middle School Library moved into a newly constructed space almost twice the size of our old one. I was asked to take an active role in designing the new space, and I relished the idea of flexing my library design muscles.

Here we are, almost four years later, and the time has come to assess how we’re doing. For now, I’m focusing on the space itself, not the collection or programming or any other matter.

Some parameters were placed on us when we moved into this space, the most difficult of which was that we could not tack anything up on the walls nor could we cover the glass in any way. This left us with very little usable wall space, as a good percentage of the walls are floor-to-ceiling glass windows. In addition, the library’s décor and furniture choices were undertaken by an interior designer, so the only input I had was in asking that the chairs and tables be moveable for flexible seating arrangements. The paper mâché tree, flying book lights, and “space chairs” give the space those extra elements that make it exciting yet child-friendly.

I wrote a grant proposal for the construction of a 10 ft. x 10 ft. Lego wall, and a parent gave the library a generous gift so we could make one of the rooms around the periphery into a green screen room. The students enjoy the Lego wall, but I need to come up with some ways to utilize it more with the middle school students.

The Lego wall is dedicated to a middle school student who passed away several years ago.

Our green screen room is the only one in the school, and it is used on a daily basis by kids in both the middle and upper schools. It’s a small space that was originally intended to be a conference room, so it has windows and a glass door. Not particularly good for a green screen room, but we’ve worked around these issues. Things took off in there when we decided to paint an entire wall apple green rather than hang a green piece of cloth. Scheduling time in the green screen room is complicated, and because it’s the room that’s furthest from the circulation desk, it tends to get messy in there. But it’s working.

The other rooms around the perimeter of the main space include an office, a conference room with a folding wall to convert it into two rooms, 2 reading/relaxing areas, and a workroom for faculty with a sink. We also have two large spaces for tables and chairs where entire classes can meet.

One of our reading/work areas. Plenty of natural light.
The Middle School Library in a rare, quiet moment.

Thanks to all of the glass, the library fills with natural light throughout the day, which is beautiful, but it makes it difficult to heat and cool the space properly. Because everyone loves the library, school events are held in here often. This means that we have come in some mornings to leftover food and event set-ups that haven’t been broken down. Another issue we have is that the Upper School Library next door is often crowded, so upper school students often come in to use any quiet rooms we have available to study. Middle school students have priority over the upper school students when it comes to space utilization, but it can be difficult to monitor the behavior of the older students when they’re in our space.

The library is a wonderful, welcoming space. Our circulation desk is huge and allows us to comfortably assist patrons. Very little of the library’s square footage is underutilized. In fact, I’d say that we will be bursting at the seams before we know it. When we opened four years ago, our stacks were a good size for our print collection. Now, though, it looks like we’re going to need a new shelf unit soon, unless we do some serious weeding later this year. Adding another shelf unit would seriously impact the space, and I’d like to avoid that as long as possible.

The circulation desk is a gathering space for students each morning.
One of the two classroom areas.

I realize that all of our space problems are good problems to have. I’m thankful that the architects asked for our librarian input when the library was being designed because we knew what we needed and what would work well for the middle school. We love our library and know we can be comfortable here for years to come.

Pointing Out Citation Information

magnetized citation information arrows

“Where is the ‘quick cite?’ ” is a refrain I often hear when some of my middle division students are searching for information on websites. While the repetition of this question might lead to mild annoyance; underneath it all, I experience a bit of librarian glee because I know the circumstances that lead students to this question. The reason our students repeatedly look and ask for the “quick cite” is because they are well trained to use library databases in conjunction with Noodletools. Students learn early that databases are not only a reservoir of credible sources, but that they provide formatted citation information, a “quick cite,” ready for an easy grab as prompted by Noodletools. At Berkeley Preparatory School we have an array of databases that the library hosts for students. There is buy-in from our administrators and consistent reinforcement from our teachers to use the library databases and digital resources. So when students venture outside these resources on the open internet they are confronted with the reality that most websites do not have a nicely formatted citation ready for import into their Noodletools work area. They are horrified that they must enter each discrete piece of citation detail for each website. The trials and tribulations of our digital natives led me to observe that they struggle to find the source information from websites to complete a proper citation.

In devising a lesson I wanted to build skill development in recognizing the parts of a website source, but in a tangible way to engage students. I wanted to avoid “the stand deliver” method in which I talk at them and their eyes glaze over. So I made magnetized arrows of the parts of a citation. Since we are a school that uses Noodletools, I showed them how the fields in the Noodletools source citation maker match the arrows I had created. I find it is important to explicitly show them how concepts line up or match between systems and approaches and not assume it will translate naturally for students. I reminded students where they can find all the pieces of information to give proper credit, and how Noodletools helps guide that collection of data for websites when they are searching in environments outside our databases.

Pointing arrows in conjunction with Noodletools

Then I modeled searching on websites in which I had chosen a topic similar to the ones they were researching. Students were looking for current articles to prepare an argument to defend. I used the arrows and lined them up on the board pointing to where citation information is on a webpage. After a few fields I even asked students where I should place them. Then on the next website projected I handed out the arrows to students, so they had to get up and move to the board to apply it themselves. Then we checked it as a whole class and discussed patterns we noticed with websites, i.e.,how sometimes there was only a copyright date and no day and month data. We also commented on corporate and institutional authors when there was no individual author. Then another website was projected and another group of students visited the board to interact with the webpage. The students enjoyed moving around and using the arrows to demonstrate their understanding. I found I could get quick feedback of how much a class understood where this information resides on a webpage.

Then students were researching independently on websites. Students still raised their hands to get help finding where the information for a citation was, but I found they were seeking confirmation more than needing me to point it out. I could refer back to the examples we used earlier and ask them questions to help them answer their own questions. Students learned that there is rarely a “quick cite” when they are using websites, but they demonstrated more confidence in completing a “slow cite.” I felt better knowing that my students could navigate and credit sources more accurately regardless of the environment in which they were seeking.

Lower School Library Lunch Clubs

Image result for book lunch
Lunch in the Library? You bet!

School Library Programming is as unique as each librarian and learning community. One popular program in my suite is the Library Lunch Club(s).

I am on a fixed PK to Grade 5 schedule for just over 190 students. During the seven day rotation, I see PK for 30 minutes, K and 1 for 40 minutes per section and grades 2 through 5 for one hour per section. I also additionally schedule co-teaching and extra library time during research season. This schedule allows ample time for curriculum as well as reader’s advisory.

I have been offering Lunch Clubs since my first year here in 2017. I had an eager bunch of 5th graders that year – strong readers and active library users – this got me thinking about expanding programming.

Lunch Clubs were born! My schedule is such that offering 2 lunchtime clubs in the library during the 7 day rotation felt manageable.

Library Lunch Club:

  • Open to 4th and 5th grade students
  • 2 lunch clubs offered each year, one per semester
  • No more than 10-12 students per, and only repeats if space allows
  • Themes (except for first year) are decided upon by my student leadership group year prior
  • Meet at least 8-10 times per semester, all semester long
  • Option to drop after first meeting, then committed for remainder
  • Eat lunch in the library or outside weather permitting for first half of lunch
  • Create, learn, enjoy library and literary activities during second half of lunch
  • Clubs offered so far:
    • Graphic Novel Club: appreciate the genre, create your own, pub in library
    • Picture Book Appreciation Club: appreciate the genre, create your own, pub in library
    • Newbery Club: Read Newbery winner and discuss book club style
    • Newspaper Club: appreciate the form and function, write your own and pub
    • Homemade Books Club: create accordion books and sew a handmade book together

I chose activities that I knew all of us would be able to dig into reasonably during the lunch hour. During all of these clubs, we talk books, laugh a lot, watch related videos, create original content and find community in our love for books, stories and sharing.

Graphic Novel sample 1
Graphic Novel sample 2
Shelf space for self-published work created during Lunch Clubs
Newspaper Sample 1

Lunch Clubs are here to stay. I really enjoy providing a unique time and space to explore the books and topics they love, while they enjoy creative expression. Please share one of your unique library programs in the comments below!

Freelance Writing Outside the Library World

My path to publication

While I’ve always considered myself a writer in some form, most of my output has been confined to my rapidly filling Google Drive for the past decade or so. I spent several years as a reviewer for School Library Journal, and eventually wrote longer articles for SLJ after making contact with an editor who liked my work.

Strangely enough, it took a life pivot for me to embrace writing in a real way in my life. When I went on maternity leave with my son two years ago, I found that the late night feedings were oddly creative times for me (in the beginning at least). I’d come up with ideas for essays, sentence fragments, and tap them into my notes app with one hand. In the morning I’d change the baby into his daytime pajamas and try to decipher what I’d written the night before. Then while he napped (or watched Sesame Street) I’d try to shape what I’d written into something resembling an essay.

My best writer friend then suggested that I join the Binders, a Facebook group of women writers. There other women shared editors, pitches, rates, and anything you might need to know to make the leap to published author. I sent my first pitch to Romper and when it was accepted, the editor read my bio and suggested I pitch something for a series on children’s books.

While most of my published essays have centered around parenting, librarianship definitely informs what I write. Whether it’s knowing how to find sources for a piece on body image or giving me the cultural context to approach issues of diversity with sensitivity, my “day job” is deeply ingrained in my side hustle. I’m sure my credentials helped when I pitched LitHub last year to respond to an Atlantic article about diverse books. I feel like librarians are writers every day in some form, and I have just decided to continue honing my craft.

Something I’ve taken away from writing for the past few years is that fortune truly favors the bold. If I hadn’t reached out to the editor at School Library Journal to ask if there were any opportunities to write in longer form, I wouldn’t have begun to get paid publishing opportunities there. And if I didn’t shoot the moon and pitch the New York Times (for the sixth time) in December, I wouldn’t have been published there. There is a lot of self-advocacy in freelance writing, and tooting your own horn–both things I learned while working in libraries for the past ten years. 

To anyone who is interested in developing this side of themselves, the publications group can help you find opportunities in more library-specific venues. If you’re interested in other areas of writing, it’s often as easy as googling the “masthead” where editors are listed on their websites, checking twitter for “calls for pitches”, or reaching out to me, ebsalge@gmail.com if you think you have a good idea and you’re not sure where to send it. How to write a pitch that sells is its own entry–but I have some helpful tips if you’re interested.

Freelance writing has expanded my life beyond the walls of my school, and it’s shown me that many of my feelings around parenting (and librarianship!) are actually quite universal. You never know who needs to read what you’ve written. And while conventional wisdom will tell you to never read the comments, if you’ve been working with middle and high school students for long enough, your skin is much thicker than you’d think. 

Writing Articles for the Other Areas of Expertise We Love

As librarians, we wear many hats including reading specialist, makerspace instructor, technology teacher, information specialist and social justice adviser. Share your lessons and expertise in journals targeted  for educators, collaborators, makerspace mavens,  technology teachers, humanities instructors, or any other fields you enjoy teaching, or researching.  

Always read one or more issues before you start the application process. When you write for an audience other than school librarians, recognize that the more you can “speak” their language and reflect their goals, the better your communication will be. Don’t forget to list your AISL membership in your biographical information.

 If your favorite journals aren’t in this list, you can look on their websites. A link to the writing submission instructions can often be found on the homepage. 

Are you attending AISL Houston? Come visit the The Publication Group Table Talk.  Wednesday April 1, 2020 1:00pm – 2:45pm Herman Park & Houston Zoo. We will be available to help you with articles and conference applications. 

Open your favorite journal link below and read the guidelines for writers. Periodicals like Educational Leadership list upcoming themes. Others, like Literacy Today, want you to submit a proposal before you write.

Instructions for Submitting Articles

ACCESSPOINTS (ATLIS – Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools)

Educational Leadership  (ASCD – Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)

Independent School (NAIS – National Association of Independent Schools)

Independent Ideas Blog (NAIS Blog)

ISTE Publications (International Society for Teaching Technology in Education)

Kappan Magazine (Journal for Educators, members of Phi Delta Kappa)

Literacy Today (International Literacy Association membership magazine)

Teaching Tolerance (social justice teaching and anti-bias topics)

The Publication Group members are available to help you write proposals, refine topics, observe, brainstorm, organize, synthesize, and edit your writing. We look forward to hearing from you.

Debbie Abilock: dabilock@gmail.com

Tasha Bergson-Michelson: tbergsonmichelson@castilleja.org

Christina Karvounis: KarvounisC@Bolles.org

Sara Kelley-Mudie: sara.kelleymudie@gmail.com

Cathy Leverkus: cathyl@thewillows.org

Alyssa Mandel: amandel@oda.edu

Nora Murphy: NMurphy@fsha.org

Checkout Policies — Yea or Nay?

As a child, my mom always set a limit on how many books my brothers and I were allowed to check out at a time — three. We would return every week and get three new books and I was content with that system.

Once I could start going to the library independently I still found myself setting the three book limit on myself. I never questioned it and was happy to return a week later or even sooner if I finished reading, which was often the case.

Fast forward to my first year as a librarian in a public library. Suddenly that three book limit went out the window. I was checking out any book that looked remotely interesting because well, I could! My nightstand started to resemble a Jenga game with books teetering out of every surface. I would often read at least a book or more a week, so I felt my ever-growing pile was justified.

In my current role as a solo elementary school librarian I find myself waxing and waning — Should there be a check out limit?

The logical, librarian side of me thinks…

Of course! I don’t want to be shelving all day because every third grader checked out 10 books each.

I wouldn’t have anything left on the shelves if students could check out as much as they wanted!

They will just lose those books!

Whereas, the book-lover side of me thinks…

Why yes! You may check out the entire Harry Potter series to read over winter break because that sounds like a delightful plan!

It’s an awful feeling when you finish a book and have nothing to read after it. I can’t put a kid through that!

How can I say ‘no’ to a student who wants to read?!

The logical, librarian side of me won and I do in fact have checkout policies in place. When students come to the library with their class they know how many books they are allowed to check out and they are content. It makes for a smooth check out and students know what to expect. However, I still find myself wanting to say to some of my students — You’ll be done with these two books by Saturday afternoon. Go ahead, check out two more.

What are your checkout policies? Do you listen to the logical librarian half of your brain or do you tend to side more with your book-loving side?

“Research Says…”

Everyone has that phrase, the cliché that rolls off others’ tongues with surprising frequency. The one that shouldn’t bother you. The one that does bother you. The one you seemingly can’t escape.

Whether it’s “out-of-the-box thinking,” “giving 110%,” or “same difference,” whatever comes after is lost. For me, that phrase is “research says.”

This is partly due to its ubiquity, but also because there doesn’t seem to be a definition of research that’s shared between librarians and popular culture.

Research isn’t the actor. Research isn’t a specific result. Research isn’t a prescription. Research is a focused and systematic investigation, with the goal of finding useful information and replicable results. Scientists will agree with the librarians. And obviously 9 out of 10 dentists.

Each fall my husband’s Physics students run carts of different weights down an incline to determine whether mass affects the acceleration of gravity. No less a scientist than Galileo determined it doesn’t, and my husband has the equations to back this up. The result is not just anticipated, it is known and can be calculated. The students are not researching, but the experimental process sets the tone for what research looks like when the result hasn’t yet been determined.

Similarly, in English classes, who else has been asked to help students write papers with their own “original research” offered as literary criticism on a work. Ironically, what teachers mean by this is usually the students’ own thoughts on a published piece, without referring to any external secondary sources. This can promote critical analysis, though I might question why we assume novice readers will come up with valuable insights not considered by experts, but it isn’t research. No wonder students are confused by what research is or why it matters.

We try to address this general idea in Honors Biology with a Vitamin lesson on why experts disagree. It’s helpful to hear students try to contextualize what an individual study demonstrated, the limitations of that research, and how the findings were shared (or shall we say dumbed down) by the popular media. They’re quickly able to make connections to the clickbaity news they encounter on a daily basis.

Stanford History Education Group’s updated report on Students’ Civic Online Reasoning is, in their words “troubling,” and in my words, “terrifying.” It’s not just that our students need to be better navigators of information so as to excel as scholars. There are organizations out there who are monetizing our illiteracy. Whenever I hear “research says,” I picture research (as some sort of Muppety Beaker/Swedish Chef amalgamation) messily mixing variables and then sharing the resulting baked goods with an unsuspecting audience.

Is it too much to ask who did the research, the background of those researchers, and the scope of what they were expecting to find? Bonus points for when it was completed and the variables that were tested! This isn’t what makes headlines, but this is what research would actually say if it were able to talk. When we can substitute “I did a Google search and this is what I found” for “research says,” we are setting our society up as information illiterates, with consequences for our civic infrastructure. We continue to increase media’s access to us through our- often complicated – relationships with our devices. I believe it’s crucial that we are ambassadors for a nuanced understanding of the idea of research. If you have any ways that you’ve done this in your school or community, I’d love for you to share in the comments below.

Conversations, Collaboration and Cookie Cutters

There is a lot going on in a school, finding time to sit with fellow educators and plan is not easy. Trying to meet sometimes feels like trying to make all the pieces in the game of Tetris fit. Finding time to co-plan lessons and collaborate with classroom teachers can be hard, but sometimes the quick conversations you have in the hallway or before a meeting starts can lead to a cool, connected project! The conversation can spark ideas for a partnership, a collaborative project, or topic shared in the classroom and the library. 

I was looking for something to do in the few short weeks before the winter break in December. It is always an awkward time because it is not enough time to do a deeper dive project but I still want the work the learners are doing to be meaningful and engaging. My second graders love to do projects and we had not done anything with 3D printing yet this year, so I was brainstorming some 3D printing project ideas. I was talking to a second grade teacher and she mentioned a cookie making project her students do with the chef in the cafeteria. Making connections with the math lessons, students would be measuring different amounts of ingredients and then baking cookies. This was a lightbulb, what if the students designed and 3D printed cookie cutters that they could use in their math lesson! 

This project connected some of my school library curriculum goals to continue to advance learners’ design and 3D skills, connected to the math curriculum in the classroom and was a fun project for second graders to take home and share with their families. 

I started the project by reading the very funny book “The Duckling Gets a Cookie!?” by Mo Willems. The pigeon books are favorites in my library and always lead to lots of laughter. I then shared a story of purchasing some cookies for a Thanksgiving dinner I was attending. I talked about how the cookies were shaped like turkeys, pumpkins, and pumpkin pie slices. Second graders shared different cookie cutter shapes they had seen. The whole class did a Google search to find images of different cookie shapes. I also brought a couple of cookie cutters to school for the students to look at and get ideas for different shapes and to explore the design of the cookie cutters. 

The next step was planning and designing. Students drew pictures of the items they wanted to make into a cookie cutter, everything from snowmen, to soccer jerseys and flowers to pizza slices. Second graders added all the details to their pictures. I then had them take a black marker and just outline the outside of their drawing. With the outlining, students were able to see the shape of their cookie cutter. 

During the next library class, I introduced the Morphi app. Morphi is a great 3D design app. I really like to use this with my younger students because the app is very user friendly and students are able to use the 2D to 3D feature. Second graders used the 2D to 3D feature to draw the outline of their cookie cutter design, then with the press of a button, the app converts their 2D drawings into 3D designs ready to be printed. The Morphi app was a new tool for my students. They used the Tinkercad 3D design website in first grade. Learners were introduced to a new technology tool, building on previous knowledge, and growing their skills with apps and technology. 

Over the next couple days, we printed the cookie cutters using the library’s 3D Makerbot printers. The finished cookie cutters were passed out to each student to use in their math lesson and then students were able to take their projects home. 

This was such a fun project! My second graders were so excited to design their own personal cookie cutters and learn a new 3D design skill. They were also thrilled to be able to use their cookie cutters in their math lesson and then take their cookie cutters home and share them with their families. I was happy to engage in a meaningful project that helped me reach some of my library curricular goals and find a way to collaborate with a fellow educator to help with a lesson in their math curriculum. All around the project was an awesome way to spend the couple of classes before the winter break! 

No time for bonbons

Since I started blogging for AISL, there have been some months when my entry is 100% planned and outlined, and other months when a topic bubbles to the surface because it needs to be addressed. This is one of those “bubbling” months.

Have you ever had a colleague who truly doesn’t understand what you do and thinks you sit back eating bonbons and reading books all day? I’m sure we have all had to address that person. This week, though, I had an interaction that I just can’t shake. It was implied that their job as a classroom teacher was so much more important to the students and that they couldn’t just “get up whenever they want to get lunch,” etc.

While you digest that, let me ask: do you even remember getting time for lunch? I don’t. Lunch happens to be the busiest time of the day in a school library, because that’s the time when students have the freedom to visit the library. Most of the time I am frantically eating right at the circulation desk while answering all kinds of questions from the students and faculty. Let us not forget that my eating does not go unnoticed by students as they ask why I am allowed to eat in the library and they can’t. Lol.

You and I know how much work goes into getting our education and/or experience. We know the challenging task of organizing an entire library, curating a collection, evaluating sources and databases, making sure said databases actually work, teaching classes, answering reference questions, helping students find that *perfect* book, advising teachers, attending countless meetings, maintaining the privacy of patron accounts, etc. (often without an assistant or clerk). Each of us has that special capacity in our brain where we can compartmentalize and cross-reference questions and answers in a blink of an eye in the midst of controlled chaos. But I am preaching to the choir here.

Especially since I am still processing this particular encounter, I suppose my question is this: What do you do when a coworker doesn’t understand your position?

It’s good to know that we are not alone here.