School’s out….

Today is the last day for our students and tomorrow is the last day for teachers.  As much as I dislike our early start of the year (we report back at the beginning of August), it is nice to be done with school by Memorial Day.  This is always a time of reflection for me as I review the previous school year and (attempt) to clear my head for next year’s planning. This year has been one of growth and change for me.  Frankly, at this time last year I was disheartened, and I entered the summer with uncertainty.  I was not sure how I fit into the vision for the school.

Original artwork by former teacher, displayed in MS Library. I found myself contemplating this piece many times over last summer.

My day-to-day activities changed as I moved into the middle school library full time.  I was able to fully collaborate with the 6th grade students and teachers and build a scaffold for both technology and library instruction.  The year also brought the opportunity to build personal relationships with teachers in the other two grades with the goal of deeper collaboration next year. I am happy to say that the uncertainty that I felt last summer has disappeared.

As I reflect on the 2023-2024 school year there are definite wins!

  • Regular meetings with all 6th grade students.  During English class, we met twice per month during the first semester and at least once per month in the second semester.  We worked together to hone citation skills, basic evaluation of digital resources, and work on building effective notecards.  Additionally, I met with these students during Science class beginning in October.  I became an embedded librarian for the duration of their science fair research project.
  • Increased circulation of library books. For the past 6 years, I was only part time in the middle school which made it difficult to consistently promote reading and check out of books.  With an increased presence and more opportunity to talk books with kids circulation increased by 15% over the 2022-2023 school year.
  • Connections with students. The library became a “third space” for a significant number of students before school and during our morning break.  Getting to know my regular visitors was such a treat.  We connected over books, I learned more about what was going on in their lives outside of school, and several of them became unofficial library helpers.  When shelving books moved to the back burner, these kids jumped in and helped me empty by shelving cart.

What does the 2024-2025 school year bring? I’m not entirely sure.  I have a great relationship with my building administration and feel fully supported in the library activities.  I have a few big programming ideas that I am working on implementing and I have plans to increase my collaboration with classroom teachers.  But first…..I’m going to work on my personal summer reading list! 

A New Approach to Bouncing Balls

This post comes with a preface, a caveat. I am early in this process but it’s what has occupied my mind lately so I’m sharing not just to let you all know what I’ve been ruminating on, but also to solicit your discoveries and successes.

We’ve hired several new administrators this year, and my wonderful Learning Support Specialist colleague asked each of them questions about how they would support and work with our neurodivergent students–academically (for our Academic Dean position), in disciplinary contexts (for our Dean of Students position), and holistically. The questions and the ensuing answers had me thinking more about what I can do from our US library to support these students, which, at our school primarily includes ADHD and some ASD.

Of course, the easy place was to start with books, both for our students and our faculty. I updated and added some titles to our collection, some with an eye towards informal professional development for faculty, including these:

Others, I ordered or noted in our collection as good mirror books for our students, like these:

Given that many more of our students use the library as a space than to check out books, I next considered how I can make the library space more inclusive and productive for students. In looking into ways to support our older students, given that much of my early searching focused on items for little kids, I came across an emerging trend in college and university libraries for sensory rooms. After exploring what those spaces offered, and talking with our Learning Support folks more, here are some things I’ve adopted or am planning to have in place for next year.

  • One option I’m seeking funding for is some alternative seating. Particularly the covered exercise ball chairs that are as sturdy as furniture but allow for students to bounce and wiggle quietly and discreetly.
  • Soothing items: I’m eyeing up a desktop zen garden, but in the meantime I have a handful of lava lamp-esque bubble timers that are super calming.
  • Fidgets: I regularly purchase give-away items during exams that are stress relievers, but lately I’ve switched to ones that work as fidget items as well. Pop bracelets were a hit last year. This year I’ve acquired these squishy pencil grips that double as “ooh, free thing!” and sensory fidget for the students that may need that.
  • Noise-reducing earmuffs–while most students who want to tune things out seem to opt for music and their own headphones, I have a few noise reducing earmuffs they can check out for kids who really do want quiet while they work.
  • Pencils! Ok, this is a bit different than the other things on my list, but for kids with ADHD materials management can be HARD. On each level of my library I have a cup of pre-sharpened pencils that I buy in bulk and refill as needed.

One thing I aim for with these items is that they aren’t specifically for neurodivergent students. They are useful or fun for any student. That also means that the kids who might get a particular boost from them don’t need to feel visible or singled out for having them.

Already, I can feel the small but important shifts that come from taking a different perspective. Last week a ninth grader came in to the library with a soccer ball (again) and started tossing it from one hand to the other and rolling it back and forth across the table and I could see that it was going to be a problem. I have a tidy collection of tennis, lacrosse, ping pong, and other balls that I’ve collected of late as students just can’t keep still or resist bouncing/tossing/playing with them inside. But this time, as I got ready to head over to take the ball or have him put it away I took a deep breath, and told myself that he might not even realize what he’s doing. So, before I headed his way I ducked into my office and grabbed a pop bracelet. Now, when I headed over I simply set the bracelet down in front of him and said, “here’s a better thing to fidget with.” He stopped messing with the ball and I felt a lot more positive about the interaction. I suspect he did too. And that’s the culture I want our library to be about.

Commit to Curiosity

This summer we are taking a different approach to summer reading at The Oakridge School by combining suggested reading with options for other activities. These include ways to delve into art, culture, science, sports, literature, service and technology.  We are calling this platform: Commit to Curiosity. I am still a huge proponent of required reading for the summer; (with lots of choices), but for now Oakridge has opted for suggested reads.  Lower and middle school students are excited about summer book bingo  – possibly because of the raffle and gift cards on the line.  (I am excited about AISL Bingo!)

I think the key to success will be promotion, promotion, promotion. We’re marketing the guide with a student created commercial, and social media combined with our school website will hopefully keep the momentum going.  The students also have an option to keep up with their activities in a “passport” book. Links to the Bingo Boards are in the platform under Literature. 

We are almost there!

Happy Summer!

Author Visits from the Author’s Perspective: Part Three: Visit Day

Welcome to the final post in this series. In part one, I covered the demographics of the authors who responded to my survey, and logistical planning for an in-person visit. In part two, I covered preparing for and promoting an author event at your school. In this final post, I will cover ensuring your author visit goes smoothly on the day. As always, many thanks to the authors who took the time to respond to my survey!

Day-Of Logistics

Asked how a librarian can make a visit day go smoothly, most authors ticked all the boxes: Keep a communication device handy in case of issues; Meet the author at the check-in point; Escort the author wherever they need to go; Make introductions; Help with any tech needs/issues; Have water available; Facilitate signings with post-its and extra pens.

In the “other” option, Margriet Ruurs suggested: “Display books on a table so kids can see the relationship between the books, the speaker and the slideshow/talk.” Kirby Larson said: “The more communication, the better!” Kelly Jones added: “I don’t need to be escorted (I know you’re busy!). But it helps if the office is aware that I’m coming and can tell me where I should go.”

Make It Special

Here are some examples of librarians who went the extra mile and made the author visit really special.

Martha Brockenbrough: “Not only did Terry Shay have the cheerleading squad, he had every kid outside with little signs to welcome me. It was over the top, but definitely incredible. The excitement made me feel good, but more important—it made the KIDS pumped for what was to come.”

Margriet Ruurs: “If they do all the things listed above, it’s awesome. But often that’s not the case and you have to make the best of it for the students’ sake. It’s a great gesture when the principal attends a session and sets the tone for the importance of reading in the school.”

Phoebe Fox: “With everything an author brings to a visit, it is especially helpful to have a parking spot reserved near the library or area of presentation.”

Dianne White: “Librarians who have prepared the kids and teachers by talking about the visit ahead of time, sharing books, and helping kids and staff get excited about the value of author visits make for the best overall experiences.”

Kirby Larson: “At one middle school in Arkansas, the librarian worked with the cafeteria to have food that was suggested by my books! Amazing. I am so grateful when librarians provide extra water for me and a little sweet snack in the afternoon; I appreciate being introduced to the principal; I’m always touched when there’s a little welcome swag bag in the hotel room. Honestly, I’m so appreciative of how hard librarians/teachers are already working; I am in total awe of all the extras they do to connect kids with books and their creators.”

Kelly Jones: “I appreciate it when librarians prepare students for my visit, but I also really love hearing any follow-ups! It’s been wonderful to hear about classes who’ve continued the writing exercises we talk about and create their own stories, or libraries who’ve created ways for students to share the stories they create with each other.” In addition, “If there’s a practice you use for library time or assemblies that works well with your students, please tell me! For instance, one library often used a “stop and share” practice for the kinds of exciting questions I was asking students to think about. The librarian would ask the question, then students would have one minute to discuss it with a neighbor before we moved on. When the librarian stopped my presentation to explain, it was a perfect addition—something I could use with that school and with others!”

Lily LaMotte: “The cafeteria serving the students lunch with the recipe from my book… I’ve also had a teacher in West Palm Beach make a whole diorama on stage. Other librarians decorated their libraries. Another teacher had a contest where students wrote essays about why they wanted to come to a small group student lunch with me.”

Dori Hillestad Butler: “I love when I pull into a school parking lot and see a sign that tells me where to park. (I especially liked the ones that said VIP AUTHOR PARKING—I’ve been to several schools that did that.) A librarian in Oregon had read that I like Diet Dr. Pepper and had a couple bottle of it (nobody has Diet Dr. Pepper on hand!). One of the best school visits I ever was in Colorado–the kids wrote a play based on one of my books and then performed it for me.”

Cautionary Tales

Sometimes, visits don’t go so well, unfortunately. Here are some (anonymous) examples, and reasons why.

“I would say that most visits are always wonderful, but I did have a visit last year that was close to the end of the school year. The multi-purpose room was full of stuff that had been recently been moved there because the year was coming to an end. There was a lot of last minute cleaning up and making room for the classes to fit. It left me with the feeling that the author visit was more of an after-thought and the assembly was just a way to occupy the kids for a short while, rather than an enrichment to the educational experience.”

“One school (a middle school) left me alone with the kids to do a workshop. For the entire period. And one of the kids basically wrote [inappropriate fiction] and then read it out loud. It’s not my job to deal with that. Now I have a line in my letter of agreement that says “author will not be left alone with students,” which is probably a good idea for any kind of liability as well.”

“I once did six visits in a day (too many), and the school didn’t provide me with lunch. I would have brought my own had they told me there wouldn’t be lunch. It made for a hard day.”

“I’ve been very lucky so far in that I haven’t had any bad visits. The only one that I can think of that didn’t go well was a virtual visit to a library during lockdown. Unfortunately each attendee was trying to get onto the facility’s WiFi from their own laptop while outside the building because they weren’t allowed in because of the lockdown. But the tech issue wasn’t the librarian’s fault. And it was the pandemic so it was a time for everyone to be more flexible than normal.”

“My presentations, in the end, are always very well received. But if there are no books displayed, no art based on books, no enthusiasm about the visit – it is much harder to achieve a positive atmosphere.”

“Though I work very hard to engage kids, if they have no idea who I am or why I’m there, it can be a slog for me to help them get the most of the presentation. I can overcome tech issues or other things but adequate prep really helps the school get the biggest bang for their buck.”

Annoyances and Frustrations

The authors gave insightful responses about things  that specifically annoy or frustrate them on visit days, which I present anonymously.

“I once had a principal want to meet with me before the visit to make sure my visit would be OK for his students. I’m a published author. I do school visits regularly. I used to teach at a high school. Asking for more time and, in a sense, justifying my presence is pretty uncool.” This author added that, in addition to unprepared students, having disengaged or absent teachers makes it impossible for the teacher to build on the author’s lesson, which is intended to support the curriculum. Especially if teachers are absent, “it feels as if they want me to entertain their students for an hour and that’s it. But that is not how author talks work. A good author presentation is not reading from your book. Anyone can do that. It is sharing the excitement about writing, planning, editing – making kids want to write, too!”

“When there is no introduction made, it feels very awkward to introduce oneself.”

“Requests to do additional presentations after the contract has been set/settled are hard to deal with but, truly, I know things come up at the last minute. We’re all doing our best, that is for sure!”

“Very noisy outside environments (for instance, a really loud class on the other side of an air wall in a divided gym) can be hard to overcome.”

“It can be difficult to quickly adapt and give the students the experience I’d like them to have when the tech arrangements we agreed upon aren’t available after all—for instance, no microphone or working projector for a full-school assembly.”

“I also prefer for teachers to support students asking me questions during the Q&A, even if someone else has already asked it, or it might embarrass the teacher (such as, how much money do I make). I believe that students are trying to imagine themselves in a writer’s shoes, and trying to connect and be seen. I have answers for these situations that everyone can learn from without anyone’s attempt being shut down.”

“Before: Not getting a schedule, not getting a response from my host if I email, not receiving my signed letter of agreement back in a timely manner.”

Final Thoughts

Margriet Ruurs: “Whether it’s local or around the world, sharing your books in schools and libraries is awesome. And keep in mind that it makes it financially possible to stay home and write during other times. Author visits support the writer on so many levels.”

Kirby Larson: “I am so grateful to the teachers and librarians working so hard every day in their buildings. Though a school visit with me might not work out/fit their schedule or budget, I am in awe of all the ways they work so hard to connect kids with books and their creators. So a huge thank you to our wonderful educators!”

The Return of Summer Reading Bingo

Based on the fun that was had last year, we’re bringing back bingo! Graphic designer & educator Bram Meehan of Santa Fe created our unique bingo board and has updated it for this year. All AISL members are invited to take part – and yes, there are prizes!

Here is the bingo board:

And here are the guidelines (also on the board), but the main thing is to have fun!

  • 1 book = 1 box (no repeated titles)
  • Each completed row (horizontal, vertical or diagonal) = 1 ballot in the draw
  • Completed bingo cards should be emailed to by Labour Day (Sep 2)
  • Multiple winners will be drawn, and gift cards awarded based on winner preference: local bricks & mortar bookstore or online bookseller
  • An optional Zoom wrap-up party will be held on Mon Sep 9th (5pmPST/8pmEST) where winners will be announced and an informal book chat will be held (winners not in attendance will be notified via email)

Share your ongoing bingo experience by DMing AISL socials!

on gratitude…

Hi Friends,

As it turned out, this post ended up being a lot harder to write than I’d expected it to be.

See, as of this morning, we have 5 more days of school in the ’23-’24 school year and at the end of the day on May 24th, instead of being a “school librarian” I will be a “retired school librarian.” This also means that, after hitting the publish button 79 times since my first Independent Ideas post in November of 2013, that this is the last time I’ll get to share with you in this space.

What follows, you know, deserves a really good backing track so please open this in a tab in the background: What Was I Made for Instrumental

Thanks for humoring me one last time!!! 🤣🤣🤣

In all honesty, retiring is something that I’ve wistfully dreamt about on every single first day of school for the last 37 years, so it is, frankly, shocking to me that saying farewell feels as hard as it does. And, well, saying farewell to the wonderful community that AISL has been for me for the last 24 years might be hardest of all.

Please don’t misunderstand. I’m retiring. I’m not dying #CrossesFingersAndToes so I very much hope to continue a relationship with AISL as a KARL (“Kick A** Retired Librarian” for the uninitiated 🤣 ), but the farewell process I’ve experienced with colleagues and friends here on campus has already made me acutely aware that when you head off into retirement your relationship to people in organizations WILL change–and I know that will be the case with all of you as well.

More than anything, I hope that each and every one of you knows how grateful I am that you’ve invited and allowed me to be part of this community and part of your professional lives. Whether you realized it or not, by virtue of the fact that you are here reading my rambling last post; posting a question, supportive comment, or a solution to someone’s quandary on the listserv; or just reaching out on email to say “hi” to a fellow librarian, each and every one of you has had a part in building this community called AISL that I have come to love and cherish so very much over the years.

When I published my first Independent Ideas post. The Independent Ideas blog had just launched so I didn’t really know what I was doing or what I was supposed to write about. I was just told, “Write about middle school stuff…” 🤷🏻‍♂️🤷🏻‍♂️🤷🏻‍♂️

At the time, the ginormous new middle school library at Harvard-Westlake in Los Angeles where I worked was about a year old. After living in our new space for a year, we were looking for ways to address some of the pain points in our lovely new library so I walked through the library with a video camera and used Mozilla Popcorn Maker to create and post a “VH-1 Pop-up Video” style video asking people for suggestions about how they might make better use of our space. And yeah, I am about to be a retiree so I get that VH-1 Pop-up Video and Mozilla Popcorn Maker are anachronisms to, probably, 85% of you reading this now!!! #HavingOldMan KneesSucksButYouGetToRetireSoTheresThat 🤣🤣🤣

A couple of times over the years I seem to have hit the mark and a few posts have held up pretty well over time. Sometimes posts aged really, really poorly and it was more like, “Well this is the end of an era error…” 🤣🤣🤣

Always, though, you’ve let me feel safe sharing my successes and sometimes my frustrations and failures. I hope you know how truly lucky I’ve felt for that alone.

I’ve read countless amazing posts from fellow bloggers; I’ve cherished comments that many of you posted or sometimes sent me privately via email; and I’ve stolen borrowed countless amazing ideas from listserv posts.

You’ve helped me think through challenges in ways that I likely wouldn’t have been able to get to on my own; you’ve helped me to realize that I wasn’t alone in feeling frustrated or deflated or ALONE…; and you helped me to know that in spite of the random thing that was my anxiety of the day, that everything was gonna be OK.

Please continue to support each other. Please continue to be kind to one another and yourselves. Please continue to do the truly important work that you do. Please help this wonderful community continue to thrive.

While I didn’t get to accomplish everything that I wanted to accomplish when I first became a school librarian 24 years ago, I hope that I’m leaving the libraries and institutions that I workied in, and maybe even the profession, a little better than I found it.

As I turn off the lights in what will no longer be “my library” for the last time, I can honestly say that I will leave full of gratitude for all that I’ve been given and full of hope because of all of you and the wonderful work that you will continue to do.

Thank you for that. That you all for all of that.

Farewell friends. ❤️❤️❤️



That lovely moment when you go to the last elementary chapel of the year and you get notes of love–and two overdue books! 🤣🥰🤣😍

Building the Plane While You’re Genre-flying, or: Sort, Stick, and Shift: Genrefying in Three Easy Months

I, like many of us, am a list person. I like systems, structure, and knowing what happens next. My week is organized in To Do Lists, and everything gets itemized and checked off as I work unless I have lost the list, at which point “Clean Desk” is added to the new list.

When I joined my school, I put together a five year roadmap of how to build the library program our community deserved. Year One was Figuring Out Where the Bodies Are Buried. Year Two was Programming. This is Year Three: Literacy and Literature because, frankly, my students are absolutely brilliant and also my fiction stats have historically been in the absolute toilet, and these two things together are enough to drive any librarian to cry into her bookmarks.

So after reading all the posts, visiting a few schools, and reminding myself many times that no one will die if I do a thing and then have to undo the thing, I decided to genrefy my fiction. Because our space is used in the summertime, it had to happen while the library was up and running. And because the Board comes in every year for a visit before winter break and I hate looking messy in front of my boss’s bosses, it had to be done by mid-December.

Step One: Sort and Sticker

Before anything moved, we categorized. Every fiction book got assigned a category and then it got a sticker. This can be tricky, obviously. Is The Yiddish Policemen’s Union* a mystery? Sci-fi? Does it go in Historical Fiction so it can be near Kavalier & Clay? Not everything is clear cut, and I had to do a lot of reminding myself “It can always be changed.”**

This step was by far the most exhausting; making that many microdecisions in addition to the thousands of other microdecisions we make every day meant I would go home and couldn’t find the brain space to answer questions like “What do you want to eat for dinner?”***

*I put it in Mystery. We’ll see how it goes.

**This process also helped me do a quick fiction weed. No point in sticking and shifting a book that hasn’t ever circ’ed and you wouldn’t buy today.

***The answer is always pizza.

Step Two: Make Some Space

We had about 2,000 fiction titles that were sorted in low to the ground shelves. The problem with this is evident:

A change of scenery was in order.

But you know what else we had? A whole ton of Reference Books that no one had looked at in about 15 years. So I went through and made a list of all of them and emailed it to all of the faculty. If they wanted it retained, it moved either to the general collection with an In Library Use Only restriction on it or out of the catalog and into to their departmental offices. Everything else went away to a farm upstate.

This freed up a whopping 55 shelves.

Note: Make sure you warn your admin before you do this, because I think I almost gave my new principal a heart attack when he walked in with a visitor to find me tossing a thirty year old copy of The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians on the floor and beaming about all the empty shelves I’d created.

Step Three: Shift What You’re Working With

Said empty shelves I’d created are half obscured by a big study carrel that’s bolted to the floor, meaning popping all my newly stickered books there was just moving them from one place no one looked at them to a place they couldn’t be accessed. So it was time for a shift.

Our library has 11,000 volumes and we shifted every single one. This was dusty, dirty work and my shoulders ached for a week after it was done but it was so worth it. I spread out sections that had been packed to bursting, weeding more as I went.

In the end, the Biography section got shifted to where the Reference Books had been because a) students were more likely to look for a biography with someone already in mind and b) someone had to take that hit for the team and it was going to be Voltaire, sorry Voltaire.

Post shift, we had 36 empty shelves that were perfectly positioned for high-school eye-height browsing.

Step Four: Put Things in Their Place

I made lists in Destiny with the names of my assigned genres: FANTASY, HORROR, HISTORICAL FICTION, etc., pulled all the books from each genre and scanned the barcodes. The lists made the eventual reclassifying of Sublocations a super simple two-click process. It also gave me exact numbers per genre category and where they’d fit: the 40 romance titles could go in this corner shelf, the historical fiction with its 220 copies needed more space. This was the final stage for simplifying categories; my 20 Dystopian titles didn’t warrant their own shelf, so SCI-FI & DYSTOPIAN became one joint Sublocation and in went the books.

This process was a little trial and error-y, but once I started pulling copies and reshelving them it fell into place pretty quickly. The now vacant low shelves that are the wrong height for teenagers to know they exist were the perfect place for a middle grade collection I created for our 5-8th grade scholars program, with bonus shelves for our PD Collection, Alumni Books, and a whole case for rotating faculty/staff/student recommendations.

Step Five: Shift Again

Crap, we’re out of space. Shift the 000-100s back the other way. Ok, fine. Fine. It’s fine. No one’s gonna be mad that the 400s end in the middle of the shelf and the 500s immediately begin. Literally no one.*

*I’m still kind of mad but whatever.

Step Six: Signage

With books on shelves, it was time to let people know where they were. All hail the Cricut. I stuck the “N” in REALISTIC FICTION up the Friday before the Board Visit, thus completing our genrefying in a little under three months.

Now new books get stickered and filed during the cataloging process. When I eventually need more room I may do another shift, but for now, I have plenty of space and books are easily accessible and browsable.

Step Seven: Stats

In preparation for my State of the Library end of year report, I took a look at our stats the other day. And my fiction circulation has increased.

By 200% compared to the same period last year.

With the exception of our Course Reserves, Fiction is now the most popular category of things circulated in our library. I kept up the same things I’ve done before– weekly book recommendations on our website and regular displays in multiple places. The new recommendation book case has been a great addition and encouraging faculty and students to sponsor a shelf has been a lot of fun.

So. Was it a ton of work? Yes. Was I constantly having to stop tasks midway through to help one of my students do research or print or navigate being a teenager? Double yes. Am I incredibly glad I did it and didn’t wait to try and cram it in over a break? You bet your vintage DUE DATE stamps I am.

It’s increased circ, it’s made reshelving so much faster. Last week a kid picked up Looking for Alaska and came back two days later saying he had never read anything like that, asked what this kind of book was called and if we had any more of it.

And yes, we did. And this time I cried tears of joy into my bookmarks.

Using Beanstack to Foster a Culture of Reading

I’ve seen some queries about Beanstack come through the listserv recently, as well as calls for suggestions for building and sustaining a culture of reading, so I thought it might be helpful to share how my first year incorporating Beanstack into my programming has played out.

When I collected data for my annual report at the end of the last school year, I was disappointed to see just how much our circulation statistics had dropped. I wasn’t entirely surprised by this; a year spent teaching a new class took a lot of my time and attention away from my primary role as librarian. Still, the numbers were bleak. My reading program needed a shot of adrenaline.

Pulp Fiction, 1994, Miramax

I don’t recall the exact context, but I first heard of Beanstack when Courtney Lewis (the progenitor of so many great ideas) shared a pandemic-era memory through the listserv of students getting competitive while looking at publicized Beanstack statistics. Intrigued, I contacted a sales rep to learn more about how I could make the platform work for me. I liked the idea of a competitive element and public leaderboards. I also thought that Beanstack could replace the way our sixth-grade students track and share their progress as they complete their 20-book reading challenge, a long time collaboration between me and their English teacher. Beanstack would be expensive, but I was committed to prioritizing reading this year, so I found ways to cut other areas of my budget to make room for it.

Having learned what Beanstack could do, an idea for a year-long reading initiative began to take shape. I wanted to concentrate on roping in our upper school students, though middle school students and all faculty and staff would be invited to participate. To that end, I envisioned a series of reading challenges that might seem doable to busy high school students. I also liked the idea that each month would bring another chance to participate in a different way. I wanted readers to feel as though they could jump in and out of the program as their schedule and interest permitted. I thought about incentivizing participation through rewards. I considered offering rewards by class or advisory groups with the most participation but ultimately, I wanted to reward anyone who pushed themselves to participate, regardless of whether or not their peers were interested. I named this initiative “Year of the Reader” and began planning how to roll it out to my community.

SeptemberRead a Graphic Novel
OctoberRead a Featured Magazine Article
NovemberRead Yourself to Sleep
(for five nights in a row, phone on airplane mode)
DecemberListen to an Audiobook
JanuaryRead Traditional Literature
(mythology, folklore, fairytales, legends)
FebruaryRead a Memoir or Biography
MarchRead a Nonfiction Science Book
AprilRead a Poetry Collection
(or complete set of album lyrics)

First came the fun stuff. Designing a logo. Ordering swag (buttons and stickers). Planning the monthly challenges that would start off requiring less time and effort but then gradually grow more challenging. Creating digital badges for each challenge (Beanstack has several pre-made badges to choose from, but you can design and upload your own). I decided on eight monthly challenges beginning in September and ending in April.

Next came the pitch. This was the tricky part. How do you convince busy high school students that they should get excited about something that they don’t think they have time for? I requested some time at upper school assembly to introduce the Year of the Reader. The theme of the presentation was remembering what we love about reading. I first acknowledged the students who already had robust reading habits. To those students who weren’t willing to admit that they ever loved reading, I could at least get them to admit that we all love stories. Being read to. Watching movies and TV shows. Gossip and drama. Our ability to make up stories, share them with others, and believe in them together is what sets us apart as a species. It’s our human superpower. That was the big idea, followed by a sampling of the benefits that research tells us we get from reading for pleasure – academic, emotional, and physical.

My colleague, Kate Turnbull, the mother of a member of our senior class, had the brilliant idea of soliciting parents of the Class of 2024 for childhood pictures of their kids reading or being read to. Before revealing the first reading challenge, we introduced a game called “Guess the Reader,” putting up the pictures and seeing how long it took to identify the young seniors (this game would become a month feature at assembly each time we announced a new challenge). We dedicated the Year of the Reader to the Class of 2024, a graduation gift they didn’t ask for, and challenged them to lead the way. Kate and I were even able to convince the cheerleaders to close out the assembly with a special cheer about reading.

With that, the Year of the Reader began. The September challenge was to read a graphic novel, something we knew most kids would see as an easy win. To unlock the badge, students had to log in to Beanstack and answer three simple questions: What was the title? What was it about? What was your favorite thing about the book? (the questions changed depending on the challenge, but there were always three and always this simple). I frequently ran reports to see which students unlocked their badges and then posted their names on leaderboards that were broadcast on monitors across campus – the library, the dining hall, the gym, and so on. The leaderboards were updated frequently. When it felt like participation was flagging, I’d email updates to students to stoke competition. Although each individual on the leaderboard would receive the reward, ice cream for this first challenge, it was surprisingly effective to pit one class against another to drum up participation. Pointing out that the freshmen were walloping the seniors had the desired effect of bringing the Class of 2024 into the library to defend their collective honor. At the end of the month, we’d come back to upper school assembly to project the final leaderboards, congratulate the “winning” class, and announce the next month’s challenge.

Library displays were designed to support the monthly challenge. I invited English teachers to bring their classes in to browse displays and find something to satisfy the challenge. The books didn’t have to come from our library, but proximity goes a long way and it was great to see circulation boosts in sections of our library that don’t usually get a lot of traffic – the 500s, folklore, memoir, poetry. The challenges also directed people to library resources that are often forgotten or ignored, such as magazine articles in Flipster or audiobooks in Sora. I made it clear to upper school students that checking out books intended for middle school students was perfectly fine. The objective was to find something enjoyable to read that would work for their schedules. If that meant grabbing a volume of Scientists in the Field or revisiting Rick Riordan, have at it. Some students were happy to take that route. Others wanted to challenge themselves. There was no wrong way to participate. The point was to have fun with reading and to do it together.

The Year of the Reader is now coming to an end, and I’m pleased with the results. Between middle school, upper school, faculty, and staff, we had 294 participants. That number represents about 65% of our middle school students and 52% of our upper school students. 69%  of all participants completed more than one challenge and 35% completed half or more of the eight challenges. I was also thrilled to see that compared to this time last year, circulation saw a 65% increase. Harder to measure but just as satisfying, it was great to see students and teachers talking to each other about the reading challenges. Carving out time at monthly assemblies to celebrate the joy of reading increased our visibility. And watching groups of upper school students huddled around piles graphic novels, folklore collections, and poetry books as if they were kids again was probably the most rewarding part of my year.

Do you need Beanstack to make something like this work? Probably not. You could pull it off with Google Forms and a little gumption. But the Beanstack platform made things a lot easier for me. There are several report options that helped me keep track of participation throughout the year. I was surprised how many people were motivated by unlocking the digital badges throughout the year, especially teachers and staff. There is a social element within the platform that can be activated or turned off, allowing students to see what others are reading and find new recommendations. For our sixth graders, Beanstack made reading logs a lot less tedious.

Beanstack and the Year of the Reader helped me generate a lot of enthusiasm for reading this year. It was the shot of adrenaline we needed. Today I returned to the upper school assembly to share some of the data I’ve shared with you in this post. I thanked everyone for participating before the big reveal, which is that every year, of course, is the year of the reader. The name and logo may be retiring, but we need to take what we’ve learned from and loved about the different reading challenges and carry them with us into the future. I have the summer to think of how to maintain the momentum.

In the meantime, please share what is working for you! Erinn Salge hosted a Zoom meetup last month about creating a reading culture at our schools, and several librarians shared fantastic ideas. Join us next time and keep the suggestions coming!

Our First High School Book Fair

Every fall, when we do our big middle school book fair, my high school students tell me fondly of how much they loved the book fair and ask me why we don’t have one in the high school. The reason for that, of course, is that none of the big book fair companies offer a high school option and I was worried that working with an indie bookstore would require a lot more work on my end (let’s face it – Scholastic makes it pretty easy). When our on-campus bookstore decided it wasn’t going to purchase summer reading books for students, I decided it was the perfect time to try it out. My friend at our local indie was totally game, and it turned out she had just attended a bookseller conference session about how to do book fairs with schools! We did 3 days in the middle school at the beginning of the week then finished the week in the high school. My goal was to get students excited about books and reading before school ended in May and also have a convenient option for families to buy summer reading books.

Prep and set up was really easy. We made a list of titles that we knew students would like or listed genre-type things like “realistic fiction graphic novels,” “Karen McManus-style mysteries,” “romances like Caraval or The Selection.” Over a few days, we went back and forth with the store adding things to the list and changing up titles as needed, and we ended up with a list of 35-40 different titles for each division. I opted for a variety of titles with a few copies of each, rather than tons of copies of just a few books, to give our students lots of options. I also knew that we could easily order anything we ran out of and just deliver to students later. The bookstore ordered the books and set up a Square that we would use for checkouts during the fair. They also ordered some “treasures,” as Nicole so aptly described them a few weeks ago. I made a joke at one point about how we’d have fun pencils and bookmarks but nothing that smelled like chocolate, only for chocolate-scented erasers to show up – needless to say they were a hit. Once everything arrived, the bookstore rep brought everything to campus and we set up the books on a few tables, making levels with some display stands.

In addition to taking cash and card, we allow students to charge book fair purchases to their student accounts, which means a lot less handling of cash for all involved. In order to do this, we require students to have a form signed by a parent that gives them a budget they’re allowed to spend. All middle school students got a paper form to take home, high school students could grab a paper form in the library, and all parents in both divisions got an email with a link to an online form. We then keep a spreadsheet of purchases that we can turn into our business office and can pay the bookstore in one lump sum. The Square app that the bookstore set up allowed us to put students’ names in the purchase notes, so we could easily keep track of who purchased what, and the Square also made it really easy to pull a quick report and make sure our spreadsheet matched actual sales.

So how did it all work out? Our middle school fair was pretty par for the course – lots of traffic from 6th grade, less from 8th – but I did have one kid come back in the afternoon to say how much he was enjoying the book he bought that morning! For me, the high school was the really fun part. See, my fiction and narrative nonfiction books are in a “Reading Room” on the opposite side of the building from the Research Library where I spend most of my day, so I don’t often get a chance to have impromptu conversations about just-for-fun books with students. I loved being able to have these readers advisory conversations, and both students and teachers were excited to come shop for books. I had conveniently read most of the books on offer, so I was able to make lots of recommendations, and I had several students who would just sit and talk to me about what they’d been reading lately. We have a lot of discussions about how our students aren’t reading, and there are plenty that aren’t, but a lot still love it and just lack the time to read during the busy academic year. This was a nice reminder of that.

The only thing I would change is scheduling the fair during the high school field day. Our Research Library, where the fair was set up, is right off the football field, and my plan had been to be open during the field day powderpuff game as a nice break from being outdoors. However, it rained all day, the powederpuff game was postponed, and students were dismissed early, so I had very few visits that day. In a perfect world, I’d also move the fair to May, but that’s up to my business office and not me.

I loved working with our indie store, and we plan to make this an annual fair. It was so much easier than I was anticipating, and I left with all the warm fuzzy feelings, plus a few new books for the library. Have you worked with an indie bookstore for a book fair? How did it work for you, and what else would you recommend to those looking to try it out?

The End of Year Report: Lower School Edition

CC 2024 We Are Teachers

Who’s started the countdown?

I will raise my hand first. I have started the countdown to the last day. For some reason, this year just felt “extra.” Perhaps it was launching my youngest off to college last August and getting into a new routine? Perhaps it is the constant hum of crisis news? Perhaps it’s just me?

As I begin the countdown, I also am writing my EOY to do list:

  1. to inventory, or not to inventory
  2. last orders
  3. overdue notices and the lost book debate
  4. summer reading booklet off to communications office
  5. End of Year Library Report!

I admit, last year was the first year I created an end of year report in a fancy dancy form. Before 2023, it was simply a meeting with my campus head to share the ups and downs and wows from the school year, and what I look forward to for the next.

Last year, I decided I had the brainspace, time and need to create a fancy dancy version. Why? Budgets were up for reconsiderations #1. Heightened awareness of collection development #2. Student population had grown by A LOT #3. I had implemented some new collabs #4. I wanted to change my schedule to more of a hybrid model #5.

I created my end of year report in Canva. My thoughts:

  1. What do I want to communicate to my campus head?
  2. What do I want to highlight about my program?
  3. Everyone loves a graph or two.
  4. What did I want to celebrate in this report?
  5. How was I spending my instructional time?

Then to source data:

  1. My curriculum and programming
  2. My current schedule
  3. Destiny reports
  4. Database reports
  5. Anecdotal conversations
  6. My observations

Above is my 2023 Library Program Report. I served 238 students grades PK-5 with a collection of around 7,500 print books. It was a great visual to share with not only my campus head, but also other members of upper administration. Assisted with this information, I successfully negotiated a bump in my budget, as well as a hybrid schedule (future blog post!). Win-win!

I hope you are inspired to explore creating one for your library.

What would you be sure to include in your End of Year Library Report?