As a young child I loved reading by myself. I didn’t talk to other people about the books I read– I just plowed through piles of books. In fact, I challenged myself to read the entire Children’s collection at the Jefferson Market Library, a branch of the New York Public Library System. I completed the challenge without telling anyone about it except my favorite Fifth Grade teacher, Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith loved books, stories, and language the way I did. He often opened his lessons each morning with poems by Langston Hughes and Phillis Wheatley, asking us to “sit quietly with their words.”
When I became a Children’s Librarian in 2012, I was enmeshed in a delightful in-person and online communities of readers which included but was not limited to: librarians, booksellers, humanities educators, authors, agents, and publishers. I was a voracious user of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook primarily to share my love of reading and books, placing special emphasis on marginalized #ownvoices narratives for young readers.
Since I have a two-bus commute to my teaching position each day, there was ample time to post, re-post, and tweet. Through my engagement with the digital reading communities, I worked on refining and extending my school’s collection, developing new curricular and programming initiatives, and engaging with ideas and analyses that enriched me professionally and personally. I got off the bus each day inspired and ready to evangelize reading and books for everyone with whom I came into contact.
Jump cut to 2019 and I am an eager and grateful elected member of the John Newbery Book Award Committee. Books line every surface of my workspaces at home and at the school where I teach. I read in every spare moment between exercising, sleeping, teaching, and sharing meals with my family. There’s one problem, I am not allowed to talk about and/or post about any authors or books that could be considered for the award during 2019. Since the award is for readers ages 0 to 14– this includes picture books, elementary, middle grade, and young adult books.
During our initial Newbery committee meeting in January, members were told that we couldn’t appear to have any biases. When the lines of my browed furrowed, our Chair said gently, “Of course, if you can’t keep yourself from talking or posting, you don’t have to be on the committee.” And I nodded quickly and looked down deferentially. I said to myself, “Alpha, you can do this, you don’t have to share your reading practice on social media. You don’t have to share your reading practice with your fellow librarians or colleagues. You can be silent and just take notes–it’ll be okay.”
Now the reading by myself is hard, I want to shout the titles I love from the digital rooftops. I want other people to experience the joy of a new voice and a new story and I want to share in their experience as they share in mine. I am using Mr. Smith’s guidance as a mantra: “Just sit quietly with their words.” Mr. Smith, I am trying– I really am.
May is likely the last month in which you’ll be thinking about presenting at a conference. Inventory! Summer Reading! Eking out last bit of library energy! But it is a great time to begin your research for a professional opportunity to share your expertise.
Questions to ask
size conference am I most comfortable right now in my career?
what makes best sense?
this a good year for me to consider presenting? Why or why not?
I need a partner for some or all of this endeavor?
INDEPENDENT SCHOOL ORGANIZATION LEVEL
Independent school organizations around the
country sponsor conferences where our expertise would be greatly valued. A few
examples shared from AISL members:
A great place to start for a wider audience is
at your STATE SCHOOL LIBRARY ASSOCIATION. State conferences are to home and
also offer several types of presentation opportunities. Two examples AISL
members shared with me are:
Perhaps you’ve developed some cool reading
programming, or revamped your school’s One Book, One School program, or
collaborated on a science research unit? Here are two examples of places to
share collaborative library experiences:
Earlier in the year, the fourth grade worked on
their first research/media literacy project. We talked about how to find
information and that media contains messages, has a purpose, voices that are
heard and voices that aren’t heard. Below are my reflections during the
process. Looking back several months later I can think of few projects that
ignited such passion in the students that inspired the focused and high level
of work. Constantly through the process I had to remind myself that these were
fourth graders because of the level of work and the commitment to the project.
Here are the reflections in the moment:
“Wait, what do we need to know?” This is the question
that was shouted across the library as students gathered with urgency around a
computer. Normally yelling across the room makes me close my eyes and breathe
deeply, but this time I lit up with joy. This was the exact right question for
the group and the passion is something teachers dream of their students
bringing to their learning. The fourth grade was working on their first in
depth media literacy project. The parameters of the project are simple: each
class is split into two groups and given one side of a topic to research and
support. One class is debating the Philadelphia soda tax, one class is debating
bear hunting in Pennsylvania and one class is taking on Inuit whaling. The
groups must organize themselves, and their information. Students must find
a minimum of three facts to support their argument and the facts must come from
a reliable source, read they can’t simply say “I already know this.”
They must point to a reliable source, whether it be from a text or online. They
also must cite their source at the end of the project.
Some of the skills embedded in this project are how to:
create a good research question
get back on track
Below is a link to a short movie with snippets from some of the conversations students are having. In the first two videos students can be heard finding focusing questions to begin research. Students in the third video discuss using Wikipedia, and then make a face because they know they will have to find two other sources. After the video, students question if they are moving in the right direction. You can see the students sharing what they learned if they ever run into a bear, but is this relevant to their argument? In the final video students are extrapolating information about the effects of the soda tax in Philadelphia. They are forming arguments and asking questions based on what they are learning. Click here to see the video,
Director of Educational Technology and Libraries/Middle School Educational Technology Specialist
What school do you work at?
Landon School in Bethesda, MD.
Is your school day or boarding? What grades do you serve?
Day School; 3-12
How many other people are on the library staff at your school? What are their titles?
3 librarians – staffing in each division – Lower 1 Library Media Specialist (both ed tech and librarian) + a part-time aid; middle – 1 full time librarian = Middle School Librarian, and where I am (Director of Educational Technology and Libraries) and Upper School with an Upper School Librarian and a part-time aid
What does a typical day look like for you?
Teaching a Foundations class to 6th grade on research, digital, information, and media literacy, lots of individual student help at recess, study hall and in between classes, readers round table at lunch (students sharing recently read books), meetings with administrators, students, colleagues about plans for projects, changes in curriculum, changes in computer plans, and then I coach tennis.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a school librarian?
Our biggest challenge is getting into the classroom to work with teachers as they create project, begin units to weave our lessons into the content areas for authentic use of skills and habits we seek to instill.
What is the last book you read? Would you recommend it?
As we get closer to exams, I had a Game Day event in the library during both the middle school and upper school lunches to help the students blow off some steam. I made sure we had a large and diverse selection of games such as Connect 4, Mancala, Scrabble, Sorry, Clue, Trouble, Battleship, Apples to Apples, Dominoes, Twister, Blokus, and Operation. I would classify these as “retro” since most of the students had not played these games “in years,” and a few were not familiar with them at all. Perhaps the most important component of this experiment was prohibiting the use of cell phones and computers during lunch. As you can imagine, this provided the most angst with the students.
The reasoning behind providing an “unplugged” opportunity for students began with observation. Anyone who spends any time with kids cannot deny the almost umbilical connection most kids have with their smartphones, laptops, social media, etc. In many cases, this leads to a desocialization of kids from each other as they communicate via games, apps, and/or social media like Snapchat and Instagram. The irony is that many of these kids feel they are being social with their peers by using these apps. Our goal was to promote face-to-face interaction between the students and get them to think and strategize in different ways.
The atmosphere in the library during Game Day was lively and, as more than one student told me, fun. The students appreciated having another way to interact with their friends and fellow classmates, as well as playing games that they had not played since early childhood. Some faculty and staff from all departments turned up to help, and in many cases, play games with the students as well. There were many instances that led to Throwback Tuesday being deemed a success, but I wanted to share my top three:
A student looked up at me from an intense game of Sorry! and said, “I didn’t realize there were games I could play that weren’t on my phone!”
Days later students asked me if they could play specific games again.
I had a student thank me for making the library such a fun place!
Getting kids who don’t normally come to the library to try it out was phenomenal. That, in my book, is a success, and one we hope to replicate at least once a semester.
If you would like to follow our fun in the library on Twitter, check out the hashtags #TPSlibrary and #TPSreads.
This has been a big year of moving and changing for me…not only did the entire book collection need to be weeded in half, the library and the makerspace moved in the middle of the year.
So the beginning of the year, my Monday Maker Club had access to the three 3D printers, lots of wood, styrofoam,and tons of cardboard in every shape and size. One student actually made her own pin ball machine, complete with a spring that worked! Several of the boys designed their own swords and shields.They used hand drills to create their masterpieces and from the photos below you can see they were very inventive, indeed.
We had a sink and a microwave so lots of time was spent mixing and making slime, which was always a big choice. All their projects could be left in the makerspace from week to week until they finished since it was a designated space with an area for storage. I also had a huge walk in closet to store all my materials in addition to my own office complete with three book cases and 4 file cabinets. I was in my glory and did not even know it….until the BIG MOVE!!!
OMG….then it was March and I found myself sharing a closet which was to be a shared office space for me and the tech teacher, along with storage for all my maker supplies, teacher supplies, and media specialst supplies. There would be room for only 1 file cabinet….and I was purging like a crazy woman for sure! Not only that area was smaller, there would be no room for any wood or cardboard and the 3D printers were being replaced with a new one. There would be a sink, but no microwave. The makerspace was actually to be shared with the tech person since it also served as her classroom. This was not the ideal situation for storing any projects from my maker club students….so a new approach had to be taken. Students did not have access to as many materiels and needed to bring “big projects” home if they were not done, since we had no storage for them. It seemed to be quite a dilemma, indeed! How could I run a “maker club” if there was not enough materials for the students to “make.”
Instead of using a 3D printer, students started using the 3D doodler pens I had.They got quite creative and from the photos below they really endulged themselves with perfecting their creations.
Dogs, rabbits, fish, and birds were being created and learning trouble shooting skills when the pens did not work correctly was a life long lesson of perserverance. Perler beads were taken out of the cabinets and students designed new items. Model magic was used to design scenic pictures as well as crafty items. Clothes pins were being taken apart and added to frames for Mother’s Day gifts. Everyone seemed excited to endulge themselves in their work independently and cooperative learning was also evident.
I was so worried there would be too many restrictions in my new space for the students to enjoy being in the club and doing things differently. I was the one surprised when the last session approached and one of the students made a beautiful doggy tissue holder with a conversation bubble stating: “Always be Happy”. After I complimented her on her creation and took her picture holding it, she held it up to me and said, “This is for your desk. I made it for you.”
“Magical moments” can happen… just try to open your minds and hearts to embrace “change”…I am still learning.
This post is part of the new blog series “Get to know AISL librarians.” We’d love to start a conversation about the similarities and differences between each of our libraries.
What is your job title?
Director of Information & Innovation, Library Division
What school do you work at?
The Madeira School in McLean, VA.
Is your school day or boarding? What grades do you serve?
Day & Boarding School; 9th-12th grades
How many other people are on the library staff at your school? What are their titles?
In addition to me (a 12 month employee in charge of the archives and library), I have another school year librarian and a part time (mostly weekend) library assistant.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Madeira follows a module system with classes changing every five weeks so depending on the mod, I may be teaching a class one block a day or it may be a mod where we only assist with our student life classes. We usually have classes in for library instruction about twice per week over the course of a mod. Of course these could be clustered at the beginning or the end of the mod depending on when the teacher releases an assignment. Additionally, I attend calendar meetings as I’m in charge of our school-wide room booking software (a technology portion of my job), department head meetings, dorm adult meetings (I’m a campus resident and work in a dormitory) plus other committee meetings as needed. The other librarian and I attempt to touch base once a day to coordinate what we’re working on and with what teachers we’re collaborating. Because I’m also in charge of the archives, I’m usually attending to research requests (internal and external) at least once a week. I tend to cluster that work into a few hours once a week (when our other librarian is in the library) since it entails time in the archives space and makes me less accessible to the community. And then there’s the email ;-). It is a constant throughout the day.
What is the biggest challenge you face as a school librarian?
Collaboration with teachers is my biggest challenge. I have buy in from one or sometimes two teachers in an academic department and working with those folks is a pleasure. Often one of us will approach the other with an idea about how to teach something and we’ll work together on how to bring the students on board and what resources we can use from the library perspective. But other than those handful of teachers, many teachers book the space in the library, but don’t ask the librarians for any instruction. And there are the teachers who just don’t utilize the library or the librarians at all. Honestly, the middle group is the most frustrating because they are in our space and blindly ignoring how we could help their students. We end up having to help students, but some are unsure if they can ask for help because the teacher hasn’t brought us into the process. But we’re always trying new approaches with those folks to make sure they know that we would like to partner with them to make the learning as enriched as possible.
What is the last book you read? Would you recommend it?
I’m in the middle of many books, but right now I’m actively reading My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. Biographies are one of my favorites and this is not disappointing.
Would you like to be featured in Get to know an AISL librarian?
When I worked in the children’s room of a public library, picture books were some of our biggest movers. Adults and children would come in and take out armfuls, anticipating times spent reading together or looking through the pictures, telling stories of their own making. I hoped for some of the same circulation numbers when I became a school librarian. In my fantasy, students in the lower elementary grades would come in and beg to take home more picture books – or come in during free time and swap out the books they just got a few days before. Well, I’m not sure what it’s like in your elementary libraries – but that scenario has not happened in mine. Yet.
I was chatting with a fellow school librarian recently and picture book circulation came up. “Do your picture books circulate?” I asked. “Not much” she answered. “Mostly teachers?” “Yes,” she replied, “and few with the popular characters like Fancy Nancy or Pete the Cat.” “Sigh”. “Sigh”. That conversation replays in mind constantly. There are times when I wonder if I’m just not choosing the right books for my audience. Maybe I should require the PreKs and Kindergarten to only get picture books – after all, those books are made for them! Not only can they be used for pre-literacy and literacy activities, the stories are created explicitly FOR their enjoyment.
What to do? What to do? “Sigh? Sigh.” Following are some ideas to possibly help make those picture books move. Granted, picture books may never circulate like they do in public library – AND IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. Most school libraries are missing the second half of the dyad – the parent or guardian or babysitter that takes the child to the public library in the first place. It just makes our job ‘more challenging’ as we get those picture books to move.
Do a thorough weeding Are your shelves stuffed? Do not underestimate the power of a good weed. Be heartless. If it hasn’t moved much in 10-15 years, it probably isn’t going to move next Get rid of anything worn. Put the worn or dated books that circulate on a list to repurchase (unless the last time it circulated was five years ago). If it bothers you to weed, take a note from Maria Kondo, thank the book for its service and let it go. Depending on your school policy, you could offer teachers first choice then put the rest in a ‘free book’ cart for students and/or find a local library or charity to benefit from your largess. If your shelves look crammed and full, students aren’t enticed to browse for that perfect picture book.
Explicitly teach that displays are for students Have you ever set up a book display with the purpose to create circulation on some items and have students ask permission to take a book? I have. Now I make sure that I mention during library time that displays are for taking. If you have some displays that need to have books stay and some that allow circulation, it may help to let students know which ones they can take books from or offer to place a hold on a book that needs to stay in your library for a while.
Offer read alikes for picture books If your story time has a theme or an author focus, make sure students know of picture books that share the same theme or author. I would often put up a small floor display by my reading chair of read alikes or an author’s other works, allowing students to look at them during book choosing time.
Partially ‘genrefy’ your picture book collection While my inner feminist bristled whenever a girl asked me for a princess book, (“wouldn’t you like this one about a female astronaut instead?”), it’s hard to fight the power of the pink. Whether it’s just the holidays, or princesses, or firefighters, using spine labels or separate locations may help those picture books circulation more.
Extend circulation to parents Again, this is up to your school’s policies, but parents are the ones gathering the picture books in the public library. Whether you stay open a little later or earlier a few days a week, advertising to parents that they can grab picture books while they’re waiting may help with circulation numbers and provide a needed service to time strapped parents.
Provide a box of books to classroom Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is. Sutton’s law can also apply to the classroom. Most students only go to the library with their class. While that’s all well and good, their chosen books tend to go home. What if you had a box of books that live in the classroom rotating the selections every few weeks? Not only are you getting some of your picture books to see the light of the classroom, you may be helping a stressed out teacher find something for a child to do when they have finished an assignment early. Granted, some teachers may want nothing to do with this, but I’m sure you can find a few that would be willing to try this with you. Especially if you try to match the books with curricular themes.
Now I’m looking for your input. What are some of the ways you’ve helped increase the circulation of picture books? Let’s get these books where they belong…in the hands of the students!
In one of my favorite chapters from Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things, a kid from his neighborhood has hidden so well in a game of hide-and-seek that he’s still under Fulgham’s window long after the other kids have been found and are just about ready to give up on him. Fulgham, in his wisdom, leans out the window and yells, “GET FOUND, KID!” Sage advice.
This year, in my position as research librarian at the John Gray Park ’28 Library at Kent School, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of helping students find the information they need and what contributes to a successful learning experience. How we organize and provide access to our resources can make the difference between our students developing into independent learners and those who constantly need us to navigate the process for them. There is a fine line between an appropriate amount of struggle that leads to a successful learning experience and an overwhelming amount that can frustrate and ultimately hinder the learning process. There probably isn’t a quick and easy solution to this challenge, but I do know our resources shouldn’t be hidden so well our students give up trying to find them. Seems like someone needs to yell, “GET FOUND, KID!” to our digital resources.
The Library Brand
I was fortunate to be able to attend this year’s AISL Conference in Boston, which meant I got to visit a number of other school libraries – something I love to do, but rarely have the time because I’m, well, working in a school library. Even though each library we visited was unique, they all could be identified by what I think of as the “library brand.” The library brand’s superpowers can be credited with creating a sense of place and helping users find what they need. As librarians, we’re pretty adept at marketing that brand. We post our hours so everyone knows when we’re open. Our circulation desks are staffed with friendly librarians. Book groups, displays, reviews, and booktalks are just a few of the ways we encourage reading. We offer a variety of seating ranging from traditional library tables to comfy chairs with ottomans, and group study rooms if we’re fortunate enough to have the space. Letting our community know what’s available just makes good sense. We want to be found—and it works!
At Kent, our library has a steady flow of students throughout the day and into the evening. Our circulation spikes when we send emails about new additions to our collection. Our group study rooms are at full capacity during evening study hall. Close to 100 students participated in our most recent Poetry Month event, which we advertised with posters, emails, and on Instagram and Twitter. Getting found is a win-win situation for everyone involved.
Reordering of Ranganathan’s Five Laws
Regardless of how many hours we’re open, our doors eventually have to close. I recently re-read “Reordering Ranganathan: Shifting User Behaviours, Shifting Priorities” by Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D. and Ixchel M. Faniel, Ph.D. Although the article was published in 2015, I still find it relevant in the way they have reinterpreted Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science for the digital age. Connaway and Faniel’s take on the Five Laws are user-focused yet also incorporate a systems approach to resource delivery. In place of solely addressing how to get a book into the hands of the individual user, their chart incorporates access to digital as well as print resources for each of the original concepts by recommending you analyze your community needs, know your users well enough to understand how they access information, create or use platforms to curate resources, and finally, make sure those resources get found by the users.
My main takeaway from this article?The library is still a growing organism and if you want all of your resources to be discoverable and accessible, in other words, to “get found,” you’ll need a digital presence that is as well-defined and user-friendly as your physical space.
Your Website: A Portal to Your Digital Resources
If your library is like ours, you subscribe to a significant number of databases and digital resources to support scholarly inquiry and prepare your students for the rigor of college-level research. Regardless of the type of resources you offer, whether it’s eBooks, streaming videos, databases, or a content management system like LibGuides, your students, faculty and staff can’t use those resources if they can’t readily find them, or worse, don’t even know they exist. How many of us, at one time or another, have lamented our database usage statistics come renewal time and wonder what can be done to increase their use and justify their expense? Return on investment is always on our minds this time of year. Check out David Wee’s March 24th post, “on databases that spark joy (and some that don’t) …” and see how he’s trying to make sure his library’s get found – his ideas might help as you evaluate your own databases.
Your Web Presence
Today, your library’s presence on the web is as important as its physical one, and if you’re like most librarians, it’s probably up to you to design and promote it in much the same way you promote and market your physical space. You see when your library is being used, books checked out, research support accepted. It’s more difficult to tell if you’re hitting the mark with digital resources. Are the members of your community aware of the library resources available to them 24/7 from their home or dorm room? If a faculty needs an article to support a lesson, does she know where to find your databases? If a student needs a book for class tomorrow, does he know how to find your OPAC and place the book on hold? Same for citing sources for a paper due first period. Will your students know where to find your citation guide?
If you want to make sure your digital resources are found, it’s important to focus on access and get the design of your website right. You don’t want your resources hidden behind a myriad of clicks and language only another librarian would understand (I’m looking at you discoverable and accessible). Much like the players in that game of hide-and-seek who scatter when they hide, databases and electronic resources are “hidden” across the internet on their own sites, so users need us to create a portal through which those resources can be found.
So Where Do You Start?
Whether you currently have a library website you’re happy with, are looking to update your site to increase its usability, or are starting from scratch, the steps to design a user-friendly site follow the same process. In my next blog post, I’ll walk through the five steps to follow when creating or updating a library website or portal keeping usability and user experience (UX) foremost in your planning and implementation.
“What do you all think of hosting an AISL conference in two years?” When Steph and Dave proposed this at our local Boston Consortium meeting I was all about it. Why not? It would be a great experience, I would learn a lot, I would meet more people working in local schools–at that point, I’d only been in the Boston area for 3 years and opportunities for networking had been limited to conferences that catered to public school libraries. At that point, two years seemed like eons away– we had plenty of time! First, though, I would have to join AISL, also it would help if I knew what these AISL conferences were all about. I was very thankful to receive the 2018 Conference Scholarship which allowed me to attend the Atlanta conference in 2018, an experience for which I am immensely grateful, not only because it enabled me to see how the conference worked logistically, but in sessions I attended, schools visited and in particular the other librarians I spoke with, I truly saw the value of AISL as an institution and the importance of this conference as a professional.
Two years, as it turns out, is not that much time. Or, rather, it is plenty of time but everything seems to condense into one chaotic mass of logistical confusion the closer the conference date looms. Sponsorships add, then drop, locations move due to construction and communication gets fuzzy at points while I tried to balance running my own library, my own personal life, and trying to make good on the commitment I made to the conference committee. So what did I learn from all of this?
Shonda Rhimes had the “Year of Yes”, but this was my “Year of No”. Saying yes to planning this conference meant I had to graciously say “no” more at work, which goes against my usual impulse to take on way too much and say yes to everything. Ultimately, rather than offending my colleagues and my administrators, I found that by saying “no” to a few big asks, they now have more respect for my time and my professional opinion. It was a risk and a tricky balance to strike but had a worthwhile outcome.
How much I appreciate my colleagues. My two colleagues, Marie and Lu, were hugely supportive of my participation on the host committee and did all of the work in hosting the conference at our library at The Fessenden School. I feel very lucky to work on a “team” that has different interests and goals but can come together to make something like that happen.
The importance of making connections. By far the most valuable element of these conferences is the networking that happens in those in between times, the bus rides, the Dinner With a Librarian, (the waiting endlessly for busses). It is so refreshing to speak candidly with other independent school librarians who are willing to talk shop, not just about what they’re doing well, but what they are struggling with in their work. Working with the Boston 2019 committee also allowed allowed me to forge friendships and connections with local librarians that I may not have connected with otherwise.
Nurture your inner introvert. A few of you AISL veterans mentioned this at different points, but it was crucial for me during the “go,go,go” of the conference to set aside a few minutes to myself to “woosahhh” a little bit. In a bus full of INFJ personality types we need to remember that most of us are just pretending we’re extroverts.
Never trust your bus company. Enough said about that.
Overall, what an amazing experience and opportunity. A big thank you to the AISL board for the opportunity to attend Atlanta in 2018 and a huge thank you to Steph, Dave, and the rest of the Boston planning committee. I’m looking forward to next year in Houston!