Vision to Reality Grant: A Collaborative Mosaic

This is a guest post by  Maria Falgoust and Eli Hetko

All the hard work that went into making the mosaic really paid off!

In 2019, ISB Head Librarian Maria Falgoust won AISL’s “Vision to Reality” award. The award’s purpose was to dream up a project “to bring visibility to your library, and help you make your vision a reality”. At ISB, our ultimate goal was to collaborate with students and community members to create a an eye-catching mosaic to celebrating literacy that would draw visitors to the International School of Brooklyn’s library.

In the fall, Maria met with members of the art department and an artistic library committee co-chair to sketch out a plan for the project. Our team of collaborators excitedly agreed to host a school-wide design contest, and determined all the associated logistics (contest guidelines, communications, timelines, etc.).

In mid-December 2019, the Library launched the project by announcing a contest seeking design ideas for a beautiful mosaic that would direct people to the library, express the love of the library and multilingual literacy. We opened the contest to students in 3rd through 8th grades and dozens of entrants took part in the contest. Maria and Eli announced the contest in our library classes and the Booklets, our middle school library club, promoted it by making advisor announcements and hanging posters throughout the school.

Students submitted dozens of sketches, including this imaginative composition

A panel of judges, consisting of an art teacher, a design teacher, a parent Library Committee member, a senior administrator, a middle school student, and Maria evaluated the sketches for creativity of design, legibility, and feasibility. The pool of submissions was so strong that the judges decided to incorporate elements from four different images into a final product. The winning designs were unveiled via slide-show at a lower school assembly, which also showcased all the impressive entries.  The winners were awarded a gift certificate from a local, independent bookstore. The winning entries incorporated the words “welcome,” “bienvenue” and “bienvenidos” with our school mascot (a dragon!) and an open book.

The judges(Kent, Maria and Carolina) evaluate sketches entered into the mosaic design contest

Winning designs and runners-up were announced by Carolina during a Lower School assembly

Beginning in late January, Maria, an art teacher, parent volunteers, and a mix of student volunteers from grades 3-8, met in the art room after school to work on the mosaic. Steps in the mosaic-making process were carefully demonstrated and carried out. First, students mixed paints and painted ceramic tiles according to the color scheme of the design. Next, tiles were glazed and fired by the art teacher. The following week, the vibrant tiles were smashed into smaller, asymmetrical pieces: this was an exhilarating part of the process for most of the students who were decked out with safety goggles courtesy of our science department! During the following sessions, the pieces were sorted by color, then divided into sections to create a large-scale rendering of the design. It was similar to a puzzle – a fun challenge! 

Students worked together on every step of assembling the mosaic

We were on target to complete our mosaic the week all NYC schools were shut down. Nevertheless, Maria and Kent were determined to see the project through and have it installed by the first day of school to serve as a bright spot in the strangest school year in decades. To complete the final touch, Kent grouted the tiles inside a custom-made wooden frame he built before expertly installing the mosaic right in the nick of time!

It was fun preparing the materials!

Ultimately, the mosaic turned out to be as much about the process as it was about the product. It was truly a community effort and labor of love. Students and library staff worked diligently throughout every stage of the process and had a lot of fun along the way. ISB Parent Kent Matricardi and art teacher Carolina Bermudez’s hard work, artistic expertise, and skill were fundamental to the success of the project.

A demonstration of how to paint ceramic tiles

Carolina guides the students while Joe Santos, the Head of School pops by to see the action.

After painting, firing, and smashing, the tile fragments were ready for assembly

When asked for their impressions about the mosaic, students said:

  • Maelie: “I think the mosaic will be a really nice addition to the library, and it will make more people come in because it will be so beautiful and welcoming”
  • Leana: “It will make people think that the Learning Commons is a great place to go for reading and studying”
  • Emma: “I enjoyed painting the tiles and putting together the mosaic”

Our mosaic project was a fantastic experience as it brought students from various grade levels together to work towards a common goal. As a librarian, it was a fulfilling experience to collaborate with members of the community and such fun to work with students outside of the library! Thank you, AISL for the opportunity to bring our dream to fruition. It will bring joy and inspiration for many years to come.

Mosaic in Progress

Students worked together on every step of assembling the mosaic.

Proud to Be a Book Pusher!

Written by Patricia DeWinter, Head Librarian at The OakRidge School

I am Head Librarian at a preschool through 12th grade school and always looking for creative ways to feature new books and must reads.  I want to make it as simple and enjoyable as possible for students to find the perfect read. I also want to make the space appealing and welcoming so that they want to come back again and again.

Two summers ago I “genrefied” our middle school fiction collection, but not all of it.  Middle school, grades 5- 8, is my biggest group, with overlapping students in grades 3 – 8 reading at this level, depending on the patron.  I created a “Best Of” display area filled with books and series that have been consistent wins with past and present readers. Categories include Humor, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Scary, Realistic Fiction, Adventure, Sports, Graphic Novels and Mystery.  Student aides helped me move and label all the books (labels came from Demco) and edit records in the catalog.  I have as many books/series as possible facing book cover out, and the rest are alphabetized.

How did I choose which books to feature and which to leave on the shelves?  I did not put Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, and Rick Riordan books in the mix because the students who read these books find them.  I chose books that circulate often, get regular positive feedback from my readers, and/or I really loved. These are the books I want to keep in patron view at all times, and right at my fingertips too when students request recommendations.  When students come in looking for read -alikes – they know where to go whether it’s finding something similar to the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths or Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  It’s really satisfying for me when a student walks purposefully over to the Humor shelves and after browsing for a bit finds the perfect read.  I also hear a lot of conversations between patrons sharing recommendations. It’s a huge time saver for me which is great since I manage so many grade levels. 

Our library also has a display area for new books, and a Read box.  The new books and Read box include books I am really pushing, and I don’t want to shelve them. Either I need student feedback because the book is hot off the press, or it’s a book that doesn’t circulate, but I am certain will find its audience if I display it front and center.  I’ve determined that often shelved fiction books are overlooked books – though I do peruse the shelves regularly to locate forgotten gems and series that haven’t been moving.

We also have a First to Read Shelf. Students choose a book that hasn’t been read before, if they finish it they get a “First to Read” sticker placed inside the book with their name.  That sticker goes a long way in encouraging many readers to try a new book.  I always ask students if they liked a book they are returning, especially if it’s new to our library.

I’ve also genrefied the teen section, and I am working on lower school displays.  Currently I use a lot of bins, tubs and wire racks to ensure that books for lower school students (grades 1-4) are accessible. I also place multi volume middle school series in tubs to save shelf space.  My students catch on very quickly, navigate the library displays well, and circulation is up so I feel like the system is working.

I try to change out a holiday display table by season or theme.  Currently it’s scary reads, and next month I’ll focus on gratitude.

I pilfer ideas from bookstores, other public and private librarians and would love to hear your best book display ideas.

Get to know: Laurie Sears

What is your job title?

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?

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

Would you like to be featured in Get to know an AISL librarian? Fill out this form!

Get to know: Rebecca Brooks

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?

Fill out this form!

The Care and Keeping of Student Book Clubs

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

Here’s how we do it:

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

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

Are magazines and newspapers still relevant?

Like many of you, I’ve been struggling to anticipate and react to changing landscape of reading.

Students at my school prefer to read for fun in print but prefer to research digitally. Our adult community prefers the opposite. Since we are a boarding school located in a location without a strong public library system, we have worked hard to provide access to both print and digital books.  This has meant a focus on collecting eBooks and audiobooks that we know will appeal to our adult community with some student overlap, and collecting lots of YA in print.

This is all well and good for our book collection, but what does this changing landscape mean for magazines?

When I asked the rest of the staff to come up with a list of five they’d seen used, some found it difficult to get to five. I think that is very telling. Though we currently have 91 print magazines, only a handful get used on a regular basis.

Though the magazines look nice and we have purpose-built shelves for them, should we still spend a lot of our budget on them? We’ve been wrestling with this question over the past week or so and here are some steps we are taking:

  • As a staff we sat down and looked at the subscriptions and their usage. We came up with quite a few to stop receiving.
  • We cross-referenced our EBSCO subscription price with other vendors and found a way to save a significant amount
  • We’ve developed a list of magazines that we will promote in different ways and another list of those that might be of interest in the dorms.

But all of this still feels like a stop-gap on the way to the inevitable downfall of print magazines in our community.  Are you experiencing the same usage downturn? Do you have particular magazines that students love to read? How do you promote magazines in your library?

The Place for Fandom: Celebrating Star Wars Day in the Library


Last week was Star Wars day – May the Fourth be with you!

Getting more involved in fandom is a great way to connect to our school community, but it can be difficult when we don’t get to do a lot of outside-the-school- day programming. One of my fellow Mercersburg Academy librarians, Suzanne Taylor, put together a great range of activities related to Star Wars.

The best equation for programming seems to be: food + giveaway + books + decorations + contest



Suzanne found these great silicone ice molds that I used to make chocolate in the shape of Star Wars things. I used candy melts from JoAnn that we had leftover from our Harry Potter celebration. They are on sale frequently at JoAnns and there is always a coupon.


Suzanne found these great downloadable bookmarks (download here) that we printed out and cut to size.


A few short trivia questions were printed on small cards and then students were asked to answer the questions for a chance to win one of two prizes. The prizes were a coloring book and a notebook!


Suzanne made several posters, digital display slides and foldable characters. If you’d like a copy of the posters or displays, I’m happy to share via email!

Book display

We put all of our Star Wars books and some of the DVDs on our short stand display. Students were surprised to note that we had so many! These books are often lost in our graphic novel section so it was a great opportunity to trot them out.


Have you done a fandom themed day in your library?



The Magic of Library Programming



A few years ago we started running “big bookish events” here at Mercersburg.  They offer us the opportunity to step out of our research shoes and into our fandom shoes. Our events have been a huge hit with our community and after holding our third annual event, I wanted to share a few tips and tricks I’ve gathered along the way.

  1. Know your why. We love hosting big events on campus because it is an excellent marketing vehicle. Students who aren’t motivated to sign up for book club are much more likely to attend “An Evening at Hogwarts.” These same students see their friendly librarians having fun and are now less afraid to come ask us questions.
  2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. The first big bookish event was just a Harry Potter themed dinner with a few short student-run skits. The next year we upped the ante by adding a dance to the dinner and did a Gatsby themed “Flappers and Fitzgerald.” This year we built on our Harry Potter event, expanding it to include classes. Students came in, were sorted, ate dinner in the “Great Hall” and then attended Potions, History of Magic, and Divination. Had we tried to do classes the first year, without trying dinner and an all-in-one activity first, we wouldn’t have succeeded. Building on the event each time, rather than trying to do everything the first time, makes it much more manageable.
  3. Leverage your faculty. Putting on an event for 140+ students takes a lot of man-power. Find the faculty who love the book/fandom as much as you do and put them to work! We had the theater department hang the floating candles, members of the history and math departments teaching History of Magic (trivia) and Potions (slime making).
  4. Listen to your students. After every event, I survey the students about what worked, what didn’t, and what they’d like for next time. While it can be hard to hear that they didn’t enjoy the Photo Booth that took hours to set up or wanted even more interactive activities, it helps inform events going forward.

Have you hosted a big bookish event? If you haven’t, what theme would you choose?

Prepping for Exam Week in the Library

We’ve just had fall term exams at Mercersburg Academy and I wanted to share a few things that we did to help kids relieve stress. As a boarding school, students are able to come in to the library during the evenings for study hall between 7:00pm and 10:00pm. This makes it even more important to have stress outlets!
Stop. Puzzle Time!
We put a 1000 piece puzzle behind the circulation desk and let the kids go crazy! We had students stopping by Sunday-Wednesday and a few who were determined to finish it before they left for break!
They really enjoyed being in a “restricted area” and it helped break down the boundary that is created by our monster of a desk.
Coffee Break
Our library is located across campus from the student center, so students who wanted coffee during evening quiet hours had to sign out of the library and then sign back in after getting it. This year, we tried out having a large carafe of coffee in the Research Commons and the kids loved it! The coffee was available from 7-10pm on the three evenings before full days of exams.
Bubble pop!
 I bought a big roll of bubble wrap and cut it into squares. We put it out by the research desk and let kids pop it to relieve stress. For two of the days it was out, the students were respectful and really enjoyed the bubble wrap.
However, one night during evening quiet hours the bubble wrap was distributed throughout the library and we could hear little “pop! pop! pop!” all night. Definitely not ideal. This one is definitely repeat at your own risk! If you try this at your library, I would suggest having an adult stationed by the bubble wrap at all times to remind the students to be respectful of those who are trying to study.
Coloring Books
A perennial favorite for stress relief, coloring books are a great exam week option. We put them out around the library with some colored pencils. The kids seemed to enjoy them, though they didn’t get as much use as in previous years. Perhaps this trend has run its course?
Are there any things that you do to help students de-stress during exams?

Using Asana in the Library

Hello from Mercersburg Academy! My name is Alexandra Patterson and I am the Director of Library Services at Mercersburg Academy. I’m so excited to share about what we are doing in the Mercersburg Library with everyone.

It’s funny that Katie’s post earlier this week was about getting things done – I’m here to share a tool that I’ve found incredibly helpful for managing my every growing to do list!

After starting the position as Library Director over the summer, I began the daunting task of figuring out how to manage many projects and many moving pieces. At a boarding school, we serve as school library, public library and community center so we’ve got a lot going on!  I tried a lot of online systems, but for my library Asana seems to work best.


Asana is a web-based to-do list manager that can be used by teams. You can create projects and individual tasks related to them. Each tasks can be assigned to a team member and can have a separate due date.

Though we are still figuring out the system here are 5 ways I use Asana in my library:

  1. For reminding us of recurring tasks – Sometimes things like updating a Libguide can slip through the cracks. I’ve created a recurring task “check all history guides for working database links” for each month to make sure we don’t forget.

  2. Planning for the future – Our display calendar now lives in Asana. It allows us to look at the year ahead and plan things, then link to books we’ll use, assign the task of pulling the books, and ordering the decorations! Tasks lists can also be downloaded by project or by team member to gCal and iCal.
  3. “Passively” moving projects along – As long as I spend a few minutes inputting tasks, I can schedule them for months in advance. This means that I can do one small step today and then forget about it until my next task for that project is due. Asana helpfully reminds me and I get to take it out of my mental filing cabinet!
  4. Fielding questions – I love that Asana has a feature for discussion. It’s nice to be able to answer questions about a particular task or project and have the answers stored in a place everyone can access. Goodbye email chain!
  5. Storing files related to a project – Asana lets you upload files and link to Google Docs. Having all of the files for a project accessible, along with any tasks that might need to be done, has been invaluable. No more hunting for the information — it’s all right there!

What are some other tools you use to get things done?