Origin Story III

Welcome again to the Independent Ideas summer series, Origin Stories.

Today we will head down south to visit Katherine Smith Patin at the Isidore Newman School in Louisiana.


My job came from the grocery store.   I was just out of school with a degree in European history and a few education classes, lots of bills, and no plans. I temped in a bank, then tried selling French antiques, and concluded ultimately that I really, really missed school. I had an aunt who taught history at Isidore Newman in New Orleans, so I told her I might like a career in education. Within a week she ran into the school’s librarian in Dorignac’s, which is the type of grocery where you see everyone from celebrity chefs to your beloved first grade teacher. Mr. Prescott had a colleague who was retiring after thirty years. He was dreading the interview process, and figured I was worth a try. And since I was young (28,) I probably had the bonus feature of knowing about computers. The school administrators were less encouraging. Few know what library work entails, so after a smattering of questions they moved on, in some desperation, to my thesis, which was on the unfortunate topic of the anti-alcohol movement in fin-de-siecle France. The fact that I could speak confidently about absinthe and home distillery was no endorsement. They asked what I was reading. Flustered, I told them the truth. Thank goodness it was not David Sedaris, or even the civilized but unscholarly domestic fiction of Rosamunde Pilcher that I had binge-read in mental exhaustion after I finished school. It was a biography called The Aristocrats, by Stella Tillyard. I remember feeling embarrassed, as if I’d been caught in my underpants. There was silence, and then, “So you’re still reading history?” Feeling incurably dull and wondering how anything on my bedside table could be wrong (this was before Fifty Shades of Gray) I was passed on to the headmaster. We had a lovely discussion about my reverence for the teaching profession. My first day at Newman was Wednesday, July 1, 1998.

I know all schools have great kids, but Newman had so many of them. Verbally adept, clever, and playful—they did not fit the stereotypes of my high school experience. Newman is a place where the blonde cheerleader scores a perfect SAT, the football player sings in the chorus, and the gamer with the screen tan is a champion debater. Achievement is a state of mind, and the unknown is not frightening, but full of potential. In that spirit I started working on my MLIS in 2006. I did it because I thought I should. It’s the only “certification” we have. But who knew there were ethics in librarianship—controversy even! Censorship and equal access mean different things in different libraries. At Newman no one draws a Muumuu on the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue, but the independent school world is busily debating whether print or digital media is more conducive to learning. I like to think that I am helping kids find helpful resources in the most convenient formats for them. Somehow, along the line, being a librarian stopped being a job and became more of a mission.


Don’t be shy!

We are still collecting Origin Stories and would love to hear from you.  If you would like to share yours (500 words or less) please send it to Allison Peters Jensen at allison.peters@coloradoacademy.org

Speaking Picture Book

Working as a farm hand at my friend’s farm last week brought out the picture book in me. Daily I would be reminded of the dialogue, plot, or illustrations of farm-themed picture books. It occurred to me that perhaps it is possible to speak ‘picture book’. Does thinking in ‘picture book’ mean fluency in some strange children’s librarian literary language? I’m not certain.

Take, for example, the morning that my friend and I were fixing the door to the chook house where the layer chickens live safely from predators. While drilling a hole for the new latch I felt something attacking my shorts. Alas, it was a goat chewing on the pocket buttons. Immediately I thought of To Market, To Market by Anne Miranda and illustrated by Janet Stevens. A shopper goes to market and all the animals she brings home create havoc in her home, including a goat with an appetite.

On my first full day at the farm there was a tornado warning that spurred a flurry of activity. Most importantly, we had to secure the animals. With palpitating heart I worked through the chores thinking about Otis and the Tornado by Loren Long. Otis, the little red tractor, leads all the farm animals, even the bully of a bull, to safety when a tornado hits the farm. We were extremely lucky that the tornado passed around the farm. Unfortunately, it did hit surrounding towns.

Image result for pig in the pond

Visiting the large pet pig on the farm is a daily treat. She is enormous, friendly, and very polite at mealtime. When the sun heated up and the days became steamy, this pig would lay in a massive mud puddle. Oh, how I smiled thinking about The Pig in the Pond by Martin Waddell. One of my favorite stories! If you are familiar with the story, you will be glad to know that NO, I did not remove my clothes and jump into the puddle beside the pig!

Bernard Most’s cow stories, The Cow That Went OINK and Cock-A-Doodle-Moo! are story time favorites that played over and over again in my imagination as I watched the cows on the farm. The cows at this farm do not speak anything except cow. Moooooooo!


The dogs. Oh how I love the dogs on this farm. Again, I think of the Stevens sisters, and their book Find a Cow Now! The farm dogs love to herd the animals (any animals). They also love to play fetch and I am talking about serious games of fetch. Neither of the dogs is as destructive as the black pup in Chewy Louie by Howie Schneider, but I thought of Chewy Louie because of the intensity of the farm dogs and their determination to play fetch constantly. Chewy Louie is one focused dog.


Other books that paraded through my thoughts while at the farm were Margaret Wise Brown’s Big Red Barn illustrated by Felicia Bond, Big Fat Hen by Keith Baker, Moo, Baa, La La La by the amazing Sandra Boynton, and Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin.

Not only did I find my mind to be a festival of picture books related to the farm, I found myself thinking “that would make a great picture book story!” When one of the dogs was herding the guinea hens that roam the farm I was ready to start writing. However, I was in the vegetable garden and my hands were covered in mud and holding a spade. There was also story potential when I saw a goat lying peacefully in a little red wagon or when it was pouring rain and the dogs were like wet mops. At feeding time a chicken flew up and on to my friend’s back, hoping to get its share of the feed first. And when we were repairing a gate and one of the many farm cats climbed up onto this same friend’s shoulders and then on top of her head, I could have written that cat’s tail (tale).

There were stories to be found in almost every minute of the farm day.

Do you speak picture book?  Do you think in picture books?

Do you have a favorite farm animal picture book?









Origin Story II

Welcome back to the Independent Ideas Summer Series, Origin Stories.

Today we meet Kate Hammond from The Perkiomen School in Pennsylvania.


My Origin Story

“I wish I could take her to the library and hand her over to the librarians. Please teach her about everything, I’d say” (A.S. King, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, p.44).

At this point in the novel, Glory’s friend Ellie is being manipulated by her boyfriend into unsafe sex. Glory’s wished-for solution? The magical, trustworthy power of the library and librarians.

In the early 2000’s I was a volunteer for Planned Parenthood. I talked to students in Baltimore about preventing STI’s and pregnancy, answering questions that often revealed an appalling lack of knowledge about the human body and reproduction. I demonstrated how to use male and female condoms. I handed out brochures. I left these sessions feeling uneasy. How many students weren’t asking questions who needed to? How many were blowing off my extremely didactic presentation, who might need that information that very afternoon?

Later, while working as a research assistant in the school of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale on a study with pregnant and parenting teens I met many young women who had not had access to information they needed to stay safe, healthy, and avoid pregnancy. If there had been any attempts to deliver information, they hadn’t stuck well.

If teens weren’t getting the information they needed from home, school, or friends, they needed to be empowered to get it themselves. Where? Who makes sure the resources they need are there, as well as the skills to access, evaluate, and use information? Protects their privacy? We all know the answers to those questions, but when I first figured it out, it was a calling – and a relief!

One day my brain clicked and I Googled “teen librarian” to see if there was such a thing. I discovered YALSA and the book For Sex Education, See Librarian by Cornog and Perper (Greenwood, 1996). Perfect. Did I mention I also love YA fiction?

I came to a school library by circumstance; my husband took a job teaching at a boarding school, and I finished grad school that first year. I would gaze longingly at the school library across the street. After our second year (and first baby), the librarian retired and I was in the right place at the right time, more than ready to get to work. I discovered that school is the place – I know all of my patrons and get to see them grow as learners and people. However, my original inspiration has fallen by the wayside as I’ve become happily immersed in this multi-faceted profession. I’ve been hoping for some help or signs to get me back on track in some way. I have been lucky enough recently to have been given a few:

  • A conversation with a friend about the state of sex education here and everywhere
  • Another conversation with some aware students about the disappointing presentation they heard. Someone was yammering at them about STI’s.
  • My suggestion of an Unconference session on Sex Ed. and the Library was thwarted by an unknown person scared of or against the conversation
  • An invitation from AISL to share my origin story
  • The quotation from my author hero, A.S. King, which reaffirmed that yes this is, can be, and should be an important role to play. Thank you!


We are still collecting Origin Stories and would love to hear from you.  If you would like to share yours (500 words or less) please send it to Allison Peters Jensen at allison.peters@coloradoacademy.org

Origin Story

Welcome to the first post in an Independent Ideas series, Origin Stories.

We all have origin stories. Stories that tell why we do what we do and how we got to this place in the world of Independent School Librarianship.  Some of our stories march in straight lines, some wind and turn and twist, some just hop from one lily pad to the next.

How did you become a librarian?  Why did you become a librarian?  How did libraries find you?

Today, Barbara Share from the Ransom Everglades School answers those questions.


How I decided on this great profession

I grew up in a small town in Ohio, really small. The love of reading was instilled in me at a very early age. So in addition to all the normal growing up stuff, I spent a LOT of time reading. The local Library was a huge (at least to me at the time) building and just walking in and seeing the old architecture gave me great comfort. The books were easy to find and I would go to the section and just pick up the first book, sit down and read. After I finished I would take a few home, the Librarian would look up my name from a drawer full of cards and write in the information. At home, I had a comfortable chair would read until called for dinner (or anything I was supposed to be doing). The reading continues even now. When I find a really good book, everything else (I mean EVERYTHING) pretty much stops until I’m finished reading.

Fast forward to high school. Yes, I’m still reading! My mother was not well and she started thinking ahead for what profession I should consider. Librarian came to mind because I would no doubt meet a very intelligent man, get married and live happily ever after (that actually happened – but that’s another story!). Most Jewish moms have these thoughts!

So, I majored in English and minored in Library Science (25 hours). I loved it! Especially learning the research. But now I had to get into grad school. It just didn’t happen right away. My grades were not stellar (my mom died my freshman year), I didn’t have a direction     – but I needed to work.

I moved to Miami, FL (doesn’t everyone have a grandmother in South Florida?). I worked retail stores until a got a Librarian position at a Catholic School (my maiden name is Bernstein – you can only imagine how much fun I had!). Three years there and off I went to the corporate world and realized I needed that Master’s Degree to better myself. So I snuck in to the University of South Florida taking extension classes (an hour’s drive from my place) every weekend for a year or so. One class a semester. I took a leave of absence to go on campus for the last semester to finish (otherwise it would have taken another 2 years) and then back to work. Although the corporate world was busy – it just wasn’t my thing. Thank Heaven I eventually found myself back at a private school – this time an independent one and have been very happy! And yes – I’m still reading!!


We are still collecting Origin Stories and would love to hear from you.  If you would like to share yours (500 words or less) please send it to Allison Peters Jensen at allison.peters@coloradoacademy.org

Happy Summer!

Picture Book Fun

In the spring when library curriculum collaborations with teachers are coming to a close, I enjoy getting back to stories.  That’s not to say it isn’t always about stories.  However, there are times in the middle of a research project when students are begging me “to just read a story to them in the cozy corner.”  There are times in the middle of a bibliography lesson when the millionth student tells me that she can’t find the copyright date that I want to escape to the cozy corner too!

For our lucky primary students, it is the story time of year.  We are escaping to the cozy corner for picture book sharing, story discussion, and activities to accompany the books.  With stories, we reinforce lessons on kindness, courage, and grit that have been woven into our curriculum units this year.

In recent weeks the primary grades have enjoyed:

 Boy + Bot by Dan Yaccarino

T.L.C. by M H Clark

The Great Lollipop Caper by Dan Krall

Perfect Square by Michael Hall

Our activities have included tearing up paper to make “perfect” square pictures, guided drawing, inventing new lollipop flavors while tasting capers (some say “blech” and some say “yum!”), and writing and illustrating books promising a little T.L.C. to someone special.  It’s been a blast!

This week, first grade students read and discussed The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts.  If you haven’t read this picture book yet, here’s a synopsis:  Sally McCabe is the smallest girl in the smallest grade.  No one notices her at all.  Yet Sally has a knack for noticing everything.  In the author’s words, “Sally was paying super extra special attention.”  One day in the cafeteria, Sally stands up for those who are being mistreated and unnoticed at school.  She speaks up and lets her voice be heard, and her voice is not the smallest voice in the smallest grade grade.  Students and teachers take notice.  In that moment she makes a change in the world.

We had a serious and candid discussion about bullying, kindness, and speaking up for others.  The first graders had a lot to say about things they notice or experience that make them happy or sad.  They could easily walk in the shoes of Sally, or someone who’s been picked on, or someone who’s helped others.  The students wanted to share their thoughts on how they can make a change in the world.  For this activity, I stuck to the oldest method out there: drawing and writing their ideas.

Following are some of our favorite examples with the text typed underneath the picture.


If somebody is alone say do you want to play.


If I see somebody getting bullied I will ask them to stop.


Ignore someone if they say something mean.


I can help the earth by picking up trash.


I can hold the door more.


I do not like it when people treat books badly.  What I’m going to do is to  strictly say stop.

I will tell them to stop nicely but if they do not stop I will say it more serious and serious and when they stop I will help the person who got hurt.


I saw someone cut in line at lunch!  So I said stop!!! and he did.


People have been hurting dogs and puppies.  I want to save those dogs and puppies.

These are examples of why I adore working with first grade students.  And to be as candid as a first grader, I love the end of the school year!


What are you doing with students as the school year comes to a close?



What’s Your Sign?

What’s Your Sign?


Well, I don’t know your sign, but I do know mine. Or should I say ours, our new Lower School Library Signs.

At the beginning of the school year I noticed that the signage in our library was very dated. In addition, it didn’t have the professional look of other signage on our campus. Time for a change!

Like many schools, our Upper School now has an Innovation Lab, where students are able to bring life (not breath–not yet!) to their designs. After a conversation with the Innovation Lab teacher three students stopped in to talk about making new signs for the library for their trimester long class project. We discussed colors, materials, fonts, and how to hang signs in their respective areas. The students had a lot of ideas about all of these things. Their knowledge and creativity was impressive and it felt like meeting with a team of professional contractors. We in the Lower School library were very excited about the prototypes they promised to share with us the following week.

When the students returned with prototypes, we were in love. The whimsical rainbow lettering, modern font, and shiny white backgrounds were refreshing after the old poster board and foam lettered signs. We were excited! Over the next several weeks they stopped by once or twice per week with in-process signs and lots of enthusiasm, despite the many times they had to sand and paint everything to get that bright sheen we loved.

Three months later, we have our signs. There are a few small issues to take care of regarding the hardware used to display the signs, but otherwise, mission accomplished. We are grateful to three creative and hardworking Upper School students.

Would you like to see the results?  Here is a look at some of the new signs.





Oh, you might want to meet the most popular residents of our Lower School Library.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERARamona Quimby is our Library Dog and our Library Pet Rock is Henry Huggins.  They like the new signs too!

Librarians of AISL

Let’s travel down to sunny Florida for another installment of The Librarians of AISL: the Interviews.

If you are interested in sharing your experiences as an Independent School Librarian on The Librarians of AISL: the Interviews, please contact Allison at allison.peters@coloradoacademy.org.


What Does a Yellow Light Mean?

Start your day with a laugh and watch this brief clip from a classic sitcom, TAXI.

Honestly, it is one of the funniest things that I have watched in a long time.

So, what does a yellow light mean?

Simple: Slow Down!

It was nice to get the yellow light over the winter break and slow down, but now we are back at school.  Let’s pick up the pace again and talk about something that can happen quickly, efficiently, and informally: MEETINGS!

I’ve been reflecting on the last few months of school and realize that the best meetings I’ve had with teachers regarding curriculum have started on the fly.  Quick.  Blammo.  Zap and they are done.  No specific meeting location or agenda or meeting norms.  No yellow light.

For example, I am driving to school and an idea (Lightbulb!) regarding an upcoming project pops into my head. That morning, I bump into the classroom teacher (green light!) while we are both on our way to get some water.  In three minutes we have an additional research activity or literature extension in the works for an upcoming lesson.  Hooray!

Meetings like this happen all the time.  I’m sure you know exactly what I am talking about.  We meet with teachers in the hall, at recess duty, or on our way to the parking lot at the end of the day.  We meet for a minute before a regularly scheduled faculty meeting.  We share a quick text or email exchange.  Some of my best collaborations have come out of a brief and informal lunchtime conversation.

Most often these spontaneous meetings are followed by a few emails and an actual in-person, planned meeting.  Things start quick and then settle in s-l-o-w-l-y as we take our time to work out all the fuzzy bits together.

For a refresher on collaboration models travel back in time to a 2013 Independent Ideas post, What Type of Labrador Are You?

How do your best collaborations start?

And the Award Goes to…

Book award season is upon us. I love this time of year. I’ve been following the award prediction lists for 2015 and making my own predictions with friends and colleagues. We make our predictions and then read more books and edit our lists. Then we read more books and our prediction lists change again. And again. And again.

We talk about past winners and debate over the books we liked, loved, and loathed. We mourn the books that deserved awards and never received them. We argue over books that should have been medal winners but were honors instead and vice-versa. It goes on and on.

In all of this we are celebrating something we share.

Books. Stories. We HEART books.

While the ALA is preparing for the Youth Media Award presentation at the beginning of February, I am preparing the Lower School students to vote for the Colorado Children’s Book Award (CCBA) at the end of February. Colorado children, with the help of teachers and librarians, select the nominated titles: 10 chapter books and 10 picture books. Then students across the state read those books and vote for their favorites. Votes are submitted to a state committee for tallying.   The winning books are announced at the end of April, along with a new list of nominated titles.

To vote, students need to read at least three books in each category. At our school, fourth and fifth graders vote on both chapter and picture books. Pre-K through third grade students vote for picture books. There are some third graders who also vote for chapter books but because the books are a bit more challenging, we don’t require that they read three of the nominated titles.

Our Lower School students take the CCBA very seriously. The incoming fifth graders read nominated chapter book titles as their summer reading every year. The fifth grade team and I select two books that are required reading and each student gets to choose a third book from the list. In addition, the teachers select another one as a class read aloud at the beginning of the year.

At the start of December (NOW!) I book talk the CCBA chapter books to the fourth graders. By starting in December, the students have a few months to read the minimum of three nominated books. The students put their name on waiting lists for the CCBA titles they are interested in reading. The waiting list moves quickly as students fly through these books, eager to get 3 or more read! To accommodate demand, we have two and sometimes three or four copies of each title. At the time of this posting, I’ve shared the books with two fourth grade classes and the CCBA frenzy is alive and kicking.

In early February I read the ten picture books to every grade in the Lower School. It takes two weeks, two meetings with each class, and by the end, I know every story by heart. While I read, I see student brains churning. They are comparing stories, illustrations, and characters. They are trying to decide which book will be The One to get their vote.

At the end of February, all the students cast their votes in a make shift voting booth (aka puppet theater) with printed ballots, golf pencils, a ballot box, and ‘I VOTED’ stickers. The Pre-K and Kindergarten students circle a picture of their favorite book on special ballots we provide for them.

The Lower School community looks forward to the Colorado Children’s Book Award season. The older kids love hearing the picture books in February since they don’t have picture book story times like they did when they were younger. All the students love voting in the voting booth. Students remember the books that have won in previous years and try to predict the current year’s winners. In past years, the fifth grade news team has been very creative in announcing the winning books at our monthly town meeting.

And, joy of joys, I overhear students debating the books they liked, loved, and loathed. They argue over the books that should have won and the ones that should never have won. Often times, they are celebrating the winners.

And so it goes.

How does your school community celebrate book award season?

Private Libraries

Private Libraries

My husband tore a page out of Fortune magazine and thrust it into my hands, “You need to read this!”  The article, Archive of Wonder, is about Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline, and the library he assembled in his Connecticut home.  Mr. Walker’s private library contains a range of artifacts from the first printing of the Magna Carta to the original backup to Sputnik and a motherboard signed by Steve Wozniak.  The library is straight out of a movie with moving walls, secret passageways, and decorated with heiroglyphs.  This library is in his home.  In his home!  Mr. Walker is the only person alive who knows what the library holds.  It’s not clear from the article if visitors are permitted to browse in his library, but I would love an invitation!

If you were able to attend the AISL conference in Dallas last year, perhaps your brain is leaping back to the Crow Library.  If you missed it, one article I found that describes some of the Crow Library holdings is here.  Harlan Crow has been collecting artifacts, books, and as he describes, ideas, in his library.  The library building itself is an impressive piece of architecture, an addition to his family home, and its holdings are amazing, documenting U.S. and World history.  He has a full-time librarian working with the collection to catalog, preserve, and transcribe its holdings. Harlan Crow opens up his library by appointment.  It was a wonderful experience to browse this library with members of AISL.

If you have several free hours you can Google “private libraries” and browse through 44,000,000 search results.  If you have about five minutes, flip through the photo gallery of private libraries on display at Flavorwire.  Amazing!

In my Google searching, I stumbled upon a 2007 New York Times article titled C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success.  You won’t be surprised to read that many successful people out there have created private libraries in their homes.  And like Jay Walker of Priceline, the majority of these libraries are, in fact, private and held behind locked doors.  Author Harriet Rubin wrote “…more than their sex lives or bank accounts- chief executives keep their libraries private.”  As a C.E.O., it just wouldn’t do to let competitors know what’s on or in your mind.

How do these C.E.O.s arrange their collections?  According to Rubin, not very well.  “C.E.O. libraries typically lack a Dewey Decimal or even org-chart order.”  Michael Moritz, a venture capitalist, says in the article, “My books are organized by topic and interest but in a manner that would make a librarian weep.”  Jay Walker describes the books in his library as arranged “randomly by height.”  Of course, the C.E.O.s aren’t organizing materials for others to find, so I suppose it doesn’t matter how the books are arranged.

What does your private, home, library look like?  Mine is in three different areas of the house with the most frequently used (cookbooks) easily accessible in the kitchen.  Early in my library career, I collected books constantly, until it occurred to me that the public and school library can take care of the collecting and I can do the borrowing.  Books don’t all have to be at home, saving space and making moving a lot easier.  At home now I have cookbooks (my favorite), children’s literature, tomes from college and graduate school, fun fiction, history books, and titles about raising backyard chickens.  Honestly, it is a small library and quite badly organized for a professional librarian.  In addition, this home library is not private.  I lend books often and usually forget who has what.  Recently a friend gave me my very own personal library kit including date due slips and a stamp.  I might have to get a bit more strict about friends and family returning books!


The most valuable item in my library is a date book that my Great Aunt Doris began in the 1940s to track important events in our family.  It’s no Magna Carta, but it’ll do.

Tell us about your private library.  What kinds of books do you collect?  Where do you keep your collection?  How do you organize it?

 Works Cited

Rubin, Harriet. “C.E.O. Libraries Reveal Keys to Success.” New York Times [New York] 21 July 2007, Business: n. pag. Print.

VanderMey, Anne. “Archive of Wonder.” Fortune 27 Oct. 2014: 29. Print.