Moving on Up

“Moving Up Day.” The vocabulary might be unique to our school, but the idea is common. 

For us, it’s the day shortly before contracts go out when we invite students to proactively “move up” to their next grade. For our younger Falcons, this is about 30 minutes of their morning. Teachers read a book with the class, talk up highlights of the year, and tour their classrooms. The domino cascade stops after grade eight, which is a half-day adventure to the Upper School. When the 8th graders move up, they join a high school already full of our regularly-scheduled 9th-12th graders. We just add six sections of 8th graders rotating through eight twenty minutes sessions, an Upper School Spirit Activity, and the long-awaited morning cookie break. (When I interviewed, I thought this was a euphemism for a snack break. It is not. Our Upper Schoolers can purchase freshly-based Otis Spunkmeyer cookies each morning at 10am. Unless you are an 8th grader, in which case cookies just appear mid-morning, no purchase necessary.)  

one of the cookie tubs

It speaks well for the profile of our library that we are included in one of the time slots, along with academic subjects and college counseling. This is my first year with another librarian leading the activities. Planning together made me review what I had done in the past.

Keeping in mind that the ultimate purpose of the day is to get students excited about the year to come by giving them a preview of highlights, I can say now that I completely missed the mark in my early years. This is not the time to teach the intricacies of EBSCO or how to cite sources for a non-existent project. I allowed them to check out books one year, something they can do any study hall any day of the week. There was potential in the library orientation scavenger hunt. Except that it was 19 questions that spanned the print and digital collections and students don’t attend the day with technology. Luckily since it was an activity far too long for the time allotted, we could limit to the print portions.  

For two years we joined forces with student representatives of the Honor Council. They talked about teachers’ expectations for the Honor Code and broke into small groups for activities. There were a variety of potential “gray zone” infractions that groups had to order from least problematic to worst, justifying their reasoning. I love that this was a student-led activity, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted the library to be students’ first thought when they heard the phrase “Honor Council” rather than the variety of resources the library provides to all students.  Since the Honor Council had a dedicated presentation to the 8th grade later in the spring, we amicably parted ways here.  

Middle schoolers really REALLY hate “helpful Susan.”

In winter of 2021 the entire Moving Up Day was a brief walking tour of Upper School hallways. No one wants to revisit that year. Moving on…. 

Because we have a really strong research program that encourages student autonomy, some years we have adapted an activity we use with our Upper Schoolers that’s intended to get them thinking more generatively about potential topics. We preselect books on all manner of odd subjects and students grab one that looks intriguing. They have two minutes to look anywhere in that book to find the craziest piece of trivia. Then each student pairs off with a classmate to decide whose is more interesting. Winners move on to compete against other winners until we have the class vote on the final champion.

Toilet facts vs. ambergris origins – some popular choices for this activity

We tend to think of the library as the metaphorical heart of the Upper School, and as a combined Middle and Upper library, it should be one of the places Middle Schoolers feel most comfortable in the Upper School already. The last few years we have added the Visible Thinking Routine of a Compass activity with anonymous post-it notes on posterboard. What better ways to tailor time than to hear directly from 8th graders their perceptions about 9th grade?

North (N): Need to know              
Ex. How exactly does block schedule work?                      
Is there more or less homework?                      
How do you get selected for May trips?
East (E): Excitements              
Ex. Advisor doesn’t collect phone!              
Studying in the library!
West (W): Worries              
Ex. More homework                   
Keeping track of schedule                  
Getting into college
South (S): Suggestions                  
Ex. More manga in the library                  
Let you have your phones in every class                  
Start a trading card game club

When I graduated from library school, I felt like I had to manufacture a learning opportunity each time I engaged with students. Hence those content-driven early years. Now I think about building connections with people and strengthening the association of the library as a generally friendly, helpful space. Thinking back to their Compass questions, most will be answered naturally weeks into 9th grade, just by virtue of being a 9th grader. But as with ancient Roman toilets and medieval library cats from the trivia game, they don’t know what they don’t know about our library either.

While the slides used this year are simple, they reinforced the conversation taking place. This is your library. Study anywhere. Play chess at the back table. Put a piece in the endless 2000 piece Pixar puzzle. (Please do that—it’s been out for close to three months now and still isn’t complete.) Record your podcast in the Pod. Print. Hang out after school. The book poetry provided an immediate energetic exploration of our collection, along with setting the tone that this is not a library of silence. The slides, along with the Upper Schoolers using the library, demonstrated the variety of ways students can use the library as a space or as a resource. The Compass activity gave students a voice from day one.  

Turns out we excel at puzzles up to 1500 pieces. Not 2000.

I spent so much time when I was younger trying to maximize every minute. Thinking through years past, while some activities have been better than others, there’s no one right answer, no one ideal use of this time. I would love thoughts from others on how your instruction has changed over time or ideas you’ve used to get people feeling welcome in the library.

“The Collection”

I recently misunderstood a request being asked of me. I thought I was asked to share the book that had most influenced me as a professional. Noooooo, not a superlative! This is the way to get me into my head considering everything of professional importance that’s ever crossed my path. Here was the actual request: “share a reading / resource / book / video that has been particularly helpful for you professionally.” Okay, I can breathe with that! Not that I’m stress-free, but I can focus and answer.  

Well, kinda. I ultimately chose a book (Getting Things Done) and a podcast (Hidden Brain), one for practical skills and one for developing a more nuanced understanding of how others’ view the world.  

After being a solo librarian for my whole career, it was unexpected last week to read Seth’s take on “the collection.” When Rebecca posted earlier this fall on how we select and familiarize ourselves with books in our collections, I eagerly participated and read the responses. Because, for me, it’s rote at this point. I hadn’t gotten out of my routine to think metacognitively about what I did, nor even the path that led me to develop these routines in the first place. But this reflection is what helps us grow, and it’s worth it to take time out to reflect.

Because we are a relatively small school, I’ve bought or accepted as a donation every book for the Sunshine Library for over fifteen years. I’ve spent untold hours on Titlewave and Amazon. I’ve set up thousands of seasonal displays. I’ve checked out the books and subsequently added them back to the return cart. I’ve waited outside students’ classrooms to try to get popular titles returned. As the collection has changed size over the years, both with purchases and weeding, I’ve reallocated shelf space by moving books. I’ve dusted the shelves. Occasionally. Perhaps some of you are with me. Without thinking, I can answer these questions:               

“Where can I learn about the Gilded Age?”        
“Where’s that creepy book that Will recommended during book talks?”        
“Do you have the India book in this Countries series?”

If you ask me about books with orange spines for a Halloween display, I can picture where they sit on the shelves and the general design of the cover.  It’s deep knowledge. Invisible knowledge. But it’s also relatively useless outside this collection, this library. It makes sense that many librarians settle in at their schools and with their collections. While the learning gap is high for a teacher moving to a new school, it’s higher for the librarian. Because the same projects are offered year over year, it’s easy to seem like an expert on Greek mythology, vitamins, or the city of Boston. It easy to be enough of an expert on citations that you know which teachers care that the citations are perfect and which care more that students include the right parts. You are perhaps legitimately the “printer whisperer.”

 Between Rebecca and Seth and the questions that come through AISL each week, I want to thank you for making us all better librarians who think not only about what we do but why we do it, and thus ways to continue to improve. There are parts of the job that feel like second nature after a while but actually involve deep knowledge continually reinforced. Our community of librarians is there to remind us to nurture that knowledge. That way the library continues to stay relevant and be a useful resource for our students, a helpful resource for our teachers, and maybe a slight mystery for the people who wonder how we know the exact physical location of the book they’ve just vaguely described….

A Portrait of the Teacher as a Young Librarian

*Guest post by Seth Carlson*

I’m going to preface this by (1) saying I’m not Christina, I’m Seth, the new Middle and Upper School Librarian at Saint Stephen’s, and (2) apologizing that there aren’t any bits of practical advice or helpful tips the way there are in most of these posts. This is just one newcomer’s impression of what it’s been like to don the librarians’ robes. If that sounds interesting, read on! If not, the regular, useful posts will be back soon! 

The students keep asking me if I’m happier in my new role as librarian than I was in my old one as physics teacher, and it’s weird to me how frustrating one small word can make a question. It’s not a comparison to me. I wasn’t unhappy teaching physics, but I am really excited to be taking on the new challenges the library offers. Because I’m in the somewhat unusual position of moving from teaching to librarianship at the same school, Christina suggested I take over her AISL blogging account and write about what it’s been like. I sincerely hope you all know how amazing and important your work is already, but I’ll try to give a sense of what it’s been like diving in during my first two months. As a nod to the Book Awards my school gives students based on their particular skills and interests, I’m going to do this Book Award style.

The Lord of the Flies Award for not knowing what I don’t know. (This was an introduction to symbolism for me, and wow did I not pick up on it at first.)

This award goes to the collection, for suddenly seeming much larger and more daunting than I realized. Christina was in charge of the Middle and Upper School library on her own for the last fifteen years, but I’ve helped out some here and there and read, ummm, a very few of the books, it turns out. How does one learn what the thousands of books in one’s care are really about? I’ve been trying to do some random book tastings (I mostly refrain from actually licking them!)  at least a couple of times a day, but often when a student comes in asking if we have a book I say, “Let’s find out together!”

Also, right now the first sentence of the last paragraph is reminding me that every time I think the words “the collection,” they’re in a booming voice with dramatic music swelling. It’s kind of fun.

The Fellowship of the Ring “Mines of Moria” Award for dark, slightly concerning corners

This goes to the Study Pod, which didn’t have working lights for a month and a half. This award might be more literal than others. (As far as I know, there were no Balrog sightings …)

The A Room of One’s Own Award

Presented to Christina’s new office (which is still in the library, but is now slightly farther away in the library) because she’s calling it “a room of my own.” I would like to emphasize that I am 95% certain that the fact she is calling it that is meant as a cheeky reference to the book title and reaching a new state of adulthood where she can close a door to the surprises of the library on occasion.

Honorable mention for this award goes to the physics lab, for really, really not feeling like my room anymore. When I go in there now, after twelve years of teaching physics, it isn’t nearly as messy as it used to be!

The From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler Award for how many more things I have to keep track of as a librarian

This goes to my calendar. I never actually had to keep a digital calendar of my own as a teacher (we have a school one that has important dates when things like comments or grades are due). I knew that would change, but I didn’t realize the true level of change. I actually have three digital calendars right now and one in print: one for the library, one for the reading room, and two for me. 

The Things Fall Apart Award

This award is given to my Google Drive and about 10,000 Post-it notes. I desperately need to reorganize my Google Drive, or future Seth is going to be really mad next fall when he can’t find any of the things from this fall. But how do I do it – by subject, then class? Do I need grade-level folders? Do I create overarching folders by month? Do I include notes on managing the space somewhere?

The Post-it notes are only for things that I want to deal with as soon as possible. Some of them are two weeks old.

Let’s move on.

The Odd Couple Award

This goes to getting to co-teach. When I worked at The Seas at EPCOT, my favorite days were the ones where we had large school groups and I would get to co-teach our conservation lessons with other instructors. It’s so energizing to get to bounce ideas back and forth with someone else building on what I’m doing in real time. When planning a lesson, I always talk to teachers about how I’d love for them to jump in any time they want when I’m in their classes, and sometimes directly ask them if there’s anything they’d like to add (especially if I know they really like a topic or I heard them say something cool in a previous period). This also ties directly into …

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Award for changing a plan on the fly

Presented to needing improv skills (and a towel). Sometimes teachers realize day-of that they’d like to do something in the library (or show up because the internet went down). Sometimes we have good plans, but they get better each period as we see how the students interact with the lesson. There’s a certain element of improv in new lessons, and while they haven’t all been new to the teachers this year, some have. And they’ve all been new to me. There’s also a certain amount of improvisation with two teachers in the room that I think can take lessons to a new level while modeling (hopefully) effective collaboration to the students.

The Sideways Stories from Wayside School Award for getting to put a new spin on things

This is for the math and science departments. It’s really interesting to me how quickly I’ve been able to jump in with the math and science teachers, and obviously part of that is the fact that I was in the science department for years (and still am … a story for another time). But I’m also extra passionate about the part of information literacy that will help students who aren’t going to be scientists understand the language of science better. I’ve gotten to use Harry Potter to teach logic in math class. In 7th grade science, we investigated satellites with online data sources leading us to think about what sorts of information we would want from a particular satellite and how to collect it. Then we analyzed data from that type of satellite using free online sources. In physical science we used the idea of … errr … stylish? … cat collars to talk about how to evaluate online information and the results of scientific studies (after, of course, talking about the Australian drop bear). And I’ve gotten to talk about how the same data could be graphed in different ways to tell entirely different stories! (If you zoom in on the y-axis, it really looks like I became a beast when doing daily push-ups for thirty days.)

Birdbesafe collar

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve also really loved working with the history and English departments, which leads me to…

The Dragon Hoops Award for getting to show people a “new” side of yourself that’s been there all along

This goes to everyone who knows that I would have 15 different degrees if I could. I joke. Or do I? 

Many people at school were, I think, pretty surprised when I told them I was applying for the library job. It seemed like a huge change from teaching physics. And of course it is a huge change! But for some of the folks who’ve known me the longest, it wasn’t quite as surprising because they knew I had a writing degree and had taught subjects like English and filmmaking before. So yes, I’ve always had a background in writing and English as well, but it’s still a big change to be talking to people about books and reading on a daily basis. Not to mention going into English and history classes and helping students learn in those spaces. I’ve been part of my first Harkness discussions, literary salons, and student booktalks. And that’s been a blast! I now have extra appreciation for how much students have to quickly shift academic gears over the course of a day.

I’ve got one more official award, and I’ve saved this one for now because (a) it’s hard for me to feel like I can do it justice and (b) I think it really gets to the heart of what I love about libraries and librarians. So, without further ado …

The Un Lun Dun Award for having a really important job and not feeling quite prepared

This goes to me as a librarian. I’ve seen firsthand the amount of trust that a school community places in the role, and now I’ve felt the – is there a word that mashes up burden, responsibility, and honor? – bursponsinor myself when someone asks for a book recommendation for something that starts fast with maybe some romance plus a bit of horror, or when a teacher invites me into a class by saying they didn’t really like how this lesson went last year, but maybe with two of us it will go better. Still, it’s not only with tough questions I get the feeling, it’s also with ones that are probably pretty easy for everyone who’s been doing this longer than I have. But I bet that no matter how many times a librarian hears a particular question, there’s still that gut feeling of bursponsinor. And I honestly hope it never goes away for me, because I want it as a reminder to take the next task, or question, or concern I get as seriously as each one that’s come before.

Okay, one more. The Marvel Comics Award and a huge thank you goes to all of you out there in the AISLverse for being an invaluable resource for me and so many others, and for answering the 10,000 (one for each Post-it) silly and not-so-silly questions I’m bound to have. This month.

With Apologies to Eric Carle’s ‘A House for Hermit Crab”

some of my thoughts this month

If your school is like mine, this fall has been consumed by conversations about Artificial Intelligence.

The good: How can we help students engage with it as a free tutoring tool?
The bad: How can we keep students from accepting what it says blindly?
The ugly: How will this impact the job market? Is AI coming for our jobs?

Well, AI didn’t come for my librarian position, but I’m betting I’m the only AISLer in this situation. While I thought I was transitioning to the new role of Director of Curriculum and Research last year, that ended up on pause for a year to synch up with the more traditional hiring “season.” So we had an open librarian position this past winter. Without any irony, on New Year’s Day, my husband turned to me on a hike in Washington’s incomparable Deception Pass State Park, and asked, “what would you think if I applied for the role?” He and I have worked at the same school for the past 12 years, him in various teaching roles and me in the library. Most years, he’s even been stationed in the library one period a day as a library monitor. He’s already more patient and thorough as a cataloger than I am. We previously worked together at a restaurant. We overheard all each other’s conversations from our bungalow during COVID. No one would be entering the role with a better sense of what to expect in the day-to-day and with a clearer understanding of my vision.   

New Year’s Day at Deception Pass, WA

Where had this come from? – Tasha’s December AISL post with professional development webinar recommendations…which led me to Jevin West and his work on data literacy…which led me to tell Seth we should watch together, knowing we often talk about how people come to accept or revise hypotheses in the sciences….which led us to West’s book and course on Calling Bull…which led Seth to think about our new data science course and the elasticity of information literacy…

Basically, Frost had it right.

“The Road Not Taken” Robert Frost

Was this the librarian I had been picturing? This couldn’t have been farther from my radar. Is it a fantastic opportunity for him and our school? Absolutely, yes. He’s in a position to help the library integrate with courses in more grades and departments. Were I jealous person, I wouldn’t be boasting that he’s been invited to more math classrooms in two weeks than I was in fifteen years.

And this isn’t exactly out of nowhere. We met in the same Humanities undergraduate program, and he previously worked in the publishing field before ending up teaching English, Engineering, and Science. And now he’ll start at the University of Washington’s I School this fall, where West teaches and his parents are alums.

I’ve frequently thought about Courtney, Laura, and Sara’s magnificent presentation, The “What If” Scenario,” on library succession planning. What would any of us do in the fortuitous circumstance where we win the lottery and suddenly depart? I, however, knew this transition was coming, so I had time to neaten the shelves and organize my files. I stepped off campus last June assuming I would be returning to a new office in a different part of the library. But due to construction delays, that space won’t be ready until September 12th. I’m still sitting on the right side of the circulation desk in the chair I’ve sat in since starting at the school, looking out at the exact same view. He’s moved into the identical space on the left side of the circ desk. For now, one couch separates our work spaces.

Welcome to our current office!

I can hear every time a teacher comes in to donate a book for the collection. After doing it myself four times, I can now watch him work with students on the research project about the mythology that inspired the creatures in The Hobbit. I can note the database passwords have been updated on the library’s LMS without a whit of work from me. I can silently gloat from my chair as the printer ignores students.

So place yourself with me. You’ve readied the library for its next steps. But you didn’t win the lottery and are still working. Now picture your partner or any trusted friend you love. They are in your role—literally sitting next to you more than eight hours a day. They are excited for even the mundane parts of the job. They’re asking questions and putting in the effort to maintain the quality of the program. This is someone you want to thrive and someone with whom you work well!

But it’s also hard to take pride and vulnerability out of the equation. While it might not be visible to others, I see my own weaknesses throughout the library. He has my old calendar and the filing cabinet with my folders of every class I’ve worked with over the years. He can see my hand-written notes on all lessons, many punctuated by “next time change…” I hadn’t been able to figure out BrainPop’s SSO, and he did in a week. Upon learning of my new role, one priority I had for the “new librarian” was a substantial fiction weed. I’m sure I’m not alone, but I’ve definitely made some purchasing miscalculations over the years, and there are titles that are dated, unpopular, or simply not what I expected from the reviews. I don’t want that to feel like a catalog of my mistakes when he starts this project. We used to alternate yearly between inventorying the print collection and database analytics each spring, but we haven’t done a complete digital inventory since May of 2019.

Amazon un-boxing is a lot more temping when it’s no longer your job!

One of the most surprisingly disorienting tasks thus far occurred last Friday. I placed a large book order on behalf of both libraries for books I hadn’t chosen and didn’t know. Having been solely responsible for book collection previously, I’ve never had a book in my cart that I didn’t place there. Before ordering, I’d scroll the cart and have a familiarity with every single title. With every single cover. Sometime today, those boxes are scheduled to arrive. I don’t get the thrill of opening them, nor of designing a display around them.

If all had gone according to plan, I’d be writing a different post this month because I wouldn’t still be at the circulation desk with a front row seat to my old job. The furniture is ready for my new Hollywood Regency-esque vibe when I do get to move in a few weeks. This is the definition of a liminal time, and one that both makes me wistful for my past and appreciative of where the library is headed next. To data literacy and logic puzzles and how to graphically represent (or misrepresent) the number of pushups from a thirty day challenge and beyond. And of course there are still the book recommendations for English classes and the history research projects to come.

Some of the new furniture also sharing the current office space

And I know from our conversations that he isn’t sitting around judging all I didn’t get done, but I have been intrigued by some of what’s surprised him. I’ve asked him to keep track of his impressions this month — and he’ll be writing a complementary post in two weeks about the difference between being adjacent to the librarian and being the librarian. Stay tuned.

A Faculty “Book” Club Rebrand

If you take one fact from this post, let it be this. I have a favorite punctuation mark. While polarizing, I personally like the way the “scare quote” stretches the possible interpretations of words on a page. Plus, incorrectly-used scare quotes are common and laugh out loud funny. Next up for debate:

The ultimate type to hate….

Or we can move to this month’s faculty book club. We are scheduled to meet once per interim, though we’re still rebuilding this year after several years of COVID restrictions. The most recent faculty “book” club had a rebranding, a 34 minute podcast rather than a shared book. This seems fitting as the former sponsor of my school’s “no reading required” book club. Students who liked books gathered together each month to discuss books in a specific genre even if they had been too busy (or “too busy”) to read that month.

from their advertising campaign…

The podcast for our faculty book club was Simon Sinek’s Bit of Optimism interview with Dr. Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, a clinical psychologist whose work researches the evolutionary reasons for anxiety. Rather than pathologizing all anxiety, she reframes it as an emotion that can help us prepare for an uncertain future. Like many schools, our students seem more anxious than in past years and less comfortable knowing how to handle that discomfort on their own. Dennis-Tiwary believes there is value in going through these anxious feelings, emotions that are on a continuum with excitement, rather than trying to minimize or avoid them. Her specific suggestion is to follow the 3 L’s: Listen, Leverage, and Let Go. If this is an idea that intrigues you, here is her interview with Sinek on “The Wisdom of Anxiety” and a link to her book Future Tense: Why anxiety is good for you (even though it feels bad).

The book club averages 12-15 members, about 10 of whom come regularly. Looking around at some new faces this meeting, we started with a question unrelated to the subject at hand. “Did you come for the topic we are discussing or for shared discussion with your colleagues?” The regulars all said they were interested in discussions on any subject, while the several newer participants indicated that the topic of managing anxiety in a more productive way was interesting both personally and as an educator. More importantly, the shorter time commitment, audio format, and universal free availability increased participation. Most importantly, 34 minutes of content provided far more than we could discuss in an hour! We didn’t need an entire book!

Who doesn’t identify with this pufferfish sometimes?

While I make a discussion guide for each meeting as a part of my parsing of material, we tend to let conversations roll more naturally from topic to topic. Everyone is familiar with anxiety and with trying to comfort anxious students. We brought our own experiences and talked about what anxieties look like to children at various ages. What do we do as teachers (and parents) as students move from childhood anxieties like thunderstorms to teen anxieties about college admissions? How can we build on the idea of community and service, and thus a connected identity of community service?

So many meetings are focused on next steps forward and decision making. An afterschool “meeting” sounds less fun than an afterschool “club.” Sometimes we need a time to discuss our concerns or formulate new ideas in a more casual, low-stakes environment; a time to come together with donuts and laughter and thoughtful conversation; a time to think of our colleagues not just as math or English teachers, but as teammates (or parents or friends) who ask the same questions as we meander together without needing one “answer.”

Librarian, Meet the Left-Handed Whelk

The job of librarian is one that continues to show up on polls as one of the most trusted professions.

Like many independent schools, my school has several signature programs intended to distinguish it from other area schools. Since our campus includes a bayou that is just south of the Manatee River, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico, all of our students learn a ton about marine ecosystems. At the high school level, the Marine Science signature program includes the required 9th grade Biology course followed by three years of Marine Biology electives. Marine 3 is a research-based seminar in which students design and complete a year-long study; they ultimately write a paper, create a scientific poster, and present their findings at RISE (Research and Independent Study Expo) in early May. Five to ten students pursue this path each year, which earns them the Ocean Academy graduation distinction. Many continue their marine studies in college.

RISE: Marine Presentations

Enough with the advertisement—oh wait — let me also share with readers that teachers are requested to supervise student boat and kayak trips, so we also get to spend classes out on the water with students!

Just an “average” monthly boat trip for the students

If you ask our students why they’ve chosen to devote many of their electives to the Ocean Academy distinction, you’ll get a variety of answers.

“Concern for our planet.”

“Love the teachers.”

“My older brother said it was like a family.”

“Labs on the water.” “Get to fish during school.

To recap the past few paragraphs. Ocean Academy graduates have had some sort of Marine focus in science classes each year they’ve attended the school, and students in Marine 3 have taken, you guessed it, 3 years of Marine Science. Also librarians are a trusted profession.

I think this is a powerful program for all the reasons students mention. As a coastal community, we’ll be affected by climate change sooner than some further inland, and many of our families are deeply connected to local waterways. Because it doesn’t have an AP designation, it draws those students most passionate about marine science, not the ones most focused on their GPAs and the weighted bump they receive from AP courses.

So many seahorses

They aren’t always the ones who have excelled in previous History and English research papers, the projects more typically associated with the library.

So unlike the world they are close to entering of university research and discipline-specific librarians, they are stuck with me. I’m no academic slouch, but I lack almost all of their marine knowledge. I last took a science course that wasn’t labeled “information science” in the year 1999. They know more than me. Years more.

But they often don’t trust their own deep subject-specific knowledge, and our first few classes together are always an interesting dance of questions and responses. Many assume I’m asking them questions I already know the answers to, as I would with courses where I have more of a background. “Why is Lady Macbeth jealous?” “How did planes influence WWI?” etc.

Bayou on a foggy morning

But this is a different use of the librarian’s knowledge. When I ask what they mean by a ghost crab trap, I want to know the definition so we can look up synonyms. For their paper on cast netting, I am being serious in asking if they need to plan their collection time around tides or time of day — or whether either of these factors even matter when monitoring water quality? I’m curious if a “water goat” is something used at the individual or municipal level because we are eligible to apply for grants if this is something that would make sense to purchase for our bayou.  And when they tell me they are looking into a whelk’s “left-handedness,” come on, that’s just like click bait for librarians to follow up with more questions!

This is one of the first times that they are the content experts, and I want to help them learn to own that expertise. The teacher will help with experimental design, but I can use the “reference interview” to get a handle on the scope of their experiment, specialized vocabulary related to their topic, and ways to search in scholarly journals. I can help them parse an academic paper and design an academic poster, even if I can’t assess if all the information is factually correct. I can tell them “I don’t know” and that some questions are better directed to their teacher. In this project I’m no longer teaching them information skills as they progress; instead, I’m helping them build their confidence in using the library as a targeted resource to stay up to date on their topic. It’s the closest they can get to researching in a college library while still in high school.

The Poky Little Printer

Raise your hand if you’ve heard me harp about the student printer. That printer is locally famous enough to have made it into my Baccalaureate speech – celebrating a future where seniors never have to wait for that particular printer again. When we moved from iPads to BYOD, I smiled Grinch-like. My heart grew three sizes that day. That printer has a vendetta against iPads. Though, to be fair, it doesn’t have a particular love for Mac Books. And it’s only black and white. And only accessible if you are on the school wifi. Sometimes I’ll stand next to a student and watch as they send a print job only to see it sit stoically with a print queue of zero.

Like a moody cat that only loves its owner, I’ll admit that the printer likes me just fine. I can print from my PC. From my Mac. From my iPad!  I send a job from anywhere on campus and can count on it to churn up the copies exactly as requested. It’s dependable. Reliable. Loyal.

With some administrative restructuring last spring, I slipped into a new role. It’s both mentally adjacent to my previous role and physically indistinguishable – the same chair, the same view, the same printer to my left. I initially celebrated that printer management would fall to another. And yet…

The poky little printer—in its natural state

The following is a paragraph that I imagine will read as fantasy to those in larger schools. We’re a Google school, so my school email pops up any time a student hits the share button and types the letters “CP.” Because my library is a large L shape and is frequently used by our Study Out students, I tend to do a lot of my teaching in classrooms. Students are enterprising. I’d be working with World History or AP Lang, far from the library, and suddenly ping, ping, ping.

“Document shared with you.”
“Document shared with you.”
“Document shared with you.”

“Hold on class. Open. Print. Repeat.” When I asked students about this, I’d hear some variant of, “That seemed faster. It always works for you.” At its highest, this was twenty plus papers a day. And this was the solution students deemed easier. And while it might not be for the reasons I’d hope, this certainly showed that the students felt the library was central to their lives.

With some metaphorical distance – and an improved printer interface this fall – I’ve realized how many student interactions I gained from that printer and how much stronger I was as a librarian because of it. I’d have conversations with students every day about their work. When I had time, I’d ask about their projects. I’d make comments like, “Do you want to alphabetize that bibliography before printing?” or perhaps, “Ummm…remember this requires a bibliography. Want to print that too?” So many one-on-one conversations. And since just about any printing issue could be solved by sending it to me, most of those conversations ended with a student feeling like the library left them in a better place than they’d been a few minutes before. So later conversations might be, “How did this ICW compare to what you’ve been asked to do as a Precis in History?” “Tell me something you learned about how bees communicate.” “Why are you choosing to write about this book for your essay?” To say nothing of the SAT tickets, senior speeches, trip forms…

Obviously this isn’t an optimal library use strategy, but it is interesting what sorts of conversations come up during this involuntary quality time.

(In)visible Libraries?

A recent conversation about work with a family member prompted her to ask about the “essential duties” in my role. I paused. Most of what came to my mind was fuzzy. Saying yes to people. Answering questions. Searching. More searching. Searching again. Commiserating. Ideally making people’s days better. But not the technical services of library management. (Want to weed my collection or figure out some integration questions with our school’s LMS?)

An administrator recommended NAIS’s New View Edu podcast on school innovation, and as a bit of a podcast fiend, I’ve been catching up quickly. As our school grows its library department this year and I step into a newly-created role, this idea from Sanyin Siang in Schools for Developing Superpowers jumped out to me. I hit rewind when I heard her say that as roles change, “you have to let go of some of the things that you used to do, that you are really great at, and instead develop others.” This was the podcast equivalent of the librarian’s right book at the right time. I tend to add and add until I’m overwhelmed. If you’re like me and you needed to hear those words from a management professor, what’s one thing you can let go of this year? One.

But for now, her next lines are where I want to turn my attention. When librarians talk, a common conversation is about the invisibility of libraries. Whether in larger educational organizations or our own schools, operating efficiently sometimes feels like it’s supposed to seem seamless. And that can too quickly drift towards…

Yes, schools can function without libraries. But well-utilized libraries add so much value to schools. Returning to Siang, the next few minutes of the podcast spoke to me even more as she shared her theories about the roles of leadership, both the functional roles and the invisible roles that lead to organizational success. To a bit of the podcast transcript!

Sanyin Siang: Let’s play with that a little bit, because I think, you know, there’s functional roles, but then there’s also hidden roles that different people assume, right? … this has not been in an article yet, but an idea I’ve been playing with, is this idea of the four invisible roles that led to organizational continuity.

… One is the MENTOR or the coach, right? Because that’s a, you know, mentors are not just only imparting knowledge … they just can’t help but share out knowledge and the norms … basically they create that continuity.

The second type of person is the EMOTIONAL GLUE. We all know these people, this can be the executive assistant, or it can be the principal, you know, but this type of person, the emotional glue, the team is better when they’re on the court, but they’re, they’re great at assists, right? We don’t record assists. Uh, why not? You know, when assists are just as important …

And then a third type is the CATALYST … where they either are great at asking those questions that make us take a step wise leap in imagining, or they could be skeptics … But they pose something on the table that made us rethink.

Right. And then the last type I think about is the INTEGRATORS. So we know the importance of diversity on our teams, but given how busy everyone is, we also need that person who loves going around learning what everyone is working on. You know, and then they just, they just pollinate. They’re integrators. Great. Now intellectual cross pollinators. And these, I call them invisible roles because these roles exist sort of, we don’t intentionally create them in our organizations, but when they exist, at least they better chances of organizational continuity, but they’re not often that recognized.

Mentors. Emotional glue. Catalysts. Integrators. At first, I thought this would be like the Harry Potter houses where we can’t help but self identify. (Shout out to my fellow Ravenclaws!) But then I realized these four roles might be the most essential pieces of a librarian job description that I’ve never seen articulated. Who supports the community, asks meaningful questions, and “cross pollinates?” Your librarian. Thank you, Sanyin Siang for thinking about those intangibles and communicating to administration about why it might be worth building more intention into supporting these roles that make our schools better.

What Now, What Next?

When you finish a research project, what’s your next step? Anyone share mine?

Hi PW, So glad to see your students at the printer this morning with their final drafts in hand! Let me know when you have a few minutes in the next day or so to debrief about this year’s project and how we might improve it next year. Thanks, Christina

To complement my digital files online, I also keep a folder per class with research projects. At the top of each assignment, I put the year, what I did, how it was received, and a note with titles of any files linked to the assignment. After meeting with the teacher, I add a Post It with notes about how to make it better next year. These add up over time for a neat evolution of research and also work as a reference for new teachers looking for examples of the variety of ways the library can collaborate with classes.

In this, however, and in much of my life, there’s an unintended side effect. I don’t let things go. It’s never enough. Did I make enough brownies for the potluck? Is the recipe unique? Should I bring brownies to the teacher on lunch duty who can’t attend? Or offer to cover her lunch duty?  I remember my college used to host free movie previews, and I’d go with my roommates and sit next to them to movies none of us had heard of. And I’d think, “What if they think this is a waste of time?” Note that I didn’t need to suggest the movie to feel a sense of responsibility for their reactions. (So if you are reading this thinking, why am I not more thorough, know that thoroughness is not a recipe for contentment. When asked to set an intention at the beginning of a yoga class, I default to “Be here now.” And yet…)

Two years ago, when there was a lot more time for long hikes, I learned that memorizing poems during long hikes does bring me quite a bit of contentment. And roots me in the moment at hand. One such poem was Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

And when I get overwhelmed, these are the lines that echo through my head:

And thick and fast
They came at last
And more and more and more

While technically about the naïve and hapless oysters hurrying to their own feast, to me the lines represent my thoughts, my goals, my expectations for myself.

As many of you know, I also coordinate the school’s Capstone program. It’s not the AP program but an advanced independent interdisciplinary research program intended for a few students each year. Two of their seven periods are devoted to their Capstone. The application process is purposefully cumbersome, weeding out students who might not have the background or the drive to motivate themselves over an entire school year. And during the application interview, students – who can speak knowledgeably about their annotated bibliographies and research goals – get stumped by some variant of this question.

“What will make you feel like you have met your goals on this project?”

Because it’s not the easy answers: “learning about this topic I love,” “when it’s finished after RISE,” or “publishing.”

In the fall, I have the students write or video weekly reflections about what they’ve done, short-term goals, coping with setbacks, and similar topics. They are much harder on themselves than their professional mentors. But, they also don’t have a lot of experience creating their own goals, meeting them, not meeting them and thus refining those expectations, and learning from all of the above. Throughout their lives, they’ve looked towards parents, teachers, and coaches for tasks and for validation that these tasks were completed successfully. And while my students seem to have a simplified view that “life skills” are changing tires, doing taxes, and sewing buttons, I’d say that making progress on your goals — and either being satisfied with their progress or creating more realistic goals — is something I encounter much more frequently as an adult.

Just as with many others’ more contemplative recent posts, I’m still figuring it out. Learning doesn’t stop at the classroom doors, and my students, especially the top students, need to learn to be kind to themselves when their plans don’t match their reality. Rather than tell them how to do this, can I sit with them and their thoughts as we all figure out our paths?

Because I had up to this point drafted far ahead of time, during a crunch period last week, I sat with one and shared what I had written up to this paragraph. To which she responded by saying that she had assumed her stress was about this project, not something she would carry as part of her into whatever projects she has in college and beyond. We bring ourselves and our energies wherever we go; and we need to remember there are times to push forward and times to pull back. Or paraphrasing the offbeat yet wise poetry of Shel Silverstein, remember Melinda Mae and the whale.

(Why) do you care?

The language in the last two posts spoke to me, both Tasha’s reactions to signaling verbs and Reba’s use of the phrase “getting a source done.” (I could write a whole post on my thoughts when students have that mindset.) Likewise, I have spent a lot of time in my head considering whether what’s happening — or not — with student work is the same as what I imagine.

Last month, after asking my brother what he wanted for Christmas, I received a text saying he wanted shelves for games.

Me: Type of shelf?
Him: I dunno whatever might be good for game storage I guess
Me: How many games? Do you want them visible?
Him: I mean id assume visible I don’t know like 20-30 games right now they are all stuffed in cabinets

I Google search terms like “best video gaming shelves” and “creative video game storage” and toggle to image searches. Yet he keeps telling me the shelves I’m suggesting are too small. Finally he sends this picture…

his game photo

We live in different states and haven’t really played board games since before the pandemic. I really did go back through my texts because I was so surprised. My brain had just filled in what I expected to find.

And back to searching. As many of us have noted, librarian skills enhance our lives outside the library. I found ones with excellent reviews in our price range and sent him the links for approval. (We’re not big on surprises.) Later conversations revealed that determining the “perfect” shelves was the actual gift. He could have bought the shelves himself if he had known what he wanted to buy.

organization by color

(Though the installation was part of the gift as well.) And with an artist for a wife, organization by color was a MUCH more aesthetically-pleasing choice than my hemming and hawing as I tried to organize by category. (Genrefiers, I’m impressed. I tend to second guess placing anything definitively in one genre.)

Too frequently, I’ve heard people say that students aren’t completing work because they don’t care. But what if it’s that they care too much? Or aren’t sure of the next steps? Or are afraid of feeling embarrassed? (Or, alright, sometimes are required to take a math/language/science class and “just don’t care.”)

I was talking with a student this fall about his missing bibliography. He couldn’t remember his Noodletools login. Since this had happened previously, he was self-conscious about losing it again.

A student missed the meeting to workshop her Senior speech before giving it in chapel. She hadn’t written it because she’d been awake stressing about it for several nights and had pages of notes on her innermost thoughts but no speech.

Or the students who didn’t print their completed papers after writing essays on iPads because they didn’t realize they had to click the “share and export” button in order to reach the “print” button. They didn’t want to risk being seen as tech newbies by asking.

And here’s where I celebrate being a librarian and not a teacher. I don’t have to question if a student is trying to pull something over on me. Librarians simply get to help, no grades attached. I’ve found myself asking more and more frequently, “what’s your next step?” Or “what’s stopped you from getting to X?” Or “where do you want to be with this?” And while I might be ending on a Pollyannaish note, it’s been fulfilling to try to reframe “why don’t you care? into “what do you care about?”