on inviting AI to the research party…

It’s research party season, people!!!

This year we decided to put AI on the guest list so we invited AI to come to our recent research party! #DaringIKnow!!!

AI RSVPd and came…

Based on ubiquitous rumors that have been going around about AI’s questionable behavior around town, though, we were, quite honestly, a little worried that AI might be one of “those” party guests. You know, those guests that show up at a perfectly nice research party where everyone is having a great time enjoying the potluck dishes that people brought that start with the same letter of their first names. “I’m Dave and I brought dolmades!” Nobody is making too much noise. Nobody is getting too drunk. Nobody is gathering supplies to go and TP the neighbor’s yard…

You know, and then “that” guest arrives. One thing leads to another and before you know it there are 14 police cruisers in front of the house and everyone knows that the party is over and it’s time to go home all because AI just didn’t know when to stop…

I mean, I dunno about you, but I’ve heard that at some research parties, AI has been known to say racist and sexist things… AI has been rumored to assertively make statements that seem to be just wrong or really out of context and then being unwilling to say EXACTLY where they heard what they’re asserting or cite their sources…

You might be wondering, “Yeah, Dave, with all of those concerns why in the world would you even want to invite AI to your research party?” and you know, at some point life is really short and I guess sometimes you just gotta take a chance and invite new guests to the party every once in a while. Who knows, sometimes when you invite new guests they inject new ideas into your conversations and prevent you from being bored out of your skull! Sometimes when you invite new guests to a party they help you think of things you’d never considered before and open your eyes to new horizons! And, well, I’ve also heard that AI can be super charismatic and entertaining so I kind of just wanted a chance to meet AI for myself.

I get it, though, sometimes when you invite a new guest to your research party, you find out that they’re a great guest at SOMEONE ELSE’S party, but they just don’t fit in very well at yours–looking at you EBSCO Discovery Service.

Or… You know, they bring a potluck dish that just doesn’t agree with your system and gives you projectile diarrhea for the next 48 hours, but in the end you’ll never know unless you take a chance and get to meet them in person for yourself.

  • Who: IB Diploma Juniors
  • What: IB Extended Essay Research Support
  • When: Fall semester of Junior Year
  • Where: The Library
  • Why: Providing topic selection and research support for IB juniors embarking on their 4000 word IB extended essay independent research paper

Given concerns over some of the things we’d heard about AI at other parties, we decided to have some house rules in place. We told AI that the party started at 10:00, but we had all of the other guests arrive early so, you know, we could set some house rules in place.

Pre-Party House Rules

We started our discussion on house rules for AI with our junior guests based on the IB’s statement on AI.

Pre-Party Introduction to AI

We had our high school educational technologist, Dr. Pennington, come and talk to the cohort about ChatGPT version 3.5 which is the version that has been approved and loaded onto high school students’ school iPads. Dr. Pennington shared information about large language models, the dataset that was used to train ChatGPT 3.5 (training data for 3.5 stops after January 2022), types/forms of data NOT included in the dataset (firewalled/paywalled), etc.

ChatGPT and Our Big Wicked Research Problem…

In almost 24 years as a school librarian the big wicked research problem I’ve always struggled with is how to most effectively help a human who is learning about a topic find entry points and keywords that can be used to connect them to relevant and pertinent sources so they can learn more. The process is slow and the process is hard! Think about it! I have a BEd in elementary education, an MEd in curriculum and instruction, and an MLIS is school librarianship. When I am researching information in the education arena, I typically know the vocabulary of the field of study. I know the names of prominent educational theories, prominent educational theorists, movements, schools of thought, etc. that all can be used as entry points that lead me to relevant and pertinent information.

If I am seeking information about pancreatic cancer on the other hand, I find myself limited to launching my search into what I know is an extremely multi-faceted topic with a search on [pancreatic cancer] and, honestly, nothing much beyond that…

Aside: Looking at you faculty members who completed your last degree in the 1990s and “know how to search” and roll your eyes when we talk to you about how help students be better searchers… #DunningKrugerEffect 👀

ChatGPT, Meet Wicked Problem…

At this point we had ChatGPT come in and take a seat at the table. Rather than have everyone talking with ChatGPT all at once, we had groups of students meet ChatGPT together. We let them know that ChatGPT seemed to be on its best behavior when we started the conversation with a prompt that gave it some context for the TYPE of conversation result we wanted to get and some contextual information about a topic.

We launched our demo conversation with ChatGPT using a prompt on [coral bleaching] and we had students brainstorm the kind of information a perfect reply would give us. We decided that a perfect source would tell us all manner of information as an introduction to a topic.

What kind of source typically provides an understandable introduction to just about every aspect of a topic you might need to know? Why… A textbook!!!

We had students prompt ChatGPT with [Build me a table of contents for a textbook on coral bleaching]

ChatGPT 3.5’s resulting table-of-contents, then gives 16 year old me, entry points to search that significantly increase my chances of getting me to an aspect of coral bleaching that might help me narrow a topic beyond [coral bleaching][bleaching mechanisms] [coral symbiosis][physiology]

But Wait, We’re Still in the Topic Selection Process so There’s More…

Too often, we see students want jump from, “Yay! I know three search terms so now I’m going to SEARCH, SEARCH, SEARCH” without thinking quite enough about, “So… What can I do with what I have right here in front of me.”

With the IB Extended Essay, students can choose to write their independent study extended essay on anything they choose, but they do have follow topic treatments established by the IB. We had students take a list of all of their IB courses and take the ChatGPT table-of-contents headings and see which ones they could turn into essays the fit into different disciplines.

“Coral Symbiosis and Physiology could be written as a chemistry EE, biology EE, or environmental science EE”

“Conservation and mitigation strategies could be written as a global politics EE or an environmental science EE.”

***Sorry! I had pictures of students’ work and notes, but I lost them… 🤷🏻‍♂️

From here students seemed to take to the prompting and iterating extremely easily. [Build me a table of contents for a textbook on coral bleaching in Hawaii] and we sent them off to explore topics that they might want to eventually write commit to for their extended essay.

Serving Some Tea at the Party…

Students had a good time and, I think, quite a bit if success using ChatGPT to get their heads around and into different topics.

Over the course of their time with us in the library we also raised and discussed the issue of bias in AI training datasets. One, I think, very enlightening and effective activity involved simply putting the Independent Ideas blog post Canva, AI, and the Biases Baked Into Everything, by Sara Kelley-Mudie up on our monitor and asking the cohort, “So, what do you all notice about this? What do you think?” I thought that it was an incredibly easy way to get kids to see that, though the output product in Sara’s blog post was a visual image, that the very same kinds of biases are baked into sources of all kinds and that sometimes when they’re in printed word form, that they’re not always as readily evident for us to see.

Parting Gifts…

As we wrapped up our ChatGPT party, we wanted to have a feel for what kids thought and how they were contextualizing ChatGPT as a tool for in their research toolkits. Starting when they come to us in middle school, we draw a very rudimentary “mind map” of the internet on the board to help them get their heads around what they’re searching when they’re searching in Google or Bing or Duck Duck Go and the differences between websites and databases.

“When you search my name on the world wide web, like when you search Google for example, you don’t see email that people have sent me because it’s a different part of the internet. Likewise, Google searches don’t surface database content because the content is paywalled and can’t be indexed by bots…”

We asked our cohort, “So where do you think we should put ChatGPT?”

Kids thought that it needed it’s own space on the internet, but some argued that in their minds, it probably had a bridge that linked to the WWW because (though it isn’t Google) the data it scapes is of the same nature as is being searched by Google.

The parties that followed had much more traditional guest lists. We got a chance to catch up with our old acquaintances Masterfile, Academic Search Complete, and JSTOR. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’ve always been and continue to be very nice guests to have over. They’re not as flashy or charismatic as ChatGPT, but you know, in today’s world I’m trying to be open minded and accepting of a wide swath of friends and learn what I can from each of them.

Have you invited AI to any of your library soirees or research parties? If you did, please hit leave a reply below and tell us how it went!

Happy, almost there to winter break, all!!!

on the copyright elephant…

There’s a terrible old dad joke that goes something like, “How do you eat an elephant?” … “One bite at a time!”

Well, terrible as that joke may be, it’s going to be my strategy for engaging with our faculty on copyright this year. Now, I dunno about the rest of you out there in Libraryland, but teaching people about copyright is not one of the most inspiring and motivating aspects of my job. Frankly, I kind of hate it. Copyright is boring; the average mortal who is not a copyright lawyer finds copyright confusing; and when you’re charged with teaching people about the basics of copyright a number of colleagues inevitably feel compelled to find you out in the breezeway after lunch to tell you the 12 reasons that they think US copyright law is broken. For the record, I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiments above, but “Hey people, we all have janky parts of our jobs that we enjoy less than other parts, but we still gotta do what we gotta do and say what we gotta say so please keep in mind that Dave did not write US copyright law and Dave can’t change US copyright law so what do you want me to do about it?!?!?”

Sorry, that became kind of a rant! 🤣🤣🤣

Anyway… Rather than painfully trudge through an hourlong presentation on copyright during a Friday afternoon faculty meeting when nobody wants to hear what I need to tell them and nobody wants to stay for a faculty meeting after school on a Friday (Seriously, faculty meeting time AFTER SCHOOL on FRIDAY?!?!? 😳😳😳) I’m going to try to share out copyright basics in small bites throughout the year and see if eating this copyright elephant one bite at a time might make the copyright elephant go down with as little nausea and gastric distress as possible!!! 🤣🤣🤣

I have a few minutes with both our elementary and 6-12 faculties during our opening of school meetings this week and I’ll be attempting to present some basics on use of video in classroom instruction.

I’m planning to start with my handy-dandy homemade flowchart…

We’ll walk through the “NOT for direct instruction” and “for direct instruction” options. Let teachers know that we actually do have a public performance site license that we maintain for the school and what that means, and we’ll remind them that we subscribe to SWANK Video Streaming in an attempt to make complying with US copyright law as painless as we can afford to make it for them.

Do you do copyright instruction with your faculty? If yes, what’s worked for you?

That’s it for now. Today is my last day of summer break. New students join us on campus next Monday and all students Preschool-12 will be back next Tuesday. Ready or not here comes SY ’23-’24!!!

on librarian-ing like Adam in Rhode Island…

I hope that this post finds you lounging in your happy place reading something that you want to read for the sheer fun of reading what you want to read or wrapping up the odds and ends in your libraries and preparing to lounge in your happy place reading something that you want to read for the sheer fun of reading what you want to read!

Our summer starts earlier than most so I’m on my annual journey to the East Coast of the US to visit my significant other’s family and to spend time in New York. On our lovely drive up to Boston, MA; Camden, ME; and Providence, RI I had the good fortune of dodging the worst of the bad air in NY and ate a lot of delicious meals in MA and ME. On our way back to New York, we hosted dinner for our family at a wonderful Iberian restaurant in Providence. It was at this dinner that we had the amazing great fortune to be guided through our meal by our amazing server, Adam.

As I was trying to figure out what to write about this month, I started to think about how libraries are a lot like food service establishments.

Sometimes when I go into a building where food is served, I’m just entering the building as a means to an end. When we’re driving up I95 trying to get to Boston from New York and I walk into a service plaza next to the freeway, I want to pee, eat something so that I won’t die, and get back on the road as fast as possible so that we can beat the afternoon rush hour traffic as we near Boston!

Serviceable Library Services…

As a young librarian, I think I got really, really good at giving teachers my “I95 service plaza” library lessons. If they wanted “a lesson on primary sources from Greece and Rome.” I delivered a pretty nice lesson on primary sources from Greece and Rome. Just like the 6-inch meatball sub on cheese bread from the Subway in the I95 service plaza, my lessons did what they needed to do.

Sometimes, though, when I go to a nice restaurant with family or friends, I’m entering that restaurant with hopes for more than just that “serviceable” meatball sub. I want to eat delicious food; have time to chat and make happy memories with nieces and nephews and the significant people in their lives; and, if i’m lucky, maybe discover a new taste that I didn’t know that I liked! I want the whole dining experience!

If you even made it this far down into this post you’re probably thinking, “What in the world does this have to do with libraries?” Well, I’m not really sure yet, but I’m hoping to figure it out by the end of this post. So anyway…

Teaching Teachers What Kind of Library Services They Should Ask For…

Before our dinner in Providence started, I was chatting with our server Adam and mentioned that I am a “man of the pig” but that I didn’t think the pork belly a la Plancha on the menu was going to be my cup of tea as I generally find pork belly to be too fatty for my personal liking. Adam challenged me to give their kitchen’s pork belly a try as the way it was prepared rendered most of the fat out of the pork belly and made it “almost like pork crackling.”

Was that pork crackling you said???

We decided to order a few tapas plates to start, but if your family is anything like ours deciding on 4 starters in a restaurant can sometimes feel and sound like Brexit trade negotiations, so after allowing the group to brainstorm the 398+ possible tapas combinations, Adam, who knew the menu well suggested 4 dishes that had assured each of the 10 of us would have something he was pretty sure we’d enjoy. We had scallops, lamb chops, asparagus, and pork belly. As it turned out, “OMG… I can, indeed, love pork belly enough to want to marry it!!!” I just didn’t know what I didn’t know about how pork belly could be prepared.

I work with really great educators! My teachers work hard. They care about their students and, i believe, sincerely want to teach students the skills and concepts those students will need in order to thrive in their futures. The thing is, though, that a significant majority of our teaching faculty grew up researching in an analog information world. The speed of the transition to a predominantly digital information landscape at the scholastic level has come so rapidly, that I’d guess that the vast majority of high school teachers in all of North America (not just at my school) probably lack the skills necessary to really teach high school research well in 2023.

I think that as “servers” in our libraries we need to develop our “menus” of concepts/lessons that we’re ready to suggest to teachers who “just don’t know what they don’t know” about what services they should be asking us for.

A Good Restaurant Server Leads Diners Through a Meal…

Adam didn’t steer me wrong on the pork belly so I asked whether he thought I should try the chicken special of the day or the duck. Without hesitation, he recommended the duck “hands down” and he wasn’t wrong.

Sometimes teachers approach us with an idea for a research based activity. “I want to have my students do a debate.” It’s at moments like these when the details on information use matter and sometimes that means that as librarians we need to lead the teacher/diner through the project/meal. “Uh… I’m going to strongly suggest NOT assigning students a side before they research. Let’s force them to research the best arguments on BOTH sides of the issue and have them decide which side they’d argue with a coin flip on the day of the debate otherwise we’ll be teaching them to cherry pick arguments and create propaganda rather than teaching critical thinking and research…” 😳

So What Now?

I’ve started thinking about the menu of services we’ll want to work on delivering in the fall. We’ll certainly want all of our frosh and sophomores to get an introduction/review of the basics of SIFT, but beyond that I’m thinking:

  • Research as process
  • Social emotional self-awareness in the research process
  • Logical fallacies
  • Using AI in the presearching/topic selection process
  • ???

Anyway, that’s where I am. Apparently, thinking a LOT about food and a little about the future of my library’s services for next school year.

Please hit reply and share the kinds of things you’re considering putting on your library’s menu in the fall in the comments below. I’d love to see what you’re doing!

Have a great summer, all!

on awesome free stuff…

My Information Literacy Instruction Goal: I want to grow teenagers into information literate human beings before they graduate and leave our orbit.

My Information Literacy Reality: We’ve done some good work and we’ve made some really good progress, but growing information literate human beings is really, really hard and we’re not getting students as far down the information literacy road as I’d like them to be. This year, all of our frosh and sophomores have been introduced the the main concepts and the practice of SIFT, lateral reading, and some basic fact checking.

Where We Find Ourselves: Like many of you we’ve embraced the shift in information literacy instruction to SIFT, lateral reading, and emphasizing context in the evaluation and use of sources of information.

My Plan at the Beginning of the School Year: After introducing SIFT, lateral reading, and emphasizing context in the evaluation and use of sources of information, we will produce short weekly videos that will revisit concepts and deepen students knowledge of skills, strategies, and techniques applicable to SIFT, lateral reading, and establishing/understanding a source’s context.

The Reality of My Plan in April: I, apparently, am a stupid, stupid man with little to no grasp of the reality of how much time, effort, and energy it takes to produce weekly videos on fact checking and lateral reading.

Yay for Free Stuff that’s Good!: Finding free stuff that’s good and does exactly what you need and want it to do is a beautiful thing! I recently came across a Youtube series from MediaWise, called, “Is It Legit?” The Is It Legit? formula is to take a viral social media claim of some kind and have a teenaged host talk through the process of how the claim might be fact checked and contextualized. MediaWise is a Google initiative and they’ve partnered with the Poynter Institute to develop the content. In addition to the Is it Legit? series, MediaWise has a full list of up-to-date available videos on the MediaWise channel homepage. From what I’ve seen, the videos fact check viral claims from both conservative and progressive viewpoints and they emphasize techniques and establishing context for fact checked claims.

There’s More to Information Literacy and Media Literacy than SIFT: I find that students take to the SIFT method very readily, but hey, there’s definitely more to being information literate than Stop, Investigate the source, Finding better sources, and Tracing quotes and claims. The News Literacy Project is a non-partisan educational non-profit that puts out great free material for educators interested supporting students’ information literacy growth. One of their initiatives, Rumor Guard, seemed like a perfect way for us to extend students’ understanding of “stuff to consider as you’re SIFT-ing.” In particular, Rumor Guard encourages students to consider The 5 Factors of a claim as they SIFT:

  • Is it authentic?
  • Has it been posted or confirmed by a credible source?
  • Is there evidence that supports the claim?
  • Is the context accurate?
  • Is ti based on solid reasoning?

Again, we’re trying very hard to have teachers and students see The 5 Factors not as a new process for evaluating sources, but as “things to think about AS you are doing SIFT…” as we want to avoid the “the librarians keep changing what they’re teaching us” syndrome.

Making Sure that Media Literacy Instruction Happens without Teaching it All Ourselves: I’ve come to realize that literacies don’t develop as a result of specific lessons or units of study, but develop and emerge as a result of thousands of experiences and interactions with media over an extended time. To have any hope of the concepts of SIFT, lateral reading, and establishing/understanding a source’s context have any hope of becoming an integrated part of the way that our students effectively navigate their media drenched worlds, they need to be getting media literacy instruction in places other than the library. This spring, we’ve asked our social studies/humanities colleagues to help us pilot continued follow-up instruction on SIFT and lateral reading using videos from MediaWise alongside The 5 Factors from Rumor Guard.

In our effort to continue to deepen and expand on this basic introduction, we wanted to find a time friendly low stakes way for teachers to make thinking about good information literacy hygiene a regular, consistent, and persistent part of students’ everyday educational lives. We’ve begun curating just a single “MediaWise video of the Week” and asked our social studies and humanities teachers to find between 4-10 minutes of time during the week to show a selected MediaWise video in their classes (and hopefully have a short conversation with students about the fact check, but not required).

Hopes for the Future: We’re piloting this effort with our Social Studies/Humanities colleagues, but if we get good feedback from our stakeholder groups, we’d love to be able to curate STEM appropriate examples to have our science, math, and engineering colleagues join in on the effort.

We’ve just launched so we’re not sure what’ll happen just yet, but our teachers see that their students need the support so we’re hoping that providing teachers a simple, short, easily digested and easily scheduled option will help us make information literacy instruction a more regular part of students’ lives at school.

on our museum of not-digital sources…

This post is more than a week late, but I was on a break and, honestly, needed to not think about anything library for a while…

Now that I’m back at my desk with my monitor perched atop 4 volumes of the 29th edition Library of Congress Subject Headings in order to help correct my horrendously bad posture that lead to the pinched nerve in my neck I thought I’d share about our effort to begin dialoging with our students about source types in databases.

Bad posture will catch up to you! Take care of your posture, people!

The Problem: Database interfaces are, seemingly, designed for digital immigrants, but our students are digital natives…

When a 14 or 15 year old human searches a library database they typically see something that looks like this…

As a digital immigrant who started life in an analog world and even worked in a library with a bonafide “Reference Room” I have a pretty good idea about the kind of content I’ll get if I click on the Reference, Magazine, Website, or Academic Journals links above. The reality for my 14 and 15 year old frosh and sophomores trying to search more varied databases for the first time is that most of them have never seen, touched, or used a print reference source; virtually none of them have seen, touched, or used an academic journal; and shockingly few of them have seen, touched, or used magazines or newspapers!!! #Gasp #EyesBulgingEmoji #IFeelSoOld

I can wring my hands and clutch my pearls, but that doesn’t go very far in helping my students know what source type link to choose if they want to find specific kinds of information so we decided to try to give our students some basic experiences and knowledge that they all have in common that we can reference as we’re doing more specific research lessons when we see them for project sessions. Thus was born, the Museum of Not-Digital Sources. It was a limited time engagement exhibit presented by the Mid-Pacific Library and all of our frosh and sophomores came through for 40-60 minutes with their English classes.

We fired up Canva and built display cards analogous to informational plaques you might see in a real museum. We use Gale databases heavily so we decided to base most of the language and terminology they might see on the language and terminology typically found in Gale.

Much of the experience hinged on students coming to a broad understanding about the kinds of sources available to them in databases, the characteristics of each type of source, and to think about how they might use types of sources to address varying information needs.

This is a depiction of information SOMEONE in AISL shared with me on the traditional publishing cycle, but I cannot remember who. If it was you, please let me know so I can properly cite this content. #BadLibrarianship

As it turned out, I was away from campus during the week when our museum was up and running so my library partner, Nicole, saw all of the classes. Here’s slideshow of the museum experience as it looked for students.

Of course, no field trip to a museum would be complete without an activity to complete as you make your way through the museum so students completed a scavenger hunt as they went through the museum.

The museum visit wrapped up with students completing a Google Form where they were asked to apply some of what they had learned from the visit.

Click on the image above to view the full Google Form.
Student feedback was quite positive (and they LOVE Mrs. Goff!!!) 😍

Our museum wasn’t the end of our discussion on sources types by any stretch of the imagination. It was just a way for us to get all of our younger high schoolers on the same page with some common knowledge and experiences that we hope to build on going forward.

How are you scaffolding knowledge about source types with your students? We’d love to see what you’re doing!

PS–If you’re considering weeding your reference collection, you might consider keeping a few copies of different types of sources. It’s always nice to have artifacts to use with students!

It might be time to put stuff away, huh? 🤣🤣🤣

on doing what we ask kids to do…

I hope that this post finds you well. This month I decided to try to switch things up, and try something completely different and out of my comfort zone. Nicole, my librarian partner here at Mid-Pacific, has been having 6th graders in our Library and Technology 6 “exploratory experience” course create screencasts to show what they know and have learned. In the spirit of doing what we ask our kids to do, I decided give a screencast a try here.

My post is not intended to be slick, professional, or fancy. It’s just me talking about what we’re trying to do and trying to learn in our library of late. I stumble over my words, look down at my notes much of the time, and… Yeah… Kinda seem like a bit of a confused mess at some points, but I recorded this in one take and we’ve been SUPER BUSY in the the library for the last few weeks so it is what it’s gonna be. Please take this for what it is!!! 🤣🤣🤣.

Hope that someone out there in Libraryland gets something helpful from it!!! 🤞😃🤞

And sorry for my embarrassingly slow talking!!! 🤣🤣🤣

A screencast on what we’ve been trying in our library–warts and all!!! Trying to practice what I preach. A “learning vlog” doesn’t need to be perfect. We just want to communicate what we’re thinking and learning. With that spirit in mind, here’s the vlog. I normally would’ve done this 25 times, but we’ve been busy in the library so I recorded this in one take and now I’m gonna force myself to hit publish. It is, what it is… 🤣🤣🤣

In case you’re interested in what a 6th grade screencast looks like, here’s a pretty amazing screencast from Emma. I’m sharing her work here with Emma’s (and mom’s) permission.

Finding recommended websites in the World Book database.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

on getting by with a LOT of help from my friends…

I can’t believe that it’s time for me to post another blog. We’re in our 7th week of school, here, and instruction has been going great! We’ve had middle and high school classes in for research lessons, book talks, SIFT lessons, copyright discussions, and project-instruction. We now have our youngest K-2 scholars come up to our library for lessons and to browse and borrow so our single library now officially serves students from K-12. Being busy is great! It’s absolutely what we want for our program, but sometimes we’re literally SO BUSY that I LITERALLY don’t have a spare minute to work on other things that a good library program should address.

I Get by with a Lot of Help from My Friends…

I was reflecting today on the unbelievable amount of help and support I get from so many AISL librarians who help me fill out the parts of our programming that I otherwise would just not have the time to do.

Basically, this is me at the moment. The spirit is willing, but… 🤣🤣🤣

Here’s what I mean…

Passive Programming? Why, Yes, I Can Do Passive Programming…

In August, Kate Grantham shared this post on Passive Programming. “When funds or time are in short supply, passive programming is a great way to continue engagement in your library.”

Hmmm… Well, it’s still early in my fiscal year so I have some funds, but time is certainly in short supply so passive programming for the win! During the 2018 AISL Conference in Atlanta, organizers had a sample Let’s Stick Together kit that moved from venue to venue during the conference. I was #OBSESSED with the concept and loved sticking my colored pixels to the grid. Anyway, I took Kate’s advice, rolled up my sleeves and ordered some kits. We’ve had Kindergartener’s, middle schoolers, high school seniors, facilities staff, teachers, records office staff stopping in to stick together with us and it has been amazing, fun programming for us! Thank you, Kate!

Banned Books Week Snuck Up on Me…

My partner in the library, Nicole, always puts together great programming for Banned Books Week. However, given the way that library life has recently gone, I really wanted to do my part to expand our community’s engagement with honoring our freedom to read. [As an aside, a few years ago after looking at my Banned Books Week bulletin board where I’d put up pictures of the most commonly banned an challenged books from the previous year, a middle schooler looked at me with concern and asked, “Mr. Wee, why are you banning all of these books?” so now I try to be sure to frame things as “Celebrating our freed-om to read!” 🤣 #Freadom]

While I was being busy being busy, AISL librarians Karyn Silverman and Courtney Lewis incredibly generously shared print-ready quotes on book banning and censorship. I, literally, hit command+P a whole bunch of times, took a stack of printed quotes to our Academic Chairs meeting and asked colleagues to share them out with teachers in their departments that might want to put them up on their doors. The response from our teachers was incredibly heartening!!! I took a walk through one of our buildings and this was what the hall looked like…

I also was approached the next day by a language arts teacher who is considering having students examine the some of the reasons books they know have been challenged. It’s a thought, not a project by any means at this point, but teachers definitely are thinking about and wrestling with censorship and freadom to to read issues in ways I haven’t seen before. Thank you Karyn and Courtney!

I’ll leave things here because… Well… I don’t have time for more, but I just want to say thank you for the generous hearts of AISL librarians. Whether it is the sharing of a sample collection development and challenge policy, advice on what kind of button maker or vinyl cutter to buy, or hosting conferences and summer institutes, you’re always there to lend a hand and help me make it through another day or year.

I’m so very grateful for the community that you are for me.

Thank you! Thank you!! Thank you!!!

PS–If you’ve happened upon this post and you’re an independent school librarian who isn’t a member yet, join us here!!! Professionally, it’s the very best $30 investment you’ll ever make! Hope we’ll meet you soon!

on if you give a librarian a library…

How’re your weeks going? The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur. I’m kinda exhausted!

“Why are you exhausted?” you ask?

Well, thanks for asking! I’m exhausted because I’ve been living library life like a character in the Laura Numeroff book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Cover image of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
  • If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk…
    • When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw…
      • When he’s finished, he’s likely to ask for a napkin…

Here’s my kind of crazy tale of, If You Give a Librarian a Library…

A few years ago, we gave birth to a library that lived in our elementary building. At the time we weren’t offering any services or library access to our K-2 scholars and teachers so we found a spot in the elementary building, bought books that Kindergarten through 2nd grade humans might love, and and opened for business! I wrote about it here: on new things for a new year…

Our little K-2 remote library collection eventually grew to 8 overflowing trucks, but we eventually ran out of space.

Fast forward 5 years and our amazing little library has outgrown its space. Basically, by the time that our young scholars reach the end of 2nd grade, they’ve just about read their way through the tiny collection and space constraints just would not allow us to continue to build out the collection as needed. Last semester we had the seemingly simple thought, “Hey, let’s have the K-2 classes come up to Kawaiaha’o Library! We’ll be able to continue to build out the K-2 collection and our strong readers will have access to things that they’ll love! It’s going to be so AMAZING!!!”

Me, on the inside at the time…

Aaaaauuuggghhh!!!

Our little idea has somehow turned into an epic cascade of problem-solving that involves:

  • Librarians painting a back room that was once a librarian’s office, that became a study room, then became a conference room, then became a closet, then became a swing space for material from our Archives when there was a construction project, and most recently has housed furniture that needed to be stored in order to allow for social distancing in classrooms. What will become the K-2 library room now has a lovely light blue wall! Honestly, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I’m pretty stoked at how much less dungeon-like the room feels simply by painting the wall light blue instead of our (kinda depressing) standard institutional grey! 🤣
Adds #HowToPaint to the list of skills that I was not told I would need to develop when I was in library school…
  • My staff weeding and removing 2500 books in our HS oriented nonfiction collection that just has not seen much use in the last few years.
Boxed and ready to go to the Friends of the Library!
Deaccessioning in progress.
Having books on every cart and every available surface in the library gives me anxiety.
  • Shifting and reconfiguring all of the stacks in our nonfiction collection to make them more accessible to 3rd-5th grade sized humans…
  • Boxing significant parts of our middle fiction collection to empty shelving so that facilities crews can move shelves to new places over the summer.
  • Facilities Management Services crews coming in to move shelving and stacks around within our space to help us create age “zones” for our collection.
  • Delivering about 2000ish of the 2500 weeded books to our public library system’s Friends of the Library warehouse 250 books at a time (because that’s how many boxes can fit in a Hyundai Sonata…).
Hello, Friends of the Library!
  • Pushing all of the book trucks up the hill from our elementary building to their new home in the “big library” up on the hill.

Pushing a fully loaded book truck uphill is a surprisingly good workout. On one trip I was huffing and puffing my way up the hill past some students and I hear, “Whoa! good butt workout Mr. Wee!!!” 🤣🤣🤣

To which I had to reply, “I’m old and I don’t do Crossfit sled pushing. Don’t just stand there telling dad jokes, help me push!!!” 🤣🤣🤣

My kids thought I was hilarious, but by the time they were ready to help me push I was at the top of the hill. #Teenagers #Sigh 🤣🤣🤣

I know I sound really, really grumpy (because I am) as this process unfolds, but I know that I will be happy with the result next August when we have everything put back together and we’re up and running. In our last meeting with our K-2 classes I offhandedly mentioned, “This is our last time seeing you here in our mini-library space because next year we’ll get to see all of our K-2 classes in the big library up on the hill!!!”

Oh my goodness!!! The number of faculty/staff parents who have told me in passing in the hall, “My child is SOOOOOOOOO excited that they get to go to Kawaiaha’o Library next year!!!” has been a wonderful surprise.

Surprises like learning how excited young students are to get to borrow books and just come to “the big library” make every bit of the sweat and effort worth all of the sweat and effort! I know I’ll be happy with the outcome in the end, but you know, when you’re in the middle of the process, sometimes you just have to write to your AISL friends to complain. That’s library life… 🤣🤣🤣

Gotta run, another student needs help printing. In the midst of all of this we set up a new printing work flow to make it easier for students to print from their school iPads and personal devices. What i’ve learned from watching numerous middle school and frosh students attempt to tap on the screen of our desktop iMacs is that “how to use a computer mouse” has become a legacy skill!!! 😳😳😳 #IFeelSoOld

But that’s a post for another time!

Happy summer, all!

on school librarians and the daze of our lived lives…

By the time you’re reading this, most of you are likely to be finding your way through one of the amazing sessions making up the 2022 Association of Independent School Librarians Annual Conference. This year’s virtual conference features an incredible variety of topics! As I scan through the schedule, there are sessions on topics as varied as:

  • How to help students ask excellent questions…
  • Supporting DEI in our schools…
  • Supporting the college admissions process…
  • Cultivating a culture of reading…
  • Launching student library boards…

One of the things about being a school librarian is that, though we’re all “librarians,” our lived lives in our libraries can be SO VERY, VERY different than that of our colleagues in other states, countries, or even just a mile down the street.

I think that the uniqueness of our lived lives as librarians is a huge part of what has made librarianship such a very exciting profession for me, but also from time to time that exact uniqueness can sometimes make me feel like I’m the only one out here doing the work that I do… To clarify, I work with a wonderful, enthusiastic young librarian that I hope many of you get to meet in person at an in-person AISL Annual Conference some day, but I hope you get what I mean when I figuratively say, “…feel like I’m the only one out here doing the work that I do…”

Anyway, an AISL colleague recently inquired about librarianship in a project-based learning school. Our colleague asked,

I’m interested to hear from other Upper School librarians about project-based learning. If you work in a school that’s embraced PBL, I’d love to know more about how you’ve integrated it into your work as a librarian. How do you work with/support teachers & classes on project-based learning initiatives? 

I spent my first 14 years as a librarian at a very rigorous, rather traditional independent school in Los Angeles. I was part of a team of 5 MLS librarians at the middle school. Yes, you read that right, there were FIVE MLS librarians and a full-time library assistant that served our middle school. We had a seeming bottomless budget for purchase of resources and the curriculum was extremely consistent and stable. Every teacher who taught 7th grade history taught from the same team lesson plans, did the same research projects, and used the same summative tests and quizzes. We had the great benefit of knowing that every February, every 9th grader would come in with their history classes for an arc of lessons on locating and using primary sources that they’d incorporate into their papers and projects (yeah, no… they were just papers). We had a well developed list of research topics that the 9th graders would cover so we were able to identify topics that proved challenging for students and purchase resources to facilitate students’ success. It was rigorous. It was fun.

8 years ago, my elderly mom had a bad fall and it was time for me to leave “the best job I’d ever have” and move home to Honolulu to help with her care. As luck would have it, I landed here at Mid-Pacific, an amazing preschool to 12th grade progressive school that’s leaned heavily into project-based learning, and I realized that I ended up in a new “best job I’d ever have!” 🤣

Things I’ve learned about librarian-ing in a PBL school:

1) Goodbye “Just in Case” Collection Development – I had to jettison my “just in case” notions of print collection management. In my PBL environment, topics covered and research project assignments change. Every. Single. Year. I don’t have the luxury of knowing that every February the Middle Ages primary source project is going to run so I need to buy more books on the Cluniacs and how the Irish monks preserved literacy in the Middle Ages… Books that I bought for to shore up our print collection for “the food project, next year” sat untouched because the project never returned. The following year, the class had moved on to sound waves… #Alas

2) Think Systems and Frameworks, Not “Library Lessons” – I’ve had to learn to think about framing information literacy instruction in terms of systems and frameworks rather than discrete skills and processes presented in library lessons. Over the years we’ve worked and reworked our “research framework.” Every time it gets reworked, the language becomes less “librarian-ese” and more the language of ordinary humans. If you need a book of supporting documentation, your framework probably isn’t accessible enough for mere mortals who aren’t librarians to use so keep simplifying. Note: Making our stuff simple is REALLY, REALLY hard!!! #Ugh

3) Farewell One-Shot Library Lessons – The one-shot library lesson has pretty much become a thing of the past, here. They don’t work in PBL. If I’m being honest, I kind of doubt that they work in general. #SorryNotSorry #Shrug If we work with your class, we need to expect you to make time to see us 3-5 times over the course of the project because information needs and the skills/processes that kids need to know at different points in the process vary. Having tons of one-shot lessons littering up our instructional calendar means that I work SUPER HARD with no pay off in terms of student learning. It also means that I don’t have space in my schedule to book an arc of 3-5 lessons over 3 weeks with a class where those kids see how the different skills and processes come together in a holistic way and therefore, understand the process and the parts/skills utilized along the way.

4) Librarians Shouldn’t Be Teaching All the InfoLit – I know that this one might ruffle some feathers. I used to think “Maybe I shouldn’t say this,” but yeah, I seem to have reached an age where when I think that sometimes I just figure, “Whatevers… Let’s see what happens…” Hahaha! So here goes, I’ve adopted the philosophy that it is my job to be sure that good information literacy and research skills are being taught—NOT to teach all the information literacy and research skills on campus. That is just not gonna happen in a preschool-12 school of 1400 students with 2 librarians… More importantly, that’s JUST NOT HOW LITERACIES DEVELOP. You’ll never develop information literate young adults on 6 library lesson a year. Our job is to teach the teachers (and that’s usually in the form of library lessons). You watch me do this for 2 periods and you teach it in your 3rd and 4th periods. Teach your teachers how to fish. Going forward, when teachers have learned your research process and strategies they’ll design better research projects and assignments. Most importantly, teachers just have many, many thousands more opportunities to teach and reinforce the concepts, skills, and dispositions that further students’ information literacy development than I will EVER get to have with students as a school librarian. 🤷🏻‍♂️ If we ever hope to have an information literate voting public, librarians need as many friends as we can get! We need everybody to be teaching good information literacy skills, habits, and dispositions.

5) Hello PRESEARCHING and TOPIC EXPLORATION – Make presearching and topic exploration A VERY BIG FEATURE of the “research process” work that you do. In authentic PBL, students typically should be posing the questions for exploration, but… How do you know what to ask? How do you know what to explore with regard to the civil rights movement if you haven’t explored and had a good amount of time to “get the lay of the land.” You will likely end up with 20 projects on Rosa Park because she’s one of the only civil rights figure that a 9th grader might know… 

6a) Talk to Us, People!!! – Insist on CONVERSATIONS about project design EARLY in planning process. Teachers think they know what resources we have, but they don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes I use those conversations to buy ebooks we need “just in time” (see #1) or sometimes those conversations allow us to let a teacher know, “Yeah, this is impossible to research given what we have and your requirements…” -OR- “Yeah, your 10th graders aren’t going to have success with Academic Search Complete so let’s do this…”

6b) Keep Talking to Us, People!!! – In the project design conversation, keep taking your teachers back to BROAD ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS. Some of my teachers want to throw out a list of 30 topics and have kids pick one and research it. “I’m doing “deeper learning,” but how, then, does the kid doing research on Farm Bureau programs during the depression learn about the other 29 topics? If they don’t go back to the bigger essential question, then that’s not “deeper learning” it’s just “myopic learning.” Good PBL builds in lots of opportunities to share out across a cohort FORMATIVELY. When I’ve seen GREAT PBL, teachers find ways to have student integrate the work shared by their peers into their final pieces. In the case of the class researching government programs of the Great Depression, students shared their initial research

Anyway, that’s the stuff that just is off the top of my head.

I’d love to chat with any of you you there who are librarian-ing in a PBL leaning school. What have you learned? What works for you?

That’s it for this month. I hope that we’ll cross paths in a breakout room sometime in the next few days (or on an email thread)!

Have a great #AISL22 Conference everyone!

on goals for twenty-twenty, too

It is a new year and my name just popped up on the blogging calendar so I guess it is time for a new post. Now, for most of my 57 years on this planet new years has been a time for me to wipe the slate clean, purge my emotional (and actual) clutter, and lurch enthusiastically into the new year with clear eyes and a fresh new attitude.

Honestly, though, this year I’m struggling a bit. I don’t want to be, as can be my wont, Mr. Davey Downer, but at the same time sitting down at my laptop and tapping out a super optimistic, “Our library is so awesome!!! Life is so awesome!!! We’re doing so awesome!!!” would probably just read, to many, as another #ToxicallyPositive #HowToBeAnEDUCelebrity post.

In the words of Charles Munger, “The first rule of a happy life is low expectations. That’s one you can easily arrange. And if you have unrealistic expectations, you’re going to be miserable all your life.”

So… In the year 2022 which, to me, is feeling a little more twenty-twenty, too… than I’d hoped here’s the short skinny on our immediate and medium term goals for the new year…

1 Fling the Windows of the Library Open Every Morning!

I got a little ahead of my self at the end of last year and thought that things in Libraryland (and, well, across the land…) would be returning to normal “early in the new year!” #Yay! Now that those dreams have been dashed by the Omicron variant, I’ve had to reset my mindset. Disappointing as it may be (to me, but hey, I’m pretty sure it’s disappointing to everyone on the planet…), when I work at it I can find things that help me to find my new equilibrium.

I am blessed to work in a library with old-school windows that ACTUALLY OPEN!!! I am blessed to live in a place where it is 73º outside on this January 6th so as soon as I get into the library in the morning, my first order of business is to fling open the windows of the library! #VentilationIsOurFriend!

On good mornings, I imagine myself singing to the wildlife like Cinderella, but on other days I just grunt and try to get it done quickly so that I can get my cup of coffee. #PandemicLifeHasItsUpsAndDowns

My library assistant wasn’t super pleased, yesterday, when the bird flew in and hung out in the library, but you know life is trade offs and sometimes we just gotta look over, see that there’s a bird in the library, shrug twice, and then write about it on Twitter. #WhatchaGonnaDo?

Mask on. Windows Open. Coffee in hand. Let the day begin!!! LOL!

2 Upgrade our Masks…

If you and your library staff haven’t “upgraded” from cloth masks yet, you might consider making a change. I started wearing KN95 masks about a year ago. There are, apparently, quite a few counterfeit masks that don’t truly meet the KN95 (or similar) standard. Here’s the thing, sometimes knowing how to SEARCH and EVALUATE aren’t truly enough to know with certainty that the masks you purchase are the real deal, but all we can do is look for recommended manufacturers from typically reliable sources and do the best we can. #RealLifeIsHard

While we’re at it. If you are having trouble wearing your KN95 all day, you might want to look into getting ear saving mask extenders. There are many options and types. I’ve tried many. I like extenders that are adjustable and that are made of elastic fabric. I’ve found that they have the added benefit of allowing me to pull my masks more securely to my face so, I’m hoping, that it helps create a better fit for my masks as well.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Screen-Shot-2022-01-05-at-2.30.37-PM.png

3 Build Weighing of Arguments into the Curriculum…

On the curriculum front, we’ll be looking to build weighing arguments into our curriculum. In the first semester, we pushed really hard on systematically introducing SIFT to all of our frosh and as many 10th-12th graders as we were able to reach. SIFT is great for on-the-fly, quick-and-dirty, real-world source evaluation, but IT’S JUST THE START of good source evaluation. I’ve come to believe that our content area teaching faculty do a really good job with the teaching of deep reading strategies in their various content areas, but sometimes students need some explicit scaffolding/frameworks that we can use to activate the appropriate strategies in a given context.

This is, exactly, what SIFT does. Our students know how to search. Our students know strategies for learning about the person/organization that’s posted something online. When they’re looking for statistics on the percentages of people vaccinated in the hotel industry in Hawaii for a class activity, they don’t always think to apply that knowledge on-the-fly in that moment so it helps if a teacher can shorthand the strategies with, “Where’s that statistic from? Did you SIFT the source?”

I’m noticing that we need a similar scaffold or framework for the weighing of arguments so that students can better contextualize the data and arguments that they come across as they search. In debate classes, we call this “weighing the debate.” The Middle School Public Debate program teaches has a nice streamlined framework that works well:

  • Magnitude: Severity of the impact.
  • Scope: How many people an impact effects.
  • Probability: How likely an impact is to actually occur.

But there are other sources, like this one from the University of Texas at Austin that bring more nuance to the task:

I’m honestly not quite sure where to go with this, but that’s the goal for the next few weeks.

I hope that this post finds you well! I’d love to hear about your goals for the new year. Please hit the leave a reply button below and let us know!

So… With Charles Munger’s advice in mind, here’s to wishing each of you a Better Than Ambivalent New Year!!! #Yay!!! #LOL!!!