AISL: Vision to Reality…Hygge Edition

Library Mindfulness Room Proposal:

 My vision is to transform an underutilized room in the Upper School Library to a Mindfulness Room, where students can unwind and meditate. After the crazy year we have all had, I have been collaborating with the school counselor to bring more Social Emotional Learning activities to the library. And I think that having a calming space in the library could be beneficial to not only our library but also our entire school community.

It would be a massive understatement to say that these last 2 years have been rough! However, one positive aspect of the pandemic was that I FINALLY had the time to do all the mundane tasks that I’d been putting off….like organizing my apartment!

Naturally, I procrastinated during the first couple of months of lockdown and instead spent most of my time watching endless hours of television. I especially loved watching Architectural Digest Home Tours on Youtube, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, and the Home Edit on Netflix. Once I was done binging on reality tv (and done feeling appropriately disgusted with myself lol jk) I finally got that push I needed to do something about my living space!

After a lot of decluttering and many many many breaks, I was finally able to be proud of my newly decorated and organized apartment! The change in scenery in my living space made me feel instantly better. I felt at peace… I felt calm… I felt like I could escape from all the craziness happening in the outside world. I felt like this cat…

So when I found out that I was awarded the AISL Vision to Reality Award, I wanted to do the same for my students. With the funds from AISL, I was thrilled to be able to transform an underutilized (and sometimes problematic!) study room into a space where students could find some respite during the school day. I also wanted students to have a quiet place to meditate and unwind. For this project, I relied heavily on the Danish idea of Hygge. The Oxford English Dictionary defines Hygge as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.”

In order to turn this dreary study room into a cozy retreat, I made sure to add comfy seating, gentle lighting, plants, and low-stress activities like the paint-by sticker activity! It’s wild how just a few changes can make such drastic improvements to a space!

So far, our community seems to love the new and improved space! It was even used as a place for our Muslim students to pray during Ramadan!

I’m excited to have been able to do this for our students and it would not have been possible without the help of AISL, so thank you!

Please enjoy some before and after pics!


not cute 🙁


cute 🙂

Library Gratitude!

An ode to the not so obvious things that I am thankful for in my Middle School Library:

My regular visitors. It is wonderful to have a group of Middle School students in the library each day that sometimes have nothing to do with being in a library. They aren’t here just to check out a book. They aren’t here just for citations. They are here as a group of Middle School students hoping to have the most positive Middle School experience possible.
My tumbler. I never realized how nice it was to have the PERFECT drink cup until I had one. This is constantly by my side and I have the same one in three colors. If your school is like mine, and EVERYONE carries a drink around with them then this is the one you should get. Highly recommend!
My view. I am so spoiled. Really. We have these glass windows and a view of the campus quarry. It is beautiful.
My fleece. Are all school libraries really cold? Is it just ours? I try to hold off breaking this thing out for at least two weeks when school starts in August. Because once it is out it doesn’t go back for the rest of the year. 🙂
Books about animals. I love animals. I want students to love animals. Thank you to authors like Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate for encouraging respect towards animals and people.
White boards in the library. And the messages that students leave. Sometimes I really need  their positive words! 🙂
The old school dictionary. How many times do students ask what a word means on the fly? Look it up! Our large dictionary is a treasure. The students actually have fun spinning it around, turning the pages and trying to find the word.
Relics. Old book cards are the best bookmarks that a gal could have! 🙂
Prolific authors. Even though there are so many wonderful Middle School Fiction books it is impossible to read even close to all of them. I am thankful for prolific authors so that I can easily remember the author of a book when I have many students at once that need assistance. Authors like Paulsen and Avi and Creech and Korman are most appreciated.
Finally, the fact that pretty much everything in the library is fixable. Never made a mistake that I could not correct. That is a luxury and a privilege.

World War II – 6th Grade History

This past year my 6th grade history teacher and I collaborated on a World War II poster project. I especially enjoyed this project since we created it together from start to finish. We issued the following guidelines:

World War II Poster Project
Due: Tuesday, May 23, 2018

5-7 facts about your topic that are directly related to World War II

Information from a primary source or a quote from a person that lived during that time period (like a President) about your topic.

Answer either WHY did your topic give the US an advantage in the war or HOW do we see the impact of your topic today?

Poster should also include one to three visuals (can be drawn or printed out). Facts should be written/typed and placed on poster. Facts can be placed on the front or back of the poster. Exact design may vary by topic!
Women in Factories, Rosie the Riveter
Pearl Harbor
Atomic Bomb – Manhattan Project
Entertainment – Fireside Chats
Sports – Baseball, Joe Dimaggio/Ted Williams
Life of a Soldier
Weapons of War
Different topic approved by Ms. Vining or Ms. Back

My favorite part of the project is where we asked the students to respond to a WHY or HOW question on their poster. The students spent a week in the library doing research and making their posters. The answers to the WHY and the HOW questions could not easily be found in a book or online for many of the topics above. I think that the best research projects ask students to think critically — even, and especially, in Middle School.

The students enjoyed making the posters and the end results were a success! We selected the best posters and they are now on display in the library for the new school year. As a librarian I appreciated being involved in all aspects of this project from start to finish.

Have you found ways at your school to work with teachers from beginning to end rather than just on one aspect or skill? Also, how do you encourage students to think critically with a research project, particularly in history or English and in Middle School? Any advice is most appreciated!

Fairy Tales and Fair Use

I compiled a lesson around Fairy Tales and Fair Use that we used with an English class. I like the lesson because it teaches about Fair Use while also allowing the students to be creative and form arguments.

First, we showed videos about Fair Use with some well-known characters as well as one from Common Sense Media.

A Fair(y) Use Tale. Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this humorous, yet informative, review of copyright and fair use as told by some well-known characters.

Copyright and Fair Use in a Digital World. Video from Common Sense Media about the role of copyright and fair use in a digital world.

Then, we used print materials that include Fair Use guidelines as well as a checklist from Columbia University.

Fair Use Guidelines. Guidelines for and against fair use from the Greeley School.

Fair Use Checklist. A fair use checklist from Columbia University.

Then, we used two mashup videos that challenge students to determine if the resources are fair use or not.

Scary Mary. Is Scary Mary an example of fair use? Why or why not?

Mashup-United States of Pop 2012. Is Mashup – United State of Pop 2012 an example of fair use? Why or why not?

2018 AISL Atlanta Conference

This April I attended my first AISL Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. From the moment I boarded the plane in Denver, Colorado I knew I was in for a life changing experience. As one colleague described it, it is like discovering a “field of unicorns”! She was spot on! From the very start, I was immediately welcomed with open arms from fellow unicorns across the country. Within minutes, I was engaged in conversations that made my heart leap with joy! As a solo librarian in a Pre-K- 8th school, it is not often that I find a willing victim who allows me to carry on about cataloging, MLA citations, intellectual freedom, and my endless obsession with Judith Krug! But not here, here I was home.  The conference included several tours of campuses in the Atlanta area and one very powerful visit to the Museum of Human and Civil Rights. The opportunity to visit other libraries was particularly inspiring for me. As librarians, we are constantly facing change in our profession. Our libraries are as unique as our patrons and our spaces are constantly evolving to reflect these changes. That being said, the ability to have such a strong network of professionals with a growth mindset really sets our profession apart. I felt the workshops provided not only were educational and inspiring, but a reminder of the endless and creative ways in which libraries can extend their reach in independent schools. The opportunity to share best practices with other librarians was probably the most significant takeaway for me. It is not often in this profession that you have the chance to talk “shop” and this time was priceless.  AISL did not disappoint with the delicious catered meals and a grand finale SKIP Banquet. These perks however were just a backdrop to the lifelong connections I made with new friends and colleagues. This group of professionals is hands-down the most supportive and inspiring yet. The entire experience was invaluable and you can bet I will be in Boston in 2019!! The goal of this year’s theme Making Connections was surely met! Thank you AISL!

Why We Do What We Do

Recently I had the opportunity to attend an Institute at St. Mark’s School of Texas, a peer institution here in Dallas, Texas. The keynote speaker for the Institute was Jim Burke. Mr. Burke is the author of numerous books on education, specifically books relating to best practices in teaching English class. Before attending the Institute I jumped on Amazon to research Mr. Burke’s titles. As a Librarian, the book that stood out to me was I Hear America Reading: Why We Read What We Read. I ordered a copy and, once I started reading it, the book reminded me why I love my profession so much.

“In an era of decreasing commitment to literacy……it is no surprise that most students, too, are bypassing books.” Mr. Burke, an English teacher, wrote these words in a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. He then encouraged readers to write to the students in his high school English class and tell the students about experiences with books and how books have played an important role in life. Over one thousand pages of letters arrived. I Hear America Reading is a collection of some of these letters.

As I read the letters from librarians, artists, cattle ranchers, elementary school students and retired senior citizens it made me appreciate the joy that my job can bring. So often we lament the changing face and role of libraries. So often we focus on technology and how we have to have the latest, greatest and best in order to remain relevant. So often we feel like we have to justify our role to our administrators, fellow educations and community. It was refreshing to read letters from people that simply enjoy reading, and what a remarkable job we have to help facilitate the love of reading!

From one letter: “When I was twelve years old, I read Theodore Sturgeon’s scary fiction book More Than Human. I liked the part of the psychiatrist so much that I decided to become one. I’ve been a psychiatrist for twenty years now, and I love it.”

From another letter (a second grade student): “I like reading because when you keep growing and you keep on reading when you grow up you may be a famous reader and you may even sit on the stage and read so keep on reading…”

Last one! (from a third grader): “I have a Rocking Book, Godzilla is the title. I can’t wait for you to read it. It is about Godzilla trying to destroy the city. You will think it is cool. You can read it if you want!”

Happy Summer!! 🙂

Strategic Searching

Each year I partner with our phenomenal 7th grade history teacher to do a lesson on Strategic Searching and ProQuest.

The students are tasked with finding information about an issue in Latin America; however, if they put Issue in Latin America in a search in ProQuest they will get tens of thousands of results. So, before we look at ProQuest, the students practice some keyword searching to identify good keywords to use and help narrow their search results.

For the first activity students play a keyword game. For differentiation, I have three game options ranging in degree of difficulty from easiest to hardest.

Google a Day is definitely a challenge but so, so fun! We all do Google a Day at the end and then use the archived Google a Days for more practice! I read the question and then the students race to be the first one to find the answer. The better your keywords the more quickly you find the answer! The students get better as they attempt more Google a Days and they learn about history at the same time! Additionally, we make each student share which keywords he or she used when he or she is the first to answer the Google a Day. The best part is that the students actually have FUN with the librarian and the lesson! 🙂

Next, we go to ProQuest and talk about using good keywords to narrow our search. The students are then tasked with selecting keywords to find an appropriate article to use for their assignment.

I am always looking for interactive ways to make students better digital resource users. If you have any sites or ideas that have been helpful please do share! Thank you!

Inquiry through Interview: What is the news supposed to do?


Guest post by Chris Young. A version of this post originally appeared in January on my blog, The Cardigan Papers.

Photo by Branden Harvey on Unsplash.

I often wonder if middle and high school students are as concerned about the integrity of the news media as we adults are. Do young people know why the grown-ups (or school librarians, at least) have recently become so bent out of shape about fake news, media bias, filter bubbles, and viral rumors? Do our students spend much time thinking about the fourth estate’s role in our democracy? Some certainly do, but I know I didn’t at their age. If students don’t appreciate what the real news is supposed to do, do they see any reason to worry about fake news?

I thought it would be interesting if the seventh grade students in my semester-long library class had a conversation about the news with their parents. Maybe a conversation with a trusted role model at home would help put future news literacy lessons into context for students. I also like any kind of assignment that gets kids interacting with family members. So I asked my students to record an interview with a parent or older family member asking their opinions about the news media.

This was an optional homework assignment for my students, our first involving audio, so I tried to keep it as simple as possible. I took about three minutes of class time to show students how to record an interview using the voice memo app on their phones. WNYC’s Radio Rookies has an excellent video tutorial along with tips for conducting a good interview. I asked my students to use the following prompts:

  1. What is the news supposed to do? What should an audience expect from a news source?
  2. At its best, the news media can . . .
  3. At its worst, the news media can . . .

I emailed parents to explain the purpose of the assignment and let them know that participation was voluntary. After the interview was recorded, parents were asked to email the audio file to my work address, noting whether or not I had permission to share their recording with the class.

The individual interviews were fantastic. Students did a great job with mic placement and recording and it was wonderful to hear parents give such thoughtful, measured responses about a contentious topic. I was so pleased with the interviews that I decided to take the project a step further and weave the responses together into a short podcast à la This American Life or StoryCorps.


Ocenaudio makes audio editing easy for beginners.

This next step was only going to work if I could find a free audio editing app that was easy to use. After researching options, I downloaded Ocenaudio and studied John Keisker’s five minute YouTube tutorial to learn the basics. I found free, quirky background music at the YouTube Audio Library. After some basic editing and mixing, the following montage was born. I share it here with permission from everyone involved in the recording:

How cute is that?

I like the idea that students and parents dedicated a few minutes to having this conversation about the news media’s role in our democracy. I also like that students are taking steps toward being journalists themselves. How much more fun would it be to get students to write their own interview questions and edit their own audio? The tools are simple and readily available and my students will figure out how to use them faster than I can. They will, however, still need guidance in setting standards for ethical journalism and responsible media production. I love imagining what producing authentic, quality news pieces could teach students about consuming news.

More than anything, this assignment was super fun. The class got a kick out of hearing the montage whether or not they submitted audio. I loved playing around with tools and a form that were new to me. And the positive PR generated for the library program by sharing the final podcast was, as we say in New Orleans, lagniappe.

Affective Labor is Real: A Librarian’s Guide to Navigating #NeverAgain

Guest Post by Elaine Levia

Emma Gonzalez with mosaic of slogans (art by Serena May Illescas) uploaded by Flickr user Vince Reinhart, shared under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Here we are.

It is hard for me to write that only the most recent events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have inspired this post. We’ve been inundated with stories of  gun violence in and out of schools far longer than we care to admit.  I was in elementary school when the Columbine massacre took place. Even in relative safety, I grew up learning to regard gun violence in schools not as incidents isolated by time and space, but as looming threats that would eventually happen to me or someone I knew.

Now, as a school librarian, I feel favorably positioned to approach the work of compiling resources for general and practical support in the current unfolding of violent events. We sit in a favorable seat because of our roles, adjacent to students as teachers are, but also as de facto counselors, confidants, advisors, and affective laborers of all stripes. Affective labor is the critical feminist term for work in the service or care of others, either emotionally or physically. It came about as a response to the invisibility of immaterial labor, and has even been explored in the context of academic libraries. You might be wondering, as I have wondered recently, how to broach the interconnected pieces of school shootings with students in a clear-cut way. How might we balance responsible reactions to unthinkable trauma within our training level and expertise? How might we support students in a time of anger, sadness, political fervor, and need?

I am reassured by the old refrain, shared often as comfort with me by my own mother, who also happens to be a librarian. We don’t need to have all the answers. We just need to be the connection. Today I want to share some thoughts and resources that have helped me figure out my personal role in the sea change, and I will ask for your help with one small action: consider this the crystallization, the reification of all the emotional, seemingly invisible duties of a school librarian. We’re already tasked with doing more with less, but I hope that the following few tips and resources provide a wide variety of inclusive practices for the toolkit. Moreover, I hope that a dedicated space for support and discussion within our community proves fruitful and restorative. The care of minds and bodies of others, particularly our students, is a borderless, ever-expanding pursuit. We can only do it so well when we’re able to lean on our community for support.

Additionally, I’m interested in your resources. I’ve started a public document, which you may notice at the time of posting is still in its nascent phase. Please feel free to contribute books, podcasts, training resources, tech tools, or timely articles.

Read on for some ideas about the connections we can make between the prevalence of gun violence, mental health, activism, and diversity & inclusion work.

Continue reading

Making Connections

Working with my 8th grade Middle School English teacher this year we borrowed resources from a High School AP World History course to create a Middle School project. The 8th grade students all read The Old Man in the Sea. The English teacher and I wanted to help students build a bit of background knowledge before they read the novel. We thought information about Cuba, Hemingway, etc. could help students build connections when they then started reading the book.

Using a general spice_chart_organizer from the High School AP World History course, we created a research project tailored just for The Old Man and the Sea. With the general SPICE chart students explore areas such as social, political and economic in order to learn more about a culture or civilization.

We applied this to Old Man and the Sea; however, we created our own SPICE categories and divided students into groups for each category:
S was for Social (family life, social classes)
P was for People of Importance (the author, people mentioned in the book)
I was for Interaction with Environment (marine life)
C was for Culture (language, fashion, religions)
E was for Economy (fishing, commerce)

TOMATS Spice Mini-Research

Some categories were definitely easier to research than others; however, the students all created unique group presentations that taught their classmates a bit about Cuba and Hemingway before they started reading the book. My personal favorite presentations involved facts and videos relating to the marine life. 🙂

Since the students will use SPICE in high school, we liked introducing verbiage and a format the students will see again and again. We also appreciated the cross-curricular nature of the project with the project’s English and history ties.

We plan to continue this project in the future, and I am always looking for new and creative ways to work with Middle School English classes that don’t involve (just) checking out books! If you have any ideas or suggestions please do let me know. Thank you!