AISL Day 1!

As Day 1 of the AISLATL conference winds down, I want to share with you some highlights, but I don’t want to limit it to just my voice. I will share with you some moments that stick out to me, but even better, I want you to hear the voice of other Board members.

Living in Upstate New York, I honestly haven’t seen the sun in weeks. Landing in Atlanta, I laughed as I heard other ride share passengers complaining about how cold they were. It was mid 60’s and sunny. It has only gotten more beautiful from there. We spent the first half of the day today at the lovely Marist school. In a true moment of serendipity, I sat next to a new person on the bus, the lovely Lia Carruthers, who ended up being a mentor I had been matched with. Lia is the library whisperer. She has energy to spare and has set up two libraries, one in Utah and her current library in New Jersey. My notes are copious.

At Marist, I attended a great session on creating an interactive research tutorial using tech to flip information literacy lessons and then finally, I got to attend a Dave Wee session. We want more Dave Wee! Dave introduced a fantastic worksheet to guide our thinking when setting goals and approaching colleagues, anticipating challenges, and planning our elevator pitch. My bus buddy to the Coca Cola museum was another new friend, Lisa from Toronto, who inspired me with talk of her school’s service trip to Tanzania and filled my notebook with ideas on how to create a boy friendly library (has anyone heard of botcubes?) I need fidget cubes, play doh, and legos people, STAT! I could go on. Today was awesome. I can hardly wait for tomorrow.

Now, some thoughts from other Board members on their Day 1:

Each year as the time for our annual conference approaches, I am excited but I also generally wonder if this is really the best time to be away. There is always so much to do and many items to cross off the to-do list before I can leave Dallas. This year was no exception, in fact the last couple of weeks have felt especially busy and full. At the start of each conference however, I am always reminded why I continue to venture to the host city and engage in this exceptional opportunity for professional development. I am so grateful that I can identify AISL as my community—I also feel so honored to be a part of this talented, fun, and intelligent group. I learn something from each session and every encounter. Yesterday, after I had gathered my luggage and made my way out to the curb to get a cab, I immediately spied a few familiar faces and was welcomed in to share a ride to the hotel. I think this was my defining moment and explains our group’s appeal—I had found my people! Thank you Atlanta for organizing this family reunion! I look forward to two more days jam packed with experiences and know that I will take so much with me back to Ursuline.
-Renee Chevallier

I am loving this conference and the hospitality of our hosts! Marist has a beautiful campus.
I thought the board books discussion was a highlight. I appreciated the option of moving between the book choices and how quickly we were able to shift from critical analysis and pedagogy to getting to know each other. I left looking forward to continuing several discussions in the morning.
Outside of the library world, watching the whale shark feeding was amazing.
-Christina Pommer

I got a charge out of the interactive research tutorial session this morning. I am not a particularly engaging speaker, and I always have more to say than a middle schooler’s attention span would allow. So this was a great idea to get the point across without causing my audience to fall asleep!

-Kate Patin

It has been an exceptional day of meetings. My big take-away was the concept of the “No paper research paper project.”  I took copious notes on the concept and execution. The ‘aha’ moments for me were faculty collaboration, teaching research skills to freshmen, and “good quality source material is NOT FREE!”

What does AISL mean to you? Please share widely!

Happy New Year from the AISL board! After mapping our membership last year, we wanted to share our new year’s resolution with you and ask for your assistance in helping us meet it. If you’re reading this as a subscriber or as a link from AISL media channels, you’re already a member of the Association of Independent School Librarians. You know our value; we thank you for your membership.

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NAIS currently has 1541 member schools. We have 641 members from 390 schools. There are many professional organizations for librarians, but we are the only one that’s entirely focused on k12 independent school education. We would like to spread the word and grow our membership; we are stronger as a profession if we learn from and advocate for each other. As you can see from the map, we have strong representation across the East Coast, with membership extending as far west as Hawaii.

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While this blog and our social media channels are available to all, there are many member benefits. The primary benefit is the listserv, with virtual help available 24 hours a day. We have a burgeoning webinar series with presentations from experts and vendors.  There is an Annual Conference hosted by a team of school librarians each spring, and a Summer Institute, with in-depth study of a topic each June. We are constantly responding to members and offering services members request. In fact, our KARLS (kick ass retired librarians) formed 3 years ago because some retired librarians still wanted to be involved on a personal level even after retiring from the profession. How often do you hear that from other librarians? One founding KARL said:

“AISL is an organization that has members who are extraordinary librarians, dedicated to their students, creative, innovative, and passionate about sharing the joy of learning.  If I could recommend one professional development opportunity to independent school librarians, it would be to join AISL and take advantage of the opportunity to network with these extraordinary librarians. I was delighted when I retired and the opportunity came to help plan a retirement track for those of us who wanted to remain connected to AISL.  I am so happy that I am able to keep looking forward to the annual spring AISL conference to keep learning and see dear friends.”

AISL is run entirely run by a volunteer board. Membership fees are kept low so cost is not a factor inhibiting people from joining. The yearly membership fee is $30, and all memberships renew at the start of the school year in September.  Other common questions:

What if I am currently a library student?

We offer a discounted $15 membership for students earning library degrees. Many jobs are advertised on the site in the spring.

Why should I join this if I’m already part of a regional library group?

Library trends and challenges transcend local geographic boundaries. With AISL, your reach is all across North America, and AISL members are quick to respond to requests for information and advice.

Are your conferences popular?

The conferences are very popular and sell out quickly. Librarians love the tours of independent school libraries and the distinctive character of each conference based on the hosting city. We are working to increase registration slots at future conferences so more members can attend.

Is there a digest option for the listserv?

           There is. You can either receive emails throughout the day or one daily digest.


Please share this post widely, personalizing with your own AISL experiences. The board is happy to answer questions about membership. We’re looking forward to broadening our community. Let’s do more together!  

With warm wishes for a healthy, happy 2018.

Your AISL Board

Let’s give them something to talk about

I want to share with you some really good books that I’ve been reading that you might like to consider for Black History Month, or an all campus read, or maybe you’re looking for a book to anchor your mental health awareness discussion.

[Will update this post first thing in the morning with an original review, but I have to go coach a volleyball game right now and I don’t want to wait to post this as it’s already a day late. Did I mention that I’m having a crazy week? Here’s the synopsis from Amazon:]

Winner of the NBCC’s John Leonard First Book Prize
A New York Times 2016 Notable Book
One of Oprah’s 10 Favorite Books of 2016
NPR’s Debut Novel of the Year
One of Buzzfeed’s Best Fiction Books Of 2016
One of Time‘s Top 10 Novels of 2016, Winner of 2017 PEN Hemingway award for debut fiction.

Homegoing is an inspiration.” —Ta-Nehisi Coates 

The unforgettable New York Times best seller begins with the story of two half-sisters, separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. Written with tremendous sweep and power, Homegoing traces the generations of family who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history, each life indeliably drawn, as the legacy of slavery is fully revealed in light of the present day.

Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

SUCH A GOOD BOOK. Perfect choice for your BHA group or to feature in a display in February.


The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas is the first YA title I’ve read that addresses the Black Lives Matter movement. You will devour it like you devour a John Green novel. It is the story of Starr Carter, an African American girl who lives in the same impoverished neighborhood that her father was raised in, but who attends an elite private school a half hour away. One Friday night, when Starr attends a neighborhood party, a fight breaks out, shots ring out, and she flees with her childhood friend, Khalil. As they are driving away, Khalil is pulled over by a white police officer. You can guess how it goes. The story that follows is like a many-layered onion, you have Starr dealing with the trauma of losing her friend (and being the only witness), her interesting relationship with her family, her frustration over having to have a split personality–not wanting to be the “angry black girl” at school and for “acting too white” when she’s in her neighborhood. You have the trial of the police officer and Starr’s interesting relationship with her uncle who is a police detective. I could go on and on about the writing, the empathy that Thomas creates for her characters, just how REAL the story feels, it’s as horrible to experience as you might imagine it is for those we read about in the news. For those of you working with upper schoolers, this would make for an AMAZING community book discussion. We’re working on bringing it to my school now.

Some recent articles on the book are here, from NPR and this review from The Atlantic.

Note: we just ordered, All American Boys, that deals with similar issues. I plan to start this tonight.

And lastly,

You guys are already reading this, right? I sat down and read it on Saturday. And then my son asked if we could watch “My Girl”. I think he wanted to see if I had any tears left in me?  Shockingly, I did. This book is as painful as “The Fault in Our Stars” but in a completely different way. Stuck inside the head of a young girl with severe anxiety and OCD, JG does it again, crafting a young adult book that is the perfect blend of witty dialog and smart teens dealing with heavy things–like the death of a parent, our place in the universe, philosophy and mental illness.  Sixteen year old Aza suffers thought spirals and has profound fears about microbes waging war on her body from within. She questions who the “real” her is, judges her wellness based on how far the space is between therapist appointments, debates whether to medicate or not, and wonders how she will ever be able to go to college, live on her own, or maintain a relationship with a boy she really likes when being close to him sends her into total panic attack.

Oh, and intertwined in the story is a quirky best friend, Daisy, who writes love story Fan Fic about Chewbaca and Rey and also a mystery–where has the billionaire father of Aza’s love interest disappeared to? Who will claim the $100,000 reward for information leading to his return? How could $100,000 change her and Daisy’s lives?

Your students will be reading this book. You should too.

A Warm Welcome to the 17-18 School Year

As I watch the news and see the messiness of life, fires and floods,  political clashes and rising nuclear tensions, I’m concentrating on the things that I have control of. I’m working at being intentional in my gratitude for all that is right in my very small slice of the world. For my own good health and that of my children, well enough to beat each other senseless every day of our summer vacation.  For loving friends, an abundance of books, good wine (see statement re: healthy children),  for a supportive spouse, challenging job, excellent colleagues, curious students, and for you, my dear friends of AISL.

I’m grateful to this community, for the depth and breadth of knowledge that you so freely share, for your words of encouragement, your generous hearts, for the fun times we’ve shared and the fun times to come (I’m lookin’ at you Hotlanta!). On behalf of the AISL Board of Trustees, I wish you a most excellent 17-18 school year and I challenge you too to live this year with an attitude of gratitude.

Before we look too far ahead, let’s first take a moment to congratulate Caroline Bartels for her successful Summer Institute. Fourteen librarians came from far and near the Big Apple to discuss All School Read programs, to benefit from Caroline’s wisdom and, among other things, to learn from fellow AISL’er Nancy Florio. The response has been so very positive. Thank you, Caroline, for hosting! Attendees left feeling invigorated and inspired which, to me, is the mark of a successful institute. Read Laura Bishop’s awesome account of the program here.

SI2018 takes us back to the West Coast! Be on the lookout for communication from Cathy Leverkus and Sarah Davis for what I know will be another excellent offering.

I want to give you a brief look at the year ahead and call to your attention some things that the Board has in the works:

April 18-20 AISL Atlanta: Making Connections

Led by the intrepid Melinda Holmes, the ATL planning committee has got their act together and is planning a fantastic few days of PD for us. Their call for session proposals just ended. Hope you got yours in. 🙂

Affordability Scholarship

A HUGE thank you to Phoebe Warmack for her astute handling of the Board’s Affordability Scholarship program these past two years. Remember that this scholarship, in the amount of US $1,000.00,  provides 100% conference registration with the remaining balance to be applied as reimbursement toward documented travel and lodging expenses to defray the cost of attending the recipient’s first AISL annual conference. She hands the baton to new Member at Large Barbara Share. Barbara will work with the Atlanta planners to announce the scholarships in conjunction with registration opening.

Mentorship Program

Continuing in that vein, I want to say “thank you” to Allison Peters Jensen, who spearheaded our first ever Mentorship program in 16-17. In case you were already in vacation mode and missed it, check out her June 6th year in review. Thank you, Allison, and thank you to all of our participants! New Member at Large Kate Patin will put her own spin on the program this year. Go Kate go!

New Webinar Series

Beginning this month, we’ll begin a monthly webinar series, alternating between a product/tool of interest and hearing from a member with a particular passion or expertise. I put out the call for input and 54 of you answered. Thank you!  I’ll be in touch with those you requested ‘more of’ (past bloggers, conference presenters, etc.) to see if they’re willing to share and will let you know once I have a schedule worked out. We’ll alternate start times and will record every webinar for those of you with time zone or scheduling conflicts so that you can watch at your leisure.

Mark your calendar for the kick off event:

AISL Exclusive Webinar: Improving Student Research with Credo
Tuesday, September 19th at 12:00 PM EDT

Discover how Credo can help your school meet students’ research needs and teach valuable information literacy skills through a combination of innovative technology and
great reference content. Channel Manager Lara Kraft will provide a tour of SEEK, Credo’s one-stop exploratory search platform and SKILL Modules, Credo’s information literacy instruction modules as well as demonstrate how these products can impact college readiness and student learning outcomes. Join us to find out why School Library Journal calls the SKILL Modules “well-organized,” “adaptable,” and “intuitive.” AISL members also qualify for special discounted pricing, to be announced during the webinar.

Register for the webinar Here.

On this Labor Day, I think it fitting to wish you an excellent school year. Don’t work too hard. Live a life full of gratitude for blessings large and small. And if you see me coming with three Tasmanian devil children tussling around my ankles, save yourself man! Run! Back to work (and school!) we go! Thank you teachers!

Have a great year, ya’ll!

Mental Illness in YA Fiction

NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness (from Two years ago, one of my students, Katherine, began the nation’s first high school chapter of NAMI  as her Signature project (our version of a Capstone).
More about her project here.
Not only is Katherine a passionate mental health advocate, but she is also an avid reader.  She has read a lot of older titles and so I am constantly looking for new young adult fiction dealing with mental health issues that she or her club members might enjoy. This year I have found two titles that I really liked:
From Amazon:
“Caden Bosch is on a ship that’s headed for the deepest point on Earth: Challenger Deep, the southern part of the Marianas Trench.
Caden Bosch is a brilliant high school student whose friends are starting to notice his odd behavior.
Caden Bosch is designated the ship’s artist in residence to document the journey with images.
Caden Bosch pretends to join the school track team but spends his days walking for miles, absorbed by the thoughts in his head.
Caden Bosch is split between his allegiance to the captain and the allure of mutiny.
Caden Bosch is torn.”
Written in such a way that even the reader is unable at times to differentiate reality from fantasy, “Challenger Deep” really put me inside the head of a character and allowed me to experience his mental illness in a very meaningful way. This is a quick read (an excellent audio book for teens who enjoy them) and, as always, Schusterman was effective in crafting well developed, highly empathetic characters. Katherine and I highly recommend it.
From Amazon:
“Sixteen-year-old Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has “done the art.” She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia. Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together “for the kids” and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage. As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.”
I gave this to Katherine to read over the break so I haven’t gotten her feedback yet, but I really liked this one and read it in a single sitting, on a bus en route to a trip to Boston that I was chaperoning. Know that there are some shocking moments–domestic abuse, substance abuse, etc.–but I think it’s as poignant as “Challenger Deep” and a great choice for older readers interested in books dealing with mental illness.
Can you recommend any other books published in the past year or two that I might pass along to Katherine and/or our NAMI club or that I could use in our Mental Health Awareness month display?

Designing, Tinkering, Succeeding and Failing in the Upper School Maker Space

The very first post that I wrote for Independent Ideas was entitled Staging My Own Intervention and dealt with my overwhelming periodical “situation” (read 50+ years of journals, magazines, and a microfiche collection that would knock your socks off), stored in the basement of my library. Two rooms of it. This is what it looked like:

Bound versions of Time and Life were used occasionally, but believe it or not, ancient issues of Sky and Telescope, the New York Review of Books, and Art News simply wasn’t. The dust was thick. The lighting was weird. The basement was a creepy no man’s land and no one, including me, wanted to spend any more time in that room than was absolutely necessary. I had nothing to lose. I decided to clear the room, preserve the treasures, and to create the school’s first Maker Space.

It took me approximately 2 years to clear the room. I invited departments in to see what magazines they would like for me to keep. I flagged them and started clearing. See those 5 recycling bins? It took about 15 minutes to fill them, 3-4 days to get our super awesome (super busy) housekeeping crew to get them out to the recycling station outside and back again. It was a seriously heavy, dirty, time consuming job. In the meantime, I began lobbying for an assistant with experience in a Maker Space. Enter Caroline, my tech-savvy savior who had worked hard to start a Maker Space with one small empty room, zero budget, and a donated 3D printer. Here’s  a short video about Project e-NABLE she worked on, working with U Albany students to print and assemble 3D printed hands for children in need. I had someone to partner with to continue clearing the room! Not only that, but I had a crafty, jewelry making, sewing, Pinterest rocking, tech savvy partner in crime to help brainstorm supplies, projects, and potential curricular tie-ins. This was a huge leap in the right direction.

In all honesty, I’ve visited a fair number of Maker Spaces now, particularly during AISL annual conference school visits. The concept isn’t a new one. I have seen some intriguing things going on out there–and I have taken hundreds of pictures (Dallas and Tampa librarians, I’m talking to you!). What I haven’t seen in action, though, is an upper school maker space. We had a ton of questions. There was the proverbial “if we build it, will they come?” How can we fit making into an already tight daily schedule? Will teachers shift their pedagogy to implement more project based learning, utilizing the space? Could this be an after school space where students can just come play? Will it be high tech or low tech? How are we going to fund it?! We have no budget for it(!). Does an adult need to be in the space at all times? What if they aren’t responsible about cleaning up after themselves? Or worse, what if someone gets hurt?

We decided to jump in and figure it out as we went (as we go?? We’re still figuring it out…).

Once we got the magazines out, we asked facilities to remove the microfiche reader, old desk, fax machine, and audio cassette cabinets. (Don’t laugh.) We asked them to dismantle most of the shelving and clear out the room. I say most because we left shelving all along the left side of the room to hold supplies and/or for students to leave projects that they are working on in the space, but out of the way. We shifted the treasured magazines into the second room and asked that the center aisle be cleared of shelving in that room as well, so that we can put tables and banker’s lamps in there.

Our director of facilities offered us two cabinets that were being removed from a science classroom, adding casters so that they became a mobile counter top/work space with drawers and cabinets below for storage.

We emptied the microfiche cabinets and gathered donated supplies from our former engineering instructor, now full time Academic Dean, who no longer needed her massive supply of crafting supplies, design thinking supplies (post-its, Sharpies), etc. We labeled the microfiche cabinets using a fun, clean architecture font and loaded them with supplies.

We used a tech grant provided by our public schools to purchase hardware. Here’s what we bought:

  • a new 3D printer manufactured locally and serviced locally (they break more than we would like them to so this was important to us);
  • a Precision CNC Mill (think subtractive engineering rather than additive, like the 3D printer–this thing can carve anything softer than steel. We’re going to use scrap wooden blocks to start with, but dream of carving stone, soap, even chocolate sometime in the future!
  • a Cricut machine for paper cutting (or fabric, foam, felt, etc.)

We added these things to the two original Makerbot printers the school already owned as well as discarded desktop computers so that each piece of equipment could have the necessary software already downloaded.

We invited student volunteers to help us paint/organize/clean/stock the space and a group of loyal freshmen came every week! They used the Cricut to cut out gears to hang from the ceiling and they painted the very 70’s harvest gold, orange, and lime green drawers in the room. They went with a purple for the door. Facilities donated some peg boards and two inexpensive composite boards for us to cover and use as cork boards in the space.

We bought a button maker and at a holiday craft fair, charged students $2 to create buttons (awesome holiday gifts!) using old book pages, decorating images of Emma Willard, our founder, or printing and decorating favorite quotes of their own. We’re using proceeds to buy more supplies for the space.

We’ve created a “Pillar of Fails” to celebrate growth mindset in the space. We talk about encouraging students to take risks and to learn/grow through their failures, but rarely give them a low stakes space for them to do so. The Maker Space is just the space.

We are still putting the finishing touches on the space, but so far have hosted two grand openings: one for faculty/staff (with muffins, coffee, and a tour) and one for students (with cookies, soft drinks, and a design challenge–cotton ball catapults to knock over a stack of dixie cups). The unveiling for parents will take place the week before Valentine’s day. We’re thinking of providing 3D printed heart shaped EW pendants to attach to bookmarks or to bracelets, if jewelry is more their thing.

If we build it, will they come? So far, the answer is a resounding YES.

The Sophomore class used the Cricut machine to cut puzzle pieces and to glue, glitter, and assemble ornaments for their themed holiday tree on campus. On our first day back from break, biology classes were in the space making 3D models of plant and animal cells. They will be back in a few weeks to create models of the digestive system, utilizing cardboard tubes, bags, and such. Juniors are working on prom posters and our student leaders are creating bulletin board materials down in the space. A houseparent has asked us to brainstorm a re-purposed art project, visiting Goodwill to gather materials to transform in the Maker Space. Our STEAM coordinator has asked us to team teach a unit on soft circuit jewelry making. Those weeks after APs are over? We’ve got them covered!

At this point, the room is open. Sharp tools are locked up and available upon (supervised) request. Our rules are pretty simple: unplug and clean up after yourselves. Let us know if we need to get more of a certain supply. The room’s open when the library is.

This year, we are using the tech grant to purchase the following materials:

Gemma Starter Pack (to make wearable electronics)
Adafruit Beginner LED Sewing Kit
3doodle create pens for rapid prototyping (requested by a geometry teacher)
Littlebits Gizmo/Gadget kit and STEAM student kit) better for older students.

If you’re interested, here are some images I’ve taken of the space:

Are you an Upper School librarian running or contemplating a Maker Space in your library? If so, I’d love to hear from you! Please comment below!




The Secret to a Successful Faculty/Staff Book Club

One of my favorite ways to connect with the adult community I’m a part of is to organize a fun book club to read and discuss a few titles  per year. I have done this in both independent schools where I have worked and participation has varied, from just myself and a few others to a packed house, 15-20 participants, requiring us to break into two groups to discuss the book. What’s the key to a successful program? Its  seems to depend on a number of factors. I wonder if those of you who are leading groups at your schools will agree or disagree.

  1. Choosing the right book. Fiction/Non-Fiction. Adult or YA to read what our students are reading? Length. Genre.
  2. BUSY-NESS in the year. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Scheduling–is it a day time or evening discussion?

Excuse me for a moment while I preach to the choir: book clubs by there very nature do not require that everyone love the genre that you are reading. However, I’ve found that some people do have strong preferences re: spending time on fiction when they prefer to read non-fiction, almost exclusively. That seems to be the case for many who are interested in participating in book discussions at Emma.

The large group of readers at my last school thrived on fun fiction (“Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” anyone?,  also “The Paris Wife”, “Loving Frank”, “The Postmistress”, “Unbroken”and “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”, “Little Women” vs. “March” in a Men are from Mars, Women from Venus match-up, to name a few).  We met at a local restaurant, split appetizers and ordered an adult beverage, and either my library colleague or I would start the discussion and have a list of questions/discussion points that we could refer to if there was a lull or if we needed to pull the proverbial car back onto the road. It was great. No one throw anything at me, but I feel like we had a lot more free time to read for pleasure because we were at a day school. Organizing another book club here in this boarding community has been a different creature entirely. Clearly, I’m still learning and working to perfect the formula for success.

I typically propose books a week or two before a school break so that there is more time to read. Because there are evening faculty meetings once a month, so many people coach, and because  everyone has a night of dorm duty or proctored study hall or such, it’s tough, nay impossible, to find a time that works for everyone. That’s just life. I usually go with a Thursday evening discussion somewhere on campus–typically my house or that of my colleague/neighbor who has no children, a working fireplace, and a perpetually clean house. I bring dessert and wine. We typically get the same 4-6 regulars who participate.  Once we finish our discussion, I open up “next read nominations” from the group. That’s how it goes for the rest of the year. Maybe that’s okay? I have a hard time admitting that something can’t be improved, so I’m examining the challenges and trying to do better, to attract a more diverse group, etc.

First, there’s choosing the right book. I usually start the year out by proposing a few titles that I would like to read and discuss, then letting people vote. I try to offer a number of different titles, for example, this year we started with “A Man Called Ove”, “Fun Home”, “A Tale for the Time Being”, and “Blood in the Water: the Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and its Legacy”, a new release that was nominated for the National Book Award, is timely politically in its dealing with prison reform, human rights violations, and fake news, and it also focuses on a horrific event that took place just a few hours from our campus. Like I said, this community likes its non-fiction, so Attica it was (though “Ove” was a close second). I offered both a lunchtime discussion in a small dining room and an evening discussion to try to get those who weren’t free in the evening. Everything was looking good!

What piece did I miss? First, new releases aren’t available in paperback. CHA-CHING!  The waiting list at the public library was huge. Strangely, our library copy took an inordinately long time to arrive from Amazon. Second, length! The book is 752 pages. A lot of those are notes, but still, it’s a good 600+ pages of text, which is a lot to take on over Thanksgiving break. It was such a small group that we cancelled the evening meeting and went with the lunch time one. I brought recent articles from the New York Times that cover investigations at 54 prisons where prisoners continue to suffer the same abuses that Attica’s prisoners were protesting. We were a small but mighty group and did have a good discussion, but we all agreed that we should alternate between heavy non-fiction like this and lighter novels. Our new format is to alternate. We decided to read “Ove” over our winter break and discuss in late January. I’m not sure how many it will attract, but hopefully more than Attica did.

On a whim, my assistant and I bought some used copies of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “We Should All Be Feminists” personal essay, based on her 2012 TedX talk (64 pages), and hoped to get an informal group discussion pulled together over lunch in the new year. We threw it out there and said “the first four to respond to this message will get the book delivered to your mailbox today!”. There are 9 people on the waiting list right now! A few admitted that this was the right length for them to read and discuss during the school year. So the desire is there, but not the time. Hmmm…

So, I wonder, do we look for more articles/short stories/essays to read? Do we plan our reads at the end of the year and announce them for faculty to read for pleasure over the summer? {Who will be able to recall details for something they read months before? I surely can’t.} Or do we chalk it up to “it is what it is” and any group coming together to discuss books is a good thing–big or small?

What is working for you at your school? Are there any boarding school success stories that I can learn from? What titles have been especially good to discuss?



Let’s Get Physical!

Olivia got it right when she encouraged us to get physical back in the 80’s. My assistant and I are taking her advice and applying it to our embedded librarian program and so far, the results are making us smile like this:


We have embedded in our school’s 5 freshman history courses and are utilizing one of their 15 minute grab blocks each week, either before or after their class period, to provide a foundation of research skills.

I don’t know about ya’ll but whether it’s a ‘one and done’ research lesson, a formal research course, or a 15 minute mini-lesson, I refuse to look out and see glassy, dead eyes, staring back at me any longer. True, there are those rainy, 8 a.m. classes and yes, there are the periods before and after lunch, but I think I’ve found the answer: get them moving, get them thinking, get them engaged and they are sure to tune in. It’s not aerobics that we’re asking of them. No, we are employing active learning techniques to get our students moving, engaging in the lessons and hopefully, making a lasting impression.

Some examples of methods we have employed:

Introducing a bird’s eye view research process as a sorting game. We printed out the steps for a very basic research process, cut the strips up, and put them in envelopes. We divided the class into groups of 3-4 and asked them to sort the steps chronologically. Some did a linear version, others a circle or other shape. We then discussed/debated the order. [Note: we repeated this exercise with our Sophomore classes who had been through the research process as freshmen, and the discussion was so much richer. It will be fun to repeat this game with this group next year to see if their perspective has changed.]


The parts of a book. We created a Google form, we rolled a cart full of books (some relevant to the hunt, others as decoys) into their history classroom, and we let them go to town, scavenger hunt style. We reviewed their responses to gauge accuracy/understanding.

Using the Library Catalog. We merged this with Banned Books Week, explaining the significance of the week and why we celebrate our freedom to read, then we asked the girls to search by title to see how many of the 10 most frequently challenged books we own. We showed them how to use subject headings to do lateral searches, how to search by author, how to place a hold, how to use our google form to recommend titles for purchase, etc.

Reading Spine Labels. We use LC and while we don’t expect our students to memorize the classification system, we do want them to be able to locate book on the shelves. We explained the difference between Dewey and LC, then began the activity. We had cut up strips of construction paper, attached spine labels, mixed them up in an envelope, and we asked pairs to put them in order on the table in front of them like they would books on a cart. We then asked them to go to the library catalog to look up various subjects to see if a book on their “shelf” might fall within that subject area.

End notes (CMS)-citing a primary source within a secondary source. This was fun and easy! We asked students to pair up and copy a citation on the board. We then switched partners and asked them to mark up the citation: to underline the primary source title, to set the publication year “ON FIRE!” (note, they don’t think it’s that funny to sing “the roof, the roof, the roof is on fiiire!” in the same way that you or I might), to circle the secondary source title, to draw their favorite emoji under the publication date, etc. Shockingly, we only got two poo emojis. Girls’ school. They had fun while working through the parts of a citation “formula” and lots of relevant conversation emerged.

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Keywords: We typed up a variety of research questions, cut them up, and put them in a box. Girls drew a question. They opened a word doc and spent 2 minutes reading broadly to get some background information on their topic. We asked them to spend 1 minute writing down keywords associated with their topic. We asked them to open and to look for synonyms of terms, to think about related groups, phrases, or ideas and add those to the list. They then turned to their neighbor, shared their question and keywords, and brainstormed additional words that they might employ if they were actually researching the topic. They then shared their lists out to the group.

Boolean Logic-in the name of not reinventing the wheel, we found this awesome lesson for teaching Boolean. Rather than dry Venn Diagrams, we taught AND by asking all students to stand up. They were our search terms. We asked them to remain standing if the following AND terms applied to them: AND jeans, AND scarf, AND glasses…until one was standing. We asked them what happens when you add keywords to your search using AND. They totally got that it narrowed, or focused their search.

We did the same for OR. “Or brings more”. Then we asked them volunteer to do an AND and an OR search. There is an outspoken kid in every class who lives for this moment.

They then did individual Venn Diagrams to illustrate NOT, which was interesting too…”murder NOT fiction”, “Apple NOT computer”, “Washington NOT state”. They like writing on the board. Who doesn’t really?

Sometimes, we have to get through certain content that is, by its very nature, dry. We’re finding that by employing a little bit of creativity, we’re able to make some of these lessons playful, which we enjoy as much as, if not more than, the students. This week, they have finally begun coming into the library during their full class periods to begin their first real research experience. From our mini-lessons, they already know how to access our ebooks. They’re here to practice doing catalog keyword searches, broadening and narrowing conceptually, locating call numbers, then going upstairs and using a map to locate their books on the shelves. We’ve reviewed citation, how and when to use a reference source, and how to utilize the table of contents and index to find subjects. We’ve been able to weave the skills that we’ve been teaching in their classroom across campus into a quick refresher, a tour of the stacks, and then they’re ready to work.

My takeaway is this: not everything in life (or in library instruction) has to be a game, but it’s preferable to learn by doing. I couldn’t teach another 50 minute lesson without employing at least one or two of these techniques.

Do you have any active learning lessons/techniques that you might share? Please use the comments below!

PD Addendum:  I know, without a doubt, that I have room to grow in my research instruction. I have many more questions than I do certainties. As such, I put out a call to the listserv earlier this week asking for PD referrals. I lamented missing the Research Relevance Colloquium at Castilleja in 2015 and want(ed) something just like it.  Rather than posting a hit, I’ll share what I received here. Thanks guys!

*From the fantastic Castilleja librarians:
1. Here’s the link to all the documents from the Research Relevance Colloquium
2.  The Right Question Institute might be of interest to you —
3. You can also get all the archived sessions from the virtual conference on data literacy we were involved in over the summer here:

*Other listserv suggestions:

  1. Maybe ACRL/NEC?
  2. Design Thinking Summer Institute
  3. In the last five or six years, I have attended three things that have impacted my thinking on research skills.Extending Guided Inquiry into the Interrogation of Sources –
    AASL Conference in Columbus – Presenters: Randell Schmidt, head librarian, and Emilia Giordano, assistant librarian at Gill St. Bernards School will provide lesson plans and information source analysis strategies to help guide students in writing high school humanities or science research papers. (Half-day)
    Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions
    From the Right Question Institute, Boston (I attended a summer program at Wheelock College in Boston a few years ago, but here is a description of an upcoming version of what I took: This is from The Learning Forward Conference in Vancouver, December 2016) Teachers are being evaluated on the quality of student questioning and engagement in their classrooms, yet, many say that getting students to ask their own questions can feel “like pulling teeth.” Develop your ability to teach students how to produce their own questions, improve them, and strategize on how to use them. Transform students into active, engaged learners, who take ownership of their learning. Develop expertise in using the Question Formulation Technique (QFT), a resource embraced by teachers around the world, to design effective lessons and units that help students ask better questions and become more self-directed, independent learners.
    Participants will:
    • Experience a deep immersion into the QFT process.
    • Explore many examples of how the QFT develops divergent, convergent, and metacognitive thinking abilities across all ages, subject levels, and student populations.
    • Prepare to use the QFT immediately in the classroom and to coach more teachers on how to implement a transformative, evidence-based, and easy-to-implement strategy that results in greater student engagement and deeper learning.
    • Consider how the QFT strategies can be used in professional development. • Leave prepared to provide support to integrate the QFT into practice.
    Presenters: Dan Rothstein, The Right Question Institute, Cambridge, MA, Dan Rothstein is co-director of The Right Question Institute (RQI). He is co-author with Luz Santana of Make Just One Change: Teach Students to Ask Their Own Questions (Harvard Education Press, 2011), which first introduced the Question Formulation Technique to educators.
    OESIS : Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools

    Finally, I just came back from the OESIS conference in Boston; there is another coming up in Los Angeles in the Spring. It’s a small conference, maybe 200 participants. They do lots of smaller presentation on what folks are doing around online education – honestly, though, many of the presenters could just as well have been doing their lesson in “brick and mortar” schools.
    So my latest stream of consciousness is to gravitate toward teaching media literacy rather than information literacy. If we can make our students savvy consumers of blogs, Twitter, television news, movies, etc., we will win the skepticism game, which is, in my view, the most important part of teaching information literacy. At the OESIS conference I went to a session about Citizen Science where the kids were curating their own information feed on a neurological disorder. They created their own web site for their hosen disease, and they created kickstarter campaigns to fund research on their diseases. They got every piece of the research skills we teach now with an added layer of engagement (and creativity) as well as a degree of public purpose.

    That’s where I am headed.

Let’s keep looking and sharing what we find.

So THANKFUL for all of you and the wonderful support and enrichment that AISL provides both my professional and personal life.



Design Thinking @ Your Library, a SI2016 Recap

Librarians are, by our very nature, selfless creatures. We think about our users constantly, in just about every area of our work. From collection development to research instruction, web design to furniture and paint colors. But do we really know them and understand the full spectrum of their needs?

Enter Design Thinking @ Your Library, the 2016 AISL Summer Institute.

This June, 36 librarians came together from the four corners of the United States, representing Lower, Middle, and Upper Division libraries, all with a single mission: to learn how to “do” Design Thinking and to return to our schools ready to tackle challenges, great and small.

My background in Design Thinking is varied. Three years ago I participated in an awesome Leadership & Design Design Thinking workshop here at Emma Willard. We designed around the downtown Troy revitalization effort. This spring, I took an ALA course that applied DT to information literacy instruction.  I have read about it and watched videos on it. I was on a committee at school where we used it to study the effectiveness of blended learning in our classrooms. There have been some awesome Independent Idea blog posts in the past that dealt with the DT in the library, but in the vein of all the other awesome posts of late where bloggers admit their limitations,

I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how it would work, from start to finish, in the library world. There, I said it.

The Summer Institute changed all of that.

We started with an opening cocktail party where we mingled and got to know one another. We enjoyed delicious food and drink but then…it was time to get down to business. We split up into teams for a quick, fun Marshmallow Design Challenge.

Photo Jun 21, 7 37 57 PM (1)Many a group has attempted this challenge before, from Kindergartners to PhDs , engineers to corporate executives. Who do you think is the most successful? The engineers? Think again! It’s the little ones! Why? Because they are completely open minded. They jump right in and start building. Adults plan, contemplate the “what ifs”, and basically eat up their 18 minutes. Kids aren’t afraid to fail. They build. It falls down. They try again. If you need a great team building activity for a faculty meeting, this is a great one.

Photo Jun 22, 2 04 45 PM

Highlights of the SI included a fantastic keynote by Steven Bell giving us a birds eye view, or WHY Design Thinking works in tackling our “wicked problems”. Two of my amazing colleagues, science teachers and experienced design thinkers, then stepped in to teach us HOW to do it. We practiced as a group designing around my nemesis: a rickety wooden book cart circa 1960-somethin’, that hurts me, literally, falling over when I least expect it, bruising my shins. My assistant and I explained our many problems with the cart, the group interviewed us further to practice the empathy stage of the DT process, then everyone broke into teams to determine what they thought the “real” problem was (ie: was it a physical cart issue or a process issue?). That was an interesting conversation in and of itself! Their prototypes were AMAZING, and included, among other features, a student-led shelving system, fancy carts with huge tires, device charging stations so that we can listen to music while we shelve, flat, adjustable shelves to accommodate oversize books and a laptop for doing inventory, among other things. Designs shared via Twitter were picked up by Demco. How cool is that? I digress…

The final part of the conference was the one that my colleagues and I were most anxious about. How could we divide such a diverse group into balanced teams, around shared challenges in varied divisions, in a way that made sense and provided them with real, applicable, takeaways from the SI?

On the fly, we asked them to take a piece of paper, write their division at the top, their challenge as a headline, and at the bottom, which “track” of the SI their challenge fell under: Research, Physical Space, Maker, or simply “Other”.

You know what? IT TOTALLY WORKED.

Rather than tell you about their intriguing challenges, their thoughtful “What If…” statements, their design horizons, and their prototypes, why don’t you check it out on your own in this SI Libguide I created? While you’re there, feel free to visit the presentations, see the recommended reading, and download the free DT Toolkit provided by IDEO.

How can we ensure that we are creating the spaces, programs, and lessons that our community needs, both now and in the future? We do what we do best: we observe, we question, we listen, we invite other perspectives to the table, we think outside the box, we take risks, we try things! Whether we realize it or not, the skill set emphasized in design thinking is very much what we as librarians do best.

SI Participants, feel free to share your reflections below. If anyone has questions or if you would like to discuss the experience further, please let me know!

SI2017 will be here before you know it! It will be hosted by Caroline Bartels at the Horace Mann School in NYC focusing on One Book One School. More info to come as planning progresses.

I wish you all an excellent start to the ’16-’17 school year!


The Best of 2016: A Collaborative Year in Review!

I would *really* love to plug the AISL Summer Institute that is taking place at my school in 8 days(!!), but between last minute plans for exactly that, grades and comments being due like now, end of year book donations, and faculty meetings galore, I’m going to need YOUR help to get this blog post done.

Are you up for it? I need you, friends!

Let’s talk about the best of the best that we found this year. Maybe we can add some books to our vaca to-read list, maybe we can play with some apps in our ample free time, maybe we can plant seeds for lessons to take place in the fall? Let’s see where this goes. Come on, it’ll be fun! Just copy/paste this, replace my answers with your own and if you think of something I missed, add it! The person who comments below you can copy YOUR list and this ‘best of’ thing can grow and grow.

Best fiction: “Salt to the Sea” by Sepetys (reading now)
Best non-fiction: tie for me–“The Boys in the Boat” by Brown and “The Organized Mind: thinking straight in the age of information overload” by Levitin
Best YA fiction: “I’ll Give You the Sun” by Nelson
Best Graphic Novel: “Smile” (my reluctant reader 5th grade daughter loved it!)
Favorite App: Nearpod for presentations & Netvibes for blog aggregation (Overdrive for audio books, a big duh, I know, but I got really into ebooks this year.)
Most Improved App you should check out again: Evernote
Top Circulating Magazine in your library: Mental Floss & People
Favorite Database: Gale’s Global Issues in Context
Most excited to try out in ’16-’17: Personal Librarian Program, Ebsco Discovery Service, hosting an author
Most popular book display: Blind Date with a Book (February)
Favorite Non-AISL Blogs: Free Tech for Teachers, The Unquiet Library, the 21st Century Library
Most binge worthy Netflix/Prime Show (hey, Librarians are human too): Poldark, Mozart in the Jungle, Catastrophe, The Good Wife
Programmatic Success in 2016: Pop Up Maker space with monthly challenges (low–>high tech)
Most dreaded end of year task: Inventory (cue dramatic music)
Book I most want to read this summer: Outlander, book 1

O.k. your turn! Copy/paste, modify, add to, do what you like, but use the comments to let us know what was a big hit in your world in 2016!