Some things that made me happy…

Well, I don’t know about you, but the past couple of months have been stressful. I have a 14 month old, and my husband is a music teacher. We have spent many days playing “pass the toddler” as we go from one Zoom call to the next, try to catch up on emails, and plan for the next day or week.  As hard as it can be I do love being home with my son, but I miss my library, my students, my colleagues, and most of all, my staff.

I know that I have spent too many moments thinking about the things that I cannot do with the new constraints on my time and the support I have to give my husband throughout the day while he does his job. Therefore, I have decided to spend the time writing this blog post thinking of the things I did do, and what made me happy, during this time of uncertainty.

  • My Advisees

I have been able to meet with each of my advisees individually and as a group on a regular basis. I am thankful that we have Zoom, and that I can see their faces pop up on the screen, usually with a smile. Their positive spirits have uplifted mine throughout this time. I have met their pets, said hi to siblings and parents, and talked through what we are going through together. I am so proud of them all.

  • Planning for Summer Reading

Selecting books for our Summer Reading program has always been one of my favorite tasks. At my school, advisors for 10th, 11th, and 12th grades choose a title to read with their group. I received numerous emails this year asking for suggestions, and it is always fun to review what I have read and provide some options and advice. Talking about books makes me happy. I also worked on selecting the book for the whole 9th grade, which involved some late-night speed reading, as most of my daylight hours are dedicated to reading The Little Blue Truck and First 100 trucks and things that go (if you can’t tell, we are currently nurturing a truck obsession). Now, I am looking forward to the summer, pondering what I will read, instead of focusing on all of the cancelled events.

  • Service Learning and Tutoring Program

In addition to being the librarian, I am also the Service Learning coordinator and club sponsor at our school. When all this began, I wasn’t sure how the students would react to the new Zoom format of club meetings and if we would be able to actually continue on with some of our service projects. I needn’t have feared. At our first zoom meeting, students joined the meeting quickly and immediately began sharing ideas for how to give back and support our community safely during this time. One student came up with the idea to sell t-shirts to raise money for the local food bank. We were able to follow through with this idea by partnering with our spirit store to sell the shirts. We also delivered a meal to the local Ronald McDonald House, supporting a local restaurant in the process, and created a list of virtual service activities to share with our school.

I also help facilitate a tutoring/mentorship program between our students and a local K-5 charter school. After working with my contact there, we were able to organize a group who would be willing to participate in Zoom tutoring. For the past weeks, we met on Saturday mornings. Every time, I was so proud to see my students pop up on Zoom, ready and willing to tutor the elementary students. I put them in breakout rooms, and as I joined each group to check in, they were using the whiteboard feature to explain problems, sharing guides and playing math or reading games. It was so wonderful to see them so eager to continue to help out.

There are many more happy moments, but my time is limited and so is yours. Yet, I hope that you do take some time to reflect on what you have done that has made you happy. We librarians are a strong breed. We can get through this, together.

In Honor of MLK Day: Service Projects @your library

In addition to being the Director of the Library, I am also the coordinator of service learning activities. I believe that the library is perfectly situated to play an integral role in promoting and managing service projects, because of its ability to connect with so many students and the daily traffic seen in the library. Not only does it allow me to get to know passionate students that might otherwise fly under the radar, but I also get to work out in my community, learning about and serving others. I have to admit that I absolutely love this part of my job and look forward to each new service activity, whether it be making lunch at the local Ronald McDonald House, visiting with Veterans, or distributing food at the local Food Bank.

Last spring, I wrote an article for School Library Connection, highlighting some activities that we do that also aligns with the work of a library. One of my favorite activities is our yearly book drive and book giveaway. We hold a book drive in the fall, and then attend a local Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank event called Produce to People. These events happen in various neighborhoods twice per month, and are a wonderful resource for those in our community. We attend one event in November and give out the donated books for free, and patrons are able to browse the selection as they wait in line. We have given away over 1,000 books so far. Many people thank us for being there and make requests for genres for future events!

This year, we had some books left after the food bank event, so I looked into other organizations that accept book donations. One that I discovered is called Book’Em Pittsburgh. Their mission is to get books in the hands of prisoners in Pennsylvania. They receive letters from prisoners requesting specific titles or genres, and hold packing sessions, during which they select books and pack and ship. They have thousands of donated books in all genres. They are an entirely volunteer-driven operation, so it is amazing to see the organization, care, and attention given to each aspect of the process. 

I organized a packing session as part of my school’s MLK Day of Service, which is held every year in honor of the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. A group of volunteers, including parents and students, came together to receive training on the selection and shipment process, and then went to work! The space was a flurry of people selecting books, taking care to fulfill the requests as closely as possible. The two hours that we were there flew by, and I cannot wait to attend another session in the future. Not only was I doing something I love (reader’s advisory!) but also assisting with bringing books and knowledge to those in need. I took the rest of the day to reflect on what more we could be doing for the prison population. Having recently finished Just Mercy, by Bryan Stevenson, this has been on my mind lately, so I was thankful to play a small role in helping those in the prison system have access to books. 

Do you do service projects with your library? I would love to hear what you have done, so please share in the comments below!

Some favorite reads this year…

I don’t know about you, but the chilly fall air that has finally arrived in Pittsburgh makes me want to spend a Saturday afternoon curled up with a good book and a delicious cup of tea (hot toddy, anyone?!). Managing a six month old doesn’t really allow for much reading time, but I have been able to sit back and relax during naptime on Saturdays (laundry be darned!). 

As a librarian, I feel that it is important that we take time to inhale a good book- our love of reading is probably what brought most of us to this honorable profession. And we should acknowledge that love and share our favorites. I also like to write about what I read, so that I can clearly articulate my thoughts when recommending titles to students and colleagues. So, I am taking some time and space here to share my favorites thus far this year. Please take some time to share yours in the comments. Here goes!

I chose this recent winner of the National Book Award for Fiction as the first title for our Faculty/Staff book club, and it was the perfect choice! It is not only brief, but captivating, and easily devoured by a busy teacher at the beginning of the school year. So many aspects lend themselves to marvelous discussion, and you will find yourself pondering over The Friend for days to come. 

I read this title on a whim after seeing it listed as available on Overdrive, and am seriously glad that I gave it a try. I had not read anything by Emily Giffin, and was skeptical; however, I was immediately caught up in the story. The plot is particularly relevant to independent school librarians. A young scholarship student, who happens to be the daughter of an immigrant from Brazil, becomes the target of a cyber bullying scandal at a prestigious private school in Nashville. The story is told from alternating points of view: the father of the girl, the mother of the alleged perpetrator, and the girl herself. The story moves quickly and appeals to mature teens as well as adults, and would provide for excellent discussion for a faculty book club- which is why I’m considering it as an option for a future meeting!

I realize I am probably late to the game on this one (heh, see what I did there?). It has been recommended to me many times over. It took a student request to read it for our student book club for me to finally pick up the copy, loaned to me by my older brother, that had been languishing on our shelves for months. I did game occasionally with my brothers when young, and reading about the fight for the ultimate prize in the gaming world brought back many happy memories of epic battles and cheering on my brothers after my character saw the words “GAME OVER” on the screen. Reading Ready Player One, you will hope the game never ends.

I absolutely love Lisa See, and she continues to highlight, at least for me, previously unknown yet fascinating stories in the Asian world. While reading about this group of female divers from a small island near Korea, I was continually surprised and challenged by their lives. The role reversals for men and women were fascinating- the men cared for children while the women dove into the chilly waters day after day for coveted sea creatures. The relationships are complicated and real, and the characters experience a diverse range of emotions as war ravages their home. This is a riveting story, and I once again anticipate See’s next novel.

Knowing how our country functions politically and socially, this story was not as surprising as it should have been but still angering nonetheless. It is, quite plainly, abhorent how hard it is for some people to simply exist in our society. Because I was reading this when my son was two months old, and Land has a young child herself, I fought to check my feelings of being overwhelmed at times myself, conceptualizing all of the support I have and the lack of help for so many. This will be my go-to memoir to recommend for the foreseeable future.

I don’t typically read short stories, but this popped up on Overdrive when I was scrolling through available titles. I was pleasantly surprised and instantly intrigued by the various stories that ranged from a young single mother trying to interview a movie star to a couple whose honeymoon is invaded by the wife’s high school mean girl. Curtis Sittenfield’s talent shines through in each story, and I eagerly await her next short story installment. 

So what have you read lately? I am always on the hunt for my next great read, and I look forward to suggestions from my fellow librarians. Happy reading!

Book Club 2.0

I don’t know about you, but I am excited to start the new school year!  This is the first week back for teachers, and the anticipation of the arrival of the students is felt all over campus. And, of course, we are all eager to try some new things that we learned/read about/studied over the summer. We share our goals and hope that they are not too lofty, and achievable by the time May rolls around and we are panting for summer break once again. 

One of my own goals is to reinvigorate our student book club. Started last year, the club has a small core of dedicated students, but we struggled to recruit new members and grow the club.  As with all schools, we have a limited population of students and an overabundance of clubs and groups. But, I know that many students read the books and/or wanted to join (they told me so at various times and even via email!). So, I knew that we needed a reboot- Book Club 2.0, if you will.  I spent the summer thinking of some ways to encourage students to attend discussions. Here are some ideas:

  • Create surveys for book suggestions
    • Last year, I picked the books or gave the small group of students attending a few options, and we chose what to read. This year, I will send out a Google Form a few times to gauge interest in certain titles, genres, and events. That way, more students will have more of a say in what we choose and feel more ownership over the group. 
  • Suggest books with connections to local events or by local authors. 
    • Whenever we have read a book in conjunction with an author visit or Skype, I am always sure to get more students to attend. We have a wonderful public library system and author lecture series in Pittsburgh, and I need to capitalize on these resources more often. In addition, we have a large literary community with many local authors willing to come in for short visits or to conduct creative writing classes. 
  • Try the Silent Book Club once during a busy month or at beginning/end of the year. 
    • NPR recently ran a story on what are being called “Silent Book Clubs.” You can read the full article here. Basically, these are groups of people who gather together in one space, read a book of their choosing silently for a set amount of time, then chat about what they are reading. This would be a great opportunity to allow students a casual space to talk about what books they are reading, without having to feel left out if they didn’t read/finish a chosen text. I will probably hold the silent reading to about 10-15 minutes (due to bus arrivals and sports schedules!) but this would still give us enough time to relax, read, eat, and discuss our current reads. 
  • Combine forces with another club. 
    • We have a lot of active clubs on campus, and I know that quite a few would be interested in reading different titles and discussing them as a group. I am going to approach my current book club members about this idea, since many of them are members of a variety of different clubs and will be able to suggest some that they think would offer great collaboration. My hope is that this strategy will allow for more perspectives to be heard in our discussions.

Well, that’s all I have so far, but I’m sure to think of more during the next few days. What have you done to pump up your book club? Please share in the comments!

Flipgrid and Scavenger Hunts: engaging students in summer prep sessions

Happy summer vacation!  I hope that you are all enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation in these first few weeks of summer. I know how much I am enjoying having the time with my husband and three month old!

There are times, however, when I find myself ruminating on updates to lessons or projects and making mental notes of new ideas to try next year. One of the biggest introductory sessions that I do is, of course, 9th grade library orientation. I invite our Form III English classes to the library for a two day library orientation, during which they complete a physical scavenger hunt of the library, followed by a virtual scavenger hunt of the library’s website. I always like to try out new activities, but it can be hard to “try” things with 6 classes in one day.

Luckily, for the past few years, I have been teaching a session as part of our “Summer Prep” program. New students attend classes with various teachers, explore the campus, and basically become more familiar with their new space so that the first day is not as overwhelming as it can be. I am happy to have the opportunity to spend time with these students; it gives me a taste of the year to come, and I am able to test out some new ideas for the library orientation.

This year, I am going to change things up just a bit, keeping in mind my goal for the session. Ultimately, I want every student to leave the library feeling not only comfortable enough to come to me to ask questions, receive help on a project, or just chat, but also comfortable enough to know that the library is a safe space for study, group work, and quiet relaxation.

I start the day with a sharing activity. We sit in a circle (who doesn’t love a good circle up activity?), and answer the question “What was the most memorable book you read as a child, and did someone read it with you (mother/father/grandparent etc.)?” I want the students to think back on the happy memories associated with reading and literature. I enjoy hearing what the students loved when they were younger, and it helps us develop our reading relationships. It also helps me remember student names, as I have a specific story associated with each student, thus making them unique in my mind.

Then, we move on to the physical scavenger hunt. In the past, I utilized a simple printed scavenger hunt, directing small groups of students to key spaces around the library. It worked fine; it was just a bit boring for my tastes. I need something to excite the students, and have them more engaged in the process. Enter Flipgrid.

I have used this platform in the past for video book reviews, and students enjoyed sharing their reviews via video (and customizing the video with add-ons and cartoon faces!). Students will visit key areas of the library, and create a 30 second response to a question posted at the section. Here are a few examples of the areas to be visited and questions to be answered:

  • (Biographies): How are the biographies arranged? Locate one biography that you are all interested in reading.
  • (Reference/Quiet Study): What kinds of materials are in the reference section? When do you anticipate needing an area for quiet study?
  • (Nonfiction): What categorization system is used to organize the books in the nonfiction section? Find the 940s. What topic is located in this area?

I imagine that this activity will take a bit longer than the simple printed version, but hopefully requiring the students to engage as a group will not only help them get to know the library but also one another. Click HERE to check out an example of the google form.

Our final activity will be a virtual library scavenger hunt. I have always used a Google Form for this, and it is an individual activity. The goal is to have students engage with and navigate through the library website, so that they are more comfortable when using it for class projects or research.

I may or may not have enough time for all of these activities during the summer prep lesson, so, like all good librarians, I plan on being flexible and guiding the kids throughout. Reflecting back on the lesson will provide me with valuable information on what worked and what didn’t, and how I can adapt the session to fit in a class period or two, and with smaller groups of students. If, after reviewing my ideas, you have any recommendations or suggestions, please send them my way! I am always eager for feedback, and happy to hear from my fellow independent school librarians. Now get back to your summer reading!

School and Public Library Collaborations

Reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean caused me to reminisce about my lifelong love for public libraries. In the beginning of the book, she describes trips to the library with her mother, and how special these times were for her. I fondly remember similar trips with my own mother, taking the bus to the local library when I was five years old. How grown up I felt when I checked out books for myself! When I was in high school the public library was my refuge; I spent countless hours reading through their (small but growing) teen section, and checked out many a DVD and CD (remember those?).

As a high school librarian, one of my goals is to continually stress the importance of and resources offered by local public libraries. Living in Pittsburgh, we are lucky to have access not only to numerous community libraries and the Carnegie Library system. The Carnegie is a network of city libraries anchored by the beautiful Main branch in the Oakland neighborhood. Over the years, I have collaborated with my faculty and the librarians at the public libraries to offer my students the opportunity to discover these valuable institutions. Below are a few examples!

Community Library Collaborations:

The closest library to our campus is the Cooper-Siegel Community Library. This lovely space offers so many digital and print resources to our students, as well as study space. Throughout the past years, we have collaborated with the amazing staff at Cooper-Siegel to share resources with students and conduct different events. Here are some examples of what we have done thus far:

  • Library Card Sign-Up Day
    • Some of our students have grown up going to the library, but others have not had that wonderful experience. To encourage students to use the library resources, I work with the librarians at Cooper-Siegel to offer “Library Card Sign-Up Day” at least once a year (sometimes during Library Card Month in September, but it can be done whenever!). We create packets of information and the sign up form, and I visit classes to explain the event and encourage students and faculty/staff to sign up. On Sign-Up Day, librarians come from Cooper-Siegel and camp out in our library, signing up students, renewing cards, and answering questions about library resources. Not only is it a great opportunity for students to sign up, but it also is a great PR moment for the public library!
  • Boarding Student Library Visits
    • We have a growing boarding community, and we do want to give our boarding students the same opportunity to visit the library as our day students. So, we work with the librarians to offer cards to boarding students, and take them to the library various times throughout the year to explore. This is a simple and fun way to connect with these students while promoting the library!
  • Library Club- Story Time
    • I have a wonderful group of students who take part in the Library Ambassadors (our version of the Library Club!). We have various events throughout the year, but one of the students’ favorites is to design and perform a Story TIme at Cooper-Siegel. We select a theme, choose books, and prepare a craft.  We always have a great crowd, and the students enjoy seeing the happy faces of the various children and caregivers in attendance.
  • Battle of the Books
    • Many of the Library Ambassadors eagerly await the yearly Battle of the Books. They break into teams and read a set list of books, and then participate in a trivia contest at the library. In the past the event was held at a Carnegie Library branch, but this year Cooper-Siegel hosted, and it was wonderful! We had a short trip to the library, and a more personal experience with the librarians and staff.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: Field Trip!

All students at my independent school are required to complete an extensive research paper as part of their U.S. History course. This research project typically lasts an entire term, and asks students to put to use all of the research tools in their arsenal to explore a topic of interest to them. Though at first overwhelmed, many students find themselves quickly immersed in their topic and enjoy locating information. Because of the extensive print collection available at the Carnegie Library Main Branch, I always encourage students to visit the library or at least review the catalog and have books sent to their closest branch.  In the past, I made myself available various Saturdays or Sundays at the Main Library, assisting students with locating materials and making use of the wonderful staff of librarians at the library. This year, working with the history department, we organized a field trip for all of the U.S. History classes to go to the Main Library. Students were given a brief tour of the space, and then spent a few hours on their own, researching to their heart’s content. Many students mentioned making return visits to the library- music to any librarian’s ears!

In the future, I hope to extend my collaborations with public libraries to include more frequent visits and possibly even some joint programing. Have you completed any fun projects with or field trips to the public libraries in your neighborhoods? Please share in the comments below!

What should I read next? Facilitating Book Tastings for students and faculty

Way back when I was a young doe, fresh out of graduate school and ready to take on the world of a high school library, I often read blog posts by Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian. Her blog was filled with wonderful ideas, and I eagerly awaited each new installment.

Her posts and lessons often sparked new ideas in my own mind, and led me down wonderful paths of inquiry and discovery. One favorite activity she shared was on “Book Tastings,” in which students were exposed to a variety of books in different genres, and given time to explore.

At a large public school with big classes, this activity was a lifesaver. Often, English teachers would bring in classes to self-select books for various projects. Students would listen to a few book talks given by me, and then be free to roam the shelves. And forever did they roam, I must say. Most used the opportunity to chat with friends, and/or pull random books off the shelves and ask me if I thought they would like it. While I was happy to give recommendations, I was also disappointed that students could not simply browse, read descriptions, discover new authors. They wanted the perfect book to fly off the shelves and hit them in the chest, yelling “pick me!” It was exhausting, and most students ended up with a book they didn’t want. It’s hard to perform reader’s advisory with 30 students…and I wanted better for my students.

So, enter the Book Tasting! It was popular at the public school, and continues to be a mainstay in my independent school. I go through the activity every year with freshman, a month or so before their Free Reading Week. I do this to give them tips on how to self-select a book and time to explore some of the best titles in each genre. Book Tasting, or Speed Dating with Books (for the older crowd), also gives me the chance to book talk some of my favorite books from each represented genre. I LOVE talking about books I have enjoyed. I always get goosebumps when reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimon. For some of my book talks, I like to read aloud to the students, even if they are in high school! They still enjoy it, and this book especially keeps them on the edge of their seats.

I count it as a successful day when most of the books I have book talked are checked out by the time the last class leaves. It is an easy, fun, yet fulfilling activity. I even recently hosted a professional development “Speed Dating with Books.” Faculty loved going through different titles, especially during an afternoon Professional Development activity!

To hold your own Book Tasting or Speed Dating with Books session, follow these easy steps:

  1. Select at least 8-9 genres that you love and/or that you know students will gravitate towards.
  2. Create some signage for each genre.
  3. Select books to put on tables for each genre- choose at least 4-5 in each category that you can book talk!
  4. When students arrive, hand out a worksheet to guide them through the activity- an example is linked in the resources below.
  5. Give some book talks for each genre (depending on your time).
  6. Then, give students 4-6 minutes to go through their favorite tables, encouraging them to choose a new genre each time.
  7. Be ready to check out loads of books!

I look forward to hearing about how your book tastings go, or please share advice if you conduct a similar activity!


Check out the original blog that inspired this activity: Unquiet Librarian Blog

Feel free to use this sheet for your own book tasting: Book Tasting Worksheet

Hello from Pittsburgh!

Hello, fellow AISLers!  My name is Lindsey Myers, and I am excited to begin blogging for AISL.  After attending the conference for the first time last April and learning from and collaborating with other amazing independent school librarians, I knew that I wanted to become more involved in the organization. My first post will be an introduction, and include upcoming ideas and projects that I will be sharing in the next few months.

I spent my first four years as a public school librarian in a medium-sized (about 1500 students) suburban high school. While I enjoyed the work and my coworkers, I was intrigued when the opportunity arose to apply at a local independent coed boarding and day school, Shady Side Academy Senior School. Shady Side offered the opportunity to explore a different educational setting, and challenge myself in various ways. I began my career here in the fall of 2015.

Shady Side is a wonderful place to work. Not only do I have amazingly talented colleagues who are open to collaborating with the library, but I also find myself with more time to talk with and assist students on a one-on-one basis. Our library collaborates closely with different departments to develop research skills, promote independent reading, and generally offer a welcoming and supportive environment to all members of our community.

One goal when writing this blog is to spend more time reflecting on the various projects I have completed, and discover ways to improve for the future. I welcome your constructive feedback, and look forward to learning from all of you!

Upcoming Posts*:

  • Book Tasting- not just for kids!
  • Adventures in Book Club
  • Collaborating with your local public library
  • Digital Citizenship PSAs

*Full disclosure: I am pregnant and due in late March, so some of my posts will be from projects earlier in the year. These are yearly projects, so again,  I welcome your feedback!

A second goal is to share and receive more book recommendations. Falling into a new story is absolutely what keeps me going when times get stressed/busy/etc. Some of my posts will highlight some of the best books I have read recently (and, if I have strong negative feelings about a title, possibly those as well!). I just finished The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and I have to admit that I was captivated from page 1. She begins the story describing trips to the library with her mother, which brought me back to my own childhood. I cannot wait to repeat this ritual with my own child. And, I want to plan a trip to see the beautiful Central branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Last year, my husband and I made a trip to Cleveland, OH to see the downtown Heinen’s grocery store after reading Grocery: the buying and selling of food in America by Mark Ruhlman. This title will make your weekly (daily?) trips to the grocery store much more enlightening. I am trying to convince my husband that we should make a yearly event of visiting places we read about in books! Since we have friends that just moved to LA, that trip might be an easy sell for this coming summer…

Have you read anything amazing lately? Please share in the comments! I look forward to learning from, and collaborating with you, in the posts to come.