Preserving Our School’s History


I don’t know how many of us school librarians are checking our email during winter break … for those who are, I apologize for the tardiness of this blog. Of course, I could use the usual excuse that I’m on break, that I had guests visiting, that it’s a crazy time of year, yada, yada, yada … all of which were true, but we’re all busy, so those are not good excuses.


I think that the real reason that I kept procrastinating is that this post was due on December 22nd, which would have been my dad’s 88th birthday. I thought about him all day and that he was the one who encouraged me to attend and then graduate from college (he was the first person in our family to do so and I was the second).


But what I kept thinking about was that he had a great story to tell and now he’s not here to tell it. I should have recorded his oral history or had him write down some of his major accomplishments or his thoughts and dreams.


How many of our independent schools are archiving the school’s history? La Jolla Country Day began in 1926 … the school will celebrate its centennial in eight years yet our Heritage Project was just started three years ago by an employee in development who had no idea that librarians should be part of the process. This former employee said nothing to any of us in the library … she just visited history centers to find out what and how. When I heard through the grapevine that she wanted to start putting our school’s history in some sort of order, I jumped onboard. An interested board member had office space that he let us use for a few months and we took boxes and boxes of papers and photos that had been stored above the gym to the space and started the process of assessing what we had.


And, as probably happens too frequently, the employee retired, the office space was no longer available and after a few old photographs of the school’s founder were used for publicity, the boxes went back into storage.


However, interest had been generated as people started talking about 10 years, then nine, now only eight until 2026 and the Parents’ Association put moneys aside to spend on a now-named Heritage Project. Also, fortuitously for the library, we hired an assistant (now our middle school librarian) with not just an archiving class or two under his belt (like me) but actual archiving experience.


There are some schools in AISL (mostly older and on the East Coast) that have their history online, accessible through their school’s website. There are even a few, fortunate schools that have a dedicated archivist on staff (lucky) but many of our schools are probably in similar situations to ours … the school is old enough that much will be lost unless we make preservation a priority. We recently lost a major benefactor to our school … she lived close by and was accessible to interview … but now it’s too late. We have a new theater tech teacher who wanted to line the walls leading to the theater with photos of past drama productions but all of the photos we could find were from recent productions. The teacher ended up scanning photos from yearbooks but the quality wasn’t great.


Speaking of yearbooks, we need to ensure that we have copies from every year. The science dept. wanted to give a yearbook to a retiring teacher from the first year that she taught at the school (1998). The only copy available was one that I had in the library and, as the yearbook adviser, I loved their idea for a retirement gift! The other upper school teachers all signed her old yearbook … only a handful were pictured with her (obviously many had moved on) but she enjoyed it nevertheless. We also need to ensure that we are preserving our newer, digital school activities. I’ve asked our yearbook rep if we could get a digital copy of this year’s yearbook, but so far no luck. Does anyone work with a yearbook company that will provide a reasonably priced digital copy?


So I just want to end with a plea that our schools start taking their histories seriously and not to forget to keep digital back-ups of current school happenings. So, Happy 2018 to all! May we enjoy the present, be curious about the future and preserve our past!














I Want to be a Librarian so I Can Read All Day


I thought that I would have all sorts of wonderful insights into our “Library Re-imagining Project Using Design Thinking” by now … but we are still slogging along … the project, begun before the start of the last school year … is still a work in process. So I thought that I would just kvetch about the usual …


I wonder how many librarians ask other school departments for assistance but are told that everyone else is busy (the implication being that librarians have free time)? I asked for library signage. Our middle/upper school library also houses IT and the Learning Resource Center but they’re not very visible. Everyone comes to our circulation desk and expects the librarians to know where the IT techs or Learning Resource tutors are (and even whether they’re in their offices or not). I asked Innovation and Design to make us a sign directing people to IT or LRC. Design students have a 3-D printer and make signs for Reception and Admissions. However, they told me to ask Communications. I asked Communications. They said to ask Operations or to design a sign and have one made. I don’t know about you but if I knew how to make a sign that hangs down from our ceiling, I would have made one.


One of our IT techs was out and about in the library the other day when I was in the back office (it’s a glass room, visible to all in the library). He came in to tell me that a student needed help. So I came out to assist the student. What did he need help with? IT issues with his laptop!


Librarians, in my experience, try to accommodate students and faculty whenever we possibly can. We are loathe to say that we can’t help because we’re wonderful people, of course, but also because we worry about staff cutbacks or loss of library space (one of our study rooms is now a counseling office). Other departments don’t feel that pressure. We had a recent meeting with our head of school. He questioned our faculty status due to the fact that we don’t grade students (never mind the fact that classroom teachers all have free periods and time off for grading while we are supervising their little darlins’). He didn’t understand why faculty status is vital to us but persuading classroom teachers to use us for research skills is hard enough … if we lose that designation, would they use us even less?


Then I started looking at the library and librarians from other points of view. We need to be better, I think, at selling ourselves – showing our value. For some reason there is this persistent (mis)perception that librarians sit around all day reading (which sounds heavenly but I don’t even have time to read professional journals – I take them home to read). We spend a lot of time supervising and assisting students with their laptops. We place book orders, get those books in the catalog and on the shelves, weed outdated books, provide all sorts of resources both print and online, help with citations, etc. but … so many of those activities are done behind the scenes. So I’m trying to do more displays … sending emails to teachers and students when new books come in. I recently set up a Book Nook at the upper school … to “remind” everyone of the library every time they are in the US office.


And I wholeheartedly agree with those on the listserv who said that we should have our own library website (maybe we can persuade Communications to allow us to take ownership of the library page of our school’s website). We also plan on showcasing our resources at the next Professional Development day as many teachers don’t know of our online resources, including eBooks and online periodicals. We need to self-advocate. I’m sure there are many more ideas on how we can “prove our value.” I look forward to the day when no one says “I want to be a librarian so I can read all day.”



So many books to order …

Yesterday I was frantically cleaning out some of my old files, making displays, just trying to ready the library for the start of the new school year and the return of our lovely students (it’s a new school year – they are all lovely)! I’d been excitedly ordering new books when I stopped and thought … we’ve been ordering (print) books the same way for years. Are we maximizing our book budget? Our students range in age from three to eighteen. Our lower school (through grade 4) has the least number of students but they check out more books than the other two divisions combined (which makes sense for a host of reasons), so we generally buy more books for the lower school. However, that collection is fairly complete (although we could use newer non-fiction). Besides ordering and buying for our students, we also try to serve the needs of our faculty/staff and parents. I’ve been expanding our professional growth collection. Plus, besides buying popular YA titles and books to support the curriculum, we’ve been adding diversity and inclusivity books. So, which division/area deserves the lion’s share of our book budget? What is right/fair?

Don’t get me wrong. We love the autonomy of curating our own collection … Ingram has offered to help but we feel like we know our own “community” best … it’s just that there are always more great books than we can possibly buy … I was looking through Kirkus this morning. Of course, I’m drawn to books (with starred reviews) about current events … but their relevance is fleeting, so their shelf life is short. Last year I tried dividing up our budget into thirds with another $1000 reserved for pro grow books (our lower school library does have a source of additional funding through restricted funds) I’m sure others divide their budget in different ways. A certain dollar amount is allotted for non-fiction or reference, for example, or the budget may be divided by whether the books support the curriculum or are bestsellers. However, given the data that supports the reading of literary fiction, are we contributing to the dumbing down of reading by ordering so many popular young adult titles? Not that young adult books by their definition are not literary, but we all know that many of the most popular books would not be classified as “literature.” I’m sure that we’re not the only library that has greatly reduced our print reference collection (online encyclopedias are great and include access to outside websites). We rarely buy reference material but children’s non-fiction and biography has gotten so much better – there’s lots to choose from (as an aside, if you serve lower school children, Chris Eliopolous, illustrator of Brad Meltzer’s biography series “Ordinary People Change the World,” engaged our children completely with his presentation).

How much of our book budget should be allotted to eBooks and eAudiobooks? We buy eBooks through Overdrive. So far the check-outs have been minimal compared to print, and with electronic resources so much more expensive per item, it’s been tough. This year, though, we are joining an Overdrive consortium (thank you, Los Angeles-are ISLE), so our students will have access to a much larger collection. We’re hoping that will help drive an increase in interest and circulation.

And, maybe, to twist a Shakespearean quote, all of this is much ado about nothing. Perhaps there is no right or wrong answer. Our circulation statistics show that our students check out fewer books as they navigate through middle school, with my upper school “reading for pleasure” statistics lower than I’d like them to be. Maybe I should concentrate my efforts into “handing” more books directly to students. In fact, I think I’ll begin my new efforts on Monday. After all, it’s a new school year … I’ll take advantage of everyone’s enthusiasm ….before it wanes.

Happy New School Year, Everyone!

by Lorrie Culver, Library Coordinator, La Jolla Country Day School

Using Design Thinking to Re-imagine the Library by Lorrie Culver

I wonder (as I teach the book Wonder to fifth graders during summer school) how many of us independent school librarians work at schools that just don’t seem to know where the library fits within the hierarchy of the school.

I’ve now worked in the library at La Jolla Country Day for ten years. For the first several years, the library was under the supervision of the assistant head for curriculum. Four years ago the board chose not to renew the contracts for the head of school or for our supervisor, the assistant head. They instead hired an interim head for the new school year. While the interim was on campus, we worked under her and then under our respective divisions (lower, middle and upper schools). When our current head of school came on board three years ago, we worked directly for him. Then this past school year, several employees were elevated to assistant heads. We now work for the Assistant Head for Innovation and Design. For the upcoming school year (finally), a new Assistant Head in charge of Curriculum was hired (actually the Middle School Head was promoted). I asked for the library to be put under her umbrella and was not completely turned down … I was just told that it wouldn’t happen for the upcoming school year. Sigh…

So, what is it like working for an engineer whose focus is to expand the robotics, coding and virtual reality programs? We librarians have been tasked with “re-imagining the library.” At first, I was resistant as our library had just been renovated during the interim head’s tenure … and, as has happened with other school libraries, we were only “consulted” at the end of the process. The renovations were really a construct for the board … they wanted the library to be more “welcoming,” i.e., a lounge for students to hang out, eat and play video games while others were trying to study. So my feeling was that the school was not going to shell out more money even if we came up with some really great “re-imagining” ideas.

However, we librarians set to work and interviewed students, teachers and parents and asked each how they used the library. The interviews with students were the most illuminating. Evidently, certain areas of the library were designated for seniors and were seen and be seen areas. Also, the stairs were used to evade deans and to play hide-and-seek.

Each librarian was also asked to use pro grow funds to visit museums and specialty libraries  and to see how they curate their collections and utilize their space. We held meetings and over the course of the school year, came up with three insight statements and problem statements.

Research and library skills are not being consistently taught across campus because teachers and students may not understand the value of good research, resources are complex and unintuitive, or teachers are unaware of the librarian’s skills, expertise and mobility.

PROBLEM STATEMENT 1: How might we create a better understanding of the value of good research, reduce the complexity and increase the usability of our resources throughout the campus while increasing the awareness of the librarians and their skills, expertise and mobility?

There is an unclear culture in the library that allows for varying and often times conflicting activities creating an unwelcome environment for the current minority because of a lack of well-designated and planned spaces.

How might we create a clear culture in the library that allows for a range of concurrent activities while creating a welcoming environment and improving the usability of our space?

The library is being utilized for many other services beyond research and reader’s advisory because of open hours, centralized location and proximity to other services such as IT.

How might we support the variety of needs of our community beyond our core competencies that have been so far met in an ad hoc manner?

So, after working on our re-imagining project for the 2016/2017 school year, we are still in the planning phases. Also, to be clear, even though our school serves students from age 3 through grade twelve, much of our discussion focused on our middle and upper school library. Our lower school library is in the same building but separated by floors (the lower school library is on the ground floor and the middle/upper school library is on the second floor).

The library will look different when students return as we are trying out a few changes based on our insights. We will no longer allow all food – just covered drinks. We also are looking into Ebsco’s Discovery Streaming. Our students definitely have to click too many times to access our databases now. One last change is that we have eliminated most of our desktop computers. We have a BYOD policy and we found that students were using the large screens of the desktops to play games … loudly and with other students.

We will continue our re-imagining meetings in the fall and monitor how the changes affect the students and their use of the library. I’ll also post a follow-up blog.
Happy Summer all!

Don’t Judge a “Book” by its Cover by Lorrie Culver

I have been wracking my brain … what should I write about for my first blog post? A recent blogger wrote about book covers and how students don’t check out books with dated covers. I loved the blog but was somewhat disappointed that I hadn’t thought of it first. As an upper school librarian, I could write about readers’ advisory or research, the two areas of librarianship that presumably take most of my time. I say “presumably” because I just spent the last half an hour assisting students with their printing needs (they needed both double-sided and extra dark copies). However, none of the above activities are “sexy enough” for our administration … so we are constantly tasked with coming up with unique and exciting programming options.


Donna Hicks, the author of the lovely book Dignity: Its Essential Role in Resolving Conflict, visited our school in the fall. Her book was the all-school read two summers ago and all (students, faculty and staff) have been tasked with treating one another with dignity (having a Director of Diversity would help, but that’s another conversation). One way that we librarians are promoting dignity is to spotlight diverse literature and authors. Poet/author and diversity advocate Kwame Alexander will be the visiting author next month for our annual Newbery assembly. Also following the dignity theme, we librarians are collaborating with world language and social studies teachers in the planning of our first ever “Human Library.”


The concept of the “Human Library” began in Denmark (and I will return to this small Scandinavian country and its incredibly high Happiness quotient in another blog post). The “Human Library” idea is rooted in dignity and how to best combat prejudice, intolerance and violence toward those who are different from us (if you get a chance, listen to a YouTube interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Sympathizer, Viet Nguyen, on his feelings of being an “other”).


Since the first Human Library in Copenhagen in 2000, there have been others all over the world, including in Singapore and Belarus. The San Diego Public Library recently hosted a Human Library event at their central location. People are the “books” in this library and their “stories” are their lives. It reminds me of the people in Fahrenheit 451 who memorized books so they wouldn’t be lost to history … but the “books” in the Human Library tell their own stories. The goal is to find “books” who are diverse in every way – religion, age, race, gender identity, occupation & life circumstances, and to have them tell their stories to patrons who “check them out” for a short period of time, usually between 20 and 45 minutes. Sometimes one is able to “renew” a book for an additional period of time if the conversation is especially inspiring.


We are planning our own “Human Library” project to be held in our library next fall. This should give us plenty of time to find willing “books.” Books are not paid for their time but feeding them is a must! I will keep you updated on the progress of our Human Library Project. If interested, please check out the website.


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