A (Humbling) Look at My Attitude

In a recent post, Jennifer Falvey outlined her top ten sacred cows. Library fines were one of them. Overdue fines have popped up as a topic for discussion in this blog over the past few years. In Dec. 2104, I posted: Overdues: Overdone on the topic. I felt overdues served a purpose in:

  • helping children learn to be responsible
  • encouraging the timely return of books
  • shortening the time past due books stayed out
  • decreasing time spend sending emails/letters/phone calls by attaching a consequence to overdue books
  • modeling the real world “late fee” policies of most businesses and public libraries

My Change in Attitude

Last year, at the encouragement of my librarian colleague, we decided to stop collecting fines for the second half of the school year, to see what happened. My biggest change was a change in attitude. It is painful to admit, but (apparently!) I have a judgmental streak. The “right” way to use the library is to borrow and return on time, right?  I was able to find a shift in attitude, that allows me to be more on the side of reader-helping-reader (“Let’s get the book back, so other readers can enjoy it”) and doing the right thing, not because of a fine, but because it is the right thing to do.

Random observations

(Our library serves about our 640 students in grades 5-12):

  • Updates to our checkout software (Destiny) allowed me to set an automated “Courtesy Reminder” that goes out two days before a book is due. This has helped students get in front of an overdue, by renewing a book or turning it in.
  • The fine amount (10 cents/day) was insignificant as a motivating factor
  • The fine amount (10 cents/day) was too low to replace lost books
  • Students rarely have pocket change on them
  • I didn’t like not following through on a consequence (“Your fine is 40 cents”), yet who wants to tell a 6th grade parent, paying thousands for tuition, that their child should bring 40 cents to school? I also didn’t like chasing down older students for minimal amounts, yet deleting money owed without consequence felt like it sent the wrong message.
  • I think both parent and student feel the importance of the situation more when they receive a note re: $20 replacement cost, versus getting a reminder that there is a late book with 50 cents or $1.20 due.

Quick Question and Answer:

Are more books past due? It’s about the same.

Do I spend more or less time chasing late books? It’s about the same. I no longer personalize emails with the amount due—I email a weekly past due reminder via the BCC field.  If I get no response after two emails, I make a phone call or send an individualized third email with cc: to parent email. This is about 3-8 students per week.

Would I advocate a return to assessing overdue fines? No. Although I think “no fines” does cushion children slightly from reality, I think there are other ways I can model and encourage responsibility.

I appreciate having a forum to share thoughts and challenges with members of the AISL community. Thank you for all making this a safe space to talk about moments of growth as well as sharing ideas and successes!

Valentine’s Day in Middle School (Fun or Fear?)

Valentine’s Day… thrills and fun or awkwardness and misery? For me, a bit of both. Even as an adult, I am not always in the “right” romantic state to make it giddy bliss. My preference is to downplay specifically “romance” in Middle School. Our most numerous patrons are 5th and 6th graders. Not that 7th and 8th graders won’t come by, but a  Teen Read mystery week may be a better draw for them. It’s always a challenge (for me at least) to find the sweet spot to lure in busy 7th and 8th graders.

Keep it Light and Fun

Our MS staff discourages candy. (Students will have plenty from each other anyway.) I know not everyone has the time, interest, inclination or suburban location to make these ideas work. I love that we don’t all “look like librarians”, and we each bring our own personalities to our schools! These ideas have fit for me. Check Pinterest and other social media sites for creative images and ideas from brains worldwide. (Check the Comments below, for AISL input!)

Free Book Marks from Discarded Books

I cut up the undamaged cartoon strips after  a Garfield book met an early death in a lawn sprinkler incident. A well-loved and falling apart Far Side book met the same fate. (Caveat on the Far Side: check the cartoons as you cut them.  I culled a few I felt too risqué to hand out to 5th graders.)

Inexpensive Book Marks (about a penny each)

Use 12 x 12 scrapbook paper. Standard book mark size is 6″ x 2″– a perfect fit. Craft stores (ex: Michael’s; Hobby Lobby) have a wide selection. At 15 cents/sheet x 10 sheets = 120 bookmarks for $1.50. Tuesday Morning, Marshalls, TJ Maxx and similar stores are hit or miss, but check the stationery shelves. These flowered pages were on sale 25 sheets (300 book marks) for $1.50.


Keep your eye out for stickers. Tiny is fine – middle schoolers have great manual dexterity. They can peel one to stick on forehead, hand or cheek. The cuter the better. Hearts or sports balls are also popular. Stickers are often displayed near greeting cards at dollar stores, Walgreens, and many other places.

“I Am Loved” Pins (if available?)

Our local Helzberg Diamonds jewelry store gave me several handfuls of these pins about five years ago, from a big bowl on display. I thought they would be more popular (or perhaps be a flop due to students poking other students) but so far, there is more looking than taking. I checked online, and could not find if they still offered them to educators for free. If you have a Helzberg near you, it might be worth asking. Each pin says “I am loved” in a different language. (I chose a few at random, for the photo.) I put them out on Valentine’s Day. If students ask for one, they can have it. They are a conversation starter that may last a few more years.

I’m fine with my low key V-day, and if you have a bolder (or more subtle) way that works for you, please share with a Comment.

Library Listservs 101 (The Basics)

Question Mark Icon

Question mark icon. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016. Accessed 16 Dec 2016.

I’ll keep this short, as (at least here in Fort Worth) Winter Break is about to begin. Thank you to David Wee (links to help with media literacy and fake news) and Courtney Walker (being proactive in a “post truth” world) and others who blogged on fake news, media literacy and how librarians can help educate. I’ve shelved my draft on those topics, and moved on to….

The Value of Listservs

Listservs are ongoing electronic conversations around a common interest. Listserv subscribers pose questions, share links and comment on items of interest. The professional listservs I am aware of actively discourage (or specifically prohibit) advertising, blatant self-promotion, off topic comments, politically charged comments, flaming and the like. There is always wiggle room, as what feels like self-promotion to one reader may feel like a sincere wish to share helpful information by another. Professionally-f0cused listservs usually have moderators who step in to redirect or curtail discussion threads if needed. (A special thank you to St. Stephen’s Episcopal School (FL)  librarian Christina Pommer, moderator for AISL.)

Listserves are a great way to access and share information and keep an ear to the ground in any profession. Depending on the list, and your temperament, you can lurk, share occasionally, or share often.

Tips for Listserv Newbies

  • Use a full signature block. Name, school name and contact information at minimum.
  • Check the protocol for responding. (Reply all? Just to sender?) A simple “Me too!”can go to an individual. Other responses might benefit the whole list. LM_Net, with 11,000 members, has a specific protocol that discourages responding to the full list, to cut down on email traffic.
  • Some listservs require membership in an organization.
  • Consider checking the listserv archives for general questions (pros and cons of genrefication, for example) before opening a discussion.
  • Remember that listservs may turn up in Google searches and elsewhere. Vent carefully, if at all.

Four Listservs to Consider (and Links to More)

AISL – Open only to AISL members, with topics of interest to independent school librarians. If you read the Independent Ideas blog, you may already be subscribed.
LM_Net – Probably the largest school library network, with 11,000 members worldwide. Subscription, Etiquette and Archives all easy to find from home page.
aaslforum – The American Library Association has a number of listservs open to ALA members. Sign in with your ALA credentials at . The aaslforum list targets school librarians/libraries.
iasl – International Association of School Librarianship members only. School librarianship with an international focus.

For more listserv ideas, check out the Library of Congress Library and Information Sciences Online Resources webguide (Listservs are listed about half-way down.)

Anatomy of an 8th Grade Book Look


TVS 8th grade book browsers. Pink Out day supports community members touched by cancer.

I bet you have heard this before: “I don’t have time to come to the library.” In our Middle School, 5th and 6th graders have an Academic Flex period that becomes a class in 7th and 8th grade. This replaces a 45 minute period they previously had for keyboarding practice, library visits, free reading and study hall. Sports become more time-consuming for some students. Add in blooming hormones, “too cool for school” attitude and our school’s rich selection of extracurricular activities, and time is a precious commodity. We’ve been able to schedule “Book Looks” for the 8th grade about every 3-4 weeks (so far). Our book checkout period is three weeks, so that works out neatly. We also take a “pop up library” (similar to Alyssa Mandel’s idea) to a weekly study hall. This gives another opportunity for 7th and 8th graders to check out, turn in, browse a few titles and get help with their library account.

Book Selection in 10-15 Minutes

bookshelvesWe front fiction books with 8th graders in mind (usually we front with 5th/6th graders in mind.) We make two table displays, with (what we hope are) tempting books for 8th graders. This prep work means teachers can bring students for  part of a period, with the realistic expectation that most students will quickly be intrigued by something. As much as I want to stand by and discuss, I think many students are like birds at a bird feeder: they scatter at the sight of an approaching adult. When we have the “right” books displayed, I will hear the most effective recommendation: a peer leaning in to say “I read that. It’s great!”

What’s Been Popular With TVS 8th Graders?


8th grade girls Pink Out (and browse books)

Who knows what draws a reader? Great cover? Check. Made into a movie lately? Check. Seen others reading it? Check. None of the above? All of the Above? I have yet to pin down the X factor of title popularity. Our general policy is buying a single copy of a title, so when we are pulling books for display, we keep a backup stash of books close at hand, to fill gaps. We don’t want any person to feel that someone else got the only good book. These are some books that our 8th graders were excited about (in no particular order:)

  • Rollergirl (graphic novel) by Victoria Jamieson
  • The Bordon Murders by Sarah Elizabeth Miller
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne
  • Ashes (and Chains and Forge) by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • The Great White Shark Scientist, The Octopus Scientists  (Scientists in the Field series generally)
  • Books by Nicholas Sparks (the sadder the better)
  • One Crow Alone by S. D. Crockett
  • Booked and The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
  • Untwine: A Novel by Edwidge Danticet
  • Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson
  • Peaches by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • In the After by Demitria Lunetta
  • Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children; Hollow City; Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs
  • books by Cassandra Clare
  • When by Victoria Laurie

I’d love to hear what’s worked for you, in attracting teen and ‘tween readers!




True Confessions: Librarian Edition

Maggie w bag on headPardon the disguise. Excuse the furtive, over the shoulder glances. It’s time for True Confessions: Librarian Edition. These comments may not generalize to everyone who  reads this blog, but from reading past posts and from friendly conversations with other librarians, I suspect I am not completely alone! Thank you to everyone who reveals a part of themselves with posts and comments. Thank you to those who help me learn by sharing through AISL channels, and via LM_Net, and at conferences, through personal learning networks,  the AISL listserv and in other ways. After you read my confessions, feel free to add a few of your own!

I Download Way More Ebooks Than I Actually Read

A friend once said that once she obtains a book (whether through purchase, borrowing or download), it dispels the pressure she feels to actually read it. Could I  possibly I have 20+
not-even-opened books on my shelf at NetGalley? Yes. Did I download an ebook from the public library, and let it turn itself in, without getting past Chapter One? Yes. I love ebooks in certain situations, and I e-read certain types of things. I also find it very easy to forget my slender ereader is holding many (many!) unread books.

My ARC Stack is Teeteringly High

I fully intend to read every ARC I pick up or request, or enter to win. A little time passes. I vow to catch up over the summer, or during winter break, or in some magical all-weekend speed-readathon. Somehow it never gets smaller.

When I Say I Will Find a Book “A Good Home” …

that might be the recycle bin. Shelagh Straughan, from Trinity College School, brought up this topic in her post on difficult conversations. I will give myself credit here: I let donors know that after we have considered it for the library, offered it to teachers, offered it to students and considered it for outside donation, it may be that some books just don’t have an audience any more. I offer to notify them before we recycle, so they can come pick up any books that remain. So far, no one has taken me up on that. Some people find it so hard to part with physical books that they can’t bring themselves to do it. Instead, they donate them, while realizing that the books will probably be recycled. From the viewpoint of the person carting them to the recycle bin, that can be easier to do with books that were not purchased under my watch. I’ve got some “should probably recycle but haven’t” books at home and in my office.

I Love the Summer (Even Though I Love My Job)

I am excited about seeing students and colleagues. I get great professional satisfaction from my job. I am eager to try new ideas. I am energetic and enthusiastic. But who isn’t a little sad as the summer rhythm gives way to the school year?

I Occasionally Manipulate Technology

It seems like bad karma to do this too often, but sometimes I respond to an email with a question, to buy myself time while the other person responds. I “reply all” with a trivial comment to show the higher-ups that I read the message. I call when I know the person is out, so I can leave a voice mail. For what it’s worth, from time to time, I’ve think I’ve been on the receiving end of technology massaging as well. *smile*

Please post a comment and share your True Confessions!

The Difference Between Failure and Goofing Up

The US army experimented with use of camels instead of horses and it failed.

The US Army Camel Corps tried using camels, instead of horses, to deliver supplies. Epic fail! The Camel Express, 1857. Bridgeman Art Library/Universal Images Group. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 8 Jun 2016.

I am all for failure in theory, but I hate when it happens to me! Actually, it isn’t honest failure that I find hard. Most examples of failure, as the word is used today, mean trying hard, missing your goal and persevering. But failure has another side: I’m going to call it goofing up. Honest failure is planning an after-school Sudoko competition, and no one shows up. Goofing up is trying something new, but putting the wrong date on the signs, or not displaying them where students will see them. Honest failure is trying a new trick in a presentation, and concluding viewers find it annoying. Goofing up is throwing a presentation together the night before, and finding mistakes with your audience present. Continue reading

Rough Day? 7 Ideas to Get the Zing Back

Every so often I hit a wall. I look at how much I have to weed, or I think about the reports I need to prepare for the Trustees. Maybe I feel a bit beaten down having gotten the “How clueless can you be?” eye roll from a 7th grader. Maybe the brand new copy of a popular new book has mysteriously disappeared from a display, or a teacher is dissatisfied with all 35 of the Greek mythology books in the collection.DisplayWithBookMissing

Experience tells me this will pass. I believe most school library folks are naturally helpful people, drawn to a job they know includes a lot of human contact. When I give myself a pep talk, here are some things that can coax my usually cheerful and optimistic outlook back to the forefront.

1. Remember: Friday is Coming

Sometimes I am just plain tired. Shorting ourselves on sleep not only saps daily energy, but too little sleep can weaken your immune system, upset the smooth function of your metabolism, and cause moodiness and irritability. I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t give all to their job — sometimes stepping back to find balance is important. Continue reading

Old versus New: Or Can a Library Be Both?

TVSReadingRoomDo these questions sound familiar: When do I maintain the gravitas of the traditional library, and when do I follow trends? What’s a trend and what’s the new normal? Does this library space promote the flow of ideas? As ideas flow, the “how quiet?” question continues to come up. Tish Carpinelli, Media Specialist at Lower Cape May Regional High School opened a discussion, on LM_Net, on using shared spaces. Her compiled list of responses can be found at the LM_Net archives under Carpinelli. (It’s the Feb. 9 HIT)

Food for Thought From a Blog Post

I wasn’t keen on the title of  the Feb. 11 Edutopia blog post: Replace “Library” With “Portal of Idea Flow”? But the post made me think. Blogger Grant Lichtman, a self-described “Author, speaker, facilitator, ‘Chief Provocateur’” discusses the role of the library. When ideas were largely contained in printed books, then naturally libraries contained primarily books. For today’s learners, how might libraries facilitate making ideas (and I would add:  knowledge) accessible?

More Food For Thought in Print

In “Sweetheart, Get Me Readers,” New York Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan talks about the pressure to get (and keep) eyes on company websites.  No longer is it sufficient for  experienced editors and talented professionals to accurately cover news stories. To remain in the game, news organizations must consider amateur videos and tweets from bystanders. She notes the NYT now has an Express Team that covers breaking news, from serious topics to what some might call “fluff” (her word.) The newspaper has found changing with the times is vital to continue to remain relevant.


Can We Be Both?

Most librarians I know try to strike a balance. We like a portal of ideas. We have print books. I try to catch of eyes with vibrant Middle School/Upper School Library displays. Currently we are highlighting the YALSA 2014-2019 Outstanding Books for the College Bound. This display case has QR links to the databases and (look carefully) you’ll see jigsaw puzzles, newspapers and adult coloring books. We can’t be everything to everyone, but we try to be a lot of things to a lot of people (while keeping our sanity at the same time!) If you have ideas, let them flow freely with a comment!

Books: Still A Love of Mine (And Many of Yours!)

In reading the origin stories over the summer, I notice how many of us entered the profession through a love of reading. For Allison Peters Jensen it was Ramona Quimby. Claire Hazzard was a vociferous series reader. For Rivka Genesen, a family history of library visits. Barbara Share was at the library as a child. Kate Hammond had a “right place, right time” experience. Katherine Smith Patin rounds out the group, proving that there are many avenues to librarianship.

Making Reading a Priority

For me, reading feels as vital as eating. I try to keep my reading diet varied —a little junk food now and then, and hearty, mind-feeding fare. Like everyone, my job with middle school and high school students has become more enmeshed in technology. I look at database usage and consider what to switch up. Teach search strategies, ethical use and information skills. Review DVDs and check out new apps. Experiment with ways to communicate with colleagues and how to make library interactions flow more smoothly. Continue to think about how ebooks fit into our library and curriculum. I read about the user experience, design thinking and collaboration. And yet, as the Trinity Valley School mission contains phrases like “wide, constructive interests,”  “fulfillment at college” and “intelligent citizenship” I feel reading is a key, and modeling a love of reading is an important part of my job

Four Books Currently On My Mind

I start many more books that I finish. Time is short, and many times I am reading to get a flavor of the book, looking for titles to suggest to other readers. These four are currently in my mind.

Go_Set_a_WatchmanGo Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. It will have a place in our library, if for no other reason than it is by Harper Lee. If you wonder about the true story (if there is a single “truth”) behind its publication, her publisher says they will “speak candidly” about the subject at a webinar on August 19.


newt's emeraldNewt’s Emerald by Garth Nix. Spunky heroine, ye olden days, bits of magic. Nix started this book about 25 years ago, but it is just now coming out in hardcover via HarperCollins’ Katherine Tegen imprint. Easy to recommend to those who enjoyed Etiquitte and Espionage and Y.S. Lee’s The Agency series. Due out in October.

TBlackthorn Keyhe Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands. This debut author hits the nail on the head with this tale of an apothecary’s apprentice and his adventures in London. Suggest to those who liked The Accidental Highwayman, The Hunchback Assignments and Jackaby. Due out in September.


Boys Who Challenged HitlerThe Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose. World War II continues to fascinate students and adults . This story focuses on Danish high school students who stood up in resistance to the Germans. Hoose makes the story accessible to ‘tween readers, with enough meat for older teens as well.

What are some of the books that have stuck with you this summer?

What I Learned from My Sister’s Stroke

Talk about a curveball.  My younger sister  had a stroke about six weeks ago.  She is now “finding the new normal” in a rehabilitation center. She, like many of us, is a high-energy, hard-working, go-the-extra-mile type. In these last six weeks, a few platitudes have been brought sharply into focus, and without sounding too cheesy (as the middle schoolers here would say) here are a few things I will try to incorporate into my library practice.

Don’t be Quick to Judge. Ask Questions. Give the Benefit of the Doubt

When I say “my sister is in rehab” I sometimes get a fleeting “Oh really?!” look.  I usually add “for a stroke” but with or without the qualifier there can be an awkward silence. Do I jump to conclusions with students and colleagues? Do I cut people some slack when I can?

No One is Indispensible (part one)

No matter how important you are (I see the comments from solo librarians and traveling librarians who are wearing a lot of hats these days) life will go on without you. If your heart (or some other organ) is telling you a change needs to be made, start figuring it out before  the decision is somehow made for you.  Ultimately, it is not your problem to make it work for everyone else. Things will go on. You will be missed, but things will go on.

No One is Indispensible (part two): and Shouldn’t Try to Be

Learn how to say no, if you need to. There are lots of books on being more assertive. Be willing to share information with your colleagues and family.  Don’t be the only one who knows how to unjam the copy machine, or where the list of contact phone numbers is kept. You may not have time to leave notes or hand off projects. I will try to remember to share the practical knowledge about this library with my colleagues when I can.

Build up Good Karma When You Can.  You Never Know When You Will Need It!

Ellen’s neighbors, colleagues and friends have been incredible. Truly, jawdroppingly amazing.  One of the reasons for this outpouring is that Ellen and her family made many contributions into the “favor bank” over the years and now they are able to make significant withdrawals without running dry. The give and take is all a part of being collegial, and I will try to look at it as more of a marathon than a sprint.

Best wishes for a summer that rejuvenates you,

Maggie Knapp
MS/US Library
Trinity Valley School
7500 Dutch Branch Rd.
Fort Worth, TX 76132
817-321-0100 x410