The Mystery of Annotated Bibliographies

I’ve been assisting with our eighth grade National History Day project, and it was clear that the concept of annotated bibliographies was a big cause of confusion. The students were not only unsure of what to include, but also how the annotation was supposed to help them with their project.

I’ve been thinking about how to teach the difference between annotations on a source and notes. The students seemed to have very few problem with the idea of “notes.” The issue was that they were using the annotation section in Noodletools for notes instead of considering why they were going to use the particular source. The class had trouble differentiating between the usage of notes and annotations.

I really like how California State University sums up annotations one of their LibGuides: Annotations are about 4 to 6 sentences long (roughly 150 words), and address:

  •     Main focus or purpose of the work
  •     Usefulness or relevance to your research topic 
  •     Special features of the work that were unique or helpful
  •     Background and credibility of the author
  •     Conclusions or observations reached by the author
  •     Conclusions or observations reached by you

So, how to teach these ideas for the next research project? I think this ties back to their inherent understanding of research. I feel confident that they have the hang of evaluating sources, but I’m not sure they comprehend evaluating research. They are at the point of still focusing on the number of sources they need (“how to get the best grade”) versus how to write a well-research balanced paper. 

I’m also not reassured that they are actually reading the sources, but rather skimming for facts rather than reading for information. In researching this topic, I came across a teacher who asked students to read before being “allowed” to take notes. Hear me out, what if students were required to read a source for 3 minutes before deciding whether they should start taking notes? I think this would make them slow down, evaluate the information, and perhaps even take the pressure off of just “getting a source done.” In turn, students would be pushed to consider the factors for an annotation which would help direct their research.

Guess I’ll be using my stopwatch for my next research lesson.

Library Field Trips

You may remember me mentioning that my new library is on the smaller side. Although, come to think of it, we have managed to have several classes in here over the past months, and the students do love the soft seating I’ve acquired. But I digress.

In light of the eighth grade students starting their National History Day projects, I decided that a field trip to the upper school library was in order. Since the upper school is on a separate campus, this is a complicated undertaking, indeed. But, I decided to go for it.

Here’s my to-do list in case you were interested in organizing a library-based field trip.

  1. Get teacher buy-in. I needed to have teacher support in order to even start the process since this would require curriculum time.
  2. Get administration approval. There was no point in moving forward if I couldn’t get permission to drastically affect the daily schedule for an entire grade over the course of two days. I made sure to stress why it was a unique research experience for the students as well as a great opportunity to become familiar with the upper school campus and resources.
  3. Check the schedule for the other library to ensure the availability of the space and librarian. (I love being part of a team!)
  4. Arrange for transportation. Since my school has buses available, I didn’t have to reserve with a separate company, but I still needed to get our trips on the schedule.
  5. Once details were in place, communicate with administration, teachers, transportation contact, and fellow librarian.
  6. Create schedule and lesson to accommodate for learning and research time.
  7. Confirm the details on the regular in case anything funny comes up (it always does) and revise as needed.
  8. Have lots of caffeine.

All in all, the field trips went off without major hitches. As usual, the first class was a rehearsal for the next two days. I always say that by the last class we will have all the details ironed out. (Lol)

Since I now have a “playbook” for organizing field trips, I’m going to look into taking over other classes to the main campus as well as trying to arrange for my students to visit a local college campus to seeing its library and resources! Fingers crossed.

Facebook and Insta were DOWN!

My students are still reeling from the fact that Instagram was down for HOURS a week ago. (Apparently the longest hours of their lives.)

WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram have been down for so long even Twitter's  Jack Dorsey is now making jokes - Technology News

I’m still reeling by how much more focus I had for work, conversations, my dog, etc.

In fact, I was shocked at how liberating it was to not be present on social media. I do not consider myself addicted (and only suffer from FOMO a tad), but I realized that during downtimes I’d mindlessly scroll on Facebook, etc. instead of reading or, well, thinking.

I decided to experiment with my “free time.” Instead of going online, I’d simply do something else and limit social media time to the evenings after dinner for no more than an hour. (This was completely arbitrary, but seems to mostly work.) This meant I had scads more time during the day for other stuff. I’ve already finished a book, listened to one and a half others, and thought about stuff. You know, lived in my head instead of being distracted by the cute thing so-and-so’s kid did that morning.

My daughter at one point asked me what I was doing, and I had to laugh when I replied, “thinking.” I know it’s not reasonable to expect that we would stay off social media completely, because life (and #BookTok, for goodness’ sake), but it was a valuable experiment for me to realize exactly how much time I spent distracting myself. I felt it gave me insight into my students, too, at least in terms of how their brains are pulled every day.

I guess the real question is: how can I use this information for my students? For now, I’m looking into low-tech activities with face-to-face time. (StickTogether posters have been really effective in a low-pressure way.) How do you inspire tech-free time in your library?

Speed Book Dating in a Small(er) Library

What do you do when you are bursting with ideas but lack space? I find myself considering this issue in my new position. There are three libraries at my school, and I am the middle school librarian. The middle school is a separate campus housed in what used to be a church. In fact, I just realized today that my library is situated in the narthex. Doesn’t that sound totally sci-fi?! (Well, the narthex or vestibule, but I like narthex better.)

If you’d like to see the entire article, click here.

But I digress. Since starting in August, I’ve added comfy furniture and reorganized the collection- which was not easy given the ladders (see previous post, lol). The students who regularly use the library come in to READ and find books. They self-police themselves and do the shushing, too. (I’ve tweeted several photos of students reading making use of the new comfy furniture, because wow.) Needless to say, I love my new space.

That being said, I wanted to jump right in to Speed Book Dating at the beginning of the year to ensure that every student could find a book. I knew the physical library was out, so I loaded up my books, made some amazing genre signs using Canva, and trucked into the chapel.

While the stained glass windows were stunning, it was a little difficult for the students to fill out their “Dating Cards.” It was also a tad awkward for them to peruse the books, essentially, single file. But, we made it work for the first few classes.

Then we tried the cafeteria which was a bit of a pain when we had to pack up and reset for lunches, etc. Finally, and now I feel like Goldilocks, we ended up in the teachers’ classrooms with a tour of the library after the activity.

The reality is that it all worked out. I could bring my laptop and scanner to check out books immediately, and the students still had the opportunity to come to the library. (For some of them it was the first time they had seen it as newcomers to the campus. I also felt like I was getting more familiar with the campus as I rolled my book truck around.) My colleagues were supportive as we tried to figure out what worked best for our campus, and our circulation jumped by almost 140%!

I’ll call that a win.

And in case you wanted to see and/or use the Dating Card, I’m including it as a download below:

Still getting into the swing of things…

Besides getting used to “school during a pandemic combined with a battle of the face mask (I am in Florida),” I also changed jobs this year. I moved from one private 6-12 school to a K4-12 private school. The exciting thing is that not only do I get to specialize in the middle school, but I get to be a part of a library TEAM. There are three of us at my new school in each of our respective libraries.

As evidenced by the fact that my blog entry is pretty much a week late, I am clearly still wading into this new school year. In addition to getting used to a brand new school, new co-workers, HUNDREDS of new students, and new procedures, I am realizing how much work I had put into my previous position of defining library expectations and procedures.

Which, if you think about it, is pretty cool. There’s nothing like being faced with the fact that you made a difference in a reading/library community. Now, the goal is to forge ahead in my new middle school library.

I’m getting used to a new collection, new students, new teachers, and new tools. I’m gathering up all the knowledge I learned from my fellow librarians and working on putting it to good use. My new library has ladders, did I mention that? I can pretend to be Belle from Beauty and the Beast whenever I want.

So, for all the newbies and folks starting in a new position, I’m reaching out to our seasoned librarians asking for your advice and helpful hints and tricks since we are a community who shares best practices. What has worked for you with students and teachers alike? What are your favorite programs to promote reading? How have you gotten new faculty to adopt citation strategies and database usage? You know, just some simple questions. (Lol)

Here’s to an amazing year that provides more successes than challenges.

Very Important Summer To-Do List

My last day of the (epic, crazy, stressful, pandemic, pivot) school year was June 8th. Like most of the year, that feels like months and yet only seconds ago. I’ve complied a few items on my Very Important Summer To-Do List, and I’d like to share them with you.

created using Canva

Yes, I’ve already taken a nap! A few actually, so I’d like to consider myself an advanced napper. In fact, just today, I decided to listen to my body and take that nap rather than stress over an errand I can just as easily take care of tomorrow. Speaking of listening to my body, that brings me to my second Very Important Summer To-Do List accomplishment…

created using Canva

Let’s not pretend we don’t know EXACTLY what I’m talking about here. (And if you actually don’t, please let us in on your secret.) You can see that I’m setting a really high bar for myself here, but I decided that simple is good after this past year we survived. Sometimes just relearning (and ACCEPTING) the basics is where we need to begin in order to reset.

Now here’s one that I’ve never been able to accomplish in the summer, especially not last summer. (Who else was on a million Covid task force committees?) However, a very trusted colleague suggested that I try it. She said that instead of worrying about things I could not control over the summer I should instead focus on “self-care” and the fact that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t be addressed in the fall.

created using Canva

I plan on adding to my Very Important Summer To-Do List, especially if I find myself falling into old behaviors. For example, I plan on actually eating lunch sitting down and not at a desk. (I know, weird.) What are some things you’d include on a lighthearted Very Important Summer To-Do List?

Whenever your school year ends, I wish you a restful, happy, safe, and healthy summer. We did it!

Personal Pan Pizza & Reading

Do you (or your kids) remember participating in the Pizza Hut reading programs? As I look at the book covers decorating my windows, it occurs to me that I would have earned a boatload of pepperoni.

The reasoning behind this decor is two-fold:

  1. Inspire students to to find new books and see what other people are reading
  2. To remind me what I’ve read (seriously, I cannot keep it straight, nor can I remember who wrote what).

That being said, I am running out of room.

And I’m definitely starting to have trouble seeing out.

You may be asking, why are you using up all your laminating and blocking your view of the library? Well, I want to model reading for pleasure for my students in the hopes that they ALL become enthusiastic readers. (Dream big, amirite?) As I am looking towards next year, I wonder if this is the most effective way to share the books I’ve read. I have seen students standing outside my window with their heads tipped back as if they are attending an air show, so I know it’s being used. I’ve also encouraged fellow faculty and staff to display what they are reading as well. The most frequent question I get is, “Is it okay if it’s not YA?” YES! Sometimes it’s even more meaningful for students to see teachers and staff reading from all genres and age-groups.

How do you share what you are reading with your community? And perhaps more urgently, what do you think I should do when I run out of room?

Edible Book Fest During a Pandemic

One of our favorite events at my school is the Edible Book Fest. (I’m going to pretend it’s not just because we have a HUGE bake sale afterwards of all the amazing entries.)

Definitely not this year!
Sigh. Also not this year.

Clearly, this was not an ideal activity during a pandemic. We certainly couldn’t maintain social distancing throughout the day as the entire school came through the library to look at the entries and then outside to buy them. (You knew that wasn’t going to happen IN the library!)

After brainstorming with amazing English teachers, we came up with the idea that each entry would be a single cupcake and voting would be digital rather than in person. This served two purposes: safety during a pandemic and challenging the students to think more critically in order to distill their ideas onto a single cupcake.

Submissions were digital as well as in person, which gave students the option to photograph their entry before they made the potential entry-destroying trek to school. With their submission, students were able to choose their categories: Most Creative, Most Likely to be Eaten, and Most Edible Author. (Yes, you read that correctly. We gave them the opportunity to make cupcakes that looked like their favorite author!)

A screenshot of our digital voting form using Google Forms

Overall, I am extremely pleased with our pandemic-friendly Edible Book Fest. We learned a few things for next year when, hopefully, we do not need to take as many precautions:

  1. Require a digital submission in order to keep all the entries straight and cuts down on drop-off madness
  2. Offer digital voting for more flexibility
  3. Creating a new category for a cupcake-sized entry since it was so well received
  4. Emphasize critical thinking

One thing we did miss this year was the “Punniest” category, since we were trying to simplify the entire process. However, I did want to leave you with one of our favorite entries from previous years…

Get it? Haha

I’d love to hear some of the ways you successfully adapted programs for pandemic life!

Did you get a “virtual promotion?”

Have you wondered recently if your job description actually reflects what you currently do? I started thinking about this as I was adding additional titles to our streaming services so teachers can show content to our face-to-face and remote students at the same time. We now have two campuses that require library materials: online and physical, which is vastly different than “just having electronic resources.”

My current job title is Director of the Rich Library. This implies that my work is centered in the physical library. I don’t know about you, but that is definitely not the case anymore. We have been face-to-face since August, but I’ve remotely visited classrooms, homes, meetings, conferences, and author festivals. I’ve made it possible for teachers to support their lessons without having to come to the physical library. Our virtual collection ROCKS, and it’s used by students and teachers around the central Florida area as well as on all corners of our 104-acre campus as we attempt to social distance. Clearly, my job in no longer just in the Rich Library.

Distance course isometric Free Vector
Attributed to School vector created by macrovector_official –

I’d say that my position is now more accurately described as the Director of Library Services. This encompasses the fact that our services have moved beyond the physical space as well as taking into account both physical and virtual collections. I guess the question is: do you work to get your title and job description changed? Which brings up more questions… How important to our profession is it that our duties are accurately described? Does this impact the respect we sometimes struggle with on our campuses?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Our Responsibility

This blog post was going to be something different. But then everything changed.

This weekend I’ve been thinking about the Library Bill of Rights. It was adopted in 1939 and amended several times. I subscribe to this every day as a librarian, and perhaps more importantly, as the Library Director, to protect the rights of all my patrons. Does this mean that sometimes I add materials that make me uncomfortable? Yes!

Why? Because there are patrons at any given time who need that book. The book that made me uncomfortable, whether due to race, religion, sexuality, or more, has the power to save lives. Perhaps for a student who finally sees themself in a book. Perhaps for a person who needed to read those words at the right time.

I am a straight, white, Jewish woman, and there are some perspectives I can never truly understand. However, I will not let that be the reason to keep a book out of a collection. Here are the Library Bill of Rights articles I keep in front of me at all times:

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

It is now even more important that we have materials in our collections that are not only inclusive, but also informative. I’m sure you’ve seen a plethora of lists lately of books we need to make sure are in our collections. Can we use this opportunity to add suggestions in the comments?

I hope we all pick up that book that makes us think. Let it open our eyes.

To read the Library Bill of Rights in its entirety, you can see it here.