How We Read Today

Our book club had a bumpy start this school year, as perhaps two thirds of our club was active in the school play which kicked off the year. We didn’t really get in gear til after West Side Story closed. I wrote about our book club in September of 2014; I love it as a way for busy students to keep in  touch with the reading world.

Last week we had a planning meeting with five book clubbers to try to jump-start our activities after the play closed. Members had been tasked to come prepared with titles to suggest for our first selection. I’d brought a selection of perhaps eight recent likely-looking titles for their consideration as well.

We’d gone through such details as date of meeting, publicity efforts, service projects and the like, and the last thing on the agenda was selecting our first title. Students browsed the titles I’d brought, sharing the fun of reading the jackets and discussing possibilities. By the time the meeting ended, three students had taken different books to preview over the weekend, and — even more exciting– had arranged for switching with each other to spread the fun around. The titles previewed were Armstrong’s The Masked Truth, Wallach’s We All Looked Up, DeWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor and Wellington’s Positive. There was a babble of excitement when Book Club ended, with some students heading off to their next event, while others chose to dive into their selected book right away.



I had taken Wallach’s We All Looked Up, a sort of Breakfast Club for the (possible) Apocalypse. Turns out it is an interesting exploration of four different high school students and how they are affected by the coming of a comet that might or might not wipe out all life on earth in two months. Near the beginning, a teacher asks one of these students, “What is it that makes a book really good?” The answer really struck me as true. “The best books, they don’t talk about things you never thought about before. They talk about things you’d always thought about, but that you didn’t think anyone else had thought about. You read them, and suddenly you’re a little bit less alone in the world. You’re part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be. ”

Finding that evocative description of what a ‘good book’ is, I paused in the book, and pondered.  Just now, as I was returning from lunch, one of our book club students passed and asked “Hey, how’s that book?” I said I was almost done and I still didn’t know how it was going to end. He called back “Oh, that’s the best!” This is a perfect example of how Book Club gives us the opportunity to share books even when we aren’t meeting, even with just 20 minute meetings every other week.

One of my tasks before we break for Thanksgiving was to update a powerpoint slide show on how to get digital books– ebooks and audiobooks– from the library. I had a version from nearly a year ago, but needed to update it to be useful now as folks hit the road on their way to family gatherings. I’m glad I reviewed it, as the paths had changed a bit since I’d last edited that document. I continue to be a bit frustrated at the variety of steps required for moving between OverDrive, Kindle, Los Angeles Public Library and my device. I notice differences between LAPL and Pasadena Public Library procedures, and differences between getting a book onto my iPad and onto my laptop. When you’re trying to create a clear standardized ways to get digital media for a presentation that will be shared among all faculty and students, you want to find clear standardized paths– not “sometimes do this” and “sometimes do that”.  But I did manage to cobble together a presentation, and I hope that providing a starting point for this process will be helpful. I was able to download an audio version of Sam Wasson’s Fosse biography to help make a seven hour drive more interesting. Moving between my print edition, ebook and now audio book has made it possible to continue enjoying this fascinating look at Bob Fosse’s astounding career, no matter what format I need. Take a look and let me know — does it work for you? Do you have something similar?


Some of you may have seen this article, “The Future of the Humanities: Reading”, by Michael Dirda, making its way around the AISL listserv recently. Starting off with “Reading always seems to be in crisis”, it explores reading as it has transitioned over the millennia. There are celebrations of the survival of the book in a succession of formats over the ages, and mention of the assist social media can give toward sharing a favorite book or author. In fact, adding that third dimension of social media goes a long way toward making one “part of this cosmic community of people who’ve thought about this thing, whatever it happens to be”,  which was mentioned above as one definition of what a “really good book” does. Dirda mentions a few drawbacks to reading in the digital millennium, including the “Orwellian” concerns of the ease of changing digital text, and the loss of the tactile element of reading a book, and he ends up with the idea that we are living in “what now looks to be print’s golden twilight.” I’m not sure that I would agree that print is heading into the sunset, but I am quite certain that reading is alive and well and looks to remain so for at least the next millennium or two.



A modern-day “cave of wonder.” —© David Pearson / Alamy Stock Photo




In Praise of Community and Consortia

AISL2016LA-logoHere in Los Angeles, we  have been spending a bit of time lately pulling together schedules and content for the upcoming AISL conference to be held here from April 13 to April 15, 2016. We’ve had Steering Committee meetings, sub-committee conversations via phone and Ning, and lots of back and forth with a great many librarians to make sure all our bases are covered, from school visits to museum outings to workshop content, hotel arrangements to bus transportation (and back again!).

This is my 3rd opportunity to help plan an AISL conference; my first was in Los Angeles in 1993, and then again in Pasadena in 2003. As they say, this ain’t my first rodeo. I’ve been going along busily making my lists and checking them twice, but this final schedule revision has made me realize just how much we depend on our network and neighboring librarians for every last flourish and function.

As I pause among my lists and spreadsheets, I am forcefully reminded  of the value of our consortia. ISLE (the Independent School Library Exchange here in the Los Angeles area) and AISL share more than just pronunciation (a point that leads to much confusion when we talk about AISL doings at our ISLE meetings, I can tell you!). We are microcosm and macrocosm. While each group is roughly defined as ‘a group of librarians working together’ (and what is the collective noun for that, anyway? a Quire of Librarians? A Magazine of Librarians? a Collection of Librarians? Feel free to dive in here to make suggestions), they do serve different purposes.  There are quite a few smaller regional groups among AISL librarians, in Boston,  New York, Georgia,  the San Francisco Bay Area, to name a few, and each of these smaller regional groups have come together to provide support and exchange ideas and resources. The larger group of AISL serves as a broad coalition allowing us to peek beyond our own regional boundaries to see what else is going on in our world. ALA’s ISS is another way we can connect with the wider world of independent school libraries.

Consortia can perhaps serve librarians even more comprehensively than other types of professionals. School librarians (particularly those at smaller independent schools) are often isolated on campus, often work alone, often are perhaps running from meeting to teaching to ordering to advising, and very often don’t have the interactions that other faculty do with their larger departments and scheduled class times. It may prompt the observation that “I don’t have time for consortia– I’m too busy running to keep up!” I would counter  by saying the one-person library stands most in need of the type of support and exchange that a regional consortium can offer.

My first school librarian position was at Mayfield Senior School in Pasadena, in 1986. It is a lovely and lively independent Catholic school with 250 girls at that time, and I was their first professional librarian — and their only librarian. I was encouraged to join the local consortium, ISLE, and I still remember my first meeting (at Loyola High School!) in the fall of that year. Our first goal was making nearly every magazine from the Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature available to all. In the early to mid 1980s, before digital media and databases, this was a big accomplishment.

isle aisl 1

In addition to the periodical exchange, we grew as a professional support group, from the initial 8 schools to over 40 in the 1990’s. A subset of schools decided to move into the digital age and, through a grant from the Keck Foundation, brought together cataloging resources via OCLC and a union catalog to be shared by all members of this group. For many of our schools, these were the first computers in the library and for some, the first computers in the schools. Our union catalog was distributed monthly by CD-ROM, so we all became tech-savvy with this hot new technology. Through the Keck grant we were able to hire a Catalog Integration Specialist to work between the 14 schools in this group, and as we gained tech savvy we gained confidence and credibility among our peers.

isle aisl cdrom

Thinking back over the decades, it is amazing to think of what we have accomplished as a group. Being among the first to digitize at our respective schools was huge. Learning from each other, borrowing from each other, and just being able to access the collective brain of our local library community– all are benefits from membership in ISLE. We now have 57 schools as members, ranging from The Bishop’s School in La Jolla (down by San Diego) north to Laguna Blanca in the Santa Barbara area. There truly is strength in numbers; these 57 schools all contribute and benefit from the exchange.


Just like any community, ISLE thrives on communication. We had newsletters and mailings in the old days, and now we’re on The Ning, a communications program that allows for a number of different functions. It’s been a bit of a challenge getting all librarians onto the Ning but it’s proven to be a fairly useful tool, allowing for groups, conversations, collections, and interactions. On the whole it’s been a productive way to plan meetings, work with committees and manage our archives, all in one place.

For those who would like more information about the founding of ISLE, check out this article written by Ellen Mintz and Lynn Angell in a 1987 issue of Independent School  For an interesting comparison, take a look at this 2013 issue of the same magazine, with an article by ISLE members  Elisabeth Abarbanel, Sarah Davis and Matthew Wittmer, and Dorcas Hand, past chair of ALA’s Independent School Section.

I can’t close without adding my own deep appreciation of the librarians that have taught me so much along the way. Through AISL and through ISLE, I have learned everything I know from kind and patient mentors who have shared their knowledge and hard-won experience with me. Ellen Mintz (of Harvard-Westlake School) and Lynn Angell (of Campbell Hall)– authors of that 1987 Independent School article– both deserve special mention. Ellen gave me much needed advice when I was contemplating  a change of school, and as fate would have it, I am now Head Librarian here at Harvard-Westlake Upper School, where Ellen worked when she gave me guidance. And Lynn gave me my first school librarian interview back in 1985. Even though I didn’t get the job (her school was fussy about requiring “previous school experience”, can you imagine!?), Lynn continued with her encouragement and kept me apprised of other openings in the area, with the eventual result of my being hired by Mayfield Senior School. Lynn and her husband David Angell were returning to Los Angeles from a family wedding in Cape Code on September 11, 2001, when their plane was hijacked. The shock of that loss remains with me, but the warmth of Lynn’s cheerful guidance is what remains at the forefront of my memories. Take a look at the The Angell Foundation Lynn and David created to further their philanthropic goals.

It’s your turn, now: tell us about your own consortium or regional group, or even share your ideas for that collective noun for librarians (a Compendium of Librarians?). And don’t forget to keep an eye out for the AISL 2016 conference in Los Angeles. Registration will open on Wednesday October 28. Don’t dawdle, either– it’s likely to fill up fast. Check out the conference libguide here.

1 to 1 Roll Out : Initial Observations

As we finish our first month of school, and our first month of our 1:1 roll out here at Harvard-Westlake Upper School, a few items come to mind by way of observations. First, an overview of how we have progressed to this point: HW has two campuses, about six miles apart. The Middle School campus started going 1:1 three years years ago, first with just the seventh grade. The next year, all three grades at the Middle School were 1:1, and now this year all grades at both Middle and Upper School are officially 1:1. While the Middle School process took two years, we’ve dived in with all three grades at once. That is, all teachers on the Upper School campus are new to the 1:1 experience, as are all juniors and seniors; the sophomores have had one year of 1:1 last year at the Middle School as 9th graders.

Our version of 1:1 means that all students are required to have a laptop –any brand or model– that has a designated set of functionality. All students are given MS Office to download onto their laptop so there is no problem ‘translating’ between our largely PC faculty and campus and our primarily MAC student body. All students are to provide their own laptops, and students on financial aid are given help if needed.

Support has been supplied for this move over the past 5 years by much study and research on the part of the school administration and our Education Technology committee in particular. As we have student representation on the Ed Tech committee we are greatly helped by the student Voice of Experience. Faculty are supported by way of the TILT team (Teaching Innovation Learning Team), with members from every department designated as tech mentors. We have learned much from the experience of our colleagues “over the hill” (the Middle School campus is on the other side of the Hollywood Hills from us) and we’ve taken the advice of the Middle School students on Ed Tech as well.

As we settle into our school year I find that our move to 1:1 doesn’t bring with it a massive shift in either pedagogy or practice. The Upper School, being more connected with external factors such as AP courses, is generally a more conservative place than the Middle School is, pedagogically speaking. We have had Canvas on board for five years now as our learning management system, and teachers are pretty comfortable with that. Our goal has been to centralize all aspects of a student’s school experience, and this has been progressing well.

View From the Library

1. Our 15 circulating laptops are less in demand. Last year – when we began encouraging students to bring their own laptops to school –  we might have had 5-10 laptop circulations a day, up to 20 on a busy day. This year we are down to 4 per day on average.

2.  As circulation of laptops decreases, circulation of laptop CHARGERS increases, along with circulation of phone chargers. We’ve had to add to our circulating collection of chargers. We also keep a range of chargers at the circ desk charging station; these don’t circulate.

3. Our patron stations are as much in demand as ever (see above photo).  Students use them for printing up completed assignments or for quick access to assignments and other class information.

4. Not all students have  their laptops yet. One student told me she only needs a laptop for Chinese; none of her other teachers expect to require a laptop as of now. This student is checking out a library laptop to use for her Chinese class. She finds that less inconvenient than to purchase and carry a laptop every day to class. A few other students I’ve spoken with are still working out ways and means of getting their laptops. One student is unable to afford the purchase at this time, but is not on financial aid and so has no immediate help from that direction. I suggested she check with her dean to see what possibilities there might be for those in her situation.

5. Our library laptops are the initial resource for students with minor laptop problems. We are able to check laptops out for up to a week while students are having their own laptop assessed, or if there is some quick fix that is in the works. If students need a laptop for longer than a week, then they are referred to our IT department which is set up for managing long-term computer loans.

6. Students like a choice in reading materials, and sometimes prefer print texts over digital. As far as English classes go, students have the option of listening to audiobooks (via circulating iPod) or reading digital texts from the library (via Follett Shelf) but their teachers still require print copies for students to highlight and mark up with notes. Yes, notes are possible with some digital texts but the technology doesn’t entirely replicate the print experience.

7. The Paperless Office of futures past is nowhere in sight. While many teachers aren’t printing their assignments or reading packets as much as before, that printing job has just been transferred to students, who seem to prefer to print such items out themselves and work on paper. A casual check with our clerical supplies office tells me that in fact, teachers aren’t printing any less than they did before, so they must be printing more in other directions if they are printing less of student assignments and readings. Judging from the detritus left at the library printing stations, there is still waste generated as students print jobs wirelessly. The need to pick their jobs up in a timely manner and to have patience as printer issues are resolved are not new.

This advance in technology is being rolled out in response, in some sense, to the eternal question of ‘the chicken or the egg’. You can’t become completely comfortable with all the tools and possibilities of a tech-saturated space until your space is completely 1:1. Then again, it’s very hard to go 1:1 until your students and (more especially) your teachers are completely comfortable with all the tools and possibilities of a tech-saturated space. Our experience has been a largely positive one, and as students and teachers become more aware of the possibilities a 1:1 environment allows, I foresee an increasingly rich and varied use of these tech tools as they become another distinct part of the school and library toolbox.

I realize this is a very preliminary view of one school’s experience. As school has just started, I am in no position to report on the use of laptops in the classroom. This report is just a snapshot of what we’re seeing in the library. I plan to revisit this subject near the end of the semester to take a look at where we are by then. Watch this space!

At our last Ed Tech meeting we collected up some reasons that HW has moved to go 1:1 which I thought might be useful to include (see below). These include responses from students on Ed Tech and reflect their experiences in some of their classes.

  • Curricular Classes
    • Preparing students for the future
      • Resource access
      • Communication
      • Centralized place for work, sharing work in the moment
      • Metacognition – portfolios allow students to self-assess progress and the effectiveness of their learning strategies  
      • Publishing work in the public sphere through blogs, webpages, etc.
      • Continuing to move to a more technological world
    • Allowing teachers to do more than they ever have before
      • Plotting
      • Sharing
      • Instant Grading
      • Socrative
      • Individualized study – students can progress at their own pace
      • Deeper learning/“just in time” learning, student’s interest is piqued and they can pursue more info
      • Allows for more exploration and interactivity with content
    • Feedback
      • Instant feedback on quizzes and reports
      • Students can immediately see what they did wrong
      • File sharing
      • Better communication during the writing process
      • Immediate analysis of data so it can be considered while it is still fresh in students minds
    • Notetaking
      • Some students find it better to take notes on laptop
      • Evernote – does OCR on scanned files, searchable handouts
      • Collaborative notes
    • Studying
      • Quizlet/Memrise
      • Collaborative study guides
      • Codification of student’s handouts, work, notes, communications with teacher, and past assignments.  
  • Extracurricular Classes
    • Knowledge that students will have laptops
      • Robotics example
        • CAD
        • Programming
        • Sign-In
      • Debate example
        • Dropbox
        • Papers/Resources



True Grit: Lessons Learned from a Rescue Tent

One of the great pleasures in my professional life is the opportunity to help chaperon the Geology field trip to Death Valley each spring. I am lucky enough to have the support of my school to take one day away from the library to join perhaps 20 students on their 3 day exploration of this amazing  destination, and my years as a biology major (before switching to lit) helps me with supporting the topics explored. I love getting to know the students away from the school environment, and even better, students get to know me in a whole different light. Relationships built during these days spent ‘outside the box’ have been some of the most rewarding of my career.

This past spring saw me once again adventuring alongside our upper schools geology students. Many of these kids had never camped before in their lives. It’s always interesting (surprising? hilarious? astonishing?) to see what students will bring on a camping trip, but this is how you learn, right? Trial and error, and see what happens. This year one enterprising student requested permission to bring his own tent. The teacher, always interested in rewarding initiative, said, sure! On the designated day, we packed ourselves into the bus and headed for adventure.

The first day is filled with roadside stops and explorations, from Vasquez Rocks to Red Rock Canyon to Fossil Falls and over the high deserted passes to Death Valley. We usually arrive just in time for a late dinner, tent setup and sleep.

death valley and library 025

The next 2 days were action-packed, with geology lessons interspersed with adventures, picnics and hikes. Star studded nights, fireside stories, and serious science all jumbled together. Our last night started clear but soon clouds began to build, and so did the wind. Storms in Death Valley tend to be epic, but aren’t uncommon at this time of year so we were all prepared. Students had low profile ‘half-dome’ type tents which weather storms well. There was quite a thunderstorm, complete with near-gale force winds, but we all survived and came away with some great stories.

We all survived, but for that one tent. Remember, Henry had brought his own tent. Turns out it was brand new, huge and … not quite set up properly. The first night was fine, but with the coming of the wind and storm, the dawning of the second day saw the tent largely blown over and a serious mess.

Our main task that morning was to pack up camp and head out of the park, with a few last spots to visit on our way out. The storm had passed by, and on the whole our camp was fairly tidy. We helped students get their gear packed up and organized. Henry’s tent was another problem. It was so thrashed, sodden and muddy as to be a challenge even packing it up. Henry declared it a total loss and was ready to toss it into the camp dumpster.

I found this unacceptable. Blame it on sleep deprivation, or, more likely, my inherent inability to discard perfectly good material just because it is inconvenient; perhaps I was channeling my depression-era mom and her hard-learned thriftiness. At any rate, I was unable to let that tent be added to the landfill. I wrastled that muddy mess into a tarp and loaded it onto the bus for transport home, vowing to Henry to resurrect it.

Throughout the spring,  Henry and I would banter back and forth about the state of the tent. Henry would call out “Hey, Ms. Acedo! How’s the Tent?” and I’d respond that I would see that tent back up on its poles and camping again, come heck or high water. Henry would always express doubt, sure that it was a hopeless case.

During the summer there were a number of tasks on my list, but the tent loomed large. So last week I dug it out of the garage and started work. It was a daunting challenge, but with time, patience and persistence, I got it sorted out. I got the base laid out evenly, and using online instructions from the Coleman site was able to see how the structure was supposed to work. There was dried mud aplenty, but it was ‘good clean Death Valley dirt’ (you could even call it ‘gritty’), easily washed off. Two poles required a minor hardware fix, managed with the help of a neighbor’s drill.  What was once destined for the dumpster turned out to be a very nice 2 room tent, able to sleep 8 people.

tent saved 1 - Copy

Having officially resurrected this tent, it is now our neighborhood Rescue Tent, available for anyone who wants a very cool, large super luxurious tent for car camping; I would not recommend it for backpacking as it weighs perhaps 40 lbs 🙂 .

I’ve been thinking about why this was such an important issue with me. First, the waste alone is a strong motivation. Connected with that is the idea that a job might be hard, it  might take determination to get it done, but you can end up with a very nice result when patience and persistence are brought to bear.

This is one important lesson for our students. Usually it’s not such a MUDDY lesson, but it boils down to the same thing. Hard work can pay off.

‘Grit’ is a word that is being used more often these days as a quality to be fostered among our students. A recent Edutopia article discusses ‘grit’ as ‘the best measure of success.’  I wanted to be able to show that with time, determination, and a little puzzle-solving, this cool tent didn’t need to add to the burden of our landfills. It lives on as a Rescue Tent for the whole neighborhood. I can’t wait to share the news with Henry!



(a) collect. sing. Formerly: Sand, gravel, small stones. Now: Minute particles of stone or sand, as produced by attrition or disintegration.

5  a. orig. U.S. slang. Firmness or solidity of character; indomitable spirit or pluck; stamina. to be clear grit , hard (etc.) grit : to have genuine spirit or pluck. to be the grit : to be the ‘right sort’, the genuine ‘article’.


Postcard from La Jolla and the AISL Summer Institute


Listening to Dr. Regina Ballad discuss Women and the Bible.

We’re midway through this year’s Summer Institute, hosted by Sarah Lucy at The Bishop’s School here in lovely La Jolla. This summer’s theme is Collaboration, specifically with the teachers we work with throughout the year. Phrases from the prospectus include ‘intellectual enrichment’, ‘building enhanced relationships with teachers and the subjects’, and ‘deep thinking’. This summer’s focus will be on developing a connection with some of the topics our teachers present in order to increase our effectiveness when we work with our teachers. When we have a better understanding of a topic, we are able to be more effective in our work with both teachers and students. That’s the thinking, anyway, and I can already see that it’s spot on.

Jen Reading and Marsha Hawkings adding CO2 to water to see Ph balance alter. Session on Climate Change.

Jen Reading and Marsha Hawkins adding CO2 to water to see Ph balance alter. Session on Climate Change.

Yesterday we were privileged to participate in focused sessions on Shakespeare, Beethoven, Chaucer and Poetry in World War I presented by master teachers from the Bishop’s faculty. Each session was distinct and (in theory) independent from the others, but as we librarians know, everything is connected. Beethoven’s 9th symphony’s role as a paean to Peace echoed through the poetry of Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen. Thinking of new ways to present scenes from Coriolanis or Twelfth Night connected down the centuries with the ways Chaucer came to write his Canterbury Tales. Climate Change, Global Markets, George Washington and Women in the Bible are the other sessions covered at this institute. Two parts to this brings rewards. The ideas that spring forth about how to work with teachers connected to these subjects are exciting, but also– the personal inspiration of my own exposure to these amazing topics is surprisingly rewarding. To be able to have the time to be a student and to learn– it seems like a real indulgence. But stepping back from my inner guilty conscience, I can see that this time spent on immersing myself in these topics is a very useful exercise which will enhance my ability to work effectively with our teachers and students. It just happens to be, in addition, exciting and deeply satisfying. As you can see, I am working hard on trying not to feel guilty.

Bishop's School teacher presenting on the Global Economy.

Bishop’s School teacher presenting on the Global Economy.

As we continue with our sessions, I am very grateful for the opportunity to feed the intellectual curiosity that I have perhaps let lie fallow in the decades since college. With all the librarians here there is a wonderful synergy flowing throughout the conference, with tasty box lunches out on the terrace, at dinners and breakfasts and on quiet conversational walks through the delightful village of La Jolla. We are able to discuss these issues that are of personal interest, and -wouldn’t you know- we often end up figuring out how these issues would fit into our projects and curricula.  That’s education for you!

Thanks to Sarah Lucy for organizing this amazing Summer Institute, and thanks to Linda Mercer for being the brains behind the development of AISL’s Summer Institute in the first place. Next year the Institute is being organized by Katie Archambault to be held at the Emma Willard School. Watch for details and don’t miss this opportunity to get your AISL fix in the middle of the summer, when there is a little bit more time for reflection and regeneration.




Lessons Learned

My thoughts today are about lessons we’ve learned this year in the library. A good library program is always adjusting balance and content, tweaking this, fiddling with that. Today I’m exploring a few important issues, one of which is the vital need to keep learning lessons, no matter how hard — or uncomfortable– it might be to continue being a student of life and libraries.

fish 1


1. Fish are wonderfully soothing … until they die.

As we were preparing for our annual Moby Dick All Night Readathon (see my blog post from April 2014 for details of last year’s event), some students wanted to bring in fish as decor, and asked if we could keep them in the library after the  Moby Dick reading was over.  Once we cleared up a few details about care and feeding and summer vacations, I agreed. One Goldfish and one Betta joined the library crowd, first in the ghostly lighting of the Moby Dick reading (below) and then for a ‘forever home near the magazines (above). Turns out, everyone loves fish! They seem to have a definite tranquilizing effect on stressed out students. We have small stools that allow students to shift seating around easily, and it’s fun to see how many kids are able to crowd around the 2 small tanks.

fish 3

The Chief Fish Wranglers soon found out that larger tanks were needed, and specialty items required to keep the fish healthy. They created a Fish Club, had a bake sale and (with the help from Marine Biology teacher) made treks to Petco down the road. A poll was taken to chose names for the fellows, now named officially Melville and Hawthorn (my choice, Fast Fish and Loose Fish, did not prevail). I have been minimally involved, but have enjoyed the process, seeing the students solve problems, and watching the fish thrive.

That is, Melville, the Goldfish, has thrived. Hawthorne, the Betta,  not so much. Tricky fellows, apparently. One student who had kept fish for years was pulled in as consultant. This and that was tried, and we hoped the new heater would do the trick but alas, no. Hawthorne succumbed to his ailments.

There were some tears and hugs, and a long weekend to recover. Today we begin talk about ‘What Next?’  It’s sad, but as they say, life goes on. Melville is very feisty, and continues to be a draw for students intrigued by the glimpse of another world, Under The Sea. For high schoolers facing finals, this has been a really popular stress-buster. It seems that a spot of time ‘chilling with the fishes’ allows students to slow their own life down as well.  It makes a nice partnership with the coloring books we’ve recently added.

1.a. Folks really love the coloring books we’ve recently added!

A student just came up to ask if the coloring books would be back next fall. She’s just finished some work and will be doing a little coloring for awhile. Very restful, she says. I was happy to reassure her that this will be one idea that will continue next year. We allow students to copy pages and work on clipboards, or even (GASP!) to color right in the book. If they get filled up we can get more. Revolutionary, I know! but pretty exciting.

coloring books


2. An idea so crazy it actually … didn’t work so well.

At the end of last school year, we tried a pilot program to see what would happen if we allowed students to eat in the library. See my blog of May 19, 2014, to get the details of our trial process and what we found. We polled our librarian colleagues across the nation (and Canada!), collected up everyone’s experiences, and decided to take the plunge.

When school started this year we allowed food in the library as long as mess didn’t become a problem. We increased trash bins and arranged for trash collection by midday, to control the smell and allow for easier cleanup. We also increased our own patrols to remind students that they will need to clean up after each other if this is to work. Even if the mess isn’t yours, you still need to keep the area tidy as you leave.

The main impact of this new program is twofold. There is mess, but not really as much as you’d think. We’ve been keeping a tally  of ‘End of Day Mess’, with location and ‘mess level’ recorded. The bulk of the mess was dry wrappers and water bottles, and the messiest areas tended to rotate around the library. That is, no one particular group was responsible for the mess.

The second and main takeaway was a surprise to me. The main problem with food in the library isn’t mess. It’s noise. When students are able to eat breakfast, lunch and snacks in the library, then they really start to feel at home in the library. That’s a nice thing in theory, but in practice it involves a lot of sprawling belongings and the general aura of a den or college dorm room. Territory becomes an issue, which some students claiming certain spots, even if they’re not actively there. Behavior also loosens up and noise definitely increases.

We’ve just run this year’s Library Evaluation Survey, and have found out (no big surprise) that most students really liked having the ability to eat food in the library, and most students liked being able to be more casual and a little louder (we got some nice thank you’s for being ‘welcoming’ to sometimes boisterous groups). However, there were a few students who didn’t like the smell and some who didn’t like the added noise.

One of the most memorable lessons I learned in high school was from a Henrik Ibsen play, An Enemy of the People (Thank you Mr. Chaney!).  A town’s livelihood (health spa) was being threatened because the local doctor wanted to close the baths down due to harmful germs. In this case, the majority clamored to silence the doctor and to keep the baths functioning, no matter the risk to the public. Ibsen called this “the tyranny of the majority”. Just because more people are on one side doesn’t mean that side is actually right. It was an intoxicating idea to this idealistic teenager when I read it in 1974, and I am brought to think of it again.

What did Ibsen really mean when he coined the expression”tyranny of the majority”? This got me thinking of “majority rules”, affirmative action and minority rights. Just because ‘most people’ like the food program, is that enough to continue it? Do students have the right to a food free environment if food and accompanying mess and noise bothers them? What if food helps some students work better?
3. We’re all here to learn; students, explicitly, and  teachers, implicitly.
Paradigms shift, generations come and go, Libraries become Media Centers, then Learning Commons then Libraries again. The more we change the more we stay the same. Unless we can embrace change, as well as the “growth mindset” as described by Carol Dweck, so that we are not afraid of failure, we will fail our students. An adventurous approach, with serious examination of ideas new and old,  along with both the ability to try new things and also to admit failure “this time” — this will give us the strength and flexibility to continue our explorations into new ways and approaches, ultimately to keep what works and toss what doesn’t.

I had a twinge of concern that as we evaluate the food issue, we may have to say “It didn’t work out. We need to pull back”. I realized I was worrying about not having ‘succeeded’. But really, the main thing is not to be paralyzed by the worry that something won’t turn out well. If we are, we’ll never try new things. We need to realize our students are having these very same challenges as we are, that we’re all learning lessons alongside one another.

trash 2

As for the food issue, we will continue to evaluate and come up with something brilliant, I know. As my guru the Magic Eight Ball says, ‘More Will Be Revealed”.




Top 10 List of Conference Takeaways

The Tampa Crew did such a great job with this year’s AISL conference that I am overwhelmed by all that I have learned and have acquired “Option Anxiety”. The only way I can move forward is to break the dazzling array of new information into small digestible bits.

To that end, Blogger Shelagh Straughan and I have created a  Top Ten list of tips from the conference. I will start with 10 and work down to 6, and Shelagh will pick up where I left off.  Here we go!

 Top 10 Tip:  The Library as Incubator Project: Allow students to connect to assignments in different ways.  Art as part of the toolbox. Modeling this in library space is the best way to encourage creative thinking at your school. As Erinn Paige said, we can “Sneak rigor into your students’ lives through art”. Also check out the Book to Art Club.

Top 9 Tip: Here’s a quick low-tech survey as a pre-test before a presentation: at the start of a presentation, survey your attendees’ level of experience by using the ‘finger survey’. Ask your attendees to hold one finger up if they are a total novice at the topic to be discussed, two fingers if they’re somewhat experienced, and three if they are very familiar with the topic. Call for everyone to hold fingers up all at once. This will help you to gauge levels of experience and help you to shift content a bit if necessary. Thanks to Dotty Smay!
Top 8 Tip:  Makerspace startup: It’s not the machine, it’s the program.
Chaos is standard. Become comfortable with the role of “Guide on Side.” Go to art teachers and tech teachers for guidance. The tool that is most important is the questioning tool. The process is primary. In most of our schools there is no time for the thinking, trying, exploratory processes in classes. We can give a space for that in our libraries. Consider it a “Blended Model”.  In our more conventional library role we work to create independent readers, but we also work with teachers on set curriculum. Same thing with projects. Sometimes work with teachers, but sometimes work with students individually, as we do when helping them find just what they want to read.
 makerspace 1

Top 7 Tip:  Two apps (out of many) from App-Smashing workshop

Prompterous is a teleprompter app available from the App Store in iTunes. Has a timer, great for filming and speeches. For kids and faculty, good for any oral presentations.  Lindsay Brennan provided the link for the Padlet from the App Smashing Session.  For those who couldn’t attend, there are some cool resources here.

Notability is able to manipulate notes in all kinds of ways. You can sign docs (opens a PDF, allows to write with a stylus, and send back). Possible in iPad, available through the App Store.

Top 6 Tip:  Always carry talcum powder with you when you go to the beach. A powdering on your feet will absorb any water and the sand will brush right off. Of course, sand in Tampa Bay is extra super fine, so it’s a lot like baby powder itself, but the talcum tip is  a great one. Thanks to Diane Neary for that little treasure.DSCN5591 (2)
Here’s Shelagh Straughan continuing the countdown: 

Top 5 Tip: Impulsivity and the teenage brain (Saint Stephen’s Episcopal School) on how, with the prefrontal cortex developing throughout adolescence, teenagers can have difficulty assessing risk, setting priorities, thinking ahead and planning over time. I loved the suggestion that rather than just facing this fact, we embrace the opportunity for learning, and let this environment shape our teaching. Helpful too, to stretch from this place and consider how it impacts plagiarism – for instance, that a growth (rather than fixed) mindset recognizes that citation demonstrates credibility.

Top 4 Tip: What college freshmen need to know (Ringling College of Art & Design) was a timely and relevant presentation by a panel of 3 academic librarians. I wasn’t alone in feeling reassured about some of the items we’re already covering, and appreciated the recommendations about additional specific skills which will help our students succeed at the post-secondary level. These included but weren’t limited to using a variety of databases, recognizing the difference between popular magazines and scholarly journals, and perhaps the most important – encouraging them to ask for help!

Top 3 Tip: The power of student library proctors was more than evident at Berkeley Preparatory! Their group of 23 proctors (including co-heads) meet and work weekly to shelve books, develop book trailers & promotional videos, design displays and organize programs that celebrate reading. This year’s initiatives have included pumpkin-decorating contests, a St Patrick’s day book promotion and the current display of “Which is better – the book or the movie?’photo3photo2 

Top 2 Tip: The value of taking time to stop, rest and reflect. The beautiful library at Academy of the Holy Names has recently unveiled its new iLab, an innovative, multi-purpose space. Upper School librarians were fortunate to have 90 minutes of time to gather in this creative environment to “reflect, recap and record” what we’d learned over the past 3 days. This time was invaluable, allowing some to discuss current issues and others to plan action items.

Number One Conference Tip: Be inspired, not intimidated. I am fortunate to have attended 5 AISL conferences to date, and once again, I was amazed not only by the beautiful libraries we visited and impressive programs we saw in action, but by the wonderful work we heard about while chatting with colleagues. I’m learning to focus on being motivated rather than overwhelmed. It’s enough that we do our best with what we have, and focus on the potential within our own schools. Having the opportunity to see what’s happening out there helps me to expand my vision for my own library program.photo4 (2)

Thanks again to all the Tampa Bay librarians, and be sure to note your own top tips from the conference in the comments below!

Spring is Sprung!


Here in Southern California it’s been garden time for awhile now. I’m already into my second wave of bulbs, and the forget-me-nots have shown that they have not yet forgotten me, spreading throughout my garden with their cheerful blue flowers. We’ve had AISL blog posts on weeding lately, and on tending our collections, and I find myself continuing the “Library as Garden” metaphor as I sit out in my back yard pondering possibilities.

Spring is our biggest research season at Harvard-Westlake Upper School. A solid 66% of our student body is actively working on serious research projects, and an additional 15% or so has research going on in some fashion. We love it– it really is exciting, and the interaction with students looking for one more primary source or additional material on Degenerate Art (oooh, fun!) is invigorating. But we can only manage this level of activity if we’ve done our own ‘homework’, if we’ve built the collection to support all these projects. Every year we have a number of repeat projects, so we are not surprised when all the Pope Pius XII books go out, or Stalin, or the aforementioned Degenerate Art in Germany titles are in high demand. If we’ve done our Collection Management well, we’re set.

Then there are the cycles. Topics that go out of fashion for one reason or other. For years we had very little research done on the Revolutionary War era. After a quiet spell, out of the blue (or sometimes, due to changes in curriculum or some big anniversary of an event) suddenly Revolutionary America is all the rage again.  Often all it takes is one really good Ken Burns Documentary Series and suddenly there is new interest in … Jazz! or Baseball!

Because most of the research done in our library is through the History department, we know there will always be interest in primary sources and good solid standard scholarship.  If something is on the list of suggested topics for sophomores, we know there will likely be interest. Where it gets trickier is the open ended topics chosen by juniors. Our job as librarians is to develop our collection, our garden as it were, to make sure it includes items that will be needed by our students. As with any garden, we can’t build just for this one year.

Here’s where the long view comes into play. Occasionally there’s a new wave in education, or (as they say in Country Music) The Next Big Thing. If the rising tide of momentum gets too powerful without having a focus on proper priorities, then you might end up with a long term solution to a short term problem. The issue might be space, for example. Some bright-eyed administrator might come sweeping in saying that since no one uses books anymore, you need to weed 50% of your collection and they’ll be using that space for… something important. So– major weeding project, loss of books and shelf space, reconfiguration. You might get rid of all those American Revolution books. Just wait 5 years, and you can be sure they’ll be back in demand. Only then you’ll need to fork out good money to build your collection again. Sure, you can weed the chaff (if you have any left after the previous weeding projects) but there are a lot of treasures by experts in the field that are a lot harder to replace than they were to get rid of.

wildflowers, blanket 016

There was an article in American Libraries (January/February 2015) expanding on the Library as Garden motif in a very creative way. “Not Your Garden-Variety Library,” by Greg Landgraf, tells the story of the Fairfield Woods branch of the Fairfield (Conn.) Public Library. They have developed a seed catalog where patrons can ‘check out’ seeds, complete with instructions for growing them, and can even ‘return’ seeds harvested from their crops. Apparently there are hundreds of seed libraries operating in the United States. Who knew?!? The Common Soil Seed Library in Nebraska organizes its seeds by how difficult they are to save, and their whole collection is housed in an old card catalog cabinet. How cool is that?

Volunteers sort through donations to the Common Soil Seed Library and repackage the seeds. The seeds are filed by Latin name, with the common English game following, in an old card catalog.

Volunteers sort through donations to the Common Soil Seed Library and repackage the seeds. The seeds are filed by Latin name, with the common English game following, in an old card catalog.

Whether you’re planting, weeding, or still dreaming of golden garden hours in the warm spring sun (while you’re all cozy by your fire), gardens everywhere are an inspiration. Springtime in our library is inspiring as well, with all that youthful energy directed towards the treasure hunt that is a good research project. Spring is a time of renewal, fresh starts, new energy, and the return of the sun’s warmth.

Happy Spring, everyone!

Garden April 2012 021

Head in the Clouds, Feet on the Ground

In the school library world, it is important to have a vision. We need a philosophy. Developing curricular support, information literacy lesson plans, and community involvement requires a large chunk of our time. The Big Picture is all-important.

But, as Napoleon knew, an army marches on its stomach (an image I always found distracting). Lines of supply are sine qua non, and a starving army isn’t going anywhere. A library ‘marches’ on its resources. To make the vision become a reality a library needs books, databases, and other useful resources, available and at hand when needed. Uncounted minuscule details lay the foundation of library success in bringing the Big Picture to life.

We spend serious amounts of time and money keeping our resources up to date and available. Even that task is colored by our vision and philosophy, and so it should be. With our efforts to stay on top of 21st century library issues, much of that time and money is spent on managing databases, ebook bundles, and consortium pricing of e-resources, among other exciting e-topics.

In making sure that all our resources are available, we at Harvard-Westlake’s Upper School Library have been addressing a chore that, frankly, we’ve put off as long as we could. Recent revisions to our inventory procedures gave us a more complete picture of items– primarily print books– marked ‘Lost’, and so in preparation for this season’s research projects we launched a coordinated effort to clean up the catalog and replace lost items as needed.

We have always kept up with newly published titles, but have not spent as much time on older titles that have been lost. I can think of few topics more mundane, and in a library where there is no end of tasks to do, this one kept falling to the bottom of the list. Unfortunately, it got to the point where the number of ‘Lost’ titles was enough to muddy the waters and make it unclear what resources were available. The time had come to clear this up. Carpe Diem!

To say it was a daunting chore is an understatement. I pulled the list of titles missing longer than 18 months, went through and marked those we could simply delete from the catalog, and those we should reorder. Putting a priority on the titles to be reordered, I pulled those cards from the shelf-list. Yes– we still have a shelf-list, subject of an annual debate about keeping it or not, but for this project it was actually helpful in clearing up some bibliographic snarls.

A good school library exists primarily to support the curriculum. In our case most of our formal research projects occur through the History department. All sophomores choose from the same list of  35 topics. This is good for us as it allows us to build a collection to support these topics. Our History teachers are wonderful to work with; the departmental philosophy reflects the firm belief that a strong grounding in traditional research skills is key to academic success. Our students are required to use a variety of resources, in a variety of formats.

Because our students are required to really dig deep, we have a strong collection of history books. Some of these titles are new, some are older. Our students do a lot of work in the stacks. Our collection of e-resources is rich, and is another tool for our students’ use, but many of the standard titles and texts are available in print only. In addition, a strong majority of our students prefer to work with print books, even if that title is available both in print and digitally.

Ordering replacements for over a hundred lost titles was an eye-opening experience. I was surprised at the number of relatively recent titles — published within the last 10 years– that were NOT available as a new title from our primary vendor, Ingram.  I ended up ordering perhaps half of these titles from Ingram and half from Amazon, with most of the Amazon titles listed as “used”. There were a handful that were not available in any form.

As all these books came in, the cataloging procedures caused their own headaches. Slowly we developed a streamlined workflow that got the books out on the shelves in good time to be available for classes. At the same time the catalog got a serious cleaning, with a good sweeping out of old records for titles we no longer have, and upgrades to records we kept.

As we finish this project up, I am surprised at how good it feels. Like weeding the garden, like having one’s teeth cleaned, I wouldn’t call this a ‘fun’ process but it is most definitely satisfying. Lessons learned:

  • Some recent titles aren’t available from standard vendors, and some lost books aren’t available from anyone, in any format. Not everything can be replaced.
  • When reviewing lost titles, we sometimes found that updated editions or other new publications were available to replace them. This is a useful double check for our regular “new publications” selection process.
  • The bulk of our lost titles were from areas used for history research, prompting a useful review of our holdings in these much-used sections.

While we school librarians spend much of our time with our head in the clouds, pondering important philosophical issues of vision and purpose, and wrestling with big-issue topics, we need to keep our feet planted firmly on the ground in order to make our vision a reality. A good librarian is able to do both with equal flair. Occasionally I’ll hear from administrators about the importance of a librarian having vision, but I would suggest it’s important for a librarian to have both vision and a strong grasp of practicalities. Head in the clouds, feet on the ground, and you’re good to go.

College Research: Do They or Don’t They?

A colleague recently asked me for my thoughts. One of her teachers approached her, wanting to cancel a long-standing research project because ‘college students aren’t writing research papers anymore’. My colleague was a bit dumbfounded. This was an involved and engaged teacher with whom she had a strong working relationship. When we are presented with a proposition so far outside our realm of experience our first thought is often confusion. Was there a memo that I didn’t receive, cancelling all college research? Is this a trend that I somehow missed?

I set out to collect information, and didn’t have to look far.  My daughter Gillian has just returned to her alma mater, University of California, Irvine, for a post-bac program in Psychology, working toward a higher degree in that field. Who better to ask about ‘college research’ than a current college student? I asked her: is it true that ”college students aren’t writing research papers anymore”?  I’m going to let Gilly take it from here (her response follows).

“The very first class I took at UCI was a year-long course, which was an intensive lower division course that required a year commitment when every other freshman course only required one quarter commitment, making it arguably the hardest college course for a freshman to take in terms of commitment and follow-through. In this course that I was required not only to write a research paper using our campus on and offline resources, but was also responsible for coming up with a valid, researchable, and in depth research question for myself- something this 18 year old right out of high school found very difficult to do and would probably have been near impossible without the preparation I got in earlier years. I know that was quite some time ago [2007], so I looked up the course on the UCI website ( and, while each quarter is not completely updated yet, it still looks as though there is a heavy emphasis on writing and research. Here is the link to take a look at the course:

“This link is for the fall quarter, but as you can see when you there, you can take a look at what the next quarters will look like. This was one of the most influential courses in my college career, which I would not have done well in if I hadn’t learned how to research or write at a high level from my high school education (or had a smarty pants librarian for a mom:)).

“That was for the humanities side. I am currently enrolled in a class called Social Ecology 10- Research Design, where my entire quarter’s grade is dependent upon creating and successfully carrying out a research project with an experiment, data collection, finding/using research in our campus on and offline resources, citation, and compilation using APA format to report my scientific findings. Again, even though APA formatting is completely new for me, If I didn’t have a humanities background or if I didn’t have the experience in high school (or home) with MLA format, I would be totally lost in APA formatting and wouldn’t even have the skills to begin to learn how to conduct my research project.

“I’ve attached my SE10 syllabus and the requirements for my research project, in case this is helpful for what college classes look like in present day. Sorry for the lengthy email, but not emphasizing research education is a huge mistake and I owe much of my college success, past and present, to knowing how to research and write well. It is certainly a skill I value.” [emphasis added]

SE10 Syllabus 2014 SE10 Research Project

Thank you, Gilly, for your passionate eloquence!

To be sure I had a well-rounded view of the issue, I checked with another colleague’s brother-in-law who is a professor at Oberlin College. His response parallels Gilly’s:

We still definitely assign papers at Oberlin in Humanities/S. Sciences and my impression is that this is true at all top-tier places, though maybe a little less so in lower division classes at big state schools.” [emphasis added]

Perhaps this should be part of our response to teachers who are sure that “college students aren’t writing research papers anymore.”  This lack of emphasis on research could be more likely to be found at “lower division classes at big state schools”, but apparently not at “top-tier places”.  We can at least ask –in a non-defensive and engaging way 🙂 — where their information about college research is coming from.

Another question I have is why are we hearing about so many unfounded ‘certainties’ lately: ‘No one does research in college anymore’, ‘Kids don’t read anymore’, ‘No one uses books anymore’. I have my own theories, having to do with alternate uses for space and the desire for square footage, but we’ll leave that for another post.

Happy Holidays, Everyone!