Heavy lifting, literally

Raise your hand if you’ve done any or all of the following in your role as librarian:

  • Carried heavy bags of books (or snacks, craft supplies, etc) into your school from a distant parking lot
  • Changed table & chair configuration of your teaching space multiple times daily
  • Transported boxes of books to & from classrooms (and up/down stairs) for book talks and/or displays
  • Moved furniture in your library by yourself when you should have asked for help

As cerebral as our jobs can be, I’m increasingly reminded of the physical demands of librarianship. Carrying a heavy bodily load is not new to those in schools (teachers are often loaded down with marking to be done, although perhaps less now with digital submission), and certainly not to our field. Look at this excerpt from a current job description for Reference Librarian with the Maine State Library:

“The employee is occasionally required to stand; walk; sit; reach with hands and arms; climb or balance and stoop, kneel, crouch, or crawl. The employee must occasionally lift and/or move up to 25 pounds.”

25 pounds is the weight of a car tire – that’s a lot, but I bet many of us do it more often than we like to admit. Then there are the ergonomic issues: a 2009 study that looked at the issue of on-the-job injury published results with the title “What Do Meatpackers & Librarians Have in Common?”. 

While our intellectual prowess is valued and exercised every day, sometimes our jobs are hard physical work, so let’s take care out there. I’m now dropping off heavy items at the entrance before parking my car and while I love a nice heel as much as the next shoe-obsessed person, I’m slowly accepting that flats are my friend. 

On that note, I just looked out my window and realized that I clearly need to share this with my new colleague who is carrying pumpkins in for an arts activity – gotta go!

Being the go-to for need-to-know

Credible information, scholarly information, our libraries are the source of it all, right? But what about the non-academic yet timely and critical stuff that many in our community need to know?

(Time to get vulnerable. These are clearly original, un-retouched photos – I figured authenticity was more important than perfection.)

At our main desk, we post the schedule (whichever is relevant that day) by our fruit basket. While yes, most get into the swing of things by October, it’s referenced often throughout the year:

When there is a special schedule, such as end-of-term term photos, we put that up on either side of our front door (and if we don’t have time to print out an update, we make the change quickly, if not beautifully):

This year was the first year since 2019 that we had our all-school photo. Getting 700+ people organized on our front lawn was a bit of a feat when most had no prior experience doing so. Although a photocopier issue prevented us from making the grade-organized plan bigger, having it at the bottom of the library stairs in our Commons helped some people figure out where they were heading.

Although far from glamorous, posting schedules for what’s going on in your community can help cement your reputation as the source of all good information.

1 week & 2 days until AISL2022!

The AISL2022 conference planning committee is hoping you will join us for all or part of 2 half-days of emerging, engaging & evolving. Here is some information we thought you might want about this event coming up March 3 -5:

What is AISL2022?   AISL2022 is this year’s annual conference for the Association of Independent School Librarians. We have a rich history of conferencing and connecting and while the conference is usually held in person, this year’s offering (like the last) is virtual in light of the current pandemic.

What do I get for $40? The conference includes 18 great programs, 4 exciting author panels, roundtable discussions, poster sessions, and, of course, the Marky Award and Skip Anthony lecture for you to enjoy. And the prize-giving that has been occurring during registration will continue throughout the whole conference!

What if I can’t get away from school? Registering allows you to not only take part in live sessions but to access all material after the conference, so you may wish to register even if you’re unable to attend at scheduled times. This wealth of information is only available to those who’ve registered for the conference. Note that programming is scheduled over 2 half-days rather than 1 full to better accommodate a variety of schedules.

I’m unsure about the virtual format. AISL2022 is being hosted on the Whova conference platform. Whova allows us to integrate sessions, speakers, and sponsors, providing you with one place to access all the conference offers – either on the web or using the Whova mobile app.

Tell me more about the Skip Anthony lecture. We’re delighted to once again feature wonderful authors as speakers at our celebratory Skip Anthony event. Rayna Hyde-Lay of Shawnigan Lake School in B.C. shares these details:

  • Pamela Harris will speak about her novel When You Look Like Us, the story of a brother searching for his sister after she goes missing.  Law enforcement and other community members don’t get involved with the search because she runs with the wrong crowd, and all the while he is trying to keep her disappearance a secret – until he can’t anymore. This is a lovely story of sibling connection, difficulties in families and community support.
  • Jenny Torres Sanchez : the author of We are not From Here is also great to follow on Instagram. The novel involves the struggle of three youths in their hometown and their decision to migrate to the USA.  It is passionate, filled with beautiful descriptions of tough decisions they each face, both while they are traveling and the decision to leave; this book “broke my heart and gave me goosebumps”.

I miss connecting with people! Join in on a Chat n’ Chew Lunch on Thursday, or Brunch with a Librarian on Saturday to connect with someone new (or old :). And use social media to connect online; see #AISL2022 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

I miss connecting with vendors! In our pool of generous sponsors, we have 2 (FactCite and Overdrive) who will be hosting virtual booths; see the schedule for the time dedicated to those who wish to connect with them live online.

How do I sign up? Click here to sign up for AISL22! If you need to pay by cheque, just use the “alternate pay type” option.

The flurry of February

While this title is a nod to the snow currently falling outside my window, I’m actually referring to the swirl we find ourselves in at this time of year. While we all have important days and events to recognize all year, for us February seems to be a special kind of flurry. Like you, we are usually selective about what we can manage in terms of promotion and program, but this month seems unique in its bounty of non-negotiables:

Entire month = Black History Month

Feb 1 = Lunar New Year

(Feb 1-5 Placeholder for provincial library conference)

Feb 14 = Valentine’s Day

(Feb 17-21 Placeholder for mid-term break)

Feb 20-26 = Freedom to Read Week (the Canadian Banned Books week)

Feb 23 = Pink Shirt Day

So in the shortest month of the year, we have 2 significant cultural events to acknowledge and celebrate; a week when it’s critical and timely to recognize how fortunate we are to get to choose what we wish to read; an important anti-bullying initiative; and a holiday that’s just fun to mark with crafts & treats; all while accomodating some staff absence for conference participation and break. The goal is to do it all with meaning, hopefully informing and advocating along the way without too much overlap and competing attention.

While this encompasses all parts of library programs & services, here is our plan for our physical space:

  • Main hallway display and front entrance display marking BHM alll month, adjusting as needed to promote specific activities planned by our Black Student Alliance
  • Main in-library display highlighting titles related to Lunar New Year for 2 weeks; replaced by romance books for Valentine’s Day
  • Tinker table (our low-tech makerspace) will feature supplies for Valentine’s Day, then shift to button-making for Pink Shirt Day
  • We’ll roll out a bookcat display for Freedom to Read week (with caution tape and heavy locks for dramatic effect) and post our popular giant banned books poster near the entrance

Is your February full of similar challenge and opportunity? Or are you similarly blessed at a different time of year?

Elf on the library shelf

During the month of December, we welcome Elf back to our Senior School library; a new clue is posted every day, and students are invited to find Elf, take a “shelfie” with them and email it to us a ballot to put into a prize draw.

Sometimes, clues are related to the collection, sometimes we run with a current theme (this year, we borrowed a winning gingerbread house for a day; Elf also found their way into our UV sanitizer (new COVID addition to our space).

In a school of 500, we get dozens of pics each day – the winner this year had submitted one daily, and won a box of Elf on the shelf cereal + $25 gift card for Tim Horton’s. She loved the prize but seemed most excited about the bragging rights!

Shaking up the PD game

I could swim in a sea of professional development for librarians and never tire of it, and yet last spring I felt I needed a change, so decided to take a 2nd-year university statistics course to better support our AP Research students. I liked stats in grad school and it would exercise some neglected grey matter – how bad could it be? (TL;DR bad then not bad).

By week 3, I had learned what I came for which was unfortunate as there were 9 weeks left to go. However, this spoke to one of the most valuable takeaways: 

It was very helpful for me to re-live the student experience.

As Courtney noted in her most recent blog post, “it’s important to place ourselves in the shoes of our students”. Taking one little course reminded me of the deft juggling required to manage a full course load. Managing one’s time, seeking extra help, pushing through dense material and continued stepping up to the plate while regularly striking out – I had seriously forgotten what this all felt like from a student perspective.

Online asynchronous learning is not a vibe for me.

Online is one thing, but asynchronous is a whole other, and the combination was not conducive to good learning in my case – but this may just be me. I’d love to ‘hear’ a comment from someone who’s had a different experience.

I am definitely the turtle, not the hare.

Slow and steady wins the race for me. Bombing most of the timed tests was balanced out by thoroughly completing weekly assignments; knowing this, I’m curious how I can apply it other areas of my life.

I can do hard things.

Despite there being many, many moments when I may not want to.

I’m glad I tried something different; it felt great to exercise some long-dormant brain cells. And while I struggled mightily (including failing a midterm), I finished stronger than I thought possible. More importantly, I developed much empathy for our students in the process.

Kudos conundrum

At our 2021 (virtual) Speech Day last week, our head prefects were very kind to mention me in their graduating address:

“Mrs Straughan can find any book on the library shelves and is the only person who can fix the library printer”.

Sigh. So kind but so concerning.

My initial reaction was a feeling of appreciation followed quickly by a melodramatic “I’m SO glad I went to grad school to have this kind of impact on the upcoming generation!” with eyeroll accompaniment. All to myself of course.

However, like you, much of my time is spend fostering effective search skills, guiding through citation, recommending great books, sourcing elusive information – why didn’t they mention any of that?

But what if I looked at it differently? What if I applied a Seth-Godin-like perspective?

“Mrs Straughan can find any book on the library shelves” may mean that DDC remains a mysterious code for my students.  So, do I do a better job at de-coding OR do I finally get over my lack of confidence about  “bookstoreifying” our collection? Keeping DDC for retrieval purposes while re-organizing in a way that makes sense to students, with MUCH better signage?

“…and is the only person who can fix the library printer” may mean that as much as I value my education and champion my professional expertise, sometimes what matters to a frantic student is that I am able to do a small technical task quickly at a time when it really matters to them. Hopefully with a reassuring smile on my face.

Let 21-22 find me immersed in a reorganization plan with more patience for that darn printer and less inclination for eye-rolling.

Making the most of April 9th

Aways appreciative of PD opportunities, I have been particularly eager for ways to connect with others through virtual workshops, blog posts, Zoom meets, etc. during this heck of a year.

So I’m pretty excited about our upcoming AISL conference – but also a little trepidatious. To be honest, as incredible as the lineup is, it’s only going to be valuable to me if I have a game plan to focus as much as possible. While I appreciate virtual PD, it has proven far too easy for me to be interrupted and distracted. So here ‘s the plan –

In advance

I’ll make sure to carefully review the conference schedule in advance; with the banquet, presentations, seminars & table talks all happening in the span of just a few hours, I need to have a strategy (priorities with alternatives noted)

Being in the moment

I hereby acknowledge that taking part in virtual PD from my office is not going to happen in any meaningful way. Maybe my supervisor is supportive of me leaving school early to connect from home?  Maybe there’s a corner of my library, or even better, hidden away in my school? I’ll plan to put a sign on the door,  email on out-of-office, and phone on silent. I’ll also give myself ½ hour in advance to eat, fill my water bottle and take a bio break.

Wrapping up

A few years back, disheartened by the number of conference bags sitting in the corner of my office – filled with valuable notes not looked at since the day of return – I began using travel time home to create a list of actionable items that can be implemented either short- or long-term. I’ll do the same on Apr 9th. Fewer things done is better than more things stagnated.

After the fact

While I will miss sitting around with friends (preferably by a pool with drink in hand), nothing is stopping me from reaching out and connecting virtually – so join me in reaching out to someone! I took part in a recent AISL Zoom chat and ‘met’ some people I’d love to get to know better. Here’s to checking in with people we miss and making new friends!

How do YOU prepare to make the most of your online PD?

Ages & stages

I can’t be the only one thinking a little bit more about retirement these days.

When looking at lists of pending retirees in recent years (both within AISL and at my school) , I have been taken aback by the increasing number of people listed whom I consider mentors. It really does seem like yesterday when I first met them, had the pleasure of learning alongside them, and began seeking  them out for guidance and direction. These librarians and teachers have had a seminal effect on my growth, largely professional but in many ways, personal. I focus on being happy about someone’s planned retirement while feeling something akin to distress. 

So – where to from here?

Theorist Donald Super offers these 5 stages of self-concept & career development

I wish I’d seen this a couple of years ago when I was flummoxed by the plateau I was feeling; I now realize that it was the stagnation noted in the Maintenance stage. 

Almost 20 years into librarianship, I have been fortunate to be involved with some major tasks: three LMS migrations, the revitalization of a school library program, a renovation and integration into our new school commons, and much technological transformation. I firmly believe that our school deserves dynamic people at the helm, and my diminished emotional state was making me question whether or not I should be passing the torch.

Fortunately, by this time last year, I seemed to have gotten my rhythm back. Just in time for the pandemic – ironic, but also timely, and it has provided opportunity for creativity and innovation in ways we couldn’t have imagined.

I’m going to embrace being at the Maintenance stage: holding on to what is serving my students well, updating what needs to be refreshed, recognizing feelings of stagnation if they return but aiming to push past them by continuing to innovate

I’m also going to work finding a new word for the 5th stage: “Decline”, my posterior. It’s clear Super never met a KARL 😉

“Moment of opportunity”

It wasn’t until I began queuing up my draft that I realized it would be posted today – January 20th, 2021. My planned topic isn’t be very relevant to the occasion; even as a Canadian, this day is looming large. So rather than musing about retirement (not anytime soon, more about that next month), I offer this….

Dear American members of AISL;

Happy Inauguration Day to you all! 

Today’s ceremony & celebration will look and feel very different for many reasons. I do hope that every one of you, along with everyone in DC, keeps safe and healthy as you transition to leadership that seems to reflect what we hold dear: honouring education, respecting science, listening to and working with each other towards shared goals.

Once immediate and critical issues impacting your county are addressed, I am hopeful that the Biden administration will be more responsive than the previous to issues affecting school libraries and therefore students, as thoroughly noted in this letter with a particular focus on this “moment of opportunity to shape the future of education for a stronger, more equitable, and just society” (ALA/AASL, 2021).

I will raise my glass to you and yours this evening!