One is not the loneliest number….

Shoutout to Shannon Acedo who reminded me of one of the (many) golden nuggets from #aislnola2017: reference to a wonderful fact from Katie Archambault & CD McLean’s presentation, that a 10% increase is “substantial and verifiable..and so can be considered a marker of success” (Acedo, 2017). Please note that Shannon, a thoroughly professional librarian, is still looking into the actual wording, but I think her reflection is more than sufficient for the purpose of this post.

This has been a timely touchstone for me. I tend to judge the success of a program by the sheer number of student participants. Picture me buoyant: “We ran out of the many pages we’d prepared for our blackout poetry event!” Picture me gnashing my teeth: “Fewer kids signed up for our reading marathon this year than last!”

If it were you saying this to me,  I’d tell you to give your head a shake. Quantity is one (often narrow) indicator of value, and there is too much meaning to be found in the other ways we reach kids to be ignored.

I’m over the moon when a program or event really lands – but I will endeavour to also celebrate the minuscule successes:

  • Running a Sunday mindfulness exercise for the one student who shows up
  • Valuing time with the one young man who participates in a pilot community book club
  • Taking time to really listen to the few kids who make it to school bookclub every cycle, shelving my frustration about schedule conflicts that keeps others away

What’s your 10%

Making the case for PD

Add me to the list of those fortunate to have attended #AISLNOLA. But what about those of you who weren’t there? Not because of choice, but because of difficulty convincing your supervisor to invest in this PD opportunity? Here are some tips on making your case for future PD:

Start small  – there can be amazing inspiration in your local or neighbouring communities. Visit some local school libraries, set up a meeting with an academic librarian at a university within a day’s drive, ask public library staff if you could sit in on related PD, host an informal workshop (book talks, display ideas, discussion about a current issue) and invite any or all librarians in your area. Look for online webinars, and if possible, participate with a buddy so that you can discuss and plan afterwards. Laying this foundation could show your supervisor how much you’re invested in PD.

Plan ahead – review notes from previous conference sessions  to create a ‘big-picture’ of how relevant and valuable it has proven to be for many in the past. This prep work will also help you pull together a proposal in advance so that you’re prepared for registration (as some with limited numbers, eg. AISL, fill up very quickly!). Plant the seed well in advance (share details of the opportunity, note upcoming date, give heads-up you’ll be making a proposal).

Be budget conscious – be creative in coming up with a plan that shows you are keeping an eye on costs (share a room – post on listserv if you aren’t aware of anyone needing a roommate, choose less expensive flights, stick within school-set expenses for meals or offer to cover some yourself if you can).

Make your dedication evident – visiting libraries when travelling for pleasure, or scheduling PD during breaks to eliminate the need for coverage (if that’s an issue) shows your passion and commitment.

Ask for help – many of us have shared our reports/photos/experiences with colleagues & administrators at other schools, in the hope that their librarians will be giving a chance to take part.

Always follow up – tying all PD experiences to action items, demonstrating the direct impact on your library program and services, shows the return on the investment.

Hoping to see you at a future conference,


A storyteller

Last week, Canada lost one of its most beloved storytellers: writer & broadcaster Stuart McLean, host of the seemingly perennial Vinyl Café , passed away leaving quite a legacy. For decades, people from all across our country – from small hamlets on our east and west coasts, through urban centres to remote Northern villages – were connected through the telling of his stories, and his sharing of their own.

Despite being a fan for years, listening on weekly radio and attending live shows when possible, I’ve been surprised by my depth of emotion; reading tributes and comments from others, I know that am not alone.

Such is the power of story-telling. None of you need to be convinced of this, but it is a keen reminder for me to not to shy away from acknowledging its critical role in connecting people with the written word – so here are some action items for me:

  • Continue to enjoy building a story of summer reading, working with Celeste Porche of Metairie, LA to prepare our presentation for AISL NOLA (can’t wait to meet you in person, Celeste!)
  • Read a picture book aloud at my next Bigside Books meeting (probably Lane Smith’s It’s a Book, so great for high school kids)
  • Incorporate some short stories and spoken word poetry into a boys’ book club that I run outside of school – I’m thinking Stuart, Shane Koyczan, Humble the Poet – recommendations welcome!

Side note: Jess Milton, Stuart’s ‘long-suffering’ (his words) producer, noted in an interview after his passing that Stuart was surprisingly quiet off-stage, often focused on listening to others’ stories. As someone privileged to work with teens, this is an excellent reminder of what a speaker offered at a recent TABS conference – “the listening is the helping.”

Strength and fortitude

Anyone else in the January doldrums?

While the calendar tells me that we’re just back from the holidays, it feels like energy is low and spirits are lagging. It can be easy to get caught up in it – which makes it all the more delightful to find something like this (from a recent grad) in my mailbox:

“These people don’t know how to cite things!” Her indignant tone makes me laugh every time I read it: it’s messages like this one that help me to stay the course and remember that as long as I ensure that what I’m teaching is current and relevant, it’s okay that my darling students occasionally roll their eyes at citation review, or groan when we discuss the importance of keywords.

I know I’m not alone, so strength & fortitude, my friends!

PS. I’m lucky that this former advisee reached out of her own accord. As I mentioned in a previous post, don’t hesitate to specifically ask Gr 12s to get in touch with you next year if they find what you taught them landed (or even more importantly, didn’t) at university or college – or life. You can even request their non-school email addresses for this purpose before they leave 🙂

Thank goodness for grads…

Like many of you, we have wonderfully supportive alumni. Ours celebrate their connection with our school is many ways: while the financial support of successful old boys & old girls is tremendously appreciated, there are smaller but still significant ways that others contribute.

One such way is how I lean on many of our recent grads as touchstones for library programming. As you well know, it is critical that the skills we foster be relevant to their lives beyond our walls, and I am in regular contact with quite a few to keep what we do with library instruction in line with what is required of them at university.

The most recent example is not specific to the library. I have the good fortune to be teaching a section of AP Capstone Research this year and am running into an issue with students not meeting deadlines, and not requesting extensions properly.

A quick text to some grads gave me a plethora of real-world examples, which I will share with my class today:

  • First year Arts > one prof offers an automatic grace period of one week, after which late work results in a zero
  • Second year Engineering > extensions must be requested 1 week in advance (her class recently mixed up a deadline and ended up writing and submitting incomplete papers in a 5-hour period because they couldn’t request an extension at that point)
  • Fourth year Arts > one prof deducts 2-5% for every day late, another is more flexible because “he doesn’t want you to fail the course”

Far from a scientific study, but I hope these quick and timely examples will help some useful context for a serious conversation with my students – fingers crossed.

These are a few of our favourite things….

A few years ago, I had a meeting in a recently-renovated public library: it was a fresh, warm and welcoming space. However, the staff led a tour that was focused what they didn’t like – it was disheartening.

I will not be doing that today.

Today, I’m going to share some of the things we really like about our new space: the second-floor of a building built in 1965, re-opened at end of 2015 after an 18-month renovation.

New windows & HVAC system – they’re not glamorous but having windows that open & close, as well as adjustable thermostats, is beyond stupendous. It has opened up new opportunities, such as having an air-conditioned summer school classroom (our school is beautiful but at 151 years old, does not have central air in all buildings). Plus our paperback covers didn’t curl this summer! (No photos – thermostats turn out to be surprisingly unphotogenic).

Adjacency to our Cirne Commons (named after a generous alumni donor): being on the second floor, I feel like Cinderella every time I come down the steps into this gathering space. We feel so much more a part of  what’s going on. And having a birds-eye view makes it very easy to track specific kids down! View from the top/view from the bottom:

commons2 commons3

Having falling in love with a glass board at the Academy of the Holy Names (#aisltampa2015), we used a gift from our Parents’ Guild to purchase a Visionary Move Mobile Magnetic Glass Whiteboard (4′ h x 3’w model #74950) – sometimes used for teaching, sometimes used for very scientific polls:


In the name of flexibility, we are loving our new classroom tables (Haworth Planes Collaborative Table) – so easy to move and flip up for storage:


The castors on our bookshelves (Ven-Rez Horizon Steel Library shelving) make it easy for just two of us to move them out of the way (even with approx 400 books on each), as we did for some leadership training at the beginning of the year:


Our super awesome custom bookdrop! We had no luck finding just the right one, so went with a plain metal unit from Brodart. One of our parents does graphic design and vinyl imaging – we provided the quotations, she designed/printed/installed:


While we looked at tablet chairs, our designer selected a basic lounge chair along with these cool tables (Steelcase Turnstone Campfire Personal Table) which are wonderfully flexible (ie. can be positioned in different ways and places – the kids really like them):


We’re excited about showing our Ontario colleagues around this wonderful space (along with our also recently spruced-up Junior School library) at our spring meeting!


New year’s resolutions

Inspired by the great advice in Christina’s recent post, and getting pretty excited about welcoming kids back on September 6th, I offer my new (school) year’s resolutions:

  1. The first comes out of one of the roles I play at TCS: as advisor committee coordinator, I see the incredible things that some of my colleagues are doing with their advisees. While I have a great relationship with current and former (meeting two of them for coffee tomorrow!) advisees, comparison can make me feel like I don’t always measure up. This is completely applicable to my work as librarian, so my chosen mantra for 16/17 is from my current ear worm, Let it go: thank you James Bay, for suggesting that “you be you and I’ll be me”. On it!
  2. We are so very fortunate to have a beautifully and functionally renovated space within our new Cirne Commons, so I was quite surprised to find myself having trouble with the transition last spring. Who would not love and be eternally grateful for such a beautiful library?! I do love it, and I am grateful – but the kids use it differently, and more quietly. Which freaks me out  – ironic, huh? Having regained my equilibrium, I pledge to embrace the changes & identify opportunities inherent in this new space.
  3. Finding challenge and fulfillment in so much of my work does not give me the right, or the excuse, to try and do it all. I have two enthusiastic, more-than-capable and willing colleagues in my senior school library who are eager to take on pretty much anything. So I will share the wealth and delegate more.

All the best to those of you who are already in full swing, and to those who are just gearing up!

I have seen the future….

…and it is filled with me having difficult conversations.

While I get phone calls about donations from time to time, a recent reunion on campus allowed me to connect with a number of wonderful alumni who are downsizing and eager to find a new home for their considerable book collections. These are tremendously supportive members of our school community – how to respectfully respond to these offers, considering our responsibility to maintain a current and appealing collection that fits 2016 curriculum and reading interests?

As I’ve shared before, with the exception of my dog-eared Lucy Maud Montgomeries, I am not sentimental about print books, so I have to step away from my perspective and appreciate the intent behind these offers, despite the fact that unfortunately, many of these books are not a good fit for our collection.

Wanting to handle each situation with grace and sensitivity, I have been trying to relinquish my anxiety about the outcome of these conversations (“very sorry, but we can’t accept 15 boxes of 1970-era political science texts”) and focus on the following: –

  • Gratitude > Thank them for their thoughtfulness and generosity
  • Curiosity > Ask about reading interests,  how the collection developed, which books are favourites…this usually leads to an interesting conversation, and both potential donor and I enjoy the chance to chat about something about which they are so passionate
  • Commiseration > “I know, isn’t it a shame that the Grade 10 Canadian History curriculum begins at WWI?” (which is why, in the interest of shelf space, we have to maintain a small section of pre-1914 Canadiana;  suggest that perhaps a university library may be a better fit)
  • Careful consideration > “I’d love to take a closer look at our needs in this area, may I follow up with you by phone at the end of this week?” Sometimes a bit of time allows me to feel more confident about my decision, and better able to frame a proper response
  • Spirit of sharing > Some of our faculty have been grateful to receive uniquely subject-specific texts that aren’t a good match for the library, but are wonderful to have in class or office

My hope is that the potential donor feels valued and appreciated, even we aren’t able to accept the donation: we are truly fortunate to have people in our midst who so love the printed word, and want to share a lifetime of treasures with us.

Props to Edison

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. (T. Edison)

We’ve all read plenty recently about how experiencing failure allows our students to build resiliency. A recent article referenced the idea of a “failure resume”, an idea offered by Melanie Stefan (now a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh) as a result of this realization:

“My CV does not reflect the bulk of my academic efforts — it does not mention the exams I failed, my unsuccessful PhD or fellowship applications, or the papers never accepted for publication. At conferences, I talk about the one project that worked, not about the many that failed.”

I truly value failure as a tool for learning, and encourage students to take calculated risks. Personally, I fail regularly in a number of arenas; my contribution to this year’s school cake auction was the very definition of failure. However, I’ve only recently realized how difficult it is for me to put it into professional practice. It is much safer to ‘fake it until I make it’ on those occasions when I mess up. But how are my students supposed to embrace failure if they don’t actually see me fail?

So, I have pledged to fail more enthusiastically. I’m getting better about asking colleagues to explain to me what I don’t understand (today at lunch, it was a discussion about blockchains – still working on that one). And working with a class recently, I did a poor job of narrowing the search terms in my example, ending up with an overly lengthy list of inaccurate results. One of the students was delighted to call me out on it, and was pretty surprised by me being equally delighted that he did so. It led to a wonderful class discussion about how we all get some things wrong, which can help us to move forward. We also touched on perseverance, one of the ‘habits of the heart and mind’ from our school mission. Like you, I have to remind kids that I don’t have research mastered, I recognize the critical role of perseverance in the research process (and life in general).

So persevere, I will….and role model failure, I must.

Librarian as library user

While it’s no surprise that I view much of my school life (and personal, for that matter), through the lens of a librarian, I don’t want to forget that I am also a library user.

Unfortunately, a library user who feels delinquent in a number of ways. In the interest of keeping positive, here are some areas where I have opportunity for improvement, with specific action items included:

I am the worst overdue offender. 

Well, maybe not the worst, but I’m still appallingly lax when it comes to due dates. I find it amusing that one of my responsibilities at school is to be ‘the heavy’ when students (and staff) don’t respond to lovely email reminders about their overdue materials – especially on days when I’m heading to my local public library after work to pay yet another overdue fine.

Action item: Celebrate my on-going support of libraries through revenue generation!

I have been known to borrow a book from my own school library without checking it out.

Is it only me who picks up a book in my school library with such joyful anticipation that it makes it home without being checked out? If I did this in a public library or bookstore, I would be in serious trouble – and beyond the ethical (and legal) issues, there’s the fact that I’m robbing my own library’s circulation statistics of vital data. Yeesh.


I pass judgement on what I read.

I am militant about not judging anyone, particularly my students, for what they choose to read. Former YA librarian Patrick Jones often speaks about a too-familiar experience:

“I summon up all my twelve-year-old courage and ask the librarian if the library has any wrestling magazines. That is what I thought I asked; instead I think I asked her to show me what her face would look like if she sucked on lemon for a hundred years. She looked like she was about to stroke out at the mere mention of wrestling magazines in her library. She made me feel stupid, and I never went back.”

Like you, I don’t want anyone to feel that what they choose to read is unworthy of their attention. However, I don’t often extend this sentiment to myself when reading something others might describe as less literary and more beachy. There’s a lot of negative self-talk going on when I pick up something light in lieu of more intellectual tomes.

Action item: Don’t beat myself up for reading a wide variety of books and magazines, and use it as an opportunity to role model. With the exception of the flight back from AISL Denver when I read 50 Shades of Grey: I seemed to have been the only librarian at that conference who hadn’t read it. For research purposes, of course.

I have a very small personal library.

I worry that this one might get me banished from the ranks. How can I call myself a librarian when my personal bookshelf (note the singular) contains mostly childhood favourites (Montgomery, Alcott, Ingalls Wilder, Blume) and books given to me as gifts? I’ve had kids say  ‘You must have a whole room full of books at home! ” or “Do you have one of those cool ladders in your own library?”  I feel like such a fraud because 99% of my reading material comes from my school and public libraries.

Action item: Recognize that this actually makes me an exemplary library user 🙂