My students are still reeling from the fact that Instagram was down for HOURS a week ago. (Apparently the longest hours of their lives.)
I’m still reeling by how much more focus I had for work, conversations, my dog, etc.
In fact, I was shocked at how liberating it was to not be present on social media. I do not consider myself addicted (and only suffer from FOMO a tad), but I realized that during downtimes I’d mindlessly scroll on Facebook, etc. instead of reading or, well, thinking.
I decided to experiment with my “free time.” Instead of going online, I’d simply do something else and limit social media time to the evenings after dinner for no more than an hour. (This was completely arbitrary, but seems to mostly work.) This meant I had scads more time during the day for other stuff. I’ve already finished a book, listened to one and a half others, and thought about stuff. You know, lived in my head instead of being distracted by the cute thing so-and-so’s kid did that morning.
My daughter at one point asked me what I was doing, and I had to laugh when I replied, “thinking.” I know it’s not reasonable to expect that we would stay off social media completely, because life (and #BookTok, for goodness’ sake), but it was a valuable experiment for me to realize exactly how much time I spent distracting myself. I felt it gave me insight into my students, too, at least in terms of how their brains are pulled every day.
I guess the real question is: how can I use this information for my students? For now, I’m looking into low-tech activities with face-to-face time. (StickTogether posters have been really effective in a low-pressure way.) How do you inspire tech-free time in your library?
Museums are fascinating places. The curation and design of a museum display has the potential to captivate viewers and engage them in looking closely, thinking critically, expanding perspectives, and building empathy. For me, an epiphany moment occurred at the Frist Art Museum in the hands-on Martin ArtQuest room. One activity contained a blank map of Gallery Rooms, a collection of art reproductions on magnets, and the invitation to “Be a Curator!” This became an intriguing exploration of ways to organize the artwork in the empty gallery rooms. Should one curate by time period, art movements, thematically, or even as a comparison/contrast of artists? How would Van Gogh’s expressionistic field of iris dialogue with the abstracted desert landscapes by Georgia O’Keefe or the thrilling iceberg and volcano landscapes romanticized by Frederic Edwin Church? A 2019 visit to the National Museum of the American Indian provoked a different type of response as I viewed an expansive wall of merchandise, posters, commercials, and movies that throughout history had “branded” indigenous peoples to sell an American product and a perspective about these people. Part of the power of this display was the opportunity for viewers to linger with the images that they felt compelling and invite them to make their own meaning.
Curation is an art in itself, calling upon skills of discerning relevancy and critical thinking, and AASL recognizes this in the Curate Standard, part of which states that “Learners add value to a collection of resources by organizing and annotating them.” This school year provided an opportunity to immerse students in curation. As part of a Civil War investigation, 7th graders are being challenged to use their research notes to create a digital presentation (a virtual museum) of primary source images, historic documents, and analysis paragraphs. Though this type of multimodal exploration could be done in GoogleSlides by linking content to slides within the slide deck, these 7th graders will use ThingLink. With Thinglink, interactive tag markers can be placed on locations in an image to allow viewers to link to additional text boxes, images, or media (audio, video). Here is one example of a ThingLink by the Smithsonian Institution: Fort Sumter Telegram. The organization of this ThingLink invites close analysis of a single primary source document.
For our students, the goal is to simulate the experience of a museum so that viewers can explore the students’ own thinking about the Civil War. Making Thinking Visible, a book describing Harvard Project Zero’s research, offered several helpful routines to deepen students’ thinking. One thinking routine, Generate–Sort–Connect–Elaborate, delineated the type of thinking students would use in this curation of a virtual museum.
Generate In the note-taking phase of student research, students generated several ideas as they researched questions about the Civil War.
Sort Students used the NoodleTools note card feature and titled note cards with brief descriptions. These note cards were used in the sorting process. Students sorted main ideas and supporting ideas; or gathered notes in groups for a comparison/contrast or cause and effect organization. This diagram shows an example of sorting into main and supporting ideas for a discussion of Civil War Technology:
Connect The next step is to connect ideas and explain connections. Here is an example of how the sorted ideas would be connected in Thinglink. Note that links are not active on the following screenshots.
Elaborate A final text box (indicated by Star tag) links to a paragraph that elaborates on connected ideas and shares insights (see following examples). The more information tag on the ThingLink (indicated by an i tag) links to a bibliography of sources.
This is just the beginning phase as our students curate their research. It will be exciting to watch their thinking evolve as they generate, sort, connect, and elaborate their ideas in ThingLink and share with an audience their insights about the Civil War.
Last week, I was preparing a lesson for a Global History class that’s doing some research on South Africa. I’m new at my school, and we’ve just added several Gale In Context databases to our collection, so I wanted to introduce students to how those resources are organized. So I navigated to the Topics list on Gale In Context: World History and boldly scrolled to where the South Africa Topic should be.
I say “should”, because there was no South Africa Topic. In fact, all of Africa – all 64 countries – was under four Topics, separated by time periods. Germany alone has four Topics (also separated by time periods), in addition to separate topics for the Holocaust and Hitler. The British Isles have a total of 13 different Topics (two for Great Britain, three for England, three for Scotland, and five for Ireland). It does not get better when I look at the individuals who have Topic pages. The only three Africans I could find were Nelson Mandela, Idi Amin, and Musa, Sultan of Mali (but there are no Topics for either Uganda or Mali).
I have not gone in-depth on all of these pages, but I will also note that the African History during the Colonial Period Topic has a total of 534 sources. Germany: The Middle Ages has 777 news articles alone.
Next, I moved over to Global Issues in Context, where I did find a Topic for South Africa. And the Congo. And Zimbabwe. And Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, Mauritius, Mayotte, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, Zambia and others.
So, who has History, and who’s an Issue?
After showing students what I’d discovered, I posed that exact question to them. One student pointed out that Great Britain has been a pretty major issue in global history – and has, in fact, made significant “contributions” to the issues in other countries. But there is very little representation for Great Britain on Issues in Context.
There are two issues here: what’s being collected, and what’s being curated. I’m guessing that there is a fair amount of overlap in terms of sources between these two databases, but the way they are organized is very different. And that framing matters. It’s similar to having a diverse print collection, but only displaying and promoting books with cis, hetero, white protagonists. However, I also suspect that the collection of resources that Gale is pulling from to curate these Topics could stand to be significantly more diverse in any number of ways. It’s hard to curate materials you don’t collect.
Other than being mad, what do we do with this information? Like many of you, I’m taking a close look at my database collection, and which voices are included (many thanks to Tasha Bergson-Michelson for her leadership in this work), and also pushing our vendors to expand the representation in their collections. But that kind of change does not happen quickly. So until that change happens, we have an obligation to be transparent with our students and our teachers about the shortcomings of our database collections. We need to actively resist the “if it’s in a database, then it’s trustworthy” messaging that many teachers and students have internalized, because that includes an implicit message that resources found outside of databases are less trustworthy – and that’s simply not true. If we give more weight to databases sources, knowing full well that our databases do not include a full range of perspectives and sources, we are discounting those perspectives. Endorsing the idea that database = “quality” reinforces the systems of inequity that got us here in the first place.
While not the opening to a joke, but a learning punchline nevertheless. This summer I attended the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy,co-lead by Renee Hobbs and Julie Coiro from the University of Rhode Island, and I am still processing the wealth of information I received. It was a weeklong intensive focused on digital literacy. While there were participants from different fields a good portion were librarians, and I highly recommend this program for relevant librarian professional development. There is still so much for me to unpack, but for the sake of organization and clarity I chose a few pieces to share.
Since many of us are educational leaders in our schools when it comes to inquiry learning and processes, finding a new framework is a great way to model to our faculty and students effective and reflective ways of searching, seeking and investigating information. The second day of the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy the theme was how we “guide” our students in the learning process. Julie Coiro presented the keynote that morning on the Personal Digital Inquiry Framework based on the work and book she created with her colleagues Elizabeth Dobler, and Karen Pelekis. The educational model or image above is an entryway into a useful structure for making intentional instructive choices to guide and promote inquiry. So while this is only a brief sampling of the framework from the image above, the philosophy of crafting a culture of inquiry is paramount to the whole framework of Personal Digital Inquiry. It emphasizes that learning does not take place in a vacuum, but that what each individual (teacher and students )bring to a text or learning situation is vital so there is a relational element to the framework. Delving deeper into the framework Coiro and her colleagues enumerate eight cultural forces to consider when building a culture of inquiry. In fact, the technology component or the “digital” is framed as a reflective choice and not just a straightforward “how-to” component because of the cultural awareness of the personal aspect of the framework. Finally, inquiry is the modi operandi of the framework emerging from core relationships built from awareness of “the personal.” So that while research and inquiry is a messy process it does not have to be anxiety producing because there is always a reflective loop back to the teachers and students modeling, questioning , and sharing their inquiry process together. The presentation and book offer tools like the “Planning Triangle,” “PDI Self-Reflection Tool, ” and a companion website to make the theoretical actionable, applicable, and transferable to the everyday classroom. To learn more about the framework with examples and resources, preview the first section of the book, From Curiosity to Deep Learning: Personal Digital Inquiry in Grades K–5 from the Stenhouse website and visit the companion website.
As far back as Socrates in Plato’s Republic modeled probing questions, every teacher education program since has emphasized the importance of crafting questions as vital to knowledge attainment. And while many of us know it is important to our instruction, it is a powerful tool when students can develop quality questions. However, I know from experience it is often relegated to the back corners of our practice when the daily grind of teaching is grinding. As librarians it is also the cornerstone of research instruction as we all have seen firsthand when students form limited questions they get limited results. Often at the beginning of research we prompt students to develop research questions, but due to time constraints of a research project we might not get to delve into the questioning forming process to help students refine and reflect on them. During one of the sessions of the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy a presenter shared the Question Formation Technique from the Right Questions Institute. The Right Questions Institute developed a clear, sequential protocol that pauses judgement and slows down answering the question so that time is spent reflecting on the type of question it is and the kind of response it elicits. Some of you may be familiar with QFT from the 2011 book,
Make Just One Change By Dan Rothstein and Luz Santana from Harvard Education Press; the institute was my first exposure to it. If you are familiar with it, it bears repeating and revisiting because I think it is a simple, yet powerful process that has many uses in research and beyond. Visit the “Teaching+Learning” tab of the Right Questions Institute to see the steps and find examples of the protocol in action. I am grateful that the institute did not just mention it, but had us experience the process through questioning one of our teaching aims in one of the projects participants were developing. In reflecting with a partner during the session we both agreed it could even be a protocol used in faculty or team meetings.
A Tech tool:
Another aspect of the Summer Institute in Digital Literacy was that every session had a “create to learn” portion. So participants were applying information and tech tools in close proximity to learning a concept. I picked up many tech tools along with best practices, experiential programs,and great news/media literacy resources. To spare everyone from infobesity, I wanted to share one simple, fast, and multi-use tech tool: Adobe Spark. Adobe is known for industry standard creative software for professionals, artists, and educators with rich and complex tools. There have been tech manuals and whole courses dedicated to learning the ins and out of Adobe products. However, Adobe Spark is a nimble, easy-to-use express, design studio. While it looks social media creation heavy; in which, it does have many tools and templates- it offers design applications for graphics, websites, and video. Right now there is Adobe Spark for Education that lets teachers or schools set-up accounts for free. In our session we had 15 minutes to make a quick video with another participant digitally.Collaboration was quick and easy to do remotely or in-person. This creative platform is an easy entry into design elements for research and other learning projects.
I hope to implement and integrate this framework, this protocol, and this tech tool that walked into my library, so that I can follow up with specific, grade level activities to share in future posts. In the meantime, enjoy experimenting with them and please feel free to share a comment if you have used one of these specifically in a library setting.
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.
It all started this summer, June 2, the day after school ended for the summer. Our curricululm dean forwarded me the results of a survey she made and that she sent to the classroom teachers regarding their library schedule. Granted that the media center was closed all last year due to COVID, I was not surprised at the results. I also was not aware that a survey was even being conducted??? You can imagine my surprise reaction, but I do want to share the replies:
*Visit each classrrom once a month to share a book with the children
*Visit the media center every other week instead of weekly check-out
*Afternoon classes for 30 minutes with story time and check out
*Integrate into ELA/Book Clubs
*Visit each classrrom once a month to share a book with the children
*Visit the media center every other week instead of weekly check-out
*Afternoon classes for 30 minutes with story time an dcheck out
*Integrate into ELA/Book Clubs*Weekly visits (like we have done before COVID)
*Classes scheduled right after lunch or recess to cut down travel time
*Allowing the students to openly visit the library (sending them during reading time)
*Library is not the best use of time – it would be great for actual instructional time (how to identify text features, how to identify reliable sources, choosing books for research, etc.)
*Books need to be leveled with the GRL on the spine so children can easily identify the Just-right-book
*Meet with groups that need more support (perhaps during Reading Workshop time)
*More time for the media specialist to spend with small groups of students for book recommendations
Before I tried to wrap my head around all of these comments, I need to let the reader know the number of classes I would be teaching weekly and the duties assigned to me. There are 25 classes of students weekly from Alpha (3 years old) to grade 4. I have a daily AM and PM duty for the entire year and 2 lunch duties a week. There are only volunteer parents who help with the shelving and check out.
I prayed all summer about this dilemma – how can I be everything to everybody and meet all their wishes while still staying calm and professional?
Through divine intervention, I came up with the idea of giving the teachers chocies! As in the past, they could choose the time they would like to visit the media center, but this year they could use their slot of time in 3 ways:
(1) They could bring their entire class to the media center
(2) They could send small groups of students and I would meet them at the door
(3) They could invite me to their classroom to work with PBL (Project Based Learning or reading or ????)
I asked for a 3 day notice if they wanted me to teach a lesson in their classroom so I could have time to plan.
I start classes next Tuesday, since we had volunteer training this week….so I will keep you posted.
However, I will leave you with a smile on your face with this last comment. Today, at the weekly meeting by the flagpole, a teacher approached me and asked, “Since we are off Monday (Labor Day) we will miss our first library class. Is there anytime during the 4 day week you can make it up?”
As you can see…….I have a long year ahead of me and I definitely need to keep on praying!
It has been just over a year since I emailed the AISL list, looking for a truly representational news database aimed at the K-12 market. The push for such a product is ongoing, and I hope to be able to update you more on that process soon (and please contact me if you would like to get involved in the campaign to drive change).
In the meantime, our library decided to assure that students would see themselves and each other in our digital resources, even if it did require accessing multiple databases to do so.
Having a larger number of databases is a challenge, as we all know, and we need to take a multi-pronged approach to ease adoption. Among our strategies are:
1. Recruiting student “Database Ambassadors.” Our students have grade-wide, homework-related group texts and so the Ambassadors will be on the scene when homework is hard to complete. They will remind classmates to reach out to librarians for help. I set out to have a few ambassadors in each grade, but students started asking if they could join the cadre and fully 10% of our 8th-12th grade students have asked to volunteer for this project.
Training starts today, and I am trying to figure out the few ideas I have to drive home. No use trying to familiarize them with a substantial number of databases during a study hall! My Research TAs tell me that the bare bones of the class I taught our Juniors are a critical part of the lesson….
2. The lesson/lecture for all 11th grade US History classes was an introduction to working with primary sources. The theme was “database business models as systemic injustice.” Some colleagues have asked me to share the slides from that class. Though they are not at all pretty, you can find them here. Honestly, I never thought to get emails with words like “moving” and “fascinating” related to a database lesson!
To be frank: none of the systemic issues with databases were news to students who have aspects of their identity that have been minoritized. It has been painful for me to realize of the substantial number of students who have felt alienated by our collection for so long.
Nonetheless, we move forward with anticipation. We believe that our students can both thrive on our more inclusive collection and simultaneously look at it with a critical eye. It is our job to help them do so.
If such a lesson feels like a bit more than you can bite off, check out Rebecca Hall’s graphic novel, Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts. Actually, read it whatever the case. In addition to history I never learned, it talks about silences in sources and how they impact our understanding of historical events.
Have a lovely week!
NOTE: This database work is a group effort that currently involves Sarah Levin (Urban School), Alea Stokes (Thayer Academy), and Sara Kelley-Mudie (Beaver Day School). Also, my awesome Library Director, Jole Seroff, who is supporting this work as an integral part of the program we provide our school. I’m just the only one who cannot stop talking about it. It is how I roll. 😉
What do you do when you are bursting with ideas but lack space? I find myself considering this issue in my new position. There are three libraries at my school, and I am the middle school librarian. The middle school is a separate campus housed in what used to be a church. In fact, I just realized today that my library is situated in the narthex. Doesn’t that sound totally sci-fi?! (Well, the narthex or vestibule, but I like narthex better.)
But I digress. Since starting in August, I’ve added comfy furniture and reorganized the collection- which was not easy given the ladders (see previous post, lol). The students who regularly use the library come in to READ and find books. They self-police themselves and do the shushing, too. (I’ve tweeted several photos of students reading making use of the new comfy furniture, because wow.) Needless to say, I love my new space.
That being said, I wanted to jump right in to Speed Book Dating at the beginning of the year to ensure that every student could find a book. I knew the physical library was out, so I loaded up my books, made some amazing genre signs using Canva, and trucked into the chapel.
While the stained glass windows were stunning, it was a little difficult for the students to fill out their “Dating Cards.” It was also a tad awkward for them to peruse the books, essentially, single file. But, we made it work for the first few classes.
Then we tried the cafeteria which was a bit of a pain when we had to pack up and reset for lunches, etc. Finally, and now I feel like Goldilocks, we ended up in the teachers’ classrooms with a tour of the library after the activity.
The reality is that it all worked out. I could bring my laptop and scanner to check out books immediately, and the students still had the opportunity to come to the library. (For some of them it was the first time they had seen it as newcomers to the campus. I also felt like I was getting more familiar with the campus as I rolled my book truck around.) My colleagues were supportive as we tried to figure out what worked best for our campus, and our circulation jumped by almost 140%!
I’ll call that a win.
And in case you wanted to see and/or use the Dating Card, I’m including it as a download below:
I’m always surprised when wonderful librarians who are so erudite and thoughtful speaking on some area of their practice recoil when I suggest they write an article. Lack of confidence (which I don’t understand because they have so much knowledge) or the reason lack of time (which I completely understand) usually predominate as excuses.
But as David McCullough says, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” To sit down and write out what you do or your accumulated knowledge about a given topic or book means organizing your thoughts and making connections for others which compels you to be a stronger librarian and more intentional in your work. As school librarians, it’s important to place ourselves in the shoes of our students. Seeing my article bibliographies when I open Noodletools or discussing how I organize my notes for a paper lets students know that I use the tools I’m asking them to use in their research and writing process (although they are mystified that I do it voluntarily).
Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard
Consider also the benefit to your relationship with teachers and administrators. When we complain that few of our colleagues and division administrators understand what we do, writing an article that demonstrates our pedagogical understanding of some aspect of our job draws the curtain back on what happens in the library and they are suitably dazzled. Getting the school’s name out in the form of your bio at the bottom of an article or in discussing what the school does well places librarians in a position of being seen as a positive advocate for the school, never a bad thing.
The connections I’ve made to other librarians through my writing have been invaluable. I’m a big believer that you get back what you put into the universe and writing is sharing a part of yourself. In everything I have written, someone has reached out to let me know how I helped them or sent an email that inspired an exchange that offered me more knowledge about my topic. Writing offers school librarians a chance to step out of our relative isolation and make contact with our compatriots outside of our school campus, an important aspect when we don’t always have a chance to mingle daily with someone who knows our job.
What to Write About
School librarianship suffers from the fact that the majority of us spend our day putting out fires, ordering materials, navigating databases, and delivering amazing information literacy instruction in our library…and rarely mingle with other librarians. We assume everyone else does these activities like we do, and therefore don’t recognize when we are being innovative. I have never visited a single library (and pre-COVID I made a point of doing best practices visits to three to nine libraries a year) where I didn’t come away with a tip or practice idea that made me look like a goddess when I returned to my school.
Walt Crawford in his book, First Have Something to Say: Writing for the Library Profession, encourages writers to think of themselves as an expert rather than as an authority, a term which has a lot more baggage. An expert has attained some level of mastery (which we all have done) whereas an authority exudes a judgemental gravitas that the majority of school librarians thankfully don’t possess. You are an expert on a host of different topics relating to your work and people would benefit from reading about your perspective. If you’ve ever presented at a conference, write up your presentation into an article or blog post and share it with a wider audience. Publishing means your print article will be more findable in scholarly databases, or your blog article on an established website will be indexed more readily in search engines, so you would reach a wider audience than the 40 people in the ballroom of your conference session by also publishing an account of your work.
Think about what you love about being a librarian. Is it children’s or YA literature? Be a book reviewer or write articles about themes you’re seeing. Information literacy? Tons of magazines, both commercial and organization-specific publications, want to see writing on instruction. Professional development geared towards teachers? Now you’ve branched out from librarian-focused magazines and journals to broader educational organizations like ISTE and ASCD. Copyright and intellectual freedom are hot topics that affect our work and they are frustrating areas where people always need advice. And kudos to you if you have an area of “cross-pollination”; management, technology, engineering, higher education are all areas of expertise you might have from non-school librarian work you’ve done. Making connections between those areas and our work with school libraries could be of enormous help to the profession.
Finding a Venue for Your Writing
Full disclosure, the vast majority of my writing opportunities came directly or indirectly from my volunteer work. My first writing opportunity was for the KQ Blog in 2004 after someone had heard me complain at an ALA conference (probably at the ISS Section table back when we would meet by section and committee at tables in a gigantic, cacophonous ballroom) that you couldn’t apply for National Board Certification without being state-certified. My momentary rant led to an offer to write the “anti” position for a pair of blog posts about whether state certification should be necessary for independent school librarians (Lewis 2004).
If you think that serving on a committee is out of your financial or time grasp, consider that many regional and state organizations (as well as ALA, AASL, and ISTE) now offer virtual committees rather than requiring that you shoulder the expense of travel to distant conferences. Offering to write for your membership organization’s blog or journal is a wonderful way to dip a toe into the writing waters and often gives a less intense introduction to the editing process than if you started with a more national journal or book chapter for an academic press. Remember that writing often comes from connections, but it also fosters connections. Considering that we have jobs dependent on fostering relationships and collaborating, seeing writing as an extension of that role should make this activity feel more natural.
Before you choose a potential publication, you need to decide which audience you’re aiming for. I separate this into “the choir” and “has no idea what we do.” “The choir” refers to the publications and blogs you read right now for your work which are squarely aimed at librarians. You can write assuming certain background knowledge and your content is usually more practice-focused. “The choir” also encompasses the weightier peer-reviewed journals where you might publish action research or ethnographic studies (I’m assuming you aren’t doing long-term statistical analysis as a practicing librarian but if I’m wrong, go, you! And write an article about that balance, please.)
“Has no idea what we do” probably triggers the faces of quite a few people you know; think about what roles they have. Independent School, the magazine of the National Association of Independent Schools, has been – along with their elusive and exclusive conference committee – the Holy Grail of librarians hoping to make our work more visible to the NAIS audience. Several years ago, an independent school librarian actually managed to co-author an article for Independent School that referred to the role of the independent school librarian and – I swear to you – it was the scene in Sorcerer’s Stone when Voldemort is “killed” by the infant Harry Potter, with ecstatic witches were setting off fireworks and shaking the hands of strange muggles because of their happiness. Independent school librarians sent congratulatory texts and “did you see??!!” emails across every known listserv as this glass ceiling shattered. ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) and ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) also have excellent periodicals that administrators frequently read and have even broader audiences. Getting the school librarian role in front of them and emphasizing how we increase student achievement is crucial work that can be accomplished through writing articles about our impact.
So practically, where should you look for writing opportunities? First, I’d hit up your databases or walk into the nearest academic library which usually lets you do a search on-site using their resources. Take a look at what has been written about your topic and consider where there are gaps you could fill or if the information needs updating. Look at the length and tone of articles for individual publications to get a sense of their preferences. The below list links to the “writing for publication” page of each of the following venues where you can find their query and length requirements as well as formatting guidelines. Since many of them have themes for each issue and are looking for features or supporting articles on that theme, it pays to ask if your proposed idea could fit into a future issue if you’re not sure. Carol Smallwood’s anthology, Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook is a treasure trove of infinitely readable short articles on a variety of topics related to writing for publication, including how to handle the query process.
On September 14, 2021, AISL hosted an informational webinar on writing for publication featuring Meg Featheringham, AASL’s editor of Knowledge Quest, the KQ Blog, and AASL’s e-newsletter, and Rebecca Morris, co-editor at School Library Connection. These knowledgeable editors had valuable information to offer to librarians considering writing, with great behind-the-scenes considerations they take into account when choosing manuscripts. Definitely check it out, not only for the great information but to see how lovely and not scary editors are.
Here is a list of potential markets for your articles, in absolutely no alphabetical order:
AISL Blog (AISL) (contact one of the committee members at the end of this post)
An Altruistic Approach
I’m assuming some readers might still feel reluctant about writing an article. Since librarians skew to an altruistic personality type, I’m going to take advantage of that tendency and connect writing to helping others. Has there been a librarian whose work meant a lot to you? Writing an article that demonstrates how you apply their work to your practice gets more people aware of them. You might have a wonderful teacher or librarian at your school who you want to help develop professionally and bring attention to their work; writing an article together helps you both. Finally, thinking about what articles would benefit someone new to the profession allows you to create work that helps your colleagues.
Consider also that writing for publication can be a wonderful PD group to offer at your school. The power of faculty members coming together and being a little vulnerable speaking about what they do in the classroom and worries they have about writing can’t be overestimated. Your school librarian role helps you as a facilitator for this type of work, since you can help teachers brainstorm ideas, highlight your databases for searching for potential subject-specific publications they could target, and edit one another’s work (having a second set of eyes compare a manuscript to the publication guidelines is worth its weight in gold). Teachers will not forget your helping them promote themselves and the work they do while you strengthen relationships. You may help someone so well with their APA citation that they have you come in to teach their class the same skill!
Hopefully, you’ve found a few good reasons to consider writing, as well as an inspiration or two that gives you some idea of what you might want to share. Please consider the below list of committee members as your personal pep rally and don’t hesitate to reach out with questions. Librarians who write build community and a powerful practice, so make the library world a better place and share a piece of yourself.
Want more help and advice? Please feel free to reach out to AISL’s Publications Committee members:
Crawford, W. (2003). First Have Something to Say: Writing for the Library Profession. American Library Association.
Lewis, C. L. (2004), January/February). Independent School Library Media Specialists: State Certification Unnecessary. Knowledge Quest on the Web. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org.sapl.sat.lib.tx.us/ala/mgrps/ divs/aasl/aaslpubsandjournals/knowledgequest/kqwebarchives/kqwebarchives.cfm. (Totally not the link anymore – I have no idea if you can even find this outdated initial writing piece.)
Smallwood, C. (2010). Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook (ALA guides for the busy librarian). American Library Association.
I’m feeling a little self-conscious about the how much I know I have become “one-note Davey” when it comes to talking about what we’re focusing on instructionally in the information literacy, media literacy, research instruction space. To be completely honest it is literally almost all we’ve done instructionally since we started our ’21-’22 school year in the second week of August.
Apologies in advance if you’ve read previous things I’ve shared about Michael Caulfield’s SIFT methodology for checking online sources. If you have, you might want to skip down a few paragraphs.
What is SIFT? – Michael Caulfield, Director of Blended and Networked Learning at Washington State University Vancouver, developed a magically simple four-step process for quickly evaluating and contextualizing online sources. The SIFT method, takes techniques and strategies commonly used by professional fact checkers and puts them together in a format simple enough that my 9th graders to learn and successfully apply in a 45-60 minute stand-alone lesson!
Never Waste a Good Crisis – Misinformation/Disinformation has always been with us, but events and the discourse of the last few years seems to have made teachers i work with acutely aware of the need to explicitly teach students skills, strategies, and dispositions needed to discern reputable sources from their less reputable cousins. Living in a new golden age of misinformation isn’t exactly something any of us would wish for but the reality on the ground is that, this is where we are so as librarians it would be a tragedy to waste a crisis foisted upon us.
During the first week of school, I sent versions of the following email to every teacher in our science department.
For the time being SIFT has, temporarily, become the entirety of our high school research curriculum. We have now introduced SIFT to almost every 9th grader through their science classes, and we’ve also had a chance to introduce SIFT to 6 or 7 jr/sr science classes as well (we piloted SIFT for the first time at the end of last year so our older students never got it). If you are just beginning your school year, DON’T WAIT!!!! Approach your science teachers before they get too deep into their content! The storm of misinformation around vaccines and masking has made science teachers very willing partners on infolit instruction! We’ve also found that working with these classes on SIFT has helped us to start collaborative conversations with teachers on other projects and skills they’d like to work together on!
Science teacher: “I really wish our kids could learn APA for science. Why do we have to use MLA?”
Me: “Uh… We don’t only have to use MLA! Nobody ever asked. LET’S DO IT!”
Science teacher: “And when we do that, can you help us with how to use databases?”
What Does all this SIFTing Instruction Look Like? – I use 4 introductory videos that Michael Caulfield created for CIVIX, a non-partisan group based in Canada, and posted to the Ctrl-F channel on Youtube. They’re embedded in a Libguides page and we watch the first two (very short) videos. We give students a sample sources to SIFT and simply have students try the strategies and techniques that have been introduced. When student(s) come to a conclusion we debrief and share the methods and strategies the students tried that helped them find success.
When it seems like the class is comfortable with the tools and strategies, we watch the second two videos and continue with practice samples.
Keep if Fast. Keep it Simple! – The sample sources that we have kids SIFT are meant to be easy to investigate, but I’ve tried to pick examples of sources that let us raise issues and strategies that I want kids to remember.
This sample using the publication Undark is a good starting point that says, “See, you can do this. It’s easy and it’s fast, but it works so it’s worth the investment of 90 seconds BEFORE you read the article!”
This sample using Goop allows us to talk about expertise. “So Gwyneth Paltrow is an Academy Award winning actor, if you were looking for information about becoming a successful actor would she probably be a well qualified source? Does expertise apply across different fields or domains? What do you think of this?”
Interestingly, I’ve had three different students talk about Dr. Fauci being an expert in diseases and vaccines, but maybe not baseball… Hahaha!!!
Being Transparent and a Little Humble Doesn’t Hurt – In the midst of teaching this lesson news broke about the owner of the Snopes site admitting to committing plagiarism. As Michael Caulfield recommends Snopes as a source for reliable, fact-checking, I decided to bring the issue up head on and have honest conversations with students about citation, attribution, and trust. I tell them honestly that I still use and trust Snopes because I have a long history with the site and I’ve checked enough of their stories over time that continue to believe in the integrity of their work as a whole, yet it is frustrating that i now feel the need to have this conversation with students when talking about using Snopes–and that if they don’t feel comfortable with the recommendation that, that is very legitimate and they should use other sites instead.
When students look at the Wikipedia article on the New York Post, they tend to conclude that it is a less than credible tabloid and therefore the story itself must be misinformation. I find that this is a good opportunity to show students the Google News tab where they quickly see that multiple news outlets that they know have reported the same story. This allows us to talk about how the SIFT process often actually doesn’t give us a black and white answer and THAT’S OK because what we are actually seeking as we SIFT is how to place this source IN CONTEXT. Understanding and using what a source has to offer in an appropriate context is also why we typically don’t want to rely too heavily on any single source.
SIFT is a Start, Not an End — Our juniors and seniors pick up on SIFT very quickly. We do some of the same exercises and cover the same ground as with our 9th graders, but with the juniors and seniors we use it as an opportunity to point out how better online journalism or open web sources typically link to the scholarly work that supports claims being made. “Trace those sources as close to their original context as you can get and typically try to cite the source that is the furthest up the chain.”
Reception from Kids — Feedback from students has been amazingly positive. Where there used to be a lot of frustrated eye rolling and heavy sighing from the last row (and sometimes the middle and first rows, too. LOL!!!). I’ve had students tell me, “I can use this!” As I see it, we can teach perfect techniques and strategies for source evaluation, citation, and annotation, but if kids just won’t use them unless they’re coerced to do so for points, we’re not really teaching source evaluation for a real world and for kids’ real lives.
When they leave us as graduates, I want my kids to have the information literacy knowledge, skills, dispositions, and habits necessary for them to thrive in a world of networked information.
How do I weigh the risks and benefits of a vaccine?
What are the costs and benefits of this policy on greenhouse gas emissions?
Is this policy change likely to do what its proponents say it will do and whose hypothesis is more likely to be correct based on their experience and/or expertise?
Which candidate running in the next election is most likely to represent the positions that I value?
In the highly complex world of networked information that we now finder ourselves navigating, two of the most valuable “commodities” individuals have to invest are our attention and our trust. Until recently, I feel like I haven’t been able to find a way to very effectively help students understand how to discern where and how to invest their attention and their trust. With our work on SIFT I am starting to feel like the pieces are coming together. We certainly have a way to go, but SIFT feels, to me, like we’ve taken a solid first step in the right direction! I hope you’ll give it some consideration in the work that you’re doing!