2476 Checkouts — How Do You Measure a Year?

Inspired by a public library post, I decided to forgo my usual (boring) year-end write-up and make an (exciting!) infographic instead. I thought using Canva would make this an easy task, but alas, nothing seems to be easy these days, right? Although Canva has a lot of infographic templates, nothing really met my expectations so I made modifications to one. That settled the structure, but now I faced the real challenge: what to include. How do we measure success? More importantly, what can we share with administrators and other stakeholders that will be meaningful and impactful? I keep thinking about the recent listserve discussion regarding staffing needs and asking for more support — could the right statistics make a difference?

I decided to start playing around with data from 2021-22 so that I have a solid template to start with when this year ends. 

I began by mining the data points that I already collect:

  • Checkouts
  • Door Count
  • Home Page Visits
  • Database Searches

2476 checkouts…that doesn’t look very impressive, does it? Should I include more details? How many fiction books? How many books by students? How many books for US history thesis papers? One issue with a robust LMS system with basically infinite reporting is where to stop and what to show. What interests and impresses me might not ring true for an administrator who rarely steps foot in the library.

The door count seems straightforward, but our new counter totals hourly which allows us to really illustrate how busy we are at lunchtime — should we emphasize that? Is that manipulating data, or does it just illustrate how many students use our building between 11 and 1 every day?

I began to think about the unrecognized things we do, like our 1-on-1 thesis meetings. The other librarian and I meet with every junior at least once (some return again and again and again…) to go over their topics, research strategy, and citations. This takes a lot of time and energy and many people have no idea about it.  

Oddly enough, one of the things I am proud of this year is our Instagram account. We have done a lot of posting and some outreach to raise our followers (@peskylibrary — check us out!), but I know that our paltry 161 followers is pretty lame, so do I share it anyway?

With some trepidation, I share the draft of what I have so far.

I definitely want to add some comparisons to last year to show growth, and I’m considering changing the color scheme…obviously still a major work in progress. Hopefully, my infographic inspires someone else — even in draft form.

Good luck to everyone in the last months of the year:)

You’re Never Too Old for Storytime

It’s currently Spring Break at my school, so even though I have some ideas brewing from the AISL conference and the research seminar I’m teaching this spring, I wanted to share something a little cozier for this post.

As many of you likely know, February 1st was World Read Aloud Day. I also work with students in grades 6-12, which are not prime read-aloud years. But they should be! There has been plenty of research on the benefits of reading aloud, but for me the biggest benefit is the joy of sharing a story together.

I’ve only tried to do something once before with World Read Aloud Day – it was very elaborate and a middling success. I tried to do something that lasted multiple periods across the day, involving all kinds of teachers and while it engendered some positive feelings about the library, the reality was that it was poorly attended (even with the lure of hot chocolate!) and did not connect with students the way I had hoped it would.

But iteration is the name of the game, right? For this go-round, I decided to keep things much, much simpler. One storytime, during a time when most students are free, two picture books, and, of course, some cookies. I’m lucky to have a student ambassador for the library who I can consult with as I plan these things – she helped me pick the day and time, and also helped spread the word and generate interest.

I made an announcement during an upper school meeting and sent a follow-up email, but didn’t do much else in terms of promotion. The two books I selected to read were Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (a favorite of mine) and, by student request, an Amelia Bedelia book.

I was expecting maybe five or six students to show (which I would have counted as a success!) but I ended up having almost 30 kids come to storytime! There were students from grades 9 through 12, and a handful of middle schoolers who were brought by the leader of their after-school activity. One student asked if they could respond to the story as I was reading it, and I said yes – which sparked a steady stream of “oh no!” and audible groans as I read about the trials and travails of poor Alexander.

This simple little storytime proved so popular that students requested it become a regular event. I did another storytime in February (and had a second planned that was canceled due to a snow day), this time inviting the faculty advisors to the Black Student Union and Black/African heritage affinity group to read aloud some of their favorite books. I’m hoping to continue to connect with other affinity group advisors for future storytimes.

I know I am often guilty of trying to go “too big” when planning, well, anything so it was both lovely and humbling to see so many people excited about such a simple program. And, thanks to Cindy Wray and Margaret Rhoades and their AISL presentation on creating a culture kids love, I now have a million more ideas for programs (big and small!) that will help me to connect to even more students.

Battle of the Books

  1. In which book did a dragon crash-land on a row of porta potties? (Answer at the end of the post)

Nothing brings me more joy than seeing a team of middle schoolers, heads together, hotly debating books. “It must be Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire because there’s a dragon!” “No, Dragonet Prophecy is all about dragons—it has to be that!” “But there aren’t any porta-potties in Pyhrria!”

Welcome to the Battle of the Books.

I first encountered the Battle of the Books in the 1990s, during a graduate internship in North Carolina. At the time, BoB was a state-wide public school competition with a list of twenty-plus books and multiple age levels. Teams alternated answering twenty questions a round from that set list of books, the answer always being the book’s title and author. From school competitions, teams moved to regional and state competitions. I thought it sounded amazing!

  • 2. In which book do characters regularly eat canned food that’s over 200 years old?

When I wanted to Battle at my first school, since I wasn’t in a BoB state and lacked that infrastructure, I decided to stage a Battle just at my own school. Though I have happily continued that, I’ve always felt guilty for not expanding into something more like the statewide program. For the last few years I‘ve had the good fortune to compete with one or two other local schools, but trying to expand the program further brought up issues of time/scheduling, number of books kids were willing to read vs. number of questions needed, and too few/too many participants. Unfortunately, I think expanding would require more time and organization than I can currently manage, plus just looking at the thirty-two page book of rules and regulations for the current North Carolina Battle of the Books overwhelms me! So what follows is a description (probably TL;DR) of how I run a one or two school Battle.

  • 3. In which book does the main character break out of jail using a key made from hardened porridge?

At my school, 5th grade Battle is required and limited to that grade, and 6th-8th graders can sign up to compete against our partner school on a voluntary basis. As I discovered this year, it’s vital to run a “Mock Battle” at weekly announcements to ramp up excitement. Having not been able to stage one this year, my 6th-8th grade participation is unfortunately down, plus kids’ reluctance to miss more than one class block meant conducting the Battle virtually. In general, I run the Mock Battle and signups in late November/early December, and schedule the Battles for late February/early March. That allows time for reading.

  • 4. In which book does the main character accidentally call the Tanzanian president’s wife a diseased wildebeest?

After the Mock Battle, I solicit student input on the book list. Students choose half of the books and librarians choose the rest, to balance the list for genre and diversity. With the two-school Battle’s list of thirteen books, that means students at each school choose three. My partner librarian and I generally make our additional selections from the extensive list of titles for which I already have questions, to save time. We will sometimes add fabulous new books that we can’t resist, though!

  • 5. In which book did a character wear red nail polish made with snake venom?

I post the lists and the Battle rules on the Library website, and our library assistant pulls/orders books and puts them on display. I also recruit colleagues to help read books and write up questions. When I write up questions, I often try to make them intriguing enough that students will want to try the book based on the question, if they haven’t read it. I mean:

  • 6. In which book do two characters send the main character a toilet seat to cheer him up after an adventure?

Who wouldn’t want to read that?

My partner school often runs team practices, but I have never had much student interest for that; this year I’m trying some Kahoots, using questions from non-Battle books. I do assign 6th-8th graders to teams, balancing for grade level. I send several reminders to the sixth-eighth graders and the question writers during the months before the Battle, and I also remind students that they need to show good sportsmanship!

  • 7. In which book does the main character say: “It was like towels were meeting each other in the laundry room, getting married, and having babies”?

To prepare for the Battle, I recruit volunteers for timekeeper/scorekeeper and crowd control. I set up a board that includes the Battle rules, the schedule of rounds for the day, and the scoreboard, which gets updated after each round.

Organizing the questions takes the most time, and I’m sure others could find a better way! I’m old-school, so I have all my questions printed out. After I determine how many questions I need from each book, I go through all the questions for each title and select the best. To ensure each book is evenly represented in every twenty-question Battle, I use a randomizer to tell me in which order to draw questions from each book’s pile.

  • 8. In which book does a monk give oddly specific blessings, like “may wasps never sting the palms of your hands”?

During the Battles, each team on deck selects a captain, and the answer can only come from the captain, after consultation with their team. They get twenty seconds to give me the title (four points), and the author’s last name (two points). If one team can’t answer or can’t answer fully, the other team gets ten seconds to earn half points with a correct answer. I find that even if kids haven’t read all the books, they start to recognize elements in the questions and often make accurate guesses! The questioned team may challenge a question as possibly applying to more than one book, and I might replace that question.

  • 9. In which book does the main character get attacked by bronze spiders at the “Thrill Ride O’Love?”

I love staging Battle of the Books, and seeing kids get so hyped over books! It is a lot of work, but I think it’s time well-spent, and it also encourages me to read new books and see what books kids really love these days. If you are interested in running your own Battle, I am happy to share my questions (I have them for more than 100 books), or you could look into America’s Battle of the Books, a membership-based organization that offers pre-written questions and a variety of competition formats. Battle on!


Answers: 1. The Lost Hero, Rick Riordan. 2. The City of Ember, Jeanne DuPrau. 3. Eye of the Crow, Shane Peacock. 4. Spy School, Stuart Gibbs. 5. Holes, Louis Sachar. 6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling. 7. Front Desk, Kelly Yang. 8. A Wish in the Dark, Christine Soontornvat. 9. The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan.

An Ode to AI

The poetic muse stirred this response to recent discussions of ChatGPT and AI. Though the thoughtful conversation will continue on the merits and cautions involved in using ChatGPT in schools, here is just one perspective. This poem is dedicated to all teachers who encourage student voice and choice.

When is a Cheez-It Not a Cheez-It? Some highlights from AISL23 (with links for at-home exploration)

I am so grateful for the collaborative learning that takes place through AISL. I learn so much from our communications and from the relationships I have been blessed to build within the group. As a friend said yesterday, there is nothing quite like the “process of sharing our work, having other people iterate on it, and then being able to ‘steal’ it back.” The conferences provide a particularly dense opportunity to share, iterate, and “steal” (a.k.a., re-share).

For those who either could not make it, or who could not be everywhere at once in Santa Fe, I thought I’d (re-)share some highlights of the conference. Not everything will be here, but welcome to a random sample of appreciated moments – “random” as defined by asking all four other AISL attendees who happened to be sitting in the waiting room with me at the Santa Fe airport on Wednesday evening! 😉

If you are not linked here and presented at AISL23, please consider sharing your slides in the comments section so that other members can learn from you, as well!

“Research Process As Product” by Sara Kelley-Mudie (Librarian and Educational Technology Specialist) and Sadie Weinberger (Upper School Teacher, Global History and Social Sciences), Beaver Country Day School – if ever there was a set of food analogies to make your stomach growl and your research practice grow, this was it! This run through a 10-day, process-based collaboration in historical research had many specific strategies to help students slow down and develop, practice, and reflect on skills for searching, selecting sources, notetaking, and more. I happened to catch the famous Cheez-It/source analogy (original idea courtesy of Courtney Lewis) on video:

Sara and Sadie share the Cheez-It analogy

I’ve heard that colleagues are already looking at to their budgets for charcuterie boards so they can offer PD and drive home the idea of what databases actually are with a metaphorically appropriate snack! Participants are excited to relay a broad range of strategies from this presentation to their colleagues and figure out how and where to implement them at school.

“What Happens When a Superhero Librarian Gets Tired?” Jen Dawson and Laura Marmorstein, Cranbrook Schools — Colleagues found it meaningful to acknowledge something typically not mentioned: burnout at a job you love. The goal of the session was to think about how to reinvigorate yourself, and included concrete strategies. Some of the working materials in this session came from Elena Aguilar’s book, The Onward Workbook, so you can look at the website and the book for materials to support the attached slides. Ultimately, Dawson and Marmorstein created an environment that enabled really positive connections among people. With the addition of a goodie bag of stickers, noisemakers, and magic wands, participants left with a sense of connection and renewed enthusiasm. So: find a librarian friend, connect, and reinvigorate your own practice! (And go big with a magic wand or sparkly pencil, maybe some stickers, of your choice!)

“School Librarians as Instructional Coaches”: Chris Young (Director of Libraries) and Kate Turnbull (Director of Professional Learning) of Metairie Park Country Day School
argued that the job of instructional coaching maps directly onto the work we already do as curricular collaborators. Additionally, participants took inspiration from this example of strategically reimagining what a team can look like in order to achieve staffing or other goals that are otherwise out of reach.

“Let Them Help: Students Behind the Desk“ Kimberly Senf (Senior Librarian)
Elmwood School: Participants were impressed by Senf’s well-rounded system. “Her student volunteers did so much for her, and she developed a functional system – she might not even be in the room when they were helping her out!” The session broke down the logistics of her program in great detail – from sign-up forms that asked applicants at what jobs they thought they would excel to her methods for training shelvers. Participants appreciated the advice to look beyond just our good readers when considering volunteers – non-readers can also bring wonderful skills into service for the library. Although the session was about high school-aged volunteers, participants could imagine their oldest students (4th graders, in this case) being able to contribute to display design and other tasks around the library. Thanks, too, to the participant who shared that her volunteers love having special nametags to wear when they are working.

“What Makes a Comic a Comic,” from Bram Meehan, of Bram Meehan Design, Writing, + Direction, was a dynamic exploration with a lot of hands-on activities. Participants learned to define a comic by sketching one out for themselves. If you like classes with learning by doing, you might want to take a look at these slides as a model. You can learn more about his work at https://www.brammeehan.com/.

Finally, participants wanted to send a heartfelt thanks to our hosts and organizers. We sometimes forget that an intentional component of the AISL conference is for regions to show off their local culture. In particular, this conference we stayed in an historically significant hotel, and even had a talk from a staff member about the history of the building and the companies that built and maintained it. Several participants shared that they found ways to go hiking in the area, and we had chances to visit local museums. For those among us who had only ever experienced Geogia O’Keeffe’s flowers, this was a change to go deeper into her work. For many of us, the pace and style of life in Santa Fe did juxtapose with our own community’s pace of life – it was exciting to experience a new way of being. In addition, it was so much fun to see the ways that students in different local schools contributed to the co-creation of their libraries’ cultures. Thank you to everyone who gave of themselves, shared their spaces, and brought us along for the ride!

Thank you to experience contributors Jole Seroff (Castilleja School), Jill Maza (Montclair Kimberley Academy), Megan Kilgallen (Packer Collegiate), Amy Pelman (Harker School), Kristen Robb (Poly Prep Lower School), and Sara Kelley-Mudie (Beaver Country Day School). And thank you to all the presenters who gave permission to post their documents here for the whole group!

Our Fair Gardens and the Tyranny of the Catalog

If you are a reader of this blog, you probably know the origin of this post’s title. Years ago I bought myself a used copy of the 1969 edition of Margaret A. Edwards’s famous The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Young Adult and the Library. The cover of this edition, which I love, depicts a two-faced tree-headed creature and a … dragon, I guess? If you didn’t read this book in library school (I didn’t, at least not all of it), you’ve probably at least heard of it. Its author has two ALA Youth Media Awards named for her after all. 

Check out those beasts!

Recently I took this book off my shelf and flipped through it. Unsurprisingly given the publication year, Edwards sometimes uses language that is now dated and at worst, inappropriate by today’s standards. I can’t imagine my students in 2023 being very interested in most of the titles she suggested in 1969 (which she acknowledges is going to happen as time marches on). However, many of her anecdotes and points about serving teens in the library are just as powerful and relevant now as they were then. There are passages that knocked me over and are a great reminder, as we navigate the joys and nuisances of the progressing school year as well as the challenges to our professionalism currently present in the wider society, what our priority is – serving young people. Or, as Edwards referred to them in 1969, “teen-agers.”

On page 101 of the edition in my possession, Edwards launches into a pretty scathing criticism of “our obsession with the catalog”. Here’s one zinger of a passage that really got me: 

Our burning passion to force the adolescent to use the catalog has damaged our relations with him…Probably the most hated six words in these United States of America are ‘Look it up in the catalog.’ Here is what some teen-agers say …: ‘In general, the librarians are fairly helpful as long as you never make the mistake of asking where a book is. Do this, and the librarian ‘sweetly’ says, ‘What’s the matter, don’t you know how to use the catalog?’

(Edwards, p. 103)

She goes on to characterize this habit, which we may think of as empowering or teaching someone to fish, as it’s likely perceived by young people on the other end: either the librarian who suggests this is lazy or is exercising their authority for no reason. Edwards basically describes instruction in use of the catalog as a waste of time that could be spent promoting reading. 

Gulp. When I read this, I think I had just that day sweetly directed a student to the catalog when she asked where to find a book. I thought about this for a long time. In all of the times I have instructed a class in the use of the online catalog, not once has there been a lasting spark of interest. Even if there was a fleeting one, I doubt that many students spent a good deal of time thinking about accessing and searching the catalog after that. When they need or want a book, they come to the desk with the cover image pulled up on their phone (from Amazon or Instagram, maybe) and ask if we have it. How irritating of me to use that moment to “remind” them about the catalog. How unhelpful to hand them a call number and point. Most of the time, this does not result in a found book anyway – they come back asking for help, or worse, give up and leave. Now they may feel frustrated, intimidated, and maybe even foolish – certainly not welcome or helped. That is the opposite of how I want my students to feel in the library. Just go get the the book, Ms. Hammond. Only direct when you are very busy and very confident the student will find the book themselves.

Come to think of it, the functioning (or lack thereof) of our library management systems is a frequent topic on our listserv. I have become utterly frustrated by the slowness, the irrelevant term suggestions, and the inexplicable search field switch-ups that have been occurring in my LMS lately. It does not work as well as a Google search. So, what business do I have making students feel put off by an insistence on its use? Why am I wasting time trying to teach it, when I could be book-talking more instead? Maybe it’s enough to just mention that it exists and where to find the link. A student who wants to use it will – in fact, a student recently asked me whether there was some website where she could look up books in the library. I showed her, and she thought it was cool (really – she used that word). She looked up the title she sought and we talked about how to use the call number to locate the book. That was what she asked for – to be shown how to do it herself – but other students are asking for a book, not a lesson. I need to give them what they tell me they need, not what I, in my professional wisdom and “petty authority” decide they need. Knowing how to use a library catalog doesn’t make a lifelong library user. Feeling like the library is a place where someone will help you without hesitation or throwing up hurdles, might. Thank you, Alex!

Work Cited

Edwards, Margaret A. The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult. New York, Hawthorn Books, 1969.

Building Knowledge in the Age of AI

I was tempted, but this blog was not written by AI or any Chatbox, one who loves me or not. But this piece is all about AI and its implications for librarians and education.  It seems we can expect a flood of texts written by AI from now on.  The question is how reliable will they be? Will the program pull from authoritative sources?  

As of now, AI  has no access to the “invisible internet” of database resources or print books that have not been digitized.  Nor, does it have materials uploaded after 2021.  When these programs scan sources, how will they determine the value of the sites? Just look for similar language and phrases? These questions have important consequences: for example, a  recent Nature article noted that scientists were fooled by such texts.

The increasing usage and acceptance of AI, presents challenges and new opportunities.  Perhaps the most important skill or students will need going forward will be to assess the accuracy and relevance of texts.  Yesterday, for example, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program announced that it would accept AI  generated material if cited properly. Matt Glanville observed that “When AI can essentially write an essay at the touch of a button, we need our pupils to master different skills, such as understanding if the essay is any good or if it has missed context, has used biased data or if it is lacking in creativity.” So, assessing content will be vital.  Granville states, “These will be far more important skills than writing an essay, so the assessment tasks we set will need to reflect this.” This approach is fine as long as students have time in school and home, to acquire this content in the age of distraction.

Emphasizing skills rather than content has become a trend lately. Memorizing facts is seen as boring and unnecessary.  The idea being students should learn the skills to “do” history and science like  the professionals..  Content could be learned later, or just by “googling” something as the need arose  But if you don’t have a solid foundation of basic facts, how you can judge the credibility of AI-generated content?   Will readers take the time to assess each fact?  Of course, these demands were present with human-generated content, but now the need is greater.  Perhaps it will help that the National Council of Teachers of English is placing greater emphasis on reading nonfiction.  

Of course, the role of librarians is clear: acquire and highlight noteworthy, human-authored background content and nonfiction so that students can build this important reservoir of background knowledge when they encounter new texts, regardless of who or what created it. Encourage the idea that reading for information can be fun, especially if connected with previous knowledge and interesting facts.  It will be essential in a world dominated by texts produced in 5 minutes by AI.


on our museum of not-digital sources…

This post is more than a week late, but I was on a break and, honestly, needed to not think about anything library for a while…

Now that I’m back at my desk with my monitor perched atop 4 volumes of the 29th edition Library of Congress Subject Headings in order to help correct my horrendously bad posture that lead to the pinched nerve in my neck I thought I’d share about our effort to begin dialoging with our students about source types in databases.

Bad posture will catch up to you! Take care of your posture, people!

The Problem: Database interfaces are, seemingly, designed for digital immigrants, but our students are digital natives…

When a 14 or 15 year old human searches a library database they typically see something that looks like this…

As a digital immigrant who started life in an analog world and even worked in a library with a bonafide “Reference Room” I have a pretty good idea about the kind of content I’ll get if I click on the Reference, Magazine, Website, or Academic Journals links above. The reality for my 14 and 15 year old frosh and sophomores trying to search more varied databases for the first time is that most of them have never seen, touched, or used a print reference source; virtually none of them have seen, touched, or used an academic journal; and shockingly few of them have seen, touched, or used magazines or newspapers!!! #Gasp #EyesBulgingEmoji #IFeelSoOld

I can wring my hands and clutch my pearls, but that doesn’t go very far in helping my students know what source type link to choose if they want to find specific kinds of information so we decided to try to give our students some basic experiences and knowledge that they all have in common that we can reference as we’re doing more specific research lessons when we see them for project sessions. Thus was born, the Museum of Not-Digital Sources. It was a limited time engagement exhibit presented by the Mid-Pacific Library and all of our frosh and sophomores came through for 40-60 minutes with their English classes.

We fired up Canva and built display cards analogous to informational plaques you might see in a real museum. We use Gale databases heavily so we decided to base most of the language and terminology they might see on the language and terminology typically found in Gale.

Much of the experience hinged on students coming to a broad understanding about the kinds of sources available to them in databases, the characteristics of each type of source, and to think about how they might use types of sources to address varying information needs.

This is a depiction of information SOMEONE in AISL shared with me on the traditional publishing cycle, but I cannot remember who. If it was you, please let me know so I can properly cite this content. #BadLibrarianship

As it turned out, I was away from campus during the week when our museum was up and running so my library partner, Nicole, saw all of the classes. Here’s slideshow of the museum experience as it looked for students.

Of course, no field trip to a museum would be complete without an activity to complete as you make your way through the museum so students completed a scavenger hunt as they went through the museum.

The museum visit wrapped up with students completing a Google Form where they were asked to apply some of what they had learned from the visit.

Click on the image above to view the full Google Form.
Student feedback was quite positive (and they LOVE Mrs. Goff!!!) 😍

Our museum wasn’t the end of our discussion on sources types by any stretch of the imagination. It was just a way for us to get all of our younger high schoolers on the same page with some common knowledge and experiences that we hope to build on going forward.

How are you scaffolding knowledge about source types with your students? We’d love to see what you’re doing!

PS–If you’re considering weeding your reference collection, you might consider keeping a few copies of different types of sources. It’s always nice to have artifacts to use with students!

It might be time to put stuff away, huh? 🤣🤣🤣

Teaching an old dog…change is always good…stepping out of my comfort zone…or

Have you restarted your device recently?

In early June of 2022, I accepted a position as Director of Libraries and Archives at a world-renowned arts boarding school and summer camp.  It was a big upset to the apple cart for my family and me.  I didn’t like change much and was afraid that the change would be more than this old lady librarian could take.  

I spent the first 15 years of my professional life as a full-time performing opera singer. I have a doctorate in Voice and Opera and currently work as an Archivist. I love the location, and the facilities are beautiful and well-funded.

So, I jumped into the deep end! I was scared.  What if this is not the “right fit”? What if I’m too old to change?

This is what I’ve learned so far:

Change is okay!  It’s a wonderful opportunity to repackage things that haven’t worked well in the past and reestablish your “brand”. It allowed me to view faculty, staff and students, campers, and the community with new eyes, and they can do the same with me.  Twelve years in one place, and I think I was stale. I saw people as statues and created silos with different personality types.  I felt that I was no longer taken seriously, and my frustration appeared as indifference.     

I was able to think long and hard about what was important to my new community. I have a variety of stakeholders: campers as young as 8 to veteran staff — many of whom have been here for more than 30 years.  

Establishing my “brand”. 

I immediately went to the Provost (head of Education) and asked:

  • “Do you want rigorous research as part of your curriculum”?  And, if no is the answer, no is fine.
  • “What would a “portrait of an Interlochen graduate” look like to you”?  Is information literacy an important part of the portrait?  Are you willing to stand behind me in my efforts?
  • Will you support my efforts to work with each faculty member to achieve these goals?
  • I know all about the “artistic personality” Will you support me in some “necessary conversations?”

Establishing my boundaries, and letting the administration know what my priorities were has paid off in countless ways. More on that in another post…

Supporting my staff.

I’m managing a staff of ten now…I’ve not done that in years; even then, it was with college students.  Here’s what I’m learning:

  • You need a mission statement and collection policies we can all point to when needed.
  • Boundaries are essential – please don’t talk badly about each other to me (unless there is a serious problem)
  • This is not 1st grade – do your best to work out your problems yourselves (use your words 🙂).
  • Laugh  – a lot! 
  • Food always helps 
  • Be your staff’s advocate, and make sure they know that.

Access is important in the Library. 

  • Thousands of old books no longer supported current curricular needs. Crowded shelves with old books make the new ones hard to find.
    • When your staff spends more time filling ILL requests for other libraries than working on requests from students, faculty, and staff – you’ve got a problem. WEED. Ruthlessly.  
  • A poorly maintained catalog makes things almost impossible to find.
  • A radical welcome. A beautiful space, which like the collection and the catalog needed help to make it more accessible and supportive of student work.

I think the best part of the change for me has been the opportunity to “restart”.  I’ve always envied my phone and computers in that we could just push a button, and a fresh beginning would often clear out the nagging little problems. Here, I am able to do just that, and the results (for me personally) have been remarkable. Here’s to change!  

One of this year’s other changes is that I will miss seeing you all in Sante Fe. I look forward to hearing all about it. 



Book Bonanza

I have been running bookfairs, with books provided by local independent bookstores, for over twenty years. After listening to an episode of Amy Hermon’s School Librarians United podcast about inclusive libraries, I started thinking more about the equity issues of traditional bookfairs. Wanting to try something different, I explored other options, and of course posted a query on the AISL listserv. Others had been looking into alternatives as well, and after assessing various forms of book swaps and the like, I settled on Claire Hazzard’s Book Bonanza as the most equitable since it didn’t require students to bring in books for a one-to-one swap.

I started out with a request sent through our Communications Department and our Parents’ Association for donations of books in good shape that would appeal to students in grades 5, 6, 7, or 8. My plan was to divide the number of donated books by the number of students in the middle school, to determine how many books each student could choose. This being my first Bonanza, I could only guess at time frames and volunteers needed, so I used my Bookfair timeline. I reserved a large room for two and a half days (the half for set up and the two days for the Bonanza), and spread the word through my usual channels.

And pretty much nothing happened.

While several parents expressed interest in volunteering, by about two weeks before the event, I’d received fewer than fifteen donated books. So I consulted colleagues the Parents’ Association about what I was doing wrong. We finally decided that I hadn’t allowed enough time for donations (with a bookfair, that isn’t an issue), and the wording about donations was too specific. So I postponed the event from mid-October to mid-January, simplified the donation request, and brainstormed other ways to increase donations. Deciding I needed to increase awareness about the Bonanza, I took the following steps.

  1. Increased communication to the wider Overlake community, including parents, Upper School students, and faculty/staff.
  2. Turned the donation request into a competition between our two in-house teams, Green and Gold, with one point per book, and a goal of 500 books. (We have Green/Gold competitions in library activities, ASB-designed activities, Field Day, and more throughout the year, with one team coming out on top at the end.)
  3. Created a “thermometer” to show the progress of each side, and set it up in the library foyer along with boxes enthusiastically decorated by the 5th grade. I toted the thermometer to weekly MS announcements to display the totals and keep up interest.
  • Wrote a skit to film and screen at Middle School announcements. I recruited student actors, and the Communications Department did the filming and editing, with my input.
  • Created a series of six promotional flyers, changing them out every couple of weeks. I looked for phobias I could possibly connect to the event/books/etc., and used those as a basis for suggesting donations. Here is the first one:

Other phobias I used were ataxophobia (fear of untidiness), abibliophobia (fear of having nothing to read), cleithrophobia (fear of being trapped), scholeciphobia (fear of [book]worms), prasinophobia (fear of the color green), and aurophobia (fear of gold).

I stored donations in the library. With help from colleagues, I sorted them into genres and removed any that were too high-school/adult, or were in poor shape/too out of date. Despite all the promotions, books were slow to come in, and large collections from a few people (76 books, 82 books, 124 books, etc.) accounted for the majority of titles. Many other donations included novels read in class, so I had multiple copies of those. But after several weeks of announcements and a few more large donations, we hit our goal and beyond, with over 600 books!

For day one, we boxed the books up by genre and hauled them over to the large room I’d reserved in our Campus Center. With fewer books than a bookfair, I’d thought that two of us could manage this on our own, and with wheeled carts, we did. It was a slog, though! As a late-in-the-game scheduling conflict necessitated moving the books to a small library classroom for day two, we recruited  our wonderful Maintenance personnel to help out.

On day one, I set out a third of the books, sorted into genres and labeled, and held back the rest so that the first few classes wouldn’t snag all of the best ones. Working with the teachers, I had scheduled all of the English classes to visit for part of a block. (I think I should have sent more reminders to faculty, though—I did have to go to some classrooms to remind them about the event). The kids had a mixed reaction to the books; many didn’t find anything they wanted at all, but in some classes, everyone found more than enough—and the difference in enthusiasm between the 5th grade and the 8th grade will surprise no one! For students wanting only one or no books, I allowed them to “give” their choice(s) to a friend, and that worked well.

By the end of the Bonanza, I had a large number of books left over; several scheduled classes never made it in, due to teacher absences, a fire drill, etc., and many students choose no books. I planned to offer the remaining titles to anyone who wanted them after the last class. Also, I planned to set out any leftover books in the library for a week, to cut down on the number of boxes I needed to take to Goodwill. To my surprise, however, at 2:40—the end of the last class—I was swarmed by kids who wanted books. By 2:45 they had taken ALL of the books! I had not realized that kids would want to take home whole boxfuls of books, and if I do this again, I will limit them to five until everyone who wanted more books had gotten some.

In the end, the Bonanza was a success, but I don’t plan to do it again soon. It was a lot more work than a traditional bookfair, and obviously I had no control over the mix of titles; the fantasy section was about 70% Warriors and Wings of Fire! I would still like to explore more equitable ways to run a bookfair, though, and I’m glad I gave this a try. I greatly appreciate the many colleagues who helped along the way, all of the students and parents who donated books, and all the AISL members who described their creative bookfair/book swap programs to me.