Amanda Gorman,Youth Poet Laureate, Ignites Interest in Poetry:

How Can Libraries Capitalize on this Renewed Interest in Poetry and Teach about the Role of a Poet Laureate

Poetry has always been elevated language and exulted expression used throughout history for celebratory, solemn, and sacred events. But for too many students poetry has become a textbook anthology studied only in the month of April losing much of its luster for our students and youth. Often it has been placed on a pedestal too high for our students to find it relevant to their lives.

Amanda Gorman in her bolt of yellow has sent shock waves around our nation and beyond for her poise and powerful command of language demonstrated at our nation’s Inauguration. Her arrangement of words, turn of a phrase and internal rhyme was cleverly crafted, and yet, incredibly clear to all types of reader-viewers; a difficult balance to achieve in poetry. Immediately following her performance the media landscape went wild with learning more about her. In our realm School Library Journal posted the following article “Youngest Inaugural Poet in History Impresses. Lesson Plans Available for Amanda Gorman’s ‘The Hill We Climb’”. They also went on to report her upcoming publications are already in the #1 and #2 bestseller positions on Amazon. My own introduction to Amanda Gorman was this past spring during the early days of shelter-in-place because of the pandemic. I saw her performance of “The Miracle of Morning” filmed in the LA Public Library. It was a balm and a pinpoint of light during at a time the world needed it.

Not only is poetry reserved for our highest ceremonies of our government it is reaching the highest levels of our popular culture and sports entertainment venues too as Amanda Gorman was asked to recite a poem at  Super Bowl LV. This is the first time a poet has been asked to perform in the Super Bowl. Poets everywhere are sounding their “barbaric yawps to the world.” I hope this pattern of poetry performance pervades more of our everyday lives with the opportunity for many diverse poet voices to be heard. I think our roles in libraries can celebrate and support poetry as we have always been linked with the poet laureate position.

While many of our library programs do promote and support poetry and poets in April I would like to suggest we capitalize on this renewed interest in poetry now; especially with poetic models like Amanda Gorman. Earlier this year our library staff had already decided to reach out for a visiting poet this year as a writer visit. While Amanda Gorman was actually at the top of the list, but not feasible for us we learn more about the National Youth Poet Laureate program from which she arose. This is a great resource to find more young, energetic, and inspiring poets our students would admire. Each year a youth poet laureate is chosen through a national competition from four regions of the country. While there is one final youth poet chosen there is an anthology compiled of the poets that entered. This is a great place to find fresh young voices that can be examples for our teenage students. Our library assistant contacted the organization to learn about how to invite or host one of these poets in our school. She learned that they will try to connect you with one of the poets that is available for a virtual reading and workshop. The National Youth Poet Laureate program is an initiative originating from Urban Word, a youth literary arts program based in New York. Currently, they have free online workshops for students aged 13-19 and host virtual open mic poetry readings. Much of this reminded me that we can connect these resources with our language arts teachers and our students. We can also inform them of the role poet laureates play throughout our society.

Additionally, research if your state and city has a poet laureate. In the state of Florida, Peter Meinke is our State Poet Laureate. He lives in my city of residence, so I am very familiar with his poems. Students can relate to his imagery because it comes from our natural surroundings. They also see the stature poets play to local municipalities and ceremonies in the role of a poet laureate. I am also lucky that my city, St. Petersburg, Florida has a City Poet Laureate, Helen Pruitt Wallace. Touching base with local poet laureates is another way to connect our students to poetry because they have a model that shows them how their world might be reflected back to them. These poets can show them that poetry is not only personal, but can be communal in how our words shape our shared experiences. Additionally, you may be able to host more than one poet in a year if they are available locally.

Finally, do not forget that at our highest echelon of the library world, The Library of Congress,our national librarian, currently Carla Hayden oversees our National Poet Laureate program. The role was originally called “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress” from 1937 to 1986 and the poet chosen treated the role more like a reference librarian role advising the Librarian of Congress about poetry collection development. If you look through the history of this role you will see many notable poets served this role including Robert Frost. Then in 1986 by an act of Congress the name was changed to “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.” Today our poet laureates act more like ambassadors of poetry developing special projects, composing and performing poetry at special events and reaching out to the community to share the power of poetry.


 It is a great time to revisit The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature: Poet Laureate website for rich resources. Our current Poet Laureate is Joy Harjo, she is the first Native American poet to serve. On the left hand side of the page there are links to other great poetry resources. The Poet Laureate Projects page houses the more recents projects these poets are sharing with the nation. Currently Harjo’s project is a media rich mapping of Native American poets called “ Living Nations, Living Words”. I see a great intersection between social studies and poetry with this current exhibit. There are seven other projects that are great sources to share with your English teachers. Another reminder is that the Library of Congress also has a National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature which is currently writer, Jason Reynolds. Make sure to follow the blog and podcast “From the Catbird Seat: The official Poetry and Literature” of the Library of Congress to stay up-to-date with all their events and resources. In fact, to come full circle I found a great lesson plan for teaching Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural poem “ The Hill We Climb” by Peter Armenti. Not only does it have a video link and transcript of the poem, but it shares the other classical poets she derived her inspiration from. So this weekend I will be cheering her on along with my home team. Go books! Go Poets!

Talking politics with students

Public libraries are well-known for their role in promoting and facilitating civic engagement. But school libraries? Talking about civic engagement can lead to talking about politics, and talking about politics with students can be tricky, even taboo in some schools. I’ve been thinking about the role of the school library in encouraging students to lead active, healthy, informed civic lives. As school librarians, what value can we add to our students’ civic and political identity development? What happens if we take on this work?

In the fall of 2018, I asked a group of seniors to consider root causes for low youth turnout in the 2014 midterm elections. They resoundingly gave answers like “we don’t know about elections,” “our parents don’t talk to us about this,” and “we wish the school would teach us about politics.” While our students all take US History and US Government, those courses aren’t necessarily designed to teach the kind of political identity development and participation that informed elections require. These kids weren’t getting what they needed.

Subsequently, a few politically conscientious students asked me to help them make sense of the 2018 midterm election. They were going to vote for the first time, but they didn’t know where to begin. I planned three informational sessions in the library called Students Vote! We covered voter registration and rights, state ballot measures, the importance of the youth vote. To my surprise, it was a hit! The students asked me if we could keep going with this type of programming, and what could I say? Yes, of course! Let’s keep going!

We formed a leadership committee. They called the effort Teaching Youth Political Engagement, or TYPE. The committee was made of two students who identified as liberal, one conservative, and one moderate. It’s worth mentioning that this part was (and is) a challenge. Our school has a moderate-to-left leaning student population and many of our more conservative students have expressed discomfort at being politically vocal. One of the goals of TYPE is to be inclusive, though we still don’t have much representation from the right side of the political spectrum. That, however, is another blog post altogether.

In 2019, we held more voter pre/registration efforts, had a few informal discussions on political current events, and chugged along happily doing what we could when we could. There was some student interest, but as it is with many new efforts, I wasn’t sure this one would ever take. Our students are over-scheduled to the extreme, and TYPE is very much an extra that is easily dropped from to-do lists when life gets busy. Then, the pandemic hit, everyone went home, and my TYPE leaders graduated. I was pretty sure TYPE was done for. No one has the time or energy for something extra anymore, right? Still, in a moment of righteous optimism, I put out a call for new leadership in June of this year, and suddenly we were up and running again. Much to my surprise, delight, and mild nervous anxiety, six younger students raised their hands to lead TYPE into the 2020 election season.

What qualifies me to do this work? Good question. Back to school librarianship. In many ways, I feel the essence of my professional existence is to help people parse information. Politics is no different than any other topic when it comes to this. I don’t express my opinion, and I’m lucky not to have had anything too contentious come up. The format of our sessions is “here are the facts” followed by “what do you think about those facts?” and “how do these facts impact your life and what you care about or do?” Librarianship puts me on very firm ground when it comes to facts, and that helps because the students already know that about me. They know I care about sources and citing them. They know I don’t mess around with information.

Our discussions intersect with so many other areas of school librarianship. I really didn’t plan for that, but it turns out to be true every time. Each political discussion we have includes a nod to media literacy, news literacy, and information literacy topics. We talk about verifying information that circulates on social media in the context of images from protests, rallies, and riots. We talk about vetting news sources, reading news from multiple sources, and the consequences of irresponsible news consumption. We talk about information production and sharing. We talk about unpacking media messages and resolving contradictions. We talk about free speech and censorship, what it is and what it isn’t. In fact, this is maybe one of the most school librarian-y things that I do!

So how does it work? The leadership team decides what topic feels most pressing, we set a date to invite the student body to a discussion session, and then they collaborate to research and create a short presentation with discussion questions. The goal is to give some background information on topics students care about and that are not necessarily covered anywhere in the curriculum, and then to open the forum for discussion. We invite everyone, and usually somewhere between sixteen and twenty students show up— after school on a Friday— for yet another zoom meeting. I call that a raging success.

I begin each session by reviewing our community norms, the leadership team gives their brief presentation, and then we discuss. The meeting lasts an hour. We have some regulars that always show up, and we have new faces each time. Sometimes students talk about what happens in their classrooms or in their homes when it comes to political discussions. Sometimes the discussions are emotional. I frequently don’t have answers to all their questions, or their questions are ones that have no clear answers, but I try to follow up the best I can.

TYPE is definitely one of my favorite things. None of it is attached to a grade or a class or a research project, yet these kiddos show up, time after time, looking for space to develop their political and civic identities. They show up on a Friday after school to talk about the news they consume and the research they do on their own, to compare notes, to compare source material. I think school libraries are great spaces for this work. The public libraries of my youth certainly were. I’m glad my school library is growing its reputation as one of those spaces, and most of all, I’m so grateful that school librarianship provides a trusted and trustworthy context for this work .

Do you talk politics with your students, or promote civic engagement? I’d love to hear what you’re doing!






News databases: Diversity without equity or inclusion

The Problem

Back in September, 2020, I sent out a call for help across AISL and other school librarian-oriented lists in hopes of finding databases that provide “diverse, inclusive, and equitable access to perspectives mirroring the composition of our country in magazines, historical newspapers, and contemporary news.” Generally, database companies sell “core” collections that are positioned as “high quality sources,” comprised almost entirely of white-perspective news outlets. Then they up-sell from a menu of discrete “ethnic” packages to provide “alternate perspectives.” Students deserve better.

Thank you to the many folks who responded hoping to hear of a good database in which to invest. Sadly, the answer is…so far I’ve found no way to buy this unicorn of the database world. Ultimately, I started doing my own diversity audit of our databases and others on the market to try to better articulate the nature of the problem.

I am currently only part way through this process. First semester ended up (happily) being much more crowded with instruction than I had anticipated. Even the terminology I use to think about this set of issues is still in crude form. Here is an update on what I have learned so far, however. To date I have focused on US news, historical and contemporary, and have only been able to compare offerings from two companies. This work has served — at the very least — as evidence that the problem is real and pressing.

Inclusion

In the fall, I had not yet fully realized the insidious nature of the juxtaposition we often attribute to databases: quality sources vs. alternative perspectives. I’ve been sitting with this formulation increasingly in the intervening months, and contemplating how our professional narrative around databases is driven by the marketing efforts of the database companies themselves. Consider the act of marketing a database as “providing researchers access to essential, often overlooked perspectives” that exists because the perspectives have been intentionally overlooked and isolated to sell us another database. So how much does the title list of an intentionally curated “ethnic” database (which mysteriously includes the LGBTQ+ collection, by the way) overlap with a product intended for high school?

ProQuest: Compared title lists for Research Library Prep and Ethnic Newswatch databases.

Please note that the “Overlap (%)” column conveys how many of the “specialized” Ethnic Newswatch titles also appear in “general” Research Library Prep. It does not convey the percentage of Research Library Prep that are/are not white perspective — those numbers would apparently be vanishingly small. 

An issue that struck me immediately as I got started was that scholarly journals comprise, by far, the largest mass of content in Ethnic Newswatch that is also available in Research Library Prep. These sources differ distinctly from newspapers or popular magazines; academic discourse may well be quite removed from the community it studies. That is, a large percentage of the authorial and editorial work is carried out within a realm of authority modeled on European institutions and constructed in our academic halls of privilege. To put it plainly: the perspectives appearing in the University of Pennsylvania Press’ Hispanic Review may not reflect community voices in the same way that those appearing in La Prensa Texas newspaper do. Both source types provide important points of view; their creation does not serve the same purpose.

Important as it is to have a diversity of voices in our scholarly works, they provide fundamentally different types of evidence from newspapers. Not to mention, they are not accessible to most K-12 students.

Gale: General OneFile, In Context: High School, OneFile: High School Edition, OneFile: News, In Context: US History

It has been challenging to figure out how to do a diversity audit, but since many database companies seem to start monetizing diversity with Black American newspapers, I decided to work from lists of existing and historical Black papers, including: National Newspaper Publishers Association Current Members and Princeton University Library – African-American Newspapers (1829-present). I used titles from these lists to search within Gale’s title lists, and found:

Checking Black American newspaper titles against Gale title lists yielded vanishingly few overlaps.

In the process of looking at the titles that are listed, the Atlanta Daily World and the Chicago Defender — historically both very important publications in the 20th Century United States — only had coverage from 2014-present, with exceptions from 2015/16 to the present. Meaning, in fact, they only have a handful of issues of each paper.

Once again, these databases provide news sources that almost entirely reside within historically white readerships.

Equity

In another sense, it does not functionally matter if a database includes sources from diverse sets of communities. When the algorithm privileges white perspective publications, searchers may never encounter other points of view.

Spot checks of ProQuest’s ranking of newspaper results in Research Library Prep confirmed that their methods for ranking heavily favored specific titles. Specifically, the New York Times dominated results, with a smattering of hits from the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, US Fed News Service and Targeted News Service

I ran a series of searches, noting how many unique titles were returned for each search, as well as those titles’ spreads across the top 100 results. In essence, how many pages would I need to scroll through to access more than a few titles? I searched for [ the ] — as a word that appears universally in English-language newspapers — and also for words like [ miami ], [ skagit ], and [governor] — each of which strongly suggest local news. In every case, the results looked something like the results for [ the ]:

  • Returned 81 unique titles
  • Top 100 results:
    • 95 results from the NYT
    • Other titles ranked: #37, 41, 71, 91, 95
    • Other publications in the top 100 results: Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Targeted News Service 

Progress!

However, there is good news. A Gale sales rep who is on one or more school library lists began wondering about this issue themselves, and carried out an independent audit that they then presented to their acquisitions department. As a result, when I last checked in this past November, Gale publisher relations personnel have identified:

  • Licensed periodicals where the issues aren’t current
    • Updates are in various states of progress 
  • Important periodicals with lapsed agreements 
    • Updates are in various states of progress  
  • Over 140 new periodicals from the following communities:  “African Americans, Arab Americans, Hispanic Americans/ Latinx, Native Americans, Ability Diverse, LGBTQ+, Women, & more”
    • Requests have been sent to publisher relations to pursue license agreements

Though not within the scope of my current work, Gale has also taken a look at their reference overviews and biographies and have made efforts to offer more coverage, as well.

The solution?

Does this issue interest you? Would you like to join me in fighting for single databases that are diverse, equitable, and inclusive? Whether you would like to audit a database you have, suggest a consistent method for auditing, share findings at your state conference, or talk to your database companies once we have a clear report — kindly reach out. If the idea is that we are better together, let’s unite and make a difference!

I am deeply grateful to my director, Jole Seroff, for being so invested in and supportive of this exploration, and colleague Sara Kelley-Mudie for helping me focus my thinking.

“Moment of opportunity”

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

Dear American members of AISL;

Happy Inauguration Day to you all! 

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

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

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

A Doctor Who Tardis???

I am not sure if this has happened in your neighborhood or not, but in the early days of Covid 19, when the gyms were closed I did a lot of walking the streets of my St. Petersburg neighborhood. As I walked different routes, I began to notice little houses popping up within a few miles radius. Inside their doors were books and I said to myself, “How nice of someone to put books out since the libraries were also closed at the time.”

I never took a book, but just looked and noticed that book positions changed.

This fact led me to believe that they were being used by some people for sure. This brought a smile to my masked face and my librarian heart.
Now we fast forward to a time when the gyms and libraries are open again…these little houses are still up and running, but one in particular has blossomed into this.

Complete with hand sanitizer! The Tampa Bay Times offered this retired TBT box, which has been scraped, cleaned, and painted.

I decided it was time to investigate and do some research about LittleFreeLibrary.org
and some of the information I found was so amazing I decided I needed to share it, just like good media specialists do everyday.The first one popped up only 11 years ago in Wisconsin, a tribute by Todd Bol to honor his late mother. Mr. Bol’s little unlocked box where neightbors could take and leave books was so popular, he teamed up with a local professor to establish the non-prodit Little Free Library.

Besides providing 24/7 access to books and encouraging a love of reading, did you know…

*There are Little Free Libraries on all seven continents…they just established the first one in Antarctica at the South Pole

I do not think I will complain about reshelfing my books again!

The South Pole Little Free Library was Russell Schnell’s 37th installation. His first one was built for his daughter’s home in 2013 in St. Louis. He has also created libraries for locations like Mount Fuji, Japan; an Aboriginal area in Warrnambool, Australia; and a First Peoples Cree reserve in Maskwacis, Alberta, Canada. His use of recycled materials whenever he can needs to be commended. His passion for these libraries was inspired by not having books of his own growing up.

*They can also be found in all 50 United States and 108 countries

This one, build for their Girl Scout Silver Award, can be found in La Grande, Oregon.

*They just launched the world’s 100,000th Little Free Library book-sharing box?

*They work with authors, publishers, and distributors that share their vision of inspiring readers and building community

*Their library models are weather-resistant, low maintenance, and are all built by Amish craftsmen in America

*Millions of books are exchanged annually

*3 out of 4 people report they’ve read a book they normally would not have read because of a Little Free Library

*73% of people say they’ve met more neighbors because of a Little Free Library

*92% of people say their neighborhood feels like a friendlier place because of a Little Free Library

*They are announcing a new initiative entitled Read in Color to distribute diverse books that provide perspectives on racism and celebrate BIPOC and LGBTQ voices

*They granted more than 1,000 little libraries through their impact Library Program, including 100 speciality libraries since many school and public libraries closed

*Little Free Library was honored to receive the 2020 World Literacy Award from the World Literacy Foundation

*They are a top-rated nonprofit by the Great Nonprofits organization and received Guidestar’s Platinum Seal of Transparency

* They offer deeply discounted books and giveaways for stewards and fans

*They have a shop with a variety of handcrafted library models and accessories

*They are a recipient of the Library of Congress Literacy Award, the National Book Foundation’s innovations in Reading Prize, Library Journal’s Movers and Shakers Award, the Women’s National Book Association’s Second Century Prize, and the Force for Positive Change Award

*Their blog is for Little Free Library Stewards and fans… You can visit it to share ideas, get advice and be inspired by Little Free Library experts posting on a broad range of literary topics.

In closing, I like to share this quote I found on their site. “There’s a growing body of research that shows when you focus on being kind to others, rather than doing things for yourself, you feel happier and more positive. Its’s like the kindness you put out into the world comes back to you!”

You can get involved by starting a Little Free Library of your own or support little libraries full of books to underserved communities.

I wish all of you a very happy, positive, and healthy new year ahead and may your kindness to others make this year the best one of your lives!

Staying Centered in Trying Times

Some of you may know that I’m a potter by avocation. I’ve been making pottery longer than I’ve done anything else in my life, including my 20+ years as a librarian. While I occasionally hand-build—my real passion is throwing on the wheel. There is something soothing and Zen-like about turning a lump of clay into functional pieces for everyday use. Throwing on the wheel requires me to be present with the clay and the wheel and the tools. No matter how much effort I put into throwing a pot, if I don’t center the clay to begin with, there’s little chance I’ll end up with a finished piece I want to keep. The act of being focused on what I’m doing has a restorative effect in and of itself on my well-being, and in these trying times, I find I need that now more than ever.

Librarian vs. Entropy

Every year at this time I’m happy to be back at school with students after Winter Break. This year, however, I’m back but our students and faculty aren’t. Even though we did have a long Winter Break, somehow I feel more drained and less rested than before it started. I’m sure the fact that it’s lonely without our students, who won’t return to campus until the first week in February, doesn’t help. So my return to a mostly empty campus amid the more contagious variant of COVID-19 and the violent insurgence at our nation’s Capitol and the aftermath has made it difficult to focus on projects generally reserved for those times when students aren’t on campus. I’ll be spending the next month completing behind-the-scenes work necessary for the smooth running of any K-12 library—weeding, checking digital resources for currency and accuracy, reviewing lesson plans, and developing new instructional material for research classes. Necessary yes, but restorative? I’m not so sure. From my point of view, a majority of our time and energy as librarians is spent trying to counteract the effects of entropy—the tendency of systems to devolve into randomness and disorder. Take your eye off any part of your library for too long and things quickly fall apart.

LibGuides
The first thing I tackled was checking and updating my guides with new information (when relevant). I just finished working with two of our APUSH classes on their long form research paper, so that guide is in good shape for the next classes I’ll work with during the remaining weeks of our Winter term. We have a new Black American Studies class so I’ve been working to add as many resources as possible to a new LibGuide to support the curriculum. Once I’ve finished that, I’ll check for broken links. Broken links can undermine a user’s confidence in the usefulness of your guides, so every few months I run a report through the Link Checker function. There are frequently a large percentage of false positives, but I don’t mind checking each link as it gives me a chance to review it for relevancy to the guide it’s on. This can be a time-consuming task so this is a good time to work through them. The most recent report had roughly100 broken links, the majority of those checked so far being false positives, so the guides will be in good shape once they’ve all been resolved.

Weeding

Weeding is one of my least favorite tasks: it’s just so final. Before I started work on our reference collection, I reviewed the CREW manual from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission.

This manual was clearly written by working professionals and is full of helpful and down-to-earth advice to help you organize your thoughts and prioritize your goals for weeding. Your print reference collection may be similar to ours—taking up prime shelf space yet rarely, if ever, used. A decision was made to interfile these titles with the circulating collection, making this the ideal time to weed. Ultimately I used the following criteria as a guideline and eventually found I was able to get into the “weeding zone” where I wasn’t so stressed about what I was getting rid of, but instead focused on what remained and the value it added to our collection:
1. Age and condition of book
2. Is it relevant to the curriculum or our community?
3. Is it unique in any way?
4. Does it add to the diversity of the circulating collection?
5. Do we have other books on this topic/ subject area?
6. Do we have databases that provide tertiary/ reference information similar to this title?

This ultimately meant that a number of our general and subject-specific encyclopedias were removed from the collection and will find new homes if the information isn’t currently inaccurate (think science) or dated (think current history topics and the language of older publications). Since many of our faculty only allow the use of tertiary sources for background information when writing research papers and much of the general information provided in these sources can be found freely online or in our databases, these titles were easy to cull. You know when your Oxford Companion to (insert random topic here) was published 30 years ago but has an unbroken spine, it’s time for it to go. We are, however, going to keep a small ready reference collection at the front desk, although that’s more for our benefit than our students who rarely, if ever, consult handbooks, dictionaries, and almanacs in print.

In the next week, I will be turning my attention to our Professional Development section, one area I am looking forward to weeding and possibly organizing by topic in more of a bookstore format. I would really like to move the collection to an area with a bit of privacy and a comfy chair where faculty could put their feet up, relax, and browse a while. We’ll see how the weeding goes first, though.

Final Thoughts

Although I’m not sure I experience the same sense of Zen when working on these tasks that I experience when throwing on the wheel, I do feel that same sense of calm when I look at a well-organized shelf or visually pleasing LibGuide—the feeling of accomplishment for a job well-done. These are a few of the things that I hold onto in turbulent times and hope they’ll make a difference in some small way.

Musings, PD Courses, and Applying to Present at Conferences

Musings

What a sad, frightening, and demoralizing few weeks we have experienced. Our democratic process was challenged by insurrection and intimidation. Members of Congress questioned valid ballot verification, and insurgents terrorized the House and Senate. Conversely, we also witnessed members of both the democratic and republican parties unite in condemning the insurrection and confirming Biden’s victory. Many members in the House and Senate soundly condemned the malcontents that stormed the capital. Media literacy lessons are extremely important now, so we can help students make sense of this turmoil. Thank you, David for sharing Media Literacy lesson ideas last week.

Professional Development

There are so many wonderful Professional Development opportunities available to help us update our curriculum. Last summer, I participated in a three-week course through KQED/PBS that focused on new techniques for teaching some areas of media literacy, such as: lateral reading for resource evaluation, reliability, bias, media production, evaluating images, and more. Evaluating data and images with Javin West was probably my favorite section of the course. KQED offers Media Literacy PD courses throughout the year. Their instruction focuses on helping you create curriculum.

Professional Development courses can help us stay current, and abreast of the latest education and library research and techniques.

Conference Applications

We can share our knowledge we glean from Professional Development by providing PD for others through speaking at conferences and writing articles.

This year, I was on the ALA summer conference committee as a conference program reviewer. I graded conference applications using a reviewer’s rubric. There are a few suggestions/observations I would like to share with you.

  1. Have someone check your work.
    1. Members of the publication committee are available to help you proof and critique your application.
  2. Check you work for grammar, punctuation, and spelling mistakes.
    1. These types of mistakes will affect your grading on the reviewer’s report.
  3. Read the directions for each section “carefully,” before filling in the required information.
    1. For instance: Writing about how great your presentation content is doesn’t address how your presentation will benefit others. 
    2. Or, If you have chosen curriculum as a category, focus on how your idea will fit in the school or library curriculum. Provide examples of lesson plans, or curriculum collaboration.
  4. List your qualifications to present with the topic in mind.
    1. If you are presenting on distance learning list your experiences/expertise with distance learning.
      1. Example: I have been teaching online classes since March 2020 and have been attending courses through Explo Elevate and KQED on distance learning teaching techniques and strategies.
  5. Include specific examples about how you will interact with the audience
    1. Conferences are looking for presentations that will be engaging, and interactive.
      1. Plan an activity that supports the presentation concept.
      2. Mention current tools and techniques.
        1. Provide time to let the audience experience these current items.
  6. Is your proposal creative and innovative?
    1. You are unique, and your presentation should reflect how you uniquely apply the topic in your classroom curriculum, PD for teachers, etc.
    2. Do a little research before you apply to present.
      1. Look at what other schools are doing.
      2. List how your approach is unique and innovative.

Don’t hesitate to contact publication committee members. We want to help you with your writing and presentations.

The Publications Committee Members

Debbie Abilock dabilock@gmail.com

Tasha Bergson-Michelson tbergsonmichelson@castilleja.org

Sarah Davis Sarah.Davis@viewpoint.org

Christina Karvounis KarvounisC@Bolles.org

Cathy Leverkus cathyl@thewillows.org

Alyssa Mandel amandel@oda.edu

on January 6, 2021…

Under different circumstances, I would be opening my first post of 2021 by offering a platitude wishing everyone a Happy New Year accompanied by a humorous-to-me gif, but given the events that unfolded in Washington, D.C. today, that just isn’t what I’m feeling at the moment. In fact, I’m not sure what to feel in this moment beyond feeling rather heartbroken for the where we find ourselves.

When it comes to my work, I tend to be someone who is averse to risk. I don’t perform well in “brainstorming sessions” because I so dislike/fear sharing thoughts and ideas that aren’t well formed that I spend all my energy managing my anxiety rather than participating in the process. The thing is that when it comes to things like the US Capitol Building being stormed by a mob of protestors seemingly based largely on misinformation and disinformation, the teachers, administrators, and students with whom we work are going to expect librarians to say SOMETHING. What I’m struggling with this afternoon is what this means for my work tomorrow and in the days, weeks, and months to come.

Be warned… This is kind of a mess… It is, what it is…

On Breaking News…

I’m thinking that this might be a good time to talk with teachers and students about how to contextualize “breaking news.” This came to mind. It’s old, but holds up very well…

On Quality Journalism…

I need to stop being so afraid to explicitly tell kids, “I generally give more weight to mainstream media sources. Here is why I do that…” This entire module on quality journalism is good, but I sometimes have just used sections 1-6 as a way to contextualize source evaluation lessons. I will be talking about this a LOT more.

On “Motivated Reasoning”…

I will be labeling “motivated reasoning” more explicitly. Graphic via the News Literacy Project. Click here for more on motivated reasoning via Wikipedia

On Types of Misinformation…

We need to talk about the different types of misinformation that kids are likely to encounter.

Click here for more information on the 5 Types of Misinformation via the News Literacy Project

On Emotional Health…

Talking about the news of the day is depressing or anxiety inducing for some–It is for me… I tend to be a “defensive-pessimist.” Basically, my kind of flippant personal motto since I was kid has always kind of been, “Hope for the best, but expect the worst.” That is, when I took tests in my HS chemistry class I always left the room hoping for the best, but expecting the worst. I recently came across this piece on The Stockdale Paradox that actually helped me understand why it seemed to work for me. Maybe it will speak to one of you…

A Final Thought for Now…

Our school President, shared a lengthy message with our faculty today and I read it in a moment when i was struggling to deal with what I was seeing. This excerpt from his longer message spoke to me and maybe it’ll speak to you.

I think I found my theme for the coming year, “Character will prevail…”

Hoping you are all safe and doing as well as might be expected. Wishing you all the very best, friends.

Survey and Future Planning for AISL

Hindsight is indeed finally 2020. Happy 2021! (I didn’t even make it to 10pm but did watch Sweet Home Alabama in pajamas with my mom and the dog. Please confirm that I’m not the only person who spent the last 20 years thinking Matthew McConoughey was the Southern husband.)

Meet Wolfgang. He loves laps.

Many members have already seen the email on the 1st about the board’s strategic planning survey. Basically:

Every five years, the board asks members to complete a survey that will guide us in our planning for the future. This survey is organized around the categories of demographics, position information, professional development, and ideas for the future. We will be sharing aggregated statistics related to questions about variances in librarian roles and position expectations to the listserv this spring, and we are going to review your experiences with past professional development and hopes for the future so AISL can continue to be a valuable resource for members.

Every September when renewals are due, the board declares the $30 membership fee the best professional deal around, and this year’s half day virtual conference will be an included member benefit as a thank you for your support and dedication to the profession during the challenges of 2020. If I needed a reminder that librarians are phenomenal, I sent the survey email at 5pm on Friday, New Year’s Day, and by Monday morning we already had over 60 responses! Can I say holiday weekend? Thank you to those who have already provided their feedback, and for those who haven’t yet done so, it can be found through February 1st on the AISL website once you’ve logged in with your account.

The remainder of this post will relate to three specific survey questions I’ve been mulling over throughout the design process.

Most Helpful Professional Development this Year

The “right book at the right time for the right child” cliché corresponds perfectly to my thoughts about this year’s professional development. My most fun professional development was certainly the AISL Zoom sessions. AISL members are my friends and my global support network. I don’t think I’ve yet asked a question that didn’t get a thoughtful response. But that doesn’t feel like it answers the question the survey asked about what was most helpful this year. I spent a lot of time listening to webinars for administrators, specifically the ones through the virtual school One Schoolhouse. Throughout my career, I’ve been part of multiple conversations where librarians lament that administrators don’t understand (*best case) or appreciate (*worst case) the role of the library. This groups discussion topics included admissions, standardized testing, accreditation requirements, finances, safety protocols, scope of the school’s reach, parent communication, mission alignment, and yes, also curriculum. Librarians balance a lot within our libraries, but we generally don’t have to think through all the details of running a school. None of the presenters seemed to have come to administration through the path of librarianship. As they, like us, balanced their “new normal,” there were plenty of logistical hurdles, and libraries, specifically well-run libraries, weren’t on the top of their minds. I’ll continue to think about advocacy, as I don’t have answers yet, but I found it incredibly helpful to hear directly from administrators about what’s on their minds when they talk to each other. This isn’t an opportunity I would have had – or sought out – in other years, but it’s one that was impactful.

Identify Your Strengths as a Leader

As president of this organization, perhaps I should feel qualified to quickly check some of the boxes where I self identify as a leader. This is simply asking for a self assessment. No one is going to question the check marks. Heck, only the AISL board will even see the results! Yet my self identification falls more to the girl hugging a dog in the photo and less towards my linkedin profile. Is this related to age? Gender? The way I was raised? This is another paragraph ending without definitive answers, but if you’re someone who experienced the same hesitation, you’re not alone.

Is there an AISL member you admire?

Yes! Too many to name in the survey and too many to name here. For members who have attended conferences, the friendships made during those days together are what cemented AISL’s value. And this is a year that lets us connect more frequently and easily, but only mediated by computer screens. It’s not the same.

Lunch at the Key School in Maryland, 2013

Last week, I read The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow about the effects of randomness on our lives. (Case in point: an alum brought a friend to an Academic Team meet where she was reading a book with a cool cover. Based on that cover, I read Subliminal and wanted to read Mlodinow’s other work. I mentioned it to my dad over the holidays, and he happened to have a copy given to him by my father in law back in 2008. Random…) Which is to say that I ended up as a librarian in Florida in 2007, never imagining I would settle in the state. I was introduced that fall to our regional BAAIS group and CD McLean. At the time, CD was a board member of AISL and encouraged all the Tampa Bay Librarians to join the group. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t until 2013. That’s the year the conference was being held in my hometown of Baltimore, the same week as my college reunion, giving me almost a week to hang out with my parents and college friends. I still remember calling CD and asking why I should pay for a hotel when I could borrow a car and drive 45 minutes into the city each day. Yet from that first bus ride and breakfast at St. Paul’s school, it was obvious what I had been missing without AISL. CD encouraged me to get more involved, and she’s always taken the time to problem solve with me when I’m stressed at work. Among many other librarians, thank you CD.

If you filled out the survey and have a librarian you admire, I’d encourage you to reach out directly and let them know. This has been a tough year. It can feel a bit vulnerable, but can you think of a time when those affirmations wouldn’t have been appreciated in your own life? Little actions, random though they might seem, can make a difference.

Team AISL Tampa Bay Area. 2015

I wish everyone a smooth semester two no matter how you’re returning. I’ve been talking throughout the fall with some of the department chairs about how we don’t want to be told to care less, even when we’re complaining and stressed. We’re in this profession because we care about our students, and they are experiencing this pandemic in a way that is likely much more distinctive to their schooling experience than it is to ours. How can we care strategically about our students, our libraries and ourselves? The answer to that is unique to each of us, and I hope it’s something you can find as we begin 2021.

Join the Mask Maker Movement

I had the good fortune to have a mother who was an excellent seamstress. She made most of the clothes my sister and I wore through middle school, back in the dark ages when girls were forbidden to wear pants to school (can you imagine!) and the length of your skirt was closely monitored. Lucky for me, my mom patiently taught me everything she knew about sewing. By the time I was in high school, dress codes eventually relaxed and I was soon making the obligatory dirndl skirt in Home Ec, but on my own time I also made mini skirts and granny gowns—quite the dichotomy—but that was the 70s for you. Exploring the internet in search of the perfect mask, I was thrilled to discover an amazing array of DIY mask tutorials from a wide array of sewists—including Marcy Harriell of Broadway fame who starred in In the Heights and Rent. Her tutorial on 3D masks is the uplifting video you didn’t know you needed.

Masks Required

My school requires everyone to wear masks all the time except when eating or in a dorm room (for students) or a private office (for faculty and staff). That means when it comes to masks, I’ve pretty much tried them all looking for a style that offers protection from COVID-19, doesn’t hinder my ability to breathe during normal activity, and allows others to understand me whether I’m teaching in front of a socially distanced classroom or helping a patron at the front desk. As our understanding of how the COVID-19 virus spreads has changed over time, I have found my requirements for my masks has changed with it. At the beginning of the year I felt fairly confident that sanitizing surfaces, washing my hands or using a hand-sanitizer religiously after touching any surface, and maintaining a social distance of six feet would keep me as safe as possible when we returned to on ground classes. I worked hard to keep my hands off my mask, remove it by the ear straps, and wash it as soon as I got home. I carried a couple spare masks and my biggest concern then was foggy glasses and a muffled voice.

Aerosol Transmission

Now that transmission of the virus through aerosols in closed spaces without adequate ventilation has been documented (see the recent editorial in The Lancet), I decided to see what I could do to improve or replace the masks I was using to protect myself from aerosol transmission. In the early months of mask wearing when we weren’t aware of this risk, I bought several brands trying to find the one that I could wear comfortably for a solid eight hours. Probably one of the biggest problems with trying out masks is that they understandably aren’t returnable—so I ultimately ended up buying quite a few that I never used and turned to sewing several different styles in my quest for the perfect fit: pleated, Olson, and 3D. I now wear all three and have found each has their positive points. And as with everything related to the pandemic, I try not to focus on the negative but look for solutions for the problem at hand.

Pleated Masks

For everyday wear, the pleated mask is my favorite: it’s comfortable, provides full coverage from the bridge of my nose to under my chin and most importantly, doesn’t slip as I talk, and can be sewn to include a filter pocket. A nose wire helps to secure the mask, but the real game changer is the addition of an inverted pleat at the top that makes foggy glasses a thing of the past. I came across this mask hack on UK artist Sophie Passmore’s YouTube channel and for those of you working with young children or others who need to lip read or see facial expressions, she has a tutorial for a fantastic 3D window mask. There are an unlimited number of mask tutorials on YouTube, you only have to search to find the one that suits your learning style. If you aren’t a sewist, there are also tutorials on sewing masks by hand, so don’t be deterred if you don’t have a sewing machine and are interested in creating your own.

Fit Over the Nose

Probably the most important thing I’m looking for is a secure fit of the mask around the bridge of my nose. I want a tight fit—the object being to block airborne particles. I find having an adjustable metal bar allows me to shape the mask to the contours of my face ensuring as snug a fit as possible. While I know this fit isn’t as secure as that of an N95 mask, I’m not working in a medical setting that requires an air-tight fit. Any flexible wire can be used, but I prefer to use aluminum nose wires that I purchase through Amazon. If you’re making your own mask, create a tube, insert the wire, then sew closed. I recommend using clips in place of pins to avoid making holes in your mask. You can also add nose wires to any masks you currently use as they have an adhesive back and will stick to your mask so you can get the fit you want.

Olson Masks

The Olson mask was designed by Clayton Skousen & Rose Hedgesand, clinicians at Unity Point Health, and donated masks of this style are frequently used by hospital personnel as a protective barrier over their N95 masks. I usually need to make some adjustment to get this style pattern to fit properly as it doesn’t have the extra fabric afforded by the pleated style to accommodate variations in individual faces. The Olson mask is comfortable once you get the fit right (I added a side tuck) and is much easier to insert filters into than the pleated style.

3D Masks

If you teach or do any amount of public speaking, then you’re probably familiar with the sensation of eating the fabric of your face mask while gasping for air so you can project your muffled voice. Just think of all the new teaching skills we’ve learned in 2020! I tried various silicone mask brackets and they were effective at keeping the mask out of my mouth, but I found they made my voice sound even more muffled. Enter the 3D mask. This mask reminds me of origami in that the dimension is created by folding and sewing the fabric. I like this mask especially for teaching and found it the best one for creating some space between my mask and my face. But, it still wasn’t great and it moved in and out with each breath I took. Enter the 3D mask hack by Sophie Passmore. She posted a video using cable ties to create a permanent 3D area (see the link to her YouTube channel above). You create a channel at the top and bottom of the front of the mask and insert the cable tie. The tension on the ties results in them bowing out and is created when you fold the top and bottom to make the mask. It sounds more complicated than it is – watch the tutorial and see for yourself!

Filti Face Mask Filter

I came across the Filti site while looking for an an effective filter material to use that offered the best protection against aerosol transmission. Tests by an engineering team at Washington University found Filti to be 85% effective at filtering 300-nanometer particles. In comparison, N95 filters are 95% effective. I use Filti for the filters in my face masks and also make disposable-type masks for quick trips out using it in place of material. Instead of tossing it after use, I quarantine the filters and masks for seven days in a paper bag and reuse. After several uses, I also sterilize them in the oven following the instructions on the Filti site. I haven’t thrown any away yet, but when I do, I’ll remove the ear cords and reuse.

Disclaimer: I am not recommending that you use Filti, just sharing my experience with the product.

Stay Safe and Healthy

So whether you are a member of the DIY mask maker movement, support one of the many DIY mask makers on Etsy, or have found your perfect fit from a commercially made mask, stay safe and healthy, and please share your experience with masks as we’re all in this together and it looks like we’ll be wearing them for quite some time.

Links to Information and Material for Face Masks

The Use of Batik for Face Masks
Original Olson Mask Pattern link
Hospital Approved Mask Patterns
Batik Fat Quarters on Etsy (I usually can get three masks from one fat quarter)
Video by Lorri Nunemaker (with Olson and pleated mask patterns plus a 25% off coupon for Filti Face Mask Products)