Using Beanstack to Foster a Culture of Reading

I’ve seen some queries about Beanstack come through the listserv recently, as well as calls for suggestions for building and sustaining a culture of reading, so I thought it might be helpful to share how my first year incorporating Beanstack into my programming has played out.

When I collected data for my annual report at the end of the last school year, I was disappointed to see just how much our circulation statistics had dropped. I wasn’t entirely surprised by this; a year spent teaching a new class took a lot of my time and attention away from my primary role as librarian. Still, the numbers were bleak. My reading program needed a shot of adrenaline.

Pulp Fiction, 1994, Miramax

I don’t recall the exact context, but I first heard of Beanstack when Courtney Lewis (the progenitor of so many great ideas) shared a pandemic-era memory through the listserv of students getting competitive while looking at publicized Beanstack statistics. Intrigued, I contacted a sales rep to learn more about how I could make the platform work for me. I liked the idea of a competitive element and public leaderboards. I also thought that Beanstack could replace the way our sixth-grade students track and share their progress as they complete their 20-book reading challenge, a long time collaboration between me and their English teacher. Beanstack would be expensive, but I was committed to prioritizing reading this year, so I found ways to cut other areas of my budget to make room for it.

Having learned what Beanstack could do, an idea for a year-long reading initiative began to take shape. I wanted to concentrate on roping in our upper school students, though middle school students and all faculty and staff would be invited to participate. To that end, I envisioned a series of reading challenges that might seem doable to busy high school students. I also liked the idea that each month would bring another chance to participate in a different way. I wanted readers to feel as though they could jump in and out of the program as their schedule and interest permitted. I thought about incentivizing participation through rewards. I considered offering rewards by class or advisory groups with the most participation but ultimately, I wanted to reward anyone who pushed themselves to participate, regardless of whether or not their peers were interested. I named this initiative “Year of the Reader” and began planning how to roll it out to my community.

SeptemberRead a Graphic Novel
OctoberRead a Featured Magazine Article
NovemberRead Yourself to Sleep
(for five nights in a row, phone on airplane mode)
DecemberListen to an Audiobook
JanuaryRead Traditional Literature
(mythology, folklore, fairytales, legends)
FebruaryRead a Memoir or Biography
MarchRead a Nonfiction Science Book
AprilRead a Poetry Collection
(or complete set of album lyrics)

First came the fun stuff. Designing a logo. Ordering swag (buttons and stickers). Planning the monthly challenges that would start off requiring less time and effort but then gradually grow more challenging. Creating digital badges for each challenge (Beanstack has several pre-made badges to choose from, but you can design and upload your own). I decided on eight monthly challenges beginning in September and ending in April.

Next came the pitch. This was the tricky part. How do you convince busy high school students that they should get excited about something that they don’t think they have time for? I requested some time at upper school assembly to introduce the Year of the Reader. The theme of the presentation was remembering what we love about reading. I first acknowledged the students who already had robust reading habits. To those students who weren’t willing to admit that they ever loved reading, I could at least get them to admit that we all love stories. Being read to. Watching movies and TV shows. Gossip and drama. Our ability to make up stories, share them with others, and believe in them together is what sets us apart as a species. It’s our human superpower. That was the big idea, followed by a sampling of the benefits that research tells us we get from reading for pleasure – academic, emotional, and physical.

My colleague, Kate Turnbull, the mother of a member of our senior class, had the brilliant idea of soliciting parents of the Class of 2024 for childhood pictures of their kids reading or being read to. Before revealing the first reading challenge, we introduced a game called “Guess the Reader,” putting up the pictures and seeing how long it took to identify the young seniors (this game would become a month feature at assembly each time we announced a new challenge). We dedicated the Year of the Reader to the Class of 2024, a graduation gift they didn’t ask for, and challenged them to lead the way. Kate and I were even able to convince the cheerleaders to close out the assembly with a special cheer about reading.

With that, the Year of the Reader began. The September challenge was to read a graphic novel, something we knew most kids would see as an easy win. To unlock the badge, students had to log in to Beanstack and answer three simple questions: What was the title? What was it about? What was your favorite thing about the book? (the questions changed depending on the challenge, but there were always three and always this simple). I frequently ran reports to see which students unlocked their badges and then posted their names on leaderboards that were broadcast on monitors across campus – the library, the dining hall, the gym, and so on. The leaderboards were updated frequently. When it felt like participation was flagging, I’d email updates to students to stoke competition. Although each individual on the leaderboard would receive the reward, ice cream for this first challenge, it was surprisingly effective to pit one class against another to drum up participation. Pointing out that the freshmen were walloping the seniors had the desired effect of bringing the Class of 2024 into the library to defend their collective honor. At the end of the month, we’d come back to upper school assembly to project the final leaderboards, congratulate the “winning” class, and announce the next month’s challenge.

Library displays were designed to support the monthly challenge. I invited English teachers to bring their classes in to browse displays and find something to satisfy the challenge. The books didn’t have to come from our library, but proximity goes a long way and it was great to see circulation boosts in sections of our library that don’t usually get a lot of traffic – the 500s, folklore, memoir, poetry. The challenges also directed people to library resources that are often forgotten or ignored, such as magazine articles in Flipster or audiobooks in Sora. I made it clear to upper school students that checking out books intended for middle school students was perfectly fine. The objective was to find something enjoyable to read that would work for their schedules. If that meant grabbing a volume of Scientists in the Field or revisiting Rick Riordan, have at it. Some students were happy to take that route. Others wanted to challenge themselves. There was no wrong way to participate. The point was to have fun with reading and to do it together.

The Year of the Reader is now coming to an end, and I’m pleased with the results. Between middle school, upper school, faculty, and staff, we had 294 participants. That number represents about 65% of our middle school students and 52% of our upper school students. 69%  of all participants completed more than one challenge and 35% completed half or more of the eight challenges. I was also thrilled to see that compared to this time last year, circulation saw a 65% increase. Harder to measure but just as satisfying, it was great to see students and teachers talking to each other about the reading challenges. Carving out time at monthly assemblies to celebrate the joy of reading increased our visibility. And watching groups of upper school students huddled around piles graphic novels, folklore collections, and poetry books as if they were kids again was probably the most rewarding part of my year.

Do you need Beanstack to make something like this work? Probably not. You could pull it off with Google Forms and a little gumption. But the Beanstack platform made things a lot easier for me. There are several report options that helped me keep track of participation throughout the year. I was surprised how many people were motivated by unlocking the digital badges throughout the year, especially teachers and staff. There is a social element within the platform that can be activated or turned off, allowing students to see what others are reading and find new recommendations. For our sixth graders, Beanstack made reading logs a lot less tedious.

Beanstack and the Year of the Reader helped me generate a lot of enthusiasm for reading this year. It was the shot of adrenaline we needed. Today I returned to the upper school assembly to share some of the data I’ve shared with you in this post. I thanked everyone for participating before the big reveal, which is that every year, of course, is the year of the reader. The name and logo may be retiring, but we need to take what we’ve learned from and loved about the different reading challenges and carry them with us into the future. I have the summer to think of how to maintain the momentum.

In the meantime, please share what is working for you! Erinn Salge hosted a Zoom meetup last month about creating a reading culture at our schools, and several librarians shared fantastic ideas. Join us next time and keep the suggestions coming!

Our First High School Book Fair

Every fall, when we do our big middle school book fair, my high school students tell me fondly of how much they loved the book fair and ask me why we don’t have one in the high school. The reason for that, of course, is that none of the big book fair companies offer a high school option and I was worried that working with an indie bookstore would require a lot more work on my end (let’s face it – Scholastic makes it pretty easy). When our on-campus bookstore decided it wasn’t going to purchase summer reading books for students, I decided it was the perfect time to try it out. My friend at our local indie was totally game, and it turned out she had just attended a bookseller conference session about how to do book fairs with schools! We did 3 days in the middle school at the beginning of the week then finished the week in the high school. My goal was to get students excited about books and reading before school ended in May and also have a convenient option for families to buy summer reading books.

Prep and set up was really easy. We made a list of titles that we knew students would like or listed genre-type things like “realistic fiction graphic novels,” “Karen McManus-style mysteries,” “romances like Caraval or The Selection.” Over a few days, we went back and forth with the store adding things to the list and changing up titles as needed, and we ended up with a list of 35-40 different titles for each division. I opted for a variety of titles with a few copies of each, rather than tons of copies of just a few books, to give our students lots of options. I also knew that we could easily order anything we ran out of and just deliver to students later. The bookstore ordered the books and set up a Square that we would use for checkouts during the fair. They also ordered some “treasures,” as Nicole so aptly described them a few weeks ago. I made a joke at one point about how we’d have fun pencils and bookmarks but nothing that smelled like chocolate, only for chocolate-scented erasers to show up – needless to say they were a hit. Once everything arrived, the bookstore rep brought everything to campus and we set up the books on a few tables, making levels with some display stands.

In addition to taking cash and card, we allow students to charge book fair purchases to their student accounts, which means a lot less handling of cash for all involved. In order to do this, we require students to have a form signed by a parent that gives them a budget they’re allowed to spend. All middle school students got a paper form to take home, high school students could grab a paper form in the library, and all parents in both divisions got an email with a link to an online form. We then keep a spreadsheet of purchases that we can turn into our business office and can pay the bookstore in one lump sum. The Square app that the bookstore set up allowed us to put students’ names in the purchase notes, so we could easily keep track of who purchased what, and the Square also made it really easy to pull a quick report and make sure our spreadsheet matched actual sales.

So how did it all work out? Our middle school fair was pretty par for the course – lots of traffic from 6th grade, less from 8th – but I did have one kid come back in the afternoon to say how much he was enjoying the book he bought that morning! For me, the high school was the really fun part. See, my fiction and narrative nonfiction books are in a “Reading Room” on the opposite side of the building from the Research Library where I spend most of my day, so I don’t often get a chance to have impromptu conversations about just-for-fun books with students. I loved being able to have these readers advisory conversations, and both students and teachers were excited to come shop for books. I had conveniently read most of the books on offer, so I was able to make lots of recommendations, and I had several students who would just sit and talk to me about what they’d been reading lately. We have a lot of discussions about how our students aren’t reading, and there are plenty that aren’t, but a lot still love it and just lack the time to read during the busy academic year. This was a nice reminder of that.

The only thing I would change is scheduling the fair during the high school field day. Our Research Library, where the fair was set up, is right off the football field, and my plan had been to be open during the field day powderpuff game as a nice break from being outdoors. However, it rained all day, the powederpuff game was postponed, and students were dismissed early, so I had very few visits that day. In a perfect world, I’d also move the fair to May, but that’s up to my business office and not me.

I loved working with our indie store, and we plan to make this an annual fair. It was so much easier than I was anticipating, and I left with all the warm fuzzy feelings, plus a few new books for the library. Have you worked with an indie bookstore for a book fair? How did it work for you, and what else would you recommend to those looking to try it out?

The End of Year Report: Lower School Edition

CC 2024 We Are Teachers

Who’s started the countdown?

I will raise my hand first. I have started the countdown to the last day. For some reason, this year just felt “extra.” Perhaps it was launching my youngest off to college last August and getting into a new routine? Perhaps it is the constant hum of crisis news? Perhaps it’s just me?

As I begin the countdown, I also am writing my EOY to do list:

  1. to inventory, or not to inventory
  2. last orders
  3. overdue notices and the lost book debate
  4. summer reading booklet off to communications office
  5. End of Year Library Report!

I admit, last year was the first year I created an end of year report in a fancy dancy form. Before 2023, it was simply a meeting with my campus head to share the ups and downs and wows from the school year, and what I look forward to for the next.

Last year, I decided I had the brainspace, time and need to create a fancy dancy version. Why? Budgets were up for reconsiderations #1. Heightened awareness of collection development #2. Student population had grown by A LOT #3. I had implemented some new collabs #4. I wanted to change my schedule to more of a hybrid model #5.

I created my end of year report in Canva. My thoughts:

  1. What do I want to communicate to my campus head?
  2. What do I want to highlight about my program?
  3. Everyone loves a graph or two.
  4. What did I want to celebrate in this report?
  5. How was I spending my instructional time?

Then to source data:

  1. My curriculum and programming
  2. My current schedule
  3. Destiny reports
  4. Database reports
  5. Anecdotal conversations
  6. My observations

Above is my 2023 Library Program Report. I served 238 students grades PK-5 with a collection of around 7,500 print books. It was a great visual to share with not only my campus head, but also other members of upper administration. Assisted with this information, I successfully negotiated a bump in my budget, as well as a hybrid schedule (future blog post!). Win-win!

I hope you are inspired to explore creating one for your library.

What would you be sure to include in your End of Year Library Report?

The Summer Reading Challenge by Rayna Hyde-Lay

For many of our libraries, Summer Reading plans are well underway with selections of books already planned. Often working with colleagues in other departments, we select compelling reads: age appropriate and collated to limit summer learning loss. In summer 2020, our school was suddenly thrown into a longer summer break and with this a reading opportunity. Screen use was maxed out, and students were looking for ways to engage with the printed word. We seized on this and started a book club which gamify’s reading for the courageous and reluctant reader.

Summer Book SLAM is our catch phrase for Summer Reading. Our goal is simple: engage readers, at many different levels, in personal reading. How do we do this? We play a game.

First, we collect Book Champions. A call goes out in early May to education staff at the school to be a Book Champion. Their role is to lead a team of readers in a book the champion is passionate about. I seek to engage teachers from every department, and they are always excited about reading with a group of students and sharing a book which is meaningful to them. Most years we have had more champions than space!

Second, select books. Often champions come with a book in mind – full disclosure here, I typically say yes to the book because the goal is to have the champions and students engaged in what they are reading. If needed I do have a list of book suggestions for champions to consider, but usually these superheroes of reading amaze me with their variety and forethought.

Third, and this is the tough phase, we promo promo promo the Summer Book SLAM. In the past I have had success using social media, inserting the conversation into our English classes and personal chats with staff and students over the final few months of school (we finish at the end of June).

Of course, we always host an end-of-summer cupcake party with prizes and door prizes in September, and this is also a big selling feature. During the summer we offer three static challenges for readers to participate in. Some past examples have been a photo challenge with your book, favourite quotes, and telling a friend why they should read this book. They also have one active challenge designed by their Book Champion – this will often be a short writing piece, questions, or other ways to engage with the text. Based on participation, prizes are awarded!

I love to hear what other people are doing for summer book clubs so feel free to share your thoughts and ideas!

#summerreading #llibrarysummerreadingpower #AISL

6 Book Fair Tricks to Amaze and Astound!

Setting the stage …

Imagine, if you will, a tropical island. Miles from the nearest major landmass, your closest layover is a 6-hour plane ride away. It’s a land of rainbows, waterfalls, $8 gallons of milk, 45mph speed limit signs on the freeway, and shipping costs that often are more than the price of the items ordered.

I paint this picture for a bit of context (not necessarily for your pity, just your understanding, lol). I’m really excited to share these book fair tips and tricks, but I’m afraid that once readers see the word “Scholastic” before “Book Fair”, they might not keep reading. You know how Costco carries one million jars of peanut butter, but it’s Skippy and ONLY Skippy? That’s Hawai’i. We don’t have a myriad of local (or even chain) bookstores with whom we might partner, Literati and others don’t operate here, so … my blog post is about the little tricks I’ve worked into my book fairs, and if you happen to see the “S” word anywhere, it’s because that’s what we’ve got to work with. The show must go on! 🙂

Gaze into the future!

Do you or your volunteers put up posters around campus? Make a checklist of locations so you know where to go to take them down after the Fair! This is also handy if you’re entrusting the work to others: the power is yours to make sure your advertisements go where you want them to be seen.

Where’d we put those posters? Student volunteers took their “signage maps” with them as they put up posters around campus, labeling each location. We kept these in the “DO NOT LOSE” folder until the Fair was closed

Seek and find!

If your Fair comes with flyers of advertised titles, chances are your patrons are going to be looking for those specific books. Set aside a few flyers for yourself and your volunteers, and once your Fair is set up, write down the location of every advertised book on those flyers. Numbering book trucks and carts (1L = cart 1, left side) and naming tables (LEGO table) make it easy to help patrons find what they seek.

“Where is Heroes?” Student volunteers labeled extra flyers with shelf locations (“5R” = Shelf #5, on the right) to help patrons find advertised titles

Disappearing act!

When those advertised titles are sold out, I have a precious few days during which I can order more. A little signage where the book used to be will not only help you/volunteers know where to shelve restocks, but also lets patrons know that they can still buy the book if they want (pre-paid titles are set aside and delivered once the restock order arrives). 

Even if you don’t have flyers with the book covers, simple Post-It notes in the spaces where titles once were shelved will help patrons and volunteers know what’s sold out, and which titles – if any – can be ordered

Prest-o, change-o!

This trick is sneaky, but sometimes we gotta bend the rules by which we must play. At our school, elementary students are not allowed to check out manga (#SuperSadSigh), but if those titles are advertised to our older kiddos, who am I to keep Naruto off-limits? Using a book truck to display those titles that maybe aren’t for a certain class means the books can still be accessed, but with a turn of those wheels, the shelf – gasp! – disappears! And it’s like they were never there. #EvilLaugh

Pick a poster, any poster!

You know … there was a Taylor Swift poster at one of my first Book Fairs (2013?), and now she’s on a Golden Book. That sure is something.

Anyway, if posters are a favored feature at your Fair, it can be a struggle to display them. Rather than have a horde of children rifling through a single box, we tape up the posters around the room (one of each design if wall-space allows, using painter’s tape) and include a numbered Post-It on each. The box of posters stays behind the cashier desk so patrons can “order” their poster while in line (“Can I get poster number 3?”). Similar Post-Its are stuck on the matching posters in the box so we can find ‘em, scan ‘em, and roll ‘em up!

Games galore!

For our class visits (our preschool – 6th grade classes schedule times to visit, but anyone on campus can come whenever they want) and after school crowd, having a few simple guessing games – with prizes*! – will add a bit of fun to your store. This year our 6th graders came up with Book Pong: students toss rolled-up bits of flyers into cups prepared with dots, and depending on the dot, that determined their prize. Don’t have time to collect cups and dots and make skee balls out of book fair flyers? My “oh-my-gosh-I-forgot-to-prep-a-game” game is this: Collect a few titles from the Fair, tie them in a stack, and let your patrons guess how many pages are in the pile. It’s math! *If your Fair comes with crap – I mean, treasures – and if your funds allow, use those crystal pens and llama erasers as your prizes. Everything you need for a bit of carnival fun is at your fingertips.

Let the Fair be the game and the prize!

Et voilà!

I would love to know of any tips/tricks/games y’all incorporate into your Book Fairs (“S” word or otherwise). I sure hope these help. Thanks for reading!

Author Visits from the Author’s Perspective, Part Two: Preparation and Promotion

Last month, I found myself wondering how authors viewed in-person visits, so I sent a survey out and heard back from eight authors. Last month’s post covered the demographics of the authors who responded, and logistical planning for an author visit. This month, we cover preparing students for author events, and promoting those events.

Preparing Students

“School visits work their strongest magic when students are prepared for the author’s visit,” states Kirby Larson. If an author is coming to visit your school, you want to prepare the students so they and the school can take full advantage of that visit. How do you do that? The type of visit will probably determine your preparation in terms of teaching the book(s) or doing read-alouds for younger titles, but you can prepare in many other ways. Dori Hillestad Butler suggests students engage in some writing or drawing to prepare, then post those writings/drawings as additional promotion. She says: “I especially like to see those on the walls—and I always take time to stop and read every one!” Martha Brockenbrough adds: “The more the kids know about the author and book beforehand, the better!”

Kirby Larson thoughtfully expanded her response to say: “Learning about me and my books ahead of time certainly strengthens connections between my writing advice/experience and the students’ internalization of that information. School visit prep provides context for the students. In addition, when teachers participate in the school visits (ie, do not bring their phones, laptops or papers to correct to the sessions), they are sending a strong message to the students about the value and importance of the information the author is sharing. And it is so helpful if the librarian/teacher tells kids in advance that I can’t sign bits of paper (or body parts); I do provide a book mark template with my autograph so every kid can have that.”

Asked for other advice on making sure a visit goes smoothly, most authors checked all the boxes: Make sure teachers/kids have the schedule; Double check on necessary tech; Have payment ready to go/already sent; Be prepared for book sales (contact vendor; get volunteers); Regularly check in to make sure teachers/students are prepared.

In the “other” column, Margriet Ruurs urges: “Share my books with students. I have been in schools where the students had no idea what was happening. If a librarian and teachers are prepped, it makes the impact of an author visit that much greater. We’re not just there to entertain for an hour but to leave a message of ‘books are important, and fun and interesting’!” Kirby Larson recommends that librarians: “Make connections between the author’s work and what the students are working on/learning about.” Kelly Jones advises that librarians “double-check that any substitute teachers know what’s planned—I once had a class miss a school presentation because no one had told the substitute.”


Another aspect of preparing your students and your school community is to promote your author visit. How can you best do that? Any and all ways, from the author’s perspective! Mount book displays in the library and elsewhere, promote the visit on the school’s website, communicate with parents and students, post on social media, and do booktalks. Other suggestions included contacting local newspapers, creating a countdown bulletin board, and setting out a box to collect student questions.

Doing It Right

I asked the authors for examples of librarians who had knocked it out of the park in preparing for/promoting their visit, and here are their responses.

Martha Brockenbrough: “Terry Shay at North Tama in Traer, Iowa. …He really prepared the kids well at every age level and assembled a squad of cheerleaders for my paperback Cheerful Chick.

Margriet Ruurs: “A Kelowna, BC librarian approached me for her school, but I explained that travel is too much for one day. She then promoted a possible visit to all local schools. She did not just pass that on to me, but arranged a two week schedule for schools, in a logical order, and made sure all schools have all information on dates, times, equipment and more. It’s awesome when a local librarian coordinates all that.”

Dianne White: “When the kids are excited, I know teachers and librarians have been talking about the visit ahead of time. When that happens, kids are always going to get more out of the experience.”

Kirby Larson: “For a recent week-long visit in a school district near Houston, the hosting librarian asked me for particular photos from which she created an “About Kirby” slide show that was made available to all of the schools involved prior to my visit.”

Kelly Jones: “I remember one library’s display—they had a big posterboard with photos of students, teachers, and staff holding books they were recommending. The week of my visit, the librarian was holding my book—a proud moment for sure! She told me everyone really enjoyed recommending books and having their pictures taken.”

Lily LaMotte: “I did the summer reading program kickoff for the Olathe, KS library. I don’t have the details of her promotion but we had a full house in their auditorium. If you mean a school librarian, I’ve had so many wonderful visits with schools. Kids were prepared and many of them had read my books or were using them in their classroom. The cafeteria at a school in Lewiston, ME even made a recipe from my book for the students’ lunch the day of my visit. So amazing!”

Dori Hillestad Butler: “A librarian in Cedar Rapids, IA, painted HUGE (5 foot tall!) pictures of my books and displayed them ahead of time. A librarian in the Chicago area had worked with the kids to make posters that said: ‘Here is what we know about Dori Hillestad Butler, Here is what we don’t know about Dori Hillestad Butler, Here is our plan to find out more: come to her presentation!’ (That’s directly out of my King & Kayla series.)”

Next month, how to ensure that your author visit goes smoothly on the day.

Takeaways from California Research and Academic Libraries Conference, 2024

This week I am fortunate to join our academic library colleagues at their statewide conference. I am encountering a variety of products and ideas that might be of use to US/HS-serving colleagues (and a few that might be helpful to all), so I am going to record them here.

The theme was The Insufficient Librarian. It was about both justice work and also the need to fight the feelings of insufficiency at work and learn to embrace boundaries and joy. So, below you will find notes about both IL skills and joy skills! (Let’s work on those JOY skills!)

For everyone, from our keynote speaker, Mychal Threets:

*I have long been wishing for a replacement for “How are you?” and am now considering “Are you ready for joy?” Might need to develop a follow-up questions along the lines of “How can I help you get there?”

*Do you use social media to promote your library? Mr. Threets reminded us that screen readers need help with hashtags. While they can see the separate words in #LibraryJoy (capitalizing the first letter of each word), they cannot parse #libraryjoy into readable parts.

Important new framing from Librarian Amy Gilgan from University of San Francisco:

Multipartiality,” not neutrality

“Neutrality” tends to favor people in power, multi partial acknowledges all but also power operating in the room.

Lit review of literature about joy at work, Kitty Luce and Margot Hanson

Here are the slides of their review. I mean, who doesn’t love a lit review!?!

True Fun from Stef Baldivia and Elizabeth Tibbitts

*We did a very cool “joy audit” to consider elements of our personal life and then our work life. It was awesome, actually. We looked for “fun magnets”: “Fun magnets are what bring the true fun alive for you.”

*The main focus was on library events, and making traditionally bureaucratic, dreadful draggy events into fun, joyful spaces in which your collaborators want to come. They based their thinking on the framework of SPARK:

S (making space – decluttering, taking space when needed, featuring your space, everyone is welcome)

P (pursuing passions – find something people can really get into)

A (Attracting fun – just really thinking about and opening oneself up to places where fun can enter into generally laborious moments)

R (rebelling – fun at work is rebellious)

K (keeping it going – make it a habit)

Example: These particular librarians took the meeting in which the disciplinary department representatives got trained in how to request books from the library collection (which never included the subject librarians!) and turned it into a passport-based fair. They invited all departments of the library to table at the fair, and were able to stimulate a bunch of conversations between faculty members and library folks offering services of which the faculty were not aware.

Virtue Information Literacy: Flourishing in an Age of Anarchy, by Wayne Bivens-Tatum

Virtues: open-mindedness, humility, modesty, courage, caution, thoroughness, justice, and information vigilance. This book draws heavily on “virtue ethics” from the discipline of philosophy, is highly interdisciplinary in its roots, and sounds quite intellectual — an interesting concept overall.

TikTok analogies for information lit instruction, from Laura Wimberley of California State University, Northridge (you are going to have to do your own self-education on TikTok, as I am so not there):

*Finding a strong initial article for citation tracing is like your first follow that indicates to the algorithm what you like and want to see more of in your feed

*Literature reviews are like explainers (I will try to get my hands on her example and share it, if I can)

*A citation is a stich (you are on your own here, I am working on growth mindset re: understanding stiches)

The National Library of Medicine has an online Medical History hub and a very interesting Know the Science tool

Pheonix Bioinformatics has some very interesting tools for K-12, including:

*Tair, a reference for gene function data that can be free for K-12

*MorphoBank, a paleontology database

Reflections and Learning from AISL Professional Book Discussion by Faith Ward

Why did we engage in a group book study of Embracing Culturally Responsive Practice in School Libraries?: As leaders in our school communities, we are confronted with shifting expectations of the librarian, the role they play in cultivating the culture of the school, and the many curricular demands placed on the school library program. School librarians have always connected learners’ life experiences, cultures, and communities to materials, projects, and processes. That expertise, and its continual development, is essential to our profession today. We knew that reading and discussing this book would help us continue to lead and model meaningful steps toward a culturally responsive mindset. Elisabet Kennedy’s book, Embracing Culturally Responsive Practice in School Libraries, celebrates how learners’ cultures shape everything from their communication to how they process information. By reading and discussing the book together, we hoped to learn new approaches and ground our understanding of culturally responsive practices in our Libraries.

What we did: The aim of this communal reading was to challenge us as readers to embrace and nurture our own personal and professional growth. Through our joint reading and discussion we shared our insights and takeaways about concepts covered in the book, actionable steps, and activities based on culturally responsive principles that directly relate to AASL Standards. Elisabet Kennedy’s knowledgeable experiences engaged us as professional colleagues with reflective exercises and challenges. Because our reading and virtual discussions were planned over three months, we had the opportunity to reflect on the readings and our own challenges and successes in our Library programs.

Our collective reading included the discussion of topics such as culture, identity, and bias: the creation of norms and upholding those standards in our spaces; library displays, signage and policies that make an example of culturally responsive work; planning yearly goals with internal and external partners. Through our reading and time spent with Elisabet Kennedy, we built connections, celebrated the many innovative and thoughtful approaches that AISL librarians are facilitating in their school libraries, and expanded ideas for how we as a profession can continue to foster growth in our learning communities. Feel welcome to reach out to Faith Ward or Tricia DeWinter for more information and ideas for starting another book discussion such as this.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this title for our next book study/discussion:

Research Reflections

Winter is over… spring is springing and…

…research season is (almost) over!  I love helping our students practice their research skills — it is the main reason that I became a librarian.  But I would be deluding myself if I said it was all rainbows and unicorns.  Research skills are not intuitive. There is much trial and error involved and some of my students are frustrated at the slower pace that the classroom teacher and I insist on during this process. As I reflect upon my first real full-time year in the middle school, I can count some definite wins and see room for improvement.

My biggest hurdle was how to divide my time between 3 grade levels (approximately 290 students) so that I can provide the instructional time and maintain an open library.  For the bulk of the third quarter all in person instruction time was spent with our English department. Instruction for the other departments was primarily via Libguides, which naturally limited the types of lessons that I could do with these departments. The English teachers and I planned our library visits prior to the start of the semester, and we had a solid plan in place for how to stagger the instructional time.  Losing a week to snow caused us to shift plans, but we managed.  The timing of all three grades starting the major research project at almost the same time isn’t great, but I doubt that it can be adjusted in future years.  The third quarter is the best time for all three grades to work on the research project.  It is what it is.

My plan for individual meetings with all students mostly worked.  We shifted to small group meetings for both 7th and 8th grade, and we narrowed down the number of groups. For our honors classes, I was able to quickly move through the research forms during a few class times.  I joined the classroom and worked with students as the classroom teacher worked with groups on the technical writing skills.  The remaining groups came to me in the library over the course of a few weeks and I worked with the students on individual issues and gave them a chance to receive feedback on quality of sources and citations.  These meetings strengthened their confidence when evaluating sources and, I believe, provided a stronger set of sources and notecards. I also did the primary grading for source lists and notecards, and I found far fewer mistakes and omissions than in years past.

The sixth grade is moving more slowly through the research process and will not complete the project for another two weeks.  The groundwork laid in the fall semester is showing as we work together.  The students have a much stronger understanding of the research process as whole than in previous years.  Students are not frustrated with the cyclical nature of research and are more willing to go down the rabbit trails that make research so interesting.  Another win is the improvement of the citations created by students.  Our work together on the parts of the citations and the reasons we include the information is showing in the works cited pages that I am seeing at this point.

Moving forward, my goal is to become a more embedded librarian in these classes.  Luckily, my classroom teachers are willing to collaborate with me on various projects.  My success with the sixth grade will be a springboard to increased involvement in the remaining two grades. This is my 22nd year as a librarian and I’ve worked with students from college age to elementary. These middle school students keep me on my toes and keep me laughing (most days).  I appreciate the opportunity I have to work with these students and teachers.

As the only librarian in my building, I often feel on an island and do not have the opportunity to bounce ideas off others.  What are some of your tips for engaging students in the research process?  How do you keep your instruction fresh each year, while still covering the necessary steps

What I Mean When I Say Information Literacy

When I arrived at my current school months before Covid, I was told that the only department that had traditionally collaborated with the library was the history department. This was shared in a self-evident way–the history classes were the only ones that did research. My gut reactions were 1) I/the library can collaborate on more than traditional research, 2) surely there is research happening in other classes, and 3) my goal is to start collaborating with more departments. So, I started reaching out to department chairs to come pitch the library in department meetings. Some chairs were happy to let me have some time. Others were friendly but skeptical in the “we don’t do research” kind of way. 

When I said “library” or “information” or variations of that, all anybody could hear was “formal research.”

And then, on this very day in 2020, we started teaching virtually and my goals and priorities were radically altered. Which is how I found myself not fully revisiting my goal of building stronger relationships with all departments until this past fall. With a new chair in our Arts Department I reached out again and heard a similar response–our arts classes are performance/product oriented: the chorus sings, the ensembles play, the theater students act, the photography students take pictures, etc.–so they don’t really need instruction from the library. Of course, my librarian brain could think of loads of ways our arts students use information and need information literacy, but what I realized, in this case and others,is that something kept being stuck in translation. When I said “library” or “information” or variations of that, all anybody could hear was “formal research.”

To remedy this I’ve taken a two pronged approach. The first step has been to address the semantics challenge. Starting with our Vice Principal for Academic Affairs, I’m working to develop a broader, shared understanding of information literacy (IL) drawing on the ACRL Frameworks. We also discussed how to develop a mutual understanding of IL so that faculty can start to see how they already teach IL within their disciplines and also possibilities for collaboration that they had not considered before. Next, I will be joining a department heads meeting to explain IL, and later in the spring doing a mini-PD at a faculty meeting. When our faculty and I are speaking the same language we will be able to have more productive conversations, and hopefully collaborations.

The second step is a targeted approach of pitching hypothetical IL lessons to teachers and departments who don’t expect to have a need for library instruction. A fruitful example from this fall turned into a two-day collaboration with our Advanced Photography class. I approached the Photo teacher and asked if/to what extent her class discussed ethical use of images, particularly in light of the spread of AI image generators, or how students are copyright holders of the images they take. By offering a idea that I saw as a potential intersection of IL and the work the photo students were doing we were able to design a teaching collaboration. On the first class period I introduced students to copyright, their rights as a copyright holder of the photos they create, Creative Commons licenses and how to include those on works they share online, and how to understand some of the issues in determining the ethical ways of engaging with other peoples images. On our second day we discussed the impact of AI on the authority of photographs in photojournalism and the bias in AI image generators. This collaboration would never have developed if we stayed at the misunderstanding of library=research. 

By recognizing this bottleneck in library outreach, I have been able to take the steps to build a shared understanding among our faculty about the broader possibilities of what the library can mean for them and their students. But, shared understanding is only one step. By offering new ideas of how to build students’ IL skills in their own disciplines, I have helped faculty start to see what that broader definition of “library” can look like own classes. These demonstrations of non-research information skills in action are already starting to spread roots in departments, opening doors to new collaboration opportunities by showing, rather than just telling, what teaching our students IL can really include.

What lessons do you teach outside the traditional research projects? How have you engaged with less obvious (to them) classes or departments?