Author Visits: They’ll Be Back…Live and in Person

While this might be the school year of the virtual author visit, in anticipation of better days ahead I would like to share some of the most impressive and memorable author visits I’ve experienced as a school librarian.  

There is just no one like the inimitable Nathan Hale.  In case you don’t know his work, Mr. Hale writes and illustrates graphic novels, most notably the nonfiction, history based Hazardous Tales series, ideal for students in grades three through five.  He also writes and illustrates science fiction graphic novels and illustrates books for a variety of other authors.  Nathan Hale is smart and quick;  he “gets” kids, and knows how to keep them completely engaged.  He draws “on the spot” requests, gifts his incredible autographed artwork to the library he’s visiting, and tells the funniest (but historically accurate) stories.   Teachers in the audience laughed so hard, I saw tears.  He is non-stop “on it” all day long and earns every penny of his commission.  We plan to have Nathan Hale visit again, and I know many of you have had him visit your school more than once as well because he is just so entertaining and creative.  And his books are exceptional!

Another absolutely hilarious author is Aaron Reynolds, and our day spent with him was positively delightful.  My students have not forgotten his uproarious retellings of his Caldecott winner Creepy Carrots! and the ever popular Creepy Pair of Underwear! I am a huge fan of all of his books, and more importantly, my students are too.  Mr. Reynolds was truly “in the zone” during the entire visit – role playing with the kids, engaging them with games, involving the teachers; smiles all around.  He is one of the authors that was visibly sweating with the effort of  enthusiastically and continuously sharing his talents.

Lauren Oliver came at no cost to the high school where I worked seven years ago.  She was gracious and very sharp.  She shared her outstanding writing strategies with a very large group, and outlined how her career as a writer evolved.  The audience really liked her, and I thought she was quite friendly and her presentation very relevant for our group of “would be” writers. 

Chris Grabenstein also came  to us at a very discounted price.   I had  filled out a contest entry on  his website and  sent it to his agent.  Once it was accepted, our school was responsible only for his travel expenses.  Mr. Granbenstein is all about the kids. He wanted to eat lunch with them,  visit classrooms, offer extra writing workshops – and he did all of those things along with his three fantastic presentations to large groups.  Mr. Grabenstein has a background in advertising, television and radio and this is most evident in the comedic spirit of his delivery.  I am a huge fan of his work and his commitment to kids and reading.  He is a kind, funny, multi-talented author.

James Ponti came to our school last year and he is definitely one of the most kind-hearted people I have ever met.  His books are outstanding and enormously popular at Oakridge. Mr. Ponti wanted to provide a useful and memorable experience to our students.   We visited classes together and ate with a group of students in the lunchroom.  Mr. Ponti also  spoke to a group of upper school students currently taking a writing seminar,  and were expected to complete a novel by the school year. He thoughtfully spent some time with a staff member who was in the midst of self-publishing a book, answering some questions she had.  Now that the New York Times bestseller  City Spies is on the market our students were thrilled because he read the first chapter to them before it was published.  We have all of his books and this one is consistently checked out in ebook and print.

Jerry Palotta came last to our school  year also, another exceptionally big-hearted person.  His Who Would Win books are “top checkouts” in our library.  He also ate lunch with the kids in the cafeteria, and graciously went out to dinner with a second grader and his family.  Another first grader was sick the day of the visit, and devastated because Mr. Pallotta is his favorite author. In response, Mr. Pallotta sent the student a video introducing himself, reading one of his books, and subsequently sending him one of his signed books.

Sarah Weeks came to our school right before So B. It: A Novel was being released in theaters.  A group of middle school students and I met Sarah at a local theater showing the movie in its early release.  She is so smart, articulate,  great with the kids, and someone I would enjoy hanging out with!  She shared a cool story arc activity with the students that I’ve used repeatedly with my classes.   We met another school librarian for a leisurely dinner which included wine and casual, comfortable conversation. It was a terrific evening,  Ms. Weeks  is the most down to earth, transparent and genuine person.

We were thrilled to have Gordon Korman visit us two years ago because our lower and middle school students voraciously read everything he writes.  Restart is my personal favorite, and while I appreciate his incredible talents as an author, he didn’t impress me as much as a guest presenter to our middle school students.  He was the most expensive author we’ve hosted yet we did not feel we received our “money’s worth.”  While other authors arrived with interactive slide shows and activities and spent as much time with the students as possible, Mr. Korman did not connect with the kids in these ways.   Yet he certainly fulfilled his contract obligations.

Finally, I have to give a shout out to Fort Worth Country Day Librarian and AISL member Tammy Wolford.  She arranges many of these events so that local independent school librarians can share authors and costs.  I would love to hear about the authors and illustrators who inspired your students, whether in a virtual or on site visit.

The impact of connection

A connection is the key to unlocking the power of the library.  Through collaboration between teachers, authors, and public libraries, I find that we can make strong connections for our students. Last September (before COVID-19 impacted our schedule), I expanded my circle and collaborated with an amazing organization, Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center.

It started as a small idea to share with our students about some of my identifiers. As a person who wears a hearing aid and is dyslexic, I personally connect with two of the recent national months September being deaf awareness and October being learning disability awareness. Teaming up with my amazing Learning Specialist, Alex Franceschini, we created an announcement for our regular middle school morning meeting. Our goal was to celebrate diversity through learning disabilities and disabilities.

Alex reiterated the importance of this presentation in an email to our faculty, “With regards to deafness [and learning disabilities], I think it’s important for kids to understand that it’s an invisible disability, and to dig into what that means and make connections, esp. for our students who may themselves have invisible disabilities. There’s a lot [teachers] can do there with identity, first impressions, making judgments using only visual cues, etc.” (Franceschini, 2019)

As part of an announcement to celebrate disabilities and learning disabilities, Timothy Thomas, the Director of Interpreting Services at the Cleveland Hearing and Speech Center, provided a look at ASL interpretation and introduced the importance of providing ASL services throughout Cuyahoga County for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Mr. Thomas gave our students a wonderful first look at ASL interpretation up close.

We also wanted to present the importance of learning strategies, the use of accommodations, and the equity created when services are provided and used.

*Franceschini, Alex. “Easy study strategies”. 5 November 2019.

We also included two inspirational authors: Cece Bell, who is deaf and wears a hearing aid, and Dav Pilkey, who has ADHD and dyslexia.

The presentation was a hit! After I had some students who were comfortable verbalizing that we shared a connection, some walked by while making made the ASL sign for “SAME” (a common sign at our school), some contacted me later on. Representation of characters is extremely important to collection development, but also the representation of authors, and even teachers, is extremely important, too. Our students connect with teachers individually, and sometimes unique shared experience is a connection that is missed. Sharing my experience as an HOH person with dyslexia made me feel vulnerable; I was nervous, but the benefits for my students outweighed this fleeting discomfort. 

As September and October roll around again, I’m reimagining how I can again present and collaborate to highlight the experiences of the deaf/hard of hearing and those with learning disabilities through hybrid learning. 

Wishing you all the best as we reimagine this school year.


Some ideas for virtual connections for Deaf/HOH awareness

As I learn more about my own place in Deaf/HOH culture, I have found that we need to be aware that within Deaf Culture there are sections.

  1. Not all American deaf people sign and if they do, they might sign ASL or SEE or PSE (Video about signing culture). 
  2. Deaf not Dumb performed in British SL
  3. Deaf Singer on AGT
  4. Deaf Dancer
  5. Deaf Artist’s installation “The world is sound”
  6. Black Deaf Culture (Black dialect in ASL)Celebrate Black Deaf History Month (Interviewee from Cleveland)
  7. Four Deaf Actors to Watch on Netflix Right Now A wonderful suggestion from my Learning Specialist Alex Franceschini.

Deaf History Month in April

  1. Deaf History Month Important Dates (Why it is celebrated)
  2. DHM Explanation Youtube Playlist

Best laid plans

What I had planned to write about this month: something about growing into the early-twilight stage of my career, or how to prioritize/plan for collection development. 

What I ended up writing: nothing. I’m sure this is not a surprise to anyone living the 2020 back-to-school experience.

So here, in the spirit of Oprah, are some things I know for sure:

It is SO much better being on campus than online.

I am enormously grateful for the PD communities that have kept me afloat since the world went sideways. AISL is a significant part of my library life. I LOVE that I have people I consider close colleagues spread across much of this crazy continent we call home, people I lean on as much as I do those I work with in person.

Ensuring that everyone is masked and physically distant is a challenge indeed.

I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want to make my family sick. I don’t want to be online again. 

This hard. And I know that we can do hard stuff. But still.

Thinking of you all and counting the days until #DC2022,


Hybrid Library Instruction

We’re still a few weeks away from the start of classes here in Massachusetts, but I feel like the fall has been looming over since, well, last spring. We saw a sharp decline in our research instruction once we went remote last spring, and I’ve been thinking about how to make sure that didn’t happen again this fall, knowing that we were likely to be at least partially remote again.

We are going back with a hybrid schedule, with half of our students on campus on any given day. A class of students will, essentially, be split in two with half the students in the classroom with the teacher, and half at home each day. While there will be times when students Zoom in on their learn from home days, there will likely be a fair amount of asynchronous instruction happening. Those learn from home days seemed like a good opportunity to do some research instruction, and to collaborate with teachers.

I’ve never done much with flipped instruction, as we often had very few opportunities to get into the classroom with students as it was, and I wanted to make the most of those opportunities so we could build relationships and do some guided practice. However, it’s very unlikely we’ll be able to be in many classrooms this fall, and I won’t be able to lean over a student’s shoulder to help them the way I usually would. I wanted to do something that would help us connect better than Zooming into classes from our office. Also, being able to offer something to teachers as a way to do meaningful instruction with students who were learning from home will (hopefully) be a good way to rebuild some of those collaborative partnerships that suffered in the spring. 

I’ve been thinking about how to offer a “menu” of instructional possibilities to teachers for a while, and this seemed like the right time to put that idea onto paper (or GoogleSlides, as it were). My goal is to more clearly communicate to teachers what types of instruction we can do, as well as what sorts of applied practice students could do. It’s important to me that we communicate to teachers that research instruction is dynamic; a database demo doesn’t help anyone learn research skills unless they have a chance to practice and get feedback on what they’ve learned. It also means they’re doing something more than watching a video at home. 

This slideshow gives a broad overview of what types of skill instruction we do (I’m working on a one-pager that I was planning on having finished by now, but, well, here we are) along with some ideas for how students can practice those skills. The content will be delivered via video (which means students can review it at any time), and the opportunities for applied practice will be tailored to the assignment. 

The key to this for me is the last slide, which gives some possibilities for how students can get feedback. We can “visit” classes as we’ve traditionally done to answer questions and check for understanding. Or students can schedule a ten-minute “check-in” with one of us to share their work and get feedback; we’ve had great success with longer research appointments, and I like the idea of adding this option for students and teachers. Or, depending on the task, we can ask students to create a screencast of their work/process, explaining what they’re doing and why. This last option allows for some metacognition and reflection, as well as an opportunity for us to catch misunderstandings. All of these options will give us an opportunity to connect with and build relationships with students, something I’m very conscious of as I think about a socially distanced library. 

I’m still putting final touches on much of this (you all are getting a sneak peek) and I’ll be rolling it out to teachers soon. I’m optimistic that it will help start conversations with teachers about how they can incorporate research instruction, as well as make for meaningful instructional partnerships in what is sure to be a very interesting school year. 

EBSCO’s Export to NoodleTools

I’ll admit, it’s been a struggle lately finding inspiration to write. I usually have a number of ideas floating around, but lately, nothing really came to mind. This did not bode well for getting this month’s post written. I’m beginning to wonder if lack of inspiration and inability to focus and finish projects is a COVID-19 social-distancing side effect. So when I opened my email this morning there was good news. Hold on, not just good news—GREAT NEWS—the kind of news that elicits joy from librarians that are, as Alyssa Mandel calls us on Twitter, BIBLIONERDS! In the time of COVID-19, when days seems to blend into each other, good news is often hard to come by—that is if you even know what day it is. So perhaps knowing what day it is (Friday) and getting a task completed even if it’s not your best work is enough for now. Here’s hoping it is.

In the summer of 2019, I was watching a NoodleTools webinar, and at the very end Damon Abilock shared that EBSCO was working on an export to NoodleTools feature that was planned to be integrated by November 2019. I waited patiently and shared with anyone in earshot that export to NoodleTools was coming in November. The months passed—November 2019, December 2019, January 2020, February 2020—well by then I had more important things on my mind (didn’t we all?) and had completely forgotten about the release. Which made the news this morning that it was finally here that much more exciting. I was looking forward to doing a couple searches to see if the export function worked as well as I hoped.

Information is Exported, NOT Copied

An important thing to keep in mind is that when a citation is exported into NoodleTools, it isn’t simply copied and pasted. The information that is imported into the sources page comes from a file that operates much like a spreadsheet with a tag (think named row) that then aligns with the same tag on the source page interface. So, even if the pre-formatted citation from a database is incorrect—and many are—the folks at NoodleTools are wizards on properly formatting MLA, APA, and Chicago style. I don’t generally trust pre-formatted database citations, but I DO trust the folks at NoodleTools to get it right. We all know that the end citation is only as good as the data provided, so as Alyssa Mandel stated in her comment, be aware that your students need to check citations and edit as needed. Following Alyssa’s comment and an email from another AISL librarian on this topic, I’ve added this section and thank both of them for the helpful feedback. Here’s an example of the edit interface for the citation imported from EBSCO—all of the information is in the corresponding field—not copied and pasted in whole.

To Export or Not to Export

Ask any group of librarians how they feel about students exporting citations and you’ll get varied responses ranging from the belief that students should be creating their citations manually so they really understand the source they are using (true) to others who couldn’t live without bibliographic software like NoodleTools because it allows students to properly cite sources with the least amount of friction (also true). I know that I appreciate having the time to teach students how to identify the parts of a citation, but that doesn’t always happen. I also appreciate having students respond in a positive, sometimes even cheerful way when they realize how easy it is to keep their sources organized and properly cited. It’s definitely a two-edged sword, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say for most research, I’m onboard with students exporting citations. I have limited time with students and would rather work with them on mastering higher order thinking skills such as lateral fact checking and understanding how to evaluate their sources and search results.

A Trial Run

I decided to try the export function to see if it was as seamless as the ones on Gale databases and JSTOR. I searched from our EBSCO EDS search box on our library website, and in keeping with most student search behavior, chose the first article in the results list, “New Investigation …” I opened the article and you can see it in PDF format viewed on EBSCO in the third slide below.`

The Export Function is Format Agnostic

This journal article had two options for viewing: HTML and PDF Full Text. When I clicked on the Export link on the right hand side, the option for Direct Export to NoodleTools was at the bottom of the options on the Export Manager for both formats. The first image is the PDF format. Scroll through the slides to see the progression from the Export Manager to the NoodleTools interface. As always on the NoodleTools interface, there is a text box where you can submit corrections to them if you find any errors. The final two slides in this section show the bibliographic citation and the footnote pop-up window. I did a test with the HTML format and found the export worked regardless of the format. So far, so good.

Database Export vs. EBSCO Export

Next I chose an article from JSTOR (first slide), which has its own citation export to NoodleTools (second slide). I wanted to see if the citations exported were identical and found there were two differences (third slide). The article exported from EBSCO did not list the primary author’s name in last name, first name order, while the citation from JSTOR only listed the first page in the page range. As an aside, JSTOR often exports the title in all caps, which can be avoided with an EBSCO export. I guess it’s a trade-off and you’ll have to make your own decision after trying it out. A note on the Detailed Record: there are thirteen (13) authors! This is probably one of those articles students would pass over when creating a citation manually.

Tracking Down Errors

In trying to figure out the EBSCO author/ name error, I found the answer by returning to the Detailed Record. Note on the Detailed Record (second slide) all of the authors are listed first name/ last name order. This isn’t a problem as long as the names have their own unique tag that will populate in the correct field when exporting. When I opened the JSTOR export citation, the author names were correctly listed (third slide). But when I opened the EBSCO export citation (fourth slide), I discovered the first name/ last name combination was in the last name text field, leading to the error. It was easily corrected (fifth slide), but I’m not sure our students would catch this without a checklist or prompting from us. Likewise, the page range can also be corrected from the edit page.

First Impressions

So, is it love at first site? Yes, mostly. I’ll need to do a bit more testing on our various databases including Gale that currently export to NoodleTools before I can make a truly informed decision. During the end of last school year, as we pivoted to emergency remote teaching, I found I was much more lenient with students when it came to creating citations manually. I made concessions in that I allowed and even encouraged them to copy and paste citations from databases and sites like the Digital Public Library of America when I knew they were close, but not 100% correct. Does that make me a bad librarian? I hope not. Based on the disruption my students were experiencing, the fidelity of citations seems not as important to me as it did when they were working on pre-COVID projects. As we move into a new school year that feels very tenuous and uncertain, I will be thinking hard about how to maintain the academic rigor our students deserve while keeping their social and emotional well-being a priority.

on “meanwhile, back at the library…”

When last we came together in this space, I was happily going about making plans to reopen my library for face-to-face service to limited numbers of students.

The world out there…

We watched with horror and empathy for our neighbors in the Pacific Northwest the Northeast as the virus raged through communities and overwhelmed their medical systems. In Hawaii we had daily counts of new COVID-19 cases of 5, 10, and on bad days a dozen new cases per day. Like much of the rest of the country, we locked down to flatten our curve. Travel to Hawaii was, basically, shut down. Rather than the roughly 33,000-35,000 passengers to the islands that arrive by air on a spring/summer day in a typical year, Hawaii was seeing in the very low hundreds of air passenger arrivals per day–most of them were thought to be residents returning home or essential workers moving to the islands.

A strangely empty Waikiki…

Meanwhile, back at the library…

We set about planning for reopening by distancing all of our furniture so that masked students could be 3 foot distanced if facing the same direction or 6 foot distanced if they were facing each other. Computers were removed from our desktop area. Tables were rearranged in our Library Classroom, and plexiglass dividers were ordered for our library tables and circ desk.

Our socially distanced desktops…
And their friends that didn’t make the cut…

After accomplishing our directive and goals, we proudly sat back and I started to rest and recharge for the start of the 20-21 school year!

The world out there…

About the time, that I started getting ready to enjoy my summer staycation (because, you know, I’m not a fool that’s going to fly to virus plagued NYC when I live on an isolated archipelago with almost no COVID and my condo has a pool…). At about this time, schools in many locales began seriously looking at 6 foot social distancing all around and REQUIRED, rather than just RECOMMENDED, masks in classrooms. I was extremely grateful that my school administration had, by then, VERY EXPLICITLY established that any return to campus would include a requirement that any child or adult on campus would be REQUIRED to wear a PPE at all times.

Our masks and shields arrived!!!

Meanwhile, back at the library…

With emerging guidance from the Hawaii Department of Health my administration took the lead in asking our reopening committee to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure all spaces on campus for 6 foot social distancing all around.

The library staff developed policies for class visits, plans for materials purchasing, plans for circulation, plans for tracking students entering the library. Our IT and ET staff helped us remove more computers, we removed more tables from our classroom space, got rid of all of the library’s “comfy” furniture, and we began rethinking ways that we might tweak delivery of services to students from K-12.

At the same time, other groups on campus worked on plans to keep students monitored at all times during the day to help them maintain safe social distancing and even more furniture (including teachers’ desks) were removed from classrooms to allow every single square inch of space to be used for social distancing in classrooms. A new schedule that might lend itself to an easier transition to virtual learning in a worst case scenario that saw us return to fully virtual instruction was developed and rolled out, and our AC units were upgraded with UV cleaning systems and higher quality filters.

The world out there…

People, for whatever reason, were growing weary of life under lockdown. As our community started to reopen from lockdown and people began to return to parks, stores, restaurants, and streets (still under a required mask mandate) little by little people just seemed to grow weary of the social distancing and masking that had kept our COVID rates so enviously low. Reports of things like huge beach parties in protected shoreline areas. A huge rock jumping contest attended my many kids without social distancing or masks. Predictably our rate of new COVID cases began to skyrocket.

From single-digit averages to not single-digit averages…

Meanwhile, back at the library…

We put the finishing touches on our direction arrows. Put down our socially distanced “stand here” dots to facilitate queuing in various areas of the library, and were pretty much ready for school to start. Just over a week out from the first day of instruction, all of the public schools and just about all of the independent schools on Oahu announced that almost everyone would be starting the school year virtually so, once again, EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED.

We’re getting our money’s worth out of our investment in our Silhouette Cameo vinyl cutting machine!
I kinda LOVE that my co-librarian, Nicole, created direction arrow decals that play off our school logo!

Meanwhile, [NOT] back at the library…

I’m writing this as we prepare to switch from Google Meet to Zoom as our online instruction platform; my co-librarian, Nicole, and I are putting together our new Library and Technology 6 class that we will be teaching for the first time; and I’m preparing to be a virtual librarian for at least the next few weeks.

Physical cues matter… (At least to me, they do…)

As I’ve worked IN my library for the last few days, one of the things I’ve come to realize is how important the physical separation of my library life and my home life is to my personal mental health, my wellbeing, and my productivity–I get SO MUCH MORE done when I am working at school. While we were on lockdown and virtual librarian-ing from home in the spring, I truly struggled to stop librarian-ing each evening so I ended up thinking about work for, what seemed like, 20 hours a day. I’ve come to realize that when I’m working in the library the physical space tells me that it is time for me to work. When I get home, the change of my physical space signals my subconscious self that it is time to stop working and be a spouse/son/uncle/friend. As we enter a new phase of virtual education, I’ve decided that I will probably try do quite a bit of my virtual work from the library if we are virtual, but not under broader shelter-in-place orders. It is just something that seems that it will work better for me.

I’ve also made the decision to take all work accounts off my personal electronic devices. When I am working, I will be on a school device and when I am using digital platforms to visit with my friends and family, I will do that on personal devices. I seem to be a person that has a brain that needs physical cues in order to switch gears.

Sometimes we can solve, but sometimes we just cope and that’s ok…

It’s really exhausting and stressful to have everything you know how to do suddenly feel null. In a PD session earlier this week, an educational psychologist that Zoomed in to work with our faculty on our own mental wellbeing asked us to differentiate between problems and dilemmas. His point, as I understood it, was that problems have solutions so we should work on finding ways to solve problems. Dilemmas, though, are part of the fabric of life. They are things, like pandemics, that we as individuals have little ability to solve based on our individual decisions or actions, so we should focus instead on how to cope with the dilemma. With dilemmas we work to mitigate the negatives, but we simply cannot look at a future need to revisit and change how we’ve tried to cope because our reality is that there are no solutions for us to suddenly find.

Finding solutions to invisibility…

One of our biggest problems when we went to emergency virtual teaching last spring was that we, as librarians, felt like we became suddenly invisible (and believe me, my colleague and I are very different by personality, but we aren’t typically people that are easily missed within our school community). One way Nicole and I are trying to make ourselves more visible to our students and teachers in our virtual environment is that we’ll be rolling out short 5 minute or less videos for teachers to show to their classes. We’re planning to try targeting teachers in different subjects depending on the topic, theme, or skill being emphasized in each video. It, honestly, feels really weird to have your face in the corner of your screencasts, but we decided that it was important for students to see our faces in order to be a visual presence as well as a voice. We hope that students will feel like they “know” us a little better over time and that will serve us well when we finally get to work with students in a 3-dimensional space.

Click here to see Nicole introducing Google News…
Click here to see me trying to explain why cake that doesn’t look like cake might be problematic…

The production values are admittedly low. I don’t want us spending too much time making things perfect and pretty so I’m trying to get over my slow talking, weird phrasing, and awkward pauses. I just want to have a way to get info lit concepts out to our kids that’s relevant, authentic to our personalities, and a little informal, without too much fussing…

On the horizon…

I talk a good game, but honestly, I’m struggling with the idea of going back to virtual learning. Here’s the thing, though, this afternoon, I realized that we actually won’t be “going back” to what we did in an instant back in March when we had to implement “emergency virtual learning.” Last spring, teachers and students just didn’t have the “bandwidth” to switch everything online AND think about incorporating library and research work into that mix.

As we move toward opening school year 2020-2021… virtually … we’ve already been approached for research lessons and support than was our pre-COVID-19 norm at the start of a year. So let’s work on moving forward with hope and let’s be kind to ourselves.

Hahaha!!! That last sentence, “So let’s work on moving forward with hope and let’s be kind to ourselves.” sounds EXACTLY like something that would be posted on the Typical EduCelebrity Twitter feed ( @educelebrity ) which is sooooo worth following!!! But sometimes what makes parody funny is that it is based in truth.

So let’s work on moving forward with hope and let’s be kind to ourselves!

Take care everyone! And Happy New School Year!!!


While many of us in education are used to the pendulum of educational trends and practices swinging back and forth; in this decade the new mode of operation is the pivot. As many of us prepare for the new school year amidst the continued confusion of the health crisis, social upheaval, and financial downturn our normal pre-planning routine once comforting seems insufficient. However; in this new age of anxiety, I see librarians’ honed expertise and intellectual instincts sharpen to focus their skills and passion to connect with students and convey knowledge and learning in all available platforms at their disposal. In the spring we were all thrust into an educational pivot.The summer has afforded a time of reflection more than restoration, but as I move forward this school year my aim is to find poise in the pivot.

The word “pivot” has proliferated through all our news media to describe the most common action in this time of upheaval. Revisiting the meaning and function of the word in our language can give us clues to embracing poise in the pivot. In mechanical terms a pivot is a shaft or pin that supports something as it turns. A fundamental move in basketball, “A pivot is when a player maintains one foot having contact with the ground without changing its position on the floor and utilizes the other foot to rotate their body to improve position…(1)” In business and data organization the pivot table is one of the most powerful functions, “The “pivot” part of a pivot table stems from the fact that you can rotate (or pivot) the data in the table in order to view it from a different perspective. To be clear, you’re not adding to, subtracting from… you’re simply reorganizing the data so you can reveal useful information from it.(2)”

Common to all of these definitions is there are two parts to the pivot. The anchoring, supporting entity and the shift or redirection. I see the foundations of our discipline as librarians as the anchor. The culture of inquiry, intellectual curiosity, and scholarly pursuits grounds us and has stood the test of time while our playful attitude to try new things, tinker with new technologies, and experiment with new programming is our pivot point. In a way we have been perfecting our pivot all along. Think of the average day for a librarian where a combination of the following is the norm: collection development, reader advisory, collaborative teaching, space design, digital curation, web design, student engagement, information literacy, storytime, book clubs etc. In these uncertain times our pivots may be swifter with sharper angles but we can set up systems to insure the smoothest transitions. 

Consider some of these pivot moves whether on campus, blended or fully virtual.

As we may be scaling back on our physical collections and limiting physical access due to social  distancing recommendations our digital resources and applications continue to offer support to our students and teachers

Promote databases to teachers as supplemental resources– often library databases are only used for independent student research, but many schools in face-to-face settings are minimizing print materials to avoid locker crowding. This is a great time to reach out to your faculty to share that library database articles could be great lesson source material, plus it models information literacy. I have noticed most major database companies have added a “send to google drive” feature. You could show or make a movie for your faculty and make it easy for them to add to their own digital resources. These resources can be seamlessly integrated to a blended or virtual classroom.

Level up your Google Apps usage– so many schools are using Google Apps and students and teachers are comfortable and accomplished with it. Make time to check out new features or try features you have never used before. While Docs, and Slides are the mainstays Google draw is underutilized and has lots of potential for graphic organizers, infographics, digital posters presentations, doodle sketches for understanding. Have you seen the new Jamboard app added to the fleet of apps?It is basically a digital whiteboard that has the same great collaboration features as the rest of Google apps. As an instructor you can use it just like a whiteboard to instruct the whole class, and you can also add sticky notes, and images. You can allow students to also edit and contribute or maybe this is the new group collaboration tool when you cannot have students put heads together at a table- let them collaborate digitally in the classroom or from home. In blended learning this could be a way you capture an in class session and pass it on digitally to those that need it. Have you seen the new Collections app? It is an in-suite curation tool with good search memory. It is like Wakelet, but within the G suite. This could be used for a great lesson on web searching, evaluating, and organizing sources. Also good for any setting live or pixelated. Google news has been around, but I like the “Fact Check” and “Beyond the Headlines” panels on the right if news-media literacy is in your program this could be useful. Google has also added a Podcast app. Some of the teachers at my school have students create podcasts. A great way to teach it is to have them listen to notable and grade-level appropriate podcasts. This is also a nice media format change for online learning to focus on auditory instead of visual information.This app categorizes podcasts and you can subscribe to ones for your own enjoyment. So keep googling google apps.

Sprinkle in some new websites, interactives, and outsider apps like glitter (sparingly, but with sparkle)

Every year about this time I revisit AASL’s Best Digital Tools for Teaching and Learning. I make a point to try at least two of the resources they share. I try it with my own curriculum. I use my fellow librarians as guinea pigs. Then I consider which teachers, subjects, and projects that would pair well. Over time I have amassed quite a repertoire of tools. 

Flipgrid has been featured in many educator resource articles as it is easy to use, makes quick videos manageable and helps community/culture building in a blended or digital setting. If you have any presentation projects and have to shift into digital mode this is an easy transition. This is a great platform for booktalks in the library.

I recently used Genially for a robust digital arcade for Battle of the Books (more details in a future post). It is a great tool for adding interactive elements to websites. I solely used the gamification set they had. It has great professional graphics and ready made templates. These could be a great exit ticket game in a live class. This is an easy way to add engagement in online environments. This does not collect or share data results, so most of the tools are more for student self-check.

The one I want to try this year is Parlay. While I have not field tested it I have explored it this summer. I am drawn to this app because it is actually designed for different settings: live or online. It is a platform for discussions, so programs that use the Harkness model or Socratic seminars could use this to orchestrate, digitize, and data collect during a class discussion. I was impressed with the data a teacher could analyze to democratize the voices in a class.

Don’t forget about some of the golden oldies 

Every year about this time I revisit AASL’s Best Apps & Websites for Teaching & Learning Archive. I look back at websites I had wanted to try, but never got a chance to dabble. I also use this time to expand my knowledge on the tried and true platforms and websites I use every year.

Libguides, our industry standard, or the library version of a LMS is the container for all our digital resources. The beginning of the year I take time to review past libguides to edit and tweak for dead links, layout and design improvements or new resources to add. I also try new features from Libwizard or embed some of the above mentioned resources to integrate into a libguide. 

Our school continually uses Noodletools as a research platform and citation management tool. I noticed a recent facelift in the program with some layout tweaks. At the beginning of the year I make a point to reach out to new teachers to help integrate into their course if they have not used it before.

Years ago I signed up for Diigo, and I still use it as my own online bookmarker. The other feature that I have also loved is the highlighting and annotating features. As a former reading coach, I still think we need to model and apply print reading strategies to digital texts and this program allows this.

There are so many more, but I have to also be mindful of my own creation of infobesity. Finally, more than any of these tools I really think our ability to possess poise in a pivot is our personal touch with others. I mostly use the above mentions as curricular conversation starters, but more than these are my care and connection with my colleagues. Often listening is more effective than an online offering.

I wish all patience, presence, and poise in the great pivot we are all making this year.

School librarians — Fiction.

My students love books about school librarians, especially those that are unconventional – think the protagonist from The Librarian from the Black Lagoon, or Mrs Roopy from the My Weird School series. We often discuss how they would fit in at our library, and whether their methods and quirks would add to or detract from the library program we already have. Strangely, my own reading this summer has also led me to discover some school library-focused books, some of which get every detail of a school librarian’s day correct, and some which…don’t. Below I share some of these titles, as well as some fun independent school-set reads which I have enjoyed this summer. Happy reading, all!

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

This novel opens with the main character, Amy Byler, arriving in New York for a conference (not entirely dissimilar to an AISL conference). The details of this school library conference experience are uncannily accurate, and the discussion and details of the topic she is presenting on ring true. However, it veers into ‘really?’ territory when Amy decides to stay in New York for the rest of the summer, effectively abandoning her family in rural Pennsylvania. So, five stars for the first part, but from a library perspective, it really loses its way (doesn’t Amy need to get back home to set up her library for the start of school? What about all those books that have to be cataloged and those displays that have to be created?).

Quiet, Please by Brea Brown

Failed Public Librarian Kendall Dickinson decides she needs a do-over, and takes a job as a librarian at a small North Carolina School. She does not like children, or noise, but figures the job will be a good distraction from her other worries. The usual characters show up: the quirky kid obsessed with reading, the colleagues who nod knowingly across the auditorium during assembly, and the flighty principal who spends more time at the spa than at the school. And of course, there’s a complicated, brooding Kindergarten teacher who makes Kendall’s life more… complicated. The details of the school librarian life are pretty accurate in this novel, but it must be said that if you don’t like children or noise then this probably isn’t the profession for you.

What You Wish For by Katherine Center

Katherine Center was due to be the Skip Anthony speaker at our conference in Houston, and I would have love to have heard about her research and her perspective on school librarians! This novel features Sam, librarian at the Kempner School on Galveston Island, TX. After a tragedy involving the long-standing principal, a new principal is appointed who Sam knows from her previous school (well, you know how everyone in independent schools knows each other). But on the first day of school, Duncan Carpenter is not the man Sam remembers. The details of the school librarian’s life are accurate, and her observations of young readers (and their over-invested parents) are spot-on. In particular, the description of the library is wonderful, and I would love to know if this is based on a real school!

The Lending Library by Aliza Fogelson

OK – no school libraries in this one, but the main character is an elementary art teacher, and her best friend is the school librarian. When her local public library closes, Dodie decides to open a replacement in her home’s sunroom. As the members of the town pass through, picking up books and sharing their secrets with Dodie, it becomes clear that the town misses not only its books but the sense of community that the library brought. There is a subplot involving Dodie’s ticking biological clock, and to be honest, the way in which Dodie ran the library made me feel a bit anxious; thankfully, no one suggests that she leaves her art classroom and heads to the school library instead.

In addition to these books about libraries, I’ve also read three great books set in schools this summer. In The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger, four families will do anything to get their child into an elite new school for the very gifted & talented. Anything. In Tiny Imperfections by Alli Frank & Asha Youmans, we meet Josie Bordelon, admissions director at the exclusive Fairchild Country Day School in San Francisco, CA. You will not believe (well, maybe you will) the tactics used by parents to gain a coveted spot at this school. The story also focuses on Josie’s aunt, one of the longest-serving kitchen workers at the school, and her daughter, Etta, who is a senior and has very specific ideas about where she wants to go for college. Finally, Minor Dramas and Other Catastrophes is a wonderful novel by Kathleen West, an Independent School teacher here in Minnesota. This book is a fast-paced read about helicopter parents, social media and what it’s like to teach in an elite high school bubble, where the teachers are mostly liberal, and the parents are mostly not…

If you’ve read something good recently, school-related or not, leave a comment! And I’m looking forward to the first school-related novel featuring COVID-19: “She opened up her computer and logged on to her Google Meet. There were three students there already…”

Building Perspectives

“They didn’t see a child. They saw change, and what they thought was being taken from them. They never saw a child.” (Ruby Bridges Interview. Many Rivers to Cross. 8 Jun 2020.)

The New Orleans’ schoolyard often echoed with the joyful laughter of children, but on the morning of November 14, 1960, angry shouts punctuated the air; parents yelled as six-year-old Ruby Bridges, flanked by U.S. Marshals, walked up the steps and entered the doors of the all-white school. Years later, Ruby reflected on those parents’ faces, twisted with rage, and said, “They didn’t see a child.” Sixty years later, our society still struggles with injustice. Many factors could be considered in making a more just society, but, taking a cue from Ruby Bridges, this article will consider how opening up our vision, building perspectives, promotes empathy and engages students in discussions about social change. 

Recently I participated in a Smithsonian webinar: How to Discover, Create, and Share in the Smithsonian Learning Lab, and I used this tool to curate artwork, children’s books, Visible Thinking strategies, and videos to create a multimodal classroom guide: Building Perspectives. In using this learning module, educators can immerse students in close looking and in evaluating how art and stories powerfully present viewpoints on race and social justice. Explore the Building Perspectives learning module on the Smithsonian Learning Lab website.

Following is a brief overview of Building Perspectives:

Building Perspectives encourages students to evaluate ways that artists and authors help us to “see the person,”  expanding our viewpoints by developing empathy and understanding. Students will explore the following individuals and their contributions to the Civil Rights movement:

  • Ruby Bridges
  • Rosa Parks
  • John Lewis

Objectives: After completing this lesson, students will be better able to

  • Examine how artists and photographers reveal their own viewpoints about iconic people and historic events and how artists and photographers influence the viewer’s understanding of those events.
  • Look closely at children’s books and explore how both text and image challenge the reader to empathize and expand their viewpoints on race and social justice.
  • Implement Visible Thinking strategies to slow down looking and deepen
  • Use the Smithsonian Museum’s collection as a gateway to investigating and exploring perspectives of race and social justice.

The resources assembled on this Building Perspectives learning module can be used to promote classroom conversations about tolerance and social justice. In an April 27 NCTE discussion of the book Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You, authors Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram X. Kendi stressed the importance of holding conversations about race in classrooms.  Jason Reynolds stated his goal as promoting “racial literacy,” and  Dr. Ibram X. Kendi commended teachers in their vocation: “We need to embrace teachers in the same way we are embracing health care providers–teachers are building constructs to aid the intellectual health of our young.  It is not impossible for white teachers to have conversations about race.” This recommended reading list, though not comprehensive, may be a beginning as educators consider books that can aid conversations about race in the classroom.

As recent events show, the struggle for social justice has not ended. However, the opportunity for a more just world lies before us as we look more closely at those who have inspired the fight for social justice, both in past history and in recent events. By examining perspectives with eyes of understanding and empathy, we can enter into conversations about race that will open hearts and minds.

Oh, Jane Eyre

I read and fell in love with Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë when I was in seventh grade and it’s been one of those books I return to again and again. It seems there are many people who agree that “Reader, I married him” is one of the most satisfying quotes in the book—one has only to look to Twitter or Pinterest to find many threads dedicated to this very quote.

My goals this summer—after a hectic spring term and the stress and uncertainty of emergency remote learning—focused on self-care. I planned to take time to relax, spend more time in my pottery studio, garden, exercise.

If Jane Eyre were to evaluate how I’m doing, I’m sure she would say,
“Reader, she failed.”

On my behalf, I will say that I have not failed completely. I’ve spent some time this summer fending off a family of groundhogs gardening, swimming, reading, watching our hummingbirds, and even getting back on the pottery wheel. What I have also done, though, is complete a week-long Global Online Academy Design Bootcamp course, serve on our Hybrid Learning Committee, and start to redesign the New Student Seminar (NSS) course I teach.

So at this point, it’s more a case of:
“Reader, I married my work.”


One of the highlights of my job as the research librarian at Kent School is the opportunity to teach two sections of NSS, a signature program required of all our new incoming 3rd and 4th formers. This fall will be my third year teaching the course, but since it is only offered in the fall term, it will be my first year teaching it in a hybrid setting. This means if I want to be ready for the fall term, I need to rework (or begin reworking) my course over the summer. I know from prior experience that designing and teaching a hybrid course is A LOT of work. Much as we need to recognize it will probably take our students two to three times as long to complete work in an online classroom, we also need to accept it will probably take us that long to create student-centered lessons that can quickly pivot from an on-ground to an online modality with the least amount of friction or disruption for our students.

In my work on the Hybrid Learning Committee (comprised of faculty, Department Chairs, the Director of Information Technology, and Director of Studies), the twelve of us have met weekly to create a framework for our teachers to address working with students who might be on ground or learning remotely, whether synchronous or asynchronously. One of the areas we discussed and worked on outside of our meetings and that will inform much of our teaching moving forward was to identify and expand on a set of guiding principles listed here:

  1. Relationships are key to creating an equitable learning environment.
  2. Process takes precedence over content.
  3. Student agency and independent learning are central to engagement and a positive outcome in an online/ hybrid learning environment.
  4. Flexibility and innovation are required for the creation and assessment of equitable learning experiences.

So my challenge this summer is to really think about how I might re-design my current course to:

  1. Encourage the development of strong, positive relationships with my students and among my students.
  2. Focus on the most important goals or competencies.
  3. Provide opportunities for voice and choice in every lesson.
  4. Incorporate what I’ve learned through professional development courses and reading.


I started by redesigning the welcome page on my LMS to set the tone for the course. Previously my landing page—not really a welcome page—consisted of an image. One of the challenges at the GOA Design Bootcamp was to create a welcome page that was, well, welcoming. Here are their criteria:

1. Create and Add Welcome Video
This video was a quick introduction to the course—simple, informal, and personal. I talked about the course briefly, how much I was looking forward to meeting them, and that I would touch base with them prior to the start of the course. This last part of the message is especially important for our remote learners.

2. Add Contact Information
Although I am basically camera shy, I did add a photo of myself and my contact information: email, Zoom room link, and link to my Calendly. In the spring when I was collaborating with other teachers, students loved that they could check my Calendly and see when I was free to meet and schedule a time to Zoom.

3. Add a Course Description
I added a description of the course under Key Points and also a link to the syllabus in the right column.

4. Add Navigation Information
PowerSchool isn’t the most user-friendly LMS—it’s actually quite clunky so a “How to Use PowerSchool” video that shows students where they will find lessons, assignments, and how to submit assignments will be especially helpful to my remote learners.

5. Add Information on Tasks to do Before Class Starts
I let my students know I wanted them to read about the course and watch the navigation video prior to the first day of class.


While the five elements above are the basics that GOA recommended, I ended up adding a couple of optional elements that would help my students navigate my course through visual thinking (course icons) and give them an opportunity to connect with their classmates before the start of school. Since my students are new 4th formers, it’s important for me to help them develop into a strong cohort group providing a supportive base from which they can join the larger school community. You’ll see descriptions for the elements I added on the right with corresponding numbers on the screenshot on the left.

Next on the agenda, redesigning Unit 1: Academic Orientation. Now, enough of work—I’m off to check on my groundhogs garden …