Night at the Library: A Look Back at Middle School Programming

A post about in-library programming may seem incongruous with the times– after all, many of us have been away from our school libraries for weeks, with no clear timeline of when things will be returning to ‘normal’ again. We have all had to adjust to the changing realities of remote learning and the role of the library within this new paradigm, diving headfirst into the world of zoom read-alouds, digital office hours, online readers advisory, and distance-learning classroom support. Yet, in the midst of what is certainly an unprecedented season in education and librarianship, it is important to remind ourselves that this situation is not permanent. In the (hopefully) not so distant future, we will once again find ourselves supporting students face-to-face, with the opportunities that Covid-19 required us to shelve finally allowed room to grow. 

In light of this, I’d like to share about an event that our library hosted for the Middle School students this past year. This post was originally written before the virus hit, and while the context in which I’m now sharing it has changed, it still offers some fun ideas for fostering a dynamic reading culture among students. I hope that it serves both as a reminder of the positive role of school libraries in the lives of young readers, as well as an encouragement to us all to keep looking forward with hope and creativity as we imagine new possibilities for the times that lie ahead.


This fall at Crescent School, an all-boys school in Toronto, the library team hosted a special evening to celebrate reading and encourage our Middle School students to get invested in their library. The event– which we dubbed “Night at the Library”– didn’t have a particular theme, as we chose instead to do a mix of activities that boys with varied reading interests could enjoy.

The event was a success– over twenty students joined us after school on a Friday to connect over their shared love of reading, and to build meaningful memories together in the library space. To help encourage participation, students were able to accumulate points throughout the evening that would earn them tickets for a raffle (the prizes were books– no surprise there!). We also encouraged students to bring donations for The Children’s Book Bank, spreading the literary love with an amazing Toronto charity.

The event was organized and facilitated by three library staff members, with help from one of our grade 11 students. Our program was a jam-packed four and a half hours that featured seven different stations.

DDC Decoding Mystery

For this challenge students worked in teams of 4-5 to decode a secret message taken from a book in the library. Each part of the message had a corresponding code that students matched to a particular book, page, line, and word. Having students search first for specific books– using the DDC call numbers– helped to familiarize them with the difference between fiction and non-fiction, as well as the different categories that we use to organize our stacks. We used books from all ranges so that students would have to hunt through areas they might be less familiar with, which turned out to be a fun and effective method (some students even pulled off a few books to check out after the event!). 

Butterbeer Station

This station gave students the chance to make their own butterbeer, and it was a huge (and very sweet!) success. There are loads of recipes online that try to mimic the popular beverage from the world of Harry Potter, but we decided to keep it relatively simple with cream soda, caramel sauce, and whipped topping. Students took turns mixing their own ingredients together, and it was so popular that most students came back for seconds (or thirds) throughout the evening.

Book-Themed Buffet

Children’s books are full of descriptions of food and drinks, and we decided early on that we wanted to use some of those recipes for the evening meal. Two weeks before the event, we met with a handful of participants to ask them what foods they could think of from some of their favourite books, and we built the menu around their suggestions (everything from pizza to pickles to pork dumplings!).

Best Book Bracket

Before “Night at the Library” began, students were sent a flyer with details outlining how they could prepare for the event. One of the things we asked them to do was to choose a favourite children’s story to champion in a ‘battle of the books’ tournament. We had two students at a time face off against each other, with 30 seconds each to argue why theirs was the best book. The other participants voted on who moved on to the next round, until a winner could be crowned. It was a great chance for students to share their recommendations, and a lot of them left with additions to their own ‘To-Read’ lists! 

Author Call

Another highlight of the evening was a skype call with Canadian children’s author Susin Neilsen. We hooked up the computer to a big screen in the library, and students took turns coming forward to speak into the camera. Before the event we gave students the link to Neilsen’s website so that they could learn more about her work, and they were also given copies of her books to read in preparation for the call. While not everyone spoke up, there were a number of thoughtful questions from the audience which Neilsen kindly answered.

Quidditch

Our final event gave students a chance to burn off the energy they’d built up from all the evening’s treats (including a chocolate fountain á-la Willy Wonka, and some Narnia-inspired turkish delight!). And what better way to finish off “Night at the Library” than with a game of Quidditch? Although we couldn’t get our hands on any flying brooms or magical snitches, we did have a local Quidditch team come and teach us the rules of the game. Even though some participants hadn’t read the Harry Potter series, the excellent coaching and the enthusiasm of the players made for a hysterically fun game for all. 


One of the main goals of “Night at the Library” was to promote a love of reading in the school community. By providing a space for our students to gather together and experience a wide range of literary themed activities, students had a chance to celebrate their passion for books in a way that encouraged them to want to read further, while also learning more about the resources that their library has to offer.

Getting it Together

I admit I’ve struggled thinking about what to write for this, my April post. I am grateful to Shelagh and Reba for figuring it out ahead of me and articulating well what I maybe felt too vulnerable to say. I don’t really feel like a librarian much these days. What this experience has thrown into high relief for me as a worker and an educator is how much of our work in normal times is around the edges; the casual or serendipitous interactions with students that allow us to build relationships and serve them best, and which don’t require the extra thought or step of deliberately seeking out and clicking on a Zoom link. 

We make ourselves available with online office/library hours, we provide access to digital resources and tutorials for using them, and we reach out to teachers to provide research support. However, we’re not there to make light conversation with a student struggling with a printer, writing them a late pass because the infernal machine is jammed. We’re not there to see a student wandering the stacks and, after a few minutes of leaving them to their browsing, offering assistance and reminding them about the online catalog. Maybe we’re available just for a chat, but not at random times, and not without someone taking a step, showing that vulnerability, and logging in to see us.

So I have been trying to find ways to be in the places around the edges; being present in student-led online meetings and events, making announcements as often as possible, “liking” the Class of 2020 Instagram posts from the library account, sending emails promoting databases and ebooks. I’ve been grabbing at those chances to do the work of a librarian; holding reading celebrations, and answering the few reference question emails I receive from students while practically begging them to schedule a research meeting. With so much emphasis on digital resources, 24/7 access, the importance of the online library presence, etc., I never realized how hard it would be to be a librarian without a library. There’s more I could be doing, but I am also a member of the school-age-kids-at-home-while-I’m-trying-to-be-working chorus. Also, it will do no good to add to the information overload everyone is feeling. I don’t really want any more emails about distance learning resources, frankly, and I don’t think I’m alone.

While I am feeling a little at sea, I know some students are too, BUT, they are also still doing amazing things and engaging with the present moment in relevant, social justice-oriented ways. Last week, we saw a student-led presentation on COVID-19 and xenophobia, for example. Our GSA still celebrated the GLSEN Day of Silence and held a virtual dance party that was surprisingly fun. If they can get it together and carry on their personal missions, I can too! They act as an anchor for me, and I majorly owe it to them to do so in return.

I realize that at this moment it is a kind of privilege to be able to quietly ponder my professional identity from my dining room office, but I suppose there are bigger questions there, all tied up with our current state of general uncertainty. One thing I’ve been trying to do these last weeks is attend to the purchased and nearly forgotten unread books on my own home shelves. How excited was I, after reading Shelagh’s post last week, to find this in the bookcase? You’d better believe that it went to the top of the pile pretty quickly. Thank you!

Verily vulnerable

I can’t be the only librarian who follows the work of Brene Brown, particularly her study of vulnerability. Under normal circumstances, I would say that I embrace being vulnerable, but these are not normal circumstances, and it seems glaringly obvious to me now that I’ve not been walking my talk. 

The transition to e-learning and working from home has made me feel particularly vulnerable in a few ways that challenge me. From silly to serious, here are some thoughts:

My online appearance

As in awe as I am of those of you who look so polished when I meet you at conferences, I’m just not that kind of gal. However, whether it’s the lighting or the paint colour in my storage room home office, I’d been feeling (and therefore acting) kind of schlumpy, even though I continue to dress as I would for school – likely because it’s not the clothing that’s mostly showing up on screen (although perhaps not in this case). I am now paying a bit more attention to my hair and actually putting on some mascara and lip colour before opening up the virtual library for the day. Taking these extra 3 minutes makes a positive difference in how I look, and therefore feel – who knew?! (all of you, I’m sure…I’m keenly aware that I’m late to this party)

Parental engagement

Like many of you, I love having parents engaged in the life of the school but it’s a bit unnerving having them actually in the classroom. At the end of a recent AP Research class, the mom of one of my students leaned into the video to say hi – so lovely but so unexpected. Once the gerbil wheel of panicked thoughts (was she there the whole time? what did I say today? how did I sound? I often joke with my kids – did my informality come across as unprofessional?) finally slowed down, I realized that it can only be good for me to teach all the time as if a parent is in the room.

The future

I love working at an independent school, where my job depends upon how well I support students and staff; I think the accountability helps to keep faculty engaged and evolving in how best to serve students and families.

Of course this means is that my position is inexorably linked to pandemic / economic-affected admissions; I assume this is the case for many of you as well. The B side to my anxiety about the virus has been concern about what September looks like. I feel valued and supported at my school but I don’t teach math (my slightly-in-jest litmus test of all things necessary). While our virtual library has been steadily busy in the online environment (me being available during the academic day in a Google Meet link for research support & readers’ advisory, as well as visiting virtual classes for instruction), I feel that what I offer to the school is not as obvious as it was on campus. This knot of concern was fairly debilitating for the first few weeks but through much100 walking, I’ve been trying to park it in the land of things-I-cannot-control, and focus on the here and now. Where I am healthy and employed and have much to be grateful for.

Brene tells us that vulnerability is showing up and being seen. Well done you (and me), for doing this each and every day.

What’s Working and What Isn’t: Coronavirus Edition

I am a big proponent of experimenting with library programming and services, as failures can teach just as much as successes. In terms of trying new things, nothing has changed with emergency remote learning. Some things work…and some things don’t.

Let’s start with the Good Stuff:

  1. Making screencasts for teachers for specific research needs has been successful using Screencastify.
  2. Creating a Remote Action Plan for the library and communicating it with Administration has been essential. It has cut down on confusion from Admin “what are you really doing from home” and with my Library Clerk “but what should I do from home?”
  3. Offering a link on our OPAC for appointments to do research, find a book, or just chat allows the students to choose how they want contact while we are in the midst of Emergency Remote Learning. I’ve found that I’ve had far more requests to just chat, honestly.
  4. Reaching out to those “library kids” to find out if they want to hang out during lunch in a Google Meet. It’s completely voluntary and has grown over the weeks through word of mouth and our school’s weekly newsletter.
  5. Channeling those librarians on horseback during the Great Depression and delivering books to students…but in my Subaru.
  6. Holding a Library and Tech Dept “coffee break” for faculty and staff who want to see familiar faces. I honestly did not expect anyone to show up, but I have been so surprised at who drops by to just talk about everything and anything.

Aaaaand, here’s the stuff that sounded really good in theory but didn’t work out so well:

  1. Scavenger Hunt and Baking Contest – Yeah, the kids just weren’t interested. With everything else they are doing for school, at home, etc., they didn’t want anything else to do. It was also really hard to get ingredients, and if a student was able to get ingredients, it was hard to keep their family members from eating it before the “judging.”
  2. Open library hours – No one showed up. It seems the students would rather schedule individual meetings at specific times.
  3. Expecting students to remember how to do things we’ve discussed 1,000 times while sheltering at home. Let’s face it, no one’s brain is working the same right now.
  4. The perfect work space – Hahaha, really? I don’t know about you, but I keep shifting all over the house trying to find the perfect combination of comfort, WiFi, light, and less distractions between my husband working from home, my daughter’s online schooling, and my DOG.
  5. A work day just like being at school – I can hardly type this while keeping a straight face. Thinking I would have a regimented and organized work day with online learning was a pipe dream. Between virtual meetings, webinars, etc., I’ve decided that I’m simply going to work when I can, BUT making sure I do have an “end” to my work day. I certainly struggled with this during those first weeks thinking I needed to be connected to my computer 24/7 in order to meet the needs of my school community.
  6. Sleeping – Please tell me I am not the only one having trouble with this. Let me know if you’ve got any tried-and-true tips!

I think the hardest part about working from home while sheltering in place is that some days are amazing and I feel totally accomplished, while the very next day finds me staring out the window just wishing I could use my best “library bouncer” voice to remind kids they can’t run in the library. (You know which ones I’m talking about.) The reality is, this is what we do. We adjust, we change, and we pivot to make sure we are providing the necessary services for our patrons. We can do this!

SIFTing the news

I’ll admit I have found myself a tad… envious of those of you who find yourselves in high demand in this shift to remote learning. We have had a few teachers doing research work, and students are still coming for (Zoom) research appointments, but our (new) chat reference has been *crickets*, and it has been harder to collaborate than when I could chat with someone in the dining hall or on the way to assembly. 

I also miss seeing students! We’ve had some luck with virtual programs (including a group that is really, really into virtual bingo). But it is, as you all know, just not the same.

One group I have seen more of, however, is parents. Back in the Before Times I had been talking with our Director of Parent Programming and our Parent Association about doing a news literacy workshop for parents. With the US Presidential election on the horizon there seemed to be a lot of parent interest in learning how to be savvier news consumers – and the coronavirus pandemic has only upped the stakes. So when I was asked if I wanted to try presenting in our new online lives, I jumped at the chance.

I typically prefer to do things like this in a workshop-style, with people having the chance to follow along and try strategies as I demonstrate them. However, given that I couldn’t guarantee that people would have two devices at the fingertips (one to watch me on and one to work on) I decided on doing a presentation rather than a workshop. I’m also new to teaching on Zoom – and parents are new to learning on Zoom – so simplicity seemed ideal.

I used the materials from the Check, Please! Starter Course as my inspiration and my foundation and built a LibGuide to walk folks through the SIFT process: Stop, Investigate the Source, Find Trusted Coverage, and Trace Claims and Quotes. I love the SIFT model for its simplicity and its flexibility. There is room for nuance and complexity around all four moves, but they are also easy for a novice to understand and work with – and they’re adaptable to multiple kinds of sources and different kinds of (intentional and unintentional) misinformation.

I presented it to a group of parents last Wednesday. I still don’t love presenting to a group of people on mute, but luckily one of my colleagues is also a current parent and I could see her smiling and nodding in all the right places. Getting that little bit of visual affirmation certainly helped!

This was a great way to connect with the parent community to share the value of the library and our curriculum – and a good way to make my program visible when we’re all socially distant. I”m hoping to expand on it when we can meet face-to-face again!

This Moment in Time

I work at a boarding school (9-12) in northeastern, Connecticut. Thankfully our county (Windham) has the lowest incidence of Covid-19 in the state (page 2 of this document). Indeed, if you look on the map, we’re an island of relative safety surrounded by many counties that have it far worse. My wife works in homecare health but is not a front line responder. Still, her proximity to that sector makes us acutely aware of what factors are at play regardarding the importance of the #stayathome orders. These are strange times for everyone! For us who are accustomed to both managing an active physical space and having an institutional educational mandate, it is perhaps even more jarring. It is for me, I know. I find myself frequently wondering where and how to be of the greatest benefit to our community. In addition to my library work, I’ve offered to help students as a writing tutor, and I am as invested in my advisees as I’ve ever been. I’ve also found myself being a proctor for my own kids – a 2nd and 7th grader. It’s a lot. 

Our school made the decision to do distance learning just before our students left for spring break in mid-March. At some point in late March, it was decided to extend that directive through the end of the school year. Like most (if not all) of you, we’ve been working remotely since then. I’ve had my fair share of Zoom meetings and been on the receiving end of many a “what’s a librarian do now?” questions. I don’t need to tell you what we do. You’re living it.

Our AISL listserv has perhaps never been as active – or as helpful – as it has been in the last – has it only been 6 weeks?! I tip my virtual hat to all of you who have been sharing ideas, videos, links, recorded Zoom conferences, LibGuides, and empathetic commiserations. And while there are the ‘frequent flyers’ who post regularly, there are many of us – me included – who are the creepers. We soak up the information so readily shared. I know that I often think about chiming in, but by the time I see the note, the question has been answered – often a few times – with great insight and supporting links or materials. I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be half the librarian I am without standing on your proverbial shoulders. (Though at 6’3, I would still be tall by most librarian measures.) 

AISL Height Survey

One of the things I’ve been doing is trying to keep the library relevant and present. This – as we know – is not an easy task when the library is shuttered and, as is the case with our boarding community, students are scattered all over the globe. With the help – and permission – of my virtual peers (Thanks, Nancy Florio!), I’ve created POLaR (Pomfret Online Learning and Resources), a LibGuide meant to house and organize ideas and best practices. It’s still a work in progress (aren’t we all?), and it’s not yet gotten the traffic that it deserves. However, I know that it will serve as a beneficial repository of information. We’re adding to it each week and hope to adapt it to our needs – current and future.  And these days, who knows what the future will look like? Stay Safe!

And…Congratulations to Sandy Gray on the well deserved Marky Award!

on work-from-home librarianship…

I hope this post finds each of you doing as well as might be expected under the circumstances.

I live in Honolulu, Hawaii on the island of O’ahu. The City and County of Honolulu which is coterminous with the island of O’ahu has been under a stay-at-home, work-from-home order since March 22nd. The entire State of Hawaii went under a statewide stay-at-home, work-from-home order a few days later. When we began stay-at-home, my school was in the middle of our two-week spring break. Our faculty received two days of remote learning on remote learning, and we began remote learning with students on April 1st.

What follows is some random ruminating on this weird thing called work-from-home librarianship in no particular order which is probably very appropriate since there have been many days when listicles from Buzzfeed Animals like “15 Dog Posts From This Week That Quite Honestly Deserve Media Coverage” have been just about the only non-work reading I’m managing to do. So here goes, my personal listicle on work-from-home librarianship…

1 I Don’t Live in a Mansion So Here’s My Sofa – In articles about how to work from home, experienced work-from-home people tell us that working from home is work so I shouldn’t be working from my sofa. Well, I live in a condo with a significant other. I don’t have space for an office. I get that doing Google Meets with colleagues and students from my bed is probably not the best professional look around, but my sofa is as good as you’re gonna get so, “Ta-da. Here’s my sofa…” #GetOverIt #DoingTheBestICan

My work-from-home circulation and reference desk. I snatched the little table and the pouf ottoman from the library before the campus got completely locked down!

My spouse is retired and I don’t have children. How in the world are people with working spouses and remote educating their children even finding a corner in which to work?!?!?

In my search for a more office-like environ from which to do my librarian-ing, I tried working from the dining room table. We’ve had our dining room table and chairs for about eight years and I’ve always been perfectly happy with them. Only when I found myself attempting to type on a laptop sitting at what seemed to be shoulder height did I notice that our table is too high for our chairs. Now, every night when we sit down for dinner I think, “This chair is too low…” #StupidWorkFromHomeRevelations

2 A Lot More Dishes and Trash, A Lot Less Laundry – Yeah… #SelfExplanatoryThings

3 Bandwidth Is Limited – My home internet is excellent, but that’s not the bandwidth I’m talking about. I think the bandwidth in my brain is my current limiting factor. In a social chat that I had with some fellow librarians a number of folk who are very heavy readers indicated that they weren’t doing much reading. I have a stack of really exciting looking books sitting on a shelf that I haven’t touched in three weeks. The conversation and my realization about my reading harkened back to a Hidden Brain podcast where Shankar Vedantam explored “… when something important is missing in your life, your brain can only seem to focus on that missing thing.” I’m worried about my 94-year old mom who is locked down in a nursing home. I’m worried about friends and loved ones who have been furloughed or laid off. I’m worried about friends that have had to close businesses. I’m worried about thousands of people in my community that have to line up at food banks to feed their families…

I am working from home, but my sleep patterns are weird so I get up at 2:00 am look at the ceiling, then oversleep and am late opening my library office hours Google Meet space at 7:30 am. I miss meetings (and I NEVER miss meetings IRL) even though I’m working on my laptop and everything is in my Google calendar that is literally open all day on the laptop I use for my virtual meetings. I want to do better, but for some reason, I can’t… #MyBrainIsAWOL #MaslowBeforeBlooms

4 Does Silence = Success or Failure? It’s A Mind Game Roller Coaster – As 2nd grade classroom teacher in the Hawaii Writing Project way back in the day, I remember being taught, “If you’re reading everything your kids are writing, your kids aren’t writing enough.” Over the last six years, our library has strategically and very purposefully moved to a “teach the teachers” service model. Our philosophy has been “If all of the information literacy instruction is being taught by librarians, our kids are not getting enough information literacy instruction.” Sometimes when you live by a philosophy, it can feel like you’re dying by one, too. As we’ve transitioned to remote learning, all of our teachers’ bandwidth has been taken up learning how to set up Google Meets, mute students’ mics, keep students engaged when they’re not in the same rooms, and just trying to make sure their kids are doing ok… Let’s face it, people haven’t exactly been lining up in droves to collaborate on new research projects with us of late. If I’m being really honest, part of me is very much feeling like the last six years of effort have been a waste.

The other day, I was doing “walk throughs” of virtual classes. When we walk through, we go into the class Google Meet with our cameras off and our mic muted. The classroom teacher was in the middle of outlining her project expectations and showing students how she expected OPVL annotated citations in NoodleTools for all of their cited works. If nobody asks me for help, am I a success or a failure? I dunno. Some teachers aren’t asking for help because they can do most of it really well themselves. #ImASuccess!!! Some teachers aren’t asking for help because they don’t know they need help and that good research strategies from when they did their graduate work in 1997 might be insufficient in the media ecosystem of today. #IveFlippingFailed!!! Some other teachers, still, actually want help but just don’t have the bandwidth in this particular moment to reach out to us with everything else that’s happening in their lives. #RememberEmpathy

This remote learning thing is one heck of a #MindGame #RollerCoaster

5 Email: The Digital Version of Getting Paper Cuts on Your Eyeballs – So much email. By my calculations it takes 27 emails to resolve an issue that in 3-D school world might be a 2 minute and 14 second interchange with a colleague in the breezeway between periods 3 and 4. And I know that people have the best intentions, but I kind of also feel like PLEASE, EVERYBODY STOP REPLYING ALL!” Sorry if I’m being too #JudgyMcJudgeface But so much email…

6 Philosophies That You Think Should Be Adopted by Others are Really Annoying When You Try to Live Them Yourself – I’m a big Twitter reader. Back, like, a million, bazillion, quazillion years ago in pandemic years, on March 31st, I came across this amazing Tweet thread from Angus Johnston who tweets as @studentactivism that made the point that:

… every direct-from-high-school student matriculating in 2020 and 2021 is going to have lost a semester because of this virus. EVERY SINGLE ONE.

… what’s happening right now is altering the life trajectory of every adolescent who is living through it, in ways that we’re only just beginning to grope toward understanding.

If you’re a teacher right now, your first responsibility is to your students. Not to your discipline, not your syllabus, and certainly not to some fantasy vision of a fall 2020 return to normalcy that you’re carrying around in your head.

From a reply from a locked account, lightly paraphrased: “People are freaking out about kids falling behind, Falling behind *who*?

Let me just say, that it is much easier for me to think that teachers should (of course) be understanding of students’ lives, needs, and life contexts during this crazy pandemic than it is for me to extend that same very same kind of understanding to my amazing, wonderful, but for now overwhelmed, faculty. #SelfSideEye

My information literacy instructional goals are important. They are! But I need to remind myself every frustrating remote learning minute of every frustrating remote learning day they aren’t as important as the human teachers that are giving everything they have to make it through today and making sure their kids are ok. It’s a library, not an ER so we’ll be okay if we pause our forward progress temporarily. #MaslowBeforeBlooms

7 I Miss My Library – I think I’ve come to realize that I don’t really miss my “library” so much as I miss the human beings who make my library space “my library”–even the ones who have irritated me and made me feel like crazy librarian man since they were in the 8th grade. Honestly, the ones that made my eyes roll back in my head the furthest are some of the ones that I miss most. 😃#RelationshipsMatter

8 I Wish I’d Said Goodbye When I Could’ve – As time passes, our reality is that it looks unlikely that campuses will reopen before the fall. This librarian-ing from home gig has made me regret not taking the time to offer more proper goodbyes to our seniors before we left for spring break. I know that I can reach out to them virtually and I will, but I’m mourning the fact that I won’t get to send them off from the actual physical space where we’ve spent so many days and hours together. I’ll miss the chance to say, “Hey, thank you for always taking the empty bags from the hot Cheetos you hid in your backpack and ate with chopsticks every afternoon when you thought I wasn’t looking and tossed them in the trash can outside rather than smashing them down between the seat cushions…” I want them to know that I saw them and that I enjoyed having them around even on days when it may not have seemed so. I hope they already knew that, but it’d have been nice to be able to do that more intentionally. #Sad

9 Have Faith and Keep Doing Good Work – I have a tendency to be a Davey-downer-glass-half-empty kind of guy by nature. In work-from-home librarianship, a Davey-downer-glass-half-empty attitude isn’t very helpful (and honestly, it’s kind of never very helpful). Anyway, when working from home, one needs to remember more than ever that through all the saddening isolation and frustration, if we keep doing good work, the effort makes a difference. The difference it makes might not be what we hope, but a difference for the better is a difference worth making. Sometimes that difference is bringing a little bit of familiarity and a little bit of joy to a 5-year old kindergartener at a kind of frightening time. As I was composing this rather grumpy list, I got an email from a co-worker who is also a parent of a kindergartener thanking my partner librarian, Nicole, for the wonderful read aloud time that Nicole has been doing with her daughter’s class.

In a world of work-from-home librarianship, that is work worth doing!

Story time with Mrs. Goff! Posted with permission from mom! 😃

That’s all for now. Please continue to do the good work that I know you’re all doing. Please also consider dropping into one of the wonderful AISL Zoom meet-ups and share your successes, your wonderful ideas, and perhaps something with which you’re struggling, with a sympathetic audience. Based on my experience, there’s a pretty good chance that there will be a librarian there who may well have a solution to offer.

Take care, everyone!!! Sending each of you a **hug** From more than 6 feet away, of course! 😃❤️😃

Small Changes, Big Results …

Yesterday, my Sched app reminded me that I’d be presenting “Not Just Bells and Whistles: Ed Tech Tools that Really Work” at the AISL annual conference in Houston. I was saddened because connecting with everyone in person has become an important part for me of belonging to the AISL community. As busy as I was preparing for AISL—I was mostly looking forward to making connections with friends and colleagues with a shared passion for the field of librarianship.

My April 1, 2020 Sched notification

When I think about what it means to be a librarian, I see our work as a series of small connections that we make every day: connections with our students, our coworkers, our faculty. We connect our students with a source they need for their paper, connect them with a good book, or provide them with a quiet place to work. We connect with colleagues, with books we love and want to share, with changes in our field. Most of these things we do quietly as we go about our day, small action upon small action that forms the foundation of our work. But what happens when things change almost overnight, as is the case with our current situation? Over the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by our ability as a profession to maintain and strengthen our connections to each other and our school communities. In the midst of these sweeping changes, I see people I admire and respect keep adapting to change and making changes, however small, that add up to our ability to address the real-world problem facing school libraries and librarians everywhere—how to support our communities as we transition to online learning.

Communication is Key

These past few weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that an effective communication channel is key when you can no longer answer a colleague’s question over lunch or help them when they drop by the library to run an idea by you. I’ve been asked questions as varied as who to contact for help with copyright questions or how to find an online version of a text being used. The library is often the informational hub of the school, so what can we do to let our community know that we’re still there for them aside from sending another email to an already overburdened account? Emails and newsletters are great for quickly getting the word out, but how often have you scrolled through your own email searching for a needed link that’s gotten buried in your inbox? Adopting a “show don’t tell” approach to school-wide communication can be that one small change we offer on our resources.

Highlight Your Most Valuable Resources

If you have LibGuides CMS, then your library website is probably on that platform. Our library team took a close look at our website to see what small changes we might make to support our newly-online learning community. Since finding out we would be moving our classes online, we created two LibGuides specifically for online learning: the first was structured with tutorials around the tools faculty would need to get started such as PowerSchool, Zoom, and Screencastify, while the second organized ed-tech tools by specific tasks. We wanted those guides and the one for our Academic Resource Center easily accessed, so we placed them front and center in our tabbed box. Although I’m a proponent of flat design, I used a drop shadow to make their appearance pop, along with a prompt to “Click” for each guide, again something not normally included—but these are not normal times. Prior to COVID-19 social distancing directives, educators had the option to use technology, or not. Now, there is no option; so our job as librarians, as I see it, is to do everything possible to make our resources user-friendly for every level of user. Since March 9th, the three featured guides have gotten a total of just under 3,000 hits. Small changes, big results.

Our online learning guides featured front and center

Add Help at the Point of Need

If you’re like us, I imagine your community will be spending most of their time accessing content for courses through your school’s LMS, library website, and LibGuides. Common sense—and usability studies—tell us that help, like information, should be offered when and where it’s needed, in the format that’s most helpful to the user. Both of our new guides provide our teachers with the tools and information they need to create content and teach in ways that may be foreign or difficult. This transition is stressful enough; offering help on the three guides featured on the library website, in addition to the website itself, was another small change we could make that just made sense.

LibWizard Magic

Enter LibWizard Lite, a LibGuides module that comes free with LibGuides CMS. Although it’s not as robust as the subscription level LibWizard Full, it allows you to create forms and surveys, which are a perfect way to increase your visibility and make it easy for your users to contact you at their point of need. Although I have been a LibGuides enthusiast for close to 15 years, I have never fully explored or mastered LibWizard. At a time when we are asking everyone to move out of their comfort zone and try something new, it made sense for me to do the same. So I watched a few tutorials, made a few test forms, and finally came up with a help desk tab that was added to both of the new online teaching guides, in addition to our library website and course guides with current research projects. The tab was styled bright red with all caps reading HELP DESK. We tried different wording but ultimately felt everyone was familiar with that term. When clicked, the pop-up window contained information on who to reach out to for specific questions and included links to our Calendly pages for scheduling appointments and email for simpler questions. Again, help was there where it was needed.

Help Desk ticket for our online learning guide

Small Changes, Big Results

I absolutely love this one small change we made to our guides which made a big difference for our users. The tab is anchored, visible on each page of the guide, and moves as the user scrolls. Excuse me while I geek out—but what is not to love about my new favorite tech tool? Below you can see some of the ways we customized the help desk pop-up depending on the purpose and audience for the guide.

User-friendly Design

Like LibGuides, the LibWizard module is pretty user-friendly on the backend. There are drag and drop options with fields that allow you to customize your form, as well as a question bank to save and reuse common fields. You’re able to gather the information that will allow you to better meet the need of your user. Simple to use, easy to duplicate, multi-use functions make using LibWizard a winning situation for our users and for us. Now excuse me while I find another guide that could use a help desk tab.

Word of the day is sprezzatura

I imagine I’m not the only blogger who plans and drafts ahead of the deadline. I have debated completely revising today’s post, which I wrote early last month. I decided I’m not going to do that. That said, in rereading what I wrote, the me of 6 weeks ago is not the me of today. First off, I had a library I biked to every morning and a routine that included chapels and senior speeches. How quotidian that was then, and how foreign that feels now. We have no clue when we are returning to school or the lasting impact COVID-19 will leave on our schools, our country, and the world. In happier news, I had totally forgotten even applying for the grant. More seriously, we’ve gone 180 degrees on mental health, from worry about kids who had scheduled 28 hours of activities, jobs, courses, and test prep into a 24 hour day to worry about those same teens sitting in their houses on screens for at least a month nonstop.

But I think the topic of the post, avoiding sprezzatura, is more important now than ever before. I am so proud to be a leader of AISL, and I have been so impressed with the ways that AISL members have stepped up to help each other and their schools over the past few weeks! THANK YOU for creating libguides, sharing resources, and asking the questions that are allowing us to successfully move our libraries virtual without much time to plan. It is obvious that you care about your students, your teachers, and the field of librarianship. I will say personally that I’m having a lot of difficulty with work-life balance, simply because I care so much and it feels good to do something. And there’s no physical reminder that I’m not at work. All the time. I wanted to share that because I sense from our continued conversations that I’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed. I am really proud of the board, and especially our Tech Coordinator Claire Hazzard, for quickly pulling together the Zoom chats. I was surprised at how quickly I smiled as I tuned into the first one and saw so many faces I recognized, offering support and providing connection. We plan to continue these for at least the next week or two, or as long as members find them helpful. After a meeting yesterday, my teacher husband said, “it’s like we’re all first year teachers again.” We care a lot, we’re working really hard, and we still have a lot to learn. And we are definitely better as a result of the collaborative nature of AISL. Here’s the original post:

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Hi, I’m Christina Pommer, AISL President and relentless perfectionist. (Am I writing this at 7:30pm on a Friday night as a “break” from reading student essays? Yes, yes I am.) Unfortunately, I’m also a bad perfectionist.

All of our seniors have to give a chapel speech that shares something of importance to them with the school community, and I have a running list of topics and partially-written speeches that will never be given because the message would be lost in my terror of speaking into a microphone.

In January, Gus gave one of the most meaningful and memorable speeches I’ve heard in a decade of listening to senior speeches twice a week. He was eloquent. His tone was perfect. And I learned a new vocabulary word that all high school teachers should know: sprezzatura-the art of studied carelessness. (Translation: Doing well without looking like you’ve tried.)

Here’s the gist of the speech. Despite what many high schoolers pretend, it’s important to care and it’s important to try. And he struck a balance of eloquence and humor, with a tone that didn’t alienate his classmates. It was the message I needed to hear that day.

“Now, in the very constrained world of high school, what we do with our time has very little to do with what we care about–instead mostly having to do with what parents, teachers, and colleges care about–but someday their influence will wane, and we will all be completely responsible for what we do with our lives.(Instead of looking to others) we will have to turn to ourselves and decide what we care about and then own up to that, proudly saying that “I do this because I care about doing this, and doing it well.”

“I hope that there is something each and every one of you does care about. I urge you all to care unashamedly, unreservedly, about something, about anything, just care.”

Two weeks previously, I had applied for a grant related to information literacy. It was hard to even admit I cared, that I wanted to do well, that I wanted it…or that I deserved it.

One of the pieces of the application that simultaneously intrigued and terrified me was the small print about “optional supporting materials. How cool to have the opportunity to share presentations, images, and publications. But how? There were no instructions about how to submit anything beyond the application form, essay, and letters of recommendation. I decided to incorporate these optional materials into my essay at the appropriate points, allowing readers to see examples of my actual work, much like Wikipedia readers might click on the hyperlinks of an article. Because I get so concerned about losing formatting in electronic submissions, my final task after proofreading and checking all links was to convert all documents to pdfs.

Two weeks later brings us to the morning of Gus’s speech. A freshman asked a question about a hyperlink that wouldn’t open from a pdf. Shifting immediately to panic mode, I wanted to check my own submission. Instead, using all willpower I possess to focus on the task at hand, we found the link on a general web search.  Then I opened my own document and clicked on the first link. And the second. And the third. I was offered the option to highlight. To strikethrough. To add a note. But not to open any links. I returned to the Word document and the links worked as anticipated. Knowing myself, in 100 times of checking, I never would have added the step to check the pdf. It’s always the last thing I do before submissions.

I was late to chapel because I was writing the committee. Better to at least let them know that my application hadn’t submitted as I had intended. This at least stopped my own wondering about the reception. A response was waiting a few hours later.

This is the time when I tell you this was all occurring two weeks before the announcement of the winner, giving me time to write most of this post as a way of processing my disappointment, while simultaneously imagining a scenario in which the nonfunctional links didn’t matter and I was the best candidate. Please tell me I’m not alone in living in two dichotomous worlds, though at the end of those two weeks I learned for certain I didn’t win.

As with many of your schools, our school is increasingly looking at the mental health of our students; what’s stressing them out and what’s making their days happier. Since beginning conversations with the team at Challenge Success, we are discussing how to limit the bad kind of stress while teaching students to cope with eustress. Was my experience the former, or was it the latter? It was a technological learning point for me, one I won’t soon forget. Sometimes a spelling erorr in a resume can cost you an interview, a traffic snarl can keep you from arriving at an interview on time, or too many “umms” can keep you from getting the job. These are real consequences.

Which returns me to sprezzatura. It’s nice to wake up with hair that looks perfectly blown out. How convenient to be on the lacrosse team that happened to win by 10 points last night. The themes of Gatbsy just flowed from your pen, earning you an A on your ICW.  It’s harder to care, and to admit to that you care, to talk about the time spent with a blowdryer, running drills, or annotating the text.

Or from Gus:

Every time somebody flexes that they aced a test without worrying about it, chalks an impressive goal up to luck and not the hours of practice they put in, or dismisses some club or extracurricular as being solely about the college app grind and not, on some level, a genuine passion, they’re employing sprezzatura . Faking carelessness like this necessarily means denying the part of yourself that really does care and losing yourself to your artificial air of nonchalance. Without caring about anything, you might avoid embarrassing yourself, you might seem cool, but you certainly won’t know any real success, feel any real satisfaction, either. If no part of your life means anything to you, your life is, in the most literal sense, meaningless.

AISL members have responded in the past with a sense of recognition when bloggers have shared their own vulnerabilities. It’s hard for me because it goes against that effortlessness that is modeled in so many corners of society. I have told students for years that the single piece of writing that stood out to me the most in four years of high school English was Joan Didion’s On Self Respect. In hindsight, I wonder both how much of it I understood and how much of my identity had already been set by age seventeen. This is my public declaration that I care about librarianship and specifically information literacy, and I put in the effort, and at the end of the day in this case it wasn’t enough. And that’s okay.

Staying Connected

The coronavirus crisis has prompted rapid intervention by schools, and long distance learning has challenged educators and teacher librarians to develop meaningful instruction and learning activities.  One key concern is how to stay connected with students and engage them in learning beyond fill-in-the blank worksheets. Librarians are resource experts: our websites and LibGuides organize collections of ebooks, audiobooks, databases, and recommended websites. Finding information is easy; engaging with the information and making personal connections is the real challenge for student learning.

One of our national treasures, The Smithsonian Institution, is encouraging students to explore art, artifacts, and videos to build connections and deepen learning through thoughtful conversations.  The Smithsonian Learning Lab’s new GoGlobal modules highlight items from the Smithsonian’s collections; these modules were developed by educators for a variety of subject areas and grade levels. To support student inquiry, the learning activities incorporate Visible Thinking routines and Global Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero.

Vincent Van Gogh: The Starry Night. Oil on canvas, 1889.. Fine Art. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/140_1643097/1/140_1643097/cite. Accessed 18 Mar 2020.

How can looking closely at Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night reveal ideas about the science of stars? Explore Sandra Vilevac’s Grade 4 Beliefs Unit that uses Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night to launch a discussion on how the night sky has influenced belief systems. Using a thinking routine called Beauty and Truth, students ponder how beauty (art) can reveal truths or, at times, conceal truth. It is surprising how accurately Vincent’s turbulent, glowing sky depicts images from the Hubble telescope. This learning module provides additional activities, such as animated video stories of the origins of stars from belief systems of the Mohawk, “The Never Ending Bear Hunt,” and Chippewa, “The Fox and the Stars.” For example, students might ponder Beauty and Truth in the story of “The Fox and the Stars”; this story describes why the stars have the appearance of being scattered in the sky and yet one can also detect patterns of star formations.

How can environmental artwork prompt us to social action? Aleah Myers’s GoGlobal learning module, Environmental Advocacy through Art, provides many art forms for students to examine and then challenges students to create their own artwork that will encourage society to protect the environment. Students might view the riveting environmental artwork, El Antusi’s sculpture Erosion, to evaluate perspectives with Step In, Step Out, Step Back thinking routine:

1. Develop empathy with an artist’s message (Step In) 
2. Clarify what you might need to investigate to understand the message better
(Step Out)
3. Reflect on your own perspective and “what it takes to take somebody else’s (perspective)” (Step Back)

Students can then watch the Smithsonian video that discusses the layers of meaning in this sculpture Erosion

These are just a few examples of the GoGlobal learning modules that encompass art, music, culture, science, history, and social action. These resources and thinking routines may spark ideas to connect your students in engaging discussions. Whether your distance learning takes the structure of embedded content in library websites, screencasts, school discussion boards, shared Googledocs, GoogleMeet, or Flipgrid, consider exploring some of the thought-provoking collections of the Smithsonian with the goal of guiding students in discussions that deepen inquiry through Visible Thinking and Global Thinking routines.