It sure would be nice, I imagine, to work in the Acquisitions Department of the Library of Congress. With a collection of some 138,000,000 items, it makes my struggles seem small. Each of us, in the context of our library, has to make choices about what stuff to have in them. Often, those choices either start or finish with the question, how much does it cost? And depending on when or why you might be considering that purchase, you might also ask – what benefit does the purchase provide to the library and your school community?
Depending on how long you’ve been dealing with your library budget (if you do), you will have noticed a large shift from your physical collection line items to your database subscription ones. Perhaps you’ve also decreased your magazine subscription budgets, too? Maybe, like me, your institution doesn’t wish to change the conventions of their master budget categories and you find yourself allocating certain costs that only resemble the actual nature of the expenditure. (Is an audiobook service a book or an online subscription?)
Our library is a small one – both in size, staff and, because of our school size (1.5 librarians for 350 students, grades 9-12), relative scope of services. Our budget has, largely, been sufficient. In my ten years here, however, it has been constant – that is, up until this year when I was asked to decrease spending by some 6%. The effort of looking closely at expenditures and where I might need to be more frugal has brought to the fore some of the questions I regularly ask when considering costs.
Is this something the library should have because any school library worth its salt should have it? Or is this something the library should have because it will be used/leveraged to such a degree to make that a value-added proposition? Should I order this book because a patron will read it but maybe they’ll be the only person to do so? Or should I buy a book that we think someone will read it but that perhaps no one will ever read? (I’ll also note that we are very lucky to have an endowed book fund that provides about 50% of our annual physical book budget.)
On a more positive note, as I have reduced costs in areas that were under leveraged, I have been able to allocate some of those funds toward initiatives for which I might otherwise not have had funds. This year, we are trialing a couple of new services that I didn’t, in the past, feel we had funds for. One is the Kanopy movie service and another is Overdrive’s Audio/eBook platform, Sora. We were able to redistribute some of our funds from the too little used Infobase Classroom Video on Demand to help cover those costs. While CVOD is a great resource, my failed efforts to successfully promote it and for it to be used couldn’t justify – within our budget restrictions – keeping it. We also were able to add more digital newspapers (e.g. Wall Street Journal, Washington Post) when we stopped using the NewsBank platform. Again, Newsbank is a great resource, but only if it actually gets used!
So here I am, nearly 67% of the way through my budget year with approximately 70% of my budget spent. It’s at this time of year I begin to think about purchases we made that didn’t get used to the degree I’d hoped. I also consider how to allocate what funds we have left to give our library patrons both what they want, what they ought to have, and what we hope for them to be able to benefit from. I know we won’t always have everything that everyone asks for, but we hope that we’ll be judicious with our allocations such that people can still make requests that we can fill and that not too many people will be unable to get what they need. And hey, if there’s a little money left over, I wouldn’t mind getting one of those seasonal affective disorder lamp visors…. I am seriously looking forward to daylight savings.
How do students know where to work or socialize in your library?
Issues we sometimes have in our space: students congregating around a friend in a study carrel and talking, a student taking up a study room meant for groups, people chatting in a silent room, a loud group of eight at a table meant for four or five.
Our upper school library is mainly a big room with three break-out rooms and a library classroom. The main part of the library has table seating for about 40 people, a lounge area, and about 40 study carrels surround the bookshelves. Obviously noise is an issue in our large room, especially at lunch, and we are constantly trying new ways to get kids to understand where to sit for what purpose.
This year we introduced “Know Your Library Zones” at all the grade-wide orientations at the start of the year. We also put two posters in the library.
The first semester after the orientations, I could walk up to people chatting in the silent areas and they would say “know your zone!” and move away. Now in February, it might be time to remind the students about the zones, but for the most part I think it helped a bit. Students are signing up for the rooms and seem to be thinking more about where to go when they enter the library, depending on their activity. We are still a loud and active library for the most part, but even small improvements help so that there are some quiet spaces. I will remind them of the zones pretty soon at an assembly.
How do you help your students know where to sit for the different types of work they do in your library? Or does it matter?
This week, our 5th formers will be completing their U.S. History research papers in lieu of a mid-term exam. As they scramble to finish their product—find one last piece of evidence to support a claim, format their manuscript in Chicago Style, insert footnotes, polish their thesis statement—I find myself with the opportunity to look back over these past two months and reflect on the process. While it takes a village to shepherd and support our students through the process, our work moves them toward what is ultimately a uniquely solitary activity, the act of putting pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, one that requires they bring together all of the skills and pieces of information covered over the course of this semester that hopefully will result in one cohesive work.
“It’s only a high school research paper.” —astute APUSH student
In much the same way my students need to grapple with and master the specific skills research requires of them, it’s also necessary for me to think about how I can help them with that process. As educators of secondary school students, I don’t think many of us are under the illusion that our students are truly finding a research gap and entering into the scholarly conversation in a way that will be acknowledged by the academic community at large. This is in no way discounting the fine work many of our students do in their research/writing, but as one of my APUSH students so aptly stated when a colleague was doing the classic deep dive we all do when creating a properly formatted citation, “it’s only a high school research paper.” Yes, yes it is. Somehow looking at it from that perspective has been wonderfully liberating. While my students may not have their work published in peer-reviewed journals (yet!), they do need to be able to read and think deeply and critically about any number of issues throughout their academic career and in their personal life. So, how do we maintain high standards yet keep the paper in its proper perspective and what exactly does keep me up at night thinking about all things research?
Make the Process Visible
Image Credit: University Library System, University of Pittsburgh
The Research Process is one that’s familiar to us all—an iterative process with students moving through the steps on the infographic above until they (finally!) reach the citing, reviewing, and editing finish line. If you’re like me, you probably see at least six or more points when it would be helpful to meet with a class to provide instruction. Depending on a myriad of factors unique to each school, we might have one “boot camp” style instructional session or we might be fortunate enough to meet on a regular basis with a given class.
Flip the Class
Regardless of how much instructional time we have with students, it’s never enough. Our general research LibGuide establishes a common language for students and faculty and provides a general overview of the research process. With links to available resources and the flexibility to embed these in our PowerSchool LMS, flipping lessons can make the instructional time I do have more productive.
The Class-Specific LibGuide
This year I worked with five sections of U.S. History and two sections of APUSH, all writing a long-form paper. My collaboration with these classes ranged from an average of two-three instructional sessions to a high of ten. While more is always better from my vantage point, I work hard to be flexible and adapt to the needs of each faculty. This means I have to plan well in advance to cover essential skills during my face-to-face instructional time. For each research project I collaborate on, I create a unique guide that serves as a home base for students and supports what I cover in class. The U.S. History guide has subject-specific curated resources for primary, secondary, and tertiary sources and additional information on writing process skills. I’m also working on an exciting new project with the AP AB Calculus class on symmetry in nature and their guide supports the exploration of academic as well as online sources. These guides make it possible to curate available resources that help our students develop familiarity with scholarly and trustworthy sources.
Embrace the Basics
Although our incoming 3rd and 4th formers take a semester-long New Student Seminar course which covers study and research skills, I find I still need to stress the basics to our 5th and 6th formers. What is a tertiary source and why can you use it for background information but not quote it or include it in the bibliography? How can a book and journal both be secondary sources, but only one is peer-reviewed? How do you use social media in a scholarly paper? How are we to think about an author’s bias/ point-of-view or their authority? I do use handouts that when finished resemble an annotated bibliography and find they help students record basic bibliographic information with space for relevant quotes and why they support their claims. I try to not overestimate their ability to locate and evaluate information and plan lessons that focus on meta-cognition—encouraging them to think about thinking.
Oh, where would we be without NoodleTools? Even my most reluctant students eventually come to see the benefit of organizing their research on this platform. The inbox feature allows me to have access to all my students’ projects and be able to work side-by-side with them as they add or evaluate sources. While students love the export to NoodleTools feature on most databases, I see great value in thinking about what goes into the creation of a citation: what type of source is it, where was it found, who is the author, what is the title of the journal, when was it published, etc.—all the questions students need to answer as they add sources manually. With the notecard feature, I see a range of requirements from faculty for students to create notecards on NoodleTools, but I find those students who use the notecard feature generally have a much easier time organizing their outline and keeping quotes and paraphrases attributed to the proper source. Whether required by their teacher or not, I encourage all my students to use the notecard and outline features.
Images showing a student’s exemplary use of the notecard feature
Make Personal Connections
One of the best changes to this year’s instruction has been the addition of conferencing thanks to two faculty who required their students meet with me to discuss their papers. To organize this as simply as possible, students signed up “old school” for a time to meet via a clipboard at the front desk. We have other sign-up clipboards, so this made the most sense for the sake of consistency. These reference interviews were an opportunity for me to connect with students on a personal basis, ask questions that encouraged critical thinking and helped them to clarify their topic or thesis. It was also a time to offer them support on anything they requested from finding sources to formatting their manuscript. Asking students how I might help them encourages them to think more critically about where they are in the process and identify what they need to move forward. I see these conversations as a way to model how they might enter into the larger research conversation.
The Research Process is Messy
Another benefit of these one-on-one sessions is for me to be able to share the messiness of the whole process. Whether searching for sources, developing a thesis, or finding that right piece of evidence to support a claim, my experience has been that students generally believe research is a librarian’s superpower, not something we ever fail at or struggle with. So when I meet with students, it’s not to impress them with finding the “just right” source, it’s to show them the search process can be totally frustrating and you constantly have to regroup and refine search terms. To help them develop their search muscle, we identify basic search terms together and then brainstorm how to expand or limit our search depending on the results. Because I have a large monitor, these one-on-one sessions allow students to easily see and follow along as we work through advanced search strategies – something not easily accomplished with group instruction. Since mid-December, I’ve had the opportunity to meet with over 70 students, many of those repeat visits with no mandate from the teacher. Connecting with students at this level has enriched my experience as their research librarian and I hope it has enriched their research experience, as well.
So, I thought long and hard about what i could share this month and well, we took an ugly sad wall and… We made a clock!
The clock mechanism was ordered online. We glued the outside edges of the books’ pages together with a mixture of1-part white glue to 1-part water so the books wouldn’t swing open while they were mounted on the wall. The books are secured to the wall with 3M hook and loop Command Strips made for mounting photo frames to walls and they seem to work fine.
I suspect that about 80% of our students and perhaps more than one or two of our youngest faculty may possibly be a tad flummoxed by the analog hands, but it’s all good! LOL!!!
In the end, every time I walk through the front doors of the library and see our clock, It makes me feel…
We have a day of professional learning focusing on self-care so as you’re reading this I might be in a book club session with faculty and staff colleagues discussing our reading of No Hard Feelings by Liz Fosslien and Molly West Duffy, learning about healthy microwave cooking, or doing yoga with heart.
Four years ago, our school completed a huge construction and
renovation project. The Middle School Library moved into a newly constructed
space almost twice the size of our old one. I was asked to take an active role
in designing the new space, and I relished the idea of flexing my library design
Here we are, almost four years later, and the time has come
to assess how we’re doing. For now, I’m focusing on the space itself, not the
collection or programming or any other matter.
Some parameters were placed on us when we moved into this
space, the most difficult of which was that we could not tack anything up on
the walls nor could we cover the glass in any way. This left us with very
little usable wall space, as a good percentage of the walls are
floor-to-ceiling glass windows. In addition, the library’s décor and furniture
choices were undertaken by an interior designer, so the only input I had was in
asking that the chairs and tables be moveable for flexible seating
arrangements. The paper mâché tree, flying book lights, and “space chairs” give
the space those extra elements that make it exciting yet child-friendly.
I wrote a grant proposal for the construction of a 10 ft. x
10 ft. Lego wall, and a parent gave the library a generous gift so we could
make one of the rooms around the periphery into a green screen room. The
students enjoy the Lego wall, but I need to come up with some ways to utilize
it more with the middle school students.
Our green screen room is the only one in the school, and it
is used on a daily basis by kids in both the middle and upper schools. It’s a
small space that was originally intended to be a conference room, so it has
windows and a glass door. Not particularly good for a green screen room, but we’ve
worked around these issues. Things took off in there when we decided to paint an
entire wall apple green rather than hang a green piece of cloth. Scheduling
time in the green screen room is complicated, and because it’s the room that’s
furthest from the circulation desk, it tends to get messy in there. But it’s
The other rooms around the perimeter of the main space include
an office, a conference room with a folding wall to convert it into two rooms, 2
reading/relaxing areas, and a workroom for faculty with a sink. We also have
two large spaces for tables and chairs where entire classes can meet.
Thanks to all of the glass, the library fills with natural
light throughout the day, which is beautiful, but it makes it difficult to heat
and cool the space properly. Because everyone loves the library, school events
are held in here often. This means that we have come in some mornings to
leftover food and event set-ups that haven’t been broken down. Another issue we
have is that the Upper School Library next door is often crowded, so upper school
students often come in to use any quiet rooms we have available to study.
Middle school students have priority over the upper school students when it
comes to space utilization, but it can be difficult to monitor the behavior of
the older students when they’re in our space.
The library is a wonderful, welcoming space. Our circulation desk is huge and allows us to comfortably assist patrons. Very little of the library’s square footage is underutilized. In fact, I’d say that we will be bursting at the seams before we know it. When we opened four years ago, our stacks were a good size for our print collection. Now, though, it looks like we’re going to need a new shelf unit soon, unless we do some serious weeding later this year. Adding another shelf unit would seriously impact the space, and I’d like to avoid that as long as possible.
I realize that all of our space problems are good problems to have. I’m thankful that the architects asked for our librarian input when the library was being designed because we knew what we needed and what would work well for the middle school. We love our library and know we can be comfortable here for years to come.
“Where is the ‘quick cite?’ ” is a refrain I often hear when some of my middle division students are searching for information on websites. While the repetition of this question might lead to mild annoyance; underneath it all, I experience a bit of librarian glee because I know the circumstances that lead students to this question. The reason our students repeatedly look and ask for the “quick cite” is because they are well trained to use library databases in conjunction with Noodletools. Students learn early that databases are not only a reservoir of credible sources, but that they provide formatted citation information, a “quick cite,” ready for an easy grab as prompted by Noodletools. At Berkeley Preparatory School we have an array of databases that the library hosts for students. There is buy-in from our administrators and consistent reinforcement from our teachers to use the library databases and digital resources. So when students venture outside these resources on the open internet they are confronted with the reality that most websites do not have a nicely formatted citation ready for import into their Noodletools work area. They are horrified that they must enter each discrete piece of citation detail for each website. The trials and tribulations of our digital natives led me to observe that they struggle to find the source information from websites to complete a proper citation.
In devising a lesson I wanted to build skill development in recognizing the parts of a website source, but in a tangible way to engage students. I wanted to avoid “the stand deliver” method in which I talk at them and their eyes glaze over. So I made magnetized arrows of the parts of a citation. Since we are a school that uses Noodletools, I showed them how the fields in the Noodletools source citation maker match the arrows I had created. I find it is important to explicitly show them how concepts line up or match between systems and approaches and not assume it will translate naturally for students. I reminded students where they can find all the pieces of information to give proper credit, and how Noodletools helps guide that collection of data for websites when they are searching in environments outside our databases.
Then I modeled searching on websites in which I had chosen a topic similar to the ones they were researching. Students were looking for current articles to prepare an argument to defend. I used the arrows and lined them up on the board pointing to where citation information is on a webpage. After a few fields I even asked students where I should place them. Then on the next website projected I handed out the arrows to students, so they had to get up and move to the board to apply it themselves. Then we checked it as a whole class and discussed patterns we noticed with websites, i.e.,how sometimes there was only a copyright date and no day and month data. We also commented on corporate and institutional authors when there was no individual author. Then another website was projected and another group of students visited the board to interact with the webpage. The students enjoyed moving around and using the arrows to demonstrate their understanding. I found I could get quick feedback of how much a class understood where this information resides on a webpage.
Then students were researching independently on websites. Students still raised their hands to get help finding where the information for a citation was, but I found they were seeking confirmation more than needing me to point it out. I could refer back to the examples we used earlier and ask them questions to help them answer their own questions. Students learned that there is rarely a “quick cite” when they are using websites, but they demonstrated more confidence in completing a “slow cite.” I felt better knowing that my students could navigate and credit sources more accurately regardless of the environment in which they were seeking.
School Library Programming is as unique as each librarian and learning community. One popular program in my suite is the Library Lunch Club(s).
I am on a fixed PK to Grade 5 schedule for just over 190 students. During the seven day rotation, I see PK for 30 minutes, K and 1 for 40 minutes per section and grades 2 through 5 for one hour per section. I also additionally schedule co-teaching and extra library time during research season. This schedule allows ample time for curriculum as well as reader’s advisory.
I have been offering Lunch Clubs since my first year here in 2017. I had an eager bunch of 5th graders that year – strong readers and active library users – this got me thinking about expanding programming.
Lunch Clubs were born! My schedule is such that offering 2 lunchtime clubs in the library during the 7 day rotation felt manageable.
Library Lunch Club:
Open to 4th and 5th grade students
2 lunch clubs offered each year, one per semester
No more than 10-12 students per, and only repeats if space allows
Themes (except for first year) are decided upon by my student leadership group year prior
Meet at least 8-10 times per semester, all semester long
Option to drop after first meeting, then committed for remainder
Eat lunch in the library or outside weather permitting for first half of lunch
Create, learn, enjoy library and literary activities during second half of lunch
Clubs offered so far:
Graphic Novel Club: appreciate the genre, create your own, pub in library
Picture Book Appreciation Club: appreciate the genre, create your own, pub in library
Newbery Club: Read Newbery winner and discuss book club style
Newspaper Club: appreciate the form and function, write your own and pub
Homemade Books Club: create accordion books and sew a handmade book together
I chose activities that I knew all of us would be able to dig into reasonably during the lunch hour. During all of these clubs, we talk books, laugh a lot, watch related videos, create original content and find community in our love for books, stories and sharing.
Lunch Clubs are here to stay. I really enjoy providing a unique time and space to explore the books and topics they love, while they enjoy creative expression. Please share one of your unique library programs in the comments below!
While I’ve always considered myself a writer in some form, most of my output has been confined to my rapidly filling Google Drive for the past decade or so. I spent several years as a reviewer for School Library Journal, and eventually wrote longer articles for SLJ after making contact with an editor who liked my work.
Strangely enough, it took a life pivot for me to embrace writing in a real way in my life. When I went on maternity leave with my son two years ago, I found that the late night feedings were oddly creative times for me (in the beginning at least). I’d come up with ideas for essays, sentence fragments, and tap them into my notes app with one hand. In the morning I’d change the baby into his daytime pajamas and try to decipher what I’d written the night before. Then while he napped (or watched Sesame Street) I’d try to shape what I’d written into something resembling an essay.
My best writer friend then suggested that I join the Binders, a Facebook group of women writers. There other women shared editors, pitches, rates, and anything you might need to know to make the leap to published author. I sent my first pitch to Romper and when it was accepted, the editor read my bio and suggested I pitch something for a series on children’s books.
While most of my published essays have centered around parenting, librarianship definitely informs what I write. Whether it’s knowing how to find sources for a piece on body image or giving me the cultural context to approach issues of diversity with sensitivity, my “day job” is deeply ingrained in my side hustle. I’m sure my credentials helped when I pitched LitHub last year to respond to an Atlantic article about diverse books. I feel like librarians are writers every day in some form, and I have just decided to continue honing my craft.
Something I’ve taken away from writing for the past few years is that fortune truly favors the bold. If I hadn’t reached out to the editor at School Library Journal to ask if there were any opportunities to write in longer form, I wouldn’t have begun to get paid publishing opportunities there. And if I didn’t shoot the moon and pitch the New York Times (for the sixth time) in December, I wouldn’t have been published there. There is a lot of self-advocacy in freelance writing, and tooting your own horn–both things I learned while working in libraries for the past ten years.
To anyone who is interested in developing this side of themselves, the publications group can help you find opportunities in more library-specific venues. If you’re interested in other areas of writing, it’s often as easy as googling the “masthead” where editors are listed on their websites, checking twitter for “calls for pitches”, or reaching out to me, email@example.com if you think you have a good idea and you’re not sure where to send it. How to write a pitch that sells is its own entry–but I have some helpful tips if you’re interested.
Freelance writing has expanded my life beyond the walls of my school, and it’s shown me that many of my feelings around parenting (and librarianship!) are actually quite universal. You never know who needs to read what you’ve written. And while conventional wisdom will tell you to never read the comments, if you’ve been working with middle and high school students for long enough, your skin is much thicker than you’d think.
As librarians, we wear many hats including reading specialist, makerspace instructor, technology teacher, information specialist and social justice adviser. Share your lessons and expertise in journals targeted for educators, collaborators, makerspace mavens, technology teachers, humanities instructors, or any other fields you enjoy teaching, or researching.
Always read one or more issues before you start the application process. When you write for an audience other than school librarians, recognize that the more you can “speak” their language and reflect their goals, the better your communication will be. Don’t forget to list your AISL membership in your biographical information.
If your favorite journals aren’t in this list, you can look on their websites. A link to the writing submission instructions can often be found on the homepage.
Are you attending AISL Houston? Come visit the The Publication Group Table Talk. Wednesday April 1, 2020 1:00pm – 2:45pm Herman Park & Houston Zoo. We will be available to help you with articles and conference applications.
Open your favorite journal link below and read the guidelines for writers. Periodicals like Educational Leadership list upcoming themes. Others, like Literacy Today, want you to submit a proposal before you write.
Instructions for Submitting Articles
ACCESSPOINTS (ATLIS – Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools)
As a child, my mom always set a limit on how many books my brothers and I were allowed to check out at a time — three. We would return every week and get three new books and I was content with that system.
Once I could start going to the library independently I still found myself setting the three book limit on myself. I never questioned it and was happy to return a week later or even sooner if I finished reading, which was often the case.
Fast forward to my first year as a librarian in a public library. Suddenly that three book limit went out the window. I was checking out any book that looked remotely interesting because well, I could! My nightstand started to resemble a Jenga game with books teetering out of every surface. I would often read at least a book or more a week, so I felt my ever-growing pile was justified.
In my current role as a solo elementary school librarian I find myself waxing and waning — Should there be a check out limit?
The logical, librarian side of me thinks…
Of course! I don’t want to be shelving all day because every third grader checked out 10 books each.
I wouldn’t have anything left on the shelves if students could check out as much as they wanted!
They will just lose those books!
Whereas, the book-lover side of me thinks…
Why yes! You may check out the entire Harry Potter series to read over winter break because that sounds like a delightful plan!
It’s an awful feeling when you finish a book and have nothing to read after it. I can’t put a kid through that!
How can I say ‘no’ to a student who wants to read?!
The logical, librarian side of me won and I do in fact have checkout policies in place. When students come to the library with their class they know how many books they are allowed to check out and they are content. It makes for a smooth check out and students know what to expect. However, I still find myself wanting to say to some of my students — You’ll be done with these two books by Saturday afternoon. Go ahead, check out two more.
What are your checkout policies? Do you listen to the logical librarian half of your brain or do you tend to side more with your book-loving side?