As we get closer to the end of the year, increasingly frayed nerves, and AP testing, I again try to come up with a meaningful plan of what to do with the students that teachers randomly send to the library during their class time. You know the ones: perhaps they are known as “troublemakers,” or perhaps it is just entire classes who have completed their AP testing and now the teacher doesn’t know what to do with them. In the past when I have questioned such decisions (because the teacher certainly does not come to the library with them or provide a project…or notice), the teacher explains, “Well, they said they wanted to come to the library.”
Um, yeah. Of course they did. (Wouldn’t you rather be in the library, relatively unsupervised, with nothing specific to accomplish?) This year, however, I want to be intentional with purpose. What is the purpose of a teacher sending a student (or their entire class) to the library: for them to work on a project or for the teacher to get a break? What is the purpose of the library during the time when the students trickle in: academic, student union, etc.?
I’ve decided my best course of action, besides asking the Principals to request that teachers keep their students in their classrooms, is to clarify a teacher’s purpose when/if they send an unsupervised class to the library. For example, do they need the students to work on a project and therefore need my help? It’s a complicated dichotomy: I love helping students, and I always want them to feel welcome. However, I also do not want other faculty to view the library as “free babysitting.” Otherwise, I end up with all the AP classes, yearbook, photography, orchestra, etc. classes all in here at the same time without their instructor or a defined purpose.
Has anyone else tackled this issue? (I hope it’s not just me.) What did you do?
Our third graders have officially entered into the realm of coding in the library. Many students have experience either through summer camp programs or on their own at home with coding, but few have explored the basic skills of coding, namely logic and problem solving. If you search the Internet for coding activities your browser will burst with new online programs, some free some not, that teach young students how to program. However, often a very important skill is overlooked, that of really thinking like a programmer. To become true coders students need to learn to think logically and to problem solve. Students who lack these skills will often become frustrated as the programs they envision do not become reality. This is because students consider programming bugs to be problems within the computer instead of what they are, a mistake made by the person writing the code, the programmer.
This means that we start coding off the computer. Our third graders are working on their logical thinking and problem solving skills. In addition we emphasize that computers are not really smart, rather it is the person creating the program with the real brains. A computer will do nothing it is not instructed to do. Our first lesson was having students create simple pictures using lines and colors. They then had to create instruction cards for another member of the class to replicate the same picture. This lead to much laughing but through the merriment students were lead to understand that it was not the person following the instructions, but rather the instructions themselves which were bugged. This lead to interesting conversation about how they could have made the code simpler, easier to follow and was the order of the directions correct? How did a person know where to put the yellow line?
We followed this activity with another short pairing we called Caller and Drawer. Paired students were given a picture made with shapes. Sitting back to back, one student called out instructions on how to create the picture, while the other student drew the shapes with the directions. Again, there was much hilarity as the students shared their pictures, however, this time students were working much harder to get their ideas across. We discussed how clear, short directions were most effective. As a bonus, this also lead to a discussion about how we all communicate a little differently and that we need to be open to each other and seek to listen to understand.
Presently, the students are applying their skills to board games. We have grouped the students into fours with some groups playing Mouse Mania while others are playing Make’n’Break. The Mouse Mania is a simple straight forward coding game, however, we have used the adapted version of the rules for Make’n’Break. Similar to the Caller and Drawer game. Students played in pairs and worked to have their partner build the image they were assigned on the card.
The students are really enjoying the game play even as I continue to circle back emphasizing the skills they are learning through the play. Because students want to become better players, they are listening to advice and thinking more about how they can more logically approach their tasks. The students will be moving onto the online coding application, Scratch, in a few weeks, once they have time to establish and build some basic skills.
As with all skill development and mastery, some students will cement the skills very quickly while others will establish mastery at their own rate. Giving ample opportunity for the game play followed by discussion provides practice for students. This is a new way of introducing coding skills for me, so I am excited to see how these students approach Scratch, compared with classes I’ve taught in the past.
When it comes to collection development, I love weeding almost as much as selecting new titles. Actually, I may enjoy it more. I love it so much that sometimes I feel guilty. Not because of the uncertainty that is sometimes involved, but because it is so much fun and so satisfying. I worry that my weeding endeavors are a form of librarian procrastivity. I feel like there must be something more important I should be doing at that moment for my students or program.
Depending on the day, well, there very well may be. However, weeding is really important and easy to ignore and put off. It also has an impact beyond collection management and making room for new materials. While the library is more than the collection, the collection is a visible, tangible, and obvious sign of the care we are showing to our school and students. It is probably the first thing people think of when they hear “library,” for better or for worse. Prospective families get glimpses of it on tours. Teachers see it when they bring their students for exploration or information gathering sessions. If we haven’t weeded, they notice – along with their student who’s interested in a topic for which all of our books are dusty, decades-old, and written exclusively from a white cisgender heterosexual male perspective. Not only is collection management in itself a key piece of our responsibility to our students and our schools, but it’s also an issue of advocacy, inclusivity, and ethics. We need to have what they need, but we also need to not have what they don’t need. Specifically, material that is outdated, incorrect, or potentially harmful and counterproductive to tending a library that is inclusive, anti-racist, and student-centered. We can collect all the new award winners and more, but those trolls in the stacks are still there if we don’t weed them out. I’m embarrassed when a student brings a book to the circulation desk that we shouldn’t have anymore, and I have to give them a disclaimer. What faith will they have in our library or future libraries if I wince at the age of their selection and don’t have something better to offer?
So, I can’t feel guilty about my time spent weeding. The CREW Manual advises that it should be a continuous part of our work. After ten years at my school, I am starting to weed items that I purchased, which is sometimes a slightly bitter pill to swallow. But, like Marie Kondo, we have to thank these items for the purpose they served and say goodbye. We gain clean, tidy, appealing shelves, students who feel confident and comfortable with the books that were selected for them (not for their grandparents), and more space for what they need. I find it’s a great thing to do on Friday afternoon.
I’ve long been intrigued by the idea of doing an All-School Read, but have also found the logistics of pulling something like that off a little daunting. And even though I would talk with colleagues about books that might make for great community reads, the idea of picking a book that could, in theory, appeal to everyone at my school seemed impossible.
But I still wanted to do what I could to encourage reading for pleasure, and to use reading as a tool for community building. Thus, the faculty/student book clubs were born!
I decided to build on the strong relationships so many of our students have with their teachers, and to use those as a vehicle to promote reading for pleasure. A student who may not pick up a book on their own may be inspired to read if it means they get to hang out with one of their favorite teachers.
I wanted to start small, so the plan was for the book groups to meet once, right after our December break. Our semester ends before the break, so in theory our students wouldn’t have work to do over the break, and would be more likely to have some time to read.
My first step was to recruit faculty to lead these groups. I emailed faculty with the outline of the plan and some “recommended reads.” I tried to include a mix of fiction and non-fiction, as well as different genres of fiction. Many faculty chose one of these books, and some chose a title on their own. Much to my surprise, I had multiple faculty members volunteering to “sponsor” the same book, which was great! With a little more recruiting, I was able to get teachers from different departments in each book club.
We had some time during an assembly to announce the book clubs and for faculty members to make a pitch for the book they were sponsoring, and then sent a sign-up to students. There were tons of posters and announcements and displays as well in order to hype up the book clubs.
And then, we read!
Overall, attendance at the book clubs was low, which was what I expected for an inaugural effort; but everyone (faculty and students) who participated really enjoyed both the books they read and the conversations they had. Much to my surprise, one of the most popular book clubs was for Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I could not have predicted that, but was delighted to see so many students connecting with a type of text they may not have the opportunity to read elsewhere in school.
More than having these book clubs themselves, my over-arching goal was to shift the conversation about reading. I know many high school librarians struggle to get students to read for pleasure, and often the narrative is that “kids don’t read anymore.” But they do! We know they do. But if the narrative is “kids don’t read” we make it less likely that more kids will want to pick up a book, and we de-legitimize the readers in our midst.
There were plenty of students who didn’t participate in the book clubs, but who made it a point to tell me about the books they had read over break. Having a public celebration of books and reading gave them an excuse to talk about books and to have that be celebrated. Giving reading the same space we afford to other pursuits in the school – academic, athletic, or artistic – helps shift the conversation about reading for pleasure.
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.