on school librarians and the daze of our lived lives…

By the time you’re reading this, most of you are likely to be finding your way through one of the amazing sessions making up the 2022 Association of Independent School Librarians Annual Conference. This year’s virtual conference features an incredible variety of topics! As I scan through the schedule, there are sessions on topics as varied as:

  • How to help students ask excellent questions…
  • Supporting DEI in our schools…
  • Supporting the college admissions process…
  • Cultivating a culture of reading…
  • Launching student library boards…

One of the things about being a school librarian is that, though we’re all “librarians,” our lived lives in our libraries can be SO VERY, VERY different than that of our colleagues in other states, countries, or even just a mile down the street.

I think that the uniqueness of our lived lives as librarians is a huge part of what has made librarianship such a very exciting profession for me, but also from time to time that exact uniqueness can sometimes make me feel like I’m the only one out here doing the work that I do… To clarify, I work with a wonderful, enthusiastic young librarian that I hope many of you get to meet in person at an in-person AISL Annual Conference some day, but I hope you get what I mean when I figuratively say, “…feel like I’m the only one out here doing the work that I do…”

Anyway, an AISL colleague recently inquired about librarianship in a project-based learning school. Our colleague asked,

I’m interested to hear from other Upper School librarians about project-based learning. If you work in a school that’s embraced PBL, I’d love to know more about how you’ve integrated it into your work as a librarian. How do you work with/support teachers & classes on project-based learning initiatives? 

I spent my first 14 years as a librarian at a very rigorous, rather traditional independent school in Los Angeles. I was part of a team of 5 MLS librarians at the middle school. Yes, you read that right, there were FIVE MLS librarians and a full-time library assistant that served our middle school. We had a seeming bottomless budget for purchase of resources and the curriculum was extremely consistent and stable. Every teacher who taught 7th grade history taught from the same team lesson plans, did the same research projects, and used the same summative tests and quizzes. We had the great benefit of knowing that every February, every 9th grader would come in with their history classes for an arc of lessons on locating and using primary sources that they’d incorporate into their papers and projects (yeah, no… they were just papers). We had a well developed list of research topics that the 9th graders would cover so we were able to identify topics that proved challenging for students and purchase resources to facilitate students’ success. It was rigorous. It was fun.

8 years ago, my elderly mom had a bad fall and it was time for me to leave “the best job I’d ever have” and move home to Honolulu to help with her care. As luck would have it, I landed here at Mid-Pacific, an amazing preschool to 12th grade progressive school that’s leaned heavily into project-based learning, and I realized that I ended up in a new “best job I’d ever have!” 🤣

Things I’ve learned about librarian-ing in a PBL school:

1) Goodbye “Just in Case” Collection Development – I had to jettison my “just in case” notions of print collection management. In my PBL environment, topics covered and research project assignments change. Every. Single. Year. I don’t have the luxury of knowing that every February the Middle Ages primary source project is going to run so I need to buy more books on the Cluniacs and how the Irish monks preserved literacy in the Middle Ages… Books that I bought for to shore up our print collection for “the food project, next year” sat untouched because the project never returned. The following year, the class had moved on to sound waves… #Alas

2) Think Systems and Frameworks, Not “Library Lessons” – I’ve had to learn to think about framing information literacy instruction in terms of systems and frameworks rather than discrete skills and processes presented in library lessons. Over the years we’ve worked and reworked our “research framework.” Every time it gets reworked, the language becomes less “librarian-ese” and more the language of ordinary humans. If you need a book of supporting documentation, your framework probably isn’t accessible enough for mere mortals who aren’t librarians to use so keep simplifying. Note: Making our stuff simple is REALLY, REALLY hard!!! #Ugh

3) Farewell One-Shot Library Lessons – The one-shot library lesson has pretty much become a thing of the past, here. They don’t work in PBL. If I’m being honest, I kind of doubt that they work in general. #SorryNotSorry #Shrug If we work with your class, we need to expect you to make time to see us 3-5 times over the course of the project because information needs and the skills/processes that kids need to know at different points in the process vary. Having tons of one-shot lessons littering up our instructional calendar means that I work SUPER HARD with no pay off in terms of student learning. It also means that I don’t have space in my schedule to book an arc of 3-5 lessons over 3 weeks with a class where those kids see how the different skills and processes come together in a holistic way and therefore, understand the process and the parts/skills utilized along the way.

4) Librarians Shouldn’t Be Teaching All the InfoLit – I know that this one might ruffle some feathers. I used to think “Maybe I shouldn’t say this,” but yeah, I seem to have reached an age where when I think that sometimes I just figure, “Whatevers… Let’s see what happens…” Hahaha! So here goes, I’ve adopted the philosophy that it is my job to be sure that good information literacy and research skills are being taught—NOT to teach all the information literacy and research skills on campus. That is just not gonna happen in a preschool-12 school of 1400 students with 2 librarians… More importantly, that’s JUST NOT HOW LITERACIES DEVELOP. You’ll never develop information literate young adults on 6 library lesson a year. Our job is to teach the teachers (and that’s usually in the form of library lessons). You watch me do this for 2 periods and you teach it in your 3rd and 4th periods. Teach your teachers how to fish. Going forward, when teachers have learned your research process and strategies they’ll design better research projects and assignments. Most importantly, teachers just have many, many thousands more opportunities to teach and reinforce the concepts, skills, and dispositions that further students’ information literacy development than I will EVER get to have with students as a school librarian. 🤷🏻‍♂️ If we ever hope to have an information literate voting public, librarians need as many friends as we can get! We need everybody to be teaching good information literacy skills, habits, and dispositions.

5) Hello PRESEARCHING and TOPIC EXPLORATION – Make presearching and topic exploration A VERY BIG FEATURE of the “research process” work that you do. In authentic PBL, students typically should be posing the questions for exploration, but… How do you know what to ask? How do you know what to explore with regard to the civil rights movement if you haven’t explored and had a good amount of time to “get the lay of the land.” You will likely end up with 20 projects on Rosa Park because she’s one of the only civil rights figure that a 9th grader might know… 

6a) Talk to Us, People!!! – Insist on CONVERSATIONS about project design EARLY in planning process. Teachers think they know what resources we have, but they don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes I use those conversations to buy ebooks we need “just in time” (see #1) or sometimes those conversations allow us to let a teacher know, “Yeah, this is impossible to research given what we have and your requirements…” -OR- “Yeah, your 10th graders aren’t going to have success with Academic Search Complete so let’s do this…”

6b) Keep Talking to Us, People!!! – In the project design conversation, keep taking your teachers back to BROAD ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS. Some of my teachers want to throw out a list of 30 topics and have kids pick one and research it. “I’m doing “deeper learning,” but how, then, does the kid doing research on Farm Bureau programs during the depression learn about the other 29 topics? If they don’t go back to the bigger essential question, then that’s not “deeper learning” it’s just “myopic learning.” Good PBL builds in lots of opportunities to share out across a cohort FORMATIVELY. When I’ve seen GREAT PBL, teachers find ways to have student integrate the work shared by their peers into their final pieces. In the case of the class researching government programs of the Great Depression, students shared their initial research

Anyway, that’s the stuff that just is off the top of my head.

I’d love to chat with any of you you there who are librarian-ing in a PBL leaning school. What have you learned? What works for you?

That’s it for this month. I hope that we’ll cross paths in a breakout room sometime in the next few days (or on an email thread)!

Have a great #AISL22 Conference everyone!

They Made Me Set Goals…And I Liked It

I don’t like affirmations, setting intentions, mindfulness, meditation. I’m that person sneaking out of the yoga class before savasana. I understand the benefits of these things and if they work for you  — great  — but I think I’m just not built that way. So when our school designed a new performance evaluation plan that used goal setting as a piece of the process, I groaned. I’m sure it’s no surprise at this point that I’ve always struggled with setting goals  — both personally and professionally…goal-setting might not be meditation, but it feels a bit meditation-adjacent. How was I going to not only set goals for myself, but for my department that acquiesced with the library staff and their goals?

I began with our mission statement which we had recently revamped to more accurately reflect our current purpose within the school. Goals, right? So, where were we most lacking when I looked at the aspirations of the mission? I chose three places that I thought we needed the most work: our collection, our place within the academic program, and our building. I spent some time discussing these ideas with the two other full-time employees at the library — one librarian and one administrative staff. Were these the biggest issues? Did they reflect properly on the mission? Did they coordinate with our personal goals?  We all agreed that focusing on these three areas felt correct.

We quickly realized that within each area — collection, program, and building — objectives fell along a continuum that ranged from smaller things that were in our control up to larger items that depended on money, other people, or administrative decisions. I decided to number our goals from most easily achieved to those really out of our control listing three to five goals within each area. This earmarks the document as both a realistic list of tasks, but also an aspirational look to the future with no barriers. Listing the achievable items first helps with morale as we look back throughout the year, but I also envision being able to highlight the items that fester on future documents as an important record for the future. We all hear stories about what previous directors and staff tried to do, but seeing unreached goals in black and white (potentially year after year!) is much more persuasive than an anecdote.

I also chose to include the full-time library employees’ personal goals as part of the same document. It is important to me that our goals stay front and center within the library goals, and that the two lists make sense together. The goals don’t have to coincide perfectly, but they should certainly work towards a similar outcome. For example, my personal goal of continuing my DEI education doesn’t specifically appear anywhere in the library goals this year, but it obviously helps improve our collection and programming. I made sure my full-time colleagues agreed to have their personal goals listed on the document before including them. 

So, I typed this all up and sent it off to the powers that be and after initial positive responses…I have heard nothing else. But I really don’t care. Even without any input or feedback from higher-ups, this was still a very productive exercise for me — one I plan to continue. I try to look through the document at least once a month, and every time I do, I am reminded of that fresh, September can-do attitude, and I see where we stand against this list of goals. What have we accomplished? What can we still get done? It is a black and white road map of what we thought we could accomplish at the beginning of the year, and what we have managed to achieve. For reference, I am attaching a copy of our 2021-22 Library Goals without the personal goals and with some comments and other school-specific items removed. As a newly converted goal-setter, I am happy to answer any questions or discuss our process further. 

Around the World in 80 Books

I find upper school programming a delightful challenge, so this year I debuted a program for our upper school community to promote global reading. This year-long program–Read Around the World–started as a riff on Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days, encouraging students to read books from a curated collection of books from 80 different countries.

Why? Well, in 2019, according to Statista, the top 4 US publishing companies published 98,800 new titles–a mere 737 of those titles were published in translation, fewer than 1% (0.74%). Even among those works in translation, there is not nearly the diversity one might hope for. Though there were 52 original languages of publication, 79% of the titles translated were translated from a European language, 14% from Asian languages, 7% from Middle Eastern languages, and a mere 0.2% were translated from an African language. Think of all the books we’re missing out on!

I know I’m preaching to the choir when I claim that through reading we are able to work towards eliminating what author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “the single story” and the proliferation and reinforcement of stereotypes. The problem with a single story, she notes, is the way that it “creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” Furthermore, there are many stories that go entirely unheard when we read and engage solely, or primarily, with literature that is written by U.S. or British authors for American and British audiences in English.

That same data did make this program a challenge–to add exciting global literature to our collection that may not be readily found in our traditional lists, to read as much of it as possible, and to keep things equitable. To facilitate the latter, I selected a number of books from each continent proportionate to the number of countries within that continent.

To provide boundaries to the massive curation project that this otherwise could have become (it was big enough as is!) I gave myself the following criteria:

  • Works of fiction (most were novels, but there were some other formats too–poetry, short stories, graphic novels).
  • The author needed to be from the country and, when possible, currently residing there; there are certainly countries with extensive censorship and authors in exile. Ex-pat and immigrant authors will be another program for another time. I also preferred authors writing for their own country-folk as an audience, so I was often getting books in translation. Furthermore, in formerly colonized countries, I sought out indigenous authors.
  • They needed to be recent–most of the books were from the past few years. In a couple cases I had to dig deeper in time in order to meet my other criteria, but this was not the time for “classics;” I wanted students to be reading fresh works.

In the end, the list included 105 books from 81 countries, which allowed some elements of choice (some countries had 2 books to choose from) and permitted the inclusion of sequels. 

Digital Passport

Once I had the books, it was time to make it a program. For fun, I gamified it through our school’s LMS (Canvas) by creating a class for the program and badges for each country through Badgr, which allowed the process to be pretty automated once it was all built. In order to get students into the program “course,” they were invited to apply for a passport from the main library page through a link that added them to the program course. From there, they can get their passports stamped (with the badges) for each country from which they read a book. Badgr provides a dashboard so participants can see their badges/passport stamps, and what badges/stamps all other participants have earned. Students can also earn badges like “Globe Trotter” for getting a stamp from each continent and “Region Rover” for sweeping a stamp for every book in a continent. I’ll award prizes at random throughout the year by drawing a name from anyone who is participating, as well as at the end of the year to whoever reads the most globally. 

In addition to the gamification, the global books are on display all year organized by genre, with a rotating featured display each month of a particular region. This keeps the books visible while also allowing me to put fresh subsets in front of our community in new ways through the year so the program doesn’t get stale.

Europe books on a display. Covers from earlier displays (North America and Oceana) will be joined as the year progresses.

We’re only mid-year but I’m calling this one a success already. So far, books from the Read Around the World program have 66 checkouts. For one semester, I’m thrilled. Perhaps more tellingly, our global books account for a full 25% of all fiction checkouts so far this year (through January 1). I’ve also tried out new tools for gamification, acquired great books for our collection, and personally read books from Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Iceland, Greenland, Canada, Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Barbados, Nigeria, China, and Vietnam. I have more regions yet to visit!

1 week & 2 days until AISL2022!

The AISL2022 conference planning committee is hoping you will join us for all or part of 2 half-days of emerging, engaging & evolving. Here is some information we thought you might want about this event coming up March 3 -5:

What is AISL2022?   AISL2022 is this year’s annual conference for the Association of Independent School Librarians. We have a rich history of conferencing and connecting and while the conference is usually held in person, this year’s offering (like the last) is virtual in light of the current pandemic.

What do I get for $40? The conference includes 18 great programs, 4 exciting author panels, roundtable discussions, poster sessions, and, of course, the Marky Award and Skip Anthony lecture for you to enjoy. And the prize-giving that has been occurring during registration will continue throughout the whole conference!

What if I can’t get away from school? Registering allows you to not only take part in live sessions but to access all material after the conference, so you may wish to register even if you’re unable to attend at scheduled times. This wealth of information is only available to those who’ve registered for the conference. Note that programming is scheduled over 2 half-days rather than 1 full to better accommodate a variety of schedules.

I’m unsure about the virtual format. AISL2022 is being hosted on the Whova conference platform. Whova allows us to integrate sessions, speakers, and sponsors, providing you with one place to access all the conference offers – either on the web or using the Whova mobile app.

Tell me more about the Skip Anthony lecture. We’re delighted to once again feature wonderful authors as speakers at our celebratory Skip Anthony event. Rayna Hyde-Lay of Shawnigan Lake School in B.C. shares these details:

  • Pamela Harris will speak about her novel When You Look Like Us, the story of a brother searching for his sister after she goes missing.  Law enforcement and other community members don’t get involved with the search because she runs with the wrong crowd, and all the while he is trying to keep her disappearance a secret – until he can’t anymore. This is a lovely story of sibling connection, difficulties in families and community support.
  • Jenny Torres Sanchez : the author of We are not From Here is also great to follow on Instagram. The novel involves the struggle of three youths in their hometown and their decision to migrate to the USA.  It is passionate, filled with beautiful descriptions of tough decisions they each face, both while they are traveling and the decision to leave; this book “broke my heart and gave me goosebumps”.

I miss connecting with people! Join in on a Chat n’ Chew Lunch on Thursday, or Brunch with a Librarian on Saturday to connect with someone new (or old :). And use social media to connect online; see #AISL2022 on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

I miss connecting with vendors! In our pool of generous sponsors, we have 2 (FactCite and Overdrive) who will be hosting virtual booths; see the schedule for the time dedicated to those who wish to connect with them live online.

How do I sign up? Click here to sign up for AISL22! If you need to pay by cheque, just use the “alternate pay type” option.

Taking a Perspective with Poetry

Helping students to connect in meaningful ways to history is an important goal of literacy programs. One approach to making connections is by taking on the perspectives of people in history. In collaborations between the library, language arts, and history departments, students’ history research was enriched by creating perspective poems. Here are a few examples.

Colonial Williamsburg Perspective Poems
In preparation for a seventh grade field trip to Colonial Williamsburg, students used videos of historic interpreters to look closely and add details and observations on a note taking template. These details were then incorporated in a perspective poem. During a writing workshop, poet and author Deborah DEEP Mouton challenged students to take on an unusual point of view for their poem. One student wrote about an enslaved person working in a print shop and pondering if words like “freedom” professed in these colonial broadsides would ever change the plight of enslaved Blacks. Another student took on the perspective of a tailor’s pattern and mused, “even if the fabric is the same, the story of the customer will be cut different ways.”

National Monuments and Perspective Poems
Poet Deborah DEEP Mouton also worked with eighth graders to develop a perspective poem reflecting emotions and points of view of a national monument. Students will be traveling to Washington, D.C., and the events surrounding monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Arlington Cemetery provide rich historical and personal connections. Mouton used several approaches to engage students in the act of writing. Some groups were asked to distill the most important words and ideas from their poem into a six word story (such as Hemingway’s famous six word story: baby shoes for sale, never worn). See if you can guess the National Monuments for these Six Word Stories written by eighth graders:

In another writing workshop strategy, students paired up, brainstormed main ideas on an important image for their national monument, and then separated to write individually. Then, the student partners came back together to pull their best lines into a combined poem that was performed aloud for classmates. Students enjoyed the opportunity for collaboration and were surprised and pleased with their collaborative poems.

Stepping in to empathize with the perspectives of people and stepping back to evaluate the events are important steps in engaging students with history. These approaches to creating perspective poems enriched students’ understanding and provided them a creative way to communicate their insights.

*Note to readers. The original blog posting included an example from a Holocaust topic. Given the brevity of this article format, this serious topic was not presented with sufficient discussion to accurately represent the student’s work or classroom discussions surrounding the research. This article has been revised in respect for this historical event and those who suffered.

The flurry of February

While this title is a nod to the snow currently falling outside my window, I’m actually referring to the swirl we find ourselves in at this time of year. While we all have important days and events to recognize all year, for us February seems to be a special kind of flurry. Like you, we are usually selective about what we can manage in terms of promotion and program, but this month seems unique in its bounty of non-negotiables:

Entire month = Black History Month

Feb 1 = Lunar New Year

(Feb 1-5 Placeholder for provincial library conference)

Feb 14 = Valentine’s Day

(Feb 17-21 Placeholder for mid-term break)

Feb 20-26 = Freedom to Read Week (the Canadian Banned Books week)

Feb 23 = Pink Shirt Day

So in the shortest month of the year, we have 2 significant cultural events to acknowledge and celebrate; a week when it’s critical and timely to recognize how fortunate we are to get to choose what we wish to read; an important anti-bullying initiative; and a holiday that’s just fun to mark with crafts & treats; all while accomodating some staff absence for conference participation and break. The goal is to do it all with meaning, hopefully informing and advocating along the way without too much overlap and competing attention.

While this encompasses all parts of library programs & services, here is our plan for our physical space:

  • Main hallway display and front entrance display marking BHM alll month, adjusting as needed to promote specific activities planned by our Black Student Alliance
  • Main in-library display highlighting titles related to Lunar New Year for 2 weeks; replaced by romance books for Valentine’s Day
  • Tinker table (our low-tech makerspace) will feature supplies for Valentine’s Day, then shift to button-making for Pink Shirt Day
  • We’ll roll out a bookcat display for Freedom to Read week (with caution tape and heavy locks for dramatic effect) and post our popular giant banned books poster near the entrance

Is your February full of similar challenge and opportunity? Or are you similarly blessed at a different time of year?

One School, One Book – fingers crossed and breath held

[Correction: I originally credited one of the guides linked in this post to Amy Voorhees. The guide was actually created by Nancy Florio. So sorry for the error!]

The summer before I arrived at this school, someone made an attempt to start an all-school summer reading initiative. It did not work out. I don’t really know the details, but from what I gleaned in the aftermath, the book wasn’t chosen carefully enough, buy-in wasn’t built…I’m not sure what else happened. All I know is that there were boxes of unused copies of the book in my library storage room and a clear “don’t try this again anytime soon” vibe coming from pretty much everyone. So, I didn’t. Until now.

Thanks to a graduate of the class of 2021, we are launching One School, One Book for summer 2022. Brenna spent her senior year conducting research on books that are and are not typically assigned to students in independent schools through their English sources. She did this for her Honors Statistics Research course, one of our six capstone courses for seniors. She concluded not only that many voices are underrepresented in high school English courses, but that some types of stories may be better experienced outside of class and within different kinds of reading communities. In the end, she proposed One School, One Book (OSOB) as a new way the school can engage students and community members in reading experiences that act as mirrors for some, windows for others, and (we hope) provide an opportunity for community-building around literature.

Her proposal was approved, she graduated, and then it became time for me to make this happen. Eeks! For those of you who do this regularly, you rock. So far, it’s a bigger undertaking than I imagined, but it’s so much fun. While we’re experiencing a few novice hiccups, things are chugging along. We started by consulting the ALA guide and this excellent one from Nancy Florio at an AISL Summer Institute (thanks, Nancy!). We then set out to create our book selection committee, which consists of twenty-two members – a combination of current students, alumnae, teachers, staff, and parents. We drafted a mission statement:

One School, One Book (OSOB) brings the Flintridge Sacred Heart community together – students, faculty, staff, alums, and parents – to share a reading experience that amplifies the voices and experiences of  mis- or underrepresented individuals and groups. It is an opportunity to discuss stories that may diverge from our own lived experiences, as well as to find our own stories in the books we read. One School, One Book  is designed to engage our minds collectively, to exercise our compassionate hearts, and to open our arms to diverse and inclusive perspectives. 

Then we started talking about books. In the beginning, we created a list of thirty-eight books (curated by library staff and some committee members). After reviewing synopses and book reviews, we narrowed our list to five titles that the committee would read over the course of about two months. They were all YA titles, since we wanted to keep the books suitable for all students grades nine to twelve, and since we wanted the protagonist to be in that age range. We were sensitive to the length of the books and our students’ other summer reading and homework obligations, so books over 325 pages were excluded (a difficult choice!). And then, we read.

Committee members submitted written feedback as they read, but the best discussion came from the zooms we held during those two months. It was so much fun to talk with these amazing readers about the books in such detail. Would the story resonate with our community? What would our students gain from reading each book? What community engagement opportunities would there be? How will we create excitement around whichever title we choose? This has been, so far, my favorite part of the process.

Did I worry at one point that we wouldn’t agree on a book and that we’d have to delay another year and that the entire thing would crumble before we’d even really started? YES! Our entire committee agreed that if that happened, it would be ok. We’d try again next year with another batch of books. We wouldn’t be discouraged.

We voted, and though not everyone was head over heels about the same titles, we did have a clear majority winner. This summer, our One School, One Book selection is Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. We are so stupidly excited about this book! It may seem odd to have chosen a book about a boy for an all-girls school, but it’s actually a great fit. Darius is a fantastic kid, for one. And a book about a boy may ensure that none of our students feel completely spotlit by our selection, which some of the other books may have done. Darius includes important storylines about friendship, family connections, depression, intergenerational communication, and living with multiple identities (not all of which feel ‘right’ all the time). It also includes soccer, tea, Star Trek, and lots of other topics that we can design activities and events around for the fall.

Now that we’ve chosen the book, it’s time to really get down to business. This is where novice hiccups will probably show up the most. We’re going for local bookseller sponsors, parent involvement, faculty buy-in, student buy-in, and the participation of our entire community. Will this effort flop like the one more than a decade ago? I really don’t think so (fingers crossed and knock on wood). We’ve been thoughtful and thorough so far, I believe. We have a great team assembled, I know. We are flexible. We are ok with some novice hiccups.  If this all works out, we’ll have an annual program in place that was started because of a student’s capstone project, which is pretty cool. 

So wish us luck! And for those of you who’ve done this before, please send advice !

Click Restraint and Click Paralysis

When working with students on search there are two things I see pretty regularly:

  1. Students start opening links seemingly at random
  2. Students scroll up and down on results, unable to decide what to click on

Neither, obviously, is a great strategy. Students end up deep in a source before thinking carefully about the results of their search, or end up searching and searching, perhaps hoping that the “just right” link will open of its own volition. 

We want students to click mindfully, but they’ve rarely been given the tools and the time they need to learn how to make sense of their search results. Luckily, I have a History teacher colleague who has noticed (and is frustrated by!) the same thing, so we developed a plan to help students slow down and think about their searches. 

We started by giving students printouts of two different Google search results, asking them to notice the difference in results when using search terms. We then looked at the “anatomy” of a result – what can you tell about a source before clicking through. What words are in bold in the results? Is there a date (and does it matter)? What does it mean when a result includes “cited by #”? What is the title of the source (oddly enough, the last thing they noticed)?

Next, we showed them some strategies for more effective Google searching. Students were still finalizing their area of focus, so their searches were pretty general. Our main goal was to have students pay attention to their results and think about what they might want to click on and why. Inspired by something I’d seen from Tasha Bergson-Michelson, I created this grid for students to use as they tried different search strategies and evaluated their results (you can use this link to make a copy if you’d like). Many thanks to Tasha for sharing this, and for knowing what I was talking about when I emailed to ask her to share it!

After giving students some time to practice, and debriefing their experiences, we moved onto databases. Many of our students had not spent significant time searching in Gale, so we wanted to orient them to how to refine their results. Knowing that we couldn’t teach them everything about databases without overwhelming them we decided to focus on the different “categories” of sources, and using the Subjects filter to refine results. I tried to adapt the grid we’d used for Google, but I feel like it still needs some work – or students need more orientation to the databases. Or both. It’s probably both. In any event, you can make yourself a copy here, and please let me know if you have ideas for how to improve it. 

This is part of a larger project, for which students will be asked to create something that tells “the story” of their search. We wanted to take the pressure of a paper or presentation away, and ask students to really focus on articulating how they’re searching and why. It’s our first time doing this, so definitely still working out the kinks, but I feel very lucky to have the time and space to dig into these skills with students. Would love to hear how other folks are teaching click restraint, and overcoming click paralysis!

Flexibility: A gift from the pandemic

The 2020-2021 school year: what a time to be a first-year department chair. When I applied for the library director position in December 2019 and accepted in February 2020, little did I know what drastic and sudden changes were on the horizon and the ride we were in for.

While I am still processing what changes to keep in our library and what routines should return to the way they were before the pandemic, I’m struck by the capacity of our library team to adapt to the new circumstances. I will not bore you with an exhaustive list of the changes we made (many I’m sure you had to make in your own libraries) but I am so proud of our department and what we achieved.

One demonstrative example occurred in May. Pre-pandemic, we would host Book Buffets (very similar to Reba Gordon’s speed dating) for our 7th and 8th graders to taste the books on their respective summer reading lists. English teachers would reserve a class period to bring their students to one of our library classrooms which was reset with tall, round-top tables dressed with colorful tablecloths, each with a short stack of books, several paper “buffet menus” for each student, and pencils. Students would divide among the tables, then have five minutes to start reading a book they selected from the table and complete the menu for their chosen title (which included questions such as “What genre do you think this book fits into?” and “Why or why not would you want to continue reading this book?”). At the end of the five minutes, the students rotated tables to repeat the process with a new book. Students could then check out books for the summer if they wished.

Last winter with May on the horizon, a growing sense of doubt bubbled inside me–how were we going to do Book Buffet? While we had by then a majority of students back on campus every day, we still had to keep a 6 ft. distance. All year our library classrooms were housing teachers from other departments with too-small rooms. How were we going to introduce the students to their summer reading options if we couldn’t do Book Buffet?

First lines quiz

After realizing that there wasn’t a feasible way we could simply adapt our Book Buffet program to be held safely, I was able to release much of the anxiety I didn’t know I had been holding. I had been trying to keep as close to the original event as possible with just a few necessary tweaks, but that was not a useful option for us in this case. So instead of trying to reimagine, we created an entirely new program: Summer Reading Maze. Loosely inspired by The Maze Runner with the challenge of “survive the maze by learning about the summer reading titles”, we brainstormed possibilities for several activity stations. The maze itself would be spread out on our main floor and weave between the waist-high fiction shelves. Classes would be divided into groups to start at different points around the space, so students could stay distanced. We set up two “laser” mazes with red crepe paper taped to the bookshelves for the students to maneuver through (it was hilarious to see older students trying these between classes!). Students would hear book talks about certain titles at one station and at another, they had the opportunity to download the Sora app and learn how to access digital copies of their summer reading titles. I typed out the first line from each book on their grade’s list and created a quiz of sorts–students would read through the lines on their sheet, rate them from best to worst, then use a key to see which titles corresponded to the lines they identified as most interesting. The surprise hit of the event was the handmade, laminated book cover memory game made by a colleague.

Book covers memory game

When I contacted our English teachers to share our plan for this new program, I was a bit hesitant. What would they think about this untested event? Would they be disappointed we couldn’t do the Book Buffet they were familiar with? Would they feel the maze was a waste of time and choose not to work it into their schedule? I should not have been concerned as many teachers eagerly reserved periods to bring in their classes. We had a very busy last week of school when we hosted 12 classes in four days for Summer Reading Maze, but the enthusiasm of the students and the positive feedback from the teachers was completely worth it. Faculty shared how delighted they were that their classes had the opportunity to get out of their regular rooms and take part in an active program. Students were still exposed to the summer reading options and many checked out additional material to read over break.

Reflecting on the last school year, I was consistently in awe of the flexibility everyone in AISL showed to change things on a dime when necessary. Perhaps when we look back at the pandemic, amid the memories of working from our kitchen tables and waving to show the smiles behind our masks, we will be grateful for the capacity this time built in us for flexibility, to be adaptable in new, uncharted situations, to break away from the comfortable way we’ve always done it. Amidst all the changes this season has brought, I will be thankful for this gift.

Building Advocacy as Habit

I have come to the realization that taking time for myself is hard work. 

For example, building meditation into my daily life has been a process. How much time will I spend meditating? What app/guidance, if any, will I use? What time of day will be most beneficial? How will I actually remember to meditate? Where is a good location for my practice? 

After much experimentation, I finally found my sweet spot. My meditation lasts 15 minutes around noon in a conference room on campus using the Ten Percent Happier app (loved their Ted Lasso challenge!). Oh, and it’s a must that I not only block out time but also reserve the room on google calendar. That makes it official. At this point, if I miss a day of meditation, I feel it. So I do the work to make it happen.

That same sense of imbalance happens for me when I don’t take time for the library profession. I’m not talking about my job. I’m talking about the profession as a whole. The profession that lights up imaginations, provides access to resources, and not only includes but amplifies voices. This work, because it is work, also requires me to ask a series of ongoing questions. What does advocacy mean? Is it a grand gesture or a small step? Will it require me to speak, to write, to listen, and/or to unite?

Some action steps that have helped me build my advocacy habit for the profession:

  • Connect: A monthly zoom meeting with a fellow solo librarian at another school library. This point of contact fuels both of us in profound ways.
  • Share: Rotate weekly features in our school’s daily announcements. This may be about a resource offered by our school or an event from a public library. Anything to get the word out about what libraries have to offer.
  • Intake: A book review, an article, a podcast, even an emotional vent on a social media post. Things that circle me back to both the realities and idealities of the profession.
  • Rise: Accepting the leadership position. Proposing the conference session. Writing the blog post.

What are some ways that you advocate, either for yourself and/or for the profession?