Starting a new school year is like setting off on a expansive hiking expedition. Many of us are in our prepping stage: getting out our dusty gear, charting and mapping our course, and acquiring new skills for the journey. In the realm of research and information literacy we serve as guides to our faculty and students touring them through the current media landscape. Additionally, many of us strive to create a space where students can find shelter and learn new independent skills. Recreation, restoration and reflection—essentially, we all want our students to “camp out” in our libraries.
This is the metaphor we are embarking on in the Jean Ann Cone Library at Berkeley Preparatory School this year. We are getting campy in the library. We have pitched some tents, gathered gear, and planted a paper forest. It is fun to physically construct displays, but it also serves the purpose of tethering the mind to a focus for the beginning of the year. While we hope to allure and delight our students when they see this first display it helps us convey important concepts we want to provide our students.
The Expedition Team
While this conceit has the librarian as the guide for students in the camping metaphor it can emphasis the importance of a team integration to a successful summit. One of my favorite aspects of being a librarian is working alongside the core subject teacher, the technology department, and other specialists to show students that their guidance comes from different sources and that it is a team effort. This in turn models collaboration for them when they have group projects. Additionally, the whole library staff is another part of the expedition and support team. I am lucky to have a creative and supportive team around me sharing in ideas and tasks. Students know we are all here to help them.
Maps and Navigation Instruments
“Don’t lose sight of the forest through the trees,” an apt cliche for describing the complex process of research. As librarians we are tasked with breaking down the cognitive load of this multifaceted process. Our maps take the shape of our standards and curriculum guides. At our library we are in the process of looking at the new AASL standards to reflect on our program and incorporate new educational trends to our current program. Pedagogical models like “guided inquiry” underpin the scaffolding of information literacy that bolster student inquiry so students do not feel like they are lost in the dark.
Librarians have a keen sense of direction in the information world and our analog compasses now have a digital GPS counterpart. From websites and databases to apps and “smart” devices there are many tools and gadgets at our disposal. Analogous to our readers advisory many of us also impart a “users” advisory by recommending new apps, software and interactive websites. I always like to review AASL’s Best Tools for Teaching list to peruse new tools I can tinker with and share. A Libguide or library website becomes the virtual campsite for digital adventures in which we chart the course for the learning task.
I also seek personal tools to improve my own practice and productivity. To help me stay organized this year I am adding two apps used in combination to my repertoire: Swipes and Forest. Swipes is a elegantly designed to-do list app in which you either swipe right for a completed task and left for an uncompleted one to schedule. It helps me take action for the things I need to get done. Once I’ve decided on an action I use the Forest app to help me focus solely on that task and to clear distractions. Forest uses a fun premise to help you ban multitasking. You set an internal timer for a task and the app grows a tree. The more focused you stay the more trees for your virtual forest and eventually you get credits to buy real trees for reforestation efforts. You can’t get campier than that in an app. The beginning of the year is a great time to try new apps and build new habits so that you can share your discoveries with others if you find them useful.
To see the distances covered builds confidence and courage for more challenging tasks. Just as classroom teachers mark progress librarians also have assessment tools for students to check their growth in research. These go beyond simple number counts of circulation and database usage. Our research checklists and templates give students ways to reflect on their learning process. Scheduling research consultations give a more nuanced feedback to the complexity of research work. For our own growth when we are able to make multiple visits and check ins with classes we can see our own patterns of influence in the learning experience for students.
Campfires and Star Gazing
Finally, it is the most rewarding aspect of librarianship-building community and wonder. It is the small acts of kindness and welcoming that creates the campfire moments in the library. Knowing a student’s favorite genre and hand picking a book for him or her. Involving student choice or leadership roles in the library fosters bonds. Creating creative corners or makerspaces expands the types of intellectual work students can do in the library. Our upper school librarians share treats with a class at random times surprising and delighting the students. These offerings show students a different side of librarians; their fun and thoughtful spirits.
Many students are drawn to the aesthetics of a library. All those spines lined on the shelf offer endless opportunities for wonder in our world; whether, it be a history book that delves into new found fascination with a time period or the next book in a fantasy series. I am always in awe when I walk into any library. All the books on the shelf capturing the broad spectrum of human knowledge is both humbling and sublime. It is like star gazing at the constellations of our collective conscious; but here, they are always in arms reach.