on librarian super powers…

As of today, we are exactly one week out from the end of classes for middle schoolers and the start of our high school exam period–the end is in sight! Goodness, what a year it has been!

A year ago at this time, I was comfortably winding down the school year [Cue Looney Tunes cartoon of the opening of the William Tell Overture here] in the middle school library job I had held for 14 wonderful years, and working diligently on the list of eateries that I wanted to visit during my summer trip to New York City. It was comfortable. It was routine. It had a rhythm to it that I had come to know and love. It was…wonderful.

Well, by some kind of divine intervention, between May of 2014 and May of 2015, I landed a job as a librarian at a progressive school in my hometown. It has been wonderful and amazing, but it has also been a lot of change! I don’t know about you, but for me change is uncomfortable. My cognitive side wants change, but my emotional side engages in a lot of kicking and screaming before accepting any kind of major change. Well, I got a new job, sold a home, and moved back to a city that I hadn’t lived in for 15 years. That’s a lot of change…

Professionally, one of the most interesting changes for me as a librarian in this whole process has been my move from a wonderful school with a rather traditional curriculum to a wonderful school with a decidedly progressive curriculum. For those reading this that are not librarians, it’s pretty much an open secret that librarians have super powers. The thing is, though, sometimes when we move to new places some of our best librarian super powers aren’t as effective so we have to get new ones and we have to learn to use our existing librarian super powers in different ways. That is, basically, what happened to me.  Here are just two examples.

Adapted Super Power #1 – Note Taking:

As a middle school librarian in a curriculum context where there was quite a bit of uniformity, I got used to the idea that teaching all of our 7th graders to take electronic notes in NoodleTools on their laptops was just something we did at the beginning of each school year. In our library that hosts instruction for students in 3rd through 12th grades, I’ve had to learn to embrace a set of “note taking concepts” rather than specific methodologies. As a 1:1 iPad site, I first endeavored to teach students a specific note card format using paper note cards (Unfortunately, we haven’t found an incredibly fantastic work flow for digital note taking that works well with iPads yet.), but in our learning culture which leans heavily toward project-based learning, it became clear that no single note taking work flow was going to meet the needs of all of our teachers and students.

We have begun stressing what we see as the things that research note taking fundamentally need to do. A good note taking process in any format should:

  • Allow you to trace any specific fact or quote to a particular source
  • Allow you to manipulate disparate facts and content so you can engage in the REAL WORK of analysis and synthesis
  • Provide you with enough context so that you are consistently engaged in the culture of academic documentation and growing the habits of academic integrity

It sounds fancy, but what it amounts to is teaching students and teachers to include source information in their notes and/or getting teachers to collect drafts and notes along with students’ final artifacts. Instructionally, it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 9.47.08 AM

Or like this clip from one of my fantastic teachers’ assignment instructions:

Teacher's note taking instructions to students.

Teacher’s note taking instructions to students.

Adapted Super Power #2 – Building “Your Collection”

In the last year, I have come to the realization that “my collection” is anything that is available to me rather than things that my school owns. If the world were a perfect place, every school library would have unlimited amounts of space and hundreds of bars of gold hidden behind the drywall in the library workroom to use to fund the purchase of stuff to fill the space. Much to my chagrin the world isn’t perfect. Our print collection is rather small for a school of our size. We provide access to good digital content, but we don’t have the physical space to expand our print collection. I have learned this year, though, that sometimes living in an imperfect world is actually an opportunity in disguise. In some ways, not having an extensive print collection has meant that our faculty has learned to capitalize on community resources! Yay for resourceful faculty! In addition to the University of Hawaii library that I posted about earlier this year, some of my teachers do amazing jobs of incorporating as many community resources as they can find.

Our students study the Internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. Our teachers take them down to do some of their research in the Archives of the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii. Students LOVE the experience. WWII and the history of the internment experience in Hawaii comes alive for them in a way that it would never happen in just databases or in books accessed from campus. As one young man put it, “We should do this for every project!”


Diving into what one student called “real primary sources.”


Scholars, Japanese Cultural Center volunteers, and their great teacher, Ms. Davis, (kneeling in the front row, right) at large!


Topics and student-generated thesis statements were emailed to the Japanese Cultural Center’s reference librarian ahead of time and volunteers helped students locate relevant artifacts.


Cross-generational learning was a wonderful serendipity for our students as well!

While I cannot take any credit for the idea or the trip as it was completely planned and arranged by their teacher, Ms. Davis, I’ve elected to take the idea of community-based resources as “collection” as one of the librarian super powers I will employ going forward. Mostly, I think, that means taking the idea and promoting its implementation with other teachers and/or seeking out the resources. We’re hoping, for example, to work with our photo teacher to get over to do some research in the amazing photography collection at Hamilton Library next year!

It’s been an amazing year! In all honesty, I’ve felt “uncomfortable” in the process of change for the entire year and I’m exhausted. In the end, though, I’ve discovered a few more librarian super powers and as we plan to work much more extensively with our middle school teachers and students next year, I’m hoping that the learning of my best librarian super powers is still to come.

It’s time for me to sign off for the summer, but before I go I would really like to thank all of you super powered librarians for sharing your time, energy, and wisdom with me in various ways. I hope your students and your teachers know how lucky they are! After all, their librarians have super powers! It isn’t going to get much better than that! LOL!



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