Get to know: Laurie Sears

What is your job title?

Director of Educational Technology and Libraries/Middle School Educational Technology Specialist

What school do you work at?

Landon School in Bethesda, MD.

Is your school day or boarding? What grades do you serve?

Day School; 3-12

How many other people are on the library staff at your school? What are their titles?

3 librarians – staffing in each division – Lower 1 Library Media Specialist (both ed tech and librarian) + a part-time aid; middle – 1 full time librarian = Middle School Librarian, and where I am (Director of Educational Technology and Libraries) and Upper School with an Upper School Librarian and a part-time aid

What does a typical day look like for you?

Teaching a Foundations class to 6th grade on research, digital, information, and media literacy, lots of individual student help at recess, study hall and in between classes, readers round table at lunch (students sharing recently read books), meetings with administrators, students, colleagues about plans for projects, changes in curriculum, changes in computer plans, and then I coach tennis.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a school librarian?

Our biggest challenge is getting into the classroom to work with teachers as they create project, begin units to weave our lessons into the content areas for authentic use of skills and habits we seek to instill.

What is the last book you read? Would you recommend it?

Cadillac Desert by Marc Reisner

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I Can’t Use My Phone?!: Game Day in the Library

As we get closer to exams, I had a Game Day event in the library during both the middle school and upper school lunches to help the students blow off some steam. I made sure we had a large and diverse selection of games such as Connect 4, Mancala, Scrabble, Sorry, Clue, Trouble, Battleship, Apples to Apples, Dominoes, Twister, Blokus, and Operation. I would classify these as “retro” since most of the students had not played these games “in years,” and a few were not familiar with them at all. Perhaps the most important component of this experiment was prohibiting the use of cell phones and computers during lunch. As you can imagine, this provided the most angst with the students.

The reasoning behind providing an “unplugged” opportunity for students began with observation. Anyone who spends any time with kids cannot deny the almost umbilical connection most kids have with their smartphones, laptops, social media, etc. In many cases, this leads to a desocialization of kids from each other as they communicate via games, apps, and/or social media like Snapchat and Instagram. The irony is that many of these kids feel they are being social with their peers by using these apps. Our goal was to promote face-to-face interaction between the students and get them to think and strategize in different ways.

The atmosphere in the library during Game Day was lively and, as more than one student told me, fun. The students appreciated having another way to interact with their friends and fellow classmates, as well as playing games that they had not played since early childhood. Some faculty and staff from all departments turned up to help, and in many cases, play games with the students as well. There were many instances that led to Throwback Tuesday being deemed a success, but I wanted to share my top three:

  1. A student looked up at me from an intense game of Sorry! and said, “I didn’t realize there were games I could play that weren’t on my phone!”
  2. Days later students asked me if they could play specific games again.
  3. I had a student thank me for making the library such a fun place!

Getting kids who don’t normally come to the library to try it out was phenomenal. That, in my book, is a success, and one we hope to replicate at least once a semester.

If you would like to follow our fun in the library on Twitter, check out the hashtags #TPSlibrary and #TPSreads.


Reflection of a Maker Space…

This has been a big year of moving and changing for me…not only did the entire book collection need to be weeded in half, the library and the makerspace moved in the middle of the year.
So the beginning of the year, my Monday Maker Club had access to the three 3D printers, lots of wood, styrofoam,and tons of cardboard in every shape and size. One student actually made her own pin ball machine, complete with a spring that worked! Several of the boys designed their own swords and shields.They used hand drills to create their masterpieces and from the photos below you can see they were very inventive, indeed.

We had a sink and a microwave so lots of time was spent mixing and making slime, which was always a big choice.  All their projects could be left in the makerspace from week to week until they finished since it was a designated space with an area for storage. I also had a huge walk in closet to store all my materials in addition to my own office complete with three book cases and 4 file cabinets. I was in my glory and did not even know it….until the BIG MOVE!!!

OMG….then it was March and I found myself sharing a closet which was to be a shared office space for me and the tech teacher, along with storage for all my maker supplies, teacher supplies, and media specialst supplies. There would be room for only 1 file cabinet….and I was purging like a crazy woman for sure! Not only that area was smaller, there would be no room for any wood or cardboard and the 3D printers were being replaced with a new one. There would be a sink, but no microwave. The makerspace was actually to be shared with the tech person since it also served as her classroom. This was not the ideal situation for storing any projects from my maker club students….so a new approach had to be taken. Students did not have access to as many materiels and needed to bring “big projects” home if they were not done, since we had no storage for them. It seemed to be quite a dilemma, indeed! How could I run a “maker club” if there was not enough materials for the students to “make.”

Instead of using a 3D printer, students started using the 3D doodler pens I had.They got quite creative and from the photos below they really endulged themselves with perfecting their creations.

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Dogs, rabbits, fish, and birds were being created and learning trouble shooting skills when the pens did not work correctly was a life long lesson of perserverance. Perler beads were taken out of the cabinets and students designed new items. Model magic was used to design scenic pictures as well as crafty items. Clothes pins were being taken apart and added to frames for Mother’s Day gifts. Everyone seemed excited to endulge themselves in their work independently and cooperative learning was also evident.

I was so worried there would be too many restrictions in my new space for the students to enjoy being in the club and doing things differently. I was the one surprised when the last session approached and one of the students made a beautiful doggy tissue holder with a conversation bubble stating: “Always be Happy”. After I complimented her on her creation and took her picture holding it, she held it up to me and said, “This is for your desk. I made it for you.”

“Magical moments” can happen… just try to open your minds and hearts to embrace “change”…I am still learning.

Get to know: Rebecca Brooks

This post is part of the new blog series “Get to know AISL librarians.” We’d love to start a conversation about the similarities and differences between each of our libraries.

What is your job title?

Director of Information & Innovation, Library Division

What school do you work at?

The Madeira School in McLean, VA.

Is your school day or boarding? What grades do you serve?

Day & Boarding School; 9th-12th grades

How many other people are on the library staff at your school? What are their titles?

In addition to me (a 12 month employee in charge of the archives and library), I have another school year librarian and a part time (mostly weekend) library assistant.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Madeira follows a module system with classes changing every five weeks so depending on the mod, I may be teaching a class one block a day or it may be a mod where we only assist with our student life classes. We usually have classes in for library instruction about twice per week over the course of a mod. Of course these could be clustered at the beginning or the end of the mod depending on when the teacher releases an assignment. Additionally, I attend calendar meetings as I’m in charge of our school-wide room booking software (a technology portion of my job), department head meetings, dorm adult meetings (I’m a campus resident and work in a dormitory) plus other committee meetings as needed. The other librarian and I attempt to touch base once a day to coordinate what we’re working on and with what teachers we’re collaborating. Because I’m also in charge of the archives, I’m usually attending to research requests (internal and external) at least once a week. I tend to cluster that work into a few hours once a week (when our other librarian is in the library) since it entails time in the archives space and makes me less accessible to the community. And then there’s the email ;-). It is a constant throughout the day.

What is the biggest challenge you face as a school librarian?

Collaboration with teachers is my biggest challenge. I have buy in from one or sometimes two teachers in an academic department and working with those folks is a pleasure. Often one of us will approach the other with an idea about how to teach something and we’ll work together on how to bring the students on board and what resources we can use from the library perspective. But other than those handful of teachers, many teachers book the space in the library, but don’t ask the librarians for any instruction. And there are the teachers who just don’t utilize the library or the librarians at all. Honestly, the middle group is the most frustrating because they are in our space and blindly ignoring how we could help their students. We end up having to help students, but some are unsure if they can ask for help because the teacher hasn’t brought us into the process. But we’re always trying new approaches with those folks to make sure they know that we would like to partner with them to make the learning as enriched as possible.

What is the last book you read? Would you recommend it?

I’m in the middle of many books, but right now I’m actively reading My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. Biographies are one of my favorites and this is not disappointing.

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How do you solve a problem like picture books?

When I worked in the children’s room of a public library, picture books were some of our biggest movers. Adults and children would come in and take out armfuls, anticipating times spent reading together or looking through the pictures, telling stories of their own making. I hoped for some of the same circulation numbers when I became a school librarian. In my fantasy, students in the lower elementary grades would come in and beg to take home more picture books – or come in during free time and swap out the books they just got a few days before. Well, I’m not sure what it’s like in your elementary libraries – but that scenario has not happened in mine. Yet.

I was chatting with a fellow school librarian recently and picture book circulation came up. “Do your picture books circulate?” I asked.
“Not much” she answered.
“Mostly teachers?”
“Yes,” she replied, “and few with the popular characters like Fancy Nancy or Pete the Cat.”
“Sigh”.
“Sigh”.
That conversation replays in mind constantly. There are times when I wonder if I’m just not choosing the right books for my audience. Maybe I should require the PreKs and Kindergarten to only get picture books – after all, those books are made for them! Not only can they be used for pre-literacy and literacy activities, the stories are created explicitly FOR their enjoyment.

What to do? What to do? “Sigh? Sigh.” Following are some ideas to possibly help make those picture books move. Granted, picture books may never circulate like they do in public library – AND IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. Most school libraries are missing the second half of the dyad – the parent or guardian or babysitter that takes the child to the public library in the first place. It just makes our job ‘more challenging’ as we get those picture books to move.

Do a thorough weeding
Are your shelves stuffed? Do not underestimate the power of a good weed. Be heartless. If it hasn’t moved much in 10-15 years, it probably isn’t going to move next Get rid of anything worn. Put the worn or dated books that circulate on a list to repurchase (unless the last time it circulated was five years ago). If it bothers you to weed, take a note from Maria Kondo, thank the book for its service and let it go. Depending on your school policy, you could offer teachers first choice then put the rest in a ‘free book’ cart for students and/or find a local library or charity to benefit from your largess. If your shelves look crammed and full, students aren’t enticed to browse for that perfect picture book.

Explicitly teach that displays are for students
Have you ever set up a book display with the purpose to create circulation on some items and have students ask permission to take a book? I have. Now I make sure that I mention during library time that displays are for taking. If you have some displays that need to have books stay and some that allow circulation, it may help to let students know which ones they can take books from or offer to place a hold on a book that needs to stay in your library for a while.

Offer read alikes for picture books
If your story time has a theme or an author focus, make sure students know of picture books that share the same theme or author. I would often put up a small floor display by my reading chair of read alikes or an author’s other works, allowing students to look at them during book choosing time.

Partially ‘genrefy’ your picture book collection
While my inner feminist bristled whenever a girl asked me for a princess book, (“wouldn’t you like this one about a female astronaut instead?”), it’s hard to fight the power of the pink. Whether it’s just the holidays, or princesses, or firefighters, using spine labels or separate locations may help those picture books circulation more.

Extend circulation to parents
Again, this is up to your school’s policies, but parents are the ones gathering the picture books in the public library. Whether you stay open a little later or earlier a few days a week, advertising to parents that they can grab picture books while they’re waiting may help with circulation numbers and provide a needed service to time strapped parents.

Provide a box of books to classroom
Why do you rob banks? Because that’s where the money is. Sutton’s law can also apply to the classroom. Most students only go to the library with their class. While that’s all well and good, their chosen books tend to go home. What if you had a box of books that live in the classroom rotating the selections every few weeks? Not only are you getting some of your picture books to see the light of the classroom, you may be helping a stressed out teacher find something for a child to do when they have finished an assignment early. Granted, some teachers may want nothing to do with this, but I’m sure you can find a few that would be willing to try this with you. Especially if you try to match the books with curricular themes.

Now I’m looking for your input. What are some of the ways you’ve helped increase the circulation of picture books? Let’s get these books where they belong…in the hands of the students!

Rethinking Your Digital Presence

In one of my favorite chapters from Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten: Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things, a kid from his neighborhood has hidden so well in a game of hide-and-seek that he’s still under Fulgham’s window long after the other kids have been found and are just about ready to give up on him. Fulgham, in his wisdom, leans out the window and yells, “GET FOUND, KID!” Sage advice.

This year, in my position as research librarian at the John Gray Park ’28 Library at Kent School, I’ve been thinking a lot about the process of helping students find the information they need and what contributes to a successful learning experience. How we organize and provide access to our resources can make the difference between our students developing into independent learners and those who constantly need us to navigate the process for them. There is a fine line between an appropriate amount of struggle that leads to a successful learning experience and an overwhelming amount that can frustrate and ultimately hinder the learning process. There probably isn’t a quick and easy solution to this challenge, but I do know our resources shouldn’t be hidden so well our students give up trying to find them. Seems like someone needs to yell, “GET FOUND, KID!” to our digital resources.

The Library Brand

I was fortunate to be able to attend this year’s AISL Conference in Boston, which meant I got to visit a number of other school libraries – something I love to do, but rarely have the time because I’m, well, working in a school library. Even though each library we visited was unique, they all could be identified by what I think of as the “library brand.” The library brand’s superpowers can be credited with creating a sense of place and helping users find what they need. As librarians, we’re pretty adept at marketing that brand. We post our hours so everyone knows when we’re open. Our circulation desks are staffed with friendly librarians. Book groups, displays, reviews, and booktalks are just a few of the ways we encourage reading. We offer a variety of seating ranging from traditional library tables to comfy chairs with ottomans, and group study rooms if we’re fortunate enough to have the space. Letting our community know what’s available just makes good sense. We want to be found—and it works!

Milton Academy (left), Nobles (center), Beaver Country Day (right) – AISL 2019

At Kent, our library has a steady flow of students throughout the day and into the evening. Our circulation spikes when we send emails about new additions to our collection. Our group study rooms are at full capacity during evening study hall. Close to 100 students participated in our most recent Poetry Month event, which we advertised with posters, emails, and on Instagram and Twitter. Getting found is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Reordering of Ranganathan’s Five Laws

Regardless of how many hours we’re open, our doors eventually have to close. I recently re-read “Reordering Ranganathan: Shifting User Behaviours, Shifting Priorities” by Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Ph.D. and Ixchel M. Faniel, Ph.D. Although the article was published in 2015, I still find it relevant in the way they have reinterpreted Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science for the digital age. Connaway and Faniel’s take on the Five Laws are user-focused yet also incorporate a systems approach to resource delivery. In place of solely addressing how to get a book into the hands of the individual user, their chart incorporates access to digital as well as print resources for each of the original concepts by recommending you analyze your community needs, know your users well enough to understand how they access information, create or use platforms to curate resources, and finally, make sure those resources get found by the users.

My main takeaway from this article? The library is still a growing organism and if you want all of your resources to be discoverable and accessible, in other words, to “get found,” you’ll need a digital presence that is as well-defined and user-friendly as your physical space.

Source: Connaway, Lynn Silipigni, and Ixchel M. Faniel. “Reordering of Ranganathan’s Five Laws.” OCLC Research, OCLC, 2015, Chart.

Your Website: A Portal to Your Digital Resources

If your library is like ours, you subscribe to a significant number of databases and digital resources to support scholarly inquiry and prepare your students for the rigor of college-level research. Regardless of the type of resources you offer, whether it’s eBooks, streaming videos, databases, or a content management system like LibGuides, your students, faculty and staff can’t use those resources if they can’t readily find them, or worse, don’t even know they exist. How many of us, at one time or another, have lamented our database usage statistics come renewal time and wonder what can be done to increase their use and justify their expense? Return on investment is always on our minds this time of year. Check out David Wee’s March 24th post, “on databases that spark joy (and some that don’t) …” and see how he’s trying to make sure his library’s get found – his ideas might help as you evaluate your own databases.

Your Web Presence

Today, your library’s presence on the web is as important as its physical one, and if you’re like most librarians, it’s probably up to you to design and promote it in much the same way you promote and market your physical space. You see when your library is being used, books checked out, research support accepted. It’s more difficult to tell if you’re hitting the mark with digital resources. Are the members of your community aware of the library resources available to them 24/7 from their home or dorm room? If a faculty needs an article to support a lesson, does she know where to find your databases? If a student needs a book for class tomorrow, does he know how to find your OPAC and place the book on hold? Same for citing sources for a paper due first period. Will your students know where to find your citation guide?

If you want to make sure your digital resources are found, it’s important to focus on access and get the design of your website right. You don’t want your resources hidden behind a myriad of clicks and language only another librarian would understand (I’m looking at you discoverable and accessible). Much like the players in that game of hide-and-seek who scatter when they hide, databases and electronic resources are “hidden” across the internet on their own sites, so users need us to create a portal through which those resources can be found.

So Where Do You Start?

Whether you currently have a library website you’re happy with, are looking to update your site to increase its usability, or are starting from scratch, the steps to design a user-friendly site follow the same process. In my next blog post, I’ll walk through the five steps to follow when creating or updating a library website or portal keeping usability and user experience (UX) foremost in your planning and implementation.

From first-year attendee in Atlanta to Boston Conference Host Committee: Takeaways from an AISL Conference Rookie

“What do you all think of hosting an AISL conference in two years?” When Steph and Dave proposed this at our local Boston Consortium meeting I was all about it. Why not? It would be a great experience, I would learn a lot, I would meet more people working in local schools–at that point, I’d only been in the Boston area for 3 years and opportunities for networking had been limited to conferences that catered to public school libraries. At that point, two years seemed like eons away– we had plenty of time! First, though, I would have to join AISL, also it would help if I knew what these AISL conferences were all about. I was very thankful to receive the 2018 Conference Scholarship which allowed me to attend the Atlanta conference in 2018, an experience for which I am immensely grateful, not only because it enabled me to see how the conference worked logistically, but in sessions I attended, schools visited and in particular the other librarians I spoke with, I truly saw the value of AISL as an institution and the importance of this conference as a professional.

Two years, as it turns out, is not that much time. Or, rather, it is plenty of time but everything seems to condense into one chaotic mass of logistical confusion the closer the conference date looms. Sponsorships add, then drop, locations move due to construction and communication gets fuzzy at points while I tried to balance running my own library, my own personal life, and trying to make good on the commitment I made to the conference committee. So what did I learn from all of this?

The Bus Crisis Negotiation Dream Team: Steph and Erika.
  • Shonda Rhimes had the “Year of Yes”, but this was my “Year of No”. Saying yes to planning this conference meant I had to graciously say “no” more at work, which goes against my usual impulse to take on way too much and say yes to everything. Ultimately, rather than offending my colleagues and my administrators, I found  that by saying “no” to a few big asks, they now have more respect for my time and my professional opinion. It was a risk and a tricky balance to strike but had a worthwhile outcome.
  • How much I appreciate my colleagues. My two colleagues, Marie and Lu, were hugely supportive of my participation on the host committee and did all of the work in hosting the conference at our library at The Fessenden School. I feel very lucky to work on a “team” that has different interests and goals but can come together to make something like that happen.
  • The importance of making connections. By far the most valuable element of these conferences is the networking that happens in those in between times, the bus rides, the Dinner With a Librarian, (the waiting endlessly for busses). It is so refreshing to speak candidly with other independent school librarians who are willing to talk shop, not just about what they’re doing well, but what they are struggling with in their work. Working with the Boston 2019 committee also allowed allowed me to forge friendships and connections with local librarians that I may not have connected with otherwise.
  • Nurture your inner introvert. A few of you AISL veterans mentioned this at different points, but it was crucial for me during the “go,go,go” of the conference to set aside a few minutes to myself to “woosahhh” a little bit. In a bus full of INFJ personality types we need to remember that most of us are just pretending we’re extroverts.
  • Never trust your bus company. Enough said about that.

Overall, what an amazing experience and opportunity. A big thank you to the AISL board for the opportunity to attend Atlanta in 2018 and a huge thank you to Steph, Dave, and the rest of the Boston planning committee. I’m looking forward to next year in Houston!

Perfect is the enemy of the good.

If you are reading this, you believe that collaborations between teachers and librarians make a difference and are worthwhile. Whenever librarians come together, we invariably end up discussing collaborations – our successes and our frustrations.

“Making Co-teaching Stick” at AISL Boston

My AP Language students are just finishing a unit on Rogerian argumentation, making me think about the shared ground for collaboration between teachers and librarians. The best collaborations need shared time (for planning and for implantation), shared goals, shared vocabulary and shared respect.

We all have our *gold* standard of collaboration, that project that looks like it was designed to ace our MLIS Research Methods class. And we all have our practical “yay we collaborated because we talked” standard. Getting the foot in the door and setting the tone for research might be enough for some projects because it shows that the library skills are being integrated across the curriculum even if students don’t set foot in the library. For the purpose of this post, teachers fall into three categories:

  1. Eager Beaver collaborators look for any opportunity to co-teach. Students are used to seeing me in their classes and the teacher and I can finish each other’s sentences. This is where I spend most of my time, designing curriculum, in the classroom, and meeting with students.
  2. I Appreciate Libraries collaborators believe in school libraries. They tell their students to use the library and incorporate research but don’t necessarily include the librarian in their planning or scheduled library time.  
  3. Someday Maybe collaborators is the optimistic term for teachers who don’t fit into the above categories. These individuals don’t tend to see any connection between their curriculum and the library program. It’s (hopefully!) not that they dislike the library, just that they don’t see a place for it in their classrooms.

Recognize that teachers also feel the time crunch familiar to all of us. Many conversations with my Physics teacher husband led to my thoughts on how to best reach the I Appreciate Libraries contingent. Eager Beavers don’t need more encouragement, and Someday Maybes are, well, someday maybe when the time is right. But for I Appreciate Libraries; I can offer support in a way that enhances their projects while preventing me from trying to find a way to schedule three different classes during the same period.

Offer virtual help. The library webpage, libguides, slideshows, and help videos are available on demand for students in the midst of researching. Not as personal as a class session, but they can be accessed anytime students are researching. They also have the advantage of being available for multiple classes and shared between department members. 

“Some of the students were asking how to get to History Reference Center, so here’s a visual help sheet with arrows they can follow if you want to post to SSESonline.”

Offer in-person help at surprising times. Office hours, popping by classes, and having teachers recommend students meet with me during study hall have led to conversations and research consultations with individual students. I know I’m not the only librarian whose desk is next to a printer. A friendly question when students pick up work is a great opening for project assistance.

“I heard the outline is due Friday and it’s supposed to be at least two pages. How much do you have so far?”

Offer suggestions for next year. It’s hard to fix a project that isn’t working mid-stream. Personally, I’ve never been successful at it. Students are already working towards their goal, and the class as a whole gets a bit of tunnel vision. By taking notes on what’s not working and approaching the teacher afterwards, you can set the tone for a more successful project next year.

“I noticed those MLA bibliographies seemed to be in a new format that I’d call untraditional at best. If you want me to work on that before they turn them in next year when you do this, just let me know.”

Teach the teacher. I was surprised in a chance conversation in the faculty room earlier this year to learn that a teacher wasn’t bringing his classes to the library because he “knows how busy I am.” True, but my passion is teaching. I will put off cataloging and user analytics for any time with students. But also, sometimes teachers don’t plan ahead as much as would be ideal or our schedules don’t work. (Might I mention that you can all think of me next Friday when I’ll have 8 classes in 5 periods?!?) Many of my teachers know how to use JSTOR or evaluate websites after seeing me work with their classes before. It’s been really hard for me to think that it might be a sign of a successful program that teachers feel empowered to conquer these subjects on their own and that it’s really an endorsement of what the library offers, even though it feels like a rejection in the moment.

“I heard you’re evaluating health sites tomorrow. That’s awesome! Let me know if you want me to pop by or if your students have any questions you weren’t anticipating that we can work on in the future.”

Much as I want to collaborate with every teacher, I know that amongst all the classes, I’m reaching all the students in my Middle and Upper School in at least one of their courses. Instead of spending my energy worrying about teachers who aren’t looking to collaborate, I’m working on providing the skills that my students need for college and career readiness in a format that works for more of my teachers.

It’s time to think creatively. Please leave any suggestions or recommendations below.

School and Public Library Collaborations

Reading The Library Book by Susan Orlean caused me to reminisce about my lifelong love for public libraries. In the beginning of the book, she describes trips to the library with her mother, and how special these times were for her. I fondly remember similar trips with my own mother, taking the bus to the local library when I was five years old. How grown up I felt when I checked out books for myself! When I was in high school the public library was my refuge; I spent countless hours reading through their (small but growing) teen section, and checked out many a DVD and CD (remember those?).

As a high school librarian, one of my goals is to continually stress the importance of and resources offered by local public libraries. Living in Pittsburgh, we are lucky to have access not only to numerous community libraries and the Carnegie Library system. The Carnegie is a network of city libraries anchored by the beautiful Main branch in the Oakland neighborhood. Over the years, I have collaborated with my faculty and the librarians at the public libraries to offer my students the opportunity to discover these valuable institutions. Below are a few examples!

Community Library Collaborations:

The closest library to our campus is the Cooper-Siegel Community Library. This lovely space offers so many digital and print resources to our students, as well as study space. Throughout the past years, we have collaborated with the amazing staff at Cooper-Siegel to share resources with students and conduct different events. Here are some examples of what we have done thus far:

  • Library Card Sign-Up Day
    • Some of our students have grown up going to the library, but others have not had that wonderful experience. To encourage students to use the library resources, I work with the librarians at Cooper-Siegel to offer “Library Card Sign-Up Day” at least once a year (sometimes during Library Card Month in September, but it can be done whenever!). We create packets of information and the sign up form, and I visit classes to explain the event and encourage students and faculty/staff to sign up. On Sign-Up Day, librarians come from Cooper-Siegel and camp out in our library, signing up students, renewing cards, and answering questions about library resources. Not only is it a great opportunity for students to sign up, but it also is a great PR moment for the public library!
  • Boarding Student Library Visits
    • We have a growing boarding community, and we do want to give our boarding students the same opportunity to visit the library as our day students. So, we work with the librarians to offer cards to boarding students, and take them to the library various times throughout the year to explore. This is a simple and fun way to connect with these students while promoting the library!
  • Library Club- Story Time
    • I have a wonderful group of students who take part in the Library Ambassadors (our version of the Library Club!). We have various events throughout the year, but one of the students’ favorites is to design and perform a Story TIme at Cooper-Siegel. We select a theme, choose books, and prepare a craft.  We always have a great crowd, and the students enjoy seeing the happy faces of the various children and caregivers in attendance.
  • Battle of the Books
    • Many of the Library Ambassadors eagerly await the yearly Battle of the Books. They break into teams and read a set list of books, and then participate in a trivia contest at the library. In the past the event was held at a Carnegie Library branch, but this year Cooper-Siegel hosted, and it was wonderful! We had a short trip to the library, and a more personal experience with the librarians and staff.

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh: Field Trip!

All students at my independent school are required to complete an extensive research paper as part of their U.S. History course. This research project typically lasts an entire term, and asks students to put to use all of the research tools in their arsenal to explore a topic of interest to them. Though at first overwhelmed, many students find themselves quickly immersed in their topic and enjoy locating information. Because of the extensive print collection available at the Carnegie Library Main Branch, I always encourage students to visit the library or at least review the catalog and have books sent to their closest branch.  In the past, I made myself available various Saturdays or Sundays at the Main Library, assisting students with locating materials and making use of the wonderful staff of librarians at the library. This year, working with the history department, we organized a field trip for all of the U.S. History classes to go to the Main Library. Students were given a brief tour of the space, and then spent a few hours on their own, researching to their heart’s content. Many students mentioned making return visits to the library- music to any librarian’s ears!

In the future, I hope to extend my collaborations with public libraries to include more frequent visits and possibly even some joint programing. Have you completed any fun projects with or field trips to the public libraries in your neighborhoods? Please share in the comments below!

Relentless Optimism

Most people who have spent time with me have noticed my “Relentless Optimism” stickers. There’s one on my laptop, one on my phone, and one on my water bottle–and usually a small stash of them in my bag that I hand out to people. In fact, I gave a few to some folks at the the AISL conference, and they encouraged me to share what I’d written about relentless optimism with the readers of the AISL blog.

People often ask me where my motto of Relentless Optimism came from, and what it means. I wish I had some grand origin story to share. I wish I could point to some major life event, some epiphany, some moment of insight that came after intense struggle or deep self-reflection. But no. All I can point to is a status update on Facebook.

I don’t know why that phrase came into my head. I don’t why it came at that moment. But as little as I understand about how I came up with that phrase, I am even more baffled by how and why it caught on. Very few people reacted to it on Facebook, but the next day at school a colleague looked at me and said, “Relentless.” And I said, “Relentless.” And then it took on a life of its own.

I started having text exchanges that looked like this:

I’d also get one word, all caps emails.

These texts and emails came at seemingly random moments, but it was also exactly when I needed to hear it. It was a challenging time at my school, and the days were long and the work was draining, but we were in it together.

I made buttons and handed them out. Initially I ordered 20, figuring I’d probably have some leftover. A week later I ordered 100 more because I’d had so many requests.  

And while walking across campus I would often hear, in the distance, someone yelling “Relentless!” I had, completely by accident, started a movement.

It was a weird and wonderful time in my life.

But the more people that shouted it, and the more it spread, the more I got the question:

But what does relentless optimism mean?

It’s a fair question, and one I’m never quite sure how to answer. I have a complicated relationship with optimism. For most of my life I described myself as a “realist”, which is what cynics call themselves when they don’t want to own up to being cynics.

Optimism does not come naturally to me, which is why it sometimes surprises me that that’s the word people focus on when they see the sticker.

I focus on the word relentless. There’s a reason it’s on there twice.

“Relentless” can, as adjectives go, get a bad reputation. It’s connotation is something or someone that is harsh, inflexible, unforgiving.

A relentless enemy.
The relentless heat of the desert.
The relentless beat of the drums

Of course, when I went to look up some more usage examples I found this, which undermines my larger point, but was too delightful not to share. I like to think I’m doing my part to change the connotation of the word relentless

Relentless optimism is, for me, a particular kind of optimism. It’s an optimism that is deliberately and consciously chosen. It’s an optimism that is unyielding, even when the situation at hand might make it easy to succumb to “realism.” It’s the optimism you find deep within yourself when you’re not sure how you got where you are, and you’re holding on for dear life.

There is a fair amount of research pointing to the idea that humans are hard-wired for optimism–to believe that everything’s going to turn out okay for us.

We are also, however, prone to optimism bias–a tendency to underestimate the likelihood that we will experience negative consequences as a result of our actions. Optimism bias leads you to believe that nothing bad could possibly happen to you, no matter what you do. Over a decade of working in schools has provided me with plenty of examples of the pitfalls of optimism bias, but the one that sticks out in my memory is the student who decided to dunk a basketball by jumping off a chair. Because what could possibly go wrong. Besides, of course, breaking both his arms. The  student in question (an advisee of mine from a previous school) would want me to point out that he did, in fact, make the basket.

But as we get older, we are less optimistic. We have more evidence that things don’t always turn out well (though research indicates that as we get even older, we get optimistic again–perhaps because even though things haven’t always worked out, we know we can survive setbacks).

This is where relentless comes in. When our innate optimism wanes, being optimistic requires making a choice, and being unyielding in that choice.

And the interesting thing is, by choosing optimism and priming ourselves to expect good results, we actually make it more likely that we’ll recognize bad ones and be able to adjust accordingly. We’re more likely to notice it than “realists” (who are sort of expecting things to go poorly).

Because relentless optimism is not just about believing that something will turn out well–it’s about doing the work necessary to make it turn out well. The relentlessness is how we turn our optimism into results, and—more importantly– how we avoid the pitfalls of optimism bias.

This tree, for me, is the arboreal embodiment of the kind of relentless I’m thinking about when I think about relentless optimism. It was struck by lightning, and split into multiple pieces. But before it could be chopped up and carted away, it started growing again. Not in the way it originally planned, not in the way anyone expected it to. But it grew.

There are times when the challenges seem insurmountable, when we have been felled by powers beyond our control. But we find a new and different way to grow.

Relentless optimism is about believing in (and working for) the possibility of change despite evidence that would lead you to believe that change isn’t possible. It’s about believing that we’re all in this (whatever “this” is) together. It’s about moving forward, even when moving forward is frustrating and difficult and overwhelming and seemingly pointless because it feels like you’ve never gotten anywhere before (or even lost ground).

If you don’t try, you are almost guaranteed to feel disappointed. If you try, and things don’t work the way you wanted them to, you might still feel disappointed, but at least you’ll know you tried. It can be easy–and comfortable–to succumb to negativity and defeatism. Relentless optimism involves risk; it can mean working without a net. It might not feel safe, but it’s exhilarating.

And I want to be clear: relentless optimism does not mean I don’t have bad days. It does not mean I never get frustrated and complain.

It means I take the moment to vent, and then I start looking for solutions. It means I find people who share my frustrations, and we figure out how to keep moving forward together.

I will encounter challenges beyond my abilities, and I will develop new skills.
I will hit roadblocks, but I will find another path.
I will be defeated, and I will get up again.

This motto is both affirmation, and aspiration.

Being optimistic (and being relentless) is a choice. It’s not always the easy one. But the more often and more deliberately I make it, the easier and more powerful it gets. And I love watching people around me make that choice, too.

This relentless optimism movement I accidentally founded gave me something I never could have anticipated—it helped me build a community. Because the power of relentless optimism is not that I believe in it. The power is that I have surrounded myself with other people who believe in it, too. I still gets those texts that are just the word “relentless” in all caps. I still send out stickers and buttons, and friends send me pictures of where they’ve put them. The real power of yelling “relentless” is that I know I’m not in this alone.

Because as important as it is to find something that energizes you, it’s even more important to find the people who share your vision and support you.

We need that passion, and we need that community to sustain us through the Journey.

At some point, without me even really noticing it was happening, my love of “Don’t’ Stop Believin’” went from ironic to real, true, and pure. And that’s when I knew I was no longer a realist. I am a relentless optimist.

Relentless.