Conference Takeaways? Make that Takeaway.

As a librarian who finally earned her first pair of glasses this past April, I was thrilled to hit “submit” on my registration for AISL Houston Seeing Clearly 2020. We know there is a reason AISL conferences fill up quickly; we learn so much from each other throughout the week. Based on AISL member feedback, the conference is intentionally small, letting a local planning committee create a unique experience in keeping with the character of their region and schools. This personal touch lets attendees visit schools and see behind the scenes at other libraries, and it provides a mobility that would be impossible on a much larger scale. I always return with lists of ideas and pages of notes. Some get accomplished and some enter my “someday maybe” file. But what if I instead flip the script to the ONE takeaway that turned out to be the most meaningful from any given year? My list is not what I would have expected boarding the plane heading back to TPA each spring, and yet it represents the ideas I’ve returned to repeatedly and the changes I’ve made to my own practice. Since you all are so awesome, this was a nearly impossible task! If this post sparks any ideas from your own experiences, I’d love to hear them below.

Boston 2019 – Conferences have many moments that are planned – speakers, tours, workshops – but sometimes one of the most powerful moments occur because of the unforeseen. When there was a bus delay in Boston, the fabulously fashionable Ellen Cothran revamped her presentation into a pop-up session on Harkness discussions through some sort of alchemy in a lobby at Andover. She had everyone engaged and even handed out notes and captured her audience on the fly. I’ve tried to model her energy and enthusiasm for letting learning bubble up naturally. Proctoring PSATs, walking to a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and waiting for the microwave are all possibilities to have a pop-up session with students and faculty.

Atlanta 2018 – I can totally see why Constance Vidor won a Sara Jaffarian Award for her work on turning the library into a museum with interactive exhibits. I shared the webinar with my Middle School history faculty as a way we could broaden research outcomes to reach more learners. However, here is the line from my own handwritten notes that I remember most directly as an AHA moment. “20 craft packets with black paper, sharp pencils, gold/silver sharpies, and hand out. 6 straight lines drawn on paper so it is neat. Make it easy for them.” It seems so obvious, but I needed to have that level of granularity. It might seem easy for me to say that advisors should ask students to use pencils to complete a task, but compliance will feel easier if I hand them the pencils. Thinking back to Takeaway Boston, handing out pencils is an untraditional opportunity for conversation. Win-win!

New Orleans 2017 – While I always enjoy the keynote speakers, in New Orleans Doug Johnson provided the most memorable lesson of the conference. When he spoke about building library support with little tweaks to make administrators your allies, I listened. Of particular note were three items. 1. Be seen outside your the library. 2. Don’t call it “my library” but “our library” and advocate for library users, not for library goals. 3. Principals hate surprises, whether the surprises are good or bad. If there is something innovative that is happening in the library, your administrators should hear about it from you, not from a parent on the soccer field. It allows them to speak knowledgeably about the library programming and puts them in the position to support you. This directive to share positives has been key in building support outside my walls.

Los Angeles 2016 – Talk about “unknown unknowns.” Until Nora Murphy’s eye-opening presentation on frogs and axolotls, otherwise known as source literacy, I had been happy that teachers at my school knew how to direct students towards database usage. But we fell far short of teaching source literacy for untraditional or subject-specific sources, like photo archives, trade publications, or policy briefs. We don’t let our students take the shortcut of relying on mythical universal expertise; we know this is subject-specific. Thinking about where we encounter sources in our daily lives and how this differs by discipline has led to thoughtful discussions with department chairs about what quality sources look like in different disciplines. My students had been too quick to assume neutrality and authority in sources they encountered, and this session gave me the vocabulary to add nuance to our research program. I have since sought out Nora’s presentation for her insights and humor.  

Tampa 2015 – Conference planning is hard work. Much more time is spent focusing on raising money, building bus routes, writing bus scripts, determining meal plans for many varieties of diets, and coordinating breakout rooms than you would think. Five years later, I needed to look through my folder to remember the programming, compared with many memories of logistics. If you’re heading to Houston and see someone with a Conference Planner tag, thank them for all the weekends and evenings they devoted to set the stage for you to learn. Team Houston, there is a subset of AISL librarians that you’ll join on April 3. When talking with this esteemed group, you’ll never take the AISL conference for granted again.

Again it’s not always the skills but mindsets that have had a lasting influence. I’m better for our camaraderie, and I thank all AISL members for that!

AAAAH! Or, A(p)A A(nnot)A(ted) (Bibliograp)H(ies)!

I can remember, with some fondness in hindsight, the first and maybe only annotated bibliography I was assigned as a high school student. It was for Biology, and I was probably a senior because I am pretty sure that I drove myself to a semi-distant branch of the county public library system in order to access their periodical room. The topic was genetically modified tomatoes, as I recall. I spent a few hours there finding articles, taking notes, recording citations, maybe making some photocopies. This was a memorable experience because 1) I drove myself somewhere for scholarly purposes and felt awesome; 2) I figured out how to find and use periodicals in a library; 3) I never forgot what an annotated bibliography was and how it could be valuable in a research process. Writing those annotations made me take a deeper and more critical look at the sources I found and exercise some metacognition in the process.

Even though I had to drive to a public library (not even my local branch – and how did I even know where it was without GPS?), figure out where the back issues of these magazines were, spend hours combing through bound periodicals, find coins for photocopies, and create APA citations by hand, I think it was easier than the task before my Scientific Research and Design students. While they can, in theory, complete the entire assignment from their seat in the classroom or library, the sense of ease and convenience we are lulled into by online databases, Google Scholar, and citation managers has led to lessons in source evaluation that have to be reviewed many times in many ways. 

I know I am not the first among us to bring this up, not even on this blog, but it is a challenge for our students to understand what a journal is when every information source they gather is found the same way – through structuring a search query (with varying levels of expertise) either in a library database or an Internet search engine. I can tell them that they need to find scholarly, scientific articles, but when we’ve done such a good job teaching students to evaluate web-based sources using the CRAAP test or similar, there’s another leap from judging a source to be current, reliable, authoritative, and accurate to judging what qualifies as a scientific paper. Even checking the “peer-reviewed” box in the result limiters doesn’t always do the trick – we still see book reviews and news articles coming from academic journals. And how to distinguish an open access journal from a website, especially when that online open access journal isn’t really a periodical? I wish I had reread Dave Wee’s post including the  “super boring, boring, and easy”  source literacy exercise a few weeks ago instead of just now. 

Lesson for me: check the blog and the listserv archives before introducing a concept to students, even if I think I’ve got it covered. This assignment has been a good reminder for me that even though I think I am going slowly and taking time with each phase of the research process, there are some things on which I need to provide more direct instruction. For one, the annotation. 

I have worked with classes on annotated citations, but not always been the one to evaluate them. I’ve created embeddable slideshows for teachers and resource guides on the subject, all with great tutorials and tips from university libraries and writing centers. Nevertheless, while noticing that some students were having a hard time understanding that the annotation is not just a summary or rephrasing of an abstract, I heard this coming out of my mouth, and saw hands reaching for pens: 

Your APA annotation should tell your reader WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY,  and HOW.

This was a shorthand way of getting at the elements of an analytical/critical annotation.

Who – how can you assess the authors’ authority and expertise? What are their credentials and affiliations?

What – what sort of investigation is reported on here? Is this a review of the literature? An article on original research? A meta-analysis? What are the authors’ conclusions?

When – is this work current? Does that matter? Has much research been done since publication?

Where – where was the article published and where did you find it?

Why – what is the purpose of the investigation (or, what is the authors’ research question)? Why is it useful to you?

How – what was the authors’ methodology? How does this work fit with the literature, and your own work?

This is, in my opinion, actually a little bit of a stretch, but the familiar “who, what, when, where, why, how” starters seemed to help some students to take a more evaluative and critical view of the sources that had made their way into those NoodleTools projects. 

Some favorite reads this year…

I don’t know about you, but the chilly fall air that has finally arrived in Pittsburgh makes me want to spend a Saturday afternoon curled up with a good book and a delicious cup of tea (hot toddy, anyone?!). Managing a six month old doesn’t really allow for much reading time, but I have been able to sit back and relax during naptime on Saturdays (laundry be darned!). 

As a librarian, I feel that it is important that we take time to inhale a good book- our love of reading is probably what brought most of us to this honorable profession. And we should acknowledge that love and share our favorites. I also like to write about what I read, so that I can clearly articulate my thoughts when recommending titles to students and colleagues. So, I am taking some time and space here to share my favorites thus far this year. Please take some time to share yours in the comments. Here goes!

I chose this recent winner of the National Book Award for Fiction as the first title for our Faculty/Staff book club, and it was the perfect choice! It is not only brief, but captivating, and easily devoured by a busy teacher at the beginning of the school year. So many aspects lend themselves to marvelous discussion, and you will find yourself pondering over The Friend for days to come. 

I read this title on a whim after seeing it listed as available on Overdrive, and am seriously glad that I gave it a try. I had not read anything by Emily Giffin, and was skeptical; however, I was immediately caught up in the story. The plot is particularly relevant to independent school librarians. A young scholarship student, who happens to be the daughter of an immigrant from Brazil, becomes the target of a cyber bullying scandal at a prestigious private school in Nashville. The story is told from alternating points of view: the father of the girl, the mother of the alleged perpetrator, and the girl herself. The story moves quickly and appeals to mature teens as well as adults, and would provide for excellent discussion for a faculty book club- which is why I’m considering it as an option for a future meeting!

I realize I am probably late to the game on this one (heh, see what I did there?). It has been recommended to me many times over. It took a student request to read it for our student book club for me to finally pick up the copy, loaned to me by my older brother, that had been languishing on our shelves for months. I did game occasionally with my brothers when young, and reading about the fight for the ultimate prize in the gaming world brought back many happy memories of epic battles and cheering on my brothers after my character saw the words “GAME OVER” on the screen. Reading Ready Player One, you will hope the game never ends.

I absolutely love Lisa See, and she continues to highlight, at least for me, previously unknown yet fascinating stories in the Asian world. While reading about this group of female divers from a small island near Korea, I was continually surprised and challenged by their lives. The role reversals for men and women were fascinating- the men cared for children while the women dove into the chilly waters day after day for coveted sea creatures. The relationships are complicated and real, and the characters experience a diverse range of emotions as war ravages their home. This is a riveting story, and I once again anticipate See’s next novel.

Knowing how our country functions politically and socially, this story was not as surprising as it should have been but still angering nonetheless. It is, quite plainly, abhorent how hard it is for some people to simply exist in our society. Because I was reading this when my son was two months old, and Land has a young child herself, I fought to check my feelings of being overwhelmed at times myself, conceptualizing all of the support I have and the lack of help for so many. This will be my go-to memoir to recommend for the foreseeable future.

I don’t typically read short stories, but this popped up on Overdrive when I was scrolling through available titles. I was pleasantly surprised and instantly intrigued by the various stories that ranged from a young single mother trying to interview a movie star to a couple whose honeymoon is invaded by the wife’s high school mean girl. Curtis Sittenfield’s talent shines through in each story, and I eagerly await her next short story installment. 

So what have you read lately? I am always on the hunt for my next great read, and I look forward to suggestions from my fellow librarians. Happy reading!

Student Voice and Preventing Plagiarism

An earlier AISL blog, “Engage to Prevent Plagiarism,” discussed resources and strategies to prevent plagiarism.  Encouraging students to engage with their topics and add their own voice was suggested by several authors as a method to prevent plagiarism (DeSena; Gilmore). One of my library objectives for this school year was to address the issue of plagiarism by guiding students to develop strategies and skills while also making the activities engaging for students and relevant to the curriculum. The following Preventing Plagiarism activity was a first step in helping students to make connections with ideas of others and to allow their own voices to be heard.

Engage with a Controversial News Story

Rather than confront students with a lecture on plagiarism, I collaborated with classroom teachers to connect a topical news story to their curriculum so that students could practice effective note taking and paraphrasing and be challenged to put their own spin on controversial topics.  Eighth graders in US History explored the Harriet Tubman $20 bill controversy.

Seventh grade ELA students examined an article on cloning (“Barbra Streisand Explains Why I Cloned My Dogs”) and compared motivations with ethical issues in their class novel The House of the Scorpion. (Streisand used a Texas company for the cloning procedure, so this made the news story more pertinent with our Texas students.)

Reasons and Examples of Plagiarism

After explaining that students would use the news story to practice paraphrasing to glean important ideas, we discussed the definition of plagiarism and the importance of respecting the words and ideas of others. In groups, students used “Think — Pair — Share” to identify the top three reasons students plagiarize.

Reasons most frequently identified included laziness, procrastination, concern over grades, and confusion about how to paraphrase and how to cite. This student brainstormed list was compared with a “Top Ten” list from Barry Gilmore’s book, Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students (Heinemann 2009). Two items on Gilmore’s list that were missing in our students’ brainstorming were noteworthy: Student Culture and School Culture. We discussed the importance of creating a culture of learning in which ethical behavior is promoted and valued (both by students and educators/administrators) and the importance of students adding their own voices to the scholarly dialogue.

In order to show how the consequences of plagiarism and unethical behavior can escalate, we discussed that cases of plagiarism result in 1) teacher/parent conferencing and re-doing a project in the middle school; 2) impacting grades in high school; and 3) possible expulsion in college if a student is found to have plagiarized. In the business world, plagiarism could mean the loss of career. An example of a college student accused of plagiarizing is Harvard student Kaavya Viswanathan, whose novel was accused of having plagiarized passages from another YA author’s novel; Kaavya lost a $500,000.00 two-book contract and movie deal. Jayson Blair is an example of a plagiarist in the business world; this New York Times journalist resigned after being accused of inventing interviews and posting over 37 plagiarized stories. (One of Blair’s fabricated interviews concerned a Texas family grieving their soldier son, so this struck a chord with our Texas students.)

To transition to the Preventing Plagiarism activity, students viewed the video Citation: A Very Brief Introduction (Library of North Carolina State University). The video animation illustrates how ideas build upon multiple sources: entering into a dialogue with multiple ideas allows students to make their own connections.

Make Connections with Multiple Viewpoints

The Preventing Plagiarism activity to evaluate the controversial news stories was adapted from a “Paraphrase Practice” activity in Barry Gilmore’s book, Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students. During this activity, students

  • used the first two paragraphs of the new story to write a general summary
  • looked closely to identify an important sentence;
  • circled three to four important words to write a paraphrased sentence
  • and located one more important quote in the article to practice introducing a direct quote and citing with an in-text citation.

As eighth grade students read the NYT article to select their quote, they weighed multiple viewpoints. Was the decision to delay the Tubman $20 bill driven by 1) anti-counterfeiting safeguards (viewpoint of treasury secretary); 2) race and culture (viewpoint of Democratic Senator); or political correctness (viewpoint of President Donald Trump)? Students worked in groups of two so that they could talk aloud and tweak their paraphrased sentences (making sure the sentences were in their own words).  Eighth graders shared their sentences aloud, and we noted how individual student voices were evident in the results.

Seventh grade students followed the same paraphrase activity as eighth grade, but they used the NYT article about Streisand’s decision to clone her dog. Students then were challenged to look closely at quotes from a chapter in The House of the Scorpion to write a comparison/contrast paragraph discussing motivations of the character El Patron for cloning the boy, Matt.  Sentence stems were provided to aid students’ discussion:

Reflection on the Preventing Plagiarism Activity

As a short introduction to strategies for paraphrasing and citing sources, this lesson was successful.  This forty-five minute class did not allow for additional activities, but eighth graders could be challenged to research further the historical background of Harriet Tubman and Andrew Jackson as they weigh the question of “What do we value as we decide who is featured on U.S. currency?”  The seventh grade teacher suggested a Socratic discussion could be a follow-up activity as students discuss further the character motivations and ethics of cloning. This Preventing Plagiarism activity promoted interesting insights from students and provided an opportunity for students to listen to their peers and appreciate how each used a similar source of information and added their own voice.


Barry, Dan, et al. “Correcting the Record: Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception.” New York Times, 11 May 2003, Accessed 26 Aug. 2019.

“Citation: A Very Brief Introduction.” YouTube, uploaded by Libncsu, North Carolina State University, 23 July 2014, Accessed 25 Aug. 2019.

DeSena, Laura Hennessey. Preventing Plagiarism. National Council of Teachers of English, 2007.

Farmer, Nancy. The House of the Scorpion. Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004.

Gilmore, Barry. Preventing Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students. Heinemann, 2009.

Holt, Karen. “‘How Opal Mehta Got Kissed,’ Then Got Pulled.” Interview by Melissa Block. NPR, 28 Apr. 2006, Accessed 6 Oct. 2019.

Streisand, Barbra. “Barbra Streisand Explains: Why I Cloned My Dog.” New York Times, 2 Mar. 2018, Accessed 26 Aug. 2019.

Zhou, David. “Student’s Novel Faces Plagiarism Controversy.” The Harvard Crimson, 23 Apr. 2006, Accessed 26 Aug. 2019.

Sparking Up Storytime

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Imagine yourself reading a picture book to students. If you’re a good sideways or upside down reader, you can keep the pictures in view the whole time.  You may use different voices for each character, using inflection the way a chef uses a knife. A little library instruction may start or end the session : ‘What does the author do?’, ‘The illustrator?’. You might even draw attention to how the cover does this or that. But have you ever discussed the gutters or layout?  How about the typography or endpapers? Megan Dowd Lambert, author of Reading Picture Books with Children : How to Shake up Storytime and Get Kids Talking about What They See does exactly that.  In association with the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, Lambert has developed the Whole Book Approach, a dialogic method used to read with students, not to students.

If the thought of opening up what can be a fairly controlled and practiced performance scares you – don’t worry. Lambert takes you through the deconstruction of a picture book, showing how the sum of the parts is more than the book itself. This gives the librarian new tools in interpreting the author and illustrator’s intentions for the story. Inspired by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenewine’s Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), Dowd opens up the storytime to include what she describes as ‘See, Hear and Say Reading’. The elements of the picture book itself serves as prompts for questions during the reading of the story. Storytimes can become conversation times, ripe with enriching experiences where students themselves are actors on the text, not just an audience.

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Along with new knowledge of what formatting can add to texts, Lambert also includes instructions on how to create a Whole Book Approach to storytime. Working to create a welcoming interactive storytime with you as the storyteller shifting intention from performing to discussion is a major first step. For some of us, (me included!) letting go can be scary. What happens if complete chaos ensues and of course, that’s when the head of school decides to do a pop-in. Actually, using the visual thinking strategy questions support student engagement with the text. A simple, ‘what’s going on in this picture’, can lead to increased child interest. Allowing the students’ spontaneous questions and reactions to drive the discussion creates authentic learning and deeper engagement with the book as a whole, instead of just the storyline or your knock-out performance.

As a performer at heart, I was more than a little concerned trying this method. However, the Whole Book Approach has become a trusted tool in my belt. While there are times when a performance style reading is appropriate, increased interaction during storytime with students is optimal. The most important thing is to establish a ‘question and response welcome’ environment, or students may continue to be content as an audience. Once that dam breaks, be prepared to be as engaged in the conversations as the students. Don’t be afraid to make them work – and allow ambiguity to be a member of the crowd too. A properly placed ‘I don’t know – what do you think’ may broaden their minds exponentially. For those of you looking at state standards, these discussions are rich with “key ideas and details/concepts”, “craft and structure” and “integration of knowledge and ideas”.

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If you are intrigued with learning how to read with rather than to children, please make sure to check our Lambert’s book (book description on amazon but order through an independent book store!) as well as her website. Teaching near Boston, I was lucky enough to bring Megan Dowd Lambert to our campus for professional development. While it was only 90 minutes, many of my teachers remarked that it was one of the most interesting and useful pds they’ve had in a long time (ok – for some that’s not a big reach!). Perhaps a better indicator is that the two copies I purchased for our professional collection have both gone missing – and I’ve been begged to replace them. To a librarian, that indicates worth. Don’t take my word for it, check out Lambert’s website and see if this might be a good addition to your storytimes.

Who’s Behind the Curtain?

Okay. I’m just going to lay it right out there. It’s a secret I’ve kept from you since we first met. At first I thought I’d tell you, but then I didn’t. And the more we became friends, the more I feared sharing the truth. And the longer I waited, the harder it became to tell you. I don’t know how many times I tried to find the courage to tell you, but when the moment came I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I was afraid that if I told you, you’d scoff at me or roll your virtual eyes, ostracize me from this community I’ve grown to love. But the thing is, you not knowing has been eating at me for years. I have dreams about it. I wake up in a cold sweat, nearly hyperventilating. My wife, accustomed to these frequent night terrors, strokes my  forehead and calms me to sleep. This is it, though. I can go no further without you knowing the truth. So darn the consequences. Here goes: I….I….I do not…<gulp> have a degree in library science. [record scratch], [crickets], [gasps] from across the AISL frontiers].

I won’t blame you if you disown me, throw me out of the library club, remand me to the usurious hands of full price booksellers. I’ve misrepresented myself. I’m a fake, a charlatan, impersonating a librarian for all these years. And I didn’t even sleep at a Holiday Inn Express!

I mean, do you even know me at all? The foundation of our relationship has been built on a lie. I wouldn’t blame you if you reported me to the librarian police and sent me away to library prison for life. But before you condemn me to books previously annotated by a sophomore who uses hearts to dot i’s, hear me out. I never set out to deceive you. It just happened.

I’ll spare you the entire career history, but a few highlights are needed for you to understand how a nice boy like me ends up in the rough and tumble world of librarianship. I was a college English major (a revelation that, at the time, nearly caused my mother to choke on her Tab cola).  After a couple of years of stereotypical mid-1990s, post college Boston living, I decided to go to graduate school. I’ll be honest (finally, I know!), I didn’t even think about an MSL. Heck, I am pretty sure if someone mentioned it I would have assumed they were talking about Major League Soccer! I went for an M.Ed. with a certification to teach secondary English. But the joke in my family is that I went to graduate school for two years only to teach for one. That’s right, after a year of teaching ninth grade English on Cape Cod, I left academia all together. I had a penchant for some wanderlust – and wander I did – back to Boston in 1997 then Amsterdam, Toronto, Zurich, New York, Los Angeles, until I returned to Massachusetts in 2004. I married, had kids, and relatively soon thereafter chose to move back to my home state of Connecticut. With my praxis test taken and my Connecticut secondary English teaching certificate in hand, I returned to the Nutmeg State somewhat resigned to, after a decade and a half away from academia, a return to teaching. At first I landed a temporary job at my old high school. (Yes, it was as uncomfortable as you might imagine!), but I was keeping an eye out for something better.

It was at this time, with a bit of free time on my hands, I did what all great job seekers do: auditioned for community theater. During my second show (The Crucible – ironic life parallel?) the director and I got to talking. She asked me a bit of my career back story and what it was I was hoping to do. It was toward the end of that conversation that she said, with some conspiratorial undertones, “Have you ever thought about working in a library?” I said, earnestly, “No. Tell me more about that.” And with those six words uttered in reply, my life – my family’s life – was irrevocably changed. This woman, who directed plays on the side, had been at my current school for nearly 30 years. She’d been the library director for close to a generation. With her retirement not long beyond the horizon, she was looking to groom her replacement. She ushered me into the school as her assistant. It helped that I 1) had a master’s degree, 2) had technical/computer experience, and 3) for the benefit of the boarding school life, was a runner and a former college rower.

It’s not exactly the right analogy, but it also isn’t that far off: she was my Mrs. Miyagi and I her karate kid. I began as all young apprentices do: in the stacks. I refreshed my knowledge of the Dewey system, shelved books, neatened stacks, and helped pull books for weeding, scraping off barcodes and stamping discard on them. My desk was right near Mrs. Miyagi’s and she announced her every library activity. What she was doing, what she was buying, why this book was being discarded but another wasn’t. I checked new books to make sure there weren’t missing pages, wondering why bother (but of course, we found some!). She taught me how to catalog, I learned how to read the Sears subject headings, and what in Sam Hill name a Cutter Sanborn table is and how to use it! Eventually I was permitted to go beyond cataloging fiction, learning the nuances of subject headings for non-fiction, learning how to sometimes disregard the suggested Dewey number to put a book where it would be better found in our library. Suffice it to say that in the course of three years working under my library director, I worked my way up from the proverbial mailroom to know, intimately, each and every inch of shelving and every aspect of our library’s operations.

I did, briefly, because we thought I might eventually require an actual MLS (or MILS, if you’re getting all fancy and modern), take online courses at Southern Connecticut State University and at San Jose State University. I took Foundations of Librarianship and Information Communities and Information Analysis and Organization among a few others. And, to degrees, it was helpful, but they didn’t specifically prepare me for the unique environment in which we ply our trade. So when it came time for Mrs. Miyagi to retire, it was because she knew that I had graduated from her MLS program. It was longer than a typical program, and the practical component was intense. I don’t have a degree on my wall from Mrs. Miyagi’s Library School, but I have the education to rival any accredited institution’s. (And the best part was that I got paid to enrol!)

As we all know, though we may have been educated to assume our professional responsibilities, we are never done with our education. And this is how, among several other opportunities, AISL plays such an important role. Whether we call it professional development or continuing education, our active involvement in the AISL listserv, attending the summer or annual conference and workshops – certainly for me, and I know for many of you – is the impetus for so much of the positive changes and initiatives we take at our school. The collective AISL brain has helped me not only fill in some gaps in my library education (hey – we all have them, right?). It’s helped me greatly make up for my lack-of-MSL inferiority complex (not sure what DSM code that is.)

This lack of librarian self-esteem is, to some extent, your fault! You’re all so gosh darn smart, and with each question, suggestion, blog, or “helpful” link, I am only made more aware of my shortcomings. But that’s okay, because it makes me not only want to be a better librarian, but somehow prove my worth in spite of my lack of a library degree. So, yeah, I might have a chip on my shoulder, but it serves me – and our library – because it motivates me to do the best we can with our small but important sphere of influence. 

Mrs. Miyagi still lives in our area. She comes in to check out books and chat. The library looks different from when she was here. Gone is our reference section, in favor of a more contemporary seating and work areas. And there are other changes, too, in the nature of the services we provide, the demeanor we exude. Many of the changes we’ve adopted were influenced by you! Mrs. Miyagi may not approve of everything we have done, but she knows that when she retired, that I would, like a constitutional oath – not dissimilar to the ALA Bill of Rights (which I also learned!), solemnly swear to faithfully execute the position of library director, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the mission of our library, which is, essentially: to support the curriculum and mission of the School by developing critical information literacy skills and by instilling an appreciation and understanding of the value of reading to promote lifelong learning.

Okay, so now you know. The truth is finally out there I’m sorry I kept it from you for too long. That was wrong. I understand if you need some time to process. I, for one, feel relieved and unburdened. Whatever the consequences, I hope that you can understand my initial reticence to disclose the truth. I am so enamored and in awe of all of you. I just wanted you to like me, to feel like a peer. Instead I felt, for a time, an imposter. Now, however, after all my years of both my direct and practical training and the ongoing education I’ve absorbed, feel as confident as ever in my credentials and abilities as a library director, librarian, information literacy educator, advisor for readers, and a role model for students that it was high time I came clean. And if I can pave the way for just one more librarian to reveal their true path to this noble profession, then, well, this whole confession will have been more than worth it. So, that’s it. It’s time to move on. I’ve got reviews to read, books to process, and students and faculty to serve. Simply stated: it’s time to go back to work.

on news, opinion, and politics in the library…

This is the story of my library life over the past two weeks…

Social Studies teacher that works with us extensively: “Hey Dave, my kids are wrestling with what the terms left, right, and center mean on the political spectrum and what they mean when we’re talking about news sources and media. Can you work with us on something?”

Me in that moment:

Then, five days later came the moment when I had to begin figuring out how to structure a learning experience on the politics of right, left, and center, and helping 16-year old human beings come to an understanding of center, left, and right sources of news without triggering students or their parents.

Me five days later…

At that point, however, I kind of had no choice, but to get a spine and deal with politics, opinion, news, and a whole lot of personal anxiety and give this thing all a whirl. Here’s what my whirl looked like:

Lesson: Right, Left, and Center: The “Mythical American” Version

Who: IB Global Politics I (HS juniors)

When: Intended time was one 85-min block class period




  • Play video and discuss students’ understanding of right, left and center as they apply to the political spectrum of the United States.
  • Discuss lesson/activity objectives.
  • Review class ground rules for civil discourse and mutual respect.
  • Introduce task.
    • In groups of 2-4 select a topic from one of the slides. (In practice, the selection of topics by groups took place “Hunger Games style” so the first group to put their names on a slide got to have the topic.) Groups are also invited to view the topic tab on the Allsides site and choose a topic that has not been included in the original slideshow template.
    • Groups will try to fill out the extreme left, extreme right, and center sections of their slides without looking at the linked articles or searching for position statements in other sources. Emphasis: “This is our BEGINNING understanding about positions on these topics. We will likely have to revise our thoughts as the semester progresses.”
    • After students fill out their draft “belief sections,” they will read through as many left, right, center articles as they were able.
  • Groups will share out information from their slides to the full class. Class will have opportunity to discuss or raise questions.
  • After completing share out by all groups, we will discuss How to Spot 11 Types of Media Bias from the Allsides site.
  • Students explore Ozy and Axios news sites – I chose these sources, particularly, for their very mobile-friendly and teenager-friendly (brief) formats.


I can honestly say that students were EXTREMELY engaged during the full 85-minute period. Discussion within their groups was rich and thoughtful. I was pleasantly surprised that they committed themselves and spent most of the time they had really digging in and reading though and discussing the linked articles.

Students’ made observations and comments like, “This is SO confusing! This article is from Fox News which is rated center-right, but this article is completely in favor of gun control” which, in turn, lead to some really worthwhile conversations about the nature of media outlets. “Does that make you feel that Fox News might be more balanced than you had anticipated? Have you noticed that there is an Allsides rating for Fox Online News Only and a separate rating for Fox News Opinion?”

In their reading of articles from a variety of sources, students discovered that there was not always a clean alignment of a source’s rating on Allsides and what students expected based on their brainstormed policy position.
This particular group actually revised their initial extreme-left and extreme-right policy positions after reading through some of the articles. These students concluded that both the extreme-left and the extreme-right favored keeping prohibitions on marijuana use in place, but that the sides arrived at their positions through very different lines of reason. They also concluded that CL, C, and CR positions favored legalization of marijuana use, but also came to those policy positions through very diverse lines of reason.

This librarian’s observation: High school students REALLY dislike the “messiness” of our media landscape. Students desire “clean” categorization. They wanted sources rated “left” to contain works that supported policy positions on the left and they wanted the same on the right. I tried to keep it positive, but the message to them ultimately amounted to, “Too bad! Unfortunately, this is the messy world of news and media today. As on-the-verge-of-fully-grown-up citizens and voters, we all need to begin to understand it and understand what that means about how we read, use, and share.”

We also discussed that the Allsides analysis and ratings, themselves, are based on subjective judgements and we identified where we could locate information about Allsides Media Ratings and their methodology and process. Note: I choose to use Allsides with my students for this activity, but Media Bias Factcheck is a site that we also introduce to students.

Ultimately, while 85-minutes is a nice amount of time for a library class, we still ran out of time. For me, the student engagement with the Allsides site and with the sources themselves were well worth the investment of time and I would not have wanted to abbreviate any of the process. I did, however, fail to get to the media literacy content I wanted to address with much depth.

So What – Following Up:

Scheduling limitations didn’t allow us to schedule a follow-up lesson immediately, so I won’t be able to meet up with the three classes for about a week. The upside is that this will give us time to work on a streamlined lesson that focuses specifically on how to identify media bias and have kids do some close reading to see if they can locate indicators of bias in the sources they’re reading.

All in all, it turned out to be a good way to get students engaged in discussions about politics and news and to begin having new literacy conversations with them. It’s a long, slow process because, let’s face it, this stuff is hard!

Hope your school years are off to great starts! Have a great week, all!

Links to Resources:

Working Along the Edges

Alpha S. DeLap, St. Thomas School, Medina, WA (twitter: alphaselene)

Here at St. Thomas School (STS), where I have been a teacher-librarian for the past seven academic years, our Head of School, Dr. Kirk Wheeler, encourages us all to risk, explore, and challenge ourselves professionally. In 2016, he wrote, ”

“Whenever we are on the edge – the edge of our capabilities, the edge of our knowledge, the edge of our confidence – we are in a place of potential growth. However, that edge isn’t always an easy place to be. That is why we intentionally celebrate edgework and remain committed to maintaining a learning environment in which ALL members of the school feel secure in taking risks, asking questions, and exploring new alternatives.”

His encouragement of our own professional risk-taking has led me to serve on committees, publish articles, write reviews for national publications, present at conferences, and even to write for this AISL blog.

In addition to spreading my wings externally, I have also taken on curricular projects outside my initial comfort zone and immediate expertise: yearbook design and production and debate.  I agreed to teach these particular electives in 2016, we call them “Master Classes,” for our Seventh and Eighth Grade students and committed to teaching them as thoroughly and rigorously as possible. In addition to teaching these electives each year, I am now the Coach for the STS Middle School Debate team.

You might think, “I’m sure you did Debate in high school and college so it wasn’t too much of a stretch,” but actually I have never debated formally and my love of this particular academic realm is one that I conjured in its fuller form in last few years.

Yes, I took the LSAT after college, did well, and toyed with the idea of law school, but instead I worked in publishing for Macmillan and went on to pursue degrees in comparative literature and cultural studies.

It was when I taught an argumentation course at a community college in Northern Colorado that I began to fall in love with the actual structure and process of constructing different arguments, especially the mediatory type. Helping my college students map the proposition and the opposition and then integrate them was pure joy.

I retained a strong memory of this love of the mediatory argument throughout my second career shift into children’s librarianship. When my supervisor, STS Middle School Division Director, Alex Colledge, asked me whether or not I wanted to spearhead a new Debate strand at St. Thomas School, I jumped at the idea. I have found that whenever I feel a strong intellectual fluttering I do well to give in to it and see where it takes me.

I have taught two rounds of the master class and our nascent Debate Team came in fifth in the Pacific Northwest Middle School Debate League last Spring.

The second year of Debate season is upon us. Yesterday I held my first team practice after conducting a week-long Debate Team camp in mid-August. Debate is a natural landscape for librarians, it is a space that delights in a careful and thorough research process, a celebration of diverse perspectives, and a passionate consideration of the most pressing civic issues of the day.

If you interested in talking more about Middle School Debate, modified parliamentary argumentation or ways in which you are exploring your own professional edge, please email me or tweet me at: alphaselene.

Librarian of the Day: Leadership in 5th grade

In line with our school theme last year, The Power of You in Community, we start our introduction to the library catalog with an activity for 5th grade. They walk through the OPAC on their iPads and find the books that they have read over the summer. We work on leaving quality comments and reviews on these books.

Emphasizing that a book review should include:

  • The book’s title and author
  • A brief summary of the plot that doesn’t give away too much
  • Comments on the book’s strengths and weaknesses
  • The reviewer’s personal response to the book with specific examples to support praise or criticism

Keep in mind while writing the review:

  • Does the book fit into a genre, like mystery or romance, and why?
  • When and where does the action in the book take place? Does the author do a good job of making you feel like you are there? How?
  • Are the main characters believable? Do you know anyone like them? Does the author adequately describe them?
  • What do you like or dislike about the author’s writing style? That is, do you like the way the author uses words? 
  • Use concrete examples to back up your points, such as describing a scene that really moved you or using a couple of short quotes from the book.
  • Don’t forget to include your opinion of the book, whether you liked or disliked it.

As the students grow throughout the year, they are encouraged to be part of our 5th grade Reading Community by reading and reviewing books in our OPAC. we added some encouragement through a point system with two achievements. Once students are an active participant in our community (about 3 reviews in a trimester) they achieve status as a Reading Community member and earn a pin to wear on their badge lanyard.

The second achievement is earned when a student goes above and beyond with their participation in the Reading Community. They reach the status of Librarian of the Day! As librarians, they give a Booktalk to the entire middle school, facilitate the Mobile Library at lunchtime, send a whole school email with their reviews compiled, and process circulation at class time. Once a Librarian, these students are welcomed into the Library Leaders program which plans activities and is responsible for the library.

I have found that this is a great program to get students actively involved in reading. What are your programs that work in your library?

Getting Ready for Banned Books Week

As we returned from our impromptu break from school (thanks, Dorian), I needed to get myself back into the vortex of the school year which quickly became a realization of “OMG, Banned Books Week is coming up!” Even though I feel in the weeds, exposing students to the reality of banned or challenged books is worth putting other things aside. It is especially relevant now, in light of the recent banning of the Harry Potter books by a Catholic school in Tennessee. (I mean, is it 1999 again?)

I’ve done various activities in the past, and I’m in the process of collecting inspiration from other librarians on Twitter and other social media outlets. Boy, you guys have some good ideas! I especially liked the one from Anne Campbell Bucci who put paper bags over books with the reason why they were banned handwritten across the front. The students lift the bag to discover the identity of the book. I am definitely adding this activity, although the idea of writing “pornographic” as a reason why a book was banned terrifies me. Perhaps I’ll use “sexually offensive” instead? (Oh my, this should be interesting.)

Since I’ve been mining ideas from other people, I figured I’d share my favorite one so far. Last year, we shredded the first page from books that had been banned or challenged (no, I made photocopies first. I didn’t rip up the books!) and put the pieces in glass mason jars. We made a poster of the book covers for the kids to choose from and they had to guess which book was in which jar using only the random words they could find. First, the students had a great time shaking up the jars and trying to peer into them. Second, the poster with photos of book covers began more conversations about why a book had been banned and where exactly could they find it in the library. My circulation increased dramatically.

I love it when students ask questions or try to figure out why a book has been banned or challenged. I think this ties into why I want to try Ms. Bucci’s idea of the paper bags, because the kids will need to work backward from the reason to the title. I can’t wait to find out how many titles they come up with for each particular accusation.

While the visual of covered books (and the idea of a contest) will bring students to the library, another way we get their attention is by faculty and staff wearing Banned Books Week t-shirts on a specific day during the week. We also love being able to wear a t-shirt since normally we are required to dress up.

Now that I’m completely excited about Banned Books Week (and my budgets and receipts are on the back burner, oops #sorrynotsorry), I hope this will inspire others who may feel bogged down to find the energy and excitement to plan for the upcoming BBW this September 22-28. Please post your ideas below to help inspire others!