on managing the libr… “SQUIRREL!!!”

This might not pertain to many of the rest of you out there in Libraryland, but as I have been trying to figure out what to write about this month I’ve have come to the realization that the nature of school librarianship as I’m living it seems to have made me into the librarian equivalent of Dug–the dog in the movie Up. In case you don’t know the movie, Dug is a dog capable of conversing with humans, but has this habit…


of getting distracted and off-task when a squirrel happens to come into his field of vision. As I’ve tried to figure out what to write this month, I took inventory of a large number projects that we’ve started, none of which have progressed to the point that I thought that I could write a whole post about.

I don’t think that I’m particularly lazy, disorganized, or inefficient in my work, but it seems that in my work here in the library I get started on a project, then my focus gets pulled–just like Dug’s!

So here is an off the top of my head Inventory of Projects and Initiatives That Will Someday Come to Fruition, But for Now… “SQUIRREL!!!”

  • The Silhouette Cameo Plan –  At last year’s conference in Atlanta, I mentioned that I was thinking of getting a Silhouette Cameo cutting machine thing-y to Rivka Genessen. If you’ve never met her, Rivka’s brand of quiet enthusiasm can kind of suck you in and be rather persuasive. During our conversation she said, “Oh, you’ll LOOOOOVE it…” (in the way that I talk about buttercream frosting to other people), at least three times, so upon returning to school I purchased one for our library with my well intentioned plan to learn to use it over the summer. dug2The Silhouette Cameo Squirrel – As it turned out, my summer got consumed by EBSCO Discovery set-up and an EZ-Proxy software upgrade that went sideways and broke access to most of our databases. I finally had a day not too long ago to play with the machine and got it figured out. I LOOOOOVE it!!! But … I needed to order supplies to be able to try some of the vinyl decal signage that I want to make for the library. Believe me, the pictures of our signage are gonna look GREAT in my post in May! 🙄
  • The Mobile Shelving Plan – My under-sized library space does a LOT of work for our school community. We have library classes for students from 3rd-12th grade in our space. We have kids in every look and cranny in the building before school, after school, and during periods throughout the day. We saw pictures of GORGEOUS library stacks on wheels shared by AISL librarians and though, “If we put our high school fiction on mobile stacks, we would be able to move them out of the way to give us more space when classes use the library for presentations of learning for their parents and members of the community!”  dug2The Mobile Shelving Squirrel – As it turns out, a double-sided shelf unit that is 4-feet long and 42-inches high costs approximately $1,300 to purchase and just about $1,200 to have shipped to Honolulu. To make our shelving dreams come true (because, you see, if you don’t have a dream, you can never have a dream come true…) we figured out that we could build mobile fiction shelves out of wire carts from Costco. They’re available locally and we can construct two 4-foot long double-sided shelving units for about $187 a piece! It does mean, however, purchasing two shelf units at a time from Costco (they’re LARGE and I can only fit 2 in my car at a time), ordering other needed parts online, and putting the carts together. Believe me, though, the pictures of our mobile shelves are gonna look GREAT in my post in May! 🙄
  • The Newsletters and News Podcast Plans – I’ve been looking for ways for us to help our students develop better news reading habits. Many of the kids in our school community are not regular news readers so we need to find some structured ways to bring more current events into their consciousness. We are a 1:1 iPad school and over the years I have encouraged the adoption of Flipboard as a platform for news with very limited success with a handful of teachers. Earlier this year I came across How to Stop Your Brain’s Addition to Bad News on Fastcompany. Realistically, reading a print paper is just not going to fly with my students here, but perhaps subscribing to email newsletters or subscriptions to news oriented podcasts (since some of our classes are having students produce podcasts of their own) might be a way for us to make some headway. dug2The Newsletters and News Podcast Squirrel – Good tools and good plans have nowhere to go without the right teachers building them into the right projects. As it turned out, one of our teachers who introduced podcasting to her classes earlier this year asked if we could work with her classes to research and prepare for a series of debates–IT’S PERFECT, except that we won’t be working with her classes until we get back to school in January. Believe me, I’m hoping that I’ll have some great results and outcomes to share in a post in May! 🙄

I could go on, but that’s probably enough to give you a feel for my big picture. We have a lot of fun and exciting things happening, but it sure would be nice to feel like I’ve actually FINISHED one of them.

We started our school year ’18-’19 in the first week of August. As of today, we have 3 more days of instruction and 3 days of exams to end our first semester and begin our winter break!

Wishing each of you…


… Sorry, got distracted … a wonderful holiday season and a restful winter break!

Hashtag a Genre

Often we are called to share our knowledge of genres with language arts classes. This year our 8th Grade English classes were embarking on a unit of genre study. They were to learn about some specific genres, read and analyze them in class, and then write their own story that uses the conventions of their chosen genre. They came to the library for a genre focused session and to get a book that would inform their understanding. My goal was to give the students more tools for finding books on their own, but through the lens of genres. I had done the genre game earlier in the year with 6th graders, so I wanted to do something different. I reflected on this generation of “digital-natives,” so I thought I would anchor the lesson around the symbol and function of the hashtag.

Click on the image to get your own copy of this graphic organizer.

So I created a graphic organizer that is a large hashtag. Each square had a category to capture about a genre the students were studying. At the beginning of class I posed the question of what is a hashtag and how does it function in our current media landscape. Students quickly shared how it serves as a grouping mechanism to identify similar concepts. I then used the hashtag as an analogy to how genres have been functioning in the literary and library world much like the hashtag of the current instagram generation. I then passed out the graphic organizer and randomly gave students one genre to go into depth about. There were a couple of questions students could answer on the graphic organizer to activate their prior knowledge before I showed them some tools we have in our catalog and online databases. This helped me see what they already knew about genres.

I also had a simple Libguide that I had created to guide the process. The first content box on the Libguide had some links to genre definitions. These websites helped students find out about the characteristics and elements of genres. I modeled how to look these up and then write the information on the hashtag graphic organizer. To complete the other areas like “notable authors” and “example titles” I showed students how to use our subscription to Novelist Plus. I demonstrated to them that you can look up books by genres to get ideas and recommendations for reading. So they spent some time working through Novelist Plus and writing down examples. I also showed them how Novelist Plus cross-references with our catalog, so they would know if we had that book in our collection. After students completed their hashtag graphic organizer I made a quick matrix on the board so that we could share the characteristics of each genre that way students had exposure to the major conventions of each genre. Then students had time to explore the shelves in the library and apply their new skills of finding books by genre.

Weeding with a “Purpose”….???

Well, I do not know how you feel about weeding, but I have never seemed to find the “right” time or motivation to do this burdensome job in my library. I have been here for 31 years and have weeded outdated science materials, but never did the extensive job that needed to be done. I always had plenty of shelf space, so why bother ….right???
So when I found out I was actually going to move to a space that was smaller, I started to dread the idea that I was actually being forced to do the job I disliked the most. At first, it was actually fun….getting rid of all the books that were falling apart, had faded pages and all those editions that were not attractive at all. Some of the books actually had dust and mold on them….YIKES!!!
Then the next round was to look for duplicate copies to add to some of the teacher’s libraries. When I still had not discarded enough volumes other teachers tried to help me with this process. They would pull out piles of books they felt could be withdrawn and I would look at what they pulled to make the final decision. I discarded about 25% of what they felt should be taken from the collection. When they were not looking, I simply reshelved the books back with a proud smile, since I knew I was “in charge” of their destiny. So I kept doing this and wondering how I was going to make room for the move to the smaller space….I was actually praying for “a miracle”. Well, God did indeed help me with this challenge…I found out that my school was eagerly partnering with a school in Panama City that lost their library in the recent hurricane. Wow….talk about a motivation to weed now….I grabbed 2 carts and headed for the shelves. I found all those books I had “hidden” and pulled all those second copies….After all, I did have ALL these books and kept thinking about the number of children that had LOST their entire library. All I kept thinking about were these words that I read from that school,”Our library and art building have been destroyed”. There was no stopping me now…and 25 boxes of books later, I was smiling for an entirely different reason. I was actually going to help students I did not even know still enjoy books….what a beautiful feeing!! Please refer to the link below:

I also felt good when I looked at my shelves. The books were not as crowded and they looked brighter and more organized. It seems easier to find books now,too.
Yesterday, a volunteer that was helping shelf books in the library told me how nice it is for him to actually shelf the books and not have to shift books everytime to make room. My words of advice, are not to be like me and wait for a hurricane to hit….take some time every month to look at your shelves and pull some that could make another person’s life richer….After all if your shelves are full….there is no room for new books. And I do not know about you…but I LOVE TO SHOP!! Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah!

Feeling Grateful

This is my first AISL blog post. I am excited to write for a new audience especially during a week (in the United States) predicated on gratitude and connection. This is my second career, I came to librarianship after a stint in academia as both a scholar and an administrator, and every day I am thankful for my new profession. I am not exaggerating. I love the opportunity and the privilege to excite students about reading and research. I love helping students to find new stories and information that open up spaces, emotional and intellectual, spaces in which they can experiment, imagine, and grow. I am grateful for all of the librarians, at conferences, on Twitter and Instagram, and in my regional circle, who teach me new ways to think about our profession and re-invigorate foundational practices such as storytelling, reader’s advisory, the reference interview and collection development. I am grateful for the generous spirit that runs through librarianship which I first encountered during my first American Library Association annual conference in New Orleans in 2011. In the past conferences were difficult experiences filled with endless moments of pretension, arrogance, and what seemed to border upon ridicule. From the moment I walked onto the ALA conference shuttle and was invited to sit down, I knew I was in a different kind of community. This was a community where people built each other up rather than cut each other down. This was a community where people were excited to share what they knew and learn from others. This was a community of hope, dialogue, and connection. In my second year of library school I interviewed for my first teacher-librarian job. Initially I thought of it as an informational conversation. After several weeks, multiple conversations, and an on-site visit, I received a job offer. I have worked at St. Thomas School in Medina, Washington for the past seven academic years. St. Thomas School is a place, like independent schools in general, that believes in the power of librarians and libraries to change the world. Working there has been one of the greatest gifts I have received in my adult life. Thanks to each of you for being devoted librarians, generous colleagues, and inspired citizens. It is a great privilege to work among you.

…and More Library Gratitude!

Ellen and I, and probably many of you, are feeling particularly thankful at this time of year for the wonderful profession we are privileged to work in. While some individual class periods, days, weeks, months, and even whole school years can feel like not our best, there are powerful things to love about each day in our world. There are many things in my life for which I’m grateful, but in my professional life, I am so grateful for:

  • good work to do that engages my mind and heart and is different every day, and a stunningly beautiful space in which to do it.
  • colleagues who care about our students and their learning and are open to doing this good work together.
  • awesome students who amaze me every day with their creativity, curiosity, intelligence, drive, compassion, empathy, humor, and courage.
  • supportive administrators.
  • books and the authors who write them, especially for young people.
  • apps, websites, and tools that make our work easier and more effective.
  • coffee/lunch.
  • a free press and journalists with high standards.
  • other librarians in public and independent schools who are so willing and eager to share their brilliant ideas and challenge me to do a better job (whether they mean to or not), and who speak my language and share my questions and professional values.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Library Gratitude!

An ode to the not so obvious things that I am thankful for in my Middle School Library:

My regular visitors. It is wonderful to have a group of Middle School students in the library each day that sometimes have nothing to do with being in a library. They aren’t here just to check out a book. They aren’t here just for citations. They are here as a group of Middle School students hoping to have the most positive Middle School experience possible.
My tumbler. I never realized how nice it was to have the PERFECT drink cup until I had one. This is constantly by my side and I have the same one in three colors. If your school is like mine, and EVERYONE carries a drink around with them then this is the one you should get. Highly recommend!
My view. I am so spoiled. Really. We have these glass windows and a view of the campus quarry. It is beautiful.
My fleece. Are all school libraries really cold? Is it just ours? I try to hold off breaking this thing out for at least two weeks when school starts in August. Because once it is out it doesn’t go back for the rest of the year. 🙂
Books about animals. I love animals. I want students to love animals. Thank you to authors like Kate DiCamillo and Katherine Applegate for encouraging respect towards animals and people.
White boards in the library. And the messages that students leave. Sometimes I really need  their positive words! 🙂
The old school dictionary. How many times do students ask what a word means on the fly? Look it up! Our large dictionary is a treasure. The students actually have fun spinning it around, turning the pages and trying to find the word.
Relics. Old book cards are the best bookmarks that a gal could have! 🙂
Prolific authors. Even though there are so many wonderful Middle School Fiction books it is impossible to read even close to all of them. I am thankful for prolific authors so that I can easily remember the author of a book when I have many students at once that need assistance. Authors like Paulsen and Avi and Creech and Korman are most appreciated.
Finally, the fact that pretty much everything in the library is fixable. Never made a mistake that I could not correct. That is a luxury and a privilege.

on the long road to understanding “truth”…

Last month I blogged about introducing our faculty to a source evaluation strategy that we hoped was easy and nimble enough that they might actually employ it with kids — on growing information literate humans… We asked faculty to beta test our initial 4-move process and to suggest ways to make the process more applicable and/or student-friendly.

Drafting a Process…

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 11.25.13 AM

We presented the model itself along with a quick 9-min explanation of the process with examples.


Dutifully taking the feedback from faculty and incorporating it into our process…

A Final (for Now) Daft of Our “Evaluating While Searching” Process… 

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Our “final for now” draft. We were unable to resolve the debate over “reputable” vs. “reliable” so we punted and used both. The troubling term “reading laterally” became “investigate the source.”

Taking the Process Out for a Drive… 

We tried an initial roll out of our “Evaluating While Searching” process with a section of juniors and seniors in an IB Environmental Science class, and 3 sections of frosh in our interdisciplinary MPX program. Our MPX students are studying aspects of clean water and water rights so we pulled some sample sources together.

As our students, increasingly, turn to video rather than text sources for information, we watched an “Explainer” video piece from Vox Media about water in Flint, MI, and asked students to do some investigating of Vox Media by searching Wikipedia, the media bias ratings of Allsides, the reports from Mediabiasfactcheck.com, and freeform Googling. We discussed the fact that any ratings were subjective and that sometimes ratings between the sources might conflict, but that at least there is some information about the methodologies that Allsides and Mediabiasfactcheck use. Students discovered that not all sources were rated by the tools, and teachers and librarians discovered that many frosh do not know what it means to be politically “left or right” in the United States.

We gave our frosh some additional guided practice in small groups using other sources from our Google search and had them share their findings with their peers. Our discussion lead to some “aha” moments about bias.  Many of our frosh had not considererd, for example, that sometimes a source has a bias because of what they choose to report on or choose not to report on, but what they publish can be high in factual reporting. Our discussion also helped some come to a more nuanced understanding of the term “bias.” The US Center for Disease Control might be seen as having a bias that favors vaccination, but we can probably have a good deal of confidence that content on the CDC’s website is scientifically sound.

Part II – Source Literacy… 

We sent a request out to our local library association listserv asking if any academic libraries had journals and trade journals that they were discarding and could give us. The second half of the lesson entailed taking our stack peer reviewed journals, trade journals, and general periodicals and asking the class to sort them into three stacks. They could use any criteria they wanted except for the physical size of the artifact. Every section of frosh sorted first by topic. “This stack is about science. This stack is history. This stack is culture.” We talked about that being a very useful strategy since that’s how librarians and databases classify content as well–that’s why we search a science database for science sources!

We then asked them to sort by reading level. We got, “This stack is easy. This stack is boring. This stack is super boring.” As it happens, “super boring” things tend to be peer reviewed journals. “Boring” things tend to be trade journals, and “easy” things tend to be general periodicals. This exercise served as a really useful touch stone for kids as we did some searching and sorting in our databases. “Masterfile Complete has a mix of all of these kinds of sources, but the mix leans toward easy and boring with a little super boring mixed in. Academic Search Complete is almost all super boring stuff, but that’s really good to know because when you’re juniors and seniors you will need to search for those sources for sure!”

We had students take a close look at what kind of content we could find in each category of source and talked about expertise.

What Happened… 

I recently got to see some frosh source annotations. While they were not perfect, I was really encouraged because some of the thinking showed, I believe, that our students are beginning to look at sources in context and in concert with other sources they are finding!

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Sample of a pretty nice (IMHO) frosh annotation!

Though this is very much the beginning stages of this rollout, I am excited to finally feel like we are on a path that’s seems to be providing some of the scaffolding our students need to use sources more effectively!


This is Kind of Exhausting, but It Beats Giving Up… 

My father-in-law used to say, “Growing old is not always easy, but it sure beats the alternative…”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m finding teaching source evaluation in today’s information ecosystem and political climate really, really tough and fraught with challenges that feel like pitfalls. I venture on, however, because I fear that if we don’t help students develop trust in something, that they will learn not to be skeptical, but rather cynical of all that is out there. When one is skeptical one still has reasons to continue to seek “small-t” truth and come to an understanding that a reasonable person would consider to be truth. When one is cynical, seeking understanding is a fool’s errand because everyone lies. Everyone deceieves. Everyone is the same…

I don’t believe that everyone producing information, content, and doing scientific research studies is the same. I still think it is worth my effort to seek truth. Walter Cronkite is dead so perhaps I won’t ever again find the “big-T” kind of truth that I believed he was sharing with me on the news at six-o-clock when I was a child. I still, though, believe that many small-t truths from different sources and places can bring me to an understanding that is pretty close to “truth” The world isn’t black and white and the world is not simple for those who aren’t simplistic. Sometimes I hate that, but mostly I’m learning to be okay with it.

So with that I ask… What are you doing that’s been working for you? I can use all the help I can get.


Making Connections

The Humber River Arch Bridge in Toronto. Britannica ImageQuest, Encyclopædia Britannica, 25 May 2016.
quest.eb.com/search/167_4034014/1/167_4034014/cite. Accessed 12 Nov 2018.

  • Librarians as engineers?  Not a great leap when you consider that librarians help students to build bridges from information to insights, making connections that add meaning to the research process.   Making connections is a powerful thinking strategy that engages students in active and meaningful learning.  In a recent publication by The University of Chicago Consortium on School Research, “Supporting Social, Emotional, and Academic Development: Research Implications for Educators,”   the authors state that  “students need new concepts to link in some way to things they already know, or they will not have the mental maps that their brains need to process the material;” building connections that reflect students’ interests or goals deepens the learning (Allensworth et al 10-11).

Tapping into several Visible Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero, I worked closely with Sara Schultz, the fifth grade Geography teacher, to immerse students in the process of making connections. Following are a few examples:

Generate, Sort, Connect, Elaborate
Generate: Students mentally pictured the type of signs they might see in National Parks and brainstormed the reason for the signs.
“Do Not Feed the Bears”
personal danger from close contact with bears and
making bears 
dependent on food (losing ability to fend for themselves)

“Stay on the Trail”
might get lost, or dangerous/slippery/unstable land or
might damage native plants, ground cover

For a dramatic example of deterioration of a National park, students  also viewed an interactive graphic of Salt Lake Water Woes (earthobservatory.nasa.gov) and brainstormed cause for the drastic depletion of water.

Sort: Students pointed out which of the reasons were Human Factors that might harm the National Park, such as making bears dependent on human food or damaging native plants or water use and irrigation for agriculture depleting the Great Salt Lake.

Several articles from the New York Times modeled for students how to connect cause to several effects, such as this article about Burmese Pythons in the Florida Everglades:

As students researched, they organized information on Concept maps.  In the example below, Gracie made connections between “Native Species — Bark Beetle — Killing Trees — Easier to Burn Down” and then draws a line to connect concept of Fire to concept of Native Species.  This student also added yellow exclamation symbols to those concepts she felt were important or needed further investigation, such as “Grizzly Bears recently removed from endangered lists now being shot in Wyoming.”

Circle of Viewpoints
This thinking routine was useful in showing connections between conflicting viewpoints: 1) brainstorm a list of perspectives; 2) assume a perspective;  and 3) generate questions or concerns from that viewpoint. Students viewed several New York Times articles about Bears Ears National Monument and assumed conflicting perspectives over land use:

Trump (open lands for development, such as mining, farming)
Patagonia (wilderness outfitter company– wants to protect recreational use of land)
Native Americans (who wish to protect lands as sacred sites)

This process of modeling strategies and guiding students to make connections has been exciting. I challenge librarians to put on your hard hat, pick up a Visible Thinking tool, and experiment with building your own bridge to knowledge.






“So, what do you DO all day?”

While I am fortunate to have extremely supportive colleagues, every once in a while, someone makes a comment that reminds me not everyone knows exactly what we do in the Library. Particularly when we’re not doing something obvious like working with a class. And to be honest, days can fly by without me even realizing how we’re filling the hours.

So when the unimaginable recently happened ( I had a day that was completely clear on my schedule), I decided to track it to see how an unplanned day played out –

  • Worked the desk for the morning so my brave colleague could dig out & re-organize our supply cupboard:
    • Welcomed students new to library study (reviewed guidelines with them)
    • Assisted innumerable students resolve a new printer glitch
    • Assisted innumerable students set up new Noodletools accounts
    • Helped a student fine-tune her References written from scratch (and then helped her set up Noodletools for future use)
    • Provided reader’s advisory to an English teacher looking for books for her new reading initiative ‘First Chapter Fridays’ (love it!)
    • Scheduled a postponed summer reading book discussion
    • Tried to catch up on professional journals but was reminded how this never works while I’m on the desk
  • Did some book club planning with student leaders
  • Prepped for my next AP Research class
  • Met with 2 advisees (once about a course change; one feeling overwhelmed)
  • Prepped for some upcoming classes about accessing audiobooks
  • Went to school store to pick up school-crested gift for an author visit
  • Reviewed metered titles that had expired in Overdrive, selecting some for re-purchase
  • Submitted an order for Grade 9 Lit Circle books to a local bookstore
  • Met with our school environmental rep about updating training for student reps (based on my housemaster perspective)
  • Confirmed upcoming research visit to Queen’s University
  • Reviewed revised interview forms for Admissions (I sit on the committee)
  • Set up attendance roster for chapel choir attendance (I’m helping with management)
  • Submitted a reference for a former library steward who has applied for a volunteer position
  • Moved ‘update budget’ to another day for the 17th time (I really need to make this priority) and called it a day

This exercise reminded me of one of my best all-time experiences at my school. In advance of fundraising for our new Commons (including a library renovation), an Advancement director met with me to learn more about the library (so he could speak more knowledgeably when approaching potential donors). Not knowing where to start, I opened my planner and reviewed the past 2 weeks of activity. He was literally gobsmacked; “I had no idea”.

It was awesome.



I’ve Never Won a Game of Astro Bears Party (and that’s okay)

Last week, my school credit card was canceled. Even though I’d like to blame this on the way that Amazon can’t seem to help breaking my single order into multiple payments, it was ultimately my responsibility to make sure the statement was correct.* All school credit card holders had received a reminder from the Business Office with the warning that anyone with an incorrect statement on the 3rd of October would lose access to their card. While people would tell you that I’m more organized than most, and while this never happened with our previous banking system that sent email reminders for unreviewed transactions, it’s not the first time that I missed a deadline with our new system. It is, however, one of the first times I felt a real consequence for an inattention to detail. Since I had been developing a system that was working for me, I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t meet my own expectations, particularly because I felt like I was caught on a technicality. (See below.)

Coming back from a long weekend with my parents and brother, I can’t stop thinking about the credit card as it relates to my successes (and mainly failures) playing video games. For the most part, I found school pretty easy, and I enjoyed it. I still love learning, and I still don’t like making mistakes. Reading is my primary hobby. For my brother it’s video games. With storms in the mid-Atlantic , we spent a lot of time playing video games the past few days. Reading does not lend itself quite as easily as a shared activity across the generations. Yet, video games often get a bad rap. In fact, I’m collaborating on a Sophomore project right now that begins with this premise. However, I want to question that assumption in two key ways.

1.      There is tremendous background knowledge required to understand video game systems and the norms in the games themselves. I don’t know where the X button is, what’s likely to make my character jump or that a Martian on screen represents a character from the early 1990s. If you were measuring my video game skill by lexile, it would be low. Not because I couldn’t understand it but because I haven’t yet learned the terminology. Scaffolding is important. The game where I experienced the most success is Mario Kart, largely because I played a lot of SNES Mario Kart when I was in middle school. I was wowed by my brother’s ability to enter a new game, navigate the controls, determine the purpose, and immediately act like he had a direct connection with the avatar on the screen. I can’t even look at the score on the screen while making my character move. He works in the medical field, and I can see how his ability to think quickly, parse new information and multitask would be assets that help him excel on a daily basis. Learning the basics in a field makes it much easier to move on to more advanced knowledge, often without even realizing that we’re using our tacit knowledge.

2.      Video games teach resilience. The Switch is a forgiving system for new users. Death Squared, despite the macabre name, is a team puzzle solving game, a modern version of the logic games we used to play in elementary school. There is a goal, teamwork, and sequencing of actions. It is impossible to know what will happen when you step on a tile without actually stepping on a tile. And sometimes getting spiked. Or blown up. Or lasered. Or falling off the edge. At which point you begin the level again with that data and avoid the activity that just got you killed. The two video game experts in the room anticipated this, planned for it, and then chuckled at the new way we’d found to destroy ourselves. The two newbies apologized every time. Even with teaching about the growth mindset, it’s hard for me to keep this from feeling like failing. If you give me a goal, I want to go directly there, but I also realized the resilience my brother has developed while gaming directly relates to his ability to respond appropriately to setbacks in his job.

Playing games this weekend ultimately had me thinking about some of the struggles that some of our best students have with research. Coordinating the Capstone Scholars at my school, I spend two periods a day with students who are grappling with large-scale independent research projects. This is the first time they are creating their own targets, measuring their own progress, and following their own interests. Each has an internal faculty mentor and an external academic mentor, and my role is in helping them navigate this process. I honestly don’t know that I would have had the maturity in high school to motivate myself the way that they do. For students who have always been “good at doing school,” it’s a substantial adjustment to learn for yourself when it’s not clear if you are successful on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis. They are making up the rules as they go and trying to follow their own moral compasses. Without an external measure of success from a rubric or a transcript grade, the notion of success morphs. There is no answer that I can provide, and the amorphous shape of real-world research can be overwhelming. I can’t pretend that I was playing video games these past few days to learn a life lesson, but I can tell you that I want to take the notions of contextual knowledge and resilience back to our top students.

No one is perfect, and no one gets it right 100% of the time. But we more often celebrate our successes publicly and cover over our insecurities privately. I think that’s why there was such a strong commiserative response in our community to David Wee’s post about Messed Up Library Lessons. We’ve all felt this way, but how often do we acknowledge this to our peers, to our students, to our families? University of Houston professor Bene Brown’s TED Talk on the Power of Vulnerability has been viewed over 36 million times, likely because we all have times when we’re afraid to be vulnerable. As a perfectionist, this post is tough to write. If I get my credit card privileges back, I will guarantee you that losing it was the most effective way for me to learn a system in which I will NEVER forget to reconcile my statement. I might forget other pieces of office work, but not that. Failure is a powerful teacher. Let’s all keep learning and striving for success and setting up libraries where our students are empowered to do the same.

*Full disclosure—I did reconcile my account the morning of the 1st but then my Amazon order, which had been broken into four parts, despite being shipped in only two shipments, posted two more transactions that afternoon. I hadn’t tallied up the totals of the two I had paid to realize that the order was incomplete. I fully admit that in two earlier months I had forgotten to even enter the system, but a simple calendar reminder is all I needed to solve that problem. So I’m still going to argue that Amazon deserves part of the responsibility here. And if you have had success stopping this sneaky accounting, you’ll be my hero and a hero to all Amazon users at our school!