I’ll admit I have found myself a tad… envious of those of you who find yourselves in high demand in this shift to remote learning. We have had a few teachers doing research work, and students are still coming for (Zoom) research appointments, but our (new) chat reference has been *crickets*, and it has been harder to collaborate than when I could chat with someone in the dining hall or on the way to assembly.
I also miss seeing students! We’ve had some luck with virtual programs (including a group that is really, really into virtualbingo). But it is, as you all know, just not the same.
One group I have seen more of, however, is parents. Back in the Before Times I had been talking with our Director of Parent Programming and our Parent Association about doing a news literacy workshop for parents. With the US Presidential election on the horizon there seemed to be a lot of parent interest in learning how to be savvier news consumers – and the coronavirus pandemic has only upped the stakes. So when I was asked if I wanted to try presenting in our new online lives, I jumped at the chance.
I typically prefer to do things like this in a workshop-style, with people having the chance to follow along and try strategies as I demonstrate them. However, given that I couldn’t guarantee that people would have two devices at the fingertips (one to watch me on and one to work on) I decided on doing a presentation rather than a workshop. I’m also new to teaching on Zoom – and parents are new to learning on Zoom – so simplicity seemed ideal.
I used the materials from the Check, Please! Starter Course as my inspiration and my foundation and built a LibGuide to walk folks through the SIFT process: Stop, Investigate the Source, Find Trusted Coverage, and Trace Claims and Quotes. I love the SIFT model for its simplicity and its flexibility. There is room for nuance and complexity around all four moves, but they are also easy for a novice to understand and work with – and they’re adaptable to multiple kinds of sources and different kinds of (intentional and unintentional) misinformation.
I presented it to a group of parents last Wednesday. I still don’t love presenting to a group of people on mute, but luckily one of my colleagues is also a current parent and I could see her smiling and nodding in all the right places. Getting that little bit of visual affirmation certainly helped!
This was a great way to connect with the parent community to share the value of the library and our curriculum – and a good way to make my program visible when we’re all socially distant. I”m hoping to expand on it when we can meet face-to-face again!
I work at a boarding school (9-12) in northeastern, Connecticut. Thankfully our county (Windham) has the lowest incidence of Covid-19 in the state (page 2 of this document). Indeed, if you look on the map, we’re an island of relative safety surrounded by many counties that have it far worse. My wife works in homecare health but is not a front line responder. Still, her proximity to that sector makes us acutely aware of what factors are at play regardarding the importance of the #stayathome orders. These are strange times for everyone! For us who are accustomed to both managing an active physical space and having an institutional educational mandate, it is perhaps even more jarring. It is for me, I know. I find myself frequently wondering where and how to be of the greatest benefit to our community. In addition to my library work, I’ve offered to help students as a writing tutor, and I am as invested in my advisees as I’ve ever been. I’ve also found myself being a proctor for my own kids – a 2nd and 7th grader. It’s a lot.
Our school made the decision to do distance learning just before our students left for spring break in mid-March. At some point in late March, it was decided to extend that directive through the end of the school year. Like most (if not all) of you, we’ve been working remotely since then. I’ve had my fair share of Zoom meetings and been on the receiving end of many a “what’s a librarian do now?” questions. I don’t need to tell you what we do. You’re living it.
Our AISL listserv has perhaps never been as active – or as helpful – as it has been in the last – has it only been 6 weeks?! I tip my virtual hat to all of you who have been sharing ideas, videos, links, recorded Zoom conferences, LibGuides, and empathetic commiserations. And while there are the ‘frequent flyers’ who post regularly, there are many of us – me included – who are the creepers. We soak up the information so readily shared. I know that I often think about chiming in, but by the time I see the note, the question has been answered – often a few times – with great insight and supporting links or materials. I think it’s fair to say that I wouldn’t be half the librarian I am without standing on your proverbial shoulders. (Though at 6’3, I would still be tall by most librarian measures.)
One of the things I’ve been doing is trying to keep the library relevant and present. This – as we know – is not an easy task when the library is shuttered and, as is the case with our boarding community, students are scattered all over the globe. With the help – and permission – of my virtual peers (Thanks, Nancy Florio!), I’ve created POLaR (Pomfret Online Learning and Resources), a LibGuide meant to house and organize ideas and best practices. It’s still a work in progress (aren’t we all?), and it’s not yet gotten the traffic that it deserves. However, I know that it will serve as a beneficial repository of information. We’re adding to it each week and hope to adapt it to our needs – current and future. And these days, who knows what the future will look like? Stay Safe!
And…Congratulations to Sandy Gray on the well deserved Marky Award!
I hope this post finds each of you doing as well as might be expected under the circumstances.
I live in Honolulu, Hawaii on the island of O’ahu. The City and County of Honolulu which is coterminous with the island of O’ahu has been under a stay-at-home, work-from-home order since March 22nd. The entire State of Hawaii went under a statewide stay-at-home, work-from-home order a few days later. When we began stay-at-home, my school was in the middle of our two-week spring break. Our faculty received two days of remote learning on remote learning, and we began remote learning with students on April 1st.
What follows is some random ruminating on this weird thing called work-from-home librarianship in no particular order which is probably very appropriate since there have been many days when listicles from Buzzfeed Animals like “15 Dog Posts From This Week That Quite Honestly Deserve Media Coverage” have been just about the only non-work reading I’m managing to do. So here goes, my personal listicle on work-from-home librarianship…
1 I Don’t Live in a Mansion So Here’s My Sofa – In articles about how to work from home, experienced work-from-home people tell us that working from home is work so I shouldn’t be working from my sofa. Well, I live in a condo with a significant other. I don’t have space for an office. I get that doing Google Meets with colleagues and students from my bed is probably not the best professional look around, but my sofa is as good as you’re gonna get so, “Ta-da. Here’s my sofa…” #GetOverIt #DoingTheBestICan
My spouse is retired and I don’t have children. How in the world are people with working spouses and remote educating their children even finding a corner in which to work?!?!?
In my search for a more office-like environ from which to do my librarian-ing, I tried working from the dining room table. We’ve had our dining room table and chairs for about eight years and I’ve always been perfectly happy with them. Only when I found myself attempting to type on a laptop sitting at what seemed to be shoulder height did I notice that our table is too high for our chairs. Now, every night when we sit down for dinner I think, “This chair is too low…” #StupidWorkFromHomeRevelations
2 A Lot More Dishes and Trash, A Lot Less Laundry – Yeah… #SelfExplanatoryThings
3 Bandwidth Is Limited – My home internet is excellent, but that’s not the bandwidth I’m talking about. I think the bandwidth in my brain is my current limiting factor. In a social chat that I had with some fellow librarians a number of folk who are very heavy readers indicated that they weren’t doing much reading. I have a stack of really exciting looking books sitting on a shelf that I haven’t touched in three weeks. The conversation and my realization about my reading harkened back to a Hidden Brain podcast where Shankar Vedantam explored “… when something important is missing in your life, your brain can only seem to focus on that missing thing.” I’m worried about my 94-year old mom who is locked down in a nursing home. I’m worried about friends and loved ones who have been furloughed or laid off. I’m worried about friends that have had to close businesses. I’m worried about thousands of people in my community that have to line up at food banks to feed their families…
I am working from home, but my sleep patterns are weird so I get up at 2:00 am look at the ceiling, then oversleep and am late opening my library office hours Google Meet space at 7:30 am. I miss meetings (and I NEVER miss meetings IRL) even though I’m working on my laptop and everything is in my Google calendar that is literally open all day on the laptop I use for my virtual meetings. I want to do better, but for some reason, I can’t… #MyBrainIsAWOL #MaslowBeforeBlooms
4 Does Silence = Success or Failure? It’s A Mind Game Roller Coaster – As 2nd grade classroom teacher in the Hawaii Writing Project way back in the day, I remember being taught, “If you’re reading everything your kids are writing, your kids aren’t writing enough.” Over the last six years, our library has strategically and very purposefully moved to a “teach the teachers” service model. Our philosophy has been “If all of the information literacy instruction is being taught by librarians, our kids are not getting enough information literacy instruction.” Sometimes when you live by a philosophy, it can feel like you’re dying by one, too. As we’ve transitioned to remote learning, all of our teachers’ bandwidth has been taken up learning how to set up Google Meets, mute students’ mics, keep students engaged when they’re not in the same rooms, and just trying to make sure their kids are doing ok… Let’s face it, people haven’t exactly been lining up in droves to collaborate on new research projects with us of late. If I’m being really honest, part of me is very much feeling like the last six years of effort have been a waste.
The other day, I was doing “walk throughs” of virtual classes. When we walk through, we go into the class Google Meet with our cameras off and our mic muted. The classroom teacher was in the middle of outlining her project expectations and showing students how she expected OPVL annotated citations in NoodleTools for all of their cited works. If nobody asks me for help, am I a success or a failure? I dunno. Some teachers aren’t asking for help because they can do most of it really well themselves. #ImASuccess!!! Some teachers aren’t asking for help because they don’t know they need help and that good research strategies from when they did their graduate work in 1997 might be insufficient in the media ecosystem of today. #IveFlippingFailed!!! Some other teachers, still, actually want help but just don’t have the bandwidth in this particular moment to reach out to us with everything else that’s happening in their lives. #RememberEmpathy
This remote learning thing is one heck of a #MindGame #RollerCoaster
5 Email: The Digital Version of Getting Paper Cuts on Your Eyeballs – So much email. By my calculations it takes 27 emails to resolve an issue that in 3-D school world might be a 2 minute and 14 second interchange with a colleague in the breezeway between periods 3 and 4. And I know that people have the best intentions, but I kind of also feel like PLEASE, EVERYBODY STOP REPLYING ALL!” Sorry if I’m being too #JudgyMcJudgeface But so much email…
6 Philosophies That You Think Should Be Adopted by Others are Really Annoying When You Try to Live Them Yourself – I’m a big Twitter reader. Back, like, a million, bazillion, quazillion years ago in pandemic years, on March 31st, I came across this amazing Tweet thread from Angus Johnston who tweets as @studentactivism that made the point that:
… every direct-from-high-school student matriculating in 2020 and 2021 is going to have lost a semester because of this virus. EVERY SINGLE ONE.
… what’s happening right now is altering the life trajectory of every adolescent who is living through it, in ways that we’re only just beginning to grope toward understanding.
If you’re a teacher right now, your first responsibility is to your students. Not to your discipline, not your syllabus, and certainly not to some fantasy vision of a fall 2020 return to normalcy that you’re carrying around in your head.
From a reply from a locked account, lightly paraphrased: “People are freaking out about kids falling behind, Falling behind *who*?
Let me just say, that it is much easier for me to think that teachers should (of course) be understanding of students’ lives, needs, and life contexts during this crazy pandemic than it is for me to extend that same very same kind of understanding to my amazing, wonderful, but for now overwhelmed, faculty. #SelfSideEye
My information literacy instructional goals are important. They are! But I need to remind myself every frustrating remote learning minute of every frustrating remote learning day they aren’t as important as the human teachers that are giving everything they have to make it through today and making sure their kids are ok. It’s a library, not an ER so we’ll be okay if we pause our forward progress temporarily. #MaslowBeforeBlooms
7 I Miss My Library – I think I’ve come to realize that I don’t really miss my “library” so much as I miss the human beings who make my library space “my library”–even the ones who have irritated me and made me feel like crazy librarian man since they were in the 8th grade. Honestly, the ones that made my eyes roll back in my head the furthest are some of the ones that I miss most. 😃#RelationshipsMatter
8 I Wish I’d Said Goodbye When I Could’ve – As time passes, our reality is that it looks unlikely that campuses will reopen before the fall. This librarian-ing from home gig has made me regret not taking the time to offer more proper goodbyes to our seniors before we left for spring break. I know that I can reach out to them virtually and I will, but I’m mourning the fact that I won’t get to send them off from the actual physical space where we’ve spent so many days and hours together. I’ll miss the chance to say, “Hey, thank you for always taking the empty bags from the hot Cheetos you hid in your backpack and ate with chopsticks every afternoon when you thought I wasn’t looking and tossed them in the trash can outside rather than smashing them down between the seat cushions…” I want them to know that I saw them and that I enjoyed having them around even on days when it may not have seemed so. I hope they already knew that, but it’d have been nice to be able to do that more intentionally. #Sad
9 Have Faith and Keep Doing Good Work – I have a tendency to be a Davey-downer-glass-half-empty kind of guy by nature. In work-from-home librarianship, a Davey-downer-glass-half-empty attitude isn’t very helpful (and honestly, it’s kind of never very helpful). Anyway, when working from home, one needs to remember more than ever that through all the saddening isolation and frustration, if we keep doing good work, the effort makes a difference. The difference it makes might not be what we hope, but a difference for the better is a difference worth making. Sometimes that difference is bringing a little bit of familiarity and a little bit of joy to a 5-year old kindergartener at a kind of frightening time. As I was composing this rather grumpy list, I got an email from a co-worker who is also a parent of a kindergartener thanking my partner librarian, Nicole, for the wonderful read aloud time that Nicole has been doing with her daughter’s class.
In a world of work-from-home librarianship, that is work worth doing!
That’s all for now. Please continue to do the good work that I know you’re all doing. Please also consider dropping into one of the wonderful AISL Zoom meet-ups and share your successes, your wonderful ideas, and perhaps something with which you’re struggling, with a sympathetic audience. Based on my experience, there’s a pretty good chance that there will be a librarian there who may well have a solution to offer.
Take care, everyone!!! Sending each of you a **hug** From more than 6 feet away, of course! 😃❤️😃
Yesterday, my Sched app reminded me that I’d be presenting “Not Just Bells and Whistles: Ed Tech Tools that Really Work” at the AISL annual conference in Houston. I was saddened because connecting with everyone in person has become an important part for me of belonging to the AISL community. As busy as I was preparing for AISL—I was mostly looking forward to making connections with friends and colleagues with a shared passion for the field of librarianship.
When I think about what it means to be a librarian, I see our work as a series of small connections that we make every day: connections with our students, our coworkers, our faculty. We connect our students with a source they need for their paper, connect them with a good book, or provide them with a quiet place to work. We connect with colleagues, with books we love and want to share, with changes in our field. Most of these things we do quietly as we go about our day, small action upon small action that forms the foundation of our work. But what happens when things change almost overnight, as is the case with our current situation? Over the past few weeks, I’ve been struck by our ability as a profession to maintain and strengthen our connections to each other and our school communities. In the midst of these sweeping changes, I see people I admire and respect keep adapting to change and making changes, however small, that add up to our ability to address the real-world problem facing school libraries and librarians everywhere—how to support our communities as we transition to online learning.
Communication is Key
These past few weeks, it’s become increasingly clear that an effective communication channel is key when you can no longer answer a colleague’s question over lunch or help them when they drop by the library to run an idea by you. I’ve been asked questions as varied as who to contact for help with copyright questions or how to find an online version of a text being used. The library is often the informational hub of the school, so what can we do to let our community know that we’re still there for them aside from sending another email to an already overburdened account? Emails and newsletters are great for quickly getting the word out, but how often have you scrolled through your own email searching for a needed link that’s gotten buried in your inbox? Adopting a “show don’t tell” approach to school-wide communication can be that one small change we offer on our resources.
Highlight Your Most Valuable Resources
If you have LibGuides CMS, then your library website is probably on that platform. Our library team took a close look at our website to see what small changes we might make to support our newly-online learning community. Since finding out we would be moving our classes online, we created two LibGuides specifically for online learning: the first was structured with tutorials around the tools faculty would need to get started such as PowerSchool, Zoom, and Screencastify, while the second organized ed-tech tools by specific tasks. We wanted those guides and the one for our Academic Resource Center easily accessed, so we placed them front and center in our tabbed box. Although I’m a proponent of flat design, I used a drop shadow to make their appearance pop, along with a prompt to “Click” for each guide, again something not normally included—but these are not normal times. Prior to COVID-19 social distancing directives, educators had the option to use technology, or not. Now, there is no option; so our job as librarians, as I see it, is to do everything possible to make our resources user-friendly for every level of user. Since March 9th, the three featured guides have gotten a total of just under 3,000 hits. Small changes, big results.
Add Help at the Point of Need
If you’re like us, I imagine your community will be spending most of their time accessing content for courses through your school’s LMS, library website, and LibGuides. Common sense—and usability studies—tell us that help, like information, should be offered when and where it’s needed, in the format that’s most helpful to the user. Both of our new guides provide our teachers with the tools and information they need to create content and teach in ways that may be foreign or difficult. This transition is stressful enough; offering help on the three guides featured on the library website, in addition to the website itself, was another small change we could make that just made sense.
Enter LibWizard Lite, a LibGuides module that comes free with LibGuides CMS. Although it’s not as robust as the subscription level LibWizard Full, it allows you to create forms and surveys, which are a perfect way to increase your visibility and make it easy for your users to contact you at their point of need. Although I have been a LibGuides enthusiast for close to 15 years, I have never fully explored or mastered LibWizard. At a time when we are asking everyone to move out of their comfort zone and try something new, it made sense for me to do the same. So I watched a few tutorials, made a few test forms, and finally came up with a help desk tab that was added to both of the new online teaching guides, in addition to our library website and course guides with current research projects. The tab was styled bright red with all caps reading HELP DESK. We tried different wording but ultimately felt everyone was familiar with that term. When clicked, the pop-up window contained information on who to reach out to for specific questions and included links to our Calendly pages for scheduling appointments and email for simpler questions. Again, help was there where it was needed.
Small Changes, Big Results
I absolutely love this one small change we made to our guides which made a big difference for our users. The tab is anchored, visible on each page of the guide, and moves as the user scrolls. Excuse me while I geek out—but what is not to love about my new favorite tech tool? Below you can see some of the ways we customized the help desk pop-up depending on the purpose and audience for the guide.
Like LibGuides, the LibWizard module is pretty user-friendly on the backend. There are drag and drop options with fields that allow you to customize your form, as well as a question bank to save and reuse common fields. You’re able to gather the information that will allow you to better meet the need of your user. Simple to use, easy to duplicate, multi-use functions make using LibWizard a winning situation for our users and for us. Now excuse me while I find another guide that could use a help desk tab.
I imagine I’m not the only blogger who plans and drafts ahead of the deadline. I have debated completely revising today’s post, which I wrote early last month. I decided I’m not going to do that. That said, in rereading what I wrote, the me of 6 weeks ago is not the me of today. First off, I had a library I biked to every morning and a routine that included chapels and senior speeches. How quotidian that was then, and how foreign that feels now. We have no clue when we are returning to school or the lasting impact COVID-19 will leave on our schools, our country, and the world. In happier news, I had totally forgotten even applying for the grant. More seriously, we’ve gone 180 degrees on mental health, from worry about kids who had scheduled 28 hours of activities, jobs, courses, and test prep into a 24 hour day to worry about those same teens sitting in their houses on screens for at least a month nonstop.
But I think the topic of the post, avoiding sprezzatura, is more important now than ever before. I am so proud to be a leader of AISL, and I have been so impressed with the ways that AISL members have stepped up to help each other and their schools over the past few weeks! THANK YOU for creating libguides, sharing resources, and asking the questions that are allowing us to successfully move our libraries virtual without much time to plan. It is obvious that you care about your students, your teachers, and the field of librarianship. I will say personally that I’m having a lot of difficulty with work-life balance, simply because I care so much and it feels good to do something. And there’s no physical reminder that I’m not at work. All the time. I wanted to share that because I sense from our continued conversations that I’m not the only one feeling overwhelmed. I am really proud of the board, and especially our Tech Coordinator Claire Hazzard, for quickly pulling together the Zoom chats. I was surprised at how quickly I smiled as I tuned into the first one and saw so many faces I recognized, offering support and providing connection. We plan to continue these for at least the next week or two, or as long as members find them helpful. After a meeting yesterday, my teacher husband said, “it’s like we’re all first year teachers again.” We care a lot, we’re working really hard, and we still have a lot to learn. And we are definitely better as a result of the collaborative nature of AISL. Here’s the original post:
Hi, I’m Christina Pommer, AISL President and relentless perfectionist. (Am I writing this at 7:30pm on a Friday night as a “break” from reading student essays? Yes, yes I am.) Unfortunately, I’m also a bad perfectionist.
All of our seniors have to give a chapel speech that shares something of importance to them with the school community, and I have a running list of topics and partially-written speeches that will never be given because the message would be lost in my terror of speaking into a microphone.
In January, Gus gave one of the most meaningful and memorable speeches I’ve heard in a decade of listening to senior speeches twice a week. He was eloquent. His tone was perfect. And I learned a new vocabulary word that all high school teachers should know: sprezzatura-the art of studied carelessness. (Translation: Doing well without looking like you’ve tried.)
Here’s the gist of the speech. Despite what many high schoolers pretend, it’s important to care and it’s important to try. And he struck a balance of eloquence and humor, with a tone that didn’t alienate his classmates. It was the message I needed to hear that day.
“Now, in the very constrained world of high school, what we do with our time has very little to do with what we care about–instead mostly having to do with what parents, teachers, and colleges care about–but someday their influence will wane, and we will all be completely responsible for what we do with our lives.(Instead of looking to others) we will have to turn to ourselves and decide what we care about and then own up to that, proudly saying that “I do this because I care about doing this, and doing it well.”
“I hope that there is something each and every one of you does care about. I urge you all to care unashamedly, unreservedly, about something, about anything, just care.”
Two weeks previously, I had applied for a grant related to information literacy. It was hard to even admit I cared, that I wanted to do well, that I wanted it…or that I deserved it.
One of the pieces of the application that simultaneously intrigued and terrified me was the small print about “optional supporting materials. How cool to have the opportunity to share presentations, images, and publications. But how? There were no instructions about how to submit anything beyond the application form, essay, and letters of recommendation. I decided to incorporate these optional materials into my essay at the appropriate points, allowing readers to see examples of my actual work, much like Wikipedia readers might click on the hyperlinks of an article. Because I get so concerned about losing formatting in electronic submissions, my final task after proofreading and checking all links was to convert all documents to pdfs.
Two weeks later brings us to the morning of Gus’s speech. A freshman asked a question about a hyperlink that wouldn’t open from a pdf. Shifting immediately to panic mode, I wanted to check my own submission. Instead, using all willpower I possess to focus on the task at hand, we found the link on a general web search. Then I opened my own document and clicked on the first link. And the second. And the third. I was offered the option to highlight. To strikethrough. To add a note. But not to open any links. I returned to the Word document and the links worked as anticipated. Knowing myself, in 100 times of checking, I never would have added the step to check the pdf. It’s always the last thing I do before submissions.
I was late to chapel because I was writing the committee. Better to at least let them know that my application hadn’t submitted as I had intended. This at least stopped my own wondering about the reception. A response was waiting a few hours later.
This is the time when I tell you this was all occurring two weeks before the announcement of the winner, giving me time to write most of this post as a way of processing my disappointment, while simultaneously imagining a scenario in which the nonfunctional links didn’t matter and I was the best candidate. Please tell me I’m not alone in living in two dichotomous worlds, though at the end of those two weeks I learned for certain I didn’t win.
As with many of your schools, our school is increasingly looking at the mental health of our students; what’s stressing them out and what’s making their days happier. Since beginning conversations with the team at Challenge Success, we are discussing how to limit the bad kind of stress while teaching students to cope with eustress. Was my experience the former, or was it the latter? It was a technological learning point for me, one I won’t soon forget. Sometimes a spelling erorr in a resume can cost you an interview, a traffic snarl can keep you from arriving at an interview on time, or too many “umms” can keep you from getting the job. These are real consequences.
Which returns me to sprezzatura. It’s nice to wake up with hair that looks perfectly blown out. How convenient to be on the lacrosse team that happened to win by 10 points last night. The themes of Gatbsy just flowed from your pen, earning you an A on your ICW. It’s harder to care, and to admit to that you care, to talk about the time spent with a blowdryer, running drills, or annotating the text.
Or from Gus:
Every time somebody flexes that they aced a test without worrying about it, chalks an impressive goal up to luck and not the hours of practice they put in, or dismisses some club or extracurricular as being solely about the college app grind and not, on some level, a genuine passion, they’re employing sprezzatura . Faking carelessness like this necessarily means denying the part of yourself that really does care and losing yourself to your artificial air of nonchalance. Without caring about anything, you might avoid embarrassing yourself, you might seem cool, but you certainly won’t know any real success, feel any real satisfaction, either. If no part of your life means anything to you, your life is, in the most literal sense, meaningless.
AISL members have responded in the past with a sense of recognition when bloggers have shared their own vulnerabilities. It’s hard for me because it goes against that effortlessness that is modeled in so many corners of society. I have told students for years that the single piece of writing that stood out to me the most in four years of high school English was Joan Didion’s On Self Respect. In hindsight, I wonder both how much of it I understood and how much of my identity had already been set by age seventeen. This is my public declaration that I care about librarianship and specifically information literacy, and I put in the effort, and at the end of the day in this case it wasn’t enough. And that’s okay.
The coronavirus crisis has prompted rapid intervention by schools, and long distance learning has challenged educators and teacher librarians to develop meaningful instruction and learning activities. One key concern is how to stay connected with students and engage them in learning beyond fill-in-the blank worksheets. Librarians are resource experts: our websites and LibGuides organize collections of ebooks, audiobooks, databases, and recommended websites. Finding information is easy; engaging with the information and making personal connections is the real challenge for student learning.
One of our national treasures, The Smithsonian Institution, is encouraging students to explore art, artifacts, and videos to build connections and deepen learning through thoughtful conversations. The Smithsonian Learning Lab’s new GoGlobal modules highlight items from the Smithsonian’s collections; these modules were developed by educators for a variety of subject areas and grade levels. To support student inquiry, the learning activities incorporate Visible Thinking routines and Global Thinking routines from Harvard Project Zero.
How can looking closely at Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night reveal ideas about the science of stars? Explore Sandra Vilevac’s Grade 4 Beliefs Unit that uses Van Gogh’s painting Starry Night to launch a discussion on how the night sky has influenced belief systems. Using a thinking routine called Beauty and Truth, students ponder how beauty (art) can reveal truths or, at times, conceal truth. It is surprising how accurately Vincent’s turbulent, glowing sky depicts images from the Hubble telescope. This learning module provides additional activities, such as animated video stories of the origins of stars from belief systems of the Mohawk, “The Never Ending Bear Hunt,” and Chippewa, “The Fox and the Stars.” For example, students might ponder Beauty and Truth in the story of “The Fox and the Stars”; this story describes why the stars have the appearance of being scattered in the sky and yet one can also detect patterns of star formations.
How can environmental artwork prompt us to social action? Aleah Myers’s GoGlobal learning module, Environmental Advocacy through Art, provides many art forms for students to examine and then challenges students to create their own artwork that will encourage society to protect the environment. Students might view the riveting environmental artwork, El Antusi’s sculpture Erosion, to evaluate perspectives with Step In, Step Out, Step Back thinking routine:
1. Develop empathy with an artist’s message (Step In) 2. Clarify what you might need to investigate to understand the message better (Step Out) 3. Reflect on your own perspective and “what it takes to take somebody else’s (perspective)” (Step Back)
Students can then watch the Smithsonian video that discusses the layers of meaning in this sculpture Erosion.
These are just a few examples of the GoGlobal learning modules that encompass art, music, culture, science, history, and social action. These resources and thinking routines may spark ideas to connect your students in engaging discussions. Whether your distance learning takes the structure of embedded content in library websites, screencasts, school discussion boards, shared Googledocs, GoogleMeet, or Flipgrid, consider exploring some of the thought-provoking collections of the Smithsonian with the goal of guiding students in discussions that deepen inquiry through Visible Thinking and Global Thinking routines.
As we embark on Distance Learning, Remote Learning, At-Home Learning, school librarians stand poised to support students, parents, faculty, administration, and additional learning community members in this massive undertaking. Most of us are in traditional day or boarding settings where the routine largely involves socially interacting on a schedule, operating together in the comforting physical environment of a school and learning both using digital tools and physical ones in the classroom and library.
Fast forward to right now: all of us are either already or about to embark on distance learning. Every one of us — no matter where we are on the remote services contiuum — is having to practice and learn new technology skills in order to serve our learning communities. We are supporting our faculties, we are loading resources, we are obtaining free content and deploying it to relevant audiences, we are curating our collections! We are doing what we do best, but with truly brand new flair.
This means content. You are working widely and diligently on what you love — and there is an audience for your experience and expertise.
Consider keeping a journal, watch how you post to social media, categorize how you find your skillsets largely utilized during this time. There is valuable material in there which could find its way onto a public platform!
Submissions instructions for a few publications that may have a home for this kind of work:
Our schools, in Ohio, have started the impromptu, unanticipated three-week switch to online learning to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by order of the Governor. Our amazing teachers are working tirelessly to create meaningful educational connections for our students through online platforms and screens. Although this seems both unimaginable and daunting to our teachers, we are in this together. Each day brings more uncertainty and changes adding stress to our whole community, especially our students. I hope this post can bring some peace to these stressful times.
Our public libraries have also closed to the communities, and now we, school librarians, are the only direct connection to library services for our students. As difficult as this unexpected project is for teachers, it may seem impossible to provide school library services to teachers and students from afar. The question of “How?” has worried me as school library services rely heavily on the concrete physical library.
But I know that librarians are tough!
We are motivated!
We are problem-solvers!
We are book worms and information dragons!
It is easy to fall into a state of misery when there is so much unknown. But a librarian never says “I don’t know,” we say “I’d be happy to help you find the information.” We just have to keep in mind that research often does not provide a direct answer but rather it allows you to make a hypothesis and to create an educated experiment to find an answer.
There is not yet a specific answer to the question, “How do I provide school library services from home?” But the librarian in me is not satisfied with “I don’t know.” So together let’s experiment for the next few weeks of a shift to the digital library. As you connect with your teachers and students in this new platform, share your successes, discuss your struggles, celebrate your students, and engage with other librarians who also are trying to find the answer to being an “online school librarian.”
Embrace this change with open arms. While our school libraries are integral to school life, our librarians are essential resources for our teachers. Our role as librarians does not change in an online platform; take this opportunity to engage with your teachers and share yourself as a resource. More so now than ever, our teachers and students will need their school librarians to be the guides through information overload.
In this forum, I do not have to promote the importance of reading during time away from the physical classroom. But it is so important that I will ask you to remind your teachers and students’ families to encourage reading. They can read to them, read on a device, read a magazine, stream audiobooks / read-aloud videos, read nonfiction, read instructions, read recipes, etc. This will be the biggest benefit for building connections between families and students not falling behind.
In addition, here are some connections and suggestions that I hope to try during our shift to the digital library. I plan to update this post with my observable data.
Some background information on my specific experience:
an Early Childhood to 12th-grade school
all girls K-12
co-ed ages under five
3 librarians, I specifically support under age 3, third and fourth-grade library classes, and fifth through eighth-grade flexible research and leisure reading
a robust curated collection of physical and digital resources
access to technology was offered to all students by the school
fourth through twelfth-grade students are familiar with an online-based Blackbaud system already used in the classroom
Worthwhile experiments benefit from prior knowledge. What do I already have in my toolbelt? Start with what you have created and saved.
Revisit your personal creations. Did you create booktalk videos that you could reuse? Do you have favorite library activities that could easily be adapted to at-home play?
Have students interact with your OPAC. Through our OPAC, our students can write comments/reviews for books. Suggest to an English teacher that this tool could be used as an interactive assessment.
What databases does your library subscribe to? Do you have an accessible online list? Be sure to include any off-campus usernames and passwords in an obviously visible way
Are your databases organized well for this new 100% online platform? Our alphabetical list of databases worked great in the classroom but with less direct instruction adding a layer of “Age Level” is now helpful to teachers and students.
Explore your current databases under a new lens: What would be beneficial to online learning vs. in the classroom? I found that our current databases have interactive experiments and even digital timeline creators. Teachers might just need a reminder that these tools are there.
Our teachers are inundated with resources, many of which the library may have already vetted for your school- share with your teachers what is the most user-friendly for each age level.
Check out subscription resources that are now free in this situation. Ask your teachers what programs they use in class that you might help advocate for access. ABCMouse is a resource to which we had limited on-campus access, it has now become temporarily free.
Remind families of public library digital resources likeLibby, by Overdrive. Even work with your public library to provide digital access for online resources.
Embrace the oxymoron: Use the technology, limit the screen time. Most of my lessons and activities will not be videos, websites, or even based on a screen. They don’t even need to have a digital assessment. Treat the device as a medium of communication.
Be defenders of unplugged, unscheduled child-led free time. Boredom is a learned skill. Creativity and imagination bloom in times of quiet boredom. Authors and illustrators are born in boredom.
Provide prompts for students to handwrite or illustrate a story
Build a new literary world with legos or other materials
If your library includes a maker space, brainstorm a new invention that could be printed from a 3D printer
Encourage reading aloud between students and parents/siblings/pets
Reread a favorite story on your bookshelf, did you experience something new?
Try to read for ten minutes in every chair in your house.
Focus on passion and connection. Move information and curriculum in a way that is amusing for you and your students!
If storytime in the library is your jam, there is no reason storytime can’t continue online. My co-librarian is creating amazing interactive storytime videos that will be posted just for her students to enjoy. She even included the pauses in her normal greeting, song, and wiggle rhyme so that students can respond!
I plan to video at home booktalks while including my pets: a german shepherd, corn snake, and painted turtle. I believe that acknowledging that I too am at home can be a comforting connection.
Share how you are moving time along. How are you accessing eBooks or audiobooks? Are you discovering the joy of self-care or organization? Relate these activities to habits your students too can build.
As for lessons, add joy; there is no better time to make your students giggle through a lesson. With online learning, focus on skills and habits rather than content.
Teach alphabetical order and shelving by asking them to organize a random collection from A-Z, share your reaction as they return images of alphabetized cereal boxes, stuff animals, or maybe even Skylander figurines!
Practice poetry by attempting to speak in rhymes all day
Storytime and read aloud:
Read a story with an element of food and then cook/bake that item
Create a rap/song for a book
Encourage families to create a new reading nook in their home and share the image of family reading time.
Retell a story with hand shadows/shadow puppets
Turn silly stories into a “Try not to laugh” challenge. Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith comes to mind!
Mistakes will be made by both you and your students. Do not let that stop you from trying something new.
Step back and remember that students are NOT digital natives, they are adventurous. Just like they are willing to jump off a high flying swing, they are willing to use new technology but they might still bruise their knees before getting it right. My fourth graders reminded me of this when I took them to the public library computer lab for the first time and I had to start with a step by step lesson on “what a computer mouse was.”
Create a community of empathy. This is all new to you, to your teachers, to parents, and to students. If your teachers are overwhelmed, offer to create step by step instructions/videos for resources.
If something doesn’t work the first time, it doesn’t mean it is trash. This is why experiments have many trials and include discussion of changes and struggles.
Librarians still have an obligation to intellectual freedom, copyright, advocacy, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
Encourage equity, diversity, and inclusion throughout your lessons and recommendations. Think about not only the internet and computer access but printer access. Can I provide resources that are accessible in multiple formats? Are my instructions accessible to students of all abilities?
Families often make overarching decisions for their students concerning information access, belief systems, and values. Many students find safety in books that may be starkly different than their family background. While they are home, how are we creating safe spaces for them to continue to discover their own sense of self? I need help solving this “How?” question.
Build up parents. They too are stressed and will be learning with your students. Do not fall into the assumption that parents will understand directions. Family barriers including language, level of education, work obligations, and disability will impede your students. Breathe and remember this is not within their control.
Continue to be a defender of original expression. Copyright still exists, and often authors are not the decision-makers. Many authors have posted to social media that their resources can be made available to students by reading aloud. Be sure to double-check with the copyright holder and terms of Fair Use before providing these resources to students.
Offer faculty social-emotional support
Recognize the possibility for equity imbalance; reach out to teachers that may not have the internet at home.
Provide adult activity lists for those stuck in their homes (best books to binge and shows to stream)
Offer suggestions for the best children’s books for teachers to read (two of my favorite being Fish in a Tree and Song for a Whale)
Whether introverted or extroverted, our everyday relationships are changing. We need to actively reach out to our work friends, all of our coworkers, check in on them and attempt to create the same normalcy we are creating for our students.
This is my call to action as we write our new story as Online School Librarians: experiment and share! This network of librarians has always comforted me; you are all superheroes of information for your schools but also for me. I feel that within our listservs, forums, and social media groups, librarians have created a utopia of an online safe space. Our librarian groups allow for mistakes to be made, for concerns to be voiced, for opinions to be shared in a way that is both respectfully educating for individual growth and actively protecting oppressed parties. As you connect with your students in this new platform, highlight your successes, dialog your struggles, salute your students, and connect with other librarians who also are trying to find the answer to being an “online school librarian.”
I recently wrote an article for our school newsletter and in doing so, struggled with how best to refer to myself (job title: librarian) and my colleagues (job titles: library assistants). I ultimately went with “library team” as it acknowledged how I view us collectively, while allowing me to conveniently sidestep the issue.
Which apparently is something to do with the fact that I am very proud of being a librarian; graduate school was tough and I feel that I earned the title – plus it is my official job title. In the same vein, my two colleagues hold the official title of “library assistant”. Why do I worry that this somehow implies something negative? That the definition of them being people “who rank below a senior person” (OED), while technically accurate, is demeaning? Or that someone might think they’re my assistants? I too rank below a senior person (and had a short but satisfying stint as an assistant in my former corporate life), so what’s my problem?
This issue came up in a workshop discussion at a recent library conference. I learned that there had been a big dustup about an association-level document referring to anyone working in a school library as “library workers”. Some people were upset about not being referred to as librarians; others were upset about teacher librarians and ‘non-professionals’ being lumped in with professional librarians. “Library workers” seemed to be a good example of a compromise that satisfied no one.
So when does a title matter within our school community? I guess when putting the staff directory together. Certainly when the buck stops with me regarding a sticky issue. And absolutely in terms of compensation and being viewed as a stakeholder. But when it comes to our students, most do not distinguish us by job title; to them, we are all librarians. At my school, they focus on the interaction rather than the title of person with whom they are interacting – is this the same for your schools?
I like the slightly facetious wording suggested by one person at the workshop: “all beating hearts who work in a school library in support of students”. This doesn’t address my weirdness, but it does in some way reflect how I feel. Roses all 🙂
Recently there have been many articles on evaluating our collections and adding to them so diverse voices can be heard. In the last edition of Booklist 2/1/20 (pp. 36-37) they listed all the book awards that ALA gives out to recognize books devoted to some form of diversity. In addition, a more expansive list of these children’s book awards can be found here: ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/childrens-book-awards-other-organizations
So in our school we decided to start focusing on various PLC (Professional Learning Communities) and one of them is to develop a bibliography, as well as individual lesson plans for teachers on a variety of topics. I am on a group of third and fourth grade teachers as weel as a Spanish teacher. All of the information we collect will be available on a Google Drive so it can be continually updated and easily accessible. The topics we chose include, but are not limited to, the following:
Small Acts of Kindness/Inclusion
We decided to focus only on using picture books, since they could be read in one class period. We are using books that we have in the library, as well as in individual classroom libraries. The titles will be listed under those various topics along with the location, ( Dewey Number) or classroom number, for easy access. They can also be found by searching the actual keywords (topics) in our Destiny catalog. We also developed a form for the lesson plan, so teachers can have an easy access lesson to use at their fingertips. It includes the title, author, a focus skill, opening, read aloud, discussion, vocabulary and extension (enrichment).
The focus skill could be:
Cause & Effect
Identifying Main Idea & Details
Compare & Contrast
Classify & Categorize
Determine Fact & Opinion
Describe Figurative Language
Identify Point of View
Describe Story Structure
Identify Explicit Information in Non-Fiction Text
As librarians we can also take it a step further and add our information literacy skills:
Brainstorming and webbing
Skimming and Scanning
Determining Information Gaps
Analyzing Text for Perspective or Bias
Synthesizing From Multiple Sources
The goal is to enrich the collection with materials that will cover all topics of diversity and make lessons easier for teachers to access. Perhaps some of these ideas can work in your schools and libraries, too. It is one way collaboration is working for me!