Students to Alumni

It’s late May, and that means that many of us have just watched a group of students become alumni in a matter of minutes. Whether they are heading from your school to middle school, upper school, college/university, or the rest of their lives, one second they’re your students and the next they are invited to call you by your first name. (Sniff – they grow up so fast.) When it comes to preparing them for the next stage as information finders, users, and creators, our job, for better or worse, is finished.

So I usually spend at least part of commencement exercises thinking, “Well shoot, do these kids know how to do research? Can they suss out misinformation? Do they know how to construct a non-ridiculous search query? Can they ask good questions? Are they going to provide proper citations in their first college research papers, or will they learn hard lessons? Will they ever use a library again? Will they read for pleasure? Did I do enough? HAVE I FAILED THEM???”

I am pretty sure the answer to the last one is no, at least I hope so. First of all, I happily recognize that I have colleagues who also value inquiry, reading, and approaching information with a discerning eye, and the development of our students’ information literacy doesn’t rest solely with me. I also have hope that the information literacy instruction they receive in college will ring a bell – (as in, “oh, right, that’s what Ms. Hammond was always going on about.”) I also know that many of them, but not all of them, will go into those first year library instructional sessions knowing exactly what they’re about to see. I wish I could be a fly on the wall.   

As we close out 2021-2022 and put our minds to next year, I remember that our job, for our young alumni, is actually not finished. We’ll get emails or calls from college asking for help, reassurance, and guidance. We’ll see them at Thanksgiving when they come back to a campus that feels so much smaller now, and they’ll tell us about how that first research paper went, or that they love their college library. They’ll post a video to YouTube that gets flagged for possible copyright infringement, and remember to consider Fair Use. They will push back when their social media connections do not check their sources before spreading outrageous information. They will take their kids to storytime. They’ll stand up for intellectual freedom. They will be fine and do good, and when they hear the phrase “school library”, perhaps they’ll associate it, even unconsciously, with support, belonging, and learning. 

A Few of Our Favorite Things…This Year

We all know the end of the year comes at us like a freight train. Tracking down AWOL borrowers, those last-minute final projects, unruly seniors (or 8th graders), and end-of-year malaise often leaves very little time for reflection. This year more than ever as we stumbled toward some sense of normalcy after the Covid-centric year of 2020-21, looking at what’s working and what’s not feels important. I’m not talking about the big picture goals I discussed in my last post — I’m talking about the small, everyday changes that make a difference in our crazy library world. Sometimes those small things can mean the difference between sanity and losing it. Here are some smallish things we tried this year that had a large impact.

Furniture —Go With the Flow

I don’t know about you, but our students love to move the furniture around. We used to let it drive us up a wall — yelling at students to move things back, spending enormous amounts of time pushing things back to the “right place”, and really just allowing it to rule large parts of the day and evening. This year, we tried a different strategy. We let go of our preconceived floor layout and began the year with some furniture in the “wrong” locations. For example, they love to have two of our cozy chairs smushed together in the window even though they barely fit. We preemptively put them that way, and guess what? No one has moved those chairs all year. 

In the conversation areas of the library, when they pushed tables together to make one long one we left it like that. When they pulled them apart, we left it like that. At the end of the day, we still straighten chairs, etc., but we do not waste time moving tables, and like the chairs, now they hardly get moved anymore. Having no “right” place and giving students the freedom to rearrange has lowered our aggravation factor enormously.

No More Electronics!

We stopped loaning most of our electronics during Covid — mainly laptops and computer chargers. Before the start of the school year, we had a long discussion with our IT department about bringing these items back. We are a bring-your-own-device school, and somehow students (and faculty) managed through the entire 2020-21 year without any electronic borrowing from us. Why would we need to change that? Prior to Covid when we had 20 laptops and 6-8 miscellaneous chargers, we spent hours every week tracking them down. The chargers weren’t supposed to leave the building, and the laptops were only for daily loans, but somehow that never happened. Things went days or even weeks without being returned, and getting them back was almost a full-time job. 

So IT gave us a handful of emergency laptops for situations when students were actually having a problem that did not involve leaving their laptop in their room because they were too lazy to put it in their backpack, and we continued with our Covid-inspired policy of not loaning chargers. It’s been great. Once students realized that we did not have them, they brought theirs. Shocking! I know I will probably get some flack that we should provide items that students need, but I think when a task’s pain-in-the-neck factor for staff far outweighs its benefit, making a change is warranted.  

“Virtually” Any Time

So many of us discovered a lot of resources and applications during Covid that continue to make our jobs easier. Two things we started using that I will not give up are Calendly and Zoom. I love Calendly because many students are just not comfortable approaching the desk to ask for help. My Calendly link on our portal page allows students to easily make an appointment with me, and the bonus — I get the heads up about the subject of the meeting. Most students still just come up to the desk, but for those who need a quieter way to reach out, Calendly works great. 

We have night staff for academic support, but sometimes no one knows an assignment or a student like I do. Zoom allows me to meet with students from the comfort of my home during study hours when I am normally not at school. As we reach year three of the virus, I know Zoom sometimes gets a bad rap, but as a faculty member who lives off-campus, it has been a godsend. It allows me to connect with students when they need me most — during their evening study hours.

With those thoughts — here’s hoping for a peaceful end of the year, a restful summer, and a healthy 2022-23 school year for everyone.

What we talk about when we talk about concussions: More questions than answers

Are you in the same situation as me? Do you have multiple students who suffer from concussions each year? Some of my practice has been changed forever by students suffering from concussions. I’ve worried and fretted about how to support them. But I have looked and found few answers. While I cannot really figure out how to go forward, I cannot help but want to have policies in place in support of students with the range of symptoms that come with head trauma. So, with one of my at-home students currently confined to a dark room from a concussion, I thought I would throw the question out here: do you have policies or practices in support of concussed students? Do you feel like it would be a helpful issue to address? Do you have ideas on where to start?

In past years – and based on an admittedly quick search now – I have not found any literature in our field on this topic. One student with whom I became quite close spent close to 12 months over the course of her her 5-year high school career shut in dark rooms suffering from concussions from increasingly benign activities – we have talked quite a bit about her experiences.* I am currently parenting through my own child’s second, non-athletic concussion. And, in addition to multiple concussed students each year in our school’s general population, I am currently mentoring two second-semester seniors in our college-level historical research course who live with persistent concussion symptoms on a daily basis.

So. Here is what I’ve anecdotally got:

The student experience

One of the challenges of concussion protocols is that symptoms vary widely, so it is not – I am told by experts – possible to come up with a one-size-fits-all policy.

School concussion protocols acknowledge that light and screens can be particularly painful. Reading is hard. Students need to rest frequently. According to my students, the corollary is not only that they cannot focus on threads of ideas or remember what they hear for more than a few moments at a time, but that they simultaneously feel the need to be polite and engaged, and so tend to cover for their cognitive deficit when they are interacting with me.

They report that they continue to interact, even though it hurts and is confusing, because one of the hidden outcomes of the earlier stages of concussion is profoundly overwhelming boredom, sometimes partnered with depression. Existing in a dark room for days (or significant chunks of days) on end without company is emotionally excruciating. One can only sleep so much. In fact, with all the lying around it becomes hard to sleep at night. But all those awake hours with nothing to do are so very, very hard. The result can be profound depression, along with an inability to engage with emotion.

Coming back to school, there exists a tension among competing forces of teachers wanting to support students, wanting students to learn the content of their classes, and wanting to help students catch up. The general result seems to be that in our sincere desire to support concussed students in all the ways (as one school’s learning specialist once told me: “We do not cut content, just work. A student who completes a class is just as well prepared as his classmates.”) students experience teachers saying they are following the protocols but not actually doing so. Add to that situation the oft-observed student practice of having both sides of a conversation with a teacher by themselves, without the teacher’s knowledge, and you get experiences like: “Sure, my physics teacher said to only worry about completing this reflection, but that means he expects me to catch up on all the daily work too, he just did not write it in the plan.”

So, where does the librarian fit into this?

How we interact

It seems helpful to tell a student up-front that I know that head trauma makes it hard to concentrate for long. I let her know I will be checking in at regular intervals (aka, every few minutes) and I am in support of her telling me when her concentration runs out. And then actually asking and responding appropriately. If I just pop out with that question mid-conversation, without the up-front warning, students tend to pretend they are okay when they are not.


I learned to love audiobooks due to careful cultivation by my former five-year high school student. Her first concussion kept her in a darkened room for something like six months; music and audiobooks were the only activities she could manage. While she was a font of knowledge that got me hooked on the genre, she also had a lot to say about the kinds of audiobooks that worked for her during recovery: slow moving, not too much emotion, often well below her reading level so they took less cognitive effort to follow but did keep her mind active.

One of her favorites provides a good example of what worked for her when she missed a significant portion of tenth grade: Saffy’s Angel, by Hilary McKay. The book was character-driven, with a slow-moving story. The characters are engaging, and the book is quietly funny. School Library Journal rates it for 4-6 grades. The humor is very helpful when stuck in a dark room, but laughing hurts and so quietly amusing seems to work well. Again, students report that emotional content can be impossible to process, and I believe that a particularly well-crafted story for an audience younger than the student herself can make for a good fit. Slow-moving stories make it easier to process when you find you cannot remember all that you hear.

Based on advocacy by this student, we determined to add audiobooks in our Overdrive collection (though she may just be learning that fact from reading this post). I would love to crowdsource a list of audiobooks that can provide a sort of emotional “high-low” listening experience that might work for concussed students of different ages.

Additionally, while our library does not tend to collect curricular books – or focus on providing fee-per-use audiobooks of reading from our curriculum – it might be worth considering a special budget category (above and beyond your budget as it stands) for supporting concussed students. Anyone have anything like this in place?

(Another parent’s point of view on concussions and audiobooks can be found here.)


Generally, my colleagues seem to cut back on research assignments for concussed students, but I am also aware that there are plenty of assignment that fall into that gray area that classroom teachers do not call “research” (at least, for the purposes of considering collaboration) but that require both searching for and navigating information resources.

This is where I feel we would really benefit from having a policy in place that gets rolled into the school’s concussion policy. I would like to have well-informed practices in place that would automatically involve our library staff in helping teachers think through the necessary learning objectives around a project. Is this assignment intended to help her learn to pick search terms? To pick good results? Or to navigate content in sources? She should not have to do them all, nor should she be responsible to complete steps that lengthen the use of her eyes and focus when they are not helpful to fulfilling the learning objectives. So, how can we help lighten the load?

I’ve not really gotten beyond this point in my thinking, and would truly love to hear from others how they handle this element of our work.


Overall, I am a huge proponent of teaching students how to read academically, especially in the latter years of high-school. The notion of reading scholarly works from the outside in should be, I believe, a central part of any college prep curriculum that involves reading journal articles, as should discipline-specific guidance helping students understand the parts of articles and what a high school/early college student does and does not need to actually understand in an article. (For example, I’ve distilled this article into a three-page outline that I often share with students reading in the social sciences and some sciences.) Textbooks create a different kind of challenge in reading, since they are written for compact delivery of factual information.

But I think a strong base in reading for different purposes and a curricular acknowledgement that good reading does not always involve reading and understanding and taking notes on every line of text is good for all students. And then we have a base to build upon for supporting recovering students in being selective in not only what pieces they read, but how they approach reading them.

(And now I want to learn more about how visual note taking may or may not be a useful tool with students recovering from head trauma.)


So – this lengthy post is more thinking and wondering than answers, but I would be so very grateful to hear your thoughts and practices, as well. As schools seek to improve their care of students suffering from brain injuries, librarians have another opportunity to offer thought leadership and compassionate care.

*This story with my alum’s permission.

on if you give a librarian a library…

How’re your weeks going? The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur. I’m kinda exhausted!

“Why are you exhausted?” you ask?

Well, thanks for asking! I’m exhausted because I’ve been living library life like a character in the Laura Numeroff book, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.

Cover image of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
  • If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk…
    • When you give him the milk, he’ll probably ask you for a straw…
      • When he’s finished, he’s likely to ask for a napkin…

Here’s my kind of crazy tale of, If You Give a Librarian a Library…

A few years ago, we gave birth to a library that lived in our elementary building. At the time we weren’t offering any services or library access to our K-2 scholars and teachers so we found a spot in the elementary building, bought books that Kindergarten through 2nd grade humans might love, and and opened for business! I wrote about it here: on new things for a new year…

Our little K-2 remote library collection eventually grew to 8 overflowing trucks, but we eventually ran out of space.

Fast forward 5 years and our amazing little library has outgrown its space. Basically, by the time that our young scholars reach the end of 2nd grade, they’ve just about read their way through the tiny collection and space constraints just would not allow us to continue to build out the collection as needed. Last semester we had the seemingly simple thought, “Hey, let’s have the K-2 classes come up to Kawaiaha’o Library! We’ll be able to continue to build out the K-2 collection and our strong readers will have access to things that they’ll love! It’s going to be so AMAZING!!!”

Me, on the inside at the time…


Our little idea has somehow turned into an epic cascade of problem-solving that involves:

  • Librarians painting a back room that was once a librarian’s office, that became a study room, then became a conference room, then became a closet, then became a swing space for material from our Archives when there was a construction project, and most recently has housed furniture that needed to be stored in order to allow for social distancing in classrooms. What will become the K-2 library room now has a lovely light blue wall! Honestly, I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I’m pretty stoked at how much less dungeon-like the room feels simply by painting the wall light blue instead of our (kinda depressing) standard institutional grey! 🤣
Adds #HowToPaint to the list of skills that I was not told I would need to develop when I was in library school…
  • My staff weeding and removing 2500 books in our HS oriented nonfiction collection that just has not seen much use in the last few years.
Boxed and ready to go to the Friends of the Library!
Deaccessioning in progress.
Having books on every cart and every available surface in the library gives me anxiety.
  • Shifting and reconfiguring all of the stacks in our nonfiction collection to make them more accessible to 3rd-5th grade sized humans…
  • Boxing significant parts of our middle fiction collection to empty shelving so that facilities crews can move shelves to new places over the summer.
  • Facilities Management Services crews coming in to move shelving and stacks around within our space to help us create age “zones” for our collection.
  • Delivering about 2000ish of the 2500 weeded books to our public library system’s Friends of the Library warehouse 250 books at a time (because that’s how many boxes can fit in a Hyundai Sonata…).
Hello, Friends of the Library!
  • Pushing all of the book trucks up the hill from our elementary building to their new home in the “big library” up on the hill.

Pushing a fully loaded book truck uphill is a surprisingly good workout. On one trip I was huffing and puffing my way up the hill past some students and I hear, “Whoa! good butt workout Mr. Wee!!!” 🤣🤣🤣

To which I had to reply, “I’m old and I don’t do Crossfit sled pushing. Don’t just stand there telling dad jokes, help me push!!!” 🤣🤣🤣

My kids thought I was hilarious, but by the time they were ready to help me push I was at the top of the hill. #Teenagers #Sigh 🤣🤣🤣

I know I sound really, really grumpy (because I am) as this process unfolds, but I know that I will be happy with the result next August when we have everything put back together and we’re up and running. In our last meeting with our K-2 classes I offhandedly mentioned, “This is our last time seeing you here in our mini-library space because next year we’ll get to see all of our K-2 classes in the big library up on the hill!!!”

Oh my goodness!!! The number of faculty/staff parents who have told me in passing in the hall, “My child is SOOOOOOOOO excited that they get to go to Kawaiaha’o Library next year!!!” has been a wonderful surprise.

Surprises like learning how excited young students are to get to borrow books and just come to “the big library” make every bit of the sweat and effort worth all of the sweat and effort! I know I’ll be happy with the outcome in the end, but you know, when you’re in the middle of the process, sometimes you just have to write to your AISL friends to complain. That’s library life… 🤣🤣🤣

Gotta run, another student needs help printing. In the midst of all of this we set up a new printing work flow to make it easier for students to print from their school iPads and personal devices. What i’ve learned from watching numerous middle school and frosh students attempt to tap on the screen of our desktop iMacs is that “how to use a computer mouse” has become a legacy skill!!! 😳😳😳 #IFeelSoOld

But that’s a post for another time!

Happy summer, all!

Creating A “Reading ” Ripple Effect…

Last year during COVID, the library was closed and I brought the books to the classrooms. Students could request books online and they were delivered. The book talks and trailers for the Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award was all done on Zoom and very impersonal. But despite all this, 35 students in grades 3 & 4 participated in the voting at the end of the year. Our classes could not mix with each other, so when it was time for me to recognize all the participants in this state contest, I had the ceremony outside and the 3rd and 4th grade classes sat together while keeping far apart from each other.

Then we fast forward to this year….I was so excited that the library was finally open and students were face to face, even though we were all wearing a mask. I actually went into their classrooms with the books and did my book talks, showed the book trailers and handed out the lists of books they could read, if they wanted to participate. This month, we voted and I was so proud and excited that there were 56 students who chose to participate! That is the most third and fourth graders I ever had that voted!
We planned to hold the award ceremony outside again, but this time we invited all the second grade classes to attend. I felt it would be great for them to see what lies ahead for them in third grade. I also invited the MD/UD media specialist, since the fourth graders would be working with her next year, to help hand out the awards All students were given “gold reader” medals and certificates with their name and the seal of the school. Additional awards were given to students who read more than 6 books. Those prizes included “brag tag” necklaces with all 15 books, little stuffed animal book marks, new paperback books, and special reading tee shirts. This year I had two students who read all 15 books and one of them actually read all 30 books from both lists. (3-5 and 6-8)
Some parents showed up to see their student get recognized and it was a very proud moment for all. Group photos were taken and shared on social networking.

This week I had my regular classes and when one of the second grades came in, they immediately wanted to know what program in third grade would get them a gold medal? I was so impressed that they remembered and were already interested. This made me think of the “ripple effect” starting with the earlier grade instead of only focusing on the battle of the books which is done with the older students.

We had our battle with a fifth grade team this year and I also attended. I was so proud of our team and I am sure there will be continued interest with the present fourth graders. Some of them have already asked for the new list of books and one student has purchased some of the titlles on Amazon already. Isn’t this a great way to start off the summer reading incentives?

Here are all the voters for this year’s Sunshine State Young Reader’s Award. “56” is an outstanding number!
Mrs. Flecher, (on the left), the MD/UD media specialist helped me hand out the awards. She is also the coach for the Battle of the Books.
(Me without the mask.) Our team consisted of students in grades 5-7!

The “Battle of the Books” fifth grade team with both of us.

Stay where you are. I’ll meet you there.

When I was a young girl, my mother used to warn me that, if we ever got separated and I became lost in a crowded place, I should stay where I am and that she would find me. That is all well and good as advice from a fretful mother to her obedient daughter, but what happens if no one is looking for you? What happens if you’re just standing there forever? What happens if no one cares about the lost child?

That kind of nightmare-inducing thought dawned on me during my first year as a school library tech. I considered the students whose needs to which I aim to serve; these students are my library users, but how much do I really know about what they want? Sure, I have a curriculum document that I can use to discern what they need academically. I have lists of required reading material that students are going to struggle through (or find effective ColesNotes versions and pretend to have read). But what about reading for pleasure? 

If you think you’ve got it all pinned down, you’re probably the person who is wildly offbase but enjoying the comfort of a false sense of security. You must sleep so well; I’m jealous. For the rest of us, please leave all of your hubris at the door. 

I run two reading clubs – one for our middle school (grades 7-8) and the other for our lower school (grades 3-6) – and participate in the upper school reading club (grades 9-12), and I have learned I know absolutely nothing. Nada. Zilch. How do I know that? Because these students have told me (usually phrased nicely, but I’m ready for the humdinger).

Students are fickle. Let me rephrase – human beings, in general, are fickle. Timmy and Tommy might both love sci-fi, but Timmy loves Vonnegut and Tommy absolutely hates him. And maybe Tommy loved Dune first semester, but now he thinks it’s so overrated. (Good grief, Tommy. You make life so hard.) On a  larger scale, that means that what you thought worked great for any given class isn’t guaranteed to work next year, next month, next week. You cannot say with certainty that everyone that likes this book is going to like that one. 

Except Harry Potter. (You go, J.K. Rowling. Whatever magic you tapped into is still working its charms on pretty much every student I encounter.)

But I digress. I like to think I offer a decent reader’s advisory, but you have to start where your student (or faculty member) already is. 

Look, I get it – it’s May and the end of the year means we are running on the very last bit of the battery before we recharge over the summer. Let’s pick out the summer read already and send the young ‘uns off into July and August. Still, Arianna Huffington very delicately addressed how fed up we all are just dealing with an endless parade of surface notions and how that impacts reading in an Instagram post in late March 2022

“Finding the focus to read books has never been harder. Our always-on culture keeps us living in the shallows. Books are the antidote – allowing us to go deeper, nurture our empathy, broaden our perspective and connect with ourselves.” 

Books are supposed to make you empathic. Still, don’t begin to pretend that a library user’s dismissive scoff at your favourite book doesn’t rub you the wrong way. You loved Wind in the Willows. If this Ashton kid could only see it your way, he’d understand. So, we forget about Ashton; he’s a lost cause. But why? Because it feels like a slight against your own taste or judgment. 

Leave the ego at the door!

Ashton wasn’t being cruel. In fact, Ashton did a brave thing; he told you the truth and let you into who he is. That book just wasn’t for him. That book didn’t tap into his life experience. But I am sure if you listened to what Ashton had to say, you can find the antidote – that is, if you’re willing to give it another go. 

“But they’re both about Mars!”

Reader’s advisory (RA) is a job duty with entirely no structure. You practice it randomly at any opportunity that springs up, but there is no class or lecture or certificate course that is going to teach you the secrets of RA. You build relationships, no matter how brief, with the person you’re advising and foster understanding of what this person likes. There may be so much nitty-gritty behind your recommendation that you cannot exactly put into words why you know this book is going to be a hit, but you do know that this specific student is going to love it. There’s a tiny pinch of intuition that goes along with RA, an exercise in thin-slicing if I ever saw one. 

But you also have to admit that you don’t know diddly squat. This avenue is the one I decided to take a stroll down when I noticed that, even during the pandemic, our digital library was not being used. I searched through title after title and couldn’t see anything wrong. Sure, we couldn’t afford to have everything (who can?), but we had so many interesting titles that were getting no love. 

So, I decided to meet them where they were. I went classroom to classroom in the lower school and asked what a good time would be for a demonstration. Teachers gave me a time and I showed up where they were. I emailed the students their user ID information and we all logged on together while I spent fifteen minutes explaining what the digital library was. With the exception of a few hands that nervously popped up, almost no one knew we had a digital library. I explained how the acquisitions process works (a little differently depending on the age and stage of each student) and how ebooks are something we can get faster than print books, while also explaining the distinctive traits of a print vs. e-book (or audiobook). In one of my reading clubs, I tied in the idea of environmental factors when using e-books, which we were able to elaborate on during Earth Day. I also concluded every demonstration by asking the students to make recommendations, as many as they wanted, as often as they thought of them. 

These classrooms were silent. There’s not much that holds the utmost attention of boys and I didn’t expect e-books to be the clincher, but, again, check your arrogance at the door – every day, I learn how I know nothing. 

So, mystery solved… or so I thought. Over the next few days, I monitored the use. It was kind of lacklustre considering the amount of gobsmacked joy I had seen in their faces. 

I went through my email and noticed a sprinkling of messages:

“Um, Mrs. Davidson, could you maybe get some manga?” 

“Hi, sorry to bother you, but I don’t see any of the Press Start series.” 

“I liked the first Minecraft audiobook, but there isn’t anymore.”

I could hear the trepidation in their typed words. Yes, we could afford more manga. I’m glad you enjoyed the first Minecraft audiobook; let me see what I can do. I’d never even heard of the Press Start series. So, I decided that, by that afternoon, I would respond to all of these emails with an unequivocal “yes.” It was in our budget and, honestly, they were asking so little. They just wanted something they found interesting to read. 

And then the emails poured in. 

“Oh, I absolutely love this series. I am dying to read #11. Could we get this one?” 

“Could we have more non-fiction audiobooks?” 

“What should I read if I really like books written by so-and-so? I heard Whats-his-name writes similar books. Do we have any of those?”

Sure, you cannot buy everything, but if you can see that 18 students are begging for a book, maybe that’s not pennies squandered. Now, I can at least say I know a little bit. Still not a lot, but getting there. 

I watched unused ebook licences lapse. These books had sat there for multiple years – no checkouts. And I am sure that the people before me thought they were a great idea. Heck, if I had been a student during the era of e-books, I would have read my way through all of them – or at least tried to do so. 

But check that ego at the door. What seems like the right idea is not always going to be the right idea. For all the students who love Jason Reynolds and his books, I would have to bribe them with some serious coin to read Elizabeth Acevedo or Kwame Alexander. Why? A million different reasons. And that is the point. We are all products of our place, our time, our families, our friends, our hobbies… what resonates with one is never going to resonate with everyone.   

As we enter into that summer reading phase, it is important to remember that your awesome read for the entire school division may not fly. That’s okay – I’ve hoped we’ve all learned that we all know nothing – but it does not mean stop trying. Search into why it wasn’t the right one. It may be something as silly as an unlikable font. (You think that hasn’t happened to me? Oh, boy.) So, try again with a book that sounds more like what they would or have read. Don’t ask them to come to you. Tell them to stay where they are and find them. 

Oh, yeah, thanks, Mum, for the advice.

Okay, but what is an encyclopedia anyway?

Whenever I talk to a class about understanding source types, I like to ask how many of them have ever used a print encyclopedia for research. Or even seen one. There’s usually one student in every class who will hesitantly put their hand up, and then look around as they realize they’re the only one with their hands up. 

Which I think is probably part of the reason why so many students have a hard time understanding what a reference source is or when and why to use one. Same goes for magazines, newspapers, journals, etc. – if all of these source are open in a tab, how do you figure out what it is and where it fits in the information timeline.

Many of us learned what these kinds of sources are by actually getting our hands on them, and so as I was talking with teachers about improving our students’ understanding of how different types of sources work, we thought “why not have students get their hands on some sources?” Newspapers, magazines, and books were easy to get. I get the ALAN Review and (in that way that random mail often ends up on the librarian’s desk) I lucked into a copy of Journal of Microscopy, so I was all set with academic journals. While there are no encyclopedias in my current library, I knew my old library had an old set of encyclopedias and the librarian there was kind enough to loan me a few volumes (thanks Amy Perry!).

Our first activity was intended as a warm-up but ended up taking about 20-25 minutes with each class. We gave each table of students one type of source and some big paper and asked them to try to answer the following questions:

  • What are the defining characteristics of this type of source?
  • Who do you think is the audience for this source?
  • Why/when would someone use this source?
  • Who is responsible for the information in this source?

I was so impressed by what students were able to observe as they looked at these different kinds of sources. While there were some tongue-in-cheek answers (“why would someone use this?” Because their wifi isn’t working), students were also able to discern the differences between each kind of source and identify who the creators and potential audiences were for each source type.

From there, we moved into an activity I’ve done before – the source type card sort. I updated it using some of the language from this awesome information literacy module from NoodleTools. It may be coincidence (or confirmation bias), but it seemed like students had a much easier time matching descriptors to source types than they had when I tried this activity before. I think having some time to generate their own understandings of these kinds of sources really helped in building a mental model of each source type. 

Many students seemed to really enjoy reading the newspaper and the magazines. And doing every crossword they could find.

The teachers I was working with really wanted students to dig into understanding sources, so next we tried to apply what we’d discussed so far by doing a source deck activity. I’d built my deck around labor movements through history, and we asked students to use the source type categories from NoodleTools to identify what kind of source they were looking at. We had a lot more ideas for what to do with the source deck, but ran out of time because our opening activity took longer than expected – but I’m glad to have the deck (and ideas!) for another class.  

One of the things we hadn’t been planning to talk about, but emerged in our discussions, was the distinction between “database source” and “source found in a database.” I talk to a lot of students who seem to think that “database” is a type of source – and the way teachers require “database sources” doesn’t help this misunderstanding. I’ve long struggled to find a good way to explain to students what, exactly, a database is, but I think I’ve found an analogy that works: a charcuterie board. I ended up pulling this slide together in the middle of class and introducing it in the last two minutes, but I definitely saw some lightbulbs go off as I explained it. 

Container =/= content

I feel very lucky that I got this much time to talk with students about source types, and while I don’t know if I’ll always have this much time I can definitely use some of these activities in other classes.

How about you? What has helped your students understand different kinds of sources? 

Thinking Outside the Building

I have been a school librarian for three years, which of course means pandemic-induced library contortions are my normal. That said, there is at least one idea that came out of the constraints of pandemic protocols that I’m happy to continue for years to come. I call it my lawn library.

Last year, like so many, we started the school year fully in distance learning. By January we started experimenting with a hybrid schedule, and in late March most of our school was back full time. Our ability to circulate books varied, and we met student needs as nimbly as possible during distance and hybrid learning. While students were all back on campus every day by March, we were still hamstrung in the library–our health protocols prohibited browsing and book displays.

In practice, these restrictions meant that students could search the catalog and make requests through a Google form, then I pulled the books and delivered them to students. We had a quarantine period set up for returns so areas of one floor of the library were covered in books waiting out their decontamination period. It worked fairly well for our students doing research where I provided instruction in class and other supports. But, without physical displays and browsing, our fiction was languishing.

Taking it–Thanksgiving dinner, family gatherings, restaurant dining, etc.–outdoors was the answer to so many challenges during the pandemic, and so it was for our library. I took our largest and shiniest book cart, added some signs, sent some email blasts and Canvas announcements, and (with the blessing of our Health Services folks and a few bottles of sanitizer) loaded it with the newest additions to the collection and most enticing fiction and headed outside. Each day the rain wasn’t falling, I brought our lawn library outside during break and lunch so students could finally get their eyes on some books just for pleasure.

My view from the cart. Students were just starting to trickle out from picking up their lunches, and our talented jazz students were jamming on the piano.

And folks, it worked! Tentatively at first, but then in groups, students came. They browsed the cart and checked things out. Faculty started stopping by regularly, delighted that we had the titles right there that they were on long wait lists for at their public libraries. Middle school students ran to me and squealed in delight that they could check books out (our middle school library was sadly not able to circulate books at all last year, and the kids were missing it dearly). I swapped the books out regularly, and adjusted based on what students asked for (all the fantasy, folks).

The Lawn Library cart, loaded and ready to roll.

I admit that I probably wouldn’t have thought of such a simple way to get books in front of and in the hands of more students had it not been for the pandemic. Being forced to think outside the box–and outside the building–brought me to a solution, the usefulness of which will long outlast the health protocols that brought it about. Our library gets lots of student traffic, we are a busy place, but being outside we got in front of new students. And, we got on their radar when they were in a different mindset than when they came into the physical library. This year, I’ve suped up my lawn library cart with an elastic cord to keep the books in place as I rattle down the stone ramp to the courtyard where students still eat outdoor lunches. I imagine there will be more improvements as we continue.

How can we get outside our library boxes to surprise and delight our communities and ourselves?

I share my story, because I want to hear yours. What feats of ingenuity did you develop under duress the past two years that are worth sustaining? How can we continue to support the creative ventures that we all launched since 2020, even as the pressures and constraints that fueled them ebb? How can we get outside our library boxes to surprise and delight our communities and ourselves?

Reading through a fire hose

It’s 1:15 on a Thursday afternoon when I get the email message saying “your package has been delivered.” Curious, I click the link because I have no memory of ordering anything (no surprise there – I have ordered and then immediately forgotten about any number of items over the past two years). I see that the package is from Random House and now I wonder, with a mix of excitement and trepidation: how big is the box?

This year I am once again serving on a YALSA book selection committee. The first time – my first year on Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA)  – I was so excited that I didn’t give much thought to the work that lay ahead. I had applied many times without being selected and I didn’t look past the joy of that initial committee welcome letter. Each committee year after that I looked forward to the books and conversations but worried about the workload, as I knew how much time I would spend trying to read a book (or five) in a day, and how much physical space would be taken up by piles of books (the photo above shows my dining room table at one point). This year’s Alex Award committee assignment is particularly rewarding as I have finally gotten on the committee that I’ve applied to every year for fifteen years in a row, but I know the workload will again be demanding.

So why do I do this? And why do I think you should apply to participate on an awards committee of some type at least once in your career?

You’ll develop your reading and review skills

Our Morris Award announcement at the 2017 Youth Media Awards ceremony

Nothing in my earlier years as a librarian – or a reader –  prepared me for the reality of reading 386 books in a year, or being able to have informed conversations about the 99 titles that ended up on the 2014 BFYA list. During that year I developed my note-taking skills, learned to pay closer attention to character development and story arcs, and finally began paying proper attention to diversity in publishing and in the telling of stories. And I learned to read FAST! When you’re reading more titles than there are days in the year, an enjoyable book that takes multiple days to complete means some Saturdays spent in a chair getting through five books. But the reality is that there are plenty of books that fall in the “ok but not best” category that can be set aside after scanning the requisite first 50 pages. I was fortunate to have a committee chair who provided a template for keeping track of characters, storylines, age levels, and starred reviews which helped with the process of reading, remembering and discussing so many titles. I still use a similar template to track the books I read.

You’ll build professional connections

One of the lasting joys from my years on YALSA committees is the connections I’ve made with librarians from around the country. We bump into each other at conferences, stay connected via social media, celebrate each other’s life achievements years after our committee responsibilities ended. Committee members also meet authors and publishers! Being on an award committee means receiving many invitations to publisher parties and meet-the-author events. The Morris committee hosts a dinner with the finalists prior to the award announcement, so we all had the chance to talk with each author and receive a signed copy of their book.  Committee members develop a cadre of people to call on for professional guidance, plus there is the fun of having shared a memorable year that had a meaningful impact on teen reading.

You’ll receive so many free books!

The carpet of books in my den

Some committees lead to more book deliveries than others, but all of them come with many boxes of books, and they all need to go somewhere! In 2013 I didn’t have an office at school and we had no empty shelves, so I had about 850 advance copies (ARCs) and new publications tagged and organized on the floor of our den at home. A narrow path led to the couch so we could watch television but the room was largely unusable. After the school library was remodeled in 2017 I was able to store most of the committee books in my office. The good news is that all of those books are free additions to the library collection! I keep the books we can use and put everything else out for students to take. ARCs are recycled, and any unclaimed hardcover books are donated to the public library. Depending on the year and the committee this adds 100-200 books to our collection – truly a gift. The 2014 BFYA committee was where I first learned about NetGalley and Edelweiss – these are sites where librarians and reviewers can access pre-publication copies of books. Being a librarian increases one’s likelihood of being approved for advance titles; my title request has never been denied while serving on a book award committee.

You’ll help increase the visibility of the school library

It’s easy to think of ALA committees as belonging to the public library world. But often a school library is the only library a student has access to, which makes our voice as school librarians an important one! Independent schools often have less visibility and representation on awards committees than public schools and public libraries, and other committee members may have had little exposure to the needs and interests of an independent school, so by participating on a committee you are broadening the viewpoint of those other participants. Being on a state or national committee is also a good way to show the school administration that the library occupies an important place in the school and in the larger world. Several times I’ve heard an administrator say “this will increase the visibility of the school” when I tell them that I’m on an award committee. It might not be my first concern but I understand that thinking. And it is a small point of pride to see my school listed next to my name on a YALSA roster.

You’ll make a contribution to the profession

I have appreciated having the opportunity to do something that will last beyond the immediate school year. In schools our students stay for a few years and then move on, but on a book committee there is the opportunity to bring attention to an author that might otherwise not have been noticed, or to curate a recommended reading list of books that reflects a broad spectrum of experiences for readers to select from. Choices that are made by award committees influence libraries’ purchasing decisions, and indirectly, the publishing industry at large. And thanks to the permanence of internet documents, I can look back at the lists from previous committees, revisit the titles we chose and remember the fun we had spending hours at a time talking and arguing about books.

Hanging out with Jeff Zentner, winner of the 2017 Morris Award

There’s no doubt that being on a book list or award committee is a lot of work, and not everyone has the space in their lives to fit in yet another responsibility. But if you can’t participate now I encourage you to give it a try *sometime.* There are many options to choose from, from local area awards, to state award lists, to ALA committees across all age groups. To join the award committee fun, begin by doing some research about various awards, then contact a committee chair and ask about that committee’s work. When you’re ready, submit a volunteer form and cross your fingers. You’ll have the chance to encourage reading, you’ll make some new friends, and you might be lucky enough to meet the next popular YA author!

Committees I’ve participated on: 2011 Reader’s Choice, 2014 BFYA, 2017 Morris Award, 2019 BFYA, & 2023 Alex Award.


Consider the multitude of ways that you work to center students everyday.

Collection development: Adding materials to the collection that provide windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors for students to see themselves and learn about the lives of others.

Displays: Prompting students to be active participants in their own discovery process.

Book clubs: Building a collaborative, supportive culture in which to generate ideas and share reflections.

A welcoming environment that fosters belonging: Allowing students to choose when and where to spend unstructured time, thereby encouraging an understanding of their own learning styles and exercising more control over how they utilize time.

Not to mention the media literacy lessons you build that empower students to think critically, those moments spent putting aside the tasks of the day to have important conversations with students, and the reorganization and reprioritization that happens in order to make space for student art and other creations which spark conversation about vision and imagination.

It’s all amazing. YOU are amazing. And as a profession, WE are amazing.

One of the means by which I am able to center students is through participation in my school’s Resources Team which includes the Educational Resource Center, Library Learning Commons, Quant Center, Technology Department, and Writing Center. Twice a month, we meet with the goal of putting students at the center. We keep statistics individually in order to come together collectively, not to compare data but rather to ask questions. Which individual students are we seeing often? Who is not visiting us, and why? Are there grade levels that do not visit as often, and what can we do to let students know that we are here to support and help? What types of projects are we collaborating on with faculty, and what do these projects tell us about our students and their interests, successes, and gaps? What programs, services, and resources might we provide to extend the curriculum and meet the information needs of our students? I value our Resources Team as a holistic approach to student-centered learning, and it is these conversations that allow me to pull back here, push a little forward there, and ultimately work in tandem with colleagues toward ensuring that students are engaging actively with their own education and with our community.

What are some ways that you intentionally center students, and how does this inform your planning and decision-making?