What Now, What Next?

When you finish a research project, what’s your next step? Anyone share mine?

Hi PW, So glad to see your students at the printer this morning with their final drafts in hand! Let me know when you have a few minutes in the next day or so to debrief about this year’s project and how we might improve it next year. Thanks, Christina

To complement my digital files online, I also keep a folder per class with research projects. At the top of each assignment, I put the year, what I did, how it was received, and a note with titles of any files linked to the assignment. After meeting with the teacher, I add a Post It with notes about how to make it better next year. These add up over time for a neat evolution of research and also work as a reference for new teachers looking for examples of the variety of ways the library can collaborate with classes.

In this, however, and in much of my life, there’s an unintended side effect. I don’t let things go. It’s never enough. Did I make enough brownies for the potluck? Is the recipe unique? Should I bring brownies to the teacher on lunch duty who can’t attend? Or offer to cover her lunch duty?  I remember my college used to host free movie previews, and I’d go with my roommates and sit next to them to movies none of us had heard of. And I’d think, “What if they think this is a waste of time?” Note that I didn’t need to suggest the movie to feel a sense of responsibility for their reactions. (So if you are reading this thinking, why am I not more thorough, know that thoroughness is not a recipe for contentment. When asked to set an intention at the beginning of a yoga class, I default to “Be here now.” And yet…)

Two years ago, when there was a lot more time for long hikes, I learned that memorizing poems during long hikes does bring me quite a bit of contentment. And roots me in the moment at hand. One such poem was Lewis Carroll’s “The Walrus and the Carpenter.”

And when I get overwhelmed, these are the lines that echo through my head:

And thick and fast
They came at last
And more and more and more

While technically about the naïve and hapless oysters hurrying to their own feast, to me the lines represent my thoughts, my goals, my expectations for myself.

As many of you know, I also coordinate the school’s Capstone program. It’s not the AP program but an advanced independent interdisciplinary research program intended for a few students each year. Two of their seven periods are devoted to their Capstone. The application process is purposefully cumbersome, weeding out students who might not have the background or the drive to motivate themselves over an entire school year. And during the application interview, students – who can speak knowledgeably about their annotated bibliographies and research goals – get stumped by some variant of this question.

“What will make you feel like you have met your goals on this project?”

Because it’s not the easy answers: “learning about this topic I love,” “when it’s finished after RISE,” or “publishing.”

In the fall, I have the students write or video weekly reflections about what they’ve done, short-term goals, coping with setbacks, and similar topics. They are much harder on themselves than their professional mentors. But, they also don’t have a lot of experience creating their own goals, meeting them, not meeting them and thus refining those expectations, and learning from all of the above. Throughout their lives, they’ve looked towards parents, teachers, and coaches for tasks and for validation that these tasks were completed successfully. And while my students seem to have a simplified view that “life skills” are changing tires, doing taxes, and sewing buttons, I’d say that making progress on your goals — and either being satisfied with their progress or creating more realistic goals — is something I encounter much more frequently as an adult.

Just as with many others’ more contemplative recent posts, I’m still figuring it out. Learning doesn’t stop at the classroom doors, and my students, especially the top students, need to learn to be kind to themselves when their plans don’t match their reality. Rather than tell them how to do this, can I sit with them and their thoughts as we all figure out our paths?

Because I had up to this point drafted far ahead of time, during a crunch period last week, I sat with one and shared what I had written up to this paragraph. To which she responded by saying that she had assumed her stress was about this project, not something she would carry as part of her into whatever projects she has in college and beyond. We bring ourselves and our energies wherever we go; and we need to remember there are times to push forward and times to pull back. Or paraphrasing the offbeat yet wise poetry of Shel Silverstein, remember Melinda Mae and the whale.

Earth Day and Art Advocacy

“If you pitch your rubbish into a rosebush,

the roses will notice it.”                

(Naomi Shihab Nye, Cast Away: Poems for Our Times)

Earth Day was first established in 1970 as a way to develop awareness and promote action to protect our environment. This Earth Day, April 22, enhance student investigations into environmental issues by combining poetry and art. The following resources, though not a comprehensive list, may inspire ideas to develop with your students.

Poetry
Cast Away: Poems for Our Times by Naomi Shihab Nye
These poems can spark interesting class discussions about things (and people) that we thoughtlessly cast away. 
Suggestion: In these poetic musings on discarded trash, how does trash suggest something about the person who threw it away? How do these poems suggest ways to change attitudes about what we cast away? Challenge students to collect several items of trash in a neighborhood walk and use these discarded items to create their own trash poems.

Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman
Amanda Gorman uses a variety of poetic forms in this evocative collection of poems. Several of the poems are inspired by a scrap collection of news articles, diaries, and letters; she transforms these texts into found poetry.
Suggestion: Challenge students to use a scrap of written text from a newspaper article, diary, or letter to create their own black-out poem.

Poetry.org has assembled a list of Earth Day Poems.
Suggestion: In the poem by Gary Soto, “Earth Day on the Bay,” how does Soto use descriptive details to suggest the history of the shoe found on the beach? How does Soto suggest a more serious reflection on the cyclical nature of this problem of litter?

Fiction
The Seventh Most Important Thing by Shelley Pearsall
When a thoughtless act by a troubled 13-year-old boy earns him community service time with a “junk man,” the boy learns a valuable lesson that helps him to deal with the death of his father.  Just like art that is made from discarded objects, the old junk collector shows the young boy that anything can be redeemed and made to shine. 
Suggestion: The folk artist James Hampton is featured in this book. View a Smithsonian video about James Hampton and his art assemblage, “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly.” Encourage students to create their own art piece from reclaimed materials and foil. 

Nonfiction
Washed Ashore: Making Art from Ocean Plastic by Kelly Crull
Artist Angela Haseltine Pozzi creates sculptures from plastic refuse found on beaches. Her marine sea creature sculptures highlighted in this book are a stunning wake-up call about the environmental problem for our oceans and marine life.
Suggestion: Challenge students to a scavenger hunt as they look closely at the marine sculptures to identify the reclaimed plastic items.

Rock by Rock: The Fantastical Garden of Nek Chand by Jennifer Bradbury
Folk artist Nek Chand used discarded glass, broken plates, and rocks to create a secret rock garden in a forest in India to ease his loss of homeland during the Partition of India into the Dominions of India and Pakistan. 
Suggestion: Discuss with students how creating art can transform suffering (like displacement from your home) into an experience of beauty that can bring comfort to other people who view the artwork.

One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul
This inspirational picture book describes the efforts of Isatou Ceesay to create something beautiful and useful from the discarded plastic bags in her village in Gambia. Isatou Ceesay and a group of women began a business by crocheting beautiful bags from the discarded plastic. 
Suggestion: Challenge students to use a plastic bottle and transform it into a new object that could be useful.

Smithsonian Learning Lab
Aleah Myer’s Smithsonian Learning Lab Module, Environmental Advocacy through Art, curates environmental artwork and pairs it with Visible Thinking routines to examine the artwork. Also featured are several videos of art commentaries by museum curators. The following art curator discussions may be of particular interest:

Erosion 
In this Smithsonian video, Deborah Stokes, Curator of Education at the National Museum of African Art, discusses this environmental sculpture by artist El Anatsui.

Port Henry Iron Mine
Curator Eleanor Jones Harvey discusses artist Homer Dodge Martin’s landscape painting, Port Henry Iron Mine, an iron mine used during the Civil War. The curator interprets the artist’s intention to illustrate how the earth was “scarred” by the war and to create an emotionally-charged metaphor for how lives were impacted by the Civil War.

Videos 
Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea

Pass it On: Turning Scraps into Soccer Balls for Village Children

Documentaries
Landfill Harmonic: A Symphony of the Human Spirit
This documentary highlights the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura. These musicians make beautiful music from instruments constructed from discarded landfill refuse.

Waste Land
This documentary will appeal to high school students, though parts of the documentary could be shown to a middle school audience. Artist Vic Muniz returns to his Brazilian homeland to enlist the help of garbage pickers to create monumental art pieces that celebrate the lives of these individuals. The murals are assemblages from trash.

The faculty that reads together…

It feels like I have a million projects happening right now, a never-ending inbox, and that I’m always in the middle of a dozen conversations. There’s so much I want to do, but I know that if I don’t slow down I won’t be able to achieve one of my major goals for this year, which is to build relationships with my new colleagues.

I talk with my colleagues all the time about research and technology, but haven’t had as many opportunities to chat with folks about things other than school. So when one of our English teachers (also new this year) approached me about starting a faculty book club I was thrilled! 

We quickly rejected the possibility of discussing books about pedagogy – we wanted to focus on reading for pleasure and coming together to discuss good storytelling. 

The first meeting included faculty from both middle and upper school divisions, as well as several staff members. There were lots of folks there who don’t interact with each other as part of their regular workdays. On a whim, a teacher suggested we go around and share a favorite reading memory, which ended up being a perfect way to do introductions. People have such powerful memories of reading and books and it was a lovely bonding moment for the group. 

Our first book was Crying in H Mart, which seemed to be on everyone’s “I’ve been meaning to read that” list. Starting with a memoir made it easier for people to join the conversation even if they hadn’t read the whole book; nobody felt like the ending would be “spoiled” and everyone still had a perspective to add. It also made the choice of snacks really obvious. One of my colleagues happens to live near an H Mart and brought in a selection of goodies for us to enjoy as we discussed the book. It’s such a simple thing, but it had also been a very long time since folks had been able to gather in person to eat and talk and having that communal experience was just what many of us needed.

What’s been even better is having conversations with colleagues about the book as we’re reading it. It’s given us something to talk about with each other besides work, which I think we all need. And I’ve been lucky in that the group has been very easy to organize – I think in part because people are grateful that someone else is taking care of logistics. I’m also getting to read some books I might not otherwise make the time to read. It’s a great motivator for diversifying my reading choices. 

How about you all? Do you have a faculty book club? Other ways you connect with the adults in your school community?

OK, we stopped Follett — Any righteous anger left for the bad actors forcing bad choices?

What do California, Hawaii, Minnesota, Indiana, Nebraska, Idaho, Utah, Oklahoma, and Tennessee have in common? Each state’s legislature has considered and/or passed laws criminalizing databases, building a narrative of fighting against content that is “harmful to minors” (and other terms I’m skipping because they may trigger sensitive Internet filters). 

Update: These laws have passed in Oklahoma, Tennessee, Idaho, and Utah. In some cases they make librarians and educators individually, criminally liable for students accessing sources deemed undesirable. Next legislative season they will be coming back in several more states.

This post will cover:

What is this legislation?

This particular movement has been underway since a Colorado couple filed a lawsuit against EBSCO and the Colorado Library Consortium in 2018, alleging that databases “knowingly [provide] sexually explicit and obscene materials to school children” and that the Consortium “purchases from EBSCO and knowingly brokers sexually explicit, obscene, and harmful materials to Colorado school children.” According to James LaRue, the former director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, it was the first known challenge to a library database. The lawsuit was dismissed, but in its wake a connected individual in Utah filed a complaint that led to the state turning off all access to EBSCO’s K-12 databases while it was investigated. Although specious, the state of Utah has since maintained over 1500 blocked terms in their state consortium-purchased K-12 databases and has now passed anti-database legislation (and demonstrated consistently via usage reports that students are not searching for inappropriate content). The pandemic has since helped popularize the narrative perpetrated by that lawsuit. Various political groups fed parents’ worries that children isolated at home during online school were using databases that – they led parents to believe – were giving students the capacity to access materials that were harmful to minors. 

“Harmful to minors” and the related designations are used in COPA and CIPA, though you may most clearly recall having seen them applied more recently to a wide range of books being pulled from library shelves around the country. This movement is occurring in states that span the political spectrum.

Legislators in many states have introduced bills designed to shut down statewide database access unless massive filtering takes place.

So far, I have seen three general flavors of legislation:

  1. Requires all databases purchased for use by K-12 students (generally at the state and/or school district level, sometimes including other entities such as public or university libraries) to have “safety policies and technological protection measures” that filter and prohibit sharing of materials that are harmful to minors, etc. 
    1. Penalty for noncompliance is termination of contract and withholding payment;
    2. Very common version of legislation;
    3. Appears across states to come primarily from a template; 
    4. Examples include Idaho (enacted), Utah (signed by governor 3/21), Oklahoma (in committee) and many more (many voted down or languishing in committee).
  2. Requires schools to provide convenient methods for parents or guardians to track, monitor, or view curricular and supplemental learning materials.
    1. Often part of a so-called “Parents’ Rights” bill
    2. For example, in California.
  3. Nebraska’s bill, currently undergoing amendments from the Judiciary Committee, is particularly pernicious and is intended as a model for other states. In addition to the requirements above, the Nebraska bill requires that schools:
    1. Assign each K-12 student an individual logins for any state-contracted databases, outlawing group accounts; and
    2. “Provide the account credential of each student in kindergarten through grade twelve to such student’s parent or guardian and allow the parent or guardian access to all materials accessible to the student.”

The bill also outlines situations in which individuals can sue database vendors and and claim damages.

History suggests that we will see continued attempts at legislation on this topic across the nation; the inciting rhetoric suggests that the library vendors’ products themselves are not the actual target. Rather, the legislation seems to be aimed at libraries and the schools they serve. All of which leaves students caught in the crossfire, impacting their access to information as well as their privacy.

Why support vendors?

Last week, a nationful of librarians raised voices in protest when Follett reached out to say they were considering complying with so-called “Parents’ Rights” legislation being promulgated in a number of states. Many librarians responded viscerally–not only due to our belief in intellectual freedom, but also in the knowledge that many administrators might see that optional “fix” as an easy answer if Follett made it available. Furthermore, we worry about whether technological changes demanded in one place might come to impact our students’ access to information in another place. So we fought back against Follett and now feel empowered and righteous in our victory.

Meanwhile, the laws and bills that forced Follett to consider adding optional modules remain in place. Of course vendors with business models requiring money from libraries need to act in accordance with the ethics of librarianship. That said, I could not help spending last week wishing to see the energy that went into anti-Follett advocacy aimed instead at our state legislatures and the encoding of censorship into law. 

If we want our students to continue to have intellectual freedoms, it is critical that we focus our efforts on ensuring that our vendors will maintain the legal rights to provide all of us with the educational content they can provide.

What can I do?

So, if you have energy to give, how can you help? A group of librarians is working on a strategy now. We are happy to have more hands to make this work lighter. 

  1. Now: you can help identify if any legislation is passed or pending in your state that would impact database access. Whether in so-called “parental rights” bills, freestanding bills requiring enhanced filtering, or other mechanisms for parental reviews of “supplemental educational materials,” we are trying to get a sense of what attempts to block intellectual freedom through databases are out there. Please feel free to use this anonymous form to point us towards legislation impacting databases.
  2. Sign up here and we will reach out and find a volunteer task that works for you. Also, watch this space. We are constructing a crowdsourced monitoring tool so we can try to keep an eye on what is being blocked in different parts of the US. 

In gratitude: So many people have helped me understand what is happening here. Many of them cannot be named due to risk in their workplaces. However, the entire ad hoc working group for building realistic databases has worked together to reach this point. Some of our colleagues’ comments about unsearchable terms on my last blog post started a process. Several anonymous individuals helped me understand more about what was going on. EveryLibrary tracks legislation and has helped me better understand the movements underway. My family have been supportive as I have lost sleep, and … well, everyone I have encountered has had to listen to this tale as we followed its twists and turns. Thank you to each and every one of you. And, thank you to to village of librarians and Americans committed to intellectual freedom that it will require to move forward and safeguard our students’ right to learn.

Stupendous or Stupidity?

I think the hardest part of teaching is the letting go. We all talk about not being teacher centered, and for the most part we are all working towards that dance of when to step in and support and when to lean back and let the struggle happen. It’s hard, because even after many years of experience, it is always a scary call. Should I have leaned back sooner? Did I wait too long to step in? What is that super fine line between stretching and shut down frustration? It makes learning messy. And it is also where the deepest learning happens, where children build confidence and, yeah, where teachers get all gooey eyed about the job. Because when it works, all the frustrations and the fear of just how chaotic it looks, because, well it is, disappear.

So that is where I am right now with fourth grade. We just finished a project in Scratch. This was a goal oriented process, a mixture of direct instruction to build in background knowledge and some necessary skills and then the workshop time so students could play within the program. We culminated with students animating their names. A project I developed fifteen years ago when I first encountered Scratch and one that is still successful today. Students then created a WeVideo of one thing they learned in Scratch. As you can see, this was a unit with a lot of tech, a lot of teacher instruction and multiple points of assessment to see what the students learned and how well they could apply it. It is what I consider to be a concrete project, because I can point to all the learning and I have a shiny product at the end.
It was great.

Naturally, the next unit was going to be much messier. Loaded with feelings of success, I may have overreached. Presently the fourth grade are working in pairs or groups to research and then later debate two sides of an issue. I have done this before. Before the pandemic students were randomly placed on two different sides of the proposed soda tax in Philadelphia. It was a smashing success and I had several gooey eyed teacher moments around the whole project. Unfortunately, there was no such low hanging fruit this year. No new tax to debate and no issues that I thought were fourth grade friendly. So, in a moment of pure stupidity or inspiration, depending on your perspective, or my mood at the moment, I decided to let the students brainstorm their own ideas. What did they care about? What did they want to research and debate? I thought, for a split second, that I was a genius and I was having such a senior seasoned teacher epiphany. Pull from the students! Immediately we had teachable moments. For example, when a student wanted to have all plastic straws banned, I asked if she really wanted to research the other side of that, or did she just want a platform for her opinion. We decided that if you came up with a topic you had to be willing to debate both sides, as the side chosen would be random.
So here we are, fresh off spring break and the students are knee deep in research. The goal is to find facts and figures to support their opinion. And oh my is it messy and chaotic and I am seriously not feeling brilliant, or seasoned or anything remotely like a teacher at all. Instead I am running from one group to the next helping them to think of points to research. Because the sad reality is in fourth grade the student’s expectation is they would put a topic into the search engine and out would pop all the reasons they were right. So instead I am doing my dance. And it goes something like this:


“What is it that you want to say?” Me
“That football is dangerous.” Student.
The topic here is should football be allowed to be played in schools.
“Okay, how can you tell if something is dangerous?” Me
“Because you could get hurt?” Student
“Great, so what do you want to know?” Me.
“How many people get hurt playing football?” Student is hopeful they are on the right path.
“Absolutely. How about if we say students instead of people?” Me.
“Okay, should I google that?” Student.
“Sure, let’s see what happens.”

These conversations are taking place over and over again. And we are slowly getting somewhere. And students are learning that they have to think of a question from multiple perspectives and they have to dig a little. And then, sometimes, (okay, maybe more than sometimes,) the information is there but they need help pulling it out. So we read it together and think about what makes sense. And sometimes they find something that actually supports the opposite side of the argument. Which is really funny because they get quiet and beg me not to share it. Winning is apparently important here. And even though we have had several conversations about the difference between a debate and a fight or argument, and they can clearly tell me the difference, the information has been disdained. Sigh.

In five minutes, the fourth grade will hustle into the library, because they are super excited about this project. Even though they are all struggling they are also all incredibly invested. Some have been researching at home and the conversations continue in the halls, on the playground and at dismissal. They are learning how to form a question for research, how to take down information and in the next few weeks how to present the information. As I write this, I am excited for them and for me. In ninety minutes, after I have seen both groups of fourth graders I will be exhausted and stressed and questioning my teaching ability.

Because learning is messy.
For all of us.

Archiving Student Work: Spring Break Edition

I’m wiped out. This is not the first sentence I imagined would begin my inaugural blog post. It’s as if I forgot that during this time in a school community spring fever is abound and there is not a dwindling of responsibilities, but an uptick. So much is happening and changing quickly too in our librarian world and beyond. I write this to share the message that if you are feeling wiped out, you are not alone. Whatever you are feeling is more than okay. Embrace perceived imperfections, strengths, making mistakes, boundary setting, tuning out, acceptance, and deep nurturing rest. This is what I am doing here as I wrap my mind around some current, pressing school library and intellectual freedom issues and allow myself to write about something else entirely: archiving student work. 

This year I joined a committee exploring best practices in archiving student work and portfolio creation from kindergarten to senior year and perhaps beyond. While our students have been archiving their work since the inception of our school as an essential tenet, the committee is searching for new ways to use one system K-12 to show growth over time. This committee work will be multi-year and I would like to highlight input and share resources from my librarian community throughout. In turn, my hope is that some of the resources we have been exploring might be useful to you and your work. 

After several initial and productive brainstorming meetings our team of K-12 teachers, administrators and students came up with our why and we are now in the phase of exploring resources and systems. The tough part is finding one system to meet all needs K-12, yet exploring each resource supports our thinking around what we want and need and how we would dream to build our own. Aside from LMS and Google systems, here are some of the resources we have explored including brief descriptions from their sites:

Tomodochi

Tomodachi is a social learning platform that enables students to create unique content and present work to audiences beyond the classroom.

Growth Over Time

An elegant new platform for curating and sharing learning evidence, gotLearning was born in the classroom, raised by educators, and focuses on the most important, often overlooked work: the learning conversations between students and teachers.

Artwork Archive

Art inventory simplified. Artwork Archive provides artists, collectors, and organizations with powerful tools to manage their artwork, career, or collection.

DF Studio

The ultimate platform for digital photography production and workflow. Our cloud-based enterprise-grade features save your time, slash your storage costs, and let your content shine.

If you have resources to add or portfolios that you believe are worthy of reviewing please share, and if not, I do hope that some of the above resources will give you ideas or be of use in your school communities. 

And now, after you rest deeply, spring forward! There is much work to do (such as this from Tasha Bergson-Michelson) and we must continue to care for ourselves and renew in order to take action, support our communities as we love to do, and experience the wildflowers of spring while we are at it.

#BookTok: the collection development tool I never knew I wanted and now refuse to live without

I love TikTok. Like, I really love it. Years from now, when we’re all sitting around talking about what got us through the COVID era, TikTok will be one of the things at the top of my list. It’s brought me so much comfort, joy, and humor. It’s a place I’ve returned over and over for solace and escape. For the year we were remote-teaching, it was pretty much daily that I would call out to my family  “I’m taking a TikTok bath!” and then disappear for an hour into the bubbles, aromatherapy, and TikTok trends that would soothe my weary soul. I don’t create any content, but I follow hundreds of creators, from gardeners to miniaturists to satirists to frustrated and exhausted educators. I’ve learned to hack my instant ramen, make super spicy chile paste, and marinate mayak eggs. I’ve witnessed epic thrifting hauls and seen women sewists craft exquisite period costumes. I’ve found daily affirmations and asmr creators that bring my anxiety down three notches in an instant. I’ve learned new vocabulary and word origins, toured ruins, and been exposed to obscure historical trivia. I’ve seen a lot of talking dogs. It’s been a safe haven and a gift.

Little did I know that this habit would also lead me to one of the best collection development tools ever – #BookTok! If you are not familiar, BookTok is a community of readers, book lovers, collectors, preservationists, sellers, and librarians who make videos about what they are currently reading, what’s on their tbr lists, their favorite books, their least favorites, you name it. BookTok occasionally includes controversies, just like any social media community, but mostly it’s just a lovely place to learn about new (and old) titles and authors. In some cases it has even driven books onto bestseller lists or revived the popularity of older titles. In many cases, my students have read books because they’ve seen them on TikTok, so it’s also been an unexpectedly effective readers’ advisory promotional tool that I am super grateful for. I love it!

Here are some of my favorite BookTokkers and why I find them especially informative in terms of collection development.

@the.ace.of.books

This booktokker reads a lot. She posts frequently with weekly reading updates, and also sometimes does one-off posts about specific titles or addressing questions she receives in the comments. She sometimes talks about how her ADHD and ASD inform her reading choices, which is a great way for me to think about how to best serve my neurodivergent student population via collection development. I really love the variety of titles she reads. While she is perhaps primarily a fantasy reader, she also reads poetry, nonfiction, literary fiction, memoir, and more. Also, because of her popularity, she often receives ARCs or other gift boxes from publishers and subscription services, which means I’m also kept up-to-date on what’s in the hopper in terms of new releases.

@schizophrenicreads

This booktokker also reads a huge number of books, though he focuses almost exclusively on nonfiction. He reads widely across subject areas. Most of his picks are very current, which is helpful to me because I sometimes think keeping track of new nonfiction releases is like drinking from a firehose. He makes great connections between titles, often talking about how one book he recently read reminds him of another, so many of his videos offer multiple points of entry for thinking about nonfiction curation. He also values excellent writing, not just interesting content, and so is a really good source for essayists and literary nonfiction.

@bookpapi

This booktokker is an independent bookstore owner (Golden Lab Bookshop). He’s an excellent source for titles by authors of color, and particularly Latinx/e authors. He talks a lot about decolonizing book collections and intersectionality, and so regularly offers alternatives to mainstream titles that, while good or popular books, are representative of the dominant culture rather than exploring marginalized voices. His store’s website has really nice curations, and he offers a BIPOC Lit mystery subscription box, which is cool.

@schulerbooks

This is one of many independent bookstore BookTok accounts. I like this type of account because of the “book challenge” structure of most of their videos. One person working in the bookstore will issue a challenge to their coworkers to find a certain type of book – scariest book, book with the best ending, book that made you cry, etc – and then you get to watch all the bookstore employees go find their books and give a short ‘book talk’ about why they chose it. This is great for me for a few reasons. One, I get to hear about new books. Two, I get ideas about fun curations or displays for my library because of the challenges they do. Three, I get a glimpse into how independent bookstores organize their collections, which is helpful as I consider ways to genrify and de-Dewey portions of my collection.

There are SO many great BookTok accounts out there, I couldn’t possibly list them all. I’ve encountered so much variety and diversity on this app, and of course I didn’t even scratch the surface with this post. I’d love to know what your favorites are and why you like them!

Have five minutes to give for better databases? Take that vendor call or write an email!

Over the past eighteen months, many of you have asked how you can help encourage database companies to reformulate their core products to reflect a wider range of identities and perspectives. Luckily, there is a quick and easy way you can contribute: reach out to your vendors and ask for what you need!

This action can be as simple as picking up the phone when a rep calls, sending a short email, or adding this topic to your contract renewal conversations.

We have found that when two or three librarians from different geographic regions have reached out offering feedback about product offerings (as when companies have done marketing blasts for new “ethnic” databases over the past year) it makes people within the company take note. Imagine if a company hears from twenty or thirty of us? Or two to three hundred? Alone we are just one independent school. Together we represent a significant customer base for most of our vendors.

To help you out, below please find potential talking points to use with vendors. Credit where it is due: Sara Kelly-Mudie led the way documenting these points, a group of eight additional independent school librarians from around the country contributed to the conversation, and then Sarah Levin of the Urban School of San Francisco and I ran these past the Bay Area Independent School Librarians group last fall for feedback. So – we hope you will find a point or two that can help you get started.

Whether you work from these points or have another approach based on your personal observations, if you have wished for more diverse, equitable, and inclusive school products, now is the perfect moment to let your vendors know. We will not get what we do not communicate that we need.

Talking points for vendor reps

Our ask:

The core school database product should offer a realistic reflection of the people who live in the United States/Canada/your country. We should not have to buy “special” add-on databases representing “other” identities or perspectives (be they socioeconomic, ability-based, racial/ethnic, religious, gender-based, etc.) in order to offer basic representation of the people present in our school communities and in our country.

Reasoning:

*We are so excited to share that our institution is expanding its commitment to equity in every department. Here in the library we are auditing all our services and resources, including databases.
*Much like our collections, our electronic resources need attention if they are to reflect our communities and provide the perspectives we need.
*As we think about which vendors we will continue to patronize, we have decided to prioritize those committed to building central products that reflect the diverse experiences and perspectives of our students and their communities.
*We’re so excited to see the equity work you’re currently doing – identify two or three things you have noticed (examples here and here), OR ask them what they are doing to recreate their core school product to be equitable and inclusive – to reflect our nation in a realistic way.
*Looking ahead, as we consider our next round of renewals, we have a few questions:
Are you committed to offering a broad baseline of experiences and perspectives in your flagship product (rather than in add-on packages)?
*What is your current equity audit process and timeline? Do you have a rubric?
*Are there simple ways to offer feedback about gaps?
*Thank you in advance for your time and attention. We look forward to hearing from you and to our ongoing collaboration.

Responses to the objection that this ruins databases’ profit model:

*At this moment, our institution is looking to represent our population and those we study.
*We are exploring many vendors’ offerings and, while none is exactly what we’d like, some are moving with intention toward our ideal.
*We are happy to work alongside a vendor for another year or two as you work toward realizing the commitments we asked about above. If we don’t see significant growth after that, we’re happy to take our business elsewhere.
*We believe the vendors most willing to engage in this work alongside libraries will be poised to capture our attention in the next round of renewals and beyond.
*We don’t mean that you have to “give us everything” – we understand the value of being able to purchase extra depth in areas central to individual schools’ curricula. However, databases that do not provide realistic representation of our national population do not actually provide the sources our students need to be educated adults.

Location, Location, Location . . .

A January email to the AISL listserv posted by Dave Wee sparked my interest. In it, he asked several questions relating to students and database use and if you’re interested in how some of your peer schools answered, be sure to check the Google Sheet linked in his email. As part of the process of thinking about teaching students how to identify and find the information they need, I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help them discover and access that information in our databases. Many of us lament our students’ reliance on Google—their aversion to using databases for research unless required by their teacher is almost like a religion for them. “You can lead a horse to water, but can’t make them drink” comes to mind.  Dave’s question, “How do you organize your databases on your library page to get kids eyeballs on the right databases?” begs another question: can our students even find our databases when we aren’t specifically leading them there? 

Correction: Thanks to Dave Wee for pointing me toward the original questions posed on the listserv. I seemed to have lost the original thread, but picked up Part 2 in April 2021, when Matt Ball posed questions and received some terrific suggestions from AISL librarians as to how they’ve organized their databases. Apologies all around for this omission.

Where Are Your Resources?

Let’s face it—most databases are expensive and in an effort to get the most from our budget, we spend a lot of time evaluating specific ones, implementing trials, and encouraging our faculty colleagues to help us choose ones that meet the needs of our students and support our school’s curricula. From a return-on-investment perspective, when budget time rolls around, usage statistics often help us make data-driven decisions. But what do those stats really tell us? Do they pinpoint access pain points that keep our electronic resources out of view? Do they help us re-evaluate our instructional programs, or take into account how we integrate our resources in our learning management systems or LibGuides? Not to mention the impact of COVID-19 on trying to evaluate anything related to how our library programs are going. Before we can dismiss the value of any particular resource based solely on usage stats, first we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to make them discoverable. For a start, I’d like to answer how we organize our databases (and other electronic resources) to make it easier for students to find the resources they need. 

LibGuides A-Z List to the Rescue

Here at Kent, we use LibGuides CMS and their A-Z Database List makes organizing databases and other electronic resources a breeze. But, and here’s the caveat, unless you have enough time to provide instruction on individual databases so your students know each of them by name (seriously, who has that kind of time?) you’ll need to somehow organize your list. Fortunately, one of the features of the A-Z List is it gives you the option to easily organize your resources by database type, subject, and vendor.

To create database types and vendors, choose Content >> A-Z Database List from your menu on the admin panel of your guides.

From the landing page you can begin to organize your databases by database type and vendor. For inspiration, I find the LibGuides Community site to be invaluable. I spent time exploring other K-12 and Academic libraries using LibGuides to get an idea of the variety of options for this. 

A-Z Database List

Choose Your Types Wisely

When deciding on database types, I thought about how we teach source types here at Kent and the common language of research we use. If there’s one piece of advice I can give at this point, it’s don’t go down library lane and start wading in the weeds, trying to come up with as many types as possible. Keep it simple; we humans have only so much mental space for decisions. You don’t want your students to get hung up on having to sort through so many database types that they’re worn out before having to choose which one of those databases to search.

Database Types

Remember: the goal is to make finding the right database easier.

For a number of our resources, the source type (primary) and database type are synonymous, but for others, such as our image databases, I needed to decide if I wanted to assign them an additional type aside from primary source. You’ll see above, we decided to create an Image Collections type as our students frequently create presentations and this makes it easier for them to find images that are rights-cleared.

The A-Z List is flexible and allows you to add multiple database types so I applied the Primary Source and Image Collections types to ImageQuest. So whether a student is looking for a primary source map from the Colonial Era or an image of a bee for a science presentation, they will be directed to ImageQuest.

Best Bets and Popular

Think carefully about checking the Best Bets and Popular boxes when adding or editing databases. Too many Best Bets, and the ID loses its meaning—aim for 3 at the most for each subject—same with designating a database as popular. Best Bet databases will appear in a highlighted box at the top when filtering by Subject on the A-Z Database List and popular resources will display on the sidebar with a heading of the same name.

Finishing Up the A-Z List

Next, I added our vendors. This filter mostly serves to help us as we review our databases, but I occasionally show this to the student who is interested in strengthening their research muscle and want to understand the inner workings of our guides.

Some of Our Database Vendors

Subject Headings

To create subject headings, choose Admin >> Metadata & URLs from your menu on the admin panel of your guides. You apply these subject headings to your guides as well as your database assets.

A Partial Listing of Our Subject Headings

Access Points

Finally, a link to the A-Z Database List was added to the Research column on our library website Quick Links menu. You’ll see I also added several direct links to other databases: Source Reference, JSTOR, and the A-Z List sorted for Primary Sources as students are frequently looking for background information, journals, or primary sources.

Link to the A-Z Database List on the library website

Next Time . . .

Another of Dave’s questions was on instruction: “Do you teach kids to use different databases at different points in their research or do you pretty much just recommend databases based on the topic?” Although our A-Z Database page has gotten over 950 views this year, most of our databases are accessed through the LibGuides we create to support research in specific classes as well as our EDS searchbox. But that’s a topic for another post. Until then, happy searching.

The Frequently Asked Questions to the Academically Stressed (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)

We may only be entering March Break, but don’t think for a second that graduation is a distant consideration. No, in a school that serves three divisions, students are always experiencing the thrill and pride of graduation, whether it be in grades 6, 8, or 12. I myself get the opportunity to feel that thrill – and I don’t mean vicariously. As a part-time student finishing up my own postsecondary studies while working full-time at Crescent School, I find myself empathizing with their almost-there chugga-chugga vibe, so many emotions reflected back at me in the eyes of our students. 

We so easily forget the emotional rollercoaster of this time in our lives. I’ve had a chance to remember as of late. Slowly, everything I’ve learned is taking shape. As dry and abstract as it is to write a paper on the minutiae of collection management for digital natives, boy, do you feel it come to life when you’re squatting doing to check the barcodes on the bottom shelf for an honest-to-goodness shelf read. It’s in the knees. That’s where you feel it the most.

It’s an interesting metamorphosis, this overlap between one who studies and one who practices, the thinker and the doer. It’s inevitably odd to be on both sides of the equation, but if my seventh grade math teacher taught me anything, that’s how we get balanced.

So, in celebration of the students as much as a celebration for me, I offer this bitesize – and only 38% sarcastic – FAQ to empathize on what life is like for a soon-to-be-graduate in all its glory (and torment): 

Q: Are you asking if this will be on the test?

A: No, I’m asking if I need to click on these thirty-five links in the slide today or when the semester is over and I have more time to actually do the deep dive. 

Q: Does everyone have the textbook?

A: Not the one you suggested, but last year’s edition that’s priced like a trade paperback. 

Q: Didn’t you read the assignment?

A: Yes, I did. Then I read the assignment for youth services, the 42-page reading for children’s issues, and then attended a Zoom call with the TA for records management. So, here we are.

Q: And now that our three-hour Zoom lecture is over, do you have any questions?

A: Yes, why did this have to be three hours?

Q: Do you really need an extension or did you just spend your weekend binge-watching Euphoria?

A: Yes.

If anyone has any further questions, I am happy to offer my perspective in the comments, but above all, please, join me in celebrating the pure joy of chipping away at my TBR shelf as I return to recreational reading this spring!

Photo by form PxHere