Our Fair Gardens and the Tyranny of the Catalog

If you are a reader of this blog, you probably know the origin of this post’s title. Years ago I bought myself a used copy of the 1969 edition of Margaret A. Edwards’s famous The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Young Adult and the Library. The cover of this edition, which I love, depicts a two-faced tree-headed creature and a … dragon, I guess? If you didn’t read this book in library school (I didn’t, at least not all of it), you’ve probably at least heard of it. Its author has two ALA Youth Media Awards named for her after all. 

Check out those beasts!

Recently I took this book off my shelf and flipped through it. Unsurprisingly given the publication year, Edwards sometimes uses language that is now dated and at worst, inappropriate by today’s standards. I can’t imagine my students in 2023 being very interested in most of the titles she suggested in 1969 (which she acknowledges is going to happen as time marches on). However, many of her anecdotes and points about serving teens in the library are just as powerful and relevant now as they were then. There are passages that knocked me over and are a great reminder, as we navigate the joys and nuisances of the progressing school year as well as the challenges to our professionalism currently present in the wider society, what our priority is – serving young people. Or, as Edwards referred to them in 1969, “teen-agers.”

On page 101 of the edition in my possession, Edwards launches into a pretty scathing criticism of “our obsession with the catalog”. Here’s one zinger of a passage that really got me: 

Our burning passion to force the adolescent to use the catalog has damaged our relations with him…Probably the most hated six words in these United States of America are ‘Look it up in the catalog.’ Here is what some teen-agers say …: ‘In general, the librarians are fairly helpful as long as you never make the mistake of asking where a book is. Do this, and the librarian ‘sweetly’ says, ‘What’s the matter, don’t you know how to use the catalog?’

(Edwards, p. 103)

She goes on to characterize this habit, which we may think of as empowering or teaching someone to fish, as it’s likely perceived by young people on the other end: either the librarian who suggests this is lazy or is exercising their authority for no reason. Edwards basically describes instruction in use of the catalog as a waste of time that could be spent promoting reading. 

Gulp. When I read this, I think I had just that day sweetly directed a student to the catalog when she asked where to find a book. I thought about this for a long time. In all of the times I have instructed a class in the use of the online catalog, not once has there been a lasting spark of interest. Even if there was a fleeting one, I doubt that many students spent a good deal of time thinking about accessing and searching the catalog after that. When they need or want a book, they come to the desk with the cover image pulled up on their phone (from Amazon or Instagram, maybe) and ask if we have it. How irritating of me to use that moment to “remind” them about the catalog. How unhelpful to hand them a call number and point. Most of the time, this does not result in a found book anyway – they come back asking for help, or worse, give up and leave. Now they may feel frustrated, intimidated, and maybe even foolish – certainly not welcome or helped. That is the opposite of how I want my students to feel in the library. Just go get the the book, Ms. Hammond. Only direct when you are very busy and very confident the student will find the book themselves.

Come to think of it, the functioning (or lack thereof) of our library management systems is a frequent topic on our listserv. I have become utterly frustrated by the slowness, the irrelevant term suggestions, and the inexplicable search field switch-ups that have been occurring in my LMS lately. It does not work as well as a Google search. So, what business do I have making students feel put off by an insistence on its use? Why am I wasting time trying to teach it, when I could be book-talking more instead? Maybe it’s enough to just mention that it exists and where to find the link. A student who wants to use it will – in fact, a student recently asked me whether there was some website where she could look up books in the library. I showed her, and she thought it was cool (really – she used that word). She looked up the title she sought and we talked about how to use the call number to locate the book. That was what she asked for – to be shown how to do it herself – but other students are asking for a book, not a lesson. I need to give them what they tell me they need, not what I, in my professional wisdom and “petty authority” decide they need. Knowing how to use a library catalog doesn’t make a lifelong library user. Feeling like the library is a place where someone will help you without hesitation or throwing up hurdles, might. Thank you, Alex!

Work Cited

Edwards, Margaret A. The Fair Garden and the Swarm of Beasts: The Library and the Young Adult. New York, Hawthorn Books, 1969.

Building Knowledge in the Age of AI

I was tempted, but this blog was not written by AI or any Chatbox, one who loves me or not. But this piece is all about AI and its implications for librarians and education.  It seems we can expect a flood of texts written by AI from now on.  The question is how reliable will they be? Will the program pull from authoritative sources?  

As of now, AI  has no access to the “invisible internet” of database resources or print books that have not been digitized.  Nor, does it have materials uploaded after 2021.  When these programs scan sources, how will they determine the value of the sites? Just look for similar language and phrases? These questions have important consequences: for example, a  recent Nature article noted that scientists were fooled by such texts.

The increasing usage and acceptance of AI, presents challenges and new opportunities.  Perhaps the most important skill or students will need going forward will be to assess the accuracy and relevance of texts.  Yesterday, for example, the International Baccalaureate (IB) program announced that it would accept AI  generated material if cited properly. Matt Glanville observed that “When AI can essentially write an essay at the touch of a button, we need our pupils to master different skills, such as understanding if the essay is any good or if it has missed context, has used biased data or if it is lacking in creativity.” So, assessing content will be vital.  Granville states, “These will be far more important skills than writing an essay, so the assessment tasks we set will need to reflect this.” This approach is fine as long as students have time in school and home, to acquire this content in the age of distraction.

Emphasizing skills rather than content has become a trend lately. Memorizing facts is seen as boring and unnecessary.  The idea being students should learn the skills to “do” history and science like  the professionals..  Content could be learned later, or just by “googling” something as the need arose  But if you don’t have a solid foundation of basic facts, how you can judge the credibility of AI-generated content?   Will readers take the time to assess each fact?  Of course, these demands were present with human-generated content, but now the need is greater.  Perhaps it will help that the National Council of Teachers of English is placing greater emphasis on reading nonfiction.  

Of course, the role of librarians is clear: acquire and highlight noteworthy, human-authored background content and nonfiction so that students can build this important reservoir of background knowledge when they encounter new texts, regardless of who or what created it. Encourage the idea that reading for information can be fun, especially if connected with previous knowledge and interesting facts.  It will be essential in a world dominated by texts produced in 5 minutes by AI.


on our museum of not-digital sources…

This post is more than a week late, but I was on a break and, honestly, needed to not think about anything library for a while…

Now that I’m back at my desk with my monitor perched atop 4 volumes of the 29th edition Library of Congress Subject Headings in order to help correct my horrendously bad posture that lead to the pinched nerve in my neck I thought I’d share about our effort to begin dialoging with our students about source types in databases.

Bad posture will catch up to you! Take care of your posture, people!

The Problem: Database interfaces are, seemingly, designed for digital immigrants, but our students are digital natives…

When a 14 or 15 year old human searches a library database they typically see something that looks like this…

As a digital immigrant who started life in an analog world and even worked in a library with a bonafide “Reference Room” I have a pretty good idea about the kind of content I’ll get if I click on the Reference, Magazine, Website, or Academic Journals links above. The reality for my 14 and 15 year old frosh and sophomores trying to search more varied databases for the first time is that most of them have never seen, touched, or used a print reference source; virtually none of them have seen, touched, or used an academic journal; and shockingly few of them have seen, touched, or used magazines or newspapers!!! #Gasp #EyesBulgingEmoji #IFeelSoOld

I can wring my hands and clutch my pearls, but that doesn’t go very far in helping my students know what source type link to choose if they want to find specific kinds of information so we decided to try to give our students some basic experiences and knowledge that they all have in common that we can reference as we’re doing more specific research lessons when we see them for project sessions. Thus was born, the Museum of Not-Digital Sources. It was a limited time engagement exhibit presented by the Mid-Pacific Library and all of our frosh and sophomores came through for 40-60 minutes with their English classes.

We fired up Canva and built display cards analogous to informational plaques you might see in a real museum. We use Gale databases heavily so we decided to base most of the language and terminology they might see on the language and terminology typically found in Gale.

Much of the experience hinged on students coming to a broad understanding about the kinds of sources available to them in databases, the characteristics of each type of source, and to think about how they might use types of sources to address varying information needs.

This is a depiction of information SOMEONE in AISL shared with me on the traditional publishing cycle, but I cannot remember who. If it was you, please let me know so I can properly cite this content. #BadLibrarianship

As it turned out, I was away from campus during the week when our museum was up and running so my library partner, Nicole, saw all of the classes. Here’s slideshow of the museum experience as it looked for students.

Of course, no field trip to a museum would be complete without an activity to complete as you make your way through the museum so students completed a scavenger hunt as they went through the museum.

The museum visit wrapped up with students completing a Google Form where they were asked to apply some of what they had learned from the visit.

Click on the image above to view the full Google Form.
Student feedback was quite positive (and they LOVE Mrs. Goff!!!) 😍

Our museum wasn’t the end of our discussion on sources types by any stretch of the imagination. It was just a way for us to get all of our younger high schoolers on the same page with some common knowledge and experiences that we hope to build on going forward.

How are you scaffolding knowledge about source types with your students? We’d love to see what you’re doing!

PS–If you’re considering weeding your reference collection, you might consider keeping a few copies of different types of sources. It’s always nice to have artifacts to use with students!

It might be time to put stuff away, huh? 🤣🤣🤣

Teaching an old dog…change is always good…stepping out of my comfort zone…or

Have you restarted your device recently?

In early June of 2022, I accepted a position as Director of Libraries and Archives at a world-renowned arts boarding school and summer camp.  It was a big upset to the apple cart for my family and me.  I didn’t like change much and was afraid that the change would be more than this old lady librarian could take.  

I spent the first 15 years of my professional life as a full-time performing opera singer. I have a doctorate in Voice and Opera and currently work as an Archivist. I love the location, and the facilities are beautiful and well-funded.

So, I jumped into the deep end! I was scared.  What if this is not the “right fit”? What if I’m too old to change?

This is what I’ve learned so far:

Change is okay!  It’s a wonderful opportunity to repackage things that haven’t worked well in the past and reestablish your “brand”. It allowed me to view faculty, staff and students, campers, and the community with new eyes, and they can do the same with me.  Twelve years in one place, and I think I was stale. I saw people as statues and created silos with different personality types.  I felt that I was no longer taken seriously, and my frustration appeared as indifference.     

I was able to think long and hard about what was important to my new community. I have a variety of stakeholders: campers as young as 8 to veteran staff — many of whom have been here for more than 30 years.  

Establishing my “brand”. 

I immediately went to the Provost (head of Education) and asked:

  • “Do you want rigorous research as part of your curriculum”?  And, if no is the answer, no is fine.
  • “What would a “portrait of an Interlochen graduate” look like to you”?  Is information literacy an important part of the portrait?  Are you willing to stand behind me in my efforts?
  • Will you support my efforts to work with each faculty member to achieve these goals?
  • I know all about the “artistic personality” Will you support me in some “necessary conversations?”

Establishing my boundaries, and letting the administration know what my priorities were has paid off in countless ways. More on that in another post…

Supporting my staff.

I’m managing a staff of ten now…I’ve not done that in years; even then, it was with college students.  Here’s what I’m learning:

  • You need a mission statement and collection policies we can all point to when needed.
  • Boundaries are essential – please don’t talk badly about each other to me (unless there is a serious problem)
  • This is not 1st grade – do your best to work out your problems yourselves (use your words 🙂).
  • Laugh  – a lot! 
  • Food always helps 
  • Be your staff’s advocate, and make sure they know that.

Access is important in the Library. 

  • Thousands of old books no longer supported current curricular needs. Crowded shelves with old books make the new ones hard to find.
    • When your staff spends more time filling ILL requests for other libraries than working on requests from students, faculty, and staff – you’ve got a problem. WEED. Ruthlessly.  
  • A poorly maintained catalog makes things almost impossible to find.
  • A radical welcome. A beautiful space, which like the collection and the catalog needed help to make it more accessible and supportive of student work.

I think the best part of the change for me has been the opportunity to “restart”.  I’ve always envied my phone and computers in that we could just push a button, and a fresh beginning would often clear out the nagging little problems. Here, I am able to do just that, and the results (for me personally) have been remarkable. Here’s to change!  

One of this year’s other changes is that I will miss seeing you all in Sante Fe. I look forward to hearing all about it. 



Book Bonanza

I have been running bookfairs, with books provided by local independent bookstores, for over twenty years. After listening to an episode of Amy Hermon’s School Librarians United podcast about inclusive libraries, I started thinking more about the equity issues of traditional bookfairs. Wanting to try something different, I explored other options, and of course posted a query on the AISL listserv. Others had been looking into alternatives as well, and after assessing various forms of book swaps and the like, I settled on Claire Hazzard’s Book Bonanza as the most equitable since it didn’t require students to bring in books for a one-to-one swap.

I started out with a request sent through our Communications Department and our Parents’ Association for donations of books in good shape that would appeal to students in grades 5, 6, 7, or 8. My plan was to divide the number of donated books by the number of students in the middle school, to determine how many books each student could choose. This being my first Bonanza, I could only guess at time frames and volunteers needed, so I used my Bookfair timeline. I reserved a large room for two and a half days (the half for set up and the two days for the Bonanza), and spread the word through my usual channels.

And pretty much nothing happened.

While several parents expressed interest in volunteering, by about two weeks before the event, I’d received fewer than fifteen donated books. So I consulted colleagues the Parents’ Association about what I was doing wrong. We finally decided that I hadn’t allowed enough time for donations (with a bookfair, that isn’t an issue), and the wording about donations was too specific. So I postponed the event from mid-October to mid-January, simplified the donation request, and brainstormed other ways to increase donations. Deciding I needed to increase awareness about the Bonanza, I took the following steps.

  1. Increased communication to the wider Overlake community, including parents, Upper School students, and faculty/staff.
  2. Turned the donation request into a competition between our two in-house teams, Green and Gold, with one point per book, and a goal of 500 books. (We have Green/Gold competitions in library activities, ASB-designed activities, Field Day, and more throughout the year, with one team coming out on top at the end.)
  3. Created a “thermometer” to show the progress of each side, and set it up in the library foyer along with boxes enthusiastically decorated by the 5th grade. I toted the thermometer to weekly MS announcements to display the totals and keep up interest.
  • Wrote a skit to film and screen at Middle School announcements. I recruited student actors, and the Communications Department did the filming and editing, with my input.
  • Created a series of six promotional flyers, changing them out every couple of weeks. I looked for phobias I could possibly connect to the event/books/etc., and used those as a basis for suggesting donations. Here is the first one:

Other phobias I used were ataxophobia (fear of untidiness), abibliophobia (fear of having nothing to read), cleithrophobia (fear of being trapped), scholeciphobia (fear of [book]worms), prasinophobia (fear of the color green), and aurophobia (fear of gold).

I stored donations in the library. With help from colleagues, I sorted them into genres and removed any that were too high-school/adult, or were in poor shape/too out of date. Despite all the promotions, books were slow to come in, and large collections from a few people (76 books, 82 books, 124 books, etc.) accounted for the majority of titles. Many other donations included novels read in class, so I had multiple copies of those. But after several weeks of announcements and a few more large donations, we hit our goal and beyond, with over 600 books!

For day one, we boxed the books up by genre and hauled them over to the large room I’d reserved in our Campus Center. With fewer books than a bookfair, I’d thought that two of us could manage this on our own, and with wheeled carts, we did. It was a slog, though! As a late-in-the-game scheduling conflict necessitated moving the books to a small library classroom for day two, we recruited  our wonderful Maintenance personnel to help out.

On day one, I set out a third of the books, sorted into genres and labeled, and held back the rest so that the first few classes wouldn’t snag all of the best ones. Working with the teachers, I had scheduled all of the English classes to visit for part of a block. (I think I should have sent more reminders to faculty, though—I did have to go to some classrooms to remind them about the event). The kids had a mixed reaction to the books; many didn’t find anything they wanted at all, but in some classes, everyone found more than enough—and the difference in enthusiasm between the 5th grade and the 8th grade will surprise no one! For students wanting only one or no books, I allowed them to “give” their choice(s) to a friend, and that worked well.

By the end of the Bonanza, I had a large number of books left over; several scheduled classes never made it in, due to teacher absences, a fire drill, etc., and many students choose no books. I planned to offer the remaining titles to anyone who wanted them after the last class. Also, I planned to set out any leftover books in the library for a week, to cut down on the number of boxes I needed to take to Goodwill. To my surprise, however, at 2:40—the end of the last class—I was swarmed by kids who wanted books. By 2:45 they had taken ALL of the books! I had not realized that kids would want to take home whole boxfuls of books, and if I do this again, I will limit them to five until everyone who wanted more books had gotten some.

In the end, the Bonanza was a success, but I don’t plan to do it again soon. It was a lot more work than a traditional bookfair, and obviously I had no control over the mix of titles; the fantasy section was about 70% Warriors and Wings of Fire! I would still like to explore more equitable ways to run a bookfair, though, and I’m glad I gave this a try. I greatly appreciate the many colleagues who helped along the way, all of the students and parents who donated books, and all the AISL members who described their creative bookfair/book swap programs to me.

Searching for search terms

I frequently tell students that using the same search terms over and over again will mean they find the same information and perspectives over and over again. But in my experience, students really struggle with how to develop a range of search terms. Inspired by a post of Tasha’s I wanted to try another way to help students think more expansively about what search terms they could use.

The class I worked with on this is doing research about repatriating culturally significant objects. They’ll be learning what they can about the history of a specific object, and then making an argument about whether or not it should be repatriated. This is a research task in which finding multiple perspectives is really important – and varying search terms is going to help students find those perspectives.

I started by talking about the difference between the words in your question and the words in your answer, using an example that a student came up with. This is a concept that many students find difficult to wrap their heads around, but this example really seems to help. We talk about how [impact] is not a term specific to their answer, but the different kinds of impact sun exposure can have are useful search terms – and also how sunburn/skin damage describe different impacts than vitamin D/seasonal affective disorder.

Next, I showed students how I might approach this task. I pulled passages from a few articles they’d already read, and highlighted terms that I might use in searching; I pulled out expert vocabulary, phrases, and the names of organizations and legislation. I then gave students two articles about the repatriation of an Alutiiq kayak that was held by Harvard’s Peabody Museum. One article was from the Harvard Crimson, and the other was a press release from the Alutiiq Museum. Working in small groups, students highlighted terms and phrases that they thought could be useful in their search.

The list of terms they found was amazing! This list below is in addition to the ones I pulled out from the passages I read. This activity also allowed us to correct some misunderstandings about what might make for effective search terms.

As students shared terms, I asked them to note which article they had found the term in. We had a brief discussion about how the terms differed between sources; next time I do this I need to devote more time to this part of the lesson as it’s a valuable part of understanding how different terms help find different perspectives.

After this lesson students have a bank of search terms to return to as they search – and, hopefully, a better understanding of how to find effective search terms.


The New Mexico conference crew and I are excited to welcome the AISL 2023 conference attendees to Santa Fe in less than a month! 

When I joined AISL at the urging of Linda Mercer in 2002, she talked with me constantly about how unique the AISL annual conference experience is for independent school librarians and why I needed to go. It took me eight years to get to my first conference in Nashville. My library conference experience before AISL was ALA and AASL. As a new person at the conference, I definitely felt like I was the new kid at school. It took me several conferences and other members working to include me before I found my place. I am so grateful that I did find my people. I remain an introvert with many friends in AISL. We are hoping our suggestions will help you get the most out of your conference experience.

What makes the AISL Annual Conference unique? 


I like to set a small goal for myself to meet two or three new people that I haven’t met before. Some of my best professional friends have come from chance conversations waiting to get on the bus, walking into a school, taking a water break after a session, at breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Social Gatherings:

  • Since we haven’t been in person for a while, we are starting off our conference with a cocktail event at La Fonda. I hope you’ll join us!
  • If you have been a member of our Mentor Cohort Program any time in the last three years, please join us for an event right before the cocktail party. 


  • If you’d like to have a dinner partner/group on Monday, meet up in the hotel lobby at 5:30 pm. Check out the list of restaurant suggestions on both the conference website and on the Sched App. Conference Committee folks will be in the lobby to assist.
  • Wednesday morning will be a great time to get some breakfast and meet in small groups before we start our day at 9:30 am. You can talk about your favorite books or dive into programming and curriculum with new and old friends. You can reach out on the Sched App too!

Bus Time:

  • Tuesday will be a great day for bus networking. The drive to Albuquerque is a little over an hour each way. 
  • Sit with someone different on the bus every trip (even stand at the front and ask if anyone is up for discussing a particular issue.)


Above all else, this is what makes our conference unique. We will get on buses and go to our local independent schools where you will have the opportunity to see several library spaces, the design and layout, furniture and space use.

  • When arriving at a new location, take a photo of the sign so you remember where your photos are from (very important when visiting different schools).
  • Ask the host librarian if you would like more information on any aspect of their space. Don’t be shy!


  • La Fonda is located on the Plaza in downtown Santa Fe. You are staying in the heart of Santa Fe with a ton of restaurants, Palace of the Governors, several independent bookstores, art galleries, retail stores, and museums. 
  • Jenny and I will continue to remind you that you are staying at 7,000 feet elevation and altitude sickness is real and can happen to anyone. It happened to me. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. If you are not feeling well, please reach out.
  • Bring sunscreen and moisturizer
  • Wear comfortable shoes – lots of dirt and gravel in New Mexico.
  • Cold weather is a real possibility. I know New Mexico sounds like it should be a warm place, but 7,000 feet elevation in the month of March can be chilly. Or not. Honestly, anything could happen weather-wise at that time of year. Check and re-check the weather forecast. Our weather can change rapidly.

VETERAN ATTENDEES: What advice would you give members attending an AISL conference for the first time? Comment below!

If I attended LibLearnX and didn’t tweet about it, was I really there?

This year I was lucky to have LibLearnX (formerly known as ALA’s midwinter meeting) in my own backyard. I didn’t realize until the end of my two days at the conference last weekend how much I needed a professional recharge, the kind that comes with bopping around a convention center, attending sessions, bumping into familiar faces, or just milling about the showroom and flipping through ARCs. This year, I particularly enjoyed listening to featured speakers such as Nic Stone, Ibram X. Kendi, Brian Selznick, Clint Smith, and Cory Doctorow.

Like all of the speakers, Doctorow’s talk was ostensibly a pitch for an upcoming book, Red Team Blues, but most of it was devoted to a scathing critique of platform economics. Doctorow described the process by which tech companies like Amazon and Facebook attract individual users, harvest their surplus data to lure in businesses seeking targeted access to users, and then turn around and hold that access for ransom by charging businesses to appear in user feeds and searches. Doctorow frames this as a massive payola scheme, one that degrades the user experience and results in what he calls “enshittification.” Users may notice the change, but by then they have become so invested in the service that it is difficult for them to leave. If you’re interested in a better explanation than I can muster here, I recommend going straight to the source and reading Doctorow’s January 23rd piece in Wired.

NEXTConf from Berlin, Deutschland, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Conversations like this are catnip to me. A couple of months ago, I decided to delete my Twitter account. It was a move that nobody noticed and which sent zero ripples through the Twittersphere. The decision was significant to me alone, and only because Twitter was the one social media platform I participated in. I could never get into Facebook or Instagram, Snapchat or TikTok. I had the headspace for one social network in my life, and Twitter was the best fit. When I joined over a decade ago, it felt like a professional imperative. Educator blogs I read at the time extolled the importance of building an online presence, of being Googleable. A robust professional learning network promised to benefit my students and faculty by granting me access to the expertise and experience of other librarians. Twitter made it easier for me to look up and over the metaphorical four walls of my own school site to see what was happening at schools across the country and around the world. And for a long time, I really did feel all of these benefits. Like most people, I had a love/hate relationship with Twitter, but the learning that came from the folks in my timeline outweighed the silliness and toxicity that often comes with the platform. 

I don’t know exactly when that balance started to shift. I valued Twitter as a professional resource, but over time the content that drew me to the service – school librarians and  librarianship – was eclipsed by the gross and annoying stuff. I’m not saying that a vibrant and supportive community of school librarians does not still exist on Twitter. But somewhere along the line the algorithm and I fell out of sync. Maybe it was all of the doom scrolling, the close attention to trends in polarization and disinformation, that trained the algorithm to clock me as someone who enjoys being angry, anxious, and depressed. Or maybe the content I signed up for, the educators I followed, were overshadowed by the people and organizations that could pay for the privilege of reaching my eyeballs. Doctorow made the point that even though he has hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, whether or not they see him now depends on his decision to pay for verification. His reach is held ransom. How can I know that the algorithm isn’t replacing the people I want to see with those who have paid for me to see them? Whatever the reason, I’ve been falling out of love with Twitter for a long time. 

The final straw was when Twitter’s new owner tweeted homophobic disinformation about Paul Pelosi from a source that even my seventh graders could debunk with some quick lateral reading. Then shortly after, he (unwittingly, I think?) tweeted a photograph of a Nazi soldier with carrier pigeons in a failed attempt at humor. This was the guy who was now in charge of the town square? I couldn’t stomach it anymore. I deleted my account and, after waiting out the 30 days I was given to change my mind, let my feed lapse into semi-oblivion. Now, all that remains of my time on Twitter is the residual detritus of former mentions, my handle no longer a hyperlink but rather cold, dead text. 

Steve Jurvetson, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As Sinatra sang, “Regrets, I’ve had a few….” There are times when I miss Twitter. The FOMO is real. I worry about becoming the-last-to-know librarian, learning about new trends after they’ve wound their way through the information cycle and into Knowledge Quest or School Library Journal. Have I rendered myself obsolete? If I’m not on social media, can I even call myself a school librarian? 

We’ll see. Maybe I’ll find another platform. Maybe I’ll go back to Twitter someday. In the meantime, I’m mostly enjoying my time away, rehabilitating my fractured attention span and finding a renewed appreciation for the smaller professional learning networks and in person learning that I’m able to take part in. I was thrilled to run into Courtney Lewis at LibLearnX, someone I always learn from, whether in person or through email. I’m looking forward to connecting with more of you at the AISL conference in Santa Fe next month. And what would I do without the AISL listserv? I may have stepped away from the larger platform, but that has only made me more grateful for the support and inspiration I receive from this community through your emails and blog posts.

I’m wondering if any of you have had second thoughts about Twitter lately? Is it still working for you? What other social media platforms are important to your professional development?

Don’t Shhh, or The Importance of Eavesdropping in the Library

As I frantically figured out what to write about for this post, one of my students jokingly offered “Well you can talk about how important it is to listen in on all the gossip that goes on in the library.” 

Me, trying to figure out what to write about.


He paled. “I… I was joking?” 

“Nope! It’s happening now!” 

And so it is. Because even though Dominic was joking, I’ve come to appreciate that one of the best tools in our tool boxes as librarians, especially solo librarians, is listening in on our students’ conversations. 

Our library is large and well-used; we have a student population of 535 boys and during the week, we’ll often have over 150 of them in the library at a time. We have study carrels, group work tables, bookcase nooks, comfy chairs, windowsills and the floor, and at our busiest they’ll be sitting on or at all of those. (Or sometimes on each other. That happens, too– does anyone else do a lot of “Every butt needs a chair” reminders?) 

It’s my first time working in an all-boys school but something I learned very quickly is a) they’re hilarious and b) they are all incredible gossips.

And oh, do they love to sit in the library and spill the tea with each other. My students gossip about which kid is bad news; which teacher is a harsh grader; which assemblies they can sleep through. They whisper about how they’re using ChatGPT; who is totally screwed for the physics test tomorrow; which weeks are going to be Hell-Weeks and which ones are going to be “Gimmies.”

Me, being super mature and just sipping normal, non-metaphoric peppermint tea.

Now, in my personal life I am of course a very serious and mature person who has no interest in gossip. But in my professional life, as someone who has to support students on a daily basis in a very rigorous academic environment, gossip is a lifeline. The kid who’s bad news? I can tell his advisor that he might need a bit of love; if I see him in the library doing work I can engage with him and make him feel seen for the work he’s doing to improve. I can cheer on nervous students when they’re up against the harsh grader, and talk to that teacher to see how the library can help support students in their latest assignment. The assemblies with a high sleep-to-awake ratio call for more crowd management, and maybe an email to that presenter offering help with slides if they want it.

Hell-Week Rush? I laugh in the face of a Hell-Week Rush.

My guys are using ChatGPT like a supercharged Google where they ask it for examples of an idea they already have, and adapt accordingly; the Comp Sci Department Chair is thrilled to hear about this and is working it into his presentation at our faculty meeting next week. The physics test means a run on our calculator supply: I should make sure they’re all charged and accounted for. The Hell-Week might mean the library needs to stay open later, or that a period after a big exam will be extra raucous as they celebrate or bemoan their performance; the Gimmies means lots of kids playing board games after school– let’s make sure none of the chess pieces have gone missing. 

The best librarians I’ve worked with were driven by the principle that librarianship is a service profession: we are here to meet and support the needs of our specific communities. Now that I’m a solo, entrusted with the care of a community of my own, it’s more important than ever to be tapped into exactly what those needs are and anticipate them. 

Hence, eavesdropping. 

And the best part is, you can do it, too, with our (un)patented system of GASPS.

  1. Gear: Footwear that doesn’t squeak is key. Get yourself a pair of shoes they won’t hear you walking up on them in (and wait for the teacher sale because who doesn’t like a sale.) The leopard print gives you a +2 to stealth. Live the print. Be the leopard. 
  1. Attitude: A thousand yard stare is helpful; if you make eye contact with students, the game is up. If it seems like eye contact might occur, immediately look at a bookshelf. Students believe that all librarians do is look at books all day; use that.
  1. Speed: Make sure you move slowly and smoothly– student vision is movement based.
  1. Purpose: Remember, you are a librarian looking for information. The information. The information to help your students. The information specially targeted to help your students. The student information. 
  1. Singing/Silence: As I walk, I will occasionally do my own theme music, but it’s kind of a spur of the moment thing– don’t force it if it doesn’t feel right. 
Actual picture of me in the stacks. Note the quiet footwear.

Our role in schools is a special one. As I’m polishing this, 15 minutes before closing on a Friday, the library is full, because an English paper is due at 5 in two separate grades. If I hadn’t listened to what my kids were saying to each other, I would have closed the space early to go to the triple header basketball game that ends Spirit Week. Multiple teachers have come in to say: “Wow, it’s so crowded in here! What’s that about?” 

My students just say: “You’re open? Oh that’s amazing, I’ve got this thing I have to finish and I am so screwed.”

All photos from The Emperor’s New Grove, arguably the best Disney movie of the millennium.

In Acknowledgement

I resent that what most students know about plagiarism is merely that “it’s bad.” Lately I’ve had the opportunity to glean an insight to how students see–and often don’t see–plagiarism in the work they submit, and it has gotten me thinking.

Mostly in my own teaching and writing experience, plagiarism is fairly easy and obvious to define–we focus on quoting, paraphrasing, and summary of the ideas of other writers, scholars, and primary sources. We assume plagiarism is coming from extant print sources–the original exists somewhere to be seen and compared against.*

Until recently, I’ve had very little practice with the trouble posed by ideas that aren’t so clearly traceable–like when a parent does too much work editing their student’s paper. What is too much? Our English teachers have eloquently articulated the ways that individual word choice, something that a parent or student may see as subtle editing, can actually change the inflection or specificity of an argument enough to substantively change the meaning of the paper. Our policy is that nobody else should take pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), otherwise it is not wholly the students’ own work. But, what about tutors? If the tutor never touches the student’s document but coaches them through the argument and structure of an essay is that the student’s work, or are the ideas really the tutor’s? At what point in that process does it become so muddy whose ideas are whose that the student feels like the ideas are their own? There is a lot bound up in the question of plagiarism, editing, proofreading, and tutors. Some of it is culture, some is about equity, others about policy, pedagogy, and more.

As my school works to unify, clarify, and share our policies, I found myself mulling over how these issues play out in “the real world,” that is, in publishing and professional writing. How can I draw on long established practices that, while there are legal consequences for copyright infringement, are essentially ethical and therefore not always absolutely cut and dry?

In scholarly writing, we rely on citations for attribution. But, citations are for the scholarship and evidence, not for how the writing process was guided by the ideas, conversations, editing, and peer review of others. And yet, those other contributions are indeed acknowledged in scholarship. The opening sentence of the acknowledgements for the historical monograph, To Her Credit, puts it nicely: “This study is born from an assurance that, when we break down an act into its component practices, the essential contributions of previously unseen individuals come into view. That insight is even more true with the publication of my book which would not have been possible without the generous help of numerous individuals and institutions.” She then acknowledges the contributions of thesis advisors, graduate advisors, faculty members, mentors, and seminars, all of whom shaped the way she thought about her subject and her scholarship. The graphic artist who produced the maps, the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript, the editor and copyeditor at the press all are credited for the role they played in the finished book, along with librarians and archivists. A scholarly monograph is never the sole product of one individual. Nor, would we want it to be so. The work is improved by the contributions of others in so many ways.

Fictional works are the same. Smart writers recognize the many people who influenced their work for the better. In There, There, Tommy Orange thanks writers communities, mentors, faculty, and his editor and agent. When Leigh Bardugo thanks two folks who “helped me find the heart of this story when all I could see were its bones,” you can feel the importance of their conversations and the impact on the author and the shape of her book. She also thanks folks who contributed to her knowledge needed for the book, for “help in thinking about sleight of hand and grand illusions,” and another for “helping me finesse the chemical weevil and auric acid.” Deborah Harkness does the same in A Discovery of Witches, listing the colleagues who “generously lent me their expertise as I wandered far from my own area of specialization.”

I suspect that our students don’t read acknowledgements. Which means that they also don’t see all of the conversation, support, and work that goes into a published work of writing. If we make the contributions of others more visible we create a novel (haha) opportunity to discuss the role of authors and contributors in creating new works. Once the work, and the need to acknowledge it, is visible and modeled for students perhaps they will be able to reflect more meaningfully on their own efforts. An English teacher who is clear that a student’s paper should only be their own could, for example, have students practice drafting an acknowledgment for their essay. If a student finds that they would need to include someone other than their teacher it is a cue that someone else’s work is being co opted as their own, and that they are committing academic dishonesty.

I admit too, that astute students may parry, pointing out that many authors do thank their family members (parents, spouses, siblings) for contributions, that those authors have editors who help to copy edit and polish the authors’ writing, so why can’t they have a parent edit their work or a tutor assist them with their assignment. I can imagine that “well then I’ll just put a line on my paper that thank’s my mom for helping me proofread,” will be brought up somewhere. And that is where we open the space to be transparent about the fact that their essay project is not a published piece of writing, the appropriate person to give feedback is the teacher, and that is not just about acknowledgement but about pedagogy. That a teacher cannot help them grow as writers when their feedback is on mom’s (or dad’s or big sibling’s, etc.) words and ideas. That essay writing and other creative and information driven projects at school need to be wholly their own for a host of pedagogical reasons. Rather than enumerate those reasons, I’ll simply suggest that anyone who is having this conversation with their students has made more meaningful inroads to a robust understanding of plagiarism and academic integrity than I have seen among high school students to date.

Please share your reflections in the comments! How does your school address the too-much-outside-involvement type of plagiarism? What has worked best for you in getting students to understand plagiarism and academic dishonesty?

*I’m putting a pin in the AI wrinkle to all of this for the time being.


Sara Damiano, To Her Credit: Women, Finance, and the Law in Eighteenth Century New England Cities, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2021.
Deborah Harkness, A Discovery of Witches, New York: Viking, 2011.
Leigh Bardugo, Crooked Kingdom, New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2016.
Tommy Orange, There, There, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018.