Engage to Prevent Plagiarism

Engagement is about a sense of purpose and a desire to explore. Plagiarism is a perfect example of no student engagement.

Patti Ezell, Instructional Coach for Annunciation Orthodox School

Plagiarism is a topic too often addressed after the fact, when uncomfortable conversations between faculty, students, and parents puzzle over the issue of what went wrong. This summer I am curating resources to support discussions with faculty and students about how to prevent plagiarism. Increasing student engagement may be one of the keys to promoting thoughtful scholarship, integrity, and ethical use of information. Below is an annotated list of books, articles, and videos that may spark ideas for you on the topic of preventing plagiarism. I invite you to add to this list and share strategies that have proved helpful at your schools.

Preventing Plagiarism: Tips and Techniques by Laura Hennessey DeSena (National Council of Teachers of English, 2007). I became aware of DeSena’s book through an NCTE webinar, and I was immediately drawn to her approach that emphasizes student interaction with primary sources first in the research process. For literature teachers, the primary source would be the text itself (novel, poem, etc); for history teachers, primary sources can be a range of artifacts, photos, and documents of the time period. DeSena encourages student exploration of ideas in free writing and notes from the primary source text before any secondary scholarly criticism is read. Students develop an authentic voice as they discover their own wonderings, puzzlements, and insights that can be supported by the primary source itself and later expanded upon by secondary sources. (See chapter 4 of this book for a discussion of engaging students in the research process.)

Plagiarism: Why It Happens, How to Prevent It by Barry Gilmore (Heinemann, 2008)
Plagiarism: A How-Not-To Guide for Students by Barry Gilmore (Heinemann, 2009)
Both of these books present examples of student and teacher comments on the topic of plagiarism, examples of plagiarized writing that can be used to prompt discussions, and Top Ten tips from student and educator perspectives on how to prevent plagiarism. On one Top Ten list, Gilmore echoes the importance of student voice and ownership: “Make the assignment personal. Try to make the assignments important to you…(by putting) your own spin on them” (Plagiarism: Why It Happens, viii). In addition, in chapter 6 of this book Gilmore suggests that teachers should examine the types of assignment and assessments to promote student analysis and original writing rather than summarizing or information telling.

“Power Lesson: Note-Taking Stations” by Peg Grafwallner and Abby Felten (Cult of Pedagogy.com, December 16, 2018)
Instructional coach Grafwallner and a high school chemistry teacher Felten used the classroom textbook as an opportunity for students to practice note-taking. Students cycled through 15 min. stations and followed templates to practice Cornell notes, graphic organizer, concept map, and annotation. Student feedback was positive on these brief station immersions in note taking, and Felten discovered that students continued to use the note-taking styles in later class assignments, often discerning which note-taking style would work best for the type of information.

“How One Professor Made Her Assignments More Relevant” by Beckie Supiano (The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 21, 2019)
Tanya Martini, professor of psychology at Brock University, Ontario, described how she broke through student apathy and pushback by making more explicit for the students the types of real-world skills they could develop through the assignments.

“Engaging Teen Writers Through Authentic Tasks” by Heather Wolpert-Gawron (Educational Leadership, May 2019) Role playing, choice, and multi-genre writing are some of the strategies used to engage teen writers through authentic tasks.

“When Do We Give Credit?” Purdue Owl Writing Lab provides clarification on general knowledge versus information that requires citation.

“Tips to Avoid Plagiarizing Someone Else’s Work” EBSCO’s three-part infographic provides an overview of sites to avoid when researching, work habits that can lead to plagiarism, and when to provide credit for sources.

This is Not a Chair (The Chipstone Foundation) This video demonstrates how primary sources (chairs from various time periods) can prompt close looking and analysis and can encourage student reflections and starting points for further research on topics as various as culture, societal structures, environment, and slavery.

How to Spot a Liar (Pamela Meyer) Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, demonstrates in this TED talk how persons telling lies can be spotted, but also stresses that “lying is a cooperative act.” It is important that we have the “difficult conversations” with those who lie so that we can emphasize, “Hey, my world, our world, it’s going to be an honest one. My world is going to be one where truth is strengthened and falsehood is recognized and marginalized.”

“Research: An Exciting Quest or a Labor of Hercules?” (Joan Lange)
The first few slides of this presentation that I created in 2011 contains a “research-style quiz” themed to matching your style to Greek Heroes or Monsters. Work habits can lead to plagiarism. Remainder of presentation offers some suggestions to avoid plagiarism.

What’ll Be?

Maybe it’s because summer vacation is tantalizingly close, or maybe it’s the warmer weather, but I sure could go for a cold adult beverage. Anyone else? As I considered my libation choices, I realized, through a conversation with my office mate and work spouse, Beth, that our library is, in many ways, not unlike a bar…minus the alcohol. Those beverages are, at least for now, still not allowed in the library.


Our circulation desk – like yours, perhaps – is situated near the front door. When we’re stationed behind its high counter, we are in prime position to greet our patrons. We have a trivia desk calendar, which people stop at regularly and predictably. When patrons come in, they look around, see who’s where, and decide where to gather. Sometimes it’s up at one of the counters, sometimes it’s a more secluded table in the back, or a table by the windows, well suited for people watching. There are certain patrons who come in at certain times of the day. We have our morning crew who are often in their seats before we arrive (students have keycard access during off hours – ask me about that if you’re curious how that works). Students come in when they have an hour to kill or don’t feel like going back to their dorms. Others roll in after their last classes, eager to take a breather after a full day. And, of course, there are our night owls, who seem to only wander in after the sun has set. There are many (too many?) parallels between the local tavern and the local library.

Being Alone. Together.

If the library feels like a favorite corner bar, that makes us librarians the bartenders. Patrons come in, often not sure what they feel like having. They ask us for a suggestion. Sometimes they’re not in the mood for certain offerings. Sometimes they feel like something different, something new. Sometimes we barkeeps not only serve patrons their usuals, but are asked to surprise them with something fresh or with a classic. Sometimes they see something that someone else enjoyed and ask for the same. And don’t you know, we sometimes have some featured items, the specials of the day or the week or the choice selection of the bartender, our signature go tos. But there’s more than just what’s on the menu.

The Specials

We all know the trope: the melancholy soul, down on his or her luck, who wanders into the pub. The bartender wanders over, mops off the bar, pours a drink and asks, “What’s the trouble, pal?” And wouldn’t you know it, the same sort of thing happens in our office all the time. In our library – maybe as in your library – the librarians’ office is just behind the circulation desk. There are two large panes of glass that lend us zero privacy, but invite people to join us. We are fortunate to have two comfortable wicker rattan chairs, which invite people to come in a chat. And come in they do. They come in, sit with a sigh. Beth or I will then begin our therapy session. What’s the trouble, pal? And we hear it all, the woes, the tribulations, and the struggles. And it’s not just the trials we hear; we are also often the place to come when there’s big news to announce or an event to celebrate. We offer sage advice and attentive ears, and, invariably are thanked for our confidentiality, excellent listening skills, and our kindness.

When it’s all said and done, we know all the information, but we keep secrets a secret and share what we’re able. This is what a good bartender does and it’s what a good librarian does. We are the neighborhood gathering spot. After all:

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came

Some bars from TV shows are below, but what bars from literature would you put on a list?

Cheers – Cheers
Three’s Company – Regal Beagle
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Paddy’s Pub
How I Met Your Mother – MacLaren’s
True Blood – Merlotte’s
Simpson’s – Moe’s

And now, It’s Closing Time

AISL Conference First-Timer – A Few Thoughts and a Thank You!

This spring I attended my very first AISL conference in Boston. This amazing experience was made possible by the AISL Conference Affordability Scholarship I received. I definitely cannot overstate my surprise upon receiving an email informing me that I would be receiving one of the scholarships and therefore would be able to attend the conference in Boston! I spent the months in the interim excited to learn more about the sessions and activities that would be happening. I had read comments about previous conferences and understood that this would be a smaller conference and that I would get an opportunity to visit various schools, too. As the only librarian at my school and the only librarian in my region with a school like ours, I rarely have opportunities to get to be a “colleague” in that way except through the AISL listserv.

And how easily we librarians fell right into chatting in the same language and sharing ideas! From the time I arrived in Boston and got to the hotel, we all began chatting in the elevator even before our opening breakfast on Wednesday morning.

One of the hardest things of all was reading through all of the sessions offered and deciding on the ones I would attend. How to choose?? Since we are building a new library, I knew that the session at Philips Academy on building and moving your library would be an important one for me. Emily and Ella presented so much great information about the new library at Nobles, and then there were questions and comments from a number of the librarians in attendance at the session about their own experiences. Later in the week, we got to visit Nobles and actually see the new library after a wonderful lunch and Endless Thread podcast presentation there. This kind of experience is so invaluable as we absorbed ideas everywhere we went.

Even riding on the bus from place to place became a time to meet new people and chat about our experiences in our own libraries. I sat with different people on most of my bus rides and really enjoyed those conversations. We had such interesting, information-packed sessions….but then also had time for things like a tour of the Boston Public Library and a tea-infused literary cocktail (Tequila Mockingbird, anyone??) So often conferences involve packing in as many sessions and as much information as possible, leaving little time to actually interact in a meaningful way with other attendees. Having dinner with other librarians was also a lot of fun and it was so interesting to hear about things they are working on or want to do in their libraries and to directly relate so much of what I saw to things I could come back and implement in my own library.

The sessions I attended were also fantastic. Being able to visit other schools and to have a session I selected also include seeing a library space or makerspace or to see the kinds of art or projects being created in each school really added to the information being presented. I attended sessions on Breakout Boxes and Visible Research, both of which gave me ideas that I could use immediately. My session at Inly School on Empowering Students as Junior Librarians shared some great ideas being implemented by Sara Spencer, a librarian from Canada who I am now following on Twitter. it was so interesting to see how different each library was, what kinds of things were being implemented in each one, and to have an opportunity to look around and absorb and take some photos to remind myself of the feel of each space.

The Skip Anthony dinner on Friday evening was the perfect bookend (see what I did there?) to the conference, as we all gathered together for a lovely dinner, fabulous desserts, more conversation with new librarian friends, and a wonderful talk given by Gregory Maguire, the author of Wicked. He spoke about radical generosity and about how life itself is the most wonderful of fairy tales.

I am so grateful for the opportunities the AISL Conference Affordability Scholarship provided for me. I rarely have the opportunity to attend conferences, so this was a particular treat – an opportunity to meet other independent school librarians and to recharge professionally and to absorb lots of new ideas along the way. This AISL conference in Boston was the best conference I have ever attended, and now I have the information to make a case at my school for funding for future AISL conferences, too, as I have begun using and sharing some of the ideas I gathered while there! Thank you!

on summer in the library…

School schedules out here in the the middle of the Pacific run a little earlier than is typical for most AISL schools so as I hit the button labeled “Publish..” on this post I am officially on my first day of SUMMER VACATION!!! #Yay!!!

This was actually on my laptop for a while at the end of the year. #WhateverItTakes

I don’t know how the rest of you hold up over the course of a school year, but I was running on fumes there at the end. I could not ask for better kids or faculty to work with here at Mid-Pacific. My faculty is great and kids are respectful and pretty amazing, but for me the end of a school year is still THE END OF A SCHOOL YEAR and as the end of the year approaches I tend to struggle with emotional and mental fatigue more than anything else.

If you are on a more traditional school calendar, take solace in the fact that when I fling the doors of my library open wide and welcome our kids and faculty back for the start of the 2019-2020 school year in early August, most of you will still have a month of vacation left to enjoy! It all evens out in the end!

The two MLIS librarians here are on the same contract as teachers except that we also split our six week summer session to staff the library during our six week summer session. I’ve actually come to enjoy working for a part of the summer. Summer days end at noon and there are fewer students on campus so we have time to take care of tasks that need to be done, but which always get put on a back burner in order to accommodate more pressing needs.

My Summer To-Do List:

  • Unpublish all of our Research and Project Libguides pages – I like to unpublish (but not delete) all of our project libguides pages even if I know that a project will run again in some form in the new school year. Unpublishing requires teachers to contact us when a project is being introduced which allows us to check links, add new resources, delete sources that are no longer relevant, and enter into collaborative discussions with teachers about how we, together, can work to tweak and improve on the the work.
  • Revise the Library’s Website(s) – We will be launching a new learning management system campus-wide in the fall and we anticipate major changes to students’ and teachers’ workflows. We are working on revising our web portals so students and teachers can get from their course or project pages to the tools and content they need from our library sites as seamlessly as possible. As a 1:1 iPad school, we’re focusing on designing specifically to optimize the iPad experience on Library site(s) as that is the way that our kids access our online resources the vast majority of the time.
  • Set-up and Clean-up of NoodleTools Accounts – We need to delete our recent graduates’ accounts, upload account info for new students, and revalidate accounts for returning students.
  • Inventory – It’s inventory… #Sigh
  • Paint Circ Desk with Chalkboard Paint – Primer, paint, rollers, and brushes are in hand. We just haven’t had any time to do the painting.
  • Replace Whiteboards on Carts – We mounted dry erase boards on rolling carts a few years ago. They’ve ghosted over the years so we’re treating ourselves to new boards for the fall!
  • Develop Discipline-Specific Samples of Information Literacy Instruction Concepts and Skills – Our Administration will be asking Department Chairs to schedule us into their department meetings in the fall so we can introduce new resources; remind teachers about resources they may have forgotten; and, hopefully, finding NEW, BETTER, and MORE ways to collaborate with them in the coming year.

That’s my, I’m very sure, incomplete list of things to do this summer. I’d very much like to know, however, what kinds of things are on your list so please hit reply below and let me know!

Have a wonderful, restful, well-deserved summer break, all!

This is, basically, me for the next three days…

Building School Libraries Overseas

Service Learning through the Library

“A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.”

-Dale Carnegie

There are opportunities for library programs to get involved with the community service initiatives of the schools they serve; especially, with projects that involve literacy and reading. I want to share a service learning model that fosters student initiative and embodies a full school commitment to the service of others.This post complements and relates to the posts from our fellow AISL librarians, Laura Bishop and Maria Falgoust who shared their experience and research with service learning and libraries. I hope my experience adds another example of library programs partnering with community service programs. This year at my school, Berkeley Preparatory School, I was excited to participate in a community service role in which the Jean Ann Cone Library supported the community service of students to build a school library in the Bahamas. The vision statement of Berkeley Preparatory School is: “ Berkeley puts people in the world who make a positive difference,” and the Bahamas Books service project epitomizes the fulfillment of this vision through multiple departments, programs, faculty, and students coming together.


This service learning program was developed over many years, and in my role I am “standing on the shoulders of giants,” of previous librarians, teachers, administrators, board members and students who exemplify the spirit of social responsibility. As a new faculty member, I am gifted with a unique perspective because I have new eyes to admire the scope of this program with the freshly-minted experience of now understanding the details involved. This past February, I and Middle School Community Service Director, Buck Johnson, traveled with nine Middle Division students and eight Upper Division students to Nassau, Bahamas to set-up a library at Yellow Elder Primary School. Over the course of four days the Berkeley students set-up 2,800 books complete with a digital catalog and presented library lessons. While this was my first service trip it was the third school to receive a school library from this program. I want to share the journey that includes Berkeley families, alumni, Parent’s Club, Middle Division and Upper Division community service programs, and the Jean Ann Cone Library that all came together to support and share literacy through the power of libraries in the world beyond our campus.

Student-Driven Service

The impetus of this project started with Berkeley student, Elias Tsavoussis ‘16 noticing a need for more access to books in the Bahamas to address literacy. Elias talked to his parents, peers, and teachers at Berkeley about the ways he could start with a book donation to gather resources for a library. He took his early research and ideas and applied for Berkeley’s 50th Anniversary Service Award, a scholarship award “that honors students who have made a strong commitment to serving his or her community such that the student’s activities make a positive difference in the world.” Elias received the award, and with its grant money, he established a library at Nassau’s Columbus Primary School. From this project, The Berkeley Bahamas Books service initiative began, involving Berkeley’s Middle and Upper Divisions. Since the project’s inception, two more Bahama Books primary-school libraries have been started, both in Nassau. Elias’s siblings, Alexis ’11 and Paul ’13, also developed the non-profit organization Mission: Education Bahamas that aids literacy research, efficacy, and acquiring more grant funding. Their involvement started the Berkeley alumni affiliation with the project that continues to collaborate with our school community and students today. Now Wendy’s, Marco’s Pizza, and Popeye’s in the Bahamas sponsors the Bahamas Books as well.

Sourcing Books

Another important school community event that is integral to the Bahamas Books project is the annual “Share the Love of Reading” book drive that the Berkeley Parent’s Club has been organizing for over 12 years. This project brings the Berkeley community together and gives to local literacy and educational organizations. The scope and reach of this established community book drive enabled a new international outreach to be the next phase of giving; it now serves as a major source of books for the Bahamas Books project among its continued local outlets. This venture illustrates that often our schools have systems and programs already in place, so that libraries and library programs do not have to start with a blank slate, and it gives us another way to collaborate with our school communities. Our Lower Division library, the Rudolph Library, has also been a constant contributor to the collection. Finally, we have also reached out to our local librarian cohort, the Bay Area Association of Independent Schools librarian group to ask for any books they are no longer using in their collections, but are still serviceable.

Library Support

I also want to highlight that because this service project was student-driven at its inception it has continued to have a strong student leadership component where the torch is carried on by Upper Division students.  Most models of service learning and experiential learning stress the importance of student ownership and initiative as an important component to success. Additionally, the Jean Ann Cone library has a strong student library proctor program that serves as another student leadership program at Berkeley. Many of these student library proctors serve as foundational help to the Bahamas Books program. Their library training and daily workings in the library make them the perfect mentors to the Middle Division students that choose this program for their community service focus and other upper division students. Usually two to three student library proctors volunteer to attend the trip to the Bahamas and they are instrumental in the whole group putting together a library in four days.

Processing Books

So how do you process 2,800 books on top of your daily school library and teaching schedule? The answer: Middle Division students. The Berkeley Middle Division has a robust community service program from 6th-8th grade which gives students the foundation to serve others and prepare them for independent community service projects in Upper Division. As the Middle Division Librarian my role is to teach and shepherd a dozen Middle Division students on how to sort, label, process, and catalog library books. There are six dedicated days spread throughout the school year for students to be immersed in a service project. In the Bahamas Book track, the morning is comprised of three and half hours of dedicated work time where we sort, label and catalog the book donations. The afternoon is reserved for all community service groups to return and reflect on the service of the day. I relished this time with my Middle Division students giving them “the behind the scenes” tasks of libraries so they understand the inner workings of their own school library. As we sifted through the books students shared their recollections and memories of the books they checked out from the library when they were in Lower Division. I also believe they developed a new appreciation for the “grunt work” aspects of library by handling 2800 books and packing over 70 boxes. Our Middle Division students also revisited the Lower Division library and made a how-to video about library procedures to share as an instructional tool for schools that have never had a library before. Our students also designed library posters and bookmarks to give the students in the Bahamas the full experience they remember in their library as children. I refer to this group lovingly as my home team because not all of these students travel to the Bahamas, but they are instrumental to preparing the books to be a full functioning school library.

While I am working with the Middle Division students, C.D. McLean, our Library Director and one of our Upper Division librarians, oversees the Upper Division students who signed up to help and go on the trip. She set up weekly lunch meetings so that this group of students could plan and organize the types of library lessons the students would implement upon completion of the library. Students chose relevant books to use for storytimes and library activities in which the librarians reviewed and gave feedback. These Upper Division students also serve as mentors to the Middle Division students who traveled on the trip. I coordinated with the Yellow Elder Primary School principal, Mrs. Armaly, to schedule our students into their classes which involves a full day of engagement with the children of Yellow Elder.

Collaboration and Reciprocity

The day of travel finally arrives. All the hard work culminates in both the Berkeley Preparatory School and the Yellow Elder Primary school coming together to celebrate reading and libraries. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, so our first two days are spent exploring the culture and nature of the Bahamas. We spent a day on the water taking a boat trip to the Exumas where we visited an island of iguanas and stopped on a remote sandbar to fully experience the crystal-clear caribbean waters. Then on Monday we were warmly greeted by the whole Yellow Elder Primary School in a schoolwide convocation. The administrators of the Yellow Elder Primary School read quotes from famous authors about the power of libraries and reading. Then a program of student performances began: students read poems, sang songs, and danced traditional dances. Our trip coordinator, Buck Johnson represented our group and expressed our gratitude for their welcome and expressed our honor in sharing the love of reading with their community. These are the powerful moments of community service: the culture exchange, mutual benefits, and reciprocal learnings that all groups involved experience. We were all moved from this opening day at the Yellow Elder Primary School. The rest of the day we spent setting-up the the library. We broke into groups building furniture, shelving books, and decorating the library. It was a long work day, but the excitement of the children spurred us on. I also had the opportunity meet with librarians in the Bahamas to share and exchange current trends in library programming. Our last day at Yellow Elder was spent engaging with students through literacy and library activities-storytimes, letter recognition crafts, prop making, and games. For me, it was a joy to see my students imparting their own experiences and passions for libraries to this younger generation. Our students remarked about how it gave them a new appreciation for their own library when they saw how excited children are in the realm of a new library. I know it reinvigorated my own view of being a librarian. In reflecting on this whole experience I cannot stop effusing gratitude that I not only get to share the love of reading and research with my fellow librarians and students in the beautiful Jean Ann Cone Library, but that I also get to be part of a compounding effect of sharing the gift and value of libraries to a wider community. I am thankful for the Berkeley Community Service program that included the library program in building a legacy of literacy and encouraging us to make a difference in this Caribbean corner of the world.

Video Tour

Related Links

Mission: Educate Bahamas

This year-Bahamas Local news story

Previous years- The Nassau Guardian news story

The Bahamas Weekly news story

Designing for Your Users …

Five Steps to a User-Friendly Library Website

I was already in the process of writing my first blog post when I shared a bus ride at the AISL Conference in Boston with David Ring, Library Director at Pomfret School. He had attended Designing a User-Friendly Website session I presented at the 2017 NEAISL Conference at Cheshire Academy, and mentioned he made some changes to the design of his site, which now has his search box front and center. At conferences, as on this blog, you share your passions and hope that someone takes away something of value, so it was heartening to hear about David’s experience.

Designing or redesigning a library website can feel like a daunting task, especially if you are in the middle of a busy school year or have never tackled a project of this scope. Over the course of four months, starting in September 2018 and running through January 2019, I worked on the redesign for our library website here at Kent School. I was fortunate to work with a great team: Amy Voorhees, Library Director; Laura Zibro, Digital Resources Librarian; Rebecca Klingebiel, Asst. Cataloging Librarian; Joseph Russo, Asst. Circulation Librarian; and Bethany Booth, Director of the Academic Resource Center—all of whom gave invaluable feedback on the students and the school. The final result? Our new library website, which we officially launched March 26th of this year.

Whether you are looking to update your site to increase its usability or are creating one from the ground up, designing a user-friendly site begins with a focus on your users, why they come to your site, and then presenting it in a way they will actually find useful. It’s really all about the user-experience (UX). This post presents one way to think about that process and will walk you through five steps to follow, keeping usability and UX foremost in your planning and implementation.

Step One | Understand Your User     

How well do you know the research habits and information needs of your students? The first step in creating a user-friendly website is knowing where your students go for their information and why. There are any number of ways to collect data. You may need to try more than one approach to get the information that will best help you in the design process. Here are a few I’ve used in the past.

  • Database Access
    If students are required to use databases, how do they access them? If you use a content management system like LibGuides as a jumping-off point for research projects, you can view usage statistics to see how your students access your guides i.e., the entry points.
  • Broad Surveys
    Surveys provide a wealth of information. Do your students know about all of your electronic resources, the equipment you loan, or citation management tools available? In the busy life of a student or faculty, it can be difficult getting them to respond to surveys, so including names in a raffle or offering a small reward when completed forms are turned in increases your chance of a higher response rate. Survey Monkey, Google Forms, or a simple paper survey are all formats you can use to collect data. Use what makes the most sense for you and your community.
  • Targeted Surveys
    Targeted surveys generally reach a smaller audience but can be just as valuable. Try having students complete a survey at the start or end of any instructional session offered through the library. An entrance or exit ticket works fine for this.
  • One-on-One Conversations
    Since we work in small institutions, take the time to speak with faculty and students about what they would like to see. I taught two semester-long New Student Seminar courses for new students this year and frequently talked with them about the challenges of finding library resources. This type of information is invaluable because it’s informal and there’s no pressure for them to “give the right answer.”
  • Your Own Experience
    Think about the information you use on a daily basis; if it would be helpful for you to have all those links in one place, it will probably be helpful for others. Are there questions students ask of you on a daily basis? For me, students frequently asked where books were located in the library (ours are spread across two floors), so I made sure to include a map of the library. It was a small addition with big impact. I noted the resources I bookmarked to add to the data. Asking others which resources they have bookmarked can also help you identify those used most often by your community.
  • Analyze Your Results
    Collate your results and use them to help define categories of information, resources, and services. If you plan to do a card sort later on, start by using these results and see how your users would organize them.
  • Be Open to Feedback
    Be open to what your users are trying to tell you. It’s easy to feel defensive if the feedback is less than positive, especially if you think your site is meeting your community’s needs. Try to remember, the feedback isn’t personal and will help as you move to Step Two.

Step Two | Form Follows Function

These three simple words will help you to distinguish between focusing on creating a visually attractive website and creating a purpose-driven website that is easy for users to navigate.

  • Define Your Goals
    The data gathered in Step One will help to inform your website design. Start with defining goals for your library website. What do you hope to accomplish? What are the information needs of your students? It’s natural to want to include everything and difficult to decide what to leave off. Your goals are something you can turn to when struggling to decide what makes the cut.
  • Categorize Your Data
    You will find there is more information than you can include links to, so try to define broad categories. This will help keep your navigation simple. Again, a card sort is a natural extension of this data organization.
  • Design for Your Audience
    Keep in mind an elementary or middle school website will look vastly different than a secondary school website. Likewise, if your school is project-based, your website just might differ from that of an International Baccalaureate school. Keep this in mind as you window shop.
  • Highlight Your Search Box
    Research shows most users come to the library website to do research. Put your search box front and center to make your site invaluable to your users. Need evidence? Check any college library website.
  • To Parallax or Not to Parallax
    Current website design trends employ the use of a single page and parallax scrolling of text over stunning graphics; gone is the homepage on most sites. Keep in mind this design may not be the best for your library website, which is really more a portal than a destination. Large graphics can be distracting and the endless scroll can be a difficult way for your user to find specific information or for you to include the numerous links you’ll probably need. If you’re set on following design trends, make sure you customize it to meet your users’ needs. Be willing to let go of a particular design if you find it’s just not working how you envisioned. Curious about parallax scrolling? Check out what the user experience gurus at the Nielson Norman Group have to say.
  • Adhere to Style Guidelines
    Check with your Communications Department for style guidelines – every school has them. While you may not choose to do so, I think it’s important to come up with a library brand, then keep your overall website design true to your school brand. My site has a classic, traditional look because my school website has a classic, traditional look. I want my users to know they’re on the John Gray Park ‘28 Library website, so I aimed to keep the essence of the school site, not necessarily mirror it.
  • Window Shop
    Get out there on the web and see how other schools in your demographic have organized their website. Check out university websites, as well. They need to organize exponentially greater amounts of information, but you can get a good idea of the overarching categories they use that may align with ones you’ve already identified.

Step Three | Create a Wireframe

Once you have defined the information needs of your users and the tasks they come to your site to perform, create a simple wireframe to help you visualize your site. A wireframe is a simple black and white drawing or schematic that focuses on navigation, placement of features, and page elements. This stage of the process doesn’t address the design, content, color scheme or typography – that will follow in the prototype design. Skip this step at your own peril.

  • Use a Flipchart
    I prefer to use a flip-chart to create a wireframe. The large size makes it easy to sketch my ideas quickly and I haven’t invested too much time if I decide to scrap it and start over. You can really use anything for this step, even a whiteboard as long as someone doesn’t come along and erase all your hard work! This is the final iteration of my flip-chart wireframe, but if you look closely at our website, you’ll see I eventually moved the EDS OneSearch to the second tab – here I have it on the last one.
  • Establish Navigation
    Once I have my first iteration of the design on paper, I explore navigation, content, and elements. Much like a research paper, creation of the wireframe is an iterative process. Because I prefer not to have additional navigation tabs on my portal, it was important for me to carefully organize the links within the portal itself. Using a card sort can be helpful at this point if you are starting from scratch because it gives you insight into how your users would categorize, or sort, information. Here is a great video to give you an idea of how to do this.
  • Create a Final Copy
    Once I’m happy with the wireframe, I’ll create an electronic copy. I use Google Slides which allows me to easily convert my scribbles to ordered boxes and text, but any tool you find helpful is fine. I find it much easier to share a wireframe slide than a paper one.
  • Look for Problems
    It’s much easier to find navigation and content issues at this stage and correct them before you go live. You don’t want to be trying to fix issues while the site is live—trust me, it’s stressful!
  • Take Your Time
    Those who know me know I love to work quickly to get something into the hands of my students and faculty. But … I have learned it can be a positive growth experience to take time before the release to look for weak areas and make small changes to avoid future problems. It is so important that your site be as well-functioning, intuitive, and as error-free as possible. It may sound trite, but first impressions do matter. Aim to have your users’ first experience with your new site be as positive as possible, because change. is. hard.

Step Four | Create Your Website Prototype

I’ve used everything from Adobe Dreamweaver to WordPress to LibGuides to create library websites. For the past nine years, LibGuides and LibGuides CMS has been my platform of choice; it’s designed for functionality and ease-of-use, plus allows for continuity with your current guides. Our students are familiar with using them for research, so designing the library site on the same platform was a no-brainer. Using my wireframe, I begin to build the site following these guidelines:

  • Keep it Simple
    Simplicity and usability go hand-in-hand. Follow your school’s Style Guide for color and text choices. Use a color palette that has no more than three or four colors. Use serif text for headings, but stick to sans-serif for the body text as it is much easier to read on screen. Our site is heavily customized using CSS, but that’s not necessary. If you are interested in customizing your site, you’ll find helpful videos on the Springshare site, and direct support through their helpdesk and the community of users on the Springshare Lounge.
  • Position Your Search Front and Center  
    This is the primary reason users come to your library website. Make sure you only have one search engine visible at a time. Tabbed boxes work well if you want to make the best use of your prime area above the fold. We are currently doing a trial for EBSCO Discovery Service, so it was important to keep that accessible. Our Library Director wanted to see the research guides above the fold and I was having a hard time envisioning how to do that. I decided to try creating widgets and it’s turned out to be a great addition for our users. Without the widgets, folks would need to drill down to the guides landing page, then click on the subject and then on the specific guide. Now, they can choose the guide and in one click access the information needed. If you haven’t tried creating widgets for your LibGuides, put this on your to-do-now list! Remember: users also scan and skim in an F or E shape, so try to keep important content along those sight lines.

    Tabbed Boxes to the Rescue
    Because I wanted to make the most of the top area of my main column, I used a tabbed box for the following: our OPAC search box, EDS search box, research guides, citation guide, and information on how to create an account for our NYT GroupPass and other major periodicals. That’s quite a lot of information sharing “prime real estate” on the portal.
Tabbed Box on LibGuide Website
  • Pare Down Your Navigation
    The more navigation tabs you have on your site, the less intuitive your site will be. The new Kent library website was designed as a single page, forgoing tabs. I prefer to have all of my links located on one page so my users will have fewer navigation decisions to make. Although it’s tempting to add as much information and links as will fit, this will overwhelm your user and can lead to cognitive overload, never a good state of mind. Choose five or six main categories to link out to. And avoid the endless scroll – it can be frustrating to scroll back and forth to find what you need. Above the fold is prime real estate, take advantage of that. I keep my search boxes and guide widgets front and center and then work out from there adding additional resources.
  • Do Include the Most Important Information  
    Hours, early closings, room reservations, contact information, and news and events should be listed, if possible. Don’t overwhelm your site with lengthy descriptions. Keep them short and to-the-point. I have organized information about our library in one tabbed box: hours, staff, map, and a link to our Academic Resource Center. We don’t have online room reservations, but if we did, I would try to include it there. At some point common sense has to prevail. You will get lots of feedback about what should be on the site, so be prepared to give it your full consideration, but also be ready to exclude something if it falls outside the scope of your vision.

    Tabbed Boxes to the Rescue, Again
    Again, the tabbed box in our left column let me fit four times the information in the same amount of space.
Left Column Tabbed Box
  • Avoid Jargon or “Librarian-speak”
    Boolean, full-text HTML, trade publications – this is confusing terminology for most users. I love to nerd out over jargon, but when possible, use informal and conversational language. Instead of ‘Catalog’ try ‘Find a Book’. Your usability study will help identify confusing and off-putting language.

Step Five | Test Early – Test Often

Finally, you have your prototype. At this point, the only way you will know if you hit the mark with your website is to conduct usability tests with your community. It takes a surprisingly small pool of users to find your website’s weak spots. It’s important to remember, usability testing isn’t a “one and you’re done” thing. You must “test early – test often” to find issues and improve the user-experience of your site. So how exactly does a usability test work?

  • Find a Handful of Users
    You don’t need to have dozens of users to test your site. Nielsen (2012) found that five users representing your user groups, i.e., faculty, students, etc. is enough to find the flaws. Give your testers small incentive items such as a gift card for Starbucks, your bookstore, etc. for taking the time to help you improve the library’s website.
  • Ask Them to Perform Typical Tasks    
    First, identify three to five tasks your users do on a regular basis. These are called representative tasks and need to be realistic and actionable (Nielsen 2012). Create a scenario around the tasks (or activities) and ask users to complete them. Let your users know that you are testing the site and not them.
  • Have Users Talk Through the Task   
    Don’t ask users to tell you what they would do, ask them to complete the task and talk through it out loud. For example: I need to find an article on the Revolutionary War. I’m looking for a place to do a search. I see the main search box for EBSCO, etc. Don’t give hints, clues, or suggestions. This is hard, especially if your user is struggling. Put a time-limit and if they can’t complete the task successfully, assure them it’s fine and have them move to the next task.
  • Measure the Percentage of Tasks Successfully Completed
    Figure out where most users had difficulty. Make small changes and test those changes. Have the process be iterative. The more tests you conduct with small groups, the greater the chance to find usability flaws and correct them.
  • Perform Your Own Usability Test
    Before you launch your site, have your staff and any other folks whose input you want use your prototype on a daily basis. If using LibGuides, publish it as private or wait to create a friendly URL – no one will find that wonky string of letters and numbers. You’ll know if your design is spot on – you’ll enjoy using it and want to share it with others right away! You also might find a design flaw you otherwise wouldn’t before the launch.
  • Prepare to Be Surprised by the Results
    The first time I did a usability test on LibGuides, I was truly shocked to discover both faculty and students thought the guide search box could be used to conduct a Google-type search. When they didn’t get the results they were expecting, most were stumped as to the next step to take. Maybe you wouldn’t make the same decision I did, but after seeing all the testers struggle, I removed the site search box from the guides and haven’t looked back or regretted it.

Launching Your New Site

Once you’ve completed your usability study, you’re sure your links* are going to the right destination, your search box and other widgets work, you’ve edited for typos, checked images, text, and color contrast for accessibility, you’ll want to roll-out your new site during a relatively quiet time of the year. Making a change during periods when people rely on your website can lead to a negative first impression, something you’ll want to avoid.

Start with a Soft Rollout

We planned to launch our new site after Spring Break as it’s a fairly quiet time before AP research paper season in May. Several weeks prior to March Break, we chose a soft rollout using a button on our then current site encouraging users to “Try the New Library Website” (above right on the image). We kept track of our usage statistics, which showed we had over 250 hits in the following weeks. Since we didn’t receive any negative comments, we felt fairly confident that the launch would go smoothly. We still use the Koha library catalog page you see, which was our library website before the redesign.

*A point about links
I set my active links from the website to open in a new window so I don’t lose my users if they close the window instead of clicking the back arrow on the browser. On a regular guide, I have tabs open in the same window, and any external links open in a new one. You can set the default window target for links in the Admin System Settings.

Position Yourself for Success
Finally, make sure you market your site once you roll it out. If possible, set the home screen on any library computers to your site and send a school-wide email to let your community know it’s live. You will need to continue marketing your site – I know it may come as a shock, but not everyone reads their emails!

Baby Steps
As we all know, change doesn’t happen overnight. Even though we did a soft rollout, sent an all-school email with a link, set our library computers homepage to the website, we didn’t really know how it was being widely received. Cue research season: that wonderful time of the year when AP Exams are finished and students take part in the time-honored tradition of researching and writing the long-form research paper. A number of our AP U.S.History teachers have been bringing their classes to the library to work and for formal instruction, which has given me an opportunity to introduce our students to our new library website “in the field.” I’m happy to report “show, don’t tell” really does make a difference! Our final website has gotten quite a bit of use in the time since its rollout—just under 3600 views! We’re thrilled with how it’s turned out and think our community is, as well.

Final Thoughts | Your Website is a Living Organism
If you’ve followed some version of these five steps, you really shouldn’t need to make any major changes to your site, but do expect to occasionally find small issues that need to be addressed. About a week into our site going live, I was obsessively checking links and found one for The New Yorker icon mis-directed to The New York Times. Keep in mind a small army of librarians reviewed the site and somehow that one slipped through. Things happen. It was a simple fix, but a good reminder that your site, like your library, is a living organism that needs regular attention to function at its best.

A Year of Silent Reading

As a young child I loved reading by myself. I didn’t talk to other people about the books I read– I just plowed through piles of books. In fact, I challenged myself to read the entire Children’s collection at the Jefferson Market Library, a branch of the New York Public Library System. I completed the challenge without telling anyone about it except my favorite Fifth Grade teacher, Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith loved books, stories, and language the way I did. He often opened his lessons each morning with poems by Langston Hughes and Phillis Wheatley, asking us to “sit quietly with their words.”

When I became a Children’s Librarian in 2012, I was enmeshed in a delightful in-person and online communities of readers which included but was not limited to: librarians, booksellers, humanities educators, authors, agents, and publishers. I was a voracious user of Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook primarily to share my love of reading and books, placing special emphasis on marginalized #ownvoices narratives for young readers.

Since I have a two-bus commute to my teaching position each day, there was ample time to post, re-post, and tweet. Through my engagement with the digital reading communities, I worked on refining and extending my school’s collection, developing new curricular and programming initiatives, and engaging with ideas and analyses that enriched me professionally and personally. I got off the bus each day inspired and ready to evangelize reading and books for everyone with whom I came into contact.

Jump cut to 2019 and I am an eager and grateful elected member of the John Newbery Book Award Committee. Books line every surface of my workspaces at home and at the school where I teach. I read in every spare moment between exercising, sleeping, teaching, and sharing meals with my family. There’s one problem, I am not allowed to talk about and/or post about any authors or books that could be considered for the award during 2019. Since the award is for readers ages 0 to 14– this includes picture books, elementary, middle grade, and young adult books.

During our initial Newbery committee meeting in January, members were told that we couldn’t appear to have any biases. When the lines of my browed furrowed, our Chair said gently, “Of course, if you can’t keep yourself from talking or posting, you don’t have to be on the committee.” And I nodded quickly and looked down deferentially. I said to myself, “Alpha, you can do this, you don’t have to share your reading practice on social media. You don’t have to share your reading practice with your fellow librarians or colleagues. You can be silent and just take notes–it’ll be okay.”

Now the reading by myself is hard, I want to shout the titles I love from the digital rooftops. I want other people to experience the joy of a new voice and a new story and I want to share in their experience as they share in mine. I am using Mr. Smith’s guidance as a mantra: “Just sit quietly with their words.” Mr. Smith, I am trying– I really am.

Presenting: Librarians!

May is likely the last month in which you’ll be thinking about presenting at a conference. Inventory! Summer Reading! Eking out last bit of library energy! But it is a great time to begin your research for a professional opportunity to share your expertise.

Questions to ask yourself:

  1. What size conference am I most comfortable right now in my career?
  2. Geographically, what makes best sense?
  3. Is this a good year for me to consider presenting? Why or why not?
  4. Do I need a partner for some or all of this endeavor?


Independent school organizations around the country sponsor conferences where our expertise would be greatly valued. A few examples shared from AISL members:

Maryland and DC Independent Schools AIMS

Hawaii Association of Independent Schools, HAIS

Independent Schools of the Central States, ISACS


A great place to start for a wider audience is at your STATE SCHOOL LIBRARY ASSOCIATION. State conferences are to home and also offer several types of presentation opportunities. Two examples AISL members shared with me are:




Perhaps you’ve developed some cool reading programming, or revamped your school’s One Book, One School program, or collaborated on a science research unit? Here are two examples of places to share collaborative library experiences:

NCTE National Council of Teachers of English

NSTA National Science Teachers Association


Perhaps a webinar is more your style. You can create a proposal to offer an online learning session or recorded webinar:

Library Juice

EdWeb website EdWeb submission form

School Library Connection Webinars

Is technology your specialty? Perhaps you’ve developed programming, or taken your library to the next level. Share your expertise at a similar organization to AISL called ATLIS:

ATLIS, Association of Technology Leaders in Independent Schools

ISTE, International Society of Technology in Education

And here are a handful of other great venues for presenting that AISL members shared with me:

Lausanne Movement

Schools of the Future Conference

Library 2.0 Webinar Series

Library 2.0 Mini Conferences

AISL has many resources to support your endeavors from helping narrow down a conference possibility to working with you to edit your proposal.

We know it, let’s share it!

Please leave any other suggestions in the comment area.


The Publication Group
Debbie Abilock: dabilock@gmail.com
Tasha Bergson-Michelson: tbergsonmichelson@castilleja.org
Dorcas Hand: handd51@tekkmail.com
Christina Karvounis: KarvounisC@Bolles.org
Sara Kelley-Mudie: sara.kelleymudie@gmail.com
Cathy Leverkus: cathyl@thewillows.org
Darla Magana: Darla.Magana@smes.org
Nora Murphy: NMurphy@fsha.org

Fourth Grade Takes a Stand

Earlier in the year, the fourth grade worked on their first research/media literacy project. We talked about how to find information and that media contains messages, has a purpose, voices that are heard and voices that aren’t heard. Below are my reflections during the process. Looking back several months later I can think of few projects that ignited such passion in the students that inspired the focused and high level of work. Constantly through the process I had to remind myself that these were fourth graders because of the level of work and the commitment to the project. Here are the reflections in the moment:

“Wait, what do we need to know?” This is the question that was shouted across the library as students gathered with urgency around a computer. Normally yelling across the room makes me close my eyes and breathe deeply, but this time I lit up with joy. This was the exact right question for the group and the passion is something teachers dream of their students bringing to their learning. The fourth grade was working on their first in depth media literacy project. The parameters of the project are simple: each class is split into two groups and given one side of a topic to research and support. One class is debating the Philadelphia soda tax, one class is debating bear hunting in Pennsylvania and one class is taking on Inuit whaling. The groups must organize themselves, and their information. Students must find a minimum of three facts to support their argument and the facts must come from a reliable source, read they can’t simply say “I already know this.” They must point to a reliable source, whether it be from a text or online. They also must cite their source at the end of the project.

Some of the skills embedded in this project are how to:

  • find information
  • create a good research question
  • vet information
  • get back on track
  • work together
  • resolve conflict
  • present information 

Below is a link to a short movie with snippets from some of the conversations students are having. In the first two videos students can be heard finding focusing questions to begin research. Students in the third video discuss using Wikipedia, and then make a face because they know they will have to find two other sources. After the video, students question if they are moving in the right direction. You can see the students sharing what they learned if they ever run into a bear, but is this relevant to their argument? In the final video students are extrapolating information about the effects of the soda tax in Philadelphia. They are forming arguments and asking questions based on what they are learning. Click here to see the video,