Inquiring minds want to know…

As we approach the start of a new school year (welcome back all!), I wanted to reflect on this year’s Critical Literacy Summer Institute.  Southern California brought the largest group in the history of Summer Institutes for days of deep discussion regarding research, the news, inquiry, and what it takes to craft a great question. The Willows School library blends indoors and outdoors—and many of us couldn’t resist climbing Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook after watching all the hikers from the base. The planning committee accounted for southern California sunshine and 80 degree days, and we split our time in interactive lectures, workshops, small group discussions, and insanely fancy snack breaks (think brie and smoked gouda).

I take a lot of notes

I have to admit that I never even got to perusing the project I brought to revise because I used breaks to continue conversations and delve deeper. If I had to state an overarching message, it’s that there’s always space to dig deeper, question further, and learn more. The presenters were gracious enough to share their presentation slides on the libguide, and I have linked to them directly below. Since we spent a half day thinking about developing questions, I challenged myself to think of my three main questions as a response to each workshop. This is my public declaration of my takeaways, not a summary of the sessions themselves. Feel free to get in touch throughout the year to see how I’m approaching finding answers and the way this shapes my teaching.

Thinking creatively about research questions

Source Literacy in your Library – Nora Murphy

  • What sources do I find necessary in my own life, and how did I develop the skills to evaluate them and place them in the context of the larger information landscape?
  • In teaching, what parts of the research process do I have standardized and structured, and which parts are individualized? What are the consequences in allowing for serendipity but also wanting equity of service?
  • How much time do I let students feel uncertain about their progress in the “exploration stage” of research? Am I considering that they might be falsely optimistic about their work if they move to the “clarity stage” before they’ve placed their research in the proper context?

Cognitive Bias and the Way We Search – Cathy Leverkus

  • With the anchoring bias fully a part of my students’ experience, how do I get them to keep an open mind as they learn about topics beyond their first impressions?
  • Would sharing a media bias chart with my students and having them evaluate it together as a class help them to consider the strengths of limitations of various pieces of media? (I’ll find out soon with the AP Lang students—stay tuned.)
  • Can my students accurately assess if they are evaluating sources as they search, and is their confidence in their skill warranted?

Diving Deeper: Advanced Online Searching Skills for Educators and Students – Angela Neff and Sarah Davis

  • When faculty ask me for research help, am I searching
  • for them and providing answers or am I modeling so that they can improve their own searches, particularly in the quadrant of “unknown unknowns?”
  • When I ask my students to think of the beginning stages of research like “asking a trusted friend,” how can I get them to tell me where they really go (Wikipedia) versus what they think I want to hear (JSTOR)?
  • How can I get comfortable with filming myself to create a repository of library resources that are available to students at their convenience?

Breaking News: Read Between the Lines for Librarians – Bobbie Eisenstock

  • Since students trust teachers and family more than the news itself, how do I integrate the process of evaluating the news as a professional with my own personal beliefs and share this with students who are trying to develop an understanding of the world around them?
  • Can I convince administration that digital natives may still display digital naiveté? Their tech savvy does not necessarily translate to media literacy but rather a familiarity and comfort with the format.
  • This isn’t a question, but let’s celebrate media literacy awareness week from November 5-9, 2018! A media literate person interrogates the message, the media creator, and the media consumed. He or she thinks about the ways that different people might perceive the same message and how this affects our values in a democracy. Now for the question, what are some creative ideas to make this exciting for my school community?

Exploring Inquiry – Connie Williams

  • How can I design the inquiry-based question-making experience so they aren’t focused so immediately on seeking answers, and more specifically, seeking “the correct answer?”
  • Building on the source literacy and cognitive bias sessions, how will my students keep an open mind when reading laterally and using the Making Thinking Visible Truth Routines?  Will they end up being able to honestly answer “I Used to Think…Now I Think?”
  • How many closed-ended questions do I ask compared with open-ended ones? Even for open-ended questions, are their answers I am hoping for more than others? I’m suspicious this may be the case, and would like to work to truly build an open-minded culture of inquiry.

View from the library with a scenic hiking overlook beckoning us to climb!

So now you have a record of what’s on my mind as I welcome students back for what’s already scheduling itself to be the busiest research year yet. It’s fun to watch something grow over time, and I hope you all are as excited as I am to build on research programs with students and teachers. Looking forward to learning more and connecting in person in Boston in April!


Getting Campy in the Library


Starting a new school year is like setting off on a expansive hiking expedition. Many of us are in our prepping stage: getting out our dusty gear, charting and mapping our course, and acquiring new skills for the journey. In the realm of research and information literacy we serve as guides to our faculty and students touring them through the current media landscape. Additionally, many of us strive to create a space where students can find shelter and learn new independent skills. Recreation, restoration and reflection—essentially, we all want our students to “camp out” in our libraries.

This is the metaphor we are embarking on in the Jean Ann Cone Library at Berkeley Preparatory School this year. We are getting campy in the library. We have pitched some tents, gathered gear, and planted a paper forest. It is fun to physically construct displays, but it also serves the purpose of tethering the mind to a focus for the beginning of the year. While we hope to allure and delight our students when they see this first display it helps us convey important concepts we want to provide our students.

The Expedition Team

While this conceit has the librarian as the guide for students in the camping metaphor it can emphasis the importance of a team integration to a successful summit. One of my favorite aspects of being a librarian is working alongside the core subject teacher, the technology department, and other specialists to show students that their guidance comes from different sources and that it is a team effort. This in turn models collaboration for them when they have group projects. Additionally, the whole library staff is another part of the expedition and support team. I am lucky to have a creative and supportive team around me sharing in ideas and tasks. Students know we are all here to help them.

Maps and Navigation Instruments

“Don’t lose sight of the forest through the trees,” an apt cliche for describing the complex process of research. As librarians we are tasked with breaking down the cognitive load of this multifaceted process. Our maps take the shape of our standards and curriculum guides. At our library we are in the process of looking at the new AASL standards to reflect on our program and incorporate new educational trends to our current program. Pedagogical models like “guided inquiry” underpin the scaffolding of information literacy that bolster student inquiry so students do not feel like they are lost in the dark.

Librarians have a keen sense of direction in the information world and our analog compasses now have a digital GPS counterpart. From websites and databases to apps and “smart” devices there are many tools and gadgets at our disposal. Analogous to our readers advisory many of us also impart a “users” advisory by recommending new apps, software and interactive websites. I always like to review AASL’s Best Tools for Teaching list to peruse new tools I can tinker with and share. A Libguide or library website becomes the virtual campsite for digital adventures in which we chart the course for the learning task.

I also seek personal tools to improve my own practice and productivity. To help me stay organized this year I am adding two apps used in combination to my repertoire: Swipes and Forest. Swipes is a elegantly designed to-do list app in which you either swipe right for a completed task and left for an uncompleted one to schedule. It helps me take action for the things I need to get done. Once I’ve decided on an action I use the Forest app to help me focus solely on that task and to clear distractions. Forest uses a fun premise to help you ban multitasking. You set an internal timer for a task and the app grows a tree. The more focused you stay the more trees for your virtual forest and eventually you get credits to buy real trees for reforestation efforts. You can’t get campier than that in an app. The beginning of the year is a great time to try new apps and build new habits so that you can share your discoveries with others if you find them useful.

Mile Markers

To see the distances covered builds confidence and courage for more challenging tasks. Just as classroom teachers mark progress librarians also have assessment tools for students to check their growth in research. These go beyond simple number counts of circulation and database usage. Our research checklists and templates give students ways to reflect on their learning process. Scheduling research consultations give a more nuanced feedback to the complexity of research work. For our own growth when we are able to make multiple visits and check ins with classes we can see our own patterns of influence in the learning experience for students.

Campfires and Star Gazing

Finally, it is the most rewarding aspect of librarianship-building community and wonder. It is the small acts of kindness and welcoming that creates the campfire moments in the library. Knowing a student’s favorite genre and hand picking a book for him or her. Involving student choice or leadership roles in the library fosters bonds. Creating creative corners or makerspaces expands the types of intellectual work students can do in the library. Our upper school librarians share treats with a class at random times surprising and delighting the students. These offerings show students a different side of librarians; their fun and thoughtful spirits.

Many students are drawn to the aesthetics of a library. All those spines lined on the shelf offer endless opportunities for wonder in our world; whether, it be a history book that delves into new found fascination with a time period or the next book in a fantasy series. I am always in awe when I walk into any library. All the books on the shelf capturing the broad spectrum of human knowledge is both humbling and sublime. It is like star gazing at the constellations of our collective conscious; but here, they are always in arms reach.

on savoring our days of summer and books…

I hope this post finds you savoring your final days or weeks of summer. The Hawaii school year, however, starts very early and public school students across the state are returning to school today. Here at Mid-Pacific, we will have new students and high school frosh on campus on Friday and the ’18-’19 school year officially gets underway on Monday!

I very successfully savored my final days of summer. In fact, I was so successful with my “savoring” that I have been running around like a mad man addressing all of the start-of-the-year tasks that need to be done in a library that I didn’t take care of because I was successfully savoring…

Anyway, that is a long way of telling you that this post is really short because when I am in savoring mode my time management and executive function skills revert to those of a middle school boy (and not even a really academically successful middle school boy… Just a barely passing, shake your head, “Wait, what?”, middle school boy).

Anyway, over the last few days, there has been a really wonderful AISL listserv thread about building a culture of reading with students. Wonderful ideas have been shared, but it occurred to me that it would be wonderful to foster a culture of reading with my faculty as well. A few years ago Katie Archambault shared a post on how she runs her faculty book club. I followed her template and have run a very informal faculty book club for the past two years, but I hoped to add something else to our mix.

This summer I read and completely loved, The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups by Dan Coyle.  Though written for an audience focused on business leadership, I found the book extremely accessible and easily adaptable to the needs of classroom teachers working to get cohorts/classes of students to work well together or perhaps to administrators, department chairs, or librarians working to get teams of teachers collaborating successfully.

I thought the book aligned so well with our school culture and the philosophy of learning and teaching that we try to foster, that I decided that it would be a worthwhile investment to try to just release the book into the wilds of the Mid-Pacific community and to see what organically emerges.

My original copy of the book will get cataloged and added to our collection, but I ordered 7 additional copies of the book and affixed a book plate in front of each with the following instructions:

I’ve chatted up the book and dropped them into the hands of people around campus to whom I thought the book might resonate. I simply asked them to give it a read, clarified the information already on the book plate, and left the rest of to them. After just three days, I’ve gotten positive feedback from two of them.

I’m looking forward to seeing what happens.

Enjoy and savor the rest of your summer days! Though you might want to savor your days just a little bit less than I savored mine so you won’t find yourself waking up in the middle of the night writing reminders to yourselves down on Post-it notes that you keep next to your bed…

#Sigh… #Hahaha!!!

Teaching Research With Stories

Back in April at our conference, Carmen Agra Deedy inspired us to contemplate the power of stories and storytelling as teaching tools. I found a line in my notebook from that day – “Storytelling – (inc. into teaching research?)”

As a school librarians, we teach the research process. I have been wondering about how stories and storytelling might improve and spice up the teaching of this process, connecting inquiry to human experience in ways that feel relevant and vital to students. I’d love to help them progress through a research process using story to engage and illuminate, and in so doing, revealing to students that they, as researchers, are creators and storytellers. How to do this? I’m sharing ideas here that are still baking in the summer sun, so I hope you’ll consider and comment freely especially if this reminds you of something you already do or know about. While I’m inspired to learn more about storytelling and to begin to practice it, I’m not quite there yet. So far, I’ve thought of two texts that might help serve as stepping stones to engaging students in the process through story.

This summer I picked up The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, which had been on my list for some time but until now had remained unread (yay, summer!). Benjamin begins each part of the novel with a quotation from the main character’s science teacher, Mrs. Turton; each part of the story relating to a section of a scientific paper and lending the novel that sense of structure:

“Background: Your background provides the context for your scientific quest. What do we already know? What don’t we know? Why does it matter – Mrs. Turton” (63).

How about a collaborative research unit with Middle School English and Science teachers, beginning a research process with a study of this novel? Has anyone done this or something like it? A summer idea to mull over!

Another book that could work to incorporate visual storytelling into teaching and supporting students through the research process is Grant Snider’s relatable and adorable The Shape of Ideas: An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity. While meant to relate to artistic creation, I think that parts of this simple book in the graphic format are wonderful illustrations for students identifying research topics, exploring information, formulating research questions, making connections between ideas, struggling with originality and procrastination, and reflecting on the process.

If you have this book in your collection, I recommend taking a look at its application to high school researchers as an illustrative guide to and validation of their process and feelings. It also helped me feel better about not knowing what this post would be about until pretty recently.

Benjamin, A. (2017). The thing about jellyfish. New York, NY: Little, Brown and

Snider, G. (2017). The shape of ideas: An illustrated exploration of creativity.
New York: Abram Comicarts.

Snider, G. (2015). Asking questions [Comic strip]. Retrieved from

Fairy Tales and Fair Use

I compiled a lesson around Fairy Tales and Fair Use that we used with an English class. I like the lesson because it teaches about Fair Use while also allowing the students to be creative and form arguments.

First, we showed videos about Fair Use with some well-known characters as well as one from Common Sense Media.

A Fair(y) Use Tale. Professor Eric Faden of Bucknell University created this humorous, yet informative, review of copyright and fair use as told by some well-known characters.

Copyright and Fair Use in a Digital World. Video from Common Sense Media about the role of copyright and fair use in a digital world.

Then, we used print materials that include Fair Use guidelines as well as a checklist from Columbia University.

Fair Use Guidelines. Guidelines for and against fair use from the Greeley School.

Fair Use Checklist. A fair use checklist from Columbia University.

Then, we used two mashup videos that challenge students to determine if the resources are fair use or not.

Scary Mary. Is Scary Mary an example of fair use? Why or why not?

Mashup-United States of Pop 2012. Is Mashup – United State of Pop 2012 an example of fair use? Why or why not?

on summer break(ing)…

I hope that this post finds you in a chaise lounge next to a pool with an amazing summer read, hiking in the woods, traipsing through a far-flung travel destination, or in whatever happy place you choose to be for the summer.

What I Did for My Summer Vacation… 

No exotic travels to far-flung corners of the world were in the cards for me this summer, but I did get to spend a wonderful month in Brooklyn. While in New York, I took the opportunity to invite myself to visits with two #Amazing AISL librarians. I had the chance to meet up with Karyn Silverman at the Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School, and with Suzanne Crow over at The Spence School. I love opportunities to see how other librarians set up their physical spaces and I find no better professional development than just getting to chat with other librarians about their successes, their challenges, and their programming. I’m incredibly grateful for both opportunities!

Thank you both for your generosity!

The Library at Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York

A view of Central Park and scenes from the library at The Spence School

I also made it over to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I am going to believe that this is the fountain where Claudia and her brother bathed and collected the “wishing coins.” Bonus points for those who can identify the book (which was my favorite when I was 10).

The fountain at The Met!

Summer Break(ing) Stuff… 

My colleague, Nicole, and I split our summer librarian coverage so she graciously took the first three weeks of summer school and I returned for my three weeks of summer school in July.

During the summer, I have the time needed to address the things in my library that get placed on the WAY BACK burner during the regular school year. Those two databases that don’t authenticate properly with EZProxy? That needs care. That database icon on the library website that is just a little smaller than the rest of the icons (which nobody else who uses the site ever seems to notice, but which TAUNTS me every single time I open the page and project it on the screen during a lesson? That needs care. That EBSCO Discovery Service search box code that our project manager sent me during finals week? That needs to be loaded and tested.

You get the picture…

Here’s the thing, though…

I’m not a systems librarian. I know what I want my systems to do, but getting them to do it? Well, that’s not my best thing. My work this summer has amounted to attempting to fix something; having about half the things on our library site break because of the fix that I applied; days of trouble-shooting to un-break the things I broke; then getting it pretty much back to functioning just like it did before I did the system update to “fix” stuff behind the scenes.

I don’t know how the rest of you feel about maintaining the back-end systems in your libraries, but I have to say, it’s not the most satisfying aspect of my work… #PaperCutsOnMyEyeballs comes to mind.

On Proxies, and Stanzas, and Config Txt, Oh My!

It started with a long overdue update to our EZProxy software. We’ve been comfortably running older EZProxy software for a while, but were increasingly having issues with https authentication which made an update imperative. The update ended up requiring us to reconfigure a good number of our database stanzas on the proxy server so tracking down the appropriate configuration stanzas and getting them installed took more time than I wished. I have to say, if you are like me and are learning your way through a systems upgrade, may you be blessed with a network administrator/IT guy who is as patient and accommodating as mine–there are always positive things to take away from every frustrating endeavor! #JustinRocks!

Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 9.37.42 AM

Our database page



On the EBSCO Discovery Service Train… 

While my EZProxy saga was playing out, I was also attempting to get our EBSCO Discovery Service configured and up and running. It’s evident to me now, but for the uninitiated, trying to configure a search interface while you in the process of updating the access point to the databases that are searched by the interface (our EZProxy server) is a STUPID thing to do. DO NOT DO WHAT I DID! Part of the EZProxy upgrade involved installing an SSL certificate on our server (I don’t get all of it, but it has to do with our database vendors wanting to use https instead of http). Bottom line is that the code EDS sent me behaved very differently when it was built for https rather than http–maybe everybody else in libraryland knew that, but I didn’t because, well, I went to library school when we were still learning to build our websites by hand with html code and ftp servers and I was SUPER EXCITED about Netscape Navigator and my tangerine iMac G3 desktop.


Screen Shot 2018-07-11 at 9.58.19 AM

There’s still some wonkiness in our search box code, but we’re getting closer! 

We’re still working with our EDS project manager and the set-up crew, but progress is finally coming.

My class of rising 6th graders will arrive at the door at any moment so I will have to leave this here for now. We’re learning how to login to a school laptop and how to organize our Google Drives! Wish me luck!

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, may your days of summer be filled with joy and lots of time to read whatever you want to read! Happy summer, all!

Inspire Writing with Memorials

Memorials promote powerful, personal encounters with moments in history.  I recently created my own memorial to commemorate a time in which my newly married parents were separated during World War II. The assemblage of photos and letters documented the years 1942-1945, when my father, JJ, was setting up radio communications in Iceland while my mother, Wanda, worked in an ammunition plant and then, later, stayed at home raising a newborn son (my brother, Joe).

The centerpiece of the memorial was a newspaper clipping that featured a story about my mother’s drawing of my father holding his newborn son. The idea that prompted the drawing was that JJ had never seen or held the newborn. Wanda created the drawing by viewing a photo of her husband in uniform and then adding the baby in his arms.  When Wanda sent this drawing in the mail, the army “censors” discovered the drawing; they then shared the drawing and story with the St. Louis newspaper.  A photographer at the newspaper created a photo montage; using a photo of my father dressed in his army uniform, the photographer combined it with the baby’s photo.

The collaged photo appeared alongside my mother’s drawing. In the newspaper story, she explained, “You see, he has never seen, much less held his 11-month-old son.  So, to fulfill his desires as best I could, I sketched this picture of him holding his own flesh and blood.” Wanda also added “We write each other every day and the mail arrives on an average of once a month, so, at times, I get as many as 30 letters in one day.”

In addition to this newspaper clipping, the memorial contains several letters that JJ wrote, including the letter that tipped off Wanda about his destination in the war.  Before JJ left for army training, they discussed that letters would be censored (“Idle Gossip Sinks Ships” was stamped at the bottom of his army stationary). So my father devised a code: when he knew the location of his war assignment, the first word of that letter to my mother would indicate the country by the initial letter of the word.  JJ’s letter dated on November 11, 1942 began “Incidentally, as you know all my letters in the future and as of now are subject to censor….” He intended to signal that he would be stationed in Iceland, but my mother in a panic thought the letter “I” stood for Italy and that JJ was headed to the fierce combat.

A final item that I included in the memorial was a harmonica.  As the story goes, when my father arrived home to be welcomed by my mother and the 2 ½ year-old son, a son he had never seen in person, my young brother clung nervously to my mother’s dress, fearful of this tall, strange man with the booming voice. My father crouched down and dropped the duffle bag from his shoulder. As he unzipped the bag, he brought out a shiny harmonica, blew across it, and handed this magical, musical object to his son, winning him over.

This memorial was created as an example for a student writing contest that the library is sponsoring this fall, inviting students to create their own memorial or collection of things that have a special significance.  Students will then be encouraged to write a short essay or poem about how this collection is meaningful to them or suggests a special moment in history. In creating my own memorial, I rediscovered the importance of the bonds of love in the face of separation, and I realized that creativity can defeat challenging hurdles. Memorials can help us connect to our shared humanity; as author and historian David McCullough often states, “history is about people, history is about being human.”

Project Energize


At the end of the school year, I find that I’ve made lists upon lists upon lists of the projects I want to do during the summer: tweak the scope and sequence; create new videos and games for library instruction; learn new apps and smash them to bits; read my way through lists of the best so far this year; and on and on and on. I love my job. I want to do it to the best of my ability. But I have finally realized that if I don’t take some time to recharge my batteries, I will limp along to the beginning of the next school year, no more refreshed than when I ended. If you will bear with me, I’d like to present several ‘finds’ I use to energize myself over my summer break.

Find Humor

In this current political climate, social media can be especially stressful. Most of us may have two social media accounts: one for personal use and one for professional development. This summer I am looking for images, tweets and pages that feature humor (and animals) to balance out some of the vitriol that also rides along in these accounts.  Some of my favorites (which can be found in most major formats) are “Fake Library statistics” (@fakelibstats), I’ve Pet that Dog (@ivepetthatdog) and anything featuring cats (or hedgehogs or manatees or add your favorite animal here!). I found I lost a lot of time but gained some deep belly laughs this holiday week with Twitter’s #secondcivilwarletters.  For example, chance@pkrandall, wrote:

“Our espresso machine is broken and our supply of Starbucks singles is running thin. Our avocado ration is cut in half and there’s a 10-minute wait for a charging port. Sherman was right: War Is Hell. Sent by my iPhone “

As Abraham Lincoln noted, “…If I did not laugh, I should die.” I have several comedies queued up on Netflix, some great funny reads in my pile, and a few dates with friends stamped in my calendar.  I find a good belly laugh at least once a day during the summer feeds me. What tickles your funny bone?


Find Wonder

National Geographic and NASA Instagram feeds showcase some of the most amazing photography available. I also subscribe to several authors that showcase work in progress, making me feel part of their creative process. Spending time outside everyday is important, even if it’s just watching clouds as they go by, or enjoying the lightshow of ladybugs. If you’re lucky enough to have a beach or a creek bank near you, spending time just watching the water burble pass or crash on a shore allows wonder to come to the surface. For me, wonder is awareness with gratitude. It can be found in nature or in the kindness we show to strangers.  Keeping an ever watchful eye out for instances of wonder feeds me for when I feel life flows too fast. These are ways that I find wonder. How do you find it? Can you be more intentional in finding wonder in the midst of this human comedy?

Here we see the spectacular cosmic pairing of the star Hen 2-427 — more commonly known as WR 124 — and the nebula M1-67 which surrounds it. Both objects, captured here by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope are found in the constellation of Sagittarius and lie 15 000 light-years away. The star Hen 2-427 shines brightly at the very centre of this explosive image and around the hot clumps of gas are ejected into space at over 150 000 kilometres per hour. Hen 2-427 is a Wolf–Rayet star, named after the astronomers Charles Wolf and Georges Rayet. Wolf–Rayet are super-hot stars characterised by a fierce ejection of mass. The nebula M1-67 is estimated to be no more than 10 000 years old — just a baby in astronomical terms — but what a beautiful and magnificent sight it makes. A version of this image was released in 1998, but has now been re-reduced with the latest software.


Find Curiosity

Summer is the time when I let my curiosity freak fly. Pinterest. How many times have you climbed into that platform only to discover an hour has flown by? Now’s the season to indulge yourself with no guilt. You can follow those pins to where ever your curious mind wanders. Bookstores? My phone is out and snapping pictures of books and displays. Bonus points if there’s a bookstore mascot of the animal variety. Public Libraries. Busman’s holiday! I may not be able to take any books out but I can peruse their shelves, check out the signage, grab promotional literature and check out programs. Summer is the time to explore interests that you may subjugate during the school year. A friend of mine decided to try woodworking with no previous experience. A beautiful mixed wood cutting board was her reward. Where will your curiosity lead you?


Sometimes the best way to find something is to stop looking for it. I find when I fill myself with humor, curiosity and wonder, important projects get the energy they need to progress and the warm breezes of summer blow away the busy work that filled my in box. Have a wonderful, restful summer full of humor, curiosity and wonder.


Our local makers club, Northumberland Makers, held an open house last weekend to celebrate their grand opening in a new, dedicated location (a pretty cool community space, but that’s another story).

It offers access to many tech tools: 3D printers, tool & die cutters, a soldering station, robotics and much more – but what really struck me was that all of the new technology peacefully (and dare I say enthusiastically) co-existed beside their low-tech offerings such as toy hacking, duct tape crafting and collaborative weaving. Below is my duct tape rose and my son’s creation (“I feel like Sid from Toy Story but not as evil”).

I found this very heartening in light of our library’s choice to narrow the focus on our own makerspace this past school year. We’ve seen many inspiring spaces at school and public libraries, but had to face two important facts:

  • our current skillset, areas of interest and budget lies more in realm of crafting
  • our tech dept is ramping up their student space (3-D printer, rockets, robotics, etc)

And so our Tinker Table was born. It lives at the front of the library (although it makes periodic trips to the Commons), and students can find a new craft or activity each week. While we’ve included Arduino in our arsenal, most offerings involve low- (button maker) or no-tech materials (washi-taped thank you cards).

It’s wonderful to be reminded that while we aim to offer something for everyone, it’s okay not to try to be all things to all patrons. Whew (cue sigh of relief). Off to tinker….

“Hygge” in the Library


Image from Little Book Of Hygge

I love the uncluttered calendar and idle days of summer. There is time for traveling to new places and cultures, bingeing on books, and expanding interests and hobbies. While I cherish the possibilities of the open day, the open road, and the open book I still have the thoughts about library spaces and programming. There is time for reflection and forging forward with giddy anticipation for improvements and new implementations for the next school year. I recently stumbled upon a wisp of a book with a wealth of wisdom that immediately resonated with my philosophy of the library as the heart of the school-The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking.



This book succinctly summarizes a Danish way of life that explains how and why they have the highest rates of happiness in the world.  With many of us traveling to new cultures and countries either physically or metaphorically through books I thought looking at our libraries through the lens of another culture a fitting summer exploration. Through research and experience the author Wiking attributes Danish happiness to the complete embrace of “hygge.” I am sure there are some ideas lost in translation, but the way Wiking frames the philosophy of hygge aligns with the many aims library programs have as an inviting, and welcoming place for students and faculty. There is something wonderful in the state of Denmark that we can apply to our library programs.

Image from Little Book of Hygge

What is Hygge?

The word “hygge” comes from the Norwegian word meaning “well-being.” Some speculate that the word is also related to the word “hug” from the earlier version “hugge”which is also from that region. It could also come from the Old Norse “hygga” which means “to comfort.” There is also the Old English word “hycgan” which means “to think and consider.”  According to the author, hygge is more about atmosphere and experience than tangible things. Some refer to it as a “coziness of the soul.” Others describe it as “cozy togetherness.” All these meanings remind me of how many of us try to create a similar feeling and presence in our spaces. One of the unspoken but palpable aspects of libraries is that is is a refuge for people. This factor is often overlooked by outsiders or administrators that are only data-driven because it is hard to quantify. I am sharing about hygge to say it is not just the hushed tones that some seek when they enter a library; it is the community commons libraries offer. Embracing hygge can help us explicitly develop an environment and culture to serve to our students. Here are some key points of hygge and ways libraries can enhance their services incorporating it.

Atmosphere and Comfort

Much of the discussion of hygge centers around cultivating a space that fosters comfort and contentment. This part of hygge reminds me of the ways good design in library spaces can generate more use from patrons. In some ways the list of recommendations to build hygge sounds similar to the best features libraries have always exhibited: small nooks for reading and contemplation, abundant warm light,  comfortable seating and natural materials like wood. Traditionally in hygge, candles have been the favored light source for both the illumination and the warmth it creates. While this is not practical or safe for libraries incorporating natural lights whether through windows or lights and lamps heightens the feeling of hygge. I think about the regal reading rooms of the New York Public library as an example many libraries emulate.

The book delves into foods and beverages with example recipes too. This made me think of the current trend libraries are moving towards with softened restrictions on food and drink in areas of the library, or adding cafes and food prep areas much like the bookstores in the last decade.  This also fits with activities librarians plan that include food. I have noticed several AISL members share creative events they developed that had a hygge element through the comfort of food. It is also important to note that as many libraries move towards the learning commons model and open plan models that we do not lose the incorporation of smaller spaces, nooks, study carrels, and study rooms. The Danish relish smaller group settings and spaces for more contemplative activities. I notice in my own library that many students gravitate to the nooks and crannies of a library to get their work done; it offers a respite from the designs in classrooms where students are expected to perform and execute in a larger group setting.

Togetherness and Equality

A positive side of the trend towards learning commons within libraries settings is that it acknowledges that we are social creatures. The other most important factor of hygge is happiness together. Spaces that allow common areas for collaborative work embody the social side of hygge. Fostering areas in the library where students can have a meeting of the minds or work on a puzzle together are more examples of hygge in action. Makerspaces, fab labs, and collaborative zones are another iteration of creating spaces that encourage social interactions of students for a common cause or problem. Equality is an important element in hygge. Wiking points out that Danes exhibit “relaxed thoughtfulness” where nobody takes center stage or dominants the conversation in a group.  These communal spaces help students develop healthy social-academic interactions. Many librarians have shared their stories of successfully balancing these communal areas with the quieter zones to fully exemplify hygge in the the library.

“The art of hygge is therefore also the art of expanding your comfort zone to include other people,” I found this quotation to be the most important as I try to embrace hygge in my outreach to colleagues and faculty. This reminds me to continually build relationships with teachers over time and that informal and smaller meetings are just a powerful as scheduled professional development. It also reminds me to invite others into the library to collaborate on creative projects. I found it intriguing that Danes say the best number for hygge is three to four people. I will keep this number in mind when embarking on new initiatives. Additionally, simplicity and presence of mind are cornerstones to happiness together.

While many of the actions and advice I shared are not all new; looking at them through a new cultural lens can help improve and reinvigorate our current programs and spread happiness and joy in the process.

Finally, here are a few of my favorite hygge makers from the book-

Image from Little Book Of Hygge

1. Taking a break and reading a book
2. Nibbling on high quality chocolates
3. Going into nature
4. Taking your dog to work
5. Bringing out the board games



Wiking, Meik. The Little Book of Hygge:Danish Secrets to Happiness. Penguin, 2017.