on databases that spark joy (and some that don’t)…

A Neat Home…

My house is neat. I don’t like living with a lot of clutter. Reading Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up brought me joy. The book didn’t spark joy for me because it made my house look better. It sparked joy because it helped me better understand my relationship to the artifacts in my life–specifically, how to let the things cluttering my life go. The Konmari method helped me more consciously curate the artifacts in my home so that most of the things I live with spark joy.

A Tidy Library…

My library is neat. Here at Mid-Pacific, a lot of time and energy has gone into making the most of every square foot of space we have.  We got rid of as much unnecessary furniture as possible, weeded our print collection without mercy, and zoned spaces for defined purposes based on both the physical space and the time of day. As we have progressed through this process, I came to realize that I am not a librarian that is sentimental about books. Books (in whatever format they’re in) have value to me only for the ideas that they bring to life and that they communicate. Beyond that, books as artifacts don’t mean a lot to me so if a book has outdated information in it, I’m happy to see it become an art project. If a book hasn’t circulated, I’m happy to send it off to the Friends of the Library book sale so it can fulfill its destiny as an object to be enjoyed by another person or community.

In the physical world, I’m a proudly organized being. #LooksDown #Hubris

A Hoard of Databases…

When it comes to the digital world… Uhhh… Errr… Ugh… I am a #DigitalHoarder

There… I said it… I am a digital hoarder.

My Google Drives #Alas… My Google Drives (plural) are zones of shame. My email folders (AOL, 2 Yahoo, 2 personal Gmail, and my work email) are the digital equivalents of the very worst episodes of Hoarders: Buried Alive that you’ve ever seen.

When it comes to electron-based artifacts, I struggle with the concept of “throwing things away.” My brain thinks that because digital files are accessed only through a small pane of glass before me, they don’t take up a “space” so my brain thinks, “What’s the harm in keeping these on hand just in case I need them one time in the next 12 months.”

Admit You Have a Problem… 

At some point, in order to overcome that which truly is impeding your progress you need to come to grips with the dimensions of your problem. For me, this moment came when I recently met with a class researching the “costs of war” (economic, cultural, societal, etc.). Because of scheduling issues, the class was well into their research by the time I got to hang out with them for a period as they searched and took notes. After 3 reference interviews with students doing “feral” research, it became pretty clear that none of the kids in the class had looked at our World at War database. “Oh my god, I’ve been Googling for two days and it’s ALL here,” indicated that one hint put them on track, but as I chatted with them a number of kids told me that our database page has so many databases that they go to Google because they often don’t know where to start. While I find this pretty disappointing, I also can’t say that I blame my students at all. I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I don’t know where to begin a search, I Google. It is familiar and it gets me SOMETHING. My kids are just taking a course of action that makes sense to them at this moment in time. 

Weed Digital Clutter to Make Room for Attention… 

I’ve finally had to come to grips with my wrongheaded notion that digital clutter doesn’t take up “space.” My digital database clutter is taking up all of the available space in the room in my kids’ brains labeled “MY NOVICE RESEARCHER’S ATTENTION ROOM.” By cluttering up the shelves in the attention room and stuffing it with so much stuff (even awesomely fantastic stuff), all my kids can see on the shelves in the Attention Room in their heads is GOOGLE spelled out in bright primary colors. 

Make Sure You’re Solving the Right Problem… 

One of the things that Marie Kondo’s method helped me understand is that my struggles with my clutter weren’t about superficial organizational issues as much as they were about HOW I think about “stuff” in my home—the items gifted to me aren’t the people I love. An object given out of friendship or love has already done its job, it’s expressed friendship, caring , and love. After that, it’s just an object so it’s okay to let it go if it’s no longer sparking joy. My problem wasn’t disorganization, it was attributing emotional value to objects in my home so thinking differently about sentimental attachments to objects helped me to deal with the real issues.

Getting students to use our database content has been an ongoing issue to be solved for years. Over the past few years, our library program has invested a huge amount of energy and allocated a significant chunk of our budget in our effort to get students’ eyeballs on our very expensive digital content. Working to address the challenge lead us to launch Libguides to give students a centralized portal to go to for all things library/information related. We installed EZProxy to streamline the authentication process for students and teachers to access our subscription databases from home. We built project-specific resource guides, and changed our instructional model to better embed instruction on accessing and using our digital content. I can honestly say that each of those tweaks to our library resources and services has helped us move forward in our quest to help students locate, access, and use better quality content. Our forward progress hasn’t ever been as fast or as dramatic as I would like, more evolutionary than revolutionary, but our persistent and consistent efforts have paid positive dividends over time. The thing is, it now feels like we’ve plateaued and in order for us to get unstuck, it’s time to dump all of our digital content out on the bed and find out which ones really still spark joy and which ones have to be moved out of the house.

Dump It all Out on the Bed… 

If you haven’t read Marie Kondo’s book or watched her show on Netflix, one of the things she recommends you do is to take every item in the one category of things and put them all out in one place. You take EVERY ITEM of clothing that you own, put it out on the bed, then hold each item in turn so you can asses if it still “sparks joy.” If it doesn’t spark joy. It needs to go!

Nicole, my partner in the library and I have decided that we’re going to take the next year to dump all of our databases out on the bed and we’re going to handle each database individually to decide whether it continues to spark joy or if it will be put into the bag of things that we need to let go. 

Good Planning Makes for Good Process… 

As we get ready to launch into this process, we’ve pulled all of our database use stats. As a starting point, I calculate the cost of the database per search. As a librarian, I know that cost per search isn’t necessarily a terrific parameter on which to base a decision about keeping or dropping a database, but I’ve found having actual numbers on hand helpful when communicating with administrators and faculty about the need to change a mix of databases. “We’re spending $1020 a year for this database. Because it only got searched 1426 times in the last 12 months at about $0.72 per search, I really think kids would be better served if we invested that $1020 on ________ instead.”

I’m very much a visual learner so I mapped our database subscription renewals so we can see when subscriptions from various vendors need to be renewed.

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I surveyed the AISL list about how all of you might consider and prioritize different factors in your decision-making when you’re deciding to renew or drop databases.

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Finally, we’ve been looking at a a variety of different database offerings that we currently are not offering. We think we’ve found some products that might work better for our students and our curriculum, than our current offerings. We haven’t made any final decisions, but I think we’re going to start subscribing to a new, more general, database that we’ll launch in the fall. As we work our way through projects in the next school year, I’d like to try to see how few databases we can actually get away with recommending to students. It goes against my instincts, but I think that for where my students are, less may be more.

And Don’t Forget to Sell… 

Finally, this process has also made clear to me that, the selling of databases is something that needs to be an ongoing and sustained effort at the forefront of this entire endeavor. As librarians, we work with database day in and day out, but our faculty (even the awesome ones) can easily forget about that perfect database because they may only look at a specific database occasionally and if it is out of sight it will be out of mind. I had a chat about this with our very supportive VP of Academics and she suggested that she ask each department chair to schedule part of a department meeting each fall with us in the library so we will have the opportunity to introduce/review the scope of our database offerings with faculty for their disciplines.

If you’ll be in Boston exploring Revolutionary Possibilities at AISL’s annual conference, please say hi! I’d love to chat about how you’re handling your database offerings! If you won’t be there this year, please hit comment below and share what you’re doing!

That’s all for now. Happy spring everyone!

What should I read next? Facilitating Book Tastings for students and faculty

Way back when I was a young doe, fresh out of graduate school and ready to take on the world of a high school library, I often read blog posts by Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian. Her blog was filled with wonderful ideas, and I eagerly awaited each new installment.

Her posts and lessons often sparked new ideas in my own mind, and led me down wonderful paths of inquiry and discovery. One favorite activity she shared was on “Book Tastings,” in which students were exposed to a variety of books in different genres, and given time to explore.

At a large public school with big classes, this activity was a lifesaver. Often, English teachers would bring in classes to self-select books for various projects. Students would listen to a few book talks given by me, and then be free to roam the shelves. And forever did they roam, I must say. Most used the opportunity to chat with friends, and/or pull random books off the shelves and ask me if I thought they would like it. While I was happy to give recommendations, I was also disappointed that students could not simply browse, read descriptions, discover new authors. They wanted the perfect book to fly off the shelves and hit them in the chest, yelling “pick me!” It was exhausting, and most students ended up with a book they didn’t want. It’s hard to perform reader’s advisory with 30 students…and I wanted better for my students.

So, enter the Book Tasting! It was popular at the public school, and continues to be a mainstay in my independent school. I go through the activity every year with freshman, a month or so before their Free Reading Week. I do this to give them tips on how to self-select a book and time to explore some of the best titles in each genre. Book Tasting, or Speed Dating with Books (for the older crowd), also gives me the chance to book talk some of my favorite books from each represented genre. I LOVE talking about books I have enjoyed. I always get goosebumps when reading The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaimon. For some of my book talks, I like to read aloud to the students, even if they are in high school! They still enjoy it, and this book especially keeps them on the edge of their seats.

I count it as a successful day when most of the books I have book talked are checked out by the time the last class leaves. It is an easy, fun, yet fulfilling activity. I even recently hosted a professional development “Speed Dating with Books.” Faculty loved going through different titles, especially during an afternoon Professional Development activity!

To hold your own Book Tasting or Speed Dating with Books session, follow these easy steps:

  1. Select at least 8-9 genres that you love and/or that you know students will gravitate towards.
  2. Create some signage for each genre.
  3. Select books to put on tables for each genre- choose at least 4-5 in each category that you can book talk!
  4. When students arrive, hand out a worksheet to guide them through the activity- an example is linked in the resources below.
  5. Give some book talks for each genre (depending on your time).
  6. Then, give students 4-6 minutes to go through their favorite tables, encouraging them to choose a new genre each time.
  7. Be ready to check out loads of books!

I look forward to hearing about how your book tastings go, or please share advice if you conduct a similar activity!


Check out the original blog that inspired this activity: Unquiet Librarian Blog

Feel free to use this sheet for your own book tasting: Book Tasting Worksheet

The courtesy email

Today I’ll share a small gain we’ve made on a rather mundane topic: overdue notices, produced via Destiny.  For years, this has been our schedule:

7-14 days overdue > regular 1st overdue notice emailed

15-21 days overdue > regular 2nd overdue notice emailed

22+ days overdue  > report produced to me for follow-up individually (ie. I’m the heavy)

The 22+ day report produced was usually 3-4 pages long. Which means not only did we often have popular books being held hostage, but it took a good deal of time and energy to follow up.

Until the dawn of the courtesy email!

I’ve lost the thread of where I heard about this (please tell me if it was you so that I can send you flowers). It’s been a huge improvement.

Sending the following email to borrowers who have materials due in the following week has cut that long overdue report from 3-4 pages to less than one:

“Just a friendly reminder that your book (or books) are coming due soon. Please return by the due date or contact us if you wish a renewal. Thank you.”

Students and staff are renewing and/or returning in greater numbers and people have expressed appreciation to us for giving them a heads up – customer service for the win! It’s also opened up more conversation with readers who take a bit more time to read, which is making me wonder if, rather than having a set borrowing period, we should start asking borrowers how much time they’d like (within reason).

Is anyone out there trying user-driven due dates?

Goal: Create a Student Centric Library Learning Space

My first goal upon becoming the Upper School Librarian at Randolph was to find balance between my vision of an Upper School Library and what students wanted from “their” space. This was (is) harder than it sounds. I admit to you that I am somewhat old-fashioned in my views of the school library. I was degreed prior to the concept of the “Learning Commons”, and I have worked in a variety of library settings (public, academic and school) so I have seen many ways libraries meet the needs of their constituents. Still, I prefer a school library on the quieter side. I view the library as an extension of the classroom – an academic space subject to the same guidelines one might place in the classroom. This view is furthered by the constraints that my particular library space operates under. It is basically one large room with a classroom attached.

But I am not the person that library is meant to serve. The space must serve our students and I must serve effectively within those expectations. And, of course, the administration must be A-OK with all of this.

After banging my head against the wall for about six months trying to force my ideas on recalcitrant students, I got the bright idea of surveying them. Some of you out there helped me with my survey. I enlisted the assistance of several teachers to administer the online survey which asked students what they liked about the library and what they didn’t like. I asked what was missing. What worked, what didn’t. I asked about furniture, study space, white boards, databases, magazines, e-books, library policies, noise levels, and hours of operation.

Then I held several focus groups. That sounds fancy, but it wasn’t. I pulled in students who were sitting around the library during breaks and free periods and I quizzed them about the library and the survey’s findings.

I learned so much. What emerged was a plan for how the space could fit the student’s needs and allow me to operate comfortably and effectively.

The results:

  • A comfortable space

Although we have comfortable seating, the table locations and shelving wasn’t conducive to small groups and “lounging”. I removed two ranges of shelving and rearranged tables – mixing soft furniture with more traditional wood furniture. The school doesn’t have a student lounge, so the library often serves as that.

  • Individual study spaces

Students wanted more study carrels and hidden nooks and crannies in which to withdraw. We added a few more study carrels and I placed chairs in corners and odd crooks in the walls. Those spots are the first to fill up.

  • Coffee

I don’t allow food in the library. I just don’t want to open that can of worms. My compromise to the students was the addition of a Keurig machine that they can use. Or they can give me money and I will make them a cup of coffee from my stash.

  • White noise machines/Silent Study Room/Library headphones

Because I do enforce a reasonably quiet library, I purchased three white noise machines which dampen conversations a bit producing a more muted library buzz. This allowed conversation to continue in the library without echoing off the walls or high ceilings. The Library Classroom is always silent for those who really need quiet. I purchased headphones to loan students who want to listen to music but forgot their own earbuds, or who need to cut out all noise but their own.

  • Art work

The Library is very beige. There is not a lot of color. The addition of student produced art changed that and the students love seeing their works on display.

  • Trashcans

Apparently, there were not enough trashcans in the library. I often complained that I was always picking up after the students – so they convinced me to add two trash cans and I was amazed at how much cleaner things were at the end of the day. So simple.

  • Collection Development

In terms of library materials, students wanted more books in world languages, were not interested in e-books, and loved using ABC CLIO (which I was considering swapping for another). They also had great suggestions for Summer Reading.

  • A Sign

I hate signs. The rebel in me doesn’t like to be told what to do. But the input I received was that my expectations were not clear. So, I made a simple sign that expresses my vision and expectations of the Library as an academic space.

The absolute best thing to come out of the survey and the group conversations was that students realized that I was listening to them.

We now have a group called the Library Leadership Council made up of students from grades 9-12. They suggest book purchases, assist greatly with Summer Reading book selection, put up book reviews, and offer policy suggestions. We meet 4-5 times a year.

Finding the right balance between how I want the library to be, how students want the library to be and what the library really is will always be a challenge. I’m lucky to have a supportive administration who allow me to make the changes. Somedays it is a zoo in here. But most days I’m pretty happy with the results of this student/librarian mashup space.

SEL and You

When you’ve been around education for any length of time, you become aware that even the education field is not immune from trends. Instead of hemlines or lapel sizes, ours tend to focus on subject matter or techniques.  Project Learning anyone? STEM? STEAM? Who remembers when we used to teach civics? Guess what-we’re teaching it again. Phonics or whole reading is now phonics AND whole reading despite the factions that fight on. Let’s just hope that open classrooms don’t come back, or did they already in the concept of the learning commons? Lately, social-emotional learning (SEL) seems to be making the rounds. Social-emotional learning as defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning as the “process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.” https://casel.org/what-is-sel/. Whether we look at it as ‘one more thing to do’ or a tool for classroom management, the fact is that school librarians have been teaching SEL since we’ve had librarians in school!

The history of children’s literature abounds in examples of social and emotional learning.  When a culture tells a story, the teaching stick in the collective memories. Fairy tales and Bible stories (unedited) may be a bit much for younger audiences nowadays, but even their tamer renditions can help children see how decisions create consequences without having to take action themselves. We all know that talking to strangers and tarrying in the woods may result in bad things happening! Stories help us learn about how the we fit in the world and how the world fits in ourselves.

Let’s take a look at our collections. The stories found in non-fiction abounds through memoirs, biographies and scientific texts (on many reading levels) to help build students’ knowledge about managing emotions, making good decisions and how to create nourishing relationships.   Fiction has long been recognized as a way to develop empathy, even with populations or creatures that we may never meet in person. When we and our students read a well-written story, we automatically put a piece of ourselves in the shoes of the other. While there are limitations (I’ll never be a wizard no matter how much I wish it!), I can see what it’s like when nobody wants to believe what I’m saying as well as realizing that there are times when we misjudge the actions of those close to us.

While longer texts can be used in SEL, the picture book has long been a librarian’s tool of choice in expanding a child’s social-emotional learning. As librarians, we often choose picture books to read to our students that reflect issues and ideas that are happening in their classroom and the world at large. If the school is emphasizing a specific character trait, we often use those books that reinforce that characteristic. As experts in children’s literature, our curation of books can help weed out those clunkers that contain obvious preaching. Children aren’t fooled by sanctimony and sermons. Stories that may not have an obvious right or wrong answer can be used as discussion openers, allowing for thoughtful classroom learning.

Below are some of the newest titles and a link to my pinterest board on SEL books that you might want to check out for your library.  Once you start looking at some of your picture books through the lens of social emotional learning, you may want to create notes or a small database to help you find the right book for the right situation.


Julian is a Mermaid – Jessica Love. Julian is awed by three ‘mermaids’ on their way to the a seaside pageant. His desire to be like them results in using his Abela’s curtains and makeup to become just like them! This book shows us there is more than one way to be a little boy, especially when affirmed by those that are important in their lives.

Me and My Fear – Francesca Sanna. At first, fear is a small fluffy friend that helps keep her safe. However, over time fear grows until it starts controlling what she can and can’t do. It is only once she finds that everyone has fears that she is able to learn to control her own.

The Funeral – Matt James. An arty but realistic book on what the funeral experience might be like for young children.  Even though she knows she should be sad, she can’t help but be delighted to be playing with her cousin or not going to school that day. Questions abound about the service and body but answers are left very open ended.

Tiger vs. Nightmare – Emily Tetri. Tiger never had to worry about nightmares because her monster friend used to keep them away.  One day a nightmare arrives that scares the monster! It’s only after they problem solve that the two are able to come up with a solution that defeats the nightmare and allows them both to get a good night’s sleep.

If I Had a Horse – Gianna Marino. Through simple language, watercolor and pencil, Marino uses the relationship between a horse and a young child to show that learning about and understanding others allows one to grow strong and brave.

I Walk with Vanessa: a Story about a Simple Act of Kindness – Kerascoet. A wordless book that shows that bullying affects even those who witness the act. When a young girl sees the new girl get bullied, she is upset until she finds that she can act on the problem.

Captain Starfish – Davina Bell. Alfie gets anxious sometimes, even about things he wants to do – like participate in a parade. With strong parental support, Alfie realizes his spirit animal may be more like a clown fish who comes out of hiding now and then.

Link to my Pinterest board to lists containing books on social emotional themes

Works Cited:

CASEL. “What Is SEL?” CASEL, Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional
Learning, casel.org/what-is-sel/. Accessed 8 Feb. 2019.


Hello from Pittsburgh!

Hello, fellow AISLers!  My name is Lindsey Myers, and I am excited to begin blogging for AISL.  After attending the conference for the first time last April and learning from and collaborating with other amazing independent school librarians, I knew that I wanted to become more involved in the organization. My first post will be an introduction, and include upcoming ideas and projects that I will be sharing in the next few months.

I spent my first four years as a public school librarian in a medium-sized (about 1500 students) suburban high school. While I enjoyed the work and my coworkers, I was intrigued when the opportunity arose to apply at a local independent coed boarding and day school, Shady Side Academy Senior School. Shady Side offered the opportunity to explore a different educational setting, and challenge myself in various ways. I began my career here in the fall of 2015.

Shady Side is a wonderful place to work. Not only do I have amazingly talented colleagues who are open to collaborating with the library, but I also find myself with more time to talk with and assist students on a one-on-one basis. Our library collaborates closely with different departments to develop research skills, promote independent reading, and generally offer a welcoming and supportive environment to all members of our community.

One goal when writing this blog is to spend more time reflecting on the various projects I have completed, and discover ways to improve for the future. I welcome your constructive feedback, and look forward to learning from all of you!

Upcoming Posts*:

  • Book Tasting- not just for kids!
  • Adventures in Book Club
  • Collaborating with your local public library
  • Digital Citizenship PSAs

*Full disclosure: I am pregnant and due in late March, so some of my posts will be from projects earlier in the year. These are yearly projects, so again,  I welcome your feedback!

A second goal is to share and receive more book recommendations. Falling into a new story is absolutely what keeps me going when times get stressed/busy/etc. Some of my posts will highlight some of the best books I have read recently (and, if I have strong negative feelings about a title, possibly those as well!). I just finished The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and I have to admit that I was captivated from page 1. She begins the story describing trips to the library with her mother, which brought me back to my own childhood. I cannot wait to repeat this ritual with my own child. And, I want to plan a trip to see the beautiful Central branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. Last year, my husband and I made a trip to Cleveland, OH to see the downtown Heinen’s grocery store after reading Grocery: the buying and selling of food in America by Mark Ruhlman. This title will make your weekly (daily?) trips to the grocery store much more enlightening. I am trying to convince my husband that we should make a yearly event of visiting places we read about in books! Since we have friends that just moved to LA, that trip might be an easy sell for this coming summer…

Have you read anything amazing lately? Please share in the comments! I look forward to learning from, and collaborating with you, in the posts to come.

Trust/Don’t Trust/Proceed with Caution

The only thing I’ve ever felt certain of when teaching source evaluation to students was that no matter what I did I was missing a lot of the nuance involved in evaluating sources. I tried myriad different checklist and every acronym I could find to help students get better at evaluating their sources, but nothing ever felt quite right. I also realized that the strategies I was showing to my students were not strategies I used myself. If I didn’t evaluate information this way, why was I expecting that it would work for students?

A few years ago a friend pointed me in the direction of Sam Wineburg’s work at Stanford, and a lightbulb went off for me. Of course none of the checklists and acronyms felt quite right–they weren’t how expert evaluators evaluated information. Checklists also tended to keep students inside the source to judge its reliability, whereas fact-checkers would go outside the source to evaluate it. I started thinking about how I could teach my students to act like fact-checkers when evaluating an unfamiliar source.

I also wanted to help students approach sources with nuance: sources rarely fit neatly into “good” or “bad” categories–and even if they did, those categories ignore the complexities of a student’s question and research need. A source can be completely factual and not helpful to a student’s research need, and a biased source can help a student understand another perspective on an issue.

I still haven’t found the “just right” way to approach this process (I’ll be sure to keep you posted if I do), but I did recently have a chance to work with a couple classes of seniors that were doing current events work. Their teachers wanted them to get better at evaluating news sources, and especially to have the skills to avoid “fake news”. Inspired by the Source Deck activity developed by librarians at the University of Virginia I came up with a game I call Trust/Don’t Trust/Proceed with Caution.

I started the class by asking students about the process of applying to colleges and jobs and having to ask for references and recommendations. Why do we ask for recommendations? Can’t you just take someone’s word for it when they say they’re hard-working and creative? Or do you want to know what other people see in them as well? That real-world connection clicked for them, and from there we moved into talking about how to “check the references” of the information we find online.

We did a sample site together, first looking at the site’s About Us page, and then doing a search to find out more about what other people and organizations have to say about a site (we did this with [url -site:url] search, which eliminates the site itself from searches, but does show who links to the site). I talked them through how I look at search results to get the lay of the land, and then clicked through to a few sites to show them how I interpret what I find there. Most searches would come up with a Wikipedia article, so I pointed out to them how I interpret the Contents List to help with my evaluation (i.e. if there’s a section labeled “Controversies”, that’s probably where I’m going to start). I also showed them how I’d research any expert or organization quoted in an article.

After that I gave students cards with screenshots of the title, URL, and first paragraph of several news stories from sources across the political and accuracy spectrum. They then worked in groups of three to determine if this was a source they should trust, not trust, or approach with caution. We had them work in groups so they could talk through what they were finding with one another. Groups had 1-2 minutes (time got shorter as we went on and students got more confident in the process) to make their determination, and then each group had to hold up either a Trust, Don’t Trust, or Proceed with Caution sign, and explain why they had chosen it.

The “Proceed with Caution” responses (which I had weighted the deck with) led to really rich discussions about what it means to “proceed with caution” when reading a source. We don’t just want to throw up our hands and say “nothing can be trusted”–we want to approach all sources with our eyes open, but it’s also important to differentiate between “this source has a history of inaccuracy” and “this source has a bias in favor of particular positions or group.” Students were also able to distinguish between “an author who wrote for this source has a reputation for inaccuracy” versus “this source as a whole can’t be trusted.” Students also raised the question of whether or not we can trust Wikipedia, which led to a conversation about what to pay attention to when reading a Wikipedia article, and how to follow the sources they cite.

I was really impressed with the reasoning students used when deciding how to approach these unfamiliar sources, and having these conversations helped students understand how complex this process can be. I’m looking forward to expanding this lesson to be used with other types of questions and sources.

“Teaming Up” with Athletics!

Here’s a story about how it pays to be “game” for just about anything when it comes to faculty collaboration. If your school is like mine, it is easiest and most obvious to forge collaborations with the History/Social Studies, English, and Science departments. It is valuable, important, satisfying, time consuming, and sometimes challenging enough to make those relationships work effectively and consistently. So, when we get an opportunity to make a library connection with a new department or office — yay, bonus!

Our school started a new initiative this year to promote and highlight girls’ sports. Called PerkGSports, athletes and coaches use social media, morning announcements, and other school communications to celebrate our female athletes. It’s been a source of positivity and community building on campus this year, that I have happily followed and “liked” through the library’s social media accounts. So, I was thrilled when the faculty member who leads this initiative called me to see if we could organize a book discussion to help celebrate National Girls & Women in Sports Day!

I started by gathering any title I could find on our shelves that might fit the bill; fiction or nonfiction, middle grades or YA.

We decided it would be a good idea to let the interested students choose, so I created a Google form and sent it to the other faculty member to distribute.

With Girls Can’t Hit by T.S. Easton as the favorite by one vote, we decided to offer the choice of either that novel or Let Me Play: the Story of Title IX, the Law that Changed the Future of Girls in America by Karen Blumenthal to broaden appeal and participation.

A student announced the books at Morning Meeting on February 6, as part of their larger presentation about NGWSD. I purchased a couple more copies of both titles. Following the so-far-so-good-model of our Windows & Mirrors book club meetings, we’ll offer food during both lunch periods along with casual book discussion. (Note to self – should we meet in the Athletic Center instead of the library?) I can’t wait to hear what conversation comes out of these selections, and how attendance and participation may vary from our other book discussions.

So far it’s a “W” for the library, girls’ sports, and collaboration!

Rethinking Historical Fiction

The power of storytelling…it dramatizes, delights, and immerses us in an experience so that we can step back into the world, ready to face challenges with a little more confidence and understanding.  

At AOS, seventh and eighth grade students participate in the “History as Story” writing workshop with visiting authors who are experts in the power of storytelling.  The goal of the writing workshop is to connect students with themes of history as the students themselves craft a small work of historical fiction. The historical fiction piece engages students more deeply with topics they have been researching, topics that will be developed later in a more formal research essay.  

This year the “History as Story” writing workshop was led by poet and author Allan Wolf, who paints a picture of history through various viewpoints in books-in-verse, such as New Found Land (Lewis and Clark expedition) and The Watch that Ends the Night (sinking of the Titanic). Allan Wolf suggested that students develop their historical fiction piece by using CAST: Characters, Action, Setting, and Truth.

The following sample pieces show how students used CAST to connect with a Truth about their historical topics and re-imagined a moment in history.

American Reformers: “Be the Change”
Seventh graders researched American reformers of the late 1700s-1800s in a “Be the Change” research project.  The opening paragraph of the research paper is a historical vignette that immerses the reader in a dramatic moment of their American reformer.

One student, Ella Piper, envisioned how Mother Ann Lee, leader of the Shaker church in New York, made the treacherous sea voyage from England to New York. Her characters are the zealous Ann Lee and an exasperated ship captain. The action is a dangerous storm at sea, and the setting is the ship’s deck, where Ann Lee is dancing to seek God’s intervention while the Captain and shipmates are furiously battling a sinking ship.  Below is an excerpt:

It was the middle of the night. A yellow moon and its pale, waxy light slowly disappeared under ominous storm clouds, and the skies opened up. The ship was low in rations, and the bodies of the passengers, frail from malnutrition, hardly caused a tip in the hardy vessel, the Mariah, as they began worship. It didn’t bother Ann. Her light hair grew steadily darker in the rain, and, as on all nights, she began to spin. Uncontrolled, sporadic movements overtook her body, mimicking the crashing of the tumultuous sea. “Praise God,” she whispered, and the ship erupted in a soulful, oscillating waltz.

And the rain persisted. The rain came down and the captain came up to handle it and through it all she continued to dance. After all, they were alive and God was with them and that trumped a squall any day. Even though they were ordered back to their rooms. Even though the wind whipped her hair and cut at her face.

“Below deck!” The captain screamed. “Or it’s overboard for the lot of ya!” His voice was hoarse from shouting at the crew. His patience with Ann and her followers, never in abundant supply, was rapidly wearing thin. “That shaking of yours will be put to a stop, whether its by my hand or God’s when we die in this bloody monsoon!” He jerked on the wheel.

The truth is revealed later in final words by Ann Lee as the storm dissipates:

Abruptly, the largest wave so far, one of Brobdingnagian proportions, drew close to the ship. Captain Nelson swore. Baker began to say his prayers. Ann danced. And, as if guided by the hand of God himself, the wave carried the board back into place. The Mariah began to rise.

Ann danced. She smiled. “It is my belief that a true act of God is finding peace in chaos, the eye of the hurricane. Wouldn’t you say so, Captain?”

It was the middle of the night. A yellow moon and its pale, waxy light shone through retreating storm clouds.

US Defining Moments
Eighth graders researched defining moments in US history and iconic persons who influenced those events. As part of their research, students located a primary source photo and used the Library of Congress Analysis Tool to examine how the photo revealed insights into their historical event or person. In the writing workshop, these photos were used to develop descriptive, narrative poems (ekphrastic poetry). Here is an example of how one student, Emma, used the CAST technique with her photograph to reveal insights about the Texas Western 1966 NCAA Championship.

Emma’s primary source photo depicts the Texas Western team posing with their trophy for the 1966 NCAA championship. (View photo in this El Paso newspaper article.) The characters for the poem are the basketball team, “blacks and whites stand side by side,” and the “small white coach (who) does his best to stay hidden.” Emma also created a fictional character, the photographer, as her point of view to describe this victorious moment. The action is the photographer setting up to take the photo, “As I steady my camera to take a legendary picture,” and the poem ends with the “flash” of the camera.  Though the setting is not described, a sense of place is suggested as the players stand shoulder to shoulder, a “colorful canvas” as “blacks and whites stand side by side.”  The truth, or moment of insight about this historical moment is revealed in several lines. The poem alludes to the Civil Rights struggle–“Challenges and the races/They had to win to make their statement”–as well as the unity of the team–the coach “treating each and all like an equal son” and the team “connected in more than just great pride.”  

Texas Western
3, 2, 1
Scattered smiles and serious faces
In the Miners I see the traces
Of all the challenges and the races
They had to win to make their statement.

The small, white coach does his best to stay hidden
He takes no credit for all they have done
Treating each and all like an equal son

As I steady my camera to take a legendary picture
I see the significance of this colorful canvas
Blacks and whites stand side by side
Connected in more than just great pride.

This poem by Emma prompts a final reflection about what is history.  Historians often stress the importance of examining the historical context and purpose of the primary source that is being evaluated: meaning is constructed.  Literally, what is the historical lens that the photographer of Emma’s poem uses to help viewers see this moment of victory in the Civil Rights struggle? Questions for future research might be the following:

“What were the challenges that the Texas Western team faced?”
“Were the team players really united?”
“What was the coach’s role in this struggle and did he avoid the limelight?”
“Did this championship win change attitudes of society?”

The “History as Story” writing workshop is an exciting opportunity for students to add their voice as they shape an understanding of history.  I encourage you to find a moment in history that fascinates you and, through the power of storytelling, look closely and think deeply about truths that have shaped our Nation.

The Politics of Laminating

Due to its proximity to the library, the laminating machine “belongs” to me. I have been forced to learn how to operate it. I am responsible for its care and maintenance. The same is true of the printer/photocopier and the microwave oven (both denizens of the library-adjacent workroom), and the two faculty restrooms in the library vestibule, although I have yet to plumb them. I have even been asked to refill coffee from the pot housed in the workroom. I don’t even drink coffee.

Faculty members seek me out when photocopy toner levels are low, or the machine is jammed. When the restroom is out of paper towel or soap I am alerted. When the microwave shorts out a plug, I am summoned. I think you get the picture. It can seem, at times, that my role as librarian has been expanded to include management of any object or area within a stone’s throw of the library.

If it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m not. I’m terribly flattered. Apparently, those at my school think I can do anything. I am Superwoman! Unfortunately, it is also an indicator that colleagues aren’t sure what it is I do all day. I’m too polite to tell them. What to do?

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I have remedied this by taking on even more.

When I started my position four years ago, the job was somewhat undefined. My then title, Dean of Student Research and Library Resources, sounded oddly auspicious. I would teach research skills. I would manage my resources. Why the fancy title? Beyond the aforementioned tasks, my supervisors were vague about how my position should take shape. Guidance was in short supply. Not to worry. I’ve always been a firm believer that one should make the position they have, into the position they want to have.

If you find yourself in a similar position, here are a few ways I manipulated my circumstances to further define my role.

  1. Take opportunities to communicate on a grand scale.

When I started here I was shy. I assumed the faculty would not be interested in my collection development activities. Then I started sending out lists of recent acquisitions.  The response was immediate. I now send a weekly email titled “Featured Book Review – Get it at the Upper School Library” school wide. The reviewed titles only last a few minutes before someone races in to nab them or emails a request to send them through campus mail to our other campus. Obviously, circulation has increased.

I do the same for the students, featuring a YA title or relevant reference work for a project I know is going on.

On Wednesdays I send an email to faculty called “Wednesday’s Interesting Article of Random Content”. I scour History Today, JSTOR Daily, Science News and other resources for interesting articles, alternating disciplines by the week. I often get emails in response indicating the article was perfect for the lesson of the day.

  • I write blogs for our school web site.

Sometimes the blogs are about cross-curricular research projects. Sometimes they are about Summer Reading. Sometimes they are simply musing about books I’ve known and loved. All of them illustrate the integration of my role within that of the greater school community.

  • I offer Professional Development Classes/Documents

The beginning of every school year means several days of professional development classes offered by fellow faculty. I have offered an Introduction to Library Resources from time to time as a way of making sure the faculty realizes the wealth of resources we have. Some come from public school settings where libraries have been phased out. Some simply haven’t had the time to figure out how to use the library gateway or don’t know they can access it remotely. It’s always a fun session with everyone learning at least one new thing (including me).

I also create documents to send to new folks that delineates the same information.

  • I take on new duties that fit my wheelhouse and interests.

In the past two years I’ve added direction of our Upper School Interim Program and co-leadership of our Summer Internship Program to my duties. Why? Because I believe these programs further the concept of research through experiential learning. As a result, I asked for a change in my title. I am now the Dean of Student Research and Experiential Learning. This makes a whole lot more sense to me.

Which brings us back to the politics of laminating. Had it not been for those crazy requests to refill the restroom soap dispensers or replace colorful paper stock near the photocopier, I would never have spent so much time coming up with ways to integrate myself into everyone’s world (in more meaningful ways). I feel integral to my community and am much more satisfied with my lot. And yes, I still laminate.