Thanksgiving Break #Readinggoals

Do you look forward to school breaks as a time to dig into your “to be read” list? You DO?!? So do I. I hope my students do too, and I approach pre-break readers advisory with the assumption that every student has been looking forward to getting cozy with some reading of their choice. This assumption, happily, proves to be correct a fair amount of the time. Throwing “you need a good book for the break!” into casual interactions with students more often than not is followed by “yeah, I guess I do” or similar. That kid is leaving the library with at least one book, and probably a double check that they have our digital collection app and know how to use it.

My intention two weeks ago was to host a splendid study break snack spread in the library to welcome students to browse at their leisure with fall vacation reading on the brain (an idea from our Assistant Librarian before a break last year). That will have to happen another time, as it went the way of other sort-of plans. However, I did start a new reading promotion idea that also ties to new student life programming. We’ll see how it goes!

I have offered a reading challenge to the students, to be completed, if they so choose, by mid-December. The product will be a short written review for the catalog or a brief book review video. The suggested challenges include:

Challenges met will earn points for the readers’ Purple & Gold Team – tying reading to school spirit! 

Some of My Own Thanksgiving Break #ReadingGoals:

Frankly in Love by David Yoon David Yoon made an appearance at a local independent bookstore and I was able to bring three enthusiastic boarding students along to meet him. I am partway into it now, and so far it deserves the hype.

The Wicked King by Holly Black I love Holly Black’s books, and for some reason have not picked this up yet. The sequel, The Queen of Nothing, has been released recently and I’d better catch up before my student faerie fans dish the spoilers!

on search resilience…

This weekend I looked at my Google Calendar and at the top the column for Monday, November 25, 2019, there was a reminder, “AISL Blog Post.”

Panic ensued and I started a few different drafts for posts on things that have been happening here in our library program. Among the possibilities:

  • Our visit to a newly built K-8 library at a school down the street from us.
  • Programming ideas I gathered from visits to 2 academic libraries here in Honolulu.
  • A gathering of Honolulu independent school librarians hosted by AISL librarian, Clarissa Sin over at her library.
  • New ideas we’ve been floating to create more information literacy and digital literacy instruction opportunities in our curriculum.
  • Working with other independent school libraries to partner with our public school libraries (we’re one statewide school system) on consortial pricing for database subscriptions.
  • A lesson that I did with a 10th grade U.S. History class where most of my demonstration searches failed.

It’s very, very weird to me, but of all of the posts that I have written for Independent Ideas over the years, the posts that seem to drive the most engagement from blog readers have been the ones where I’ve written about, lessons that have failed; feeling like I don’t know what the heck I am doing on a daily basis and having to pretend that do; and posts that essentially were long lists of questions that I wished I had answers to, but didn’t. Based on that (admittedly weird) criteria, what follows is my post about the day I modeled bad searching for 10th graders and lived…

The Context…

Our 9th and 10th grade social studies classes incorporate National History Day research as one of their projects for the year. The NHD theme changes from year to year. This year’s theme is “Breaking Barriers.” We are fortunate, here, in that teachers incorporating NHD research have either worked with us in the past and feel comfortable working on the research process with their students on their own or are willing to bring their classes for multiple 85-minute research periods over the course of the project.

I used to prep for my one-shot library lessons by taking a topic related to students’ assignments, searching databases and books, and demonstrating what the perfect search would look like for students. I never really thought much about the process. I had one single period to show kids where to search, how to search, and had to do that quickly and efficiently so that kids had class time to try some in-class searching and research. You just gotta do what you gotta do…

Over the last few years, we have almost completely eliminated the one-shot library lesson. One-shot library lessons make librarians work REALLY, REALLY HARD and, realistically, don’t result in much return on investment in the form of students learning new concepts and/or students learning and being able to thoughtfully apply new research skills. We found ourselves in a chicken and egg quandary. Our schedule was so heavily booked with one-shot lessons that we had no time to book classes for multiple sessions over the course of a projects. We took a risk and began only booking library lesson sessions if teachers could find time to bring students in multiple times over the course of a project. What we’ve found, is that doing instruction with students multiple times on the same project allows us to model a more authentic research process.

With some of our NHD project classes, we met with classes for:

  • “Presearching” Day – The process of exploring topic possibilities BEFORE one actually chooses a topic.
  • Research Day 1 – An in-class research day when we had an opportunity to introduce sources and do one-on-one reference searching with students in class as needed.
  • Research Day 2 – For many kids, the point in their research when they actually try to develop a thesis statement and learn that they have major holes in their research that they need to fill.
  • Citation/Annotation Day – A day set aside for students to take preformatted database citations from their notes pages and drop them into NoodleTools and write up their OPVL annotations.

The Ill Fated Search Lesson…

Without really realizing it, over the last few years I stopped prepping for library classes by building a perfect search. Somewhere along the line, I started showing up to class an asking students, “So… What’s your topic? What keywords have you been using for that topic? Where have you been searching to find stuff?”

In a recent research day 2 class with U.S. History 10th graders, a teacher asked me to show kids how they might search for primary sources in our databases. Students knew what primary sources were and why they needed to find them, so our focus in class was on the searching strategies and tools.

In this particular class, a 10th grader volunteered Tim Berners-Lee.

Me in my head: “Easy-peasy!!! Gale High School… Search… Point to the “Primary Source” source type… Done!”

Me in real-life: Searches Gale High School… No primary sources…

Me to class (said like Homer Simpson): “D’oh! No primary sources! listed! Now, if this dude invented the Worldwide Web, do we really think there’ll be no primary sources from or about him? No way, right?!?!?!”

Tries search in ABC-CLIO… #Fails

Tries search in EBSCO History Reference Center… #Fails

Me (feeling rather like Homer Simpson…) stands and shrugs knowing that there ARE primary sources to be found and a search strategy to be had , but unable to unlock the magical strategy in the moment…

Me to class: “Uh… Sometimes you get stuck and your searching is sucky and ugly, but that’s just the way it goes. Right now I just need a minute because my brain is stuck in a thinking rut so does someone else have another topic and maybe we’ll come back to Tim in a couple of minutes…

Lovely as they are, my class took great joy (basically, they laughed at me as I dug myself in deeper and deeper with each failed search… LOL!!!) in my inability to find us some primary sources in our very expensive databases

Mercifully, Elizabeth Cady Stanton was up next and I was able to demo looking for source types, filtering a results list for “documents”, and other fancy-schmancy search strategies that you probably wouldn’t know if you were a typical14-year old human.

When we came back to Tim we chatted about what a primary source for Tim Berners-Lee might look like since, in the words of 10th graders, “the dude’s still alive, right?” My kids hit on searching for Tim as an AUTHOR with which we found success and found that [Tim Berners-Lee] and the contextualizing term [interview] worked for us as well.

Silk Purses from Sows’ Ears…

At the end of class, I apologized to the teacher for the rough search outing to which she replied, “That was, maybe, the best lesson on problem-solving on searching we’ve ever had… Kid’s need to know that research isn’t all clean and neat and pretty so today was great!”

Sometimes, all you gotta do to have a good lesson is to show up, do your authentic best, keep smiling, and be willing to tell kids in your orbit, “Sorry, folks! I do a lot of searching and, hey, on some days my searches still suck that’s just the way it goes. The thing is, though, it’s not HOW UGLY it was on the way to finding what we needed, but that we just kept at it until we FOUND WHAT WE NEEDED.”

I tweeted about my search adventure and AISL librarian Corey Baker labeled it #SearchResilience which comes off the tongue quite a bit better than #SearchFail so let’s just go with that!


It is Thanksgiving holiday week for those of us based in U.S. schools. Wherever you are, however, please know that the amazing community that is AISL, is one of the things for which I am grateful each and everyday of my professional life!

Thank you, all! ❤️

Independent School Book Fairs in the Age of Amazon and Marie Kondo

This year our school’s Book Fair theme was “Reading Opens the World.” Our Assistant Director of Development designed a gorgeous logo with a rainbow. The vinyl stickers we created to market the Fair were a huge hit and there has been non-stop requests for kid and teacher-sized t-shirts (which are usually only ordered for the core Book Fair team).

We held two all school assemblies celebrating books that had opened individual doors to the love of reading. The first group to share were faculty and staff. The second assembly featured student volunteers– we finally had to halt the flood of volunteers because so many students felt called to share their favorite books.

We hosted a free wine (delicious and pricey) and cheese party with our local independent bookstore partner to cap off the first day of the Fair. The store stayed open beyond their normal hours to host our families. Out of 200 families, perhaps 20 families showed up.

We held a one-day, pop-up bookstore in the Main Library of our school with copies of forty thoughtfully curated children’s books, picture books, early elementary selections and middle grade fiction. Again it was a small showing of parents and students.

The structure of Fair has evolved since I started working at St. Thomas School, it went from a five day in-school, two day in-store Fair to in-store and on-line (no in-school options that year) to its current iteration, three days online, one day in-store. The changes have been in keeping with our booksellers’ preferences largely driven by economic imperatives. Invested in supporting local bookstores and a range of publishers, we have not partnered with Scholastic.

It is unclear to me that we will make more than $1000.00 when all is said and done. This is separate from the $500 we (the library and parent association team) spent on marketing materials for an event that is popular with less than 1/8 of our families. When I asked my Friends of the Library chair, “Why do you think that some of our families are not interested in coming to our in-school or in-store Fair?” She said, “They don’t want any more clutter in their houses.”

I understand the need for a tidy house filled with items that bring you joy—thank you, Marie Kondo. However as a librarian, I do not consider books clutter. Even though my own house is small, around 1100 square feet (with two adolescent boys, a dog and a husband) there is always room for another book. The majority of books, especially childrens’ books, are filled with wonder and possibility. Reading truly opens the world, splitting it wide enough for readers to explore, observe, and often understand.

The “books as clutter” concept models a world of limited information and circumscribed knowledge. Parents who tell their children that there isn’t room in the house for books are sending the message that reading itself is wasted time. As teachers we know that one of the single most important activities related to academic success is to encourage a young person to read independently. As parents we know that reading together at home, collaboratively and in parallel, promotes long-term connection and empathy.

In our current moment, we must tackle a two-pronged problem: the desire for the immediate, inexpensive, and personalized selections (Amazon) and the desire for a tidy house (Kondo). The School Book Fair as it has existed in past years may continue to evolve, but the importance of having numerous print books in one’s house will remain increasingly critical.

Global Libraries – Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Doors

Do you have an ample multicultural collection as well as enough diverse literature for all the children and young adults who are visiting your libraries?
I recently attended a very informative lecture on this topic by Alicia Long, a librarian and supervisor at State College of Florida, an ALA Spectrum Scholar and ALA Emergng Leader. We need to have a plethora of books on social justice and stories on our shelves that can relate to our audience. Whose voices are missing? We need to have bilingual books in addition to bicultural volumes. The books need to create empathy. We, librarians, are curators of stories. As such, we have the power to influence whose stories are represented in our shelves, whose stories are featured in our programs, and whose stories we recommend and promote. We need to constantly ask ourselves why we have stories about whom and by whom? Whose stories are told in children’s books? Who wrote and illustrated those stories?

As you take time to analyze your own collection try  to think about it using these 3 terms:
Mirrors – books where the reader sees themselves – characters like the reader
Windows – books where the reader sees other worlds – characters not like the reader
Sliding Doors – books where the reader enters that world – the reader gets to live the characters’ experiences.

Here are some charts of diversity in children’s books from 2015 and 2018. As you compare them ask yourself if we are there yet?

Another interesting comparison is “Who tells the story? …”By and about”.

Ask yourself whose voice is missing?

Some of the suggestions that were discussed included the following:

*Instead of Heritage Months (Hispanic, Black Histry, Asian-Pacific, Native American)…

             Include #OwnVoices Books – year long displays and programs

*Instead of bilingual stories…

           Include bilingual and bicultural stories or multilingual and multicultural

*Instead of translated popular and classics…

          Include original stories

Instead of representation only in the collection…

          Include representation in programming, staff, performers, outreach

Instead of being defensive (“I try my best”)…

          Include input from insiders and accept criticism

Follow the experts and insiders (see chart) and award winners like ALA, YMA, and more.

I would like to share this powerful quote from Jessamyn West from the USF School of Information, “Understand when you are coming from a position of power and use that power graciously and for good.” We, librarians, have that power….how are we using it?

Some challenges to our readers could be:

  • Read about a character not like you
  • Read a book with a setting not like the one you grew up in
  • Read a book from a genre that you never choose

“All our stories are important and when we share them, we begin to understand each other”…Margarita Engle (2016 Belpre Author Award Acceptance Speech)

Follett Book Fair: Lower School Edition 2019

Follett Truck Arrival: 10:36am Nov 1

I have now been part of school book fairs for 5 years. In that time, I have participated in Main Street Book Fairs, indie bookstore fairs, Scholastic and now Follett.

This year, I made the switch from Scholastic to Follett. After 2 years of dealing with low quality bindings, single-house pub list and tons of junk, I went with Follett this year. I have been pleased thus far with communications, availability of items and quality of bindings.

Before I contacted Follett, I did reach out to two independent bookstores in my area, but they declined to consider a school book fair. During AISL Atlanta 2018, I attended the Librarians, Bookstores, and Community Connections given by the Staff of the Little Shop of Stories and felt well equipped to approach. During this great presentation, they gave suggestions of how to connect with your local bookstore for events. Alas, could not convince my local booksellers of the benefits for all!

Follett solicited me via email in mid-2018 to consider hosting a bookfair in 2019. I had not heard many reviews and figured it would be worth trying at least once. I was able to secure my first choice of dates, and contract was signed. I was really looking forward to offering my students a wide array of new titles as well as not have to deal with boxes of random items ranging from water bottles to tote bags to preschool plastic calendar pointers that came with Scholastic.

Selection of layout in The Bolles School, Ponte Vedra Beach Lower School Campus Library


  • Fall of 2018 Contract signed and sent
  • Spring of 2019 First communications around book fair logistics
  • August 2019 Reached out to Duval County Public Schools to investigate servant leadership opportunities related to our book fair and proceeds
  • August of 2019 First in a series of monthly phone consults with my Follett Book Fair Rep
  • September 2019 Began receiving access to online portal for webinars, helpful PDFs, and images
  • September 2019 Connected with Parkwood Heights Elementary School: we will aim to provide each of their 304 of elementary school students with a birthday book
  • October 2019 Received box of Follett Book Fair promotional materials
  • November 1, 2019 10:36am truck arrived
  • Delivery driver helped move everything to my second floor library using our service elevator
  • 3 parent volunteers arrived at 11am and we were finished setting up by 12:30pm!
  • Cash register set-up super easy and I love the Drop Ship and Complete your Series options!
Interesting display option: four sided cart (I ordered 3 of these)
Traditional wheel-to-open V-shaped cart (I ordered 5 of these)
Wishlist sheets for students: for use on preview day. Includes information about sales tax, what payment options are available, and purchase date and time.

I have developed a system where students visit twice with their class during book fair week. The first visit is a PREVIEW day and the second visit is the PURCHASE day. On Preview Day, students create a wishlist to discuss with their grownups. That way, they can bring home their ideas and feel good about returning for Purchase Day. I remind everyone that purchasing is not ever required, it is just a special bookstore experience within the library.

This year, we aim to provide every student at Parkwood Heights ES with a Birthday Book. I reached out to the Elementary Region Superintendent of Duval County Public Schools to find out about ways we could be servant leaders in our community.

Servant Leadership is part of our learning experience here at Bolles. There are many ways we accomplish this and the Book Fair is one. The proceeds of our book fair are used to support reading and public school libraries in our area. Last year, we boosted 2 elementary school library collections, and in 2017 we assisted a school in Marathon Key, FL which was partially lost to Hurricane Irma. The Library Media Ambassadors assist in communicating this effort to our student body, as well as go on a field trip to meet and read with students at the schools support. Goal being to support literacy everywhere!

I will leave some comments next week about the overall experience! Feel free to leave questions in the comments section below!

Three Cheers for Lower School Book Fairs!

November 15 Debrief:

Our November Follett Book Fair – despite all the negative experiences I have heard about – was really well executed. The EXCELLENT book selection, high quality of materials, strong communication with my rep, and fast delivery of items ordered that were sold out. Fair drop off was at 10:30am the Friday before and pick up was around 9:30am the Monday after. Set up was 45 minutes with 2 volunteers on hand. Take down was the same. The portal for learning (how-to videos, PDFs for advertising, author videos) was accessible, though I gave many development suggestions. My volunteers commented how much “easier” the register system was to use and how nice it was not to have to sort and store JUNK. The pens, erasers, bookmarks and journals that did come with the fair were good quality and really well curated. I have booked my fair for next year!

Proud to Be a Book Pusher!

Written by Patricia DeWinter, Head Librarian at The OakRidge School

I am Head Librarian at a preschool through 12th grade school and always looking for creative ways to feature new books and must reads.  I want to make it as simple and enjoyable as possible for students to find the perfect read. I also want to make the space appealing and welcoming so that they want to come back again and again.

Two summers ago I “genrefied” our middle school fiction collection, but not all of it.  Middle school, grades 5- 8, is my biggest group, with overlapping students in grades 3 – 8 reading at this level, depending on the patron.  I created a “Best Of” display area filled with books and series that have been consistent wins with past and present readers. Categories include Humor, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Scary, Realistic Fiction, Adventure, Sports, Graphic Novels and Mystery.  Student aides helped me move and label all the books (labels came from Demco) and edit records in the catalog.  I have as many books/series as possible facing book cover out, and the rest are alphabetized.

How did I choose which books to feature and which to leave on the shelves?  I did not put Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Harry Potter, and Rick Riordan books in the mix because the students who read these books find them.  I chose books that circulate often, get regular positive feedback from my readers, and/or I really loved. These are the books I want to keep in patron view at all times, and right at my fingertips too when students request recommendations.  When students come in looking for read -alikes – they know where to go whether it’s finding something similar to the Treehouse books by Andy Griffiths or Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan.  It’s really satisfying for me when a student walks purposefully over to the Humor shelves and after browsing for a bit finds the perfect read.  I also hear a lot of conversations between patrons sharing recommendations. It’s a huge time saver for me which is great since I manage so many grade levels. 

Our library also has a display area for new books, and a Read box.  The new books and Read box include books I am really pushing, and I don’t want to shelve them. Either I need student feedback because the book is hot off the press, or it’s a book that doesn’t circulate, but I am certain will find its audience if I display it front and center.  I’ve determined that often shelved fiction books are overlooked books – though I do peruse the shelves regularly to locate forgotten gems and series that haven’t been moving.

We also have a First to Read Shelf. Students choose a book that hasn’t been read before, if they finish it they get a “First to Read” sticker placed inside the book with their name.  That sticker goes a long way in encouraging many readers to try a new book.  I always ask students if they liked a book they are returning, especially if it’s new to our library.

I’ve also genrefied the teen section, and I am working on lower school displays.  Currently I use a lot of bins, tubs and wire racks to ensure that books for lower school students (grades 1-4) are accessible. I also place multi volume middle school series in tubs to save shelf space.  My students catch on very quickly, navigate the library displays well, and circulation is up so I feel like the system is working.

I try to change out a holiday display table by season or theme.  Currently it’s scary reads, and next month I’ll focus on gratitude.

I pilfer ideas from bookstores, other public and private librarians and would love to hear your best book display ideas.

What kind of source is this?

A website is open in one tab. A journal article is open in another. A newspaper article from a database is open in another one. And, just for good measure, there’s an encyclopedia entry open in yet another tab. Is it any wonder my students have a hard time discerning what type of source they’re looking at?

I assume my students are not alone in struggling to figure out what type of source they’re looking at. This leads to questions when creating citations, of course, but it also creates challenges much earlier in the process. Knowing what type of source you’re looking at is an important part of evaluating sources, especially when it comes to determining if your source is relevant to your information need. 

I started the year working with some of our Senior English classes on research questions inspired by their summer reading book, Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. As I worked with the teachers to plan this project we decided this would be a great time to work with students on learning more about different types of sources. We knew we wanted them to look at different types of sources for their research, and be able to talk about why the sources they picked were best suited for their information need. We were also helping that this work with source types would help us lay some groundwork for later assignments. 

I wanted to give students a chance to explore the characteristics of different source types before they started their research. In the past, I’ve tried giving students example sources, but I often found that students either had a hard time moving past the content to look at the qualities of the sources or generalizing what they’d learned to other sources they found. So I decided to take specific sources out of the equation, and give students some time exploring the qualities of different source types.

I created card sorts with some of the different source types we expected students to use for this project. The source types were in blue, and there were 2-4 descriptors printed on red paper. Given the specifics of the assignment, we wanted to focus on exploring different types of news sources. I gave the collections of source types and descriptors to small groups of students, and then they worked together to assign descriptors to source types. This led to great questions as students sorted the sources and descriptions. And since this was my first time trying this out with students, I of course discovered that some of the descriptors I’d chosen fit with multiple source types. This led to great discussions about what sources have in common in addition to what makes them unique.

As we hoped, this lesson also helped us lay the groundwork for future research. Several classes are now working on a literary analysis of Hamlet, using academic journals to support their arguments. As we introduced the research project, we were able to talk with students about the qualities of academic sources in a more nuanced way, and students had a better understanding of why academic journals were particularly suited to their research task. 

My hope is to start doing some of this source exploration with younger students, so we can build on those understandings as students move through their academic careers, as well as developing their own definitions and descriptions of source types. 

A Hootenanny in the Library

At the beginning of the year we added a new event that served as a welcome, an orientation, and a big book event to the 6th grade class; it is the Hootenanny. This idea was a collaboration between the middle division librarian and the 6th grade language arts teachers. The impetus was that all the incoming 6th grade students read the book Hoot by Carl Hiaasen as part of their summer reading. The teachers and the library team wanted to create a fun, informative and bonding experience based on the book and its themes. The language arts teachers knew they wanted to end the event with a viewing of the movie Hoot; so we worked backwards from the movie timeframe to plan out the rest of the program. Since Berkeley Preparatory School is located in Tampa, Florida, this book is a great one to kick start the year and celebrate with a Hootenanny.

Originally, we envisioned that this would be an after school event, but then we were lucky that middle division program created a special schedule that day so that 6th and 7th grades could have special events for class bonding. So we had three hours and twenty minutes to plan the special event for the 6th grade. One of the library’s aims was to share all about the library and what it has to offer, so while the beginning plan was library-centric the whole event became more interdisciplinary when we began to draft the activities that the students would rotate throughout the library. 

Snapshot of the schedule

Logistically, we had our four members of the library team and all 6th grade teachers as support for the program. The librarians and language arts teachers facilitated the rotation stations while the other 6th grade teachers rotated with the students.  There were 105 students. Groups were quickly formed by preordered colored name tags. I sent out a color-coded schedule of the rotation so that transitions were smooth and timely. I also announced when 1 minute was left in a rotation.

Snapshot of one rotation

Hootenanny Stations

While we did not have folk music and dancing like a traditional hootenanny the students did waltz through seven stations of activities. Here is a description of the activities.

Hoot off

A “Battle of the Books” style activity but with the book Hoot. We set-up 10 buzzers so that students could buzz-in their answers to the book Hoot. This is a fun quiz show style activity, but it also served to promote our middle division Battle of the Books team. Berkeley annually hosts a Battle of the Books for Bay Area schools.

Virtual Library Overview

Our collection development and database librarian, gave students an overview of the digital face of the library in our library classroom. Students learned about our digital resources and how to navigate through the library webpage.

Community Service

We had a special station for students to hear from our Middle Division Service Coordinators about our robust Middle Division Community Service program; we thought this a perfect complement to the theme of activism in the book.

The Digital Lab

We also enlisted our Digital Lab Coordinator to run a design challenge and share about our creative and innovative digital lab which is just a couple of steps away from the library. The Digital Lab is another learning resource for our students and often research projects start in the library, but migrate to the Digital Lab for creating projects based on their research. 

Creative Corner

Students learned about the creative corner area in the library. We did a simple, artsy book spine creation based on the book My Ideal Bookshelf. Students decorated one book spine of a recent favorite read and then we compiled them all for one of our first bulletin board decorations. This highlighted the area of the library where students can be creative.Now the poster resides in my office.

Pin the Wise Owl Teachers to the Bookshelf

This activity was a spin-off a classic childhood game, but for the specific purpose for our students to learn about our non-fiction section of the library and where each subject area lives. I photoshopped our 6th grade teachers onto the bodies of owls and put magnets on the back. Students in small pairs had to find where that teacher-owl would perch in the stacks. So students got to learn all their teachers and identify where that subject area information would be in the library. After all the owls were placed they walked around and checked all the subject area teachers and the area where books related to their subject live. 

Burrowing Book Owls

In this station we wanted our students to get familiar with our fiction collection. We created bookmarks with owls on them to serve as book recommendations. After we explained how to navigate in the fiction section we gave students a burrowing owl bookmark so that they could place it in a book as a recommendation.They browsed the shelves to look at all the fiction books we have. By the end of all the stations there were tons of burrowing owls peeking out of the books. We shared that we would leave these recommendations there for awhile so that can come back to them. We also made special librarian recommendation bookmarks that featured our own pets.

The Grand Finale-The Film

Finally, after all the stations we had a snack break on the Aye Arboretum which is like a veranda off of the library. Our Sage Dining staff set out cookies, potato chips, and fruit. Then we headed back into the main area of the library to view the film of Hoot on our large whiteboard/projection screen. We shared with students that they could bring pillows and blankets to get comfy on the floor or sit in our available chairs. Soft seating was reserved for the teachers. We all enjoyed the movie version of the book. It was a great way to celebrate reading, the library, activism, creativity, learning and Florida while getting to know each other as a class.

Conference Takeaways? Make that Takeaway.

As a librarian who finally earned her first pair of glasses this past April, I was thrilled to hit “submit” on my registration for AISL Houston Seeing Clearly 2020. We know there is a reason AISL conferences fill up quickly; we learn so much from each other throughout the week. Based on AISL member feedback, the conference is intentionally small, letting a local planning committee create a unique experience in keeping with the character of their region and schools. This personal touch lets attendees visit schools and see behind the scenes at other libraries, and it provides a mobility that would be impossible on a much larger scale. I always return with lists of ideas and pages of notes. Some get accomplished and some enter my “someday maybe” file. But what if I instead flip the script to the ONE takeaway that turned out to be the most meaningful from any given year? My list is not what I would have expected boarding the plane heading back to TPA each spring, and yet it represents the ideas I’ve returned to repeatedly and the changes I’ve made to my own practice. Since you all are so awesome, this was a nearly impossible task! If this post sparks any ideas from your own experiences, I’d love to hear them below.

Boston 2019 – Conferences have many moments that are planned – speakers, tours, workshops – but sometimes one of the most powerful moments occur because of the unforeseen. When there was a bus delay in Boston, the fabulously fashionable Ellen Cothran revamped her presentation into a pop-up session on Harkness discussions through some sort of alchemy in a lobby at Andover. She had everyone engaged and even handed out notes and captured her audience on the fly. I’ve tried to model her energy and enthusiasm for letting learning bubble up naturally. Proctoring PSATs, walking to a performance of Romeo and Juliet, and waiting for the microwave are all possibilities to have a pop-up session with students and faculty.

Atlanta 2018 – I can totally see why Constance Vidor won a Sara Jaffarian Award for her work on turning the library into a museum with interactive exhibits. I shared the webinar with my Middle School history faculty as a way we could broaden research outcomes to reach more learners. However, here is the line from my own handwritten notes that I remember most directly as an AHA moment. “20 craft packets with black paper, sharp pencils, gold/silver sharpies, and hand out. 6 straight lines drawn on paper so it is neat. Make it easy for them.” It seems so obvious, but I needed to have that level of granularity. It might seem easy for me to say that advisors should ask students to use pencils to complete a task, but compliance will feel easier if I hand them the pencils. Thinking back to Takeaway Boston, handing out pencils is an untraditional opportunity for conversation. Win-win!

New Orleans 2017 – While I always enjoy the keynote speakers, in New Orleans Doug Johnson provided the most memorable lesson of the conference. When he spoke about building library support with little tweaks to make administrators your allies, I listened. Of particular note were three items. 1. Be seen outside your the library. 2. Don’t call it “my library” but “our library” and advocate for library users, not for library goals. 3. Principals hate surprises, whether the surprises are good or bad. If there is something innovative that is happening in the library, your administrators should hear about it from you, not from a parent on the soccer field. It allows them to speak knowledgeably about the library programming and puts them in the position to support you. This directive to share positives has been key in building support outside my walls.

Los Angeles 2016 – Talk about “unknown unknowns.” Until Nora Murphy’s eye-opening presentation on frogs and axolotls, otherwise known as source literacy, I had been happy that teachers at my school knew how to direct students towards database usage. But we fell far short of teaching source literacy for untraditional or subject-specific sources, like photo archives, trade publications, or policy briefs. We don’t let our students take the shortcut of relying on mythical universal expertise; we know this is subject-specific. Thinking about where we encounter sources in our daily lives and how this differs by discipline has led to thoughtful discussions with department chairs about what quality sources look like in different disciplines. My students had been too quick to assume neutrality and authority in sources they encountered, and this session gave me the vocabulary to add nuance to our research program. I have since sought out Nora’s presentation for her insights and humor.  

Tampa 2015 – Conference planning is hard work. Much more time is spent focusing on raising money, building bus routes, writing bus scripts, determining meal plans for many varieties of diets, and coordinating breakout rooms than you would think. Five years later, I needed to look through my folder to remember the programming, compared with many memories of logistics. If you’re heading to Houston and see someone with a Conference Planner tag, thank them for all the weekends and evenings they devoted to set the stage for you to learn. Team Houston, there is a subset of AISL librarians that you’ll join on April 3. When talking with this esteemed group, you’ll never take the AISL conference for granted again.

Again it’s not always the skills but mindsets that have had a lasting influence. I’m better for our camaraderie, and I thank all AISL members for that!

AAAAH! Or, A(p)A A(nnot)A(ted) (Bibliograp)H(ies)!

I can remember, with some fondness in hindsight, the first and maybe only annotated bibliography I was assigned as a high school student. It was for Biology, and I was probably a senior because I am pretty sure that I drove myself to a semi-distant branch of the county public library system in order to access their periodical room. The topic was genetically modified tomatoes, as I recall. I spent a few hours there finding articles, taking notes, recording citations, maybe making some photocopies. This was a memorable experience because 1) I drove myself somewhere for scholarly purposes and felt awesome; 2) I figured out how to find and use periodicals in a library; 3) I never forgot what an annotated bibliography was and how it could be valuable in a research process. Writing those annotations made me take a deeper and more critical look at the sources I found and exercise some metacognition in the process.

Even though I had to drive to a public library (not even my local branch – and how did I even know where it was without GPS?), figure out where the back issues of these magazines were, spend hours combing through bound periodicals, find coins for photocopies, and create APA citations by hand, I think it was easier than the task before my Scientific Research and Design students. While they can, in theory, complete the entire assignment from their seat in the classroom or library, the sense of ease and convenience we are lulled into by online databases, Google Scholar, and citation managers has led to lessons in source evaluation that have to be reviewed many times in many ways. 

I know I am not the first among us to bring this up, not even on this blog, but it is a challenge for our students to understand what a journal is when every information source they gather is found the same way – through structuring a search query (with varying levels of expertise) either in a library database or an Internet search engine. I can tell them that they need to find scholarly, scientific articles, but when we’ve done such a good job teaching students to evaluate web-based sources using the CRAAP test or similar, there’s another leap from judging a source to be current, reliable, authoritative, and accurate to judging what qualifies as a scientific paper. Even checking the “peer-reviewed” box in the result limiters doesn’t always do the trick – we still see book reviews and news articles coming from academic journals. And how to distinguish an open access journal from a website, especially when that online open access journal isn’t really a periodical? I wish I had reread Dave Wee’s post including the  “super boring, boring, and easy”  source literacy exercise a few weeks ago instead of just now. 

Lesson for me: check the blog and the listserv archives before introducing a concept to students, even if I think I’ve got it covered. This assignment has been a good reminder for me that even though I think I am going slowly and taking time with each phase of the research process, there are some things on which I need to provide more direct instruction. For one, the annotation. 

I have worked with classes on annotated citations, but not always been the one to evaluate them. I’ve created embeddable slideshows for teachers and resource guides on the subject, all with great tutorials and tips from university libraries and writing centers. Nevertheless, while noticing that some students were having a hard time understanding that the annotation is not just a summary or rephrasing of an abstract, I heard this coming out of my mouth, and saw hands reaching for pens: 

Your APA annotation should tell your reader WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY,  and HOW.

This was a shorthand way of getting at the elements of an analytical/critical annotation.

Who – how can you assess the authors’ authority and expertise? What are their credentials and affiliations?

What – what sort of investigation is reported on here? Is this a review of the literature? An article on original research? A meta-analysis? What are the authors’ conclusions?

When – is this work current? Does that matter? Has much research been done since publication?

Where – where was the article published and where did you find it?

Why – what is the purpose of the investigation (or, what is the authors’ research question)? Why is it useful to you?

How – what was the authors’ methodology? How does this work fit with the literature, and your own work?

This is, in my opinion, actually a little bit of a stretch, but the familiar “who, what, when, where, why, how” starters seemed to help some students to take a more evaluative and critical view of the sources that had made their way into those NoodleTools projects.