on preparing for the zombie apocalypse…

Way, way, way back when I was in library school, I remember our professor talking about developing policy and procedures manuals. “What would happen to your library and your program if, for some reason, you unexpectedly weren’t able to return to you position. Would the person taking over for you know how to keep your library running?”

Policies and Procedures are Boring…

So… This is a post about documenting and organizing your library’s policies and procedures manuals, but if I made that the title, let’s face it, it’d sound boring as hell and nobody would want to read it so let’s go with zombies instead!

Don’t Eat That Cannoli!!!

What would happen to your library and your program if you and the entirety of your staff were served delicious cream filled cannoli that, unbeknownst to you, were tainted with a parasite that turned all of you into zombies and thus, unable to fulfill the responsibilities and duties that you carry out so gracefully and effortlessly day in and day out?

Well realistically (because we should always be realistic when thinking through what we’d do in a zombie apocalypse) people would, you know, be trying to not have their faces eaten off by roaming hoards of zombies so I’m guessing that maybe database access or reserving study room space might not be at the VERY TOP of everyone’s lists of of things to do, but let’s just go with this and see what happens… 🤣🤣🤣

Anyway… Would the surviving souls (plural because they’re gonna find out that each member of a library staff does at least 1.5 FTE amount of work) asked to fill your sizable shoes know that the library opens at 7:30 AM everyday? Would they know how to start-up and login to all of your hardware? Would your database subscriptions get renewed on time? Would they know how to order new books? Would they know how to process new books that have been ordered and received?

Documenting is One Thing…

My staff and I have been trying to think through, document, and organize all of the tasks that we do over the course of a school year. The task is a lot harder than you’d think simply because we do so much of our work automatically. It’s hard to describe a task that you do virtually automatically in writing on a page. You need to include enough detail so that the instructions are clear, yet concise enough so that the instructions are so overwhelming that they are virtually unusable.

We started by making time to document tasks as we did them. As I saw our library assistant processing new books there was a constant stream of “Can you please write down EVERYTHING YOU DO from the time that you open the box to the time you put the book on the ‘to be cataloged’ cart in the workroom, please?”

Need to order copy paper for the Faculty Work Room? Here’s how you do it…

Organizing for Discovery is Another…

Getting all of your disparate instructions for various tasks together is one thing, but putting them together and organizing them in some form so that another human being might actually be able to find and make use of them is completely another!

In our case, Nicole, new AISL blogger and the librarian I have worked with and shared an office with for the last 10 years will be taking over as Director of Library Services here next year so we largely left the task of putting our various documents together to the person who, ultimately, will be the one looking for them 5 months from now. Here is her organizational scheme. Ultimately, I’m guessing that in the event of a zombie apocalypse even someone who is not Nicole, would be able to look through the folder list and figure out where to look for what they needed.

Note: Every library needs a *Library Junk Drawer 🤣🤣🤣

Institutional Access is Key…

When I took over as Director of Library Services here 10 years ago, one of the most challenging things to deal with was the fact that Shared Google Drives were not yet available so most of our library’s documents were owned by my predecessor. Though the document was shared with people who still worked at the institution and IT services purposely kept my predecessor’s gmail account active, there is something deeply unsettling about relying on Google docs and sheets to manage your program THAT YOU DO NOT OWN!!! It was a long process, but we eventually transferred ownership of all of our documents.

A number of years ago, our school started the process of moving important common documents such as library policy and procedures manuals to SHARED DRIVES owned by the school rather than by individual employees who may retire or move on to other adventures, but if you’re in the process of creating your library’s polices and procedures manuals, consider ways to assure that they’ll be accessible long after you have moved on.

What Else…?

My next task is to go through everything that lives on our library’s Libguides site and make sure that every linked slideshow, image, and document get moved to our shared drive space so that should a Libguide get reused in the future, that eveything will be able to be revised and updated.

What else should go into a policies and procedures manual? What else should I do before I consume that last delicious cannoli, become a zombie, and head off into the sunset?

Please hit reply below and make a suggestion. We need to know what we’ve missed!

Thank you!

Reading Comprehension, Resilience, and Identifying Aboutness

I don’t know about you, but I am noticing quite a drop in students’ ability to read for information. We are experiencing a lot less resilience and a lot more rebellion against reading activities. Students complain “this isn’t English class,” when asked to engage with text in their other subjects. Thus, some teachers and I are reviving an old lesson in strategic reading as students prepare to undertake background research for their science fair projects.

I would love to hear how you are handling these challenges, as I think about how to repurpose the following lesson.

An age-old problem, of course, is a lack of reading-level appropriate materials on certain topics, especially for our middle school students. Two years ago, our seventh grade science teacher asked me to help students tackle navigating a slightly too hard article to learn some necessary information. My then-TA Anna came up with a lesson that met with great success.

Each group of students were assigned one article from a series taken from a single source. For homework, the skimmed the article. In class, we gave them a second copy of their articles and a specific prompt:

What are the abiotic factors (of your topic) and how do they interact with the biotic factors in the ecosystem?

We asked them to go back to their article and identify which parts of the article would help them answer their prompt. They were to note the text that looked useful and cross out any text that did not appear to help them answer their question.

Students stared at us, open-mouthed. We explained that they would only be working to read closely the parts of the article that had the information they needed (remember, they had looked at the entire article already…though they probably had not understood large parts of it), so we needed them to cross out anything that would not be helpful so they would feel freed from the need to read and understand it.

They continued staring at us. We next reminded them that each student had a second, clean copy of their article. If they crossed something out by mistake, it would not be lost — they had a back-up copy. (My TA had been very clear that fear of missing something would keep students from eliminating unhelpful text, and they needed the safety blanket of the ability to retrieve text, if necessary.)

Finally, they stopped starting, and started crossing out. With vigor and glee.

We then moved on to comprehending significantly smaller chunks of text, and the students felt gratified by the practice. They were able to speak to their prompts by the end of class. Our learning specialist even adopted the strategy to teach to specific students across the grades.

It is a tricky thing, balancing the need to know the context in which your needed information appears with the ability to target your reading successfully. It is my hope that employing this technique again this year will help students view reading for information not just as something being done to them, but as an incisive tool they can wield as needed.

But I would be really grateful to hear, if you have encountered similar challenges, how you responded!

Quiz Bowl Part II

Here’s the second part of my interview with my Overlake colleague, Kelly Vikstrom-Hoyt, about her Quiz Bowl experiences. Part I posted on February 14.

Rebecca: What’s a memorable success or achievement your teams have experienced?

Kelly: The Middle School team had just started competing in online tournaments through TQBA (Texas Quiz Bowl Alliance) in 2022. We did one tournament and entered the top division, and got 23rd out of 25 teams. The tournament director suggested that we enter the elementary bracket for the next tournament (because most of the kids were in 6th grade anyway), and we ended up getting second in the division. So for the next tournament, we moved up to the middle division and ended up winning and qualifying for nationals! Now we regularly compete in the upper division and usually place in the top 10.

Rebecca: How do you handle setbacks or disappointments with the kids?

Kelly: Quiz bowl is all in your head – literally. So it is easy for kids to get down on themselves or get psyched out by another team that buzzes quickly or knows more of the answers. I encourage the kids to get out of their heads and try to get them to be more playful. When I took the Upper School team to Chicago for nationals, we had a disappointing day with a lot more losses than we were used to. I knew we needed to shake it off, so we left the hotel and took the train to a pizza place, got Chicago pizza and took it to a park (it was a lovely day). Then the kids asked if they were allowed to go on the playground, and I told them they were REQUIRED to play on the playground. And after all the running and playing (remember these are upper school kids), they got out of their heads and were able to have fun and win more rounds the next day.

Rebecca: How do you foster a sense of inclusivity, teamwork, and participation among a diverse group of students?

Kelly: It can be really challenging because some kids are just fast and know a lot of random information. This can make the other kids feel as if they aren’t contributing as much. But since there are both tossups (which are answered individually), and bonuses (which are answered as a team), I try to get everyone involved in the bonuses, even if just as a sounding board to double check that answers are right. The other thing I try to do is encourage kids to take risks, including sometimes buzzing and getting it wrong, and praising them when they do. One of our strongest upper school players is also the person who gets the most wrong answers. And I point this out regularly so that students don’t feel embarrassed when they get something wrong.

Rebecca: Have you observed any positive impacts on academic performance or enthusiasm for learning as a result of quiz bowl participation?

Kelly: These kids are already super academically motivated. But it is interesting to see them making connections between information they learned in class and questions in Quiz Bowl. When there’s a question about something they “just did in class that day,” they love it. Students will also let the younger kids know “you haven’t learned that yet” when they know a concept is taught later in the year in that grade. 

Rebecca: What advice would you give to librarians who want to support or initiate quiz bowl activities in their schools?

Kelly: We have a lot of random knowledge and information at our fingertips! This is a great way to market that and remind people that you hold the key to accessing that knowledge. I was afraid, at first, that I’d have to come up with all the questions – but there are so many resources out there already that I have literally never had to make up questions. But I do point out resources that will be helpful to kids who want to study or learn more about something. Start small – I started out with middle school just being a trivia club and we did lots of different activities related to trivia. But then they really enjoyed the more formal structure of regular quiz bowl, so we shifted to just that.

Rebecca: What has been the most rewarding aspect of running quiz bowl teams for you?

Kelly: It is another way for me to connect with kids and see them in a different way that they typically show up in the library. The relationship building is really what keeps me going, even when I sacrifice my weekend for a tournament.


“Quiz Bowl.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia, 31 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiz_bowl.

“For an article aimed at librarians, I am interviewing a colleague who runs quiz bowl teams for middle and upper school, including weekly meetings and local, online, and travel tournaments. What questions should I ask her?” prompt. ChatGPT, version 3.5, OpenAI, 2023, chat.openai.com/c/dfd0c6bd-f1dd-4a59-aea9-98ffef558101.

Lower School Research and Database Trials

Is Research Season underway at your schools?

February brings the start of a flurry of circulation, requests for articles, database mini-lessons and, of course, a time when the databases are celebrated, criticized – or – yikes, underutilized.

At the Lower School Campuses of my school, we have remained steadfast promoters of databases. At the First and Second Grade levels, we are teaching the compound word, breaking up it’s “big word feel” into something that feels approachable. We also teach the difference between a “search engine” and a “database” – which is an interesting conversation for another blog post!

Retrieved from https://www.rawpixel.com/image/9216044/vector-crown-logo-illustrations CC0 License

As we begin the Research Season, we ask our students to become the “Royalty of Research” and to become the academic researchers that we are teaching them to be. We also call to mind our Bolles Way which is “pursuing excellence through courage, integrity and compassion.” These practices set a foundation for our expectation of students as they begin to build practices of research.

We have a variety of digital resources for our students to use in tandem with print resources as required by their teachers. Our resources that have remained constant over the years are: Gale Elementary, PebbleGo and PebbleGoNext.

These have been excellent products that have stood the test of time (and changes in research focus), have excellent customer service, and truly improve and expand year over year. These products also routinely provide students with academic support needs various modalities in which to use the interfaces.

We enjoyed Britannica and Britannica Kids, but this year their pricing schedule jumped and it was time to go out into the marketplace and see what is currently available to Lower School students pursuing academic research.

After a quick request from the Listserv, I decided to initiate a trial with WorldBook and Ebsco.


Many of you may already enjoy this wonderful resource. We have not had it at the Lower School level here at my school. Brittanica got mixed reviews from teachers, so I decided to go ahead and try another encyclopedia. VERDICT: it has been fantastic! I highly recommend to schools seeking a companion to a more generalized database.

Gave us all the flexibility of an online encyclopedia with all the modality options as well as topical availability to match our research needs.

For example, our Fifth Graders do a research project in tandem with their reading of Lois Lowry’s NUMBER THE STARS. I did a quick preview of what students would encounter with WORLDBOOK with the search term “World War II” and found the resource friendly to navigate, friendly to evaluate (for type of material) and friendly to read. A win all around.


After poking around, I have determined EBSCO is a solid product for Middle and Upper School environments. I found navigational tools to be cumbersome for newer computer users, and frankly, the layouts were not designed for younger researchers. VERDICT: Not for us at the current moment. Great for our MS/US campuses to explore if they felt the need to add to their Gale suite.

I did a quick preview of what students would encounter with EBSCO for “World War II” research, and while would be very interesting for some of our students, the majority would be left frustrated and unsure of how to narrow down source material. Plus, the reading level of EBSCO’s overview articles was going to be just right for some and too high for most.

At the Lower School level, I work with teachers to scaffold lateral reading, citations, source evaluation and notetaking. When evaluating these two options, it was very clear that WorldBook would be the best option to provide students. It has been revealing to talk with teachers about student experiences during the trial – and how I can best leverage my budget to meet the research and informational needs of Lower School students.

What are the sources your Lower School students use for academic research?

#WebbReads Wednesday and Friday Updates

For several years now, I’ve sent out two weekly newsletters – one to students and one to teachers. When I first started at Webb, the library was in a separate building from both of the divisions that it served, so it was hard to keep students, faculty, and staff updated on what was happening unless they specifically sought out the library. We have since gotten new libraries within the buildings of the divisions we serve, but my newsletters have become a tradition. They’re an easy form of advocacy and a weekly reminder to the school that we are here and have something to offer them. Here’s what I’ve learned from seven years of newsletters.

Pick a newsletter creation software. There are tons of choices here, some free. My favorite is Smore, which does require a subscription but is super easy to use. It is all drag and drop, and they make it easy to keep the same format each week. Currently, I’m using a tool that is built in to our learning management system. The biggest advantages of this is that everyone gets the newsletter in 2 places – their email and in the LMS – and, they can’t unsubscribe from me (yes I’ve had teachers unsubscribe and I will forever hold a petty grudge for that). Canva has newsletter templates, and you can get a free educator account to access their pro content. However, the newsletters I’ve seen come out of Canva get sent out as a link to the news rather than including it in the email, and I know my students, and many faculty, will never click on the link to read. I don’t know if Canva offers a different option, but I wanted to put that out there. MailChimp, Microsoft Publisher, and Adobe Spark are also options.

Choose whatever day works for you. Student news goes out on Wednesday because #WebbReads Wednesday is cute. Teachers get a Friday update because I often have time on Friday and I can choose whether it is a look back on the previous week or a look ahead to the next. I also know that a lot of the campus wide communications happen earlier in the week, so I have slightly less competition. If there’s no school on a specific Friday, I don’t worry about a newsletter. Pick whatever works for you and your community.

Don’t bury the lede. The first few times I sent out a newsletter, I sent it out monthly. However, after a full month, there would be a million things that I wanted to include, and a newsletter just doesn’t have space for that. Just like in journalism, you need to think about what will appear above the fold – what shows up in the email preview, and what will people see if they never scroll down? I decided to focus on one big story weekly, rather than try to focus on multiple things monthly.

Things to include. I have one main story that changes every week, and I keep a running list of ideas in my notes app for times that I feel stuck. For teachers: new databases, educator-specific databases, non-book resources (Breakout boxes anyone?), book award news (not just YMA but Mathical awards, etc.), library events (book fair, author visits), test-prep resources, resources for cultural heritage month lessons, items from AASL’s Best Digital Tools, graphs/stats about library usage. For students: new books, new book displays, books on a theme, state book award books, test prep resources, library events, contests, reading challenge updates, Sora magazines. Every newsletter I send out has our recent Instagram posts and the librarians’ currently reading titles, while teachers get links to the library calendar and students get links to the reading challenge and Sora.

Keep going – I promise someone is reading it. I won’t lie – occasionally I feel like I’m screaming into the void when I send out newsletters. Sure, I can check the official stats of how many people opened the email and clicked on a link, and my stats are pretty good, but it’s the other small ways I see my newsletters’ impact that make me happier. A math teacher will ask to borrow the book that I was reading last week, or an English teacher will tell me they didn’t know there was a Stonewall Book Award and ask to check out previous winners. A new teacher didn’t know we had Breakout boxes and now wants help setting one up for a class. I even have teachers reply to the newsletter saying they’ve been meaning to get with me to schedule research classes all week and the newsletter reminded them. I’ve had students ask for help signing up for the test prep resources I shared a week later. Last week I reminded students about our state book award process and 3 of those titles got checked out by the end of the week.

Some weeks, the newsletter is as quick as I can make it, while other weeks it’s a labor of love, but either way it is reminding my school community that the we are here for them. And don’t forget to include your admin to your email list – let them see all the ways you and your library are awesome! What ways do you communicate with your school community? Do you have any advice to add? Share in the comments!

Quiz Bowl Part I

My colleague at Overlake, Kelly Vikstrom-Hoyt, runs highly successful Quiz Bowl clubs for both middle and upper schoolers. I thought AISL librarians might be interested to hear more details, so Kelly graciously agreed to share her knowledge and expertise. Many thanks to her for taking the time, and for giving thoughtful and detailed answers in our interview. As the interview ran long, this is part one; part two will post on 2/21.

Background: Early radio game shows inspired a plethora of quiz-bowl type competitions in the US and around the world. While different iterations are easy to find, Quiz Bowl in the US usually involves four-person teams answering questions in mostly academic fields, in levels ranging from elementary through graduate school. Questions come in two different types, toss-up and bonus, and students use a buzzer system to claim a question. If students answer early in the question, with less information, they can earn additional points. Coordinators can purchase Quiz Bowl materials, including questions, from sources like NAQT (National Academic Quiz Tournaments, founded in 1996). Students ready to move beyond their school competitions can enter/qualify for local or national competitions and weekend tournaments, including online and in-person tournaments.

Rebecca: How did you get started in Quiz Bowl, and why?

Kelly: I participated in Knowledge Bowl in high school. Although my team was really strong, I wasn’t the best, but I still had fun. In my second year at Overlake a new student wanted to start a Quiz Bowl Team but there wasn’t a faculty advisor. When I saw that, I jumped all over it. I felt like it would be fun with my previous experience, and I was also uniquely qualified to find them all sorts of random sources of information if they wanted to study.

Rebecca: What is your role in Overlake’s Quiz Bowl teams, and what is your time commitment?

Kelly: I’m the primary faculty advisor for both the Upper and Middle school Teams. Upper School clubs meet every other week for an hour and Middle School clubs meet every week for an hour. We do about 5-7 tournaments a year for each team, and those are a full day on Saturday. Then, when and if we make the National Tournament, I travel to Chicago for three days in the spring with each team.

Rebecca: When do teams meet, and what happens at Quiz Bowl club meetings?

Kelly: Competing Academic Teams meet at various times. Quiz Bowl meets during our usual club blocks during the school day, but we also have after school practice on Fridays. During our meetings we primarily do practice questions and play as if it were a tournament. I will stop and offer advice and coach the kids on when and how to buzz, and when information is something that comes up frequently. I know that some teams do a lot of group studying, but I feel like doing questions is more fun and the students still retain a lot of the knowledge.

Rebecca: What’s the process for entering tournaments, and how do you choose which tournaments to enter?

Kelly: Tournaments are challenging. We started the team in 2019/2020 and Covid severely affected our ability to attend in-person tournaments (and there weren’t any in-person tournaments), but it also kick-started the idea of online tournaments. Knowledge Bowl is more prevalent in this area, so there isn’t a huge pool of other local teams to compete with in Quiz Bowl style. The University of Washington Quiz Bowl team puts on some tournaments, but that is all dependent on the club leadership, and some years they don’t do them. Basically, we look for local tournaments (on the NAQT website) and we look for online tournaments we are allowed to join. If it works with the students’ schedules, we sign up. You have to qualify for the national tournament by finishing in the top 10-15% of regular tournaments. 

Rebecca: What’s it like to attend a travel tournament?

Kelly: Traveling to tournaments is interesting because it is much more intense than rolling out of bed in your pajamas to compete, or just driving down to the UW. It’s especially true for this group of kids, who has mostly attended online tournaments. Somehow, the kids get much more psyched out by the competition, and hearing side chats or other teams studying. But it is super fun to be able to bond as a team, and eat meals and do things besides answer random questions together.

Rebecca: What are some challenges you face in running quiz bowl teams?

Kelly: The biggest challenge is time. The MS team meets during club time, and that doesn’t get interrupted that often, but the US team’s club meeting time frequently gets interrupted by other events, and many of the kids are on multiple clubs and try to split their time among them. In order for us to be really top notch, we’d have to carve out a lot more practice time. But the students are already so over-committed, there isn’t any other time to carve out. We did finally find a good after school time: Fridays, and this has worked well this year.


“Quiz Bowl.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia, 31 Jan. 2024, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quiz_bowl.

“For an article aimed at librarians, I am interviewing a colleague who runs quiz bowl teams for middle and upper school, including weekly meetings and local, online, and travel tournaments. What questions should I ask her?” prompt. ChatGPT, version 3.5, OpenAI, 2023, chat.openai.com/c/dfd0c6bd-f1dd-4a59-aea9-98ffef558101.

The joyful conundrum that is our tinker table

When maker spaces started popping up in school libraries, we were honest with ourselves and recognized that for our school, the 3D printer & other technological tools are best housed in our tech wing. In our Gr 9-12 library, we choose to offer a low-tech tinker table with space and supplies for hands-on activities that are often, but not always, crafts – for example, friendship bracelets, Spirograph, colouring pages, etc.

We aim to switch up the activity every week and try to be creative in terms of materials, repurposing wherever possible (one-sided abandoned print jobs, scraps of fabric). Our community is kind and generous, for example, digging out old Rainbow Looms from home when we had a recent request for that blast from the past.

What is fascinating and frustrating is our inability to predict the success of the activities. My colleague Viola is the mastermind behind the planning and scheduling and is often stymied in understanding why a particular activity didn’t gain interest or traction.

Here is an example of the wins, the perennial favourites:

  • Button-making
  • Large-scale sticky mosaics 
  • Seasonal card-making 
  • Perler beads (requires supervision of iron)

Here are some duds, activities that gathered dust and/or were pulled early due to lack of interest; 

  • Origami (works in group instruction, not when left for self-direction)
  • Sketch a snowflake (too many instructions?)
  • Make & take in general (like to do it, don’t want to take it)
  • Tshirt bags (who knows)

It is clear that self-care projects are popular; we now know that make-your-own-lip balm will be a crowd scene and prepare accordingly. With the cold weather, we’re bringing back hand warmers (little bags of rice that can be microwaved). Soon we’ll be trying out school-tartan hair scrunchies using sewing machines generously donated by our Parents’ Guild.

We know that nostalgia plays a part – it definitely factors in when we put out the Lego. However, Playdough seems to fit that category but has been very hit-and-miss. Viola is on to something by thinking that it’s about getting the first penguin in the water; once a student sits down, they are often joined by another. Sometimes we’ll ask a library regular to get the party started; they’re always happy to help and it can generate some momentum.

Until we crack the code, we will keep throwing spaghetti at the wall!

Photo below is from Lunar New Year activities – fortunes and lucky red envelopes (with chocolate coins); note that the puzzle table is usually adjacent.

“Fun kits to check out”: Action packs in action

Last week, Matt Ball of Pace Academy sent a question out to our list about “Fun kits to check out.” Our library realized my dream of activity packs (named by my cooler colleagues: “Casti Library Action Packs,” or “CLAPs”) a few years back, and some back and forth on the thread suggested I should share some details here.

We find that the use of these packs fluctuates heavily in relationship to marketing and also school vacations, but we keep them going out of a commitment to outdoor and offline activities. I suspect that schools with elementary school students would have a much higher uptake.

My colleagues, Jole Seroff and Christina Appleberry, are spectacular at making things fun and engaging. I love the thematic papers they use! Students take a tag for the CLAP they want to check out and bring it to us at the circulation desk. We grab a pack for them.

We have five themes to our CLAPs at the moment, and the back of each check-out tag tells students what they will get with a given action pack:

In addition, these cards help everyone confirm that every item is there at both checkout and return.
Advancement gave us these cute knapsacks to hold our CLAPs. Each is tagged with a card showing the topic and a catalog bar code on one side.
Each CLAP tag again lists the items we can all expect to find in the bag. It helps us remember what is in the bag at checkout and return, and assists students as they prepare to return the bag to us. As a result, we have experienced very little loss of materials, making these packs a relatively inexpensive endeavor. Sometimes, there is an invitation to engage in a communal activity with the CLAP. (Note our inflatable pillow is a lice-proofable material…..)
The weaving and pompom kits include the choice of two colors of yarn. We bring students to this drawer to chose what they want. We have found our students to be responsible and return extra materials. In this drawer you can also see our extra looms, extra embroidery hoops, and the biggest investment from our CLAPs, Sashiko fabric with water soluble dots, by Olympus. Fun fact: you can also tell students are using these packs at school by the amount of artificial turf that has made its way into the yarn drawer!

While the CLAPs do not quite see the consistent use we would like, it gives us a lot of fun opportunities to connect with students, and also lets us extend active and passive programing (we had a stargazing event and we keep a simple loom warped and ready for us in the library) in a way that students can take with them.

Our larger loom, in between projects.
Examples of student watercolors of clouds. It took a while to get students to leave their images in, instead of ripping them out to hide them from others’ view, but we are starting developing a fun collection. Each one is dated, along with a location, type of cloud, and student name and grad year. It is really lovely to be building this visible history of relaxation within our community.
We also had a student design badges that students can collect as they complete each action pack. (We also love our button-maker!)

I know that other libraries are out there running similar programs. Please feel free to share in comments, and link to pictures or other information that you have. I still fantasize about putting together local literary outings (or even for other cities) — maybe walking tours of places that appear in MG and YA literature, or activities similar to those noted in books. I’d love to have Go-Passes, as well, that students could check out to attend different museums. Right now, we don’t have the traffic needed to justify those purchases, but I have my eye on the future!

Does your library offer something in this realm?

Making Books Easy

I recently read Daniel Willingham’s The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads. The book leads readers through each aspect of cognition that contributes to being a successful reader. And, perhaps of no surprise for librarians, the constant message was that folks who are good at reading are folks who read a lot. So, I was particularly interested in Willingham’s suggestions on how to get students to read more. It boils down, in many ways, to this: kids need to have books in their space all the time, it needs to be easy, otherwise the things that are easy (tik tok, anyone?) will win their attention. What I’m sharing here is one small step I’ve taken to help smooth the path between “I have some time on my hands” and “I’m reading.”

There are readers who always have a full TBR queue, and then there are those who go deer-in-the-headlights when they close the back cover on their latest book. While some of us are skilled at articulating what we like about the books we love–intense worldbuilding, deep character development, particular storylines, found family, etc.–there are also those who have a harder time putting their finger on what part of a book caused a connection. What better way to help figure that out and find their next book than a bit of gentle prompting by way of a decision tree!

Another way to reduce friction is to find the right attention getters. When we meet our students where they are at, like getting excited to see the next installment of Dune, and guide them to options that they may not have considered, we make it just a little bit easier to get a book in their hands.

My goal for now is to build out decision trees and mind-map style book finding aids for each of our genres. Genrefication made it easier to get out students to a subset of books they might find interesting, hopefully these diagrams can help a bit more.

What are you doing to make books easy for students? What are the books that win your students’ attention?

Library Signage

I love a good labeling system, don’t you? Signage that works makes me so happy, and when our students “get” that our signs in the library are telling them what they’re looking at … ahhh, it’s so satisfying.

Because our library hosts kindergarten through twelfth-grade students, our collection reflects those age and grade levels. Due to the unique limitations of our historic space, our nonfiction collection is a mix of sources suitable for grades 5 and up. This means the DK Children’s Book of Philosophy could be found on the shelf right next to Cathcart and Klein’s Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar. #SuperFunTimes 

There is something to be said, then, for simplified signage. When students get to the shelf, sure, they can take the book down, flip through the pages, and see if it’s “just right”. But on the way to the shelves, walking amongst the stacks, it would be lovely to have indicators that an 8-year-old and an 18-year-old can understand. Inspired by some brilliant signage I saw in independent bookstores last summer, I embarked on a little journey with my 5th graders through the wonderful world of library classification and signage to help make that dream come true.

Photo of fiction signage from some bookstore ... somewhere.
Fiction signage from … some bookstore … somewhere

What you need to make one-of-a-kind library signs

  • Books
  • Foam board or cardboard (I cut mine to 16”x7”)
  • Old magazines (book catalogs work best!)
  • LOTS of packing tape
  • Post-Its
  • Scratch paper
  • Markers
  • Scissors (don’t run with them!)
  • Fishing twine
  • Command hooks (I used these)
  • Hot glue gun
  • A way to make giant letters (we have a Silhouette Cameo)
  • forty-five 5th graders (or students of your choosing)

I get to see our 5th graders every 2 weeks for about 45 minutes. For the signs to truly reflect student voice, I wanted the kiddos to sift through a bunch of books from a certain area (like the 780s or the 910s), and come up with their own words to answer the question, “What are these books about?” I figured 2 class periods would be enough time for the students to come up with their own verbiage (visit 1) and then create a collage that represented that part of the collection (visit 2). In hindsight, 3 visits might have been ideal, as I ended up taping down most of the collages … but I really wanted the signs done by the time the students came back from winter break. Unrealistic timelines = more work for me!

Not only was this a fun art project that introduced students to titles they might not have known we owned, it reinforced the concept of classification (yes, all the books about the Titanic are on the same shelf because … call #s!) AND it encouraged students to use text features as they searched through the book catalogues for appropriate images. I wish you were here with me so I could walk you along the whole activity, but I’ll do my best to outline the process. 

Visit 1: Once the students (they worked in groups of 3) figured out what topics or themes their assigned books had in common, they came up with their own words/terms, which they wrote on Post-Its, and then collaborated to combine their ideas and reach a final word or phrase, which they wrote on a giant scratch sheet of paper. Admittedly, some piles of books were easier to define than others, but it was so gratifying to see their minds work to put concepts into words! 

Can you guess the Dewey section based on the students’ Post-Its? 🙂

Visit 2: Then they scoured old magazines to find images that illustrated their ideas. Book catalogs (think ABDO, Lerner, Capstone) proved to be especially useful because once a group realized they had books pertaining to, say, U.S. History, they could use the text features (table of contents, headings) to browse relevant images in the “Social Studies” section of that catalog! We turned those giant scratch sheets of paper from our first visit into envelopes in which they kept all their collage pictures, as well as their initial Post-It ideas. 

Tables of contents, titles, and headings were actually put to use as the kiddos searched for images!

So I had their collages and I had their words. All I had to do was print out their wording on the adhesive paper, and … everything else. 😆 As I type this, I realize that I could have had the students stick the words to their collage signs themselves … but again, I really wanted to surprise them when they came back from break! I used hot glue and fishing twine to make loops on the backs of the signs (where I also taped their initial Post-It ideas for reference and attribution), and then stuck the Command hooks above the appropriate shelves. The 5th graders get to see their work every time they browse the stacks – and not just them, but every student who peruses nonfiction can see the work of their peers!

I’d love to know how you’ve used student work in your library space. And if you have any ideas for crazy/crafty future projects, please share!