Horace Mann Book Day, Thursday April 6th: A preview of this year’s Summer Institute

For 23 years, the Horace Mann School in the Bronx, NY, has hosted our Book Day, a day each spring when the school community — students, faculty, parents, and alumni — along with a host of guest speakers turn our attention to exploring the issues and themes raised in a single book. Classes in our Upper Division for our  740 students and 150 faculty members are cancelled for the day so that students and faculty can give their full attention to the day’s proceedings. The day is an exploration of one work through interdisciplinary workshops, discussions, art and theater pieces, and larger assemblies. This year the school is tackling the very raw emotions and personal narrative in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. Books in recent years have included Chris Bojhalian’s novel of the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls; E.L. Doctorow’s The March; Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Oliver Sacks’ work, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. All of the students in the Upper Division have read Coates’ book and teachers have been incorporating the title into their curriculum throughout the year.

In several of the past Book Days we were able to invite the author of the selection to join us for the day.  Last year, Chris Bohjalian, along with the director of the upcoming movie of “The Sandcastle Girls,” joined us for the whole day to discuss the Armenian Genocide and other genocides in the 20th and 21st centuries. In 2009 Ann Patchett joined us to discuss her novel Bel Canto and started us off on a day-long adventure exploring terrorism, translation, hostage crises, the diplomacy of chess, and a wide variety of other topics. In 2008, E. L. Doctorow joined us for a brilliant exploration of life at the turn of the century in the United States in Ragtime; he was supposed to join us for The March in 2015 but he fell ill and historian Eric Foner stepped in to take his place. In 2007 we read both plays that comprise Angels in America, and we were joined by Tony Kushner as our keynote speaker for the event. In 2004 Tim O’Brien joined us as the keynote speaker for the opening assembly for his book The Things They Carried, and Walter Cronkite and Reuven Frank, former president of NBC Nightly News during the Vietnam War — and both grandparents of students at Horace Mann –, joined us at the closing assembly to discuss the role of the media during war.

Book Day consists of an opening assembly at 8:45 in which a student musical or acting piece is followed by a keynote speaker. This year we are being joined by Dr. Jelani Cobb for the keynote address. Dr. Cobb is a regular contributor to The New Yorker and was featured recently in the Academy Award-nominated documentary feature, “The 13th.” The assembly is followed by four breakout sessions, which are 55 minutes in length, with an hour lunch breaking up the day. The workshops run up to the closing assembly at 3:00. This year’s closing assembly will feature an original rap song about Between the World and Me; students in our HM Stomp dance troupe; and one of our own alumni from the Class of 2008 — Chidi Akusobi — reflecting on his American Dream and the journey he has traveled from arriving in the U.S. as a two-year-old from Nigeria through his recent work in epidemiology and infectious diseases.

Here is a link to this year’s Book Day — Between the World and Me. And think about how you might be able to bring a program like Book Day to your own school. This year’s AISL Summer Institute, hosted by Horace Mann School, will focus on this idea of “one school, one book.” The dates of the Summer Institute are June 27-29, with the check in on the evening of June 27, followed by two full days of program planning and sessions on the nuts and bolts of putting together a similar type day that makes sense for your school.

To register for the Summer Institute, please click on this link. You’ll find the full schedule of the day and what to expect to get from the two days of workshops and discussions. If you have any questions about the Summer Institute, please feel free to email me at Caroline_Bartels@horacemann.org.

Design Thinking @ Your Library, a SI2016 Recap

Librarians are, by our very nature, selfless creatures. We think about our users constantly, in just about every area of our work. From collection development to research instruction, web design to furniture and paint colors. But do we really know them and understand the full spectrum of their needs?

Enter Design Thinking @ Your Library, the 2016 AISL Summer Institute.

This June, 36 librarians came together from the four corners of the United States, representing Lower, Middle, and Upper Division libraries, all with a single mission: to learn how to “do” Design Thinking and to return to our schools ready to tackle challenges, great and small.

My background in Design Thinking is varied. Three years ago I participated in an awesome Leadership & Design Design Thinking workshop here at Emma Willard. We designed around the downtown Troy revitalization effort. This spring, I took an ALA course that applied DT to information literacy instruction.  I have read about it and watched videos on it. I was on a committee at school where we used it to study the effectiveness of blended learning in our classrooms. There have been some awesome Independent Idea blog posts in the past that dealt with the DT in the library, but in the vein of all the other awesome posts of late where bloggers admit their limitations,

I still couldn’t quite wrap my mind around how it would work, from start to finish, in the library world. There, I said it.

The Summer Institute changed all of that.

We started with an opening cocktail party where we mingled and got to know one another. We enjoyed delicious food and drink but then…it was time to get down to business. We split up into teams for a quick, fun Marshmallow Design Challenge.

Photo Jun 21, 7 37 57 PM (1)Many a group has attempted this challenge before, from Kindergartners to PhDs , engineers to corporate executives. Who do you think is the most successful? The engineers? Think again! It’s the little ones! Why? Because they are completely open minded. They jump right in and start building. Adults plan, contemplate the “what ifs”, and basically eat up their 18 minutes. Kids aren’t afraid to fail. They build. It falls down. They try again. If you need a great team building activity for a faculty meeting, this is a great one.

Photo Jun 22, 2 04 45 PM

Highlights of the SI included a fantastic keynote by Steven Bell giving us a birds eye view, or WHY Design Thinking works in tackling our “wicked problems”. Two of my amazing colleagues, science teachers and experienced design thinkers, then stepped in to teach us HOW to do it. We practiced as a group designing around my nemesis: a rickety wooden book cart circa 1960-somethin’, that hurts me, literally, falling over when I least expect it, bruising my shins. My assistant and I explained our many problems with the cart, the group interviewed us further to practice the empathy stage of the DT process, then everyone broke into teams to determine what they thought the “real” problem was (ie: was it a physical cart issue or a process issue?). That was an interesting conversation in and of itself! Their prototypes were AMAZING, and included, among other features, a student-led shelving system, fancy carts with huge tires, device charging stations so that we can listen to music while we shelve, flat, adjustable shelves to accommodate oversize books and a laptop for doing inventory, among other things. Designs shared via Twitter were picked up by Demco. How cool is that? I digress…

The final part of the conference was the one that my colleagues and I were most anxious about. How could we divide such a diverse group into balanced teams, around shared challenges in varied divisions, in a way that made sense and provided them with real, applicable, takeaways from the SI?

On the fly, we asked them to take a piece of paper, write their division at the top, their challenge as a headline, and at the bottom, which “track” of the SI their challenge fell under: Research, Physical Space, Maker, or simply “Other”.

You know what? IT TOTALLY WORKED.

Rather than tell you about their intriguing challenges, their thoughtful “What If…” statements, their design horizons, and their prototypes, why don’t you check it out on your own in this SI Libguide I created? While you’re there, feel free to visit the presentations, see the recommended reading, and download the free DT Toolkit provided by IDEO.

How can we ensure that we are creating the spaces, programs, and lessons that our community needs, both now and in the future? We do what we do best: we observe, we question, we listen, we invite other perspectives to the table, we think outside the box, we take risks, we try things! Whether we realize it or not, the skill set emphasized in design thinking is very much what we as librarians do best.

SI Participants, feel free to share your reflections below. If anyone has questions or if you would like to discuss the experience further, please let me know!

SI2017 will be here before you know it! It will be hosted by Caroline Bartels at the Horace Mann School in NYC focusing on One Book One School. More info to come as planning progresses.

I wish you all an excellent start to the ’16-’17 school year!

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