Library Confessions: I’m a terrible book talker

I’ve been feeling a bit ‘meh’ about some things lately, and perhaps putting some library confessions out there might at least make me feel more honest about where I feel I am professionally and what I’m doing to improve myself. With blogging, it’s easy to post only the good things and make it look like you’re a library rock star, but the honest truth is that we all have things that we struggle with professionally. It’s what we do about them that really defines us.

I’ve always felt that one of my shortcomings as a librarian is book talking. I know some teachers and other librarians who are book talking geniuses. I am not one of those people. Back in my elementary days, I could throw down a mean story time. And I feel like I’m great at connecting students with books on a one on one basis. That may be one of the roots of my book talking failures — I prefer to get to know students and their preferences, then recommend books I know they will enjoy. I usually establish those relationships so well that I don’t really have to ‘sell’ the books, I just hand them over and ask students to report back. So over the years, “Here — you’ll like this one,” is kind of the direction where my book talking skills have gone. There’s definitely not much of an art to that — so I’m working on it.

As with most things that I do, I require thought time and preparation to be anywhere decent in my execution of book talks. I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those amazing-on-the-spot-book-talk-givers. With all of my middle school and freshmen library orientation/book check-out visits this year, I did a hand full of book talks as well. I went through and pulled a selection of books that I know and love, then I wrote little blurbs on sticky notes to put on the back to use as a guide when I book talked. Of course, I kept all of the stickies, because that was a lot of work!

After two weeks of this, I realized handwritten sticky notes probably weren’t the best long term solution for keeping track of my book talk notes. I’ve since made a Google Form where I’m inputting my notes so I can reprint them on sticky notes and reuse them in the future.

And just for fun, here are some of the books I find myself recommending most often to students:

Do you have any advice to improve book talking skills? Or favorite books that are checked out every time you share them with students?

Expectations with a bit of humor…

It’s hard to believe that many of my friends are just starting their school year this week, as we have been back in the swing of things for a month now. It’s also hard to believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted here, but after what was a year full of challenges and changes for me professionally and personally (move to a new school and a total home remodel, anyone?), I’m ready to kick it back into high gear for an awesome 2017-2018 school year.

Our schedule throughout the day gives our students a lot of flexibility (and “free” time), which means the library is often PACKED. Even though expectations for common spaces were discussed with the student body when we returned from summer, we were already noticing tons of trash and food left behind in the library after breaks. My fabulous library assistant and I are on the same page — we want students to feel welcome, we don’t want to fuss at them all the time, but we also need them to respect the library space.

After yesterday’s morning tutorial (a 45 minute block where we average about 150 students in the library), the library was pretty trashed from Goldfish and cereal. We had talked about making a humorous video to get our point across about this last year, but we never got around to it.

With my schedule open yesterday, it was the perfect opportunity to throw together a quick video to show to the entire upper school student body during afternoon announcements. I prefaced the video with the fact that we love that they feel so welcome and comfortable in the library…we just need them to keep this expectation in mind:

The students were definitely amused, and the faculty even more so. It’s often hard to balance enforcing library expectations while still maintaining positive relationships and open rapport with students. That balance is definitely something I struggle with, but as educators we know how important consistency is for our students. Hopefully, this fun reminder will do the trick (at least for a little while).

Down the High School Research Rabbit Hole

This school year has been full of new beginnings for me as I’ve experienced the high school setting for the first time as a librarian and settled into my new position at my amazing new school. I’ve been a blogging slacker, which I’m not going to apologize for (although I will admit that I’ve been battling with the guilt) because I’ve needed time to acclimate.

The area where I was most nervous about the transition to high school was teaching research skills. I came from a middle school setting with very little funding for digital resources to a school that highly values research and has fantastic database offerings for student use. It took me quite some time just to figure out what resources we had available here and to familiarize myself with them. Building out our new library website allowed me the time to do just that. In the first month of school (immediately following the flood when several world language teachers were stationed in the library for several weeks), I had some time to work on the structure of our new library website. We all know how important it is for our library resources to be easily accessible and user friendly. It’s hard enough to convince students to use databases over Google. We don’t need to let our clunky websites add tot he challenge! I used Weebly to build our library website, and I’m so happy with the results.

Since all of our databases are authenticated on campus with our IP address, it was important that I find a way to securely share off campus login credentials with students. I found the simplest way to do this was to create a Google Doc shared within our school’s Google Apps domain. As long as students are logged in to their school Google account, they can access this doc and access the necessary passwords.

Just like my summer weeding and fiction genrefying allowed me to get to know my print collection well, the process of developing this website helped me to become familiar with our digital resources. As I started to share this website with students and teachers through orientation type lessons on library resources, I knew that this was going to work out as the best way to get students using them more frequently.

In the past few months, I’ve had the privileged of attending and presenting at two fabulous conferences — the California School Library Association and Association of Independent School Librarians conferences. Both of these conferences allowed me to attend some great sessions on research by school librarians that I truly admire.

At the CSLA Conference, Tasha Bergson-Michelson, Connie Williams, and Castilleja School student and Library Research TA Sara Zoroufy shared a session on Source Literacy. I was absolutely amazed at the insights that Sara was able to articulate in the way that students think about and evaluate sources.  Sara has written a great post on the AISL blog on this topic, Distinguising evidence from analysis: A student’s perspective on the first step in source evaluation.

Then this week at the AISL Conference, Courtney Lewis shared a fabulous session called “Solid Research or Stuck in a Rut?” where she shared research she has collected in trying to assess the college readiness of her students and their research skills. I highly recommend you check out her slides and post on this subject on her blog, The Sassy Librarian. She also shared a great activity that she does with students called The Source Deck, created by the University of Virginia Library. I can’t wait to do this activity with a group of students, and I’m sure I’ll blog about it when I do.

So with the great ideas and resources that have been shared, I will continue to go deeper into the rabbit hole of research so that I can keep finding more ways to support my students and teachers in the research process.

Do you have any ideas or resources that have changed the way you approach research with your students?

Flooding Central with Gifts for Christmas

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The city where I live and the school district where I previously worked was massively affected by the flooding this August. Many families continue to struggle as they are displaced, work to rebuild their homes, and deal with the emotional burden of experiencing such a loss. As I shared my experiences from the flood on social media and through my blog, I had many people ask how they could help. This is a way that you can show support and care to those affected. I hope you will share this opportunity with administration or groups in your school that would be interested in adopting one or more of these students this holiday season.

If you are interested, please contact Janet Stevens at jstevens@centralcss.org.

Chapel Talk

The student vestry asked me to speak in chapel last week. It’s crazy how nervous I was speaking in front of 400 high school students, but I’m so glad I had the opportunity to share my heart with them! Here’s the text (and accompanying slides) I put together in preparation for my chapel talk:

 

I’ll admit that when Griffin approached me last week and asked if I would be willing to speak in chapel today, I was quite anxious and a little reluctant. After I agreed, I did what many of you would do — I texted my best friend.

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Later that afternoon when I had a chance to talk to her, we started brainstorming ideas on what I could talk about. Just like any good best friend would do, she reassured me that I could do this and it was a great opportunity for all of you to get to know more about me.

“Just talk about the things you love,” was her advice. That got me thinking about the core ideas that I try to live my life by:

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If you’ve been in the library lately, you’ve probably noticed that I really like inspirational quotes, and I’ve put several up on the library walls in the past couple of weeks. There’s a quote from Steve Jobs that really resonates with me about doing work that you’re passionate about:

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This was so true for me, I knew it when I found it. When I took my first position as a school librarian just over eight years ago, I knew that this was my calling.

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To find a job that allowed me to do the things I love — spending my days working with students, teachers, books, and technology — that was a great feeling.

Discovering what makes you want to get out of bed, show up, and do your best work everyday is important. That’s not to say that everyday will be all rainbows and butterflies, but at the core, your work can and should be meaningful and satisfying. You are at the point in your life when you’re figuring out who you are and what you love to do. You’re making your way towards the path to your future career.

Don’t underestimate the power of things that you find joy in, that make you curious, that challenge you. Explore and experience as many of these things as you can now, because they will help guide you down the path that will lead you to do great work in your life.

When I left my previous job to move here, my principal gave me a framed picture with this quote from Seth Godin:

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The times in my life when I’ve experienced the most growth and found myself feeling most fulfilled have happened after stepping out of my comfort zone. I’m not saying that there haven’t been times where I stepped out of my comfort zone and fell flat on my face — I’ve definitely been there too.

Coming to Episcopal this year was definitely a scary thing for me. I was comfortable at my old school, my students and teachers knew me well, and I was in a good place. But when this opportunity came about, I felt that it was time for me to try something different, get out of my comfort zone, and hopefully become an even better librarian through new experiences.

I’m so glad I didn’t let fear of change intimidate me, because I wouldn’t be here today with all of you. This is a great place to be, and I’m so thankful for opportunities like this one today. This school is full of incredible opportunities that we should all embrace as much as possible.

Another time when I tried something scary and ended up learning a lot about myself was when I first ventured into public speaking. The first time I was asked to give a keynote presentation at a school library conference, I was terrified.

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My first keynote in Springfield, Illinois was intimidating because I knew I would have to stand up in front of a room full of school librarians, most with far more work and life experience than me, and share my “expertise” in their field. I could have easily decided that I was not qualified or didn’t have a story to tell, but I decided to put myself out there and try something new.

That allowed me to discover that public speaking is something I really enjoy and helps me to push myself to be the best librarian that I can. Since then, I’ve been afforded incredible opportunities to travel and speak I get to meet other librarians and learn from them, helping me to continue to grow and learn as a professional. In fact, this time next week I will be arriving in Nashville to give the closing keynote at the Tennessee Association of School Librarians conference — an opportunity that wouldn’t have happened if I had been too scared to try something new years ago.

Most of us aren’t magically struck by the revelation that we’re good at something or love to do something that we’ve never tried before. Giving something new a try usually means feeling nervous, uncomfortable, and unsure. I know for me, though, times when I’ve discovered something great have been a direct result of forcing myself out of my comfort zone.

I want to leave you with one last quote and a few final thoughts on happiness. Henry Ward Beecher said,

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I absolutely believe that the quality of our life is influenced largely by our attitude. Making the decision each day to be joyful and appreciate small moments is essential.

The picture with this quote is a field I pass every morning on my way here. When I pass by and see the sun coming up behind the trees, I take a moment to appreciate the beauty of God’s creation.

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On summer road trips with my best friend, we relish moments on the open road with our favorite song on the radio.

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When I finish a great book, I take a minute to appreciate the person who poured their time and energy into writing it.

It’s the little moments that make life great, so enjoy them!

The Flood

For those of you who may not be aware, I live in the Baton Rouge area. Five weeks ago, our area experienced what is being called a “1,000 year flood event.” Flooding like our area has never seen. This wasn’t a hurricane, like we are accustomed to; this was a storm that sat on top of our area and dropped over 30 inches of rain in 36 hours. Although my home did not flood, we evacuated and had a period where we were uncertain about what we would return to find. My parents, grandparents, and brother and his family all had their homes flood.

I have tried several times over the past several weeks to blog about our story, but I’ve been unsuccessful up to this point. First, because we had no connectivity for the first two weeks after the flood. By the point that we were reconnected with Internet service, I was just too exhausted and too drained to get my thoughts out. We spent weeks gutting homes — putting furniture at the road, pulling out floors and drywall, then cleaning and trying to get them dry. Five weeks out, and the sides of the roads are still piled high with 4-6 feet of “garbage”, which is actually most of the worldly possessions of family and friends that couldn’t be salvaged. In the South Louisiana heat and humidity, people are still struggling to get their homes dry and mold free in order to start hanging drywall again to restore their homes.

Many schools in the area flooded. We missed our first six days of the school year — the rain started the evening before and our first day of school was canceled. Then the following entire week. We were among the first in our area to return to school, despite the fact that several buildings on our campus flooded and teachers were displaced. Schools in the neighboring parish just started back last week — after four weeks between their first few days of school and their “new start” day, many schools combined and sharing facilities in less than ideal conditions.

I wanted to write an eloquent post where I painted a full picture of what happened here, but I’ve come to realize that I can’t. It’s so overwhelming. And life isn’t going back to normal anytime soon. People have lost everything. Those who didn’t flood (and in the most heavily impacted areas — including where I live — 80-90% of homes flooded) have displaced family members living with them. Things are extremely stressful and emotional for everyone.

In the coming months, families, businesses, and schools will continue to rebuild. We need support in every way possible to rebuild. Recovery is going to be a slow and tedious process, but I know that the beautiful people of Baton Rouge and the surrounding areas will come out of this stronger than ever.

Operation Weed & Genrefy

Last week at CMS was a very emotional week. The last day for students was Wednesday and teachers wrapped up their year with the annual crawfish boil celebration on Friday. I’m thankful that I’ve attended all 9 of the CCSS end of the year crawfish boils so far and I’m sad to part ways with a district that I love.

After a very busy weekend, I started my summer with a quiet (okay, I did crank up the music since I was by myself) and very busy Memorial Day Monday at Episcopal in my new library.

I have the very ambitious goal of starting off the new school year with the fiction section fully weeded and genrefied. With the amount of traveling I’m doing this summer, this is a lofty goal. After two full days of hard work, I’m exhausted but optimistic.

Here are some pictures I snapped yesterday, before I got started and then during my initial steps of weeding and genrefication.

Like I said…I’m tired after two full, nonstop days of work. But I still wanted to share some early thoughts in my second library to genrefy.

I do have to say, this is easier the second time around. A massive weeding of a new to you/older library collection is daunting. I’m trying to take this project on much more quickly than I did the first time, and that definitely adds to the stress level. I do have to say, though, it’s manageable when you approach with the idea of weeding when “books that haven’t moved since I graduated from high school are GONE…books that haven’t moved since before I was born are WAY gone.” None the less, it’s daunting to cull such a large collection so quickly…but definitely possible and not unreasonable!

It’s also easier to genre tag when I’ve been there/done that. I’m going to write in greater detail later about the details of selecting genres, as that’s something I’m asked about frequently. Knowing my previous collection as well as I did, I’ve been able to draw on that knowledge as I work with and get to know this new collection.

I have two more busy days ahead of me before I leave this Friday on my annual road trip with my BFF. I’m so thankful that my #1 volunteer (my mom) is helping to push me through this project. I am so excited to see this project through and keep working towards an amazing start to the 16-17 school year. Stay tuned for the next update!

Passing the Torch

Dear new CMS librarian,

You’re going to love it here. This school, this library, these students, these teachers…it truly is an amazing place to work and I hope that you’re as happy and fulfilled here as I have been these past five and a half years.

I’m going to go ahead and apologize now — there will be things in this library that make you wonder about me. You’ll wonder WHAT I was thinking, why did I decide to do this that way, why didn’t I make such and such a bigger priority. As someone who has taken over two libraries already in my career (and as I move on to another), I know these things will cross your mind. Just know (like I always have about those that came before me) that I tried my best and did as much as I could as best I could. A librarian’s work is never done. The library is never perfect. There are always unfinished projects (I’ll tell you about those later). Just know that everything I’ve done here, every choice I made, was driven by a desire to make this space the best possible environment for my students and teachers. I tried not to make this library about me (okay…the pink book cart was definitely about me…it’s an exception, though), I’ve always wanted it to be about the kids.

Over the years I’ve learned that relationships are what make or break a school library program. The great thing about this school is that strong, working relationships are expected — they are the rule, not the exception. The teachers here (especially the ELA teachers) will expect you to be one of their go-to people. This is not an easy thing to establish, so I hope you will love it…and run with it! Spend time getting to know the faculty members here — they are a great group. They’re willing to try new things and let the librarian be their partner in teaching. Take full advantage of this and don’t allow it to change.

Students at CMS are READERS. You will have some great book conversations with students and it will be amazing. Get to know the collection, get to know the students, and help get books in the right hands. This library is NOT full of pristine books on tidy shelves. Once the school year gets cranked up, the shelves don’t look super full and the books look more and more worn…but it’s because they’re reading, so it’s a win.

One of the things I’m most proud of in this library is the organization of the books — known lovingly as genrefication. The fact that my spell check recognizes it now as a word is a testament to how passionate I am about it. Ditching Dewey was never about me — it was about the students. They’re able to find the books they’re looking for easily. This layout is based on the idea of browsing. The signage is key (as are the stickers). In this space, students are able to find their reading “home”, explore new interests, pair fiction with nonfiction, discover new authors and series. They use the word genre often (and they understand it). I’m sure it will take a bit of getting used to, but I HOPE that you will love it as much as I do, as much as the kids do.

Self check-out is another big way that I’ve made this library “theirs.” Students definitely feel more ownership of the library when they’re in charge of checking in and out their own books. Maybe even more importantly, it freed me from the circulation desk. Instead of constantly running to the desk to check out books for students, I’ve been able to teach classes and work one-on-one with students while the library remains open for others to be able to check out and return books as needed. Sure, I know we lose a few books due to this process throughout the year (although I’d also argue that we were losing books before, too, when I was too busy to watch over the circulation desk). Ultimately, this helped me to accomplish the goal of making the library constantly available for book business while I could still work to be an instructional partner for the teachers. The biggest key to self check out success is PROCEDURE, PROCEDURE, PROCEDURE.

The best thing about the library — and about teaching middle school — is that every day is different. There’s never a dull moment, there’s always something to be done. Enjoy what you do and laugh often. Take time on a regular basis to reflect on your successes (and your failures). Set goals to continue to push this library and this school on to bigger and better things. You’re going to be great at this, and you’re going to love it here.

All the best,

Tiffany Whitehead

 

P.S. – In addition to the MANY files on the flash drive I have for you (and lots of reflections/resources are on my blog as well), I thought these things would be informative:

Change ahead!

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I am thrilled to finally share the news of a big change that is on the horizon. Next school year, I will be the upper and middle school librarian at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. Friends and family who know me well have been a bit shocked by this news, as they know how much I LOVE my students, faculty, and library at Central Middle. It was a difficult decision for me, but in the end I knew this was an opportunity that I would regret passing up. Change pushes us out of our comfort zones and forces us to grow and adapt. I am anxiously anticipating the professional growth that I will experience in the coming years as I work with the incredible students and faculty at Episcopal.

As eager as I am for this new adventure, it is bittersweet. During my five and a half years at CMS (and nine years in the Central Community School District), the library program, the reading culture at our school, and the use of technology have come so far. Genrefying our library has helped increase circulation tremendously and self check-out has given the ownership of this space over to the students. I’ve developed relationships and professional partnerships with so many of the amazing faculty members here, and I know I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support, encouragement, and willingness to work with their crazy librarian. Of course it’s going to be difficult to leave behind my students that I’ve made connections with through our mutual love of reading. I am so proud of the library and school that I’m leaving behind, and I know that there are many great things ahead for the library, school, and entire district in Central.

The next year will be an exciting one — full of changes and new experiences. I’m looking forward to building relationships with a new faculty and group of students. I will be working with students in grades 6-12, so high school will be a new adventure for me. There are already some great projects in the works for next year that I’m looking forward to — I know it’s going to be a great year and I can’t wait to share all about it. Bringing my past library experiences and knowledge to a new setting is going to be a lot of fun!

Look for many blog posts as I make the transition (and start the process of genrefying another library)!

Dominate Music Video

I know that all educators have strong feelings about standardized testing. No matter how we feel about the upcoming test (and I will say I’m thankful that this year we’re spending FAR less days testing!), our CMS faculty tries their hardest to make the best of the situation. Every year for the past four years, we’ve released a teacher music video immediately before testing. I’m so excited to share this year’s video…and revisit our previous ones as well!

I’ve served as the main planner, videographer, and editor for our videos for the past several years. This year, I passed the torch along to our awesome speech teacher, Leslie Pierce. She did such a great job pulling this together, along with the help of my BFF and ELA teacher, Alaina Laperouse, and our band teacher, Thomas Huckaby.

They rewrote and recorded a version of Rihanna’s Desperado…our version is called Dominate. Check it out:

We want the world to see this video (and how awesome our CMS teachers are)…so please share it out! We REALLY would love for Rihanna to see it!!

And just for fun…here are our videos from the past several years:

2015 – Shake It Off

2014 – Happy

2013 – Harlem Shake

I love this tradition so much! It helps us bond as a faculty and make GREAT memories…and of course laugh at ourselves and have fun. We are middle school teachers, after all!

Do you have an awesome, fun teacher tradition at your school?