Library Website Updates

In lieu of an in-person professional development workshop I had scheduled for early August, I was lucky enough to be able to build out some self-paced professional development for librarians as they begin navigating the uncertain 2020-2021 school year in the midst of a global pandemic. I was able to reflect a lot on what I feel will be important for us as school librarians in terms of focus and energy. No matter how our schools are kicking off this new year, it is more important than ever to be sure that our library resources are easily accessible in a digital format.

When I moved to my current school in for the 2016-2017 school year, one of my first big initiatives was to organize our databases and other resources to build a new library website. This website has served us well, but I felt like this year was time to make some improvements. I reached out on Twitter to see what others were doing in their digital spaces, and I was quite inspired by what was shared! I’ve collected the shared spaces on this Wakelet:

I decided to use Genially, one of my favorite design tools, to create our interactive database collection. I found that my students were struggling the most with deciding which database to use by the provided buttons. Even though I broke down each resource with a description on different content area pages, that was hidden behind an extra click that they rarely used. Genially allowed me to add scroll-over tool tips that provide a short blurb about each resource. I also divided resources into three categories: General/News, Humanities, and STEM. I wanted some division without too many options, so I am hopefully that this will work well for students.

I am planning to launch the new design next week. I did a demo with some of our fellows (juniors and seniors) in the Writing Center, and they were very excited about the new design.

I’m also working on shifting gears a bit for my middle school students. They don’t use or really need access to the wide variety of databases that our high school students use, so I am planning to use Destiny Discover to design a landing page that is more geared towards their needs. Our middle school students are 1:1 on school issued iPads. Although I didn’t love the Destiny Discover app, I am able to add the direct Destiny Discover button with Safari to their home screen.

I love that I can add “Learning Links” to include the library resources they most frequently use. I’m using Destiny Collections to gather lists for students and teachers, and that displays nicely on the page, too.

I’m using Google Forms for book check-out requests, and it’s working well so far for us. I’m using some pre-formulated email replies (Quick Parts in Outlook) to communicate with students about holds and books on order. I know that Destiny can do lots of automation with holds and all, but at this point we feel like we need more of a pulse on whats happening and more direct control.

I’m also loving the form I have created for Book Recommendations. Although this is a time consuming process, it’s working well as a substitution for typical in-person readers’ advisory.

I’m also using Quick Parts here to send emails with recommendations. I’m sending three book recommendations (including title, author, and a brief description from Destiny or Goodreads) for each submission. It’s been rewarding to then fill book requests for some of my recommendations!

I know these are weird times for all of us. I know that none of us feel like we are rocking, rolling, and doing our best work. Supporting teachers right now is hard. Taking care of ourselves mentally, physically, and emotionally while still managing our work responsibilities is hard. This is a year where we need to lean on each other and give plenty of grace. Be sure that you are regularly extending that grace to yourself.

Louisiana School Librarians Navigating School Library Programming in the Face of COVID-19

My friend and a constant source of inspiration, Amanda Jones, invited me to be apart of a webinar to talk about what we face in returning to school for the 2020-2021 school year. We were joined by another inspiring library friend, Lovie Howell. Although we still have a lot more questions than answers, it was great to share ideas and remember that we are not alone!

In the webinar, I remind everyone (myself included) that we need to go into this year knowing that we aren’t going to be our best. It’s going to be a struggle this year. We will try our best, but this year is going to be hard for us all. We have to remember that we have each other, and we are going to get through the challenges.

If you’re interested in watching Amanda, Lovie, and I chat about our survival plans, you can catch it here on YouTube:

The slide deck with links is here:

And Amanda created a Wakelet with other related resources:

Literary Clue Game Resources

To say that I’ve been neglecting my blog would be an understatement. Basically, what started out as a rough school year ended with COVID. I’m sure many of you can relate. If not, you could probably skim my last few posts and catch my vibe. I’m working on things, working on me, not giving up the fight, hopeful for the future — all that good stuff. In the meantime, though, here is a great idea with resources from my best friend, Alaina Laperouse, who also happens to be the best English teacher on the planet. Enjoy!

Teachers are always looking for ways to engage students with literature.  At my middle school, we started a literacy camp for incoming 6th graders.  The aim of the camp is to help students get a jump on their summer reading book.  Over the years, the required summer reading book has changed, but one thing has not.  The game CLUE.  

In the beginning of the journey to get students excited about the new school, camp, and learning, my co-teachers and I brainstormed ways to get students out of their seats, moving all over the school campus, working together, and helping them get familiar with some of the key elements within the text.

We stumbled upon the idea of the game of CLUE, but taking it life size.  In this game, students work in teams, they have a game card to collect clue information they find (characters, settings, and themes).  The clues to cross out are the cards the teachers have hidden around the campus.  Once they narrow down to one remaining clue for each category, students race back to the library to try to be the first to solve the game.  

Year after year, students report this is their favorite camp activity.  For their prize, students often ask if they can reset the game (hiding clues in new locations) and be the game masters themselves.  

Once students are proficient with the game, we usually make additional challenges such as:

  • Joining arms or ankles to another teammate.
  • One teammate wears a blindfold and must listen for instructions.

Each variation has a connection to what we are learning that day at camp.  I hope you find the game of CLUE helpful and perhaps inspiring. 

This link will take you to a Google Drive folder with PDFs of resources to go with games for Wonder, Fish in a Tree, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, and a school-based game. 

Just keep trying things!

I’ve shared some of my struggles this year so far on previous blog entries, so I wanted to share an update highlighting some of the things I am trying to implement that I hope will help make small steps towards progress.

The week of Halloween, I saw several of my library friends on social media sharing their candy corn counting contests. This was something I knew I could easily do — so I grabbed a mason jar, stopped by the store on my way to school for a bag of candy corn, and set up a box for guessing.

Having this set up at our circulation desk forced more students to interact with us, which was GREAT! It was quite entertaining to see how serious some of our students got about their guesses.

Students couldn’t pick up the jar — but there was still a lot of counting, measuring, and consulting of the Magic 8 Ball.

I also hosted a Literary Pumpkin Decorating Contest. Students were invited to bring in their own pumpkin, and I provided the paint and supplies for decorating. Although I only had two students participate (therefore they both got prizes!), it is still something I will try again next year. I hope that rallying more support from my English teachers in the future (and starting the competition sooner before pumpkins disappear from stores) will get more involvement next year.

I’m looking for more opportunities to use holidays (especially random ones) to create programming.

For National Stress Awareness Day, we hosted some mindful activities in the library and had a pretty decent turnout.

I’m also trying to use our library Instagram account to do more promotions of library activities.

I have two more events coming up this week as we roll into Thanksgiving Break:

I have a few new ideas that I’m adapting from others that I plan to start after Thanksgiving Break. My friend Elizabeth Kahn started doing a weekly “This or That”, which I think will be another great conversation starter to have at our desk. Here’s hers:

Do you have any passive programming ideas that have worked well in your library? Isn’t it interesting how the little things break the ice to build relationships in our schools?

I’ve realized where I am. Now, where do I go from here?

I started the school year with a vision and goal for doing more to build our community of readers. At the LLA Conference last spring, there were two sessions that really inspired me — a session from my friend Elizabeth Kahn about her library’s book clubs and a panel I facilitated that included students and librarians that are active in the Louisiana Teenage Library Association. This had me fired up to start something.

The start of this school year has been particularly challenging for me. This year brought on schedule changes that have me really struggling with library expectations and maintaining consistency in our library space. I’m spending a lot of time in a purely supervisory role during large amounts of free time for our students, and it is extremely draining. Coming to terms with this added stress took away quite a bit of my enthusiasm and slowed down my momentum in kicking off student book clubs. 

In early September, I was finally ready to get things started with three different grade-level groupings for book clubs: 6th & 7th, 8th & 9th, and 10th – 12th. I made announcements, posted flyers, and sent out surveys and email reminders. I wanted to spend time asking the students what THEY wanted from THEIR book club, and I had some fun Lit Chat cards to have some “get to know you” conversations. For the first group’s meeting, seven students showed up, the next group had four, the final group had two. These meetings are at a time during the school day when nearly all students are available. Frankly, I was disappointed by the lack of turn out. 

Both leading up to and immediately following the book club meetings, I asked quite a few of my students about coming (or why they didn’t come) to book club. The number of times I heard, “I’m not really a reader,” shocked me. Especially coming from kids that I know are readers — or that were literally checking out a book at that very moment. With those conversations, I started coming to the realization that our student body as a whole has some negative feelings towards reading or being considered a reader. The fact that I am at the beginning of my fourth year at this school and just now having this mind-blowing realization is embarrassing and has me feeling ashamed. How did I miss this?

In my previous school, my circulation numbers were astronomical. I know that was a different school, different enrollment size, different grade levels, and different demographics. Those results were also something that was built over time. I’ve done some good things at my current school and made what I thought was positive progress. I started off with weeding and genrefying the fiction collection, then continued on to complete the massive weeding of the outdated nonfiction collection. The circulation numbers here have never been high, but my teachers have quality collections in their classrooms and many of my students prefer to purchase their own books instead of checking out from the library. This is how I rationalized the low circulation numbers. With middle school, I brought over the same Battle of the Books program that I created for my previous school. I’ve been extremely proud of the student involvement in the program these past few years, although this year has taken a bit more pushing to get teams filled up for the kick-off. All of that to say that I’ve done things. I’ve made progress and had some success. I’m trying to remind myself of that as I’m feeling disappointed, frustrated, and inadequate.

Right now, I feel stuck. I’m a do-er, a planner, a person who likes to have ideas and put them into action. The fact that this particular conundrum comes at a time when I also have a lot of feelings and roadblocks from some other semi-related situations is keeping me stuck, feeling like I’m spinning my wheels. I’m hoping that a series of thoughtful conversations and brainstorming sessions can get me moving on a path forward. I know myself and my patterns, and I need to be busy, feel needed and relevant, and be making progress on specific goals/projects to feel solid in my work. These things have been lacking for me for a while now, and I have to find a way to turn it around.

Have you turned around the reading culture and views on reading in your school? I’m especially looking for ideas that have worked in very high performing high schools.

Middle-Grade Novels in Verse

My middle school students absolutely love novels in verse, so I’ve been purchasing as many as I can get my hands on this past year. I found, though, that some of the lesser-known titles weren’t getting much circulation, and I know that is in part because they are not otherwise marked or shelved as novels in verse within their genre sections.

I used Genially to create this interactive, Netflix-y style graphic to let my students know what novels in verse we have available in our collection. Each book cover is linked to the record in our Destiny catalog. I’m excited to share this one out because I’m sure it will get some of these less frequently checked out books in the hands of my students!

(I know this is annoying, but if you visit my library catalog page first, then the links in the Genially below will work. Otherwise, you’ll get errors.)

Thanks to my dear friend Nancy Jo Lambert for the inspiration! When I learned about Genially from her at ISTE and saw her Bookflix creation, I knew I would fall in love with this design tool!

Library Expectations

What has been on my mind lately is not the glamorous or fun part of our job as librarians (and educators in general). It is the part, though, that can lead to chaos and test our sanity if we aren’t careful. In the library we love to talk about the importance of building relationships and creating a welcoming, inclusive environment. This is at the core of any strong school library program and is something I speak about frequently. Something I always struggle with, though, is being consistent with library procedures and expectations.

Unlike the classroom, the library is a space that serves a very wide range of purposes throughout the day. I know that for me, I struggle with helping students differentiate between appropriate library behaviors during flexible times, more structured times, and direct instruction in the library. Especially because at any given time, any mix of those types of activities can be happening in different areas in the library. Finding the balance between structure, consistency, and maintaining an inclusive, welcoming space is something that I have always struggled with, but sometimes find it difficult to talk about.

Thinking through my daily schedule really highlights these struggles for me:

  • The library is open before school for 45 minutes and serves as a flexible space for students to hang out, work on homework, etc.
  • During class periods throughout the day, the library has several study hall periods, students working on independent study courses, free study (for Juniors & Seniors – more freedom than study hall), students working collaboratively, etc. This is in addition to any classes visiting the library or me going to meetings or classrooms to work with students/teachers.
  • Lunch is followed immediately by office hours, an unstructured time where students are able to meet with teachers as needed. This means that the library is a very busy space where students are hanging out and socializing. I’ve had issues in the past with lack of structure and overcrowding in the library during this time. This time adds up to an hour in the middle of the day on top of their scheduled study hall/free study built into their schedule. I would like to use this time for Book Clubs and other fun library activities, but logistically it is challenging.
  • After school, the library remains open until 5:30 each evening as a space for students waiting for practices, games, etc. It is very similar to our before school time, but longer and more active.

For my own sanity, I spent some time at the end of last school year and this summer thinking through my non-negotiable expectations. I also served on our Upper School Standards & Norms Committee — a group of faculty members looking to similarly set expectations across campus to help bring some consistency across the division. I work in a great school with minimal behavior issues, but that doesn’t mean that expectations aren’t important. We all know that students thrive in an environment where expectations are clear and consistent, so this was a great time for a reset for us all. Also, for security purposes (especially in the library) I need to know what students I am responsible for at any given time, so efforts to use clear communication between faculty members (and students) moving around campus during class times in common spaces is also getting extra attention.

I created this graphic with library expectations as much for me, my assistant, and other faculty members helping to monitor library spaces as for our students. I really dislike being a “rule enforcer”, but I have come to realize that laying out these expectations and ensuring that they are being followed is important for all of us. I also feel like many of these things should go without saying, but the fact that we frequently find yogurt containers under the couch or have to ask students not to sit four to a chair (or on top of the table) means that they do in fact need to be said.

I also created this graphic for Study Hall proctors highlighting some of our updated expectations, as well as some tips for time management. Again, putting this in writing is as much for me as it is for the students.

As a result of the work done by our Standards & Norms Committee, I am working on an interactive manual using Genially that will include our rationales, expectations, norms, and best practices for the different areas addressed. I hope to be able to share that with the faculty (and here on the blog) in the next few weeks.

So please tell me I’m not alone! What struggles do you face when it comes to expectations in your library? What effective routines have you implemented that have brought you some relief and sanity? This is year 12 for me in the library, and I still feel like I don’t have the answer (although I’m making progress).

Celebrate National Poetry Month

With such a late Spring Break this year, I was really excited to offer our students some fun, hands-on ways to create and celebrate National Poetry Month in our library.

I posted these fliers around campus to encourage students to visit the library and celebrate with us this week!

I was inspired by my friend, Laura Foy, who is the librarian at a nearby middle school. She posted her poetry station and I knew this was something I could put together pretty quickly and my students would enjoy the opportunity to get creative. I definitely recommend following Laura’s library account on Instagram — she’s doing really cool things and constantly sharing!

We cut out a ton of words from magazines and pages from discarded books so students could create their own found poems and black out poetry. I also printed out some poems for students to take from the Poem in Your Pocket Day collection.

We are having a great time celebrating National Poetry Month with these activities in the library. Students have been creating poems during their free time in the library. One of our English teachers who is in the midst of her poetry unit with Sophomores is bringing her classes by to join in the fun. I’m looking forward to adding more to our celebration next year.

What are some fun things that you’ve done to incorporate National Poetry Month into your classroom or library?

Reminder: Awesome Library Resources Available!

Our students and teachers need to be reminded of our library resources, along with the fact that we are just HERE for them pretty regularly. Especially at this time of the school year, when things seem to start spiraling to the end of year chaos, it’s important to reach out with gentle reminders. I recently shared this fun graphic I created in Canva to remind students and faculty of some of the tools available to them in the library.

I wanted to create a simple graphic to showcase some of our newer and/or underused library resources without overwhelming them with too much info.

Many of my teachers and students are into podcasting, and it is frequently an option for our students when creating a product for an assignment. We have a super fancy podcasting set up in the library (that is honestly beyond my abilities and understanding), but I purchased these simple dual lavalier mics so students can plug into their own devices to record quickly and easily. For $10, purchasing these was a no-brainer, and they’ve already been used a ton.

I also recently purchased a collapsible green screen in hopes that I can get more students interested in recording and editing videos. We’ve had another (much more cumbersome) green screen tucked away somewhere on campus, but I’m hoping that this very portible option will get more use.

We’ve had our Silhouette Cameo for a while, but it’s still one of my favorite tools. I’ve used it to put up wall quotes in our library (see blog posts here, here, here, and here). I have several teachers who are interested in learning how to use this resource, and I can’t wait to teach them to use this awesome machine!

Sure, these resources are great and will get more use since the reminder. The best thing, though, was that I didn’t JUST get responses about these tools and resouces. Sending out the reminder to my students and faculty reminded them that I am here for them all the time. I also had more requests come in that week for help in using or locating other library resources. Talk about a major win! I think sending out these kind of “reminders” once a month, or at least once a quarter, is definitely on my to-do list for next school year.

Thoughts on the AASL Session Selection Process

Twitter, while still my favorite place to connect with members of my PLN in order to learn, share, and network, is not necessarily the most conducive environment to discuss complex issues. It’s easy for one (or several) Tweets to come across in a way that does not fully encompass the feelings of the poster. I feel like I need to elaborate on my views on the AASL session selection process more, as some feel that the reason I am raising concerns is that I have sessions that weren’t accepted. Of course I wanted to have a session accepted, otherwise, I wouldn’t have submitted a proposal. I still have a session that is part of the “crowdsourcing” process, so again, that is not why I am questioning the process. Four years ago at AASL 2015, I questioned the process of blind review, and my opinions on the matter are still the same.

AASL uses a blind review to evaluate session submissions. I understand the intent of this is to be fair, but I argue that this fairness does not equate the best possible session selection.

Taking a presenter’s past work into account seems logical to me, and it is done at many other large and small conferences. Questions that would provide relevant background information on sessions include: Have you published content on this topic? Have you presented at your state conferences on a similar topic? What resources or mentoring have you shared with other librarians to promote this topic? Providing evidence that you are equipped and knowledgeable to present on a topic at a national conference makes sense to me. As librarians, we teach our students to critically evaluate sources by examining the credentials of the author. It makes sense that organizations would approach session selection for a national conference in a similar way.

Many librarians (myself included) pay their way to national conferences, taking valuable days away from their students and libraries to participate. An organization should do everything in their power to ensure a balance of sessions from quality presenters so attendees get the most out of their conference experience. We have all attended sessions where the description does not align with the content delivered or where the presenter is unprepared, and a national conference should do everything in their power to buffer the possibility of that happening.

By no means am I saying that having presented successful sessions at a past conference should guarantee you a slot at the next conference. Again, though, it would seem logical to me to take into account session evaluations on a presenter if they have presented at that conference before. I think reaching out to state affiliates for recommendations on sessions that were largely successful and had great feedback at state conferences would be meaningful and wise. I do everything in my power to drive my school’s library program with the data and feedback I collect from my students and faculty, and I would expect my professional organizations to take a similar approach.

What is AASL’s intended outcome for the conference sessions? It has been stated numerous times that reasoning behind the current process is to give new voices an opportunity to present. I applaud that goal and want to see it happen. Whenever I am speaking at a conference, I always seek out new voices that I can connect with, learn from, and amplify in any way that my platform allows. That is how we all learn and grow professionally. I think if the goal is to promote new voices, AASL should be intentional about it. The same goes for including diverse voices; if that is something that AASL aims to focus on (and I 100% agree that it should be) then be intentional about it. Look at data from past conferences — how many first time presenters were there? Not enough? Set aside a certain percent or number of sessions for first-time presenters and make it happen. Provide them with resources and maybe even a mentor to help make their presentations the best they can possibly be. Set them up for success with intention. Blind review doesn’t allow for this.

It is great that AASL is willing to try new things in the selection process as they are crowdsourcing sessions this year. The way that the crowdsourcing has been presented, though, seems to me to go against the spirit of crowdsourcing. While I understand the intent of redacting all identifying information from session proposals, I disagree with it for similar reasons to those identified above. If you want to allow AASL membership and potential attendees to have a voice, let them truly have a voice. The way that the crowdsourcing was rolled out left many with questions of whether it was okay to promote their sessions within their PLN, but the spirit of crowdsourcing, at least in other instances that I’m familiar with, encourages exactly that.

In no way am I looking to diminish the hard work of the conference planning committee this year or in years past. My hope is that there can be dialogue moving forward to assess the process for future conferences. I have been involved with conference planning on a variety of levels and understand the countless hours spent in preparation. I also understand that when you are so committed to a project, that criticism is difficult to hear — and believe me I’ve received my share of criticisms both directly and indirectly over the years. I know that all parties involved in this discussion just want the best for the association, conference, and our profession all around. However, this isn’t the first time that I have felt scolded or judged because I have questioned a situation or process involving AASL, leaving me questioning my relationship and value with the organization. After this whole exchange, I don’t like the way I’m feeling about AASL or the way that I feel like they’re feeling about me.