Tag Archives: roeper

Real World, Real Tools: Don’t try to be Wonder Woman

My first day at ALA was spent attending a program put together by AASL (American Association of School Librarians) called Real World, Real Tools that was run by Deb Logan, Laura Pearle and Wendy Stephens. This was an intense workshop that ran from 12:30 to after 4 and left me with many thoughts that I’m still processing. Here I want to write about some of the main things I learned in it as well as the experience of spending that amount of time with other school librarians.

The session was divided into five smaller parts that covered; Budgets, Staffing, Administration, Technology and Self Care. Each part began with a presentation and then we talked into smaller groups before coming back together. I’m not certain of the exact number of people who attended but I don’t believe it was more than 30 people, which was a good size. The way the program was put together reminded me of classes I’ve had in graduate school where a lot of information was covered but there was time in groups to process and discuss. I think any of the presentations could have stood on its own as a panel or poster but putting them all together was a great way to understand all the aspects of what a school librarian does.

My main impression looking back on this program was a mixture of I wish I’d attended something like this before I began my job last year and feeling grateful for going to it this year. A great deal of information was shared about ways to manage with a small or no budget, how to deal with staffing issues or the problems when you’re a lone wolf librarian, speaking the language of administration, making the best technology choices for your community and taking care of yourself.

At this point in my experience, the part that I found the most relevant was the administration section as a major issue I had this past year was knowing that I had to communicate to administration but not managing it as well as I needed to. That part of the presentation was a good reminder that good communication takes work and that as librarians, we can fall into the trap of forgetting that not everyone thinks like a librarian. Also that even if you’re in a fairly secure position, as a school librarian, you need to be constantly showing and proving to your school community what you do so they can observe you with more understanding. As a young librarian, I had hoped that perhaps this was something that was more tied to budget issues but now I understand that its part of being a school librarian. This was something I think I was aware of considering the rhetoric that surrounds libraries of what do you do and the huge lack of understanding from many sides. I’ve had many conversations with friends of my family, people I meet when I explain what I do where they look confused at the existence of librarians. The program shared a lot of good strategies for sharing your work to a community though it seemed like many of the ideas would require a good deal of thought into what works. All of these ideas are based around the idea of keeping the community aware of what you do and their basic gist was share your calendar of these are the classes you work with, these are activities happening in the library. The manners of sharing varied from posting a calendar, keeping a weekly record on a blog, using an erasable poster to share what kids have learned and directly emailing stakeholders. My main concern about these ideas is how to walk that fine line between informing people of your work and not having it feel like you’re going see, see all I’m doing. That aspect I think depends a huge amount on the community and how people communicate. Its something I plan on taking to my next job as well as the other part of it which is the importance of making your goals and ideas explicit and connected to the school’s goals. Build programs around tasks and goals that are key to the administration and district, be in constant communication with teachers about how you can tie in with them. A good school librarian connects to all aspects of a school and a great one needs to be able to show all the ways they work with and for everyone in the school.

The other major lesson that I took from this program was about not trying to be Wonder Woman, which is a common trap for librarians. That its easy to get pulled into the feeling that you have to do everything for everyone and if you don’t, if things fall by the wayside then you’re failing in your job. This is even more acute when you’re the only librarian in a building, there’s this feeling that you have to be the perfect example of a librarian, this isn’t realistic and can be unhealthy. Instead its incredibly important to make long term plans, look ahead and if there are a lot of big issues to deal with focus on what’s important now. Then share these goals with the community so they understand why you’re making the choices you’re making. This way, even if you’re the only one doing the work, other people are aware of what you’re working on and what takes the most time. Then the next and I think most important part is taking care of yourself. This was something that I didn’t do as good of a job with last year, I got so caught up in being the ever present librarian that my own health suffered for it. The message of don’t try to do everything and that you can’t succeed if you’re not healthy is incredibly important. Powerful change takes time and its hard to make change happen when you’re not at your best.

As I came out of this program somewhere around 4:30, I felt tired but in a good way since I had been immersed with people who were successful school librarians. I had conversations about my first year and the caring and advice I was given was wonderful. We as librarians are a powerful community and one that will always listen when you ask, “Am I doing this right? Do you have any ideas?”

I know as I look into the future, I will refer back to my notes from this program as I go forward as a librarian.

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Crossing the streams: using lessons from fandom to talk about digital life

Crossing the streams is an expression that I first heard in fandom, which means when two fandoms intersect in a way that you didn’t expect. An example of it from my work this year was when due to some odd light, there was a strange shadow under one of the library tables. Many of my students are Doctor Who fans and immediately thought of Silence in the Library, an episode where extra shadows appear in a planetwide library and signal enemies. When I got the reference, the students were amazed and then loved it as we all tried to figure out what was going on with the shadow. We never did but it was a powerful moment of the world of fandom becoming part of the life of the library.

This is a fairly simple example and a nice one, where my knowledge of Doctor Who became another way for me to understand what was going on with my students. In terms of their lives online, it becomes complicated but I think is no less important.

Two of the main concerns I see brought up when educators talk about life online are safety and creation and consumption. The worry is that young people are consuming too much online and not creating enough, that the internet is too passive. This will make them not as thoughtful about information online or what they post online. I think these are important concerns and have an idea of how to approach them.

I think crossing the streams and using the understanding of how young people are creating and posting their work online as well as how they live online can be a way to help teach them about issues of safety and copyright. What’s key about this idea is to make certain that its coming from a place of understanding and in a safe environment for the students.

Since high school, I’ve been involved in fandom and friendships online and have seen platforms change plus how those platforms are used. I know that I don’t consider myself an expert, there are parts of the online world that students will know better than I will. Yet I’m older and have more experience in terms of what will work and what won’t in a greater sense of the world. I learned this year when I was talking with students, observing them and trying to help them make good decisions that one of the best ways to begin was to listen. When you’re a teenager and an adult takes the time to listen to you and respect your opinion and understanding of what you’re doing, that’s powerful. Libraries are a space where there isn’t as clear a hierarchy between young people and adults, which means they’re a good place to have these sorts of conversations. These are risky conversations because much of what’s shared online and explored isn’t easy, teenagers are using fandom to explore their desires as well as their dislikes. I know I would have to begin any of these classes with an important disclaimer that what’s shared is what’s chosen to be shared or else no one will feel comfortable. Once that safe space has been created, then its possible to look into the mechanics of sharing and creation and consumption online. Since its important to realize that young people are going to not choose to share everything with all adults but talking with them about choices and giving them ways to think about them will help.

I wish these thoughts were more complete but I don’t think there are any right answers. Instead its important to get these discussions going and make certain that they spread from those living online to those who don’t understand what’s online.

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End of the year-Changed for good

The title of this post comes from the musical Wicked and the entire line is:

Because I knew you…
I have been changed for good.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this song and lyrics as the last few weeks and days of the school year go bye especially knowing that this will be my only year at Roeper. Its painful to write that but due to issues of expectations and fit, I won’t be coming back. My hope is that Roeper can find the type of librarian that can create the library that the entire community wants and needs and that the seeds I planted this year will grow in the future.

Its not easy to sum up what I learned this year and how I’ve discovered that being a school librarian is the right career fit for me. That’s why this entry is going to be the first of a few where I reflect on this year.

For now I’m going to talk about the simplest and hardest part of the end of the year for me, which was all the relationships with students. Wednesday was a half day and the last day of school and I can’t recall when I cried that much in so short a time. Since the middle/upper school campus is being renovated over the summer, everyone had to be out sooner than felt like the norm.

It was the first day when there hasn’t been a meeting that there was no one in the library after school. I found that strange but it was also heartening that before the final assembly, some of my regulars; high school students and middle school students found their way to the library to just be for a bit. As the computers were being packed up, middle schoolers were playing various computer games as the high schoolers sprawled over the couch before everyone headed to the assembly for awards and performances. Other than the plastic over the copier and one of the bookshelves, it might have just been another day. That’s a moment I’m going to hold onto as it captured what I love most about being a school librarian; how a library is many things for many people. One student when describing what I did made me laugh and cry with her words and I want to end on them as for me, they show the day-to-day jobs of this year and job. This is paraphrased.

You made the guys play games better, you made it pretty, you helped me with the copier, you were right there.

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Searching for balance: gaming in the library

Every library faces the question of how to balance play and work? In a public library, there’s always the worry about noisy activities in the children’s department spilling over too much into the rest of the library. In a school library, the question becomes one of balance between students who wish to work and those who wish to play. When space and resources are limited, the librarian faces the challenge of creating a library culture that insures equity of access to users while at the same time making a place where all students feel ownership. This was the first major challenge that I faced as a school librarian and one that has taught me a lot about perception, interaction and school culture.

At the beginning of the year, the library was chaotic as middle schoolers took over computers to play Minecraft. is a popular sandbox game where players can create, explore and play together. They would move chairs to cluster around and watch each other play as well as narrating their choices out loud. If a student needed a computer to work, the group of gamers would complain and bargain amongst themselves for who was to get off. My first solution was to ban Minecraft during the school day. That eliminated a few problems but students would find other games and I had to be constantly alert for what was going on. I discovered that the upper school students were annoyed at the middle school students because for the past couple of years, all gaming had been banned in the library, the change of that rule to ban only one game created friction. The older students felt it was unfair that the younger students were given more privileges than they had had themselves. There was also the fact that the middle schoolers didn’t have as many academic responsibilities and weren’t always as good at regulating their volume level. I found that the best solution was to talk with the middle school students about how they were playing and try to discuss the idea of time and a place for playing. Creating and posting new rules that I enforced began this conversation, which is still going on as new games are discovered and the year draws towards an end. In the new rules which have been enforced since the start of second semester in January, there are no multiplayer games allowed on the school computers during the school day, no Minecraft during the day and when academic work needs to be done, then a gamer must give up their computer.

A major and unexpected roadblock around these conversations came from some adults in the school community who perceived gaming in black and white terms as well as the use of school resources for any sort of leisure activity. I believe this is a generational issue which needs to be met honestly on all sides, because as lives are becoming more digitally entwined, it’s harder to say don’t do this or that. Bringing games into the library or the classroom might not be the right choice for every program but it is important to understand why the students are playing the ones they do, and how some games might be compatible with academic studies. Many times the behaviors that are being lamented as lost due to technology are just being reproduced in new ways. In Minecraft, I’ve seen students work together, discuss strategy, be silly and choose to spend their time after school with their friends. Though they’re playing a game online, they are choosing to play it in an environment where they are all sitting next to each other.

Another challenge of defining appropriate behavior for a school library is the difficulty of having a library that’s shared by middle and high school students because the norms for appropriate behavior change through the years. All students must be safe and comfortable in the library because it’s their space to work and relax. The school where I am librarian doesn’t have a cafeteria so students find other places to hang out and the library is a popular one. The challenge I’ve faced is balancing how to support what kids are enjoying, as well as give them responsibility for choosing what happens in their space and yet make certain that they aren’t learning bad lessons from their play. As a new librarian, I’m still working on how to best achieve this balance as it requires trust and communication among the school community so that students understand my expectations of them and the rest of the school understands why the students are given these expectations. The best tools I’ve found are observing and listening to the students. For example, they will comment on a game that seems overly distracting in terms of how its played in terms of noise level or subject matter, which is usually a sign that it doesn’t belong in the library.

One of the major challenges of this particular library situation is the limited number of computers that are easily accessible to students. In the library, there are ten computers, elsewhere in the school are two computer labs and a separate one for yearbook and journalism. However to enter the other labs, students must have a teacher’s assistance. That means that they’re not ideal for students who wish simply to spend a free period relaxing. Academic work is always a priority and that means that when students are playing games if another student needs access to work, then the gamer has to get off. It took some time for students to understand that the quicker they got off, the sooner that other students would be more accepting of their playing. Once gamers showed themselves trustworthy and understanding that while the computers were available, their primary function was always for work, this behavior was picked up by other students who were using computers for more leisure activities such as watching videos or checking their social networking sites. In this way the gamers who were initially defined as a problem group took on a leadership role in the library.

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Joy of Displays: Where The Hobbit, history and poetry live together.

This blog has been quiet as this year has been busy and complicated for me. A major project that I recently finished is creating the Library’s website, which is linked here and in the sidebar, over time, it will change to reflect how it’s used by students.

A large part of what I’ve done this year has been about the physical space, how do students use it and think about it. To connect with them even when I’m not there, I’ve done a lot of work on the bulletin board at the front. From what I observed when I began the job, it didn’t look like it had been used for much other than school announcements and a few posters. My first display was put together with posters I found on citations and with the help of my fellow librarian at the other campus, it gave me a sense of how I could use the space. It also showed me how students react to what I put up, one of the posters I had posted was from World Book and about internet myths. In truth it was better suited to middle school or possibly elementary school then my shared middle/high school library but I didn’t realize how much so until I student wrote a note under it. Now the note was a little sarcastic but showed me that to make my displays work, they needed to hit the right level for all the students who entered my library.

bulletin board display

First display

I decided for my next display to focus on Halloween, in preparation I got in touch with English teachers to find out what authors were being read and how I might post some works that connected with current classes. In the end, I got a few ideas and then had the chance to make the space mine by going shopping at Michael’s for ways to transform the bulletin board. My collection was a wonderful mix of fall and Halloween decorations and my major find, a Hobbit poster. Below you can see what the display looked like, the first day it went up, a student asked me where I found the Hobbit poster and all the time the display was up it sparked conversation about the upcoming movie.

Halloween display

Halloween display

After Halloween, I altered the display to go from Halloween to Tolkien based in celebration of the upcoming movie. Most of the visuals remained the same but I switched out the Halloween chosen pieces for works of Tolkien’s such as ‘The Washing Up Song’ and ‘Song of the Misty Mountains’. As both these pieces were featured in the movie, it was wonderful to be able to have the originals up on the bulletin board for students to find. When the movie came out, the board helped to create dialogues about it as students knew that I had an interest. It was interesting to me how well many of them knew the Lord of the Rings but weren’t familiar with The Hobbit, which led to talking about issues with tone between the movies.

The Hobbit Display

The Hobbit Display

As the month of January was a strange one, my next display didn’t go up until February but I decided for it to work as much as possible with the parts of the community that worked on diversity activities. An interesting part of this process involved figuring out who were the best people and groups for me to work with. In the end, the club UMOJA chose the elements of the display. I provided a poster while they told me that they wanted to highlight the work of Frederick Douglass and W.E.B. DuBois. Once I had that information, I explored to find powerful visuals for the display, along the way I was reminded how complex the subject of book covers can be. One of the requests had been for a focus on The Souls of Black Folks and I was able to find a variety of cover interpretations which became part of the board. Looking through my pictures, it turns out I don’t have a picture of that board.

March didn’t come together as I’d hoped, I had talked with the art department about a display but due to a number of events in and around the library, our timing didn’t come together. For April, I put together a poetry display that has generated some great responses. I took a risk with this one because I put up a whiteboard and invited students to write their own works on it. To provide a beginning, I wrote a poem on the board myself and since then, two other poems have been added. You can see the display below.

Poetry Display

Poetry display

Displays have represented a wonderful way for me to connect with the community at Roeper as the bulletin board draws the eye when someone enters the library. I love looking up and spotting a student reading a book that they’ve taken down from the display or seeing someone reading what’s been posted. Planning the displays has given me a way to talk with faculty and student groups about how I’m trying to integrate the library within the community. I’ve found it challenging since the bulletin board is a large space and I’m constantly looking at ways to fill it and make it an engaging spot.

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A Job and a Beginning

Since I last updated this blog, I have been hired by a wonderful school in Michigan, the Roeper School. The past two weeks have been full of driving back to Michigan, meeting new and old faculty and getting a sense of what lies ahead of me as Middle/Upper School librarian. Tomorrow is the last day for welcome back meetings and then school starts on Tuesday.

I feel like this job could almost have been designed for me with the focus on community in the school, the openness to trying new things and the incredible kindness of everyone I’ve interacted with. I’m not certain how much I will be writing about the progress of the library here as its going to start a great journey, but I hope to do some chronicling of it.

One aspect of this job that is a little surreal to me is how I’m back in Michigan, yet a slightly different part. This weekend I will start the search for a place to live as I explore Oakland County. Apparently Michigan wasn’t done with me just yet.

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