Tag Archives: school-librarian

Good Book Days and Boston

One of my favorite parts of being a librarian is seeing when someone finds the book that they’ve wanted and needed. As an educator, I adore seeing how there isn’t just one place that a person can learn. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen kids falling in love with science and put the right books into the best hands.

Scholastic Book Fairs have a magic about them, the ones I attended in elementary school were held in the library. Weeks before, I’d fill out my form, debating which books I wanted and then they’d arrive, beautiful new books. Then I’d wander around the school library staring at all the other books, the erasers, the pens and pencils, the bookmarks, there waiting for me to choose them. Earlier this week, I was lucky enough to stand behind the register at a book fair and watch kids have that same experience. The shapes of the erasers have changed from fruits to smartphones and video game controllers, but the love of finding just that one is still there. I was impressed by how easy it was to come in and run the fair as well as how reasonable the prices were for books, 1 to 3 dollars for new paperbacks. The range of options from encyclopedias to every genre and pens that lit up or allowed secret writing.  I know I was tempted by the Star Wars’ stickers and three dollars for the new Misty Copeland autobiography, but this time left with nothing for myself other than the joy of seeing kids buying what they wanted from the fair.

The second book day was an aftereffect of the Lewes Library preparing to move. Over the past few months, I’ve been helping Maureen, the head of Youth Services to weed the children’s library in preparation for shifting to the new space. I’ve found this a fascinating process of looking at what books don’t make sense to keep because they’re out of date nonfiction ones, there are multiple copies or they haven’t been taken out recently. Yesterday all thirty boxes of books ranging from board books to juvenile nonfiction were piled on tables and educators in the area were given a chance to take what they needed. In the course of the afternoon, teachers left with boxes and bags full of free books to help new families, fill classroom libraries and preschool libraries. It was wonderful to wander among them and see some of the kids who came along and recommend books I knew were good. Everything was free which made it even better as the teachers realized how these books could help their kids and then there would be space for newer copies and better editions in the library. At the end of the day, there were only eight boxes left which will find better homes and a few came home with me. I didn’t have a copy of The Queen of Attolia and picture books to send to my nephew.

Last week, I went to Boston as I’m planning on moving there in the near future. Southern Delaware is wonderful but there’s an energy in the Boston area along with many friends that will help me to do all that I want to do. Many of my favorite moments in Boston came from being in a place where people were excited to learn and share the joy of knowing something new. At the New England Aquarium, I heard kids and parents pulling each other to different exhibits and talked with a woman who loves her membership to the Aquarium. She was talking about the fur seals and how well she knew all of them. As I wandered into the bookstores and the gorgeous main Cambridge Public Library branch, I was reminded of the energy that comes from being in a place where everyone is looking at the world around them with the mixture that comes from the past and future alongside each other. Below is the wonderful Greenway carousel which was inspired by children’s drawings and connects science and fun.

2016-04-12 15.53.49

One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was walking around Boston Common and seeing the preparations for the marathon, the booths waiting and what would be the starting line lying on the ground. Boston is a great city and one I plan on exploring more. As I keep looking for jobs, my net is still open wide and if a school or a library comes together in another city, I’ll grab it, but I’m planning on finding a way to live in the Boston area.

 

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ALA Midwinter

Since leaving Chicago, there’s been a great deal of snow in many places. In some ways, that’s been wonderful, as after I left Chicago, I went to visit friends and stayed inside just reading. Sadly though where I live in Delaware, a lot of snow isn’t the norm and its made life a complicated. This has made substituting a little confusing but workable. I’ve been thinking a lot about Midwinter since leaving and now feel ready to write up my thoughts.

My Midwinter this year felt as if it was all about connections across the library world and the various worlds that I inhabit from seeing my childhood on stage with LeVar Burton’s speech to talking classics at an exhibit booth. One of my absolute favorite parts of Midwinter or Annual is the exhibit hall, because its possible to understand how diverse and huge libraries truly are. It feels like every time I go to a conference, the diversity of people and interests is brought more to the fore and it makes me happy. This year it was made explicit in wonderful ways such as the Day of Diversity, I wasn’t able to attend any of the events but followed a number of attendees on Twitter. A favorite panel that I went to combined a lot of my loves and why I enjoy the exhibit hall since I hadn’t planned on going to it but found myself sitting there. This was the Dark Fantasy panel at the Pop Top Stage which featured Fonda Lee, Ken Liu, Auden D. Johnson and Sabaa Tahir, which was thoughtful about why we read fantasy, what makes fantasy dark, how nice it is to have a fandom and how the authors write. It felt hopeful to hear authors comfortably discussing fandom, how its working within their lives and how they hope their works will fit into fandom. Also to hear them talking about the role of diversity especially within fantasy worlds. All of their books are high in my to be read pile.

Seeing LeVar Burton on Sunday morning was a powerful reminder of why I’ve chosen to be a librarian as he’s proof of the reach of books and reading. He spoke about his mentors from his mother to Alex Haley to Fred Rogers, through them it was possible to see how he grew and changed through his life and is still learning. Part of his talk was presenting a new book that he’s written called The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm. Its an amazing book about dealing with loss and how depression can hit everyone and to hear it read by him was a gift. I found his reading and talk inspiring as he spoke about how he’s still learning and finding ways to make sure that children everywhere have access to books. During the question period, every person spoke about how he inspired them and taught them from helping with a second language to seeing some of their own life reflected up on Reading Rainbow. When I left, it was with the reminder that touching someone’s life can be done in a lot of ways and as a librarian, I can open doors.

It felt like perfect timing that after hearing him speak, I went to the ALA Joblist Open House which was one of the biggest I’ve been to in my three years of conferences. The set up was more relaxed as well since the libraries were at small tables which made it easier to talk and not feel as if there was such a clear line in the form of a large table. That can be intimidating at times as I’ve found myself not always at ease to approach but with this set up, it felt informal and welcoming. I had a great number of wonderful conversations and again was struck by the simple diversity of what a library can mean from academic libraries to independent schools.

Speaking of school libraries, another strange intersection was when Carney Sandoe, the independent school job agency I’m connected to had a booth next to YALSA and there was also a booth of wonderful child friendly furniture. This meant that after I volunteered at the YALSA booth, which is always a pleasure to interact with fellow youth librarians, I could talk to my Carney Sandoe connection. After that I walked one more booth over to pick up a catalog full of furniture possibilities for the new Lewes’ library children’s section. Moments like that are why I adore the exhibit hall, how sometimes just by chance, disparate elements of my library experience are suddenly right next to each other.

I ended Midwinter with the Morris’ awards which were slightly subdued due to weather so only four out of ten authors were actually present. The rest of them had video presentations which were fascinating. A lot of my reading directly after Midwinter on the train to Michigan was from the Morris and Nonfiction awards. I’m going to end by recommending a few of the books that have truly stood out to me of the ones I’ve read so far from my Midwinter haul. All links go to my Goodreads’ reviews.

The Story of Owen and its sequel Prairie Fire. Owen’s world is one of the finest alternate histories that I’ve read with dragons inserted in such a way that the process of history all makes sense. These books remind me of when I read Seraphina and how I wanted to give a copy to everyone I knew. That’s how I feel about these because the characters are complex and real, the setting is fascinating and the language of the writing is beautiful.

Tommy: The Gun that Changed America was an interesting read about gun violence and gun control in American history. Before reading this book, I hadn’t realized how many gun laws were tied to particular issues with gangsters and times of violence. An aspect that impressed me a great deal about this book was how the back was organized to make it easy for the readers to find and understand the sources used. Its something I would like to see done more often as it makes the idea of reading a bibliography less daunting when the author presents the sources under useful headings.

The Port Chicago 50 about a time when racism in the armed forces put a number of men behind bars. This is one of those books that wasn’t easy to read because it deals honestly with the segregation and racism that went on during World War II and the cost of it to America. A cost that we’re still paying the price of and dealing with. An aspect of this book that has stayed with me is how its a reminder that history is never a simple starting point, the discrimination during World War II helped to give tools that made it possible for the Civil Rights Movement to achieve what it did. Also that the tools of change haven’t altered that much through the decades.

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Upgrading and new angles

I’ve begun this new year with the sense of upgrading as I prepare to head to Chicago for ALA Midwinter with a new phone and shoes, which allow me to clear away what isn’t working. As I improve what I can, I have a moment to reflect on what’s been coming together for me and what is to come. A major theme in my last couple of months has been the chance to approach the world from new angles. ALA Midwinter will be another wonderful opportunity to do that and if any of my fellow librarians who follow me across social media will be there, drop me a line on whatever platform works best for you and let’s see about meeting.

In November, the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival was held and I had the chance to experience a number of films where I as an American wasn’t the primary audience. This is one of my favorite parts of going to film festivals and reading books that focus on experiences outside of my own. I saw two films that stuck with me and that I’ve been recommending since November which I want to mention here.

The first one is Lilting, a beautiful and complex film about the death of a young man and how his mother and his partner try to process it through difficulties of language and experience. I recently discovered through NPR that this film was actually financed by Film London’s Microwave Project that works to promote diverse films.

 

The other film that stayed with me was about Simon Bolivar and called The Liberator, its a glorious, epic movie, but what made such an impression to me was how little I knew. So much of the history it was assumed that the audience simply knew in the same way that would be true for an American watching a film like Lincoln. I love coming out of a film with a desire to learn more and see how much I don’t know and I look forward to reading more about Simon Bolivar.

 

I’ve also fact-checked a few more books and along the way found some great resources. I love fact-checking because it gives me a chance to go down fascinating research pathways that are incredibly site specific and find ways to learn the information from the primary sources. A type of site that I’m always happy to find are tribal websites for Native American tribes such as the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which allow me to find their history without the bias that comes from an outside source. For a book, I was able to explore the journals of all the members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, they’re posted here by the University of Nebraska. The internet provides wonderful examples of ways to connect to the original sources as much as possible which in terms of history is key as history is constantly being reexamined.

The other area of my life that has provided some new angles is that I’ve begun to work part time as a substitute teacher in the local school district. My first assignment sent me into an elementary school classroom which is a world I’m not completely familiar with. It turned out to be exciting and I realized that it was a place that I understood better than I realized. I found that from storytimes, I had a good sense of how to keep busy children on topic and that the rushing and then pause of the day felt like when I had worked as a school librarian. I’m eager to go into more classrooms and perhaps a few libraries since teaching has always been a part of my life. One reason is because that sense of helping a child or a patron understand something they hadn’t before never ever gets old. The moment that happened in the classroom was teaching a young boy how sentences fit together into paragraphs.

I know that in Chicago, there will be many moments of finding unexpected ways to look at what it means to be a librarian and a reader. An added benefit is that I’ll be traveling by train and so will see the country from a new angle.

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Busy days-Fact-checking and the School-Librarian as Goalie

The past month and such has been incredibly busy for me in wonderful and interesting ways. I discovered that my love of research translates into an ability to do fact-checking and I’ve had great conversations at two Carney Sandoe Forums. During one of these Forums, one of the best ways to describe a school-librarian in terms of hiring and schools came up, the librarian as Goalie. In this entry, I’m going to talk about these two points which have been on my mind and with the fact-checking taking up a great deal of my time.

On my grad school list-serv, there was a mention of a publisher of children’s books needing fact-checkers. I emailed them, because I’m always looking for ways to connect to the world of children’s literature. It took a few weeks from when I emailed to when I was sent a PDF of a reference book on a state for Middle Grade kids. Then I had three weeks to work on the book checking everything from the obvious facts such as statistics to the statements in the text. I found it a pleasure to research for a job, to find and explore sites to discover how trustworthy they are and think about what information is out there. It was an intense job as I only had so long and had to cover every piece of data presented on the book’s pages, which meant I wasn’t doing that much else during it.

Along the way I discovered thoughtful historical sources in places I hadn’t immediately thought of such as websites put together for National Historic Sites by the National Park Service. Though as I thought about it, it made perfect sense to find strong scholarship put into easily accessible formats from the National Park Service, which exists to make history and nature closer. One of the challenges was that because I was fact-checking, I was searching for particular nuggets of facts, which meant at times having to pull up three different biographies of one person to cover all that was mentioned. Along the way, it was a pleasure to do my best to eliminate some common historical fallacies that sound nice but aren’t always true as well as learning a great deal about how many Native American tribes choose to be referred to. Whenever I found an error, it was important to have either the correct fact to replace it with or something else. In many places, I found myself disagreeing with some of the author’s choices in terms of the sorts of numerical facts that were put down. Those facts were usually the hardest to find as they tended to be created by combinations of sources and thus I couldn’t always find confirmation. In those cases, I would try to find more information that presented the same idea which was usually about the scale of a historical event, the size of a geographic feature or the size of a part of the economy. The experience brought together many facets of my knowledge and life since my friends know that if they wonder about something, I’ll go and find the answer. Fact-checking also reminded me of how much I enjoyed my internship at the Independence Seaport Museum as I was reading logbooks to put together archival descriptions and had to do research to understand their times and context. The process taught me too of various ways to approach research so that its not just something to do for class, but enjoyable. Now I have more ideas about bringing more of that joy of finding the fact that puts an event into context into the library and classroom. As its so key to make looking for information interesting and remind students that research comes in many flavors and what counts is understanding where a fact comes from.

The Librarian as Goalie came from a conversation I had at a Carney Sandoe Forum where someone I spoke said that librarians were like goalies; schools normally didn’t need more than one or two but it was key to get the right one. This resonated with me as a concise way to show how key a librarian is to a school but how librarians also don’t fit in the normal boxes. A hockey or soccer team might have two goalies, who they have to have to keep the team working as it should but they won’t be replaced as often as other members of the team. A school hopes to not have to hire librarians too often as they want them to be the goalies who are dependable and there to provide a foundation for the rest of the school. With a good librarian, a school can build on research and technology basics allowing teachers to experiment in ways they might not have first thought of. Its a way of talking about school librarians that I plan on using in the future as its simple and effective.

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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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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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