ON LIBRARIES – Relax, Reflect, Resolve

change of yearSoon 2015 will be history.  The good and the bad becoming personal or national memories.  At midnight on Thursday, we will usher in 2016 filled with promises, hopes, and dreams.  It’s a good time for a pause in our busy lives.

Relax – You have been busy. Before the winter break began you were working hard to finish up, leaving your library and program in a relatively orderly state so it will be easy to pick up again in January.  At the same time, you were also getting ready for the holidays. The holiday season, no matter how enjoyable, usually adds stress to your already stress-filled life.relax

Give yourself permission to relax now. The holidays are behind us.  School doesn’t resume for a whole week. Read the book you have been meaning to get to.  Binge on the programs you haven’t had time to watch.  Take a bubble bath if you enjoy them.  Treat yourself to lunch with a friend.

I love to walk.  It energizes me, clears my head, and works like meditation does for some people. When I walk I think, but I also greet people who are out and about.  I have come to know neighbors I wasn’t aware of despite living in my home for over forty years.  I watch the changing of the seasons and see who is making improvements to their home – and then go back to thinking.

Whatever is your favorite form of relaxation, now is the time to indulge.  You have been drained. You have been taking care of everyone else.  The one who most needs your attention now is you. At this point, you are your priority.  If you don’t get the relaxation your body craves, you will not be ready for the New Year.

Reflect – January, as you know, is named for Janus Roman god of doorways and arches. He is the god of beginnings and transitions, and is depicted as two-headed, looking back and forwards.  The perfect symbol for moving from one year to the next.

In between making time to relax, also plan to reflect.  Focus first on your successes.  What are you most proud of accomplishing in 2015 (hint: it doesn’t have to be about work)?  What are you most grateful for?  Recognize the good things you have.  It calms the spirit and gives you a positive outlook on life.reflect

Next, consider what you want to achieve.  Where do you want to go before the school year ends?  What have you learned that you want to incorporate into your program?  Also, what can you let go so your life is not as stress-filled?  Accept that you can’t do everything.  What best fits your priorities?  If you try to do it all, you won’t be able to give your best to them. And that can mean to  family and friends.  I know many of you stay long past dismissal and come home far too tired to enjoy what is most important.

Lastly, recognize what didn’t work.  What did you attempt that never got off the ground?  What got in the way?  Is it as important as you thought? If so, what can you differently? Did you mishandle a relationship?  In retrospect, what could you have done differently?  We don’t always react well under stress so using this time can prepare us for handling a similar situation better in the future. Is there any way you can mend the breach?

resolveResolve – This is the season for New Year’s resolutions.  Having spent time reflecting, you are ready to make some.  Be realistic.  If you have over five resolutions and attempt to make huge changes, you are setting yourself up for failure. Have an action plan with a few simple steps so that you can feel a sense of accomplishment which will inspire you to continue.

I’m happy to share mine with you

My Resolutions – I will continue walking at least three times a week. In bad weather, I will walk in circles around my house and my Fit-bit will keep me on track.  I will also go to a big box store or the supermarket in bad weather and put my coat in a shopping cart and push it around the store and look for changes in displays so I don’t get bored.

I will get back to writing the sequel to Woven through Time which I pushed aside when I began preparing for my two online courses and other presentations.  I will write four or more days a week, striving for 1,000-1,500 words per week so I don’t feel pressured as to how long I write on any given day.    Exceeding the goal will make me feel very successful.

How are you using your time off from school?  What resolutions are you making?


ON WRITING: Getting Started

the scariest momentThe title of this blog on the fiction writing portion of my life refers both it being my first post on the subject and to the subject itself – How my career as an author came into being and what I learned along the way.

You may know I have been writing for school librarians since 1979, and some of you know Woven through Time, my YA fantasy, came out in 2013 and then was re-released by my new publisher Mundania earlier this year. What you don’t know is that since I was in grade school I have wanted to write a novel. I know many of you have nursed the same desire, and I want to let you know your dream can become a reality if you really want to make it happen.Woven_Through_Time - cover

For so many years, life got in the way of my sitting down to tell a story, at least that’s what I told myself.  The truth is, I let it slip into the dim recesses of my brain.  I convinced myself it was an unrealistic childhood fantasy. I didn’t have the talent or skill set to write creatively.  My writing was about process, things I knew and wanted to share with colleagues.  Fortunately, my daughter didn’t buy those stories I told myself, and when I retired and could go to a week-long program of writing workshops put on by the International Women’s Writing Guild, she encouraged me to join her.  I did and Woven through Time was the result.

It began easily enough.  I chose a five-day workshop on novel writing and we got started on it immediately.  Surrounded by a class-full of women all ready to write, I found I did have an idea I wanted to develop.  I was going to write a fantasy about three generations of women beginning when the first was in her teens and going through her life until her granddaughter reached her teens.  I would be looking at three stages of a woman’s life –maiden, mother, crone ­– and so Sava, Aimah, and Nara were born.

I didn’t know that my passions and strong beliefs would emerge without my focusing on them.  All I wanted to do was tell a good story.  The “woven” in the title referred to the abilities all three women had in weaving beautiful cloth that predicted the future.

easy noIt took a while before I realized “woven” also refers to the threads that give meaning to the life. One of the strongest threads in my life is the passion I have for family. For me it has been an unconditional bond that remains true throughout the years. A second thread is the vital role honorable men play in protecting and supporting those they love. Another is the power women have when they are joined in a common purpose.  A related one is the importance of female friends in a woman’s life.  I came to this last one late in my own life, and Sava is amazed when she discovers it for herself.

There are more clues to my life buried within the story. Some I probably haven’t found yet. The book certainly isn’t a memoir, yet I discovered that once I started writing, what came to the page told the important parts of my journey through life.

ON LIBRARIES – Sending Mixed Messages

mixed messagesAs librarians we try to create a warm, welcoming safe environment for our libraries. We also want our students to become lifelong readers and learners. But often there is a disconnect between these desires and what our students perceive. Most of us are so busy we end up on auto-pilot, doing things without thinking, not realizing our actions are sending a very different message.

Years ago, I was hired to consult for a district hoping to improve its library program (Unfortunately, we don’t see that anymore).  I walked into one elementary library with the intention of seeing how its arrangement helped or hindered creating an inviting atmosphere.  I didn’t have to look far.  On several walls, there were large posters proclaiming library rules.  No loud voices – speak in whispers.  Wash your hands before reading a book. Sit properly in your chair. Raise your hand before speaking. Only two books may be checked out.

I wanted to leave.  The library was neat and orderly and completely cold. It was about rules, not about reading, not about discovering exciting new things. I am sure the librarian never intended students to feel what I was feeling. She probably had her hands full many days with students who found the environment so repressive they acted out.  I hope she didn’t punish them by not letting them take out a book.Library rules

At a high school I visited, I was also struck by how a beautifully designed facility could be a turn-off. The rules weren’t posted in the same way, but there was no indication that this was a place for kids. The few posters were formal purchased ones.  The walls had no added color. There was no student art. No bulletin board showcased student accomplishment. The message was, “This is a place run by adults and you are not to disrupt it.” Not surprisingly there were almost no students working individually, and I discovered teachers rarely brought their classes in.

Numerous elementary librarians, intending to instill a sense of responsibility in students, have a strict overdue policy.  If they don’t return their books on time, they can’t take out any.  The message being is “returning books on time is more important that having something new to read.”  While overdues can problem since the books can go astray and parents are expected to pay for lost books, there are other ways to handle it. You can have slips ready to insert into a book pocket or even taped to the cover informing parents to please search for books not returned. If it’s the school that has set the rule, make sure students is directed to some books to read while their classmates are selecting theirs and checking them out.  Send home a note about the missing titles and allow the student to borrow books as soon as the overdue ones are returned even if it’s not the class’s day in the library. Make it about getting books to read in the hands of students.

empty libraryCreating lifelong readers is being hampered in many places by the emphasis on Lexile scores. It’s fine for instructional purposes but not for recreational reading.  The idea is to make reading fun not challenging, hard work. Leisure reading levels are usually below instructional levels.  This builds fluency and enjoyment which then allows students to take on more difficult texts in class. I dislike the “five finger” rule.  If I had to look up five words on every page of a book, I wouldn’t want to read it.  I prefer a “no-finger” rule. This would mean there might be a few words in the book which would be new, but mostly the students could zip along and enjoy the story.

Some students want to read a book that’s well above their Lexile level. Frequently it’s on a subject they are interested in, such as a sport.  Or it could be a popular title.  Even now, you might get a third grader who wants to read a Harry Potter story and is really not up to the task. The tendency is to not let the child borrow the book.  I would let it go out, suggest sharing the reading with a parent or older sibling, and recommend another easier book also be borrowed.  The stretch in trying to read the harder text will only improve the student’s reading skills.  This is different from forcing a child to read a harder book to match a Lexile level.  This is personal choice.

Do your policies and practices reinforce or conflict with the message you want to send?  Rethink now and plan to make changes when you get back from the holiday break.


ON LIBRARIES: Advocacy – Results and Next Steps

signingOn December 10, President Obama signed the ESSA (Every Child Succeeds Act) into law. It was an historic moment, years in the making.  We have come close many times, with different variations but at the last moment Congress would keep the bill from coming to the floor.  It has finally happened and it took a lot of work to achieve.

A quick review is needed first so you can appreciate how we reached this stage.  You are probably familiar with previous laws such as ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) the first manifestation of which occurred in the early 1970s. NCLB (No Child Left Behind) which replaced the different version of ESEA soon was called No Child Left Untested, and most of you have been dealing with Common Core and the extreme testing which resulted.  We now move into a new phase.ala - ola

In addition to NEA working for a re-authorization of ESEA (which is what the first target was), ALA’s Washington Office, specifically its Office for Library Advocacy has been lobbying to get a bill through that would recognized the importance of school libraries and librarians, trying more than once to get what was then called the SKILLS Act Strengthening Kids’ Interest in Learning and Libraries) passed, without much success.

This was partly our own fault.  I kept hearing from people in the Washington Office that Congress pays little attention to our lobbyists unless the message is supported by a strong outpouring of support from voters –like us.  Unfortunately, despite sending delegates to Legislative Day in Washington, D.C. and some attending virtually, there really weren’t rousing responses to calls for action.

This time, working along with NEA, and many, many librarians on social networks exhorting others to make calls, and Tweet or email legislators, the message got heard.  I suspect in part this was due to the widespread frustrations with Common Core.  So, in addition to sending thanks to the Washington Office for a job well-done, and to your legislators if they support the bill, give yourself a pat on the back if you were among those who responded to the call to action.  This took more than a village.  It took a country.

advocacy heartAs with any bill, it isn’t perfect.  Compromise is part of the process so you never get everything you want. But we did get libraries written into it. As Washington Dispatch explains the bill includes the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program allowing the Secretary of Education  “award grants, contracts, or cooperative agreements, on a competitive basis” to promote literacy programs in low-income areas, including “developing and enhancing effective school library programs.”  The money can be used both for purchasing library materials and for giving school librarians PD.

Moreover, Title II funds can now be used for “supporting the instructional services provided by effective school library programs.”  The part I really like is that the bill “encourages local education agencies to assist schools in developing effective school library programs, in part to help students gain digital skills.”  In an Education Week article on the bill, AASL President Leslie Preddy noted that school libraries and librarians as “critical educational partners.”

In essence it means the ball is now in your court. It is now up to you do advocacy work on the building and district level to ensure you have an effective library program.  What do you need? Why? What will you be doing?  How can the change be measured?

So take time to celebrate an achievement ten years in the making.  Then get down to work.  If you need it, look to your colleagues in your state association or in your district.  Reach out to your PLM for ideas if you need them.  Don’t waste this great opportunity.  Your students need it.


ON LIBRARIES: It’s The Law(s)

RanganathanMost of you learned Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science when you were in library school.  You discussed them and have probably since forgotten them.  Students in my online graduate course are discovering those laws this week, and as I reviewed them it struck me once again how incredibly relevant they still are and how brilliant and prescient Ranganathan was.

S. R.(Shiyali Ramamrit) Ranganathan and with Melvil Dewey, both born in the 1800’s, can be seen as the creators of librarianship. However, while even non-librarians are familiar with the greatest of Dewey’s contributions (others are the founding of the American Library Association and the originator of Library Journal­ – did you know Dewey did that?), it’s unlikely that many outside the profession have ever heard of him. In this age of always striving to move forward and be modern and/or relevant, there is something comforting about looking at our roots and discovering unchanging truths.

First LawBooks are for use in the stacks

This is a reminder that they are not to be hidden away.  It repudiates the concept of closed stacks, but for me it also is a caution about restricting students from reading books not on their Lexile level and it suggests that requiring a parental note before a student can borrow a book deemed too sophisticated or more specifically having content that might be challenged is not how librarians should be operating. For me, it’s also a message about weeding.  Those dusty titles sitting on your shelves are not being used.  Libraries are neither warehouses nor museums. Why are you keeping them?

Second Law – Every book its reader

Libraries need to have something for every user. It means if you have ELL students you need to be looking into getting books in their language.  Recognize visually challenged students should have access to books in large-type.  As you prepare your orders, do you think about who will be interested in this title?  You don’t purchase something merely because it has a good review. In whose hands do you see it? Does it connect to a curricular area?  Do you know one or more students who like this author or type of book? Ranganathan used “book” generically.  He also meant magazines. Today we should be thinking about e-resources and databases.  Who will be served by adding this to the collection?

every bookThird Law – Every reader his book

This may be my favorite of his laws.  I personally know someone who was a lifelong nonreader. Quite by accident, she decided to try one of those wildly popular titles everyone was reading and talking about and fell in love.  It was the first in a trilogy, so she read all three. And re-read them, and re-read them.  Finally she knew the text virtually by heart, and was ready to take a risk and read another in a similar vein.  Suddenly she is a voracious reader, proudly announcing to me she got a library card and has been shopping at Barnes and Noble. It is a complete reversal.  I travel everywhere with my e-reader and patiently read while waiting my turn to be helped (PERSONAL NOTE OF HORROR: My Nook broke this week – I had to replace it in under 24 hours or risk insanity).  Invariably someone tells me they love to read and often trace it back to the one book that got them started. And that is a special role and gift of our profession.  We know our users and we know our books. It is our delight and our mission to connect our users with the perfect book for them.

Fourth Law – Save the time of the reader

The purpose of library organization is to do just that – and the work of Ranganathan and Dewey made it possible.  However, as we have discussed, there are other thoughts today. The rationale for genre-fying the collection is to save readers’ time.  It also means you need to regularly look at you facility and procedures to see if you have any obstacles keeping readers from easy access to what they need and want.  School librarians need to remember this law when students ask for assistance.  Too many times, we want them to learn to do it for themselves and just give directions to be followed.  Yes, they need to learn, but sometimes the need is to get to the answer. You can impart the lesson by going with the student, explaining the steps as you do them.

Fifth Law – The library is a growing organism

Students work on an in-class assignment in an Electrical and Computer Engineering 230: Circuit Analysis course taught by faculty associate Michael Morrow on the fourth floor of Wendt Library at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. (Photo by Bryce Richter / UW-Madison)

Ranganathan recognized that a static library is a dead one.  Even in today’s heavily technological world, bookshelves do get filled.  In the haste to add more space for computers and other devices, libraries are reducing shelving to a bare minimum.  These are crammed with what is being retained, but where will the new print acquisitions go? Certainly there won’t be as many as the past, but they are still being purchased.  On a larger level, this law speaks to the constant change libraries undergo as they transform themselves to meet the needs of users and reflect the technological and other changes of society.

I suggest it is time to bring Ranganathan and his five laws to the attention of our users. Print them out in a large, easily read format, frame and hang it in your main area. Put his name and 1931, the year they were published, at the bottom.  It is a great explanation of what your program does and why.

As I said, the Third Law is my favorite.  Which is yours? Or which challenges you?