ON LIBRARIES: In the Award Spotlight

This past week AASL announced it 2018 award winners.  Next year you could be one of them. Does that scare you? Thrill you? Both? Good!

Now is the perfect time to think about going for one of the AASL awards. School is almost over everywhere.  (Some of you have only a few days left.) You have the benefit of more free time over summer to choose the best award for you and get your application organized. Most of them will be due February 1, 2019. In past blogs, I have alluded to applying for awards as a way to get noticed for what you do.  For those of you who are still unsure about putting yourself forward as a leader, this is a potential first step.

There is one caveat.  You must be a member of ALA/AASL to qualify – and too few librarians belong to our national association. 

Joining has so many benefits – developmental, social, and even financial.  For example, everyone needs to own the new National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. The hefty price tag of $199 is reduced to a far more reasonable $99 if you are a member of ALA/AASL, and first-year membership costs $119.  So for an additional $19 you get your membership and the standards.

Going back to the awards options, AASL offers a number of awards and grants and, with some preparation, one will fit with what you are doing. My favorite grant, for several reasons, is the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries. Some of you may know that for more than 30 years Ruth and I co-authored 14 books for school librarians, the last three for ALA Editions.  We also wrote and edited The School Librarian’s Workshop, a bi-monthly newsletter, which eventually lead to a growing, supportive Facebook group over 7,000 strong.


The Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries is sponsored by Ruth’s husband, Jay Toor and speaks to something Ruth, and I, have always been passionate about – creating a public awareness/marketing campaign promoting the school library program as a necessary resource.  The grant winner gets $3,000 to carry out the campaign.  Another $2,000 goes to the librarian and an administrator (or volunteer parent) to attend an AASL or ALA conference. It is not one of the simplest grants to apply for, so I recommend it for an established librarian.  It is a fairly large grant, and you should build in many opportunities for widespread coverage of whatever event is part of your campaign.  Whether you get the grant or not – do what you can to carry out the campaign you create (you may be able to find some local funding if you need it) and get you and your program recognition from the administration.

Have you and a teacher worked together on a learning opportunity that was highly successful? One where students created new information and were thoroughly engaged?  If so, you are ready to apply for the Collaborative School Library Award, which is not nearly as complicated. The winner of this award, sponsored by Upstart, receives $2,500.  If you start putting this together now, be mindful that the criteria refer to meet standards in Empowering Learners. I am sure it will soon be updated to require using the National School Library Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (see, another reason you need a copy of this!)

If your successful collaborative unit is about Social Justice, look at the criteria for the Roald Dahl Miss Honey Social Justice Award.  Your project should “expose social injustice while at the same time inspiring … students to repair the world through justice, service, or advocacy.” Possible themes are genocide, civil liberties, and local issues on the topic. The winner of the award, sponsored by Penguin Random House, receives $2,000. Additionally, there is up to $1,000 reimbursement for travel to attend the AASL Awards at the ALA Annual Conference – and a $5,000 book donation from Penguin Random House. That will boost your collection – and put your program in your administration’s spotlight.

The $2,500 Innovative Reading Grant, sponsored by Capstone, is for a unique program, motivating reading, particularly among struggling readers. Up to four grants are available for the Inspire Collection Development Grant, sponsored by Marina “Marnie” Welmars.  The grants go to middle or high school librarians (grades 5-12) in public schools with 85% or more of the students qualifying for Free/Reduced Lunch Program.

The most challenging award to apply for and the one requiring the most developed programs is the National School Library Program of the Year. Sponsored by Follett, it is meant to showcase exemplary programs. As such, they ensure that “the students and staff are effective users of ideas and information. These programs empower learners to be critical thinkers, enthusiastic readers, skillful researchers and ethical users of information.” Winners receive $10,000 and a lot of attention, starting when finalists get visits from the award committee.  If you want to tackle this award, you will not only need to start early but, as the guideline suggests, do check the rubric. (Also use the National School Library Standards, not the old standards.) 

Look over these awards and grant and see which one you might win with an investment of time and a bit of risk-taking.  There is a link to the past/current winning entry for each of them so you can see what was previously submitted and impressed the judges. Consider emailing the librarian if you have questions. Next year you could be honored at the AASL Awards luncheon.



ON LIBRARIES: Teaching Social Justice in the Library

social justiceHow far should we go in teaching values?  Years ago, there was a strong belief that character development was the parents’ place.  Today a high preponderance of schools include it in their curriculum.

Current events have raised the question of whether we need to teach social justice, but in the context of a contentious presidential campaign it seems too political to touch. In some areas it could undoubtedly unleash a torrent of publicity that would negatively impact the librarian.  The easiest decision is to ignore it and claim it is outside our responsibility.

Two thoughts to consider.  First, we teach students how to think, not what to think. If the learning opportunity is properly developed, it shouldn’t bring with it any personal bias.  Secondly, social justice is a very large topic and encompasses areas far beyond current headlines.how to think

I searched to find a good definition of social justice.  Appalachian State University’s Department of Government and Social Justice has an article on What is Social Justice? In it the author defines it by citing others including “… promoting a just society by challenging injustice and valuing diversity. It exists when “all people share a common humanity and therefore have a right to equitable treatment, support for their human rights, and a fair allocation of community resources.’ In conditions of social justice, people are ‘not be discriminated against, nor their welfare and well-being constrained or prejudiced on the basis of gender, sexuality, religion, political affiliations, age, race, belief, disability, location, social class, socioeconomic circumstances, or other characteristic of background or group membership.” (Toowoomba Catholic Education, 2006).”

Miss HoneyBut the one I think is best suited to schools comes from the description of AASL’s Roald Dahl Miss Honey Social Justice Award, which has been awarded for the last three years.   In the criteria it states:

  • The librarian has made a significant effort to teach the concept of social justice in creative, inspiring ways. This might include, but not be limited to, teaching about civil liberties, human rights, international justice, genocide studies, and local issues of justice. For example, applicants may design a special lesson, course of study, create a school or district project, or lead their students in some way to address social justice.
  • Close attention will be focused on applicants who follow the “spirit” of social justice in their classroom; namely, those who possess the ability to expose injustice while at the same time inspiring their students to repair the world through justice, service, or advocacy.

You can easily focus on international issues of social justice in designing a unit with a classroom teacher. If some students see connections to what is happening in the U.S. that would be their personal “take-away.” As part of the unit, students can create a project that would “repair the world through justice, service, or advocacy.”

Ann Yawornitsky, Jennifer Sarnes, ad Melissa Zawaski of the Wilson Southern Middle School, Sinking Spring, PA. were the 2016 winners of the award.  According to the description of the project on the AASL press release, “school librarian Yawornitsky and 6th grade reading teachers Sarnes and Zawaski collaborated to create the project “Children of the Holocaust/Holocaust Hall of Memories.” After completing preliminary research, each student was given an identity card with the photo and name of a child who suffered in the Holocaust. Using multiple resources, students researched the fate of their child and created poems, journals or multimedia presentations to share their child’s life and experiences. To conclude, students host a Holocaust Hall of Memories open to the entire community. Students assume the identity of their child, saying “My name is…” and give a short account of his or her Holocaust experience.

If you don’t want to focus on international issues, you can still find relevant topics. For example, the class can research the cause and effect of hunger, identifying how much hunger exists in their community and then organize a food drive to support local food banks. There are many local issues that can be explored without raising people’s ire.

Projects like these take students beyond textbooks and help them develop the empathy to feel for others whose lives are very different than their own. In the process they need to think critically, work collaborative, and learn to problem solve. And they may discover that one person does have the ability to “repair the world.”teaching tolerance

If you haven’t done so as yet, check out Teaching Tolerance’s website and sign up for their free classroom units and magazine subscription which are free to school librarians and teachers. You might get some ideas from it for a project – and then apply for the Roald Dahl Miss Honey Social Justice Award.


ON LIBRARIES: The Rewards of Awards

CongratulationsThis past week I was thrilled and stunned to be informed that I was receiving the 2016 AASL Distinguished Service Award.  It took about 24 hours for it to sink in. Once it did, I began thinking about the other awards AASL gives and what an opportunity these present for school librarians.

Check out the Awards and Grants page on the AASL website. There are six awards listed in addition to the Distinguished Service Award. Each of them can bring attention to you and your library program. But you do need to submit an application.

Now is an excellent time to explore the possibilities.  Since most of the applications are due on February 1 you’ll have time to look them over, choose the best fit for you and then slowly begin filling out the forms. No pressure. It won’t be due for months.aasl awards

The National School Library Program of the Year award is the big one. Three different schools or districts can win the award in any one year, and some years only one or two get it.  The process for this one is arduous so an early start is vital.  Consider checking past winners and contacting them to see if they have any helpful advice.  You don’t have to be from a wealthy district. A few years ago, an inner city school won.

If you are among the finalists, the committee comes for an on-site visit. Imagine the excitement of this group coming to your town/city to see your school.  The whole school turns out to welcome them. And your library program is acknowledged for being considered as one of the year’s exemplary programs. Winning schools get $10,000 which will make any administrator take notice.

Want to start a bit smaller? Consider the Collaborative School Library Award.  If you and one or more teachers have developed a great collaborative program that had students excited about learning and gives them an opportunity be producers of information, making a contribution to the community, and using critical and creative thinking skills this award is for you.  In addition to the usual plaque, it also carries a $2,500 monetary prize,

Roald Dahl’s Miss Honey Social Justice Award “recognizes and encourages collaboration and partnerships between school librarians and teachers in teaching social justice through joint planning of a program, unit or event in support of social justice using school library resources.” Just reviewing the criteria and description might give you an idea of something you can plan with a teacher who likes to work with you. This one awards $2,000 to the librarian plus $1,000 for travel and housing at the ALA Conference and a donation $5,000 worth of books from Penguin Random House.

excellenceThe Intellectual Freedom Award is not one you would plan for.  It goes to a librarian who has stood up for the principles of Intellectual Freedom which usually means he/she stood fast in the face of a challenge to a book or other library material. Although state library associations and the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom offer support, the fact is the librarian is most often alone in the firestorm. It is an example of courage in upholding core principles of librarianship. Winners receive $2,000 plus $1,000 for their library. While you always hope nothing like this happens to you, if it does, do apply for the award. It’s important to get the word out, and it’s another validation for you in your school and district.

Are you blessed with a wonderful administrator? Nominate him/her for the Distinguished School Administrator Award. Winners receive $2,000 and of course a plaque.  Our best advocates are often administrators. Give them a chance to talk about what they see as the importance of school librarians and school library programs.  As winners they may be asked to speak at their own state and national conference.  It also won’t hurt your standing that you brought this fame to him/her.

Just below the list of awards are the grants.  Don’t overlook these. ForRuth two reasons, my favorite is the Ruth Toor Grant for Strong Public School Libraries. First, and most personally, Ruth Toor was my co-author and friend for over 35 years.  She is no longer able to participate in library activities, but this is how her husband has chosen to honor her contributions.  My second reason is my own (and Ruth’s) recognition of the importance of librarians having advocacy programs to promote the library to the entire educational community—and sometimes the local community itself.

Look at the criteria for the award and its requirements.  If you can come up with a plan that can be replicated and/or adopted by others, put it together and apply for the award.  The winner gets $3,000 to carry out the program plus $2,000 for the librarian and the school official or volunteer to attend the AASL Conference or the ALA Conference.

The Innovative Reading Grant addresses a core belief of libraranship – the importance of reading. If you have (or can come up with) a unique and innovative plan to motivate readers particularly those who struggle, this is one to look at closely. It carries a monetary award of $2,500, and just think of the difference your program can make in the lives of students.

I know you are all very busy, and applying for these awards takes time. But the possible rewards are great, and I am not referring to the monetary prizes.  If you win a national award your district will take notice.  Your Board of Education is likely to honor you and it is likely to be covered in the local newspaper. You bring attention and acclaim to your library program and make people aware of the importance of what you do.

Get started on applying for one of these. Good luck – and keep us posted.