ON LIBRARIES – You Are Unique

you what you believeRecognizing that you are unique in your building is essential for establishing you and your program as indispensable to the educational community.  No one else in the building has the expertise you bring in working with students, teachers, and administrators. While most of you have heard this before and may even say so to others, far too many of you don’t believe it is true of you personally.

My aim in this blog is to convince you that you are unique because once you believe it you will be communicating your essential contributions in all your interactions.  So here is a list of what is done by no one else but you.

Information Literacy – You do this every day, but in discussing it you should always explain the specifics of what the term encompasses.  The first component of information literacy is to know when information is needed — and of course students and teachers recognize that most of the time.  What they don’t understand is that doing a search — on Google, Wikipedia, or YouTube is far different from doing research. .  Finding is not a problem. Finding quality in the sea of information available requires a more complex set of skills and understandings to accurately evaluate it what has been located for accuracy and relevance. Citing what was selected has become far more complex in the digital age.  Teachers are generally capable of explaining how to cite print sources, but knowing what and how to cite online databases, websites, videos, audio files, and graphics is less understood.  You are the only one teaching students about Creative Commons and how to use it.information literacy

Inquiry-based Learning – Technically this and the following ones are all part of Information Literacy but it’s important to separate them so you and others recognize the scope of what you bring to students and to teachers who collaborate or cooperate with you. In the classroom the stress is laid on answers.  But answers show only that the content has been learned.  Nothing new comes from re-stating what is already known.  What is important is taking learning to the next step, to probe deeper by asking significant questions and then searching for answers to those questions.  Inquiry-based learning, which is central to the AASL Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, challenges students to develop questions on a topic, preferably in an area where they have a personal interest, and discover possible solutions.  In the process, they frequently have to refine their search, modify and/or add questions.  Information Literacy skills are employed, and students are asked to assess what they did and how they did it to learn what worked and what they might do differently next time.  While the learning opportunity is usually connected to a classroom unit encompassing state and national standards, it more significantly is building the techniques and skills for lifelong learning in student’s personal lives and future careers.

you show studentsTechnology Integration – You are the one person in the school who keeps current with new technology and the latest resources to be found on websites and apps.  You hear it from your colleagues who share their latest “discoveries,” or see a presentation at a library conference or webinar, or search the AASL Best Websites for Teaching and Learning and Best Apps for Teaching and Learning. What you learn you share with teachers and students giving them new ways to organize, share, and present information.  When a student does work for one person — the teacher—it means s/he tends to frame it in ways to please that sole reader and lasting learning is lost.  In this world we are expected to reach out to colleagues and others using tech resources suited to the targeted audience.  A paper meant for the teacher alone is therefore as outdated as an audio cassette. You show students how the tech they love can be used to help them grow academically and personally.

Knowledge Creation – The challenge is not to repeat what is already known, but to build knowledge and create new content. Students should not be expected to do “busy work” with culminating projects that take time – such as dioramas and poster boards or even presentations using current technology—but have no ultimate purpose.  Did their research lead them to believe a law should be changed?  How can they work to make that happen?  Should people be informed about an issue?  What tool should they use for it and what information needs to be included?  Students of today must be more than information consumers.  They must become knowledge creators.  The activities occurring in the library are structured so they become true participants in society.

Digital Literacy – A subset of Information Literacy, digital literacy is the ability to find, evaluate, use, communicate, and create across a variety of platforms and formats.  It expects students to be “transliterate” which also includes using social and mass media.  Digitally literate students understand how to exist safely in cyberspace, are aware of the benefits and how to avoid the dangers.

Global Connections – More and more librarians are connecting their students with others around the country and globe.  It is vital for students to become tolerant and understand different cultures and peoples. Working with them from an early age opens minds and builds the understandings necessary for working and living in a global culture.                                                                             

Literacy Leading to Lifelong Learning – And of course, at the core of what we do is promote reading for pleasure and information. Others teach the skills necessary to read, we provide the environment where students discover the joy in reading unfettered by tests.lifelong learning

Some of you are saying you don’t do all of this. You still do much of it – and no one else does it. Yes, you can possibly do more – but that’s where your work stays exciting and new for you. Keep building your Professional/ Personal Learning Network (see the blog for August 10, How Large Is Your PLN?) and you will find it much easier to add those unique components to your library program.

Don’t sell yourself short.  You are unique.  Recognize it.  Believe it, and be sure to let others know it.


ON LIBRARIES – Reach Out To Collaborate

collaborationCollaboration is an important word in librarianship.  We all accept that it’s vital in giving students the best possible learning opportunities.  Most often, the word is used when we talk about collaborating with teachers. It’s time to think past the school building when developing collaboration.

The easiest bridge to build is with your local public librarians.  Are you aware of what programs they are offering?  Do they know what you are doing?  Is there a way you can work together?  In many places the children’s librarian visits the public school to promote a summer reading program, but you can invite them to come in during September for Library Card Sign-up Month.  It’s sometimes surprising to discover how many students don’t go to the public library. Talk with the librarian about creating a joint program, possibly a Makerspace and alternate venues.  Have the librarian showcase some of your programs and events on their bulletin board and/or website and do the same in return.

If at all possible, try to schedule a field trip to the public library.  Even middle and some high school students might be interested to see the “back rooms” to find out how materials get processed and get a chance to speak with the different levels of librarians as well as the clerks.  Most public libraries now have a teen section and, of course, they circulate DVDs audio books, and video games. Since their collection is larger than yours, it is good for students to know what’s available.  Their online databases also tend to be more extensive and those with library cards can access them from home.  The more students become aware of the existence and value of all types of libraries, the more likely they are to become lifelong learners and library advocates.public library

You can also collaborate with other schools in your district. Some of you run district-wide Battle of the Books contests, but you can also do joint projects with your students working the students from another school using Skype, Google Docs, or other tech to connect.  Perhaps their final product can be displayed one night at the public library.

Visits by older students to lower grades can be beneficial to both groups.  On Read-Across-America Day, some high school students go to elementary schools to read books to younger ones. I once had a U.S. History project where students had to take a topic, such as the Great Depression, and create a picture book.  First we borrowed historical fiction picture books from an elementary school library and discussed how the authors made a complex idea comprehensible to young children.  What background knowledge would they lack and need to be informed about in order for the book to make sense? With that understanding, they went to work. They field tested their results by reading their creations to kids in the elementary school.

Consider collaborating with 2 and 4 year colleges in your area.  The latest issue of Knowledge Quest, the magazine from AASL has numerous articles dealing with different ways to do this.  Field trips, again, acquaint students of the huge jump from a high school to a college library including the size, number of databases, and Library of Congress replacing the familiar Dewey Decimal System.

A visit from a college librarian talking about research projects at the college level is an eye-opener for students.  Years ago, a colleague of mine, arranged with a college professor to grade research papers that had already been graded by their teacher.  They were stunned when the college grade was returned as it was a full grade lower on average. Check Knowledge Quest for more ideas.

build bridgesOnce you start thinking outside the box—and outside your school—look for ways to involve the community.  Is there a Historical Society in your town? Could you come up with a project to collaborate with them?  Check to see what is out there, reach out to their contact person (with the knowledge and approval of your administrator) and see what projects you can create together.

Go worldwide. A number of librarians are connecting their students with students in another country. In the August/ September 2014 issue of School Librarian’s Workshop Shannon McClintock Miller explained how she devised a project that had her students making Rainbow Looms and sharing them first with students in an orphanage in India. She found the location in India by tweeting about her project and posting it on her Facebook page.

She and her students created a Banding Together Facebook and Tumblr on the project called Banding.  You can find out more about it at Banding Together” project on her Smore

Besides your teachers, with whom can you collaborate?  Start thinking.


ON LIBRARIES: Are You Getting Full Value from Your Library Associations?


Ivalue1 thought this would be a short blog.  I was wrong. This is important to your future as a librarian and the future of the programs for which we are responsible.

Most of you are members of your state association. A good number of you, although it should be much more, are members of ALA/AASL but only a small percentage of you are getting all you can from your membership.

Are you using the resources our state and national associations provide?  How often to you check their websites?  AASL has a wealth of information and resources—and for most you don’t even need to be a member.

Become an active member. Although AASL has paid staff, and your state association may have some paid positions, the organizations direction an accomplishments are powered by volunteers.  Even if for some reason you don’t feel ready to participate at the national level (and they welcome newbies), do contact your state association to find out how you can be of service.

I can hear you saying, “I agree those are great resources and I would really love to be more active, but I haven’t the time.”  That’s our favorite response to almost everything.  And as I said last week with the stories we tell ourselves, it’s grounded in truth.  You don’t have time, but when you recognize it’s a priority in your life, you are willing to make time.

I keep hearing librarians complain about irrelevant PD offered by their district.  Although I believe you can always get something from these offerings, AASL has webinars geared specifically to areas you need. Do you sign up for them?  AASL also offers e-Academy asynchronous courses lasting only a few weeks on topics of concern to school librarians. I give two six-week e-courses for ALA editions, one based on Being Indispensable and the other on New on the Job. You can’t take advantage of them if you don’t know they exist.aasl

Are you on your state’s listserv?  Their Facebook page if they have one? If you are an AASL member you can be on the AASLForum electronic discussion list.  It’s a great source for getting and sharing information you need every day on your job.  You will also get to recognize the leaders, those who know and use the latest in technology.  Because of my presence on my state’s listserv I had a librarian contact me and ask me to mentor her.  Of course I did so.  Although she is now well on her way to being a leader in her own right, every now and then she still checks in with a question.

Fall conference season is upon us. Several state library associations have already had theirs. In my state, the New Jersey Association of School Librarians will be holding its annual conference from November 15-17, and before that AASL will have its biennial conference November 6-8 in Columbus, Ohio.  I will be at both of these.  Will you be attending any?

Even if you can’t take professional days to attend the AASL and/or your state conference, it’s worth it to take personal days.  When you do, write up a brief report letting your administrator know what you learned and how it will affect what you are doing with students.  It shows you are a professional, and what you receive from your time at conference will inspire and rejuvenate you.  It’s the best PD you can get.

Looking further down the road, and registration has been open for some time, ALA’s Midwinter conference is in Boston this year from January 8-12. Book now since rates go up after November 12.  You needn’t attend the whole conference.  Arrive Friday after work and leave on Sunday in time to be back on the job on Monday.  There is no official programs at Midwinter, but the exhibits are far more extensive than all but the very largest state conferences. (I am thinking of Texas.)

While there you can sit in during AASL’s All-Committee meeting, which I believe will be on Saturday. Round tables are set up in a very large room for the various AASL committees to meet and conduct business.  Guests are welcome.  It’s an excellent opportunity to see whether you would like to serve on one.  If you find one to your liking, let the chair know to recommend you be appointed to it.  You needn’t get to every ALA Annual and Midwinter to serve on a committee.  Most of them have virtual members and a lot of business gets done in conference calls and through ALA Connect which is onlne.

ala midwinterI learned to be a leader thanks to my participation in my state association and ALA/AASL.  I was nervous when I was asked many years ago to run for president-elect of my state association. When I won, I had to figure out how to plan and run our annual conference.  Beyond that, I had to deal with budgets, agendas for meetings, dealing with conflicting views of board members and more.  In AASL I learned about long range planning, advocacy, and strategic planning.  The latter I also did at the state level.  I have been and am on ALA Committees and developed a deeper understanding of how all types of libraries connect and need to support each other.

Each committee, each task taught me more than I ever learned in library school or at my district’s PD offerings.  I became a much better librarian and one whom administrators and teachers respected for what I knew and brought to them and students.

Is that enough of a priority for you to consider becoming active?



ON LIBRARIES: The Stories We Tell Ourselves

storytellingAs librarians we love telling stories.  It’s story time at the elementary level, and we delight in entrancing students with tales new and old.  In the upper grades, we work hard connecting students to just the right book, knowing that is how we build lifelong readers.  We believe in the power of story… the power of fiction…. the power of a lie?

Because there’s another type of story – the ones we tell ourselves. The ones about why we do or don’t do certain things, and like the ones we bring to students, these have power.  When our stories are positive, it helps us do great things, but most often we cling to our negative stories.

I am most concerned with the stories you have about being a leader.  I have spoken with many librarians who recognize the value of being a leader but know they can’t be one.  And they all have a story.  Are any of these yours?

I don’t have the time.  I have a full schedule.  I work in two (or more) schools. I barely have time to breathe on the job.  I go home to more work.  It’s hard enough for me to complete all my responsibilities.  When would I find time to be a leader?

Leaders are born, not made, and I wasn’t born to be a leader. I can tell you countless stories of how I have never been a leader.  I was last picked for teams. I was always the nerdy girl (or guy). Whenever I did run for an office, I didn’t get elected.

I can’t talk in front of a large group. Teaching a class of students is not the same as speaking before my colleagues or parent groups. I am really an introvert.  If I have to get up before a group, my palms sweat and my voice gets shaky.  I don’t sound like a leader, I sound nervous and scared.what's your story

Even fairy tales have elements of truth. It’s why we can relate to them, and each of the stories I’ve mentioned above has an element of truth, but like those tales, there is quite a bit of fiction within them.  But let’s look more closely and see if it’s all true.

No time: Most of you are very busy, but the fact is in our world no one can find time.  You have to make time.  Which means look at what you are doing and determine priorities.  Yes, you must get your lessons taught but there is much you do within your school day that does not have as a high a priority.  Getting every book into the catalog as soon as possible.  Checking everything in before the end of the day. You have others depending on your job. Yes, they are important, but making your presence known in the building, leading the way with tech integration, and sending visual quarterly reports to your administrator featuring what students are learning in the library are more important in assuring your program and you are valued.  Pick on and add it to your “to-do” list.

Born Leaders: Sure, some people seem to be natural leaders from childhood, but as Shakespeare said, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” The bottom line is, the need to be a leader has been thrust upon you.  You can do it.  You have achieved so much in your life by this time, you are more than capable of going those extra steps and taking the risk of stepping out as a leader.  Look for a mentor in the field, someone who you see as a leader and ask for advice and help.

get rid of the storiesPublic Speaking: It’s true that in countless surveys people put the fear of public speaking higher than death, but who said leaders must speak in front of large groups? That’s only one aspect of leadership and not everyone needs to do it.  Quiet leadership can be equally and sometimes more effective.  Be the person who teachers can count on to show them how to use a new tech tool.  Help your principal carry out a new administrative directive.  When rubrics first erupted on the educational scene, I had a few teachers come to me quietly to ask for help.  I had not made one for myself as yet, but they were confident I could help them—and I did.  I also worked with the administration when the decision was made to move to block scheduling, getting material for teachers and giving them advice based on my research.  That, too, is leadership.

What stories are you telling yourself that keep you from being the leader your student need you to be?


stereotypeThe classic stereotype of a librarian is a plain female with hair in a bun and wearing a dowdy dress who shushes anyone speaking above a whisper.  This dated view of librarians is still very much with us, to a great extent because, sadly, it still occurs in many places.  Should libraries be silent?  Do you like it quiet?  Do your students?  I associate a hushed library environment with those large libraries with vast expanses of books visible on multi-levels with aging researchers buried over huge tomes.  Certainly not the picture of a modern school (or public library).

A 21st century library is a bee-hive of collaborative activity, with students moving seamlessly from electronic to print resources using multiple devices to access them.  True, not every library approaches this level, but it should be what we are aiming to achieve.  Students are comfortable learning from each other and sharing what they know.  In fact – they love it. It’s how they develop skills in video games and discover new tricks and apps on their smartphones.what society thinks

They are accustomed to a world of continuous information feeds whether audio or text. We need to capitalize on that inclination to learn by teaching them how to become global citizens, creating content, and building knowledge which they share in a participatory culture.  And that means, silent libraries are part of the past (or exist only in research libraries).

I am not advocating for a loud, out-of-control environment.  You should be able to be heard if you raise your voice just above normal speaking level. That’s a safety issue.  I am also not talking about a library where kids are horsing around.  On the other hand, all talk does not need to be work-related. Some socialization is acceptable and even important if they are to move from casual conversation to exploring their ideas, interests, and academic pursuits.

My libraries, both elementary and high school, were always a hubbub of activity – and the busy sounds – and energy – it entails.  A visiting superintendent was so impressed to see how engaged students were and how crowded the library was.  This was during lunch period (we were on block scheduling and managed a one-hour lunch for all 1,500 students simultaneously).  It was not a quiet place.  But learning was happening everywhere.

busy library 3Many of you already have this level of activity – and “noise” in your library.  Kids love coming there.  You have made your library the warm, friendly, environment that encourages questions, accepts diverse ideas and opinions, and promotes the desire to learn.

Elementary librarians are more inclined to keep noise levels down.  I suspect it’s caused by the fear that students would quickly become unruly and hard to rein in.  The answer is to change the culture of the library with their cooperation.

Students need to be a part of setting the rules and guidelines.  Talk about the difference between noise in the classroom and noise in the library.  What is good noise?  When does it become too much? What needs to be done if students become too loud?  I have found it best to talk to those students individually or the small group causing the disturbance rather than loudly addressing everyone.

Consider couching these guidelines under the heading of Respect.  Respect for yourself, respect for others, and respect for the library.  If at all possible provide a quiet area (much like trains today with their quiet cars) for those who need more silence to get work done.  Most often it’s the teachers who need it.

What do you think is the optimum level of noise vs. silence?  Is your library too quiet?  Too noisy?  What do your students think?   What do you want to change?  And what help do you need to get to this new level?

Reach Your Prime Audience – Back To School Night Suggestions

back-to-schoolThe parents who show up for Back-To- School Night and Parent Conferences are the ones who tend to be most directly involved in their children’s learning.  They are the ones who will fight for what their kids need. Too many librarians spend these events alone in the library catching up on work. You want them to recognize your contribution to student success in school and for their futures in college and beyond.  Once you do, they will do everything in their power to ensure your program thrives. Don’t miss out on reaching your prime audience.

To bring them in, have a sign or signs where parents check in and/or post them on the walls.  At the elementary level they may have little free time to wander so have a table set up at the main school entry with information for them.  Check with your principal to see if you can be there instead of in your library.  This gives you a chance to meet and greet them.Parents-orientation

In preparing material, consider what parents want most from the school library.  At the lower levels they want their children to learn to love reading.  So have a hand-out with the heading “A Book for Every Child—Every Child a Reader.”  Highlight any reading programs originating from the library.  Have a brief annotated bibliography and give links to your website where they can find more suggested titles.  If you can’t do that, list the URL for ALSCs Notable Books.

Are you looking for volunteers? Have a sign-up sheet, but just don’t have lines for their names and contact information.   What will parents get as a result of volunteering?  Seeing their child while they work in the library?  Learning more about the library program?  Access to borrowing material they can use at home with their children?  Helping the library be a welcoming environment for all students?  Put that first–then the lines for signing up.

At upper levels where parents move from class to class to meet teachers, they may have more room in the schedule to actually drop by the library. Again in preparing, think about what they want for their children.  This the time when they begin worrying about college, so spotlight how the library program prepares students.

A flyer or a running program entitled “What Students Don’t Know about Research” lets you showcase the information literacy skills you incorporate into students’ learning experiences.  Link to articles on the topic, such as this one from Huffington Post and point out why students in your school don’t need to wait until college to learn the skills.  Have your computers open to the databases you available and have a hand-out with the passwords for accessing them at home.  (Your students should have it, but the parents are probably unaware of it.)

library resourcesAt all grade levels, have your Mission Statement prominently displayed and include it on all handouts—and the Volunteer Sign-up Sheet.  Let parents know they can always contact you via school email.  If you have them, inform parents about LibGuides you created just for them and how they can see projects their children have done on your website.

The more parents learn about the value of today’s school library program, the more they will fight to keep it.  Don’t let your best potential advocates walk out the door without discovering what you do for their kids.

Reach Out – Find Your Larger Community

libraries transform learning
From ALA – click image for article

More and more of you recognize that no matter how busy you are in the library, the vital advocacy work that has administrators supporting your program happens outside it. While showing your own tech skills is a critical part of demonstrating how libraries have transformed over time, you still need to add a personal touch to make a true impact.

You know—or should know—your own town or city best.  Start thinking about ways you can reach beyond the educational community to send the message about how school librarians transform learning, boost student achievement, and prepare students for college, career, and lifelong learning in a constantly changing world.

In a world where so much communication is asynchronous, being with someone in person, in real-time adds much more meaning.  What this means, is that you have to get out of your library – and it’s on your own time. Up until now, your outreach for the most part is only directed to the school community including parents.  But you need to communicate with the much larger community.  They are voters and their attitudes toward school libraries is likely to be far more dated and entrenched than those of parents.facetime

Start by reaching out to your natural partners. Visit the public library. Introduce yourself to the children’s or YA librarian depending on the grade level of your school. Checking in advance with your principal to insure it is OK to do so, invite him or her to come to your library.  At the elementary level, you can work together on a story time with one or more classes.  At the middle and high school levels, you can get a cooperative English teacher to bring a class to the library and have your guest discuss upcoming programs at the public library.

Offer to promote public library programs in your library – and on your website.  See if the children’s or YA librarian is open to have you share student work in a display case or bulletin board at the public library.  This will reach community library users who don’t have children in the schools.

If you are a high school librarian, consider connecting with librarians in any college in your area.  An after school visit from a college librarian discussing college-level research with students (and possibly parents) will draw interest.  Try to get coverage from local press or cable TV station. High schools with TV stations can report on it as well.

special eventSome communities have a special day with various merchants contributing money and/or merchandise and food to bring out people.  The high school football field is often one of the venues for the day. Other places with a town green use that.  See if you can have a booth or table for the day.  Have flyers to hand out.  Display work by students and pictures you have taken showing library activity.  If possible, have students spend some time at the book talking with passers-by about what they love to do in the library.

Alternatively, or in addition, consider inviting community members into your library for special events.  Read Across America is a time when you can invite local officials to come and read to students. (Prepare them well –and prepare your students.)  Guests from Kiwanis or Rotary can talk to high school students about what they want to see and hear from those seeking part-time or summer work.

Your school library is part of a larger community that you need to be a part of. Get creative and have fun with these audiences you’ll find new resources and connections for your indispensable program.