In a couple of weeks, I'll be presenting off the wall school library ideas that worked for me and other school librarians across Nebraska to a virtual conference. I'll also embed the presentation on my presentations page so you can see them.
The title of that presentation is very personal to me. Let me tell you a story, friends.
When I first walked into my new school library, which is combined with a community library also, there were many shelves of weeded books for students to take home as well as boxes and boxes of them in storage. I have a thing about space. I need more of it all the time. So I needed to clear these books out.
My new community had a Farmer's Market every week. I didn't know anyone, but I figured it couldn't hurt to give it a go. Luckily my superintendent agreed based on our previous conversation: The Get-Books-Into-Kids-Hands Summit.
The only naysayer was the public librarian who I worked with. I was shocked that she thought my idea was crazy. She was exhausted trying to keep up with the ever-changing local mandates for COVID, helping a new school librarian figure out the most basic of things, and handling reopening a public library after a three month quarantine. Her plate was full. New ideas were not something she had the energy to support at the time. She said the magic words to me, "It will never work. You can set up your little table all night, but our community isn't like that."
I pondered this since I didn't know the community. Could I actually be harming the school library by trying to shove free books in their faces? Then I shrugged. I was going to do it anyway. If Sulley could safely land a plane in the Hudson, I could sit at a Farmer's Market and handle whatever came my way during that time.
My set up included a table, two chairs, my 14 year old daughter, and a handmade sign.
This event was the first thing I posted to my library's brand new social media accounts too.
At first, not a soul approached my daughter and I or our table. We smiled until our cheeks hurt, but folks shuffled past the strangers trying to lure people with free books rapidly. A local accordion-player took the stage next to us, and we clapped wildly for every single song. Then, slowly a trickle started. People heard us and saw us. They wanted to know who we were more than they wanted the books. It got a little warmer.
Then my people arrived. The kids and adults who love books. We gave books away by the box and promised to be back the next week with an entirely new table of books. We didn't sit down for hours. I learned a few names and a lot of faces.
And that thing that was "never going to work" became what I consider a success. We got rid of 80% or more of the books we brought with us and freed up some valuable space. More importantly, we became part of the community in those two weeks. We built a solid relationship that I'll work hard to continue to deepen. Not only did it work, it connected us.
After the event, the public librarian was pleasantly surprised to hear of the public's reception. I think she needed the win for libraries too. Sometimes we all need a win.
Check out my presentations page for the full presentation of ideas and come up with your own ideas that "will never work"! It's definitely the time for some creative thinking in education. If anyone can succeed, it's teachers and school librarians. Let's shine.
In all the hubbub of a new school year, I found myself fixating on something small, fun, and with badges. I needed a bit of a win. So, I decided to get ALL OF THE CERTIFICATIONS from tech tools that I could. The first one I did was Kahoot, which actually did result in my purchase of their premium. I use Kahoot at least once a week in my reading and language arts classroom.
I pursued this openly, even posting the badges to our school library's social media and displaying a paper copy with my students...and it got me thinking...
If I enjoy this so much, how effective would "certifications" (aka gamification or badges) be with my students?
I haven't implemented this yet, but I am now making a plan to create badges starting with my fifth graders to share via Google Classroom as they master certain concepts. I have a few badges, so I'll share them below. I decided to go with bronze, silver, and gold levels to correspond with the scales I plan on creating in the future for these skills. I don't have these yet either, but I will one day. You're with me on the beginning of this journey, friends. Feel free to steal, add on, etc.
Our catalog is Alexandria. When the catalog is cleaned up and ready for patrons to dig into, I'll be spending time with my kiddos to make sure they can search and use it like a pro.
This badge is intended as a reward for being able to detect fact and fiction online.
Database skills will be rewarded with these handy badges.
This badge is one of my personal soapboxes - inquiry skills. I want my students to come away knowing how to ask effective questions and digging for the answers.
I imagine that starting in a new school district is a lot like being set up on a blind date after internet stalking the person. Sure, you've checked each other out. You may know a lot of data. You've almost certainly spent the entire summer organizing your space so it makes sense to you. There's probably even a drawer of things you just don't know where to put them yet.
You have some burning questions. Did you oversell yourself? Did they? Will people like you? Will you like them?
Here are my top 3 tips for starting somewhere new that have zero to do with your physical space because you know what to do with that.
1. "Make friends, not changes."
This is a quote from Dr. Rebecca Pasco, my library mentor. She says it so much that it's become something we refer to as a Pasco-ism. Here's the deal: she's right. It's the foundation. My own version of this is "People first". It's easy to get distracted by the mental to-do list. I wrote mine down and shoved them in a drawer for later. When teachers and students returned to school, they needed my full attention. It was incredibly difficult. I'm not naturally an extrovert. But it was so, so worth it. I put their priorities first, and they've been a valuable resource into my new role in our district.
2. Get in there with your teachers.
As a new-to-the-district teacher, I went to all of the new teacher days and was learning new things every day with other new teachers. We built relationships and walked through it together. They saw me struggle with different online tools and answered my questions. I offered to help with the things I did know. We jumped in together.
When the veteran teachers arrived, I found out something new to my experience: you don't have to constantly be peddling your wares to support teachers. You don't have to be the authority who knows everything to be valuable. The veteran teachers were MY support. I collaborated with teachers, and they took pity on me and returned the favor.
Being physically and mentally present with my teachers made a world of difference - especially in this unique year of starting a new school district during a pandemic. I saved my changes for later.
3. Talk to your administrators about their goals.
It sounds obvious, but the one thing that's made a huge difference in my own mindset is having a short discussion with my superintendent about the goal for the school library this year. Now, I'm in a very small school district with a superintendent who cares wildly about the school library program. I realize this is a unique situation. You may wind up speaking with a principal or a program supervisor. The value of having a clear goal has helped me put other good-but-not-a-priority ideas aside to implement later. It's helped me stay sane and avoid burnout. Get a school library goal and make everything you do about that. Ideally, you will have years to implement changes to your program and fix things in your physical space. Pace yourself with a purpose.
(Curious to know our goal for this year? It's simple: get books into kids' hands no matter the pandemic situation. Readers make good students, good citizens, and imaginative problem solvers. Get books into their hands.)
If you're also starting somewhere new or in a new role, I wish you the best, and I see you. We've got this. #LibraryStrong
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I surveyed my library for the last time today. We accomplished so much, this room and I, in our 5 years together. My school transformed me, and I transformed it in return. I spent 14 years teaching in the same district, 5 of those years in the high school library. The library went from a quiet, sit and check out books place to an active hub for creativity, learning, connecting, and reading. I taught students how to wrap gifts. I reveled in our discussions about books we had read. I nearly burst with pride when our ELL students began to use the library independently and appropriately.
And all of that is coming to a close. I hope it was only the beginning of a snowball of amazingness for my school. I pray that the incoming librarian takes hold of our momentum and our record-breaking numbers and uses it to her advantage to bring things to life that I dare not dream of. I cross my fingers that my teachers find a passionate collaborator to continue to push the envelope with to give our students memorable learning experiences.
The library was stripped of everything making it "me". My photos, quotes, and strange collection of buttons were packed away. No coffee had brewed in weeks. The very last of my greeting cards were in the box on my hip. In the one swift motion it took to lock the door from the outside, it was over. I felt it in my stomach.
Saying goodbye was much more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I had weeks to prepare and we had been at home during COVID. Foolishly, I supposed these would make it easier. It wasn't. I have people I will miss so fiercely that it brings tears to my eyes.
However, I have a lot to look forward to. My new position is completely different than what I spent the last 5 years doing. I'll be serving preschool through twelfth grade - meeting four year olds and staying with them until they walk across the stage at graduation. I'll be partnered with a public library in my school library, sharing space and ideas. My population will be completely different. The major draw of any new opportunity to me is the new experiences I'll get to have. This new place offers a new world of librarianship to me and one that isn't common. It lights my fire.
So, anyone who has left or is thinking of beginning a new era of your life, I feel you. The duality of excitement for your new position and grief over what you are leaving behind is a strange companion. It's okay to be both.
You'll be okay. So will I.
I made a promise to you to let you know how some of my ideas from reading "The School Librarians's Career Planner" panned out. One idea in particular was very timely! I proctor college courses at the high school where I teach. For some reason, my college students never seem to think that I can help them with the databases their professors want them to use in college. So, rather than ask for help, they flounder or fail assignments for using the "wrong resources". This semester, I reached out to the college's head librarian. She and I made quick work of deciding what my students need to know to be successful in their courses. (I am only proctoring 4 different courses but have students enrolled throughout the school day in each course.) I then invited her to come speak with all of our college course enrolled students at one time. This required me to touch base with every single student's teacher to receive permission to pull them from class that day. My high school teachers were AMAZING about this - having students test either before or after that day, excusing them from the period entirely, communicating about attendance. It was a beautiful thing. Every single student affected had the opportunity to be at this meeting. Most of them showed up! The college librarian was very helpful with handouts and answering questions. She also showed my students the college library's ability to provide assistance via chat, which they were really excited about. When she left, the students were in agreement that their time had been well spent with her and they felt more prepared for the research portions of the classes they were taking.
Now, could I have done a similar presentation? Yes.
Having a guest speaker was fun, not only for me, but for the students too. She had personally spoken with each professor and gave tips for each course that you would only know if you were sitting in that room. Her connections and experience were completely worthwhile, and I enjoyed having her visit. Librarianship can be such an island. For one hour, we were both occupying the same island, working towards the same goal, and it felt really good.
An added bonus is the support this provided to my students as they finished their courses from home due to COVID-19. We were pulled out of school in mid-March and did not return. Yet, none of my college course students are having trouble keeping up. They had a support network and a couple of months using their resources with support before being cast out alone. I am so proud of them for their hard work in a time when it was hard to work.
I love School Library Month. It gives me an excuse to brag about - oh I mean, advocate for - school libraries. I'm in a small school district so I include my building administration, superintendent, and school board in my packet-of-goodies style campaign. Here's what they receive:
A letter about school library month and our school library in particular (This is last year's)
A little qr code to more resources
I've included two. The one I will send this year is about my state's libraries in particular. The one I sent last year was more general.
This article printed out
My building administration will also receive a thank you card and an infographic highlighting circulation, activities, collaborations, and outreach events we have put on this school year. For them only, I am including a short wishlist along with reasoning of what the library needs to continue progressing. The first items I will be requesting are an additional staff member and the reupholstering of our bench seating. The other item won't cost money (continued encouragement of teachers to collaborate with the library).
School Library Month is the perfect time for getting others on your team and taking stock. Look back. Look ahead. Aim. Fire!
Of course it's that time of year. We're all re-girding our loins to make the second semester of the 19-20 school year our best yet. We're revitalized. We're...
maybe perfectly on track?
Each school librarian is having a different experience.
I'm all of the above. After my awesome library aide left to pursue other career opportunities (she is doing great, by the way!), my services cut way back. I had to do her job and mine. Plus, there were some services we were only able to offer because she is bilingual. So I started break feeling like a library loser.
I ordered this book and waited for it to come in during the holiday hullabaloo. "School Librarian's Career Planner" didn't fix everything. About half of the book was aimed towards points in my career I had already passed, so I only glanced at them. This would be an amazing read for someone considering library as a career or still attending library school. I got something really great out of it though. Five fresh ideas to suite my new role! (I'll let you know how they pan out in future posts.) I also got confirmation of what I was working out in my brain already: it's time to prioritize instead of whining, complaining, and pushing for another aide. It's time to look at what I can do all by myself again, not berate myself for what the dreams WERE vs. where the library is right now, and really decide what is worth my energy. I'm realizing my energy is finite - at least right now - and I need to be honest with myself and my program about what is the most important. It all matters. It's not all the best thing for right this second.
So no matter where you are in your career, this is a nice read. It isn't a fix-it book. It's not packed with lists of ideas. I purchased my copy used from Amazon for only $14, and it's likely I'll only read it this once. I plan on giving my copy to the library program I graduated from to see if they can pass it off to an interested student.
During Banned Books Week, of all weeks, I received the first irate parent phone call of my library career. This involved father was already psyched up because his boy had taken a photo of a book on display at the library and sent it to his dad. That book - "Yay! You're Gay! Now what?". He had some very passionate concerns and an expectation for how our conversation was going to go. I hate to say it: he was angry. He was pushy. He had very strong feelings and very strong words. However, it is important to note that he was NOT disrespectful in any way.
I asked the basic questions: what book was it? What were his concerns?
And then I just listened. For about 20 minutes. Until he had everything out.
Then I acknowledged him, his concerns, and his involvement in his son's life. I explained our selection policy and what had lead to this particular book being selected. I made sure he knew his son wasn't required to read it, but it was available if he chose to. Then I told him about our challenge procedure. I offered to make the appropriate copies of paperwork and policies and leave them in the front office for him. I offered for him to read the book on school grounds - assuring him that it was very short and could be read in an hour or two. (Our policy says school copies of challenged materials cannot leave the grounds until the challenge is completed.) I made sure he knew that he wasn't obligated to go through the process if he read the material and no longer felt it should be removed from the shelves, but that the process would need to be adhered to if he truly wanted it removed.
An amazing thing happened. To this dad's credit, he calmed down. He really listened. He still didn't agree with it personally, but he ultimately decided the things we were discussing were a satisfying answer. The phone call ended amiably - with me offering to talk to him about it any time and to pull the necessary paperwork and material if he should ever choose to use them.
Then I hung up the phone and immediately began shaking. My aide, bless her heart, came over and let me pour some things out. I grabbed the book and the policies and paperwork and immediately headed for the principal's office. I briefed him, and he chose to keep and read the book in case the parent came to see him about it. My principal was impressed with the phone call and how I handled it.
I went back to the library and drafted an email to two of my best library buddies and former professors. Never would I have been able to handle that phone call without focusing on defending the actual book had they not drilled it into my head to make great selections with plenty of evidence why that book should be there AND don't defend the book - defend the process.
So, my library friends, it's going to happen at some point. It happened to me even in my small town! The best advice I can possibly give is: stay calm, be respectful, and defend the process. If you do not have your selection criteria or process in your library policy, make that happen! Also, if you do not have a challenge process in place, get it going. The ALA has a great webpage that I used to create ours. I also looked up school libraries that had those policies and borrowed their ideas and processes.
I first came to know the Hate Has No Home Here organization when I was in library school. The library goddess (as she is affectionally known around these parts) had a few posters in a stack. I couldn't grab one fast enough. My school was just beginning to receive refugees. While we are a high immigration community, the refugees were not of cultures to which we were accustomed. I loved showing that the library is a place without hate, and the sign was pretty.
The sign was up in the window for two years before I decided it was time to take it one step further. The library purchased a 1 inch button maker, printed off sheets of graphics from the No Hate website, and invited almost every student we saw for two weeks to make buttons. They did! Then, they came back and made more. We saw the buttons popping up at other schools in our district. Our kids were passing them on to family and friends!
I saw the movement spread. Pride in who they are and consideration for how others were treated made for a student body I am incredibly proud of. A safe space and a tiny button helped them put into words something that was important to them.
As kids tend to do, one kid was too rough with our button maker, and I had to remove it to see if my husband could fix it. Students were incredibly bummed when the button maker wasn't available any more. They asked on a daily basis if my husband was able to fix it. (Spoiler alert: he was after a couple of weeks and new parts!) However, we decided that we shouldn't leave it unattended by a library worker anymore.
Please check out Hate Has No Home Here. They're a wonderful organization, and all of their graphics are freely available for printing.
Banned Books Week is a cause close to my heart. Like many librarians, I may not agree with your choices, but I will fight for your rights to freedom of speech, religion, reading whatever you want, etc. This year's theme was particularly good.
I seized this opportunity to do a breakout about censorship and banned books that two English teachers took advantage of over the course of three school days. The library was full of awe, shock, and that positive vibrancy that we librarians crave.
We were also allowed to take over the school's loudspeaker during morning announcements and run a contest for homerooms (called Focus at my school). We explained what banned books week is and read a quote each day from a different banned book. (It actually worked out that our English classes were all reading banned books or had already completed them that week so we focused on books they had read for our quotes.) The first class to call with the correct book title the quote was from won for the day. Small prizes were delivered. One class won two days so they got a bigger prize the second time. Let me tell you, our phones were frantically ringing as soon as the Pledge of Allegiance was done. After we had a winner, we posted the quote and book to our library social media sites along with the daily winner.
The weirdest thing we received permission to do was to turn all of the lights off in the library for one full school day with the exception of one light - representing the theme. We had signs everywhere showing that we were open. By the time the afternoon sun shone in the windows, you couldn't even tell the lights were out. However, it lead to great discussions with our staff and students about banning books and censorship.