Friday, May 22, 2015

The Power of a Librarian

Today's post is a guest post from my colleague Kathy Parker. Kathy is the School Library Media Consultant for the NC Department of Public Instruction, as well as a former English teacher and school librarian. Kathy shared this amazing story with our team last month at a meeting, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I asked Kathy to write a guest blog post for Memorial Day. I cannot think of a better time to share this story. Wishing you all a wonderful Memorial Day. Please don't forget to remember those that have given their lives and to thank those that have served.

When I meet people for the first time, invariably the conversation turns to our work. After learning that I’m a school library consultant, they ask some variation of the same question, “What do librarians do now that there’s Google?” I typically embark on an impassioned, verbal treatise about librarians closing achievement gaps, bridging the digital divide, leading others to information, and I watch as their eyes glaze over. I imagine they hear my voice as Charlie Brown’s teacher, “Wah-Wah Wah-Wah.” So the next time someone asks me that question, I’m going to share this personal story instead…

Usually after work, I’m welcomed home by the sight of my neighbor, Harry, sitting on his stoop. I make my way over and plop myself on his steps, scaring away Meow-Meow, the stray cat that’s taken up residence by his side. When it’s chilly, I caution him that he’s going to catch a cold from the nippy air. He scoffs, dismissively waves his hand, and insists, “I got enough shots in the war to kill anything. That’s why I’m so old.” Then he reminds me that he survived Wisconsin winters and did it without electric heat! Point taken. Harry’s such a fixture of my neighborhood that I sometimes forget he hasn’t spent all of his 93 years across the street.

My Two Favorite Veterans: Harry with my husband, David, on Memorial Day 2012. 

This past April, as we were sitting on his stoop enjoying the sunshine, Harry mentioned the 70th anniversary of the invasion of Okinawa. He rarely talks about World War II, but the anniversary had him reflecting on his service. He mentioned to me that he had buried a buddy of his on the island in 1945. They had become fast friends in the war, and Harry wondered aloud if his body was ever recovered and returned to his family. He said that at the time, when a soldier was killed, “you put his dog tags between his teeth, buried him quick, and moved on.” But of course, Harry couldn’t really move on. For 70 years, the whereabouts of his friend’s body weighed on Harry’s mind. Harry half jokingly insisted that the Okinawan jungle grew up so fast that you’d carve a path, turn around, and find that the trail was already overgrown. He feared that his friend’s grave had never been found.

So being the “information warrior” that I am, my mind immediately began brainstorming resources to investigate. And guess what, I couldn’t find the answer Harry needed just by searching Google! Although my Google search located casualty lists and memorial records that referred to his friend and directed me to some fee for service sites with possible leads, I did not initially find anything confirming a burial location. When I reached out to my network of fellow librarians, one from Wisconsin struck gold! The information that Harry needed was “buried” in a Minnesota university’s digitized newspaper database. After 70 years, I had an answer for Harry.

The next time I plopped on Harry’s stoop, I said, “Look what I came across on the computer. Do you see any interesting articles in this old paper?” It took him a minute as he was initially drawn to the ads for familiar products from back in his day. I eagerly waited as his eyes wandered across the page, then my heart flip-flopped as his face lit up when he recognized his friend’s name in the headline: Alden Synstad Reburial Rites Set For Friday. Reading the article from April 13, 1949, Harry finally learned that his buddy’s remains had indeed made their way home.

After 70 years, librarians gave peace of mind to a World War II veteran. That’s what librarians do!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Two Worlds Collide

This is one of those posts that I have spent a great deal of time mulling over. It is a post that has been months in the making. To be honest, some of my school library followers are going to initially question the relation to school libraries, but I promise I will get there. Just stick with me.

Something many of you may not know about me is that my favorite sport is wrestling. Not that overdramatized stuff that you see on TV, but the sport that is a test of determination and skill. I can hear many of you expressing surprise to learn this fact. If you know me, you probably think this just does not match my personality. Yet it is true. From junior high through college I was the manager for a wrestling team. It happened as a fluke, but it is something that has enhanced my life and shaped who I am in many ways. There is so much that I have learned from my time around the mat.

On the surface these parallels between a school librarian and a wrestler are not obvious, but if you know the sport as well as I do, you would see it in a totally different light. These similarities have been so apparent to me as I have thought about this post for the last few months. Yet I continued to postpone writing it. I know why. It is simply because I wanted to give it the due diligence it deserved. Today I came home from a very long day and there was a reminder in the mailbox that spurred me into action. Today is the day I share with the world why I would not be the person I am without this sport and the coaches and wrestlers that have been a part of my path.

Wrestling is a beautiful sport. A sport that is unappreciated and misunderstood. A sport that has to fight to live another day. Those familiar with school library programs understand this better than most. School libraries are often under utilized and must constantly advocate to get the appreciation they deserve. I have always tried to represent the sport of wrestling in a positive way. Explaining to someone else why the sport deserves the respect of the masses has been a constant for me for many years. The same is true of school libraries. Without my previous experiences, I don't know if I would have so quickly recognized the need to articulate my vision of school libraries. Advocacy isn't easy in either scenario. You must be prepared for the negativity. You must stand your ground but in a way that doesn't reflect negatively on the program. Instead talk about what has been gained instead.

Sometimes being a school librarian is an isolating experience. As the school librarian there is a lot to be learned from the experience of the wrestler. This is a sport where you are an individual but part of a team as well. You have an overall record to achieve, but you also want to contribute to the team as well. I recently saw the movie Foxcatcher. We won't discuss the merits of the movie (or lack thereof), instead I want to focus on something from the film that stuck with me. Steve Carrell who plays John DuPont mentions that a wrestler must be confident when he steps onto the mat. I agree. A true wrestler, no matter his personality, steps on the mat and exudes confidence. As school librarians, we need to do more of this. That confidence will pervade our school's library and help teachers see us as part of the team, a member that has valuable contributions that will lead to success for all students.

My Southern Conference Championship ring for wrestling. Yes, this non-athlete has a championship ring.

From my days as a wrestling team member, I forged relationships that will undoubtedly span the ages. As with many old friendships, we may not stay in contact, but I know if I were ever in need they would be there for me. I may have one biological brother, but trust me, I have many "brothers" that would be there if I called. Don't get me wrong, there were fights and disagreements, but these are the men that I know I will always want in my corner. Relationships are part of the foundation of every good library program. Without relationships it is difficult to make those connections to teachers and students. However, once those bonds are formed they are permanent. The advantage of making these connections has an impact on student learning, but it also goes to support your library program in the long run.

It saddens me that two of things I love most must fight to survive. They are both endangered species, and it is incredibly heartbreaking. At this point in time, I wonder constantly if this will be the day that they announce the demise of the wrestling program at my alma mater, Appalachian State University. The university that I once loved has made a series of questionable decisions in the last few years in regards to athletics. A select few have changed the path of a university that I love, and I am concerned that this might mean the end of the wrestling program. While I had several universities where I was accepted many years ago, I chose Appalachian because it was the best of both worlds. It had the academics that were important to me, and it had a wrestling program. As a female, a male sport provided me with skills of perseverance, dedication, and a sense of belonging. I worry that one day another introverted female student with a love of this sport will no longer have a place to go in the future. While I am still introverted in some ways, I learned to stand up for what I believed in because of my time in a wrestling room. Nothing can take the place of the gratitude I owe this sport. My time in a school library only helped solidify these ideals and characteristics. School libraries are a critical part of every school, and it is important that school librarians unite to help educate their schools and communities.

So, school librarians, walk confidently onto the mat. It's time to take action. Show the education world what we've got. If you are equally motivated, support your local wrestling program. Trust me, someone will notice. You never know, they might just support the school library program too.

#supportASUwrestling #supportschoollibraries

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Entry into the Edcamp World

After returning my niece to her family following the Thanksgiving holiday, I got home to see tweets from tonight's #nctlchat. The topic for tonight was edcamps. This made me think about my own edcamp experiences.

For quite awhile now, I have watched edcamp tweets from afar. Timing and distance have always presented a barrier when it came to actually attending an edcamp. Finally a couple of weeks ago #edcampwnc was held in Cullowhee. I was so lucky that I got to socialize and learn with some of the awesome members of my PLN. It was also great to meet some new educators. 

To be honest, I did not know what to expect from my edcamp experience. I am such a planner and organizer that the lack of an agenda made me uncomfortable. Oh, how I hate to admit that, but it is the truth. However, the development of the agenda went incredibly smoothly. The organizers used Google Moderator. This was my first time seeing Google Moderator in use. Participants were able to provide possible topic ideas and then vote on those of interest. The top 16 were used to form the agenda. Each time slot featured a topic of interest for me. The ability to just have a conversation with a group of educators was wonderful. It is so rare that educators have the opportunity to do that. 

The implication of edcamps for professional development have yet to be realized in my opinion. I hope we will eventually see administrators embrace similar styles to meet professional development needs. Imagine the day when teachers have the opportunity to share ideas about topics that interest them and have true implications for their work. No more would we be sitting in professional development that either isn't applicable or something we have already mastered.

After experiencing my first edcamp, I encourage you to find an edcamp near you. You will not only learn a lot, but you will also make connections that will extend learning beyond just that day. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Creative Chaos

It is interesting to me that as I work with other teacher librarians, I find myself encouraging them to embrace chaos. I recognize that fear and uncertainty I see in their eyes when I say that. For all librarians order has always been the name of the game, but the game is changing.

Libraries are undergoing an evolution. Makerspaces, flexible learning spaces, authentic learning and so much more has changed the nature of that once quiet, organized space. In order to be the hub of our schools, we have to be on the cutting edge of student learning. In order to do this, many of us have to step out of our comfort zones.

In the first years of my career, I kept that orderly space. However, in later years, I began to let go of the control in some areas. This was the natural by-product of a collaborative project with a teacher. Throughout the project I expended a great deal of energy trying to control the creative chaos that emerged from students that were truly engaged with their learning. In reflecting on the process, I quickly established that there were better ways to expend my energy. Students were engaged, and they were on-task. What was I stressing about? I was the one with the issue, and I needed to let go.

For the next large scale project, I structured things a little differently in order to make the space more functional, but I stopped stressing about the chaos. The chaos was learning and wasn't that the most important thing? That is not to say that those nagging issues didn't pop into my head sometimes, but I got better about pushing them to the deep recesses of my brain.

Begin retraining yourself to embrace the creative chaos around you. You will be amazed at what emerges from the disorder. It has the ability to not only change you but the culture of your school as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Get in the Action!

Two words tend to create a feeling of discomfort in many professionals. Those two words are "action research." I am not sure what causes this stigma around action research. My guess is that for many of us we have flashbacks of graduate school, and we are likely intimidated by the concept of action research.

As part of the School Library Media Coordinator Professional Standards in NC, action research is included. As I work with school librarians, it is obvious that this is one area that causes them significant heartburn. The rubric descriptor reads as follows: Conducts action research to determine the impact of the school library media program on student achievement. What I think most don't realize is that they are probably doing action research annually anyway. I wanted to create something that made action research seem less daunting, so here is what I came up with.

This is more of a brainstorming guide that is meant to provide guidance in getting started. While action research can be a very intense process when done for graduate work or for grant purposes, you can also keep it simple. When doing action research for your own purposes, don't tend to think of it as the next paper you will be submitting. Instead, focus on the outcome and how it will impact student achievement.

So get into the action today! 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

From Rough Waters to Smooth Sailing

I keep putting off writing about the content of my keynote at the Alabama School Library Association Conference this summer. The timing just has not felt right. Now that the beginning of the school year is near for so many, I know that it is the right time to talk about the different vessels of librarianship, and where the focus needs to be for many of us as we move into the new school year.

My inspiration for the keynote started with an episode of Gilmore Girls. The grandmother in the episode calls her daughter, Lorelai, a kayak. She is a kayak because of her independence and ability to be successful on her own. Whereas the grandmother sees herself as a canoe. She and Lorelai's father have been split up for awhile, and this has made her feel like she has been rowing in circles because she ultimately belongs to a two man canoe team. This really made me think about myself personally and whether or not I was a kayak. Then it led me to question whether or not I was a kayak professionally. I definitely started my career as a kayak.

As the kayak, I was ok on my own. I often worked in solitude. Lessons were taught in isolation. Collaboration with teachers was nonexistent. I was sailing along, but it just wasn't what I envisioned. So what vessel of librarianship did I want to be? What vessel should I strive to be?

Many of us may feel like the speedboat. You know how it is as a librarian. You hardly have time to eat lunch some days. Between troubleshooting technology, teaching, meetings and so on, every day seems like a blur. We wear a lot of different hats, and sometimes we don't know if we are coming or going.

The tugboat can be a tiring role. The tugboat is pushing and pulling at every turn. As the tugboat you are ready to move forward and make changes, but you are always fighting the resistance. The tugboat has to be cautious about not being too pushy.

The list of possible vessels of librarianship is endless. In fact, there are several others I mentioned in my keynote. I shared tactics for making sure the drawbridge stays open and allows the vessels to pass through (more on that in another post), but it all boils down to one thing. As you start this school year, you need to be the lifeboat for your students, your teachers, and your school community. The lifeboat combines all of the best elements of librarianship. As the lifeboat we are able to come to the rescue and provide just in time service for our stakeholders.

I wish you smooth sailing as you start this school year. I have no doubt that there will be days that other vessels will win out, just remember to reflect on your practice and remind yourself that you have the power to be the lifeboat. Bon Voyage!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Not in it Alone

I intended to write this post immediately following the Alabama School Library Association Conference, but life got in the way. In the end, I think that might have been for the best. This really allowed me to reflect on the experiences related to my first keynote address.

Back in January I mentioned during the TL Virtual Cafe that it was always good to find that friend that challenged you. It probably comes as no surprise that the person who challenges me is Jennifer LaGarde. She is great about nudging me in just the right direction at just the right time. Needless to say her encouragement was critical to my first keynote address for the Alabama School Library Association.

It was such an honor to be asked to share my thoughts about Meeting the Challenge @yourlibrary. This is such an appropriate topic for school libraries at this time. I will probably post more about the specifics of my speech in another post, but today I want to focus on something else.

In talking with the teacher librarians of Alabama, it was easy to see that the concerns for school librarians are the same no matter the location. Yet the thing that stood out to me is that involvement in your state's professional organization is critical. It is easy to begin to feel as if you are working in isolation, but active membership in your state's professional organization provides you with the opportunity to connect with others who understand your day to day life. What's even better is that often others have found solutions to problems you face every day. Additionally,  your professional organization can really help promote advocacy activities that are critical to helping others understand the importance of our work.

I know adding one more thing to your plate can sometimes seem overwhelming, but can you really afford not to be a member of your state's professional library/school library association? Better yet, don't just be a member, be an active participant. Help navigate the course of school librarianship in your state.