Tuesday, April 8, 2014


I have really enjoyed reading about why members of my PLN became librarians. It has been great to learn their histories. As with many of those, my path to librarianship was not that direct. I started my professional career as a middle school teacher. While I loved middle school, I knew that I needed to find something to challenge myself. I started with working on a Master's degree in Middle Grades Education. One class in, and I knew this just wasn't what I wanted to do. 

I took some time to evaluate and make some decisions about my professional future (oh, and I got married, completed my National Boards, and bought a house in the meantime). After looking at school administration and various other career paths, I decided to pursue my MLIS. To be honest, my initial goal was not to be a school librarian. I actually intended to become an academic librarian. 

I took the classes for academic librarianship and avoided the classes for school libraries like the plague. Then as I was finishing up, I decided I should go ahead and take the classes for school library certification just in case. Boy, that turned out to be a great move. Our school librarian was taking a year off for maternity leave, so I asked to take that position during her absence. That was the best thing that ever happened to me. She actually ended up not returning, and I stayed for ten years in the position. 

Being a school librarian has been one of the most rewarding experiences. My evolution as a professional started when I took that position. I was lucky to have supportive administrators, and I am so thankful for all the students and teachers I had the opportunity to work with over the years. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Choose Your Own Adventure PD

We've all had that moment where we sat in professional development and wondered what we were doing there. There is nothing I find more frustrating then sitting in PD that teaches me something I already know. I try not to complain, and instead try to help those that are struggling, but we all know that we want more.

One way to address this is to restructure our professional development days. Prior to leaving my last position, we developed a Choose Your Own Adventure type of professional development afternoon. The instructional coach, principal, and I wanted to provide meaningful learning opportunities for the faculty on an early dismissal afternoon. The structure of the day allowed teachers to choose two hour long sessions that would be beneficial to them.

In preparation for this day, we surveyed staff to find out areas of professional development interest. We had a few topic possibilities and asked for their suggestions as well. The survey results were then examined and topics narrowed down. Five different sessions were offered during each hour. We, along with other teacher leaders, led these sessions. We did have teachers sign up in advance, because we were using computer labs that had limited space, and we wanted to be sure we could accommodate everyone.

This is easy to organize and is a great way to show that you are a leader in your building. Plus, it has the added benefit of being a collaborative effort. I encourage you to also market this PD. While it may be required, market it in a way that really creates some excitement among your faculty.

Thursday, January 2, 2014


Instead of resolutions, maybe we need to have aspirations. Resolutions are easily broken, whereas aspirations provide hope. So what should school libraries aspire to be? That depends on your situation. Do you want your library to be a student-centered hub? What about a place of instructional change? The list goes on and on, but many of your actions can then help you achieve your aspiration.

To be honest, I don't really have a whole lot to say about aspirations. Basically, this post was inspired by a photo I took at the NCSU Hunt Library. This is a library that is entirely about students. Space is collaborative and thoughtful. You won't see bookshelves spread throughout the library. Instead a robot collects books and drops them off for pick-up. What is significant about all of this is this comment written on a table at the library.

Note that I said "written on a table." All tables can be written on with dry erase markers. While the sentiments of this author might be offensive to some, it emphasizes how much students love this space. Don't we all want to aspire to having a space that students love to utilize?

Set some aspirations for your new year. Every time you do something that leads to the achievement of your aspirations, pat yourself on the back. You deserve it!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Football 101

My house is always filled with the sounds of football on the weekend, and I have to admit I don't understand the excitement that accompanies the sport. If I am in the same room, my husband finds it necessary to give me the play by play. Of course, al I hear is "blah, blah, blah." I did not grow up in a house where football was always on, so maybe that taints my opinion of the sport. Ultimately, however, I think it really boils down to the fact that I don't understand it.

As a librarian, one of my favorite things was library programming. Planning special programs was a great way to get to know students and provide outlets for them to learn about topics of interest. Football 101 might be a great way to help someone like me better understand this sport. This could easily be targeted at girls or open to all students. Snacks could have a football theme. The goal of this programming would be for these students to gain an understanding of the game. Obviously, you probably don't want to provide the instruction if you are not knowledgeable on the sport. Instead invite local coaches and players from local colleges or if you are a middle school, invite those from the high school. 

Be sure to share your fiction and nonfiction titles that address football. Also, consider having a viewing party in the library one weekend or even for the Super Bowl. It could even be a family event. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Reinventing Space

There are lots of reasons why school libraries need to be reinvented. These range from staying relevant in a 1:1 environment to just remaining relevant in general. You would think that we would not have to talk about changing our space to meet the needs of our users. Ultimately that should just be the nature of the beast, but it is always easy to get complacent or bogged down with the idea there just isn't money. But we have to step around these roadblocks and reinvent space that is instructional and engaging.

While there are a lot of advantages to a 1:1 environment, I have to admit the media center often suffers. Most of the schools I visit with 1:1 programs have media centers that are simply unused. Teachers tend to think that the media center means access and when the access is in the hand of every child, access to the media center is no longer needed. What is a media coordinator to do in this situation? At this point, I believe it is to take a closer look at what the physical space of a media center can have to offer. The first of these in my mind is collaborative space. This is definitely limited in the classroom, so how can you create spaces where students can collaborate. Consider seating and computer display options when creating new collaborative space. Use large screen monitors that students can connect their devices to so that they can all work on a project.  Don't be afraid to be creative with the space. I don't consider myself to be a creative person, so I have to really stop and think about how to make things like this happen. If you know you lack that creative gene, ask someone else for help. A different perspective is always beneficial.

Want it to be a space for students? Then ask them what they want. Have them complete a survey. Better yet have a contest to have students provide ideas for library design. Better set some parameters though because their ideas probably have no limits. While that's not a bad thing, you probably want realistic ideas that you can pull from.

There's no doubt we live in a data driven society. Data can sometimes be intimidating but consider making a committee to look at data. Use that data to determine space. Could you use that data to develop makerspaces in your media center?

Enka High School encourages students to "Make Something."

Funding, of course, can be an issue, but give yourself permission to dream big. You can always scale back as you are planning a reinvention of your space. Start small, show how those changes are impacting students, then ask for more money. Consider applying for grants, keep an eye out for contests, put together a wish list and share with stakeholders. You never know unless you ask, but you need to be prepared to market yourself as well. If stakeholders don't see the value, they are not inclined to invest. Sometimes librarians find it hard to toot their own horn, but keep in mind you are doing it for your students.

Be sure to share your library redesign efforts. We all grow from the creative ideas of others.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Author Anxiety

Are you thinking about having an author visit your school? Not sure where to start? I am going to share some of my experiences, so that you can move away from having anxiety to excitement about planning your first author visit.

Several years ago I knew I wanted to plan an author visit, but I just did not know where to start. For some reason I was telling my brother about this, and what transpired still amazes me today. He told me that his boss' wife, Frances, did author visits. Now, it is important to note that my brother had mentioned that his boss' wife wrote children's book on previous occasions. Of course, he made no distinction between children's books and books for middle schoolers and young adults. Knowing that the last name of his boss was Dowell, I was finally able to put two and two together after this conversation. Yep, that's right my brother worked for the husband of Frances O'Roark Dowell! Can you imagine my excitement?

Having this contact took quite a bit of stress out of figuring out where to start in this process. After this, I began making author visits an annual event. 

The first consideration has to be funding. I am not going to sugarcoat it, author visits are costly. You have to remember that if they are visiting your school, they can't be writing. Time is money for authors. There are lots other of things that must be considered: travel, speaker fee, food, lodging, books, etc. I often used money earned from book fairs to pay for author visits. Writing grants might be another option for you as well. Keep in mind that the bigger the name, the bigger the cost. Also consider checking with other schools in your district. They might also want to invite the author to their schools. This way you can share some of the expenses related to travel, lodging, and food. One year we were even able to get the hotel room donated for our author. One of the librarians in the district had a connection with the establishment, and they provided the room free of charge. Another cost saving strategy is to find authors that are in close proximity to your location. All the authors that visited my school were North Carolina authors, so that really helped with travel expenses. 

Typically, I planned author visits for April of each year. As soon as the author visit was over, I began thinking about the following year. It may seem early to begin planning almost a year in advance, but author schedules tend to fill up quickly. Be sure to check your calendar for spring break before booking and get the go ahead from your administrator.

In my experience, author visits are much more successful when the students have read a book by the author. It makes the connection to the author more real for students and keeps them more engaged. To make this happen, I bought a class set of books. With a student body of 700-800 it is difficult to make one class set of books work, but cost can be prohibitive. I would schedule the books for a two week rotation with each interested language arts teacher. The teacher could choose the best way to teach the book. Some had students read the entire book, others used excerpts. It is important to get the books in the hands of teachers as soon as possible in the school year to allow enough time for everyone to finish the book.

For most author visits, I requested four sessions, a lunch with students, and a book signing. Some authors will only do two sessions which means that you have to have the session in a gym or auditorium. I think students are more engaged if you can fit them into your library. I was very fortunate that my furniture was mobile and stackable, so we were able to do four different sessions in the library. Another great treat is a lunch for students with the author. I would buy pizza and invite about 25 students to have lunch with the author. There are a variety of ways you could select these 25 students. Choose something that works best for your school environment.

Book signing is something you might not think about when planning a school event, but there are some students that are professional author stalkers in the making incredibly excited about this opportunity to meet an author up close and personal. I have found that it is best to approach a local book store about purchasing books (possibly at a discount). Explain that you have an author visit and that you would like to pre-order some books for students (make sure the author does not plan to bring some to sell - this is rare). Create an order form with the books and their prices, and be sure to check with the book store to determine how long it will take the books to arrive (some stores will pre-order them and just have the extras available that day or they will get the copies autographed for their own shelves). I put sticky notes on the books for students to pick up the books during the signing. This way the owner of the book is identified and the author can use this to see the child's name. Don't forget to buy extra books by the author for your library. Don't buy too many of the one read in classes, but be sure to purchase multiple copies of other books. These will be in high demand immediately after an author visit.

Author Stalking at NCSLMA13. Alex Flinn (left) author of Cloaked, Beastly, and Bewitching.

Here are some other things to consider during an author visit. Be sure to provide water and a few snacks for the author. If your library is surrounded by other classrooms, warn them that the noise might be a little loud on this day. For authors spending the night, check to see if he/she has dinner plans. If not, ask to take him/her to a nice local restaurant. Ask some of your librarian pals from other schools to tag along. Also, consider offering to provide transportation from the hotel to the school and back.

Hope this helps you with your author anxiety. Take the plunge and ask an author to come visit your school. After you have done it once, it gets a lot easier. Plus, it will be something that you want to repeat year after year.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Making Connections

Wow! Summer is over and it is back to school for all my library friends. To be honest, I really miss the excitement that accompanies the start of the school year. This is the first time in a really long time that I haven't prepared for back to school. I miss that energy and excitement that accompanies the start of the school year.

As your school year begins, remember that this is the best time you have to build relationships with the teachers in your school. Here are just a few tips that might help.

  • Provide goody bags in teacher mailboxes. Fill them with goodies like candy, Sharpies, fun post-its, and any other small items that they might be able to use. In addition to the fun stuff, include reminders about valuable resources. Make flyers for online databases to serve as a reminder. Put in training schedules for any professional development you might have planned in the future. 
  • Set-up fun displays that are eye-catching. I have to admit I was terrible at this. First, I hate clutter. Second, I am really not that creative. Wish I had gotten into Pinterest while I was still in the library! There are so many great ideas for displays. Having trouble coming up with display ideas? Check out this Pinterest board just for those of you who struggle with those design elements in your library. 
  • Schedule mini-workshops for teachers. Let's be honest the beginning of the year is just plain busy, and there are a lot of things to accomplish. Offer 30-45 min training sessions for teachers. Topics can be on webpage development, how to use the laminator, or an exploration of resources. Also, don't feel like you have to lead the training. Just offer work sessions. Set up a time for teachers to work on webpages or to learn a Web 2.0 tool. The goal of these work sessions is not for you to teach them but for you to be a support. Teachers are often more willing to explore or work on something if they know someone is close by to answer their questions. 
  • Give away prizes. Maybe you can talk your principal into purchasing a few gift cards. If your teachers have iPads, give away iTunes gift cards. These could be done in a drawing format, but there are alternatives as well. Use trivia to give away these prizes. Before QR codes became commonplace, I offered a prize to the teacher who could tell me what it was and what it meant. So not only did they have to tell me it was a QR code, they had to decode it as well.
Wishing you the best year yet!