When we create a vision of something, often that vision is shaped by what we have seen before. As I begin to envision the library I am slated to open in the Fall of 2022, there is one quote that I am going to post prominently in my office as a daily reminder: “Nothing about us, without us, is for us.” This will be my mantra as a librarian as I attempt to engage staff and students in instruction in what will be the largest classroom in the building.
This vision comes from what I have experienced as an educator and a learner. For far too long, the deficit model of learning has continued to dominate within our schools. Students (and educators) are empty vessels that some higher power must make deposits of necessary information into to “better” them.
The first time I experienced and rejected this mindset was when I was working on my Educational Doctorate, with the intention of becoming a teacher of future teachers. I noticed as I got deeper and deeper into my program that we had become what I had always hated. Those people who do not live the daily lives of teachers, but they know what is best for those educators. It is the fundamental problem of any professional development created by a consultant, a researcher or an administrator who just simply is not walking in our shoes. As soon as I realized that was what I would become, I walked away.
I then continued to experience it through the endless iterations of “best practices” and programs that were implemented by my school district. Our favorite was learning goals, that, despite a two-year attempt to illuminate us on, were never made clear to a single person expected to display them on a daily basis. And while I am someone who is almost always willing to play the game, see the silver lining, try to meet the expectations, over and over again, all of this felt so false to me.
Although teachers experience it, they sometimes aren’t always the best at avoiding this practice in their own classrooms. I see it in the conversations that teachers have about what they are doing in their classrooms. One of my favorite things I heard a teacher say once, about some ancient book they had probably been torturing students with for the past decade, “The kids hate, but I love it.” Hmmmm, if the kids hate it, then why do it?!
Most recently, I watched a documentary called “Precious Knowledge” which was about an implementation of a Mexican-American Studies program in an Arizona school district. There is a scene in which teachers are sitting around talking about how unmotivated students are, they don’t care, etc. And one man finally spoke up and said, “I have never met a student who has a dysfunctional relationship with learning, they have a dysfunctional relationship with school.”
So, what does this all mean for my future library? I will come back to my mantra. Nothing about us, without us, is for us. That means that professional development for teachers should start where teachers are. What are their visions for their classrooms? What goals do THEY have? What problems are THEY encountering that they want answers to? That should be the beginning of planning for any help, support, or ideas that are offered. Professionals will develop if you give them the resources to do so and meet them where they are.
What will it mean for my students? First of all, recognize that students ARE learning, every day. They are engaging with content of their choice through social media, whether it is Snapchat, Instagram or Tik Tok. They are desperately looking for someone to engage them where they are, but no one is asking them. What do the students want from their library? How do they envision it? While I know what I want from a library in which I spend my time, my new library is not my own. This space belongs to the students, the teachers and the community. And the first question I will ask is: What do you want from YOUR library? How can it meet you where you already are and take you where you want to go?
The implementation of this philosophy will require relationships based on trust, listening and not always being in control. I have to balance both my expertise and knowledge and areas of strength with the ways in which my stakeholders will want me to show up for them.
It will be a challenge, to say the least. But it will be a challenge that I have been preparing for my entire career and I am so excited to take it on.
Submitted by Jenny Razor, NSLA member
This is my first year in the role of library media specialist at my school. During this semester, not only have I been wearing the many hats of my full-time library position (book expert, collaborator extraordinaire, technology facilitator, and all-around professional education supporter), but I have also been coaching basketball as well as completing practicum hours and projects to officially earn my school library endorsement. To say it has been a busy semester is an understatement.
With a family at home that includes five littles of my own on top of it all, it would have been easy to fall victim to the ever-present monster of burnout that we all know wreaks havoc in schools across the nation. However, I have not left the library once this year feeling like I should be anywhere else. I love what I do.
I can’t claim to have done this alone, so thank you to all of those that have helped me so far this year. With that, I’d love to take a minute to share some of the routines and resources that have allowed me to succeed and feel excited about my job day after day.
1. Amazing colleagues.
I am blessed to work and be connected with an amazing group of educators. They love sharing materials and discussing ideas. When I wasn’t sure what to do, it was easy to turn to them for support. Much of the time, I reached out to the other librarians on my district PLC and they pointed me in the right direction. From technology to library systems and everything in between, I have yet to be let down by their advice. I’ve also had plenty of help from the classroom teachers in my building as well. I attribute a lot of this to the fact that I’ve been teaching in the same building for five years as a Reading and Language Arts teacher and have built some good relationships with a number of the staff. I realize this would likely be a lot tougher (but not impossible) if I’d been hired on as a completely new member of the building.
Which brings me to my next resource…
2. Professional Communities
The NSLA has been a great place to find support and resources. Even simply reading the blog posts and email updates is such a great way to remain current on some of the major happenings with Nebraska.
I have also found some terrific resources from the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA). A fellow librarian in my district let me know of the opportunity to become a free member of this association earlier this year. It has been a terrific resource for technology-related material and topics. Most recently, they shared a holiday digital escape room that I plan to use with my students the final two days of the fall semester.
The TCEA is similar to our very own NETA (Nebraska Educational Technology Association). Membership to NETA is also free!
While I appreciate some great blogs and email updates, I do have a 30-minute commute one way to work. This leaves a good chunk of time for me that has the potential to be utilized in ways other than simply listening to music for an hour a day.
I decided to fill a good chunk of my drives with podcasts to help me stay current on different educational topics and get me in the mindset to best serve the learning community at my school. Here are a few of my favorites:
The best thing I’ve done so far this semester is to not remain isolated in what could easily be the island that is the library. While it’s kept me extra busy, I’ve tried to prioritize collaboration. From full projects to mini-lessons and everything in between. I’ve had even more of my staff reach out about collaboration opportunities for the spring semester. This helps me build relationships with teachers and students and it helps fuel my passion and excitement for learning and teaching.
To help stimulate these inquiries for collaboration, I try to make a point to make contact with my staff on a weekly basis. Sometimes this consists of formal collaboration. Sometimes it’s an email with a short video I create discussing topics like troubleshooting a technology issue that has arisen recently or simply updating staff on the happenings and opportunities in the library. Sometimes it’s helping with a technology challenge in a classroom. Most times, I just stop in to say, “Hi,” and ask how things are going. It’s simple but seems to be effective.
On one of these drop-ins, I was able to assist a couple of science teachers working on a mini-research project over monuments. A fiber line had been cut in the area. With the internet being out for the day, rendering our 1-to-1 Chromebooks useless for this project, I was able to locate print sources from our library for the students to use in their research. It was a great impromptu opportunity to help ease the stress of my teachers and provide our students with the resources necessary to continue learning.
One of my biggest priorities this year was to do what I could to let my staff know they are supported. I want them to know my door is open and that I’m eager to help. The above are a few simple strategies that have allowed me to do just that.
5. Student Helpers (Library Pages)
The final system that has been a true gamechanger this semester is one that a fellow librarian in the district suggested - a big shoutout the Amy Williams from Elkhorn Valley View Middle School for the idea!
In her library, she loves getting the students involved. They help check in and out books, shelve books, keep the library tidy, set up displays, process new books, and do any number of jobs the help the library run smoothly. They are Library Pages - student library assistants.
At first, I was nervous to employ student helpers. My type-A personality cringed at the idea. However, I decided to give it a try. Halfway through the semester, I posted an application for students to apply to be a Library Page. With the help of teacher input, I then hired twenty students to come to the library during their study halls or before or after school throughout the week to assist in the day-to-day library operations. There was some upfront work, but since initially training these student workers, it has freed up much of my valuable time to do more collaboration with teachers, troubleshoot technology issues, and interact with students especially around finding their next great read. Sure, I have a few misshelved books, but I’ve also noticed the buzz around reading increase as students embrace pride and ownership of our library.
Being in education and in the business of helping students learn and grow, there are challenges for all staff within a school. To say my first semester has been perfect would be a flat-out lie. My hope is that some of the successes I’ve shared from my experience as a first-year school librarian can provide a few ideas to help others implement systems to grow their library and rekindle the joy that can be found as a school librarian.
Jacob M. Barry
Middle School Library Media Specialist
Elkhorn Ridge Middle School
A library is only useful if the materials and resources in it are easily accessible. As I spent time over spring break working in another school library for a class I was finishing this semester I was introduced firsthand to genrefication. I hadn’t given this a thought for my school library as our district has not embraced this trend yet, but I had talked with others who had successfully done it in their districts and loved it. The library I was in was genrefying their upper elementary and high school fiction section for several purposes: to increase circulation, to make it easier for students to locate specific genres needed for class projects and to help analyze and enhance the collection. It helped me start thinking about the pros and the cons of organizing a library in this way. I would like to share a few pros and cons with you.
Genrefication is no quick or easy process, but there are ways to simplify it and not make the task quite so daunting. Each librarian must draw up their own plan, locate the person power to help physically shift the materials and use ready made tools to help them ease the process. The first step is to run circulation statistics and begin weeding. Once the weeding process is finished you can examine your collection to identify which genre labels you want to use to genrefy your collection. There are quite a few different choices available. These are just a few to choose from: realistic fiction, chick lit, romance, historical fiction, science, fantasy, horror, manga, mystery, adventure, sports, and guy reads. After ordering and receiving your labels (Demco sells them.) you must decide when you want to take on the challenge of labeling and relocating the books. When labeling you may choose to create your own scheme for labels beyond the genre labels. “Identifying series titles was important because we had so many, and I, like most librarians, certainly couldn’t remember the correct order of all of them,” (Sweeney, 2013). You may choose to order series stickers or just buy colored dots and mark them with the numbered title in the series. Some librarians choose to work section by section and put up under construction signage so students and staff know to avoid that section. Others choose to do the shift over the summer so they can spread things out and really plan for the space they need for each reclassified section. When you are finished with the relabeling and reshelving it is time to work on signs so that your patrons can easily locate the genres. You could even create a video for classroom teachers to show to students before they come to visit the library for the first time after genrefying.
Genrefication works well for school libraries because it removes the frustration of learning to use the catalog and searching for related topics under different call numbers. It also frees up librarians to make book recommendations instead of having to guide students around the library. Students feel a sense of confidence about the library when it is welcoming and accessible. Genrefication works well with children because they are more likely to be browsers and to be obsessed with certain topics and benefit from those topics being placed together. However, if one of your library goals is to teach the catalog then you may have to rethink how to do this if you genrefy. Will you do the Dewey, or not?
Submitted by Deanna Hirschman
Rodgers, L. (2018). Give your circulation a lift. School Library Journal. July, 24-27.
Sweeney, S. (2013). Genrefy your library: improve readers’ advisory and data-driven decision making. Young Adult Library Services. Summer, 41-45.
Witteveen, A. (2019). Flipping for genrefication. School Library Journal. September, 40-44.
Krysta, (10/01/2019). Pros and cons of the push for shelving by genre in libraries. Pages Unbound Reviews, pagesunbound.wordpress.com
From Jamie Hestermann of Syracuse Middle and High School:
This was a pre-COVID interactive historical fiction display. After learning the characteristics of historical fiction, fourth-graders traveled back in time and visited books from different time periods. They were issued "tickets" and instructed to visit four stations. At each stop, students selected a book from inside a suitcase, previewed it, and filled out a ticket. On the ticket, they had to explain why the book was classified as historical fiction. Many picked up on something included in the cover art, the specific time period in which the book took place, or differences in the way people talked. It helped reinforce the characteristics of the genre and introduced students to some of the historical fiction books we have in the library.
This year of the pandemic has been demanding, stressful, and more work for most librarians. When students were sent back to school in person, many librarians were frazzled about what that would look like, how we could do checkout, and how we could best assist our students’ reading needs. All specialists have been working off of a cart going classroom to classroom at my school since students have been back in person. It is a lot of work to travel to every room, but something that I have truly enjoyed is putting the perfect books into my students’ hands.
Every afternoon my library para and I prepare 6 crates full of books that we take to classrooms the next day. We have a specific number of books we pack for each room, depending on their grade level and reading level. We pack various fiction books, picture books, nonfiction books, graphic novels, and Spanish or Bilingual books. Then the next day in library class, after I teach a short lesson, I find an empty table or space on the floor where I can lay out those books in rows so that students can see them all and point out one to three books that they would like to check out. This is a very tedious process since I can only allow one student to check out at a time, and it takes anywhere between 20-30 minutes to complete this process.
Though tedious, this checkout process has been a great time to bond with my students over books. In a typical year, my students would find their books, bring them up to the counter, and my library para would assist them. With this new process, I have had to be much more involved in the checkout process, and I love it. This has allowed my students and me to have conversations about the books they are reading, students have asked me for recommendations, and I have had the chance to suggest specific books to specific students. It has also allowed me to get to know their interests more and discuss what they like to read.
Since we have to pack bins this year to bring to the classrooms, this has also given us a chance to push new books that have come in and older books that are still great but haven’t been checked out in a while. Since we have to hand-select the books that the students see, this has helped us pick books aimed at the correct level of students who will be reading them. It has also allowed us to choose books that represent the students within that classroom. This has been a great time to help our students find windows and mirrors within their library books. When I pack the bins, I try to think about which specific students are in each class, and I pack books that I believe will resonate with those students.
Although this pandemic has been a challenging and devastating time, there have also been some positive things that have come out of it. I know many people would think, well it’s not fair that your students don’t get to choose their own books, and of course we would like them to choose their own books. But, until it is safe to do so, we will be checking out in the classroom, and the students seem to be loving it. Many times what I hear from the students is, “Miss, there are too many choices!”. We do allow students 3rd -6th grade to place holds on books if they would like different ones also. So until we are allowed to go back to the library, checking out in the classroom is still very enjoyable.
By: Samantha Brown
I scoot down the school hallway, copies in hand, shuffling my keys to unlock the library when I see her, she's standing still and looking at posters.
“Good morning,” I say quickly, shuffling by.
“Aren’t these neat,” she says--slowing my pace--gesturing so that I will stop and really look. “They really are saying something.”
I have walked past these motivational hallway posters what feels like one million times and never taken the time to read one. As I stand here with her, reading one after the other, I feel my shoulders soften, my to-do list feeling somehow more manageable.
Yes, we teachers and librarians move fast to get things done, but this woman also had things to get done–and one of the things on her list was to notice the good stuff around us.
The library is a great place to foster gratitude practices (intentionally noticing the good) this winter season--in virtual spaces and in real life. While we might not feel thankful in 2021, we can mine for gratitude in ways that impact our days, our colleagues, and our students. Here are some easy-peasy, plug-and-play ways to jumpstart gratitude at your school this season:
By Evi Wusk
“Graphic novels’ popularity with young people has certainly earned them a definite place in school libraries” (Mardis, 2016, p. 105). I have discovered this popularity in my new role as school librarian the past two school years. As a past classroom teacher, my students would bring back graphic novels on checkout day and I have to say I wasn’t fond of them. But now in the library I see students read with enthusiasm and thrive on the visual information. They are the first books students ask for and the shelves are continually empty! The population of the graphic novels makes book selection an easy task because I now know which books the students are reading.
According to Mardis (2016), “the modern types of graphic novels began in the 1970s, but in recent years they have become extremely popular and many librarians include them in their collections” (p. 106). Some advantages of including graphic novels in your collection are: visual learner connections, leading to exploring other kinds of literature, attracting boys and reluctant readers, useful for ESL or below level students and for attracting young people to the library. I notice all of these advantages as graphic novels are used in my library. I strongly feel that the books are magnets for pleasure reading and are critical in the development of literacy in our second language learners.
Adding graphic novels to a library collection also has some disadvantages. “The contents of some graphic novels are not appropriate for young people” (Mardis, 2016, p. 106). This is a concept I struggle with when considering what graphic novels to add to my collection because I am at a grade level campus that hosts only second and third graders. I have some students who like the graphic novel format and have a higher reading level than a second or third grader. Therefore, the content may be too advanced for my younger student. I experienced this when receiving a set of Babysitters Club graphic novels and one was titled “Boy Crazy Stacy”. After reading it, I decided the contents were not appropriate for the age of a second or third grade student and I chose not to put it on the shelf.
So let’s continue this love of reading and let the graphic novel collection continue to be the ones with the tattered covers and the longest wait list! All students will be able to build their reading confidence and there will continue to be a surplus of options for readers of all ages.
Mardis, M. (2016). The collection program in schools: Concepts and practices (6th ed.). Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.
Sandoz Elementary School
by Kelly Kenny, Hillside Elementary
Thank you, Kelly, for sharing your top five tips for saving your sanity in the school library! If you'd like to contribute a blog post for the NSLA blog, please email Mandy Peterson at email@example.com.
Back in August, I shared the app Goose Chase with my faculty. Goose Chase is a scavenger hunt app where you can create a game with missions online and share it out to students through their devices (cell phones or iPads work the best, not so much laptop computers). Students can turn in missions via text answers or photo answers. Each mission is worth points and teams or individual students compete to be the top on the leaderboard. As a teacher, you see the submission feed on your device and can add or subtract points or even delete a submission if students don’t complete it according to your specifications.
After presenting, I had a tremendous increase in teachers wanting to work with me using this app for their classes. I have now worked with Math classes, Guidance Counselors, and English classes. In a school where collaboration doesn’t usually happen, I am super happy that I have found something to share with my colleagues that they want to use for their students. This positive turn helps promote the library and my services to other teachers who haven’t wanted to collaborate in the past.
On March 29 and 30, I attended the Nebraska Educational Technology Association conference for the first time. The opening session of NETA was with Kayla Delzer, 2019 North Dakota Teacher of the Year. Ms. Delzer gave an inspiring and motivational presentation that was just what I needed. Motivational talks for teachers are often heard at the beginning of the school year. However, at this time of the school year when testing mode is in high gear, my teaching excitement and enthusiasm run a little low! Ms. Delzer talked about building relationships with the students from the moment they walk in the door on the first day of school. A quote from Ms. Delzer is one to remember, “Relationships between students and passionate teachers will always be the foundation for successful classrooms!” What a great reminder for this time of year when patience is running thin and stress is high!
As a first time attendee of NETA, I was a little overwhelmed with all of the session choices. Since I am planning for a school librarian position, I looked for sessions that would be relevant to a school librarian. Makerspaces are a hot topic now in the education field and one that interests me. After attending some sessions on this topic, I learned a few starter tips: 1. Start small and simple; 2. Ask for donations through school newsletter and social media; 3. Get organized; 4. Establish routines and expectations.
In other sessions, I was able to take away various ideas for both the classroom and the library. I learned about free websites and applications that I could use to teach the National School Library Standards: Inquire, Collaborate, Explore, Include, Curate, Engage. One document that has an incredible listing of tech tools and resources is: bit.ly/AASLTechTools. Last but not least, it was encouraging to know that school librarians like to collaborate and share. In the near future, I may need all the resources I can find for assistance in the school librarian position.
By Susan Becker
This blog is a joint effort by members of the NSLA Executive Board. We hope to provide relevant information, tips and tools to help you in your journey.