Looking @ Best Practices for School Librarians

Looking @ Best Practices for School Librarians - Are you a Librarian Influencer? On Dr. Laura Sheneman's Podcasts, veteran School Librarians share their expertise to help us build our personal learning network & be effective instructional partners in our schools. Listen in to The Legacy of Librarianship Continues Because of Best Practices. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #bestpractices #readingpromotion #libraryadministration #teachercollaborationMY LIBRARIAN INFLUENCERS

I believe our only purpose as a school librarian is to educate our youth. Books may be perfectly arranged on shelves and electronic devices hum, but the students that pass through our doors are the most important reason we are where we are. We can’t forget that. A kid is more important than a book or a piece of equipment or any other material in our school library. All those other things are expendable; a child is not. Even the difficult ones.

I’ve made this point on my blog, and I make it in my interview with Dr. Laura Sheneman, the producer and host for the Librarian Influencers Podcast.

The Librarian Influencers Podcast highlights experienced librarians who share their knowledge and expertise with other K-12 school librarians, especially those new to the field or studying to become school librarians.

Dr. Laura Sheneman taught Library Science graduate courses for more than 10 years at Sam Houston State University, and is currently Coordinator of the Division of Instructional Support at the Texas Education Agency Region 1 ESC along the Rio Grande River in South Texas.

Looking @ Best Practices for School Librarians - Are you a Librarian Influencer? On Dr. Laura Sheneman's Podcasts, veteran School Librarians share their expertise to help us build our personal learning network & be effective instructional partners in our schools. Listen in to The Legacy of Librarianship Continues Because of Best Practices. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #bestpractices #readingpromotion #libraryadministration #teachercollaborationI feel so honored to be part of the group of librarians Dr. Sheneman has presented in her Podcasts. She gives an introduction and overview of our talk as a post, which includes links to both her podcast page and her libsyn.com page for the audio interview.

To hear our interview, which I hope you find helpful,
please visit Dr. Laura Sheneman’s Podcast

I had a wonderful time talking with Dr. Sheneman. We discovered a shared vision about what a School Library Program can be, and much common ground on policies & procedures.

I’ve read Dr. Sheneman’s blog and listened to all her podcasts. She is now an important part of my professional learning community. When you listen to her podcast interviews with veteran librarians, I know you’ll want to add her to your PLC, too.

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Looking @ 41 Useful Websites for School Librarians

Looking @ 41 Useful Websites for School Librarians - Here are 41 quality Websites that School Librarians will find helpful to gather information & ideas on professional development & advocacy, library lessons & activities, reading promotion, and technology. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #schoollibrarian #professionaldevelopment #advocacy #librarylessons #reading #edtechI don’t normally do this…just throw out a bunch of websites, but right now I’m cleaning up my browser bookmarks. If, as a School Librarian, you’re anything like me, you accumulate dozens of great websites as you read education and library listservs, bloggers, Facebook group comments, and Twitter feeds. The hard part is trying to organize these sites in a logical manner.

I have a Library & Librarian folder with a few subfolders, and a long list of uncategorized URLs. As I organize these valuable resources, I’m sharing them to you, with short annotations about why they’re helpful. So here goes: 41 Useful Websites for School Librarians on professional development & advocacy, library lessons & activities, reading promotion, and technology.


AASL eCOLLAB51 Free Webinars from the American Association of School Librarians on professional learning topics. 

Library Impact Studies Infographica compact advocacy tool from Library Research Service. Available for print & online viewing.

Library and Information Science EncyclopediaIf you encounter library terminology in your readings, but may not be quite sure what it is, consult this brief list for an explanation! From internationally-known blogger librarian Salman Haider.

Mackin CommunityBook vendor Mackin’s blog with resources for libraries & classrooms, makerspaces, and professional learning. Add this site to your feed!

Project ConnectSponsored by Follett, this site offers guidance for the Future Ready Librarians framework, including PD and teaching ideas.

School Librarians: Why we still need them!article by Jamie McKenzie with some strong support to use for advocacy.

School Libraries WorkWhile you can still download the 2008 version directly, the newer 2016 version wants you to submit your email address and other info. Still, a valuable document to use for advocacy and justifying (alas, we need to) having a certified School Librarian in a school library.

Top School Library BlogsA list maintained by Laura McPherson with 50 librarian bloggers you can add to your blog feed!

Virtual Middle School LibraryWith dozens of links to useful resources for school librarians, this site, maintained by Linda Bertland, retired school librarian, has an especially valuable resource page for professional learning.

Web JunctionA free learning site from OCLC Research offers self-paced courses, webinar recordings on a variety of topics related to library services and management.

What Works Clearinghouse (WWC)a U.S. Dept of Education website with research on programs, products, practices, and policies that answers the question “What works in education?”


AASL Best Websites for Teaching & LearningEvery year our national association picks, what they consider to be, websites of ” innovation, creativity, active participation, and collaboration. … free web-based sites that are user friendly.” What’s especially nice is the little icons that show which of our Shared Foundations each one addresses.

Bingo Cards & Word Searches are quick ways to engage students for reviewing content. Here are 3 sites that generate customized bingo cards on a 3×3, 4×4, or 5×5 grid: BingoBaker & ESLactivities both generate cards with words or graphics; MyFreeBingoCards has thematic backgrounds for words or numbers. WordSearchLab has already created searches, or create your own of any size and number of words.

5 Minute Lesson Plan Series37 different downloadable graphic templates to quickly create a lesson plan. Whatever your admin wants, you’ll probably find it here.

HyperDocs Interactive Content & MultimediaAs stated on the site: “The most difficult and time consuming part of creating a HyperDoc … is finding the content to engage your students in the learning process. I’ve curated several lists that I hope will help get your started.” There are a dozen categories with a varying number of websites with resources and tools.

Interactive Learning Menus (Choice Boards)Ideas for differentiated learning that give students a menu or choice of learning activities; can be part of a HyperDoc. From Shake Up Learning.

Makerspace Starter KitThe Daring Librarian, Gwyneth Jones, provides a list of great tools for starting a makerspace in your library.

Primary Source Setsthe Digital Public Library of America has more than 35 million digital resources including these curated collections on topics in history, literature, and culture, with teaching guides for class use.

Skype in the ClassroomMicrosoft’s FREE go-to source for Virtual Field Trips, Guest Speakers, classroom connections, and live collaboration projects. I first heard about this from Stony Evans, and think it’s one of the most engaging activities you can do with students.

Smithsonian Learning Labfree, interactive, easy-to-use tools using the millions of Smithsonian resources to adapt one of thousands of existing collections, or to create your own lessons, like digital research skills with built-in tools for creating & using proper citations.

Spruce Up Learning Centers w/ Tech – Tony Vincent’s blog post with lots of specific information and examples to make any learning station in your library that much better with technology.


Biblionasiumsort of a GoodReads for kids; free, protected site for ages 6-13 to encourage independent reading. Tools can create book reviews, reading logs, and personalized reading lists.

Classroom Libraries: Best apps for keeping trackWe Are Teachers blog post offers 6 apps teachers can use to keep track of their class books. Hey, they’re gonna have ’em, so we might as well support them…and they’ll love us for it and support the library even more! 

Librarians Lovenifty book talks and display ideas from secondary school librarians.

Library of Congress Center for the Booka rich resource for librarians with recommended books, author webcasts, book awards, and the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled.

The Online Books Page –  Plain website listing over 3 million free books on the Web, along with archives & indexes in languages around the world. This large database is maintained by a digital librarian at UPenn.

Social Justice BooksBooklists and other resources to help librarians build a diverse collection of titles and encourage a more culturally responsive reading experience for students.

State Award Reading ListsThis Simon & Schuster site has current Award Reading Lists from every state, along with curriculum, teaching, & reading group guides, themed collections, & reading levels. If you need labels for your State Award Reading List, they’re available as a customization in my Reading Promotion for ELA product at No Sweat Library, my TPT store. 

SYNC If you’ve never heard of this site, you are in for a treat. SYNC offers FREE audiobooks for teens every summer—2 complete audiobooks a week for 14 weeks. I always told students about it at their last library visit of the school year and provided the link and a QR code to the site.


AASL Best Apps for Teaching & Learning – As with the websites, AASL picks, what they consider to be, apps of “exceptional value to inquiry-based teaching and learning.” They also have little icons to show which of our Shared Foundations each addresses.

BEAM Chart MakerYes, we teach students how to make spreadsheet data graphs, like MS Excel, but this online app is quick & easy. Just choose the style, click the graph element, and fill in the information. Graphics like this can add so much to those end-of-grading-period library reports for principals & teachers. (If you don’t do that, this is a great way to get started!)

GooseChase EduFree and reasonably priced options to create educational scavenger hunts with mobile technology (IOS or Android app). Students (or teachers!) earn points by submitting a photo, video, or text.

Internet Archive Digital Library – Hundreds of millions of important webpages and media. Their Wayback Machine is a searchable database of 20+ years of web history.

Kathy Schrock’s Guide to EverythingIf you need information or guidance on educational technology, this is the place to go! Kathy has been blogging about edtech for more than 20 years and is still the best one-stop spot for general edtech info.

Media Literacy Educator CertificationDeveloped by PBS/KQED & Digital Promise, you can earn 8 media literacy micro-credentials to become a PBS Certified Media Literacy Educator.

Minecraft Education EditionIf you want to use Minecraft in your library, this site is the gateway to the education edition of the popular game. Special features for educators such as easy tutorials, classroom management tools, secure sign-in, classroom collaboration and tons of sample lessons, plus a global network of mentors and tech support.

100 Useful Websites for Educators and Students – With YA Books & More, Naomi Bates blogs about books, websites, and anything else a librarian might need. This page is a list of what she considers the most valuable website collection a librarian can have. It’s about 3 years old, but most of the links are still valid…and on my own “best” list!

Top 20 PowerPoint AlternativesPost from the Visme blog offers an open-minded examination of free & paid apps to use for presentations. Video demos are helpful. (Heavy content, allow time to load in browser.)


You may be wondering about sites for information literacy or subject areas. Those are also huge unorganized lists, so we’ll save them for future blog posts. For now, have fun looking these over and adding them to your browser bookmarks. If you have some bookmarked sites on these 4 topics you’d like to share, add them into the comments!

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Looking @ Critical Thinking, Inquiry, and the School Librarian

Looking @ Critical Thinking, Inquiry, and the School Librarian - Learn how research links critical thinking, content, and inquiry based learning, and how the School Librarian is the expert who has the knowledge & training to incorporate critical thinking & content into true inquiry based learning. #NoSweatLibrary #schoollibrary #researchskills #criticalthinking #inquiry #copyrightTo flourish in our modern global world, students need critical thinking skills. Thus, many educators are turning to inquiry based learning, and an Internet search explodes with models for teaching it. What most teachers don’t realize is that their best resource already resides within their own school: the School Librarian.

School Librarians are adept at integrating curriculum, critical thinking, and inquiry based learning, and this is exactly what educational researchers have discovered is needed.


The Foundation for Critical Thinking describes a critical thinker as one who:

  • raises clear and precise questions
  • gathers, assesses, and interprets relevant information
  • derives well-reasoned conclusions, tested for relevance
  • is open-minded, evaluating assumptions, implications, and consequences
  • effectively communicates solutions to complex problems.

According to a recent article in The Hechinger Report, teaching critical thinking skills in isolation isn’t effective because students aren’t able to transfer skills between disciplines: critical thinking is different within each discipline, so the skills needed for one subject area aren’t necessarily relevant to another subject area. Rather “the best approach is to explicitly teach very specific small skills of analysis for each subject.”

And this is where content knowledge becomes important. In order to compare and contrast, the brain has to hold ideas in working memory, which can easily be overloaded. The more familiar a student is with a particular topic, the easier it is for the student to hold those ideas in his working memory and really think.


The crux of inquiry based learning is that it piques a student’s curiosity and motivates the desire for answers—it is self-directed, not teacher-directed. The numerous models for inquiry based learning take students step-by-step through the process, but we can consolidate them all into 4 basic stages:

  1. Develop background knowledge & formulate focus questions
  2. Research to discover answers & build understanding
  3. Analyze & interpret information, then synthesize into a worthy action or product
  4. Impart results & reflect on the action/product and the process

Inquiry by its very nature requires students to apply critical thinking, or what educators often refer to as higher-order thinking, at every stage of the process. But, we cannot assume that our students have the necessary knowledge and skills to be successful at inquiry learning; it’s our responsibility to give them the guidance and time needed to learn.

Unfortunately, most teachers have no idea how to do this. Leslie Maniotes & Carol Kuhlthau summed this up in a Knowledge Quest article:

In typical schools of education teachers do not learn in their teacher education courses about the research process. …teachers are simply relying on their own experience in school to direct their approach to research. … Although teachers have good intentions, they don’t realize that their traditional research approach is actually not supporting student learning. (p9)

Maniotes & Kuhlthau point out that teachers are particularly ignorant about the difference between the exploration stage and the collection stage. During that exploration stage is where students build the necessary background content knowledge so they can think critically throughout the rest of the process. When that stage is (too often) ignored, both the inquiry process and the resulting product suffer, and students are even less likely to learn, use, and transfer critical thinking skills.


The one person in the school who has all the necessary knowledge and training to guide students through inquiry learning is the School Librarian. As Maniotes & Kuhlthau put it:

School librarians know the inquiry process like language arts teachers know the writing process and science teachers know the scientific method. (p11)

School Librarians examine multiple inquiry models as part of their graduate coursework. This makes them the perfect person to explicitly teach students an inquiry process relevant to the subject area, especially if given time to help students through that crucial exploration stage.

School Librarians excel at finding information and media—content—and integrating it into any lesson. Their broad familiarity with everyone’s curriculum gives them the expertise to integrate the right critical thinking skills for the subject area and to find relevant background content for the exploration stage of the inquiry process.

School Librarians are also authorities on critical thinking: the library’s Information Literacy curriculum is all about analyzing, evaluating, inferencing, synthesizing, and communicating complex information in multiple formats. Ann Grafstein of Hofstra University ties Info-Lit to critical thinking and to content knowledge:

Information literacy is a way of thinking about information in relation to the context in which it is sought, interpreted, and evaluated. …effective critical thinking crucially involves an awareness of the research conventions and practices of particular disciplines or communities and includes an understanding of the social, political, economic, and ideological context….

So, it is the School Librarian who can weave together relevant content, an inquiry process, and critical thinking skills to help students develop authentic, worthy products.


My Library Lesson Curriculum Matrix - Composite example of an older version for the 1st grading period.

Sample Library Lesson Matrix

Through my years as a Middle School Librarian I experimented until I discovered the best ways to incorporate Information Literacy into any library visit. It’s important to scaffold short lessons and I use my Library Lesson Matrix to determine which strategies and skills are timely in each grade level, across all grade levels, and throughout the school year to cover the Info-Lit skills necessary for students to move on to the demands of high school.

My Library Lessons present inquiry strategies & skills in a way that students understand why, when, and how to use them. I’m a form fanatic, so I use infographics to illustrate strategies and processes, and I use graphic organizers for conceptual knowledge because they help students develop the understanding for themselves. I also use short videos (~3 minutes) to make explanations more engaging and understandable for students.

I help students build critical thinking skills as they learn the 3 components of Information Literacy, listed here with a few practices and resources that have been most successful with students, most appreciated by teachers, and have garnered positive feedback from my colleagues:

Problem-solving Models

Image of Problem Solving Models Comparison Chart - Overview of 14 Student Research Models

PSM chart

Simple brainstorming can be a quick & easy way to begin a project; however, planning and exploration must be the beginning of any large inquiry. You will want to download my FREE chart of 14 different problem-solving models to help you choose a design process for any inquiry assignment. My own PACE model is a simple design to “pace” students through a project from planning to evaluation.

image of PACE Research Model
Join my mailing list and you’ll gain access to the graphic template and assessment rubric, as a PDF or editable .docx.

Search & Evaluation Skills

This component has 3 parts: source selection, search strategies, and resource evaluation. I like to use KWHL charts to guide students in the selection of materials suitable to their needs and abilities. I encourage them to use our library online subscription services for the most reliable information by showing this video:

clip of keyword search formIt’s crucial to allow students time to develop keywords so they receive useful results quickly. My successful keyword search form is available on my Free Librarian Resources page. For evaluation I use a simple ABC acronym. An earlier post explained why that’s all I use with my middle schoolers.

Academic Honesty

image of Academic Honesty Slogan: Give credit when credit is due. Why? Because it's the right thing to do!It may surprise you that I don’t teach “plagiarism;” I’ve found it’s much more effective to focus on the positive message of academic honesty. I have 2 lessons, with short relevant videos and hands-on activities, that introduce

1) Intellectual Property and how to do bibliographic citation, and
2) Copyright & Fair Use along with proper note-taking and in-document citation.

See my Intellectual Property and Copyright
lessons in NoSweat Library, my TPT store.
product cover for No Sweat Library Academic Honesty-Intellectual Property & Bibliographic Citation product cover for No Sweat Library Academic Honesty Lesson-Copyright & Fair Use

Collaborative planning with teachers for inquiry/research/info-lit lessons is essential, but it’s so hard to convince teachers to allow me more than a single day for these important lessons. Those that do see that students produce better products more quickly, and they make my Library Lessons part of their planning for the next such assignment/project…and they tell others about it!


Inquiry based learning and critical thinking should always begin with the School Librarian. Their raison d’être is helping students inquire and think critically as they take in content knowledge to produce multimedia products that can change our lives.

Barshay, Jill. “Scientific research on how to teach critical thinking contradicts education trends.” The Hechinger Report. Teachers College at Columbia University, September 9, 2019. https://hechingerreport.org/scientific-research-on-how-to-teach-critical-thinking-contradicts-education-trends/

Grafstein, Ann. “Chapter 1 – Information Literacy and Critical Thinking: Context and Practice: Abstract,” Pathways Into Information Literacy and Communities of Practice. Chandos Publishing, 2017. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780081006733000010

Maniotes, Leslie K.; Kuhlthau, Carol C. Making the Shift: From Traditional Research Assignments to Guiding Inquiry Learning. Knowledge Quest, v43 n2 p8-17 Nov-Dec 2014. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1045936.pdf

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