Looking @ 10 Wise Quotations for a School Librarian

Looking @ 10 Wise Quotations for a School Librarian - Quotations compact important concepts into the essence of wisdom that we can share with others. Here are 10 quotations that have given meaning to my students and helped me to be a successful School Librarian.I had an interesting conversation the other day with my (adult) son about communication. We both have strong opinions about the need for better communication between people, and my son made some interesting comments that gave me the idea for this blog entry. First he suggested that whenever we are trying to communicate information we need to ask ourselves, “Am I crafting my communication for THAT person?

For true communication to take place, both speakers must have a common understanding of the words being used. Too often we in education (as do many professionals) get caught up in the jargon of our profession, forgetting that the person we are talking to may not have the same expertise to fully understand what we are trying to say. Without shared understanding, our conversations are fruitless—we are not communicating anything of value.

My son offered the acronym DIKW: data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. As we move through DIKW, we condense the exorbitant material of each portion into a more abstract, yet infinitely more vast, concept. So, data are the numerous bits, the factoids, that we compile and organize to produce information, and we gather and coalesce information to build knowledge. If we are very conscientious, we contemplate and apply our knowledge—the “what”—to develop wisdom—the “why.”

My son then referred to a quotation (from French mathematician Blaise Pascal) that, roughly translated, says, I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time. It takes time to condense our wandering, voluminous thoughts into true communicable verbiage or text! My son’s point is that we need to communicate less but better!

That got me thinking about how often we use quotations from others to express what we mean. Quotations are typically short and pithy; they compact large concepts into the essence of wisdom. So, in an effort to share the wisdom of others in as brief a manner as possible, I offer, in no particular order, 10 quotations that School Librarians can embrace to inspire our students and to make our jobs more meaningful.

  1. Everything you need for your success is within you.
    (shared by former principal B.D. from an educational speaker) 
  2. It is our choices … that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.
    Dumbledore in the book “Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets”
  3. Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.
    Frederick Douglass
  4. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
    Eleanor Roosevelt
  5. If students do not learn the way we teach them, then we must teach them the way that they will learn.
    (shared by former principal F.T. quoting Madeline Hunter)
  6. Kids have a long attention span, but a low tolerance for boredom.
    (shared by former principal M.W. from an unknown source)
  7. If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?
    UCLA coach John Wooden
  8. Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
    Nelson Mandela
  9. The only thing that you absolutely have to know, is the location of the library.
    Albert Einstein
  10. The best of all things is to learn. Money may be lost or stolen, health and strength may fail; but what you have committed to your mind is yours forever.
    Louis L’Amour in the book “The Walking Drum”
    This is my all-time favorite quote–it was displayed in my classroom and my school library for more than 21 years.

These quotations have given meaning to my students and helped me to be a successful School Librarian. I hope they also inspire you!


Looking Back @ 3 Strategies for a First-Time School Librarian

Looking Back @ 3 Strategies for a First-Time School Librarian - To succeed as a first-time School Librarian, we need to learn everything about our library and school, listen to everyone and ask questions, and leave everything alone until we know what needs to change!August 2000. My transition from Classroom to School Library. I’m still a Teacher, but I now have a huge classroom with a mind-boggling array of resources. I need to provide lessons to every student in the school at every grade level but I have no curriculum guide and no class schedule. How do I begin?

If you are a new School Librarian, perhaps you feel as overwhelmed as I did when I first walked into my School Library. Combining my memories as a new teacher, my ideas from library courses, and my innate need for organization, I decided on 3 strategies for a first-time School Librarian: learn everything, listen to everyone, leave things as they are (for awhile).

Learn Everything About the Library & the School!

Snip of Library Layout - Making detailed diagrams of everything in your School Library is the smartest "first step" you can take as a new School Librarian.I’m a “stuff” person. I need to know what I have and where it’s located so I can get it when I need it. Thus, my first task upon entering my school library was to learn what was on every shelf and inside every cupboard and drawer. Because I knew I wouldn’t remember it all, I used a clipboard of blank paper to draw diagrams and I began in the librarian’s office, moved to the circulation desk, then to the workroom, on to adjoining rooms (which I discovered were a video broadcast studio and booth), and then to the main library space. It took a couple days, but I now had an extensive set of diagrams to tell me everything about the physical library facility. I took the sheets home and recreated my library layout—labeled and color-coded—on computer spreadsheets and I continued to use and modify that same document for the next 13 years. It was the smartest “first step” I could have taken as a new School Librarian because already I knew:

  • what was barcoded and what wasn’t, but needed to be (a “task” for my checklist)
  • purchase orders sent but items not yet received or processed (another task for my checklist)
  • resource and technology items likely to be checked out by teachers at the start of school (another checklist task)
  • available library supplies for various needs (a guide to how the previous librarian had managed the library)
  • the extent of Fiction, Dewey, and Reference resources in the collection  (a guide for where to concentrate my new purchases)
  • teacher-collaborated library lessons given by the previous librarian (a guide to “library-friendly” teachers and probable lessons to schedule)
  • ideas and materials I could use to establish my own teaching and management style (a separate Checklist of Possibilities!)

My next step was to explore all the files and applications on the librarian computer workstations to see what the previous librarian had done—which extended my knowledge of her management and lessons—and I rearranged files into folders according to my own organizational style.

As a new faculty member I’d been given a map of the school, so after obtaining permission and a master key from the principal I went through the school—with my trusty clipboard—and identified all the technology and resources that were “library barcoded” in each room. I found technology items that had been delivered to the school but were still in boxes and hadn’t been processed, along with library items in classrooms that weren’t checked out (more tasks for my checklist). During my school “tour” I also identified subordinate technology hubs to the main tech hub in the library workroom. Having such extensive knowledge of every part of the school is a real advantage:

  • technicians entering the school are sent to the library so I’m always aware of tech issues or implementations and I can plan new tech lessons for students and colleagues;
  • district workers carry my name back to their departments as the “go-to” person at my school;
  • I can answer building questions no one else can so I’m invited to be on planning committees;
  • before classroom purchases are made, teachers check with me to see if we already have the same or similar items, thus saving time and money.

Knowing exactly what I had in my school and my library gave me so much confidence! I’d have an answer for any question or request, and I could maximize my time and money. In short, during my first week I was already becoming an “indispensable” School Librarian!

Listen to Everyone and Ask Questions! 

Listening and Asking QuestionsIf I could give only one suggestion to an incoming new School Librarian it would be, “Become a trusted colleague of the School Secretary, the Head Custodian, and the Food Services Manager!” These folks are a key source of information about the way the school functions, and if we treat them with the respect they so rightly deserve, they will answer our questions and help us become even better at our own job, often doing something for us that they don’t do for anyone else. Just remember to return the favors!

As the school year progresses, welcome district personnel and visitors into the library and, if possible, give them respectful and undivided attention, asking as many questions about their situation as possible. A good impression carries throughout a community and suddenly one day, someone you’ve never met greets you, knows who you are, and wants to help you accomplish something to benefit your students!

Our main purpose as a School Librarian is to support classroom instruction, so we must communicate and collaborate with teachers. On the first PD day in the library at the start of school, I was introduced as the new School Librarian, and I asked my colleagues 2 questions:

  1. Is the School Library meeting your needs for classroom instruction?
  2. What can I do as a School Librarian to help you with classroom instruction?

I’d already placed brightly-colored 3×5 index cards on the tables so I could ask colleagues to write down at least one suggestion for the School Library and one suggestion for the School Librarian. By the end of that day I knew what had been working, what hadn’t been working, and some new directions to take the School Library, all of which I added to my “Possibilities Checklist” (see first step above). That initial appeal for cooperation led many teachers to seek my input on library visits and lessons throughout the rest of the school year, and my continued willingness to ask questions and listen to suggestions helped build a solid reputation as a valuable collaborative partner!

Leave the Library As It Is Until You Know What It Needs!

Underneath the anxiety, a new School Librarian feels adventurous, itching to implement exciting ideas from library courses! I had created my “Possibilities Checklist” and added suggestions from teachers, but I was wise enough to decide: Don’t Change Anything Yet!

  • A physical arrangement may not make sense until a large group is moving around.
  • Seemingly frivolous policies and procedures may actually facilitate best use of the library.
  • Environment or activities may be crucial to lessons or established teacher and student expectations.
  • Real needs can’t be anticipated in a vacuum—the library must be “in use” to know what works and what doesn’t!

A School Library really belongs to the students and we need to experience the “school culture” of students, to discover their attitudes and needs for their school library. I arranged library visits with ELA teachers for the second week of school and interacted with students as much as possible. By the end of that week I could see how the facility functions for individual students, for classes and teachers, and for the School Librarian, and I had greater appreciation for collaborating with teachers by first discovering what they were doing in the classroom.

I had to modify my “Possibilities Checklist” many times as I worked with teachers and students during scheduled and informal library visits. As a clearer picture of needs developed, I slowly began making changes to improve library use, including completely swapping the location of Fiction and Reference and creating new descriptive signage. In January I persuaded ELA teachers to visit the library for a ‘review’ library orientation and everyone loved the changes I’d made.

In my district we were expected to spend 1/2 our library book budget by the middle of December. Since I was a newbie librarian, I was able to obtain permission to wait until January to purchase books, and I’m so glad I did. Here is what I did—and what you can do—during the 1st semester to maximize the value of book purchases for students, teachers, and classrooms:

  • Shelve returned books nearly every day to become intimately familiar with the library collection.
  • Run circulation reports every few weeks to see what’s popular with each grade level.
  • Note how the location of books affects what students (and teachers) are browsing and choosing.
  • Run comparison reports of the library collection with other same-grade-level schools to learn what’s popular in the community.
  • Throughout the semester generate “To Purchase” lists for Fiction, Dewey, Biography, and teacher materials on vendor online ordering sites.

My POs were finally sent out, and a couple months later, two pallets stacked high with boxes of books appeared outside the library doors. Our entire school was buzzing with excitement to come visit the library, and as fast as I unpacked boxes, students checked out the new books! My circulation statistics soared and I could always put a great book into a student’s hands.

What I Know Now …

I’ve had jobs in and outside education during my nearly 5 decades of adulthood, and I’ve met many new employees who think they’ve been hired to revolutionize the industry; they come in like gangbusters, trying to change everything without really putting in the time to learn anything. Thanks to my Dad’s never-forgotten advice, I begin every new position by asking questions, listening to others, and learning all I can before I offer any suggestions for change. That attitude helped me become a valued employee at every job I’ve had, including being a School Librarian. If I could have a do-over, I wouldn’t do anything differently.

Looking Back @ Professional Conferences & Workshops

Looking Back @ Professional Conferences & Workshops - Professional development is more than in-house training. To become better educators we need to take advantage of conferences, workshops, and online coursework. | Looking Backward-Reflections of a Retired School LibrarianProfessional development conferences offer opportunities for educators to get together and grow their craft. During my 23 years as an Alternative HS Science Teacher and an IB Middle School Librarian I’ve attended a number of professional conferences:

Some of the above I attended just once, but some are so valuable I attend every year. I can honestly say that I have learned abundantly at every single one. Even when attending a session on a topic with which I am very familiar, I always pick up some nugget of value that I can take back and use with my students. And, of course, there is always the Vendor Hall which is lined with curriculum, tech tools, and fun activities and accessories! 6 Essential Tips for Attending a Conference from Cult of PedagogyIn a vendor drawing at one CAST conference I won a combination aquarium that had fish, frogs, and plants. It was fascinating to my students for several years and when I moved to the library I donated it to another science teacher (only because I couldn’t find a convenient place in the library to plug it in!).

BTW, if you’re planning to attend a conference anytime soon, at right is some great advice from Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy.

Memorable Sessions

I have two “most memorable” sessions from conferences. The first was in a large room with perhaps 50-60 people. The presenter came to the podium and the first words out of his mouth were, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten a job because you passed a state test.” Not a single hand was raised, but there was a lot of laughter. That was just the beginning of the standardized testing trend, but the comment has stayed with me, so whether as Science Teacher or School Librarian, I’ve made sure my lessons focus on practical application of concepts to our normal everyday life.

The second “memorable session” was at a TLA conference where I attended a presentation by Joyce Valenza and in attendance was Shonda Brisco—my two Librarian gurus in the same room and afterward I met them both! I was so in awe of these two red-headed library-tech mavens that I could barely find words—which is pretty rare for a blabbermouth like me!

I, myself, was able to present back in 2002 at the TLA Conference in Dallas. The WWW was still young and librarians were anxious to “get online” so I presented “How to Build a Library Web Presence with Netscape” during the Net Fair. It was a very rewarding experience and I was able to help a few folks develop their library websites during the hands-on session following my 20-minute presentation.

Professional Learning Workshops

While the excitement and camaraderie of conferences is extraordinary, I feel it is surpassed by the benefits of professional learning workshops. These are single- or multi-day sessions that are focused on a particular topic or developing specific skills. I attended a couple science ones and, as a middle school librarian, attended International Baccalaureate® and Texas IB Schools workshops as well as a local workshop sponsored by ALA for librarians who wanted to integrate more reading into their schools.

More than training sessions, workshops help us develop actual lessons that we can implement when we walk into our classrooms. The sharing that takes place during these sessions is very personal and allows us to discuss things with a depth that can’t be achieved during a large conference. I have also had more continued interactions with colleagues I met through workshops than through conferences.

Best Event Ever

I must admit that the best event I’ve ever attended didn’t actually have much to do with education: a 1-day course by Edward Tufte on “Presenting Data and Information.” Once I heard about and read his Visual Display of Quantitative Information book, I had to get his (at that time) other two, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations. This man is a master of putting complex statistical information into a graphical display that makes sense for everyone, so when I found out he’d be in Dallas, I couldn’t resist signing up.

Single image of Galileo's recording of sunspots.Tufte collects old books, and during his presentation he showed us a ~400-yr-old reprint of Euclid’s geometry—with little foldables that still were glued down to the page (Elmer’s & SuperGlue, take that!)—and also Galileo’s (in Italian) History and Demonstration Concerning Sunspots from 1613. One of his graduate students had scanned the sunspot pictures and pulled them together into a video; when he showed it to us I realized I was looking at our sun 400 years ago, just as Galileo had seen it! Yes, best event ever!
[You can see this yourself on Academo.org!]

The Future of Professional Development

Web presence is, I believe, the key to conferences continuing to enhance and improve education. With travel and hotel costs rising and school budgets shrinking, online conferencing is increasing every year. This isn’t just Twitter-ing about what’s going on at a regular conference, but rather holding an entire conference online through virtual connections and chat sessions. Many of these are for local or state educators, which increases their value for standards-based application.

Even more abundant and popular are online workshops and courses. Video presentations and discussion forums (or Facebook groups) with loose or self-paced schedules provide educators a worldwide learning opportunity; digital badges can be earned and displayed as part of our professional portfolio along with the online documents we’ve created from the learning.

For summer 2017 I’m taking 4 online courses: one to better integrate technology into my Library Lessons, one to create better videos and presentations, and 2 to enhance my online presence through Pinterest and Twitter. The cost and flexibility of these courses is very appealing, but we have to be sure we are really getting a quality learning experience, so getting recommendations from colleagues is essential. I’ve already learned a lot more than I anticipated, and am excited to see what I can contribute to educators by the end of the summer!

Looking Back @ Books: Read Alouds & Free Reading

Looking Back @ Books: Read-Alouds & Free ReadingSchool Librarians love books and tend to be prolific readers. One reason we became School Librarians was to share our joy of reading with others. Any elementary School Librarian can tell you that an effective way to ‘hook’ students into reading is to read a story aloud—young students never seem to tire of hearing read-alouds. Many folks may think that once students move beyond the elementary years, their fascination with read-alouds dissipates, but I can assure you that is far from true!

Older students enjoy read-alouds! 

When I returned to education after a ‘mom’ hiatus I taught in an alternative high school. It was truly one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. The 15-19 year-old students in my school were “at-risk” of not graduating high school for a variety of reasons that made for poor performance in the regular classroom:

  • Poor reading or math skills, some as low as 2nd grade
  • Jobs to help support their family that kept them up late or missing days
  • Extended stay in a hospital for severe illness/accident or in rehab for addiction to drugs/alcohol
  • Lack of interest in or depression about the regular classroom, including social trauma

I learned early on that many of these kids had severely dysfunctional parents and many had never had a parent read to them as a child. One of their happiest memories was when an elementary school teacher or librarian read aloud to them.  In our school, each teacher had an Advisory of 8-10 students that we met with daily, and I wanted to introduce my Advisory to children’s books my own children had enjoyed and that these students had never heard.

The first book I read aloud was The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, an early Dr. Seuss book, and I felt the theme of the story—perseverance in spite of criticism and intimidation—would inspire these kids. It was such a hit that I reread it each year to my Advisory, and even though some had heard the story before (we had our Advisory kids until they graduated) they loved hearing it again. I also read aloud other topical Dr. Seuss and Caldecott titles, almost all of which generated fascinating discussions among my high school students. This experience convinced me that we are never too old to appreciate the simplified presentation of complex issues in children’s books, and I used them later on during my years as a middle school librarian, to equal success.

A particular middle school read-aloud success was our Multicultural Cinderella lesson. 6g students study plot early in the school year, and this collaborative co-taught lesson is designed to illustrate plot elements using the original Perrault Cinderella story as an exemplar. The 6g ELA Teacher introduces each plot element, and I, the School Librarian, read the associated story segment. While most students are familiar enough with Cinderella, courtesy of Disney, many have never heard the original story. Though abbreviated for time, the read-aloud had students rapt with attention! For the follow up activity students choose a multicultural Cinderella picture book on their table and, in pairs, read it to compare and contrast with the original story. The group discussion after compare/contrast emphasized to me that, not only do students enjoy being read to, but the combination of read-aloud and self-reading increases comprehension of concepts(If you’re interested, this lesson is available in my TPT store, No Sweat Library Lessons.)

Read-alouds are also particularly powerful with ESL/ELL students, who need to hear English spoken in a fluid manner to fully grasp the rhythm and flow of their new language, and also with very low-reading-level SpEd students who struggle with comprehension.

About Books in Classrooms

In my middle school our ELA teachers all have classroom libraries, which are handy for “in the moment” book selection, but they just can’t compare to a good School Library. No matter how spacious a classroom, a teacher can only stock a few hundred books for her students— commendable collection—but our middle school library has 9,000 current Fiction booksand mine is the smallest MS in my district! My ELA teachers understand the difference, so that is why they schedule regular library visits every other week throughout the school year.

About Free Reading

My ELA teachers and I discovered that 10 minutes of reading at the start of each class period is not really “free reading”; it’s a sponge activity. If students have never had free reading time on a regular basis, then giving them 10 minutes per day to read is a great way to begin, but it can’t be the end goal. Ten minutes isn’t long enough to truly become engaged in a story: prolific readers want to read longer, and reluctant readers just want to get it done, often jumping from one book to another and never finishing any of them.

To really build readers we give students a 30-minute time period every week to become immersed in a story. When our ELA teachers bring their students to the library every other week for book return/checkout I rarely have a lesson, and when I do it’s no more than 10 minutes of the 50-minute period. Students always have 7-10 minutes to browse and then they sit down and read for the rest of the class period. During the last 10-15 minutes of the period I go to a couple tables at a time, signaling students it’s their turn to check out. This is a more orderly checkout and preserves the quiet reading atmosphere.

Our students have time to become involved in the stories so they continue to read on their own and finish their books faster. Some students decide after a few minutes they don’t like the book they’ve chosen, and they still have time to find a new one and get started reading it. The ELA teachers also provide a 30-minute reading time in the classroom during the interim week between library visits. The success of this strategy became evident to us with improved word recognition and reading comprehension, and we significantly raised State Reading Test Scores.

Interestingly, one year our district pushed for 10-minutes-a-day reading, and before the end of the first semester our ELA teachers realized it was a disaster, so we abandoned it and went back to our tried-and-true method with greater success. No matter the grade level you teach, you can engage students with the power of reading using a combination of read-alouds and free reading time!