MSLA 2022: final session recaps

The final two sessions I attended this afternoon were “Building and sustaining an effective school library program: Exploring state impact studies for ideas to improve the evaluation of school libraries” and “Pleasure Reading for ELL.” I’m combining them into one post not because they are related but because I am tired.

Deeth Ellis, a PhD candidate at Simmons and the head librarian at the Boston Latin School, presented “Building and sustaining an effective school library program: Exploring state impact studies for ideas to improve the evaluation of school libraries.” It’s a pretty big topic for a 50-minute session, which started late because of technical difficulties, but here are some takeaways:

  • School library impact studies show that school libraries make a difference to student learning.
  • The role of the principal is important; a Mississippi study showed that the attitude of the principal toward the school library program had a significant effect.
  • “Advocacy is powerful. Research that underpins advocacy is really powerful.” Yet advocacy (”cheerleading”) takes time away from other library work and can lead to burnout. “We can do some things, but we definitely need partners to help us”; advocacy needs to be a combined effort.

Resources:

The Fault in Our Stars cover (Spanish)“Pleasure Reading for ELL” was presented by Katy Gallagher, library teacher at Hingham High School, and Erin Dalbec, library teacher at Newton North High School. Katy cited research on immersion and dual-language education programs that showed positive outcomes for students who maintained their native language in addition to English; libraries can support English Language Learners (ELL) by providing materials in other languages. First, however, you need to figure out what language(s) the students in your school speak. Even then, it may be difficult to build a collection of books in that language; librarians using the chat feature discussed the difficulty of finding affordable, popular titles in various language, from Portuguese to Arabic.

Public libraries can fill in the gap somewhat; high school students don’t need parental approval to get a public library card, and can request books throughout the consortium. School librarians can bridge the gap by showcasing some of the titles from the public library; Katy used a padlet to do this. She also went to the public library to pick up books for students who couldn’t get there on their own. Students can also get BPL cards and use e-books and audiobooks from Sora. (There was much love for Sora at this conference; it has been “a lifesaver” during the pandemic.)

For her part of the presentation (the last few minutes of which I missed because I had to go pick up my kiddo at the bus stop), Erin talked about identifying your ELL students, encouraging them to share their own stories via writing, reading, and speaking. Her students did active listening activities and podcasting: they listened to a sample podcast, wrote one page on a topic of their choice, practiced reading it aloud with peers, then recorded it. Erin and Katy also mentioned that ELL teachers and world language teachers could be good resources.

Resources:

  • Colorín Colorado
  • MA DESE School and District Profiles: you can look up the percentage and number of ELL in your district and school, although to get more detailed information about which languages they speak, you’ll need to ask your “district data person” or ELL teachers
  • WIDA
  • Deep L (an alternative to Google Translate)
  • Narrative4: “Share Today. Change Tomorrow.”

So that was my MSLA experience. Whew! Check out recaps of other MSLA sessions and keynotes here. Did you attend the conference? What were your key takeaways?

MSLA 2022: Book Challenge Panel

Bonnie McBride, Anja Kennedy, Collen Simpson, Lizz Simpson, and Luke Steere are all librarians who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, some form of book challenge in their school libraries, whether it’s a formal challenge or “soft censorship.” Although national news has focused on widespread challenges in states like Texas and Florida, Bonnie said, “Book challenges have always been a part of librarianship….They are happening here.”

A few themes and solid pieces of advice were repeated throughout the panel:

  • Be prepared. Have a collection development policy that includes selection guidelines and a procedure for the request for reconsideration of materials. This policy should be approved by the School Board and the administration should be aware of it. “Your first line of defense is a strong policy that people can’t argue with” – not even the superintendent.
  • A challenge or ban in one part of the country affects us all: Fears of challenges may cause librarians to self-censor (avoiding purchasing or promoting certain texts), and may cause teachers to make changes to the texts they use in their curriculum.
  • Some good things can come from challenges: while one panelist said “I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” she acknowledged that some good things came out of it: there was a good examination of policy (which was strong), thoughtfulness about what we present in our curriculum, teachers chose more current books (in collaboration with librarian), more voice and choice in lit circles, students came to school committee meetings, increased transparency, and school committee has educated itself on public forum measures and the law.
  • “Promoting and defending our books should be a given.” A majority of the books being challenged have LGBTQIA+ content, and “there are LGBTQIA+ kids and families in every community, whether you know it or not.” Luke said, “I like using the word ‘challenge’ because it’s something to rise to” and not something to work against. Libraries are for everyone.
  • Be proactive. When a new administrator is hired, go and talk to them. They might not know the history of the district, if there have been challenges in the past and how they were handled. Ask them, “Where do you stand on this? What do we do when this happens?”
  • Keep the focus on the book. If it’s a student bringing the challenge, offer to sit with them and help them fill out the form. This can be a learning experience, and it keeps the focus on the book, not the complainant or the librarian.

Resources:

  • Library Book Challenge Resources Wakelet, curated by Bonnie McBride
  • Massachusetts Association of School Committees (MASC) online manuals
  • Massachusetts Library System (MLS) Policy Collection
  • ALA Office of Intellectual Freedom (ALA OIF) Challenge Support
  • the MSLA listserv
  • Library Link of the Day: there has been an significant uptick in links that have to do with censorship, book challenges, and bans in school and public libraries over the past several months.

MSLA 2022: Cynthia Leitich Smith keynote “Brighter Days”

Author, teacher, publisher, and Muscogee Nation citizen Cynthia Leitich Smith delivered this morning’s keynote, “Brighter Days: Decolonizing Hearts, Minds, and Books for Young Readers.” She began by zipping through a number of essential fiction and nonfiction titles for young readers, from picture books through YA; children’s literature created by Indigenous authors shows that “we have a past, a present, and a future…[we are] 3D human beings with a full range of emotion.” Still, Native books make up just under 1% of books published for kids. “Why does that matter? Because we are still here….There are Native families in your communities whether you realize it or not.” Some of these families may “fly under the radar,” partly because of distrust of schools due to past experience. That makes it more important, not less, to seek out, include, and promote literature from Native authors, because “erasure hurts kids” and “Native kids deserve more from all of us.”

Cynthia acknowledged that publishing is a slow-moving industry and “it’s hard to shake up the conventional wisdom,” but with new imprints, new interest, and demand from readers, librarians, and booksellers, change is happening. Ellen Oh and the WeNeedDiverseBooks movement have been a force for positive change, as have conferences like LoonSong and Kweli. “A single voice…is not enough,” Cynthia said, referencing times that she had been told by people within the publishing industry that there was no room, or no need, for more Native voices beyond one or two established ones. But we need more: Cynthia said, “factual information won’t matter or stick if we don’t focus on humanity. Native people are modern people. Every kid, Indigenous or not, can benefit from exposure to Native values” like honoring ancestors, and protecting land and water. Young readers deserve a chance to read the work of many Native authors.

Librarians, Indigenous or not, have an important role to play; we are ambassadors to young readers. “We can’t do it without your continued support and activism,” Cynthia said. When purchasing and recommending books, she had a few tips: look for tribal specificity, contemporary settings, present tense, accuracy, and stories of daily life. It’s important to balance the historical with contemporary, tragedy with joy. “Unfortunately, much of what happened in the past is terrible”: Acknowledge oppression, integrate joy and achievement, address miseducation, and be aware that there is diversity within each tribal nation and “identity is nuanced.”

This is year-round work and should not be limited to Native American history month or just around Thanksgiving. Cynthia encouraged us to integrate Native books into year-round reading, and across the curriculum: “We are Native every single day…[it is] otherizing and marginalizing” to limit reading books by and about Indigenous people to one time of the year. “All kids deserve a truthful education.” She closed on a hopeful note, declaring, “We are seeing tangible progress” in the publishing industry and in Hollywood.

Resources:

MSLA 2022: Melissa Stewart, champion of nonfiction

Melissa Stewart gave an excellent presentation (“Tips and Tools for Nonfiction Read-Alouds“) at last year’s MSLA conference, so I was looking forward to hearing from her again this year, this time on the topic of “The Role of Equity in Creating Passionate Nonfiction Readers.” She started out by asking attendees to do an activity: jot down “five children’s books you love.” Then, put a check mark next to the nonfiction ones. No check marks? You’re not alone. However, we shouldn’t let our own preferences, biases, and assumptions get in the way: research shows that kids love nonfiction, both expository (nonfiction that explains, describes, and informs) and narrative.

Melissa’s talk was heavier on the “nonfiction” part than the “equity” part, but she made one crucial point that became my main takeaway from this session: Expository nonfiction is straightforward and gets right to the point, which is good for beginning readers; it is more accessible than fiction for kids who haven’t been read to (emphasis mine). For children not yet comfortable and familiar with storytelling conventions, nonfiction is more accessible. Plus, kids enjoy learning about specific topics (animals, things that go, sports, etc.) and it’s empowering for them.

Melissa asked us to consider what barriers exist between students and nonfiction books in our libraries. These barriers might stem from the organizational system the library uses (does it make sense to kids? Can they find what they want?), teacher assignments (are kids allowed to use nonfiction books as well as fiction? Do they know that?), or lack of communication between departments.

There are many things librarians can do to help kids find the nonfiction books they want: highlight them on displays, read them aloud, promote them in book talks. But the most important factor in helping students find nonfiction they love, Melissa said, is TOPIC: “the number one way” to turn “an expository nonfiction kid” on to reading is to give them a book – or some other resource – on that exact topic.

Resources:

Since Melissa’s presentation last year, I’ve been much more mindful of incorporating nonfiction into my displays, book talks, recommendations, and lists, and reading more of it myself (I particularly love picture book biographies). If/when I get the chance to work with younger elementary kiddos, I will be keeping this takeaway in mind.

MSLA 2022: “We respond to many names”

Reset Recharge Reimagine logo

Although K.C. Boyd’s keynote was hampered with technical difficulties, we persisted. (All of us librarians, library media specialists, teacher librarians, etc. are familiar with tech hiccups after the past couple years.) In the first half of her talk, she spoke about the school librarians’ advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., after schools went remote during COVID. “Always remain ready” to advocate, she advised, even when things are going well, and keep the focus on the students: “It’s not about the librarians, it’s about the children.” It is unfair to students, especially those in already under-resourced schools, to lose access to school libraries and librarians.

(This reminded me of the Massachusetts Equity & Access study from 2018, available for download from MBLC. Even across the Commonwealth, there are dramatic disparities between schools, meaning that some students have access to fully staffed, high quality library media centers, while others have no certified librarian and less (or no) access to library resources. Research has shown that students in schools with a certified librarian and a school library have improved reading scores – something everyone wants – so funding school libraries equally is essential.)

When school libraries are threatened, librarians must become activists as well as advocates. (An advocate speaks on behalf of a person or group; an activist acts intentionally to bring about social or political change.) K.C. suggested that mid-career, late-career, and retired librarians are the ones who should be on the front lines of this advocacy work, and she provided some guidelines for teamwork:

  • listen to understand
  • be respectful
  • let go of your privilege
  • gently “check” your peers
  • wellness checks
  • we are all in this together

Library activists should BE PREPARED with messaging: one message, many voices. K.C. advises, “Remain student-centered at all times….Keep ‘I’ out of the conversation….[the message is] We care about students.” Root your message in research; K.C. cited Dr. Keith Curry Lance and Dr. Stephen Krashen. Librarians can testify at education hearings, write op-eds, use social media, and tap local and national organizations, like EveryLibrary, for help. The bottom line is that “Inequity in school library services is wrong,” and we must work toward equity. She closed by saying, “We all must be truth tellers. Tell the truth. There is strength in numbers.”

Hashtags: #GoodTrouble (a reference to a John Lewis quote, though apparently it is also a TV show now), #DCPSHasLibrarians (DC-specific), #FReadom

Photo of Read-In protest
Photo of read-in protest from NBC Washington https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/local/dc-school-librarians-hold-read-in-protest-over-funding/2690626/

NLP logoSeparately from her keynote, K.C. Boyd also presented a session on “The News Literacy Project and Digital Citizenship.” KC is a national ambassador for the News Literacy Project (NLP) for the DC/Maryland/Virginia region. K.C. said, “I think it’s very important that digital literacy is taught in our K-12 schools.” Students are bombarded and overwhelmed with information and sometimes it’s not reported well. “We want students to be responsible users of media” and “it is our responsibility…to create a digital world we want to live in.” Particularly in the turbulent past two years – the Black Lives Matter movement, the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, and the COVID-19 pandemic – it is “important for kids to understand where they could get good information.” K.C. said that she wanted her students to have “a full understanding of what was taking place,” so she used the NLP and Checkology to teach media literacy. Those lessons helped kids understand the news and how it is presented in society. “We owe our students the truth,” K.C. said, acknowledging that every community is different and advising librarians to “walk the line.”

The Checkology program is free for educators to use. I first heard about it a few years ago from Damaso Reyes at the “Libraries in a Post-Truth World” conference.

MSLA 2022: Every library is organized…differently

“Ditching Dewey or Sticking With It?”

Demco Dewey poster 900sAnna Ring of Chickering Elementary School in Dover/Sherborn conducted an action research project, surveying hundreds of elementary, middle, and high school libraries to find out what organizational systems they use: the Dewey Decimal System, an adapted version of Dewey, or something else (Library of Congress, BISAC, or a homegrown system). She found that most elementary libraries are still using Dewey or adapted Dewey, while some middle and high schools are using other systems. A few key themes emerged from Anna’s presentation and from the discussion among the participants:

  • Students should understand that every library has some organizational system; it may not be the same in every library, but once you understand the system, you can learn how to use it to find what you want. Understanding that there is an organizing principle is a transferable skill, even if another library uses a different system than the one you’re familiar with.
  • Librarians want students to feel successful, and for collections to have “maximum browsability”: “I want to make it as easy as possible for kids to find things.” This might mean grouping certain series together (like the Who Is/Who Was books) instead of sticking rigidly to Dewey. Many librarians also championed labeled bins as a way to increase visibility, browsability, and findability – there might be bins for biographies, easy readers, I Survived books, Magic School Bus, animal books…
  • Reclassifying and reorganizing takes a LOT of time, so take a slow, considered approach, and get student input!

A final small but important point: some libraries choose to “keep Dewey but ditch the decimal,” as students don’t learn decimals in math until third or fourth grade. And good signage helps!

“We can do something about it now”: Pablo Cartaya keynote at MSLA 2022

The Massachusetts School Library Association annual conference began tonight with a keynote speech from Pablo Cartaya, author of the middle grade novels Each Tiny Spark, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish, and The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora. The self-described “Cuban-American guy” spoke about the importance of reflection and representation. He talked about a code-switching childhood in which he spoke Spanish at home and English at school, and never saw a character like himself in the books he loved to read: “When I was growing up I never read one story about a Cuban-American kid.” However, as an author, Cartaya said, “We can do something about it now….I want to do something about the fact that those books didn’t exist for me.” How many people, he wondered, “imagined themselves as a hero that looked nothing like them?”

Cartaya shares a belief common among authors, librarians, and others in the book world: that books can ease transitions and increase empathy. He told our group, “You’re stewards of so many lives and so many stories.” And while it’s vitally important that kids see characters like themselves in the books they read (mirrors), the stories he and many others write are “human stories…about the human condition” (windows). Cartaya said, “I think if COVID taught us anything, it’s that we can have a little more empathy for each other….Books can do that.”  Books can show us what it’s like to “live in another person’s skin,” feel how another person feels; books are a way to experience and understand the multitude of people and stories in this world. Embracing multilingualism and multiculturalism, said Cartaya, is what makes our communities thrive.

Cartaya spoke about the importance of reflection as “integral to our way forward.” He is continually asking, “What went wrong, what can we do better, what did we miss?” He showed respect for young readers, and described how he changed his approach to in-person author events, saying, “I don’t think authors should presume” what kids are thinking and feeling, “we should ask them. They need a space to tell their story, not me telling them how they feel.” (In the chat, several librarians shared their pandemic prompts and writing projects they use with students.)

Overall, a great intro to MSLA 2022! I’m looking forward to tomorrow and Monday’s sessions, and will write about those here as well. For now, buenas noches.

MSLA 2021, Part 2

If you missed the first half of this write-up about the Massachusetts School Library Association conference, it’s here (Part 1). Now, on to the excellent sessions from Monday, March 22.

Morning keynote

Cultivating Genius and Joy: Culturally and Historically Responsive Education for Equity, Excellence and Joy, Dr. Gholdy Muhammad

Cover image Cultivating GeniusDr. Muhammad is the author of Cultivating Genius, and an amazing speaker with an inspiring message, a deep understanding of history, and the expert delivery of a slam poet (the live chat was full of librarians planning to buy her book or see if she was available to speak to their schools or other organizations). “STORIES MATTER,” she said (it sounded like it was in all caps), and she referenced the danger of a single story (see: “The Danger of a Single Story,” Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk). In this case, the story she was referring to was one of “at-risk, confrontational, defiant, unmotivated, non-readers.” Instead, “We must not call readers struggling until we call systems struggling.”

Dr. Muhammad delivered a fast-paced history of Black educators in U.S. history, much of which has been forgotten or intentionally erased: “When you have an erasure of Black genius in education, we see it transfer over to our schools and our communities.” She referenced the Cooperative Children’s Book Center (CCBC), which consistently produces data showing that children’s literature overwhelmingly is produced by white creators and features white characters. She asked, If our books are supposed to be windows to the world, how come only one kind of kid gets to see themselves as astronauts, superheroes, etc.? “It is a human agenda when some people’s stories matter more.”

Dr. Muhammad talked about multicultural education and social justice: “Our schools must have justice at the center….If the system does not help all, it helps no one.” And finally, she described and gave examples of the five lenses/pursuits she uses to examine a text or teach a lesson: Identity, Skills, Intellect, Criticality, and Joy. Most assessment – especially standardized testing – only focuses on skills, but that is only a piece of learning. Dr. Muhammad asked, “How will you make it impossible for students to fail?” (and, “Is it ethical to keep doing the same things we’ve been doing?”).

After the [Diversity] Audit, Liz Phipps-Soeiro

Phipps-Soeiro is an elementary school librarian in the Cambridge Public School system, as well as a consultant and a community organizer. She had an excellent, break-all-the-rules slide show that led with the statement, “I am learning and unlearning every day.” (The second piece of this is so important. Librarians often claim the identity of “lifelong learners,” but much of the new knowledge is really updating and improving on the old.)

Before beginning a diversity audit, a librarian should ask themselves the following questions:

  • What does “diverse” mean to me?
  • How am I using that word?
  • Am I still centering a dominant cultural narrative?
  • Am I only thinking about race?
  • How does my identity affect what I value and judge as “diverse”?
  • What might I consider? (race, region, power, urban/rural, gender, class, sexuality, religion, ability, chronic illness, neurodivergence, oppression/liberation, collectivism/individualism

A diversity audit is a good first step, but move beyond quantitative data. “Stories are our profession.” Look beyond the identity of the character and creator, while acknowledging that “no one book can do everything.” Books can uphold some stereotypes/tropes/myths and break others at the same time.

Engage in self-reflection, hone your critical lens, and beware of “tourist curriculum” (a superficial approach, often featuring holidays or food, then returning to the “regular” curriculum, which further centers a white identity). Be aware of which narratives are amplified or erased.

And involve your students! Give them the vocabulary they need, demonstrate that it is okay to ask questions. The librarian can engage and facilitate powerful book discussions with children (“Does this book support or challenge any stereotypes?”). Analyze books explicitly; kids bring that vocabulary and willingness to discuss out of the library and into classrooms and home.

During the Q&A, a high school librarian commented, “Audit for bias, not just diversity.”

Here is a tool for selecting diverse texts from Learning for Justice (formerly Teaching Tolerance).

Beyond Books: Supporting English Learners in Your School Library, Emily Houston, Kendall Boninti, and Paige Graves

Houston, Boninti, and Graves all work at Cambridge Rindge & Latin School (CRLS), and their presentation was about a concerted effort they’ve made to bring English Language Learners (ELL) into the library and make it a welcoming space for them. They’ve done that by focusing on the physical space, partnering with community-based nonprofit Enroot, and using a Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach.

  • Physical space: You want students to be able to “feel that joy” of navigating the space independently. Are there spaces to meet different needs (independent study vs collaboration vs socializing)? Are signs in multiple languages, are they color-coded, do they include images? CRLS has created an Inquiry Lab/Makerspace with lots of donated/upcycled materials for hands-on experimentation.
  • Student-centered space: Once you’ve identified an underserved group, how do you get them to come into the library? The CRLS Library partnered with Enroot to develop a monthly series: “Lunch & Learn: Building Community Through Playful Learning.”
  • Project-based learning: PBL is an equitable and authentic approach to teaching and learning; it connects students to issues that matter to them and gives them an opportunity to do something. Best practices for PBL: student-centered (voice and choice), authentic and complex problem/challenge (do not simplify, amplify), builds community (social aspect of language), tap into students’ fund of cultural knowledge, explicitly teach vocabulary, scaffolding, lots of visuals, hands-on, play and joy, reflection (include in every lesson with ELL), equitable assessment. All of this is good for ELL and good for every student! “To ignore important issues [in our country, the world] in school makes school irrelevant.”

Tips and Tools for Nonfiction Read-Alouds, Melissa Stewart

Melissa Stewart has written so many nonfiction books for kids. She is a rockstar! And her website has a ton of resources, including this whole section on nonfiction read-alouds. Stewart made the case that kids love read-alouds, and kids love nonfiction! The most recent data (1996) suggests that at least 40% of the books kids check out for pleasure reading are nonfiction; if that’s the case, shouldn’t read-alouds mirror that percentage? (She wants to do an updated study/survey of how much of kids’ pleasure reading is nonfiction; if you work in a library and want to help her out with that, get in touch!)

What are some of the barriers to reading nonfiction aloud?

  • Locating appropriate nonfiction titles
  • Reading aloud in a way that engages students
  • Encouraging and facilitating student responses to nonfiction read-alouds

Spoiler alert, it turns out that these “barriers” are easily overcome! To start, Stewart offers guidance on choosing appropriate nonfiction titles. And, each year, she writes a nonfiction roundup, so you can search her blog for “best nonfiction of” and get annual lists. As for making your reading engaging, “There’s no reason you have to read an entire book,” and sometimes with nonfiction it works better not to. If there’s primary and secondary text, you could just read the main text (especially for younger students); you could also just share one part, or a little bit at a time, rather than reading cover to cover in one sitting. Students will get excited and respond, especially if you’re enthusiastic about it.

Some teachers and librarians just need the nudge that “nonfiction read-alouds can tie in to curriculum, but can also be ‘just for fun.'” When I was doing storytimes for two- and three-year-olds, I admit I didn’t use many nonfiction picture books at all (exception: Skulls! by Blair Thornburgh), but the next time I get in front of a read-aloud crowd, I’m definitely going to include more nonfiction picture books.

Author Panel: M.T. Anderson, Heather Vogel Frederick, Janae Marks, Mitali Perkins

This was just so fun. I’ve read books by all of these authors (Feed, The Mother-Daughter Book Club, From the Desk of Zoe Washington, and Forward Me Back to You, respectively) and they all really seemed to enjoy talking about books and writing together. A few quotes:

  • You learn something from writing every book even if they don’t end up on shelves. (Marks)
  • You just never know what you’re going to discover. (Anderson, re: traveling and research)
  • “Stories written long ago are not all good or all bad but a mix of both.” The books you read early in your life are formative. Eras shaped people (and authors). (Perkins)
  • “So many of our books grow from our own lives.” (Frederick)

Whew! So, that was my first MSLA conference. And while I’m excited to meet all these librarians in person someday, the virtual conference experience was very smooth and enjoyable (and the coffee and meals were excellent. And I got to be in my sweatpants and slippers the whole time. There’s a silver lining to Zoom for sure). Thank you again to all of the presenters and conference committee, and thank you if you’re reading this!

MSLA 2021: What can we help you discover today?

Banner: School Librarians at the Crossroads: Be the Hero of Your Journey

This was my first year attending the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA) annual conference. It was entirely virtual this year, and it was great! Between an app (Whova) and various platforms (zoom, YouTube), everything worked smoothly. I noticed that most attendees were chatting when live chat was enabled, but not many were tweeting, even though several are on Twitter. As usual, I took compulsive notes, which I’ve tried to consolidate here into useful takeaways. Thank you to the MSLA Conference Committee, who did amazing work, and to all of the presenters, keynote speakers, and panelists, who delivered inspiring and thought-provoking ideas.

Saturday, March 20

Jarrett Krosoczka, Awards Night Keynote

Cover image Hey KiddoKrosoczka is the Massachusetts-based author of the popular Lunch Lady series of early graphic novels, as well as the award-winning graphic memoir Hey, Kiddo. He talked about his long history of virtual author visits and book launches, and how his model has changed over the years as technology has changed. He asked himself, “I don’t want to be just a talking head, how can I make this more interesting?” When the pandemic arrived in March 2020, he began “Draw Every Day with JKK,” a popular series of drawing sessions. His home setup has improved with time; he noted that phone cameras are usually better quality than computer cameras, and if you mount one on a tripod, it doesn’t hurt to put googly eyes on it so you know where to look. Krosoczka closed with, “Students just want to be heard. They just want an adult to listen.”

Sunday, March 21

Books and Bytes Keynote: The School Librarian as Information Specialist, Jennisen Lucas (AASL president-elect)

When it comes to libraries – school or public – there is a huge equity issue. Generally, affluent towns and cities have library buildings staffed with qualified professionals who manage a collection of a variety of materials and offer a range of services. Poorer towns’ libraries aren’t as well-funded, may not have the same number of open hours (an access issue) or amount of materials or the same program offerings. In school libraries, the inequality is even starker, if possible, and it seems as though the barely-adequate staffing levels can be slashed at any time. School libraries might not have a budget at all, or they may have an insufficient budget; libraries might be staffed only by paraprofessionals or parent volunteers, or by a certified librarian serving several schools at once. This knife-edge existence is frustrating for a profession that knows its vital importance to student learning outcomes, yet constantly has to explain and defend itself. School librarians don’t just check books in and out; SLs nurture a love of reading, teach research skills, support the curriculum, and teach media and news literacy. “We are vital,” Lucas said. “We are trying to be everything to everybody.”

Lucas addressed the common misperception that “what we do is read to kids and check out books”; that now that there’s the Internet, librarians aren’t necessary anymore. Lucas argued that we have workout videos – and yet we still have gym teachers. We have calculators, and yet we still have math teachers. “We teach things that no other teachers teach.” Lucas said, “Our school library ensures learners become effective and ethical users and producers of ideas and information.” All learners deserve libraries with certified librarians.

A few more takeaways:

  • Recommended books: Start With Why by Simon Sinek; Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman; The Information by James Gleick; Our Enduring Values Revisited by Michael Gorman
  • “It is not the amount of knowledge that makes a brain. It is not even the distribution of knowledge. It is the interconnectedness.” -James Gleick, The Information
  • “Information” is one of those words like “research,” we use it all the time to mean a lot of things. Information is directly tied to communication.
  • Ask students: “What is research?” (Their answers will surprise you!) Research is answering questions: start with a question. Teach learners how to ask a question. 
  • Many hats: School librarians are “a guide, instructor, facilitator, coach, administrator of programs.”

Fostering Diversity in the Library, Felicia Quesada Montville

Felicia Quesada Montville works as a middle school librarian in the Newton Public Schools. Her presentation focused on diversity, inclusion, equity, and antiracism. Librarians have many tools to move past “superficial” representation and build an antiracist library.

  • Collection development: Prioritize diverse voices. Seek multiple review sources. Weed, weed, weed! Know your community and assess their needs. Analyze your collection and identify gaps. Do a diversity audit. Identify priority areas (e.g. summer reading lists, books taught in classrooms). Examine the images in your space and on your website.

  • Displays, and a student-centered environment: “There’s a lot of power in the books that we choose to put on display.” Students and teachers and people coming into your space see the books that are there. Make the library a safe space for everyone by centering students. What professional practices can you improve to help your students?
  • Advocacy outside the library: Librarians have power – use it for good. Advocate for inclusive and diverse texts outside of the library. Use position in school as a leader to help move social justice forward. Advocate for equitable school policies. Lead by examples – lead by doing. Speak up.

Using Picture Books in High School, Susan Harari, Morgan Keohane, Blake Barich

Blake Barich, and English teacher at Boston Latin, developed an assignment for her 12th grade students to find and examine “existentialist themes” in picture books. School librarian Susan Harari helped find the picture books, using both her own library collection and the Boston Public Library to provide 150 texts for the students to choose from. She also taught a lesson on picture books, covering Rudine Sims Bishop’s concept of windows & mirrors, what is(n’t) a picture book, types of children’s books, the role of author/illustrator, audience, design elements, and interplay between text/illustrations. Thus equipped, students chose their picture books and began work on a 4-6 page essay.

But the unit didn’t end there. In a fantastic example of inter-school collaboration, the 12th grade students took a field trip to a BPS elementary school, where each was paired with a younger student (K-1) and read their book aloud. Elementary librarian Morgan Keohane got teacher buy-in by presenting the many arguments in favor of the collaboration: it’s a chance for students to get personalized, individual attention from an older peer (who is very familiar with the picture book – not a typical guest reader). It models the value of 1:1 reading time (child:adult). In their diverse community of learners, a lot of volunteers are white; this is a chance for students to see themselves in successful older roles.

“The value of this project is that it’s a learning experience for both sides.” High school students gained an appreciation for visual literacy, an understanding of windows and mirrors, and increased literary criticism skills. Younger students (who completed simple book reviews with a star rating and a sentence or drawing about their favorite part of the story) got one-on-one attention from enthusiastic older peers who were deeply engaged in the book they had brought to share.

Cover image of I Want My Hat Back

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog post on Monday’s sessions.

The Importance of School Libraries and School Librarians

Did your elementary, middle, and high school have a library? I attended four different schools in two states between kindergarten and twelfth grade, and each of the four had a library; each of the libraries had a librarian and books. (I wish I didn’t have to spell that out, but bear with me.) Innocently, I took the presence of these libraries for granted, and assumed all schools had them, but this is not the case. Just as “extras” like music and art programs have been cut in public schools, so have libraries.

I read two articles last month (via the essential Library Link of the Day) about school systems that lack libraries and/or librarians and/or an adequate number of books that students are able to check out. The first article, “Unequal Shelves in D.C. School Libraries Benefit Wealthier Students” (Washington Post, March 9, 2015), says that despite literacy being a high priority, the District dedicates no annual funding for school library collections. Later, the article links to a report that conclusively shows the positive impact school libraries have on students’ literacy: “A school library media program that provides up-to-date, accurate, and attractive resources, managed by a certified school library media specialist who collaborates with teachers to augment and enhance classroom instruction, results in increased test scores, particularly in reading….The most important elements of school library media programs have been the quality of staffing and the quality of collections.”

Many Pennsylvania schools are without libraries and/or librarians as well, according to the article “School Cuts Have Decimated Librarians” (Philly.com, February 2, 2015), and in that state too, there is unequal access. University teacher and researcher Debra Kachel said, “The wealthy schools have great programs, librarians teaching kids, coaching them, developing a habit of reading with those kids. Librarians are teaching critical thinking skills, how to search the Internet, how to be safe on the Internet. If you invest in a school librarian, you invest in improving student learning.” Yet many other schools don’t have librarians and lack access to library resources, despite the fact that studies have shown that students who have access to a school library and librarian – “particularly students who live in poverty and students of color” – achieve more. Despite the evidence of their value, a school librarian commented, “Somehow, we struggle to get recognized as relevant to schools.”

This is one of those bang-your-head-against-a-wall* situations, where all the research points to one clear course of action, but rather than take that course of action, unproven alternatives are substituted instead. In this case, decision-makers will point to budget issues, but that seems short-sighted to me. You want to raise reading scores, literacy rates, and maybe even a generation of people who love reading? Fund libraries and librarians in schools.

*”If you really want to get to know someone, don’t see what they like, rather find out what really pisses them off.”

For more information, here are a few resources: