Want to plan a party? Hire a librarian!

I know I’m up past my bedtime when a main street close to home has switched over to blinking yellow lights for nighttime drivers. But it was well worth it. Our high school library hosted it’s first-ever library lock-in. Hosted by the library’s Book Lovers Club run by my colleague and co-librarian, this was a dream realized after many years of seeing public libraries advertise their own lock-ins. Each will be different, each will have different hours, each will attract different audiences, but this one was pure library fun for our students with a mix of freshman through seniors run until 10pm.

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There was pizza, table games, cornhole, double-dutch, movies, a pinata, impromptu dance parties, computers, and conversation. What we really needed was some air conditioning, but instead we suffered through the extreme heat with as much ice cold water as possible and the support of administrators, hall monitors, and the two of us.

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We could hear the excitement, laughter, and singing throughout the night interspersed with exclamations of this being the best night of their life, or at least their high school career. It probably wasn’t the cute glass lemonade and iced tea serving dispensers or the strategic timing of the activities that the students’ remember, but that’s what librarians do best. We plan parties, oh sorry, programs. We plan programs.

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Coming off of our end to National Library Month with our second READ day during the school day before launching into the lock-in, the substitute teacher that helped us keep the pretzels full and the drinks ready shared that we should plan parties for her personally, which got me thinking that that’s absolutely what we are along with the myriad of other hats we wear.

But it’s programs like these, with a lot of student participation and planning that showcase the community within the school or at least within the library. Will this be our first and our last? Not by a long shot. There’s already a list started for what we can improve, change, add, alter, adapt, and include for our next one coming fall 2017!


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Posted by on April 29, 2017 in Miscellaneous



I needed to tell this story similar to the last prompt but representative of this week’s prompt as part of the #edublogsclub weekly inspiration. This isn’t about student problem or project-based instruction rather than problem-based work that I recently completed with the help of colleagues and happens a few times a year. But this one affected me more.

Our library stores copies of old yearbooks. And because our school dates back to 1868, needless to say there’s some history. Our yearbook collection begins in 1918 and while many don’t come looking for ones that old, they are still looked through. Yet recently, we’ve been getting requests for pictures of alumni from the 1960’s. Can you guess why? Many of our students went off to war. Some never graduated. Some graduated, left for war, and never returned. And projects taken over by citizens to be sure they are properly memorialized means having to track down their high school yearbooks for a picture. Some do not have pictures next to their names on memorial walls because there wasn’t one and they want to be sure they are properly memorialized.

That means that when we’re contacted, the wheels begin turning. We had two high schools, so look through the yearbooks for an indication, if not contact our registrar to see if there is a file in our basement of past graduates and attendees. If they didn’t attend here or briefly, is there any information about where they left to or came from. Is it at our city hall if they went to a school which is now defunct? And so begins the circle, because to simply reply: “they did not graduate from here” or “they did graduate from here but aren’t in the yearbook, sorry” do not cut it. Not for this lady. I want to empower them with as many leads or as much information as possible. And that truly is problem-based and feels more like a quest than anything else.

We want our students not give ask yes or no questions and we want them to not give yes or no answers back, but to explore. And each time we field a call or email, we are leading by example.

And what was the resolution to this request? Our veteran who died in the second-worst helicopter accident in Vietnam. We have yearbook photos from another school district in his freshman and sophomore classes, but no transcript indicating that he actually graduated from our school, though we do know he attended for a brief time. It is fascinating to read about his story, see a picture of a fifteen year old boy, and know the sacrifices that he made. 

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Posted by on April 29, 2017 in Miscellaneous


I trust you

There is no sweeter three words that those three words said to a librarian– this is when you know you’ve hooked another reader, not that they weren’t a reader before, but because you finally understood what they liked and scored big on the last few recommendations that ultimately led to I trust you.

This student was a reader and clearly always has been and a few months back came into the library looking for a book for class. We didn’t have that book and we began talking about getting it from the public library. This led to a brief conversation in which I had to reach out to her branch librarian, but that she could check back. In the meantime, could I recommend something else? She seemed easygoing enough and decided to let me recommend something else. Usually this is also successful because I have earned the trust of the teachers in recommending substitutes for highly-sought books or books to adjust for a reading level in the past.

I started with my usual questions about books she read recently that she liked and who she was as a person to get to know her a bit better before we set her up with something she seemed happy to check out. Then, I saw her a few days later and before a “hello, how are you?” came out, she began to discuss the recent recommendation I had given her and how excited she was to continue reading it. She said she needed something else. She preferred to stick to series books (because who doesn’t love to get hooked on a group of books where you can live in a world for just a little bit longer?) and preferably a series where all the books have been published so she doesn’t have to wait. I lobbed a fast one. I told her I was sharing a series that wasn’t her “usual” but believe me, it was worthwhile.

And that’s when it happened. She finished the series within a week and a half and came in two days before our spring break for another recommendation. My usual line is “what are you in the mood for?” and that’s when she said “it doesn’t matter, whatever. I trust you.”

*heart melts into a puddle on the floor*



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Posted by on April 19, 2017 in edublogsclub, Librarian Life


Six sensational recent reads

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present to a room of librarian colleagues (and a few teachers thrown in for good measure) about the hottest books for 2017 while reviewing some of the best from 2016. But what have I read recently? A lot. But not everything was a home run, so I’m picking through the trash to get to the treasures.

  1. When Breath Becomes Air by Kalanithi
    • An insightful and introspective approach to science and facing death from a doctor experiencing the end to his own short life.
  2. Geekerella by Poston
    • A quirky retake on Cinderella with a Con, a pumpkin food truck, evil twin stepsisters, and one spunky Elle.
  3. The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Sandler
    • Who doesn’t want to find treasure, especially when it unlocks secrets of the past. But it’s significance is in Sandler’s approach which is to demystify pirates and change the bad reputation they have earned that is uncalled for.
  4. The Takedown by Wang
    • Attempting to take down a vile post on the internet isn’t an easy feat, but Kyla is ready for the challenge and has the guts to see it through even when it’s not pretty.
  5. Saints and Misfits by Ali
    • With a rich voice, Janna details those that are saints, misfits (like herself), and saints like others through her eyes as a Muslim teenager where her actions must match her beliefs.
  6. The Book of Chocolate: The Amazing Story of the World’s Favorite Candy by Newquist
    • Who doesn’t love chocolate? The depth and breadth of this book is its strength, learning about the rivalries, chocolate during wartime, and the history of what was really a drink became the world’s favorite candy.

Assessments for reading: “Miss, this ain’t English class”

In this week’s suggested post topic around assessments, I’m going to connect with what I know best: reading and libraries. Specifically, finding an engaging way to assess reading rather than a book report, log, or journals. So I want to share what a science colleague and I have been doing for the last several years.

She became hooked on the Alane Ferguson forensic mystery series and came in to pick my brain about a way to incorporate reading into her forensics classes. I quickly shared dozens of ideas and pathways to get there asking questions about what product she wanted and what the objective was. What it became was a mix of reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills over the course of three to four weeks, twice a year. And our favorite line was spoken to her after our first attempt way back when when the student asked why they were reading in science class saying “Miss, this ain’t English class.” The process?

  • Come to the library for a book tasting where they get to interact with a diverse 2017-03-07 08.48.57group of fiction, nonfiction that included the graphic novel format and had a forensic theme. They would spend five minutes at each table and circulate until they found a book they wanted to check out.
  • They had two reading logs to complete throughout their reading time.
  • During this reading time (outside of class), science teacher would meet for brief intervals during a work day and ask them about how they were enjoying their book and sharing something interesting about hers to gauge their engagement. This was informal and not graded and provided an avenue to connect individually.
  • Students filled out a book profile card (similar to a dating profile) for their book to get down the basics and refresh their memory in preparation for the final activity with was book speed-dating. This preparation day included a brief video that modeled speed dating.
  • The following day, students would spend the forty minute period sitting for six minutes at a time one-on-one with a classmate sharing and questioning each other about their books. They’d be scoring their likelihood to want to read the book their classmate described and on the classmate’s “presentation” of the book. As the timer rang, they’d rotate again.

So, there are alternatives to a book report. Students must own their reading and be able to intelligently share out about their book to classmates. Their grade was based on their individual presentations to the classmates in a timed speed-date. An alternative to a book report? Absolutely! I’ll take these over a test about a book to show comprehension any day.


Keeping them all to myself

In a tongue-in-cheek address to this week’s #edublogsclub challenge that talks about ‘giving it away’, I’ll start with my need to keep it all to myself. With books that is. For many years (and I still struggle when a read is just that powerful), when I closed the book on a fabulous read, my next thought was literally, I want to keep this all to myself. I wanted to believe that the author wrote it just for me, that the book would sit only on my bookshelf, that it was mine, all mine. But it’s a preposterous thoughts because good books are meant to be shared and it’s kind of my job.

So in honor of my narcissistic belief that my favorite writers are writing just for me, I’m going to give some books away. I will send* a book box of sorts (within the United States) with one of my favorite books and a recently-reviewed galley with a bookish gift for good measure to the first person to answer correctly in the comments below: what porcelain item is on my personal bookshelf?


Believe it or not, I didn’t actually create this, but I know I’m not the only one!


The art of the booktalk

This post originally appeared on the Books Blog for the Times Union

The art of the booktalk. When a friend asks you about the book you’re reading or you’re sharing a recent fabulous read, how do you approach it? Do you ask a question? Perhaps have a pre-planned teaser or maybe you’d rather share an overview. Sometimes I’m so blinded by the emotion of absolutely loving a book that I clutch the book to my chest and whisper I love this book and then just hope that someone will take my word for it. Luckily I’ve got some street cred with this approach.

2017-03-30 15.40.02-1But, I was thinking about the art of the booktalk after spending two days in classrooms talking to tenth graders about choosing a classic book to read for their fourth quarter project. I had a lot of ground to cover and not all of the books I had read. Yet that is nothing new because I booktalk frequently on topics that I may only know slightly and I am a firm believer that you can booktalk a book you haven’t read. I organized the books into categories that helped channel the number that I was talking about and then prepared my cheat sheet (things like publication date, title characters, main ideas, themes or topics, or a relevant current topic that paired nicely). And while this is necessary, I generally don’t use it as much as occasionally reference it since Benjamin Franklin put it best when he said

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

It’s there if I need it, but the preparation solidifies my approach and then I don’t actually need it. Especially when I capitalize on others in the room who may have loved one of the books and ask them to share. When I talk about a book I may ask a hypothetical question or have a one-liner that intrigues someone, saying little more. And I learn from others. I facilitate a book group of local school librarians and everyone has a slightly different approach, all valuable in their own way. There are some I could listen to all day myself, admiring their vocabulary and word choice. I aspire to be better after each delivery and rework it until I hit booktalk gold. We only get better with practice.

So not only am I constantly honing my booktalking skills based on my audience, I also realized I have a lot of classic literature to read (or reread to refresh my memory). Maybe I can make this a monthly post to review a classic book as a way to kickstart this exploration. Which would you start with?