Changing Their Minds (With a Little Help From My Friends)

I am lucky to be connected to many wonderful, vibrant school library media specialists who work in high school settings.  So when I thought about how to demonstrate the possibilities of school library media programs, I reached out to friends and asked for their help. Two media specialists, Holly Frilot and Buffy Hamilton, were able to participate.

These future teachers were amazed by Holly’s work at Collins Hill High School library media center in Suwanee, Georgia. She shared a Prezi that showed many of the ways her library media program reached out to teachers and students to enhance literacy learning. Take a look at what her program provides… Her presentation made the connections between the school library media program and literacy learning abundantly clear. The teachers were amazed at what they saw, scribbling notes and links throughout her talk.

I also shared a peek into Buffy Hamilton’s Unquiet Library at Creekview High School in Canton, Georgia. Although Buffy could not take the time to come to Athens, because of her meticulous documentation of her program at Creekview, I was able to search her blog for video testimonials from teachers and students.  The videos I selected are linked from my presentation. (See slide 6).

As I showed these videos to my high school preservice group, they were amazed at the quality of thinking going on in the Unquiet Library. This experience also reinforced the importance of taking time to document (and share) the learning taking place in school library media centers.

In my next post, I’ll share a bit about the final take-away activity I did to try to solidify the new ideas these teachers were creating about school library media programs and literacy learning in high schools.

(In an interesting side note, since my presentation several months ago, both Holly and Buffy have taken new positions, working with wider audiences to further connections between libraries, literacy, and learning.  Thanks to both of them for allowing me to share their amazing work!)

More Initial Impressions: School Librarians

In my previous post, I looked at some of the ways a group of high school English teachers-to-be thought about school libraries. I used to get a sense of the nouns, verbs, and adjectives they associated with school libraries.

In that session, I also asked them to think of 5 nouns, verbs, and adjectives to describe school librarians.  The wordles I created from the words they came up with are embedded below.

One thing I ask my students to do before they create clouds like these is to predict what they think will be the largest words.  What do you think might dominate the way these educators think of school librarians? Once you see them, consider: what might these tell us about some of the challenges school librarians still face in transforming ideas about who school librarians are and what they do?

Librarian nouns….


I was surprised that “glasses” was the largest. It dismays me that words like “teacher,” “knowledge,” and “researcher” are so much smaller.

School librarian verbs…


I can’t help mentioning the several variants of “shush,” but the dominance of the word “read” is also discouraging, I think.  Although most school librarians are avid readers, school librarians have long battled the perception that they read all day.  In addition to the shush variants, there are also other verbs that I think of as similarly disciplinary: glare, scolding. But, there are also many words I would call positive…helping, listening, educate. Although I am glad to see “teach,” I would like to see it more prominent. What do you notice about this cloud?  What is missing?  What surprises you?

Librarian Adjectives


I’ll confess, I was not at all prepared for the dominance of the world “old.”  When I saw it, my jaw dropped. Because I am connected with so many young, forward-thinking librarians, I just don’t think about age that much.  We do see positive traits such as helpful, smart, and nice as sizable parts of the cloud.

This exercise was a brief attempt to get at some of the background thinking that these young educators brought to the session about school library media specialists. Honestly, I was not surprised by a lot of the content. In my next posts, I’ll discuss the program we shared with the teachers and some of their reactions.

Thinking back, I wish I had sent the survey out well before the session, so I could have planned a more tailored presentation based on their wordles. Instead, I did this at the beginning of the session and then tried to inject comments based on these data as the presentation went forward.

Although it was somewhat disappointing to see these impressions, it also made me even more thankful for the invitation. How many groups of young teachers don’t have the opportunity to hear about school library media specialists in their preparation programs?  How many impressions like these go unquestioned, unexamined, and unchanged? How do impressions like these make us think differently about what school librarians might see as classroom teachers’ unwillingness or reluctance to collaborate?  More importantly, how can we continue to address and transform the impressions classroom teachers have of school library media specialists?


Initial Impressions of School Libraries from a Group of English Teachers-To-Be

This is the second in a brief series of posts about my recent visit with a class of undergraduate students who will soon become high school English teachers. I was invited to share information about the role of school library media programs in teaching and learning.

One of my core beliefs about effective instruction is the importance of knowing your learners.  With two hours to make the case and little information about these students to start with, trying to somehow get to know these learners was a difficult challenge.  I started with a little information gathering to learn about the students. I did a short exercise at the beginning of the session to get them thinking about their ideas about school libraries and librarians. This exercise also allowed me a glimpse into their initial thoughts on these topics.

I started with a simple google form that I embedded into a wiki page that formed the home base for my presentation. In the form, I asked several simple questions.  Given that these are future English teachers, I decided to take a grammar-flavored approach. I asked them to list (separately) the first 5 nouns, verbs, and adjectives that came to mind when they thought of school libraries. (I then asked them to do the same for school librarians, which I will share in my next post.) After the students completed the questions, I went to the spreadsheet of results and copy/pasted the information from each column into As you likely know, wordle generates word clouds based on the frequency of responses.  The more often a response is given, the bigger the word in the wordle. This results in a “quick and dirty” analysis of the answers given by students. And yes, there are flaws, but it does give some general information to fuel discussions.  (As an aside, I’ve used this little process in many situations to “take the temperature” of a group on a number of subjects.)

Once the wordles were generated, I posted each of them and we asked questions such as: Which words are missing? Which words are bigger or smaller than we might have expected? Which words are surprising?  What assumptions or stereotypes might this word cloud reveal?  (And yes, one of the possible flaws with this particular process was the use of the stereotype-driven poem at the beginning of the session.)  What can we learn from this text?

It usually makes for interesting discussions. Inevitably, there are some unexpected, random words that either make us all laugh or make us all think.

Here are the wordles the students generated when thinking about school libraries. First, the nouns.


“books” is the clear winner here, but I was initially surprised that “computers” came in such a close second. But, if you look closer, “Books” (with a capital B) and “book” are included separately, so I don’t think it is quite as close as it initially seems.  Librarians are smaller than I had thought they would be, but other than that (and a few interesting odds and ends – “fortress”), most of it seemed relatively expected. Although I was happy to see the appearance of “ideas,” I wish it had been bigger.

Next up were the adjectives describing school libraries.  Maybe the biggest word won’t surprise you…


It is a fascinating mix of words, from safe and welcoming to dusty, confusing, and smelly (and yes, the “book smell” did make an appearance in our discussions.)  I wonder, what do you make of this?

Finally, the verbs. As the students completed the google form, many of them seemed to get stuck.  When I asked what was challenging, several students said that the question about verbs in school libraries was the toughest to answer.  Several of them could not think of five different verbs to list. (Ouch!)  As I mentioned earlier, this was not a scientific poll, but it does tell us something about the impressions some young teachers might have about the kinds of things we can *do* in school libraries. For this group, it was far easier to think of objects than actions.  I’ll leave you with the wordle of their verbs, and hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments.


Thoughts on School Library Media Specialists from a Group of High School Teachers-To-Be (Part 1)

“Will you come speak to our class of preservice high school teachers about the role of media specialists*?”

When this question came my way a few months ago, I jumped at the chance to share some insights about school librarians with a group of future high school English teachers. We know that most preservice classroom teacher education programs do little to address the role of the school librarian in student learning. (See Judi Moreillon’s work for an important exception to this general trend.) Although I knew a two-hour session was not an ideal design to transform thinking about today’s school librarians, I was determined to make the most of the opportunity.  My next few posts will share the content of the session, as well as some of the information I gathered from the future teachers who attended.  I found their views to be thought-provoking, and I hope you will, too.

As I considered how to approach the session, I kept thinking about the stereotypes that seem to persist in many pieces of writing about school librarians (not to mention conversations). In spite of all the blogging, presenting, tweeting, writing, and sharing that excellent school librarians have done in an effort to share the way librarians and libraries have evolved, every time I turn around I see the shushing, bun-headed, glasses-wearing librarian stereotype evoked again (and again). With that in mind, I decided to start the session by placing the staid stereotype front-and-center and work from there.

Some of you may know that I am a poetry fan. When I am teaching, I start every class with a poem, often related to whatever topics we are working on that day. I try to include poetry in presentations as well.  So, I searched for a poem to relate to libraries, and found this powerful spoken-word poem by John Goode that addresses the librarian stereotype in an interesting fashion.

In my next posts, I’ll share more about how these young teachers viewed media specialists, and how I tried to expand their ideas.  If you’ve had the opportunity to do similar programs, I hope you’ll share some of what worked well in the comments.

(N.B. In line with the largest professional association for school librarians in the USA, I prefer to use the term “school librarian” in much of my writing. However, the term used in our state is “media specialist.” So, I tend to move back and forth between the terms, and even combine them at times. Interestingly, one member of the class approached me after the program to tell me that she thought that using the term “school librarian” is part of what may be holding school librarians, and perceptions of us, back. After the session, she said she thought “media specialist” was a much more accurate depiction of what today’s school librarians do. Interesting, to say the least!)

Making a Comeback


Graduation Day at UGA

So, it’s been a while since I posted here.

It’s not for lack of things to talk about. Actually, there’s been quite a bit going on in my life over the past year.  Most notably, I completed my doctoral research project and wrote (and wrote and wrote and rewrote) my 296-page dissertation about literacies and a middle school library media program. I defended my paper in May and graduated from the University of Georgia in August, 2012. In between my dissertation defense and graduation, I participated in the Red Clay Writing Project Summer Institute at the University of Georgia.

Both of these experiences, the dissertation and Red Clay, seem like they would provide many insights to blog about, and they did. But, as my major professor told me, there comes a point in the Ph.D. process where even some of the important things have to be set aside in order to get the work done. I’m happy to  agree with that statement from the other side of the fancy-letters-after-my-last-name milestone.

Slowly but surely, I’m regaining many of those important things that had to wait for a while, including blogging. I’m sure I’ll revisit all that’s happened in the past year as time goes on. I’m also anxious to share some of my new experiences teaching master’s students, and working in local K-8 schools in various roles.

For now, I’m hoping my comeback will be like one of those rare and cherished friendships: the kind where six months, a year, even two years can go by, but the moment you get back together, it’s just like you’d never been apart. So, I’m back, hoping to pick up where we left off. Enough about me. How have you all been?

New Post About Digital Literacy, Libraries, and Intergenerational Learning

Hi everyone.

It’s been a busy summer! I’m finally getting back into blogging, writing, and the like. I thought I’d share the link to a new post I wrote for the National Coalition for Literacy. This was composed as part of my service on the OITP Digital Literacy Task Force.

It was especially satisfying to find inspiration for this post in the intergenerational learning I’m noticing in my own family.  I hope you enjoy it!

Meandering Meditations About Readers

One of my favorite parts of being a researcher is talking to people.

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been “hanging out” (in a researchy way) in a middle school library media center since March.  This week I had the pleasure of interviewing students at the school. Contrary to current popular notions of reading, this school has a lot of boys who read enthusiastically. Four of them were kind enough to speak to me.

These students are incredibly dedicated users of school library resources. They read voraciously, at time multiple books per week. Their teachers allow them to go to the school library as often as they like. The collection in the school library, as they told me, is well-stocked to meet their needs.

As school winds down, these students have been on my mind. Like many (perhaps even most) school libraries, the facility is not open during the summer months. I admire school librarians who keep their libraries open intermittently for checkouts during the summer. But, I also see the position of the school librarians who does not open their spaces, especially if there is no funding to support this investment of time.

But that’s not what sticks with me.

As I spoke to them this week, all of these young readers were so clear on the incredible benefits they derive from a school library staffed by their certified school librarian. I was nearly moved to tears to hear them speak of their school librarian with such esteem and affection. When I asked them what they would be reading this summer, these boys, for the most part, thought they would be able to find enough reading materials between home and trips to the public library. I could sense some anxiety though, or a feeling of loss at not having access to their school library.

I am not sure why I keep coming back to this feeling. It is not my purpose to be critical of the school librarian, or the families, or anything in the situation, really.

Instead, I keep thinking of the thousands and thousands of children across this country who are losing their librarians to less qualified staff. I keep thinking of collections unreplenished. I keep thinking of all that is being stripped away from libraries, indeed from young people, right now. To be honest, it is hard not to be heartbroken (and angry!)

I think of the young readers I spoke to this week. I see in them, and hear from them, the wealth that a robust school library program brings.  For them, it is a couple of months until the lights flip back on and the bright face of their school librarian welcomes them.

They are the lucky ones.

In a couple of months, in many libraries across this country, the scene will not be nearly so sunny. I think about all the shade that is being cast in school libraries around this country. When will all the rest see the light?

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