Posts Tagged 'libraries'

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!)

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.


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?

New Posts at the Georgia Library Media Association Blog

I’ve recently contributed a couple of new posts over at the GLMA Blog:

Thinking Ahead to National Poetry Month


Telling Your Library’s Story

I hope you’ll take time to check them out!

On Libraries, Cages, and Containers

When I was stranded in San Diego in January for the ALA Midwinter meeting, I took some time one morning to enjoy the weather and walk next to the bay.  One of the great parts of San Diego is the public art that seems to be everywhere, no doubt because the climate makes the outdoors so enjoyable.

I was walking along, looking touristy, snapping pictures, when I came upon a piece that captured my attention. Even after I walked on, I found myself thinking about it again and again.  In case the image isn’t clear, this piece is a sculpture of a bird cage. There is a tree growing through and outside of the cage, and the birds are all perched outside the cage on the leafy branches.

It seems to me that some of the big questions we have in librarianship are about the containers we’ve always relied upon. Two of these are particularly important: buildings and books.  As we become more mobile and content becomes more available through different means, books and buildings are more cages for the library than just containers.  Some of our work can be done in those cages, but so much of what we have to offer will flourish if we let the content grow beyond what the cages can hold.  We can’t allow the containers to define us anymore. Thinking beyond the container expands to ideas like embedded librarianship, mobile services, and more.

As I argued a while ago in a guest post on Buffy Hamilton’s Unquiet Librarian blog, libraries should be about freedom, not books or buildings or any particular physical container.  What’s caging you? Let’s push outward, grow upward, flourish.


Image:  “Liberation” by Brandon Roth, San Diego Public Art


New Year, New Opportunities

I’m getting back into the swing of blogging after a short break.  With the start of a new semester, conferences I’ve attended, and some other changes, there is a lot to share. One of my most exciting personal developments of the new year is the opportunity to write for the Georgia Library Media Association (GLMA) blog. GLMA has been a vital source of local school library knowledge, support, leadership, and advocacy for many years. I know I have benefited from my membership greatly. I am grateful for the chance to make contributions over the coming year.  Special thanks to my friend Buffy Hamilton, Communications Coordinator of GLMA, for the invitation. She is doing an amazing job widening the school library conversation across different media and interest groups.

You can read my first post for GLMA, about attending the ALA Youth Media Awards, here.

Library Research Seminar Recap, Part 2

This is my second post devoted to sharing what I learned at Library Research Seminar – V, held last week in Maryland.  See the first post here.

Sessions in the afternoon of Day 1

Thomas D. Walker – Cultivating Library Research among MLIS Students – Theses and Other Investigations

Walker studied MLIS programs and their research requirements.  He found that there is a lot of variability in the amount, nature, and type of research required at different institutions. Some programs require a thesis, others require comprehensive exams, and others have substantial term papers. The thesis requirement seems to change a lot about the program.  A research methods course was not an apparent core requirement in many MLIS programs (although there were several people in the audience who wondered if it was a different kind of requirement). He is looking to extend the study to investigate these methods courses in more detail.

Elizabeth Aversa and Diane Barlow – Measuring Success in Graduates of LIS Programs

Aversa and Barlow are working on a research project to understand whether there is a relationship between the delivery of one’s LIS program (online, blended, face-to-face, etc.) and one’s career success. One hurdle they have to jump is answering the question: what is career success?  While there have been many studies about job satisfaction, career success is less studied, in part because “success” is difficult to define. Aversa and Barlow shared some objective and subjective indicators of success, which fell into five categories: money, power, options, growth, and balance. (There were specific items in each of these categories). There are also some alternative indicators in the LIS literature, such as awards and activity in professional organizations.

In order to illustrate how complex “success” is, the audience was divided into groups of 5. We each received some index cards – 5 different colors (to represent the five categories mentioned above), two of each color.  In our groups, we were asked to trade the cards with one another in order to get closer to our visions of a “successful” career. This activity was interesting. The groups found that there were several definitions of success, and the definitions sometimes depended on age, point in career, background, and other factors. For example, I am a mother of 3 relatively young kids, working on my doctorate. I prioritized my cards and work-life balance was very important to me. At this point in my life, I would take less money for a better balance. Learning opportunities, part of the “growth” category, are also important to me. I’d take less power for more learning opportunities. The other people in my group were at different points in their personal and professional lives. Some saw money and power as more important than others, and so on. We also discussed the way some of the 5 are interdependent. This activity was a great demonstration of the topic. It got people talking to each other and showed the complexity of the construct of success. I’ll be interested to see how this project continues to develop.

Jenny Bossaller – Print vs. Online: Teaching Sources in an Online Reference Course

Bossaller teaches reference in an online course. While her predecessor did not use print in her version of the course, Bossaller did for a number of reasons. One of these reasons was to give students the important insight that not everything is available online (with historical research standing as an important example). Bossaller, who teaches students from a broad geographic area, had also heard some concerns from students who lived far away from reference collections. These issues led Bossaller to collect insights from the students who had taken her reference course.

Through a survey of her students, Bossaller found that her assignments, which required both online and print resources, helped students understand libraries and the variable quality of reference sections. Roughly 75% of her students thought print should continue as a requirement for the course, with the main reasons for dissent revolving around concerns about fairness. (Apparently, getting to a print reference section was difficult for some students). Bossaller ended with some of the implications for online reference courses and distance education in LIS.

Next, I attended a panel entitled Youth and Libraries: Four Studies of the Information Behaviors of Today’s Young People

The panel was designed to cover a wide age spectrum, starting with early literacy and ending with college students.

Here’s a brief overview of each talk:

Eliza Dresang – Project VIEWS: Valuable Initiatives in Early Learning that Work Successfully (or do they?)

Dresang reported progress on a larger IMLS-funded project, which aims to determine the outcomes and impacts of early literacy programs in public libraries. Although public libraries have implemented early literacy initiatives over the past decade, there is not much research to show whether and how these programs have made a difference.  The first step is to develop a tool to assess the core literacy knowledge of the librarians providing these services.  Dresang pointed us to but this site does not appear to be active beyond a general description of the project at the moment.  So, this is a work in progress worth watching. I can see the potential for this approach beyond the birth – K spectrum, personally.

Carol Gordon: A Study of a Web-Based Summer Reading Program and Reading Engagement

Gordon outlined an overview of a three-phase study of summer reading, using an engagement model of comprehension as the theoretical foundation for her approach.The first phase called “Reading Takes You Places” is discussed here in detail. The second phase anchored from a different website called . Students played a role in creating this site. The third phase, called Summer Reading Plus, focused on taking the positive attributes of summer reading from the first two phases and transferring them to reading during the school year.

There were many transitions made during the study, showing how this version of summer reading departed from traditional school reading, including free choice instead of mandated lists and so on. Many of the students who participated in these studies did not qualify as high level readers. But, through focus groups in Phase 1, Gordon found that these students didn’t dislike reading – they disliked being forced to read certain things. Many of these students read a lot, but their reading is not validated because it may not come in the form of a traditional book. In Phase 2, online surveys revealed that the students who liked to read felt they had free choice and found the experience of reading satisfying. Students who did not like to read did not report these sentiments, and felt that they could not find books to read. Interestingly, Gordon found that some of the responses students gave to books that might be considered lower-quality were quite sophisticated and high level. In Phase 3 students will be creating their own online reading spaces.

Denise Agosto – Youth Information Behavior as Social Activity: High School Seniors, Social Networks, and Libraries

Agosto studied seniors at a high-tech high school. She found, through focus groups, that it is impossible to separate social networks from other methods of mediated communication, such as texting. Students see the end goal as communication, not technology. She studied the kinds of communication tools these teens use, and correlated these tools to the level of closeness with the message receiver.  Closest friends often received text messages, more causal friends received facebook messages, and broader connections got Facebook posts. Cell phones are extremely important to this group for keeping in touch, especially for close friends and family. Facebook is for a wider range of friends. Other factors that contribute to their selection of communication tools include simplicity of use, speed of communication, and multitasking capabilities.  Many of these students are at least casually connected most of the time.

Agosto found that this group obsessively documented their lives through media and communication. They used Facebook to share information about gatherings and events, as well as a way to find out about new friends and casual acquaintances. There was an undercurrent of talk about addiction, exhaustion, and overcommunication at times throughout the study. Libraries can provide access to the media that needs want to use to connect. We can also promote our services with an emphasis on what teens tell us they need and want.

Nancy B. Turner – Do Students Really Search Differently? Comparative Usability Testing with Students and Library Staff

As a part of a redesign of the search function on the library homepage, Turner studied the different ways students and library staff searched for specific materials, comparing the processes and efficacy of their searches. She found four differences between the searches of students and library staff.

First, the two groups differed on their selection of tools. Students always started with the general search box on the default tab labeled “discover.” Library staff tailored their starting points based on the material they were searching for. Second, the search syntax differed across the two groups. Third, the two groups differed on their knowledge of library resource organization and representation. Fourth, their level of persistence varied.  Librarians often enjoyed a complex search, whereas students preferred finding to searching.

As a result of these findings, the Syracuse library changed the design of their search function on the homepage. This study reminds us that our mental models can make it difficult to see things as our users do.

Overall, I liked this panel a great deal. I can’t help but wish there had been an additional panelist to discuss a study in the elementary and middle grades age range, where my own research is situated.

For more information about these studies, as well as the many other presentations from the conference, check out the conference schedule and abstracts here.

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