Looking Back on ‘A Year in the Life’ at Year’s End

Reading over the last year’s blog entries made me more emotional than I thought I would ever be. Yes, I was proud of the contributors and amazed by the variety of topics covered. From tweeting authors; reading non-fiction; creating a BYOD library and even a post about high school football, A Year in the Life bloggers wrote about topics that concern all school library staff.

These three words “all library staff” are the most important ones to the success of A Year in the Life and to the Napa Valley School Library Consortium. Teacher librarians, library media specialists and clerks all wrote about their particular library journeys over the past year. Each post was different but the sum made it possible for them to journey together…. If anything is learned from our blogs, we hope it is that we are all in this library world together. Collaboration, respect and trust will ensure the journey is successful.

We committed to A Year in the Life for one year and now the time has come for this final blog. We have enjoyed reaching out to you and telling our stories and in turn hope you enjoyed reading them.

Kate MacMillan

Kate MacMillan

Pairing Nonfiction with Fiction

by Colette Crowther

I frequently see students check out books they have already read because they don’t want to look for anything new. I always try to recommend something different that has a connection with a book they have just finished or mentioned enjoying. I think this is one way we can use fiction/non-fiction pairings as a way to persuade students to reach outside their comfort levels. As part of the Common Core Standards, we strive to provide students with information in different formats.

The practice of pairing titles has become so ingrained in me that when I heard the news stories about the Ebola virus I immediately thought of Hot Zone by Richard Preston. I rarely read one book without another one looming up in my subconscious. It comes easily when the reader is familiar with a collection of books.

For example, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption could be paired with The Life of Pi or The Old Man and the Sea since they all deal with survival on the ocean. The touching story, Sold, by Patricia McCormick could be paired with Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof. The extremely popular book by John Green, The Fault in Our Stars could be followed with This Star Won’t Go Out, the words and story of the young cancer victim to whom Green dedicated his book. Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, could be followed by A Long Way Home, a memoir of life as a child soldier by Ishmael Beah.

Keep a list handy to help with spontaneous recommendations or have a page on your website titled “If You Liked … Then You Should Read …” or have the books side by side on display to help patrons visually connect the books. I can only hope that my patrons get the same little thrill I experience when I read one book and connect it to something I read about in another book. I feel it helps to reinforce learning when reading about the same experience/person/event in more than one place.

Colette Crowther

Colette Crowther

Connecting with Authors via Twitter

by Jeff Vogt

“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.”

This quote from The Catcher in the Rye has stayed with me. It was a wishful thought by Holden Caulfield, the protagonist of the novel. It’s something I can relate to. After a particular interesting read, I, too would like to converse with the author. Now I can. Social media has made this easier.

Many popular authors are online—although where they are online may vary. If you want students to find an author you have to know where they are. Many authors today are active participants on the widely popular social media site, Twitter. I can remember the first time I reached out to an author on Twitter. I told her how much I liked a quote of hers and how I enjoyed her first book. She responded to me with some insight on the quote and gratitude for my note. I’ve had similar experiences with many other authors. Recently I engaged into a casting discussion with Eleanor & Park author Rainbow Rowell, who is currently adapting her YA novel into a screenplay. It meant so much to me that this multiple award-winning author not only took the time to read my thoughts about her book but to respond so favorably. Today, connecting with an author has never been easier.

For many students, connecting with an author whose work they admire might be intimidating. If you encounter this with your students, be sure to model those connections and talk to students about the connections you’ve made (ie: Did you read what John Green said on Twitter the other day?). School librarians can be the center of the reader-writer relationship. We should use our position to bring the two ends together.

Jeffrey Vogt

Jeffrey Vogt

A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

by Kate MacMillan

Everyone has earthquake stories, but not everyone has library earthquake stories… In Napa, we have the story and the photos to go along with it!

For those who possibly didn’t hear, Napa experienced a major earthquake on August 24th at 3:20 am. Most people living in the West have experienced an earthquake at one time or another and most of us shrug them off as some sort of a badge of honor. Personally, I have been through a few major ‘quakes, including one in Los Angeles years ago, and one in Napa in 2000, which shook us at 5.2 on the Richter scale. Fourteen years later, the familiar trembling hit again and this one was registered 6.1.

Normally we don’t really think too much about how big “really big” is in terms of earthquakes. I had forgotten when measuring earthquakes, each little number means big gains: every number is exponentially larger, meaning this latest earthquake was actually 22 times larger than the one we experienced in 2000. But at that precise moment when the quake started to rumble and the house began to shake … I understood how much stronger it was!

Except for a devastated downtown area and a horrific mobile home park fire, most of us lost chimneys, had some sink holes and foundation damage. Inside our homes was another story of shattered glass, lost treasures, broken appliances and terrified animals. Initial cleanup began right away on the day of the earthquake, but the aftershocks made it difficult at best.

Our libraries throughout the district, usually so organized and tidy, did not escape the chaos. Even though school was cancelled while all buildings were safety inspected, we did have to report to our work site. It wasn’t until a week later that we had our first re-scheduled library de-brief meeting.

From the school libraries within our consortium, staff shared what they found when reentering their workplaces:

Napa High School: Thousands of books were on the floor. Half of the textbook room is still roped off and we had some ceiling and light fixture damage. It took six people all morning to re-shelve the books but only four books were lost due to spine damage.

Napa County Library: All of the books were off the shelves but re-shelved within one day. The upstairs offices were damaged, and the microfilm machines were damaged beyond repair. (Napa County Library is downtown and is currently housing government offices that were red-tagged as too dangerous to enter).

Bel Aire School: Librarians here were pleased to find minimal damage, and were thankful for the retrofitting completed last year. Some shelves collapsed but there were no major problems

Librarians at Pueblo Vista School arrived to find this mess after the earthquake.

Librarians at Pueblo Vista School arrived to find this mess after the earthquake.

Pueblo Vista School: The earthquake occurred during a book fair, so staff was met with a huge, huge mess. Today there are still broken windows and lights have yet to be replaced.

Harvest Middle School: The school was in the midst of textbooks circulations… so there were textbooks all over the library, broken shelves and more books on the floor.

The earthquake damage at Harvest Elementary.

The earthquake damage at Harvest Elementary.

Northwood School: Almost all the books in the library were on the ground. Nine shelves broke and were ripped off the bookcases. It took five people about eight hours to re-shelve everything. Computer monitors fell on the ground and books jumped shelves.

From our experience, here are some tips and things we learned the hard way: remember to keep flip flops by your bed; a working flash light and batteries; have plenty of water and a battery-operated cell phone charger. And plenty of help for re-shelving books!

Included are photos that probably say much more than this brief posting.

Kate MacMillan

Kate MacMillan

The Challenges of Creating a Space Conducive to Learning and Collaboration

by Sandy Killian

Last year I posted a blog about the library at American Canyon High School that fully supported Bring Your Own Device (BYOD.) It was the first of a two-part blog that discussed the challenges of creating a space conducive to learning and collaboration.

Today our vision of a collaborative 21st-century learning library is finally coming true, three years after we began the process. Students in this very busy library are now working together or quietly chatting. It is a comfortable place where students can read or work, and not be disrupted by the whoops of joy as groups of gamers complete a mission.

To accomplish this change, we had to implement a few policies. First was a strict no-gaming policy. This policy severely cut down on the noise and number of students hanging out in the library. We also made sure students still felt welcome and weren’t banned forever, just in the wrong place for gaming. We were consistent with our policy—quietly asking students to leave if they were being too disruptive. Today, students are allowed to game during lunchtime only, and are really self monitored since they know they will be asked to leave if they are too rambunctious.

These days, the library is so popular, it frequently reaches the fire marshall's capacity

These days, the library is so popular, it frequently reaches the fire marshall’s capacity

The second policy was requiring students to sign-in during lunchtime, Access (a free 75- minute study period twice a month) and during class time. This helped set the tone as a more traditional library environment, and the following year, our expectations were set.

In addition to sign-in, the administration answered our pleas for help in monitoring the library during lunch and Access by allowing us to give students Community Service hours (a graduation requirement) for helping out. Also, if the library is over capacity we close the doors and students follow a “one in/one out” policy.

Over the last three years, these policies have helped the library evolve into the 21st-century collaborative space we envisioned. In addition, our ninth- and tenth-grade students became upperclassmen bringing much needed maturity to the school, the library clerk position increased to 30 hours a week, (I was moved to three high schools, a topic for another blog) and most importantly, the library culture became one of learning, collaboration and fun.

Sandy Killian

Sandy Killian

Leaving a Loved One Behind!

You know those books … the ones we can’t stop reading and feel a sense of loss when the last sentence has been read. Even though we know the next great book just takes opening a cover, we wonder if there will ever be a story quite like that again!

Right now my life feels a little like a favorite book that has ended, but the story involves a change of schools. This school year I am closing the door on one library, which is leaving me excited and apprehensive about opening the door of the next.

I was even somewhat of an urban legend (thanks to one of our LA teachers). She would tell students every year I had read every book in the library. And they would believe it because, at random, I could just walk over to a shelf and find the title they were looking for.

A student would say, “You know Mrs. Willis, the book you talked about with the goldfish on the cover,” and I would walk straight to the shelf and pull out Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind. (I know—you’re thinking there are two books with goldfish on the covers, but I knew which one I had recently included in my reader’s advisory.) I could do this all day! Sometimes I could just look at the shelves from behind my desk and tell them yes we have it.

I knew where every book was because I was the person book talking, circulating and shelving the collection. My students trusted me with their reading and would ask me every day for suggestions. My greatest joy was having a non-reader come in for help to later tell me “I couldn’t put it down; do you have anything else just like this one?”

But in June 2014 I made the difficult decision to change schools after 11 years! While I have loved going to work every day, I know another school library needs my attention and expertise. I have closed the book and am excited to crack open the cover on the next, get the keys and get started! Yet I find myself wondering if and hoping my new library will have all my favorites in their collection.

I know it will take a while to convince the students and staff I am there to share the joy of reading and have those wonderful book-conversations with them, and I can’t wait to begin writing this story with them.

Cathy Willis

Cathy Willis

Football, school libraries, and Ferguson, MO: What’s the connection?

by Kate MacMillan

Last year I wrote about the opening of school and the inherent craziness of textbooks and class schedules. But this year I decided to write about high school football.

Now, you may ask what prompted such an odd choice for a library blog?

In truth there are two or more reasons, but perhaps the one closest to my heart was the McCluer High School’s football team’s response to the recent turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri. Rather than involving themselves in potentially dangerous situations, they listened to their coach and decided to take their frustrations to the field. Mario McDonald, the McCluer coach, reminded his players to avoid stereotypes and stay focused on the sport and school. This message, along with the support of the St Louis Rams, seems to have been heard and appreciated.

So what does football have to do with school libraries?

This brings me to my second reason . . . the Athletes as Readers and Leaders program, which uses student athletes as role models for younger students. Napa Valley USD implemented this program in response to a Stanford Study, which showed children who play sports are less likely to become obese. The report also revealed how overweight children are often too shy to join a sport. With this in mind, NVUSD librarians and coaches implemented Athletes as Readers and Leaders to introduce elementary students to high school athletes. They knew it would be a success with the students, but were surprised it had such an impact on the players. Football coach Troy Mott said, “I don’t know who gained more from this experience, the players or the kids.”

The program has been replicated throughout the country and was chosen as a California School Library exemplary program and recently recognized by California’s superintendent of education. Like the players in Ferguson, student athletes from every sport have the potential to improve not only physical fitness in young students but also academic achievement.

To learn more about Athletes as Readers and Leaders, please visit the CSLA blog at http://athletereadersleaders.csla.net/

Good luck to all the high school football teams and a special wish to all of the Ferguson players!

Kate MacMillan

Kate MacMillan

How Effective School Librarians Foster Digital Literacy

by Jen Wodlinger

Until recently, I was afraid to fail.

As a teacher-librarian for the past twenty years, I lived in fear of disappointing teachers who relied upon my expertise as a collaborative teaching partner. On more than one occasion I worried I had damaged the learning process for my students when a technology project did not go as planned, or a project-based learning experience didn’t end up meeting the expectations we desired.

In retrospect, failing was a good thing. As we reflect on our experiences, mistakes, successes, and yes, “bombed” projects, we can use those experiences to enrich our lives and our careers. I came to this conclusion recently after receiving a Master’s Degree in Innovative Learning from Touro University. The knowledge I gained around brain-based learning, student-centered instruction, new technologies, and learning theory has given me self-assurance when working with teachers on collaborative projects, thus providing me the confidence to pursue a leadership role in my school district.

This knowledge reinforced something that I already knew: creating an atmosphere of equity for diverse learners in any school setting is important. The Innovative Learning program at Touro University provided me with awareness around the struggle English language learners and students with diverse backgrounds experience at school. As a result, I’m more vigilant in my practice of recognizing these students’ needs.

illustration for Jen W's piece
Reflecting on this past year, my head swims when I think about landing a new job in a new state, qualifying for a California credential, pursuing a Master’s Degree, passing the CBEST, turning sixty, and last-but-not-least, surviving an afternoon at the DMV and passing my driver’s test.

What’s next? Good question. I’m not finished learning, and I feel empowered in my ability to pursue whatever comes my way.

In the meantime, if you are ever interested in pursuing further learning, I suggest checking into an online program. Attending class from the comfort of your living room is very relaxing, fun, and enlightening!

The poster above may provide a little food for thought on the power we, as effective school librarians, possess. We can create lifelong learning experiences for students that will give them the skills to pursue a successful school and work career.

Jennifer Wodlinger

Jennifer Wodlinger

Why Do You Read So Much?

by Lorraine Moore

Every school year there are students who ask me why I read. They think since I am not a student and don’t have homework or book reports that it is weird to choose to read. You read for fun? You read instead of playing video games? Or watching TV or a movie?

Well, I can’t very well tell them part of the reason: It is a great escape. With three loads of laundry, a lawn that needs mowing, and a bunch of bills that need to be paid waiting for me at home, I can forget — ignore — all that for a little while and get lost in a book. Samuel Beckett said, when we are reading, a voice comes to us in the dark and whispers, “Imagine!”

So I tell the kids the other reasons. I get to be someone else for a while. I can pretend to be a princess, an author, an artist, a chef, a baker, an actress, a ballerina, an inventor. I can travel the world. In books I’ve been all over Europe, South America, Australia, Russia, China, and every state in the United States. I’ve solved mysteries, discovered new medicines, and helped lost dogs and cats find their way home. You can actually learn new things in any book you read even if it’s not a school book. How cool is that?

Sometimes the students still look at me like I’m nuts — a book instead of, well, something fun? So, I try to recommend a thought-provoking, adventurous book like Zorgamazoo (written entirely in prose!) by Robert Paul Weston, The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by S. S. Taylor, A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff, or the great Recipe for Adventure series by Giada De Laurentiis and the Greetings From Somewhere series by Harper Paris and Marcos Calo.

But isn’t it those same children who come to see me the next week and tell me they swam with mermaids, traveled to outer space, explored caves, performed magic, or got to be a ‘real, actual cowboy on a real, actual ranch,’ all while reading a book last weekend? I say, “Great! Tell me all about it.”

And inside I’m secretly pumping my fist and hollering, “Yes! Books win!”

Lorraine Moore

Lorraine Moore

End of the year or closing thoughts…

by Kate MacMillan

I do my best problem solving in the morning when I am fighting with my hair. I always have the highest hopes that this particular gel or spray will give me that wonderful tousled look instead of the usual flattened souffle. Today’s hair was no different, but I did have some interesting thoughts about the digital Listserve chatter that has become somewhat controversial!

Over the weekend, I listened to the interview with John Green about his books and the upcoming Fault in Our Stars movie. He talked about parents worrying about today’s teens reading; their lack of compassion and critical thinking skills. He then gently reminded us that it was no different in our day. In a roundabout way, this does bring me back to my all-things digital thoughts. In a way we are like the worried parents with our perception that print is the best way for our students to assimilate content. Unarguably some of us are more comfortable with paper, but that does not mean our free-range learners are. Isn’t it time that we really do embrace our 21st century learners and stop our “print or die” attitude”? Going digital may be a stretch for some but the outcome will be our connecting with teens who “represent the edge of mobile connectivity.” (PEW Report Teens and Technology 2013)

As I was continuing the valiant hair fight, I thought about the Booklist weeding webinar that I took over spring break. During the webinar, the speaker mentioned the recent addendum to the 2008 CREW dealing with ebook management. I have been so busy acquiring ebooks that I had never thought of weeding or managing them. However, webinar and CREW brought up the question of dealing with aged titles that are no longer relevant and are just cluttering our virtual shelves. That thought lead me to the very touchy subject of metered and/or twelve month access. Since these ebooks are less pricey than the forever titles, they do have a certain appeal . . . sometimes an almost $40 appeal. If we want a current and appealing collection, could we call purchasing ebooks with this kind of access as having built-in subjective weeding? In a way, I am rather entranced with the idea, but am leaning more to metered than dated.

The last digital thoughts of the year . . . Destiny’s Universal Search is fabulous and a great improvement over One Search. The curriculum tags alone are worth the upgrade! Also, if you haven’t had the chance, take a look at LibGuides. I compare it the old vertical file in the cloud.

Have a great and relaxing summer and read an ebook!

Kate MacMillan

Kate MacMillan