Digital Integration and School Leadership #leadershipday2014

Before diving in to my first blog post for the new school year, I have to take a moment and thank my “School Sister” (so dubbed my biological, and perhaps teensy bit jealous, biological sis) for constantly pushing me to grow professionally by challenging me to think outside my library comfort zone, being there at school to have those deep philosophical conversations about what we believe about educating children, and sharing opportunities such as Leadership Day 2014 with me on a very regular basis. Chris Senbertrand-McLean, our school’s Instructional Coach, rocks as an educator and a friend. Check out her blog “A Balcony View of the World” to learn more and be impressed by her awesomeness! Now that I have completed my unsolicited and deeply sincere tribute to my friend, let’s leap into the deep end of the pool with this leadership post.

leadershipday2014_01-300x240As Scott McLeod alludes to in his “dangerously irrelevant” blog post, we can’t really fault our school and district leaders for not knowing what they don’t know about digital technology. Honestly, who can keep up? In April 2014, Library Journal featured an article declaring “the digital universe is doubling in size every two years and will multiply 10-fold between 2013 and 2020” and then quantified that with some pretty interesting visual prompts. There are over a million apps in the iTunes store; and the iPhone has only been in existence since 2007, the iPad since 2010. There are over 23 million books, apps, games, magazines, and who-knows-what currently available for Kindle products. Google our current president and see how many hits you get. Again, who can keep up? And what is the role of the school or district administrator in the midst of this vast mountain of not-always-accurate-or-necessary information? How does and administrator or administrative team decide where to focus?

My answer is simple and perhaps a bit shocking. Let’s focus on the students and the curriculum. As a school librarian who tries very hard to make sure I’m keeping up with the speeding train that is digital technology and not trying to catch up to it or recover from being hit by it, I have seen the focus shift from educating our students to getting more “stuff.” Too many times, administrators have focused on keeping up with neighboring school districts by purchasing digital technology rather than focusing on how digital technology can improve instruction. Too many times, the boxes of laptops, iPads, or what-have-you has shown up in the school before a thought has been given to training the staff who are expected to use it, determining how many dollars will be need to maintain it, or even if the school district’s infrastructure can support it. I recently had a colleague tell me her principal wanted to order some iPads for the students, which would have been grand, I’m sure…if their school had a wireless network of any kind. Fortunately, my friend is much like me (or perhaps I strive to me more like her), and she quickly pointed out that she would have to haul them to her house and set them up since the school lacked wifi. The principal honestly had no idea.

I also hear entirely too often that “sometimes you have to build the airplane while flying it.” I have to admit, and I apologize for this, that I mostly hear this from men. My husband is one of the culprits. Here’s a fact. If you don’t have that plane slapped together in some shape or form, it WILL NOT get off the ground. I also find this is a somewhat ridiculous way of saying that you really don’t know what you are doing, but felt like you just had to do something. Before investing dollars in technology that may end up gathering dust in a back room somewhere, invest some time in getting together a group of folks who know something about what you are interested in. It isn’t that hard to find people in your schools and district who are interested in technology, network or read enough to have some sense of successful implementation that you can reference, and are willing to assist you in making your vision for improving your students’ digital literacy become a reality. Some of these people are called by many names, but in South Carolina they are called School Librarians (this based on what it says on my teaching certificate). We’re pretty knowledgeable about technology and we are also gifted researchers. If we don’t know how to answer your questions, we know someone who does. Too often, the school librarian is the last person to know what the plans are regarding technology integration. This is a serious misstep by leadership. Not only do we know about digital technology, we want to share our knowledge. We also know what our staff knows and doesn’t know. We, after all, also teach them. We have a feel for where our schools are with technology integration, how our teachers feel about technology, and how to approach everyone from the cheerleader to the nervous Nelly to the Chicken Little on our staff. Let us in, let us help, and don’t get mad when we say you might want to slow down, use a different approach, or do some front loading. We’re professionals. We don’t just play one on TV.

The other thing administrators might want to know about School Librarians: Once you make a mistake, go ahead and buy those iPods, iPads, tablets, or whatever that you don’t know how to use even though we warned you, we will paste a smile on our faces, grab our pom-poms and shout to the world that you are the smartest person on the planet and we will make it work so that you look like a hero instead of a zero. We are consummate administration support. We don’t want you to fail and we surely don’t want our students and teachers to fail. We will stay up late nights worrying about logistics, figure out how to get over the latest bump in the road, and make it happen. We are THAT GOOD, and if you don’t know this, go talk to your librarian right now. That’s right, walk away from the screen and find your librarian. He or she may be under a table fiddling with antiquated computer cords, trying to figure out why Mrs. Smith’s TV won’t pick up channel 4, or looking for that last Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but find that person and ask about digital technology integration. You’ll be surprised, and your librarian’s eyes may glisten with unshed tears of joy.

We must embrace technology. We must teach our students and staff how to be good digital citizens. We really don’t have a choice. Short of a new ice age or some other disaster, technology isn’t going away. It is going to continue to grow. The jobs that are available to high school and college grads today did not even exist a decade ago. The jobs my daughter will have to choose from when she graduates in ten years haven’t even been invented yet. We must prepare our students to be adaptable learners and give them the tools to be creative and logical thinkers. We cannot lock our classroom doors and hope technology goes away. What we can do is be informed consumers and not just happily jump on the next bandwagon. We must always consider our staff, our students, and our curriculum. These components are directly effected by our community, the demands of future employers, our training and willingness to continue to be learners regardless of our age, our flexibility, and our budgets. We have constraints, but we also have an endless sea of options if we will pool our resources on our school campus and within our district. Inquire. Explore. Grow. And talk to your school librarian.

What Educational Leaders Can Do:

1. Research. Look for catch phrases in education and find out more. Don’t feel like you have to know everything about everything. Learn enough of the language to help you formulate questions.

2. Ask. Talk to people you know are doing great things with technology in your school, district, and among your colleagues. I often feel administrators are keeping secrets from each other, trying to get an edge over their colleagues. I understand wanting your school to shine, but when you share, you shine and you help others shine as well. One candle is bright, but hundreds or thousands are even brighter. Get in classrooms and other schools and look for successes.

3. Plan. Don’t just purchase technology and throw it under the tree. Fresh out of the box, technological gadgets are pretty cool and exciting. However, those gadgets require support, maintenance, upgrades, and eventually replacement. Nothing lasts 20 years anymore. Most technology has a life span of 3 to 5 years. Are you ready for the expense, training, and upkeep required to maintain a technological presence? What safety harnesses do you have in place? What’s your backup plan? Where is the funding coming from to sustain and upgrade your programs?

4. Empower. Make sure your teachers are getting the training and support they need. Teachers stay in the classroom because they love to teach and work with students. Making unrealistic demands and forcing technology integration where there may not be a need or natural fit will not help your teachers or students experience success. Instead, teachers will feel overburdened and embarrassed. You wouldn’t set up a student for failure. Your teachers are students too. Spend the money and give them the time to learn to use new tools. They want their students to experience success and use technology effectively just as much as you do.

5. Learn. Get out on the field and play ball with your teachers. No, you don’t have to be an expert. But if you aren’t willing to try to learn about technology and integration, how can you expect your staff to embrace it and have a good attitude about it? What’s more, how can you possibly fairly and accurately gauge your staff’s use of technology in instruction? If you are requiring your staff to get a certain amount of training each year in the use and integration of technology (and you should), then you need to be there with them and learn too.

6. Listen. You already visit classrooms. Make an effort to listen to what is going on in classrooms that are successfully using digital technology. These classrooms exist even in the most low tech schools because there are teachers who love technology as much as they love teaching. Latch on to these people and get them to help you create a plan for implementing technology integration in other areas. Many times these teachers don’t realize they are doing something astounding or different from other teachers because, let’s be honest, they are teaching their students and not nosing around the school. Also listen to and pay attention to those teachers who are struggling and help them get the support they need. Teachers are pretty smart. They have a college degree or two or three, but for some, the mention of technology is akin to suggesting a root canal without anesthetic. Not because they aren’t aware they need to use technology, but because they have had a bad experience or feel inadequate. Just this week I saw teachers go from frowns to smiles after only two hours with our technology integration specialist. They went from “I can’t do this” to “this is so easy” because someone invested the time to help them at their own pace.

7. Connect. Share your plans, thoughts, ambitions for your school with your staff. Start small, with people you know can and will help. Your administrative team, your leadership team, your school librarian. These are the people who should be included in your vision and create the backbone of support you will need to be successful. If these people aren’t on board with your plans, find out why. Is it fear of failure or the unknown or is there a real issue with your vision as it stands? By building a network of support, you can better ensure success because you have more eyes and brains involved in planning and implementation. Sometimes an administrator has to be a lone wolf and make a decision without input, and certainly there are times when too much input actually stymies growth, but when dealing with something as vast as technology integration, it is vital to have support and assistance in creating a workable plan that will lead to success rather than frustration and disappointment.

 

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I did it! I survived #bookbootcamp!

I have an odd way of learning new things or taking on challenging tasks. I say, “Oh, sure. I can do that.” Usually, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do, how to do it, or if I’ll be successful, but somehow volunteering to do things I know nothing about spurs me on to figure things out. If I didn’t have this disposition, I would stagnate. Stagnation stinks!

One of the challenges I took on this year came in the form of an invitation from Tamara Cox, one of South Carolina’s Librarians Supreme and blogger of Eliterate Librarian fame. I had the pleasure of meeting Tamara when she and her Librarians in the Middle buds Monique German and Kristen Hearne visited our school district to inspire (awe?) our librarians. The invitation was a new concept for me, but since I was peer pressured by yet another librarian (do we ever grow out of this?), I decided to go for it. The challenge? A Middle Grades Book Boot Camp, a “combination of a book club and middle grade literature class” as Tamara describes it. Participants choose a month and book genre, create a blog post with reading lists, then host a 1 hour Twitter chat at the end of the month. The invitation was sent out in April 2013, and I had the foresight to choose February of 2014 and the theme of Horror. This gave me months to prepare (read as “panic” and “sweat”) and horror is one of my favorite genres. I was reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz as a junior high school student and continue to be drawn to the genre. I love a good scare! Hence the volunteering for something I knew nothing about…

February is now past and I just wanted to let everyone know that I survived #bookbootcamp! I did it! I completed my book list and posted it to our wiki. I moderated the Twitter chat. I had a blast with my PLN, sucking in one of my assistant principals and an ELA teacher in the process. Not only that, but in participating in the monthly reading and Twitter chats, or at the very least, reading about them after the fact thanks to Monique German’s Storify, I have learned so much about what is new and popular in middle grades literature. This is a boon since my budget isn’t getting any bigger, I tend to avoid those genres I don’t particular enjoy like romance, and I learn where others stand on that decades-old question of the invisible line between middle grades fiction and YA fiction. We haven’t revealed the secrets of the universe, nor do we really know the answer to the line question; but we end up sharing some great titles, learning more about each other and our views of library service to middle grades, and have a great time doing it. And that hour long Twitter chat? Over in the blink of an eye!

If this is the first you’ve heard of #bookbootcamp, it isn’t too late to join in! Our next Twitter chat will be hosted by Tamara herself and will focus on nonfiction. Check out her reading list here and tune in March 31st at 8 PM! We will also have chats in April and May.

What will be my next challenge? I’ll probably borrow more ideas from my favorite people and try them out at my school! Maybe I’ll take the #bookbootcamp experience and create something at the school level for my staff as Tamara suggests in the Book Boot Camp blog. Right now I’m entrenched in March Madness book voting, which I borrowed from another of my favorite people, Cathy Jo Nelson at Dorman High School. It is an incredible honor to be part of a profession with such dynamic and creative thinkers, not to mention incredibly hard workers who do it all not for accolades but to encourage students to be literate and critical thinkers and to help teachers find new ways to reach those students in an increasingly challenging learning environment. Thanks Tamara and #bookbootcamp for challenging me to continue to learn and grow!

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Declaration for the Right to Libraries

Declaration_Badge250x124

If you haven’t added your name to this declaration sponsored by the American Library Association, do so today! Not sure what I’m talking about? Read Joyce Valenza’s blog post and view ALA President Barbara Stripling’s message here. Additional materials can be found on Joyce Valenza’s newest blog entry here.

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School Library Journal Leadership Summit #sljsummit

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SLJ Summit 2013 Bag

This summer I received an invitation to attend the 2013 SLJ Leadership Summit. I honestly did not know such an event existed, and as I explored the possibility of attending, I became excited to discover that many of the “School Library Rock Stars” that I follow on Twitter and greatly admire would be in attendance. Then I began to wonder how I could get myself from South Carolina to Austin, TX. Fortunately, one of the benefits of being active in your state’s school library organization is that you make connections all over. I am presently the South Carolina Association of School Librarians Legislative Chair and last March I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington, DC with the director of our state library. I remembered her mentioning something about travel grants for librarians to attend conferences and e-mailed her an inquiry. I applied for and received a travel grant and eagerly anticipated September 27, 2013. At last that date arrived, I boarded my plane, and just a few hours later stepped onto Texas soil (pavement?).

Upon arrival, I immediately recognized my own species as I awaited the shuttle to my hotel. I mean, what do you think when you see a grown woman in a Hogwarts Express t-shirt and another with The Hunger Games peeking from her bag? I asked, “Are you ladies school librarians?” and I’m sure you can imagine the conversation that followed. I discovered that I had connected with a past president and the current president from the North Carolina Library Media Association. Not only that, these women were better prepared than I and had already discovered that the Austin Teen Book Festival was taking place right across from our hotel. Yes, I had died and gone to heaven.

Day One 

ATBF 2013 Goodreads Shelf

ATBF 2013 Goodreads Shelf

Good fortune seemed to smile on me in Austin because I discovered after a little comparison of schedules that I had time to hear the keynote address at the Book Festival before the SLJ Summit began. Who, might you ask, did I have the honor of hearing? None other than Maggie Stiefvater! Squeeeee! Not only that, but there was a promise of at the very least seeing 40 other YA authors, not to mention the “swag” that several publishers and authors brought along to the festival. Maggie Stiefvater was a delightful and wonderfully entertaining keynote speaker. She was high energy and her stories gave me great insight into how she comes up with those twisted story lines that so delight our young adult readers (and me!).  Her speech revolved around her writing and how those words came to be on the page. Somehow she has been labeled a “risk-taker”, but based on her story about somehow ending up owning a race car, actually racing that car, giving the car away and ending up with 2 silkie goats, and then permitting her fans (and one gang-banger) to tag her personal car at a book signing, I’m sure this is a false impression. Her imagination is surely a dark and scary place, but when she lets it take the reigns, we all benefit from her wonderful prose.

The SLJ Summit

Opening remarks by SLJ Executive Editor Kathy Ishizuka reminded the 200 or so attendees that libraries are a “world beyond scripted curricula and standardized tests” and asked us to think about how we cultivate interest in our students.  Annie Murphy Paul, author of the soon-to-be-published Brilliant: The New Science of Smart, incredible thinker/research and frequent contributor to Time Magazine, then kicked off the Summit with a discussion of cognitive science and how important it is for us as educators to capture and hold our students’ attention if we expect them to perform and do well academically.

Some key points from Annie Murphy Paul’s lecture include:

  • Make something more comprehensive by making it more interesting.
  • We do not have to be “secret keepers” in education. Provide our students with a road map to learning. For example, if you are using a poem you know your students will not be able to decipher, give them the knowledge they need to do so. If you are studying a painting, give the students background about the artist so they can frame the artist’s perspective and interpret the art.
  • Developing background in any subject will help us intrigue and capture the interest of our students.
  • Demonstrate your own passion about a subject. If a student recognizes our personal interest, they may be able to connect as well.
  • Avoid the “this is going to be important to your future” spiel that we are inclined to give because we don’t know why students need it other than it is on the test. Let students determine the importance of the learning and let them establish ways it may be important to them right here, right now.
  • Help students develop a sense not only of why a subject or new knowledge matters to them personally but also the social value of the learning. If you have knowledge others need, want, or value then you have some authority over that subject. Who doesn’t want to be an expert? This is an ideal use of the jigsaw learning method.
  • We, as educators, are “evokers of interest” and must help students build confidence and self efficacy, increasing autonomy and self direction. In an increasingly digital environment, this should not be news to any teacher, regardless of our title.
  • It is “troublesome” that some schools, district, and educators are trapped in the “identify model” which assumes that only a few students are capable of higher order thinking, prompting us to spend all of our money and dedicate all of our resources to them, instead of doing our best to stimulate interest in all learners.
  • There have been some studies that indicate use of digital devices for reading may not be as productive or successful as reading a printed book. Factors include not having “landmarks” of where something is on a page in a digital reader and a person’s ability to move from reading to so many other things like gaming and surfing the web. With print, all we can do is read. In a digital environment, we are constantly distracted by whether or not we should click on a hyperlink, answer a text, Google something we don’t know, and become lost in our new pursuits.
  • While libraries are becoming more collaborative and social, we must still preserve some “sanctuary space” for those students who need quiet, security, and comfort. Students need a certain level of security and privacy, even in collaborative situations, to be able to speak their minds and share honest opinions without the fear of being overheard or berated.
  • Cognitive science research has continually disproved our ability to “multitask.” We literally cannot pay attention to two things at once. Therefore, educators must “cultivate the practice of focusing on one thing at a time when it is time to learn, think deeply, write, and work.”

Following our wonderful keynote, we had a delicious lunch and then dove right into a panel discussion entitled “Allies in Leadership: Pivot Points & Opportunities for Teacher Librarians.” Featured panelists were  Mark Ray, who was once a school library media specialist but has “crossed over” to the administrative side of education in his current role as Manger of Instructional Technology and Library Services in Vancouver Public Schools, and key players from that district including principal Kym Tyelyn-Carlson, curriculum coordinator Layne Curtis, and chief information officer Lisa Greseth. They discussed the changing roles of school library media centers and librarians, including opportunities afforded by Common Core to increase our leadership roles in our schools and districts, the digital shift and its effect on the 21st century classroom, organization of digital content, and flexible learning initiatives. Pivot points for our profession include our roles as technology integrators, content creation versus curation, and moving from a digital versus literacy mindset to one of digital AND literacy. My favorite learning moment was introduction to a new vocabulary word, “chopportunity”, which means taking a challenge and turning it into an opportunity. This, of course, should be a school library media specialist’s call to action.

Leadership Exchange

The panel flowed into breakout sessions where we were asked to explore the future of library media programs, library media centers, and library media specialists in 5 to 10 years. My main impression of this particular exercise was summed up when one of our participants stated there is simply no way to know where we’ll be or what library media programs will look like even in so near a future as five years. Look at all the changes that are currently taking place, changes that we anticipated to some degree, yet were largely unprepared for when they arrived. Advances in technology alone currently have the publishing industry, educational service providers, and even large corporations running to catch up with consumers and school districts who are embracing technology and parachuting into the digital landscape.

We did however have a few “ah-ha!” moments when Mark Ray, our facilitator, thew out a caveat as many of us focused too much on the limitations, challenges, and frustrations of the here and now and lost our future-focus. His asked, and I am sure I partially mis-quote, “What is sacred and what are you defending? The library or what happens there? What’s more important?” He went on to add that much of what we do in our libraries is “fluffy”, meaning it cannot easily be measured on a standardized test and may not generate the overwhelming mountains of data that administrators and other key players want to see. His challenge was to find ways to better link what we do to student report cards and achievement.

Storytelling in Transition

SLJ and authors treat us to Fantastic Flying Books, Chopsticks, and more!

SLJ and authors treat us to Fantastic Flying Books, Chopsticks, and more!

Most of Saturday was filled with library media rock stars, but the closing session was reserved for the people most library media specialists truly love to hear and see: authors! These authors were doubly engaging however, because they included Lambert Fabian and Brandon Oldenburg from Moonbot Studios which created The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, author Jessica Anthony of Chopsticks fame, and publisher Ben Schrank. I was awed. Fortunately, they were so engaging and entertaining, I quickly moved from awe to major fan-dom. Again, I learned so much more than I thought possible and increased my vocabulary to include the definition of transmedia play as provided by Becky Herr-Stephenson, coauthor of the USC Annenbergy Innovation Lab study “T is for Transmedia.” What is transmedia? Social play, across media types. Herr-Stephenson then pointed out that libraries are perfect places for such play to occur, an environment that fosters tinkering, exploring, creating, and so much more. This of course segued into discussions of libraries as makerspaces for many people at the summit.

Fitting End to a Fantastic Saturday

I ended my day at the Teen Book Festival, where I met some of my favorite YA authors including Jo Knowles, Lauren Myracle, Sarah Dessen, and Melissa De La Cruz. It was incredibly awesome. I resorted to complete book-nerdom with wild abandon and had the best time talking to some of the young people who volunteered at the event. I also scored autographed copies of books by Holly Black, Jo Knowles, and Maggie Stiefvater.

View from Congress Avenue Bridge

View from Congress Avenue Bridge

Not one to waste opportunity, I followed the Teen Book Festival with a tour of the Pecan Festival then took a walk over to the Congress Avenue bridge to try to get a peek at the bats. Apparently there are about 1.5 million bats living under the bridge and they normally put on a grand display each evening. They decided they weren’t going to cooperate this particular night and instead spent most of their time darting in and out, snapping up insects.

Day Two 

Antero Garcia, Assistant Professor of English at Colorado State University, opened our Sunday session. Word is he was only invited because he married a librarian, but he got us off to a great start by talking about his past experiences as an English teacher in South Central Los Angeles. His talked about how collaboration helps us build relationships and transform our schools and communities. Using methods such as “Ask Anansi“, he encouraged his students to go out and find the answers to questions that mattered to them and their community. He motivated students to investigate, interview people in the area, take photographs, and learn more about their own lives and their own stories. He then encouraged them to take the knowledge they gathered and share it to make a positive difference and inform those around them. He also gave us a bit of insight into everything from fan fiction to how authors use social media to market themselves. Why is this important? As Garcia points out, this shifts the relationship between the author and the consumer. This sparked ideas for many of us about how we market ourselves and our library programs. His final encouragement was for us to engage in and transform our world through our library programs.

ALA president Barbara Stripling told us that she considers herself a “lemonade maker” who sees opportunity in challenges. What are challenges for school library programs? Literacy, inquiry, social and emotional growth of students, equity and diversity. She reminded us that literacy empowers individuals to imagine, communicate, discover, and achieve. Barbara also encouraged us to sign the Declaration for Rights to Libraries, which I did. This was followed by 15 minute presentations from guests including YALSA’s Beth Yoke, public and school librarians, and Associate Superintendent of Lubbock TX IDS Joel Castro. Through this “Fast Learning” opportunity we overviewed several collaborative initiatives from coast to coast, and also had the opportunity to get an administrative view of library media programs. Mr. Castro encouraged us to make connections with our staff, particularly in the areas of math and science, where libraries and subject areas seldom meet, to be visible in our schools, take on leadership roles, and to gather hard data to share with our colleagues and our administrative teams.

I was forced to leave the summit a little early to catch a plane back to home, but I encourage anyone who has the opportunity to participate in the SLJ Leadership Summit or in other leadership opportunities to make every effort to do so. I learned so much, talked with and listened to some of the movers and shakers in our field, and came home still processing all I gleaned from the summit. To read what others have to say about the summit on Twitter, view #sljsummit.

Clockwise from top: Jo Knowles, ATBF swag, signing the Declaration, Lauren Myracle, Melissa de la Cruz and Sarah Dessen

Clockwise from top: Jo Knowles, ATBF swag, signing the Declaration, Lauren Myracle, Melissa de la Cruz and Sarah Dessen

Useful Links

Transformation Through Effective Collaboration – SLJ Summit 2013

SLJ Summit Wordle

“T” is for Transmedia: Learning through Transmedia Play

Center for International Scholarship in School Libraries Study

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Book Review: Not Much Just Chillin’

NMJCQuoting myself from Goodreads and expounding on what may be an essential read for both middle level educators and certainly parents of rising and current middle schoolers:

Linda Perlstein did something most superheroes would tremble at the thought of. She spent a year in middle school and documented the things she saw. In Not Much Just Chillin’ she reveals her findings, including the dynamics that exist between middle schoolers and their peers, teachers, and parents. She discusses the sexually overt behavior of some middle schoolers, the blind disdain some of them have for adults, and the seeming lack of concern for their own well-being and academic achievement. She also discusses what little scientific discoveries there were available in the early 2000s (book published in 2003) as well as the changes educational entities have made since the 1960s to try to better reach and teach the strange mixture of hormones, emotions, and thought that is the middle school child.

My dear friend, colleague, and personal life coach gave me this book to try to help me cope with the fact my daughter will begin middle school in the fall. Although I have been a school librarian in middle schools for 12 of my 18 years in education, there is something different about living with a middle schooler. Being the teacher of this strange and often unruly beast is different from living with one on many levels, but I have to admit that as both an educator and parent I learned a great deal I did not know about the middle school years, brain development and temperament during that time, and how parents and teachers can perhaps try to ease this transition. While the references to bullying, the budding romance, the sexuality and impropriety, the cursing and dependence on peers gave me an anxiety attack, there was enough reassurance that most people leave middle school nearly unscathed to provide me with the comfort I need to send my daughter into the melee that is middle school. One message Perlstein sends anyone willing to listen is that while children in the middle years seem to be deaf to their parents’ influence and seem to be pushing their parents away with deft and brutal force, the truth is that these children really want and need their parents to be involved in their lives and their education. They want us to care, to question, to show support and concern, even if it is met with eye-rolling and grunting. They may not outwardly respond to a parent’s affection and concern, but inwardly they embrace what they see and hear, crave our time and attention, and actually do listen to what we have to say about morality and expectations.

I highly recommend this book for parents of those approaching the middle years and teachers working with these students. The social references may be a bit dated, but the information and encounters Perlstein shares all ring true today.

What I didn’t say in Goodreads

Linda Perlstein became interested in a subject that few others wanted to bother with in the early part of this century. Middle schoolers are not exactly the warm, fuzzy sweethearts that we so enjoy in elementary school. Nor are they the mature, thoughtful, semi-responsible young adults we often see in our high schools. (I’m intentionally leaving out the rebels without causes in this scenario. Perhaps they didn’t make it out of middle school as unscathed as most?) Sometimes middle schoolers seem to be “normal” citizens. They seem rational, focused, and determined. At other times, like right before school dismissed for summer, you’ll find them dragging each other across the floor in the library’s rolling chairs, wallowing over each other like puppies while squealing everyone is “gay”, and trying to convince you they turned in that book you last saw in August. Their mental, social, and physical development is probably more akin to jumping in the ball pit at Chuck E Cheese than any sort of linear development we as both teachers and parents might hope and pray for.

I admit, when my instructional coach (and life coach) handed me this book, I looked at her with utmost appreciation and admiration. I think she may have developed a halo, but it could have been my overwrought emotions… She said something about giving the book to me not because I teach in middle school but because I am raising a soon-to-be middle schooler. It was her attempt to preserve my sanity since I have become sure of late that either myself or my daughter needed to spend some time exploring mental health options. Reading this book sometimes frightened me but it also made me feel better about what I see happening at home. Like I said, it is very different when you live with a middle schooler. You can’t just walk away, pray for the dismissal bell, or send the child to the guidance counselor. You’ve got to get through the moment and hopefully come out unscathed and with a child who feels that, even if you didn’t necessarily do a great job seeing her through, at least you did your very best.

Points to Ponder

Perlstein’s book gave me a great deal of comfort as I’ve said but it also helped me both understand and question why we as educators make some of the choices we have made over the last ten or so years. Some of the things I particularly noted include:

  • Your child loving a food and you then stocking up on that food will immediately result in your child never wanting to eat that food again. Don’t bother trying to please a middle schooler. It simply cannot be done.
  • Bullying and targeting peers because of clothing choices is at its height in middle school. This is reiterated frequently throughout the book. Of course, this is also a time when preteens want to experiment with their look and try new things. New things, of course, must fall within what their peers find acceptable. The middle schools in our school district all require students to wear uniforms, which cuts down on a great deal of this drama and bullying. I can appreciate that both as a teacher and parent. I look forward to not having to wait while my daughter changes clothes for the fifth time in ten minutes each morning, a phenomenon that began occurring in the middle of her fifth grade year. While some parents feel this limits a child’s ability to express himself, I find that students find ways to do that just fine. Students express themselves through the belts they wear with their khakis and with their choice of shoes, which run the gambit from $200 tennis shoes (a two hour debate with my daughter deems this the wrong word, but we’ll go with it) to flats from the local discount store. Does this “mark” a child’s socio-economic status? Perhaps. Does it cut down on some of the verbal and physical abuse students are subjected to because of socio-economic status? I think it does.
  • The middle school model emerged in the 1960s (p. 114). I found this surprising since I went to a Junior High with grades 7 through 9 in the early ’80s, where we had a smoking area for the ninth graders. This new model was in response to overcrowding at the elementary school level and students moving toward adolescents at a faster rate, which we are still seeing plenty of today.
  • By middle school age, the brain is nearly full-sized, but the brain cells become almost super-charged, creating an overabundance of extra connections the brain cannot possibly use. “This growth in the frontal cortex peaks at age eleven for girls and twelve for boys; the cells then fight it out for survival. The ones that are being used prevail. The rest will be shed.” (p.114)
  • Because the brain is growing and changing so much during the middle years, we as educators and parents need to be careful of which of those connections we are cultivating. Are we spending time on moral development, social engagement, and authentic learning? How is too much time online or playing violent video games affecting this growth? These are questions that concern me and I think they should be addressed both at home and in school.
  • Preteens are beginning to think in the abstract. They begin seeing relationships between self and society, and they want to know more than just facts. They want to know why they need to know them. (p.114-115) Perlstein goes on to outline some learning scenarios that might appeal to this new brain development and new capacity for learning, yet as an educator I wonder if we are up to par in teaching these new minds. I still see many teachers struggling with letting these students be participants in their learning. I still see worksheets and rote memorization. I’ll be interested in seeing how much this changes and what learning may look like in my school next year as we move to a 1:1 digital learning model. I’ll be interested in seeing which teachers embrace this new opportunity and which teachers have the students turn off their iPads when they enter the door. As Perlstein points out, “it takes an unusual amount of determination and creativity to be able to turn the academic research…into connections strong enough to engage all students.” (p.117)
  • Regarding video gaming, Perlstein questions the number of hours spent in front of a screen instead of using the body to actually play football, baseball, or whatever. Could this delay development of the cerebellum, the area of the brain responsible for movement, coordination, balance, equilibrium and muscle tone? Does video gaming trigger irrational fear responses, an overreaction to real-world events, as one study Perlstein found suggests? (p.163) I am not a video gamer, but many of my colleagues are, and they make good cases for video gaming at home and school, but I am reserved on the matter and do not permit my daughter to play video games above an E rating or for long periods of time. New studies have shown that video gaming changes the way the brain develops, but are these changes ultimately good for children whose brains are still developing? A quick Google search will reveal millions of results for “video games change your brain” – some are positive, but many are frightening, especially those linking violent video games to violent tendencies in boys.
  • Closer to home for me was what Perlstein reveals about middle school relationships, particularly romantic intentions. My daughter would be deemed “boy crazy” but actually knows little about the mechanics of boy/girl relationships. She knows the biology is different, but doesn’t know how it works. I am fortunate that so far she discusses her questions, concerns, and beliefs about this area with me and that we can talk about “sex” without too much concern. Of course, at this point, sex for her is two people removing their shirts and kissing while dating is talking to someone, holding their hand, and sitting together at lunch. For now, this is fine by me. However, some of the sexual situations Perlstein witnessed during her year in the trenches is much more extreme and nerve wracking. That year, students were exposing themselves in the classroom, arranging sexual encounters in the rest rooms, and debating whether or not oral sex was actually sex. This is the frightening part of middle school life. There are those students who are much more mature sexually, much more “in the know”, and who may be sexually active attending school right along with students like my daughter, who’s mother is often referred to [lovingly?] as “the helicopter warden” by both daughter and husband. As one might conclude and studies support, “kids who initiate dating earlier are more likely to become sexually active sooner and have more partners; those with lots of sexual partners misbehave more in other ways, too.” (p.213) In other words, if you exhibit high-risk behaviors in one area, you are most likely going to exhibit high risk behaviors in other areas. Fortunately, studies also show that those children with stable relationships with parents tend to have stable romantic relationships in adolescents.

Don’t Give Up, They’ll Grow Up

Throughout Perlstein’s book, the running theme was one of involvement and concern. We as parents and educators need to be careful to allow these children the degree of freedom they need to become more responsible, to grow and develop. However, we need to be careful not to allow them to completely shove us out of their lives. Yes, it is easier to accept their noncommittal, semi-human grunts and lack of attention, and simply move on. It is easier to allow them to push you away when you ask about homework, school, friends, and more. It is easier to let them shut themselves up in their smelly rooms, wreaking of hormones and 10-day-old gym socks, but the truth is as much as they push us away, they want us to pull them back. They want our love and acceptance. They want to hear our opinions and our stupid stories. They want to know that we are paying attention to them and their accomplishments, fears, and concerns even if they don’t acknowledge our attention. This is hard for me and my husband, and it is equally hard for teachers. We, too, want to be acknowledge. We want to know our children in the home and classroom appreciate our efforts as well. The truth is that we may just have to wait for that gratification. We are the adults and we can’t let our feelings be hurt by these little balls of hormone and emotion. Later, when they reach adulthood, they’ll remember what we did for them and some of them will actually thank us for it. How many times have we heard the stories of teachers getting letters from former students, bumping into them and their families in grocery stories to be showered with hugs and positive comments; how many times have we gone to see our own parents and been ever so thankful they stuck by us through those difficult years? A symbiotic relationship exists between middle school children and the adults in their lives. We may feel they are parasites most of the time, but based on personal experience and Perlstein’s book, the feeling is probably mutual. We can’t understand why we don’t get what we need from them in feedback and appreciation and they can’t understand why we can’t put up and shut up and be the grown-up. They really NEED for us to be the grown up.

Future Promises

The very first principal I worked for summed up the middle school years by declaring you could lock a child in a closet on day one of sixth grade and let them out on day one of ninth grade, and get no better or worse results. Middle school is often called a “wasteland” because of this kind of thinking from both educators and parents. The truth, it seems, is somewhere in between. These are trying years for parents and educators, but it is nothing compared to what the middle schooler himself is experiencing. With all the social, emotional, and physical changes taking place in the middle schooler’s life, paired with whatever may be happening in the home or society, it is no wonder these years are difficult. These are also important and hopeful years for children, though. These are the years that will shape their future and guide them into adulthood. Middle school teachers and the parents of middle schoolers have to hold on to this time and use it to direct and guide these children so they come out on the other side as confident, independent, socially responsible adults. It is a lot of work, but as with anything, you get out of it what you are willing to put into it. Linda Perstein’s book gives a real-world look into the lives of middle schoolers but also offers hope for their future and ours. It is a book well worth reading and sharing.

Related Reading

Teenage Brains – National Geographic - I found this in my father-in-law’s house last summer and found it interesting. It is about older students, but still reveals a great deal about how the brain develops and how that dictates much of the behaviors we, as adults, find distressing.

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2012 – 2013 Library Statistics

You know, when you are “in the weeds” as wait staff says, you really don’t realize how much is going on around you. That’s why I like to take time each year, at the end of the year, to look at my data and see exactly what happened during the whirlwind I call a school year. Once again, I am amazed at what was accomplished as I look back over my calendar, check out statistics, budget and expenses, pictures I’ve taken, and notes I’ve made. Of course, even looking at all that happened in my library media center, I know there is so much more I can do to serve my patrons. As I say goodbye to this school year, I look forward to the possibilities the fall will bring. This summer? Oh, yes. There are a few projects I have planned…and much more blogging to do! What wonderful opportunities working as a school librarian brings.

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Show Me the Awesome: Advocate or Vacate

Artwork by John LeMasney, lemasney.com

Artwork by John LeMasney, lemasney.com

Nearly a month ago, I stumbled across a blog post on Kelly Jensen’s  Stacked about a library program promotion entitled “Show Me the Awesome: 30 Days of Self-Promotion.” The premise is great. Give librarians from every venue an opportunity to blog about program advocacy, library promotion, and the wonderful things they do in their libraries. In fact, this blog post was the reason I began my blog, as I explained in my first post. Now, on the eve of my blog post date, I’m a little nervous. I’ve read other posts for “Show Me the Awesome,” which are all handily curated by Liz Burns and Sophie Brookover. I’ve commiserated with some of the bloggers, been jealous of a few others, and wondered about exactly what I was thinking when I signed on for this assignment.

School librarians, or teacher librarians, or whatever the name du jour happens to be are not by nature “horn tooters.” We do our jobs quietly and just are. We do our best to make sure that our school looks good, our students are happy, and our teachers have what they need at zero-hundred hours on the clock of doom. If we receive thanks or our efforts are publicly lauded, we hang our heads and whisper a quiet “Oh, it was nothing.” Well, guess what? Our “Oh, it was nothings” are giving legislators and administrators around the country reasons each and every day to eliminate our positions. Because we have shied away from talking about our programs, our value to the schools we serve, and the many duties we juggle on a daily basis, we are viewed as expendable.

The Evidence

In 2010, a Google Map was created entitled “A Nation Without Schools” to highlight all the schools and districts that have lost school librarians. It gets updated regularly. Just this month, School Library Journal reported that schools in Philadelphia might lose librarians due to budget cuts. Now Orange County, Florida is facing budget cuts and looking to move certified library media specialists to the classroom, leaving their positions vacant. All of this is happening despite the mountain of research that shows a certified school librarian improves student achievement. There seems to be a communication breakdown. Are the school librarians the only ones who are reading the research? Why don’t the people making the decisions about budgeting and funding know how much value we add to our schools’ academic programs? I think this phenomena may be traced right back to the hesitancy of school librarians to make a big noise about what they are doing, who they are serving, and how it is effecting the overall school program. We have to learn to advocate for ourselves or we need to go ahead and pack up our offices and vacate the premises. While funding decisions are not in our hands, if we can make our administrators, teachers, students, parents, and community understand what we do and why we do it, we can make ourselves more than an afterthought or a “bonus” program.

Overcoming Insecurity

We have to overcome our sense of un-awesomeness. We really shortchange ourselves and our programs. We may not all be doing some of the incredible, innovative, and wickedly cool things our colleagues are doing, but we make a difference in the lives of our students. That’s the point, right? That’s why we have TEACHING degrees first, and then actually went back to school to get a Master’s in Library Science. We knew what and who mattered most from the very beginning. Our students are what make us count. Sadly, our students are also the ones who just assume we will always be there, doing what we do, letting them know when that Diary of a Wimpy Kid book they put on hold finally comes in, remembering that Janie Shumaker in Mrs. River’s homeroom will absolutely die for the latest paranormal romance that just arrived, showing  Ramon how to download and edit a film he made using a flip camera, and figuring out how to deactivate the not-so-accessible accessibility function on Damon’s iPad before he has to be in science class. Teachers, too, take us for granted because that’s the way we have always wanted it. We know which teachers can’t figure out how to use a mouse, let alone download a video clip, so we do it for them. We remember where to find juried articles for those certification renewal classes the social studies teacher need and how to submit data for National Board renewals. We know who always asks to use the computers on the 23rd of May when she just cannot teach another student another algebraic equation and makes them research mathematicians instead. We also — hold on to your hat — teach. We teach digital citizenship, we teach web site evaluation, we teach document formatting, we teach book selection and reading strategies. We do what needs to be done to ensure the success of our patrons, all of them. And when another program comes down the pipe and “someone” needs to oversee it, be in charge of it, organize it, who is that person on most occasions? The librarian. Why? Because no one knows what we do, so they assume we have time to do whatever the new flavor of the day is. And you know what else? We do it TOO. Not in place of, in spite of, or rather than, but in ADDITION TO what we already do.

So, what do we do?

We continue doing what we do, but we learn to take a minute to let everyone else know we are doing it! We have to not only give ourselves that little smile (okay, sometimes I actually smirk) of satisfaction when that kid runs down the hall waving that book or that teacher collapses at our feet out of gratitude because we saved him from another boring poster board project by showing him Prezi, and he figured out he could grade everyone’s project in his bathrobe on his sofa. We ask those kids and teachers to tell someone else about our service or let the principal know how happy they are. We let people know that we wrote grants to buy new books, start e-book collections, and purchase e-readers because our budget hasn’t increased in six years or we didn’t even get a budget this year. We talk to our colleagues about what we are doing, ask for their help and suggestions, we tweet about our successes and make sure we include the board members and school superintendent. We become active members of our school library associations and actually participate instead of tuck the membership card in our wallet or use the membership number to get discounts in the product store. We volunteer to write blog posts even though we are absolutely terrified even if we wonder who on Earth wants to read about us because we can send the link to our administrators. We begin providing ourselves with the same level of support we give every other person in our school.

Moving Forward

I have served four schools, at all levels, in my 18 years as a school librarian. I have been in really big schools and really small schools. I have only been in my current school two years, and am just getting my feet wet with a new staff and new demographic of students. School librarians are, after all, nothing if not adaptable. We know how to study our surroundings and learn to fit in. That’s often why we are forgotten or just assumed to be around somewhere. In fact, I have been out of my school on several occasions this year for professional development or fulfilling my duties as Legislative Chair for the South Carolina Association of School Librarians [SCASL] and my faculty barely realized because I continued to answer their questions and provide them with resources remotely through e-mail. They are used to asking me questions and getting answers. They are used to me giving them what they need on the spot, and I do. But this year, thanks to encouragement from my colleagues, advocacy tips from SCASL and ALA, my principal’s passion for social media, my deep curiosity, and simply being in a climate where all of the staff is encouraged to share and grow together, I have made a real effort not to promote myself, but to let people know that I am promoting them and our school through my programming.

Showing My Awesome

I have a Twitter account, a school library Facebook page, a Goodreads account where I review books my students are reading, and now I blog. I use these methods of communication to build my professional learning community, share what works and what doesn’t for me, learn new things, and glean fresh ideas to keep my program relevant and useful in an increasing digital landscape. I am learning to use Edmodo since my district is embracing it as a communication and instructional tool. I volunteered to serve on my districts Library Advisory Committee and I served as a member of one of several forums as my district planned a move to 1:1 iPad implementation, which begins next year (blog material!). I served on SCASL’s Junior Book Award committee while also learning what a Legislative Chair does. I ran small, easy programs throughout the year based on national library events like Banned Books Week, National Library Week, and National Poetry Month while orchestrating a surprise renovation of my traditional library space into more of a learning commons. I had lots of contests, most of which I borrowed from colleagues’ blog posts since I am not particularly creative in such areas. I began searching Pinterest for more ideas. I have received four grants in two years to expand my program, and have written a couple more I am waiting to hear about. I communicated monthly usage statistics which my principal shared on the school website and I created bulletin boards sharing this information with students and anyone else walking our halls. I took a small group of students to our state Read-In and participated in ALA’s Library Legislative Days in Washington, DC. I have had more requests for my services as word of mouth and my mountain of e-mails, surveys, and direct inquiries  have shown my new faculty that I am approachable and want to help. I requested and received permission to offer teacher recertification workshops on technology, which I will begin this summer and continue into next year. I have cheered my colleagues along, applauded and bragged about their efforts, discussed my plans and asked for assistance, and in return they have shown their support of me and talked about my library program.

This summer, I will also work on creating some form of student-accessible blog or website or something to curate all the great things I have collected and make them useable to students who will have access to an iPad each day on campus. These students may not need to access my physical space in the building in the same ways they have in the past, but they will need my knowledge and the information I can provide them. I’ll plan programs, figure out how to navigate a new learning environment, and try to implement changes that will keep my library program fresh and interesting when students have the distraction of iPads as not only learning tools but entertainment. I want to work on a marketing plan based on Jennifer LaGarde’s blog post School Marketing 101. Her blog post gave me new ideas and a better perspective on what I want to achieve.

Your Turn to Be Awesome!

We matter. We know we do. We see it on a small scale every day. There is even hard data to prove it. Let’s just let our awesomeness shine and light our successes and the successes of our colleagues, let’s give our students and teachers something to be excited about. Now, go ahead,  you can do it. Show us YOUR awesome!

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National Library Legislative Days #NLLD13

TAforLI find it hard to believe that just two weeks ago I was in Washington, DC representing the South Carolina Association of School Librarians [SCASL] as Legislative Chair on behalf of the school librarians of our state during ALA’s National Library Legislative Days. Of course, at this point, I also can’t believe I was dumb enough to schedule a BOGO book fair and the final date for books to be returned in the same week. Ah, some things we regret and some we celebrate. I am definitely celebrating National Library Legislative Days. If you are a librarian anywhere in the United States, I encourage you to do your very best at some point in your career to experience this annual event. It is incredible to be in the heart of our nation, talking about things that matter most. Things like libraries as community centers ; funding to help level the playing field between those who have what they need in our society and those who don’t even have basic needs; helping people apply for jobs or medical care in a world that has increasingly moved toward digital formats, forgetting that some of our citizens do not have permanent housing, let alone an internet connection to apply for assistance. Things that matter because they keep our communities strong, healthy, employable, and educated.

Day One – Newbie Training!

On Monday, May 6, I met SCASL’s president-elect Anne Lemieux at the Ronald Reagan airport and we traveled to our hotel. After checking in, we walked around DC for a bit, getting our bearings and discussing our trip. Neither of us had ever participated in Library Legislative Days and we were unsure of what to expect or what we were getting ourselves into. Of course, ALA is very good at planning such monumental endeavors and we were able to attend a session for newbies. The session was wonderfully informative and even included a bit of humor, which helped calm our nerves. We learned that most likely, we would not meet the actual elected officials, but would instead meet with their staffers. We were also told, a bit tongue-in-cheek, that these staffers might remind us of our own sweet school children but were not to be referred to as such. These staffers might be young, but we were assured they knew their business and they knew the expectations of the congress members they served. We reviewed several legislative issues that might not seem to effect libraries on the surface , but can either help us build crucial services or cause us to lose important components of our programs. Some of those issues can be found at the bottom of the page here. We were also presented with a briefing schedule for the next day. By the time I left, my head was spinning and the nerves had returned as it dawned on me that I might have to try to sound semi-intelligent about a ton of legislation I truly knew next to nothing about. After all, as a school librarian, I am used to taking whatever budget I am given by my building principal without really being aware of the origins of the funding. I felt unprepared for what was to come and frustrated with myself for not being better prepared. Civic lesson 101: Know your legislators, how they vote, and stay informed through your professional organizations, social media, and by simply paying attention to the world around you.

Comfort from Home

Later, Anne and I met public and academic librarians from our great state who had traveled by train, plane, or automobile for Legislative Library Days at a cool little indie book store with a restaurant called Afterwords to discuss meeting with our Capitol Hill representatives. We shared stories from the trenches, got to know each other, and talked about what really mattered to us as librarians. Our common thread, despite budget cuts, reduction in staff, loss of services, and other hardships, was a love for our communities in whatever form they take and a desire to serve our patrons to the best of our abilities. To do that, however, does require support from the communities we serve, a bit of funding, and at least a nod or two from our South Carolina legislators at home and on the Hill. Fortunately, I also found out that my traveling companions were much more well-versed in legislation and the impact much of it makes on our libraries. Whew! What a relief. Believe me, I began paying very close attention as they discussed funding and more.

Day Two – Briefing Day

Briefing day was in our hotel, which was a blessing since it was raining cats and dogs, but not money, in DC that day. I joined about 350 people from around the country, including 13 from our own state, in the conference room. It was incredible to see so many people on the same mission in one room. As I sat in the session, I began to get a better grasp on our reason for being in Washington and how the legislation effected my school and my library program. Pieces of the puzzle began to fall into place and acronyms like FASTR, WIA, LEARN, and IAL began to form meaning in my mind. I also discovered that ALA handily put some key points on the back of our name tags. How smart is that? I think the ultimate in cool for me was listening to Lee Rain, from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, speak about their recent library survey. I think the touch of familiar he provided, discussing something that I actually knew about, comforted me.

Planning Our Strategy

Craft created by Tiffany Rickey, Dutchman Creek Middle School, with the help of our students.

Craft created by Tiffany Rickey, Dutchman Creek Middle School, with the help of our students.

That evening, our South Carolina contingent met again to put together information packets for our legislators and divide tightly scheduled meetings in eight different offices between us. Our packets included information on key pieces of legislation, to help congress members and their staff remember key points after we left their offices; memories from home in the form of beautiful South Carolina pottery and salt water taffy; and a gift from my home school district in the form of a craft containing a packet of seeds to remind our legislators libraries plant seeds of knowledge, QR codes directing them to key school library information sites, and notes from our students about why they love their school libraries. Anne and I were to be split up most of the day to ensure there was a school librarian in each group, and we as a whole discussed how many pieces of legislation were on the table and on which of those we would focus. When you have a small window of time, you learn to plan very carefully. Anne and I were charged with discussing Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL), which will provide competitive grants to needy school districts to update their programming and collections. We also needed to know about the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) which helps our State Library pay for the DISCUS program, saving individual libraries of every type about $54 million a year in spending on databases.  In other words, giving us databases for our citizens to use that we would not otherwise be able to afford at all. Finally, we planned to encourage our state legislators to include wording that would require a certified librarian, updated materials, training, and opportunities for collaboration in the Literacy Education for All Act (LEARN). Homework in hand, I retired to my room to study and prepare for our big day.

On Capitol Hill

In front of Congressman Wilson's Office with Legislative Aide Lora Hobbs. Photo courtesy of Ed Rock, Clemson University.

In front of Congressman Wilson’s Office with Legislative Aide Lora Hobbs. Photo courtesy of Ed Rock, Clemson University.

So, are you humming the tune to the School House Rock song “I’m Just a Bill”? Given that ALA informed us that only about 4% of the 10,000 pieces of legislation introduced to Congress each year ever becomes anything else, you just can’t help it!)  Since I was in the first group of the morning, I headed out at 8:15 AM. My group then walked to Rayburn House for our 9 AM meeting with Congressman Joe Wilson’s staff. This was my “test run” where I would find out if I could remember what I needed to discuss and not humiliate myself or SCASL. When we arrived at Congressman Wilson’s office, we were warmly greeted and entered into a slightly cramped conference area. No, it seems our legislators are not spending our tax dollars on office space, folks! Once seated, we began to discuss our concerns about the future of libraries, our ideas about legislation currently on the table, and to thank Congressman Wilson through his staff for past support. His legislative aide was intelligent, articulate, and asked pointed questions about our programs. This was also my first opportunity to see how truly connected public, academic, and school libraries really are. As Leesa Benggio, Deputy Director of the South Carolina State Library, began to talk about how LSTA paid for everyone in South Carolina to have access to DISCUS and how E-rate paid for internet infrastructure, I saw the interdependence of our services to our patrons and better understood how cutting the budget in one area had a direct impact on another, and how those cuts effect the people of our state. Among my group were representatives of rural and urban libraries, small and large libraries, and university libraries. As each person spoke in turn, I gained a broader perspective. When it was my turn to speak, I was able to express the interconnectedness I saw and reiterate the importance of what we do to serve our citizens, including our school children. The legislative aide took copious notes and asked clarifying questions. She pledged to get that information to the Congressman and arranged for a chaperon to take us the other side of the Capitol, where we were scheduled to meet with Senator Lindsey Graham.

Going Underground

Anne and me underground!

Anne and me underground!

Did you know there is this huge underground system of hallways that lets all those legislators, their staff, and others travel quickly between the House of Representatives side of the Capitol and the Senate side? I didn’t, but it was amazing. There is a treasure trove of US history under the top-side streets of Washington, DC that I had no idea existed. There is also a really cool tram and we got to ride it — twice! As our chaperone took us through passageway after passageway, I was awed by much of what I saw, including all the people. No wonder there weren’t that many people moving around above ground! I have to say that this method of travel was efficient and we were able to quickly get to where we needed to be. I’ll also take a moment here to thank Senator Tim Scott, who later in the day had his office manager escort us back to the other side, stay with us while we had lunch, and make sure we stayed on schedule. What wonderful care we received from people who are often maligned in the press and by the very people who voted them into office. Sometimes we forget that we have entrusted them to look out for us and that such a task can be overwhelming even in the best of times. Dealing with things like fiscal cliffs, sequestering, and rising deficit does not make their job any easier.

Meetings Continue

South Carolina public, academic, and school librarians with Senator Tim Scott during ALA NLLD 2013!

South Carolina public, academic, and school librarians with Senator Tim Scott during ALA National Library Legislative Days 2013!

The rest of our day was spent moving from office to office. My group met with Senator Lindsey Graham’s legislative aide, who not only listened but gave us the Senator’s perspective on the budget issues and his appreciation of the services libraries at all levels offer. We actually were able to meet Senator Tim Scott because our arrival coincided with an already arranged meet and greet time for his constituents. Even during that brief time, he had to excuse himself a few times to dash off to a meeting or discuss a pressing matter; yet, he was gracious and even took time for a photo with our delegation. We also visited with staff members from Congressman Trey Gowdy’s office and Congressman Jim Clyburn’s office. Congressman Clyburn is a bit near and dear to my heart because his wife was once a school librarian, which gives me a sense of kinship. The other half of our group made sure to visit Congressmen Tom Rice, Mick Mulvaney, and Jeff Duncan‘s offices presenting the same message we shared. Throughout our day, we were met with positive attitudes, graciousness, a few chagrined smiles from staffers who well remembered using DISCUS for high school research but had forgotten about it after getting their diplomas and moving on, and a promise to keep libraries and the communities they serve in mind as budgets are slashed and hard decisions are made. As one of our contingent pointed out, spending just $1 on library services yields over $6 in return for our communities. Libraries are great fiscal investments. Sometimes, we just need to remind those making the big decisions who we are and what we do, which is the purpose of ALA’s Library Legislative Days.

Now What?

So, now that I have learned all of this, discovered all the things I don’t know about my government and the legislative process, and found out that I can make a difference if I take the time to do so, what happens? I plan to attempt to be better informed by taking more time to read ALA’s Legislative Dispatch, using their Washington Office Resources, and making sure I contact my representatives in Congress e-mails, tweets, faxes, and whatever other kind of communication I can manage to let them know when legislation that matters to libraries is on the floor and up for discussion. After finishing this post, I’ll write thank yous to the staff members who took time from an extremely busy schedule to sit down and listen to what we had to say. I’ll also send thank yous to the Senators and Congressmen those staff members represented and encourage them to vocally support libraries of all types and the services they provide. You can do this too. Find out who your legislators are and keep in touch with them. Most of them have Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and use other social media. We elected these officials and they need to hear our concerns to know how to best serve us. Silence may be golden; but with 10,000 pieces of legislation on the table each year, it can also be deadly to the programs that matter most in our states. Speak up and let your voices be heard.

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I’m In! ##nolibrarywhining

Karma is a very inconvenient lady! After a rough patch, I found the blog post below through Twitter. This comes at a perfect time as I run around wondering how to manage all my end-of-the-year tasks, race around to meetings, rush off to events as my daughter finishes her elementary years, and plan for next year…which includes a 1:1 iPad roll out! Yikes!  I’m signing on for no whining about my wonderful library, which I love but sometimes overwhelms me, for 24 hours! Already, the new mind set has paid off! I found out minutes ago that I will receive funding from the Rock Hill Foundation for a South Carolina Junior Book Award grant. Yay! More on that later. Check out this post and join in if you like.

http://librariankate7578.com/.

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World Book Night Rocks!

I'm a Book Giver!

I’m a Book Giver!

I cannot express how much of an honor and a privileged it is to be chosen to be a Book Giver for World Book Night. This is the second year I have been able to participate in the program and I have been richly rewarded as a result. I don’t remember how I stumbled upon the program. Perhaps through a Tweet sometime during my first year back in my hometown, as I tried to settle in and find neat new things to do in my new middle school. When I found the WBN site, I did a good bit of reading. After all, I think most of us are distrustful of FREE opportunities these days.

I learned that WBN was a relatively new concept, which began in 2011. I also learned it was going on in the UK, Germany, and the US on April 23 in honor of International Day of the Book, Shakespeare’s birthday, and Cervantes death. I learned a bunch of other stuff you can learn too by going to their website. You should definitely go to their website.

The most exciting thing I learned was that every year they give away some really cool books and all you have to do is fill out an application explaining why you want to do that for them. The goal of WBN is to put books in the hands of people who may have no access or limited access to books, so you want to keep that in mind. Then, if you are lucky, you just might have the honor of calling yourself a World Book Night Book Giver. Books range in interest and reading levels. Book Givers may give books to anyone they choose from students in local schools and colleges to folks hanging out at public transportation spots to, well, anyone. Last year, I handed out twenty copies of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo. This year, my kids thrilled at receiving Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life by James Patterson.

My first WBN recipients!

My first WBN recipients!

Want to know what thrilled me? Their faces! My first customers of the day were my morning Poptropica maniacs. They have to get in their fix before school, you know? They came in, and I said, “Hey, hold these books like this and let me take your picture.” Yeah, okay. Cutting in on the Poptropica time, but they love me, sort of. I snapped the picture and then asked if they would like to keep the books. You should have seen their shock and delight. Smiles burst forth from their faces and off they went. The rest of the day was very much the same. Students came in and I would “randomly” ask some of them if they would like to have a copy of the book to keep forever, for their very own libraries. Some were dismayed. I’m pretty sure not many people have given them things out of nowhere. I’m even more sure no one has given them books for no apparent reason. Those moments of pleasure and wonder gave me goosebumps and one or twice I admit, I got a little teary eyed. Writing about it is letting me experience it all over again.

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So, how do you randomly choose who to give books to? When someone asks me about my school, I say, “Well, we read.” We do. All the time. Everywhere. We give kids “Get Caught Reading” tickets for reading when they don’t have to. They visit the library frequently. We have summer reading events. We value reading. We have also come to understand that it is very hard to value something like reading when you don’t view yourself as a reader. Yes, you might go to the library. You might get a book off your teacher’s shelf. But if you don’t have any books at home, are you a reader? Maybe not. It is all in your perception, and anyone who knows middle schoolers know that perception is a driving force in much of what they do. That is why our school has been trying to get more books in our children’s hands so they can build their home libraries. World Book Night has given me the opportunity to help some of our students build their home library, build their view of themselves as readers, and let them know that I value them enough to want to help them do that.

In 2012, World Book Night Book Givers in the United States handed out half a million books. That’s a lot of books going to a lot of homes, dorm rooms, shelters, and other places that may or may not have libraries. I can’t wait to see the numbers for this year. WBN may very well be a modern day Johnny Appleseed of literacy in our country. Like I said, World Book Night rocks and I am very honored to have participated. Are you interested in having this goose-bumpy experience? Sign up for their newsletters so you don’t miss out next year!

For now, check out Neil Gaiman‘s thoughts on books. He co-authored Good Omens, one of the give-aways this year. And, as  you well know, he too rocks. His blog post “It’s a Books! Books! Books! Books! Books! World.” was a nice wrap up to World Book Night for me. If you have time (yes, I recommend you FIND time), you should listen to the speech he includes. I love his dandelion analogy.

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