Vagabond Librarian

Reports from the intersection of military life, motherhood, & librarianship.



Our Reading Summer

My favorite book this summer.

“Reading Summer” at our house is that brief time of year when we have the opportunity to read whatever we want, without the distraction of assigned reading. I enjoy reading. I  actually find my textbooks engaging. There is something, though, about having an entire three weeks to binge on my own reading choices that makes me giddy. My son does not enjoy reading like I do. For most of the year, it is a chore he must engage in to not fail his English Language Arts classes. During the summers, though, reading has begun to come alive for him. My husband is a voracious reader like me, but he was unable to participate in Reading Summer this year because he was reading legal manuals for an Army course–riveting, I’m sure, but assigned.

My Reading Summer wasn’t three whole weeks solely dedicated to reading, but it was three whole weeks dedicated to reading what I chose. And it reinforced for me everything I expressed in my early summer post Death to (Assigned) Summer Reading! Long Live Summer Reading! about how important it is to allow people time during which they are free to choose what they read–not from a list or for points, just for enjoyment. My fifth-going-into-sixth grade son’s quirky summer reading choices, which mostly involved kids-with-super-powers novels and informational texts, was a great reflection of his personality. It was also a relief to see the ease with which he read. He read with ease not because the material was “easy,” but because he had chosen it and could abandon it at any time for something better if he didn’t like it.

My second favorite Summer Read was our September book club pick! Serendipitous, eh?

I read with ease these last few weeks, too. I also abandoned books that didn’t work for me. It was liberating.

I hope you are able to carve out some space and reading time in your year to take a reading vacation, too. Not a vacation from reading, or a vacation from daily life, but a serious chunk of  time that you are able to set aside for the sole purpose of reading things that interest you–that you already love or may grow to love.

I would also love to hear about your favorite book to read for pleasure–at the moment or “of all time!” Please join the conversation by adding your favorite book (or for even more fun, you most quickly abandoned book!) in the comments below.

Death To (Assigned) Summer Reading! Long Live Summer Reading!

The books he loves the most are ones teachers are unlikely to assign.
The books he loves the most are ones teachers are unlikely to assign.

Alexander Nazaryan’s article Trust Me, Assigning Summer Reading Is Totally Pointless has set off a rather passionate discussion about summer reading among book-lovers and library-types. I’ve been baffled to see Nazaryan’s article characterized as anti-summer reading. I found the opposite in the article. I think the way to encourage summer reading, and the love of reading in general, is to get students excited about the reading choices they have over the summer and to “lay off” assigning summer reading (which just reinforces that reading is a chore we must make kids do). School and public librarians can work with teachers like Nazaryan to help kids find the connections that inspire the intrinsic motivation not just to read, but to become readers for life.

I feel kinship with Nazaryan, a self-described “overlord of a 9th grade classroom.” I began my professional life as a 9th grade English Teacher, sailing with my students through The Odyssey, bleating through Animal Farm, and questioning Pip’s grasp on reality through Great Expectations. I saw students make tender connections with Scout and Atticus, become incensed over the treatment of Thomas Black Bull, and realize with disgust what fools Romeo and Juliet were. I was honest with my classes about what I loved and didn’t love from our reading list, and I talked to them about how I knew the stuff I didn’t love was still “good.” And, (I hope) I taught them to articulate why they did or did not connect with the books that were assigned to us. I tried to model good and realistic reader behavior by letting my sometimes hesitant readers know that it was okay to not like something right away. I encouraged them to keep reading by describing to them how sometimes a book would get better than you thought it would be, and you’d feel like someone just handed you the best gift in the world. And, how sometimes you just didn’t make a connection and that was okay, too. If that happened, students were expected to describe what they didn’t like using the terms and concepts we were discovering about how stories are put together and developed. Then we would use that knowledge to seek out books they could love, books that would make reading enjoyable for them.

For ten months of the year, we make decisions for students that constitute a large portion of their reading choices. Certain titles are best-suited to illustrate a particular theme, story arc, literary device, or story-telling element in different grade-level curriculum. Those best-suited books aren’t always the ones that speak to a student’s soul, though. Sometimes, with assigned reading, making a connection takes great effort and collaborative exploration. We need to ensure our kids have the skills, support, and time to make enough of their own reading choices that they experience that connection without any effort at all. We shouldn’t rob them of the beauty and excitement of a discovery of their own because we are worried they won’t have read Into the Wild by their sophomore year. Any book that speaks to a person has value, and those school reading assignments will get easier once students have had the opportunity to find pleasure in reading books of their own choosing. I had to remind myself that I believed that quite often when my son was in second grade and went through his Captain Underpants phase.

Enter the library. My son’s second grade teacher did not allow Captain Underpants on her reading list. (The Captain has yet to be recognized by the literati as the soulful protagonist he really is.) A librarian introduced my son to the Captain and something magical happened. My son–who we read to regularly since he was a fetus, who is being raised surrounded by books of all kinds, and who found reading on his own a painful chore–realized that reading could be fun. Awesome, unadulterated, belly-laughing fun. Neither his book-loving family or his enthusiastic teacher lit that reader’s spark in him–a ridiculously rude book he chose with the help of a caring and in-tune librarian did.

Librarians and summer reading programs have an important role to play in offering all readers choice, opportunity, and recommendations that will keep them reading through the summer months. School librarians and teachers from all grade levels can collaborate with their public librarians to ensure a smooth transition between teacher-assigned reading and summer reading choices. I wish I had realized that as a 9th Grade English Teacher. When I later switched gears to teaching preschool, I worked with the local public librarian to visit the classroom, and for our classes to visit the library. The librarian and I also worked together to sign up families for library cards, and to have them start the library’s summer reading program before the school year even ended.

Instead of relying on assigned summer reading, let’s help kids use their freedom in the summer months to find the books that will hook them on reading for life–the books that will comfort them, challenge them, inspire them, make them laugh and cry, and bring them back for more. Take the summer off and read what you want, Mr. Nazaryan, the librarians will take it from here.
Nazaryan, A. (June 13, 2013). Trust Me, Assigning Summer Reading is Totally Pointless. The Atlantic Wire.

If you’d like to read more about collaborating librarians, check out Library Partnerships: Making Connections Between School and Public Libraries. (click for the link for more information and to find it at a library near you!)

3D Printers, Creativity, and Innovation

Do-it-yourself!Creativity and innovation are at the heart of my library school experience at Syracuse University. 3D Printing is an innovative technology being adopted by some public and school libraries as a tool to foster innovation and creativity. In my Motivating 21st Century Learners course, we were asked to think of ways 3D printers could encourage creativity and innovation in the library classroom–this post is based on our classroom discussions and my investigation of that question.

I first heard about 3D printers in libraries during my introductory library course in summer 2011. Since then, I have wrestled with “That is the coolest thing ever!” and “Do we really need more little plastic things in the world?” I love the makerspace concept, and support the use of all libraries as collaborative creation spaces. I’m still not sold on libraries as individual manufacturing centers through 3D printing, though. For this reason, I framed my 3D printer investigation to look for ideas that foster creativity as well as information about the materials used in 3D printing. After a few weeks of investigation, I’m starting to see how 3D printing, in the big scheme of things, personalizes production so that we are ending up with (eventually) fewer plastic things in the world made en masse, and more original items of our own invention. I like the potential for 3D printers to use recycled materials, garbage, and other renewable resources in the production process. I want a 3D printer of my own. Do I think they are great tools for all libraries? No. Do I think they are great tools for some libraries. Yes.

Here’s why the “No.” Most of the ideas we came up with and read about for using 3D printers in the elementary and secondary library classroom environment could be accomplished through more accessible and less expensive means. Now that I have that ugly reality out of the way, I want to share a few of the ideas that I’d love to try in my library classroom one day when I get my possibly-unnecessary-but-totally-awesome 3D printer!

At the heart of our challenge for this assignment was innovation, which requires learners to employ a number of inquiry skills and to engage on multiple cognitive levels. Also important to this assignment was encouraging students to engage in the creation process–to use prior knowledge as a context for new learning, engage in problem solving and critical thinking, and contribute to an exchange of ideas to collaborate with others.

One method of employing 3D printing tools to encourage innovation is to ask students to look for a problem in their school or home life that they would like to solve. Students could browse Thingiverse to see examples and start brainstorming, and then be given time to get out into the world to discover a problem they could solve. They could improve the design of something they already use every day, or come up with something completely new.

Another method of fostering creativity is to incorporate 3D printing tools into interpreting and sharing stories. As a creative project, students could be asked to invent something that represents what they are reading, or to solve a problem for the characters in the story. Then students could present their creation along with an explanation of the process through which they interpreted and developed it. Students could then debrief the design and manufacturing process. This would have students pull from a number of different subject areas to interpret a story and learn more about a variety of elements from the story and symbolism—as well as learn to interact with and navigate online 3D printing communities and support to generate ideas and learn the manufacturing process.

One of my favorite ideas for fostering creativity and innovation using 3D printers in the classroom was suggested by my classmate Jenny, and did not require the students to ever even touch a 3D printer. Her suggestion was to involve students in determining through research which printer would best meet their school’s needs, and then make recommendations of whether the investment would be a good one for the school.

I’m excited to learn more about 3D printers. I’d love to hear your 3D printing experiences and ideas.
Maker Librarian, a site dedicated to providing resources about participatory librarianship, maker spaces, and hacker spaces, provides a number of useful links to informative articles and videos about the 3D printing process, 3D printers, and the intellectual property questions that accompany 3D printing.

I found a cool review of some popular 3D printers here, titled 3D Printer Round-up: Cube 3D, UP!, and Solidoodle, from Hot Hardware: The hottest tech, tested and burned in.

And, here is the article, 3D Printing Tech: The Big Green Implications, from TG Daily that inspired me to think about the eventual green possibilities of 3D printing.


This is a Library

   What’s a library?

This is about the Carthage Free Library. I’d love to hear about your public, academic, or special library.

My library is located in a charming building on Budd Street, but its services are at the Farmer’s Market, the school gym, and anywhere the community gathers.

My library is summer reading, water balloon tag, and animal encounters. It is the place where fantasy and reality intersect to spark further imagination and investigation by readers young and old alike.

My library is a safe place to go after school. It is a place to create, study, play, read, and learn. The library is Lego club, tea parties, story time, and art class. It is patrons painting the mural in the children’s room and planting bushes in the library’s front yard.

My library is paranormal investigation, author visits, local history classes, and cooking demonstrations. The library’s local history room is a treasure trove of resources and host to an oral history project. My library is a resource community members need to improve themselves and the community. My library is job fairs, internet access, basic skills classes, and the chance to make a better life. And, my library is a massive capital campaign undertaken to ensure physical access to the entire library for all patrons.

My library is family movie nights, craft classes for all ages, and spaghetti dinners. The library is Pysanky egg decorating, wine tasting, monthly book club, and student art shows. It is friendly staff, regular volunteers, an active Board of Trustees, and a Friends of the Library organization–all of which constantly strive to connect to and add value to their community.

In a word, what’s my library?


Seizing the Teachable Moment in "What’s a Library?"

Over the weekend, video producer Michael Rosenblum’s Huffington Post blog “What’s a Library?” generated quite a bit of discussion in my library-loving world. Mr. Rosenblum, who admits to never having gone inside the now-demolished library that inspired his post, questions the need for libraries in a world where he says everything can be found on the web, which he contends is “free.” More interesting to me than Mr. Rosenblum’s article (after all, haven’t each of us answered this question from every teenager we’ve encountered since we started library school), is the response of Ingrid Henny, The Magpie Librarian, who engaged Rosenblum with passion, research, and an invitation to further discussion. The Magpie, and the librarians who have joined her blog thread, are turning this into a teachable moment. 
That teachable moment is beautiful. And, frankly, we need to seize more of these moments outside of the library. The librarians I know are intelligent, civic-minded, and hard working. These librarians respond to teachable moments regularly in their libraries with deft hands and minds. Then, quite often, these librarians see an article like Rosenblum’s and respond by posting a meme about how librarians are better than Google, accompanied by a pedantic comment about our relevance. In those instances, our intelligence and caring gets lost in peevishness and snark. We have to stop whining. We have to stop beginning to engage in debate and then backing off or disappearing from the scene when someone writes or says something that challenges us, that challenges our core beliefs. We should follow the Magpie’s example and engage not only with passion, but with research, anecdotes, and facts. I see evidence of meaningful debate between librarians daily; we should demonstrate similar engagement outside of our professional circle. Many library advocates do. I know this, and I applaud them. Many more could and should, though. The web is rife with librarians who continue to bleat about relevance, at our own expense. 
I question why librarians continue to engage in the ridiculous debate about whether we can, should, or will be replaced by Google. Google is a tool. And here is where I get peevish and snarky: by perpetuating the “we can bring you back the correct answer and Google throws you into a sea of meaningless information” meme, we reinforce the perception that we are threatened by Google. I am not threatened by Google. If you, as a librarian or library student, do feel threatened, please seek inspiration immediately at a local library program, on YouTube by searching *library school*, or on any blog about the army of librarians who are keeping pace with their communities to provide equitable access to collections, as well as enriching experiences and services, on ever-shrinking budgets.
If I’m so smart, what do I think we should be debating? I’ll give you one to get you started–Equity of Access. I’m sure you can come up with many more on your own. These are conversations we library students and librarians have with each other. Let’s take these conversations out of the back room and share them with people like Mr. Rosenblum.
The Vagabond’s First Debate Topic: Equity of Access. The most startling problem brought to light in Rosenblum’s provocative article is the outrageous perception Rosenblum has of who the library is for and what the library offers access to. Equitable access doesn’t just mean providing internet access for the economically  disadvantaged, though that is one wonderful facet of what our libraries provide. Equity of Access is defined by the American Library Association as follows:
“Equity of access means that all people have the information they need-regardless of age, education, ethnicity, language, income, physical limitations or geographic barriers. It means they are able to obtain information in a variety of formats-electronic,  as well as print. It also means they are free to exercise their right to know without fear of censorship or reprisal.”      
The answer to Rosenblum’s question “What’s a Library?” is multilayered and as unique as the communities we serve. This question is being answered, and will continue to be answered and illustrated, by the many librarians and library members responding to his post. Let’s give our voice greater impact by using this opportunity to talk about the issues our libraries really face, and not by reactionary prose and search engine meme.

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