Vagabond Librarian

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


School library

Wondering about Your Library

Today I’m sharing an advocacy video I created for my Technologies class. In my “real” advocacy video, I would include photos from my school library. In this practice video, I enjoyed including photos from my volunteer experiences, library fieldwork, and visits to the local library with my preschool classes.


School Librarian: Advocacy Leader

This week in my Information Technologies in Educational Organizations course, we’ve been learning and talking about leadership, advocacy, and evidence-based practice. As future school librarians and engaged members of society, my classmates and I know that many of our country’s school and public libraries are in trouble. We know that user-centered, evidence-based practice and an effective advocacy plan will ensure that we survive and thrive. We know that we should be leaders who advocate for our library members, our resources, and ourselves. Sometimes, though, our advocacy messages get muddled. By acting as leaders in our schools and communities, we can ensure that we send an advocacy message that is strong and clear, and that allows others to easily join us as library advocates.

The following video is a charming library advocacy video from the Shady Spring Library Media Center. The message of this video is clearly on the library’s value to the students of Shady Spring, and it demonstrates to me the importance of a student-centered approach to school library advocacy.

This week, I’ve collected and read a number of advocacy articles and resources (available through my School Library Advocacy Pinterest Board for you to check out) and I’ve come up with a synthesis of advocacy advice that I find practical and that my life experience leads me to believe will be effective. (Particularly, my life experience as a teacher who fought successfully to keep her small cooperative preschool alive.*)

Here is that synthesis–my plain language version of School Librarian Advocacy Advice:

Get over yourself. You love your job, you want to pay off your student loans, and you are a damn good librarian. None of that matters right now. Think about your library community–your students, their parents and teachers, the community around you. Focus your advocacy on your library members. Send the message that you care about your library community and that you want to keep the library’s services and collection available to them.

Get out of the library. Connect, collaborate, and communicate every chance you get. Get out of the library both literally and figuratively. Use Twitter to connect with other school librarians, Facebook to connect with the community, Pinterest to share boards with educators and librarians near and far, Google Calendar to collaborate and communicate with administrators and teachers. You get the idea. And, show up to planning meetings when you can, roam the halls to pop in and offer a book or resource guide that may interest a teacher or two. Get teachers to visit you by getting out of the library to invite them to a new materials preview breakfast once a month. Whether your library community is in the library or you are out of the library, they should think of you as the literary center of their educational environment. That won’t happen if you are hidden in the stacks somewhere.

Get a clear plan, stick to it, then change it when you need to. Spell out your goals for the library. Know what difference you want the library to make and then think of ways to make that happen. Plan for ongoing, effective data collection that will prove that you made “that” happen. Will you use spreadsheets, rubrics, checklists, student portfolios, collaboration and event logs, surveys, suggestion boxes, or circulation statistics to provide evidence that the library makes a difference (that you make a difference)? Incorporating regular assessment tools like these in your daily, or weekly, library practice will provide you the evidence you may need to effectively advocate for your library. And, these tools give you the added benefit of showing what is working well in your library and what you may need to tweak to make better.

Know the “So What?” This is a big one for me. It was one of those blazing light-bulb-over-your-head sort of moments that happened to me while doing a Planning, Marketing, and Assessment course project for a middle school learning program in a public library. My goals for the project were lofty, my objectives solid, and my assessment benchmarks seemed fine. The librarians on the implementation end of the project were satisfied, but my professor asked a question that has guided me through a number of assessment decisions since. The question was “so what?” As in, “so what if you have thirty people attend the program and they all say they want to come back if you have another similar program? What substantive difference does that make?” Don’t be satisfied with numbers and statistics. Dig deeper to prove real results. Were attendees more confident in school? Did their grades improve as a result of their attendance at this public library learning program? Were they more likely to join academic clubs? Graduate with honors? Engage in more personal research activities? Dig for the “so what” and you will be able to demonstrate the very real impact your library has on its community.

You and your library have an impact on the community. It is important that you use your voice to share what that impact is, and what your vision for that impact is for the future. If you don’t tell your library’s story, who will tell it for you?


*The preschool is still going strong, for anyone wondering. I had to leave because we moved away from the area (the inconvenient side of my family’s Vagabond habits!), but I was able to pass the reigns to an innovative new teacher and a parent board who has become expert advocates for the school.

Library Learning Blogs

Teacher-librarians can use blogs in their school libraries to connect with students and the community, to support learning standards, and to give students a voice in collection and program development.

I like the idea of a blog written by the school librarian(s) that promotes library activities and resources; a blog written by students in which they share reviews and library thoughts; or, a blog that invites outside participants like community leaders and authors to directly engage with students. The library blog project I’m especially interested in, though, involves librarians, students, teachers, administrators, and trusted community members all engaging together in civil discourse. All educators should be addressing civil discourse in all our subject areas, and the library as a center for literacy learning should focus on it, too.


While engaging in civil discourse through blogging meets criteria across the board in the American Association of School Library’s standards for the 21st Century Learner (which I explained briefly in my last post), it particularly supports Standard 3: Share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society.

This is what I envision: A school library blog, focused on student engagement and ideas, that serves as a platform to encourage informed, civil debate based on critical thinking and generating understanding of different perspectives that leads to collaboration and the creation of new ideas.

  • Students will create the guidelines for engagement in this blog community and suggest topics about issues that are important to students. The librarian will facilitate the creation of a rubric by which students will assess their own blog posts and responses for appropriateness.
  • Students will view select news clips and blog posts (and responses) to evaluate tone, bias, and factual accuracy. They will assess the material for helpfulness and edit these real-world examples to practice writing comments that would provide more value than the original, and that represent civil disagreement.
  • Students, the librarian, and teachers will engage in ongoing assessment and reflection of the power of fact-based, rational engagement in civil discourse.
  • The librarian will provide links to resources that include factual information and varied viewpoints for further investigation by students. This activity will be richest when topics are developed through collaboration with subject area teachers, who will also provide resource content advice.

Our students learn in an increasingly participatory environment, they deserve a platform to develop critical thinking and communication skills that will prepare them to be participants that will be taken seriously.

Library Land

This post is inspired by  a class called Motivating 21st Century Learners at Syracuse University.  I’ve included a number of links  to articles and video clips about games and gamification throughout the post so that you can explore this topic further.

At left: My team’s game creation, a spin-off of CandyLand to facilitate learning about the resources available in an elementary school library.

During our spring residency, my fellow students and I engaged in a number of rapid-fire team activities. My favorite activity was game creation. We discussed games as learning tools, and were introduced to the usefulness of games in the library environment, as well as the gamification of curriculum (which I’ll save for another post). For this game activity, we were asked to consider the elements that make a “good” game and, once we’d decided what those were, we divided into three-person teams to create a game. The game needed to be engaging, to include clear rules and a clear objective, and address specific learning goals. I can’t remember if we had twenty or thirty minutes to create our game, but it seemed an impossibly complex task in those first few brainstorming moments. 

Teammates Jane, Jocelyn, and I decided a game for early elementary students would provide the opportunity to infuse some fun and color into our afternoon. We used Candy Land as a model to create a game to help young students learn about the layout, resources, and services found in their school library. If you aren’t familiar with the game, Candy Land offers meaningful play and learning for young children to practice counting and color recognition, in addition to basic skills like taking turns and understanding rules. The board game features pawns players move to reach the end of winding path. A player draws a card that features a colored square and moves their pawn to the next square on the board that matches that color. To add interest and an element of chance, some cards feature a destination (ex. Gum Drop Mountain, Candy Cane Forest)–players may draw a card during gameplay to directly travel to one of these special destinations. 

In our Library Land version, we chose to use pawns, cards, and destinations in the same way Candy Land does, with some significant differences. The cards in Library Land contain questions about basic library use and elementary level information skills. The question cards indicated whether a player would move ahead one space (for a question like “Where is the circulation desk where you check out books?”), two spaces (for which a player may be asked “Where should you go to find a Non-Fiction book”), or the card could direct a player to a special destination. The special destinations our team developed reflected the different areas found in most elementary school libraries. Our Fairytale Forest, Circulation Circus, Arcade, and Reading Rainbow represent the story time area, circulation desk, computer center, and quiet reading areas of the library. The first player to make it to “The End” wins the game and then encourages other players to finish.

I enjoyed the intensity of working so quickly to reach team consensus to create a workable and enjoyable game. The number of elements we needed to consider in constructing this simple game were surprising to me. Most importantly, this exercise made me consider the ways in which we present learning tasks to students. Evidence of learning does not always need to be presented via worksheets, checklists, or verbal questioning–learning, and evidence of learning, can happen during gameplay. Which is pretty awesome for teacher librarians and students.

Initiating Collaboration for Guided Inquiry

In this post, I explore some of the challenges new school librarians face in collaborating with educators who are already strapped for time and stressed out about the pressures of their ongoing transition to implement the Common Core Standards. Collaboration takes time, and if teacher librarians want to be included in learning partnerships with classroom teachers, they will need to find ways to meet teachers on their own turf, to provide teachers and students with meaningful planning and instruction, and to communicate clearly what we have to offer.

The semester of Fall 2013 has been my Fieldwork semester. In addition to my regular courses, I spent over fifty hours each in an elementary school library and a high school library–observing, learning, teaching, and creating. During both fieldwork experiences, I observed teachers working harder than ever as they transition to the curriculum changes necessitated by the Common Core. Bright-eyed student that I am, I asked teachers (during our fifteen minute lunches and quick hallway chats) what type of collaboration they would like to engage in with their librarian. Most teachers expressed to me that they were frazzled and didn’t feel they had time to collaborate. They said they saw the library as a great resource for certain projects for their students, but they did not view it as a resource for their own learning. We should change that.

“Change that” is easy to say, but years of debate about effective advocacy indicate that it is easier said than done. That’s okay, I like a challenge. I’ve come up with one or two ideas, based on Carol Kuhlthau’s suggestions for collaborating in school libraries. Kulthau emphasizes in Chapter 7 of her book Guided Inquiry: Learning in the 21st Century that guided inquiry, which is well suited to the library learning environment, supports national standards and can provide a valuable model for collaboration in the information age school. Guided inquiry provides opportunities to offer students personally meaningful approaches to investigate questions and to go beyond merely answering questions about a topic to pursue deeper understanding of the topic and to pursue new questions related to the topic.

One way librarians could begin to build a strong foundation for collaboration is to regularly communicate with teachers where they are–to not wait for them to come to us. Librarians, who I realize are as “strapped for time” as most teachers, must make it a priority to get out of the library both physically and by other means. One idea for reaching beyond the library walls is to send out a weekly “what’s hot” message that can be quickly read and that will provide teachers with links to find more information about topics that are of interest to them. Asking teachers what they want to know more about will ensure we provide relevant information. Keeping the message short will mean our weekly missive has a better chance of being read. Providing useful, timely, and annotated information will make it a good investment of everyone’s time.

We can further advocate for an active role in collaboration by providing teachers with proof that we can aid their regular classroom activities in meaningful ways. And, by reminding them that we offer so much more than just netbooks, print materials, and databases. We can demonstrate the potential of partnerships by preparing and presenting teachers with specific strategies and ideas that support their new curriculum maps.

One strategy for meeting the collaboration challenge head-on is to create and distribute a Ways Your Librarian Can Ease Your Transition to the Common Core document (electronic or print, depending on your audience) highlighting the five kinds of learning that Kuhlthau describes in her article Guided Inquiry: School Libraries in the 21st Century (p. 22).

• Information Literacy

• Learning how to learn

• Curriculum content

• Literacy competence

• Social skills

The document could include examples of collaborative lesson ideas and links to useful planning and assessment generator sites. The communication would also make clear that the ideas included were to generate thoughts and to spark conversation to begin a collaborative effort that was customized for the teacher or teaching team. The one caveat that goes with this outreach effort is that the librarian will have to remain open to suggestion and be willing to adapt to teacher and student needs while maintaining focus on the information skills that support the learning at hand.

These suggestions all take an investment of time and effort, but it is an investment from which teachers, librarians, and students all stand to benefit.

Kuhlthau, C. C., Caspari, A. K., & Maniotes, L. K. (2007). Guided inquiry: Learning in the 21st century. Westport, Conn: Libraries Unlimited.

Kuhlthau, C. C. (January 2010). Guided inquiry: School libraries in the 21st century. School Libraries Worldwide, 16(1), 17-28. Retrieved from

Original Post: Monday, March 25, 2013 4:18:58 PM EDT

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