Archive | September, 2010

Bringing books back from the dead

30 Sep

The spinners in the corner of the library are where good books go to die. It kills them, like fairies, when people no longer believe in them. They sit there, year after year, desolate and ignored. While I sit at my desk, I hear their spines cry out to me. They long to be read; to fulfill their destiny.

For the past few days, I have been watching students select books. I have sat down and chatted with them about their library book choices and here is what I have learned…. Students look at the new book display and the Hot Picks spinner (where we put the paperbacks acquired in the past year or two). They use the Hot Picks spinner to find the majority of their books and they view the other paperback spinners further back in the library as the place for “the old books.” Well yes, they may be old-er, but old doesn’t have to mean bad (this has become my new mantra with the big 3-0 creeping up on me in only a few weeks time).

There are some great books in those back spinners. Books like Monster, Watership Down, The Outsiders and many more. In an attempt to get quality books moving off of those back spinners, I have started a Guaranteed Reads display in the library. This was my big undertaking of the week. I purchased a new book rack and used my Cricut machine to make an eye-catching sign for the section. I want students to be drawn to the books sitting there.


I created a card that can be put into a library pocket at the back of the book. This card has the book information, who would enjoy it (ex. adults, teens, old people, young people, but not babies), a glimpse inside the book and the name of the person recommending it. Now, I won’t lie – so far, I have done most of the recommending but I make up names so it’s not just another book recommended by the teacher librarian. Ideally, students will be filling in cards for books that they are passionate about. I have also started stalking teachers with the Guaranteed Reads cards.

After working hard on this I was rewarded by some instant gratification. Yesterday, in my last block of Grade 8 orientation, four students checked out books that I had found hibernating on the back spinners and placed in the Guaranteed Reads display. I couldn’t hide my excitement! (I’m pretty sure there was squealing involved.) The Guaranteed Reads books are an easy way to ensure that students who don’t love reading, and even those who do, pick up great books when they venture into the library. Forget Heather’s picks, here come my Guaranteed Reads!


And I get paid to shop…

28 Sep

Last Friday the library technician and I got to use half of our Pro-D day to go book shopping. I had done quite a bit of research and had a list of books that I really wanted to buy. I’m happy to say that I managed to buy those…and many more. I was quite good at sticking to the list until I saw the 50% off section. My resolve crumbled and before I knew it, the cart was stuffed like a sausage about to burst. $583.62 later and laden with two monstrous cardboard boxes, I realized that my passion for books was paying off (for the book store perhaps). I have so many new books for students to read and I know they are chomping at the bit to get their hands on them. For the past two days the books have been sitting on a trolley behind the counter and I think the students are convinced that I am torturing them with the copy of Mockingjay. I have at least one student an hour ask me if he or she can borrow it. Oh, the torture! 

All in all, we bought 60 books to add to the collection.


These books are on my "must read" list. There goes my social life.

Weekend Website

25 Sep

Here it is – – the alternative to google that we should be telling our students about! Aside from just having fabulous background images that change every day, Infotopia is a quality search engine that uses limited and “approved” sources (i.e. not Wikipedia). It actually creates resource lists for searchers so that you know what sources the information is coming from. A simple serach is easy and quick but perhaps its best feature is the refinement bar on the top of every search. It provides a list of limitations and refinements that users can easily apply to their search. On my next day in the library I am going to set this site as the default internet browser and hope that teenagers’ natural inclination towards laziness causes them to use Infotopia for their searches.

Books vs. Technology

25 Sep

Google. Wikipedia. Bing. While these sites can be useful for basic knowledge gathering, as teacher-librarians these words make us shudder. They are almost like swear words, thrown out with careless abandon to hurt those of us who value the heart of information gathering and reliability.

On the discussion board for my library course it is obvious that there is a clash between written text and web-based information sources. While we recognize the value and immediacy of web resources, we are secretly excited with the hunt for text-based information; the process of developing a question, searching it out, analysing sources, finding a book, opening the index, locating the page and being given enlightenment through ink pressed onto a smooth, clear piece of paper.

This week (an incredibly busy one in the library as I prep for grade 8 orientation, weed multiple cat mysteries  with names such as “The Purrfect Crime” out of the collection and go book shopping) I was asked to help with both text-based and web-based resource generation. The most exciting part was that I could do both. I pulled a trolley full of books for a teacher to use in her class during one of the days that the library is closed to classes (thank you budget cuts) and I had a discussion with another teacher about how to have her English students create blogs as journals for a Shakespeare unit.

As librarians, we argue about web-based resources vs. text-based resources and, yes, there are pros and cons to both, but our arguing has caused us to be informed about the subject in order to argue. We have grown up with books and text-based research so that is familiar to us, but we have invested time into learning about resources on the internet and on-line reference materials. I would propose that our informed arguing has actually made us more prepared to do our jobs.  

In my library there are 9 computers. When classes come in they need to use both books and internet resources because we simply do not have the money or space to have enough computers for a full class. After my time teaching and with speaking to some of the teachers in my current school, I believe that a big part of my job this year is to expand students’ use of appropriate search engines. They need to know that just because the information is on a screen in front of them doesn’t mean that it is correct or even recent (a common argument in favour of the internet over books). 

Our library system has the ability to create internet resources pages for classes and link them to the main library database. After grade 8 orientation is done I would like to approach some teachers to see if they would be interested in trying out this service with me. I have never used it before, but I think that they would see the value in using a combination of text-based resources in their classroom and web-based resources that the students can link to at home. My preference of one over the other doesn’t really matter because, like a chocolate chip cookie and a glass of milk, some things are actually better together.

The Bigger7

23 Sep

As a librarian part of my job is to assess resources. The textbook that my library course uses outlines three different methods for the research process. The three process are Information Seeking (by Kuhlthau), the Big6 (by Eisenberg and Berkowitz) and Research Process (by Stripling and Pitts). My colleagues have also suggested looking into the Research Quest information gathering process. It is a good thing that the internet is available as a resource because I am so glad that I learned about Research Quest (click here for the process overview).

I read Information, Communications, and Technology (ICT) Skills Curriculum Based on the Big6 Skills Approach to Information Problem-Solving by Mike Eisenberg, Doug Johnson and Bob Berkowitz (Library Media Connection, May/June 2010), the creators of the Big6 Research Process. The article focuses on using technology for the entire research process. Eisenberg et al. states that “students need to be able to use technology tools with flexibility, creativity and a genuine purpose” and that this works best within a concrete research model. This article presents a laundry list of ways for students to use technology while researching a topic; however, I think this is also a weakness. When I think about the student population at my school, I cannot say that they all have access to the appropriate technology and resource knowledge to be able to complete the research process. I also have a problem with limiting research to technology experiences as this format may  not take individual learning needs into account. All in all, the technology suggestions in this article are interesting and I will refer to this while creating a research project but I do not think that I would follow this research process or subscribe to the idea of completing a research project using only technology based resources.

It is possible that part of the reason that I found fault with this article is that I feel like the Big6 research approach lacks a set time for critical evaluation of information, internalization of knowledge or formation of new or unique ideas and perspectives. When I teach research skills, I like the simplicity of the Big6 but I would want to include one step in the Big6 and make it the Bigger7. I think that after “information use” there should be time to assess the information and meld it into their understanding of the topic before synthesizing. The opportunity for students to holistically understand the information can be an opportunity for them to make use their individual learning styles (this may involve artistic renderings, conversation, acting it out, creating a song, etc as a step before the completion of their final product).

When I did my Master’s thesis I spent so much time thinking about the research I was doing and discussing it with the people around me. This seemed to allow me to put many of the pieces together. When researching a new topic, students never have the complete understanding of an expert and often they simply end up regurgitating facts and other people’s opinions.

To complement this article, I also read Nudging Research Projects towards Critical Thinking by Courtney Pentland (School Library Monthly, Volume XVI, Number 10/June 2010). This article recognizes that often students are only searching for certain information without extending their understanding of the topic.

Pentland stresses the importance of students doing research that forces them to interact with the material. This is often accomplished with three key components: time, student choice and questioning. For a research project to be meaningful, students need a sizeable mount of time to conduct the research, work on the product and then present their learning to their peers. Student choice also helps increase critical thinking because students will be more interested and invested in their research. Choice can come in a variety of forms: topic choice, project choice or audience choice. I believe that the third component – questioning – is actually the most important necessity to encourage critical thinking. Pentland urges educators to ask essential questions; questions which force students to create new thoughts about a topic based on the knowledge that they have found during the research process.

I believe that Pentland saved the best for last. For me, the most valuable section in this article is the final page where she presents “Examples of How to Nudge Projects toward Critical Thinking”. The examples of critical thinking projects are phenomenal. For instance, a typical biology project about biomes would be for students to research a given biome and create a brochure with a set number of biome characteristics. However, a critical thinking project would be for students to choose a biome, research a problem that exists for that biome and then create an advocacy presentation that provides information on the biome, the issue and a possible solution. To further develop students’ investment, Pentland suggests that in the end the class could vote on a biome project that they would support throughout the year. A critical thinking research project such as this is much more extensive than the project in its original form, but it would be so meaningful for students.  

After much thought about these research processes, I would want to develop a critical thinking project such as one of the ones outlined by Pentland, using the Research Quest method and accessing some of  technology suggestions provided by Eisenberg et al. In the end, I don’t believe that the Big6 is big enough. After using the Big6, students would be able to follow a research process, but I want to push them further. I am thankful that Reidling, my classmates and other journal articles provide options for me to deepen and expand the way that I to teach the research process.

Weeding: Is the book a friend, acquaintance or stranger?

22 Sep

When organizing shows first came out on TLC and W Network, I remember watching an organizer on an episode that helped a woman clean her closet by having her sort into piles. Most of the shows create piles labelled “keep,” “give away” and “trash,” but this one called the piles “friend”, “acquaintance” or “stranger.” Those were the words that I had been waiting for! I could finally tackle my belongings. These new pile titles no longer put a value on the item itself but on my relationship with the item. Now when I clean my closet those are the piles that I sort into.

In the library I have a hard time thinking of the resources as “trash.” I know I am not the only one. The discussion board for the library course has had some heated debate about this subject. The text book that we use has stated that weeded resources need to be marched directly to the dumpster and thrown in. Now, of course we live in a city that loves to recycle, so I’m sure Reidling (author of Reference Skills for the School Library Media Specialist: 2nd Edition, 2005) would want to change that to “remove the spines and non-paper based material and then march it straight to the recycling depot”, but the intent is the same. Yet I will admit, I just can’t do it.

Weed ‘Em and Reap: The Art of Weeding to Avoid Criticism by Melissa Allen helped to put this into perspective for me (Library Media Connection, May/June 2010). She suggests that, when weeding, the first step is to refer to the district policy on resource selection and deselection. We also have to acknowledge that because of the internet and the availability of current knowledge, we are in “an atmosphere of unrelenting change” and resources do not stay current forever (Allen, 2010).

Allen has forced me to acknowledge that I must weed, no matter how hard it may be. She states many convincing arguments: space restraints (my library is not very large, it’s true), the need to declutter a space, materials that are not up to date actually weaken a collection, and old, tattered books make the library unappealing. I don’t want a stuffed, cluttered, out of date, unappealing or weak collection in my library!

Allen uses the acronym MUSTY as a general criteria for weeding. 

M – Misleading or factually inaccurate

U – Ugly and worn

S – Superseded by a newer edition or by a much better book

T – Trivial with no discernible value

Y – Your collection has no use for this material. Irrelevant.

MUSTY reminds me of the sorting categories of “friend”, “acquaintance” or “stranger”; it doesn’t put a value on the items but on the relationships they have with the library patrons. This acronym makes it easier for me to see what I can justify removing from the collection and gives me reasons to remove it.

Allen also outlines some best before dates for reference materials: technology material should be replaced every 3 years, career materials and encyclopedias should be updated every 5 years, a title that suggests that a source is current should be replaced every 7 years and most Social Studies, Science, Technology, Health and other general reference books should be replaced before they are 10 years old.

Even after all of this, I will admit that I have a hard time throwing things away. I blame my father for this. He used to rummage through the things that I would throw away and pull out items that he felt could still be used (half-used candles, an incomplete deck of cards, one lone sock, etc). The fact that Allen presents an alternative to Reidling’s no-nonsense throw-it-all-away policy is a stress reliever for me. Allen suggests that you can often find another use for a book…

A book’s second life may be in a shelter, prison, hospital or thrift store. Or it may be part of an art project such as a memory book or an altered book (I have had my class create these for three years now with old textbooks and reference books and they are always a huge hit). Allen suggests that they could be cut up for art projects or – my personal favourite – to create furniture for the library. (Here I must make a quick aside and admit that ever since I have been cruising around on library blogs and websites and I came across this circulation desk made out of books that survived a fire, I have been secretly trying to figure out a way to incorporate a library art piece made completely out of weeded books. It will happen!)

In the end Allen reminds the teacher librarian that there is much that is positive about weeding. It is not something to be embarrassed of or secretive about. When you clean out your wardrobe you usually are proud and excited about the lack of clutter, the clothes that you found that you forgot were even there and the new space that you have for a few more wonderful pieces. It is the same with weeding in the library.

Allen also reminds us that, especially if this is a hard process, it is a good idea to do a little bit at a time. Right now I have 4 trolleys of materials that I have weeded and, while I was nervous about the volume that I would be taking out of the library, many of the books have not been checked out since 2000! That is much too long for the book to be taking up precious shelf space. If I kept all the clothes that I hadn’t worn in 10 years, my closet would be packed.

While this initial weeding was a big undertaking and long overdue, I think I will try to take out at least one resource a week from now on. Allen has encouraged me to weed and provided me with alternatives. The books I have weeded I have offered to teachers for their classroom projects. If they are not gone by Monday I will donate them to a Salvation Army shelter. I love having alternatives to throwing resources away. In the end, I can’t let my fear of discarding a resource justify leaving something that is unused on the shelf. Those resources that just sit there are pretty stale and I can’t help but think that they are getting pretty MUSTY.

Weekend Website

18 Sep

Youtube boasts a wealth of visual and auditory information interspersed with videos of cats riding on dogs and people walking into sliding glass doors. Often when creating a presentation for students, you find the perfect clip but it is surrounded by extraneous information before or after the bit that you want to show. There are two websites to help remedy this unfortunate situation:

A simple solution is; a basic site which allows the viewer to start a youtube video at the perfect moment.

And then there is While thinking about this website, I had a flashback to hurtling my body through time and space in my grade 6/7 classroom in order to stop a clip that I didn’t want to continue any longer. If I had known about this site I could have prevented my need for an in-class impromptu sprint. Splicd allows you to set the start and end time for your youtube clip. After loading your clip in to Splicd, the site provides a new URL in the place of the original youtube link, ensuring that you only view the portion of the video that you have selected. Ahh, if only I had known…