Cloning vs. swimming: a librarian’s thoughts…

The Fall issue of Texas Library Journal included an article, “At the Frontlines: Making Library magic” (pp.-87) In response to Gloria Meraz’ email request to complete this sentence, “Libraries are exciting places because…, Karen had responded that they are exciting because … libraries entice our brains to learn more, expanding our possibilities!” I asked several of the school folks if they would write a blog post for TASLTalks. Here is the first one – thank you, Karen. Editor Dorcas Hand

By Karen Kreuger, Hamilton ISD District Librarian

When I accepted my current position as a rural district librarian which has one librarian managing three campus libraries within the district, I took the job knowing full well that the technology to clone myself did not exist. I had served as the librarian for two large elementary schools for several years in the previous district that I worked in. The number of students in those two large elementary schools had been close to three times as many students as I would serve in this smaller pre-K through 12th grade district, so I thought that I surely could handle the challenge of three campus libraries. I was prepared for this position in many ways, but I have also wished many times in my 15 years of service to this rural district that the cloning technology was available to help me do all that needs to be done to serve the wide array of library patrons in this district.

Being knowledgeable about authors across the wide expanse of early childhood through young adult literature and doing efficient and thoughtful ordering for pre-K through 12th grade readers is a full-time job all its own. I found myself streamlining the ordering process throughout the first few years in this position to allow for more time away from a computer screen and greater time interacting with the patrons, both students and teachers. Email and texting became my best and dearest friends. Teachers can email or text questions day or night and I can provide feedback for them from wherever I am. I got a text last week at eight o-clock in the evening letting me know that one of our online databases was not responding. The teachers I work with know that I want that feedback from them as soon as possible so that I can begin to troubleshoot and find a solution before many more patrons are inconvenienced by the problem. These teachers may not be my clones, but they are my team, and we work together to maximize our assets.

One thing I had not realized when I came on board in this district was how difficult it is to train and have libraries work optimally when the librarian never gets to be in the same location with the library assistants. I haven’t mentioned that staffing for three campus libraries has mostly been one librarian and two full-time library assistants. During one reduction in force a few years back, our district took our library staffing down to one librarian and one library assistant for a period of four years. I fought unsuccessfully against the reduction in staff, and I was sickened to see our secondary campuses dark much of the day during those years of reduction to our library staff. Again, I knew cloning was the answer, but still not an available option. In both staffing situations, I had to try to jump this training hurdle in other ways. I began booking my own library substitutes so that we could have trained substitute teachers in our positions while the library staff met to learn. Staff training still sometimes takes place over the phone, and sometimes an email has to be the method for transferring important information and updates to library staff.

In truth, since cloning may never be a real alternative for librarians, I have taken on the philosophy of a wise character named Dory, from the movie Finding Nemo, whose motto is, “Just keep swimming! Just keep swimming!” I swim upstream many days in my position. I know that by providing the best ordering possible for each campus that I am providing each student that constant opportunity to find great literature and materials to stimulate their brain and motivate them to learn and do more with their lives. I may not be on all campuses to book talk every day, but when I am there, I do. I book talk anywhere, in fact. I have talked up books and libraries at the courthouse, grocery stores, pharmacies, or any other place that anyone wants to broach the subject. I use internet sites like Goodreads and our school book blog to book talk online. Swimming upstream is always better than not swimming at all. A student’s ability to read, comprehend and analyze is like fins are to fish. A fish won’t last long in the pond or the sea without the necessary equipment. As most of us know, Nemo’s fins weren’t perfect, but he did have fins and he learned how to make the most out of what he had. A student’s reading ability is the fundamental component of success in their life’s swim. Life is a journey, a swim, if you will, that is much easier traversed if you have a well-developed love of reading. Until cloning becomes the “norm,” I will continue to swim swiftly and positively along a path that leads others to the knowledge and information skills needed to survive and thrive in our world. I encourage librarians everywhere to just keep swimming…

October is Library Snapshot Month: Zooming In on US!

by Dorcas Hand
Take advantage of the opportunity to contribute pictures of the great things you do in your library. TLA has a Flickr group ( for just this purpose – easy to join. Let’s see if we can’t make SCHOOL LIBRARIES a major force in Snapshot Month 2015.

Which leads me to an apology – the month started a couple of weeks ago, and I’m very late with this post. Sorry. However, many of us do better with DEADLINES so here is yours: get some photos posted ASAP. You have 2 more weeks in October to make it happen.

To quote the website ( What happens in a single day in your library? Snapshot Day proves that TEXANS LOVE LIBRARIES.

I also note that the official DAY is Oct. 31, but you can use any single day in October. Choose the most exciting day in your month.

The TLA Snapshot Day website ( ) has all the tips you could need. It also has a QUICK SURVEY ( that will help TLA/TASL compile some data about us all – please take the few minutes to fill it out. Compiled information is stronger when it includes more of us – and it will help both TLA and TASL, even the Texas State Library – help us plan advocacy campaigns. So, collect data and photos. Upload them. Brag on your library.

BONUS: Use the same photos to send emails to your campus & district admins as well as your school board and even your state legislators. Another 30 minutes spreading your good news will be well worth it. This is how you build a relationship with all those folks to remember when they need to decide on funding or staffing for your campus library. Have fun! Show how your students are having fun!

School Libraries and House Bill 5

By Maya McElroy, J. Walter Elementary, Austin ISD
As the new school year gets underway and new routines are being established, campuses across Texas are keeping track of their House Bill 5 initiatives.  The HB5 statute provides nine factors which must be reported to TEA annually and made public. Campuses receive a rating of exemplary, recognized, acceptable, or unacceptable based upon criteria set by a local committee.  The nine factors are:
1. fine arts
2. wellness and physical education
3. community and parental involvement
4. 21st century workforce development program
5. 2nd language acquisition program
6. digital learning environment
7 dropout prevention strategies
8. educational programs for GT students
9. compliance with statutory reporting and policy requirements

Administrators, teachers, parents, and other community members all have important roles in attaining school-wide success within these nine factors, but I think campus librarians are in a unique position of being essential to campus success. With the exception of factor 9, compliance – which is policy-based, campus librarians already have a hand either in initiating, facilitating, or being of assistance with factors 1-8.  For example, do you
  • host a student book group?
  • create research projects for your GT students?
  • teach digital citizenship?
  • stay open after hours for tutoring or ESL classes? 
  • host book fairs, coffee with the principal?
  • help with the garden?
  • run the chess club?
  • keep a maker space? 
  • stay open late after school for checkout for students whose parents pick them up from after-care? 
  • help publish the school paper, literary magazine, or run the student broadcast?
  • host storytellers, authors, illustrators, and guest speakers for students?
  • Skype with authors or other educators or participate in distance learning opportunities with your students?
  • organize educational field trips, literacy or vertical team events?
  • take students to conferences?
  • work with assistance groups or mentors who serve your students?  
  • work with donors for books or equipment purchases?
  • apply for grants or community engagement endeavors?

If you do any of these within the year, you are essential to your campus HB5 compliance.  Document your involvement and share it with your administration, reminding them that what you do supports their HB5 documentation.  Maybe the PE teacher uses the library printer to print fitness grams or CATCH materials, or the music teacher wants to print the program for the choral concert – document them, too.  Even if you aren’t directly involved with a program or event, chances are you know about it or helped the organizer, and that program or event might fit within the scope factors 1-8.  At the end of the year, when it comes time for your administration to begin checking the boxes and documenting all of the wonderful things happening on your campus, you will be ready to share your long list to remind your principal just how essential  -- and on top of it all – you are.  

Learning about History, Hate and Hope

by Angela Hartman, Hutto High School, Hutto ISD

Didn’t we all fall in love with Roald Dahl’s character, Matilda Wormword? We were thrilled when her librarian, Mrs. Phelps and her teacher, Miss Honey, took her under their wings and we rooted for her against the awful Miss Trunchbull. Roald Dahl is known for his use of naughty characters, but he is also known for fighting for the underdog. The American Association of School Librarians and Penguin Random House annually present the Roald Dahl Miss Honey Social Justice Award. The award “recognizes and encourages collaboration between school librarians and teachers in teaching social justice using school library resources.” In June of 2015, I accepted that award at the ALA Conference in San Francisco.

English III teachers at Hutto High School and I collaborated to teach the research process, the history of World War II and the Holocaust. Each student chose a topic. Students from all classes worked in the library every day for several weeks in class and beyond.
During the first class periods in the library, I talked with students about what I learned at an intensive conference at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. I told them honestly that I was just learning about the Holocaust too. Students were extremely attentive as I spoke about this heartbreaking history. We discussed forced labor camps and death camps. I told them about mass deportations in train cars in which people did not know where they were going, the separation of families upon arrival by those who were physically able to work and those who were not. I showed images of a train car and the “beds” used in camps. We talked about the lack of food, lack of sanitation, lack of medical care, lack of humanity and so often, the lack of hope. We examined the meaning of genocide.

Thanks to a grant from the Hutto Education Foundation, I was able to bring in speakers to talk about the Holocaust and genocide. Gilbert Tuhabonye, a survivor of the genocide in Burundi and Max Glauben, survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, five forced labor camps and a death march gave personal stories. Gregg Philipson from the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission, spent several days speaking in the HHS Library to English and History classes about the history of the Holocaust. He brought artifacts to share including a piece of lost luggage, maps and historic newspaper articles. Our art teachers got involved by having students create dioramas that illustrated scenes from Auschwitz. On the evening of January 27, 2015, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we hosted an International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. Student art was displayed that evening. Over 700 people attended, including hundreds of students who came to hear Max Glauben, Holocaust survivor, speak.

When we began the research project, thirty new Chromebooks had just arrived at the library. We taught students how to use the Chromebooks and reminded them how to access information and primary sources using the library's digital resources. We used the library book collection relating to World War II, the Holocaust and genocide. We watched students choose a book on a topic, start browsing the book and then get engrossed in it. Several students changed topics when they found one they had not previously known about. The teachers and I spent time with students individually, helping narrow broad topics and checking for understanding. Although the Chromebooks were new and exciting, the books from the collection were used just as much as the technology.

Remembering how this project inspired enthusiasm and strong effort while motivating concern for social justice – this kind of project could have strong effect on any campus. Many teens are easily interested in making the world a better place – offer them the knowledge and tools to do exactly that.

This award confirms that librarians are teachers. We always have been; we always will be. I enjoy the collaboration, the exchanging of ideas and resources with teachers and the chance to get to work with students on topics that are so big and so important. The extended time in the library with these students allowed me to get to know them better and to build relationships. I am very grateful to AASL and Penguin Random House for this honor and for the $5000.00 of books for the Hutto High School Library.

Although the grant from the Hutto Education Foundation funded the Holocaust education program for only the previous school year, I will continue to teach and to collaborate with other teachers to deepen understanding about this significant event and to keep the history of the Holocaust alive. I will also continue to make connections to events in the world today and to encourage students to stand up for those who are not able to stand up for themselves. Miss Honey stood for Social Justice, as do school librarians everywhere. I’m honored to carry this AASL torch forward in my school, district and state – as a teacher and as a librarian.