Reporting Out: How do you use Usage Data for your Digital Resources?

By Dorcas Hand, Editor TASLTalks

As Texas school librarians gear up for ESSA conversations (and normal school library advocacy), we are thinking how to explain to our stakeholders, allies and curious people what we do and why it matters. We know it does – but what metrics can we show to prove it?  Read first to understand the big questions, but be sure to answer the survey (GoogleForm) to help us understand statewide trends. Thank you already!

Traditionally, we cite our circulation statistics as a reliable measure of our impact on students. It is always important when citing any data to explain to readers how it explains the point you are making – just knowing that lots or few books were borrowed doesn’t tell any story without explanation. Does few books tell us that there is no librarian helping students find the right books, or does it tell us that there are no books?

Along that line of thought, I note that circ statistics in high schools may not tell anything about how much students are reading because students in high school are more likely to interact with library resources in digital formats, whether ebooks, digital subscription tools including TexQuest, or internet searches with librarian guidance or independently. So, if I want to tie my work as a librarian to student literacy rates or test scores or anything, I need a new data set. That exact question is how I came to this blog post: how can we talk about high school libraries in Houston ISD?

Students Need Libraries in HISD has been looking at campus circulation as a way to illustrate which campuses have librarians, how much access to book borrowing the students have, and which campuses contribute to student experience of book deserts. In grades K-8, those circ statistics offer a bare bones understanding of a campus literacy culture. But in high school, that analysis falls apart because there are not reliable metrics in place to illustrate student access to library sponsored resources, or teaching. We’ve all seen the trends that show few high school students are big readers – but more of them ARE big library users, especially if they have no internet or device at home. And especially when they have a librarian who teaches them how to find the most useful resources and ebooks to accomplish their assignments and to learn to be learners.

So, now I’m curious. How could I see student library use in data I already have? And what data might I wish to have if I want my metrics to be more useful? What do I want to know? Hmmm.

First, I want to know what resources the school campus offers students:
  • ebooks? Overdrive, BrainHive, Follett, Mackin, or another vendor?
  • Does the campus have access to TexQuest resources?
  • Does the district subscribe directly to other digital tools for students? Does the campus have individual subscriptions, beyond district selections?
  • Does the campus have a learning management system to organize and advertise the variety of available digital tools?

And now I want to know what use is made of these resources:
  • Does the librarian offer use statistics for ebooks to the principal or district, or PTA, to explain how important these budget items are to literacy growth?
  • Can the campus track its own students’ use of TexQuest resources? This does require that the campus register individually under the district aegis; without that campus level indivuation, only district stats are possible.
  • If the district offers additional databases, do campuses have separate logins to see local use? Or are stats only counted at the district level?
  • If a campus has individual digital subscriptions, it absolutely can track the stats – does it?
  • All of these “is/does a campus…” questions raise the additional set of wonders:
    • Is there a librarian to publicize the digital tools and their access?
    • Does that librarian manage the usernames and passwords for easiest student use?
    • Does that librarian TEACH how and why to use the resources for best results, including choosing the right tool for the assignment?
  • If there is a campus learning management system, who controls its content?
    • Does the librarian have control to post links and access info to the databases?
    • Can the librarian work with other teachers to embed these links in specific assignments to remind students that these tools are provided for their learning.
    • How can a librarian or principal count the effect of those postings to better understand the academic effects of strong digital support structures?

For today, I’m going to leave you with just these questions. I’d like to enlist your help in understanding how we might answer them, how to develop policies that support improved metrics for digital resource use statistics. Here is a GoogleForm SURVEY to see what folks in Texas are already doing – PLEASE contribute your answers. And please realize that no districts have robust reporting yet to answer all these questions – and there is no identification required, beyond your ESC region.

If anyone is interested in moving this forward with me, please be in touch – this has potential to be a big project!

Get Your Key Message Across Effectively

By Dorcas Hand, Editor of TASLTalks

As a member of a non-library board, I am learning a little about fundraising techniques. After participating in this organization’s board discussions, I’ve been struck by the fact that those techniques are remarkably similar to what we call “advocacy” in schools and libraries.  The biggest point of commonality? In order to get results, we have to be really clear about our message. What is the bottom line for our “ask?”

You’ve been reading in the library literature about elevator speeches and such forever. But then this new approach – this key message grid – landed in my inbox from the other organization.  It looks  like this:

The minute I saw this, my board member hat fell off as the wheels began spinning: how could I make this work for school libraries. It is such a simple, step-by-step method to build your talking points. You can see this example is very basic, working to get more face time with students – but it works for more sophisticated topics as well.

This second one doesn’t yet have the last column, but I think you get the general idea. Make it work for you! Whether it is an elevator speech you need, or a project/program proposal, this method is helpful – with every audience, depending how you focus the supporting info and the Ask.

ALA offers ESSA Elevator Speech Examples planned by the same grid approach. I guess my discovery isn't so new - but maybe you didn't know it either and will find it useful. And we're all working on ESSA topics these days!

Go ahead, pick any general point you want to make. Take it from a general statement to directed content specific to your library and your community. Build in your supporting info. What do you want to happen after your audience hears this info? How can you tailor it even more to the specific person or group so that they can see exactly what they might do to support your school library. “Mr. Smith, please stop by to see the work second graders have done learning about turtles using library resources. I’d love to chat about ways to make the library even better.” “Mr. Smith, third grade has enjoyed using iPads to find the right books for their library research – they just don’t have internet or books at home. We would love more iPads – I think PTA might help us, with your support.”

I offered a template to the Key Message Grid at the District 10 Fall conference - perhaps it will make your job easier.

In some ways, this is just the same thing we’ve always done – but the grid makes it seem so much clearer and easier. At least to me. So try it. See if you can get some unexpected results because you have clarified your message and focused it to a specific person or group. I’d love to hear what results you get!  Use the “Reply” function on this blog – other readers will also appreciate your applications of the grid idea. Really -yes, you!

Advocacy Made Simple: Reaching Local Supporters and Decision Makers

By Dorcas Hand, Editor of TASLTalks blog

The TLA Legislative Committee has recently been sponsoring a series of free and openly available webinars called Doable Action series focused on advocacy. Two main threads ran across several library types (public, academic and school): Rallying Supporters and Empowering Friends and Reaching and Talking To Local Decision Makers. The series will wrap up on Dec. 7 with a final session for all librarians together, State Advocacy for Librarians to prepare us to talk to our legislators as the new legislative session begins in the spring- you can register now. Thanks to Jennifer LaBoon and Becky Sullivan, along with Gloria Meraz and Ted Wanner, for cooking this series up - it focuses on practical tips and resources to help us be ready every day to make things better for our library programs.

On September 29, Cindy Buchanan (Aldine ISD) and Nicole Cruz (Sharyland ISD) offered their array of ideas on how to get your local community behind your efforts. School Libraries Rallying Supporters and Empowering Friends is archived in the TXLA Continuing Education Corner for anyone to view later, and there is an accompanying quiz for anyone who needs CE credit. My favorite tip is that Persistence pays off - I translate that to mean that “No” is an opportunity to rework a request for greater success. You know that students don’t always get a new idea the first time it is presented in class - so the teacher reworks the presentation until the student does get it. Our stakeholders need the same care and attention.

On October 12, Susi Grissom and I offered School Libraries Reaching and Talking To Local Decision Makers, also archived in the CE Corner. In addition to the full recording, we offer you an extensive list of resources, organized by the slide they relate to. As we were building the slide show, we realized we wanted to bring you the direct voice of administrators so that you would know what they listen to best - so we did. TASL’s 2016 Administrator of the Year Chris Nester sat with his librarian, Debra Marshall in the library at Wilson Elementary in Coppell ISD to tell us how he learned how essential libraries are to his students and what to expect of a good librarian. And Superintendent Dr. Bill Chapman of Jarrell ISD with his District Librarian Vanessa Ascraft offer us a tutorial in how to talk to administrators so that you are more likely to get what you ask for. These videos are worth watching on their own, and showing to your colleagues - please take advantage of their availability. And if you see either admin or librarian, thank them for taking the time to make these 5 minute videos that are so helpful to us.

Links to the presentations are also available on the TASL Advocacy webpage. So now, in the comfort of your own home or office, take time to watch and learn. Improve your advocacy tools and then apply them for greater success. And Share with your library colleagues or with your staff.  That’s why they are archived and easy to find again and again.

ESSA Survey for TEA – NOW! Spread the Word WIDELY

by Dorcas Hand, Editor of TASLTalks, with help from Jennifer Rike and Wendy Woodland

ESSA – Every Student Succeeds Act – is the buzz this fall. Signed into federal law last December, every kind of K-12 educator wants to be included in this potential pot of money. The process of being approved for funding is in full swing, to be immediately followed by the application for funding. School Librarians are included in the actual language of the law, for the first time – but to actually get benefits, we have to convince our principals, district leadership and – most immediately – the TEA Team working on the state plan to name us in the state ()nd later the local, plan.

TEA has decided to send a survey out to everyone – a scattershot approach most likely to reach upper-level education administrators. The survey does not mention the word library – surprised? But a team of folks with TLA and TASL have developed a set of Talking Points to help respondents include libraries in many answers. Great – we have the tools we need.

What’s missing??? Lots of respondents willing to do this. Translate that to YOU – and all your parents, teachers, community, … Every person you can convince to respond should – and should mention libraries as many times as possible.

On the survey, key questions for us are:
Q3: What should Texas adopt for its measure of school quality or school success?
Q5: How can we ensure that all Texas students have a quality education that prepares them for success, especially students with disabilities or various backgrounds (e.g. poverty, English learners, and foster care)?
Q6: What knowledge, experiences, and skills should Texas students possess to be ready for success in college, careers, and/or military?
Q7: A goal of our state is to ensure that all students – and especially our most vulnerable students – have great teachers and principals. What strategies can we use to ensure all students have access to high-quality teachers and principals across the state?
Q8: What are the important things we can do improve struggling schools?
Q9: Do you have any additional input for Texas’ ESSA Consolidated State Plan?

Each question has a place for a short answer – use it. Tell them what we, the school library community, needs them to hear. (3) Effective school library programs make a difference in student achievement – tell them how. (5) We are always talking about Equity. (6) 21st century skills, research skills, … - be specific about life and career ready. (7) Back to Equity – Book deserts, technology deserts, digital resource deserts… (8) Community learning centers wit enrichment already in place. (9) Effective school library programs close student performance gaps and increase post-secondary readiness… tie it up with a big red bow. Copy/paste from the PDF – or, even better, use your own words and examples.

Most important – get lots of your local stakeholders to help. We want to inundate TEA with responses that talk about how school libraries matter. Click here to open the survey - ASAP. By November 18. No time to waste!

Leadership Opportunity: TLA's TALL Texan's Program

How many of you set professional goals?  I always have; they give me something to strive for and keep me focused on growing as a professional. Becoming a school librarian was one goal that I accomplished in 2001.  But there was still more to do.

2009 was a pivotal year for me as a school librarian and as a leader.  I had just finish my 8th year as librarian and had crossed off the professional goal of opening a new school.  During this year, I also decided to apply to the TALL Texans Institute, a leadership development institute.  I had always been fascinated and curious about leadership so applying for this just seemed like a natural next step.

Attending the institute truly changed me as a leader-it also allowed me the opportunity to connect with other librarians in the public, academic, special, and school library fields while also connecting be to the larger network of library leaders in Texas. But hey, don't take it from me; let's let other TALL Texans share their thoughts.  I reached out to past Tall Texan attendees Priscilla Delgado (San Marcos CISD), Christy Cochran (Austin ISD), and Lisa Kulka (Northeast ISD) to get their insights:

What initially caused you to submit an application to attend Tall Texans?
TALL Texans had been on my radar since I was in library school.  I remember one of my professors talking about it in class one day, and I took an interest and made a mental note to look into it once I became a school librarian.  A few years later, after graduating from the School of Information at UT and teaching for 3 years, I was at a conference and there was a session about TALL Texans, which I attended.  Again, I made a mental note to apply for the program once I had 5 years of library experience under my belt.  This past year was my 5th year as a school librarian so I applied, and was fortunate to be one of the 24 librarians selected for 2016.

I heard of TALL Texans my first year in the library and I wanted to get as much PD about being a librarian as possible. Unfortunately, I had to wait a few years to get my feet wet, but it was always in the back of my mind. Recently, a friend and colleague of mine was a part of TALL Texans Class of 2015 and personally invited me to apply because she saw the value in the program and knew I would feel the same. I wanted this opportunity to become a better library leader and more familiar with Librarianship at the state level as well as greater exposure to TLA and its offerings. 

In the first few years of being a school librarian, you learn SO MUCH!!  However after being on the job for a while I felt that I wasn't growing professionally as much as I did in those early years.  Because of that, I'm always looking for opportunities for growth.  The opportunity to "Accelerate my leadership skills" really appealed to me, but I'll be honest, the application was daunting!  I'm glad a pursued it and so appreciative of those who pushed me to apply for this opportunity. 

How has attending Tall Texans impacted you in your library profession?Priscilla:
TALL Texans came at the right time in my career; it has allowed me be more vocal and successful in advocating for not only my school library, but the libraries in our school district as well as our public library.  It has deepened my partnerships with the greater San Marcos community and has opened doors with other opportunities in my field of work.  

First and foremost, the professional connections with so many different librarians with diverse library backgrounds   has been invaluable. As a school librarian, I have the privilege and honor of now collaborating with public, academic, and special librarians to continue vertical alignment of information literacy at all ages and stages of life. Second, I feel I have more confidence and information on how best to advocate for my program and the field of librarianship

The biggest impact of TALL Texans has been through the relationships that I made during those 5 days.  I REALLY feel that my fellow TALL Texans are "my peeps" for life!  They are some of my main "go to" people when I need to bounce ideas off of someone.

What has surprised you most about the training you received?
One thing they told us on the first day was to "lean into your discomfort." Before attending TALL Texans, I very much stayed in my comfort zone.  However, after the TALL Texans institute, I have really taken that phrase to heart, and I have found that I am embracing any discomfort I might feel and looking at it from a different perspective.  Leaning into my discomfort allows me to grow and experience things I otherwise wouldn't. It's been quite liberating and satisfying!

The thing that surprised me the most was the immediate collaboration and involvement we all had in the program. As a group we bonded very quickly and challenged each other to stretch past our comfort zones in a safe and encouraging manner. This is so important for such a limited time period! Also, I was surprised by the consistency and cohesiveness of the entire training over the 4-5 days of learning that was happening. Everything built on each other and was relevant, no matter where your background in librarianship. 

I loved the Strengths Finder tool that we explored.  It has helped me understand the way that I work with others and evaluate changes I need to make in the way that I operate.   

So there you have it-3 perspectives from past TALL attendees-it is readily apparent that their take-aways will carry them forward in their leadership development!

Curious to learn more?  Click HERE to obtain additional information about the TALL Texan application process.  You can also sign up for the online program on October 24 to learn more about the application process. Also, if you've attended TALL Texans, please share your thoughts about attending and what you gained-we'd love to hear from past attendees!

Get Future Ready! Jump Start your Advocacy Efforts

By Jennifer Rike, Timberview HS, Mansfield ISD; Co-Chair, TASL Legislative & Advocacy Committee

Advocacy is a quirky term for which there is no synonym.  Who knew? Yet the word has a capacity for great power.  The definition in The American Heritage Dictionary is “The act of pleading or arguing in favor of something, such as a cause, idea, or policy; active support”.  

School libraries can definitely use active support.  We often speak of advocacy in terms of what we can do.  Today I’d like to share with you some active support we are getting.  The Alliance for Excellent Education and the Department of Education launched an initiative called Future Ready Schools (FRS) on November 19, 2014. The goal of this initiative is to help school districts prepare students “for success in college, a career and citizenship”.   

This is a great and lofty goal, but how does it support school libraries?

Imagine my surprise when I was reading through one of the FRS documents and stumbled upon the word librarian.  I sat up straighter and looked again.  Sure enough I had read correctly.  School libraries and librarians were included in developing Future Ready Schools. WOW!

I could go on forever about what I read.  However, we librarians know a primary source is always better than a secondary source, so I encourage you to take a look for yourself at Future Ready Librarians.

I will leave you with the thought that while we need to be advocates, we also need to know there is support out there.  Even before we were included for the first time in over 50 years in a federal education document - ESSA, Future Ready School initiative was already providing active support. To sum it up, they are advocating for us.

By the way AASL is a National Partner.  In case you haven’t read it in a while check out AASL’s definition of advocacy which involves enlisting HELP for your advocacy, something the Future Ready website gives you language to accomplish more easily. Happy reading!

"Advocacy Dictionary Definition | Advocacy Defined." Advocacy Dictionary Definition | Advocacy Defined. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Future Ready Schools. Take the Pledge. Future Ready Schools. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
Future Ready Schools. Future Ready Librarians. Future Ready Schools. Web. 18 Oct. 2016.
“What Is Advocacy?” American Association of School Librarians (AASL), American Library Association, 2015,


TLA Library Snapshot Day is NOW!!!

by Dorcas Hand, Editor TASLTalks

So, keeping it short today but getting this reminder out. The official date for Library Snapshot Day is Monday, Oct. 31 – but you can designate any day in October as your Snapshot Day. This day offers a fabulous opportunity to photograph your library program in action as well as in data and anecdotes. Use this aggregated info to bolster your advocacy efforts all year long – campus newsletter articles, conversations with stakeholders, seeds of new ideas to work in later this school year, …. You can also strengthen TLA’s presence as an advocate for ALL libraries in Texas by uploading your info and images to TLA’s links:
·        offers links to send your info and to access the flikr feed for upload. Look in the top right corner.

TLA has sponsored this event since 2010 – you can see the original 2010 summary here: 
It is fun to see the collected numbers of users, circulation, and activities to get a sense of how important libraries are to Texas residents. It is also important to be sure school libraries are well represented in these figures because TLA can use that when they go to legislators in our behalf.

To see the photo feed. 

The 2015 data and anecdotal summary is also posted.

So, what can you do? Pick a day in October that looks really busy – exciting can be fun, but even a day where you see many groups of children back to back works. Count how many kids, how many teachers, how many campus administrators, how many books read aloud, items circulated, research or other lessons taught, books shelved – don’t obsess about precision, use round numbers. Keep it easy!   What can you count? And what stories come from your day – the student who never remembers their overdue does and is thrilled by a new selection; the teacher whose unusual request you can satisfy; … Anecdotes can be just as effective as raw data. If you want to look at the survey first to see how TLA asks the questions, do that – or just collect the data.

After you contribute your info to TLA, think of a display for your own library featuring how much you do in a day to support student growth in literacy, information skills and love of learning. It isn’t really work when it gives you the pleasure of bragging on your library program – which will also give parents, teachers and principals a chance to do the same. You might even send a summary to the PTA officers, the district, your school board rep. Take full advantage of the data with every audience you can think of.

Have fun! Be creative. make this work for you as well as your colleagues across the state.

Growing Library Leaders: SXSW Edu

By Laura Stiles
This post is adapted from her presentation at the TASLA Workshop in June, 2016. She is Librarian at Canyon Vista Middle School, Round Rock ISD; part-time reference librarian at Austin Community College; a TALL Texan; past chair of TLA District 3; recipient of ALA's Frances Henne Award. Laura has written articles for School Library Journal and Knowledge Quest. Follow her on Twitter at @cvmslibrary.

Obtaining professional development as a librarian in Texas is almost like being a kid in a candy store:  with all that the Texas Library Association (TLA) offers, what more could a librarian want?  Each year TLA presents librarians, library staff and volunteers with an abundance of webinars, online training, District meetings, Round Table meetings and, of course, our fantastic state-wide annual conference.  “Annual,” as it is known, holds true to the familiar saying, “Everything’s Bigger in Texas;” our state conference is bigger than many national conferences.  The more than 7,000 attendees each year are treated to more than a thousand speakers and hundreds and hundreds of vendors.

I tell people that attending TLA’s annual conference is like being in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book.  Upon walking in, it’s decision after decision about which wonderful thing to attend: see the latest furniture on the exhibit floor, or attend an author signing?  Hear from the recognized expert about social media, or learn how to promote the latest hot titles?  It’s a librarian’s adventure wonderland, and is not to be missed.

However, this year I attended something new and so very different: South by Southwest EDU (SXSWEdu).  If one views attending TLA’s annual conference as being akin to being in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book, one can argue that attending SXSWEdu is like being in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  SXSWEdu was so unexpected, with so many avenues for education and engagement, and surprises around every corner, much like the Chocolate Factory. 

The conference is built of many components but my experience at the 2016 Conference can be generally broken down into two parts:  the Playground and the Sessions. 

The SXSWEdu Playground is a casual area within the conference center that offers hands-on presentations that highlight maker activities, STEM vendors and activities, gaming, virtual learning, arts integration and more.   

At the same time that hundreds of enthusiastic conference goers are (literally) trying their hands at merchandize and software like 3Doodlers, Kahoot! and drag and drop programming, casual talks given by experts in a range of subjects are being given.  The speakers use microphones but don’t expect a silent or still audience, and the seating is made to be flexible and moveable.  Speakers’ faces and presentations are projected onto a big screen. 

One riveting talk that I attended, “Sheriff Bus to Library: How Kids Remix Social Good,” recounted the experiences of a group of teens and adults that transformed a 1988 sheriff bus into a mobile library for use in rural Guatemala.  Another talk detailed NOVA Labs’ latest games and videos created to promote scientific exploration, and included information on how educators are using NOVA Labs as a learning tool in classrooms nationwide.

Like TLA’s Annual Conference, the sessions at SXSWedu differ in duration and the level of audience participation; unlike Annual, SXSWEdu’s sessions are primarily scheduled by community input via a tool called Panel Picker.  The sessions that receive the most votes by the community-at-large are the sessions that are ultimately presented. 

Because such a diverse group of people attend SXSWEdu, and because much of the content is chosen by popular vote, the programming is diverse.  According to the SXSWedu website, of the almost 14,000 attendees at the 2016 conference, there were people from thirty-eight countries representing government and non-profit agencies, public and higher education, and a multitude of business and industry affiliates.

SXSWEdu divides the conference sessions into tracks, which include the big trends that we would expect to see at TLA’s Annual Conference, such as Early Learning, Leadership and Continuing Education, as well as some less expected tracks, such as Entrepreneurialism and Special Needs.                  

Each listing for a program is then tagged (sound familiar, librarians?) into familiar categories, such as blended learning, digital citizenship, critical thinking, STEAM, tinkering and more.  But, SXSWEdu doesn’t stop there – there are lots and lots of unexpected tags: things like design sprints, behavioral economics, neuroplasticity, future trend mapping, upskilling, nutrition, campus carry, edtech ecosystems and more.   

One morning I found several sessions of interest that all began at the same time:  one, hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, focused on how to negotiate barriers to educational success.  A second session featured a panel discussing eliminating sexual assaults on higher-ed campuses; a third session focused on education and peace in Afghanistan.  The power of music in STEAM education was the topic in another room.   A film titled, “Oyler,” about educational equality in an urban Appalachian neighborhood, was being screened at this time, and conference keynote speaker Jane McGonigal was signing books then, too.  Unfortunately, attendees can only be in one place at a time.  Maybe we should put Willy Wonka to work on figuring out how to duplicate ourselves - ? 

In Cinema Revisited: the everlasting appeal of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (, Jordan Adler describes Willy Wonka’s dreams-turned-into-reality as “complete with chocolate waterfalls, lickable wallpaper and labs filled with Rube Goldberg-like contraptions.”  While SXSWEdu didn’t boast chocolate waterfalls or lickable wallpaper, there really was a room filled with contraptions (remember the Playground?), and I wouldn’t have been surprised to come across a fantastical element overflowing with ingestible goodness or wall coverings that were edible.  

I encourage you to attend both TLA and SXSWEdu.  Just be prepared for a Wonka-esque experience at SXSWEdu; to quote Willy Wonka, there are “surprises around every corner, but nothing dangerous!”   Hope to see you at the Austin Convention Center March 6-9, 2017.  Just look for the librarian in the Oompla Loompa suit. 

Libraries as Learning Spaces

Stacy Cameron, Coordinator of Library and Media Services, Frisco ISD Nancy Jo Lambert, Librarian - Reedy High School, Frisco ISD

When we were approached to write this post we immediately said, “of course!” but that was much easier said than done.  How do you effectively write a first person article with two people?  For those of you who are former English teachers you probably have a quick answer to that, but we didn’t!  So we came up with the idea to go back and forth from one to the next much like you would see in a script.  That’s what you’ll see here.  We hope this format provides you greater insight into our own personal thinking and that you are able to take away some ideas and start implementing today.  Enjoy!

Stacy:  If you’ve been around libraries long enough, you have undoubtedly heard the library labeled a variety of terms.  In my eleven years as a school librarian I’ve heard it referred to as a kitchen, learning commons, and media center, just to name a few.  However, the term that resonates with me the most is “learning space.”  In the summer of 2015, I had the joy of presenting with rockstar librarian, Nancy Jo Lambert, at the ALA conference in San Francisco, where we presenting on the library as learning space.  We went on to present at the 2016 TCEA and TLA conferences on the same topic.  What follows is what we shared about learning spaces and redefining your library.

What is a Learning Space?
Stacy:  Before we begin, it’s helpful to define what a learning space is.  A learning space “should be able to motivate learners and promote learning as an activity, support collaborative as well as formal practice, provide a personalised and inclusive environment, and be flexible in the face of changing needs” (JISC).  When you look at your library space does it do all of these things?  If not, what areas can you change to make this a reality?

The Physical Space
Nancy Jo: As librarians we tend to be people that want things in their exact right spot. What I have found from being in libraries with children and teenagers is that they are more likely to return and feel comfortable if you allow them some freedom with the space. I try and put as few of restrictions as possible on the physical space. For example, I have signs posted to “eat and drink responsibly.” I allow the students to move the chairs and furniture around and I don’t ask them to put it back before they leave. I do ask them to treat the space with respect, but I don’t hound them to put a chair back to its original spot. I know that the next group of students is going to come in and move things around again anyway. The point of having flexible seating and flexible spaces is for moving that furniture around to fit the needs of students. It’s ok to let the students determine how they want the furniture arranged. When you are looking at the physical space, look at even the smallest changes you can make to help your students feel like the space is theirs. Comfortable students are students who can learn!

Stacy:  Take a look at the physical layout of your library - the floor plan.  Chances are there are furniture pieces and walls you cannot move.  But what can you move to create more open, flexible spaces?  Marnie Cushing, formerly of Poteet High School in Mesquite ISD, took her 20+ year old library and completely transformed the space with almost no budget.  You can see the before and after layouts on the presentation linked at the bottom of this post.  In our district, the big push at the secondary level is to weed, weed, weed.  We have found that most of the non-fiction does not circulate so there’s no reason in having it on the shelves.  The result has been that the librarians have been able to remove some of the extra shelves from their libraries which frees up floor space to make room for more flexible seating and different configuration options.     

Nancy Jo: For some time now, librarians have been discussing genrefication. It has been debated and implemented for years in many libraries. One of the biggest hurdles for me, and why I had not seriously considered doing it before, was the time it would take. I couldn’t justify the time away from curriculum collaborations, teachers and students to genrefy. Vendors like Mackin and Follett are now both offering services for this type of project that greatly reduce the time intensive work of genrefying. I have seen the impact of this change on my students and I believe this is a worthwhile endeavor. When we’re talking about the physical space of our libraries, we should do everything we can to make books more accessible to our readers. Whether it’s changing call numbers to group books in a way that makes more sense or genrefying an entire collection, we can make those choices to better serve our students. If you are interested in the process I went through to generify you can read about it here.

Beyond the Space/Programming
Nancy Jo: When it comes to redefining your library, library programming is one of the key places for transformation to take place. In designing some of the different programs I have put in place at various campuses PreK-12, I always look to the stakeholders first. Usually the students are the first group, but often teachers and administrators or even parents play a key role in a successful library program. Find out what the kids are interested in and what they want. There is no sense in creating a program that no one is interested in. I also look at campus initiatives. What are the curricular goals of the campus? How can the library tie in and create programs that work toward those goals?

Here are some of the key areas related to programming that I think librarians should be looking at consistently and some of the things I have done in each of the key areas:

Nancy Jo: The school library at every level has to be about more than checking out books. We have to be instructionally relevant and contributing to student achievement. Allowing for flexible scheduling is paramount to achieve these goals. Real readers return their books because they are done with them, not because it’s library day. Having a fixed schedule based solely around checking in and checking out books does very little to nurture and grow genuine readers, and it usually tends to serve as the biggest barrier keeping teachers from collaborating on the curriculum with school librarians. I know a flexible schedule is not always easy, but even in schools entrenched in this system can change. You can read my full blog post on making a flexible schedule work here.

Final Thoughts
Stacy:  “Students are drawn to spaces that are open, inviting, and stimulating; spaces where they become fully engaged in the conversation and in the excitement of sharing new ideas” (JISC).  Ask yourself again if your library, be it the physical space or the programming you provide, is this type of space.  If not, what can you do today to begin the transformation from library to learning space?  

Nancy Jo:  It was my pleasure getting to present three times with Stacy Cameron, who has been a mentor, colleague, and friend to me. Her expertise as a librarian, her knowledge, and her leadership have been inspirational to me. As our presentation evolved over time, one thing that became obvious to me is that libraries are transforming. I truly believe change is the only constant, and this statement is certainly applicable to school libraries. School libraries have to be open to changing, and to changing in the ways that our students need.  If you are interested in joining a group of librarians who are seeking ways and sharing ways to transform their school library, you can read my blog post about the TYSL (Transform Your School Library) movement here and join the movement!

For our full presentation from TLA Annual conference, click here: