I'm a Librarian... What's Your Superpower???

by Wayne Cherry, Librarian, St. Pius X High School, Houston

I love superheroes.  My desktop wallpaper cycles through artwork featuring the greatest heroes of the Golden and Silver Ages of comics.  My son’s room is still dedicated to the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel. When he was a baby (and even now at nearly two), he went to sleep almost immediately when he heard John Williams’ amazing score from the very first Superman film.  Superheroes have become for us what the Olympians were to the Greeks for they are a vital part of our cultural ethos.  So what does that have to do with libraries?

I’ve seen the phrase from the image below so much that I felt it had become a cliché.  It’s all over Etsy, Pinterest, and ten thousand custom t-shirt sites.  But in the current age of information overload, the 24-hour news cycle, and the rise of fake news, I think that this phrase may be truer than it ever has been.

As a librarian, you are a superhero.  Some of you have the power to make any book sound like the most amazing thing ever printed.  Some of you can bring a story to life so that the characters leap from the page and inhabit your library.  Some of you are quirky enough that dressing up as a favorite character is second nature to you.  Some have the innate ability to match the right book to the right child every time.  Some of you even have the power to make a cup, a marker, and a dollar store toothbrush motor into an artistically inclined robot.
Regardless of what your superpower is, we all have the power to change lives.  In the ten years I have been a librarian, I have watched transformations occur in my libraries.  I’ve seen children who hate books become voracious readers.  I’ve seen the student struggling to cope find peace in the pages of a book.  I’ve even seen students stop hating school for no other reason than they got to come to the library once a week.

It may be that most school librarians don’t wear fancy costumes, hide out in underground lairs, retreat to fortresses of solitude, or charge green rings of power; despite this, we do have the ability to make the world a better place.  We have a fortress of learning and safety within our library’s walls.  We are counselors, advisers, guardians, advocates and definitely teachers, as well as many more things besides.  We have endless power on our shelves and servers as we fight against intellectual dishonesty and information illiteracy.

I am a librarian…what’s your superpower?

Take the Bull by the Horns

By Dorcas Hand, Editor of TASLTalks

School librarians stand in front of groups of students every day, all day, working our magic to lead them to stronger love of reading and understanding of information, research methods and writing. We are not always our own best advocates, but I’m here to suggest a slogan for 2017: Take the Bull by the Horns. Can’t get much more Texan – think of really LONG horns, and how important it is to stand firm when the bull tries to run us over. 
Thanks to http://www.sourpussclothing.com/taxidermy-wall-hook-longhorn-bull-blk.html for the image.

Now we could be talking about the animal – but I’m trying for a metaphorical bull. It could be the administrator who says librarians don’t contribute to student achievement; the one who says librarians should be test coordinators because they aren’t doing anything else; the teacher who says a classroom library is better than a campus library – or any of a hundred others. A herd of possible longhorns trying to push us into a corner, a corner we don’t want to be in.
Thanks to http://www.commandersplacelonghorns.com/Default.aspx?id=9608&Title=OurHerd for this TX image.

So, let’s figure out how to take the bull by the horns, one bull at a time. Here is a story – a hypothetical situation for your consideration. Imagine that a district administrator issued a letter saying that librarians are important to student achievement; that they should spend the majority of their time on direct services to students and staff; and therefore likely don’t have time to be test coordinators. This letter is a suggestion rather than a new rule, but still a recognition at the district leadership level that librarians are important – essential, even – to student progress. The letter went to principals and librarians. What would you do, if that happened in your district?

You could wait to hear from your principal that you would no longer be assigned test duties. Or you could take this bull by the horns by going to the principal with the letter in hand to say that you expect to be able to honor the district’s intent, that you intend to be working with students all year long rather than managing the test schedule and oversight.

This is only one example of how you might take the bull by the horns: stand up to be counted as a strong force in behalf of student achievement in collaboration with teachers, stand up to represent library best practices. Your personal challenge as you look to the rest of the 2016-17 school year is to set yourself at least one Take the Bull by the Horns Opportunity on your campus. We will all stand up to the bull together, pushing back against and educating our campus and district administrators who don’t yet understand how important our work is in support of student progress to love of learning and reading and life.

Teacher Day @ TLA: Powerful PD for All Educators

By Jessica Robbins who currently serves as the Director of Curriculum and Special Programs for Aransas County ISD in Rockport, TX.

About eight years ago, I was approached by my campus librarian who had something very sneaky up her sleeve. She was baiting me into a love affair with the Texas Library Association annual conference.  Maybe “sneaky” and “baiting” is a little overdramatic. The truth is, when you offer a young high school English teacher a 4-day trip to free books and rooms full of authors, you can expect hero status.  I had no idea as I responded with an emphatic “YES!” just what a gift she was offering me.

Most high school English teachers do not struggle with a love for reading.  They often chose the profession because literature lured them into a degree that has limited career options.  English majors share an appreciation for the canon and envision themselves sharing the passion for the greats with a classroom full of eager teenagers.  It isn’t until your first round with To Kill a Mockingbird or Beowulf that you discover that somehow you missed something in college.  

I was one of those English majors who entered the field of teaching not JUST because I loved American Lit.  I wanted desperately to inspire kids.  So when I was presented with an unconventional approach to reading something besides the classics with the possibility of reaching more students with more books, I ran quickly toward the door. I knew my librarian sprinkled some kind of fairy dust on kids who walked into the library, but I didn’t realize until after TLA that it wasn’t magic; it was young adult literature. She was keeping up with the latest releases on books that were written FOR my reluctant readers and my passionate readers.  She had her finger on the pulse of YA and this gave her most of what she needed to crack the door open to a world of reading.  My students needed this, and I didn’t realize how badly.

My immersion into this world changed my life.  I spent my week participating in sessions where authors sat at tables and talked about the experience of writing for my kids, I was exposed to the most recently released works from a wide variety of publishers, and I learned about digital applications for the classroom at a rapid rate. I realized how many opportunities my students were missing when I allowed the unknowns of technology to intimidate me to the point of avoidance.

At the end of each day, I returned with my treasures and met up with the team of professionals who traveled with me.  Our district had received some additional grant money that year to provide this opportunity to administrators, instructional technologists and teachers.  We debriefed each day, and I realized that I was not the only person experiencing this new level of enlightenment.   As we talked about our sessions, we wanted to take a piece of TLA home with us, and at the end of one of our final days, we committed to a K-12 collaborative team that I am still proudly a part of today.  

I now work at the district level in curriculum and instruction. As director over our K-12 ELAR program and several special programs, I take every chance I get to budget for and send teachers from our district to TLA. There are very few forms of professional development that have had such a powerful impact on my career, and I continue to hear the same from attendees who return in April.  TLA can inspire new teachers, veteran teachers, and tired teachers. It has immediate results. Teachers come home fueled and empowered to lead students toward a love for reading, and administrators come home equipped to lead their staff in powerful reading opportunities, cutting edge media and technology.

I know budgets are tight, but if you have any control over professional development in your district, the Texas Library Conference will be pennies well spent.  Texas teachers need this, and as difficult as it is for educators to break away from campus, the gains will be well worth the sacrifice.  I still shamelessly thank my librarian for paving my way to TLA and repay the favor as often as possible.  I signed my first administrator up for the April 2017 conference yesterday, as a matter of fact!   

Join Us! On Friday, April 21, 2017, 100 classroom teachers will have the opportunity to experience a one day special event during the TLA conference, comprised of speakers, activities, and pricing designed just for them. Planning has begun for a fun, interactive day for the classroom teachers who attend, as well as the librarians who sponsor them. Participants are welcome to stay for the full conference. The focus of this program is for classroom teachers to return to their districts after experiencing TLA as library advocates and collaborators.  Details about Teacher Day at TLA and the application for teachers to participate can be accessed at http://www.txla.org/teacher-day.

Curiosity Creates, an ALSC Grant Program

by Dorcas Hand

The Winter 2016 issue of Children and Libraries (Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children) clued me to look further at this program from ALSC (a division of ALA). The full write-up “Curiosity Creates Innovative Library Programming For Children”, written for the Association for Library Service to Children by Paula Holmes is available online – but a few excerpts will be of interest to Texas school librarians looking for creative ideas.

In August 2015, ALSC “publicized the request for proposals for a new funding initiative, the Curiosity Creates grant, sponsored by The Walt Disney Company. This award was an opportunity for public libraries to receive funding to promote and develop creativity skills in children ages 6 to 14, focusing on one or more of the seven critical components of creativity, as designated by the Center for Childhood Creativity (CCC).” Yes, public libraries – but read on anyway. They awarded 79 grants of up to $7,500 each.

The full information about the seven critical components of creativity appears in the CCC’s 2015 white paper Inspiring a Generation to Create: Critical Components of Creativity in Children, written by Helen Hadani and Garrett Jaegar. The authors detail both the components and “research-supported strategies to promote” each component.
These are the components
  • Imagination and Originality: Imagine and explore original ideas
  • Flexibility: Maintain openness to unique and novel experiences
  • Decision Making: Make thoughtful choices that support creative efforts
  • Communication and Self-Expression: Communicate ideas and true self with confidence
  • Motivation: Demonstrate internal motivation to achieve a meaningful goal
  • Collaboration: Develop social skills that foster teamwork
  • Action and Movement: Boost creative potential through physical activitytive potential through physical activity 

Paula Holmes details in the ALSC article a few “best practices” from the evaluation process – and these point out several points at which the grant winners collaborated with local schools. I mention this specifically to remind all of you school librarians that you can take these ideas, and best practices, to inspire your own projects in support of student creativity. Curiosity inspires creativity at the same time that creativity inspires curiosity. And really, this entire grants program is about Maker Spaces without using that word. Every winner found ways to engage students to think beyond a correct answer to make, build or understand something they didn’t know before – to follow curiosity with enthusiasm and support. And then you can see details of winning programs – lots of them.

“Additional criteria were taken into consideration for the best-practice report as the application process brought to light highly creative solutions and strategies to overcoming barriers to creativity. These barriers included transportation; food insecurity; language; lack of outreach to underserved populations; and experience barriers (that include novel experiences and foundation literacy, not just limited to ELL/ESL); perceptions of staff, administration, Friends, and trustees of what children’s programming at the library looks like.” I’m pretty sure all school librarians push against these challenges every day!

“Amy Derrington and the Singletary Memorial Library (TX) program “Kids Being Kids” deserves mention for their creative transportation solution, a “walking bus.” The library is in walking distance to the elementary school. The library staff members met the kids at the stop sign by the school and walked the students back to the library. On rainy days, the library staff held umbrellas.” Congrats to Amy Derrington – and look what collaboration between the public and school libraries could offer your students!

Holmes also offers these Keys to Success
  • Allowed children of all abilities to be creative together.
  • Project connected to the research, ensuring inclusive creativity programming.
  • Outreach to underserved populations with a clear plan and partnerships.
  • Collaborated with a partner with a shared mission and vision.
  • Partner is a known expert in the area and provided training for all levels of staff throughout the library.
  • Additional partnerships formed as the project developed, widening the outreach to the community.
  • Marketed the program through open houses inviting key players who work with the outreach target population.
  • Library was not afraid to reexamine themselves.
So, we’re looking at an ALSC grants program and process that focused on public libraries – but we see ways to make school libraries better. The seven components of creativity are true everywhere – let’s make them work for our students. So are the Keys to Success. We’ve discovered that Making (aka creativity) excites kids, but that making doesn’t have to mean expensive components, robotics or even computers. That is also true whether in public or school libraries. And we have learned that different types of libraries can collaborate to build more access for more students – so how can Texas school libraries take these ideas to build some great new projects that I can feature in this blog??? Seriously – get thinking. On your mark. Get set. Go – it’s a new calendar year. Let your own creative juices flow so that you model excitement, curiosity and creativity for your students!

Public Libraries Can Extend School Library Collections­­­­

By Dorcas Hand

Welcome back and Happy New Year. Today, let's look at how to expand our impact with minimal campus support. We who are school librarians talk often about how we should collaborate with our teachers and administrators. We also are constantly aware of how tight our budgets are. We are creative in many ways to provide our students access to resources to help them progress academically. But do we remember our local public library as a potential collaborator?

The holidays gave me a chance to actually read the January/February 2017 issue of American Libraries when it landed in my mail. “The Future of Library Cards” (p. 22-23) by Kaitlin Throgmorton talks about Harris County (TX) Public Library’s new digital library cards that offer residents of Harris and contiguous counties access to all HCPL’s digital content. Now, I knew – as a resident – that HCPL was here and thriving, but I had missed this new digital access that extends their traditional paper cards. I signed up in about a minute – simple. And now I can search all the databases from home, a collection that complements the TexQuest databases available to schools. There are public libraries across Texas with access to the same TexShare resources as HCPL, ready to work with local schools.

So how can you team with your local public library for the benefit of your students?
  • Help every child get a library card, digital or paper. You are helping everyone: students with more books to choose to read will gain more confidence and enthusiasm as they read books they love. Public libraries will appreciate stronger usage when they build budget requests.
  • Ask the public librarian to visit a PTA meeting to show families the benefits of library cards: in book desert* areas, the public library is a chance to have books at home and to access the internet beyond school hours. It’s a chance for a family adventure on the weekend to explore the world of books and take a few home.
  • Teach teachers how to extend their project resources by borrowing additional titles from the public library. There are often extended circulation rules to accommodate teachers. The public librarian may be able to visit a faculty meeting to meet the teachers.
  • Discover and share the databases that you don’t already have through TexQuest that support specific academic needs on your campus. Need TumbleBooks for little ones? ERIC resources for teachers in graduate school? Gale Biographies in Context for middle and high school?

Share these opportunities with your students, teachers and administrators. You are strengthening student research skills as they learn to look beyond what is on the shelf in your campus library. You can be building stronger classroom projects by collaborating with both teachers and public librarians, perhaps planning (virtual) field trips for classes. And you are modeling strong research skills by demonstrating that libraries work together.

The more you showcase your skills at connecting students with useful information, the stronger your visibility with teachers and administrators when you are asking for campus support for a better library.  The PL is not on campus; it will never replace the school library – but it can always supplement the resources any campus can own. Take advantage of this public resource! Increase your impact on student achievement by including public library resources in your arsenal of tools.

*Book deserts are areas where families have little access to books beyond the school campus. There are no bookstores and few branch libraries. Bus routes can alleviate the gap by helping families and teens visit the public library regularly.