Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Summer of Consequence

By Lisa Norberg

One of the greatest perks (and there are many) to becoming a school librarian is the extended summer break. This summer was my first and I took the opportunity to spend seven weeks in Italy helping my partner’s family with their organic farm. It is a small farm (just under 10 hectors) made up of vineyards of red and white grapes and orchards that produce amazing apricots, plums and pears. For biodiversity, the farm also maintains an enormous garden filled with tomatoes, lettuces, cucumbers, peppers, and zucchini, as well as a field of alfalfa, a dozen or more beehives and a couple of goats. While there is no shortage of work, we maintain a pretty lean crew made up of an eclectic assortment of family members, friends, two working artists, and a WWOOFer or two, usually college students from abroad.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Launching a New Library Program by Natasha Goldberg

This past year, as strapping men and women in hard hats frequently traversed our library's 
grand staircase in pursuit of a 38,000 square foot addition to our marvelous school, the librarians decided (wisely, we thought) to lay low.  No matter how many beautiful articles Laura Bishop might pen about the value of school-wide reads, 2017 didn't seem like the right moment to dream big in terms of our library program. Nevertheless, our eyes glistened (with excitement? tears?) when the charismatic Head of Middle School Humanities approached us with the idea of launching a new type of summer reading program for our middle schoolers (grades 4-7).

Upon their return to school, Chapin’s middle school students will be clustering to discuss a common theme (kindness) as it appeared in the books they chose to read over the summer.  The hope?  To give seventh graders in their last year of middle school the chance to be leaders in mixed-age discussions while reinforcing two cherished community norms (reading + kindness!)

As I sit at home awaiting my own participation in these "Choose Kind" breakout sessions, I thought it might be -- well, kind, really --  to briefly share what I learned from getting this not-quite-Book-Day program off the ground.

      Never be anything short of super-enthusiastic about a new community program, no matter how ill-timed it seems.  Negative chatter is the bane of any school.  I indulged in it briefly and got called out on it by a beloved colleague. Until then, I didn’t realize how desperately administration members relied on me as a standard-bearer of positivity.  Lesson learned.

     Put most everything else aside -- and by that, I mean all those nagging everyday tasks -- recataloging and weeding come to mind -- and focus on the new program instead.  In the end, you’ll never be remembered for your perfect collection….but a new program?  Yes.  Or, at least -- hopefully.

     Set up a time for the kids to physically interact with books that support the new program.  In my case, it was hosting a book tasting of books that met the “Choose Kind” criteria. This was in the final days of school (no small scheduling feat given all the end-of-year activities) but the girls were so eager to mingle and write their shortlist on a homespun bookmark.  In the end, I was able to guilt most of my colleagues into giving up 15 minutes of their classes that final week so that the girls could each choose a book appropriate to their personality and reading level.

     Keep reading this blog and attending HVLA’s wonderful meetings.  It’s a great way to force yourself to dream big and stay open.  And the post-meeting social always reassures me that no, I’m not going crazy, our job really is that complicated.

Hope to see you all at our next event! 

Natasha Goldberg, Middle School Librarian, Chapin

Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer Reads for Work

Summer is not just a time to catch up on reading for pleasure, but also gives librarians a chance to read books specifically for work.  The HVLA Board asked members to share a book read, to read, or in the process of being read for work over the summer.  

It's interesting to note that there is crossover between some of the summer books being read for pleasure (previously posted) and for work.  It's clear that work and pleasure aren't mutually exclusive for many HVLA librarians!

Below are the book covers (in alphabetical order):

Only a handful of HVLA members reported that their schools assigned an all-faculty read over this summer.  Here are what those members said:

*Our Middle School faculty was asked to read one of 5 young adult fiction books "in the spirit of trying to understand our students and adolescence a little better": 
1. Brown Girl Dreaming- Jacqueline Woodson 2. The Book Thief- Markus Zusak 3. Bridge to Terebithia- Katherine Paterson 4. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe- Benjamin Alire Sáenz 5. Ghost- Jason Reynolds

*Ours are all textbook-y style. Mine is called The Rules in School, by Kathryn Brady (the lower school had 4 choices)

*We pick from a list.

*Mindsets in the Classroom: Building a Culture of Success and Student Achievement in Schools by Mary Cay Ricci

*A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley

*This year there was a choice of five for Lower School: Wonder, A Long Walk to Water, Because of Mr. Terupt, Out of My Mind, El Deafo - we are promoting empathy & diversity

*We have tried in the past, and faculty resisted after a while. It is hard to pick something that will go over with a large, diverse group of people.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Summer (Fun) Reads - the scoop from librarians

Summertime can be ideal for catching up on reading for pleasure, especially for HVLA members, who often don't have time during the school year.  The HVLA board asked the HVLA community to share a book read, currently being read, or to be read during this summer.  

Here's what HVLA members are reading (in alphabetical order):

Maria said, "I am reading Zinn's People's History for a book club through the Human Rights Pen Pal group that matches incarcerated folks with people on the outside. I thought the graphic novel might be a good way to supplement it."

Constance said, "Gorgeous writing, makes you see and feel what our forests were like in a world before mass industry, electricity, and clear-cutting."

Susan said, "Loved Wolf Hollow."

Sarah said, "Starred, but controversial - Loved it!"

Angela said, "I think of this book as The Monuments Men, but for librarians. Can't wait to read it."

Hanna said, "Highly recommended by my colleagues."

An HVLA member said, "It was a very original first person narrative. I couldn't put it down."

Patricia said, "It's a mash up of science, historical fiction, horror, and feminism set during the Victorian era."

Michael said, "Recommended by a close friend. The intertwining of a memoir and a true crime case together made for a richer book about the two of them than if they were a stand alone."

Jennifer said, "I'm a big fan of the author and and also enjoying reading memoirs."

 Gili said, "I chose Stevenson's book because I had heard his quote, 'The opposite of poverty is not wealth. In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice.' After hearing this, I knew I had to learn more from this brilliant, articulate lawyer fighting for justice."

Gili said, "So many layers and such an original storyline. I'm perpetually in awe of women graphic novelists. I can't wait for the second one to come out in October!"

Laura read The Other Einstein.

Cheryl said, "Saw it on NetGalley, was drawn to the cover and description, and publishers were promoting it at ALA. It's set in NYC housing projects (Harlem). Protagonist is an African-American boy whose passion is building with Legos. It feels like an authentic picture of life in an under-served community, and I love the motif of architecture throughout."

Christine said, "This book was recommended to me and is absolutely one of the best YA Fantasy books I have read in a really long time. The concept is so original and different from anything else out there. The character development and world-building are spectacular- I can't wait for the next one!"

Lisa said, "It came highly recommended by a friend and I have a deep need to know the world can swerve and rediscover its humanity."

Megan said, "It's a novella so it's a quick read. It's AMAZING!! Will be a great book for discussion."

Eve said, "Adam Haslett is a terrific writer of realistic fiction--the kind that probes people's psyches. It's the second book of his that I've read. In Union Atlantic, he delves into the not-so-ethical world of finance, but don't worry if you're not an expert in this field....the drama between the characters will carry you through."

Stacy said, "I loved the first one. This one is just as good!"

Mary said, "Because I love her books--she's dark and funny at the same time, and she never disappoints. Some people characterize this and a few of her other books as 'crime,' but it still reads like a regular novel. Great characters."

Elizabeth said, "I chose tribute in prose and verse to Alexie's artistic, abusive, extraordinary mother Lillian Cox Alexie because of my affection and respect for the author's other works, including the YA The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and the picture book Thunder Boy Jr. It's also a great read for those interested in Native identity, mental illness, the effects of the American colonization and cycles of abuse."

Laura read The Zookeeper's Wife.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

All School Reads: A Summer Institute from the Association of Independent School Librarians (AISL)

By Laura Bishop 

Over two beautiful summer days in New York City--oh, yes, we were very lucky to welcome our out-of-towners with blue skies, bright sunshine and low humidity!--fourteen librarians from around the country met to engage in a supportive, intimate conversation about all-school-read programs. Some of us are currently the engines behind these programs, and some of us were very interested in spearheading them, thus creating new traditions and, hopefully, a re-imagining of the power and reach of literature within our communities.

All-School-Read programs, aka “Common Book”, “Common Read”, or “One Book” programs, have been steadily gaining in popularity in both K-12 schools and colleges and universities. Whether it is the desire of an institution to have its community focus on a specific topic or theme that connects all community members, or amplify the power of a book that resonates with multiple disciplinary terrains, the importance of this experience is gaining traction. Programs vary in form and focus depending on the institution. They may range from an entire school reading the same book and breaking out into discussion groups, to an entire division or grade reading the same book and steadily exploring its resonant themes through their curricula and special assemblies throughout the year. Then there are models like that seen at Horace Mann’s Book Day.

Each spring, the entire upper school division of Horace Mann (HM) comes together to devote an entire day to the exploration of a book which is chosen through a careful process of reading and debating numerous titles among a committee of students and faculty. Once the book is chosen, the end-result is an entire day of programs tied to the resonant themes and topics of that book. Students select (“conference-style”) the sessions they’d like to attend from a rich array of programming options. Book Day begins with opening ceremonies comprised of student performances (dance and music feature prominently) and a keynote address. It ends in a similar fashion with a performance and closing speaker. If you are interested in learning more about HM’s Book Day, read this blog post on Penguin Random House’s “Common Reads” resource site about HM’s 2017 installment for Ta Nehesi Coates’s Between the World and Me. Our Summer Institute host, Caroline Bartels, the Library Director at Horace Mann and the driving force behind Book Day, offered a great deal of insight into how the program works at HM.

Nancy Florio, Library Director at the Berkshire School, was a special guest speaker at the institute. Nancy is heavily involved with assisting in book selection and programming for her school’s common book experience. Coincidentally, Berkshire’s all school read selection for this past school year was also Coates’s book. It was very interesting to see how Nancy’s and Caroline’s programs differ in structure. Berkshire kicks off it’s common read experience with a keynote address, followed by book discussion groups, activities, and reflection in small groups. Rather than taking place over the course of one day, however, the all school read experience at Berkshire involves their school community with a series of speakers, workshops, and assemblies tied to the book and it’s themes throughout the year.

Several years back I was invited to attend one of HM’s Book Day events. I was so inspired that I modeled my school’s “all-school-read” program after their program. Now entering our third year at The Hun School of Princeton, we continue to reflect and improve upon our programming. For our first all school read event, our school read the first two books in the March trilogy by, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. For our second, we read Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. Our upcoming read for the 2017-2018 school year is Hillary St.John Mandel’s Station Eleven.

Over our two-day retreat of sorts, we delved into the varied dimensions of the all-school-read program, and dissected its many possibilities and essential components for success. What better place to hold this gathering than at Horace Mann, a school that, with an all-school-read-program entering its 24th consecutive year, serves as a model for innovation and inspiration?!

Below is a list of annotated topics we explored...

Topics Covered

  • Book selection process: How to select and run your committees; the benefits and challenges of student and faculty participation; what makes a good all school read title.
  • Budgeting for the day: Realistic assessments of the costs that go into a program of this scale; how to maximize dollars and support; lobbying administration for financial support.
  • Tapping into parent/alumni networks: The crucial task of tapping into the riches of school communities, most importantly, parent and alumni pools.
  • Finding outside presenters and negotiating their rates: It’s important to understand that, by and large, rates are negotiable; quite often the scale can slide significantly, especially with presenters who are not usually called upon to address student audiences. My school, for example, does not possess a large endowment. I explain to our presenters the deep meaning of this day, and that we are, in fact, a tuition-driven institution. We also discussed using speakers agencies.
  • Teacher and student buy-In: Involving students in the selection process; encouraging student presentations; making sure sessions are engaging and hands-on; incentivizing participation; Also, see the next item below!
  • Importance of upper administrative support: The importance of this can not be stressed enough. With the many hats worn by teachers at independent schools and the myriad of responsibilities students juggle during the race to college, adding “another thing” to the curriculum requirements can make obtaining buy-in to the Book Day experience a tough sell. Though teacher allies do help, a top down approach whereby assessments and discussion are mandated by administration is critical. Ideally, this means lessons attached to the book are required in all classes across the curriculum.
  • Structuring the day: The importance of building in reflection time; scheduling challenges; the importance of opening and closing ceremonies.
  • Promoting the program: This can take the form of video promotions, emails to your parent community, tweets, preview performances related to the book and book trailers, among other strategies.
  • Testimonies from Faculty and Students: Two HM administrators spoke about their experience with and appreciation for Book Day at HM. They shared some valuable insights with us pertaining to selling an all-school-read program to administration that are either on the fence or gun-shy about implementing an all-school-read program.
  • Key selling points included: Tie the purpose or goals of the program to your school’s mission statement; if you (and a few supporting colleagues in your corner wouldn’t hurt!) can demonstrate how this program is the embodiment of the school’s mission, you will have better luck selling it to your admin. Secondly, stress the program’s potential for empowering your student body. No doubt, if you are involving students in either your selection process or the programming for the day, they have a significant role to play. In the case of the HM model, students are able to break free of their “student role” and take on a leadership position that enables them to build on and share their passion and knowledge of a subject, flipping the classroom in a whole new sense. Lastly, all-school-read programs pack a huge interdisciplinary punch. It is the embodiment of interdisciplinary learning, and a signature program your school can use to distinguish itself among peer institutions.

The Summer Institute was a supportive and thought provoking experience. I gained a new perspective on my program, as well as a lot of great ideas that I plan on implementing as I promote and shape its future. If you ever have a chance to attend one of AISL’s Institutes, I highly recommend it! They provide a rich, yet informal atmosphere in which to learn and grow.

Special thanks to Caroline Bartels for putting together an excellent experience!

Laura Bishop has been "librarian-ing" for thirteen years now. Previously she has been a Senior Children's Librarian for The New York Public Library, and the Middle and Upper School Librarian at Léman Manhattan Prep. Laura is currently entering her fourth year as the Director of the Library and Media Center of The Hun School of Princeton, where she is fortunate to activate her passions for social justice, travel, and cultural competency work through the Cultural Competency Committee, advisement of the gender equity group, and chaperoning global immersion trips abroad.