Friday, March 31, 2017

The Five Things I Learned After I Retired

The Five Things I Learned After I Retired
by Maggie Dixon

After 32 years, I retired from being the Head Librarian at the Collegiate School. I had loved every day I had worked there and it was sad to go but the timing was right. I had begun to call some of the boys by their fathers’ names, which wasn’t just the result of the boys’ looks but based on flashbacks of their Dads’ shenanigans in the library many years before. If I were on the carpet reading, I would avoid irritating bad knees by pulling myself up in a less than graceful manner. When the boys began to look apprehensive about how they were going to get me up, I thought maybe it’s time to go. The best reason for being ready to go was that I was leaving my library in trusted hands and I had always had dreams of having more time to travel and volunteer. After retiring, I have traveled, volunteered at PS 63 and at a small Catholic school library in East Flatbush, and substituted at several schools. These past four years have been the best professional development of my life. These are five things that I have learned about being a good librarian:

1.    Learning from the youngest
The last years at Collegiate I spent a lot of time developing curriculum for high school information literacy, working with gifted, learned colleagues from other departments. I am still fascinated by the best practices of teaching high school students. In fact, since I retired I have become an edweb junkie Edweb is a site that provides webinars to librarians and other educators on curriculum development. Substituting in the kindergarten and 1st grade at Collegiate, and watching the Lower School librarian at Chapin, Christina Kover, have opened my eyes to how sophisticated and analytical curriculum development has become for the youngest children. I always looked at learning to read as a miracle – it just happens if the boys listened to enough stories. Now I know, for most children, it’s a complicated learning process where teachers provide sights, sounds, smells, tactile experiences, and tastes to teach them reading. I have been impressed by how they teach visual literacy from books and use storytelling, poetry, bookmaking, technology, and research to support the more traditional skills of word recognition and comprehension. They also teach the students how to read non-fiction using both informational text and narrative books. I was in one 1st grade where they were pulling information from the text and writing on note cards for their big frog research project. I learned how I would like to have taught older boys how to use NoodleTools note cards.

2.    Collegiality is a magical ingredient in developing and carrying out curriculum. Since librarians’ most successful work depends on team-teaching, I was always trying to tease out how successful collaborative work happens. I usually blamed my collaboration failures on the lack of a mandated time to work with my colleagues. When I started substituting in the kindergarten and 1st grade at Collegiate I noticed something special had happened in those teams that promoted a spurt of creative curriculum development that had something to do with the chemistry of the four people working together. Each grade in lower school is made up of a four-member team, and all the teams are expected to spend time and energy planning together in a collegial spirit. What I observed about the eight people on the K and 1st grade teams were that although they were very different (race, gender, and teaching style), they respected each other, had defined but flexible rolls in the group, shared a similar work ethic, and had a clear child-centered vision of their goal. But the big difference seemed to be that they really liked each other, complemented each other’s gifts, laughed at their colleagues’ jokes, and were honest but not hurtful in their feedback. How would a librarian replicate the magic? Since we are rarely put on teams or have a mandate to make time for collegial planning, the only way to develop meaningful curriculum would be to make time to reach out personally, build relationships, and exchange your curricular dreams as kindred spirits. You also have to laugh at their jokes.

3.    How do you become an educational leader in your community?
My friend Cheryl Wolf is the librarian at PS 63 for two schools in one building on the Lower East Side. She has become an educational leader for the whole community. Her literature expertise is revered and since there is no technologist in the building, she not only teaches informational literacy but educational technology as well. She became an educational leader for her community by working hard, writing grants, volunteering to be on book selection committees, being kind, being available, and constantly looking to grow as a librarian by doing professional development (she has gone to more Google workshops than anyone I know).  Recently she has had the added gift of being acknowledged by one of the Heads of School as the go-to-person for teachers to improve their practice by selecting better literature or learning some of the Google tools to help their students. There is nothing better than a shout-out from the principal that the librarian is the one to go to if you need help devising curriculum.

4.    Teaching girls is fine, especially if you get to work on the perfect research project.
During Angela Carstensen’s sabbatical leave, I did a personal sociological experiment by asking myself – Would girls be fun to teach? I was apprehensive about teaching girls because I had spent my career enjoying the antics of boys and had raised three sons. Girls are different but I spent a wonderful semester at Convent of the Sacred Heart. The CSH girls were welcoming and the community really works on the school’s values of kindness, charity, and hard work. The best thing about the job came from inheriting a yearlong research project that was co-taught by Angela and the Religion teacher, Katinka Vanderbauwhede. At Collegiate we had developed research paths and LibGuides for many projects and worked collaboratively with our colleagues but had never had the luxury of spending a whole year with every 11th grader coming to the library once a week to gather and document information for a presentation. The project provided a rich opportunity to teach informational literacy through Google Web pages that Angela had set up with lessons on how to access a wide range of resources including specialized databases, EBooks, and a superb collection of religious monographs and periodicals. There were also instructional web pages on citation and the use of NoodleTools, how to search and evaluate webpages, and the use of Google Docs for the project. The girls were also encouraged to use the New York Public Library, museums, and religious organizations. They were taught how to recognize and contact scholars in their field. The project was truly a collaborative effort - with the debate coach teaching speech techniques and the technologist teaching presentation tools. The students demonstrated a keen understanding of their topics, and connected their conclusions with documented sources. I learned a lot from those women and they learned how to be smart sophisticated consumers of information, which is so vital in today’s political climate.

5.    How to run a one librarian library but never being alone.
Volunteering at PS 63 with Cheryl Wolf and substituting for Rebecca Duvall at Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, I learned what it was like being the only librarian in the building. I was skeptical that it could be done because many library tasks take the same amount of time, whether you are a large or small library. Technology has only intensified this paradox. What I learned is that they aren’t a one-woman show. They are very rarely alone because they have charmed, cajoled, and begged for help. Parents, teachers, students, college work-study students, Library students, and retired librarians flock to their libraries because they are the most exciting, joyful places in the community to be. There are many days when it would take a lot less time and frustration to just do the tasks than welcoming, managing, and training volunteers. But there are the added benefits of volunteers: word spreads - the library’s mission is communicated to the entire community, positive parent/teacher bonds are built, library financial support increases, you are provided an educational opportunity to share your gifts and expertise with others, and most important you are not alone with 300 books to shelve.

This is a picture taken at PS 63: A One librarian library
Christine Nassar - Rutger's library graduate school student, Cheryl Wolf - librarian, Olivia Strong - parent volunteer, Maggie Dixon, retired librarian volunteer.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Interference Archive: an interview

On April 6, HVLA will visit the Interference Archive in Brooklyn. RSVP here to join us, and check out some of Interference's other amazing upcoming events.

To learn more about this incredible treasure of materials about social and political movements, HVLA board member Hannah Mermelstein interviewed Archive volunteer Jen Hoyer. Here's what she had to say:

HM: Can you tell us a bit about the founding and purpose of Interference Archive? What is/was the gap the archive seeks to fill?

JH: Interference Archive was created to provide really open access to material produced by social movements. It fills two gaps: in some cases this ephemeral material isn’t collected, and we believe that it gives record to important grassroots history that should be preserved. In other cases, this material is collected but is held by institutions that create access restrictions to the very communities that this social movement history is about; we continually work to lower barriers to access, both through our archival use policies as well as through our (free) educational public programming.

HM: What types of materials does Interference Archive hold?

JH: The archive contains many kinds of objects that are created as part of social movements by the participants themselves: posters, flyers, publications, photographs, books, T-shirts and buttons, moving images, audio recordings, and other materials.

HM: Are there any materials that you think would be of particular interest to NYC area school librarians?

JH: We have regular class visits, and we’ve seen young people consistently connect with our zine collection -- this offers such a personal glimpse into the lives of people like ourselves, and it provides inspiration for new self-expression. We also have a lot of material that reflects strongly on the idea of self-determination, from a wide variety of groups (women, immigrants, and more), and this is a really terrific theme to talk to students about. It resonates across all ages and areas of interest!

HM: What are some examples of exhibits that Interference Archive has hosted? How do you decide on and/or curate exhibits?

JH: Putting material on our walls for exhibitions is a way to increase access -- it makes people feel really comfortable interacting with the material, and it sparks interest to look at related material in our collection. We’ve put together exhibitions about labor organizing, tenant organizing in NYC, reproductive rights, comics and identity formation, and so much more!
Our exhibitions are generally initiated by one or two people, who then invite others -- both from within the Archive’s volunteer community and from elsewhere -- to collaborate. This forms an exhibition working group which coordinates the exhibition and related programming, and continues to interact with other working groups at the Archive. The members of each exhibition working group provide an amazing opportunity to share skills and knowledge through the broad range of experience they all bring.

HM: What types of events take place in the space? Can you tell us about one of your favorites?

Art and Feminism wikipedia edit-a-thon, March 2017
JH: We regularly curate and host public events at Interference Archive that are in keeping with our mission. More specifically, our events are geared toward fostering critical engagement with culture, art, politics, and society; featuring forms of cultural production that are representative of what is housed in our collection, such as publications and films created by and for social movements; showcasing cultural objects and organizing in relationship to larger sociopolitical concerns and transformative visions; highlighting the organizational forms, processes—human and material—and  production techniques behind the creation of cultural ephemera from below; encouraging and illustrating imaginative forms of cultural production as well as interventions in relation to political organizing, social struggles and resistance movements.
I’m not sure I could name a favourite event (maybe our block party…), but I’ve really enjoyed our wikipedia edit-a-thons! They are a really terrific combination of skill-building, diving into our collection for resources, and community building as we all work together.

HM: Can you tell us a bit about the digital component of the archive?

JH: We have an online catalog ( that we’re working to populate with descriptions of material in our collection; anyone can join in as a volunteer to help with this cataloging work! We also have a born digital working group,which handles social movement materials that were originally created in digital format, or material for which we don't have physical copies. The work of the group is split between figuring out how Interference Archive should and/or can collect, preserve, and provide access to digital material, as well as thinking conceptually about trends towards born digital material production in social movements necessitates new workflows for capturing and sharing that material and knowledge. This group is also developing workflows for digitization of materials in the archive so that digital copies can be made available online.

HM: HVLA will be visiting on April 6. What will we see?

JH: You’ll see the whole archive! Our archive is open stacks, so visitors can take boxes off shelves and open drawers themselves. A volunteer will be on hand to explain how the archive runs, how our collection is organized, and how to find things. We’ll guide you towards anything you’re interested in, but you’re also welcome to explore on your own!

HM: How can individuals support your work?

JH: All of this work at Interference Archive is possible because of people like the folks in HVLA! We cover the majority of our operating expenses through individual donations. The backbone of this community are sustainers who make a regular contribution to the archive, generally of $10 to $50 each month. More information about becoming a sustainer is available at

We are also 100% volunteer run, and volunteers can help out in so many ways! If anyone is interested in joining this work, please get in touch with us at

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Winter Meeting Recap

On February 28, HVLA hosted the Winter Meeting “Hot Books, Cold Nights,” and although the weather was unseasonably warm, the books were definitely hot!  HVLA librarians gathered in the beautiful library at The Dalton School, joined by 11 publishers, to discuss new and exciting titles for the spring.  Attendees arrived and began browsing the book fair, talking to the publishers about new titles, and perusing the literature.  After 30 minutes of browsing, ARC shopping, and networking, attendees gathered for the presentations.  Each publishing representative talked to the attendees about their publishing house’s philosophy and focus, and booktalked one notable book for the spring.  The diversity among the publishing houses meant that we were treated to a wide range of booktalks-- we heard about picture books through young adult novels, fiction and nonfiction, and books featuring a wide array of ethnicities and experiences.  

We heard about books from:
Akashic Books (Susannah Lawrence)
Candied Plums (Roxanne Feldman)
First Second Books (Calista Brill)
Feminist Press (Jisu Kim)
Enchanted Lion Books (Tasha Muresan)
Holiday House (Terry Borzumato-Greenberg)
Lee & Low Books (Hannah Erlich)
Little, Brown and Company (Jenny Choy)
Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group (Summer Ogata)
POW! Kids Books (Jordan Nielsen)
Workman Publishing (Trevor Ingerson)

The slides from the publishers can be found here.

After the stellar booktalks, we had more time to talk to publishers, find out about new titles for our schools, and fill our gift tote bags with ARCs.  The publishers also generously sponsored a series of raffles, so quite a few attendees walked away with bound copies as well.  

After the meeting was over, the fun continued at the social, which was held at Third Ave. Ale House.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Back to School at Dalton

Every year The Dalton School hosts Back to School Night; an opportunity for parents and faculty to enjoy what their children and students experience in their classrooms every day.  Organized by the Parent Association, faculty are invited to teach a class of their choice.  A course list with descriptions written by the faculty is compiled and then the list is distributed to parents and the full faculty.  Back to School Night is held on a weeknight from 7:00-8:45pm.  This is always a wonderful evening of teaching, learning, sharing, and fun.

As High School Librarian at Dalton, I teach an information literacy class called "Be a Super Searcher" which encompasses effective searching techniques with strategies for evaluating information.  This year's class included a special section on "Fake News."  It was my good fortune to have a small group of highly motivated parents -- some wanted better skills to help their students with research, but all responded eagerly to the part of my course description that described learning how to "easily get straight to the most recent, most credible information without wading through pages of (diverting but irrelevant) search results."

First, I introduced our library webpages including the Subject Guides, Bibliographies, Research Tips, and Services that highlight the value of curated, vetted information.  With a sample search, I showed the difference between our Discovery System and an open Google search.  Since one of the parents is currently a graduate student in Public Health, we explored ways of performing site specific searches for information on "zika."  I distributed a handout of Web Search Tips and demonstrated most of them.  At their request, we explored the fabulous resources of New York Public Library and sites for government documents.  Next we talked about evaluating sources for currency, authority, accuracy, and bias.  We talked about fake news and the difference between edited news outlets and blogs from those same outlets.  I shared handouts of my page of tips on how to avoid fake news sites (which is adapted from Melissa Zimdars at Merrimack College.)  And, for those parents concerned about the research skills of their students, we talked a bit about citation and plagiarism.  Their questions took us as far afield as copyright, reverse image searching, the Wayback Machine, and more.

The time flew by, and I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my passion for information literacy with a group of highly motivated parents.  If you'd like to learn more about Dalton's Back to School Night or my lesson, feel free to contact me at  I'd also be interested to hear if you are doing something similar and have any experiences or lessons learned you'd like to share.
Tobi Fineberg
High School Librarian, Dalton