Library Connections

Entries for month: September 2013

Reading Nonfiction for Enjoyment- Part I

September 19, 2013 · 381 Comments

I have to confess I do not read nearly as much nonfiction as I probably should. However, with the advent of Senior Projects and Common Core Standards, I have been obligated to find and read nonfiction to promote to my high school students and I am pleasantly surprised to find these books have come a long way since I was in high school.

Narrative nonfiction is what we are focusing on acquiring these days. Nobody wants to read the single topic books for fun.  What I am looking for is a true story with a factual foundation, lively characters, and a vivid setting. My logic is if I find it interesting, so will my high school clients.

One such book is Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. I became aware of this book since the author is a Pulitzer Prize winner and this book is a National Book Award. It takes place in the Annawadi slum of Mumbai and follows the lives of two families. I could really smell the odors from the sewage pond in the slum’s center, see the brilliant colors of the women’s saris, and feel the desperation as these people struggle to survive. I got a glimpse of how they came to live in this place and why it is so hard to escape from these circumstances. It was so much more interesting to read than a country book about India.

I have come to learn the names of some authors who write nonfiction winners. Mary Roach (Stiff, Packing for Mars, and Gulp) takes icky, uncomfortable topics and spices them up with snarky comments - perfect for a high school audience. Simon Winchester (Krakatoa and Atlantic) takes us to far away times and places. I can also recommend Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers and Tipping Point) and Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse). I know that any title by these authors will be well researched and approachable for the high school student. 

Stay tuned for next month’s blog post,”Pairing nonfiction with fiction titles”.

Colette photo ColetteCrowther.png

Colette Crowther is the library clerk for the Napa High School library. She helps the 2,000 students find books as well as format their Word documents and search online databases. She is presently readin the book Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley.

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381 CommentsTags: A Year in the Life

Evolution of a BYOD Library

September 16, 2013 · 201 Comments

Picture a library built with 21st century learning in mind. You hear the wonderful hum of learning as light shines through the beautiful two story windows on to a large open workspace where teenagers collaboratively work on their own or school provided devices accessing the library webpage, the library catalog or the school databases. Some are reading a novel from the school FollettShelf or from the stacks. Some students sit on the couches and chairs perusing the magazines while other work quietly in the no talking study rooms. Doesn’t this sound like a wonderful place to students to congregate and learn? This was the vision the principal, library clerk and I had for the district’s first Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) library at American Canyon High School.

Cue music screeching to a halt. Picture the reality which is the same library now overfull with over 150 students who sit around the tables, couches and on the floor because all the seats are taken.  It is so loud that you can hardly hear the student asking a question across the circulation desk.  There are large groups of 9th and 10 graders (the only two grades in the school) playing Halo and Minecraft. The quiet study rooms are the hangout rooms. 

How did our dream of a BOYD Library turn into this hub of chaos?

When planning the library, there were a few factors we didn’t consider. 
First, the school opened with only 9th and 10th grade so the school was missing the maturity of the upperclassmen. Second, the library clerk and I had been at the middle school library.  In many ways this was wonderful.  The students knew us, they felt comfortable in the library, but they felt too comfortable.  At the middle school, we have many board games, like chess, for the students to check out and play. When they came to the high school they felt that any type of gaming in the library was fine. Finally, staffing was too low.  The district cut our librarian’s hours the year we opened, so the library was staffed with a 20 hour per week clerk and a librarian who was present 50% or the time, resulting in only one staff member in the library at a time.

This is not enough staffing to establish a school culture and it definitely wasn’t enough staffing when the library became the place to hangout. Very little learning was happening in our BYOD library. Students couldn’t study as it was too noisy, chaotic and there were just too many people for the space. 

So readers I ask you, was the fearless library staff able to create the library they first envisioned for American Canyon High School? How could it be done? These questions and more will be answered next month when you tune into Part 2 of “The Evolution of a BYOD Library”.

Have you created a BYOD library at your school? I’d love to hear about your journey. Please share with me by commenting below.

sandy biale photo SandyBiale.jpgSandy is the Teacher Librarian for three of the high schools in the Napa Valley Unified School District. In addition, she is part of the NLSLC eTeam and the District’s BYOD and Common Core taskforces. Sandy is implementing a digital citizenship curricula that will be used in all district high schools this year.

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201 CommentsTags: A Year in the Life

Destiny as a One-Stop Shop Part 2

September 13, 2013 · 239 Comments

As schools move forward with adopting digital initiatives, 1:1 programs, online databases, eBooks, and a litany of other “21st Century” resources, one may find herself—again –in information overload.  If you find yourself in this situation, take a few calming breaths, and a stop at your favorite library blog and all will be well. The resource you need is already at your fingertips with Destiny Library Manager

As a follow-up to Destiny as a One-Stop Shop Part 1, here are my next three reasons why making Destiny a one-stop shop for your students and staff will make everyone’s life a little better by improving your students’ digital literacy and the way they search for information.

1.  Promote Information Literacy
By introducing and teaching students to use Destiny not only as a libraryinformation literacy photo informationliteracy.png      catalog, but as a tool for research, you can insure that you are promoting effective information literacy. With features such as One Search, WebPath Express, and Reading Program Service, students will have trusted and reliable sources from which they can begin their search for information.

2.  Appropriate for All Ages
Because of its two separate interfaces, Destiny is a great tool for students of all ages. In my experience, younger students are comfortable with and enjoy the Destiny Quest interface. They are familiar with changing themes and the look of the platform, so they feel right at home in Quest. For older students, Destiny Classic will introduce them to catalog features that they will see in public libraries and in college.

3.Meet Them Where They Are
For the most part, students are using social media. We can try to block them photo catchingfire.png from social networks on school campuses with firewalls and security software, but I think rather than fighting and restricting them, we should meet them where they are. By allowing students to post to social media channels directly from Destiny, we show them that we are current and up to speed with the times. The less our students think of libraries as going the way of the dinosaur, the better. They will be more apt to come to us with their information needs and trust us as viable resources. Plus your library gets the added bonus of free advertisement!

Do you have Destiny Library Manager? If so, what ways are you using it in your school to be a one-stop shop for students information and resource needs?  I’d love to know.  Please share with me in the comments below.


 photo RuthAptaker.jpgRuth is the Director of Library and Information Services for Mater Del High School/MDHS Learning Commons. Ruth spent most of her childhood at the beach or with her nose in a book—oftentimes both.


Though reading and writing are her passions, promoting libraries, librarians, and information literacy is the foundation of her personal and professional objectives.

She lives with her husband and their French Bulldog in Irvine, California. Ruth will also be pinning resources for her Learning Library column on our Pinterest account. You can comment on this blog or follow her on Twitter @AskMissLIS.

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239 CommentsTags: Learning Library

Reflecting On Our Summer Reading Program Now That We Are Back To School

September 11, 2013 · 257 Comments

I know It’s Summer But You Still need to Read
Everyone knows kids love summer - fun, sun and NO SCHOOL!  So there’s the challenge when you’re an elementary school librarian:  How do you get them to read?  I go to the library every summer to clean and prepare books for the next school year.  So, for 10 years now I’ve opened the library one day a week for the students.  Who knew it would be a success?

Some parents arrange a play date, pack a lunch and meet at the school playground that our students call ‘the park.’  I keep some balls and jump ropes in the library for them to use.  I play music, and it becomes a game to some of the kids to figure out what type I’m playing each week.

Reading is Fun
However, the point is to read.  It’s so much fun to suggest a new series to a child or find the perfect book about snakes or spiders or princesses for another.  I love telling the students about the new books I’ve read that they’ll be able to check out when school starts.

So everybody wins here.  Reading in the summer gets the students invited to the reading assembly when school starts.  A party, a puppet show, a book and a Popsicle can make any child smile.  I get to read books and see the kids during the summer.  The library is utilized instead of sitting idle.  I like to think the kids are coming for me and the books, but do you think it might really be for the homemade cookies I bring?

My favorite book this summer:  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein.

What Did you Do in Your Library This Summer to Get Kids to Read?
Did you initiate any programs in your school library this summer to draw students in and keep their attention on reading and the library as a resource? If so, I’d love to hear about your summer reading program.  Please share with me in the comments below.

Lorrie Moore photo LorrieMoore.jpg

Lorraine Moore was born and raised in Los Angeles and moved to Napa Valley with her husband in 1977, where she raised her two daughters.  She started working for the local school district in 1988 as an instructional assistant and noon time yard supervisor.


She added library clerk to her job duties in 1994.  Working in the library is still the best part of her day!

Lorraine runs a summer reading program at her small school that is in its tenth year.  Last year she had over 500 circulations and partners with the Napa County Library’s summer program.  She is one of the more experienced clerks and often is asked to mentor new hires.

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257 CommentsTags: A Year in the Life

What High School Freshmen Know and What They Want to Learn

September 10, 2013 · 201 Comments

Here at St. Helena High School, the faculty hit the ground running when the bell rang on the first day of school and no one has taken so much as a water break since then. All incoming freshmen received new Chromebooks, and circulating those and troubleshooting problems has been a time-consuming process, leaving little time for luxuries like recommending books or even displaying crucial library information on the walls!

I did, however, get a chance to tabulate the results of our annual TRAILS ( skills quiz, which we give to incoming freshmen at both the beginning and the end of every school year to see how much the incoming class’s research skills improved during their first year of high school. TRAILS is a valuable online assessment tool that we have been using for several years to pinpoint where we need to focus our energy. Examples of these focus areas include order of research steps, searching library catalogs, narrowing topics, best resources for specific topics, etc. The results help us determine which skills to focus on during the students’ freshman year, and, based on the freshman class’s Spring results, what to emphasize for the now-sophomores.

What we learned from last year’s TRAILS quizzes is that the freshmen (now sophomores) improved by leaps and bounds in the use of Boolean operators, recognizing potentially less-than-credible sources, recognizing topics that are too broad, or not broad enough, and use of an index in a book. The skills/concepts they didn’t quite grasp were primary v. secondary sources, and copyright/plagiarism issues. I plan to explore these further this year, probably using the UCLA ppt at, which is interactive and kind of fun. Of course, I will also use Joyce Valenza’s ppt located here ?

We also ask our students what research skills they would like to learn. What did this year’s freshmen ask to work on? Same as last year’s, in this order: Proper MLA format/works cited; effective Google searches; searching library catalogs, finding and determining credible sources, and doing faster research.

So we are ready and focused to begin research this year! I hope this post and the resources I have shared have been interesting and helpful. I would love to hear what your focus is for your students this year. Please share it with me by commenting below.

Susan Swan has been the Library Media Specialist at St. Helena High School since 2006. She has a degree in Linguistics from UC Berkeley, on the Board of Trustees for the St. Helena Public Library, and is an ardent bibliophile.

 photo SusanSwan-1.jpgShe took an outdated library and over the years has upgraded the copyright date by ten years! Library use has shot up and it’s now the place for SHHS students to congregate. When her attention is not on a book or focused on Words

With Friends, she enjoys yoga, travel, and spending time with her family.

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201 CommentsTags: A Year in the Life

Back to School Time Equals Textbooks, IBMagnet, and YA Lit…Oh My!-Cathy Willis

September 09, 2013 · 371 Comments

Checking out those pesky textbooks
It is two weeks into the start of the new school year. We went from having the classes come through by subject to having the students pick up their textbooks before school started.  Less than half of our eight hundred students showed up. Hopefully by the end of the week I will be done and on to the fun! Thanks to our new textbook management software, Destiny Textbook manager, I can run textbook reports and chase down those students that don’t want to pick up their textbooks. 

What are you using to checkout your textbooks? I’d love to hear.  Please share with me in the comments below.

Waiting for IB news
I am so excited for the new changes ahead for our school district.  We are still awaiting information on whether we will become an IB magnet school.  All the new buzzwords are floating through my head: IB, PBL, BYOD, CCS, Lexile proficiency bands, narrative non -fiction. I can’t wait to get started. I will keep you posted with our status on becoming an IB magnet school when we receive it.

Cross your fingers for our good news to come soon.

Starting YA Literature Reading
I slacked off this summer with my middle school and YA literature reading and need to get started again.  With a new school year comes a new crop of 6th graders and I can’t wait to introduce them to my favorite authors and watch them as they develop their own opinions of their work. My favorite new title is Moonbird by Phillip Hoose.  If you haven’t read this yet grab it off the shelf you won’t regret it.

We have just finished AR testing our students for Accelerated Reader. Now it’s time to get our all of our new students setup with Destiny Quest accounts and start library orientations. By the way have you read

What does back to school mean for you? What types of activities have you been doing to prepare your students for a successful school year? Please share your back to school activities with me in the comments below.

Cathy Willis has been the library technician at Harvest Middle School for the past 11 years. Prior to heading to middle school, she worked for five  years at a K-6 school. Cathy was part of the NVUSD Textbook and Library Manager implementation projects and currently the  textbook team leader.

 photo CathyWillis.jpgShe collaborates with administration and Library Services for collection development for all district middle schools.  On top of this Cathy is the district data queen for Read 180!  She has a passion for motivating children to read and loves to do Reader's Advisory with her middle school students. 

Her husband is a retired airline pilot… a good thing because she loves to travel!!

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371 CommentsTags: A Year in the Life

Focus on Narrative Writing

September 06, 2013 · 77 Comments

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3d Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.

The school I work for has long excelled at teaching argumentative writing, with a school-wide rubric that fit with Common Core standards when they were released.  Of course, that’s the thing about standards, when you do your job well, they really just rename what it is you are doing.  This year, though, I’ve been concerned with narrative writing.  Everyone teaches it, but everyone does it a little differently and by the time students come to me, they may or may not have been introduced to some of the basic tools required for good narrative writing. 

There’s a great essay from Stephen King’s book On Writing, “What Writing Is”.  I start all of my classes with this essay.  I have found that of all the necessary elements of narrative writing, the one my students have struggled with the most is the use of sensory details.  To me, this essay drives home not only why sensory details are so important, but also the considerations a writer needs when they decide which details to include.  In the essay, King explores the idea of having a “far-seeing place,” somewhere a reader or writer can go to “send or receive” messages to or from another reader or writer.  This is one of the first assignments I give my students, to write one page about their far-seeing places.  They are tasked with sending me to their places which they won’t be able to accomplish without the use of sensory details. 

Last week, I gave this assignment to a small creative writing class.  Their places were full of trees and birds and flowers.  Because in my other life, I am a nature writer, I was overjoyed that these urban teens wanted to escape to more wild spaces, but as a teacher, I was concerned about their use of very general terms.  “Bird” is pretty empty, a crow carries a much different connotation than does a dove or a parrot.  The same problem exists for flowers: a hibiscus flower is tropical, a rose is cliché, and a sunflower is always happy.  And so we jumped into the need for precise and specific language.  This was difficult for my students, they know the names of few birds or trees or flowers.  They know the connotations of even fewer. 

Two students wanted to use blue jays in their spaces because they found pictures of them in an image search and found them lovely.  When they came to me with their desire to use blue jays in their writing I informed them of the connotation of these birds, “They are quite pretty, but do you know that jays are considered the bullies of the birds?”  Both students decided to start their searches again, jays were not appropriate for the peaceful places they were trying to create. 

For the rest of the semester, I will be able to recall this exercise as I push my students to tell their stories, whether in personal statements or in poetry.  Of course I hope that they will become stronger storytellers, but I also hope that they will develop keener observation skills and the desire to know their world and the names of those things contained therein.

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Elizabeth Joy Levinson runs a high school writing center and library on the west side of Chicago.  She has been teaching for more than ten years, with experience in museum education, private education, and in the classroom. She is also a writer with work appearing in several journals, including Grey Sparrow, Hobble Creek Review, Up the Staircase, and Apple Valley Review.

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77 CommentsTags: The Umbrella Plan

Inquiry Projects and Constitution Day, A Perfect Pairing

September 05, 2013 · 64 Comments

Starting out a new school year includes participating in many outside professional organizations. Joining a committee or two means that one gets to know new people, explore new topics and maybe help a little bit to move things forward or spread the word about things important to our field and daily lives at school.

This year I joined the Government Documents Round Table’s  [GODORT] new committee called “Government Information for Kids” – the GIC; nicknamed “Gov Docs 4 kids”. It’s a natural moniker for a weighty topic that often gets introduced as boring and inaccessible, but with a little tweak becomes truly compelling for kids. Government documents provide important perspectives and with standards promoting the use of primary sources and other “real” information it’s important that we make these information pieces interesting and comprehensible for kids.

Government documents are perfect for inquiry projects. What better source can there be for our students to try to untangle than documents produced by our government? The documents produced come from all walks of life and cover all kinds of interesting and sometimes strange topics. I'm going to explore this over a few blog posts. If you have some ideas - please jump in and join the conversation by commenting below.

An easy way the library can start using government documents is to promote the Constitution Day Poster Contest. Kids from all ages compete for prizes as they think about what the U.S. Constitution can mean for them in their lives and then make a poster that best shows off that meaning.   

Another fun thing to do is the Challenge. This can be a personal challenge, a group challenge or more fun – get kids in one classroom competing against kids in another classroom. Challenge even has ways for you to set up your school to compete against another school.  What a fun way to ramp up learning about the Constitution – beats reading it line-by-line and dissecting it for a brief discussion….and then never reading it again.  By the way, the library is the perfect venue for holding these sorts of fun challenges.

Constitution Day provides a perfect opportunity for your students to explore primary documents. Celebrate Constitution Day Constitution Day on September 17th.  Take a look at the site and then throw out the gauntlet to your classroom teachers. You just might get a taker!

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Connie Williams is a high school librarian and an advocate for school libraries.You can contact her via email, or leave a comment below.

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64 CommentsTags: Inquiring Minds in the Library

Follett Supports Heart of America with Donation of 1,000 Books

September 04, 2013 · 60 Comments

Follett is proud to be a sponsor of the Heart of America Foundation's Books from the Heart book donation summer campaign, which puts books directly into the hands of children living in poverty across the country. Follett recently donated 1,000 books, helping the campaign achieve 67% of its goal. The campaign continues until September 21, and the organization aims to reach 50,000 books.

Since 1997, The Heart of America Foundation has provided a generation of children living in poverty with over 3.4 million books and revitalized more than 215 school libraries and education spaces across the United States. To advance its mission of providing children in need with the tools to read, succeed, and make a difference, the organization partners with school districts, community-based youth-serving organizations, and corporate sponsors like Follett. As we know, research proves that when kids living in poverty have access to books in school and at home, their vocabulary is enriched and they are more likely to succeed academically.

For more information on The Heart of America Foundation and the work they do throughout the United States, visit

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60 CommentsTags: Follett News

Textbook Distribution and our Tech Hero Antonio Green

September 04, 2013 · 97 Comments

This was not what I would call in any way shape or form a very “good day”! But then I am not sure if textbook distribution is ever perfect or even good for that matter. Wouldn’t we love to be one of those school districts with textbook rooms at each site and designated textbook clerks instead of library staff doing double duty?

This year’s issues included new staff and admin and later than usual master schedules! The August rollover to our SMS, Aeries, and onto Destiny is always fraught with unexpected mishaps. Ever year, we promise to write it down and swear that we will remember every little nuanced step… and then WHAMO……something else goes wrong! This time we had duplicate schedules in a few databases, and a school that failed to rollover… Yes, I did have a major meltdown which included tears!
However this leads me to the real point of this blog… Antonio Green. Just typing his name makes me smile and calms me down.

Over the past few years, Antonio has quietly saved and instructed us with patience and what can only be termed as real fortitude! Even though Antonio is brilliant, he always makes us feel that we are part of the solution rather than the problem (which is usually the case). Every time he fixes one of our devastating mistakes, I thank our lucky stars for Follett tech support and remind everyone that the support we pay is worth every dollar!

Textbook distribution is not anyone’s favorite time of year. We meet; we plan; we form travelling teams and we rush about with scanners and laptops. It still is an exhausting experience and one that we are pleased occurs on a grand scale once a year! However we do have Antonio, our ace in the hole, and this time we will document the entire process! In closing, once again, Antonio, thank you!!!

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Kate Macmillan's office provides library services to a 35 K-12 school library consortium representing three school districts, the local County Office of Ed’s curriculm library and three private/parochial schools.  She has been a public library commissioner and currently serves on the California Department of Education’s Recommended Literature Committee and is a board member for the local public access television station.

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97 CommentsTags: A Year in the Life