Library Stile

Ideas & Inspiration for School Libraries

WMS Library
When it comes to advocating for your school library, the work you do every day matters. As the Advocacy Chair for the Tennessee Association of School Librarians, I spend a lot of time talking with political leaders about school libraries, making asks that relate to needs on a larger scale. But every single day, I show up to my school library, and it’s every day that I consider what I’m doing to make the library the heart of the school, how I’m contributing to the value of school libraries, and how I’m working to expand and change the narrative of the way school libraries are viewed in my community and beyond. Creating value for your library and value for your role at your school impacts our profession as a whole and the future of school libraries. Here are some essentials to everyday advocacy for your school library.

  1. Put your students first.

Do your best for students every day. Do you have books and resources to support all of your student populations? Do you have spaces that invite students and welcome all students? What changes need to be made to give students greater access? Examine your space, examine your programming, examine your collections. Ask students. Regularly seek their input. The library is there for them. You are there to support and to guide them. Make sure the needs of your students are at the heart of any ask you make.

WMS Students at SE-YA Book Fest

My students love connecting with authors. We attended SE-YA, our local teen book festival.


  1. Grow professionally.

Students deserve to attend schools with a certified school librarian on staff. I’d like to take that one step further- an awesome certified school librarian on staff! Grow your personal learning network through joining your state librarians’ organization, national organizations like AASL, and connect with librarians and educators in your district, at conferences, and on social media. Grow your network, which will not only encourage your professional growth, but connect with those who inspire and challenge you. Your professional growth directly impacts the health and strength of your library programming. Support, volunteer, participate in organizations that are positively furthering school libraries.

nErDcamp MI

Check out any conference or (un)conference that inspires you!


  1. Be a go-to person in your building

Part of positioning your library as the heart of the school is being someone at your school that people can count on. They seek your input because it’s thoughtful, helpful, encouraging. You have the capacity to listen, to brainstorm solutions, to support the goals and initiatives of your school, to participate in a positive way. You’re willing to collaborate, support, to go the extra mile, and sometimes, that means offering to do the task that no one else wants to do. You’re contributing to the positive culture in the building and beyond.


  1. Don’t major in the minors

Help create and contribute to a positive school library culture. What rules do we create for our libraries that prevent access that discourage usage that create barriers, that ultimately impede growth? Library fines? Limits on book checkouts? Examine your rules and policies and make sure they support full access by all students. Also, avoid getting bogged down with the negative attitudes that so easily spring up in school culture. It’s easy to gripe about too much testing, value added scores, observations, changes in leadership, and district policies. Block that out and think about the kids who have to show up every day to your school. Focus on creating a welcoming, loving, exciting space for them. Focus on the bigger picture.


  1. Be visible.

Take part in your school community. You make a point to show up to support your students at games, performances. Rave to the kids about their extra-curricular activities. Celebrate them! You say yes to the library being used as an event space. Attend events out in the community and connect with local businesses and community leaders. Make connections at your local bookstore by attending their events, reach out to your local public librarians and invite them to your school. Be a librarian who participates in the world going on outside the library.


  1. Tell your library’s story

If you don’t narrate the story, who is? What avenues do you have to share what’s happening in the library? Get the message out via any means possible. There’s a story happening every single day at your library. What avenues of sharing information are available to you that reach students, parents, community members, faculty, admin, district staff, etc? From newsletters, intercom announcements, pto meetings, and social media, get the word out. The library’s story matters.

WMS Library Read2Me program

Every day there’s a story from your library that’s worth sharing.


  1. Invite and welcome decision makers to your library.

  Open your doors to your administration, district leaders, local and state government leaders. What ways do you have for them to participate in your library? You don’t have to wait until School Library Month in April! You have exciting things going on all year, like read alouds, book clubs, makerspace, 3D printing. Invite them to see what’s happening on a regular basis. When they are asked about school libraries in their district or in their community, let yours be the one they know.


  1. Create a growth plan

What will your library look like in the next 5 years? Develop a collections plan that helps you prioritize sections of the library that are in need of updating and expansion. Is the curriculum changing for a subject area? Is your collection ready to handle those changes? Is your population changing? Does your collection reflect the needs of the student population? Consider not only print and digital resources, but programming, your professional development, and space needs.


  1. Create a snapshot

Do you have something at the ready to show a new principal? A new pto president? Newly elected local and state leaders? Create an infographic about your library that reflects the most recent school year that can easily be shared in your community as to the state of your library. Show your print and digital checkouts, number of books per student, student involvement in book clubs, most popular sections, number of classes taught, budget, book drive results, number of special events, like author visits, number of 3D prints, etc. Provide the data that best shows the value and your needs.

WMS Library School Year Snapshot


  1. Be prepared to make your ask

There’s never enough money, the schedule is never ideal, the library is yet again under-staffed. Where do you start? This is where you reach out to the decision makers, those you’ve invited in, those you’ve shared your story with, those you’ve taken the time to estable positive relationships with, and you make them aware of the challenges that prevent you from offering the best services for students and providing the best resources. Offer your research based ideas and solutions, and resist offering complaints. You ask for their involvement in problem solving and their support in reaching the best, student centered outcomes. You seek assistance and guidance from your PLN. You stay the course, and no matter what happens, at the end of the day, you do the best you can, with everything that’s in your power and within your control, to make your school library the best it can be for your students.


Our very own cardboard Schu stem project

Two awesome school library advocates!

What you do each and every day matters. Let’s do what’s in our power to create student centered, strong school library programs that are valued by our communities. The stronger we are individually, the greater impact we have as a whole. We raise awareness, add value to our profession, and we impact future generations of leaders, decision makers, and citizens, which ultimately impacts the future of school libraries in our world. 

If you’ve ever managed AR for your school, you may have heard and witnessed things like this:

  • “I didn’t even read the book and I got a 100!”
  • “I didn’t have time to read a book. I guess I’ll take one on something I read a few years ago.”
  • “I read the book three times, and I still failed the quiz!” (Cue tears…)
  • Teacher: “What do you mean did you didn’t read a book? The due date for your AR quiz is today! Well, you better take a quiz on something.”
  • “I didn’t read a book, but I know a lot about football, so I took a quiz on a football book.”
  • “I read (insert title here), but now I hate that book because I failed the AR quiz.”
  • “I failed the AR quiz, so my teacher wants me to read a short book and take a quiz by tomorrow. Got any short books?”
  • “I need a really short AR book because I’ve been reading this new book that just came out, and it doesn’t have an AR quiz, so I need to read something really fast so I can get back to what I really want to read.”

Did you ever hear- “I love taking quizzes on books!” I sure as hell didn’t. I saw straight A students and avid readers not care, I saw students who don’t read very much give up, and I saw students spend more time trying to figure out a short cut of the system than actually read a book. If I could go back and do anything differently in my career, I would have yanked the plug on this program years ago and instead, built a culture of reading based on choice, based on interest, based on curiosity.

Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.

Do students love to read at my school? Yes! A resounding yes! They love to read because we share books all the time. We have numerous author visits. We speed date, book taste, have book clubs, show book trailers, and share book talks. We have a thriving reading culture. Did AR have anything to do with that? Not one thing. By requiring this accountability piece, that came in the form of the AR quiz, we were ultimately stifling our readers. It’s as if we had this beautiful garden with this one giant weed casting a shadow over everything.

I’m embarrassed at how many years I tried to make it work because we have a large school. Teachers needed a quick way to account for outside reading assignments. I used to be a 7th grade ELA teacher. I know that if you have the choice between spending a weekend grading 160 reading projects or running an AR quiz report, the AR quiz report seems very appealing. I now know that AR may be a temporary win as a timesaver, it’s a loss in the long run for students. It doesn’t create life long reading habits. It doesn’t create readers. It doesn’t grow readers. I can’t name one positive thing it did.

In recent years, I discovered some incredible voices in literacy education, like Donalyn Miller, Pernille Ripp, Mr. Schu, Colby Sharp, Chad Everett, Penny Kittle, Jarred Amato, and I started listening. Really listening. I started really understanding what made readers, and I started envisioning how our reading culture could grow even more. What if our students could read a book purely for the sake of enjoyment? Do we have to have an accountability piece? Do we have to have a system?

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I created a Padlet of resources to share with ELA teachers as we shift into choice based reading. If you need resources to help start this conversation at your school and break out of AR, you can access this padlet here.

I’m excited to report that we’ve yanked that ginormous weed out of the ground! We said no more AR, and  we are starting this school year with choice based reading! ELA teachers have been following the leads of Pernille Ripp with the 25 Book Reading Challenge and Donalyn Miller with the 40 Book Reading Challenge and creating a vision for our school based on their examples. Together, we’re collaborating more than ever before and discussing ways to grow readers this year. We’re asking our PTO to help boost classroom libraries, and for the first time in a long time, the ELA teachers are excited. They are excited to create classroom reading cultures based on loving books and not based on keeping track of who hasn’t completed their AR quiz yet. When teachers are excited and motivated, watch out! Their excitement is contagious. I can’t wait to see what happens!

As I begin my 19th year in education, here’s what I know. It’s not too late to amend a broken system, to forge a new path, to seek the advice and expertise of others, to change. If it’s not good for kids, throw it out! Don’t be afraid to try a new way. We still have questions as to how our reading challenge will work, but we’re forging ahead, and we’re giving this our best shot because we know that freeing the kids up to read based on choice, is what’s best. There’s nothing that has to be perfect about it. It’s already perfect. The ground is clear, and I can’t wait to see how students and teachers blossom this year!


Rhonda Jenkins with readers at Kendall
When I attended the Scholastic Reading Summit in Chicago in 2017, I had breakfast with Mr. Schu, I heard Kwame Alexander, Donalyn Miller, Colby Sharp, Sue Haney, and I watched Mr. Schu interview Kate DiCamillo. Every bit of it was positively amazing. And, getting the opportunity to finally meet fellow librarian Rhonda Jenkins in person is also one of the highlights from that day. Rhonda is the amazing librarian at Kendall Elementary in Naperville, IL, and she is a wealth of great ideas that make the library the most happening place in the building. She is a star in my Twitter Personal Learning Network, and she inspires me to reach greater heights as a school librarian.

She empowers kids as library users. Even the kindergartners are checking out their own books! She fosters a love of reading through exciting team reading challenges, and the her makerspace is a dream! A cake decorating club? In the library? Why not? And, her “Think Write Board”, puts a smile on my face every day. I love reading her questions and the student responses. I think her student, Emma, said it best, “She is booktastic!” (I agree, Emma).  If you are organizing a One School, One Book event, check out the her display for Wishtree. What a creative way to generate increased excitement and interest in the story!

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It would be a dream to spend a day in her library, and guess who else thinks so? Mr. Schu! He frequents her library, and in case you missed it, CBS This Morning tagged along on one of Mr. Schu’s visits to Kendall. If you go to the 2018 Scholastic Reading Summit in Chicago or in Raleigh-Durham, you are definitely in for an unforgettable day, and you can also meet Rhonda in person, as she’s presenting! You won’t want to miss her session and all of the ideas has to share, and I bet you’ll see just how “booktastic” she is, too!

Mr. Schu in the Kendall yearbook

Mr. Schu is in the Kendall yearbook!

Meet Rhonda Jenkins!

How long have you been a librarian?I have been a librarian for four wonderful years.

What do you enjoy the most about being a librarian?

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The selfie station lets students show off what they’re reading.

Everything. Seriously, I enjoy everything about my job. I love that I get to know each and every student at my school. I love that I get the chance to expose students and teachers to great books. I love teaching students and staff how to use technology available to us. Books, oh how I love buying and reading books. This job is the perfect marriage of everything I love, teaching, students, technology and books!

What is an activity, event, or lesson you enjoy doing with students?

All year long, we look forward toApril for our Spark a Fire and Read contest. We start to prepare for April in March. As a school community, we sign up and join squads, staff and students mix together, we pick our leader – whom we call our Top Dog, come up with a fabulous squad name and get ready to read during the month of April. Our goal is to beat our goal and for the past three years, we have blown it out of the water! I find any kind of way to reward the school spirit we show . . . first squad to sign up, first to report their minutes, longest squad name, smallest squad, best team name, best T-shirt design, most improved over previous week, etc.! We end the celebration of reading and teamwork with a dance party! So much excitement for reading is shown throughout the month. We love it and I love hosting our Spark a Fire and Read contest!

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Spark a Fire & Read Team Challenge generates competition and fun with reading!

How do you partner with or collaborate with faculty?

I have a regularly scheduled, once a month planning time with each grade level team. This is the formal time, but I meet and talk with teachers about the needs as frequently as possible.

What challenges do you regularly face and how do you overcome them or handle them?

One major challenge is a budget to support my cravings for new books. Good books are published constantly and I love to fill my shelves with them. A limited budget forces me to rethink and modify my decisions. Sometimes, I just spend my own money.

How has your job changed over the years?

I’ve only been in the position for four years. The changes that came about, I believe they were necessary. Most of the changes were ideas I felt I needed in the library – having a makerspace in the library was one major change.

I have also seen a shift to using more technology as tools to meet educational goals. I am the technology guru in the building and feel that it’s a very important role that I must manage.

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Kendall Library’s Makerspace is always packed with students creating.

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Why do you enjoy being a teacher/ librarian? Being a teacher/librarian is the marriage of everything I love about the profession – students, books , technology, and teaching. What more can I ask for?

What advice do you have to share with librarians?

Don’t be afraid of change . . . it’s coming! Keep up with what’s happening through social media, professional journals and your Personal Learning Network – branch out and tell your story.

School libraries...and school librarians are the heart of the school. Make sure everyone feels the beat as it speeds up and slows down when necessary!

What inspires you and helps challenge you to grow professionally?

Knowing that I am a lifelong learner, I understand that there is usually a new and inspiring way to do something. Being free and undaunted by change helps me to accept the things I can, change the things I must, and just truly look for the positive in everything around and inside me.

Thank you, Rhonda, for answering my questions! 

Connect with Rhonda on Twitter @luv2teachtech, read her blog to get great ideas for your book fair, and be sure to catch her at the 2018 Scholastic Reading Summit!

IMG_9612Have your oldest students help your youngest students get to know their new school library by creating book marks that share a favorite book. This gives your graduating class a chance to reminisce about the books they read during their time at your school and to share a heart felt recommendation for their favorite book. Your incoming class will love exploring the many wonderful messages and recommendations left behind by former students. This immerses your new students immediately in the culture of reading and sharing books, and it helps them feel welcome in their new library. 



BookLove Legacy bookmark template (I used card stock.)

Art supplies: scissors, markers, pens, pencils, sharpies


15-30 minutes


May 2018 Library Day



Students enjoyed thinking about that one book from their middle school years that really shines. They took pride in sharing their reading legacies, and the end result is I now have a wide variety of books to share with our new students and a special way to bring my newest and youngest readers into the fold of our thriving reading culture. The message? Here, we share and we connect through our reading. The journey at your new school and in your new library begins today, and it’s my goal to help you love reading for a lifetime, and someday, I can’t wait to see the book from our library that you choose to share as your reading legacy.  


Jeff Schreiber, the “Jockbrarian”

Do you ever feel like as the librarian, you are on your own island? Maybe you’re part of a small school district, or your professional network lacks inspiration, innovation, or is… non-existent? Fortunately, I have a local network that is thriving, but in recent years, I’ve connected with with tons of amazing educators, authors, and librarians around the world, who continually challenge and inspire me. One of those amazing librarians is Jeff Schreiber, aka the Jockbrarian. How’s that for a Twitter handle? We connected through our mutual love of the book Strong Inside by Andrew Maraniss. His excitement for the library and his students is contagious! Meet the Jockbrarian!

How long have you been a librarian?

I have been a librarian for 10 years.  Before that, I was an English teacher for 16 years at various levels between 7-12th grades. It makes me feel old.

 What do you enjoy the most about being a librarian?

 It probably sounds geeky, but I really enjoy collection development!  I’ve found it has one of the most profound impacts on kids—which on course it the most exciting thing!  I feel like my library is my own little book store, and what I put on the shelves deeply influences the lives of my patrons.  I love seeing kids browse around and find a special book that “fits” them or piques their interest.  I also love it what a student comes up to me asking for a suggestion or a specific type of book, and I can walk them over to a section and give them some ideas knowing a have a strong collection at my back!

What is an activity, event, or lesson you enjoy doing with students?


Author Andrew Maraniss speaks to Jeff’s students at Germantown High School.

I really loved the author visit I did with Andrew Maraniss this past December!  Author visits are very uncommon in Wisconsin schools for some reason.  We are not well on the beaten path of author tours, and it’s just not a norm for librarians up here to plan them.  I was inspired by you (Lindsey) to invite Andrew for a visit!  (Yes, I did refer to your past blog post on how to do an author visit!)  While it was a crazy amount of work and planning, I found the visit to be one of the most enjoyable activities I’ve done–and it was the activity that gathered by far the most, “That was sooooo cool!” responses from the students!

 How do you partner with or collaborate with faculty?

High school faculty can be very hard to collaborate with.  Let’s just say that sometimes their egos can get in the way of wanting/asking for help from the librarian!  I found middle school teachers to actually be far more willing to collaborate and share ideas.  There is hope, though!  Our school has just introduced an AP Capstone Research course this year, and I have been working closely with the teacher and the class on the research process, including the QUEST model of research and inquiry based research.  We’ve had such great success, that we are going to institute the model school wide—which means lots more future collaboration for me!

What challenges do you regularly face and how do you overcome them or handle them?

Teachers that have been doing it “their way” forever and refuse to take the help I offer them.  Like the answer above, you have to keep clawing your way into the room, and also convincing administration to make systemic changes that will allow you more influence.  Another problem I faced when I arrived is a negative or nonchalant attitude towards independent reading.  In general, it’s just a bad attitude that says, “You’ll never get kids to read on their own.”  When I started, library circulation was at about 4,500 circs per year for a 1,200 person school.  Within two years, I was circulating 13,000 books per year!   To achieve this I sold the idea of mandatory outside reading to the English teachers, and most importantly, I provided the kids with a collection that would back this movement up with relevant and exciting titles.

How has your job changed over the years?

When I started, there were 2 secretaries, all the books were hand cataloged, and there was lots of teeth gnashing and hand wringing about being sure all rules were correctly followed, every record meticulously kept; in other words, the library was “rule” centered, not “kid” centered.  This model cannot work anymore, and we have changed to a student centered library where the customer is most important, not the rules.  The library has become a hub of activity where ideas are shared, kids can unwind and explore, and everyone is valued.  I’d say it’s quite the change for the better!

 How important is it to connect with fellow librarians?

It is very easy as a librarian to find yourself on an island.  In most places, you are the only librarian in the building—if not the district.  This is not healthy for professional development or sanity!  I have connected quite a bit with local librarians, and we meet a couple times a year to share ideas—and of course just sit and gripe for a bit!  I also present every year at the State School Library Conference.  This is a great way to connect with librarians throughout the State to see what is working in various regional environments.  My blog has been an absolute blessing.  It has allowed me to connect nationally with brilliant librarians and allowed me to be inspired by amazing people like Lindsey! (Aw, thanks, Jeff!)

What advice do you have to share with librarians?

It’s amazing how many librarians view the most important aspect of their job to be introducing and promoting technology.  Many turn their back on books and developing a strong collection.  My advice to you is that being a librarian is a people business—don’t ever forget it.  The most important thing you can do is develop relationships with the students.  Also, don’t underestimate the power of a book.  I have never seen a life changed by a Google app, but I have seen many lives changed by a book.


The Jockbrarian at work!

School libraries are…more important than people think they are. I have to admit, I am pretty used to being the punchline of most jokes.

Examples of sweet things my friends and family say:

You’re a what?…You’re a librarian?

My dad is a…um…a…librarian.

How lucky you are to have a job where you do nothing!

They still have those?

Wow, there aren’t many men in that line of work.

Yes, our son is a librarian. (Doesn’t impress many people at a cocktail party.)

Anyways, for the first couple of years, I just called myself a teacher, because I couldn’t stand the furrowed eyebrows I would get upon trying to explain my job as a librarian. Now, I wear the badge with pride. Other people may not understand or “get” what we are doing, but school libraries must carry on as the strong force behind the literacy and information movements.

What inspires you and challenges you to grow professionally?My own kids inspire me every day. What I do with my life professionally is a big part of who I am and the example I set for my kids. I want them to appreciate life, be good members of society, help others, develop confidence to go out into the world and succeed. These are also the ideals that I promote in those students I am lucky enough to work with every day. When people see me engaged in my work, I know they are proud of who I am- despite what their lame jokes may say about my profession!

Thank you, Jeff, for answering my questions!

Jeff Schreiber is the librarian at Germantown High School in Germantown, Wisconsin. Connect with him on Twitter @Jockbrarian.


I had the opportunity to hang out with Debbie in the beautiful Ingram Library at Ensworth in Nashville, Tennessee, a few years ago. The first thing I noticed is how many kids stopped by, just to say hello. She knew everyone by name and remembered exactly which book each student was reading.  And, as if that wasn’t enough, she told them she’d have the next book they needed waiting for them! It’s easy to see that she values the relationships she has with her students and faculty.  She’s not only created a warm, welcoming environment, but she’s established a high level of trust among her students. She’s a go-to person at her school, and there’s no doubt she makes the school library the heart of her school. She inspires me to be a librarian who is an asset to my school, to build positive relationships with students and faculty, to be a leader, to be kind,  and to make the library central to the school community.


How long have you been a librarian?

This is my 22nd year as a librarian. I have been in my current position for  21 years.


What do you enjoy the most about being a librarian?

I love to work with the students and teachers. I like to discover and share new books, help students with research projects, and work with faculty to enrich their curriculum.


How do you partner with or collaborate with faculty?

Most of my collaboration is done informally. I am a middle school advisor as well as librarian, so I see the faculty a lot and we are able to discuss what they are doing and how I can help.


What challenges do you regularly face and how do you overcome them or handle them?

We have a fixed schedule, and while I mainly identify as middle school faculty, I also teach fourth and fifth grade classes. When a special schedule is being run by either division, my schedule is disrupted. I have learned to roll with it and sometimes have two classes in at one time.


How has your job changed over the years?

My job has become less centered on me and more centered on what the students need our time together to be.


What advice do you have to share with librarians?

You have the best job in the world, enjoy it. You will never completely finish most tasks, but just keep plugging away.


School libraries…should be the hub of the school. School libraries should be the place where everyone feels welcome.


What inspires you and helps challenge you to grow professionally? 

The love of the students and the desire to  help my colleagues helps me find ways to grow professionally.


Thank you, Debbie, for answering my questions!


Debbie Sandwith is the Librarian for grades 4-8 at The Ensworth School in Nashville, TN.


In recognition of AASL’s School Library Month, I am highlighting librarians who inspire and challenge me. They are leaders in the school library profession, are movers and shakers in their school communities, and they are MVP’s in my professional learning network. 

“Use your privilege, power, and prosperity to help somebody else.” 

Alice Faye Duncan


Alice Faye Duncan speaks at TNLA18.

I recently attended the Tennessee Library Association’s Conference in Memphis, and I had the pleasure of meeting Alice Faye Duncan. She delivered the keynote address during the Children’s and Young Adults Luncheon. Not only is she a dynamic speaker, but she is a school librarian and author! Her book is  Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, which is illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, is set to release August 28, 2018 and is a #1 Amazon early release.

How long have you been a librarian?  I’ve served as a school librarian for 25 years.  The last 18 years have been in a high school setting. 

What do you enjoy the most about being a librarian?  I enjoy organizing multimedia library programs that demonstrate student learning (i.e. essays, poems, artwork, dance and musical talents) that is related to books they read during school or independently. 

What is an activity, event, or lesson you enjoy doing with students? October is the month for “Teen Reading Week.”  During that month, I ask all the students in my school to read the same novel, short story or poem.  We call the annual program, “ONE STORY/ ONE SCHOOL.”
During “Teen Reading Week,”  I then asked students to respond to the literature in any creative way they choose.  When my students read the short story, “Spunk” by Zora Neale Hurston,  a young man responded by creating an interpretive dance for two. The music chosen for the dance was Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.”
Students in the school assembly made the connection immediately.  While the main character, Joe Kanty,  was a timid man, he was deeply in love with his wife and driven to foolish behavior when she proceeds with a public affair. During the dance for two,  the young man dies of a broken heart and the young women moves on in life, without any signs of remorse. The dance was a genius idea!

How do you partner with or collaborate with faculty?I require students to do author studies on the poets and novelists that they read in class.  At the conclusion of these units, I ask a high school or college professor in my building to prepare and deliver a literature analysis/lecture for a school-wide assembly.  In the past, my colleagues have provided students an insightful analysis of Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Guy Maupassant and Richard Wright. 

What challenges do you regularly face in your library and how do you overcome them or handle them?There is this perception often that the school librarian “doesn’t do anything.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Make yourself necessary and the world will give you bread.”  So to refute or negate this perception, I enter each school year,  inspired by my own personal vision of what my library program will look like, in terms of monthly instruction, monthly programs, and fundraising initiatives. My intention everyday of the week is to “add value.” 

Please share the inspiration behind your forthcoming book Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop. In 2005, I went looking for a picture book about the 1968 Memphis strike.  I wanted to read it with young children during a school visit. When I did not find such a book, I decided to write one myself. The book took 10 years to complete. Sometimes, big dreams require long gestation periods. Now, with the August release of MEMPHIS, MARTIN AND THE MOUNTAINTOP, I pray that young readers will find the book interesting, inspiring, impactful.

Please share about your collaboration with illustrator R. Gregory Christie.

In 2012, while riding a New York subway, I looked up and saw a Gregory Christie poster.  It was titled, “Subway Soiree.”  I told my husband, “One day I am going to own an original artwork by Gregory Christie.” Four years later, my editor, Carolyn Yoder, is hiring Gregory to illustrate my book about Dr. King.  It was a dream come true because Gregory is a Coretta Scott King Award Winner and he has won the Caldecott Honor Award.  I expect that our collaboration is a cosmic destiny.  I live in Memphis, the place where Dr. King lost his life in the struggle for justice.   Gregory lives in Atlanta the place of Dr. King’s birth.  Together, Gregory and I, represent King’s beginning and end.  Our collaboration is a metaphor of sorts.  And what will become of our book?  I say, “The best is yet to come!”

What advice do you have to share with librarians?  As you go about your daily work, keep one goal in mind–Be a Blessing!

What color nail polish are you wearing?  OPI Big Apple Red.

School libraries…that buzz and hum with the presence of students, who are busy typing research, printing school assignments, studying in groups, reading books, perusing magazines and chatting with friends, Imply that libraries are living spaces that will never die–ever. 

What inspires you and helps challenge you to grow professionally?  Both of my parents were exceptional educators, generous and wise. Rising to their gold standard keeps me striving forward.

Thank you for answering my questions, Alice Faye!

Alice Faye Duncan is the librarian at Middle College High School in Memphis, TN. She is a National Board Certified Librarian, author, and speaker. You can find her at, on Twitter and FB @AliceFayeDuncan, and on Instagram @AliceFayeWrites.




In recognition of AASL’s School Library Month, I am highlighting librarians who inspire and challenge me. They are leaders in the school library profession, are movers and shakers in their school communities, and they are MVP’s in my professional learning network. 


Scot (right) and I with author Chris Grabenstein at TASL 2017. Chris’s first author visit was at Scot’s school. Scot is married to Dr. Zinchenko, the world famous librarian in ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY.

“When a kid walks in the room, he knows what book that kid needs, Sixth grade teacher Janet Easterday talking with me about librarian Scot Smith.

I met Scot Smith when I served on the Volunteer State Book Award committee. Scot immerses himself in the world of books! He devours all types of books, visits books festivals near and far to hear authors, and he hosts numerous author visits at his school, Robertsville Middle in Oak Ridge, TN, which serves students in grades 5-8.

Scot inspires me to be an expert in the literature my students are reading. The more I read, and the more I learn about the books and authors writing for this age group, the better resource I am for my students and faculty. I love talking about all things books with Scot!

How long have you been a librarian?   I have been a librarian for 21 years. Before that, I taught English and History on the secondary level and was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine where I taught English.

What do you enjoy the most about being a librarian?   I enjoy the diversity that librarianship affords me. I have the opportunity to do something different each and every day. I might teach literary elements to 5th graders in the morning and information literacy to 8th graders in the afternoon. Each day brings new and different challenges. Seldom does the present school day resemble the next.



Scot introduces author Jason Reynolds to his students.

What is an activity, event, or lesson you enjoy doing with students?  I love to tell stories. I use storytelling as a way to teach literary elements but also as a way to bring humor in the library.  Reading aloud to my students is priceless, both for them as well as for me. I also enjoy planning author visits. There are few things more professionally satisfying or rewarding than a successful author visit. The impact of a meaningful author visit can last for years.

How do you partner with or collaborate with faculty?  We work together on project-based learning (PBLs) and in profession learning communities (PLCs). Those are mandated by the school system. The librarians in our school system meet monthly in collaborative teams. I also play a large role in what books my middle schoolers study in the classroom. I helped to select most of the books my students read in their classroom as part of their ELA curriculum.


Library assistant, Julie Lee (Left) and former  library assistant Carol Husband (right) agreed that Scot has a knack for picking the right book for each student, and the kids love his book talks!

What challenges do you regularly face and how do you overcome them or handle them?   Too many responsibilities and not enough time to accomplish them. I have to plan my schedule and budget my time. Most importantly, I have to have the discipline to stick to my schedule.

How has your job changed over the years?  Our school went to one-to-one three years ago. Every student has a laptop. By choice, I elected to play a major role in that project. On any given day, I am likely to touch fifty student laptops as I help troubleshoot devices and assist the technician with distribution of the computers. The first and last weeks of school are now devoted to rolling out and rolling up the laptops. The one-to-one initiative has changed my library collection. My e-book collection presently exceeds 600 titles, and my students are as likely to read a book on their device as they are from library shelves. It is not uncommon for me to check the library stats at the end of the day and see that e-book circulation has surpassed book circulation for that particular day. That means I have to devote more time and resources to developing and managing my library’s digital collection.

What advice do you have to share with librarians?  Read, Read, and read. And when are think you are finished reading, read some more. Librarians need to be the reading role models in their communities.


Check out the amazing authors who’ve visited RMS over the years!

What book are you reading? Asking for It by Louise O’Neill, a Printz Honor from 2017.  I am saddened when I hear students and adults say that they don’t have time for reading anymore. Or that they hate to read. I try to read a wide variety of titles and authors….graphic novels, non-fiction, YA, middle grade, multiple genres, bestsellers–and aim for at least one book a week.

School libraries are sadly endangered, but not from the people who work in the schools. Those people realize the importance of a strong, well-funded library.  The existential threat comes from outside the school system. How many times have we heard “Today’s kids don’t read, so why do they need libraries” or “in the future, we won’t need libraries. Everything will be on the computer?” Just because the football team needs new uniforms does not mean the library should not have new books. We as librarians have to advocate for our students, our schools, and our profession.

What inspires you and helps challenge you to grow professionally?  Whenever a student asks “Mr. Smith, can you help me a good book?” That question never gets old.

Thanks for answering my questions, Scot!

Scot is the librarian at Robertsville Middle School in Oak Ridge, TN. He is Co-Chair of the Volunteer State Book Award Committee, a member of the 2018 Printz committee, and he is an instructor at the University of Tennessee, School of Information Sciences. Connect with him on Goodreads.

Remembering Perry WallaceWith the recent passing of legend Perry Wallace, I centered my Library Day lesson on the book Strong Inside: The True Story of How Perry Wallace Broke College Basketball’s Color Line by Andrew Maraniss. My students were introduced to the Perry Wallace story in early 2017. We hosted Andrew Maraniss, and you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium, as he shared Perry’s remarkable story, which left an impact on all of us. Also, this story is part of Nashville, TN, history, and it’s important that my students understand that this happened in their community. This lesson allowed my 7th and 8th graders to revisit and remember, and for my 6th graders, this was their introduction to an icon. The result? Kids learning and thinking about a remarkable Civil Rights pioneer and writing poetry- 565 poems, to be exact.

Write poetry in the library? Absolutely and why not?  A mixture of 3 sources- media, read-aloud, and print- a lit fake ficus called the Poet-Tree, and a padlet wall set the stage for this time of inspiration and creation.

For this lesson you’ll need:

  • Time: I had a 50 minute class period; I used roughly 35 minutes for this activity, with the remaining time for library business.
  • Student or school devices (I used Chromebooks.)
  • I used Google Classroom as a way for students to access links.
  • Strong Inside book trailer
  • A copy of the book Strong Inside
  • A copy of an article on Perry Wallace. I used this one.
  • A way for students to share their poems. I used Padlet.

Step 1:  Book Talk

30008718-2Even though my 7th and 8th graders have been previously introduced to Strong Inside, I enjoyed sharing it again. We have this meaningful shared experience around this book. It gave me a chance to get an idea of how many students have since read the book, and to see what they remember from Andrew’s visit to our school. This was my first opportunity to share it with the 6th grade, and I loved introducing them to a powerful non-fiction read. In addition, I challenged all grade levels to go on a scavenger hunt in Memorial Gym on the Vanderbilt campus and find Perry’s jersey, as this story takes place in their backyard.


Step 2: Introduce Found Poetry activity

Found poetry is an exercise of finding and gathering words and forming those words into a poem in the style of your choice. I selected 3 sources to use, and any words that students heard or read were fair game. I varied the styles of these sources so that students are listening and reading. Students are handed so many articles to read these days, so it was important to offer a variety.

Before we dive into word gathering, we take a look at the goal of the activity and the directions for the poem. I love writing poetry with students because there are rules and then there are no rules, so I convey that they have the freedom to choose the style that works best for them. But, can I write a haiku? You’ll get that question, no doubt. My response? Hey, knock yourself out. Did I have any haikus? Not one. Students mainly chose free verse, and occasionally, I saw acrostics that used “Perry Wallace” or “Strong Inside.”

Here are the directions I shared. They can certainly list more than 25 words, it’s merely a suggestion. The more words they list, the more possibilities. It’s easier to eliminate words than to not have enough.

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I modified these instructions from a Read, Write, Think activity on Found Poetry.

Step 3: Explore sources and gather words

The first source I used is Andrew’s book trailer for Strong Inside. Students are encouraged add any words they hear or any words that appear on the screen. I love when the word “triumphant,” pops up on the screen and to see students jot that word down. I loved seeing how students incorporated that word in their poems.

Next, I read aloud from Chapter 1 of Strong Inside. The excerpt focused on Perry and the Commodores traveling to play the Mississippi State Bulldogs. It’s a powerful selection that allows students to see and feel the difficult challenges Perry faced. The entire book is packed with great read aloud material, so pick what you think will work best for you and your students.

The final source is an article in The Washington Post, which is actually Perry’s obituary. It may seem a little morbid to use this, however it’s an excellent overview of Perry’s life and achievements. It’s packed with great word choices for the found poems and quotes from Perry. It’s a quick 5-7 minute read, which is the right amount of time to budget for a lesson that’s roughly 30 minutes.  Plus, students learned a new vocabulary word- obituary. I was surprised each time I taught this lesson at the number of kids who’d never heard this term. I took the print view of the article and copied it in Google Docs and loaded it in their Google Classroom as a view only file.

In all, we spent less than 15 minutes exploring the sources and gathering words.

Step 4: Review the found poem instructions

With their list of words at the ready, it’s time to create a poem. It may help to show students a few examples first. I never ask students to do something I haven’t done already, so I show them my poem. I point out that I did not use any filler words. They can hear a moment of rhyme and rhythm, but it’s free verse.

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I share a couple of other student work samples just so students can see that length and style can vary greatly.

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Step 5: Time to Create 

My students needed 5-7 minutes to create. It may turn out to be a masterpiece, but for the most part, it will be more first draft quality, and that’s ok. The goal is to express how Perry is an inspiration, a pioneer, is brave, how his story impacts them, or something that stands out to them about his story. I encouraged students to work in Google Docs and then copy/ paste their poem over to Padlet.

I told them to think about our beloved art teacher, Mr. Christy, down in the art room. He’s gathered all of his tools, all of his colors, and now he’s ready to create. I remind them that they don’t have to use all of the words they found, and they have the freedom to arrange those words in any order to create meaning.

Step 6: Share

I posted the link to the Padlet in Google Classroom. Students posted a title and their name in the “title section” of their post; they copied/ pasted their poem in the “write something” portion of the post. Under “Reactions” in the settings area, I activated the “Like” button, so students were encouraged to read and like posts. This wall held all of the students’ posts, but you may consider setting up a Padlet for each class, as Padlet can be slow to load as more and more posts are added. By the time our wall held 500 posts, it was a little slow.


The Poet-Tree is in the left corner. Student poems are displayed on the screen.

The stage was set- aka the Poet-Tree (aka lit fake ficus). Students are invited to come up by the Poet-Tree to read, or they can read from their seat. I asked for volunteers to read aloud, or if I didn’t get volunteers immediately, I broke the ice by reading some poems of students in other classes. I’d also offer to read aloud for students in the current class, and I got lots of volunteers that way. They were a little shy to read aloud, but they were ok with me reading their work. Then, hands would start to go up, and I had more volunteers than I could accommodate in our class time. If you’re met with crickets when it’s time to share, find a way to break the ice, and then the students will feel more comfortable and confident about sharing.

Budget plenty of time to share. Don’t let this part flail or cram it in at the end. This became my most favorite part of the activity because students were really proud of their work. When you tell students they’re going to be writing a poem, that is often met with blank stares and balking because that can seem like a insurmountable task. However, found poetry creates an opportunity for a successful, painless experience with poetry. The students are not having to think of what to say and how to say it. The words are gathered, and in this case, the topic is provided, and they extract the meaning from their list of words.

One of my favorite moments was after the lesson, a few students would come up to me and ask me to read their poems. They’d stand and wait as I’d find it on our Padlet. They were so proud to show me, and I made sure to give their poems a “like”.

This is a great opportunity to collaborate with an ELA teacher and extend the activity into the classroom. I think it’d be really cool for students to create a timeline of Perry’s life in poems. If you need a rubric, I found this one helpful and easy to adapt, or work with an ELA teacher or literacy coach to create a rubric. Vary this lesson in any way imaginable that best fits the needs of your students and your lesson time in the library.

Whatever you do, find a way to share Perry’s story with your students and introduce them to this incredible pioneer.






  This lesson centers on book 7 of The Hazardous Tales series, The Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale. My students are diehard Haz Tales fans, and we’ve been anxiously awaiting this next book, so I used this opportunity for us to connect our learning to the book. I’ve wanted to design a digital escape game, so this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.

Students LOVED this activity immensely. I knew they were having fun with this, but the moment of glory came in the class where lunch splits our period in half. We always have to stop and dismiss for lunch and then resume after lunch. I had to tell kids it was time to go to lunch! They didn’t want to stop! Highly unusual middle school behavior. 

This is a simple digital breakout that was designed for grades 6-8. There are loads of ways to make this far more complicated; however, this was my first one to design, so I started simply.

For this lesson, you need:

  • Internet compatible devices (I have Chrome Books; some students used their phones.)
  • Google Forms
  • Google Classroom (or another way to easily share a copy of the Hyperdoc and form with them)
  • Google Docs
  • Padlet
  • 25 minutes

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students build background knowledge of the Doolittle Raid.
  • Students evaluate the search results of a web search and select the most relevant site for the task.
  • Students apply their knowledge of CRAAP to a web search

Lesson Procedures:

  1. Connection to previous lesson:  I’d previously introduced the acronym CRAAP to help students remember how to evaluate information found online. In a middle school, when you tell students you’re going to be talking about CRAAP today, they nearly lose it. Then, when they come back a couple of weeks later for their next Library Day, and you tell them we’ll be talking about more CRAAP today, it’s just as funny. It’s also interesting to have your principal in the room observing, and thankfully, she has a great sense of humor and commented, “When did it all go to CRAAP?” I opened our lesson with a quick review of our infamous acronym.


2. Intro to Digital BreakoutEdu: Next, I introduced Escape from Mrs. Anderson’s Library: Doolittle Raid Edition. (make a copy if you like). This is a Hyperdoc I made using Google Docs. I shared this with students via Google Classroom. We read the scenario together, and I explained the basic rules:

  • Wait to begin.
  • Steps must done in order.
  • Pairs or Teams of 3 are ok, as is solo
  • Group selfie is optional, but at least post the breakout time and names; image of your group only; not an image found on the web (aka Donald Trump, Grumpy Cat, or Lil’ Pump)

In the scenario, I tried to build in as many clues as possible about the kind of website I wanted them to find, so this allowed us to talk about the relevance of the site to the assignment.

  • It’s the 75th anniversary of the Doolittle Raid, hence this has been in the news.
  • There is a raider who is still living; has he been interviewed?
  • Here’s the article we used for the activity. 

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3. Guided search: We did the search as a group because I wanted to hear their thoughts on how they chose a website that was most relevant to our topic. I did allow some groups to do the search on their own, and I found I was doing a lot of re-direction and re-teaching, so I decided that the guided search was more efficient.

  • How do the “clickbait” titles help them select a site?
    • Students noticed that the CNN clickbait title “Doolittle Raider remembers on 75th Anniversary” led them to believe this article might be an interview.
  • Why do so many of the results pass the CRAAP test, but one site is best?
    • This has to do with the “relevance” of the site to the task, which specifically asks them to find an interview.
  • Why not alter the search terms?
    • I wanted them to see the variety of results we found with a more general search.
    • If time allowed, we looked briefly at the difference in results by changing our search terms.   
  • What about bias?- This always came up when they realize that the CNN article meets our needs for this task. This led to great discussion about the “purpose” of the article.  
    • Does the article try to convince us of anything? To sway us to believe one side?
    • Is it merely someone telling their experience, and is that ok?
    • Can news sites show bias? Yes; Does it depend on what’s being reported? Yes!

4. Ready, set, go!

  • Post the start time.
  • Actively monitor groups and their progress.
  • Students will be reading the article and working on the comprehension questions first. This is steps #2 and #3 in the Hyperdoc. 
  • I created The Last Raider comprehension questions using Google Forms in Quiz Mode. Be sure to include the hyperlink to these questions in the Hyperdoc.
  • If students are working in pairs or in a team, I still preferred that each person completed a copy of the form. It’s easier for me to keep track of who completed it, especially if their ELA teacher wanted to give them credit for the activity. 
  • They need to “view their score” after they answer these questions. Optional: If they miss more than 2 questions, they have to complete it again.
  • Google Forms does not allow a form to be posted as “view only” so here are screen shots of the questions I wrote. Create your own questions or use these. The first question is expanded in the Answer Key mode so you can see how I enabled that feature for each question. Clicking on Answer Key lets you select the correct answer, provide feedback for correct and incorrect answers, and assign point values.

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Before sharing the form with students, be sure to click the Settings icon and tweak the settings for Quiz Mode.

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5. Digital Escape with Google Forms

  • Here is a video that helped me understand how to create a digital breakout using Google Forms.
  • For every question, select the 3 dots and select Data Validation. Then, input accordingly.
  • I inserted an image of a lock for each question so we had the illusion of cracking codes. Sure the toolboxes and cool locks would be super fun, but I don’t have any of those. 
  • I hyperlinked the Breakout in step #4 of the Hyperdoc.

Here’s how I set up each question.

#1: When was the article updated?

This helped students evaluated the site for “Currency” and practice looking for where this information is posted. I specified how the date was to be written, and I thought this would be an easy one for them, but I was shocked at how many ways students can write a date and not understand what they’re doing wrong. The “Hint” says: Check your format and capitalization. 

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#2: This article is relevant because it’s an interview of whom?

Again, reminding students that the site they choose needs to be relevant to their topic.

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#3: What organization is the “Authority” of this information?

Students need to identify CNN as the publisher/ sponsor of the site. Students often had trouble with this one. They were confusing the author of the article with the publisher/sponsor. Both are authorities, but the clue asks for “organization.”

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#4: Is an interview a primary or secondary source?

This is an easy teachable moment if students have not previously learned this distinction. The “hint” directs students to understand how primary and “firsthand” are connected.

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#5: Add: the age of the survivor, the number of the anniversary, and the number of men who flew in the raid.

What’s an escape game without a math problem? It was interesting to watch how the students overlooked the word “add” and they’d list all 3 numbers, or type the addition problem. The hint reminds them they need the sum of these three numbers.

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6. Post-Breakout

At the of the escape game, teams post a selfie and break out time. I used Padlet to accomplish this. I hyperlinked the Padlet in step #5 of the Hyperdoc. 

  • Create the padlet wall first. Decide if you want to moderate posts or not. I did not moderate for this, and I permitted students to be able to “like” posts. I set very clear rules earlier in the lesson for the posts. I included the steps to post on the Padlet. 
  • Share the link in the Hyperdoc. The padlet is only accessible to those with the link, hence only to my students. 
  • How to post: Students click the + to create a post; TITLE is the breakout time; They should list their names; Click the camera icon and select take photo from webcam
  • The selfie is optional.
  • Average breakout time was 13-14 minutes; so with 10 minutes of instruction before the games begin, this activity is the right length of time in order to allow part of the period spent on instruction with plenty of time still available for library business.

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And there it is! Hope you have fun designing your own digital breakout!


I had a blast at the 2017 Tennessee Association of School Librarians Conference! I always enjoy meeting the many talented librarians across the state. I learn so much from them as well as the many speakers and presenters in attendance.  I had the opportunity to present a session: Rock Around the Year in Middle School. All of the ideas I shared are here on the blog in more extensive detail, and I created a Padlet for these for quick reference. I would LOVE for other middle school librarians to also post and share their great ideas on the Padlet. I am deeply thankful to TASL leadership for allowing me to present. Here is a link to my presentation. If I can ever help you in any way, please reach out. I’d love to!IMG_6418

Preparing to welcome students back to the library at the start of a new school year is super exciting! As Mr. Lemoncello would say, “There might be balloons!” I see all of the reading classes in our building every three weeks for a full class period in the library. We call this Library Day, and for our first class together this year, more than anything else I could have possibly shared with them, this is what I wanted them to know:

  • Where we’re going as readers this year
  • How to share their voice as readers
  • Who I am as a reader

And this is what I wanted the students to tell me:

  • What can I do to support them as readers this year?

Setting the tone that reading is valued here and students reading tastes and voices are valued is top priority to me. This is the foundation of building a reading culture at school.

Wait! What about the rules? What about procedures? Sure, I could have spent our first session droning on about those, complete with a nifty slideshow, but that’s what my librarian thirty years ago in my middle school would have done…sans slideshow. That’s not the library of today looks like. I’m here to support their curiosity and grow their love of reading, not to tell them how many times they can print. That’s boring.


So, where are we going as readers this year? I started out with a giant stack of books. Author Kate Messner writes about sharing books in stacks with kids, and I created a stack that is more like a skyscraper. But, why THIS stack? First, it reminds of where we’ve been together. I’m as sentimental as they come, and it’s my hope that students remember the special times we shared together last year, when Andrew Maraniss, Sarah Weeks, and Mr. Schu visited our school. Including Strong Inside and Save Me a Seat, reminds kids that we met these amazing authors and to keep them on their radar for this year. Including Raymie Nightingale and Ms. Bixby’s Last Day, reminds kids to be passionate about what they love to read and to share it, a la Mr. Schu! The 8th graders met Alan Gratz when they were in 6th grade, so they especially loved hearing about his new book, Refugee. Part of where we’re going is thinking about where we’ve been.

This year brings many new experiences to share together. In addition to our regular lunch time book club, we have a new book club, Project LIT, which provides even more opportunities for kids to connect with books. We’ll be reading Towers Falling, Full Cicada Moon, Refugee, Ghost, and Patina, to name a few. Our focus will be on reading diverse books, exploring a myriad of perspectives, and inviting members of our community to read along and join us for discussion activities.



Our first visit of 2017-2018! Courtney Stevens, Gwenda Bond, and Megan Shepherd. 

We love welcoming authors to our school, and connecting with the people who write the books we love. Kids love hearing the stories behind the story and how an idea turned into the book in their hands. Meeting authors not only enriches their reading, but it also helps them grow as writers and creators. I enjoy revealing our author visitors at the beginning of the year so that students have plenty of opportunities to read books by our guests before they arrive. Author visit days are treated like holidays at our school, and watching their faces as they find out who’s coming is priceless! My readers will meet Courtney Stevens, Gwenda Bond, Megan Shepherd, Soman Chainani, Monika Schroeder, Nathan Hale, and Steve Sheinkin! What incredible voices in the children’s and YA book world for students to meet!

Who am I as a reader? I’m also meeting many new students- a whole grade level, as a matter of fact- so I want to introduce myself by showing them who I am as a reader. I want kids to see that I read a variety of books.  Am I a sports fan? I am a fan of Perry Wallace, a “hidden figure” in the world of college basketball, who broke barriers of color and race. Do I love horror books? Confession time… I’m a big chicken, but I enjoyed the Shadow House series tremendously, even though I lost a little sleep, as a I was afraid the Larkspur Academy children would show up in my own house. A Dog Like Daisy is there because not only do I love animals, but we have a strong community of local authors, and I love championing their amazing work. Ashes gives me an opportunity to share one of my favorite authors, Laurie Halse Anderson and the conclusion of one of my favorite trilogies, Seeds of America. I want my students to see that I love it all, and I am ready to help them find something they’ll enjoy.


Book share padletHow we share our voices as readers

Students not only see that they are going to get lots of stacks like this shared with them throughout the year, but I invite them to share with each other. I set up grade level Padlets and linked these in our Library Day Google Classrooms.  This give students across each grade level a way to connect with each other outside of their reading class, outside of their team. Students began posting immediately, sharing a favorite book of the moment. So far, they’ve shared everything from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to Alexander Hamilton! Sharing in ways like this contributes to our culture of reading in a non-threatening way. It’s easy, it’s fun, it incorporates technology, and even the quietest of students can have a voice here. I love hearing from ALL students about the books they are reading.

The directions are:

  1. Post the name you go by.
  2. Title/ Author
  3. Briefly tell why you enjoyed the book (a couple of sentences will do).
  4. Optional: post an image of the book.

Their posts do get moderated by me, only because that’s our school rule for using Padlet in the classroom. I enjoy seeing additions made to our Padlets even on nights and weekends! The students are enjoying having this vehicle to share, and every library day, I can remind students to check the Padlet for great book suggestions!

How can I support you as a reader this year? Students completed a Google Form in which they tell me about who they are as readers. These questions are inspired by Donalyn Miller’s books. The more I know about their reading habits and preferences, the better prepared I am to help them. This informs my purchases and I can share this information with reading teachers, as we partner together in supporting student literacy.

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One of my favorite questions to ask is: How can I help you grow as a reader this year? I love watching students think about how to answer this question. It makes me wonder if a librarian has ever asked them this before? Sure, I get a few “not sure” or “idk,” but the #1 response is: help me find books I’ll enjoy.

ENJOY. That is the key. Because that’s what we all want as readers, and kids are no different.

Here is the survey. Please make a copy of it and then edit as you wish.


Now, how about those rules? Rules and procedures are there for a reason, and sure, it’s important that kids know what to expect in the library. I incorporated these into a 3 minute scavenger hunt. Students used a QR code reader app on their own device, or our I-Pads, and found the 8 QR codes around the room.

Our African Dwarf Frogs reminded students that we have no limit on the amount of books one can check out, and we have no fines.


QR codes hidden around the room.

The fish in our new aquarium reminded them that our computers and printers are for school related work.

The Abraham Lincoln bobblehead figure made them aware of the new library hours.

They also found the locations of the books of our visiting authors, our book club books, and some of our most popular sections, like the graphic novels.

Middle schoolers like to move, so find a way to include your rules and information that encourages movement and exploration. Are they more likely to remember these essentials this way than me covering this in a slideshow format? Yes, without a doubt, and I think Mr. Lemoncello would approve.

So, find your way of greeting students and welcoming them back to the library in an enthusiastic way! This is your chance to show that students are welcome, they matter, and you’re here to inspire, to motivate, to help and to guide, and to set the tone that reading matters. Like the little billboard in the mural on our library wall reminds us about reading, – “It’ll take you places.” It'll take you places






Want to easily show administration, faculty, parents and community members that your school library is a rockin’ place? An infographic will do the trick. During a district professional development recently, I showed my fellow librarians how to use Piktochart to create their own infographic. I saw this idea on a #futurereadylibs chat.

We discussed the importance of actively promoting our libraries and helping our communities understand how valuable our school libraries are. As a librarian, you have to tell your library’s story. If you’re not telling it, then who is?

What do you want to share about your library?

  • Show growth
    • Think about what library reports you can access that will show a comparison between last year and this year.
      • Total number of books
      • Monthly, yearly circulations
      • Number of books in a certain section (particularly if that section was an area that was specifically updated)
  • Show student usage of the library
    • My students sign in the library using a Google Form. I can easily access that spreadsheet and determine an average weekly usage.
    • Number of books checked out by grade level
  • Show usage of digital content
    • ebooks, digital audiobooks accessed/ checked out
    • devices checked out
  • Show your impact
    • number of classes taught
    • number of professional development sessions led
    • number of special events

These are just a few ideas. It’s your library. It’s your story, so include what you want.

Making the Infographic

I used Piktochart to create my library’s infographic.

  • I created a free account.
  • Create new- Infographic.
  • Choose a template. Here’s the template I chose.
    Screen Shot 2017-07-17 at 9.48.12 AM


  • Modify in any way to suit your needs. I used my school’s colors and included a picture of a mural in our library. I deleted aspects and added others. Everything is clickable and changeable. Anything you create can be accessed later in your Piktochart dashboard.


Share your story!

Get the word out in a variety of ways!

  • Add the image to your library’s website
  • Send it to your administration, PTO
  • Include it in a newsletter or email announcements to families
  • Print it and display it in the halls.
  • Tweet it!

Be proud of what’s happening in your library and put it out there for all to see. This is a simple way to illustrate the strength of the library’s pulse. Is it strong? Does it need a shock?

This also helps you visualize the overall health of your library program and set future goals. I can look at my infographic and know I need to create more awareness of our digital content. My school is growing, and in order to keep the items/ student count, I need to buy more books next year, which I’m happy to do. However, I also know that our district significantly cut the budget for each school. We have more students and less money. I’m sure that’s a familiar story. My infographic helps me plan ways I can show growth next year, and it helps me dream about what I show and share next year.

Happy infographic-making!


Here’s a question I posed to my book club a few months ago. “How many of you would like to have a job where you read and blog about books, then travel around and tell other people about all of the amazing books you’re reading?” After everyone’s hands shot up, I announced that Mr. Schu would be coming to our school during our Scholastic Book Fair. “Guys, he’s the AMBASSADOR of School Libraries! That’s his job!” Schu better watch his back because there’s about 150 middle schoolers after his job.


Mr. Schu arrived in my library in the midst of my book fair and immediately started shopping. He bought a stack of books about as tall as he is (fyi-he’s really tall), and then we were off to the auditorium to set up. He’d prepared a slideshow of books to share with my students, and I was flattered that he asked me to share some as well. I’d previously sent my picks, which he included in his slideshow. He lined up his book giveaways across the front of the stage, and we were ready to roll.

I selected my 6th graders to attend his presentation because I wanted to invest in the youngest readers in my school. I knew that meeting Mr. Schu would help them understand what we are all about in our library, which is connecting kids with great books and creating lifelong readers. The 7th graders enjoyed 8 author visits when they were in 6th grade (8!!),  and the 8th grade had already had 2 years of amazing author visits. I was excited for my 6th graders to have this opportunity.

After I introduced him, and he told the kids about his super amazing job, it was time to get down to book talking. I warmed up the crowd with The Forgetting by Sharon Cameron. Then I passed it to Mr. Schu, who book talked Raymie Nightingale. If you’ve not had the opportunity to listen to Mr. Schu share this book, seek it out. You may already know of his undying love for Kate DiCamillo’s books, but until you’ve witnessed the way he talks about her books and this book in particular, you wonder if you’ve ever really loved a book as much as he has. He finished the book talk, followed by, “Who wants it?” A sea of hands shot up, and then, it was game-on. The kids understood what was going to happen with all of those books lined up across the front of the stage, and they were ready for more!

The kids laughed when he described the different types of teachers that Topher, Brand, and Steve have had in Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and what makes Ms. Bixby one of the good ones. He shared The One and Only Ivan, and the students were in awe that he got to meet Ivan. Later, I’d overhear them telling their friends about the special section in the back of The One and Only Ivan, and the story of how it got there. Ultimately, he gave my students a year’s worth of great reading suggestions!


He ended his presentation with a group read aloud of I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, which was the perfect note to end on because it sums up Mr. Schu’s heart. He beams with love for kids, books, and libraries, and he truly does wish them more opportunities to discover the joy of reading and to be inspired by books. 

IMG_4862Our day with Mr. Schu was perfect. I am grateful to my Scholastic Book Fairs rep, Molly Gaughan, who made it all happen. I do I wish you the opportunity to have Mr. Schu visit your school some day, because it will be a moment you and your students will never forget, and I wish Mr. Schu many more opportunities to connect with readers in this world. Thanks for coming, Mr. Schu! 







Every week, six times a week, student readers show up at my office door and they promptly take over my computer. It’s ok, they have permission. It’s not a hostage situation. We log into our local public library’s catalog and select 3-4 ebooks, navigate to WebEx, and enter our “virtual reading room.” We activate the video, activate the mic, share our screen, and we’re live! We’re then greeted with twenty smiling faces on the screen. Meet our virtual reading buddies. They are elementary school students in grades K-3 at a Title I school in Nashville, and my students and I have been reading to these students for almost 3 years. IMG_7452

A parent at my school brought the idea to me. He’d already been working to connect volunteer readers with schools throughout the country, and he hoped to help create a partnership with older students reading to younger students. The beauty of this is that we have the technology to allow volunteers to read from where they are. I would never be able to take my students on a field trip every week across town. And, it breaks down barriers of demographics. My students are getting to work with students in a Title I school, which is far from their experience of attending middle school in one of the wealthiest counties in the state. It was immediately important to me, to give my students this opportunity. IMG_7716

First, I had to lay all of the groundwork. I worked with my district’s instructional technology team to choose a video conferencing application. My district has a running list of technology that is approved and not approved for use in our district, so I am using WebEx because it is approved. Next, we are fortunate to have a wonderful partnership with our local public library. They give my school 5 library cards to use in any capacity, so I designate 1 of those cards just for Read2Me. This allows my students and I to access their vast ebook library. Having access to their digital library is a huge cost savings for my library budget, as I have lots of digital resources for middle school, just not so many for elementary students. With the technology and ebook resources in place, I moved on to the volunteers.IMG_0448

I promoted Read2Me with my lunch bunch book club because it’s a core group of readers at my school, whom I regularly see. The main criteria: students had to be able to read once a week, during their study hall, feel comfortable reading aloud, and they had to return a permission slip. A major consideration for participation, which is clearly listed on the permission slip is that students must have signed the district’s acceptable use policy. Next, we had a couple of training sessions, so that the students could take WebEx and the operation of the ebooks for a test drive. Then, we practiced reading aloud. Fortunately, I have some amazing students who are also forensics champs and thespians, who can rock a Read2Me session like they are natural born storytellers. So, the learning curve was really, well, non-existent.

Then, I reached out to the teachers at our partner school, and we worked together to set up a weekly reading schedule. I sent them a link to our virtual reading room in WebEx, and they followed my directions to click the link, start their camera, and their mic, and they’re in! With the involvement of technology, we naturally experience glitches from time to time. It could be network problems at one school, or a malfunctioning web cam or mic, but any issues we’ve experienced have been solved in a timely manner, and has impacted our reading sessions very minimally.

One of my favorite aspects of Read2Me is the collaborative relationship I enjoy with the teachers at our partner school. We communicate regularly about their curriculum and how my students and I can best make our reading sessions meaningful and beneficial to their students. They send me specific topics their students are learning, along with sight words or vocabulary words, and my students put these into Quizlet, which allows us to review these words in a virtual flashcard format. The more the teachers and I communicate about literacy needs, the better our reading sessions! Their time is valuable, and the instructional time with their students is valuable. It’s my goal to help my students contribute to their learning in a positive way. IMG_0624

Sometimes, our partnership expands beyond our weekly reading sessions in very cool ways. Because I regularly host authors at my school, I was able to invite the 4th graders at our partner school to join us virtually for my students’ visit with author Roland Smith. I set up  my laptop and webcam in the auditorium, giving our reading buddies a front row seat to the action! After Roland spoke to my students, he did a special Q&A session with the 4th graders. They asked great questions! I loved that we were able to extend the benefits of an author visit to our reading buddies. And, did I mention how cool Roland Smith is?

We also connected a guest reader to our kindergarten classes last year. Miss Tennessee, Grace Burgess, is focused on literacy and spreading the love of reading during her reign, so we hosted her in our virtual reading room, and let her lead the session. Check out a few clips of her reading I Wish You More by Amy Krouse Rosenthal  here.

Additionally, our relationship has materialized in the form of book drives. My students have held a book drive each year for our reading buddies, which has helped grow their personal and classroom libraries. My students love their reading partners, not only sharing stories with them weekly, but getting more books into their hands, and encouraging them to be lifelong readers.

We see the students via our webcam weekly, and likewise, my students and I are beamed across town onto classroom smart boards, but at the end of this past school year, my students and I took an actual field trip to meet our reading buddies in person. A couple of my students designed t-shirts, which we all wore. We came armed with picture books and treat bags, and tons of excitement! My students were greeted with the biggest smiles! As we visited each classroom and shared stories, it was a beautiful thing to witness my students serving as reading role models and the seeing the reactions of our young readers as they spent time with the kids they admire. Read2Me has been one of the most rewarding reading communities my students and I have experienced. We took an idea and ran with it, and empowering my middle schoolers as volunteers who get to share their love for reading, has been one of the best decisions as a librarian I’ve ever made. Here’s an article about our memorable day!


I hope you will consider establishing a virtual reading partnership of your own. If you need any help getting started, please reach out. I’d love to support you in any way possible. Check out the video my students made to share what we do!