This article is a shortened version of an AASL article by Georgina Trebbe (Minnechaug Regional High School) and Deeth Ellis (Boston Latin School).
MSLA jumped into action, developing the Massachusetts Virtual School Librarian (VSL). The goal of VSL was to immediately fill the anticipated information and reading literacy needs of all Massachusetts students, educators, school administrators, and families. Members of the Massachusetts School Library Association’s (MSLA) Advocacy Committee, along with board leadership, immediately asked ourselves, how can we directly provide both informational and reading literacy sources, along with instructional supports that reach all Massachusetts students, educators, administrators, and families?
MSLA President Laura Luker is the Library Teacher at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, MA.
Dear MSLA Members,
I don’t believe I’m overstating things when I say that we are now working through one of the toughest challenges our profession has faced. All educators are being asked to innovate at breakneck pace, exhibit grace and flexibility on a daily basis, and to keep education moving along for our students. School librarians specifically are faced with the task of figuring out how we fit into the bigger distance learning picture, knowing we need to continue to educate the students and adults we consider our patrons despite all the challenges thrown our way.
I am proud that we are all doing our best to keep information flowing to those we serve. I’ve seen many of you agonize over how best to get reading material (physical or virtual) into the hands of your students. How to distribute devices to those who might not otherwise have access. How to make sure that students can connect and that teachers have the skills they need. And you’ve done all of this while balancing the needs of your own families, your own communities, and yourselves.
Felicia Quesada Montville is the Library Teacher at Charles E. Brown Middle School in Newton, MA,
and the winner of a 2020 MSLA Web Seal of Excellence.
When I sat down to write my first Forum article back in January, I brainstormed a list of topics, settling on two for my winter and spring articles. Little did I know that my first article’s topic, using social media to connect with students, would suddenly become even more relevant as we moved to connecting with students solely online. Nor did I realize that my second idea would need to go right out the window — what help is an article about genrefying a collection when no one can access their libraries? Back to the drawing board it was.
And while there’s no shortage of pieces out there highlighting the amazing things people are doing from home, life in quarantine is simply all I could wrap my head around. What does middle school librarianship look like from home? Much of our time connecting with students in school is during unstructured extension blocks — the library is the heart of the school, a gathering place in addition to a classroom. How do we recreate that safe space online? And while our libraries are about so much more than the books and the lessons, there are also the books and the lessons! How do we ensure that our students keep reading and learning important information literacy skills?
Francesca Mellin is the Head Librarian at The Pike School in Andover.
If you’re like me, you may find yourself glued to your laptop on a certain Monday morning in January, cheering gleefully (while others in the library wonder what in the world you’re watching)! The Youth Media Awards, announced at ALA’s annual Midwinter meeting, are undoubtedly a major event for book lovers. The Newbery, Caldecott, and Coretta Scott King Awards have traditionally been at the forefront of media coverage... and can sometimes outshine the other awards. ALA itself has been gradually giving increased recognition to awards given by its affiliates. In the past two years, announcements of literature awards given by the American Indian Library Association, Asian Pacific American Library Association, and the Association of Jewish Libraries have been made at the Youth Media Award breakfast, welcome news indeed for those of us promoting multicultural and inclusive literature in our libraries.
The picture book honorees for 2020 represent a wide array of experiences and themes, expressed through stunning art coupled with engaging text. Let’s take a closer look at some of my favorites.
Margaret Kane Schoen is a Library Teacher at Newton South High School
and a winner of a 2020 Super Librarian Award.
What can you do when you can’t get into your library? It might seem like this is a time when projects can’t get done, after all, we don’t have access to anything in our libraries - no books, no displays, no maker spaces. But any quiet time you have right now can be an excellent opportunity to tend to digital projects that require mostly your attention and a computer.
You won’t necessarily be able to finish all of these - some are starters for projects that you can work on once you’re back. But getting all the online drudgery out of the way now means you’ll be able to focus on the fun part - the students and the books! - once you're back.
(And of course - some of us have no quiet time. Everyone’s home work space is different right now, so don’t feel guilty if you can’t get to these.)
Jennifer Mason Stott is the Library Teacher at King Open School in Cambridge, and a recipient of a 2019 MA Super Librarian Award .
Students come to school with a wide range of experience, some joyful, some traumatic. In 2017-2018, I took a course on trauma-informed practice and thought about the role of the library. While librarians are not therapists, we can provide experiences that help students feel cared for and important. After seeing my first grade students’ response to the book Extra Yarn, I turned an author-illustrator study of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen into an art-making collaborative. We would yarn-bomb the recess yard! The result: the King Open Art Fence.
Ms. Samantha Silag is the Library Teacher at Manchester Memorial Elementary School.
Remember the good old days…back in February? At that time, I wrote an article for the Winter Forum about how important it is for parents to know us Library Teachers by name. At the time, I had no idea just how true, almost prophetic even, my message in that piece would prove to be just a few weeks later when MA schools closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, as we are in the thick of remote teaching/distance learning (call it what you will), I find that the ability to reach out to K-5 parents and make it stick to their overloaded radar is critical to keep the “school library” present and participatory during these overwhelming times. And, to keep our school community connected and comforted by the familiar.
Crowd sourced by your excellent MSLA Librarians, compiled by Reba Tierney.
It is so easy to become overwhelmed with all of the online resources available right now. This column is a space to share some ideas and favorite resources. We have a few suggestions from our MSLA members, but if you are using something that is working well for you, and your students, please share in the comment section.
Virtual School Librarian
This resource is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Library System (MLS) and the Massachusetts School Library Association (MSLA). This site ensures that all students and teachers have the services of a school librarian to find high-quality information, tools and strategies to continue developing media literacy and research skills. This page includes digital resources available to each person in Massachusetts either through the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners or through the Boston Public Library with an e-card. There is also a virtual "Ask a School Librarian" service.
MSLA President Laura Luker is the library teacher at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, MA.
Every year as we near the time of our annual conference, I feel myself getting more and more excited. I look forward each year to our time together - a time to learn, connect, and grow as educators - and I hope you all gain as much from it as I do.
This year’s conference theme, We Can Do It: School Libraries Build Strong Communities!, is especially near and dear to my heart given the troubled waters many communities are facing. As we all know, libraries of all kinds serve as a safe haven for people and for free and reliable information, and now more than ever that’s needed. School libraries, however, have an especially sacred charge. We are tasked with helping the children in our communities make sense of the world around them and to become informed and participatory citizens. Youth-led strikes to call attention to climate change and school gun violence come to mind as perfect examples of teenagers working to bring about change and to impact their communities in a positive way. They also highlight the power of an informed citizenry. Greta Thunberg’s message would be nowhere near as powerful without the facts she cites. The March for Our Lives movement depends upon research and knowledge. Somewhere along the line, someone has armed these kids with the skills to do this work.
Please join me at this year’s conference. As we immerse ourselves in learning from one another and refreshing our skills, we not only strengthen our own professional community, but we also reaffirm our commitment to lead the students in our charge to become vital members of their communities. Is there anything more important?
by Amy Short and Kendall Boninti
Amy Short (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Assistant Director of Library Media Services at Cambridge Public Schools and a 2019 recipient of the Peggy Hallisey Lifetime Achievement award.
Kendall Boninti (email@example.com) is a Library Media Specialist at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School.
“It's no secret that teacher librarians are leaders. Teacher librarians work with all members of the learning community--students, teachers and administrators. They are uniquely situated to be educational leaders within their school communities. They have a valuable skill set as instructional leaders” (Kleinmeyer).
According to the AASL Position Statement, “The Strategic Leadership Role of School Librarians”, “School librarians provide strategic leadership in instructional design, collaboration, and co-teaching through their global perspective. Because their work impacts all disciplines and grade levels, school librarians are in a unique position to leverage their skills and implement cross-curricular initiatives.” An example of this level of leadership is the work that Kendall Boninti and Emily Houston, Librarians at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), have undertaken in collaboration with colleagues to lead programmatic and instructional changes at CRLS.
Laura Beals D’Elia is the Library Teacher at the Armstrong Elementary School in Westborough.
Each year, ALA partners with the Sharjah International Book Fair and Sharjah International Library Conference in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates to send two American school librarians to present at the conference as a way to bridge cultures and share best practices. This past November, Andrea Trudeau @Andrea_Trudeau and I were honored to represent the United States as the two school librarians. We could feel the weight of this honor as we followed in the footsteps of school librarians such as Sherry Gick @sherryngick, Andy Plemmons @plemmonsa, Todd Burleson @todd_burleson, and MSLA’s very own Wendy Garland @dancelibrarian.
There is so much to say. Summarizing or condensing this experience feels impossible, yet I will try. In 1990, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote about the idea that books can be “Mirrors, Windows, or Sliding Glass Doors.” Once I stepped foot off the plane in Dubai, it was obvious to me that this concept could also apply to experiences and I wondered where I would find mirrors and where would I find windows?
Valerie Diggs is a former President of MSLA and currently works as a Senior Visiting Instructor at Salem State University, where she also serves as the Graduate Program Coordinator of the MEd Library Media Studies program.
This column includes two questions from members. The first addresses a challenging situation with a paraeducator and the second, the struggle to get kids reading.
I have a new paraeducator in the library this year. This is her first year working in education and while she is GREAT at supporting the academic needs of our students, she is struggling with the classroom management aspects of the job, especially enforcing student behavior expectations. She's young and close in age to my high school students, and because she started mid year, there has been limited opportunities for hands on training. How do I support her developing those classroom management skills so that she can help keep the library running smoothly while I'm teaching?
I am assuming that this paraeducator has no formal training in education, and has perhaps never worked in a school before? I would start with a serious conversation around expectations and her ability, or lack of ability, to manage the library environment successfully. We really can’t fault her too much for not knowing the ropes when it comes to classroom management.
Barbara Gogan is the School Librarian at Peter Noyes Elementary in Sudbury, and
a recipient of a 2019 MA Super Librarian Award.
Although there are people who think an elementary library is just about reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar, we know how much more there is to it. For instance, when I have requested or shared LGBTQIA+ resources on LM_NET or the MSLA listserv, I receive many requests for a HIT or get asked whether I ever experience pushback from the school or parents. It appears that many elementary school librarians are turning their attention to this underserved and underrepresented area of our communities and I hope sharing my experiences may help others.
I want to preface this by saying I am a straight cis white woman and am by no means an expert. I am doing my best to learn and am grateful to so many people who identify as LGBTQIA+ for their generosity in helping others support students.
Emily Remer is the Librarian at Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley, MA.
Librarians have long been promoting diversity in library collections. We understand that diverse books make for stronger and more socially valuable collections. Woke books (#ReadWoke), as part of diverse collections, are increasingly recognized as essential to libraries and schools because of their particular focus on marginalized and repressed groups, and because of the influence they can have on the reader in waking them up to injustice – reading diverse and woke books can help readers (students, librarians, teachers, and everyone) develop respect and empathy for others, feel like they have a place in the world, become aware of inequalities and biases, and understand today’s complicated societal issues. These books can also provide a good jumping-off point for some of those difficult discussions that youth and adults often need to have.
Lynda Moylan is the Library Media Specialist at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School in Peabody, MA and a recipient of a 2019 MSLA President's Award.
Stepping into the role(s) of a Library Media Specialist after someone else can be daunting, especially if that person was in their position for a long time. When I started at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School I was coming from the elementary level into a school that was just starting to rollout a 1:1 Chromebook program. The previous library media specialist was retiring and I was excited to be a part of this unique time of change in the Library and in the school.
One thing I noticed about my new school was that the culture was very different from the elementary level. Teachers mostly kept to their own departments and there wasn’t much of a collaborative culture. I wanted the library to be the heart of the school so I focused on ways that I could create a positive culture in the library that would hopefully influence other areas of the school. I started Instagram and Twitter accounts for the library and took advantage of our new switch to Google Apps for Education to make a new library website. Once I created an online space for the library, I wanted to update the physical space. I painted over the existing brown cork boards with chalkboard paint and put out colorful chalk to encourage students and staff to write down their current reads right in the library entrance. A Special Education teacher was running a free “store” in her classroom where students could take clothes that were donated but since her room was being used most of the day as a classroom I offered to move it to the back corner of the library so it would be accessible to everyone throughout the day. The IT specialist for our school moved his office to the library so we could be a one stop shop for tech support.
Felicia Quesada Montville is the Library Teacher at Charles E. Brown Middle School in Newton, MA.
The social media landscape is wide and varied: Millennials posting too many pictures of avocado toast and claiming a color as their own. Gen Z unknowingly giving their data to Chinese tech companies. Boomers and snowflakes at war over who is most at fault for what is wrong in the world. Celebrities oversharing and doling out unsolicited advice. The tweeting Commander in Chief. Oh, and the cats. So many cats. There’s no doubt that social media has impacted our society and how we interact with each other on a daily basis, and debates over whether those changes are positive or negative persist.
The debate around the impact of social media is fiercest in regards to its use by tweens and teens. The Wait Until 8th pledge, a parent commitment to no smartphones before 8th grade, is gaining traction as the negative impacts of smartphones on interpersonal relationships, academics, and more have come to light. At the heart of many of these arguments is access to social media. Cyberbullying, sleep disruptions, and increased anxiety and depression are real risks of social media use, especially when use is excessive. But regardless of the risks, social media is here to stay — the power of connection and the spread of information is too strong. Therefore, we should take advantage of this powerful tool to forge connections with both students and stakeholders.
Jennifer Mason Stott is the Library Teacher at King Open School in Cambridge, and a recipient of a 2019 MA Super Librarian Award .
I have a secret: I don’t really like conferences. I get restless, the vendor floor is like a game of avoid-eye-contact pinball, and I just want to sit with a handful of librarians or authors and have long conversations. In the summer of 2018, I shushed my inner introvert and attended the School Library Journal Basecamp. It was worth the effort. When debut author/illustrator Oge Mora got to the mic and read her book Thank You, Omu! she lit up the room. I knew I had to have her visit my school, and I invited her that day!
Sarah Woo is the Library Teacher at the Dr. Betty G. Allen Library at Holten-Richmond Middle School in Danvers, MA and a recipient of a 2019 MSLA Super Librarian award.
As we all know, middle school students have many choices as to how they spend their time; many and varied screens, not to mention numerous clubs and activities available to them after school, provide often irresistible alternatives to sitting down and reading a book. Even the development of our makerspace in the last couple of years, while certainly valuable in terms of promoting creativity, problem-solving, and social emotional learning, seems to work against time on reading. Accordingly, in the library we always look for new ways to encourage and promote reading. I usually manage to establish a goal for the year around developing and supporting readers.
Ms. Samantha Silag is the Library Teacher at Manchester Memorial Elementary School.
Over the years, I have formed the habit of referring to my K-5 students as my kids and referring to their parents and guardians as my parents. My relationship with my parents has in turn become a critical piece of the puzzle that, in my mind, completes the surprisingly complex jigsaw that is the Library Teacher role within the school community.
There are many pieces to the jigsaw that make a successful library program and many of them are behind the scenes (collection development, policy development, standards review and curriculum writing, for example.) These responsibilities are critical to a strong library program but to the general public they sound like a snoozefest and make it easy for the Library Teacher role to blend into the background, often misunderstood or overlooked. Gone are the days when being a school librarian consisted of sitting behind the circ desk, reading glasses permanently affixed just below the eyes, with a finger at the lips shushing patrons. Today’s Library Teacher (Teacher Librarian, Media Specialist, Learning Commons Manager, call it what you want!) has curriculum development responsibilities, direct instruction responsibilities, often plays a tech support role, is an ambassador of books, multiculturalism, community interaction...the list is long. But how is anyone to know this if we don’t COMMUNICATE?! In order for the school library program to be valued and supported within the school community, the Library Teacher must be a known entity. He or she is the face of the library program. Without a dynamic, progressive, motivated Library Teacher, there is no dynamic, progressive, motivating Library program. So do we need to toot our own horn? Sure, at times we do, but there is more to building relationships than just basic advocacy.
Margaret Kane Schoen is a Library Teacher at Newton South High School.
As librarians, it’s important to make sure our resources are accessible to all of our patrons. When designing the layout of your library, you’ve probably thought about physical accessibility. Are exits and entrances wheelchair accessible, will people with disabilities be able to work comfortably at tables or reach printers? Did you know you also need to evaluate your website for accessibility?
Proper design and coding allows people with disabilities to navigate and interact with websites, and access the information and materials you’ve curated there. The World Wide Web Consortium has laid out guidelines for accessibility in its Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG), and the American Library Association recommends that libraries comply with them.
Kathy Lowe is a past president of MSLA, and has recently retired as the Executive Director of MSLA.
I first met Sharon about 20 years ago when we were both high school librarians in the Boston Public Schools. At the time, I was immediately aware of her intellect, competence and innovative ideas, but I didn’t really know much else about her beyond our professional interactions. After a few years, she and Richard relocated to Connecticut and we lost touch, but years later, when I had become the Executive Director of the Massachusetts School Library Association, Sharon returned to Massachusetts to take on the revitalization of the library at the Belmonte Middle School in Saugus and she became active in MSLA, ultimately joining the executive board as an area director, participating in planning our annual conference, and serving as MSLA’s representative to the Affiliate Assembly of the American Association of School Librarians. I was impressed by Sharon’s directness and the practical and creative ideas she generously shared with her colleagues. And she wasn’t at all shy about curtailing rambling executive board and conference committee discussions, ensuring our meetings DID NOT run overtime. One of my favorite memories of Sharon during this time was when she and another colleague energized the attendees at our annual conference with their altered version of the song Titanium, soon having us all belting out “I am Librarian!”
Patsy Divver is the School Librarian at the Millis Middle/High School Library.
Welcome to the new decade! So many great opportunities lie ahead for us. Included in my outlook for the upcoming ‘20s is retiring. But, as ‘that time’ comes closer, it also becomes much harder to make a firm decision and commitment. I thought I’d share some of the steps that helped me to collect the needed information... and then touch on your personal choice for timing.
Claudia Palframan is the Library Teacher at Dupont Middle School in Chicopee and
a recipient of a 2019 MA Super Librarian Award.
I am not sure when I became a PAL, or Political Action Leader. It was somewhere around the No on 2 campaign. I had been attending meetings with local legislators about issues I considered important, and the next thing I knew, I was a PAL. We work with MTA senate area coordinators, who arrange meetings with local legislators and also arrange for other advocacy work and opportunities. Because Chicopee is split into several different districts, I work with at least three different senate area coordinators. Election times are busy, but interesting.
When we meet with our local legislators, I speak about what I know, school libraries. I am able to advocate for school libraries. My experiences and membership with the MSLA, and the MTA Library task force are very valuable when advocating for school libraries. When we talk about school funding, I can talk about how many schools do not have librarians, or lack budgets, or have limited student access to the library due to testing, and more. I can talk about how we support English Language Learners and students with special needs. The trick is - keep it short and simple!
For librarians and para librarians who want to learn more about local politics (isn’t it all local), I recommend you become a PAL. Our voices are often lost, there are so many educational issues that seem to take priority, yet we work with all students and staff, and have a unique perspective on educational policies. We know how to do the research, we are good at elevator speeches, and we advocate for our students and staff and need to be at the table. Also, you’ll meet some really nice people who get what we do!
In the summer, I work on Cape Cod for Ward Aquafarms. I farm oysters and scallops. The company also has a research component (the owner is a PhD. in marine biology), so we always have federal grants and research ongoing. This summer, I worked specifically with the School for Marine Science and Technology in New Bedford on several collaborative research projects on tautog fish and trout. I love this work in the summer, when I transform from an academic and librarian to a scientist and researcher in the field
-- John Maxwell, Hastings Elementary School, Westborough, MA.
Submit here to share your secret life -- what you do in the summer, on the weekends, or before you became a school librarian,
MSLA President Laura Luker is the library teacher at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, MA
Hello MSLA members, and welcome. As our respective school years get up and running, I wanted to take a moment to introduce myself as the incoming MSLA President. My name is Laura Luker and I’m a K-12 library teacher at the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley. This is my tenth year as a library teacher and my fifteenth year as an educator. Prior to working in the library, I was a secondary English and reading teacher, a background which I feel gives me an excellent footing for collaborating with classroom teachers. In my spare time, I foster rescue dogs and dabble in aerial circus arts. I am equally as enthusiastic about running as I am about cake.
Personal details aside, I’d like to convey to each of you how honored I am to have been asked to be President of this organization. I’m passionate about the work we all do each and every day - not only connecting kids with books, but also helping them to be discerning, involved world citizens. I appreciate the opportunity to advocate for our work being recognized by the broader world.