MSLA President Jen Varney is the Librarian at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr School in Cambridge, MA.
As we round the corner on the halfway point of the school year— phew!— it’s been a year so far, eh? Between attempts to go “back to normal,” mask and quarantining controversies, and operating with a skeleton staff throughout much of January, there was more than enough to keep us on our toes. But the culture wars decided to send us one more issue: book challenges and bannings. They are happening at warp speed in the U.S., and are increasingly getting more attention in the news and on social media.
Ross Cannon is the Library Media Specialist at King Philip Middle School in Norfolk, MA.
1. What's your name, title and school?
Ross Cannon, Library Media Specialist, King Philip Middle School
2. How did you come to librarianship?
A long and circuitous route. After graduating from UMass Boston in 2014 with a degree in English, I got trapped in a cycle of retail management jobs. I was immensely unhappy and unfulfilled. I tried, unsuccessfully, to break into the public library field because I saw an overlap there between my interests and desire to work in a role that felt more impactful. I figured receiving a Master's degree in Library Science might make obtaining employment in the field easier, so I enrolled at Simmons University in the School Library Teacher Program. I was lucky enough to receive a job offer just after graduation and I've been incredibly happy in my new career as a school librarian.
3. How would you explain the importance of your role to a nonlibrarian?
As a school librarian, my job is twofold: teaching and collection management and development. Both roles are equally important in my view. I strive to provide engaging materials, across modalities, to students to support their curricular needs and to promote recreational reading. I also recognize that even though my 7th and 8th graders are "digital natives," that doesn't always make them digitally literate or knowledgeable digital citizens. Our school library program aims to make sure that our students have the 21st century skills to responsibly and ethically engage with information and other people in digital environments.
4. What are you working on right now?
Inventory! I am the first certified librarian at King Philip since maybe forever, and the collection needs some love and attention. It's my hope to finish the inventory in the next few weeks so I can begin a diversity audit.
5. What is going well?
I am fortunate to have the buy-in and support of my administrators and many faculty members. I have also built some fantastic relationships with students.
6. What is the most challenging thing so far?
Displaying and explaining my value to faculty who have spent their teaching careers without the benefit of a librarian or strong library program. I'm optimistic, though. It's only year one, after all.
7. What's the most unexpected thing about your new job?
That I would become the de facto face of the tech department. I was asked within the first week or two of the school year to be the manage the school's loaner Chromebooks and ever since students have been sent to me with all sorts of tech issues.
8. What are you reading or watching?
I am on the reading committee for the MA Teen Choice Book Award, and in order to keep up with the reading requirements I'm currently juggling All the Girls I've Been by Tess Sharpe (e-book), Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe (audiobook), and The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (print).
9. What do you hope the MA School Library Association can do for you?
The MSLA members email group has been a lifesaver! Our network of school librarians have proven to be invaluable in offering advice and answering questions. I look forward to connecting with many of these helpful and supremely knowledgeable individuals at the annual conference.
Francesca Mellin is the Head Librarian at The Pike School in Andover, MA.
“No act of kindness goes unrewarded,” said the late, great author and illustrator Jerry Pinkney. In these times, empathy, compassion, and helping others feel more important than ever. I’ve gathered some noteworthy titles that touch on these themes for you to read with your classes or recommend to colleagues, just in time for Random Acts of Kindness Day on February 17th!
Secondary Column: Notes from the Middle: Curating a Middle School Collection in a Decentralized Library
Colleen Simpson is the Library Media Specialist at Lester J. Gates Middle School in Scituate, MA.
As curators of library collections we all face the many questions involved in creating libraries full of titles that are appropriate for students academically, socially, and emotionally. One of the biggest transitions I faced when I moved from high school ELA teacher to middle school librarian was not just about movement to earlier grades, but how delicate the balance is to creating a collection that is both challenging and age appropriate while also complementing the curriculum. I quickly learned that while I knew a lot about teaching literature and writing, I had a lot to learn about reading beyond my role as an educator particularly when it comes to taking on a student perspective.
Liza Halley is the Library Teacher at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham, MA.
Do you want to use graphic novels in the classroom or are you looking for ways to encourage teachers to do so? This year I’ve been reaching out to librarians across the country asking them how they’ve been using graphic novels in their schools. Here are some examples of what I’ve found. Below are both collaborations between library teachers and classroom teachers or other specialists, and also stand-alone ideas for using graphic novels in the library curriculum.
Tricia London is the School Librarian at the Abington Middle/High School Library in Abington, MA.
Are you a librarian at one of the 552 school libraries, who already belong to the Commonwealth Ebook Collection (CEC) and uses the Overdrive app, SORA, developed for schools to access these titles? If so, you may want to just skim this article and skip to the bottom to read the advanced SORA information. There you can learn about assigning simultaneous use titles to classes, taking notes in eBooks, and running insight reports since you already know the basic good news about the CEC and SORA.
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.
What's your take on leveling books? I work in a middle school where we have fifth to eight grade, and I label YA books with a YA sticker. The YA books, in our policy on the website, are for seventh and eight graders. However, I will sometimes allow sixth and sometimes fifth graders who want those books to take them. I never tell a kid they can't read a book, but I will ask for a parent email or a teacher conversation. This feels like a violation of privacy, but kids seem willing to do it. Is this censorship, or self-censorship, or self-selection, or am I worrying about it too much?
This is a great question and one that has persisted in the school library world for as long as I can remember. This is a very subjective question, but also one we must consider very carefully when considering the answer through the lens of intellectual freedom and privacy concerns.
Gillian Bartoo is the District Cataloger for Cambridge Public Schools in Cambridge, MA.
Why do books about the struggle for civil rights in America end up in social sciences (3XX) rather than history (97X)? The same way lots of books end up in “weird” places in school libraries: the original cataloger followed the rules for assigning Dewey call numbers. The most basic rule is that you catalog to describe the content of the book and to fit that content into an imaginary library of all published knowledge using the scheme Dewey laid out. It means catalogers don’t consider the intended audience, the context in which a work might be used, or where any given individual might expect to find it shelved. Often, this does not bode well for small, specialized libraries such as our school libraries which carry books with simplified content that caters to a young and still intellectually developing patron group.
Deeth Ellis is the Head Librarian at Boston Latin School in Boston, MA, and a Doctoral Student, School of Library Science, Simmons University.
When school library studies began to emerge more than 50 years ago, they focused on the establishment of libraries in the school environment. Over time there was a shift from studying the physical space to measuring the library’s impact on student learning. Our roles have changed dramatically with the growth of the Internet, an increased access to information, and educational trends toward accountability and evidence-based practices. Beginning in the 1990s a number of states conducted quantitative research studies to explore the impact of school libraries on student achievement, often measured as performance on state standardized reading tests. Simmons University professor James Baughman presented his paper School libraries and MCAS scores (2000) sharing his findings of research in this area, and, after 2003, more qualitative methods were used to capture a more holistic picture of student learning from interactions with and instruction by the school librarian. Most recently, Gordon & Cicchetti (2018) documented the inequitable access to a fully functioning library with certified librarians in The Massachusetts School Library Study:Equity and Access for Students in the Commonwealth.
Jessica Bombardier is the Library Media Specialist at Swampscott Middle School, in Swampscott, MA, and and a recipient of a 2021 Audrey Friend Scholarship Award.
It’s been all over the news lately – book challenges; book bans. If you work in a school and/or district without a collection development policy, you might feel overwhelmed about where to start. The purpose of this article is to give some ideas and a basic understanding of all of the elements included within a collection development policy. To start, it might be worth asking whether or not your school or district has a collection development policy and also whether or not the school committee supporting your work has a policy in place for book challenges.
Public Perceptions of the School Librarian: What Outsiders Know about the Role of the Certified School Librarian
Marti Smallidge is the Computer Technology Long-Term Substitute Teacher at Stoneham Central Middle School in Stoneham, MA, and Meghan Stellman is the Research & Teaching Librarian at Rising Tide Charter Public School in Plymouth, MA, and a Library Media Studies M.Ed student at Salem State University.
In a personal conversation, a stranger expressed that a school librarian must “like the quiet.” When he was told that school libraries are often active places, where students learn and interact with each other, he then summed up the role as that of “a babysitter.” (M. Stellman, personal communication, 15 March, 2021). Unfortunately, this attitude is encountered frequently. This prompted us, in the spring of 2021 while studying for our MA in education at Salem State University, to conduct a study to determine the services that school librarians must promote in order to boost their public image and to retain or increase funding. School librarian advocacy focuses mainly on the school administration, but many funding questions are decided by those outside the school building. Little has been written about advocacy directed toward those constituents; this study addresses this gap in the literature. Our study of 88 adult participants from Massachusetts revealed that three-quarters of this sample valued school librarians and more than half understood most of the roles of the school librarian, showing that community members outside of the school library field can act as advocates.
Luke Steere is the librarian at Wilson Middle School in Natick, MA.
Let us inaugurate “From the Vault” with a look back to one of a the profiles in “Meet More Members of the Executive Board,” which ran November 2002. It is a profile of Mrs. Fontes. She is of course “Pat” to us, and now to me, too, but in November of 2002 I was only a month-old freshman at Nashoba Regional High School, interested in skateboarding and little else. Nashoba is the high school where Mrs. Fontes would eventually become the librarian.