MSLA President Jen Varney is the Librarian at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr School in Cambridge, MA.
Hello and welcome to a brand new school year! My name is Jen Varney and I am the new MSLA President. I’m looking forward to serving you and making sure that MSLA is all that it can be. As a new school librarian 15(!) years ago, MSLA was a lifeline for me, connecting me to other people that had my job and could answer my questions. It was nice to know that I wasn’t alone.
Luke Steere is the librarian at Wilson Middle School in Natick
Happy New Year:
Reba Tierney ended the Spring Forum Editor’s Note in the way I would like to begin mine: thank you Katherine Steiger. Your service and dedication to the Forum, the pulse of the MSLA, allows for a deep dive into our organization. The Forum provides a throughline of professional development from within. Massachusetts school libraries are an affinity group with talent and insight, and this is the platform. Katherine’s meticulous organization of this newsletter— including all the invisible back-end stuff— has left a legacy and made putting together this issue smooth and exciting. For me, getting first read on the award winners’ experiences and column expertise we have below has been rewarding. Thank you for your stewardship Katherine, and we hope to see you in print again soon.
Liza Halley is the Library Teacher at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham, MA
Many schools turned the lens on social emotional learning (SEL) as the stress of COVID impacted students’ lives. As a librarian, you can serve as an asset to teachers within these SEL initiatives. I urge you to keep in mind graphic novels for your own lessons and as you recommend tools to teachers, social workers, and support staff in your schools.
Francesca Mellin is the Head Librarian at The Pike School in Andover
Wordless picture books are the ultimate example of “show, don’t tell.” Artists using this format have fewer constraints (no blocks of text to plan around) but also the greater responsibility of creating characters and advancing plot solely through visual means.
Michelle Laflamme is a MLIS Graduate Student, Simmons University School Library Teacher Program and a recipient of a 2021 Audrey Friend Scholarship Award.
Recently I found myself talking to a colleague, speaking in broad, sweeping statements about social justice and school library programming – a tune I’ve been humming ever since I began my LIS studies. And as we discussed the ways in which library programming and services can support, and even lead, equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives in schools, we found ourselves on the subject of collection development and, more specifically, diversity audits.
Maureen Riordan is the Library Teacher at Bowen Elementary School and Underwood Elementary School in Newton, MA.
Shortly after being hired as an elementary library teacher, I opened a closet in the library looking for a place to store extra supplies and found numerous boxes stacked inside. After checking in with my principal, I learned that the library was the unofficial archive for the school and those boxes housed documents and photographs related to the school’s history.
Deeth Ellis is the Head Librarian at Boston Latin School in Boston, MA, and a Doctoral Student, School of Library Science, Simmons University.
As a doctoral student at Simmons University, my teachers and advisors stress the importance of choosing courses and topics for assignments that will eventually guide you toward a dissertation topic. One such assignment last year was a conceptual framework, or a visual representation of an information phenomenon underpinned by theory.
Jennifer Edwards is the Library Media Teacher at Dennis-Yarmouth Regional High School and a recipient of the 2021 Judi Paradis Action Grant.
The pandemic afforded an opportunity for the school library that, in a regular year, would never have happened. In many schools the individual departments are somewhat isolated from each other. Teachers do work cooperatively with their own department colleagues, but libraries can have opportunities for inter-department co-teaching and cross-curriculum projects which help to promote the school library program and to connect patrons to resources.
Sarah Murphy is the librarian at Kennedy Middle School in Natick.
In this new column, we're thrilled to feature a librarian new to the profession. We hope you enjoy this chance to meet someone at the start of their school library career!
1. What's your name, title and school?
Sarah Murphy, librarian at Kennedy Middle School in Natick.
2. How did you come to librarianship?
After spending time as a second grade classroom teacher and a middle school reading specialist, I realized my true passion was literacy and wanted to be able to share that with a whole school community and not just small groups of students.
3. How would you explain the importance of your role to a nonlibrarian?
Librarians do so much more than check out books. They have the power to reach all students, whether through the lens of books, providing a safe and inclusive space, and/or helping students tackle the task of making sense of the world around them. Libraries have the potential to be the heart of a school community and I find that both thrilling and a little daunting!
4. What are you working on right now?
I am working on learning this new job, developing curriculum, and getting to know students and staff at my new school.
5. What is going well?
I truly feel like I have landed in the exact right place for me. I am enjoying this work so much already and I have so many ideas for what I hope I can bring to the table. It has been a far easier transition than I anticipated.
6. What is the most challenging thing so far?
The newness of it all has been challenging. I am working on learning new systems, new people, and a new school system, as well as trying to be seen as a resource to other teachers, develop curriculum, and gain a rapport with as many students as I can. It is all very exciting but it has been a lot!
7. What's the most unexpected thing about your new job?
I think the most unexpected thing for me has been just how happy I am in this role. I have cried happy tears more than once since I started and I don't think I knew how fulfilling a job could be. It also surprises me how fast the work day flies by. I am working on coming to terms with the fact that my to-do list may never be finished.
8. What are you reading or watching?
I'm reading The Pants Project by Cat Clarke. I'm listening to November 9 by Colleen Hoover and I am watching the LuLaRoe Documentary on Amazon.
9. What do you hope the MA School Library Association can do for you?
I am hoping the MSLA can help me stay current, connected, and inspired in this new role.
Colleen Simpson is the Library Media Specialist at Lester J. Gates Middle School in Scituate.
After a year and half we are as close to normal as we have been since that fateful day in March 2020 when schools shutdown. Our district spent three quarters of last year hybrid before students all returned in person mid-April. It was great to have everyone back at the time, students were excited to see friends, and school is just easier in person. This year many of the parameters have been lifted and, with exception of masks for everyone and a lunchroom with desks instead of tables, things look about where they should be. While our schools across the state may look different, I would imagine many of us are having similar experiences.
MSLA President Laura Luker is the Library Teacher at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, MA.
It’s been a wild ride, hasn’t it? As this school year winds its way to a close, and as I write my final Forum article as President, I find myself looking back over the two years of my MSLA presidency with a tinge of disbelief, a ton of gratitude, and a good dose of humility. (And also a sense of humor - which has come in handy in countless situations!)
Reba Tierney is the Library Teacher at Waltham High School, in Waltham, MA.
Hello Forum Readers,
While working and living through a pandemic has been personally and professionally challenging for most everyone, Katherine and I felt it was important to strive for some constancy and support. Which is why we decided to publish the Forum on a regular schedule, even if we didn't have our usual number of articles. The articles that we do receive from our amazing contributors have been timely, valuable, and much appreciated. We hope you continue to find comfort and inspiration in the work of your colleagues, and value in the articles that we are able to publish.
Celebrating our wins seems more important than ever, and one win that I am pleased to announce is the debut of a new Forum column dedicated to Graphic Novels. I know you will enjoy Liza Halley's inaugural column. Liza is a Library Teacher at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham, MA, and has been an avid reader of graphic novels ever since she began reading Jeff Smith’s Bone and Kazu Kihushi’s Amulet series with her eldest son over 14 years ago. She reads every graphic novel for K-6th grader she can get her hands on (and is a big fan of Monstress, Hellboy, and Saga for adults). Liza began teaching PD around how to incorporate graphic novels into the classroom five years ago. She helped plan the panelists and organize the day of the San Diego Public Library’s concurrent teacher librarian Con during the 2018 San Diego ComicCon. She also helped plan the first and second annual Boston Kids Comic Fest (2018 & 2019) a free, kid-friendly comic festival filled with panelists, vendors, workshops and headliners. Welcome Liza! https://bostonkidscomicsfest.org/
And now, on a more bittersweet note, this Spring Forum is the last edition for the indubitably fabulous editor, Katherine Steiger. It has been a privilege and a joy to work with such a dedicated professional, and wonderful human being. Katherine took me under her wing when I came on board as a co-editor, and showed infinite patience as I learned the ropes of the Forum. (Which honestly...I'm still not sure I've got everything down. Thankfully, I know how to find Katherine!) We will miss her so much, but I am confident I can convince her to be a guest contributor every now and then. So, Katherine, I know I speak for all of MSLA when I extend heartfelt thanks and gratitude for all of your service. You will be missed!
Happy reading my Library Friends! Reba Tierney
Liza Halley is the Library Teacher at Plympton Elementary School in Waltham, MA.
In March, I was sitting on the front porch of a friend’s house, about ready to begin the Passover seder. We had a stack of all different kinds of Haggadot - books we use for readings, prayers, and images to go along with the Seder - when a fellow adult seder attendee grabbed Jordan Gorfinkel and Erez Zadok’s beautiful Passover Haggadah Graphic Novel saying, “I’ll take this one. I never learned to read anyway.”
Little did my new friend know, he was sitting next to a librarian who has made it her special mission to disabuse teachers, parents, administration, and students of this very notion: sequential stories - graphic novels, comics, graphic nonfiction - are really books that you read, and your brain is doing a ton of work while you read them. They are for all readers.
Deborah Kreiser-Francis is the Library Media Specialist at Falls and Community Elementary Schools, in North Attleborough, MA.
Libraries are my (very beloved) second career, and it has been a peripatetic route to get here. To make a convoluted story shorter, with my MLIS I was able to qualify for a provisional Library Media Specialist certificate, but needed to complete a teacher prep program to meet the DESE requirements to move up to my initial LMS K-12 certification.
So, although I have four years working as an elementary LMS, I still needed to enroll in an official School Library Teacher program. I chose Simmons, where I needed to complete a series of courses, in addition to a secondary-level practicum. Lucky for me, Diane McKamy, North Attleborough High School (NAHS) librarian extraordinaire, was willing to take me on as a student teacher this semester.
While reviewing the practicum requirements, I immediately focused on what Simmons calls the Major Project, a unit with a minimum of four lessons. Brainstorming a bit, I considered what would be most practical for our current learning situation. With North Attleborough Public Schools, along with many others, in hybrid or remote learning modes, it made sense to me to figure out how students could still access reading materials, regardless of their location.
Barb Fecteau is the Library Media Specialist at Beverly High School in Beverly, MA.
It all started with a not-altogether-undeserved reputation as a fan of liquor. Hey, bourbon is delicious, prove me wrong. At an early conference committee meeting, I believe it was our esteemed president Laura Luker who decided, “We need a signature cocktail for this conference!” But who had the extensive knowledge to craft such a thing? Several people zoomed me a side-eye as my name was mentioned. It was going to take a lot of research and a lot of drinking, but I felt up to the task.
As it became a weekly inquiry - “How’s the cocktail coming, Barb?” it occurred to us that [a] it might be time for an intervention and [b] we all had a hunger (or thirst, if you will) for the more social aspect of the conference.
Margaret Kane Schoen is a Library Teacher at Newton South High School.
One of the long-standing jokes in my house is that Mom knows everything - or if I don’t, I can find out the answer to everything faster than anyone else. Of course! That’s one of the perks of being a librarian - we’re good at searching for information, whether it’s in a database, or just out there on the web. And whether you have been using search engines since the days of Alta Vista, or have grown up in the age of Google we can all use more tips and tricks to become better searchers - and preserve that librarian mystique of “best Internet searchers”.
Felicia Quesada Montville is the Library Teacher at Charles E. Brown Middle School in Newton, MA.
While we are still in the midst of what feels like a never-ending year, September will be here before we know it. The optimist in me sees a blur of back-to-back library orientations, a flurry of check outs as students select their first independent reading books of the year, and sessions training student library helpers. Banned Books Week (September 26th through October 2nd this year) so often sneaks up on me, but at least ALA’s amazing graphics make it easy to put up an engaging and informative display.
Carrie Mathias is the High School Librarian at Silver Lake Regional High School in Kingston, MA., and is the recipient of the 2021 Ellen Berne Innovator Award and Virtual Influencer designation.
I recently had the opportunity to answer questions from a colleague who was thinking about making the move from her current position, into that of a librarian. She asked me, based on my experience as a high school librarian (and former elementary librarian) what my typical day looked like, what my responsibilities were, and what did I think she needed to know before she decided to make the leap?
In answering these questions (while there is no typical day, though I do have daily responsibilities), what kept coming back to was that being a librarian is about more than just finding information and resources or a good book to read, it is about creating a culture that becomes the heartbeat of your school.
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.
Our district (K-8) is kind of a mess with some of the elementary librarians completely doing their own thing so students arrive at the middle school with really varying knowledge. (I think each librarian needs to respond to the individual needs of their own building, but there are some basics every student should have as part of the library curriculum) We have no library director and per usual, no one in the district administration really knows what is happening in the libraries. Some of us think it would make sense to have the middle school librarian also take on the additional role (with increased pay of some sort) of curriculum director. How do you suggest we best present this so administration can see the benefit?
This is a great question and an all-to-familiar scenario. Without anyone to lead and coordinate the library program at the elementary level, it is very obvious that students will arrive at the middle school with a wide variety of knowledge. This is, of course, not what happens in the other academic disciplines, and this is one of the arguments you need to make.
Patsy Divver is the School Librarian at Millis Middle/High School
and a recipient of a 2021 MSLA Service Award.
I was so honored to receive the Service award this year. Since the announcement, I have been reflecting on the idea of “service” and how it can make a difference in our lives and for those we "serve’'.
So, what is “service”? The Oxford Library definitions include “the action of helping or doing work for someone... supplying a public need… performing routine maintenance…” I thought of the summer I waitressed at Howard Johnson’s, learning first-hand about the food service profession. I remembered my grandparents service station where everyone came for gas, car repairs, a cold soda, and gossip. We consider people in the military and armed forces as serving our country, those who assist in churches as altar servers, store assistance as customer service, attention to the needs of people as social service. There’s also a really cool Twilight Zone episode entitled “To Serve Man” (spoiler alert: it’s a cookbook!).
Reba Tierney is the Library Teacher at Waltham High School in Waltham, MA.
Full disclosure: I was a member of the 2021 Conference Planning Committee, and I also joined the Fun Committee subgroup, so this article may be biased!
One of the highlights of my MSLA membership has always been the annual conference. And although the keynote speakers, presenters, and sessions are clutch, it’s also the chance to network and connect with my colleagues that really elevates the conference experience to the next level. I also work in a district that does not pay for me to attend the conference, so it has to be worth my while, especially since I am paying out of pocket. With all this in mind, I was a little apprehensive about an online conference, but I had attended some great online PD, so I was willing to give it a chance. And, I am so glad that I did.
MSLA President Laura Luker is the Library Teacher at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Hadley, MA.
As I write this, I am looking out my window onto a snowy and frigid landscape, longing for warmer weather and the ability to be outside more often. When the pandemic began last spring, I remember thinking to myself “thank goodness we’re not dealing with this in the depths of winter!” At that point, no one would have ever guessed how long it would last and how deeply we’d be affected. However, now that we are in fact dealing with it in the depths of winter I find myself admiring the resilience of the human spirit in the face of adversity. I think it’s helpful to sit back and take stock of two things: first, that we have persevered so well and second, that we have come so far already.
Francesca Mellin is the Head Librarian at The Pike School in Andover.
If flexibility is the order of the day, then humor is the “secret sauce” for success in these times. In my reading life, I find myself turning to lighthearted fare to counter all that is weighty elsewhere; hence, the focus on humorous picture books for this column.
Jennifer St. Michel is the Library Media Specialist at the Dr. Kevin M. Hurley Middle School in Seekonk, MA.
Being a school librarian means wearing many hats. We manage our libraries, create engaging learning opportunities for our students, curate high quality resources for our teachers, and promote the ethical and appropriate use of technology. Our services have been primarily offered to our teachers, students, and administrators. When the pandemic became widespread in March 2020, my school quickly pivoted from a traditional face to face delivery model to a fully online curriculum. With this change in delivery, I found a new hat to wear: a new audience in need of assistance - parents.
Margaret Kane Schoen is a Library Teacher at Newton South High School
and a winner of a 2020 Super Librarian Award.
When our library team learned that our high school would be starting the year fully remote, one of our first concerns was how we would introduce ourselves and our services to our incoming ninth graders. Normally we do a full class orientation, where new students get a chance to meet us, explore our space, and get familiar with all we have to offer. Limiting that to a website and a Zoom made that difficult! The whole situation was making us feel trapped, so we thought, why not lean in, and design a digital escape room activity to welcome the new students?