Jen Varney is the President elect of MSLA and the Librarian at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. School in Cambridge.
The beginning of the school year is stressful enough, even without the changes that a pandemic brings! Over the summer, many members were looking for resources and best practices for running and maintaining a school library within Covid-19 safety guidelines (and how to convince their administrations!). Therefore, during the week of August 10th, MSLA hosted a “Reopening Plan PLC.”
This year MSLA is trying something new on Twitter. Our live Tuesday evening chats are being replaced by a weeklong, asynchronous #MSLA chat. For the past two years we had a great group of dedicated participants on #MSLA Twitter chat nights, but there were many other members who expressed that they were unable to participate during that hour window when the live chat took place. There seemed to be a lot of interest in the content however, as was evidenced by the total number of views of the #MSLA chat archives.
In order to allow more people to participate, we changed the format this year to a weeklong chat. Check out the Storify of the Tweets below. The next MSLA Twitter Chat will be held during the week of March 7-10, Watch the listserv for details and the questions.
“I want my students to be lifelong learners.”
“I want students who love to learn! Students who learn because they want to know more, not just to earn a grade.”
How many time have I heard myself and other library teachers say these words or some variation thereof? Hundreds? Thousands, even? But we don’t always practice what we preach. Sometimes we are so busy educating others that our own learning stagnates and we don’t push ourselves to keep learning and honing our craft. The expansion of our own minds and practices takes a backseat to the needs of others. Sound familiar?
Don’t get me wrong. I run a K-12 school library, with all that entails. I know how busy we all are. I feel as though I’m pulled in many directions each day, usually without advance notice. I am no stranger to the feeling that if I have to add one more thing to my brain - one more item to my list of projects - my brain will have a quiet meltdown and cease to function in any meaningful way. These circumstances make it incredibly hard to find the time to work on personal learning, especially learning that’s not required or arranged by someone else.
Over the summer, I learned about the existence of digital badges. Specifically, I learned that YALSA, an organization that I trust and support, offers digital badges geared toward librarians who deal with youth. I was intrigued by the concept, wondering if this hybrid, learning at my own pace but structured by a recognized authority, might be worth my precious time.
If you have not yet been introduced to the concept of digital badges, they are essentially digital certificates of completion and mastery in a given subject area. The badge-awarding organization creates a set of criteria, lessons, or activities whose successful completion leads to the award of an online badge that learners can display on social media, store in a “digital backpack,” and show off on resumes. The Macarthur Foundation’s website defines them as, “an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings, and hold the potential to help transform where and how learning is valued.” Many businesses and industries now offer them. The idea is even gaining momentum with colleges and universities.
YALSA’s badges cover topics such as Administration; Communication, Marketing, and Outreach; and Leadership and Professionalism, among others. Each badge module is designed to be completed at your own pace. Once you’ve finished all the requirements according to the provided rubrics, you simply upload your work and mark it as complete. Your work is then rated not by YALSA, but by the community of fellow badge earners. This last feature I found off-putting at first, but upon reflection I decided that it added to the feeling of professional collegiality. After all, who better to help me reflect on my learning than those who also do my job? Once your work is accepted, your badge is awarded.
Today, I finished the requirements for the Leadership and Professionalism badge, which I chose as my first foray into this brave new world. I chose to begin with this badge for several reasons, chief among them being that it focuses on using social media to create a professional learning network (PLN) to support and enhance your own practice. This is of particular importance to me because I am the lone library worker in my charter school. In previous years I worked in a large urban district where the librarians were all in frequent communication. We all met for monthly meetings and held all day PD sessions during our district release days. We had each others’ backs. These days, though, I feel like I am an army of one. I find myself in charge of creating my own support network and my own learning opportunities.
For the L&P badge, the badge earner chooses several Twitter feeds to follow for a designated amount of time. The chosen feeds are required to be a mix of library-oriented and non-library-oriented feeds pertaining to some aspect of working with youth. The intent is to build a personalized, on-demand feed of ideas, support, and feedback. A virtual PLN.
Admittedly, there was a learning curve. I’ve used Twitter for years, but not in such a focused manner. I had to learn to let go of the idea that I would see every Tweet in my feed. I don’t get Tweets sent to my phone, so I’m not distracted by incoming messages every second of the day. I read when I have a moment, such as when I’m eating my lunch, and even then, I mostly just look over what’s current. Even though my librarian brain wants to know everything, I can’t go back and try to “catch up” with all that I’ve missed. That way lies insanity. Second, I found that I really needed some way to organize my feed. I used Tweetdeck, a Twitter aggregator, which allows me to create columns according to subject or hashtag. This way, I can focus on who and what is of interest to me at the time and not be distracted by the constant wash of background Tweets. Overall, I consider the work I did for this badge to be worth the effort. I made valuable connections and added so much to my librarian toolbox that I’m already using for myself and sharing with my staff.
Based on my initial experience, I have decided this is to be my personal challenge this year. I will complete the seven digital badges YALSA has to offer before the school year is over, and I’m challenging each of you in turn - not necessarily to complete these badges, but to remember to take time to nurture your own learning.
Though if you want to enter the badge challenge with me, you’d be welcome, of course. Happy learning!
Laura Luker is the Library Teacher at Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School
At last year’s MSLA conference, there were many great opportunities to develop outstanding library programs. However, in exploring the options, one concern remained: how to run a successful “middle school” program OR “high school” event when you have a library dedicated to serving both schools. I teach in a Middle/High School with grades 5-12, and the school population is about 850, with fixed/flexible schedules and “directed study halls.”
In conversation with another MS/HS library teacher, I realized this situation was more common than I anticipated. As a follow-up to our dilemma, I initiated a discussion meeting to address these needs via the MSLA listserv.
Over a dozen school librarians throughout the state responded and wanted to be included. The discussion group was small, and yet we covered a broad section of issues are similar and real: space; connection with faculty and staff; time; collection; budget; and collaboration.
Our group included librarians from the MetroWest/North/Central/Western areas: Allison Connelly (Ipswich), Pamela Vallee and Victoria Whipple (Lunenburg), Jenna Morin (Winchendon) and Patsy Divver (Millis).
Space issues are common: accommodating all students in varying grades with sufficient materials, equipment, and staff. (This situation is similar in K-8 libraries as well as those schools with very large student population.) The addition of new technology (iPads, online classes, Google learning) also expands the demands and needs from classes. Study halls, especially in the high school, impact space as well as library management.
Pamela has teachers sign up for library use with Google forms, but the library issues passes. Allison has one directed study for all classes and needed to establish limits for the overcrowding. Teachers also sign up with her for research or library use. Jenna’s school does not have study halls, but she is the only certified librarian, without an aide, and responsible for the students as well as all media (projectors, computers, cameras, etc.). She is also the Google Admin for the district, as well. She is revising the collection, adding online courses and will be running a Tech Help Desk. The district’s spending freeze has made the upgrade of technology a slower process.
It was agreed that one of the major challenges in a combined library situation is feeling integrated into the faculty and with the curricula needs for both schools. The result is a ‘disconnect’ with teachers and often leads to frustration for students, teachers, and the librarian. A number of librarians offer pathfinders to assist with projects, as well as introductory research classes or reviews. Common planning times, for most schools, are either when the librarian is teaching or is unable to attend. Plus, when both staff meetings occur at the same time, it presents the question of which to attend.
As in all schools, budgets are also a concern. Not only are they varied for the amounts, but the responsibilities include both schools, and often technology and/or online resources. Once again, it’s a division in appropriating the funds among the grades and schools. Many of the schools supplement through book fairs, grants, fundraisers, etc. This is similar to other libraries, except that special funds are directed to a limited grade audience. (For example, with Scholastic, most monies earned are limited in scope of interest and reading abilities to Elementary/Middle School. The Young Adult/High School audience is more interested in the graphics or adult best-seller fiction choices.
A final concern, although not yet addressed, is how NEASC enters into the picture. NEASC recommends having a certified school librarian for each 400 students for high schools. The question is how this affects the multi-purpose librarian in a Middle/High School. NEASC accreditation usually affects high schools, as middle and elementary schools do not often apply for the process. Thus, in the Middle/High School library, it will depend on the population, the needs, and the assistance available to fully assess the needs for library staffing. With a number of schools facing the NEASC process soon, this question will receive further attention.
Our unique combination of the middle/high school is one that presents a number of questions without any real solutions. Where we see so many library positions eliminated in the schools, especially at the elementary and middle school levels, it’s almost a benefit that we can keep positions valid for the different school levels. Yet, in our multi-school situations, we are often faced with adding classes or responsibilities that require more than one staff person, but are added into the librarian’s list of to-do’s.
This began as a conversation and became a discussion group. We’d like to continue with group discussions, not only for mutual support, but for plans that might be feasible. For example, where many agreed that high schools are always working around the study hall situation, it’s not a simple solution to “get rid” of study halls. Also, for those who are short-staffed, having volunteers help is often a compromise, but if you are hoping to emphasize the importance of having a library aide, this can become the administration’s answer: use volunteers.
If you are interested in discussing the “unique” issues faced in the combined library, please join our discussion email list. We’d like to suggest it as a topic for Twitter Night, as well as for Area meeting conversations.
Perhaps we can only offer some realistic solution or only temporary fixes. Yet, like every other part of the MSLA, the conversation, the support, and the professional recognition of an issue that concerns the library makes the connection truly beneficial for the participants.
Patsy Divver is the librarian at the Millis Middle/High School