President’s Update

There is a poem that I keep on my desk that says in part:

“…This is what we are about:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything

and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

This enables us to do something,

and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way…” ~ Bishop Ken Untener

This resonates with me a lot this spring, as I prepare to step down as MSLA president in May. Lots of seeds have been planted lately, and I have great hope that those that follow will reap a good harvest. So, in my last official column as MSLA President, I’d like to share some things that give me great hope for school libraries:

Our library commission: For years we’ve been trying to get some standards for school library programs in Massachusetts—some sense that we’re recognized by educational decision makers who value what we do and support our work. The passage of our bill creating a commission to evaluate the status of school library programs in 2014 gives me great hope that we will finally be able to gather the data and stories we need  to make our case that equitable access to school libraries matters, and to see that steps are taken to make this a reality for all the students in our Commonwealth. Our commission formally met for the first time in March, and we are in the process of setting up a comprehensive survey in concert with Dr. Carol Gordon and Dr. Robin Cicchetti. Legislative co-chair Kendall Boninti is also setting up a series of school visits and hearings to gather some “on the ground” reports from across Massachusetts. We are counting on MSLA members to ensure that surveys are completed accurately and that we hear from the right people at our hearings and site visits. Please keep an eye on the MSLA listserv in the coming months to see how you can help.

Our renewed look at professional development: In the past few years, MSLA has been increasing its professional development offerings beyond our annual conference. A recent survey of members indicates support for alternating an annual conference with one-day events targeting a particular topic of interest. We’re excited to be working on events for the coming academic year that range from a conference day with MassCUE and the Museum of Science to an EdCamp day in the fall and a one-day event to tie-in with the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Boston next January. We are also going to continue to work with Karen Sekiguchi and EDCO to offer ELL PDPs for librarians, and we are hoping to plan similar classes to provide SPED PDPs for school librarians. Finally, we’ve identified a program at Old Dominion University in Virginia that is planning to offer “fast track” training for teachers in Massachusetts hoping to become school librarians. Our hope is that this will start to produce the professionals we know we are going to need to provide strong school library programs in coming years. As our professional development offerings expand, we have appointed Laura D’Elia to lead a newly formed Professional Development Committee to keep all this up and running. We are fortunate to have Laura’s expertise and intelligence, and she’ll be looking for help as this goes forward. Stay tuned!

Our ability to network: A survey of membership last spring indicated that MSLA members value the listserv, and we know it’s well used. Now we’ve added Facebook and Twitter to our network, and you’re using them often and well. While the listserv remains the place to go for specific information and advice, lots of great sharing happens daily on the Facebook page, which provides a way to inform friends and acquaintances by sharing outside our own library world. Our Twitter nights, organized by Amy Short, continue to provide some terrific professional conversations every month. If you’ve not participated, give it a try.

Our energized and engaged membership: MSLA values the contributions of its members, and thanks to our ability to network, lots of great ideas and initiatives are being identified and carried out. We are incredibly fortunate to have several long-term Executive Board members with amazing contacts both at the state and national level. We also have a group of excited new practitioners who are bringing lots of new ideas and questions about how we might do things even better. I’m delighted that Anita Cellucci is coming on as president. The more time I spend with her, the more I realize that she has the highest standards for students, and a great sense of priorities. She also asks good questions. We’re going to be in good shape.

Judi Paradis is the President of MSLA and the librarian at the Plympton Elementary School in Waltham


Academic Column: The Rewards of Research

Thank you to the MSLA Awards Committee for recognizing with a research grant the work done in the course of writing my dissertation Transitioning a high school library to a learning commons: Avoiding the tragedy of the commons. The ongoing support of MSLA colleagues has been deeply appreciated.


In July of 2012 I began a doctoral program with Northeastern University. If I had known how difficult it was going to be I never would have started, and now that I am finished I encourage everyone to consider pursuing a doctorate. If I can do it, so can you. It is a three-year quest that consumes all free time, forces the brain to work harder and establish new pathways of learning, and most valuable for me, renewed my appreciation of how demanding it is to be a student. This quest experience has directly impacted how I teach my high school students, how I organize online materials, how I conduct both formative and summative assessments, and the value of clear communication on everything from rubrics to due dates.

The Doctor of Education process consists of course work designed to teach research skills as well as critical content on topics ranging from educational pedagogy to organizational structures. Throughout the process the researcher is building a literature review, and iterating the research question(s) that will ultimately determine the topic of the dissertation and the direction of the research. Each course requires research and writing that informs the research question with a new lens.

The research conducted for the dissertation focused on the process of transitioning a traditional high school library to the learning commons service model, identified the requirements of the model, and the factors that either promoted or undermined the success of the transition.

A general inductive approach based on a qualitative methodology was used to collect and analyze data obtained from three Massachusetts high school librarians who self-identified as having successfully transitioned a high school library to a learning commons, were all members of the MSLA, and worked in public high schools. The two research questions for the study were:

(1) What factors determine a successful transition?

(2) What factors undermine or threaten the transition?

Data was collected through multiple methods including: field notes from site visits, review of participant created websites, as well as interviews conducted in person, by telephone, and by video conference. Coding was used to sort and evaluate data that identified categories and themes that influenced the success of the transition.

The transition to a learning commons was analyzed in the context of the tragedy of the commons scenario (Hardin, 1968). The tragedy scenario has its roots in pre-Roman England when farmers grazed their livestock in communally held fields. The growth in demand for the common fields led to increasing herd sizes with no corresponding incentive to maintain the shared resource, leading ultimately to overuse, depletion, herd starvation, and collapse. The tragedy scenario has been applied to analogous issues such as over-fishing, deforestation, and in this study, the highly demanded resources of a modern learning commons.

Through analysis of the transition experiences of the three participants, the trust of the building principal was identified as the primary hallmark of success. The attributes of the school librarian that positively influence the trust of principals are identified as vision and an implementation plan, data-driven practice, communication, and consensus building skills.

Based on research relating to the learning commons service model, a successful transition includes a reduction and reorganization of the book collection to increase space for collaborative activities. An integral part of the shift in the mission of the library collection is a de-emphasis on print reference and a transition to e-books to replace print reference, with priority placed on purchasing high interest young adult fiction and narrative nonfiction to promote curriculum and pleasure reading for students.

The revitalization of the former school library to a learning commons requires diverse seating, working, and production options for students, as well as access to technology for equity, learning, creation, and sharing. The virtual learning commons is a space that promotes curated access to curriculum content as well as communication and scheduling for students and faculty.

In conclusion, the learning commons is a model designed to support student learning and achievement in a period of evolving and dynamic change in curriculum and digital information and presentation technologies. This study situates the learning commons as central to school change, and identifies the factors that promote a successful transition. The tragedy of the commons scenario represents a transition process that is undermined by lack of support in key domains.  Without the trust of the building principal, the school librarian faces challenges in implementing the model, and positioning the learning commons at the heart of student and faculty work within the school. With trust, the learning commons can play a central role in school goals, school change, and student achievement.

The experience of conducting authentic research on school librarianship was both challenging and invigorating. I am filled with gratitude for the generosity of the three participants in sharing their time, work, and expertise. My third reader, Dr. Mary Frances Zilonis, was extraordinary in identifying gaps in the research, as well as highlighting the opportunities for advocacy for the profession. Dr. Zilonis was truly a transformational partner, and immeasurably improved the caliber of the research and findings. Deeply engaging in various aspects and domains of school librarianship through research has been deeply rewarding. I look forward to future opportunities to work with data from our profession in order to continue advocating and contributing towards greater understanding and appreciation for the substantial benefits school librarians bring to student learning.

Work Cited

Hardin, G. (1968). The tragedy of the commons. Science162(3859), 1243-1248.

Northeastern University. (2015). Doctor of Education. Retrieved March 29, 2015,
from Northeastern University College of Professional Studies website:

Robin Cicchetti is the librarian at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School

Comics Corner Column

Last issue I wrote about working with students on reading political cartoons as primary sources, but you may have noticed that both of the political cartoons I chose were recent ones, drawn in the last few years and focused on issues that current students would recognize. I chose them because they’d be “easy,” which is to say, enough students would get them quickly enough that we could focus on the mechanics of reading and interpreting work in a medium (comics/cartoons) that most students have never studied.

That’s kind of a stretch for talking about primary sources, though, isn’t it? Usually when we talk about primary and secondary sources we’re learning (or teaching) about history, some event or time period from long ago. I can ask my students to think about what people in the future might learn from our contemporary comics — how, for those future people, they could be primary sources — but that’s a pretty big imaginative leap, especially considering how much we take our own time and culture for granted.

That’s where the second lesson in this mini unit comes in: we start off once again with a modern comic, Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, but then we use it to help us consider a primary source political cartoon from the era of World War II and the internment camps for Japanese Americans. And while the first lesson had two key points, this lesson really boils down to one: how we draw (or otherwise represent) people matters.

We start by reading through several pages from American Born Chinese as a class: I project them on the board, one spread at a time, and ask the students what they notice. For some pages I’ll specifically ask them what’s different from the previous spread we looked at, or focus on some aspect of how Yang conveys information (for example, putting brackets around dialogue that characters would actually be saying in Chinese). The main thing I want them to notice, though, is how the characters are drawn. I’m going to quote a couple of pages so you can see what I mean.


(Yang 26)

I start with this page because I want students to see how different these characters look from each other. In each panel we have four boys, all Chinese American and all about the same age, and they are easy to tell apart. They have different faces, different hairstyles, different outfits — they are drawn as four distinct individuals.

After we’ve read through several more spreads, though, I show them part of another storyline in the book, including this page:


(Yang 48)

For those of you who haven’t read American Born Chinese yet, this is Chin-Kee, an embarrassing, larger-than-life racist caricature who is meant to make readers as uncomfortable as he makes his cousin Danny. Unlike the boys in the first image I quoted, who are drawn with tan skin, Chin-Kee’s skin is distinctly yellow. His eyes are squinted shut. He has huge front teeth. More than one student has suggested he looks like a chipmunk. He speaks with a stereotyped rather than a realistic accent. And of course, his name is a variation on a racial slur.

Because students have already seen other Asian characters (both Chinese American and Japanese American) from the same comic, they know that Chin-Kee does not need to be drawn this way. We discuss the fact that he’s an exaggeration, a caricature: not only is he literally larger than other characters, but of the three storylines that come together at the end of the book, this is the only one presented as a sitcom, complete with laugh track and applause written across the bottoms of the panels. Unlike the caricature of the young woman in our first lesson, though, this caricature is hurtful.

Then I show students the following political cartoon:



One of the first things I tell students about this political cartoon is that it’s from 1942, and one of the first questions I ask them is: who do these people look like? Do they look like Jin and his friends in the first page I quoted above? Or do they look like Chin-Kee? From there we can also discuss setting (west coast of the United States), what the characters are doing (handing out/receiving explosives), and what they think the caption at the top means, particularly the implication that these caricatured Asian Americans do not consider the United States their home.

After that the conversation depends in part on how much students already know about Japanese American internment during World War II, though often I’ll have at least one or two students who can offer an initial overview. Mostly I try to help students make the connection between how Dr. Seuss chose to represent a group of people (Japanese Americans) and how our country collectively chose to treat that same group of people, and to think about how this political cartoon can help us understand the social atmosphere that would lead people to believe that the internment camps were a good idea.

There’s one other reason I like to use this particular political cartoon, and that’s the artist. Often I don’t even have to bring this up because a student will notice it first, but this was drawn by the beloved Dr. Seuss. I find it heartening how disappointed students are when they realize this, but I think it’s a great opportunity to discuss the fact that even people we admire and who make good points in some situations can be wrong in other situations.

Works Cited

Dr. Seuss. “Waiting for the Signal From Home . . .” Cartoon. Paperless Archives. BAC Marketing, n.d. Web. 4 April 2015. < wwii_dr_seuss_cartoons.html>.

Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second, 2006. Print.

Emily Tersoff is the librarian at the Norwell Middle School

Column: Talking Tech

Google Cultural Institute

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.13.26 PM.pngGoogle Cultural Institute includes art and artifacts from all over the world

Google Cultural Institute sprang from the Google Art Project – a proposal to digitize the world’s art collections by allowing online visitors to stroll through a virtual museum the same way you use Street View to visualize a journey. Since then, the project has expanded to include Historic Moments and World Wonders projects, using maps, photographs and more to explain and instruct.

Art Project
You can still take a virtual stroll through the Louvre, but Google has worked with museums to sort and categorize their collections, creating a searchable database where students and teachers can view artworks in high-resolution. Works are accompanied details and descriptions to explain their meaning and history (as I tell my students, just like those little plaques that hang next to the paintings in the museum) as well as give information for citations. Links take students back to the original source where they can find more details and download images if they want to make copies.

The technology allows students to zoom in for a closer look, examining the brushstrokes on a Van Gogh, or to find each dot on Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” If you got this close in real life, the alarms would go off.

Historic Moments
In this section Google and its partners have created online exhibits about “significant moments in human history…using documents, photos videos and in some cases personal accounts of events.” The project includes digital versions of existing exhibits as well as ones created and developed especially for the site, with partners ranging from the George C. Marshall Organization, to the Anne Frank House to the Computer History Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.15.42 PM.pngThe Historic Moments section includes exhibits curated by museums

World Wonders
This project teams Google with UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. bringing Google’s Street View technology to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites. Visit a world heritage site, and you can take a virtual tour of the site, read an article describing it’s importance, and view related artworks and artifacts, collected from museums around the world. For example, the exhibit devoted to the Giza Necropolis will let you take a tour around the Sphinx, and then look at photographs of archeological digs in the LIFE Photo Collection.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.18.17 PM.pngThe Versailles entry lets you read about the palace and look at some of its art before taking a virtual walk through the gardens

How would you use it in class?

The original Google Art Project was clearly a boon to art educators. But by expanding beyond traditional art works, the Google Cultural Institute can be a valuable resource for a variety of teachers and subjects.

History teachers should find the site especially useful. Students can locate images and primary sources for research on the fall of the Berlin Wall or learn about the codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

The search functions can get even more specific: a student studying scientific innovations in Ancient China can comb the entire database, narrowing the search to  items from China in 1600 BCE to find an example of Bronze metalwork from the Sanzingdui Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-03-30 at 1.20.36 PM.pngUse the search tools to help students find artifacts from a particular time and place they are studying.

And it’s not just for upper level research. Younger students researching volcanoes might browse through UNESCO’s Pompeii exhibit and look at relics from the ancient city while American History researchers take a virtual tour of the Liberty Bell.

Sixth grade students at H.C. Crittenden Middle School in Byram Hills have used the site for their year-long nation research, said librarian Barbara Bathelemes. While not all her students used the tool, those who did “loved it.”

Margaret Kane Schoen is a librarian at Newton South High School

Secondary School Column: The Makerspace Phenomenon

The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping

from old ones. ~ John Maynard Keynes

Makerspaces are all the rage these days, and a hot professional development topic. I had the opportunity this past month to immerse myself in the world of makerspaces on two occasions: through attendance at Eric Sheninger’s “Makerspace” workshop at the “Leading Future Learning” Conference sponsored by EdTechTeacher and MassCUE on March 6th, and through hosting of a “Makerspace” workshop sponsored through MSLA’s southeast region at my own Sharon High School Library.

Our library is currently undergoing a renovation process toward a “Learning Commons” model. I am excited about creating a makerspace, and was anxious to learn more about what’s happening around the country.

I am a big fan of Eric Sheninger, former principal of New Milford HS and current K-12 Director of Technology & Innovation in Spotswood, NJ. His Makerspace presentation did not disappoint. Sheninger kicked off his presentation by highlighting the ways in which the maker movement is driving innovation in manufacturing, engineering, industrial design, hardware technology and education.

For those who may have missed this important new trend in the ed tech world, a makerspace is a defined as a physical place where students can create real-world products/projects using real-world tools. It is meant to be a shared workspace featuring innovative tools that are not typically available outside of school. Makerspaces at their ideal are inhabited by a community of student tinkerers, inventors, creators and “Do it Yourself-ers.”

These student tinkerers, at their best, are guided by natural inquiry and self-directed learning. Making can be tied to different content areas, though makerspaces themselves are informal in nature. Students use problem-solving and diagnostic skills to come up with creative solutions. Educators involved guide from the sidelines, encouraging independent learning and creativity.

Sheninger’s presentation included a solid list of helpful resources ranging from suggested makerspace items, to articles, books and website links to further knowledge.

On March 26th, Laura Gardner, the Southeast Director of MSLA, and I welcomed 28 fellow librarians to participate in a Makerspace workshop at Sharon High School. After introducing the topic and talking about what a makerspace looks and sounds like, we had an informative and lively Skype session with Diana Rendina, a middle school librarian in Tampa, Florida, who has created an amazing makerspace in her school library. After plenty of Q&A, we enjoyed a round table sharing session about what we were doing or planning to do in the makerspace realm. Paul Shiff, from Hub Technical, also shared about upcoming presentation possibilities at the Fall Conference, as well as grant opportunities.

Cathy Collins is the librarian at Sharon High School

Thinking outside the box: Flipping the high school Library

Finals Night5 1_15Use of the term “21st century” has become pervasive in today’s society.  Whether describing technologies, economies or social media, the term is inescapable. When that particular phrase is used to describe school libraries, most discussions center on the newest machines we provide rather than the people who need to use our facilities. As I prepare to enter my eighth year as a high school librarian I am certain of one particular reality, the people who need to use the Larrabee Library at Tewksbury Memorial High School are in fact, 21st century teenagers.

In order to truly be effective educators, our students ought to be the starting point for any service the library offers.  Years of observation and interaction with the “next” generation have led me to the following conclusion: 21st century American teens have been handed a difficult world. Within that world they face a series of challenges:  financial, academic, social, emotional and highly under-reported, physical.  Most teens deal with at least one of these issues.  Many experience some combination of the five.  Finals Night Parsons_Harvard 1_15

So how can librarians position themselves to support these students as they attempt to acquire knowledge while dealing with those potentially consuming issues?  My answer to that question is basic: “Let’s listen to our students.”  Students do communicate what they need; we must develop the ability to hear them.  By listening to our students and with strong backing from administration and faculty, one librarian’s idea to offer academic support became a reality at TMHS.

Educators have the opportunity to embrace the “Land of the Great What If?” Is it time to think outside the box? Is it time to flip the high school library into the 21st century?  What if …we open the Larrabee Library at 6pm during finals week, and offer our students an academic setting that fits into their complicated lives? The mission of our high school library has always been:  to support teaching and learning.  By paying attention to our students and adhering to that mission, FINALS STUDY NIGHT at TMHS came to life.

Beyond some serious organizational planning, the successful formula included:

        • 80 high school students
        • 32 college student tutors
        • An area for quiet study
        • An area for small group study
        • An area for interactive student mentoring
        • Review sheets and textbooks provided by faculty
        • A support team of current library interns
        • Cocoa and cookies provided

The opportunity to study quietly and to study with friends was well received, but by far the most powerful aspect of the evening was watching TMHS alums share their collegiate expertise with our current students.  Support was available in   Algebra, American History, Anatomy, AP Calculus, American Literature, AP Economics and many other subject areas.

Finals NightD_15Colleges represented included: Lesley University, UMass Lowell, Worcester State, Harvard University, Endicott College, UMass Amherst, UCONN, Bridgewater State, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Worcester Polytechnic, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Salem State, Suffolk University, Merrimack College, College of the Holy Cross, Framingham State, Anna Maria College, UMass Dartmouth.

The success of this event dictated that we host a Finals Study Night in the spring. Most sincere appreciation goes to all who supported this idea from its inception: Principal Kristen Vogel, Assistant Principals Eileen Osborne and Jason Stamp, the entire TMHS faculty, both the custodial and cafeteria staff. This was unmistakably the most collaborative experience of my professional career.

Mary Eldringhoff, M.Ed., M.S., is the librarian at the Larrabee Library at Tewksbury Memorial High School


PTA and MSLA Rally for Reading in Swampscott

A prompt response by parents to proposed library budget cuts last year in the Swampscott School District led to a recent Grand Opening Celebration at the Hadley Elementary School.

“We have come a long way!” says Melissa DeFilippi, PTA co-president and a leading voice for reinstating library services. Today they have 7,000 books logged in a new e-catalog at Hadley, all done by hand by parent volunteers. The e-catalog is installed at all schools in the district. There are drop-in hours and after-school hours at Hadley, a high school librarian this year, and a promise on one at the middle school next year and elementary the year after.

Sharon Hamer and Judi Paradis, MSLA Executive Board members and library advocates, presented at Swampscott School Committee following the budget cut announcement to convince them of the vital importance of a strong school library program.

According to DeFilippi, MSLA was “a big part of our success. We could not have lit the fire without your support. There is library buzz at Hadley. The parents are excited, the teachers are excited, and best of all, the children are excited.”

Read more in a recent SLJ article by Lauren Barack:

Signs of Pride
Signs of Pride
Clifford Return Box
Clifford Return Box
New Arrivals
New Arrivals
Nonfiction BEFORE
Nonfiction BEFORE
Nonfiction AFTER
Nonfiction AFTER



Cozy Seats
Cozy Seats
Donation Bin & More
Donation Bin & More
Celebration Activity
Celebration Activity





Meg O’Neill is the Learning Commons Director at the Pingree school in South Hamilton

2015 MSLA Conference Session Ah-Hah’s

Did you miss this year’s conference, or were there sessions you would like to have attended but you couldn’t be in two places at the same time? Well here’s some good news for you: a few generous members of the MSLA Board agreed to write up short blurbs on the real “ah hah!” moments from sessions they attended. This is by no means an exhaustive list — just enough to give you a flavor for a few of the sessions. For more detailed information on each session you can check out the conference program and handouts on the MSLA website.

Education by Design:  Connecting With the Mobile Generation with BiblioBoard
Presented by Carolyn Morris, BiblioBoard, Emily Tordo, Phillips Academy, and Tricia London, Avon Middle/High School
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Laura Gardner

  • You can catalog and include all your school’s yearbooks on BiblioBoard!
  • It’s possible to customize eBook holdings on BiblioBoard to restrict to elementary or elementary/middle school content
  • There are lots of primary sources already on BiblioBoard — even music!
  • The more teachers/librarians add content to BiblioBoard, the richer the content becomes
  • Some schools are using primary source materials from BiblioBoard instead of textbooks

Great Books for Teens
Presented by Terri Grief, McCracken County High School, Paducah, KY and President, AASL
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Anita Cellucci

Staying current with the latest teen books can be a challenge for us all and so anytime I can hear about best new books, I’m there!  Great Books for Teens took the edge off of the fact that I can’t read every book that is published, even if I would like to.   Terri gave recommendations for several genres. Look for her handout of the complete list on the MSLA website.

Fill your Students’ Toolboxes Using Creative Technology Applications and 20% time.
Presented by Christine Steinhauser Coolidge Middle School, Reading, MA
Ah-Hah’s contributed by Ellen Brandt

What if you gave students time during the school day to pursue their own interests, with mentoring and support from the librarian and technology specialist, and access to a variety of technologies and materials?

You end up with students who:

  • Discover new passions
  • Have pride of accomplishment
  • Become mentors for peers
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Practice conflict resolution
  • Learn to take risks

Chris and the ITS at Coolidge Middle School developed a new elective course for 8th graders: 20% time.

The class meets every other day throughout the year. Students work on a project of their choice*. They research, learn, experiment, create, share..and blog about their progress. Not all students reach the goals they set out to meet, but what is important is the skills, passions and confidence they gain along the way.

*Students fill out a proposal at the beginning of the year where they list their goals, resources and milestones. The teachers have project ideas and templates for those who are not yet ready to be completely independent.


Easy Does It! Tech Tips for Organizing Your Web Site

“Organization is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up.” ~ A.A. Milne

Organizing information is one of the things librarians do best. And where is it more needed than when designing a webpage? When I first began creating our school’s webpage, my attention was drawn to how I wanted it to look. Visions of colors and fonts and graphics danced in my head. I soon found that while those design elements are important, first I needed to think about making the website easy to navigate, informative and useful. The following organizational tools are easy and free and will give your website the structure it needs to be a successful educational resource.


As my webpage is the launching pad for most of the projects that my students are working on in the library, it is critical that students are able to easily locate the necessary resources. Instead of an endless series of links, the graphical interface of Symbaloo organizes information and makes it easy for students to click and be taken to the source they need. With Symbaloo students do not need to type in web addresses. You can create color-coded blocks and add graphics to organize the information for easy access.  As my students would say – “it is easy peasy, lemon squeezy.”


There is a free version of Symbaloo. You can sign up for your account at


Another way to visually organize information in an interesting way is by using Thinglink. You simply select a central topic then choose an image that represents this subject. For example, I used a bookshelf for my Thinglink on “How to Find a Just Right Book.” Next you add links – the links can be to webpages, videos, images or an interactive page like your library catalog. Once you’ve completed the Thinglink, you can embed it on your webpage. Users then click on the links to go to the different resources on the topic.


There is a free version of Thinglink. You can sign up for your account at

Organizing to Keep Students Safe Online

Filters can never be 100% effective so I am always concerned about how to keep students safe when they are online. I use the following two tools to increase control over student access.

Safe Search Kids

Safe Search Kids is a custom search engine created by Google. It uses their SafeSearch features but takes it a step further by including additional strict filtering to search more safely.


The link to use is You can also add a link to safely search images at

SafeShare TV

Although video is a powerful tool to use with students, too often the YouTube videos I want to use start and finish with an ad or links that are seldom what I want students to focus on. SafeShare TV is amazingly easy to use. It strips out these ads and links and leaves only the content you wish to share. Simply go to SafeShare.TV. Paste the link to the YouTube video you want to use and magically you receive a SafeSearch link.


The link to this tool is at

Posting Projects

We tell students all the time to “show, don’t tell.” Here are some ways to show student work not just describe it.  Not only is it motivating for students to see their projects online, it is a wonderful opportunity to showcase their great work to their parents, the community and the world! 


Create videos of student work and share them using Flowplayer. This video player allows you to embed student videos on your website. The free version is available at – click the button “Sign up for FREE account.”



Another way to show off original student work is by creating a flipbook. It is super simple to do but looks really impressive. First, save your student’s work as a pdf file then upload the file to Youblisher. In a very short time, you will receive a link to the book that you can post or incorporate into your Symbaloo page.


Go to for a free account.

Hit Counter

Now that you’ve loaded projects, added links and created videos, how do you know if anyone is using your site? One way to tell is to embed a hit counter. There are many different hit counters you can use. I incorporated the free hit counter from on my page. So far, we’ve recorded over 150,000 views of the page. A lot of hits for a small town! Using this counter is easy, simply sign up (your email address and URL are required), choose a style and click generate code. You will quickly and easily receive a counter code to use on your site.



Just the beginning

“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” – Bill Gates

Today having a web page is essential. Our site is often the first stop students make when they want to view content. We need to ensure that users don’t get lost as they navigate to and through our sites. Symbaloo, ThingLink, SafeShare TV, Flowplayer and Youblisher are powerful ways to structure web site content. Are there any changes you can make so that users can easily find the information they need?

Geri O’Reilly is the Library Media Specialist at the Dennett Elementary School in Plympton