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.



Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple Save the Day: A Bedtime Story

Once upon a time, the school librarians of Massachusetts gathered in a great hall, all waiting to meet the legendary Book Whisperer. Unfortunately, it came to pass that the Book Whisperer was trapped in the far-off land of the Philadelphia International Airport (“At least there’s a bookstore and a Legal Seafood,” came word from Twitter). With that, the wise MSLA Executive Board sprang into action and worked their magic to conjure mother-and-daughter giants of children’s literature, Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple. (This was not even the day’s first miracle, Heidi having already pulled off the trick of being in two places at one time with a surprise appearance at the at the lower grades author showcase while on the panel for the upper grades.) Despite having been with the librarians since early afternoon, our story’s heroines were undaunted, staying on through dinner, the annual meeting, and awards presentation, to save the day with an inspired and entirely extemporaneous keynote address.

That’s how it happened that, while we missed Donalyn Miller, those who attended the MSLA 2015 Conference dinner had the best consolation prize a roomful of school librarians could wish for. For those of you who couldn’t be there, snuggle up now and enjoy a few of the stories Jane and Heidi shared with us.

The Family Business

And so. Once upon a time, there was a mother and daughter, and they wrote many beautiful books for children and young adults and grownups to enjoy together. But this story really begins even earlier, as Jane and Heidi explained how each came to join what is truly a family business.

Jane’s grandfather was a natural storyteller, sitting by the fire in his inn in the old country and regaling audiences in Yiddish with the most amazing stories, cribbed from Shakespeare and the Bible (of course, the Bard was himself a consummate thief, and as we were reminded, the best storytellers are terrific liars). Her father was a journalist, publishing executive, and the self-proclaimed kite-flying champion of the Western Hemisphere, whose adventures included being a police reporter and spinning misinformation for the secret radio in London during World War II. Her mother was the author of published crossword puzzles and unpublished short stories. Jane’s older son writes books of music; the younger is a photographer.

Parent-child collaboration is itself part of the family tradition. Her father, Will Yolen, “loved to sign contracts and checks and books … but didn’t like to write.” So it came to pass that the first book of the hundreds Jane has published was The Young Sportsman’s Guide to Kite Flying, ghost-written for her dad for $250 and no royalties.

Still, her firstborn daughter had to be “hauled kicking and screaming into the family business.”

The Kid in Owl Moon

“I am completely the opposite of my mom in the way I came into this,” explained Heidi. Though written into her mother’s books as the daugher in Owl Moon and other characters, Heidi took a more circuitous route to becoming an author. Though an avid reader and writer (with great models at home, of course!), she was too shy as a child to get up and speak in front of an audience. Her early career as a professional writer began in college when (in a story she promised she does not tell in school visits), she set up a cottage industry writing papers for other students. “I was good enough I could charge by the letter grade,” she explained with all due modesty. Still, Heidi was a parole officer, a private investigator, and a bartender, apparently exhausting all options before joining her mother to write a story for the collection Great Writers & Kids Write Spooky Stories. Since then they have collaborated on on more than 20 books together, with more on the way.

For those who are wondering, “the kid in Owl Moon,” as she put it, still goes owling annually, and even uses some of her late father David Stemple’s recordings. One year she called 66 owls.

What a Writer Needs

Our next story is a kind of list: the things a writer needs.

Jane began: “First, an idea. It helps.” But, she clarified, you don’t have to be an expert. It can be something you’re interested in, something “so familiar to you you’ve never explored it before, [or] something so important to you you’ve never dared crack it open before.”

You’ll also need patience. Ideas have to “roast, bubble, cook … to get to the point they are palatable.”

Then there’s the all-important BIC. That’s “bottom in chair,” of course.

Next, a question: you have to ask, “What if?” It’s the question “all storytellers ask,” Jane explained. “What if a father and a daughter go out owling on a moonlit night? What if a girl goes back in time to … the Holocaust?”

A writer also needs a sense of self (“that no one else is going to tell the story the way you will”) and a love of story (“or what are you doing writing it?”). And finally, writers need readers, to make their stories live. The reader may even find a different story than the one the writer thought she put down.

What’s missing from the list? Talent. Talent is cheap, Jane explained. Everyone has some. It’s the rest of it that takes the hard work.

Heidi added three things: passion, perseverance, and patience. To which her mother responded, “I said patience!” Clearly, however, it was worth repeating, as the next and last story they told was 12 years in the making.

Good Night, Nestlings!

Then it was time to read the librarians their final bedtime story, the just-released You Nest Here With Me, an ornithological lullaby about pigeons, catbirds, wrens, and grackles. This book, Jane and Heidi explained, went through editors, publishers, and rewrites to the point of being unrecognizable to its authors and back again, then waited three more years for the perfect illustrator in Melissa Sweet.

Jane and Heidi read, as the sleepy, grateful librarians listened on:

Swallows nest above barn doors,

Plovers nest on sandy shores,

Eagles nest upon high tors,

But you nest here with me

In a metaphor that seemed apt not just for a child’s bedtime routine but (since, as we know, the reader will find her own meaning) maybe even the role of literature and libraries in the lives of young people:

Like baby bird, your nest can be

Anywhere there’s you and me

And in parting, mother and daughter concluded, “Good night, nestlings!”

Stacy Kitsis is the librarian at Arlington High School

Why #Membership matters: One Librarian’s Take

Last fall, I attended the AASL conference in Hartford, CT (membership in a national organization is just as important as in a local one). One of the many excellent sessions I attended came from our very own Newton Public School librarians on the topic of elementary learning commons. Though I’d only been working in Carlisle for about ten weeks, I returned to Massachusetts brimming with ideas, new perspectives, and a mission: somehow, I would transform my library into a genuine learning commons.

The first step was to begin gathering information on the rare elementary learning commons out there. I downloaded the Newton presentation from AASL’s eCOLLAB platform (another membership benefit), and put out a query to the MSLA listserv (again, a membership benefit) asking for resources. Within 24 hours, I had a wealth of information from librarians around the state: bibliographies, links, suggestions and more. Over the summer, I began to formulate my proposal, and in the fall, I presented it to my superintendent, who in turn shared it with our parent-led education foundation. They jumped at the chance to get involved, a return to their origins (they were founded to save the library during budget cuts), and I was asked to start thinking about this project in earnest.

Now I had to start thinking more carefully about what I would include on my wishlist. This seems like an easy, fun activity – scouring websites, blogs, and Pinterest for inspiration – but the reality is that it’s more than a little overwhelming. So once again, I turned to the listserv to crowdsource suggestions, and just as before, the suggestions came pouring in: a TV to show digital work, a media lab, makerspaces, a spot for reader’s theater, and more. Some were ideas I’d come up with on my own, but others made me go “what a WONDERFUL idea! I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of that before!” Especially as someone who is the sole librarian in my district, I value having a virtual “team” more than I can say.

Flash forward to March and the MSLA unconference and conference in Amherst. Sunday morning dawned, and the fantastic Laura D’Elia and Dan Callahan kicked off the Unconference. The morning session I attended focused on makerspaces, and I loved hearing about technology-centric makerspaces (video production/green screens/stop-motion apps) as well as the more practical ones, like knitting or sewing. My afternoon session of choice focused on learning commons – about 20 of us, representing a variety of schools and different stages of the process. Ellen Brandt from Westford shared her experiences (which she’s also been documenting on the listserv), but it was also great to hear from others who have started to make small changes, or who are trying to figure out where to begin. The beauty of an unconference is that each of us had a voice instead of one presenter who answered a handful of questions at the end of a session. I am looking forward to participating in a more general unconference at some point in the future, but only MSLA can provide a library-specific unconference where we can share experiences and topics that are directly relevant to our work.

I also attended a fabulous Monday session by Jessica Lodge, where she shared how she’s incorporated learning centers into her library. A learning center is a dedicated activity students can do after they’ve checked out books, and Jess has managed to incorporate fun and learning into her stations. As someone who’s followed her blog for years, it was great to see some of her learning center materials in person and to have the opportunity to ask her questions. It was great to get inspired with simple, easy ideas, like the genius thought of putting straws and tape in a bin and having kids create original structures. Makerspace, engineering, and fun all in one! I also loved Zoinks the Robot, a small creation who asks students a weekly question that they must use a library resource (PebbleGo, BrainPop, Britannica, etc.) to answer.

When my superintendent offered specialists the chance to visit other schools during parent-teacher conferences this past week, I knew exactly what I was going to do. Using the MSLA directory (you guessed it, another membership goodie), I reached out to Jess, Jennifer Reed, and Sheila Packard, all of whom work in Newton and have made changes to their spaces that I wanted to see in person. They graciously welcomed me into their schools, answered my questions, and let me take as many photographs as I wanted. I saw how Jess has used the side of a shelf to mount a Lego board, and how she uses a flat space under her circulation desk for a Boggle board. I saw how Jen has implemented great signage and made good use of limited display space, and got to test out collaboration-friendly tables in Sheila’s space.

Being a librarian is not always easy. We’re usually the only one in our building who does what we do, and some of us don’t even have a team. MSLA has allowed me to build a professional network of librarians across the state who I can turn to for advice (my superintendent, who attended the conference with me, came away highly impressed by just how many people I know from across the state). MSLA provides me with relevant professional development that directly benefits my students (I walked away from this summer’s Better Together conference with at least two projects that are now in development). Most of all, it has allowed me to make friends with colleagues whose names I recognize from the listserv when I take a class or go to a workshop, colleagues who are funny, wise, helpful, encouraging and just generally fabulous company whenever we meet. I couldn’t be doing what I’m doing without the support I’ve gained from being an MSLA member, and I’ll be sure to keep you all posted as my library begins its transition in the hopes that my experience can help others. #membershipmatters

Maya Bery is the librarian at The Carlisle School in Carlisle