Arranging a school library home page

As a school librarian, I’m interested in the way things are organized. Organizing is a big part of the job and I’m proud of the way I’ve shaped our library’s physical space. I’ve found myself reorganizing this space to allow form to follow function. When I tackled the job of creating a digital space for my library, I relied on what I’ve learned from arranging and rearranging the physical space. With both, I’ve found success in keeping things very simple and uncluttered. For our school library, physical and digital space alike, I place importance on an open, uncluttered, and inviting space.

A few years ago, our school moved to an all-Google platform for uniformity among our three-town district. This meant that all teachers were required to use Google Sites as their host. For me, this meant changing my K-8 TeacherWeb site to Goggle. I looked forward to the change since starting from scratch gave me the opportunity to weed and rethink its purpose. It wasn’t an entirely new start. I knew I needed a catalog link, links to databases and student search engines, as well as curriculum resources. The challenge was how and where to arrange these things. And Google Sites, especially in the basic form we adopted, is not very easy to work with. I sought out the help of experts for technical stuff, but for the look of my homepage, I turned to some tricks I’ve learned from reading comic books.


Comic book page layout, as well as magazine advertisements, have much in common with website homepage layout. Our eyes first scan rather than read these media. In Comics and Sequential Art, Will Eisner (the guy for whom the graphic novel award is named) explains that in western culture our eyes are trained to move across a page in a left to right direction. We start with a sweep across the top, then diagonally through the center, and left to right again across the bottom in a “Z” shaped pattern. Our eyes are most comfortable scanning this path across a page. When I designed my website, I chose a Google template that fit this model. I put the bold “welcome” message across the top of my page. The middle has a centered short paragraph explaining basic navigation with white space on the left and right. Across the bottom, there are just three bold graphics connecting patrons to the sites most used by elementary kids. When it was time for me to add my Web Seal of Excellence, I decided on the very center widening the “Z” and providing more white space on the sides.


Your eye first follows the path that welcomes you to the site. Once you move across the center, you find yourself at the most popular link, the library’s digital catalog. Your last quick movement is across the bottom where you find the most used links by early elementary kids. If at this point you haven’t found what you are looking for, you can start again. This time you might read the message in the middle directing you to the tabs at the top or the links at the very bottom. Those links that require some hunting are designed for older kids and adults. Again, just as the library is designed for easy movement and access through the stacks of books, our eyes need the same comfort as they travel across the homepage.


As for space, it’s important to stay uncluttered. I decided to use graphics sparingly, following the rule of three. Working in a Pre-K through 8 school posed the added challenge of where to place content for very different age groups. I chose colorful graphics for those links most frequently accessed by our younger patrons. For older kids, parents, and teachers, I put their links on the smaller tabs at the top. These links are more text-heavy but each annotation within is still kept short. The Policies and Procedures tab does contain long paragraphs, but each annotated link for teachers, parents, and middle school kids is kept under three sentences long.

I grouped the vertical areas on the homepage in threes as well. The banner with tabbed links on the top, a short paragraph explaining how to use the site in the middle, and the three bold graphics anchoring the bottom. Depending on screen size, most of the homepage fits on one screen cutting down on the amount of scrolling and searching to find links.

The arrangement of library website links, like the physical arrangement of the library’s collection, should welcome visitors. Both need to be easy to navigate. Both need uncluttered access to the most popular resources first, and both need a design that brings people back.

Works Cited

Eisner, Will. Comics and Sequential Art. Tamarac: Poorhouse Press, 1985.

Kidd, Chip. GO: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design. New York: Workman

Publishing Company, Inc., 2013.

Michael Caligiuri is the school librarian at the Florence Sawyer School in Bolton


Author Interview: Lisa Papademetriou

Author Lisa Papademetriou (Photo courtesy of Random House)

“I was always a writer and I knew I wanted to write for children, but people said it was impossible, that I’d never make a living doing that, so I went into ‘editorial’ instead”. While working at Alloy, editing mass market paperbacks for younger audience (e.g. Sweet Valley High), Lisa Papademetriou noticed that SOME people DO make a living writing for children and she dropped out of business school to pursue her real passion and become a New York Times bestselling author.

Her original intention was to be a fantasy writer, but people asked her to “write those funny stories you tell about when you were in high school”, so she ended up writing contemporary, middle grade realistic fiction.  Her most recent series, Confectionately Yours, has a substantial fan base at my middle school as does Middle School: My Brother is a Big Fat Liar, which she co-wrote with James Patterson.cupCAKE

Her new book A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic will be released in October 2015. Two middle school aged girls, one in Texas and one in Pakistan, each find a blank book.  They do not know each other, but what they write in their book gets seen by the other girl on the other side of the world…AND the book itself has a story to tell too! The idea was inspired by her MFA Thesis on the ‘concept of destiny’ which she says is the story we tell ourselves that makes our lives have meaning.

In addition to writing books, poems and short stories,  Lisa has a hilarious website for teaching grammar: Ivana Correctya and an app, Grammarous.

Ellen Brandt is the school librarian at Blanchard Middle School in Westford

Newey Neighborhoods, or How I Reinvented the Dewey Decimal Classification System to Meet the Needs of My Elementary Library

NOTE: This article is reprinted with permission from the author. The original article appeared on the author’s The “In” Librarian blog.

“Dewey was so 1800’s.”

No, this is not a comment overheard at a librarians’ forum dedicated to the implementation of the bookstore model in libraries. These are the words of a 4th grader upon completion of our Dewey Decimal study unit.

In November of 2012, I began my annual exploration of the breadth and depth of topics housed in the (primarily) nonfiction section of the library we all know as the Dewey Decimal section. In fact, “Melvil” himself guest lectured to introduce his classification system to the students.

Melvil Dewey, Guest Lecturer
Melvil Dewey, Guest Lecturer

Early on, there were rumblings about some of Dewey’s designations and decisions. “Hey, we should make up our own system called the Newey Decimal System,” quipped one student.

Now here’s where the lesson could have gone in two directions. “Oh, what a cute idea,” I could have thought, diminishing the creativity and critical thinking of said student and sticking with the almighty planbook. Or, I could have been blown away by the thought of a NEW Dewey, one created by the kids themselves. The fastidious Dewey-obsessed librarian would have opted for the former. (I used to be that librarian). But the Librarian 2.0 said to herself, let’s get messy and give this a try.

And so, the day arrived after we had journeyed through all ten categories to take that giant leap forward. I started with a class assessment. To create something new, we needed to understand the old first. So, I challenged the students to recall the ten Dewey classes, which we recorded on the left hand side of the whiteboard. Surprisingly this was much easier for them than I had thought it would be. Future librarians all? Then we started brainstorming how we could make the classification system more child-friendly.

The ideas began to flow. Every single child contributed. Ideas coincided, collided and overlapped.

“There should be a separate category just for nature. Animals and plants together. Pets, gardening, wild animals and trees.”

“Geography and languages and cultures and cookbooks should go together.”

“You know how the ghost books are in one section (100’s) and the alien and mysterious creatures are in another (000’s)? They should be together.”

“There should be a ‘How-To’ section. It could have the drawing books, origami books, how to put on your own play…” “Maybe we should call it the ‘Boredom Busters’ section.”

“We need to have more than just ten sections.”

Newey brainstorm
Newey brainstorm

And then this one, which really surprised me–a suggestion to put the biographies, history and the historical fiction together, by topic. “They’re all about history” was the (obvious) explanation. Interestingly enough, this idea is not new and has been adapted (loosely) in at least one school library.

The Newey concept remained theoretical–a great culminating lesson, a summative assessment designed by the students themselves. But, the following year I thought. Why not get messy? Why not empower these children to ring out the old and ring in the Newey? And so, the Newey Neighborhood was born. Twenty-odd sections, a new alpha-numeric classification system, a boon to shelvers and searchers alike. It took braun-power and brain-power and months of chaos, but it was worth it.


Nancy Kellner is the librarian at the Peaslee School in Northborough

Language Laced in Bias: Classifying Knowledge (more) Equally with a Dewey-Hybrid Model


I firmly believe that any worthwhile project should begin with a decent dose of naïve optimism.

It all started on a quiet April afternoon in the Dartmouth High School Library. I had just finished reading an article about a school library that had converted their nonfiction collection to a Dewey-Free model. What an awesome idea! I thought. And besides, how difficult could it possibly be? (Very difficult, I would later learn. At one point that summer when someone asked how the project was progressing, I actually said—almost crying—“I never want to see another book again!” …But don’t let that scare you.) While our classification project of creating a Dewey-Hybrid model took us eight months and 13,000 books from initial idea to full implementation, it has been a groundbreaking change that has positively impacted student engagement, learning, browsing, and research.

Powerful Words

“Going Dewey-Free” is currently a hot topic in the library world. Some librarians like to say, “Why fix what’s not broken?” but I would argue that the Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC) has been broken since its creation—we just didn’t know it at the time. No amount of detailed signage will fix the fact that the DDC reflects one man’s white, Christian, American, nineteenth-century worldview. The DDC marginalizes minority discourses into classifications labeled “other”: 290 Other and comparative religions, 490 Other languages, and 990 General history of other areas. This distinguishes those that have been named (460 Spanish and Portuguese Languages) as normative and socially acceptable. How do our students feel who practice “other religions” or whose families are from “other areas”? And how do students from “named” backgrounds learn to view people from “other” backgrounds? Language is a form of power. When we classify books, we’re really classifying knowledge. And when we arrange knowledge in a hierarchy, we privilege certain lived experiences over others. People cannot be equal until all forms of knowledge are equal.

Dismal Decimals

The DDC was created with an ever-expanding decimal structure, an innovative feature for its time. This structure enables newly created categories to be incorporated into the existing framework. Over the years, though, categories have become fragmented to the point where computers are separate from technology, and sewing and crocheting are split across classes. In a genre-based system, spontaneous browsing has become a challenge.

This is the point where I find myself questioning the true purpose of libraries. When Dewey created the DDC, libraries contained closed stacks, only accessible by librarians (Gibson 48). As a profession, we have worked so hard over the years to encourage our students to take responsibility for their learning and to teach them the tools and components of research. Until we change the classification system, librarians will always serve as the intermediary. The key question is: should students have to be taught how to use a library? If a librarian’s primary responsibility is to serve as every student’s first point of contact in locating a book, we are losing time that could be spent on more creative, innovative, and collaborative work.

Unconvinced Librarians

Over the past two years, I have been contacted by many librarians about the concept of a Dewey-Hybrid model, from schools as near as my own district, to schools as far as the United Kingdom. While many librarians are convinced of the value of converting their systems, they struggle with the time and planning required to complete the project. There are other librarians, though, who are not convinced of the value of a Dewey-Free or Dewey-Hybrid model. They sometimes say things like, “Why overhaul the system when it just needs clarification?” (Hopefully that question has already been addressed.) Librarians also mention a concern with switching to a model that has not been officially established and accepted as a universal system. As a result, the ability to copy-catalogue becomes limited, and cataloging new items takes additional time. However, librarians may find themselves with additional time if they are no longer retrieving books for students. (Disclaimer: By no means am I advocating for a library experience where librarians no longer help students find materials. There is a stark difference, however, between those students who simply need to locate the biographies on Nelson Mandela or the books about Shakespeare, vs. those students who need help formulating a research question or finding books to spark some topic selection ideas.)

Systems, Frameworks, Models, Oh My!

Another objection that some librarians raise when considering a system conversion is the importance of students knowing how to use the public library. They worry that if the DDC isn’t taught in schools, students will grow up not knowing how to use other libraries. My answer starts like this: If students go to college, they will likely encounter Library of Congress. When they go to a bookstore, they browse by genre and author. On and other online booksellers, they search by keyword. All of these are just systems, but they’re different systems. We should keep in mind that Dewey-Free and Dewey-Hybrid models are also systems, not the absence of a system.

Furthermore, most public libraries still use the DDC, but how many adults voluntarily visit a public library if they don’t like reading, research, or discovering new things? Fostering a love of learning in children is a crucial step in creating adults who choose to visit the public library. And children who find (school) libraries frustrating, confusing, and intimidating will be at risk for not developing that passion for reading. If library patrons (of all ages) sense that libraries were designed for librarians, they will feel more like intruders in someone else’s space with less ownership of their right to a library’s collection of knowledge.

It has now been two years since that April afternoon when I stood in front of the nonfiction stacks and frowned for a while…and then envisioned the possibility of a different classification structure. It has been a process and a journey full of research, ideas, mistakes, and successes. While I do not claim that the Dartmouth High School library has created the perfect model, I am proud to say that it now features a system in which knowledge is more equal and students are more autonomous in their learning.

Works Cited

Gibson, Marjorie. “Innovative 21st Century Classification Schemes for Elementary School Libraries.” Feliciter 57.2 (2011): 48-49, 61. Print.

In 2013, Halley Zanconato and Pamela King, the Library Assistant, converted the nonfiction collection of the Dartmouth High School to a Dewey-Hybrid model. Eight months, 13,000 books, and countless cups of coffee later, the library features a more intuitive, less biased collection that is structured to directly support the school’s curriculum. Halley will graduate next year with a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from UMass Dartmouth.

Halley Zanconato is the Library Media Specialist at Dartmouth High School.

Author Interview: Sarah Albee

Did you know that a certain sea snail which “secretes a snot-like substance that turns different colors when exposed to sunlight” was used to dye the Phoenicians’ fabric? That corsets in the late 1800’s could exert 88 pounds of force on the internal organs?

Have you heard of a crossing sweeper? Not a crossing guard, a crossing sweeper. A crossing sweeper who swept muck and the thirty pounds of daily horse manure out of the way when a fine lady or gentleman crossed the street in the early nineteenth century.

Have you heard of Venus Cloacina? Not the goddess of love but the Roman goddess of sewers.

Can you explain how the mosquito contributed to the Louisiana Purchase? Or why the first early European settlers of Florida slept buried in sand?

If you’ve read any of Sarah Albee’s browsable non-fiction you could probably answer yes.

But to read Why’d They Wear That?, Bugged, and Poop Happened is more than snacking on fascinating friend-stumping trivia. It is to feast on fabulously original takes on history.

Why’d They Wear That?: Fashion as the Mirror of History gives the readers a glimpse into the moral, social and political climates of the time.  Poop Happened: A History of the World from the Bottom Up examines the public health consequences of sanitation choices as societies navigate waste disposal. Bugged: How Insects Changed History combines history, microbiology, epidemiology and conservation to explain the impact of living with ten quintillion insects.

Sarah Albee’s high appeal books with comprehensive content are no accident. Albee says she thinks like a twelve year old. All her books are structured chronologically because it is important to her to help kids make connections.

So the next time you don your fleece made from recycled plastic bottles, or you drink your milk that has been produced by a cow not stressed by too many flies, or you use toilet paper invented by the Chinese for emperor use only, you can remember Sarah Albee’s sideways takes on the world.

Samantha Kane is the Library Teacher at The Chestnut Hill School

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

Author Interview: M.T. Anderson

Author M.T. Anderson shows off the MSLA chocolates given to him at the 2015 MSLA conference at UMASS Amherst

“I wish I hadn’t been,” author M.T. Anderson admits to the crowd of librarians, “So prescient, I mean.” Anderson grinned as he responded to a member of the audience who complimented his 2002 novel, Feed, a science fiction title for young adults that imagines a not-so-distant future in which most people have Internet-like feeds implanted directly into their brains. M.T. Anderson (“Also known as ‘Tobin!’” moderator Sandy Kelly informed session-attendees) a last-minute addition to the conference, enthusiastically sat in as a panel member on the Upper Grades Author Showcase Sunday afternoon. Afterward, he spoke with librarians at the Author Meet & Greet.

Feed, like all of Anderson’s novels, challenges readers to look at the world differently, or to think critically about humans’ interactions with and within society. The text satirically addresses consumerism, reliance on technology, factory farming, and other ills of the modern age. “I loved The Martian Chronicles when I was growing up,” Anderson explained, referring to the Ray Bradbury work. “I think [Bradbury’s] influence is evident in my writing. Yes, it’s science fiction, but it’s symbolically about America.” When I explained that I usually pitch Feed to teachers as “Kurt Vonnegut for iPhone-addicted teenagers,” he smirked. “Absolutely! Bradbury. Vonnegut, too. You can say a lot with satire.”

Anderson grew up in Stow, Massachusetts, and admits that being raised in bucolic New England greatly influences his writing style. “You see that in Octavian Nothing,” he explained. “I don’t know if I would have found that piece of history if I hadn’t grown up here.” His National Book Award-winning The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation tells the story of Octavian, the son of a slave, growing up as an experiment of rational philosophers in Revolutionary War-period Massachusetts. “I saw battle reenactments at the 225th anniversary of the Battle of Old North Bridge, and thought, if I were alive when this happened, it would be my dad fighting. My family. We wouldn’t know who would be victorious. What would that be like? To grow up in that time of uncertainty?”

From science fiction, to historical fiction, Anderson is known for jumping genres. Feed is dystopian sci-fi; The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation duo is historical fiction; and his first novel, Thirsty, is a coming-of-age vampiric horror story. For his next title, Anderson is jumping again—to non-fiction. “This one took years to research. I’m really excited about it,” Anderson explained.

This new book, Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad, tells the story of what life was like in Leningrad once it was cut-off from the rest of the world during one of the longest and most brutal military sieges in Western history. “There were roving bands of cannibals. No, really. It was horrific,” Anderson said. The book details how the composer Dmitri Shostakovich endured the siege while composing his Leningrad Symphony, a musical work which became prominent in the eventual Allied victory. He continued, saying “Shostakovich was evacuated. They smuggled his symphony out. It conveyed the horror of Leningrad to detached New Yorkers.”

So why jump to non-fiction rather than write a novel? “This is a case of the true story already being so strange and interesting,” Anderson explained. “It’s full of despair and hope. Why would I fictionalize it?” Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad will be published by Random House September 22nd, 2015.

Alana Stern is a Teacher Librarian at Wachusett Regional 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

Author Interview: Burleigh Mutén

miss-emily-220x300Burleigh Mutén is the author of a middle grade verse novel, Miss Emily, which is about Emily Dickinson and the children she loved. The mischievous, playful Miss Emily invites her young friends to greet the circus train as it arrives in town, and a fresh image of Dickinson as an approachable, fun companion is offered to the reader.

Mutén has authored four other books for children, two about goddesses throughout the world and two collections of retold folktales.  She has twice been included on the Children’s Book Council Notable Social Studies Book for Young Children. She teaches creative writing to young authors and enjoys being a visiting author at elementary schools and teaching about Emily Dickinson as well as mythology.

This year at the MSLA conference in Amherst I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing author Burleigh Mutén.

According to Ms. Mutén, contrary to what many think, Emily Dickinson never retreated from the children in her life. When asked how she came up with the idea of writing a children’s book about Emily Dickinson, Ms. Mutén told me it all began as she investigated curriculum for her kindergarten class and discovered MacGregor Jenkins’ book, Emily Dickinson: Friend and Neighbor at the Jones Library in Amherst.  Jenkins grew up across the street from the Dickinsons and was a close friend with her niece and nephew.

“Most people don’t know that Emily was a devoted friend to the children in her neighborhood. She always made time for them and made them feel important.  When Emily saw children playing outside, she often joined their fantasies by providing sweet treats for the “pirates” and “gypsies” she found in her yard.  Miss Emily had a lot in common with the young children,” said Mutén,  “such as the fun of word play and a love for nature.”  As educators, we discussed how empowering it is for a child to have an adult really care and want to know who they are.

Ms. Mutén found the more she read about Dickinson, the more she wanted to know.  She said she’d been a private poet since high school, but felt emboldened to use her poet voice to tell this story. Through the book, Miss Emily, Mutén hopes the playful spirit of Emily Dickinson will interest and inspire young readers and writers.

Mutén said that “writing is a great way to process and organize your thoughts” and is a great activity to boost a child’s self-esteem. Children like Emily Dickinson’s writing because they relate to her interest in nature, and when they know it, her love of children. DIckinson’s use of seemingly random punctuation for example can give some children freedom to say what they want to say without worrying about rules.

When asked what is next for her, Mutén told me that she will be retiring from classroom teaching at the end of this year.  While she will miss her students and teaching, she is looking forward to staying connected to children and the writing of children by teaching more creative writing workshops and author visits at elementary schools. She’s also excited about learning more about Emily and sharing her knowledge as a guide at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst.

Kelly McManus is the Media Specialist at Groton Dunstable Regional High School