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


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

President’s Update

Starting with the end in mind gets the best results, according to Stephen Covey; and we all know that backward design produces a great project. So, each year, I ask the MSLA Executive Board to sit down at our September meeting and set priorities for the coming year so that we have a strong focus for our work.

Last year, a strong focus on legislation led to the passage of a bill in the Massachusetts legislature this summer establishing a commission to evaluate school library programs. In addition, focused work by our Executive Board led to DESE accepting a rubric that administrators can use to evaluate school librarians using both teaching and program administration guidelines. We also worked hard to provide our members with a range of professional development offerings, including our annual conference, our first unconference this summer at Westborough High School, and a collaborative workshop with MassCUE in September. Finally, we set up a pilot ELL training course for school librarians that will be offered through EDCO in the Spring of 2015.

As we began the 2014-15 school year, the MSLA Executive Board met again to set priorities to guide our work. At our first meeting, we agreed that we would like to focus on four key areas:

Legislation: Representative Sean Garballey is chairing a commission this year that will evaluate the status of school library programs in Massachusetts. This is an incredible opportunity for school librarians and our students. The commission is charged with collecting key data about library staffing, hours, and collections. We have had lots of anecdotal evidence in the past decade that there is inequity from district to district in school library services. Collecting specific data will finally allow us to make a case for school library equity based on concrete facts. As the commission looks for assistance in collecting data, providing analysis, and lining up testimony, MSLA stands ready to provide assistance.

Membership: We want to make sure that members remain at the center of our work. Our advocacy committee and area directors intend to take a careful look at how to retain the members we have, reach out to those with lapsed memberships, and recruit those new to our field. As part of this work, we will look at how we can enhance the services and experiences we offer to our members.

Outreach: In a survey taken last spring, MSLA saw that members value the opportunities we provide for them to stay connected to one another such as the listserv and Forum newsletter. We are also pleased that members connect often through the MSLA Facebook page and Twitter feed. I am delighted that Jennifer Dimmick and Katherine Steiger have agreed to take on the Forum this year and I look forward to seeing it develop into another vehicle that we can all use to share great information and improve our practice.

Professional Development: MSLA wants to remain the first place school librarians go for professional development, and we want to make sure we get both the topics and delivery right. We are going to take a careful look this year at the options open to us. Our traditional annual conference and area director gatherings remain popular with many members. Yet, we also know that members have responded well to one-day workshops, unconferences, and informal sharing on Twitter. We also know that we have many natural partners for PD, from MassCUE to MLS to MLA. So, we are planning to look at the many ways we can offer professional development, the time and energy we have, and see if we can come up with a plan that makes sense for all of us.

Of course, we do have an annual conference planned on March 1 & 2, 2105. The theme “Fill Up Your Toolbox” speaks to the practical aspects of the event, which will focus on sharing tips and tools that you can implement in your own practice immediately. Holding the conference at the University of Massachusetts/Amherst also means we have access to some pretty wonderful speakers and settings, and you will certainly want to attend. Registration for the conference opens up on November 1.

Now this means that we need to hear from you. If you have any strong ideas or opinions on any of this, do let us know—we’re easy to find (you can even comment on this, or any other Forum post!). It also doesn’t mean we won’t do other wonderful things—we know there are opportunities and events that come up throughout the year and we’re ready to respond to those that will make a difference for school librarians.

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