Sunday, October 30, 2011

Letting Go: Flying Solo

Don't sweat the small stuff?
A year ago, the sight of an overflowing book return bin would send me into a stress fit. Letting these kind of things bother me is not an option anymore because they are going to happen a lot more than they used to. I have decided to focus on the people that I serve and let a few things go. So far, it looks like my library program is going to be better off for it.

Is an overflowing book return bin what the students and teachers who pass through my library will remember about their experiences there? No. I hope not. What they will remember is how I helped them and what they learned and whether I was happy about helping them or not, smiling, or not, whether they felt welcome.

Students are running my library more than ever before, since the library assistant position was cut. They are  shelving the books, checking books in and out, creating book displays, organizing games, loading programs in the computer lab and dusting. I now depend on them.  The books are not always shelved in the correct location, but that is not as important to me as it used to be. It is one of the many details I am now dismissing. Gone is the idea that my library has to be an orderly place. It certainly has never been a quiet one. I quit date stamping books. Last year, I did not scan an inventory of the collection.

Instead of being upset by change: crying, eating an enire bag of peanut M&Ms, throwing temper tantrums, and then apologizing for my  bad behavior, or being depressed,  resentful and wallowing in self pity, I have decided to keep moving, one day at a time, toward being the librarian that I have always wanted to be. I find that I  am using my time more effectively, and I am focused more on professional development for myself and the faculty.   I find myself asking, "How can I improve?"   Should I reserve one day a week for collection work? Should I set up a self check-out kiosk for students to use when I am busy with another class? Last year when someone suggested a self check-out kiosk I looked at them as if they just suggested that I let students shelve books.

I often wonder, what would my mother do in the face of all this change? Thinking of how she would react helps me put so many things into their little boxes and gain perspective. I know she would make the best of what she is given to work with. She would, "grow where she was planted" as she used to say.  I am going to smile and be happy in these tumultuous times because my happiness in my job influences an entire school to some degree. Like it or not I am the weather in my library.  Ma and I listened to a book by Mark Matousek, titled, When You're Falling, DIVE, on one of our many road trips.  I have never forgotten the passage in which a woman on her deathbed tells her daughter that dying is
 ". . . easier when you let go."

Everything is easier when you let go. Let go of the way you have always done things. Dive into the future. Change. Stop complaining and Grow.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

I Believe in Book Fairs

 I wrapped up a book fair last week. I enjoy watching students browse during the book fair, browsing with them, talking and enjoying the whole experience. I have come to embrace book fairs, but it wasn't always this way. When I was a new librarian, I did not like the idea of book fairs. Not in my library. I thought, What an un-librarian like thing to do. Sell things to students, use valuable school time, pull students away from their reading and research. Not only that, but the pesky book fair was pulling me away from my important work. I decided it was a necessary evil, however, because I needed some new library books and some books for book clubs. When I conducted my first book fairs, I did not enjoy them. I felt stressed about theft and handling money, and I hated the non-book "stuff" that came with the books. 

I lamented about having book fairs in one of my journal assignment entries during library school. Having a book fair was horrible, and I was embarrassed about having one. My professor, Dr. Wallace, responded to my rant by saying, "NEVER feel bad about having a book fair!" I was shocked. I thought, Really?  We have book fairs to support our library programs. "Why are you having a book fair in the first place?" she asked. Remembering this, I now realize why I was having such a hard time with book fairs. We have book fairs to raise money for our library program. What I know now, as I reflect on that moment, is that, at the time, I did not believe that my library program was worthy or important enough to merit a week-long fundraiser. That was before I realized that I had super powers, a cape and all. I'm so different now. 

After last week's book fair I can easily list a few reasons why I believe book fairs are great:

  • Excitement: Do you remember the excitement of the book fair coming when you were in school? I do! and I LOVED it. Students still love the book fair. It is a part of the school year to which they look forward. It's festive and fun, similar to a pep rally, but for the library. Even the teachers look forward to it. 
  • Learning about Money: What better place to learn to handle money than at school where your teachers are there to help you? Students will ask and find answers to questions such as: How much tax is on a dollar? How much will these two items cost? Do I have enough money to pay for these two items?  Is it okay to hand the cashier a wadded-up dollar bill? Should I count my money first before I hand it to the cashier? I use the book fair to teach these simple lessons to students and insist that they be careful with their money.
  • Consumer Lessons: The fair is a great place for students to practice being consumers and ask important questions such as: Is this item worth the price they are seeking? What is the value of the item to me? Is this a fair price? If I want two items but only have enough for one, which one should I get? Which is the best value or choice for me?
  • Browsing: I enjoy going to Barnes & Noble and browsing. Hours fly by like minutes as I get lost in books and magazines. I encourage my students to have the same experience and try to give them enough time to  pick up the books, open them, browse, sit down and look through a book or two. I encourage students to make notes of the books they believe they might like to read or that they would like the library to purchase. It was touching to see a group of "tough" 8th grade boys sitting down at the book fair tables engrossed in books, sharing with each other and reading together. I remember laughing hysterically with students as we looked at the Klutz book, Rule The World: 119 Shortcuts to Total World Domination at last year's book fair  I always tell my students, "If you see a book at the fair that you like, we already may have a copy in the library." Some students go right to the shelves and check out a book they saw at the book fair. After the fair is over, I am hounded relentlessly until I get all the books that I've pulled from the fair processed and put on the shelves.
  • Giveaways: I give away at least $100 worth of merchandise to students and teachers every fair. It feels great!
  • Profit: I have earned at least $300 worth of books from every book fair I have hosted.When the fair goes really well I get cash profit. A few of he items we have purchased with my book fair profit are: Playaway batteries, new audio books, book club materials, multiple copies of new popular new releases, board games, field trips, family game night, a Wii console, Wii games, family literacy night, seasonal decorations, summer and winter reading programs and rewards, professional development and more.
Of course, there are more reasons why book fairs are great. I am sure some would argue that I am completely off-base in my support of book fairs. Auntie Librarian says you should let go and embrace your book fairs! Don't get too hung up over "the non-book stuff" that comes with the fair. Don't stress too much over theft or it will ruin your experience.  Enjoy the book fair with your students and you will feel better.  As my Ma used to say, "Enjoy yourself, it's later than you think!"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Be Contagious: The Power of a T&L Cafe Webinar

I love my job as a middle school librarian. Middle School students are energetic and entertaining. But, I was feeling lousy about work and things have been different since my mother passed away. Overwhelmed and disenchanted, I was depressed at having my assistant cut, wanting to be a good librarian, but feeling uninspired and worn out. How in the world would I be able to keep this energy level up in the library when I now have so much more work?  The students have come to expect a certain level of customer service and I enjoy bringing that energy and level of excitement to my students everyday. It is what makes me love my job. It is contagious. 

Not knowing how I would be able to make it all work, I put on a happy face and kept on with the daily grind. I spoke to my friend and colleague Ruth, who teaches English, about feeling so blah and passionless only to discover that she was feeling the same way. She said she was struggling to reach one particular class, and having frustrations getting them to write for her. We have done countless projects, presentations and parent nights together over the years and we feed off of each other's creative energies. I said to her, "I saw a call for presentations e-mail and felt terrible that I am not doing anything worth sharing!"  She said she felt the same way. What to do? Usually when a teacher tells me he or she is looking for a new way to teach something I have tons of ideas to suggest, and enough energy and excitement to reel them in. Honestly, this is what happens when you don't go to conferences for two or three years.

The same day I chatted with Ruth, Cathy Jo Nelson sent out a reminder that there would be a T&L Virtual Cafe Webinar on Monday October 3rd. Ah, Cathy Jo! She has been my inspiration on several occasions. Her Facebook and SCASL listserv posts are great. Amazingly, she never stops pushing it out. The voice of Cathy Jo sounds something like this to me: "Hey! Check this out! Look! Over here! A great article, blog or app! You should try THIS!" A GURU-COACH, that is what she is for me.

I go to the T&L Virtual Cafe Webinar that Cathy Jo posted about.  Tamara Cox and Tiff Whitehead knock my socks off. There's a great vibe going on there, and I needed that. Joyce Valenza was there! She inspired me at ISTE in Chicago years ago.  I have been a big fan ever since. At this T&L Virtual Cafe webinar, one of the many awesome things I am introduced to is Comic Life. Wow! Such amazing graphics! So visually appealing! I can't wait to tell Ruth! That night, I could not sleep. I was too excited and inspired!

On Tuesday I sneak out of the library and burst into Ruth's classroom with loud excitement (during her planning time) to tell her I have found exactly what we need. I can tell she is a little skeptical because I am acting like a wide-eyed, sleep deprived, coffee fueled spaz talking fast and excitedly commandeering her computer.  She looks at me like I am crazy. I show her Comic Life. Although Comic Life has been around a while, it is new to us. And, we're excited about it. We schedule the lab for her classes. The students love Comic Life and now not only are we both doing something exciting and worth sharing, but we are planning more exciting things like presenting our experience with Comic Life at the Spartanburg Writing Project's Fall Conference, and making cake pops at family write night at the library! The great thing about this inspiration is that it impacts not only me, but also two other teachers (so far) and ALL OF THEIR STUDENTS. Since I work with the entire student body, this inspiration will probably reach even more students. Everyone wins.

I still don't know how I will be able to make it all work, and maybe I won't be able to make it all work. That's okay. Things are changing. I am taking it one day at a time.  Because of T&L Virtual Cafe and my collaboration with Ruth I FEEL better and my work feels more meaningful and worth sharing.  And that's a start!