Setting up a village school library in Myanmar

Note:  A version of this was posted October 16, 2016, on the Singapore international school librarian network's blog.

If you were asked to help set up a new school library in a new primary school building in a farming village outside Mandalay, and you wouldn't be able to visit the site until the day before the new school's grand opening, how would you tackle it?  That was the challenge proposed to me in June 2016 by a parent service/charity group at the school where I was working, United World College of Southeast Asia in Singapore.

PACE, which stands for Parents' Action for Community and Service, has built several schools in Cambodia together with the Tabitha Foundation over the past decade.  In 2016 they teamed up with John Stevens and the 100Schools organization in Myanmar to build their first school there, in Shar Pin village.  And it is the first school built by 100Schools to have a library included.


shar pin before 2016-10-02 14.55.19.jpg

After (the library is the far-most left room of the new building):

Shar Pin finished building IMG_7811.JPG

Luckily at the East campus there is a Burmese parent, with whom I'd done a couple of middle-school service trips to Myanmar.  Thet is not only bilingual, but highly organized, efficient, and creative.  She liaised with the Myanmar Library Association (MLA) to get us lists of recommended books to buy as well as book donations for the school.  She also got in touch with the Third Story Children's Books project, which publishes stories in ethnic languages for children in Myanmar.

Shar pin collection chart IMG_7397(1).JPG

Thanks to Thet's language and organization skills, over 400 children's books in Burmese were purchased or donated -- which we picked up once we arrived in Myanmar.  Thet and Thida, another Burmese speaker in our group, were able to sort the various books into 11 basic categories -- and the rest of us labeled them.

Fun Comics - WHITE
Cultural Stories - DARK ORANGE
True Stories - DARK RED
General Stories - LT ORANGE
General Knowledge - BLUE
Fun Learning - LT GREEN
Environment - DARK GREEN
Health - YELLOW
Teacher Reference - YELLOW TRIANGLE
Group Readers - PURPLE

Previously in Singapore, Thet and I had brainstormed what orientation the students and teachers would need, in order to ensure proper use and maintenance of the library.  We came up with a series of posters, illustrated by my talented library staff, that would serve to both decorate the library and establish the library culture for students and teachers.

Myanmar passing out shelfmarkers IMG_7810 copy.jpeg

We also created about 80 laminated shelf-markers -- using simple animal logos and different colored paper.  The children were told that when they came to the library each time, they should pick an animal and a color to keep track of where they found books.  To help them remember where in the "village of books" (i.e., the library) each book "lived" -- so they could help it get back to its right place. 

With Thet's help, I also did a talk about book care on opening day where I asked the children to consider how books are like people.  (They can be old or young, tall or small, speak different languages, have a front, a back, a spine, etc.  And they need to be treated with care and respect, especially when it comes to turning pages.)

Through Thet's connections, we also met up with a wonderful young Burmese teacher and storyteller, Tess (aka Tin Ma Ma Htet), who works as a professional development coordinator for the Phaung Daw Oo School and the Monastic Education Development Group in Mandalay --and with the Third Story Children's Books Project.

Small world connection:  Tess has also been involved with the teacher training project our Dover colleagues have done in Burma.  (See a video interview with her in 2015 here.)

Tess entertained the Shar Pin students with storytelling on Sunday, while the rest of us were setting up the library, and we trust that she will continue to visit Shar Pin to see that the books in the library are being fully utilized.

The school's official opening was Monday, October 3, 2016 -- and here are some basic shots of what the library finally looked like.  


The PACE team was amazing -- and it was such an honor to work with them.  The cost of the whole 5-classroom school?  US$72k.  The library room itself?  US$7k.  US$3k went to the library design and materials.  I can't wait to do another.

Extra:  Thet took me a local civic library in Mandalay -- the Brahmaso Library.  It's a lending library with a reading room attached.  Closed stacks.  Card catalog.  But also with a digital terminal to content provided by UK universities and the British Council.  See photos here.

Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in the Library

A phrase I have wanted to expand upon for years -- so it sat in my "to-blog-about" folder until last month when I needed a presentation topic for the School Librarian Connection - Prague 2016 conference I was helping Dianne McKenzie organize.

My descriptive blurb eventually went like this:  "An exploration of different ways school libraries support these three key values and provide a platform for 'intimations of excellence' and meaningful connections for our students.  How our spaces, resources and presence act as 'intellectual middleware' to amplify learning."

Howard Gardner gets the inspiration credit, thanks to his two books -- "The Disciplined Mind" in 1999, in which he argued that students could study just three things (Darwin for truth, Mozart for beauty, and the Holocaust for (the absence of) good -- and its 2011 re-write for the digital age, "Truth, Beauty, and Goodness Reframed: educating for the virtues in an age of Truthiness and Twitter," in which he shifted to more general divergent/convergent characteristics (convergent on truth, divergent on beauty, and a combination for goodness -- divergent with respect to cultures and customs, while convergent on ethics).

Couldn't we apply one of those three tags to everything in our library?  Yes -- as an interesting tag -- or perhaps to highlight related books in an ongoing display area. (I'm not someone who is anxious to create new sections, e.g., just for the IB Theory of Knowledge books.  Dewey is far easier for organization.)

We are sitting on mounds of treasure.  That is our eternal problem.  (Cue the next slide:  Smaug in Tolkien's 1836 illustration -- though we librarians never want to be associated with guardian dragons.)  But how to share it?  How to let people know about the mountains of absolutely fantastic stuff we are sitting on top of?  And by stuff, I mean not just what the curriculum requires or what the student already knows they're interested in.  (Cue the slide on the intersection of desirability (students' interest), feasibility (curriculum constraints), and viability (what resources we can offer).)  What about the stuff the students don't yet know they could fall in love with?

I'm particularly interested in how we leverage potentially interesting materials.  (Cue the slide on Michael Wesch and meaningful connections....)  Which brings us to the concept of 'intellectual middleware' -- or cognitive augmentation.  Which is anything that helps make those connections.  That supports intellectual access.  Levers -- something small that helps you move something big.

Subject headings are the most old-fashioned but still useful.  Controlled vocabulary.  Human ideas, not just keywords.  Yet we have to help our users know about them.  Whether through resource lists, links, etc.  What ideas are relevant to them?

One thing our school is now pushing on several fronts is the set of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Our students are being encouraged to make those connections, whether in the classroom or in the service learning situations.  So in the library we are starting to use that same filter.

I finished the presentation with an overview of the differences between federated search (e.g., via an OPAC like Destiny) and a discovery layer (e.g., via EBSCO).  Because that's what we're talking about -- how people discover what we have.

I had initially been introduced to the possibility of using EBSCO with Destiny at the Taipei American School and was thrilled to learn the International School of Prague had done the same thing.  UWCSEA is in the process of implementing the EBSCO Discovery Layer with our Destiny, so watch for another blog post on that front.

Illuminating Research: pushing concepts and metaphors

  • What model do you use, if any, and how effective is it (conceptually and as a visual representation), given your curriculum and age group? 
  • Which phases of the inquiry do you find students have the most difficulty with?  Are they skill-based problems?  Or conceptual?  Can you give examples?
  • Which phases are easiest?
  • Which concepts and/or skills do you think are the most important to teach for your age range?
  • Any favorite strategies / mini-lessons / metaphors for teaching them?
  • How is research/inquiry visible in your classroom?  What are your favorite tools for making the process visible and/or assessing prior, formative, and summative knowledge, whether collective or individual?
  • Any examples you can share of visualizations or evidence of inquiry?
  • Are there any books you feel serve well as mentor texts for inquiry/research?
  • What are your favorite resources relating to research/inquiry?  (e.g., books, blogs, people, theories)
  • What level of referencing do you think is reasonable for your age group?

Last month in Prague, I got the chance to dive deep with small groups of teacher-librarians on the concepts behind teaching research -- at the School Librarian Connection conference.

My preparation for the workshop began with a survey -- for both teachers and librarians* --  and those questions provided the basic outline of my half-day sessions (the morning one focused on primary school, the afternoon on secondary).

Research models are the most obvious visual place to start.

Workshop participants responded to some models highlighted in my slides in extended table discussions and then by hand annotations on a wall chart -- as the slides below show.

Of particular interest was the new (unpublished) UWCSEA East model, heavily influenced by two of our gurus: Kath Murdoch for inquiry, and Cathryn Berger Kaye for service learning (e.g.,  her MISO (Media / Interview / Survey / Observation) approach). 

Kath does a lot of work with international schools, and I pointed out that both UWCSEA and our host, the International School of Prague, are thanked in the acknowledgements of her recent book, The Power of Inquiry. Only one other school was familiar with Cathryn Berger Kaye's work, but raved about her as an on-site presenter and consultant.

We then considered overall metaphors for research, e.g., the journey, and the difference between skills and concepts -- before mapping and discussing ones we felt were easier or harder for particular age groups.

2016-09-15 22.23.28.jpg

The full set of slides from my presentation are below.  I ended the session by running through some of my favorite metaphors related to research.

Dewey Designs to Share

Six years ago I asked my daughter, Maggie Appleton, to help me create some Dewey Decimal System signs for the libraries on our new school campus, the permanent home of United World College of SE Asia (UWCSEA) - East campus, in Tampines, Singapore.  At the time she was an IB Art student at the original UWCSEA campus -- now known as UWCSEA Dover.

maggie uwcsea east dewey.png

She didn't come up with them completely on her own.  I'd been searching the web for different Dewey designs and had found this retro design one I liked on Flickr by Susanna Ryan.

Screenshot 2016-08-30 21.52.35.png

But it was fairly monochrome and I envisaged associating different colors with different sections, much like the famous colored layout of rooms at Powells Books in Portland, Oregon (see colored section sign to the right). 

So Maggie got permission from Susanna to modify her icons and to change the colors.

Over the years people have asked Maggie for permission to use her designs -- and, so finally, in a creative commons way (in line with how Susanna allowed to build upon her original design), here they are -- click here to access a DROPBOX folder of all her files.


My good friend and colleague Barb Philip Reid also has a talented graphic designer (step) daughter -- Natasha Potzsch.   And she asked her for a similar favor (to be a signage servant!). Natasha's Dewey designs are also freely available to all teacher-librarians -- click here to access a GOOGLE folder of her files.


We've both been meaning to share these more widely.  So now -- go have fun.  Our daughters are pleased to have librarians use them!  (And obviously let us know if any links don't work....)

Pointing out the errors of their ways -- when it comes to referencing and bibliographies

Inspired by the wordless "Travelers T-Shirt" (right) -- see…/tshirt-icons-for-travelers-iconsp… -- and prompted by an IBO Diploma Programme workshop on the Extended Essay, Kurt Wittig (my counterpart at our parallel campus) and I developed the poster below (yes, it's Creative Commons, so download and use). 

In the workshop, the leaders admonished us about giving students too much specific feedback on their essays, especially by correcting citations -- though they said we could look and identify types of problems.

So Kurt and I joked that we needed to make T-shirts, like the wordless one above, where you could communicate by just pointing to icons.  A quick visual way to give students big hints about things possibly wrong somewhere in their essay, e.g., relating to referencing and/or the bibliography.  And then let them go find and correct their own errors. 

We started by making the poster below.  (The T-shirts have yet to be produced....)

POSTER: 10 Common Errors

The problem of self-plagiarism was raised at the same IB workshop, so that was included.  Another one students are often unaware of is the fact that you can't put anything in your bibliography that you don't actually cite in your paper -- what we have called" Extra references" (though it could also have been called "Padding your bibliography").  "No author voice" refers to writing which can be all perfectly paraphrased and cited, but where no analysis or original thinking is evident.  (It's not a "conversation" unless you contribute something!)

Kurt and I also had fun developing an activity for our students based on Turnitin's White Paper Plagiarism Spectrum -- an incredibly useful list of 10 types of unoriginal work.   We thought how great it would be to give students the task of sorting the infractions from "most academically dishonest" to "most honest."

But first we had to do it ourselves.  Below is our result (moving from left to right, most dishonest to least dishonest), though (truth be told) I'm not sure now that I can justify each position.  But that's the beauty.  You have to figure it out for yourself and come up with your own justifications -- each time.

What NOT to do....

We give groups of students ( 3 to 4 max) each a set of 10 Turnitin cards and see how they organize them, from worst to least worst.   It's a very interesting exercise.

If you feel like trying it with your students, click here for a link to a folder with seven PDFs of the set of cards, each color-coded and ready to be printed out (on A5 or whatever).  A downloaded copy of the full Turnitin White Paper Plagiarism Spectrum study can also be found there.


Center and Satellite Collections: connections between classrooms and the library

School context determines the relationship between classroom libraries and the main library. 

Mandala of Guhyasamaja, Akshobhyavajra, Tibet; 14th century - from the Rubin Museum of Art

Mandala of Guhyasamaja, Akshobhyavajra, Tibet; 14th century - from the Rubin Museum of Art

Every primary school classroom has a library, as do most (I trust) middle and high school English classrooms. 

But where do these books come from? Who selects them?  Who pays for them?  Who manages them (in terms of checking books out and in)?  Who inventories them?  Who refreshes them?  How are they organized (virtually and physically)?  How much consistency across classrooms is there?

At some schools, a grade or department is given money to buy books for the classroom -- and those books are labeled in some way as school property and listed in some spreadsheet for inventory purposes.  At other schools, classroom libraries are pretty much private collections, consisting of books a teacher brings with them or inherits from the previous tenant of the room.  The first situation makes it hard to know the full picture of resources across grades and departments, and the second raises equity issues. 

At our campus all resources -- whether library books, textbooks, or classroom library books -- no matter what budget has paid for them -- are barcoded, cataloged, and given a location code in our library system (Destiny).  So anyone can search and see what resources are being used where.

creating Core/CLASS Libraries

At first our MS English curriculum used the whole-class novel assignment model, so the priority was selecting and buying a set number of titles in large quantities, and the issue of setting up class libraries was postponed (with teachers using the main library as their classroom in the meantime). Then two years ago we began the switch to the Reading Workshop model, where independent reading and self-choice from a wide range of books are key.  It was time to tackle the issue of class libraries.

There was a pool of money.  And we already had some multiple copies of books (from the old model).  So each teacher began to make lists of books they wanted in their classrooms.

But what made it interesting was that the teachers had come together from a variety of cultural backgrounds -- Australia, the UK, the US, the Philippines, Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland -- and our school, though Anglo-heritage, is not tied to any one national curriculum.  So the authors and titles on one person's list of favorites for teaching middle school were potentially unfamiliar to another.

The solution was to develop a Core Library for each grade, consisting of 30 titles -- to be agreed by the group of teachers. (NB: The use of the word "core" does not mean any connection to the US "Common Core" curriculum initiative.)

These Core Libraries -- for Grade 6, Grade 7, and Grade 8 -- would be a negotiated list of the "best books" for that grade, i.e., the books kids shouldn't miss, the books to booktalk first, the characters and stories you want as a common reference point, and mentor texts.  (A manageable list of recommended books also helps with the anxiety related to the paradox of choice, especially for reluctant readers.)

Each classroom -- and the library -- would have multiple copies available of these Core Library titles.  And English teachers would commit to reading their way through the 90 titles, in order to create a shared literary experience.

The selection process involved several sessions in the library where the list was physically constructed by filling in a bookcase in the Middle School Zone that conveniently holds three 5x6 arrays of (90) books in a face-out display. 

Teachers drafted their core libraries by literally placing books on the bookcase, until all 90 slots were filled with what everyone agreed was a good balance of texts -- within a grade and across the middle school (while also taking into consideration key texts used in grade 5 and grades 9, 10, etc..)

Every year the core lists are reviewed. Last June about six books were changed in each core library.  New ones were added, some were moved to a different grade level, and others were relegated back into the multiple-copy recommended reading collection in the MS Reading Zone in the library.  (I need a better term for those titles -- but I mean books we prominently display (see below) and for which we have 3+ copies.  In some ways those books are like the Mega-Core Collection for Middle School.)

A valuable contribution to potential new Core titles or just the Mega-Core Collection comes via the Red Dot Book Awards, as the library always buys multiple copies of each title.  This year the head of MS English is buying 20 copies of each title on the Older Reader and Mature Reader shortlists to be distributed between the class libraries.  We work closely in deciding what multiple copies we are each buying -- as those are the books we also want to be promoting.

It is important to note that the MS class libraries contain far more than just the Core Library titles.  That first year teachers identified 100+ titles that they personally wanted in their classroom library, beyond the core library.  And they keep buying more each year.  Is there an upper limit?  There are certainly physical limits of what you can reasonably display and manage in a classroom. 

To see all the titles (not just the Core Library) that are in our middle school classroom libraries, search the tag "MSCL" in our catalog; likewise, to see all the titles in our high school classroom libraries, search the tag "HSCL".

Links to lists of classroom libraries for individual teachers are available via this Libguide page - Classroom Reading.  Of course, all these one click links are only possible because all the resources are included within the library system.

NOTE:  A key component of this system of distributed libraries is the Follett Destiny mobile app that lets teachers perform circulation functions on their iPhone or let students check their books in and out on the class iPad.  It also allow us to collect circulation data on books -- and to know where they are.  Having gathered all these wonderful resources, we don't want to lose track of them.

See my previous blog post on "Your mobile Destiny" re the Follett app.

See also my previous blog post on liberating your "book cupboards" -- re our management and display of multiple-copy books in the library.

Expert learning in the library.... and classroom

I've been meaning to blog about Andrew Abbott, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, for two years now -- ever since I saw him present at the American Library Association conference in Chicago.

Though his sphere is graduate students for the most part, his insights -- as a sociologist -- into how students do (or don't do) research and use libraries can be applied to all of us as professional learners -- and to our own (younger) students.  Abbott clearly loves libraries and has written quite a few papers on the history of academic libraries and research tools.  Besides what nuggets of notes I'm going to pass on here, you should go to his webpage at the University of Chicago and read a few of his papers related to libraries - in particular, The Future of Knowing.

First of all, he sees teaching research as basically teaching project management -- and argues that, because teaching is a necessary means of knowing what you do, self-ethnography is the only way to really teach researching.  He forces graduate students to keep diaries and then to teach others what they've learned about themselves as researchers.  (Good 'ole reflection and communication...)

Abbott claims experts mainly wander in the library.  They don't particularly take advantage of general bibliographies or reference books (or even the library reference desk).  Instead they prefer to mine (or ransack) other people's bibliographies - extensively.  Which is good advice for any researcher -- even a someone starting at Wikipedia -- i.e., to go to the bottom of the page and find out where they got their information.

As library research is fundamentally not linear, students are always in danger of getting lost.  Being a mature researcher is about learning what to ignore.  This is where (that trendy word) "mindfulness" comes in.  Trying to stay alert, to see beyond the frame of what is in front of you, to keep your peripheral vision ready to sense the bigger picture.  (Who is that person behind the curtain?  And why are they saying what they're saying?)

Design thinking squiggle (originally from IDEO; see video explanation) - which I think is a perfect image for how library research goes....

Design thinking squiggle (originally from IDEO; see video explanation) - which I think is a perfect image for how library research goes....

Abbott argues that research is not about finding things.  It's about knowing and guessing what to look for -- and then recognizing when you've found something you ought to have looked for in the first place.  That wandering time may feel aimless or useless -- until you find the thing that matters.  The thing that answers your question -- or changes your question.

"Follow your passion" is a popular refrain -- when asking students to come up with their research question (e.g., in the IB Diploma Extended Essay process).  I counsel students looking for a research question to "Follow your attention." (Again, mindfulness....)

What do you click on?  What books do you pick up from a library display?  Notice what your brain desires.  Maybe your subconscious (that fast thinking part of your brain) is trying to tell you something.  Because that may lead you to the best research question -- for you.

Abbott points out that sometimes the best thing to research is the thing you have the most data about.  Work with the materials at hand.  Find a question that interests you within a detailed realm you have access to.  Which brings up that design thinking model on the intersection of desirability (interest), feasibility (assigned task), and viability (resources at hand).  Viability -- what you have to work with -- is key.  

See previous blog post on Design Thinking and Research....

See previous blog post on Design Thinking and Research....

Students must realize is that all research questions are puzzles within a puzzle -- and every answer is only true within a particular context.  As he says:

A given piece of information or interpretation is knowledge only with respect to a particular project of knowing.  Until you have your project figured out, you can't say what knowledge is.

Which reminds me of another session I attended at that ALA, where a university librarian told how he would let students browse a visual photographic archive they had and ask them to choose an image (e.g., a page from a 1950s women's magazine or a political cartoon from a newspaper in the 1880s) and then to formulate a research question for which that image would be a primary source.  And then to consider, for what question would it be a secondary source? (Which feeds back into one of the ACRL information literacy threshold conceptsAuthority is constructed and contextual.)

Abbott has his own list of threshold concepts he tries to get across to students.

One is the important difference between the (keyword-based) concordance-style indexing found via an internet search and the (ideas-based) subject indexing in the back of old-fashioned books (done by people, though computers are currently trying to learn it). 

Finding things on the internet is the students' principal model of cognition.  Their sad belief is that the key to a book is in some subset of sentences that you can search, highlight, and copy.

I love how Abbott enforced close reading in his classroom.  In "The Future of Knowing" he talks about how he assigned undergraduates as homework to memorize 2 or 3 sentences from the required reading (e.g., Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations) -- and silently meditate on them for 15 minutes.  In class he then asked students to write those sentences down from memory -- to hand to him each day.  He says this exercise transformed their reading -- which for him means "using a text as a stimulus for a complex reflection."  The paper the students were later assigned to write on Adam Smith was to take five of their meditation passages and turn them into an argument about Adam Smith.

He believes students need to appreciate that books, by virtue of their length, have arguments and direction that websites often don't.  He says the best students are the ones who can create an outline of a book's argument, revealing the structure of the text.

Anyway, go read him yourself.  His curmudgeonly complaints about undergraduate and graduate students as researchers will be terribly familiar, but I appreciate his long view as an academic and a sociologist, and he reminds me about the importance -- and difficulty -- of meta-cognition in the research process.











Design Thinking for the Research Process (e.g., the IBO Extended Essay)

Design thinking is pretty mainstream these days, infiltrating many domains (e.g., see the Harvard Business Review article, "Design Thinking Comes of Age" in the September 2015 issue).

When it comes to libraries, design thinking is usually invoked as a methodology either for group-solving problems related to the functional aspects of a library, or for patrons designing and creating things in a special "making" space in the library.

From Michelle Ha Tucker presentation, cited below

From Michelle Ha Tucker presentation, cited below

 "Design Thinking for Libraries: a toolkit for patron-centered design," published by IDEO in January 2015, exemplifies the first -- where the human-centred approach and process mindset of design thinking is applied to finding creative solutions to challenges in the day-to-day life of a library. 

Michelle Ha Tucker from IDEO recently gave a short presentation on "Innovation By Design" at the Leadership Roundtable on Library Innovation, hosted by the Aspen Institute.   She argued libraries are a perfect place to try design thinking because they are "living laboratories" with a steady stream of users to observe and create experiments with, on top of the fact that librarians are great service designers.  Watch a video of her presentation via Jason Griffey's blogpost here. (John Seely Brown's talk on "Re-Imagining Libraries" is also worth watching; I like how he suggest libraries are a place where you can/should find the intersection of homo sapiens (thinking), homo faber (making), and homo ludens (playing).)

From Michelle Ha Tucker presentation, cited above

From Michelle Ha Tucker presentation, cited above

Libraries, both public and school, are increasingly involved in the makerspace movement -- providing people with access to materials and equipment (especially 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, and programmable chips like the Arduino) in a space where they can come together to be creative and make things -- and design thinking has obvious applications to the maker culture.

But for school librarians, the design thinking conceptual models coming out of IDEO are probably of greatest application to the inquiry/research process

Rather than a rigid framework with specific steps, design thinking encourages a mindset of being creatively confident, recognizing that projects always start off very foggy, and only through mindful, iterative effort to "see" (via reading and exploring a topic) do possible resolutions emerge.  That research should always open up new questions and inquirers need to be comfortable along the way with ambiguity, rather than quick answers.

In my own situation, design thinking offers valuable meta-cognitive support to our high school students doing the IBO (International Baccalaureate Organisation) Diploma Extended Essay (EE), an independent, 4000-word research paper.

My drawing of Tim Brown's cycle - based on a drawing in his 2009 book.  I noticed that in Michelle Ha Tucker's slide, the word "Implementation" is now "Iteration."

My drawing of Tim Brown's cycle - based on a drawing in his 2009 book.  I noticed that in Michelle Ha Tucker's slide, the word "Implementation" is now "Iteration."

In a previous blog post, I compared Tim Brown's design thinking process to Carol Kuhlthau's - see

And since then I've only come to appreciate it more.

Our EE program is divided into three parts over the course of a year -- which roughly conforms to the three design thinking stages -- Inspiration, Ideation, Implementation.  From November 1st to December 15th, our grade 11 students are introduced to the Extended Essays and asked to think about something that interests them and do broad reading and inquiry -- the Inspiration phase -- in order to turn that idea into an acceptable Research Question (RQ). 

Phase two of the EE is from January to August -- which is the Ideation and draft writing phase, and from August to the end of October is the Implementation phase, for final editing and polishing -- and submission.

Below are images of the pamphlet we hand out to each student in November (yes, a paper copy).  It's an A3 printout, folded into an A5 brochure, with the inside A4 space showing the timeline, and the A3 inside, unfolded sheet showing the Checklist for students and supervisors.

In design thinking, two important constraints come into consideration after you get an idea (something you desire to design) -- viability and feasibility.  In his book, Tim Brown quotes the famous designer Charles Eames as saying the mark of a designer is a willing embrace of constraints.

The IDEO intersection of innovation -- taken from

The IDEO intersection of innovation -- taken from

As we ask each student to follow their passion, we must also help them to appreciate the constraints on their inquiry, in terms of the IBO and their school.   Does their research question (RQ) satisfy the requirements of the assignment, i.e., the EE subject brief as set by the IBO?  And can our school provide the necessary support for the research question, in terms of a knowledgeable supervisor, material and equipment for any experiments, and other resources?

For the EE, the ideal Research Question (RQ) satisfies student interest (Desirability), IBO requirements for a subject area (e.g., if doing a History topic, the research question must be on something at least ten years in the past), and our school's (United World College of SE Asia- UWC) ability to provide support and resources (books, databases, equipment, etc.) for such a research question.

For the EE, the ideal Research Question (RQ) satisfies student interest (Desirability), IBO requirements for a subject area (e.g., if doing a History topic, the research question must be on something at least ten years in the past), and our school's (United World College of SE Asia- UWC) ability to provide support and resources (books, databases, equipment, etc.) for such a research question.

I then show students this design thinking concept -- alternating divergent and convergent phases of inquiry. When they come to me for help, I ask them which phase they are in.  Do they want me to help them find more material?  Or do they need me to help them sort out what they've found and pick the best ones, before going back out to look for more?  Do they think they need more? 

The design thinking "Inspiration - Ideation - Implementation" cycle also repeats itself, as new information comes to light. 

Which reminds me of one of my favorite library science papers -- "New shit has come to light: Information seeking behavior in The Big Lebowski" - by Emily Dill and Karen L. Janke (2010).  Go treat yourself....

Reading Constellations and Recommendations

Do you have favorite pairs of books you like to recommend to students?  Books where you see the connection, no matter how oblique, and use it to help people find the next "read-on" book?  Along the lines of "If you liked... then try...." kinds of lists -- but perhaps more nuanced.

Then please consider joining a Google+ Community called "Reading Constellations" -- which is a crowd-sourcing space for pairs or small bundles of books to recommend to students.

Angie Erickson, a middle school literacy coach at our other campus, and I started it after realizing that we both had favorite pairings.

E.g., I recommend "Liar" by Justine Larbastier and "We were Liars" by E. Lockhart under the heading "Lies and terrible family secrets," and Angie recommends pairing "To Kill a Mockingbird" with "Jasper Jones" by Craig Silvey under the heading "Discrimination and crime and coming-of-age"

We think of these constellations as micro-lists, where connections are perhaps in the eye of the experienced beholder and the number of books is too few to warrant utilizing the OPAC "create a list of related books" function (e.g., Resource Lists in Follett Destiny), which could be considered mini-lists, in contrast to the macro-list capability of a common Subject Heading in the OPAC.

Angie literally ties the books together in her classroom -- to make the connection explicit.

Metaphors and Threshold Concepts for Research

Threshold concepts are something every librarian concerned with research needs to be familiar with.  That's why I was thrilled that Debbie Abilock (of Noodletools) and Sue Smith (of the Harker School) did a session on it at the Research Relevance Colloquium in June.  (See my previous blog posts on Research Relevance: here and here.)

I wrote up my introduction to threshold concepts a year ago - after ALA 2014 - see this blog post (just scroll down to find the section - it's too much to reproduce here, but the links are worth it).

Since then ACRL (the American Association of College Research Librarians) has officially published their Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education which incorporates these six threshold concepts.

  • Authority is Constructed and Contextual
  • Information Creation is a Process
  • Information Has Value
  • Research as Inquiry
  • Scholarship as Conversation
  • Searching as Strategic Exploration

It's hard to argue with any of them -- obvious as they may seem.  We forget how alien some of these assumed understandings are to students.  That's why I live by metaphors.  And threshold concepts have helped to focus my use of them.

I asked the audience at Research Relevance to suggest new metaphors -- and here are some responses:

  • a search engine like Google is like "trail mix" - returning results include some M&Ms, some raisins, some peanuts - while a database is like a whole bag of M&Ms -- all good results
  • a group project is like a music quartet - each contributing to the whole beautiful sound
  • a database is like a bathtub filled with water for a particular size and purpose, while Google is like a river, whose flow is unpredictable and aimless

I particularly like (the dead white male professor) Kenneth Burke's description of the metaphor of the "unending conversation" of academic discourse ->

"Imagine that you enter a parlor. You come late. When you arrive, others have long preceded you, and they are engaged in a heated discussion, a discussion too heated for them to pause and tell you exactly what it is about. In fact, the discussion had already begun long before any of them got there, so that no one present is qualified to retrace for you all the steps that had gone before. You listen for a while, until you decide that you have caught the tenor of the argument; then you put in your oar. Someone answers; you answer him; another comes to your defense; another aligns himself against you, to either the embarrassment or gratification of your opponent, depending upon the quality of your ally's assistance. However, the discussion is interminable. The hour grows late, you must depart. And you do depart, with the discussion still vigorously in progress."   [source]

Debbie and Sue spoke about giving students three information sources in three different arenas:  e.g., a tweet, a newspaper, and a journal -- by the same author (e.g., Michael Kraus).  To show how authority is perceived from different angles. 

Just as I would tell my grade 11 IB Diploma students setting out on their Extended Essays:  "go to the library's physical bookshelves, find a book, look at the author (the expert), Google them to see their most up-to-date outpourings, do they have a blog, do they tweet? -- find your experts first -- then find out where they have said what you need to cite -- and choose the most academic channel of their output."

I caution students that their biggest danger is not finding the (right? best? cutting-edge?) experts in your field.  (The Ignorance Trap: You don't know what you don't know....)  Looking for published book authors first is a safe bet.  Someone who has gotten someone else to pay to print their thoughts is someone maybe worth listening to.  On the other hand, they may be already out-of-date.  Everything depends on the context.

We teacher-librarians talked about disciplinary literacy -- and asking teachers in departments, "How do you construct knowledge in your discipline?"  -- and making them define it, e.g., in a Google Doc.

We talked about how students don't like sources that don't support their thesis - they don't know what to do with them.

We talked about how competence in research is a developmental sequence, like beads on a string.  You may not see all students through all the stages, where Stage 1 is concrete truth (novice), Stage 2 is opinion, and Stage 3 is a reasoned opinion.  And we recognized that these stages are not age-dependent.  (Think: Philosophy for Children -

Annotated bibliographies are often a good litmus test of where students are.  Where annotations are minimally:  Describe + Understand + Compare.

Having students think of a bibliography like a detailed ingredient list to a foodstuff or meal is still my favorite metaphor.  You may not need to mention everyday ingredients like water or salt (commonly known stuff), but you absolutely must cite anything flavorful or key to the recipe.

Threshold concepts are key.  Metaphors are key.  And school librarians need to find the right metaphors for their students.  Context is key.

Inquirying into the Research Process - with others....

What tacit knowledge do we all bring to the research and inquiry process?  How useful is the concept of threshold concepts?  What metaphors might help students leap those conceptual thresholds? What pre-searching strategies should we be pushing?  How can predictive search awareness improve search strategies? How can we ensure curation exercises improve the skill of evaluating resources? How we can tap the multi-dimensional power of primary sources?  Are we always aware of the best questioning strategies?  How can we help students build background knowledge?

These are just some of the questions those of us attending "Research Relevance: K-12 Library Instruction for the 21st Century: A Colloquium for School Librarians" at the Castilleja School, Palo Alto, California, June 24-25, 2015, considered.  For a Google Folder of all the raw materials of the presenters -- go to

What stood out for me?  What were my take-aways?

I'll start out by saying what we didn't bother with.  Nobody gave a damn about what words we used to identify the research process.  Models were irrelevant.  Instead we heard about examples of where the right resource at the right time with the right focus helped students appreciate what a slippery process research is.

While tools might have been mentioned, they were secondary.  E.g., annotated bibliographies as an evaluation exercise are very useful, but it doesn't matter if they are made in NoodleTools or EasyBib or Diigo or RefMe or Zotero or a Google Doc.

Concepts were king (queen?).  Debbie Abilock and Sue Smith did a whole valuable session on Threshold Concepts -- and my 5-min. Lightning Round on "Metaphors for Research: food for thought" was in the same vein.

Primary sources came up in several guises.  Especially the notion that in order to know if something actually IS a primary source, you have to know what question you are answering.  Someone recommended the Lapham's Quarterly's feature "Voices in Time."

We use Libguides in our school (though I hate to be judged on ours - there's never enough time to go back and make them all beautiful and consistent).  So I particularly like to see how people are using them - in their school and for PD events like this.  Sara Kelley-Mudie did a session on "Where to Begin" when working with students on research -- and focused on the art of questioning and question-storming.  See her beginning point -- her Libguide -- below.

In another session a Libguide was shown that served as a guide to a kind of Google Lit Trip -- where students in Grade 9 reading "The Grapes of Wrath" created a map as if they were taking the same trip from the dust bowl of the Midwest to California, with limited money and resources, and random misfortunes along the way.

This reminded me of a similar Humanities project for high school that a teacher at the Singapore American School shared at an iLearnEd after-school event last April.  As I recall, it was a Humanities unit (joint literature and geography) where students read Max Brooks' "World War Z: an oral history of the Zombie War" (a narrative which evidently roams the world and is largely based on actual locations) and had to prove -- using Google Maps -- whether the locations and settings in certain chapters were real or fictional.  Click here for a video of instructions to the students re working with Google Maps.

Tasha Bergson-Michelson and Kristin Fontichiaro did a plenary on "Tacit Research: What we know about research and inquiry that we forget to tell kids".  See their slides here:

As an exercise, they gave us all time to read an NPR article on Grover Cleveland - see - and then collected questions that occurred to us.  We had so many!  What a wonderful kind of instigator for inquiry.  About Grover Cleveland and his era, about leaders and ill health (e.g., Roosevelt, Kennedy), about the the rights and power of the media, about the rights of people in positions of power, etc.

We talked about the Wikipedia "Talk" page for each subject and how that also reveals the conversations behind a topic.  We considered at what point we should be pointing students to databases.  How far into the question/topic development process.  We talked about answerable vs. unanswerable questions.   Is there a way to make topic selection sexy? (or even just fun?)  How much time is allotted to question development?  How much to topic selection?

We wondered about the difference between researching on a phone versus a laptop.   Does one device fore-shorten clicking down into results?  How to enable in-depth reading on a device?

We wondered about our cultural assumptions about research.  E.g., Kristin told the story of a student from India who was confused as to why they couldn't use just one source in their bibliography -- because that one sources had something like 700 references listed.  Why did they have to have five references if they had found such an excellent one-stop-shopping one??

Knowing the advanced features of a search engine is invaluable - we all agreed.  Tasha did another session on Predictive Search.

Building background knowledge -- and trying to involve primary sources -- was another focus.  Nicole Hunter and Hayley Beale from San Francisco University High School showed us the LibGuide they made for 9th graders who will spend a year immersing themselves into the full range of Mexican history.

I'll talk about threshold concepts and metaphors for research in a separate post.

So let me end with a beautiful infographic by Michelle Fitzgerald on international reading.  I didn't get to the session she and Debbie Abilock did on supporting students from around the world (otherwise I would have missed Sara Kelley-Mudie's one on beginning the research process!), but I was pleased to find this in the folder afterwords.

The shape of face-to-face PD for teacher-librarians: Conference, workshop, symposium, colloquium?

Forms of in-person professional development can be considered genres -- and like literary genres, they evolve.  (NB: Forms of online PD are another topic.)  (What is it about us as animals/mammals that being in a room together is different than a Google Hangout?   I liken ebooks to Skype conversations - we do miss something, whether faint pheromones or just broader visual clues about the physical entity/environment.)

The big conference with keynote speakers and multiple vendor displays is the most established.  Outside that paradigm, everyone is experimenting with combinations of macro (whole audience keynote), mini (1 hour workshop/presentation), micro (20 min), and nano (5 min, lightning round style) sessions.  The degree of expected participation assumed in the design of the event also varies, from prepared presentations (whether read or spoken, with or without slideshows) to hands-on exercises to a free-flow unconference style.  Identification of themes and strands helps to tie the event and people together.

What works in one physical setting won't work in another (we all know what the lack of decent wifi and acoustics does to any gathering) -- and the composition and size of the group has an enormous influence on what is effective and what isn't.  (Can I say here that the app I'm waiting for is the one where everyone can speak into their mobile device and it acts like a microphone such that the whole room can clearly hear the question being asked.... If you know of one, contact me immediately.)

The online support for any event is also terribly important.  A decent website, available both before and after the event - with all the relevant backup materials - goes without saying, as well as well-publicized hashtags, so people not able to attend can easily eavesdrop.

As a teacher-librarian, I participate in events designed with teachers in mind (e.g., Learning 2.0 Asia, EARCOS Teachers Conference and Google Apps for Education (GAFE) in Singapore) and events designed with librarians in mind (e.g., the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and the American Library Association (ALA)), but the best for me are the hybrid kind -- where teacher-librarians get to meet and exchange ideas and experiences related to both teaching and to librarianship.  

Local network after-school meetings provide that kind of in-person contact.  Here in Singapore we have ISLN (International Schools Library Network of Singapore), as other cities do -- Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hong Kong, China, Japan, etc.  But more dedicated time together with other teacher-librarians is definitely worth it.

In the region, there are several recurring events, e.g., the Librarian Knowledge Sharing Workshop (LKSW) (now coming up to its 4th year , back in Kuala Lumpur where it started); the School Librarian Connection, initiated last year in Hong Kong, up for repetition somewhere, perhaps Singapore; the Shanghai librarians conference; and in Taiwan this November an EARCOS-sponsored weekend on Tech-Integrated Libraries

The large-scale version of these are the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) and the ECIS Triennial Librarians Conference -- though timing and distance are sometimes a problem.

To give an idea of the range of ideas explored in the small-scale regional professional gatherings, see this summary sketch-note from the February 2015 Librarian Knowledge Sharing Workshop in Bangkok -- by Maggie Appleton.

And to give an idea of who attends these events, see this "Who We Are" Google Doc from the November 2015 School Librarian Connection conference in Hong Kong.

This past June I attended the 2-day "Research Relevance: K-12 Library Instruction for the 21st Century" Colloquium in California.  Hats off to Tasha Bergson-Michelson, Jole Seroff, and Debbie Abilock - and all the others who organized the event that brought over 80 teacher-librarians together in Palo Alto at Castilleja School, just before the ALA annual conference started in San Francisco.

I was lucky to be attending, both this colloquium and ALA, with a small cohort of international school teachers - the ever-ebullient Kate Brundage from the Singapore American School; the online-wonder Dianne McKenzie from Hong Kong; my new parallel campus secondary teacher-librarian at UWCSEA in Singapore, Kurt Wittig, previously in Cambodia; and a new UWC-related friend, Michelle Fitzgerald from Japan.

Research Relevance was a good combination of  experiences.  We started off with a communal exercise using raw creative materials -- based on "Build a World" from the Gamestorming book (which was inspired by the classic picture book for kids by Ed Emberley - "Build a World"). 

Our task?  To build our ideal library as symbolically or literally as we wanted.  We then did a gallery walk with each table explaining their creation to others.  Depending on your group and attitude, could have been painful or fun.  (Dianne and I had fun....)

Dianne McKenzie working on our "ideal library" - which we called a "prosumption palace" - a place for both production and consumption.... (not original, but I forget where I first heard it)

Making things is quite trendy in the school/library world.  So we all enjoyed a tour of the school's makerspace -- the Bourn Idea Lab.  Click here to see my Google photo album.

Hands-on experience and group interaction were admirably built into the two days.  For example, someone demo'ed a "write-around" exercise - where you move between tables, visually commenting on provocative snippets.

And when there was a session on exploring the difference between taking paper written notes vs. notes on a tablet using a stylus vs. notes typed on a laptop, the organizers had tablets and styli (those Latin plurals always look awkward, don't they?) for people to play with.  And every session ended with us writing Post-It note reflections publicly displayed.

The residuals?  A Twitter stream (#ResearchRelevance) and a Google Folder of presenter materials --  (a bit dense to navigate - only for the dedicated).  I'll relay my own pertinent take-aways about teaching and leading research in a separate blogpost.

If you are interested in considering forms of conferences from an anthropological point of view, here's an interesting Medium article by the organizers of a conference on "Genres of Scholarly Knowledge Production."  It considers conferences from an international university humanities perspective, but you can't help but apply it to our own school teacher/librarian PD experience.  E.g., the reliance on one screen and a slideshow.  The front of the room focus.  Thinking how to make the most of human beings being together.   Contemplating how the infrastructure of a conference affects the content and impact of the event....

Crowd-sourcing, cameras, and summer reading

For the past two years I have solved the problem of summer reading lists by crowd-sourcing recommendations from our community via "Summer Shelfies." 

We set up a photo booth area in the library (with help from the Art Dept. and Dave Caleb, one of our digital literacy coaches who is a serious photographer) -- for backlit flashes against a white backdrop -- the kind of lighting that makes all of us look like models.

Individuals or whole classes line up with a book in hand and get captured on film.  I then post the results to a Google+ Photo Album.

POSTER - MS HS Summer Shelfie 2015 (1).png

Click here to see this year's results so far: -- and last year's:

This year we asked for another possibility -- a #bookface creation.

The results can be seen here:

Your mobile Destiny: taking advantage of apps

There are three mobile apps for Follett's Destiny library system that deserve greater attention. 

And -- because my mantra is "make the virtual visible" -- the three posters below sit prominently on our front desk as visual marketing props for any student, parent, or teacher who chances by with queries that could be solved by downloading them. 

(Feel free to copy/modify the posters for your own Destiny environment -- click here for a Dropbox folder with Mac OSX Pages and PDF versions.)


QUESTION:  Do you have the book "__________"?

ANSWER: Do you have the mobile app that lets you search our catalog?

I then pick up my iPhone, tap on this app, and type in the title they're asking about.  If we do have it, there's no need to scribble down the call number -- it's in my hand as I walk them to the shelf.

This app is particularly useful when out in the wide world.  I tell people to check if we already own a title -- before buying a book online or at the bookstore. (Why waste your money?)

A secondary benefit is that you can see your current checkouts, if you opt to login.

When patrons ask how to get the app, I just point to the poster.


SearchIncludes Library, Digital, and One Search.

Library search results show whether a title is IN or OUT -- and gives one Call Number -- the top one in the list of Available copies. 

NB:  What you can't see is the list of all copies and their Sublocations.  A real shame - as we have popular titles in multiple locations.  Another shame is that Subject Headings are not shown for titles.  But perhaps in future versions.

My Lists and Public Lists:  Very useful. Books searched for can be added to "My List" from within the app.  NB: Visual Search categories/lists are not accessible via the app.

My Bookshelf:  This accesses the three bookshelves available via the Destiny Quest interface:  Now Reading / Want to Read / Have Read.  It would be great if these lists were part of the traditional interface.

Account:  Very useful.  Users can see titles on hold, titles checked out, fines, and their checkout history.

FollettShelf:  Online access to ebooks, allowing users to read books instantly.  (For offline access, they will need the K-12 Brytewave app shown further on....)

Top 10 and New Arrivals:  Unfortunately, these are the Destiny equivalent of click-bait -- catchy titles that fail to deliver real value.  It would be wonderful if we could limit these by other data fields, like Circulation Type.  E.g., New Arrivals only shows the last 15 books cataloged -- and, because our catalog contains ALL texts within the school - whether library books, textbooks, professional books for departments, etc., new arrivals in general aren't of general interest. For the same reason, our Top 10 usually reflects unsurprising results, such as textbooks.

*UPDATED June 13: I just learned that Top 10 can be limited by Patron Type circulations, by Material Type, and by Call Number range -- and "in library use" can be included, if desired.  So my apologies to Follett!


TEACHER:  Someone left this textbook in my classroom.  Who is it checked out to?

ANSWER: Do you have the mobile app that lets you teachers not only see who a book is checked out to -- but lets you check books in and check books out to students?

At our school, the Destiny catalog contains all bar-coded resources, including textbooks for departments like Mathematics and Science as well as hundreds of FVR (Free Voluntary Reading) books in English classroom libraries.  So all our teachers are mini-librarians, checking books in and out to students in the classroom, using their iPhones or iPads and this incredibly useful app from Follett.  Yes, it does mean a training session or two, but the effort is worth it, given all our satellite collections and the fact that teachers have 24/7 access to our library (thanks to magnetic door keys) so they can check out whatever books they want whenever they want.

I impress patrons all the time by walking them to a shelf to retrieve a requested book -- and immediately check it out to them while standing there in the aisle -- using my iPhone and this app.


CHECK OUT:  Search for a patron, tap on "Scan" and then the mobile device's camera scans for the barcode -- and voila! A transaction is complete.

CHECK IN:  Tap on "Scan" and scan the barcode -- with an option to "record in-library use" On/Off.  The only thing it doesn't do is tell you who the book was checked out to, if anyone.  (Maybe in a future version?)

PATRON STATUS:  Very useful for quickly showing a patron what they have out.  Again, the only patrons who have the Access rights to this app are Library Staff and Teachers. 

ITEM STATUS:  All our teachers can use this function to pick up a school/library bar-coded book found anywhere on campus and see who it is checked out to.   I use this app function when closing up the library at the end of the day - on books found lying around - rather than just scanning them in.  So I can email a student and say, "Hey, your Psychology textbook was left on a table in the library - come pick it up from me tomorrow."

*UPDATED June 13:  SNEAKING IN AN INVENTORY?  We are asking some of our classroom teachers to help us with inventory, by giving them some old iPod Touches (ones no one seems to be using), with the Follett Destiny app installed on them, so students can scan and "Check in" all the books to be found in their classroom.  (Kids love to scan barcodes -- and I tease them that it's training for them to work in a shop some day....)  The scans will update the "Date Last Accounted For" field for items -- which the inventory function looks at.  (The "Item Status" function doesn't update the date field.)


QUESTION:  Do you have ebooks?

ANSWER: Yes -- and did you know there's an app that lets you read Follett ebooks offline?

I'm not sure how many patrons are using this app, but I need to make sure they know it's available.  Hence the poster.

It would be useful if we could get statistics on how many patrons accessed our resources via these apps.

On reading and balance in four 8-book baskets -- and the ones that got away

The 2014-2015 Red Dot Book Award shortlists, the 8 books in four age categories we choose for our students to read, consider, and compare -- in order to determine a favorite -- for a school and for the island nation of Singapore -- have been announced.  I want to celebrate them, but also point out the books that almost made it -- and still could in a future year -- and certainly deserve a wider reading in the meantime.

You can read the background to our awards and criteria in a blog post I did a year ago -- see Looking Back: the evolution of the Red Dot Book Awards and the Readers Cup in Singapore.

Basically, we look at:   
  • publication date (past four years, e.g., 2011-2014);
  • ease of access (where a paperback version via one of the free-shipping online vendors (e.g., Book Depository or is the ideal -- and an ebook available is a bonus);
  • genre (one nonfiction? one graphic format? one poetry or verse novel? as well as a mix of fiction genres);
  • gender (mix of female/male protagonists or appeal);
  • country of origin or flavor (wanting a mix, but recognizing some countries just produce a whole lot more than others, and preferring at least one book with a Singapore or Asian connection);
  • literary vs. popular appeal (considering whether a book is already played out in terms of popularity or likely to be popular -- as well as books that teachers will love for their literary, teachable aspects);
  • appropriateness for the age categories of our award.  
  • content, where we favor books with multiple possible connections -- text-to-text, text-to-self, and text-to-world.
Balance trumps everything -- which means every year there are perfectly good books that don't get in the basket, because they unbalance it in some way.  With just 8 slots, we don't really want two wordless books or two poetry books or two biographical books, etc.  So I thought it would be good to lay out what is in this year's baskets AND highlight some books we seriously wanted, which lost out in some way, due to the devil of the balance.  NB: most of the un-chosen titles are theoretically still in the running for next year's lists....

Here are this year's shortlists:

2014-2015 Early Years

A Boy and a Jaguar
Empty Fridge
Going Places
How to Hide a Lion
Just Imagine
Norman, Speak!
Vanilla Ice Cream

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is pretty good:  2 USA, 1 Australia, 1 Iceland, 2 UK, 1 Canada, and 1 France.

We have one memoir (by Alan Rabinowitz, the large cat expert who suffered severe stuttering as a child, but found solace in speaking to animals -- listen to him tell the same story to grown-ups on this "The Moth" podcast).  One story of someone "different" finding a friend.  One non-fiction book of questions to consider, and a Peter Reynolds (of "The Dot" fame) story that considers creativity.  A beautiful French book which is a modern version of "stone soup".  A boy and his dog story that features learning Chinese.  A tale that connects creatures and humans from India all the way to Australia.  And a good-old-fashioned story of a young child befriending a lost lion, as well as a book by an Icelandic author where one unusual person finds a perfect match in another unusual person.

Click here for the longlist Early Years books we didn't choose...  including another French book (Bear's Song), a lovely simple Korean bedtime tale (Blanket Travel); the perhaps too-well-known-already Day the Crayons Quit; the latest-greatest from Peter Brown (My Teacher is a Monster); the rhyming fun of The Brothers Quibble which wasn't readily available; and the most recent wordless genius of David Wiesner (Mr. Wuffles!).

2014-2015 Younger Readers

Battle Bunny
A Boy Named Harry: The Childhood of Lee Kuan Yew
Captain Coconut and the Case of the Missing Bananas
Emma and the Blue Genie
Goth Girl and the Ghost of a Mouse
My Happy Life
The Secrets of Flamant Castle: The Complete Adventures of Sword Girl and Friends
The Year of Billy Miller

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is good:  2 USA, 1 Australia, 1 UK, 1 India, 1 Sweden, 1 Singapore, and 1 Germany.

We have one picture book biography of Lee Kuan Yew (appropriate as the 50th anniversary of Singapore is coming up next year).  A meta-fiction frolic from Jon Scieszka.  A similarly silly offering from the ever-beautiful Tara Books in India featuring an Inspector-Clouseau-type character.  A magical chapter book for young readers from the best-selling author of "Inkheart".  A beautiful-produced purple chapter book of historical fiction inspired (read article here) by Ada Lovelace (daughter of Lord Byron and the first female programmer).  An Australian knights-and-swords fantasy featuring Tommy, a kitchen girl (where there is a SGD 15 book -- "The Secret of Flamant Castle" available containing not just the first title -- "The Secret of the Swords" -- but a further five adventures -- so a bargain of a book in terms of reading on...).  And two realistic fiction chapter books, one about a boy in 2nd grade -- "The Year of Billy Miller" -- by the American Kevin Henkes, and the other about a girl just starting school -- "My Happy Life" -- by the Swedish Rose Lagercrantz.

Click here for the longlist Younger books we didn't choose... including a picture book biography of Malala, the Nobel Peace Prize winner (because we have her original memoir in our Mature category); the knowing sarcastic humor of Timmy Failure; two realistic fiction verse novels we really liked:  "Words with Wings" by Nikki Grimes, and "Little Dog Lost" by Marion Dane Bauer; a realistic fiction story of an Australian girl who goes to Pakistan with her parents to help flood victims (Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll); a cute graphic novel about people who don't fit in (Odd Duck); a realistic novel about an Omani boy about to move to the States (The Turtle of Oman); a Singapore mystery/adventure novel in the vein of last year's Red Dot choice, Sherlock Sam (Danger Dan Confronts the Merlion Mastermind); a wordless book for older readers -- Aaron Beck's Journey; a light-hearted quest out of the UK: The Magnificent Moonhare; scary stories from James Preller (Home Sweet Horror); the trials and tribulations of a 7-year-old (Penguin Problems); and comedic kung fu chickens on a mission by Jennifer Gray.

2014-2015 Older Readers

Black Flame
El Deafo
The Fourteenth Goldfish
Light Horse Boy
Rain Reign
The Screaming Staircase

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread is not bad:  3 USA books, 1 China (Mongolia) book, 2 UK books, and 2 Australian books. 

We have a graphic memoir (think: Smile) about a deaf girl who has to cope with hearing aids.  An adventurous trio of ghost-busters in London in the future (by the beloved Jonathan Stroud) (you have read the Bartimaeus sequence, haven't you?).  A realistic fiction dog story set in Mongolia (get the hankies ready).  Another realistic fiction story involving a dog, but this one told by a girl with Asperger's Syndrome, set in the US during a natural disaster, also with tear-provoking moments.  A mystery/disaster narrative post-cyclone in Australia.  A fairy-tale-like adventure across the rooftops of London to find a long-lost mother.  A suspend-reality experience where a grandfather shows up in middle-school thanks to science fiction.  And a historical fiction story -- almost a graphic novel because of the amount of visual material -- of a young man and his horse who sign up for World War One -- and end up in the horrors of the Middle East.

Click here for the longlist Older books we didn't choose... NB:  In this category there are a lot....  We had a hard time selecting just eight.  So please -- go out and read all the ones listed here that we didn't choose.  They are worth it...  including the Star-Wars-meet-Cinderella dystopia set in Beijing, first in a sequence; Other Brother by Simon French; the Unwanteds (which won in the Morning Calm Medal in Korea); the adventure of escaping from a library; the beautifully written and sensitive offering by Sonya Hartnett re WWII evacuees; "A Time to Dance" - a verse novel about an Indian girl who realizes she can dance even though she isn't whole (and several people have suggested "The Running Dream" as a perfect complement to it); a dystopia about British refugees struggling in France by Gillian Cross; a brilliant British gothic/horror fantasy set in the 19th century by Jonathan Auxier; a realistic novel set back in the 1980s in India where boys struggle to become tiffin carriers; a moving middle-school novel about a gifted and talented girl creating a family out of a group of misfits; Rick Yancey's latest adventure; Gordon Korman's latest offering -- re an ungifted boy who ends up with the smarties and helps them develop in a different way; a noble dystopia presented by Malorie Blackman; "She's Not Invisible" by Marcus Sedgwick -- such a strong contender -- with parallels to the beautiful Picture Me Gone; Jaclyn Moriarty's "A Corner of White" -- a parallel world fantasy; "Hero on a Bicycle" by the classic Shirley Hughes; "Liar and Spy" by Rebecca Stead -- too well known already by our students perhaps; Jared Diamond re-offering his "The Third Chimpanzee" in a young adult version;  Eoin Colfer launching a new series: The Reluctant Assasin; the Indian mythology equivalent of Rick Riordan's Greek/Roman ones - the Ash Mistry series; a time travel book set during natural disasters of fire and water in Australia -- "The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie"; and a book about Aussie soldiers and horses in WWI -- to complement Morpurgo's "War Horse" and Wolfer's "Light Horse Boy" -- "Loyal Creatures" by Morris Gleitzman.

2014-2015 Mature Readers

Earth Dragon Fire Hare
I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
A Monster Calls
Sita's Ramayana
The Sky So Heavy
Thrice Told Tales: Three Mice Full of Writing Advice
We Were Liars

ISLN (Int'l School Library Network) Singapore's favorite books »

Our international spread isn't bad: 3 USA, 1 Australian, 1 New Zealand, 1 India, 1 UK, 1 Pakistan.

We have the memoir of the youthful Nobel Peace Prize winner.  An unreliable narrator uncovering a mystery.  A historical novel set in Malaya during WWII and the region's post-war conflicts.  A novel within a novel -- giving us parallel worlds in more ways than one (and highlighting NaNoWriMo and the writing process).  A graphic rendition of the Ramayana from Sita's point of view.  An emotional (and visual) novel that examines cancer from the viewpoint of a teen whose mother is dying.  A post-apocalyptic survival novel set in Australia.  And an amusing and informative exploration of literary devices, all based on the nursery rhyme about three blind mice.

Click here for the longlist Mature books we didn't choose... including Meg Rosoff's Picture Me Gone - which everyone should read;  Sara Zarr's "The Lucy Variations" about the power of family and expectations, framed in the world of classical pianists; a graphic version of war set in Uganda's LRA; an Indian novel about a girl's world coming apart upon learning she is adopted; the Carnegie-awarding winning "Maggot Moon"; dragon slayers in Canada -- not to be missed; desperate, lonely lives in Iceland; historical fiction from Australia (which proved hard to source, hence it had to be eliminated -- but worth finding); "BZRK" by the author of the popular "Gone" series; if you don't know Brandon Sanderson, then start with his "Steelhearts" re a future ruled by super-humans; "I Kill the Mockingbird", a novel re 8th graders obsessed with making people obsessed with "To Kill a Mockingbird"; a novel about the endangered bonobos in the Congo; the multiple-award-winning "Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe"; and the sins of the brother achingly explored by Susin Nielsen, author of "Word Nerd".

We'll be shifting our shortlist selection announcement time to June 1, rather than November 1 -- as we always underestimate how long it takes, which means libraries are delayed in getting books on the shelves.  So with any luck we will make this a spring task, rather than an autumn one.

"Themed" book recommendations... make them visible... and connected...

A couple of days ago, someone on the US-based YALSA-BK listserv (yes, listservs are still active in many arenas -- even though other social media tools have arisen) suggested we crowd-source (amongst ourselves) lists of titles for MS/HS "themed" book talks.

I'd been wanting to promote such lists to my students, but struggled to find a way to make the production process scaleable.  How to keep track of the books I booktalked as a themed grouping and continually promote the list.

A few years back The ReadAdventurer blog published some "walls of books" -- see "140+ Books for the Boys of YA", "120 YA books from the UK", "110+ Australian YA books", and "A Metric Ton of Short YA Books" -- which I loved.  Then there were the online readers advisory tools like the NPR Book Concierge, which also shared booklists using book covers in a very visual way.  I wanted to find some vehicle to do the same thing -- generate lists based on themes -- but be visible in the library all the time.

Then I found +Rebecca Dunham (blog - Lunashee's Lunacy) and her YA themed posters (freely given away under Creative Commons).   Her posters inspired us to create our own, by providing some initial themes and a basic style to copy.  As we didn't have all the books on her posters, we simply modified the selection of titles to match our collection.

Luckily I have a teacher, Mairin Raisdana, who works part-time in our library as our design and production queen; I just come up with the themes and titles I want to potentially booktalk.

Here is a Google Plus photo album of our posters, so far:

An important feature of every poster is both a QR code and a shortened URL ( or which takes viewers directly to the booklist in our Follett Destiny catalog.  So people can find out whether any copies are currently available in the library or not.  A majority of our high school students do have smart phones, but I also have a number of iPads that can be used as mobile OPACS and QR code scanners.

By linking to the catalog -- to a Resource List or to a search for particular key words or subject headings -- I can booktalk the books shown on the poster, but know there is a ready list of those books plus more -- to put into students' hands.  (Nothing worse than booktalking a stack of titles and not having enough to go around....)

The poster images are also available in our Libguides -- on a High School Reading Recommendations guide -- linking back to our catalog.

Physical copies of the poster are very important.  There's just so much in our libraries that is hidden online (or in our heads).

In the library itself wall space is limited.  So instead, we've got a circular rack of A3 (11" x 17") posters in plastic -- allowing patrons to browse the posters, like they would clothing.  The photos of our poster carousel are at the end of the slideshow above.  I've thought eventually I could get dividers on the rack, the equivalent of "Size 8", "Size 10", etc. -- "Teacher Favorites", "HS Genres", "MS Genres", "Fiction", "Nonfiction", etc.

Note that the hanging posters are not laminated.  (Bad for the environment....) Instead they are put in re-usable stiff plastic sleeves.  This allows for easy updating of the display.  In the slideshow I include some pictures of what I buy here in Singapore, where they are called "card cases" or "hard cases".  I'm not sure what they would be called elsewhere ("document cases"?).  The coat/skirt hangers are from IKEA.

Our school has a big Epson printer -- that allows us to produce posters that are 1.x meters (3 feet+) in size.  So we can also put big-scale posters in hallways and on teachers' walls.  (As we encourage all teachers to give us their list of favorite books -- from which we create a poster for them.  See this previous blog post.)

Google Apps for Education Summit: 3rd year running at the Singapore American School

Just got back from the 3rd annual GAFE Summit at SAS....  Excellent as usual.  It's not that I return with some all-empowering new understanding or tool.  Instead I get a thoroughly enjoyable two day exposure to people totally interested in technology and teaching and learning. 

See the detailed session schedule -- and click on any presentation in order to see if resources are provided.

Here are links to the sessions of expert advice and useful resources that I either attended or wanted to attend (thank god presenters give us the links no matter what):
I came away with an improved appreciation for Google Drawings, especially as I now realize it's an easy way to put links behind a schematic, e.g., I can make a map of my library floorplan and put links to each collection/bookshelf behind the location of that collection -- and embed it in one of my Libguides.

Chris Betcher's demo of Snagit in the Chrome browser so wow'ed me that I have shown it to at least 5 people today (and changed their lives, I hope).   If nothing else, the TAKE SCREEN SHOT OF THE WHOLE SCROLL OF THIS PAGE function is worth the price of the conference.....

I went to a couple of sessions on Google Scripts -- and felt humbled by my ignorance.  John McGowan -- you might have felt like your demo slam was a failure, but you are a beacon of excellent effort -- and accomplishment.  Andrew Stillman mach 2 in the making.  (Jay Atwood doesn't count for comparison, as he's already in the minor god category.....)

Kimberly Hall or Jennie Mageira mentioned in passing in one of their sessions the difference between Ctrl-V (paste) and SHIFT-Ctrl-V (paste but ignore previous formatting and copy this stuff into the space using the defaults of the destination space).  You don't know what this means to me.....

This conference is about the small-- and important -- stuff.  Productivity, connectivity, and visibility.  And I was glad so many of my colleagues from UWCSEA East were there to share it with me......

Frameworks for play / inquiry / research

"We have a responsibility to introduce children to things they don't yet know they will love." -- Edith Ackermann

Dr. Edith Ackermann came onto my radar this summer.   (See my previous blog post on "Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014" for the context.)

Such a charming, thoughtful expert on play and learning.  And such credentials! -- she worked with Jean Piaget and Seymour Papert, and has been associated with MIT for years (as well as other universities).

She loves Reggio Emilia schools, Steiner/Waldorf schools, Katie Salen and Quest schools, and Freinet schools.  A true educational radical (or realist) -- depending on where you stand.

Read this recent interview with her on creativity, talent, and intuition -- in a journal aimed at architects.

I wish I could find her CMK14 slides online.  I took basic shots into my Penultimate notes, but they aren't good enough to reproduce, e.g.,
The part of her talk that interested me the most was her description of the iterative cycle of self-learning, which she outlined as:
  • Connect -- Wow! I can't believe...  -- the inspiration - the imaginarium
  • Construct -- hands-on -- the atelier -- immersion and innovation
  • Contemplate -- heads-in -- mindfulness -- the sanctuary or secret garden
  • Cast -- play-back -- re-visit -- stage -- dramatize -- experiment
  • Con-vivire -- the sharing -- the piazza -- the agora -- expressivity
She stressed these are just guidelines for what happens along the way in different ways -- that the stages should never be used prescriptively. 

Our school is just settling on some common terminology around a research model -- one that will be differentiated for Infant (K1 to Grade 1), Junior (Grade 2 to Grade 5), Middle School (Grade 6 to Grade 8) and High School (Grade 9 to Grade 12).

A midway meeting ground has been agreed, e.g., here is a standard arising out of the articulation of the middle school curriculum:
The blog "What Ed Said" (Edna Sackson) recently had a post on her frustration with expected slavish commitment to an inquiry cycle model.  I agree.  You might as well insist everyone follow the same sequence for falling in love or grieving over death.  It's useful to appreciate typical stages, but impossible to expect everyone to adhere to them.  NB:  Kath Murdoch, referenced by Edna, is a frequent professional visitor to our school, and her phases of inquiry were key inputs to our process -- see here:

Edith was talking about Play -- and undoubtedly about Inquiry.  But our school is talking about Research.  Are they all the same thing?  Just at different age levels?  We'd like to think so.

Research, for middle/high school students, is just a game with adult rules (e.g., alluding to the ideas of others in a constructive and respectful way) -- and our job is to alert them to those rules and to convince them it's a game worth learning (after all, research is a form of adult fun, yes?).  As Edith put it, students must learn to add value in the process of borrowing.   They must become adept at massaging ideas until they are their own, rather than just functioning as an information broker, passing on ideas.  To ride others' ideas until they can feel in solo mode, not fusion mode.

I particularly like Edith's "Cast" phase, with its implicit theatrical connotation.  Something between our "Reflect" and "Communicate."  It's the part that implies the iterative nature of the process.  That you, within your own mind or in the presence of others, re-think what you have, try it out, and ask if it's sufficient, if it's enough.

(I'm also partial to Design Thinking as a basic research model; see my previous blog post: Carol Kuhlthau Meets Tim Brown. )

Other things Edith commented upon....
  • re MOOCs and online learning: 
    • the double standard:  it's the new entrepreneurial elite, who are educated onsite with constructivist methods, who are promoting education online where "others" struggle alone;
  • re today's learners:
    •  growing older younger, and staying younger older;
    • the tension between temp and "forever" work
    • the tension between professional mobility and lack of security;
  • re the role of the eye and the senses:
    • away from Piaget (the rationalist) to Papert (feeling the materials);
    • the real practitioners (e.g., architects) are always tricking people to get a different perspective;
    • to crawl out of the old ways of thinking;
    • tricks to get us off our own beaten path;
    • using objects creates resistance; 
"Learning is all about moving in and out of focus, shifting perspective, and coming to 'see anew.'" -- Edith Ackermann

Summer camp for teachers (way beyond the old Crafts Cabin)

Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez have been holding a very special 4-day summer institute in New Hampshire for the past 7 years.

"Constructing Modern Knowledge" (#CMK14) provides teachers with a learning space and enough time to the fail -- and succeed -- at doing what we are always exhorting our students to do:  learn something!  make something!

I got involved by virtue of having put Stager and Martinez's book -- "Invent to Learn: making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom" -- on display in my library to coincide with the Learning 2.0 conference last October (see my previous blog post on it).  Brian Smith (from Hong Kong International School) immediately began to talk to me about the book -- and the related conference.  Considering I spend my summers in Maine (a stone's throw away), it wasn't hard to decide to sign up.  At 21st Century Learning in HK in December, I also had the opportunity to meet Gary, who exudes enthusiasm for messy learning and hard fun.

4 days, 180 participants.  You can see the Vimeo videos here and the Flickr group photos here.  All in a Radisson Hotel in ManchVegas.  (Yes, I guess that's what they call Manchester, NH -- as it's the region's hotspot.)

Who were we?  The informal hands-up survey at the beginning indicated mainly teachers from private schools, from all over the US, plus a few internationals.  I quickly found Tina Photakis, from Australia, to hang out with.  The crowd was seeded with plenty of highlighted helpers, like Brian Smith (and his daughter), young Super-awesome Sylvia Todd (and her father), Peggy Sheehy (one of the few librarians), Dan and Molly Watt, Cynthia Solomon, etc.

How did we decide what we were going to build in our 4 days?  By shouting out suggestions that got put on giant post-it notes on the wall, followed by a massive gallery walk and sign-up.  Then we gathered by our top favorite post-it -- and groups were formed.  It worked admirably, better than most unconference events I've experienced.  I loved the range of ideas:  a light-sensitive chicken coop, a robot dog, an interactive recycling bin,  an interactive tree, an interactive garden, interactive clothing, etc.

One proposed project was "wearable speakers" -- and having attended two conferences this summer, I wish there were a smart-phone app for that right now.   How can it be that we don't have a way to make ourselves heard in big groups, e.g., questions from the floor, where no one can hear the question.

I wanted to work on a noise meter of sorts, as I'd had a Design and Technology IB student create a (unfortunately non-working) prototype for my library, using an Arduino.  So I knew I wanted to play with sound input creating some sort of visual output.  (Imagine: students in a supposedly silent study room with windows, where I am outside and can't tell how much noise they are actually making; when decibels go above a certain level,  colored lights began to flash -- indicating to both them and me that the room is no longer silent.) 

In the end, I went with a group interested in "sound sculpture", which eventually split into three or four smaller groups.  Gordon, Wendy, and I decided to see how we could get sound through an Arduino to display different colors, based on volume and frequency.  Gordon and Wendy wired the 3D matrix of lights, while I fooled around with programming an Arduino Esplora (a device which can take a variety of input).  We didn't get a fully-functioning integrated model, due to time and other limitations, but we sure learned a lot.  For me it was such a throw-back to my programming days.  Oh, the frustrations of imperfect code!

A major highlight of the conference was a field trip to the fabled MIT Media Lab, thanks to Gary and Sylvia's connections.   A talk by Mitch Resnick, founder of the Lifelong Kindergarten group.  (Here's a recent video of him doing a talk that is similar to the one we heard - on Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play.)  A chat with 87-year-old Marvin Minsky, one of the three pioneers immortalized in the lobby of the impressive building, the other two being Seymour Papert (represented at CMK14 by his daughter, Artemis, and granddaughter), and Muriel Cooper, who died 20 years ago.

Marvin regaled us with memories of his time at Bell Labs with Claude Shannon.  Re his artificial arm.  Though he lamented that no one wants to work -- nowadays -- on something so pedestrian as a former invention.  So no improvements are forthcoming.  He talked about being enthralled by nanotechnology.  The wave of the future.   He talked of computer games, and his belief that 4 year olds might play games, but 5 year olds should be moving on to making games.   His advice when getting stuck in life?  Ask the experts.  Which for him were Claude Shannon and Robert Oppenheimer.

We took advantage of the chance to wander down through the building.  So many windows into projects and the learning going on.  It was a wonderful evening in Cambridge/Boston.

Click here to see all my photos of the conference -- including plenty taken inside the Media Lab.

Back in Manchester, there was plenty of time for work, for reflection, and for inspiration from speakers interspersed in the schedule.

Edith Ackermann, an MIT stalwart and "play" expert, gave a fascinating presentation.  She talked of so many things -- she deserves a separate blog post.

Pete Nelson is famous for building treehouses.  I didn't know about him before, but now I appreciate he has his own reality TV show, Treehouse Masters and a treehouse center where you can go and stay.

He told the story of how his childhood passion for treehouses eventually led to a very public and remunerative vocation.  (Creating a coffee table book on treehouses of the world was an important first step!)  I'm sure most of us sitting there were thinking of old trees we wanted to create houses in.  He made it sound all so feasible.
Overall take-away thoughts:
  • Re the sharing of resources:  the organizers had an incredible array of materials available to us, but the trick was, whatever we took, we needed for the four days.  There wasn't much that you just needed short-term access to.  So the sharing was limited.  I wondered how libraries with a makerspace would cope with this.  Would someone be able to check out or reserve, say, an Arduino Esplora, for three days?  What is realistic for what time period of exclusive use?  It makes me think that individual hardware, such as Raspberry Pi's and Arduinos, is better suited to a teacher-class situation, where a learner can work with one set of materials over time.
  • How best to handle differentiation?  In this situation, some of us at a table had NO experience, and some had CONSIDERABLE.   I was conscious of trying to balance the time I spent floundering on my own and the time I spent getting help from others.  One thing for sure: we were in charge of our own learning.  It was fascinating to wander around, seeing the vast range of projects and skills on display.
CMK library:  There was a room at the conference where Gary and Sylvia laid out all their personal collection of books related to making and creating.  I took photos of most of them -- and have searched Amazon, making a "list" of them.  See the booklist here:  The Maker Movement and Constructing Modern Knowledge.

Also see this Reggio Emilia bookshop for more.

p.s.  Just discovered Gary and Sylvia maintain their own recommended booklist on Amazon -- see here.

p.p.s.  Here's another related booklist -- one from the International Design Technology teachers' conference, held at our school in May.  These were all the books I had on display during the conference.

ALA Las Vegas: Take-aways from being with 25k+ librarians for a couple of days

The American Library Association's annual conference is a heaving mass of librarians (of all varieties) in one place for four days - Friday-Monday, June 26-30.  Almost any US city is a convenient stopover for me, heading to Maine, at the end of the school year.

This year ALA was in Las Vegas, a venue that lived up to its stereotype, in the eyes of a first-time visitor. Next year's location - San Francisco - will be more my style perhaps.

But ALA is always an enriching experience, no matter where it's held.

The problem is to figure out what and who you want to see in the small time and huge space of the event (the exhibition hall alone is worth four days).

You can search offerings and construct your own schedule online ahead of time -- and there is a mobile app -- but the lack of fast/reliable/free internet access (especially Sunday) made that fairly irrelevant.  And for those of us with overseas phone accounts, the smart-phone solution for internet data access wasn't very economical.  So making off-line lists and lugging around the fat, physical ALA Guide was a sad, but comforting, necessity.

Here is my public debrief of the conference, filtered through my international, K-12 (primarily middle/high) librarian focus :

Pre-Conference: SCHOOL VISITS

There was a half-day pre-conference event on Friday, visiting three independent (i.e., private) school libraries -- Alexander Dawson School, Faith Lutheran Middle and High School, and Las Vegas Day School.  A few photos of each are here on Flickr with notes below.

Alexander Dawson:
-- the librarian pointed out how, in designing the school, no electrical cables or wiring is hidden, so kids are very aware of where electricity is being used, e.g., for air conditioning, for internet access, etc.;
-- the library had an "Aurasma" wall -- where we could pick up iPads, scan images, and watch videos the kids had made for one unit of inquiry (e.g., Irish castles);
-- two authors a year do two-week residencies, including 2 days in each classroom, e.g., Brian Falkner (from NZ) and Paul Owen Lewis -- during which time each student creates a book;

Faith Lutheran:
--  had quite a few full-size physical displays, e.g., military uniforms and a skeleton;
--  had an author/illustrator wall, where each visiting celebrity's name is added each year;

LV Day School:
-- they offer a "Classic Reader" program -- where students read more "quality" literature, and then discuss with an adult, four books above and beyond their other reading;
-- they run an "Adopt a Shelf" program for parents -- where parents are responsible for re-shelving and keeping one shelf looking tip-top -- they say it's quite competitive!
Overall, questions focused on staffing (all were minimally staffed, surprisingly) and what they were doing for ebook provision (e.g., all had Overdrive, despite the fact the local library offers it -- though not sure if that affected their choice of titles -- would they try to avoid overlap?).


This is no small part of ALA.   Many of us international school librarians managed to find each other (and we are determined to make it more organized next year).

The four of us from Singapore (Kim Klein from Stamford American International School, Kate Brundage from Singapore American School, and Susanne Clower and I from United World College of Southeast Asia - East campus) arrived as a nucleus -- and soon found Leanne Mercado from Nishimachi International School (Tokyo), as well as Candace Aiani and Barb Middleton from Taipei American School.  Later we connected with Leslie Henry from Jakarta International School and Victoria Robins from ASF Guadalajara Mexico.  There were others on the list of international attendees, but poor connectivity (and our overseas phones) made it hard to communicate.  I kick myself that I didn't put out a general call on the social media channels (like the ECIS iSkoodle listserv) beforehand.

During the pre-conference session of school visits, while getting on or off the bus, I overheard one woman say the word"Sakura" -- and I quickly determined to talk to her at the next stop, knowing she must have been referring to the Japanese international school librarian book award program, which is how I met Leanne Mercado.  Only when I later I put a face on the name "Barb Middleton" did I realize that she was on the same Friday school library tour, but because her registration tagged identified her as being from Minnesota, I didn't realize she was one of us - from Taipei American School.

Those of us that managed to meet up did our best to "divide and conquer" in terms of session attendance.

  • Finish de-briefing with those who attended this year, especially my Singapore colleagues when we all get back in August;
  • Next year: advertise on social media for all going to ALA to connect ahead of time;
  • Next year: maybe have a group of us do a panel presentation on International School Librarians - as an employment opportunity - pluses and minuses, etc.


A big complaint about Overdrive for schools has been the annual fee -- as much as US$4k/yr in the past.  But at their ALA booth, an Overdrive representative confirmed they have recently lowered the cost for school libraries.  Now it is US$1k/yr for up to 999 students and US$2k/yr for up to 1,999 students.  This cost is content purchase per annum -- it's not an annual usage fee -- which is great.

For those of us in international schools, a ongoing issue with all ebook vendors has been digital rights management (DRM) -- where popular titles are often not available to us, being situated outside the countries that are the biggest publishers (USA, UK, Australia, etc.).  I asked the Overdrive rep where I could preview the titles actually available to us in Singapore -- and she suggested I contact the sales force and get access to a demo overseas account.

StarWalk KidsMedia is a new ebook vendor -- headed by the famous (and charming) non-fiction author for kids, Seymour Simon (and his wife).  500 titles available so far, for grades K-8, half fiction, half non-fiction.  Leveled according to Fountas and Pinnell.  Only US$895 a year (at least for big schools like ours -- I forget if it's cheaper for smaller schools.)  Unlimited, simultaneous access.  Device neutral -- in fact, they assured me that if users downloaded a title (as you have to do to read on a mobile device), the title will stay accessible on the device for as long as the subscription (e.g., a year).  And they will provide MARC records.  It sounds a lot like BookFlix -- but going as high as Grade 8 in interest and complexity.  They were happy to offer us a 1-month free trial -- which I intend to do.

Kindle, Kindle, Kindle....?  Candace Aiani (High School) and Barb Middleton (Primary School) have embarked wholeheartedly on a Kindle-loaning program at Taipei American School - and have a wealth of experience.  Back in February she put a call out to the SILCAsia listserv, starting a discussion on the management of Kindles in schools - which some of you may have seen.

They organize their Kindles into "pods" of 5 devices each -- as each Kindle account can be synced to five devices.  Each Kindle (in a pod) will have up to 30 titles or so on it. Click here to see what a search for "Kindle" and "pod" turns up in Candace's High School catalog.  Click here to see what one Kindle might have on it, e.g., Pod "I".  (Now that Kindle Unlimited has been launched, I wonder how many of their titles are available to overseas subscribers.)

Taipei American School has gone for Overdrive in a big way -- see their Overdrive homepage -- even though the Overdrive books can't be downloaded to overseas Kindles, they said.  They also aren't thrilled about the fact there is often a 6-month delay getting the latest titles into Overdrive.  Note: Barb affirms that FollettShelf is far easier for primary school students to use than Overdrive.

  • Contact and ask for access to a demo overseas account -- now that the Overdrive annual fee is reasonable for school libraries -- for secondary school.
  • Start 1-month free trial in September of StarWalk KidsMedia -- for primary school.


Jane McGonigal was the opening keynote for ALA -- and didn't disappoint.  She reminded us of all the positive emotions gaming releases:  CREATIVITY / CONTENTMENT / AWE + WONDER / EXCITEMENT / CURIOSITY / PRIDE / SURPRISE / LOVE / RELIEF / JOY.

-- not to mention the development of RESILIENCE.

I was glad to be reminded of her experience developing a game for the New York Public Library and the quote by Brian Sutton-Smith:  "The opposite of play isn't work.  It's depression."

Later, in the exhibits hall, I ran into Scott Nicholson, professor at the iSchool in Syracuse and expert on gaming -- (I attended one of his workshops last year at ALA) -- and was thrilled to hear he is due to come to Singapore in November to work with the National Library Board (NLB).  Scott did several sessions at ALA this year -- and is particularly keen on the cognitive benefit of creating games, not just playing them.   Read some of his past papers here.

In the course of our conversation, he also alerted me to the Math Fairs for students being held annually in Toronto -- which I could definitely see our campus implementing.

There was also a Poster session on Computational Thinking for Tweens and Teens -- see where you can download the four PDFs.  It's where I came across Cubelets.... 

  • Connect with Scott Nicholson before November -- and with the NLB -- and see if I can organize an ISLN or school event as well when he is there.
  • Talk to Tilson Crew, our primary school math coach, to learn more about the math games that she has created and made available in our primary library for borrowing.
  • Talk to all our math teachers about the possibility of getting a math fair going at our school.


ALA is one big reading-love-fest.  Everyone there is full of book-talk, whether ebook or pbook.  And walking down the aisles of the exhibition hall, I just kept snapping photos of book covers, if not picking up free ARCs.  I refuse to fetishize signed editions, making it easy to avoid the urge to join any queues in front of author booths in the exhibition hall -- though I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to chat with authors when given the casual chance, e.g., attending a reception with the author/illustrator Kevin Hawkes who happens to live in Gorham, Maine, one town over from my hometown.

Donalyn Miller, aka The Book Whisperer and Grade 5 teacher extraordinaire, gave a talk on "Fostering Positive Reading Identities".  I was sitting between two international primary school teacher-librarians (Leanne Mercado from Tokyo and Barb Middleton from Taiwan) and we just kept nodding and laughing as Donalyn enlightened us with her research and entertained us with her personal experiences as a reader and reading teacher.

Like her, my identity as a reader was clinched in 3rd grade thanks to "SRA" -- that popular color-coded series of comprehension exercises in a box (which introduced me to speed reading as a competitive sport) -- and a memorable teacher, Miss Poole, who not only read "Charlotte's Web" to us, but also the delightful (though 1950s antiquated) "Mrs. Piggle Wiggle" series of magic solutions.

Donalyn talked about the power of reading communities and reiterated the influence of book "commercials" arising out of the natural community (e.g., peer-to-peer recommendations) -- and the role modeling of being a reader and read-alouds -- and all the things we know and have been doing, but need to remember are terribly inter-connected and important.

She challenges her students to read 40 or more books a year -- without any other reward system.  (Reading is its own reward, as she says.)

She talked about the intersection of reading interest (motivation), reading level (ability), and background knowledge (fertile ground for understanding) in terms of book choice.  Which makes me think of my beloved Design Thinking intersection of desirability (are you interested in the topic?), feasibility (does it match the assignment?) and viability (do we have the resources to support you) -- relating to research questions.




Though when it comes to reading levels, she reminded us that lexiles are only scaffolds (e.g., Fahrenheit 451 and The Diary of a Wimpy Kid have the same lexile band (true??)) -- and that text complexity is about what is NOT found on the page.

She recommends having a small pile of "Special Class Books" -- ready to hand to any child who says they have no book to read.

I like her idea of "Epicenter Readers" -- that category of people who influence other people's reading, whether in the classroom or in life.  Her own include John Schumacher (@mrschureads) and Teri Lesesne (@professornana).  I happened to meet two long-standing online "Epicenter Readers" of my own at a Random House reception:  Lynn Rutan and Cindy Dobrez (aka the Bookends bloggers) -- and gushed over them like a proper groupie.

Donalyn also reiterated the wisdom that less-than-highbrow series helps develop readers.  They are not to be sneered at.  Neither is the habit of re-reading.  As she reminded us, close reading is re-reading with a purpose. 


There are so many information literacy sessions to attend at ALA, some school-focused, some university-level.   As a high-school teacher-librarian, I am often indifferent to that distinction, as much of the information literacy instruction is focused on students just entering tertiary education.

A big difference, however, is that school-based librarians are almost all trained teachers, while university ones aren't (necessarily). 
One flipped university classroom session I attended was a bit of a waste, as it mainly extolled the benefits of using curriculum design models in designing flipped courses, which any teacher-librarian would already appreciate.  And I already knew about the handy tools for flipping the classroom being recommended, e.g., Screencastr, Prezi, Google Docs, etc.

But another session by university librarians teaching information literacy was brilliant in every way -- content, design, and presentation -- "From Stumbling Blocks to Building Blocks: Using Threshold Concepts to Teach Information Literacy." 
See their Powerpoint slides here.

I’d read about threshold concepts, as defined by Meyer and Land (academic instruction experts) — and discussed by David Perkins (of Harvard fame and general teaching expert), before — but had never read or heard anyone talk about them with specific reference to the field of information literacy, which is what this panel of academic librarians did.  

Korey Burnetti, Amy Hofer, and Lori Townsend reviewed five characteristics of threshold concepts:
  • Transformative -- they change understanding
  • Irreversible — one you get them, you can’t not see them anymore
  • Integrative -- part of a network of interconnected understandings
  • Bounded — meaning they are usually discipline-specific
  • Troublesome — meaning often counter-intuitive
The metaphor of the threshold refers to the acquisition of these concepts -- which can be compared to crossing a border; a mental, liminal space, delimited by time and experience; an extended place where the novice transitions over time to being an expert, with some people getting stuck until they "get it" (learning bottlenecks), some roaming around inside indefinitely, perhaps never to emerge.  A lens is a popular metaphor for appreciating the power of threshold concepts in different disciplines - to see with the eyes of an expert.  (The transition from one side to the other also reminds me of the shift from slow thinking to fast thinking (System 1 and System 2) of Daniel Kahnemann et al.)

Slide from the ALA 2014 presentation

They then discussed some basic information literacy threshold concepts they had distilled as "enduring understandings," using theWiggins and McTighe model of backward design, for their teaching practice.

For example, in exploring FORMAT AS THE RESULT OF A PROCESS, they showed the following typical search results, which to the average student would all look like "websites":
Slide from the ALA 2014 presentation

Go read the seminal articles by Land + Meyer -- and other resources available on the wonderful webpage page of the three presenters:

Another librarian showed how he promotes some of his library's more unusual digital collections as a means of exploring primary vs. secondary sources with students, e.g., presenting students with an archive of 1950s women’s magazines and having them imagine for what research question would particular advertisements or articles be a primary source.  Showing how questions develop, to a large degree, from the resources being used - in an iterative cycle.

The mantra they left us with:  READ -- SHARE -- ACT.

Many sessions were preceded by awards for best practice.  In the case of the Threshold Concepts one, an award was given to Library DIY (by Meredith Farkas) — a flipped classroom example of teaching procedural (as opposed to conceptual) stuff.  I'd already starred the project in my Diigo bookmarks as something to emulate -- and was thrilled to see it so publicly recognized.

There was also a poster session on a website called InfoSkills2Go - -- which allows college-bound high school students to earn badges in four categories:  academic integrity, information seeking, information organization, and information evaluation, using TRAILS as the pre-test and post-test. 

Another poster session I missed was -- "Student to Superhero: Freshmen Tell Their Research Stories" -- see -- where they described how they had students create a graphical narrative using the software called Comic Life to reflect on their entry-level university information literacy course. 

  • Re-think my own teaching modules with these info lit threshold concepts in mind
  • Look at the InfoSkills2Go website


There is a tension between the Google single box search — and the box (or boxes) we provide as windows into our local information resources.  Between what is out there in the largest sense of the world and what we can actually deliver (from our physical collection and our various virtual ones).

Candace (of the Taipei American School) told me she has recently implemented the EBSCO discovery layer.  I didn’t get a chance to really get into this with her (which is why I am determined to get up to Taipei to spend concentrated time absorbing her school’s information environment and how she is tackling these common problems of ours).

In terms of our library catalogs — Follett Destiny, for both Candace and me — the new Universal Search interface is an improvement (e.g., useful filtering via the sidebar).  But it's still slow and cumbersome compared to Google.  

Should we still be trying to steer students to our catalog?  What if we the library just focused on delivery of what students find elsewhere?  Leave the catalog there as our best inventory tool and perfect Subject Headings for our own discovery purposes, but not expect students to desert their best-friend Google?  (NB: I've been heavily influenced by the thoughts of Aaron Tay (an academic librarian in Singapore) -- see this Sept 2013 blog post of his and his ongoing Flipboard magazine on Web scale search and discovery systems.)

Traditionally (think: paper card catalogs) findability has depended upon controlled Subject Headings (e.g., Library of Congress (LCSH)), where each item would have no more than six highly-faceted subjects (e.g.,  Indonesia - Relations - China - History).  Nowadays, with full-text searching and unlimited tags possible, controlled vocabularies are less important -- at least to users.

The single search box -- allowing for multiple fields and combination of terms to be searched at once -- demands a re-think of subject headings.  Which is why I've been following the FAST cataloging project for years -- and chose to attend the Faceted Subject Access Interest Group sessions at ALA this year.  

FAST (Faceted Application of Subject Terminology)

As much as RDA(1) is about moving bibliographic metadata forward, FAST cataloging is the cutting edge of subject heading progress.  Which is perhaps why it was standing room only in this session where Cornell University librarians (one of whom is a Discovery Metadata Librarian by title) relayed their experience as guinea pigs converting their data from LCSH to FAST — in collaboration with OCLC Research (who were also in the room).  They're hoping to go live on July 1st.  (See their Powerpoint slides here.)

A lot of the technical stuff was beyond me -- and the scale difference between Cornell’s converting their holdings and a school library like mine are enormous.  But I still got a lot out of the session -- and think we should be moving to FAST subject headings instead of Sears/LCSH.

Facets can be in eight categories:  Personal names, Corporate names, Geographic names, Events, Titles, Time periods, Topics, and Form/Genre.

The FAST mindset was described as:
  • Use what you find
  • Subjects do not cross facets, e.g., you can't have "Italy - History"
  • Observe difference between topical and genre/form facets
  • Fewer application rules, e.g., the order of headings is not significant, no constraints on combinations of topical and geographic terms
  • Dates can be whatever you need to assign, e.g., "1992-2011" is fine if that's what the resource covers
The elephant in the room, they admitted, is that, if FAST is so great, why isn't everyone rushing to use it?  Will it replace LCSH?  Only time will tell.  Watch this space.

Links re FAST:


Library design is of on-going interest, no matter that my library is theoretically all built now.  I went to a session on “Science + Form = Function: The Impact of Neuroscience on Architecture and Design” -- a subject for which is there is an Academy -- see and especially their recommended reading list:  

The session opened with a quote from Winston Churchill who said, "We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us."

The speakers talked about the ten senses:  touch, taste, smell, hearing, and sight.... plus pressure, balance, temperature, motion, and pain.

Imagine a grid where these ten senses are the y-axis.  Then put these library space functions across the x-axis:  assembly, contemplation, data collection, presentation, reading, refuge, retreat, storage, studying, and teaching.  Consider the intersection of each -- and decide priorities and possibilities.

We need to consider the intersection of three things:  Behavior, Experience, and Brain Activity in a space like a library.

Speakers talked of Inspiration, Trust, and Empathy, as well as Symbolism, Wayfinding, and Exploration -- linking hand, brain, and symbol.  They asked us to consider what Affordances the library provides, to invite or indicate desired actions -- and the tension between Function and Representation (symbolism) in our spaces.

Frankly, I didn't get any practical inspirations from the session, but felt mentally stretched from sitting through it.

Meanwhile some other teacher-librarian went to a discussion meeting (one of those smaller things in the schedule that you could miss in the blink of an eye, unless you were observant) on The Information Commons.  Of all the things I was listening for in her brief summary in the time we had for debrief, I latched onto her reporting of someone who had “pink things hanging from the ceiling” that absorbed sound.  The ALA notes on this meeting also mention "pink noise machines" (see here). I am now searching for this mysterious product/item.  (Contact me if you can help!)  (Could the person have been talking about "pink noise" - in contrast to "white noise" -- see distinction here -- instead of something literally pink?)

Acoustics is my ongoing elephant in the room and I am on the lookout for all ameliorating accessories.  (Over the summer there are ceiling/wall panels being installed in my library — wish I had done my pre-installation research benchmarks and logged some decibel stats….)

There was a poster session I really wanted to attend, but missed -- Librarian Design Share: Inspiration for Library Creatives.  On the other hand, the beauty of the best poster sessions is that the poster itself is posted online and tells it all -- see -- and their website -- -- is a treasure-trove.  The session description mentions they would be giving visitors "design strategy cards" -- I wonder if they pointed people to the "Design with Intent" toolkit, which I love.

Another poster session I missed was "Gearing Up for College" -- about university libraries reaching out to low-income middle school children who excel in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields.  Interestingly, they used a map activity to get the students to observe what was going on in the university library -- and hopefully to get interested in what they were observing.  (Reminds me of the ALA program session I attended last year -- where Andrew Asher described having students create color-timed cognitive maps of the library -- see  A fascinating way to make the virtual visible.... )



Makerspaces is definitely still a hot topic for libraries.  I did a full-day pre-conference last year at ALA on them, and knew I was going to a four-day "Constructing Modern Knowledge" summer institute in New Hampshire, July 8-11, which would be completely about making things (watch for another blog post eventually), so I didn't bother to attend maker-related sessions at ALA.

As my school already has an extensive Design and Technology department and set-up (with 3D printers, laser cutters, et al.), I'm thinking the library should focus on making to do with books -- like setting up a Writing Center (a project several of us have been trying to get off the ground for three years now) and promoting Book Art.

One poster session was about an annual RE:BOOK altered book contest -- at the Claremont College Libraries.  See the PDF here.  What a great way to re-purpose donated books -- of which I have plenty.

  • Connect with the art teachers and get some regular altered book art going -- perhaps with a permanent book art workspace in a corner of the library -- or up on the Art Floor.  I like the idea of an annual contest.

PDA (Patron Driven Acquisition)

When I hear "PDA," I still think of "public display of affection" -- something every high school librarian deals with every day.  But it's the latest term for users letting us know what they want (starting from that good 'ole book suggestion form) -- and it goes hand-in-hand with a good collection policy.

There were several small sessions on PDA as it relates to e-book and video purchases, e.g., see here, here, and here.

Candace was telling me how she has instituted an online ticketing system for all library requests -- whether book purchase recommendations or queries about database passwords, etc.  I forget the name of the software package she said she bought, but it is one where people can search the database, to see the status of their problem or request.  Our Facilities and IT Depts both use a basic ticketing system, but we users don't have the ability to search their records.  Must look into it for our library.  I know there are requests that fall off my radar.....

The Latest and the Greatest: ARCs and Awards

For school librarians, there are two important annual lists that get announced at ALA.
 ALA is also a place to pick up Advanced Reader Copies of books.  I try not to go crazy.

Here are a few I picked up:
  • Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" - Young Readers edition
  • Frank Einstein and the Anti-matter Motor - by Jon Scieszka 
  • Hold Tight, Don't Let Go - by Laura Rose Wagner - a YA novel re Haiti and the earthquak
  • Vango - by Timothee de Fombelle
  • Imaginary - by A.F. Harrold, illustrated by Emily Gravett
  • There Will Be Lies - by Nick Lake
  • Young Houdini - by SImon Nicholson
  • The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency - by Jordan Stratford
  • On a Clear Day - by Walter Dean Myters
  • A Path Appears - by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu

  • Last year at ALA I did a full-day pre-conference on RDA (Resource Description + Access).  What I immediately love about RDA is its simple hierarchy, distinguishing between Work, Expression, Manifestation, Item (WEMI), not to mention its elaboration of dates — so one can distinguish between work creation date, original publication date, particular edition date, and manufacture date.