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September 2020

This week is my birthday, but we tend to not sing “Happy Birthday” or blow out candles in my home because it upsets my child with Autism/Down Syndrome. It is not the act of this custom that bothers him--but rather that it ends and the cake is eaten. Sam, who spends a lot of free time watching and re-watching video clips of Barney and Elmo, would simply like to keep singing and blowing--he hates the cake to be cut because this means the end of the singing and blowing. We have been known to buy a bakery cake and keep it in the freezer for days when Sam wants to play “birthday.”

Though Sam plays birthday, I do not think he understands what it means to make a wish--or maybe he likes to make a lot of wishes. He cannot talk so this will always be a mystery. My other two children have made wishes and when their special day came, we always tried to keep Sam distracted so they could still have this ritual at their birthday.

Wish-making is certainly an easy thing to do. A few moments of thought is usually enough to make a wish after one blows out candles, throws a coin, or sees a falling star.

Having the wish come true is another matter.

Indiana author John David Anderson writes about this very subject of wishes in his YHBA-nominated book Granted. The book takes the reader behind the scenes of wish-making by following a fledgling fairy Ophelia as she finally gets her first wish-making assignment. As it turns out, wish-making is actually pretty difficult; Ophelia gets lost after a run-in with a plane, gets attacked by a hawk, loses important tools, and faces numerous hurdles, including the danger of people NOT believing in magic which endangers the whole magic world. Fortunately with the help of a stray dog, a bit of luck, and a lot of ingenuity, Ophelia finally fulfills the wish--and helps others believe in magic, thus helping her fellow fairies survive.

Wishes are wonderful, but under the surface there are a lot of complications and commitments if those wishes are to come true.

Our library world is similar to this. Many of us have wishes for what we want for our libraries. We might think and re-think about these wishes a lot. Similar to the book, though, there are a lot of complications and commitments that are needed to make those wishes come true. Just thinking about them will not make them happen.

Making strategic plans, working with boards and other community partners, networking with legislators, and connecting with fellow librarians are all parts of the behind-the-scenes that make the library wishes come true. Being an active member of ILF is also part of this operation; our organization thrives with your involvement--and this helps the larger library community.

When Ophelia faced hurdles and felt like giving up, she persisted and used her creativity to come up with new solutions that fulfilled the wish. She did not stop at the minimum--she went over and above what was required to help restore a little belief in magic.

For my birthday, I wish for our organization many Ophelia’s, all working and persisting to make people continue to believe in the power of libraries.

August 2020

My family spent a getaway in a cabin in Gatlinburg, TN, this past month.  We drove down in two cars and my husband and daughter arrived first, about fifteen minutes before I did with my sons.  Since I had the code to get into the cabin, they were waiting on the property, both enjoying the weather and checking their phones. 

My daughter, who had already climbed the stairs to the balcony, started to quietly call to m
y husband and after not getting his attention, she sent him a text message that said, “bear.”  He looked up in time to see a bear sauntering down the drive to their car.  The bear was not interested in my husband, but did try to get in all the locked doors of the car.

While there, I was reminded of the book Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. In this classic children’s book, a little girl is picking blueberries on a hillside with her mother at the same time a bear cub is foraging blueberries for winter with her mother.  Both young ones become so involved in eating the berries, that they end up paired  with the other mother on opposite sides ofthe hillside. This becomes a surpri se for both of the moms  when they suddenly realize they have a new companion. Both mothers are so engaged in their own blueberry picking, that they lose sight of their children

Both of these situations show that even though someone is present and engaged, he or she can still miss valuable information. My husband in his efforts to unwind after a long drive was not fully attentive to my daughter’s calls. Sal’s mother and the mother bear were so busy collecting blueberries for winter, they missed their little ones venturing away. 

As busy professionals, it is very easy for us to become distracted or unaware of important information.  This is not laziness--far from it--more often it is simply difficult to gather and process all the necessary information that is out there.  This is where Indiana Library Federation can be that assistance for you.  The office staff works closely with our members, committees, lobbyists, and the Indiana State Library in order to help be that extra bit of important information. A bi-monthly newsletter, an updated website, and virtual exchanges/meetups are just a few of the ways ILF shares essential info with you.

July 2020

Some years ago, I read the humorous autobiography Bossypants by Tina Fey in which she says, “the second rule of improvisation is not only to say yes, but YES, AND. You are supposed to agree and then add something of your own.” This rule of comedy sketch routines has stuck with me through many parts of my life. 

Professionally, I have changed from working in one school library to two school libraries and then to six school libraries--not really in a promotional way, either.Personally, I have a son with Autism and Down Syndrome who is non-verbal, needs occasional diaper changes, and requires supervision nearly 100% of the time.When I read Tina Fey’s book, I realized, “Yes. And” had likely been what allowed me to keep my sanity, though I did not know that was it at the time.

I did not see my changes at work as ideal, but I appreciated that my administrators were upfront and willing to meet me in the middle, as I was able to negotiate paid summer work and was able to make the decisions on how I would run my additional responsibilities. I did not see the benefit to my students to spend energy fighting the situation and actually saying “yes and” allowed me to find creative solutions to still provide library services.  “Yes. I can work in multiple buildings, AND now I can better streamline library programming K-12.”

Homelife can be stressful with a disabled child, but the one thing I have learned from my son is that there is never only one way to address a need.  Life with him advances in fits and starts.  One of his disabilities is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and just when I think we have adjusted to his rituals--another shows up. This winter, Sam stopped allowing the bathroom door to be shut by anyone but him.  Keep in mind we have one bathroom and five people.  In January and February, we all tried to be patient to see if this new routine would pass.  When March came, and my family was ALL home ALL day together, I knew some solution was needed. “YES, we have to keep the door open...AND I will design a barrier.”  Thanks to Amazon, I was able to purchase a shower curtain, hooks, and a tension rod and installed a barrier just beyond the door so that the door can remain open AND people can have privacy.

With Covid-19, all of us will face challenges at our workplace.Changes will come--and then those changes will change.  To continually find the best way to provide library services to our patrons, we will likely need to do A LOT of “YES, AND--ing.”Disagreements may be faced between the library and patrons, the board and the librarian, or among the library staff.  Efforts to meet in the middle and build on each other will go a long way in providing services to our patrons. 

Indiana Library Federation has been staying current on the COVID situation and libraries.The staff has worked hard to build a website that shares the latest information to help you plan.Meet-ups have been provided to allow sharing of varied approaches so we can learn from one another.As a member, I encourage you to take advantage of all the office and committees provide.Look through this issue, and I am guessing you will find something to help you better “YES, AND.”

June 2020

As I write this, my television is full of coverage of peaceful protests and dangerous riots after the death of George Floyd. This week marks the 99th anniversary of the Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, OK, which killed 300 blacks and burned to the ground the wealthiest black community in America. Also called the Black Wall Street Massacre of 1921, days of riots, internment of blacks, shootings, and fires raged over 35 blocks of black-owned businesses after allegations from a white female elevator operator against a black man. 

The latter is covered in one of our Eliot Rosewater books for 2020-2021, Dreamland Burning , which shares a story of a murder in Tulsa that is told from alternating perspectives from a contemporary biracial teen and a 1920s white young man. The book does highlight the racism of the Tulsa of 1920, but it left me wanting to know more about the Black Wall Street that existed in Tulsa before it was burned to the ground by Klan-led white people. This book will likely inform readers about a horrific time in our country’s history, but I am already searching for supplementary titles to add to my collection on the topic of the Greenwood Massacre that are told from a diverse voice since both main characters in this book are largely white.

These two events coupled with today being the start of PRIDE month, remind me of the importance for our libraries to welcome and provide representation for all types of people. Especially now, it is important for us to rethink our collections and our approaches to programming. There are some simple things to do towards this end:

  • Conduct a Diversity Audit. Library staff can analyze their collections to see where representation is lacking. A similar examination can be done to determine how much care was taken to present various races and cultures in book talks, displays, and programs. I found this series of articles from School Library Journal helpful in starting down this path at my high school. In my own Library Media class at my high school, my students help in this process during our unit on Diverse Voices.
  • Read blogs to review books to purchase (or to rethink)--and purchase them. Any representation is not always good representation. It is helpful to follow blog voices of color to help guide this process. Edith Campbell of Indiana State University or Debbie Reese from the website American Indians in Children’s Literature are extremely helpful to me.
  • Attend conference sessions that highlight Diverse books and programs. The Indiana Library Federation Professional Development Committee has tried to include sessions which highlight diverse voices during ILF events, so as you examine sessions, consider including these.
  • Participate in conversations with fellow librarians about innovative ways the library can better be a place to represent all--and use those conversations as inspiration to make change.

Though we all can choose to join protests, attend parades, write legislators, and make change towards harmony for all in our personal lives, it is important that Indiana Library Federation members also commit to improving the situation for marginalized voices in our library spaces. Our mission is “to lead, educate and advocate to advance library services for the benefit of Indiana residents,” --which includes all residents whether they are white, black, brown, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer.

May 2020

May was ushered in this past weekend with the smell of mown grass, a mix of sun and clouds, and feel of gentle winds. Finally, the harsh cold, ice, and snow seem behind us. This weekend also brought an update from Governor Holcomb about the coming weeks in Indiana’s plan for dealing with COVID-19. Though the weather is better, many libraries and library staff may feel like the storms are just ahead. 

The children’s picture book, Brave Irene , by William Steig, tells the story of young Irene who has to face a terrible snowstorm for her mother, a dressmaker who has fallen ill just as an important dress is to be delivered to the duchess. Wanting to help her mother’s business, Irene sets off in the snowstorm with the boxed dress, hoping to make it to the duchess in time for the ball. She falls, loses the box protecting the dress, and nearly loses hope. Despite her many struggles, Irene perseveres and is successful in reaching the palace.

Many of you are like young Irene this week. The storm of COVID-19 has already caused high drifts, but the winds of challenges are just beginning. Decisions will be made shortly on how your library will continue to further its mission, meet patron needs, and keep staff healthy and safe. Some of the adjustments will be fierce and painful. At the least, they may be the worst, they may be scary. Just as Irene was tested, Indiana Libraries will also be tested.  

Fortunately, the Indiana Library Federation is here to help. Your library colleagues in this organization have already been reaching out to each other through email, virtual exchanges, and social media. Our ILF staff is continuing to help ILF reach its mission, keeping abreast of the information from the Governor, staying in contact with the Indiana State Library, and connecting with legislators to help our members reach our goals. ILF Committees have continued to move forward with conference planning, book awards, honors, and advocacy. 

Indiana library staff can weather this storm with the help of ILF and each other. By bravely pushing ahead, seeking guidance, and leaning on one another, we can bring libraries safely out of this crisis. Our heroine, Irene finally forges ahead because she thinks of one strong, motivating factor--her mother. So dedicated she was to her mother, she resolved to forge ahead and reached the palace. That is a reminder to us to remember our “Why” and to stay strong and brave for the days ahead. 


April 2020

Last summer I read  Book Woman of Troublesome Creek  by Kim Michele Richardson, native of Kentucky, about the Kentucky Blue People and the Pack Horse Librarian Project that evolved as part of the Works Progress Administration.  This work of fiction follows a young woman’s journey into what is for her the jo b of a lifetime--as a Blue Person, her options were very much limited, much as they were for other minorities. 


In the story, Blue at 19 has few prospects for a husband or a job, but she learns about this new position that would allow her to travel on ho rseback to remote Kentucky homes, swapping out library items and encouraging reading for the hill people who often were poor and illiterate. Along with reading material, she found herself doing a lot of other jobs--finding food options, caring for the sick , comforting the distraught, and tending to young even at times.


This job reminded me of what librarians do every day--we are much more than books or DVDs.  For many people we are part of a routine, a sense of normalcy.  Though libraries are not babysitting services, we often find ourselves providing supervision and guidance  for those without. We offer Wi-Fi  and computers, but we often become technical support--even if it is not specifically the job title.  We purchase a variety of materials, but as surprise requests come in, we go to great lengths to help connect the patron with desired material.  We are not nurses or social workers, but we often have become the front-line people who connect our customers with the care they need.


We are in a new normal.  The COVID-19 pandemic is in its explosive infancy, but until a vaccine is found, the world will be living in a new normal.   Social distancing will continue.  Constant hand-washing and mask-wearing will likely remain a daily habit.  Life as we knew it in America will return, but it may be months or even years.


How will you continue to be the library you have been?  How will you forge ahead?  Closing libraries for 18 months is not practical, but policies, plans, and programs will need to be adjusted.


I encourage you to look to the Pack Horse Librarians as ins piration.  Bluet and her co-workers had to find paths and routes to their remote patrons; they customized their work to meet the needs of the folks they visited.  I do not think it is advisable to get on a horse and start visiting neighbors right now, but  maybe there are other ways your library can still reach your customers. 


I encourage you to seek support and idea-sharing in the regular Networking & Sharing sessions or meet-ups offered by ILF.  You can find the dates in   FOCUS , and they will be on the  ILF calendar . Visit  ILF’s COVID-19 resource page . ILF continues to be a resource to help you be the best library possible.


Two other books on the Pack Horse Librarian Project are  That Book Woman  by Heather Henson, a children’s picture book, and  The Giver of Stars , a novel by British novelist, JoJo Moyes.

March 2020

Recently I borrowed To Sell is Human by Daniel Pink from my public library. This book dives into non-sales sales for people who are not salespeople.  Confusing?  A bit, but Pink expertly illustrates what it means to sell for people in every field--even libraries.

Pink’s premise is that in a world that has virtually eliminated the door-to-door salespeople, there is more “selling” than ever.  In fact, he suggests that many companies today depend on everyone in the organization “selling,”--not just a sales force.  Daily most people spend time persuading people for things, cooperation, ideas, or commitments.

In library terms, we try to persuade employees to work efficiently, patrons to come to programs, boards to support major projects, or volunteers to help fill in the gaps.  We are selling every day to further our goals in our workplace.

One group we need to learn to “sell” to are our legislators.  I was able to attend Library Statehouse Day with a large group of you.  The Indiana Library Federation staff planned well for the event, arranging meetings with significant players at the state house and creating a place for visitors to “window shop” the new definition of libraries.

For many participants this was a valuable first step in building a relationship with their legislators.  Just as the door-to-door salespeople of years past had to get “a foot in the door,” this day is a great way to make that happen for librarians. 

However, the “sell” must continue.  Lots of groups were at the statehouse the same day as ILF--a reminder how many others are competing for the attention of the legislators.  Continuing to build relationships and share successes and worth are more ways libraries can “sell” our programs to others. 

I encourage you to check out ILF’s updated Advocacy ILF Action Center.  After you log in, find “Advocacy” in the top row menu and then dropdown to ILF Action Center.  On this page you can learn about many tools that can be used by you to better “sell” your library to Patrons, Trustees, Staff, and especially Legislators. By all of us participating in the Advocacy “selling”  we have a bigger, more persuasive voice.

February 2020
Just Ask:  Be Different, Be Brave, Be You written by Justice Sotomayor and illustrated by Rafael Lópezis is a colorful picture book about several different people working to build a community garden.  Each of them has an illness or some other difficulty that is shared while they work together to create the garden.  One person takes insulin and another uses an inhaler, and as one reads the story, the vast differences between folks is revealed.  Sotomayor’s message is to “just ask” to learn more about those we encounter. Communication ultimately helps those people work together.

Beth Munk, ALA Chapter Councilor, and I attended Chapter Leaders Forum at ALA Midwinter in Philadelphia on January 24 and it reminded me of Just Ask. The Chapter Leaders Forum is a session where representatives from across the country meet, share, and learn from one another.  We had the opportunity to “just ask” to find unique or different ways to tackle similar problems we face and to share ways that we in Indiana have tried to solve issues. In fact, our introductions were made by meeting leaders Lisa Varga (VA) and Jeremy Johannesen (NY) who asked us to share tidbits about ourselves, like our favorite podcast or our 1st table had to share our most recent conference theme and I was happy to share “Everyone is Welcome” from 2019 and “Everyone Counts” in 2020.

Important topics discussed included:

     Ebooks.  Alan Inouye, Senior Director of ALA Public Policy and Advocacy, shared some of their strategies to meet publishers in the middle in terms of ebook options available to libraries.  There is a desire to move carefully to keep the current relationships we have and also to figure out ways to make in-roads. Learn more at #ebooksforall.

     Advocacy resources.  Stephanie Hylwak, ALA Director of Communications and Marketing, spoke at length of all of the ways her office is trying to help libraries promote themselves.  The Libraries Transform Campaign is especially successful, and the ILF office has already utilized these resources at our state level.  Did you know members may download them to make signage and promotions for your Indiana school, public, or academic library?

     State Ecosystem Initiative.  Jen Alvino, member of the ALA task force, brought participants current on this initiative to bring consistent messaging across all states to better promote libraries.  It is year 3 of this long-range task force. Our own Beth Munk serves on this task force.

     ALA Support for Chapters.  Megan Cusick, ALA Asst. Director of State Advocacy,   talked about ways her office is a support to chapters like ILF.   One example has been supporting Missouri in their response to a controversial bill that could impact libraries. Her office works with a Chapter’s Executive Director or President to assist with legislative messaging, voter engagement, and can provide Advocacy Training.  

Discussion opportunities also allowed participants one on one time to share and exchange ideas on many library-centered topics like “Keeping Committees in Good Order” and “Non-dues Revenue/Fundraising.”  I was especially intrigued by Microcredentialing that is been started by Pennsylvania’s public library association (PaLA) as a way to brand their organization and market it better to legislators, employers, patrons, and employees. 

I found the time to exchange info and learn about how things operate in other states very valuable.  In our librarian world, many of us work on our own “island” which is easy to assume is like everyone else’s.  When you “just ask” you find that there changes (some great, some small) but also sometimes solutions in the experience of others.  If you find uncertainty about something in ILF, please also remember to “just ask” so we may learn from one another and better communicate.

January 2020

Welcome to 2020! New year’s are full of new hope, new enthusiasm, and new challenges. 
As we face the year ahead, we are like the boy in Ruth Krauss’ The Carrot Seed.

For those unfamiliar with this slim picture book, the boy in the book has the hope of growing a beautiful plant from his tiny carrot seed.  His father, mother, siblings, and others around him are quick to give him hurdles and warnings on why he might be disappointed.  The boy ignores these dire predictions and keeps working towards his goal.  Spoiler Alert:  his hard work pays off and he surprises many.

The Indiana Library Federation is like the little boy in the book in its mission to “lead, educate and advocate to advance library services for the benefit of Indiana residents.” All of our members have likely faced criticism and challenges from at least one of the following: the board, community members, elected officials, fellow staff, and even patrons.   

The boy persisted--and so must we--in our aim to provide effective library service to our patrons and the citizens of this state. 

First of all, renew your membership; more members help us show vendors and legislators we are a powerful group.  You can renew online before January 31 to receive a $10 discount by using promo code RENEW20 at checkout. 

Second of all, become an active member in ILF to surround yourselves with more of the positive voices rather than the doubters!  Many committees have been filled, but the need for willing volunteers never goes away.  
ILF regularly needs assistance at our regional and annual conferences, as well as our division events. 
Our ILF Legislative/Advocacy committee will call on members to write letters to legislators, attend the February 10 Legislative day, or encourage positive interactions with policy makers. 
The Book Awards needs support by willing readers to serve on the selection committee or to promote the books and voting in their respective libraries. 

Whether you want a big commitment or a small one, ILF can use you to further its mission! Our joint efforts will quiet the nay-sayers and together we will surprise many with what we can grow. 

Leslie Sutherlin
ILF President 2020

2019 ILF President Susie Highley

December 2019

As a fan of David Letterman’s Top Ten lists, I have often created my own Top Tens for presentations, blog posts, and publications. So, it seemed only natural that for my last column as ILF president that I would use this for a conclusion. There was one major problem: I could not narrow 2019 into only ten favorites! Four regional conferences, AISLEcamp, #RosieCon, Annual Conference, Statehouse Day, Fall Forum, Youth Services Conference, the AASL National Conference, the State Library’s DIY; I’m already over the limit!

In addition, I want to mention an important event for next year: Eva Kor Education Day on January 27, 2020. You will find many of the details later on in this newsletter. To think that public libraries, school libraries, and every middle and high school in the state will have access to this documentary and accompanying materials is amazing. Aside from the documentary itself, I was able to experience some of the educational activities at the Youth Services Conference in 2018; I found that many of the lessons were realistic and would easily adapt to classrooms or other gatherings. It also happens that the Jewish Federation of Greater Indianapolis is repeating a special event for educators and other interested parties on January 27, “Facing History and Ourselves: Teaching the Holocaust in Today’s Global Climate.”

And as my final column, I realize that I never really introduced myself and told the story of how I became a librarian. As a middle school science teacher, I never really visited the school library. Our school librarian at the time was strategic about eating lunch at different times and asking teachers what they were studying. She overheard me talking about an upcoming project and said, “I can help you with that. You can bring your classes to the library.” My less-than-brilliant reply, “You can?” A year or so later, I started hanging out in the school library on Thursday afternoons because they had the best printer, and I needed to publish our team newsletter. As I looked around, I told myself, “I’d love to work here. I didn’t know they did all of these things!” When the librarian told me she was going to retire the next year, she encouraged me to pursue certification. I am convinced that karma played a part in my transition. Many things fell into place to make it possible:

· I started lurking on a school librarian listserv. Someone commented that 90% of their interactions with students were positive. I wish I could find that person now to thank them!
· My principal agreed to let me move into the library while I pursued the certification.
· When I investigated certification, I discovered that IU was among the best in the country, and I could pursue the coursework at IUPUI.
· The AASL convention was coming to Indianapolis the next fall.

So, if not for a printer, I might have never become a librarian. My other lesson from this: you never know how a program, piece of technology, interaction, or chance encounter can change someone’s life. I know; it happened to me! And, be on the lookout for people who could make successful librarians and encourage them.

It’s been my extreme privilege to serve as the 2019 ILF President. The staff, officers, board, committees, and members are outstanding, and have many great things ready for 2020. Happy New Year!

Annual Conference 2019 - November 2019

It goes without saying that last week’s ILF Annual Conference was extremely memorable for me; it was amazing to be able to glance inside the inner workings and gain an appreciation for the hundreds of people involved. Many people thanked me personally, but I did not have that much to do with it; our exceptional office staff and hard-working committees prepare more than a year in advance. I reaped the benefit of having unique access to authors, legislators, and other special guests, but most of you there were also able to hear how much they appreciate libraries. If only the general public could regularly hear elected officials and authors extol our work as much as this year’s speakers and awardees did!

As it often inexplicably happens, my favorite moment actually happened not in a session, but in the hallway, in passing between sessions. Fortunately, I ran into Ted Green and Jessica Chapman, who had just presented on the Eva Kor Virtual Reality Exhibit. I had talked to them a long time last year while Eva tirelessly signed autographs and greeted attendees for over an hour after her talk. They were also overwhelmed by the enthusiastic response to their session this year. When we talked about how fortunate ILF was to have Eva as a keynote last year before her somewhat sudden passing, Ted told me how much she enjoyed that day. “Librarians are one of our best audiences. Your conferences are the best ones for us.” To that end, on January 27, 2020, the documentary “Eva: A-7063” will be made available to every public library in Indiana for a free screening; the details are being finalized. The commemoration of that day, the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, is being spearheaded by Governor Holcomb.

And, as I now look back on my total experience at #ILFannual19 (and more of the details fade), one main idea remains:   Whether or not I ever use a particular read aloud, piece of software, or idea for an adult program, I had the privilege of watching masters in the field who enrich my life and the others they reach. Even if you were not at the conference, you were celebrated!


Why I Love Conferences - October 2019

Early in my teaching career, I saw a notice on a bulletin board for HASTI: Hoosier Association of Science Teachers. Attending their conference transformed my teaching and impressed upon me the importance of learning from your peers. I like to tell people that it was like going from black and white to Technicolor in “The Wizard of Oz.”

When I transitioned from science to being a teacher librarian in 2001, once again conferences and smaller events became key. Fortunately, Indianapolis was hosting AASL (American Association of School Librarians) that year; I was able to learn from some of the most creative, forward-thinking media specialists right off the bat.

When I think about conferences, I look forward to:

The keynotes. Yes, there may be times where you think, “Who is this person?” But, keynotes can often be magical times that transport you to a realm of possibilities. Last year’s opportunity to hear Eva Kor at ILF was spellbinding, made even more precious by her passing this year. We are privileged to have met her.
The breakout sessions. Many of my favorite activities and projects have come from these more intimate sessions. I’ll never forget walking a couple of miles to a conference hotel in Washington, D.C. on a Sunday morning and dissecting a squid for the first time. The annual reveal of the Young Hoosier Book Award nominees. Ways to collaborate with classroom teachers. Learning what Twitter is. Technology trends. Presenters sharing their best with you. Opportunities to ask questions, have discussions.
The exhibits. The vendors at our conference have a bit different feel to me. We see many of the same people working there year after year, or that we’ve met with on an individual basis; many are huge supporters of our field and our mission. There are chances to see new products, books, upgrades, and features.
The people! My initial feeling when arriving at a conference is that it is like “Field of Dreams.” “If you build it, he will come.” When something has been in the works for months and people plan presentations, make arrangements, drive for hours, and simultaneously appear at the same place, it’s magic. (Even though hours and hours of preparation have gone into it!) In today’s times of social media, sometimes conferences provide the first opportunity to meet someone face to face that you’ve been connected to for months or even years. For others, it’s a reunion; maybe it’s the one time you can count on seeing a friend each year. And, in today’s connected times, when a conference is over, the learning is not over! It’s easier than ever to maintain relationships, ask questions, and follow up on ideas. It does not replace being together, but it amplifies the opportunities.

I’m looking forward to seeing several hundred of you next month at our ILF Annual Conference!

Susie Highley is a former science teacher and school librarian. She is currently a trustee for the Fortville-Vernon Township Library and Director of Operations for the Indiana Middle Level Education Association. You can follow her on twitter @shighley

The Freedom to Read, Loss of School Librarians, and iLearn Scores: Any Connections? - September 2019

A few years ago, I wrote a blog post about what I considered “The Irony of Banned Books Week.” It concerned me that students were not able to read books they were interested in, not because of the content, but due to the lexile level. As you became a reader, were you ever restricted in the books you selected? I am very concerned that many of today’s students do not see reading as an avenue for enjoyment, but rather as a requirement dealing with materials in which they have limited choice. And, like any important skill, the more you practice, the more you improve. Want to improve reading scores? Let students read more, and encourage them to read things that interest them.

This past weekend, I was able to attend the fall meeting of the Young Hoosier Book Award committees. The stated purpose of YHBA: “to stimulate self-selected reading among elementary and mid dle school/junior high school children;” the Eliot Rosewater awards are available for high school students, and the Read-Aloud committee branches all age levels. Over one hundred school and public librarians, teachers, and other educators spend hours on end to read and curate lists of books that they think will appeal to Indiana students on the basis of pure enjoyment. Unfortunately, in practice, many of our students do not get a choice. Some of them are limited in what they can check out, and many are not able to interact with someone who can discover their interests and help connect them with materials they will enjoy.

Public libraries can be in a bit of a dilemma. At our ILF regional conferences last spring, and at the recent Youth Services Conference, there were rich conversations about labeling books with reading levels. Even Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell have proclaimed, “Librarians Should Guide Readers by Interest, Not Level,” and they’re the ones who invented one of the most widely-used systems! (“My child is a level G. What do you have?”) When teachers or school administrators ask the public library to label their books, what do you do? It can be awkward to say, “Do you know that research does not support this?” You might be pleased to have any opportunity to participate in a public library-school collaboration. Or, you feel that you are helping a parent who has been given the leveling parameters and pleads for help. At the very least, if you can, please encourage students to check out something purely because they are interested. School librarians sometimes receive the same pushback from teachers.

With the recent release of iLearn scores, there has been much wringing of hands and pointing of fingers. Some have referred to the fact that the test required much more reading, even in the math story problems, and that the questions were written at a higher level. Students who are more widely-read are more likely to have encountered the vocabulary, literary devices, and sentence structures used on the test. The fact that the test is more focused on college and career readiness and different standards also meant that there were more questions dealing with computer science and how to do research, according to Indiana Department of Education Director of Assessment Charity Flores . Who is best equipped to assist students with research and collaborate with teachers? School librarians. What about schools that lack a teacher librarian?

The past two summers, I have attended an “Unconference” with college and school librarians from around the state, sponsored by the Information Literacy Committee of the Academic Libraries of Indiana (ALI) .  We were able to voice mutual concerns about the fact that many students arrive at college without a background in research and media literacy, especially those who attended K-12 districts with limited librarians and instruction. We are continuing to seek ways to collaborate and eliminate some of these serious gaps.

Thanks for all that you do to provide materials that interest, engage, and inform our Indiana citizens. May everyone be able to celebrate the “Freedom to Read.”

Susie Highley, current ILF President, is a retired teacher librarian, and current trustee of the Fortville-Vernon Township Library

Back to School? Same but Different—and It’s Not Just about Books! - August 2019

“You say you work in the library? Does anybody even go there anymore? Do people still read books?” How do you patiently explain to questioners that they are missing out? The back to school season may bring people back to the library who have not been there for years—and you can show them!

When I started as a middle school librarian in August, 2001 (after 23 years of teaching science), it was like being reborn. But even though I had started my MLS and had shadowed the previous librarian, I still didn’t fully comprehend everything it involved. While schools and colleges resume, and public libraries recuperate from summer reading and prepare for library card sign-up month, there are renewed opportunities to educate the public and students and offer support. This can involve such things as

1. Helping students (and adults) negotiate a school take-home device - This can go beyond just connecting to wi-fi and may eventually seem to resemble tech support. When the district where I live rolled out 1:1 chromebooks, it turned out that the school needed to enable some settings for the devices to work on different networks. It took some coordination with the corporation before it was resolved. Even college students might be used to a certain type of device and need help when they head off to school with new hardware and software to navigate.

2. Readers Advisory for students -  K-12 children may or may not have a school librarian or teacher with a classroom library. When asked what kinds of books they like, elementary kids’ answers’ may not go much beyond Wimpy Kid, Dogman, and Captain Underpants. And, if a teacher or parent has specified that the child has to check out books at a certain level, the process becomes more complicated. Access to eBooks at schools varies widely, and there are many different platforms districts use, compounded by the variety of devices students have.

3. Adults with young children coming to story hours for the first time -  After I observed a few of these at the Fortville-Vernon Township library, it dawned on me: the parents were forming a type of community while their children were enjoying the activities. It wasn’t just about the kids. While the adults were there, some of them ventured to see what else the library had to offer, looked at the program offerings and materials, and made plans with other families to do things together outside the library.

4. Helping students with research - This HAS changed a lot. They may have had someone explain the use of databases, including INSPIRE, but they may not. Some of them still do not realize that there is life beyond Google and  YouTube, that copyright matters, and that not all sites can be trusted. In schools, this has led to more emphasis on collaboration with teachers, not just when students visit the library, but during planning and assessment as well.

5. Public libraries and school districts collaborating in more ways - Assignment alerts and book lists have expanded into some library systems issuing eCards for students, to allow them access to more databases, online tutoring, research tools and eBooks.

6. Assisting more adults, including job searches - Now that the most kids are back in school, a public library has a very different time-of-day routine. This may also include home-schooling; tutors; test proctoring for people taking online courses; supervised visits; more programming for adults; visitors who need a computer, printer, copier, scanner or recording device; people who want to learn how to use equipment in a makerspace; genealogy help; the list is endless.

Libraries offer the opportunity for learning and engagement, a sense of place and connections. Everyone is welcome. How do we help people see that it is more than books?

I still enjoy the back to school season. I still longingly cruise the back to school ads and school supply aisles. But, what I miss the most is the relationships and the privilege of being witness to students and adults when they exult in learning—or even a good book.

Contact Your Local Officials and Legislators Now! What? - July 2019

It is not unusual for ILF and other organizations to send out pleas to contact legislators during the General Assembly, but we often fail to take advantage of opportunities during other times of the year. It is often said that one thing that separates successful athletes from others is the effort they put in during the “off season.” I believe it can be the same with libraries; why not connect with officials during the less hectic times of the year? (Although I’ll admit, there is this thing called “Summer Reading” for public libraries!) Officials get bombarded with messages when their organizations convene; why not contact them when they might have more time to visit and interact?

Are you holding a special program? Hosting an author? Offering trainings to your constituents and/or the public? Opening a special exhibit? Handing out summer reading prizes? Why not invite local officials, school board members, or legislators to take part? This is a great time to build relationships, to highlight the many programs and services that libraries offer.

We also need to do a better job of sharing our stories. Not only do they tell the public what we have to offer, but they can also give great ideas to other libraries. When posting to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or other platforms, please tag #INlibraries, and be sure to follow @ILFonline (Twitter), Indiana Library Federation (FB), and indianalibrary (IG).summer reading photo collage

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, with some events tied to summer reading and its wrap up, share away! I enjoyed the kick off at the Fortville-Vernon Township library (where I am a trustee). Many young readers participated in astronaut training!

As a Purdue graduate, I’ve had the great fortune to meet and learn from many astronauts, and look forward to a trip to West Lafayette next week for some of the festivities. The night of the landing in 1969, I babysat for neighbors while the parents went to a “moon party.” Who knows how many future scientists and dreamers are being inspired by the activities and resources at your library!

The School Librarian Pipeline Conundrum - June 2019

Some things just don’t make sense. School officials lament the fact that students (and many adults) are often fooled by false information on the internet. More districts are looking into the idea of adopting Open Education Resources (OER), but need to develop ways to curate relevant and reliable materials. Recent studies have shown that many individuals prefer print books to digital for self-directed reading, and in some cases retain information better. Administrators would like to see collaboration modeled in the classroom. Studies replicated in over thirty states show a positive correlation between the presence of a certified school librarian in a school and its achievement levels. 

So, why are school librarian positions still being cut?

After extensive research led by ILF, the  “2018 Status Report on Indiana School Libraries” detailed that

Schools have reduced overall library staffing—both of certified school librarians and of noncertified library assistants. Half of all students have no certified school librarian at their school—most often at the elementary level when children are learning to read and to explore digital resources on the internet. A growing number of schools and school corporations do not meet the state’s requirement for school library programs. (p.2)

Studies replicated in over thirty states show a positive correlation between the presence of a certified school librarian in a school and its achievement levels.     

And while many Indiana school libraries are staffed by dedicated, underpaid para-professionals, there are situations in which personnel shifts from year to year, or even during the year. Library assistants are often tasked with bus, cafeteria, computer lab, recess and other duties as well, or have only part-time status. 

But, in the past month, another confounding situation has occurred; for some reason, there were many, many Indiana school librarian vacancies at the end of the school year. How can this be explained? Positions are still being cut, but there are more openings? Are there more retirements? Librarians returning to a “regular” classroom? Leaving the education field? The state? Talk to most Indiana school librarians, and they will tell you, “I love my job!” Why are fewer teachers choosing this path?

What can be done to remedy this situation? When the wise districts who understand the value of a certified school librarian want to hire someone, what if there are no candidates available? What does it mean for our profession and our children if less-than-enthusiastic individuals fill these open positions?

While IUPUI has a top-rated Department of Library and Information Science, fewer students are selecting the school librarian track. There is even a newer option for teachers to receive certification before obtaining a master’s degree. Individuals are reluctant to take the time and expense to obtain this certification when they keep hearing about all of the cuts. There are fewer qualified teachers in the school librarian pipeline. This phenomenon is not limited to school library positions; some public libraries have had difficulties in filling openings.

So, what can we do? We need rock star teachers who want to become rock star librarians! Just yesterday, I reached out to a former colleague who is an outstanding teacher, and said, “You know, you’d make a great librarian!” Encourage individuals to apply for the ILF scholarships (reminder: the June 30 deadline is approaching) Of course, you do not want to have someone obtain the coursework, only to have difficulty finding a job, but the forecast for future years shows more retirements in particular.

As I was preparing this post, this piece from Michelle Luhtala, librarian at New Canaan High School, popped up in my twitter feed, “School Librarians Can Save Democracy” I asked her for permission to use this quote about school librarians that really resonated with me:

They have the pedagogy, classroom management skills, content knowledge and technical know-how to co-develop and co-teach engaging and authentic inquiry driven project-based experiences for every student in their learning community. In the right environment, they can partner with classroom teachers to embed news literacy across grade levels and content areas.

What are your thoughts on this situation? Feel free to reach out to me. I loved being a school librarian, enjoyed my coursework at IUPUI, am still connected to many of the strong professional networks available, and am concerned about this turn of events.

Making the Most of Your Advocates - May 2019

I have been a trustee for the Fortville-Vernon Township Library for ten years, but I have to admit, I’ve learned more about being a board member this year than the other nine years combined. Yes, one of the big differences: I now have more time since I retired from K-12 education nearly two years ago, but there were some resources I could have been utilizing all along.

Library trustees are often very busy people, but one thing I’ve learned through participating in ILF activities, the Harwood Institute, and my own library’s strategic planning process is that we should take advantage of this “busyness.” Your board members may be some of the best-connected people in your community. Are you giving them the tools, opportunities, and encouragement to be walking-talking, confident advocates for your library? One of my favorite activities at the Harwood Community Engagement Summit in East Lansing in September was when we filled in a diagram showing our individual “spheres of influence.” Odds are, your board members collectively have connections with a majority of important organizations in your community.

On the school front, during my 16 years as an elementary and middle school teacher librarian, I had seen suggestions to form a library advisory committee, but I never did, figuring that teachers were already busy enough. I wish I had put such a group in place. I have come to see the importance of people outside the library proclaiming our value; it’s a multiplier effect. Nowhere did this hit home more than participating in our Library Legislative Day in March and observing the rest of the session. To see senators and representatives speak of hearing from constituents about the worth of their libraries really emphasized this point. In the case of schools, too often administrators have outdated ideas of what a school library is like, and need to hear from others besides us about the great learning going on there. An advisory committee could help with this. Not only do we need to tell our own story, we need to have others telling it as well!

What would you like ILF to offer for trustees? We recently had over 100 people at the ILF virtual exchange with Larry DeBoer and Tamara Ogle about property taxes, with a follow-up session scheduled for May 20. You don’t want to flood their email boxes, but do you encourage trustees to read things like these Focus newsletters? The State Library’s Wednesday Word? To use the updated resources on trustee and public policies pages of their website? Our Fortville-Vernon Township library had Hayley Trefun and Courtney Brown attend one of our board meetings and offer some training. ILF is updating the resources on our trustee page (ILTSA) as well, and invites others to become active in suggesting resources and programming for our trustees. If your library is an institutional member of ILF, your trustees are as well.

Above all, though, I need to emphasize the importance of my opportunities to meet with many of you in formal or informal situations. Whether it’s been lunch during a regional conference, conversations in the halls of the State House, sessions at RosieCon at Ben Davis, or even emails, it’s the chance to connect that often makes the difference. Please let us know how best to support you and add to your connections and their impact!

National Library Week - April 2019


Happy National Library Week! Do we ever get tired of everyone telling us how wonderful libraries are this week? I could fill up this entire column with the various posts shared by organizations, media outlets, and individuals. There have been so many, I’ve had a hard time selecting a favorite, but it might be this piece from Stephanny Smith of the Allen County Public Library. So, what about next week, when people have moved on to National Pet ID and National Coin Week? Yes, this week is important, as it reminds people to pause and consider the value of librarians, but what can we do to perpetuate the good feelings?

We should be our own best advocates, but most librarians did not choose the field for self-promotion and glory. However, there are small things all of us can do. In many cases, it is only a matter of awareness that keeps people from appreciating libraries and realizing what they offer. Fortunately, many libraries are now reaching out to the community via social media, different programming, technology offerings, and more. As an individual, do you promote the library when you have a chance? I’ve realized that I could do more to promote my local Fortville-Vernon Township Library just through my neighborhood association.

Our ILF communications committee has made license plate frames and yard signs available to us- have you seen any? As I left the regional conference last Friday, I was pleased to see a sign in the front yard of Crawfordsville Middle School; the public library, the Carnegie Museum, and the school have partnered in many ways. Feel free to share photos of these with ILF and tag them!

I am celebrating Library Week in a big way, with meetings for intellectual freedom, advocacy, and the ILF Board; the regional conference in Richmond, and rounding things off with a Future Ready Workshop in Columbus, OH. The best thing about the week: why, spending time with other librarians, of course! I sincerely hope that you feel appreciated this week—and beyond. Thanks for all that you do, and remember to tell your story!


Library Statehouse Day - March 2019

I had the pleasure of attending ILF’s Library Legislative Day for the first time this week: what a whirlwind and worthwhile experience! Here are some of my top takeaways:

·        This event takes a huge amount of coordination. Not only were appointments and possible meetings set up for 70 ILF members, they were constantly subject to change, delays, illness, jury duty—you name it.

·        In addition to the physical logistics of the day, the preparation of information, statistics, handouts, videos and PowerPoints provided to us was very extensive. This made It possible for all of us to be as informed as possible.

·        I was very impressed by several conversations I witnessed between our members and the legislators. It is important to understand funding and the impact that changes could have, including unintended consequences. How refreshing to see meaningful, civil discourse, even among people with differing views.

·        You’ve probably heard the term “elevator speech” before. I witnessed them developing.  Our home base for the day was strategically placed between the entrances that senators and representatives use for their chambers, by busy elevators. Several times, I saw Lucinda Nord spot legislators waiting for an elevator; she then rushed over, struck up a conversation with them, and continued while traveling with them up or down, only to eventually return to our location.

·        No matter what, Tisa, Megan, and Mandy were also there to support us in any way they could.

·        The Vigo County library makerspace was a tremendous hit, and attracted many legislators and staffers to our space, especially those with children present. The green screen was particularly popular, as it transported visitors to the White House, the moon, and more!

·        The State House is a very busy place! In addition to numerous groups and individuals there to lobby, Indiana Humanities was there to announce their “One Book” for the next two years, The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson . There are additional books available to support the theme of “Inseparable.” Indiana Humanities has become a valuable collaborator for libraries and programming, and I was able to speak with several of them about their author visits, K-12 book programs, and grants.

·        Members of the advocacy committee who were present actively shared with each other what they learned from their conversations and discussed possible strategy up to the last minute. I was so impressed by their body of knowledge and reasoning!

·        Just as in during my time as a school teacher librarian, relationships matter! Some legislators were very familiar with the issues we discussed, some were not, probably in large part due to their committee assignments. It is important for us to take advantage of the advocacy resources available to us on the ILF website and to reach out to our own representatives. Members also have access to our updates from Bose, and the advocacy calls every other Monday. (Next one March 25)

·        Thanks to all who attended. It was a privilege to witness as you nobly represented the profession and the citizens of Indiana!

ALA, Connections, and Jeopardy! - February 12, 2019

Well, January was an eventful month—and I’m not talking just about the weather! In the middle of the month, I flew to Los Angeles for tapings of “Jeopardy!” and will appear on the February 13 episode. I recently returned from ALA Midwinter in Seattle. In thinking back about the past few weeks, a theme of sorts arose: the power of connections.

While in Seattle, I was able to attend the chapter leaders’ forum and AASL assemblies. I reconnected with some people, but was also able to meet and learn from many others from across the continent. At the forum, we received updates on such things as advocacy (including virtual legislative days), intellectual freedom, conference and membership successes, and partnerships with the National Network of Libraries of Medicine; they have program grants available, often awarded to public libraries. Our ALA Councilor, Beth Munk, also attended the forum, as well as meetings on the State Ecosystem Initiative, and there were town halls on the future of Midwinter (which will be modified a bit when it is held in Indianapolis in 2021). Another highlight was the Youth Media Awards, because I have more connections than ever with other readers via a variety of social networks, including Goodreads, Voxer, Twitter and Facebook. The atmosphere with everyone rooting for favorite books is incomparable!

As I prepared (?) for Jeopardy! I read a few books written about it, including Prisoner of Trebekistan, by Bob Harris. One of his main points: the power of connections and learning. Why do you suppose so many librarians have appeared on Jeopardy!? We do often search for questions as well as answers. We try to connect patrons with the information, programs, or resources that best meet their needs. Have you ever thought to yourself, “Just how did I know the answer to that? Where did that come from?” Have you ever thought back, sometimes years back, to (mentally) thanking the person who helped you learn something? There are probably patrons thanking your staff every day, whether they are physically in your library or not. Yes, library staff are some of the best connectors, and we are willing to do this for anyone!

And if you’d like to know more about being on Jeopardy!, I can tell you—later in the month. I encourage you to apply!


January 8, 2019

Welcome to 2019! As a matter of fact, our theme for the Indiana Library Federation this year is “Libraries: Where Everyone is Welcome!”

During last year’s annual and regional conferences, we had speakers on hospitality, inclusion, outreach and other actions that lead to favorable connections with our communities. Your ILF professional development committee and board have decided to expand upon this for 2019.

In 2006, I started geocaching, which involves finding hidden “containers” or places of interest using a GPS device. By 2007, a friend and I were spending enjoyable days caching throughout the state. (Yes, we’ve now found caches in every county and each page of the DeLorme map for Indiana.) Back then, we would have to plan our routes in advance, often printing out maps and individual cache pages, but there would be times that we needed more current information or got stuck. Where would we stop? The public library! We knew that we would be welcomed and receive assistance, even if we were far away from home. While geocaching can now be done with smart phone apps, those experiences really stuck with us. And, as a plus, there are now many libraries that host geocaches themselves.

At the Fortville-Vernon Township Library in Hancock County, where I am a trustee, we used to be the only place in the vicinity where visitors could enjoy free computer access, inexpensive copying, faxing, laminating, and more; your library was probably much the same. But as times have changed, so have the services we offer, but still with the special ingredient not necessarily found elsewhere: nonjudgmental staff willing to help, expecting little in return, whether you are a resident or not.

Libraries have been getting some love in the mainstream media recently, which many of us proudly share, over and over, with friends and family; hopefully, this is resonating with members of the general public as well. In addition to Susan Orlean’s book, The Library , and a recent This American Life Podcast, “The Room of Requirement;” the New York Times and other newspapers and magazines have taken note of the many resources available and the unique atmosphere a library offers. Throughout this year, we want to spotlight and share the wonderful things going on at your libraries, especially the ways that you make patrons feel welcome, included and valued.

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