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2019 ILF President Susie Highley

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 middle 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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