Makerguilt – A Guest Post by Sue Kowalski

This week’s guest blogger, Sue Kowalski, is the librarian at Pine Grove Middle School in the East Syracuse Minoa School District. Sue is actively involved in her local, state and national organizations and contributes by presenting, writing, and embracing her #leadoutloud campaign. In 2011, Pine Grove Library was awarded the National School Library Program of the Year from AASL.  In 2012, Sue was recognized as an “I Love My Librarian” recipient from ALA. Sue was recently named a 2016  Mover & Shaker by Library Journal. She can be reached by email: or on Twitter: @spkowalski

I am sensing an undercurrent of “maker guilt” in my professional circles. While many are sharing the successes and impact of their vibrant makerspaces, an equal number of library professionals are avoiding eye contact and apologetically whispering about their lack of a maker program.  “It’s not that I don’t want a makerspace,” they’ll say with their shoulders slouched. Then the confession unfurls. Concerns about budget, space, supervision, staffing, management, community perception, and student responsibility make the “Reasons I am Not There Yet” list. 

Some may view these concerns as mere excuses or minor obstacles that are easy to overcome. Just find a space, just write a grant, just get a few mentors, just learn from the leaders in the field…just just just…. just get going already and get your makerspace on the map. For others, those concerns will ring true for them, as well, and create a feeling of relief and solidarity for the “not there yet” club. Guilt-free conversations will ensue about the realities, the questions, the failures, the concerns, and the plans to shift forward.

Our 6-8 middle school is just months away from moving from the temporary digs we embraced for two years to a dynamic new building that has been totally transformed.  The library will reflect the mission of a vibrant 21st century learning space. A designated physical makerspace in the library was a shared vision for our entire design team and the expectation for it to become a high impact aspect of the library program is a given.

Beyond exciting, right? Gorgeous new building, breathtaking library and even a designated space in the library named the “Innovation Studio” are bound to provide sustainable inspiration. How could this NOT work?

When I learn of opportunities and successes that are a result of vibrant maker programs across the country, I’m inspired. As students demonstrate the exceptional level of their learning, I take note about what empowered that learning. When best practices are showcased, I try to soak it all in. I’ve got mentors in the field that feed my quest for research, ideas and information. I’d be lying, however, if I didn’t admit that I still have concerns, worries, and questions.  Don’t misunderstand, I have always embraced and empowered formal and informal opportunities for students to think, explore, design, build, and create.

How do we ensure that our makerspace is not just a room with supplies and equipment, but a program that is:

  • appealing to students
  • a program and a concept; not just a place
  • in alignment with our District mission, vision, and values
  • rigorous
  • self-directed BUT supported
  • manageable for staff
  • safe
  • financially realistic
  • not in conflict with academic needs of students
  • diverse for different interests
  • in alignment with other functions of the library
  • adaptable to variety of learning abilities
  • educationally sound
  • assessed
  • replicable
  • sustainable

I know when I engage in conversation about what our Innovation Studio will be for our school community, there is enthusiasm and affirmation about how makerspaces are game changers for all who participate! There are also the voices of the critics, those currently unconvinced, or those who are completely unaware of the maker movement. These voices and opinions can’t be dismissed and no one should feel guilty about asking the hard questions about the goal of a makerspace program.

Those who question the purpose, goal, or logistics of a makerspace program are offering perspectives that can provide valuable input to the planning, development, and sustainability of the program.  Everyone, even library professionals, have the right to ask the questions without being labeled as a someone who is standing the way of progress. There should be no shame, guilt, or self-doubt about vocalizing conceptual or logistical concerns.  The more rich the dialog, the more our honest perspectives can shape the direction of strong maker programs.

As a library leader, I won’t just jump on board without a confident response to the questions, concerns, or doubt. The planning and development of our program needs to work with our school community. That means we may or may not be the same as other programs across the region, state, or country.  We must open the lines of communication to make sure questions like “Why?” “How?” “What if?” “Who?” or “Why not?” are valued, not viewed as roadblocks.

I’m on board with the value of a strong maker program. I’m also on board with the need for thoughtful and honest conversations with our community to drive our program. We won’t just load up a room with “maker” supplies and equipment and call it day. We’ll learn and we’ll teach; we’ll agree and disagree; and we’ll succeed and we’ll fail.   Throughout it all, we’ll share our successes and not be at all ashamed about what we haven’t achieved yet.

Makerguilt is stifling. The next time someone asks about the makerspace at YOUR library, own it. If you have a successful program, say so. If you haven’t even started, say so. If you have questions, ask. Let’s trade the smoke and mirrors for some honest conversations. So, tell me honestly, how is YOUR library embracing the maker concept?”

My Journey to the School Library

Spend an evening participating in #TLChat, or read the latest issue of Knowledge Quest, and it is easy to see how much has changed in our profession since many of us became school librarians. While the school library I spent time in as a K-12 student fostered my love for reading, and strengthened my research skills – goals of school library programs today – it did not have a single computer until well into the 90s. Accessing the internet did not happen for me until several years into my college studies. It would have never occurred to me to ask the school librarian to help me develop a video game for a technology competition, or help me put together my senior capstone portfolio. Now, those requests are received by school librarians on a daily basis.

I bring up this shift in the profession because it is what cemented my decision to become a school librarian. As a classroom teacher, I originally approached my school librarian to help me tackle literacy issues. I was in the habit of checking out as many, if not more, of the library books as my students, exchanging recommendations and favorites. I perceived her role as limited to helping students grow in reading for pleasure and reading for purpose.

One day, I discovered a website that I wanted to use with my students. Since the library was the only space that had a bank of computers, I approached her about bringing my students to the library. She surprised me with ideas for a creative and engaging lesson – much more than I had envisioned on my own! Over that year we worked together again and again to the benefit of my students and my own teaching. Those collaborations led to lunches and conversations on what it meant to be a school librarian. She was at the end of her career and she spoke eloquently about the need for new blood in the profession. She encouraged me to consider becoming a school librarian, citing my creativity and background as a music educator as advantages.

Upon entering the library science program, I noticed how much the profession was changing. This change was evident in the coursework, in conversations with new colleagues, and in my first time attending the state library conference. I knew that in this profession, I would never stop learning. In my first year as a school librarian, my principal asked me to take over the school yearbook and the school website. Years later, these new opportunities lead me to pursue a doctorate in Instructional Technology. Lucy from 1995 could have never imagined what a natural extension of school librarianship Instructional Technology turned out to be!

Today, I am privileged to be a school library educator, preparing future school library media specialists and instructional technologists to collaborate with classroom teachers – introducing them, as my mentor did years ago, to rich and engaging technology-enabled learning opportunities! I cannot wait to see where the profession takes me next!

The School Library – An Unofficial Refuge

In the late 80s, my family immigrated to the United States. It was the beginning of my 7th grade year and still stand out in my memory as a lonely and difficult time. Two spaces became havens for me: the middle school choir room and the school library. It is no wonder that I eventually became a music teacher and then a school librarian – that is how powerful of an impact a welcoming educator can make on a child. In previous blog posts, BACC bloggers focused on creating a collection that reflects cultural and global diversity. To close out this month’s topic, I’d like to focus on a group of children who are not always welcomed or reflected in our collections.

One group of teens that struggle to feel included, and a group many of us feel unprepared to serve, are LGBTQ youth: “With 82 percent of LGBTQ students reporting verbal harassment, among other forms of bullying, according to the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2011 School Climate Report, finding a space to feel safe may be particularly crucial for these students” (SLJ Post). As you develop your library programs and collections, consider ways you can be an unofficial refuge, a safe space for ALL students. Here are excellent resources to help you get started;

1. LGBTQ and You: How to Support Your Students

2. Library: LGBT Youth & Schools Resources and Links

3. The Basics of an Inclusive Library

Happy 2016 Everyone!

The School Librarian’s Digital Tool Box

School Librarians sitting at tables working on their computers

Hello Everyone! I am glad to be back on the blog. I’d like to thank my amazing colleague, Dr. Stephanie Jones, for blogging while I was visiting school libraries in Northwest Brazil. I look forward to sharing more about that experience with you all at a later date.

Like Judi, Stephanie and I also presented a half-day workshop at this year’s AASL 2015 Conference: Three Must-Have Tools for the School Librarian’s Digital Leadership Toolbox. Also like Judi, I too firmly believe in the importance of the school librarian’s role as instructional partner. As instructional partners, school librarians are responsible for becoming familiar with a broader amount of curriculum – not just the content itself, but how this content is taught vertically throughout the different grade levels. Any school librarian will tell you that this is a humongous undertaking!

It is important that we harness tools that help us to keep abreast of resources that can help improve our instructional partnering capabilities. This is what “smooshing” together Weebly, Twitter and Rebelmouse is all about. Combined, these tools help school librarians create a visually organized and categorized collection of instructional materials, feeds, professional development opportunities, community groups etc. and etc.

The best part is that these tools provide tangible evidence of a school librarian’s instructional planning process – a necessary step in explaining and advocating for this vital role to administrators, classroom teachers, students and parents.

Please visit the Hackpad of Resources we created to learn more! Simply x-out of the login box. There is no need to set up an account to explore the links we shared.


Summer Reading…for Fostering Connections

The school librarian who is looking for professional development reading titles to add to his or her summer list has a plethora of books to choose from: titles written by other educators, fellow school librarians and leaders in the field. We may not always consider memoirs or even fiction as reading for professional development. However, titles in this genre can serve as amazing professional development resources. Let me give you a few examples.

1. This summer, my husband and his brother – both of whom are teaching in rural areas in South Georgia – decided to form a mini book club. They are reading The Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray. If you are interested in this title, the New York Times wrote a detailed review. The reason both Green boys decided to read this title is because it is a memoir written by an author that grew up in the same area (and under similar circumstances) as many of their students. By reading titles such as these, they hope to develop a deeper understanding and knowledge of their students’ background, cultural history, and experiences. Hopefully, this understanding will lead to deeper connections between themselves and their students, and will aid them in teaching their respective subjects in ways that relate better to their kids.

2. When I was 12 years old, my family immigrated to the United States. As many first generation immigrants will tell you, it was a challenging and difficult experience. Sadly, I made the mistake of assuming that my own immigration experience equipped me to understand and relate to the immigration experience of my students in West Texas. It was a mistake that cost me several student and teacher connections. Eventually, I read Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and When Zachary Beaver Came to Town by Kimberly Willis Holt. Reading these two different stories really helped me to see how immigrating from Mexico to work as a migrant worker in West Texas was a unique experience for my students. It helped me to learn to listen to them more openly, without attempting to layer my own preconceived ideas on top of their stories. It was a beneficial and humbling lesson that helped me become a better school librarian.

Most of us do not teach and serve in the schools we attended as children. We have very different backgrounds and different life stories than those of our students. Reading memoirs and tales written by local authors is a great way to begin exploring the context of where we teach – an insider’s perspective into the communities we serve and the students who live there. This summer, add diverse fiction and local authors to your reading list. Look for stories that will help you develop an empathy and understanding for your school. Here are great places to begin your search:

1. On Twitter: #WeNeedDiverseBooks

2. Curated Lists on

3. Local and Independent Book Stores (if you are lucky to have one near you, these often maintain close relationships with local authors and can give you great recommendations).

Happy reading!

Co-Teaching in the School Library

Hello everyone! I have just returned from an amazing Georgia Library Media Association Summer Institute, an event that showcased incredible school library media specialists (this is the title of the profession here in Georgia) and the co-teaching and collaboration they are engaged in while serving Georgia students. It is an exciting and challenging time for our profession!

When we discuss collaboration with classroom teachers, we often think about co-planning, but not as much about co-teaching or co-assessing. The first time I truly understood co-teaching in the school library context, was after reading an excellent book chapter written by Dr. Stephanie Jones, my colleague here at Georgia Southern, and two school library media specialists from the Cobb County School District. It was called: “Special Collaboration: Establishing Successful Partnerships Between School Librarians and Special Educators.” In this chapter, I found a detailed explanation of co-teaching. Over time, I ran across other great resources, many of which referred to co-teaching by general education and special education teachers. I encourage you to review these resources because they are easily applied to the field of school librarianship. Here are two I highly recommend:

1. The National Educator Association 6 Steps to Successful Co-Teaching

2. Bucks County Intermediate Unit #22 Training on Co-Teaching

The second resource has a handout on page 7 that clearly explains what co-teaching IS and what co-teaching IS NOT. Several of these statements jump out at me. See if they describe any of the co-teaching you have observed or engaged in:

Co Teaching IS…

“Both professionals coordinate and deliver substantive instruction and have active roles.”

Co Teaching IS NOT…

“A general educator plans and delivers all of the lessons while the special educator circulates.”

Co Teaching IS…

“co-teachers instructing in the same physical [or virtual] space.”

Co Teaching IS NOT…

“teaching teams that plan together then group and instruct students in separate classrooms.”

Interesting isn’t it? Both of the resources linked above also discuss the different models of co-teaching. I encourage you to explore these models and consider if any of these co-teaching approaches would support student achievement and mastery in your next collaborative project. The most important characteristic of co-teaching is that it pulls the skills, knowledge and background of two educators and applies these in much more powerful, instructional ways. As we have said before, together – we are stronger!

Connecting with your Community

In one of my first posts for BACC, I blogged on Resource Sharing for Manpower. In this post I discussed how important it is to involve your parents and community members in the school library program, enriching your school library program, expanding the expertise and resources you offer teachers when collaborating, and maximizing your impact on student learning.

For the Building a Culture of Collaboration Webinar, I will be discussing the different options and groups to consider when developing these types of connections. Judi posted this earlier but I am adding the webinar information again in case you missed it:

Webinar Information:
May 19, 2-3pm Central Time: Building a Culture of Collaboration (Collaboration Series) – FREE

Register at

All Webinars will be recorded. A link to the recording will be sent to all registrants (i.e. you may want to register even if you know you cannot attend the live event). All Webinars will carry Continuing Education credit.

For my portion of the webinar I will be talking about networking, identifying parent connections, the potential of social organizations, knowing your neighborhood, business partnerships, and religious institutions. Hope to see you there!


Advocacy as a Daily Attitude

Advocacy is one of those terms we throw around in school librarianship, assuming everyone in the room knows exactly what we are talking about. Most of us can probably point to examples: promotional videos, events and programs such as School Library Month, Family Fun Night, Read Day etc. However, it can be easy to confuse advocacy with marketing. While the examples I just listed are extremely important, I believe these are only a slice of advocacy – not the entire cake.

Advocacy is typically defined as the act of speaking or writing in support of someone or something. MW defines it as “the act or process of supporting a cause.” I like the use of the word “process“. To me, this word reminds us that advocacy is comprised of daily actions, communication, instructional decisions, relationships nurtured, even budgetary choices. Advocacy is a daily attitude.

If this way of thinking about advocacy seems foreign, do not be surprised. Most school librarians come from content areas that did not expose them to the need for advocacy. How often have you heard an educator say: “I’m afraid they are going to cut the math program for lack of funding” or “The science teacher was so unpopular. None of the students enjoyed her class. Maybe we should get rid of the science program all together. We can simply replace it with class science experiment kits or videos.” What we DO hear are comments like: “Why do we need a library when we have Google?” or “That librarian is very unfriendly. None of the children or teachers enjoy going to the library. I am not even sure what he does in there all day!”

This is where I am going to bring up my pesky musical past again. Music educators and programs know that advocacy is a crucial component of their daily professional lives. In fact, read how the National Association for Music Educators discusses advocacy:

“One of the best forms of preventative advocacy is a strong, vital, quality music education program. Music educators become advocates for their programs at concerts and public performances by relating to the audience the musical content of the music being performed and the musical challenges students have met and mastered. This informal form of advocacy can yield significant benefits by building support for the program and demonstrating in a very real way the unique educational value of a music education to students. Inviting an administrator into the music classroom or rehearsal to see students engaged in active learning is another of many informal forms of advocacy that can build beneficial and even essential support when a crisis situation arises.”

Here is another, especially meaningful section:

“What prompts any advocacy efforts are the welfare and education of the students and the right of every student to a quality music education. Although developing and maintaining a career is important, as a music educator you are advocating for a higher cause than continued employment—you are advocating for a quality music education for every child.”

Re-read those statements and replace the words music program with school library program. Aren’t the efforts the same? The purpose equal? Are we not advocating for a quality “school library education for every child”?

I encourage you to read through the rest of NAfME’s advocacy statement – it lists concrete examples of advocacy that foster a daily attitude of support and program promotion (including good ideas for dealing with potential program cuts).  Of course, AASL and ALA have wonderful advocacy kits and resources, as well as a treasure trove of articles and columns on the subject. However, I find that exploring issues from a different profession’s perspective sometimes helps to clarify our own, introducing us to a new way of considering our existing challenges.

I also encourage you to think through your daily professional practice in light of that list. What are ways that you can advocate for your program locally, throughout the day? Do you make a point of sharing curated resources with teachers, parents and administrators? Do you actively pursue relationships with parents, administrators, board members, and the community, always sharing how the school library academically benefits students? Is your school library an open and welcoming place? Do teachers perceive you to be open and supportive of their classroom goals? As you celebrate School Library Month, remember that the process of advocacy is a daily one.

Suggested Reading:

Green, L. (2014). School librarians and music educators: A concert for student successLibrary Media Connection, 33(3), 20-23.

Differentiating Instruction as the School Librarian

I’m not sure about you, but it has been *cough, cough* several years since I completed a degree in education and obtained teacher certification. Most of us in the education profession realize that to remain effective and relevant, we must constantly update our skills and keep up with the movements and trends affecting our practice. But sometimes, these trends are cyclical. We see an educational approach or method repackaged or rebranded for a new generation of students. My father is fond of exclaiming “There is nothing new under the sun!” and many times I am inclined to believe he is right. When I first heard the terms: “differentiated instruction,” these brought to mind some of the ideas we have discussed in the field of instructional design for quite some time. Ideas like learner analysis (who are my learners? what do they know? what are their learning struggles? where do they need support?) and content analysis (what am I teaching? What are the key ideas, concepts? What is the best order to introduce these concepts?) were some of the most obvious and immediate connections.

Even so, recognizing “differentiated instruction” as containing approaches we find familiar, and actually enacting and supporting this practice as school librarians are vastly different situations. If we are to collaborate with teachers and support learning for all, then we need to be able to verbalize differentiated instruction, recognize what it looks like, plan for it, and support its implementation. Differentiated instruction is “a way of thinking, an approach to teaching and learning that advocates beginning where students are and designing experiences that will better help them achieve” (Koechlin & Zwaan, 2008, p. 2).

There are four design elements that can be conduits for differentiation:

1. Content (the subject for student mastery, curriculum materials that introduce the subject)

2. Process (student learning activities)

3. Product (student artifacts of learning)

4. Learning Environment (classroom set up and conditions)

When you read through those four conduits, did your eyes light up with recognition? Did you think to yourself: “I do design these four elements differently depending on student needs! I differentiate!” If so, then congratulations! However, if you are struggling a bit to envision how you might have a role impacting these four elements when you are not the classroom teacher, then I encourage you to set aside fifteen minutes this week and read Everyone Wins: Differentiation in the School Library by Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan. In this article, Carol and Sandi list concrete examples of ways you can implement, as well as support differentiated instruction in your school. As the authors state: “connecting kids and content in meaningful ways is the work of all educators, and helping every child achieve is our mutual goal” (p. 2).


Classroom Collections and School Libraries

Hello BACC readers,

I am writing to you on a cold and rainy day in South Georgia; a day with just enough fog to make my small town look like it belongs in the Chronicles of Narnia. I am also writing to you after having enjoyed listening to my nine year old daughter read sections from Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming aloud to me as we snuggled on the coach before school. I share this second tidbit with you because Brown Girl Dreaming is a book leveled above 3rd grade, and one not many third grade teachers would be likely to stock in their classroom collections. Thankfully, my daughter was able to check this book out from her school library under the guidance of a school librarian who is aware of my daughter’s reading capacity and interest.

When thinking on the BACC theme this month (school libraries compared to classroom libraries), several threads began to weave themselves together. I’d like to share those threads with you all.

Thread 1: Is it “And” or “Vs”?

As a school library educator, my job is to prepare future school librarians. It occurred to me that in our program here at Georgia Southern, we do not formally address the presence of classroom libraries. Since the overwhelming majority of our students are classroom teachers, I imagine many of them maintain these collections in their classrooms. Does it behoove the school librarian to push against classroom collections? To discourage their presence and present a negative reaction to their existence? Should I teach my school library candidates to set their cross-hairs for classroom collections, ridding the world of these “imposters?”

I don’t think so.

Much of what we do is inter-relational, and oftentimes, politically sensitive. I cannot see the benefit in attacking an effort that comes from a well-intentioned place, and I actually think this would hurt a librarian’s ability to maintain positive interactions with his or her colleagues.

Thread 2: The Terms We Use

When Judi blogged last week, someone posted that he preferred the term “classroom collections” to “classroom libraries.” I think he makes an excellent point. The terms we use are extremely important. The school library should not merely house a collection of books, e-books, databases etc. Its primary treasure, I argue, is the expertise the school librarian embodies; an expertise that multiplies the impact of those instructional resources. The classroom collection is not a library because it is missing the information literacy expert. Tying thread 2 to thread 1, I think it is our job as school librarians to promote this expertise, to be willing to engage in collaboration and multiply the impact of any library resource – be it space (makerspace activities, after school coding clubs), be it print, be it online research. If a teacher asks for my help, for my expertise, I am going to say yes! I am going to prove that I am the key resource in that school library! Instead of attacking classroom collections, encourage teachers to see the multitude of extras they have access to when accessing the school library (and you!).

Thread 3: Comparing Apples and Oranges

Years ago, I was a music teacher in Fort Worth, Texas. For a while, this school district considered getting rid of elementary music because it was reasoned that classroom teachers could easily sing songs or play music games (hey! We have boom boxes now!) with their own students. The community fought back. Music teachers explained that simply singing songs or playing games is not a music education. It takes an individual who is a certified music teacher to use these resources to teach foundational music skills such as ear training, steady beat, accurate pitch matching, harmonization, and sight reading. This may seem obvious to people who are trained musicians, or familiar with musical concepts. However, to a school administrator or other individual who walks by a music classroom and is unaware of the pedagogical reasons behind the activities, a music class might look like chaos!

I see this same lack of awareness being an issue for the school librarian. We KNOW how wonderful we are. We KNOW what we bring to the table. We KNOW why the school library collection, developed with our care and expertise, and used in collaborative instruction is an incredible component in student achievement. But. Does your administrator know this? Do your parents know this? Do your teachers know this? Have you clearly documented and voiced your role in instruction?

These are the three threads I am weaving today as I think on classroom collections. Help teachers understand that while classroom collections are great for supporting silent reading, for example – these cannot replace the impact of an instructional expert working with a large, curated collection. Finally, develop the discipline of documenting and explaining your instructional choices, approaches and decisions. Clearly outline your reasoning for the collection development process you undertake, voicing connections between your expertise, resources, and student learning needs.

Please share your thoughts in the comments below, or tweet at me: @lucysantosgreen