A Year of Change: This Library is Always Open (Self Checkout) #tlchat #vsla #vted


The library media center at my school, Richmond Elementary in Richmond Vermont, has received an enormous gift: a pilot year with a flexible schedule. It’s the ideal situation for school library work: an opportunity for collaborative teaching and creative learning far beyond what fits into a fixed schedule of once-a-week library classes. Please join me for the journey.

Self Checkout: The Why

As I planned for a flexible library schedule this school year, one of my challenges was to make sure that my students would be able to read library books without a fixed, once-a-week visit to check them out. I’m the only library employee and my (fabulous) volunteers aren’t available for full coverage of the whole school day. In the past when I was out of the library teaching in a classroom, or in the library but busy teaching a class, the library was not accessible for students to get new books. One answer to this concern seemed to be a self checkout station, so that students could visit the library any time they needed new books.

I set up our new self checkout station in early September and so far the results have been very encouraging. I often see third and fourth grade students on their way to the library as I am headed elsewhere in the building, and for the first time I don’t have to tell them to turn around because their library is closed. I actually got rid of my “library closed” door sign. For these students, their library is always open.

Self Checkout: The How

As shown in the photos above, I set up a desktop computer with a barcode scanner on an existing lower-level section of my circulation desk (I have since moved the keyboard out of the way because it’s not needed). I installed my vendor’s self checkout software. Then I printed out students’ barcodes plus names on labels, and put the labels on bright pink index cards. The larger size and bright color makes the cards harder to lose than standard wallet sized library cards. They also function as a kind of hall pass; when students walk down the hall or into the library with big bright pink cards in their hands, it’s very clear to adults where they are going and what their jobs are.

Each third and fourth grade class came to the library for a group lesson plus individual practice on how to use the self checkout station. Because the cards all looked very similar, I handed out markers and asked students to put their names plus a small decoration on their cards. This way they can easily find their own cards in a class set and not accidentally checkout books to the wrong account.

After each group lesson, I presented the classroom teacher with a special holder (really just a plastic index card box) for their class set of library cards. I also made a card for each teacher, both for teachers to use themselves and for students to use when they check out books on their teachers’ accounts for classroom projects. When students want new library books, their teachers give them their cards and send them to the library.

I plan to teach second graders to use the self checkout station later this year. I have cards made already for kindergartners and first graders, but I’m waiting until I have a good sense of what skills are needed to use self checkout before introducing it to my youngest students. My system shows students’ names after they have scanned their cards, and I have asked my vendor if they could possibly add student photos to this confirmation screen. That would be a big help for my prereaders.

Self Checkout: Addressing Concerns

The biggest concern I have heard about the new self checkout system is book loss. Some staff members and parents have asked me if I’m worried that the library will lose books if I’m not checking them out myself.

My response has been some version of, well, the library loses some books anyway because students forget to check them out at the end of library class even when I’m there. And the books almost always find their way back to the library anyway; our overall loss rate is very low. Our school community also has an established culture of trust around loaning out library books; students take home 10 library books each over the summer and the return rates are always very high.

But even if I begin to see a higher loss rate with the self checkout system in place, I will think very hard before I consider removing it. Everything in education has a cost, and if the cost of increased library access for students is a slightly higher loss rate then the trade off will be worth it. In many ways it’s a matter of perspective: are librarians book police, most concerned with keeping books safe? Or are we book promoters, most driven to get (awesome, life-changing) books into students’ hands?

A final note about book loss: my third and fourth grade students are having so much fun being independent and checking out their books themselves that I’m predicting my loss rate will go down. I have yet to see a single student forget to check out a book as he or she leaves the library.

If you have any questions about self checkout at my school, please feel free to contact me through this blog or at my school email, beth.redford@cesuvt.org.

A Year of Change: The Inspiration #tlchat #vsla #vted

Expect the miraculous

The library media center at my school, Richmond Elementary in Richmond Vermont, has received an enormous gift: a pilot year with a flexible schedule. It’s the ideal situation for school library work: an opportunity for collaborative teaching and creative learning far beyond what fits into a fixed schedule of once-a-week library classes. Please join me for the journey.

In May 2015 I was fortunate enough to hear Athens, Georgia library media specialist Andy Plemmons speak at the Dynamic Landscapes conference in Burlington, Vermont. I have followed Andy and his library media center on Twitter for several years, and I was looking forward to hearing more about the amazing learning that goes on in his library. Students at Barrow Media Center benefit tremendously from their media center’s innovative programs, which Andy documents on his media center blog, Expect the Miraculous. Andy’s keynote presentation was fantastic: you can see his Google presentation here and and the video of his keynote here.

At Dynamic Landscapes I learned Andy is able to provide these programs because his library media center has a flexible schedule and a schoolwide commitment to collaborative teaching. Andy and his classroom teachers meet quarterly to plan library work for the upcoming months. This flexibility allows classes to visit the library when it makes sense for them, in connection with their curriculum units, rather than once a week whether that fits with their learning or not. It also gives Andy the flexibility to plan activities like a student book budget group that uses a whole host of cross-disciplinary skills to identify new books to order for the library — talk about Problem-Based Learning! The Barrow Media Center can also offer this kind of flexibility because students are empowered to visit the library and check their own library books in and out regardless of whether another class is already using the library.

As I looked at Andy’s library and at mine, it was clear there were three major differences. Additional budget and staffing was not one of them; our libraries are very similar in terms of staffing levels, and Andy’s library actually serves more students and more grade levels than mine. The differences lie in the Barrow Media Center’s flexible schedule, culture of collaborative teaching, and students’ ability to check their own books in and out. So these were the areas I decided to work on during this year of change.

image is from the blog Expect the Miraculous at http://expectmiraculous.com/


A Year of Change: The Reasons Why (Benefits of Flexible Library Scheduling) #tlchat #vsla #vted

60496147_c3dbe9df6b_oThe library media center at my school, Richmond Elementary in Richmond Vermont, has received an enormous gift: a pilot year with a flexible schedule. It’s the ideal situation for school library work: an opportunity for collaborative teaching and creative learning far beyond what fits into a fixed schedule of once-a-week library classes. Please join me for the journey.

Moving from a mostly fixed to a completely flexible schedule will be a big step for my elementary library media program. Although high schools and middle schools have largely adopted flexible scheduling for their library programs, elementary schools are more likely to have fixed schedules in which each class visits the library at a preset day and time each week.

A fixed library schedule benefits schools in some ways: it assures that each student visits the library at least once a week, and it provides a preparation period for each classroom teacher if he or she doesn’t coteach the class with the library media specialist. But it also comes with some drawbacks: it’s difficult for librarians and teachers to collaborate on instruction under this model. It can also prevent students from accessing the library at the times they need it, whether for research or for finding new books for independent reading.

A flexible library schedule benefits students in many ways. It allows teachers and library media specialists to work together to plan instruction that is “dependent on learning needs rather than a fixed library time.” (AASL position statement…more on that below). Rather than working around fixed classes in the library during the same blocks every week, classes can visit the library during the times that best fit their own schedules. A flexible schedule also encourages individual students to visit the library media center at the times they actually need it, whether for research or for independent reading materials.

There are many studies and resources that speak to the learning benefits of a flexible schedule. Several are listed below, but the most persuasive to me is the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) “Position Statement on Flexible Scheduling.” AASL is the primary professional organization for school library media specialists in the United States, and has researched best practices for learning in school libraries for over 60 years. In part the statement reads,

The integrated library program philosophy requires an open schedule that includes flexible and equitable access to physical and virtual collections for staff and students. Classes must be flexibly scheduled into the library on an as needed basis to facilitate just-in-time research, training, and utilization of technology with the guidance of the teacher who is the subject specialist, and the librarian who is the information process specialist. The resulting lesson plans recognize that the length of the learning experience is dependent on learning needs rather than a fixed library time. Regularly scheduled classes in the school library to provide teacher release or preparation time prohibit this best practice. Students and teachers must be able to come to the library throughout the day to use information sources, read for pleasure, and collaborate with other students and teachers.

Collaboration with classroom teachers to design, implement and evaluate inquiry lessons cultivates high level learning experiences for students and is the catalyst that makes the integrated library program work. The teacher brings to the planning process knowledge of subject content and the student needs. The school librarian contributes a broad knowledge of resources and technology, an understanding of modern teaching methods, and a wide range of strategies that may be employed to help students learn inquiry skills. Together they are able to provide differentiated and adaptable experiences for students of all abilities and interests to meet the requirements of the curriculum.

Resources on the benefits of flexible library scheduling

American Association of School Librarians. “Position Statement on Flexible Scheduling.” American Association of School Librarians. American Library Association, June 2014. Web. 15 June 2015. <http://www.ala.org/aasl/advocacy/resources/statements/flex-sched>.

Library Research Service. “School Libraries Impact Studies.” Libraries Research Service. Libraries Research Service, 2013. 16 June 2015. <http://www.lrs.org/data-tools/school-libraries/impact-studies/>

The resources below were provided by the Fairfax County, Virginia public school system at http://www.fcps.edu/is/libraryservices/librarymanagement.shtm

Clocks image: Reynolds, Leo. Squared Circles. January 22, 2012. Online image. Flickr. January 22, 2012. https://www.flickr.com/photos/lwr/60496147/in/photostream/ License information at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/

A year of change begins #tlchat #tlelem #vsla #vted

The library media center at my school, Richmond Elementary in Richmond Vermont, has received an enormous gift: a pilot year with an entirely flexible schedule. This is the Holy Grail of elementary school library work: an opportunity for collaborative teaching and creative learning far beyond what fits into a fixed schedule of once-a-week library classes.

I’m thrilled and honored to be trusted with this pilot year in 2015-2016. As much as possible I’ll be sharing the planning and results of this year of change, in the hope that something I post here can help other librarians advocate for more collaborative schedules at their schools. Please join me for the journey.

Beth Redford

Free music from YouTube – Dynamic Landscapes Sharing #vted #vsla #tlchat

The information below is from my slide in the Dynamic Landscapes 2014 Smackdown. It was accurate as of May 20, 2014, but Google changes things a lot so it may look different in a month!


YouTube provides royalty-free music for videos. This is a great option for teachers making videos or slideshows, and also for students who want to add their favorite copyrighted popular songs to videos. Instead of telling students “you can’t do that,” this royalty-free music gives teachers an opportunity to show there is music freely available to reuse. Sound too good to be true? The information is below:


how to find it

The music can be a little tricky to find. Here are the steps I’ve used:

  • Sign in to Google
  • Go to YouTube. Find this button at the top of the screen
  • upload
  • Click the gear on the right
  • Pick Video Manager
  • On the left of the screen, pick Creation Tools
  • Pick Audio Library. It should look like this


audio library

Have fun creating!




“Mermaids are real” (Critical thinking and the Internet)

I was reminded today why it’s so important to teach critical thinking skills and Internet savvy to our students, even the very young ones. A third grader told me she was having trouble finding nonfiction books about mermaids in my PreK-4 school library. I tried to direct her to chapter books or folktales with mermaids in them, but she wasn’t having any of that. “Mermaids are real,” she told me. “I’ve seen their bones.”

It was a great opportunity for a conversation. I asked her where she had found that information, and she told me she had Googled “real mermaids.” We tried it together and found lots of images and links from the Animal Planet website about mermaids, not clearly labeled as fiction. In fact, the bottom of the website says “Copyright © 2013 Discovery Communications, LLC. The World’s #1 Nonfiction Media Company.” I could see why she was confused! This kind of deceptively labeled fiction isn’t new (Dear America Diaries series, anyone? Which I just had a conversation with a student about last week…but that’s another story). But the difference is that, in the year 2013, a nine year old with home Internet access can find all kinds of misinformation and an adult may not always be nearby as a fact checker. That’s why it’s so crucial for students to learn to be critical thinkers and thoughtful media consumers at an early age. They need to be able to ask, does this information agree with my background knowledge? Who are the people making these claims? And for sure they need to see some examples of hoax sites so they realize how easy it is to make up convincing-looking stuff and post it online.

As part of our conversation, my student and I looked at the excellent teaching hoax site The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus. If we’d had more time we might have also looked at allaboutexplorers.com (highlight: Samuel de Champlain owned an NHL hockey franchise) or The Jackalope Conspiracy website (best claim: the ancients called them “deerbunnies”). We talked a little about who can put information on the Internet (Anyone!) and why someone might put misinformation online. And then we found some great chapter books with mermaids in them.