NASA@ My Library, Part 2

Oreo cookies showing lunar phasesThis year’s Collaborative Summer Library Program theme is “A Universe of Stories.” To help libraries prepare, the Florida Division of Library and Information Services collaborated with NASA@ My Library and the STAR Net Libraries to provide a hands-on workshop in Tallahassee.

Last week’s blog post covered the STAR Net Libraries website, which has a plethora of resources available for upcoming summer reading programs as well as resources for general STEM programming. This week, I’m going to provide information on some of the activities we did at the workshop.

The slide presentation for the workshop can be accessed at

The Red Mars Game that we played at the beginning of the workshop was a great ice-breaker. Presenter Christine Shupla had us all get up in one big circle. Then she started throwing imaginary planets to us. “Mars is small, so don’t lose it,” and then she’d call out someone’s name to catch Mars. That person would then “catch” the planet, call out another person’s name, and throw the planet to them. And so on. She also introduced Saturn by spinning her finger around in the air (“rings”), and Jupiter as a huuuuge planet, so she held her arms out wide. And Pluto is tiny, so we had to be extra careful with it. It may sound corny, but it was actually a lot of fun!

The next activity was sorting space objects (planets, constellations, galaxies) by either how far they are from us or how big they are. Christine provided pictures of the objects on paper, and each group tried to put them in order. It made for some lively discussion in our group: “Hubble only takes photos of far-away objects; it is actually located in Earth’s orbit.” J You can duplicate this activity by going to and downloading the PDF with the pictures. And the correct answers!

Presenter Andy Shaner next discussed the scale of our solar system. He introduced an activity called “Jump to Jupiter” and a group of attendees demonstrated how far apart the planets are. He said to really show the scale of the solar system, you would need three football fields to go from the sun to Pluto. Wow! Slide #17 shows how many “jumps” between objects. You can duplicate this activity by going to The activity can be scaled down, of course. Some participants plan to use a community walking path to demonstrate the scale, similar to StoryWalks. You can also visit to learn how to build a scale model of the solar system.

Then we assembled the moon’s phases with Oreos. Mmmmm…. You can duplicate this tasty activity by going to

Other activities included creating craters (, teen moon ooze (, creating a UV tester (, making a supernova (, creating space-landing gear that will protect your astronauts ( [full disclosure – our group struggled with this; we had astronauts flying out all over the place!], and a trip to Mars (

Another cool resource that you can download to your computer for free or on your mobile device for a small fee is Stellarium ( Stellarium is a free open source planetarium for your computer. It shows a realistic sky in 3D, just like what you see with the naked eye, binoculars, or a telescope.

And if you’ve ever wished you could show lunar and meteorite samples, you can borrow some from NASA ( However, you do have to attend a training session first, and those are normally held in Houston.

You can also request that STAR Net send you pop-up traveling exhibits at Designed for libraries, these banners use colorful images and text to share current lunar and asteroid science and exploration stories. The displays can be used to excite and engage patrons in further exploration through library resources and programs.

This was a really fun workshop and provided great activities for your summer reading program and any other STEM programming you do!

Fellow attendees, if I missed anything (and I’m sure I did), please share in the Comments section.

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NASA@ My Library, Part 1

Logo of A Universe of StoriesThis year’s Collaborative Summer Library Program theme is “A Universe of Stories.” To help libraries prepare, the Florida Division of Library and Information Services collaborated with NASA@ My Library and the STAR Net Libraries to provide a hands-on workshop in Tallahassee.

The STAR Net Libraries website has a plethora of resources available for upcoming summer reading programs as well as resources for general STEM programming:

  • Upcoming Webinars
    • Planning a Night Sky Viewing at Your Library, February 20th at 1 p.m. CT (12 noon ET)
    • Solar System Scale Activities for “A Universe of Stories,” March 7th at 1 p.m. CT (12 noon ET)
  • Archived Webinars
    • Craft, Engineer, and Make & Take Activities for “A Universe of Stories”
    • Resource Overview for “A Universe of Stories”
    • Bringing “A Universe of Stories” to Your Library
    • Out-of-this-World Engineering
    • A Universe of NASA Resources
    • Libraries Helping Girls STEAM Ahead with NASA
    • And more!
  • STEM Activity Clearinghouse
    • Earth
    • Playful Building
    • Healthy Living
    • Space Science
    • STAR_Net Hands-on Activities
    • Activities for Pre-K
    • Activities for Tweens
    • Computational Thinking
    • And more!
  • Printable Posters
    • Earth Science
      • Our Changing Earth
      • Polar Power
      • Animals Adapt
      • And more!
    • Space Science
      • A Cosmic Journey
      • Our Place in Space
      • Our Solar System
      • And more!
    • Technology
      • Engineers Make a World of Difference
      • Grand Challenges
      • Robots!
      • And more
    • Health Science
      • Discover Health
      • Faces of Healthcare
      • Exercise Your Brain
      • And more!
    • Guides, Facts, and Tips
      • Space Science Programming – Teachers’ Guide
      • Let’s Move – The Facts
      • Eat Healthy – Move More
      • And more!

So check out STAR_Net Libraries – there is a ton of resources available for STEM programming!

Next week, I’ll cover some of the activities we did at the workshop.

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Library Marketing and Communications Conference with Guest Blogger Kellie Sparks

By Kellie Sparks, University of West Florida

Photo of the St. Louis Arch
Gateway Arch in St. Louis

I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about my library position. As the social media coordinator for the University of West Florida libraries, I love that the lines of work and play are often completely blurred. My work day consists of finding the right visuals and crafting the right words to demonstrate our value to the rest of the university. So, when I saw that PLAN was offering a scholarship to attend a professional development conference designed for library marketers, I jumped at the chance. It seemed like the perfect place to learn even more about how as a librarian, I could become a better communicator and gather fresh ideas on how to market UWF libraries more effectively.

As it turns out, the Library Marketing and Communications Conference was my dream conference! Set in snowy St. Louis, Missouri, the conference was bursting with librarians and marketing professionals who gathered to discuss, analyze, and master the art of marketing libraries. The multiple conference tracks presented a variety of options: Communications/PR, Graphic Design/Technology, Social Media, Marketing Strategies & Tools, Partnerships/Advocacy, Engagement, Internal Marketing, and Promoting Library Programs & Services. These unique tracks included sessions that were spread over the course of two days and each session typically allowed for active discussion and engagement among conference goers. A library “swag swap” accompanied these sessions with a wide variety of items from libraries across the country. Each brightly colored brochure and bookmark provided instant inspiration for future marketing endeavors and a great opportunity to see how other librarian marketers approached their print and digital outreach initiatives.

While I found the sessions informative, the conversations between peers stood out as my favorite part of the conference. Meeting library creatives who shared and understood the thrill of finding the perfect image, the time and dedication it takes to create and edit a social media video, and the rush of waking up in the middle of the night with a flash of creative inspiration, was a unique comfort we felt as a collective. The conversations continued with numerous opportunities for dine-arounds and fun activities to meet up with new and old friends.  It was great to see and hear the stories of both library marketing successes and failures. It was definitely the first conference I had ever been to where I felt like every session was a must-see. Hope to see you at the next LMCC conference!

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The LIS College Report Card with Guest Blogger Melissa Davis

By Melissa Davis, Pensacola State College

Photo of Carla Hayden and Melissa Davis
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden and Melissa Davis at ALA

This summer I attended the ALA conference in New Orleans with several of my Pensacola State College librarian colleagues. The conference was fabulous, and I loved being at a national conference again.

One of the workshops I attended was Building Inclusion: How Can Information Literary Instruction at Two-Year Colleges Help Students Successfully Transition to the University? ( presented by Peggy L. Nuhn and Rachel Mulvihill at the University of Central Florida and Karen F. Kauffmann and Morgan Tracy at Seminole State College. To be honest, this workshop wasn’t what I expected it to be (practical tips to get students excited about research), but it turned out to be the most thought-provoking session I attended.

I have taught LIS 2005, Internet Research, a three-credit class for two years. It has been a required course for the Physical Therapy Assistants program and probably has been seen as an easy A class for non PTA students (I think they are disappointed when they realize there is actual work required). While I always knew there was room for improvement, initially, I was surprised to hear that the universities thought we at the state colleges weren’t adequately preparing students for university research.

Back in June, I only really heard what the presenters thought we weren’t doing well enough. Now six months later, after thought, reflection, and revisiting the PowerPoint, I realize that the presenters also said what we were doing right and that their findings, positive and negative, had merit. Here are the things they found that the state colleges were teaching well:

  1. How to use general databases
  2. How to use subject specific databases
  3. How to contact a librarian for help
  4. Creating a search strategy
  5. Navigating a library homepage

These skills are huge! Creating a search strategy, for example, includes narrowing a topic, understanding and selecting keywords, faceted analysis, and, hopefully, some simple Boolean logic–all great research skills!

The concepts the researchers thought we weren’t getting across well, however, were these:

  1. Citations! (caution when using database-generated citations, identifying parts of a citation, and MLA /APA in general, I would say)
  2. Recognizing a research study (as opposed to a popular article that might mention a research study)
  3. Avoiding plagiarism
  4. Understanding the information cycle (the reason not everything can be researched on an academic level immediately)
  5. Literature review
Photo of Tracy K. Smith and Melissa Davis
Poet Laureate of the United States Tracy K. Smith and Melissa Davis at ALA

When I really started to think about what my students were having the most problems with, I would have to agree with the findings. The biggest thing my students have problems with is citations, even after instruction and in-class and out-of-class practice. Many of my students don’t seem to understand the difference between an article title and a journal title. They don’t know what those numbers are (volume and issue numbers). They insist on including helpful abbreviations for the volume and page numbers they do include. They don’t want to use a citation generator or get help from the writing lab or from me. I don’t have an instant solution to the citations problem. I’m still trying to figure out how to give citations more time and/or a more practical approach. I have started to be more mindful about the other topics on the need-more-work list as well.

Still, I have to think that the students attending basic LIS classes are more prepared to go to a university than those who don’t, and perhaps other professors (and high school teachers) requiring excellence with citations will help students master this skill. That students are aware of the power of databases and how to use them and that they can navigate a library somewhat successfully is a win in my book.

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Getting Real with Augmented Reality with Guest Blogger Becky Nation

By Becky Nation, Avalon Middle School in Santa Rosa County

Through the generous funding of PLAN, I was offered the incredible opportunity to travel to Denver, Colorado for ALA Midwinter 2018. The opportunity to collaborate with other like-minded professionals, participate in sessions introducing new ideas and technologies, and experience the announcing of award-winning authors and books was exhilarating. I came home with so many ideas swirling through my mind competing for attention, but the concept of virtual and augmented realities kept pushing itself back to the forefront.

I attended several sessions discussing augmented, virtual, and mixed reality, and although I had heard of these prior to attending the conference, I was incredibly intimidated by these concepts. Big libraries with large budgets presented their mobile virtual reality labs that cost more than I could ever afford. The thought of the financial and technological aspects of taking on such a project crippled me for months. After researching and mulling over options, I finally decided the only way to find out how these technologies work was to use them. Augmented reality would be the jumping off point in my library.

Thinking that I needed to be comfortable with the lesson since the technology aspect would be new for me, I sought a project I currently use that I could enhance to include AR. My students write book reviews each year and deliver them orally. This existing project seemed to readily lend itself to a technology enhancement. I downloaded the free HP Reveal app and watched the tutorial that opened as soon as I downloaded. It guided me through the setup of my first aura. I used my iPad to video my students delivering their book reviews. Then I took a picture of the book cover to use as the trigger that would cue up the video. The HP Reveal app was then used to link the cover trigger to the student’s video. When students download the app and follow my channel, they scan the book and have other students’ book reviews superimpose themselves on the cover of the book where I placed it in the app. Yes, it’s just that easy!

Now that I have figured out how this works, I’m sad I waited so long to interact with this technology. My next steps include a grant proposal asking for tablets to use for recording and linking the books inside HP Reveal. This would allow me to pair students who would video and link their own book reviews for whole classes.

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Genealogy on a Shoestring with Guest Blogger Cathy Burnsed

Genealogy on a Shoestring by Cathy Burnsed, LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library – Woodville Branch

Most people have heard of; that may be the reason your patrons showed up, having received a DNA kit as a gift. But how can you help the new genealogist who doesn’t have access to a paid account to Ancestry? And what if your library doesn’t, either?

Some of the best known websites for genealogy require a paid subscription, but there is also a lot of free information online. I’m going to highlight some of the biggest free websites, but there are many more resources out there. Knowing how to find them is the trick!

Sites that Organize the Internet organizes thousands of genealogy and history websites by topic. I like it because Cyndi thinks like a librarian. is the Research Wiki for The availability of genealogy information in places around the world is given in research guides specific to the county level in the United States. This is the place to go to be pointed to local government offices who can be contacted for questions about records, which may or may not be online. is the catalog of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. Searchable by surname, subject, and place, you can view the book, microform, and digital holdings of the largest genealogy library in the world. Some digital holdings are viewable from your home computer; others can only be accessed through a Family History Center associated with the LDS church. These centers are manned by knowledgeable volunteers and open to everyone.

Sites that Offer Free Data is a growing site with online data from around the US. Take a look and see what you can find! is a site you may have run across before, the Internet Archive. They have tons of digitized books, including old county histories, which are fully keyword searchable. They also have all of the US Federal Census microfilms through 1930 scanned and available here, though not indexed. is the home of the United States National Archives. They have a lot of finding aids although very little of their information has been placed online so far. This is where to go when people want military records. The 1940 census is available here, as well. also has searchable databases of names gleaned from various records as well as family trees. Use caution when recommending this to beginning researchers since there are a lot of undocumented family trees with conflicting information and it could easily become overwhelming. is an online cemetery database. Some names have additional information added, such as photos (of headstones and/or the person), obituaries, and family information. Don’t forget about Google Books, which has millions of books fully keyword-searchable, though most will need to be purchased or interlibrary loaned in order to read the full content. is the website for the 2nd largest genealogy library in America, located at the Allen County Public Library in Indiana. The site is not limited to Indiana information and also offers an email Ask a Librarian service. has 65+ million passenger records of people who passed through the Port of New York and Ellis Island between 1820-1957. You can view the ship manifests with a free account. is an astonishing one-man venture: Tom Tryniski of Fulton, New York, has single-handedly scanned and made available online over 44 million pages of newspapers from the US and Canada…and it’s growing every week. The website can be tricky to navigate and is prone to periods of downtime, but well worth exploring. is a directory of volunteers who perform Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness by looking up records in specific locations around the world. Some offer courthouse research, obituary lookups, or headstone photos. There is also a Research Guide providing information about what kinds of records are available in different localities. is the launchpad for the USGenWeb Project, a collection of websites independently created and maintained by volunteers. Each county in the US has a website that is linked from each state’s website. The content of these sites varies wildly, depending on the ability of the volunteers running them, but you may find information here that isn’t available anywhere else. The site lists other countries with similar projects.

Other Things You Can Do

There are many other resources and outside organizations you can recommend to your patrons, in addition.

Genealogists love talking with other genealogists. Your community may have a genealogical or historical society with regular meetings. Provide contact information to your patrons, and, if your library has meeting space, consider reaching out and offering it to these societies.

Make a point of finding out about the genealogical holdings of libraries and archives around you. For example, even though my library system doesn’t, the State Library and Archives of Florida offers patron access to and has many newspapers from around the country on microfilm. Genealogical libraries within a few hours’ drive can be a nice day trip for a researcher.

Don’t forget about your local Family History Centers. They are not restricted to members of the LDS church and usually have very knowledgeable volunteers who can help anyone use their resources.

There are countless Facebook groups for genealogy. City, region, state-specific, obituary lookups, cemetery photos, DNA, adoption help, etc. A good group for beginners is simply called Genealogy. Most people in these groups are very helpful. Some offer to look things up for others using resources available to them or help brainstorm when someone can’t read old script. There’s even a very talented group of volunteers who edit scanned photos to fix blemishes, creases, or sometimes even draw two people together to create a portrait where there wasn’t one before.

Obituaries from other libraries can often be obtained through a reference request, but libraries have varying policies on how to go about requesting them. Some require ILL requests for the microfilm, while others will scan and email you an obituary. If your library’s policy is not already on your website, please consider doing so. Also, consider adding your library’s genealogy/obituary policy/information to the Ask a Librarian Knowledge Base, so that librarians around the state are better able to point patrons to your resources.

Subscription Sites for Your Library to Consider

If you sense continued interest from your patrons and are given the opportunity, here are some popular databases or services to which libraries can subscribe:

African American Heritage through ProQuest

America’s Genealogy Bank through NewsBank by Ancestry

Heritage Quest through ProQuest through ProQuest

Best wishes in the new year with your patrons’ newfound interest in genealogy! Anything that brings patrons to (or back!) to the library is a good thing!

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StoryCorps in the Library with Guest Blogger Sara Ratliff

By Sara Ratliff, Warrington Middle School

8th-grader Adia Payne interviews her principal, Brent Brummet

In the age of smart devices, students are digitally well-connected, but a Tweet or a Snap lacks the depth and connection that a face-to-face conversation delivers. In the school library, there is a unique opportunity to observe many student behaviors throughout the day. Some of these behaviors include failure to greet others, to make eye contact, to wait for others to finish speaking, to ask follow-up questions, and, most importantly, to listen and respond to an opposing point of view. Students have every communication tool at their disposal, but it is a great disservice to them if active listening and thoughtful questioning skills are not fostered. I thought about what could I do in the school library to foster more meaningful conversations among my students, and that is where StoryCorps came in. StoryCorps is a non-profit organization that provides a free platform for people all over the world to record interviews with each other. There are different ways to record with StoryCorps, but all interviews are curated and archived at the Library of Congress. Since the launch of the StoryCorps app and StoryCorps in the Classroom initiative, it has never been easier for schools to participate in StoryCorps.

Recording with the StoryCorps app is completely free if you have a smartphone or tablet with access to the app. However, to create palpable excitement for my StoryCorps project, I envisioned creating a recording studio within the professional library room. I wrote a grant for the professional recording equipment, which included a MacBook Pro, two Blue Yeti microphones, two Knox pop filters, three Tascam headphones, Belkin headphone splitter, a neon “Recording in Progress” sign, and a collection of books about StoryCorps from its founder, Dave Isay. My students have used the StoryCorps app to do practice interviews with each other, but the recording equipment would allow my students to learn about editing.

Prior to recording interviews, I sent home permission slips for students to be allowed to be recorded and share personal information. Students have to be at least thirteen years old to have a StoryCorps account, and my students share their names, ages, location, and a photo for each interview. I partnered with an eighth-grade language arts teacher for this project who sends a small group of students to work on this project in the library. StoryCorps in the Classroom has lesson plans, instructional videos, a question bank, and helpful tips on their website to get started. My students have learned how to write good interview questions, how to conduct themselves during an interview, and how to use the recording equipment. For their first interviews, my students wanted to interview the principal and the assistant principal. They will continue to interview teachers and classmates before we reach out to the community for interview requests.

8th-graders Adia Payne and Nicholas Bowers interview their assistant principal, Derrick Thomas

One of my favorite things about StoryCorps is that the interviews are all student-led. I have worked with students to compose good questions and do practice interviews with them, but I have a silent role during the interviews. I push record and stop and encourage the students to keep going if they stumble on their words. Part of the project is for them to learn how to edit a sound recording. One thing my students learned early on is that no interview will be the same. Some people are natural storytellers and will engage easily in conversation, whereas others will give short responses to questions. I try to keep our interviews no longer than twenty minutes, depending on the interviewee. Over time, students will learn to be better listeners and to think on their feet in order to draw out responses from their interviewees. After every interview, a picture is taken with the participants. Then the interview and photo are uploaded to the StoryCorps Archives. I prefer to upload all interviews on my account so that I can monitor content. There are different privacy settings if disclosure of student information is a concern.

My students were challenged early on by learning how to use Audacity, a free sound editing software, so that they could seamlessly include an extended response to one of the questions in their interview. After each interview, the students also complete a reflection sheet about how they think the interview went so that they can see their growth as they accumulate interviews. In addition to sending an email request for an interview, students send a follow-up thank you email along with the link for the interviewee to hear their interview. We plan to create our own website to archive our work with StoryCorps and eventually learn how to animate our interviews like StoryCorps does. StoryCorps celebrates diversity and supports my mission to teach my students that everyone has a story to be told, and everyone deserves to be heard.

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A Rewarding Career with Guest Blogger Vielka Forbes

By Vielka Forbes of the Hurlburt Field Base Library

I have often wondered if working at a library was the place I was supposed to be. I arrived in the United States in 1986 and the following year landed my first job at Mather Air Force Base Library in California. It was a bit intimidating working as a Library Aid while not knowing anything about the new country I now called home. I remember the first time a patron asked for the Sacramento Bee — the local newspaper. I had no idea what they were referring to. So I made it a point to memorize every single periodical by name and type.

It was a time where the only computer in the library was used by a few staff members, and each book had a card that, upon checkout, was filed under the patron’s name at the circulation desk. Some of my fondest memories included the large wooden card catalog, the microfiche reader, the vertical file, and the typewriters that were used to type every spine label.

We left California in 1992 and arrived in the Florida Panhandle. After the birth of my son, I decided to volunteer at an elementary school and the Contracting office on base. Later on, I returned to college and received my degree in Computer Science. At the time, I felt ready to conquer the world and set forth to find that high paying job everyone else was seeking, but as I quickly learned, living in a military community…it was not going to be that easy.

The Panhandle Job Fair was being hosted at the Fairgrounds, and I decided to attend with the intent to land that big information technology job and got very discouraged every time I was asked, “do you have a security clearance?” Well, of course not. So on my way out the door, I was told about a Library Technician job at Hurlburt Field Air Force Base. At the time I felt a bit disheartened by the idea of going back to working in a library, but I took a chance simply because it was a full-time federal position with benefits.

After 20 years of librarianship and serving the military community, it has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I have a better understanding of what sacrificing oneself for the betterment of others really means. Whether helping families through tough times, conducting briefings to deploying soldiers, or teaching spouses how to use our resources to go back to school and earn a degree, I feel a sense of job-well-done when a patron returns to simply say, “Thank you.”

Over the years I have seen many patrons and co-workers come and go, but the library is a place where the patrons are greeted by a warm hello and sometimes a cookie and, not to mention, the co-workers and patrons I now call “friends.”

So, if you ask me… I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

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Mini Golf Math in the Media Center by Guest Blogger Becky Nation

By Becky Nation, Avalon Middle School in Santa Rosa County

Media lessons, research, and digital literacy just go hand-in-hand with language arts classes, so first priority has always been given to those teachers when scheduling library time. With the focus on STEM and incorporation of science and math initiatives, I began looking for ways to get math classes into my library. The initial project came in the form of literacy-themed mini golf courses in the media center.

I began the project by approaching two sixth-grade math teachers with the idea of using a mini golf course to collect real-world data for students to use when calculating mean, median, and mode. Both teachers were receptive, so we set a date, and I got busy creating book-themed greens and scorecards for data collection. The teachers reviewed the content vocabulary in class, divided their students into groups, and prepared the students for their day in the library. I set up nine holes using either the bookcases or PVC pipe as the bumpers for each course. Thankfully, our PE department had golf clubs we borrowed and one of our teachers who golfs donated used golf balls. I later found clubs at a local thrift shop and picked up twelve for under fourteen dollars. For each hole, I used several copies of the title I had chosen for that hole as well as a few physical obstacles that related. For example, for the book Killer Pizza, I asked the local Dominos for empty pizza boxes and used the book as another obstacle.

Mini golf day arrived with lots of excitement. Imagine twenty-five sixth-graders per class period with golf clubs moving around in the library. Amazingly enough, there were no injuries. The teachers and I set clear expectations as we explained the flow of mini golf, etiquette, and process for recording the scores. When students had cycled through the entire course, they returned to their table to calculate totals, mean, median, and mode. We discussed the data as they made connections between the activity they had done and the numbers on their scorecards. They truly understood the meaning of the data they had collected in relation to the vocabulary being taught in class.

With any new activity, there is always a trial and error aspect that results in lessons learned. For the first class, I did not have backdrops on the course that kept the balls from going out the back of the green. For the remaining classes, we used foldable cardboard study carrels to close in the backside of each green. We had also used very light practice balls that bounced all around the room. We switched to actual golf balls for the rest of the classes which were able to be controlled much better.

I chalk up this activity as a success, not because I achieved anything literacy-related other than creating book-themed courses, but because this partnership with math shows the students that the library is for everybody in every subject area. The greater success occurred when the math teachers asked how we could collaborate on further projects. Those standards for ratios and percentages will be taught soon, so we’re working on an idea for collection analysis by Dewey Decimal category.

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Super Cool YA Fantasy Novels with Diverse Protagonists and Why Your Library Needs Them with Guest Blogger Sarah Blackburn-Lancaster

Fantasy painting of floating islandBy Sarah Blackburn-Lancaster, Valparaiso Community Library, Circulation Assistant

It’s been two decades since J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series took the world by storm with its school of wizardry, and its popularity doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. New movies are continuing to be released. There’s a play on Broadway. In 2018, big-box retailers are selling newly released dolls. The genre is booming, and we, the library, are the best source for patrons to get their fantasy fix.

There’s a lot going on in the world of libraries today: technology changing at an exponential rate, budgets that have never fully recovered after the recession, and government officials who question our relevance to the communities we serve. With 3-D printers and virtual reality becoming as common on the shelves as copies of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Jane Eyre, why on earth would someone write a blog post about fantasy fiction for young adults?

In short: because it’s important.

Okay, so it’s not cancer research. Fantasy novels aren’t going to perform brain surgery or settle Mars, but they can open the mind to new possibilities, creating new neural pathways which can, in turn, open the door to creative problem-solving. Fantasy stimulates the imagination. And isn’t that what leads to colonies on new planets or inventive new treatments for the illnesses that plague humanity?

Another advantage to reading fantasy novels, especially for younger audiences, is that it takes difficult issues that seem insurmountable in reality out of the constraints of this world, making them less daunting. Xenophobia, racism, classism, sexism, and the like, seen through the lens of fantasy, without the political or societal systems that seem to tether them in place, can be called into question. A wizard who seeks to enslave non-magical beings because he views them as lesser is, without question, a villain who must be stopped. Parallels are then drawn in the minds of readers, and young people make connections in their own world. They then begin to ask the question that is the first step to change: Why?

Here’s the catch: it’s difficult to make these connections when the reader can’t relate to the protagonist. If young audiences can’t see themselves as the hero in a fantasy novel, how can they be one in the real world? We’ve all heard the phrase, “If they see it, they can be it.” That’s why toy companies are creating dolls and action figures of a wider variety of ethnicities and representing different career fields. And seeing other groups represented is helpful to young people who belong to the majority as well. They become more empathetic when exposed to the viewpoints of others and that, in turn, leads to more harmonious interactions. It, therefore, makes sense that representation in literature is incredibly important for young readers who belong to both minority and majority groups.

Here is a list of YA fantasy titles with diverse protagonists to add to your library’s collection (in alphabetical order by author’s last name, of course):

And these are just a few of the offerings out there! Do you know of an excellent YA fantasy novel or series with a diverse set of characters? Share in the comments! Happy reading!

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