Blessed Are the Sick

Two nights ago, I woke up at 3 A.M. to intense stomach cramps and proceeded to spend the next twenty-four hours up and down out of bed battling the  stomach flu.  I found myself in a quarantine of sorts for the next forty-eight hours.  A dear friend left a bag of Gatorade and Ramen on my stoop.  Another close friend loaned me her video streaming log-in for the duration of the sickness.  Many checked in via text message.  But no one braved to cross the threshold into my bedroom.  And I don’t blame them one bit.  

This sickness attacked the night before school started for the second semester.  As a teacher, this could not be more imperfect timing.  A good friend who rents my loft space is also a teacher and had a healthy fear of catching the contagion.  At one point, she wrestled with whether or not she should come home or if she should stay the night elsewhere.  I assured her I had not entered shared space, and she joked about our current state:

I’m now sitting on the couch while my freshly-cleaned sheets tumble in the dryer and the house smells of disinfectant.  And I can’t shake her comparison.  

Sin is a lot like a sickness.  It’s contagious.  It’s debilitating.  It sneaks up on us.  It purges anything good from our souls.  It separates us from others.  It causes us to ostracize, marginalize, and isolate.  It depletes us and declares us defeated.  It forces us to believe that relief will never come; hope has abandoned us.  And from the moment Adam and Eve hid from God, that contagion, seeking to kill, steal, and destroy, spread like wildfire throughout humanity.

And God saw us writhing in pain, shivering with fevers, attempting to sleep near garbage cans because it felt safest.  He saw us as we were: alone.  We were a hot mess.  And the easy, obvious reaction was abandonment.  The average person does not cross that threshold.  But God is far from average.  

Jesus, the embodiment of love, did quite the opposite: He chose to be born into our sickness, in the vulnerable form of a baby.  He chose to expose himself to every germ and contagion, conquering each one with perfect communion with God.  He took every spiritual precaution of health while walking into the pain of those who were alone, those who had accepted defeat, those who had believed hope was gone.  Then, after overcoming every temptation to sin, He bore the weight of every sickness.  Debilitated, he hung on a cross, writhing in pain.  He hung next to society’s garbage cans, and they felt safe.  He was depleted.  He was defeated.  He begged God for relief to come, but that Hope abandoned him.  He was alone.  And with his final breath, goodness was purged from his soul.  

And it was in this moment, our curse was broken.  Our threshold was crossed for eternity!

God Almighty looked down upon us in our helpless state and said, “I love them. I will not abandon them.  This is no way for them to live, and we can’t be together when they are bound by sin.  I will enter into their sickness.  I will take on their ailments.  I will heal them.  I will make them whole and holy.”

I don’t think I could have understood a fragment of how bold this is without experiencing the loneliness of sickness.  The Beatitudes in Matthew speak of states of being, most are commonly found amidst the sick, yet Jesus boldly declares those who are at the end of their ropes as the blessed ones.  Why? Because when you’ve lost what is most dear to you, you can see more vividly all you’ve gained in Christ.  When you’ve been pushed out, you can see how wide-spread and welcoming God’s arms are.  When you’ve felt the weight of sin, you can be humbled by the crushing weight Jesus took upon his shoulders.  

Once you feel what it means to have your suffering shared, you are quick to extend that same blessing to others, crossing the threshold into their hurts.  By applying the Love that has graciously been given to you, ointment is spread over the wounds of the hurting, declaring they are not alone.  They are not abandoned.  They are not hopeless.  

And just like that, Love becomes the winning contagion.


‘I will restore you to health
    and heal your wounds,’
declares the Lord,
‘because you are called an outcast,
    Zion for whom no one cares.’–Jeremiah 30:17


Conquering the Inevitable: Reading Slumps

Today, I came into the library, opened the door to my office, and let out a huge sigh of defeat as I flipped on my light, illuminating the windows where I keep a running list of books I have finished throughout the school year.  I started off strong, voraciously consuming books.  This tends to happen at the beginning of a school year as my mental To Be Read list grows while I excitedly prep the stacks for the start of school.Office Window

For the past two weeks, though, I have hit a major reading slump.  No book seems to capture my interest.  As a result, I keep starting new titles and am currently reading four books–with very little motivation to finish any one of them before the other.  I sighed with defeat as I entered because…

I am a lead learner.
I am a leader in literacy.
And right now, I don’t want to read.

One of the books I’m currently reading is very interesting, but has been translated from a different language, making it very hard to understand.  I must employ focus and deliberation each time I sit down to read, which my schedule currently does not allow for often.

Two of the books I’m currently reading were suggestions from students.  Each student provided rave reviews, and I was excited to jump into their favorite books.  However, the writing styles are hard for me to follow due to dialect that is unfamiliar to me.  I also struggle to connect with the characters.

The final book I’m reading to scout for a teacher who wants to offer it as a book club option.  I actually enjoy the book.  The simple fact that I have to read it, though, creates a mental hurdle for me to overcome each time I sit down to read.  Sometimes, I’m simply not strong enough to push past it.

AllegedlyHC.jpgAs the bell for first block rang, a student came up to me.  “Ms. Dlugosh,” she exclaimed, “Allegedly was so good!  You have to read it!”  I smiled because her enthusiasm was contagious.  “Can you tell me about it?” I asked, “You have me intrigued, and I am so thankful that you liked it.”

She continued to give me a brief plot summary, slightly squatting with her palms on the sides of her head as she said, “And there’s a plot twist! Ah! It’s so good!”  I made her a stack of new options that contained elements similar to her newfound book love and wished her a great day as she checked out.  After she left, I searched the book bin for Allegedly.

I am a lead learner.
I am a leader in literacy.
And now I want to read.

Reading slumps are all too common for our students, and we often create our curriculum and classroom spaces to facilitate these situations more often than not.  Reading slumps are not a student problem; they are a human struggle.  It is the responsibility of teachers to create classroom curriculum and practices that do not make a habit of cultivating reading assignments that: 1) interest their students but are far above comfortable reading levels, 2) interest teachers and some students but contain ideas/characters/themes that many cannot connect with, or 3) offer very little individual choice from the students.

Teachers are also responsible for making sure their students have the skills and tools to pull themselves out of a reading slump.  Sure, perseverance is a key element.  However, we must also cultivate environments in which books are talked about often.  In the midst of a reading slump, readers can easily convince themselves that no good books exist anymore.  Therefore, students must be exposed to book recommendations daily.  For me to climb out of my reading slump, I had to hear the enthusiastic praise for Allegedly.  Students function the same.

Reading slumps are normal.  Even leaders in literacy fall into these dark and gloomy reading pits.  We should expect our students to slip into them as well.  Carrying this expectation, educators must plan accordingly. How will we construct our classes to avoid the known pitfalls of reading slumps?  How will we work to equip our students with the skills to overcome reading slumps when the occur?  Until schools can proactively answer these questions, reading culture will never be as strong as we hope for it to be.

Six of Crows Review (by Guest Blogger, Lee Faber)

Yo, yo, yo, fellow book-lovers! I am Lee Faber, and this is my first time ever doing a book review (an official one, to be honest). Before I get into this review, I would first like to give thanks to Ms. Dlugosh, for both suggesting this and allowing me to post my reviews on her blog. She’s a pretty awesome librarian and I’m glad I know her.

Anyway, let’s get to the review, which I am going to start with my favorite book, Six of Crows. It’s written by Leigh Bardugo, who has written multiple books, but she is most known for her books set in the world of the Grisha. Now, Six of Crows (and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom), are not the first books set in the universe, but they can be read independently from her Grisha trilogy. (As a note, I have yet to read the trilogy.)

Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price – and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly heist that could make him rich beyond his wildest dreams. But he can’t pull it off alone…

A convict with a thirst for revenge.
A sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager.
A runaway with a privileged past.
A spy known as the Wraith.
A Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums.
A thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Six dangerous outcasts. One impossible heist. Kaz’s crew is the only thing that might stand between the world and destruction – if they don’t kill each other first.

~ Six of Crows description

The Plotline

23437156What first peaked my interest about Six of Crows was the promising plotline; none-too-good characters committing theft, murder, and all sorts of other crimes. I’ve always liked stories that included characters that can be safely put in the gray area, and I loved how it worked in Six of Crows. (I know, that should be put in the characters section, but it fits into the plotline!) The same can be said for most of the other characters.

The reason I mention this in the plotline is the fact that instead of trying to save a princess from a castle out of the good in their hearts, the characters are breaking someone out of a high-stakes prison for money. That’s exactly it. While each one in particular might have varying reasons by the end, money is what drives them forward.

However, despite how much I loved the plot, it was rather slow getting to it. While I don’t remember the exact page number, it took a minimum of 150 pages for them to even begin the heist. Now, I personally don’t mind slower-paced stories, but I know that some would chafe at the pace of it. Yes, the lead-up to the heist is full of suspense, intrigue, and drama, but I can see why it would be a bit overwhelming.

The heist itself was also exceedingly long to get through, almost unnecessarily so. As I saw in one review of the book, Bardugo added even more tension and problems for the crew that wasn’t needed, considering the circumstances.

The Writing Style

If I had to choose only one thing that decides whether I’ll read a book or not, it would be the style of writing. I’m a huge stickler for grammar and the depth in which the author writes, and at first, Bardugo’s short-description, somewhat choppy style rubbed me the wrong way. While I believe that too much detail can be a bad thing, so too is a lack of it.

However, I couldn’t help but also fall in love with the style as well. It’s dark, gritty, and while it can feel lacking in detail, there’s enough of it so that you aren’t completely lost. With the theme it has, the style fit it extremely well.

I’m not entirely sure if this section should go with the characters or not, but I have to briefly mention the dialogue. There are points in the book where the dialogue bothers me a lot. As an example, it can be like this:

“We should do this,” he said.

She eyed it skeptically. “Are you sure?”

“Why wouldn’t I be sure?”

“It seems a bit sketchy to me.”

It can be hard at times to figure out which character is speaking, and it also seems hastily done. Once again, however, the book redeems itself for me with some truly remarkable quotes that I can’t help but just awe at. Perhaps one of my favorites quotes is, “There was no part of him that was not broken, that had not healed wrong, and there was no part of him that was not stronger for having been broken.” There are plenty of other great quotes in the book, which I think makes up for the lacking dialogue that sometimes appear.

The Main Characters

478339_1For the characters, I’m going to first do an overall review, and then do small, individual reviews for the main six. One of the great things about Six of Crows is the diversity in the characters. Each and every single character, not just the main ones, is diverse, and I fell in love with that. There are people of color, characters with varying disabilities, and the main six have extremely different views on a multitude of different topics.

Even the antagonists, of which there are several, are different and definable. Villains they all are, yes, but each are ruthless in their own ways.

There is one thing about the characters, and this applies to the main six only, that does bother me. As one review of the book said, the six are easily placed into almost video game-like categories. There’s a gunmaster, a thief, a magic-user, a brute-strength warrior, a spy-assassin, and an eloquent rich kid, almost as if Bardugo was looking to make sure there was a character that everyone could connect with. Another thing that bothered me was that the characters, as diverse as they all were, all ended up being surprisingly similar. Each of them has a sense of humor that’s virtually the same for all of them. If you read to me a random quote out of the book, I could easily connect it to the wrong character.

Now, onto the individual cast…

Kaz Brekker – The criminal mastermind, the ‘thief with a gift for unlikely escapes’, and the most brutal of the crew. He’s supposed to be the favorite, and while I greatly admired, and feared, him, he definitely wasn’t my favorite. He’s almost too cunning at times, almost too ruthless and emotionless. Considering his background, which I won’t spoil, it does fit him, but I just wish he had made one or two more mistakes than he did.

“I’ll tell you a secret… the really bad monsters never look like monsters.”

Inej Ghafa – The ‘spy known as the Wraith’ definitely deserves her title. Perhaps the 39c44975328be1507acd150eafef8a8c--book-wallpaper-book-quotes.jpgmost notable thing about her, beyond her superstitious beliefs, is her ability to walk silently and climb about the entire world like a spider. She’s not as ruthless as Kaz, but she’s definitely a force to be reckoned with. I find her background to be terribly sad and relatable, and it definitely gives her the right to act the cautious way that she does. While not one of my favorites, I absolutely loved the character of Inej Ghafa, and I think she’s a strong female lead.

“I will have you without armor, or I will not have you at all.”

Nina Zenik – Bubbly and with a love of food, this is the ‘Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums’. She’s one of the more laidback characters of the main six, and definitely more honorable than any of them. Similarly to Inej, she’s a good, strong female lead, and despite her relaxed attitude and love for comfort, she definitely is not meek and stands up for herself. When she makes a terrible mistake, she does her best to correct it, and in the sequel, she does something equally as honorable, and I have to respect that greatly.

“I like it when men beg. But this isn’t the time for it.”

Matthias Helvar – I have to admit, I didn’t really like the ‘convict with a thirst for revenge’. He had potential as a character, and he ended up proving himself a good character, but he was basically a constantly-angry cinnamon roll. He was angry about everything, it seemed, and it got rather one-dimensional after some time.

“I have been made to protect you. Only in death will I be kept from this oath.”

Jesper Fahey – Ah, the ‘sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager’, and one of my two favorite characters. Unfortunately for him, though, it seemed he was more there for comedic relief than anything else, and he ended up seeming rather one-dimensional. Which is a shame, because despite his restless nature and flirtatious manner, he’s a truly wonderful character that deeply cares for the well-being of others.

*“If we all die, I’m going to get Wylan’s ghost to teach my ghost how to play the flute just so I can annoy the hell out of your ghost.”

Wylan V… (Spoilers!) – And here’s my other favorite characters, the ‘runaway with a privileged past’. One of the things that really irritated me is how little you learn of his character in Six of Crows. The other five all have chapters told from their perspectives, but Wylan doesn’t have that until the second book, meaning that all of the background the others have is almost completely lost for him, and that’s a shame. He’s a rather righteous character, very innocent, and disapproves heavily of the work that the others have done, but that’s because he’s definitely the cinnamon roll of the book.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good quote for Wylan. .-.

*A slight variation to prevent spoilers.

Final Verdict

Like all books, Six of Crows has its flaws, and it’s not a perfect book by any means. It irritated me at times, I struggled through it at others, but in the end, I still love the book. I can’t tell you that you’ll love the book or anything, but I hoped this review will help you at least give it a shot. Thank you so much for reading this, and I’ll be back next week with another review. Bye!


Lee Faber is a Bolivar High School student currently writing under a pseudonym.  A fan of writing and an aspiring author, Faber hopes to read a variety of books and offer in-depth reviews to help guide readers into making informed book selections.

Book Sale

Two years ago, our school of approximately 800 students had only checked out 566 books by this time in mid-October.  The majority of our students were not reading.  After accepting this sad reality, a team of teachers rallied together to solve the problem and turn our reading ship around.  Read about some of our school’s major takeaways from that season of transition here.  I think it is now safe to say that our ship is heading in the right direction.  Yesterday, I had the privilege of taking a group of students on a field trip to the Greene County Friends of the Library Book Sale.  As I perused the massive warehouse filled with endless rows of titles, I realized three things I love about this trip in particular:

  1. Students are thrust into a realistic environment that embodies life-long learning.

IMG_3074Bolivar schools often speaks about its desire for our students to leave as lifelong learners.  We want them to cultivate curiosity for the rest of their days.  We want them to continuously be readers, writers, thinkers, and innovators.  Taking trips to community events like the book sale helps students to see real life snapshots of people who are living out what we hope they’ll become!   

Many students commented on the amount of elderly people who filled their arms with books.  One student, in particular, said it was neat that he shared a common interest with so many people.  “I didn’t know this many people were passionate about books,” he said.  “I didn’t used to like reading, and I thought most people were like that.  It was cool to see so many other people who liked what I like.”  

  1. Student are exposed to new titles, which cultivates curiosity.  

IMG_3064I cannot communicate how many questions were launched my way during our two hours milling through the sale.  The set-up requires students to scan thousands of titles as they search for the ones they hope are left to be found among the haystack.  As they scanned, the questions kept rolling:

“Who is Dean Koontz? I see his name a lot.”  
“Do people sit and read cookbooks or do you just use them for recipes?”
“Do you know anything about this title?”  
“Should I buy this for my mom?”  
“Is it okay to sometimes judge a book by it’s cover?”  
“I’ve heard about this! Is it worth $5 to learn more?”
“Have you read this?”
“Can we come back to the spring sale?”

  1. Students collaborate to maximize results.

IMG_3072The sale is massive.  Your eyes get tired.  Time is limited.  These all act as limitations for students.  However, the joy of reading united students immediately, and they naturally started working together to collectively conquer their setbacks.  They shared wishlists by word of mouth and held on to books for other students when the titles were spotted.  They learned the layout of differing sections and helped other students navigate more quickly and efficiently.  They even loaned money at the checkout when students had miscalculated their budgets.  

Attending a book sale is not the average field trip opportunity; however, I have seen the beauty that unexpectedly evolves from taking students on this adventure.  Upon our arrival home, students eagerly share their finds with one another and other students who did not attend.  It never fails, I always get multiple students who say, “How do I join the class that gets to go there!?”

Love reading; that’s how.

I Want to Be A Person Who…

I teach a Reading Cafe class, and I am blessed with a group of 29 students who come into the library every day, cozy in, and dive into reading.  It is a beautiful sight to see, and I love that the culture of our school creates the need for an elective course like this.  As much as I love these students’ love for quiet reading time, I also love pushing their thinking and their comfort zones within this realm they are so familiar with.  

On Wednesday, we watched a video about the importance of reading.  Within the video, the speaker discusses how humans become a mixture of the five people they surround themselves with most.  Positive influences will reap positive rewards.  Negative influences will drag you down.  Research proves it.  What if you don’t have any positive people in your circle of five, though?  This, the speaker asserts, is when reading becomes crucial.  You can choose to supplement your life’s influences with the stories of writers, the inspiration of activists, and the courage of overcomers.

After showing the video to my students, I asked them to submit a detailed description of the type of person they want to become.  I promised to read their responses and reply with a book recommendation that could act as one of their Influential Five, helping them achieve their personal goals.

As I read through their responses, I teared up.  These were not the canned answers students sometimes give because they think it’s what you want to hear.  These were honest and beautiful answers that represented the complexity and reverence of humanity.  These responses demonstrated an understanding that there is power in unity, that this life is about more than our tiny view of it.  These responses needed to be heard.

Today, I welcomed my 29 readers and handed each a sticky note.  I clambered up on the table and did my best to deliver an inspiring speech.

“Last class period, I asked you all to write a description of what type of person you want to be.  Your responses were unique.  Your responses were inspirational.  Your responses would surprise one another.  How many of you feel like high school is filled with people who are fake and only want to stir up drama?”

Slowly, most hands in the room raised.

“I’m here to tell you… you’re wrong.  The responses I read were not fake.  They were not dramatic.  They were honest and caring and kind.  I asked you to write them so I could recommend a role model book for you, but YOU are the people you should surround yourselves with.  YOU are the inspiration others need to be reading.”

I asked them to transfer their favorite part of their original answer onto the sticky note.  

“Follow me.”

We walked out into the hallway where a large chalkboard boldly displayed “I WANT TO BE A PERSON WHO…”  Each student grabbed a piece of chalk and transferred their sticky-note hope to the prominent display.

Their collective mood was reverent.  One girl said, “These make me want to cry…”  Another said, “I wouldn’t have thought my peers thought these things…”  And another student encouraged a friend that she was already the person she hoped to become.  Some students held back until the end, almost as if they wanted a private moment to document their hopes.  

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These are the students I work with.  Are all of them currently prospering as the people they want to be?  No.  But these buds are in them, and I want to see them blossom.  My goals are more broad now:

To cultivate these hopes that have not died
To water these dreams that have not shriveled up
To shine light on the fact that humanity unites; it doesn’t divide
To show them a world that desperately needs them to be the people they want to be


You Belong Among the Wildflowers

This morning, I got out of bed at 5:39am, after hitting snooze once.  My dog, Dottie, had decided 3:30 was an acceptable wake-up time, so I hadn’t slept soundly for hours.  But my dog wasn’t the only disruption of sleep.  I took a shower, got dressed for work, and then crawled back into bed while searching YouTube for Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers.”  Every time I hear this song, it’s easy to feel that it was written for me, but today, these words carry more significant weight.  I buried my head back into my pillows and let Petty serenade me:

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong somewhere close to me
Far away from your trouble and worries
You belong somewhere you feel free

This seems to be the song of humanity in this present time.  It’s as if God was reminding me of our true reality, our true calling, our true hope.  We don’t belong here.  This is not our permanent home.  All of our hearts long for a place we feel free, and this world is not it–for heartache accompanies our existence here.

Yesterday brought heartbreaking news at the national level, but it also brought heartbreaking stories at personal levels.  As God calls me to widen my circle, I find myself engaging in conversations with people I used to smile and nod at.  And each conversation holds a level of sacredness, if I so choose to acknowledge such.  As lives entrust me with parts of their stories, I am becoming increasingly aware of the complexity of our existence, the beauty of individuals, and the conflict that pushes each story forward into this greater plot line.

And I feel utterly overwhelmed.

So I hit snooze.
I crawl back into bed.
And I ask for a reminder of who carries the burden.

File_000 (32).jpegJesus says His burden is easy and light.  I question that on the days I feel a weight resting on my shoulders.  I can forget that He does still call it a burden.  How, then, can it be easy and light?  He carries it, that’s how.  But I must choose to unclench my fists from my meandering, worrying mind.  I must choose to hand off those I love so deeply, trusting that–though I can be present in their pain–I am not the one to remove it.  I must choose to relinquish control of the things my brain cannot wrap itself around.  I must choose joy.

We don’t belong here.  We belong among wildflowers, somewhere close to Him, far away from troubles and worries, somewhere we feel free.  Somewhere we are free.  In the meantime, we will encounter troubles of many kinds, but we can take heart: He has overcome them all.  

Ditching Dewey: One Month Check-In

Last year, I took a huge risk and decided to completely revamp our non-fiction section.  It was my first year as a librarian, but I went with my gut and weeded 500+ titles and ditched the Dewey Decimal System.  Working with teachers and students, I created my own organizational system that more closely resembled Barnes and Noble or browsing (read about the process and the categories here).  After overhauling our organization, I placed a huge book order through Amazon.  Side Note: When school-specific book dealers want to include modern, engaging non-fiction, please let me know.  While I wait, I’ll keep my allegiance with Amazon and process every title by hand! It’s worth it.

My library workers and I were proud of our work, and we felt our library was easier to navigate, while also offering better products for patrons.  I must admit, though, that when I came back at the start of the school year, I wondered:

How would these changes be received?

Would new students, who were well-adjusted to Dewey, be able to navigate?

Would these changes show positive impact with numerical data?

One month into our school year, I am happy to report positive outcomes to all of my worrisome questions!

How have these changes been received?

Students have excitedly welcomed the changes to non-fiction!  With one very quick explanation, students intuitively hit the stacks.  After a quick walk around our outer wall, students can easily get the lay of the land, and they now navigate with ease.  I worried that my categories wouldn’t make sense to patrons, but I am happy to hear students repeatedly say things like, “This makes so much more sense this way!”  I was excited to see Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan–a title that was missing during our entire overhaul and therefore not labeled for the new system–placed in Arts and Culture/Pop Culture.  This tells me that my library workers understand the system so intuitively that they can classify books on their own.

Have students who are used to Dewey been able to transition?

Students literally cheered when I told them Dewey was no more.  They confide that Dewey would make sense in one moment, and then feel fuzzy in the next.  One student said, “I kind of know Dewey.  He’s like that one cousin you’re familiar with, but you’re not really sure how he’s related to anyone.” It isn’t a bad system–it makes perfect sense if you use it for research.  But our students were wanting to browse modern titles, and Dewey wasn’t conducive for that.

Did these changes show positive impact in data?

Prior to making the changes, our data shows non-fiction as 17% of our overall circulation in the first month of school.  This year, after making the changes, we have seen that number bump to 28%!  As schools stress the importance of students reading non-fiction, this is an exciting improvement!  Our students want to read engaging non-fiction, it is my job to help them see that such a thing exists!

I am excited to see how these trends continue, but we still have room to grow.  I am always  looking for new techniques to better the system.  It is clear, though, that non-fiction changes are relevant enough for modern librarians to consider.  For our school, these changes have resulted in increased student engagement, a more positive atmosphere, and improved confidence with locating interesting non-fiction titles.


Please comment about how you best promote engaging non-fiction in your schools!

YOLO: Experiencing Life Fully, Not Risking Its End

Recently, a student asked why our school doesn’t offer more spirit weeks.  It is common knowledge that drumming up even minor participation in our spirit celebrations proves to be quite difficult, so I offered an exaggerated response, “Well, no one participates in the weeks we offer now… why offer more?”  “I would do it now,” the student responded hastily, “I’m a senior, so it’s my last chance!”  The response made me sad, but it also made me turn inward.

How often do we miss our chance to participate?
How often do we get to the end of a season in life, only to realize our opportunity is now limited?
How often do we let our fears, insecurities, or pride keep us from memory-making?

When I was in college, the University Activities Committee would dream up monthly activities for those on campus.  Much like spirit weeks at BHS, these events weren’t widely attended.  My sophomore year, I decided I would attend every event and make the most of the year.  I wouldn’t let the opinions of others or my own fears keep me from making memories in a healthy, fun, and free way.  

File_000At the first event, I strolled up to the advertised “Shaving Cream Fight!” to find only four other students awkwardly standing in a semi-circle, staring at large quantities of canned shaving cream.  The poor student who had planned the event told us we’d wait a bit to see if anyone else would come.  We stood around, making small talk while we waited.  I made new acquaintances, but we all felt uncomfortable with the idea of launching shaving cream at one another.  Finally, someone broke the ice by suggesting that we all felt strange, but if we agreed to embrace the event and give it our all–we’d have fun.  So we did.  

Shaving cream, ten cans per person, flew through the air.  Laughter abounded!File_001  We kept slinging and running and wiping our eyes until the sun began to set.  Before we departed, we took a group picture, promising to never forget such a fun night.  I walked back to the dorm realizing that my vow to attend each event would guarantee awkward moments, but it would also solidify beautiful memories.

What if we applied the YOLO mentality in healthy ways?  Currently, people stamp “you only live once!” on activities that risk lives, push unsafe boundaries, and disregard authority.  To me, if we only live once, wouldn’t we want to make our existence full, not risk its end?  Let’s start saying “YOLO” after we choose to live with meaning and purpose.

Risk your social life.  Boldly wear your grass skirt and lei on Tropic Like It’s Hot day, even if you’re flying solo.  Show up to the school dance and be the first one to request a song.  Diversify your friend group.  You only live once.

Push safe boundaries. Dance in public.  Drive two hours to get pizza people rave about.  Turn off YouTube and make videos that you deliberately choose not to share–because the goal is to simply love the process, not get likes!  You only live once!

Disregard the authority of the masses.  Be an individual thinker and challenge group think.  Choose to learn from the wise, not just the loud.  Live more simply, rather than striving to acquire the life the world advertises. You only live once!

Opportunities like these exist all around us, waiting for us to reach out and grab them.  Some may feel small, but our small choices truly add up to a marvelous existence!

Documenting Our Dewey Ditch

When we officially decided to ditch the Dewey Decimal System, devising a new method of organizing was essential.  We knew we had to find a way to make non-fiction appealing to the eye, efficient to navigate, and easy to implement.  After scouring the internet for examples of high schools who had overhauled their non-fiction sections, I realized we might be one of the first.  I want to document our process in hopes of helping any librarian looking for tools and methods for genrefying non-fiction.

Studying Barnes & Noble
We spent a lot of time studying how Barnes & Noble organizes its store because students and faculty voiced shopping for non-fiction there, while avoiding it in our school library.  We wrote down all of their genre categories and combined categories into larger headings that matched our library’s collection and patron interests.  We learned that Barnes & Noble stocks multiple sections with the same titles, improving customers’ chances of finding a title.  We do not have this ability for most titles, so we had to ensure that our major categories were broad enough for students to intuitively navigate.  Our major categories were as follows:

  • Supernatural
  • Philosophy
  • Study Aids
  • Religion
  • Lifestyle & Relationships
  • Psychology & Sociology
  • Science & Technology
  • Animals & Nature
  • Arts & Culture
  • Poetry & Plays
  • Sports
  • Criminology
  • Business & Economics
  • Politics & Social Issues
  • Military
  • History & Geography

Stacks on Stacks on Stacks
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After creating our larger categories, we had to start reorganizing the books on the shelves.  To free up space on the shelves, though, we started by making giant piles of books all over the library’s floor.  We categorized each book into its corresponding, major genre.  Unlike Dewey, we did not put biographies and autobiographies into a separate section.  We felt students were more likely to know they wanted to read a sports biography or a memoir by someone suffering with depression than know the specific name of said person.  Therefore, embedding these personal stories within the various sections made biographies easier for students to locate while browsing.

Creating Sub-Categories

After all of our major categories were re-organized, we had to start making sub-categories.  We needed a way to narrow sections, making it easier to hone in on a specific title, while keeping them broad enough for multiple books to fall under the heading.  Our goal was to make sure there were at least 10-30 books in each section.  If the numbers seemed to climb, we knew we needed to sub-divide even further.  If the numbers were small, we knew we needed to combine sections.  Here is a link to our final list of categories.

Re-Labeling and Shelving
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One of the reasons we wanted to reorganize our non-fiction was our hatred for shelving with decimals.  We wanted to create labels that made shelving easy at a glance, but also helped patrons browse.  In large font, we put the first letters of each major section, and then in smaller font underneath, we put the entire sub-category title.File_004 (2)


When re-shelving, we do not further organize the titles or authors by alphabetizing.  Instead, we simply ensure all of the subcategories remain together on the shelves.  We have found that scanning 20 titles is just as fast, when looking for a specific title, as searching for a lengthy decimal point.  It also has been easier to ensure titles are in the right spot, because one can see an out-of-place sticker at a glance when every book in a section has a matching label.

About Face
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Prior to starting this process, we weeded a large amount of titles to free up space on the shelves.  Students voiced that one of the reasons they love Barnes & Noble is the amount of covers they see.  We put multiple titles on stands at the start of each section, which act as a visual marker for what types of books are in each section.  

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We won’t lie, the process of changing was exhausting and mentally numbing at times.  However, we have seen so many great payoffs from implementing it!  It is my hope that our experience can encourage any intrigued librarians to take the plunge.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at

To read about why we took the plunge, click here.

Confession: I am a Public School Librarian, and I Abandoned Dewey

This blog is littered with confessions, many of which may make you feel I am inadequate to speak intelligently about organizing and peddling non-fiction in a high school library.  However, I would say my inadequacies (and the fact that I have not always been a librarian) make me the perfect person to speak about the need for a non-fiction revamp, for my confessions have led to honest conversations with students, problem solving, and a complete non-fiction overhaul that meant a total ditching of the Dewey Decimal System.  

Confession #1: The Dewey Decimal System never really made sense to me.  
I am a big picture person, so Dewey’s system of sub-categorizing any topic amazed me.  Though I could marvel at it, I couldn’t navigate it very well.  Too many titles felt like they belonged in multiple spots, so I found myself aimlessly wandering the non-fiction section.  These long hunts would usually result in me searching on the computer, and then returning to the stacks for a specific decimal point.  File_001 (5)

After voicing this to students, they echoed a common struggle.  They had received marvelous instruction on the system in prior grades and schools, but the many subcategories of topics proved too much to hold in long-term memory.  Many faculty and staff also voiced the same.  We were all confident in looking up a specific book in the online catalog and finding it on the shelves, but browsing for information we desired stumped us every time.  One student said, “We don’t like looking foolish, and walking back and forth in non-fiction is foolish… so we just don’t go back there.”  

File_003 (4)Confession #2: I don’t use books for research.
I am a lover of knowledge, and I self-declare as a lifelong learner.  I love reading non-fiction and talking about what I learn.  However, I will always turn to electronic sources when completing formal research.  I like that it’s faster.  I like that it’s current.  I like that it quickly links me to other valuable information.  I like that I can print and annotate.  All of these likes are harder to muster within book resources.  

Confession #3: I skillfully avoided shelving non-fiction.
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There is something physically painful about staring at endless decimal points and trying to find the exact spot within a numerical timeline for a book about teenage pregnancy.  Shelving non-fiction took significant time, and I would offload that task to my library workers with boldness.  And they hated me for it.  One worker voiced cringing when people would check out non-fiction titles.  Why?  Because that meant we would eventually have to re-shelve them.  

With our Dewey confusion, our passion for perusing, and our disdain for shelving, we started the conversation about how to cure these issues with a change.  We started asking questions:

  1. Why do we like book stores more than libraries?
  2. Why does the non-fiction section overwhelm our patrons (and us)?
  3. How can one organize vast amounts of information in less specified, easy-to-locate ways?
  4. What if we abandon Dewey and create our own organizational system?

So we did.  We studied Barnes and Noble with a critical eye.  We pulled all of the books off the shelves.  We felt overwhelmed, but purposeful.  We saw immediate benefits and received countless sighs of relief.  

We ditched Dewey.  And we lived to tell about it!  

Our documented process will be in a blog-post to come!

Check out my post about the need for more modern non-fiction titles here.