Tech tools and tips librarians can’t live without
Creative and fun ways to use Clubhouse, Flipgrid, Green Screen and other tools with students and teachers.
SLJ montage using app icons and artwork from Getty Images
Louisiana teaching librarian Amanda Jones pulls out a tech tip to get families to visit the Live Oak Middle School library during her school’s open house. She creates photos with Green Screen by Do Ink. The photo of students with their families includes their names, school name and year. Jones then directs families to the library’s Facebook and Instagram accounts, where they can find their photos to upload.
Jones’ image project not only introduces families to the library, but also familiarizes them with school technology and gives them an ongoing connection to the library through social media.
“School libraries should be places of innovation,” says Jones. “It is worth investing our time in teaching our students the latest edtech tools and the responsible use of these tools. A school library program should include a balance between promoting the enjoyment of reading and collaborative lessons using the best edtech tools available.
So what are the best tools for librarians today, and how are they using them? We asked a few tech-savvy librarians to share the tools everyone needs to know.
The tools librarians use the most fall into four main categories: content curation, design, increased engagement, and collaboration support. Wakelet is everyone’s favorite tool for resource conservation, according to the FLS short poll, with Padlet a close second. canvas and Twitter followed closely as tools librarians use most often.
Wakelet and Padlet digital curation charts are gaining popularity as tools for library resource guides, whether for parents, teachers, or students. Links can be added directly from YouTube, Twitter, Flipgrid or other platforms, and guides can be easily embedded on the school website for sharing.
The canvas is the design tool that many turn to when it’s time to promote the book fair or announce new books. It is also useful in tandem with other tools. Jones uses it to make his Instagram posts livelier or design headers for Google Classroom or Wakelets.
KC Boyd, Library Media Specialist at Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington, DC, has students use Canva to create their own celebrity “Read” promotional posters. “My students are also celebrities, so I put their posters on Twitter, and the kids are going crazy,” Boyd explains.
Flipgrid is another longtime favorite that librarians can’t live without.
“I use [Flipgrid] in various ways with my elementary students,” says Lauree Moore, Media Specialist at Earhart Environmental Magnet Elementary School in Wichita, KS. “They create lesson reflections, chat and respond to each other, connect with other schools, make videos for their teachers, review books and discuss favorites, make book recommendations, identify facts about topics , teach each other about topics they’ve become an expert on, and more.
It’s no secret that school librarians have a great social media presence to connect with the wider school community and promote their libraries. Overall, Twitter was the most mentioned platform in the survey, with active librarian communities on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Clubhouse.
Texas College Librarian Media Specialist Karina Quilantán-Garza, also known online as Cue the Librarian, suggests librarians take social media inspiration from Librarian of Congress (LOC) Dr. Carla Hayden. When Hayden Live-Tweeted the Musical hamiltonevery few minutes she posted a main LOC resource related to something in the musical.
Quilantán-Garza adds that librarians don’t need to master the latest tool to have an impact; it is more important that they know how to use it well. “Try to master one tool at a time before picking up another,” she says. “Just because it’s popular doesn’t mean you have to use it. Everyone’s libraries are different.
To connect with each other, librarians are also turning to social media. Clubhouse, Twitter and Facebook are favorites. Boyd hosts his show “Boss Librarian” on Clubhouse. This audio social networking app allows people to host real-time group conversations.
“If you want to stay up to date with what’s happening in the field and connect with people who are doing dynamite work in their field, [social media] that’s where they hang out,” Boyd said.
Hannah Fjeld, Library Media Specialist at Neshobe School in Brandon, VT, wishes there was a better tool to help elementary students understand information literacy. She was among the 40% of respondents who want to find better tools for finding and reading information to help teach these life skills.
For news literacy, Quilantán-Garza recommends Pear Deck’s Be Internet Awesome, which offers interactive courses in English and Spanish. Resources has a library of lesson plans and templates that provide scenarios and activities.
Pennsylvania librarian Beth Cohen uses Nearpod’s Time to Climb feature with her ninth and tenth graders to assess their understanding before and after a lesson. She also asks students to respond to specific scenarios on a whiteboard or asks them to vote on whether a social media post or news story is real.
“I’ve found that they’re much more willing to share their use of technology and their opinions about online content when they can do so anonymously,” she says.
Boyd recommends the News Literacy Project’s (NLP) Checkology site, which provides real-world examples of social media and news resources to help students understand what’s right and wrong. Boyd, an ambassador for NLP News Literacy, also enjoys the weekly NLP Sift newsletter as a real-time tool that offers examples, lessons, and discussion questions on hot topics. NLP also has an app, Informable, and a podcast, Is it a fact?
Jones uses Do Ink for creative spaces, video making, podcasting, photo projects, and student lectures. Since Do Ink can include images from up to three different sources, Jones uses a template created in Canva and records the children’s book discussions in front of a green screen. Then she uses Do Ink to add images of the book and the author in the background. For students who are reluctant to share their poetry with others, she hosts a sock puppet poetry cafe. The children use the sock puppets in front of the green screen, with Do Ink in the background.
Screencastify is a useful tool for creating videos with students who need a little help with presentations, says Amanda Hunt, library media specialist at Oak Run Middle School in New Braunfels, TX. Screencastify allows students to record, edit and share; it also allows users to manipulate the screen while talking. Students can then pitch projects without the pressure of in-person public speaking. For students who prefer podcasting, Streamyard allows users to record or live stream to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or other platforms.
Hunt also loves Mote, a Chrome app or extension that lets him embed voice feedback for students into Word documents, Google Forms, or spreadsheets.
“In our digital world, characters get a bit lost in translation,” she says. “Children don’t always receive humor or sarcasm when writing. When they hear me say exactly what I want them to do, they’re able to make those adjustments a little easier with that voice ability.
For librarians looking for tools to make learning more fun and engaging, Hunt suggests Edpuzzle. Educators can create their own videos or embed videos from Khan Academy, YouTube, or other resources, making this a great resource for flipped teaching.
Quilantán-Garza students are very interested in esports, organized multiplayer video game competitions. Minecraft for education is another favorite. A well-established gaming community provides a sense of belonging to many of its students.
While school libraries are often technology hubs in schools, the benefits will go far beyond the library, Boyd says.
“As librarians, we need to be in the driver’s seat in our school to support innovation,” she says. “It’s going to take time out of all of our schedules to learn and master these apps so kids and teachers can be ready to use them. The big picture is that I have a more informed school community thanks to the information I have passed on to them. Get on board and don’t be left behind.
Jennifer Snelling is an education journalist who focuses on the transformative power of technology to engage students.