Saturday, October 17, 2009

Liz Gray - Thurs. Oct. 22 to Sat. Oct. 24, 2009

Not all school media specialists and teacher librarians work in public schools. Back with this class again is Liz Gray, Library Director at Dana Hall School in Wellesley, MA.

Liz Gray's varied work experiences include serving as a School Library Director in Rome, Italy as well as stints in both a public library and an academic library. She is a former English teacher who has taught in Switzerland and England. You can find additional information about Liz at the following website:

Liz consults on library space planning and has taught "Planning Libraries for the 21st Century" and "Good Ideas: Successful Library Programming and Instruction" at the Taft Education Center in Watertown, CT.


  1. Anonymous7:59 AM

    Hi Liz! Thank you for spending your time chatting with us and answering some questions. I see that you have a varied background in the library field. I think that is great. What a great way to learn about what truly interest you in the world of library science. My question to you is, did you find that international education/librarianship presented any special or specific challenges that you do not find in America? Are the needs of European patrons the same as here or different? Any insight you could provide would be great. Thanks Liz.

  2. Anonymous7:59 AM

    My name is Megan Bell by the way. I should have mentioned that in my post. Thanks Liz!!

  3. All my experience working overseas was with English-speaking students in schools running US and/or IB curricula. I would say that the enrollment was typically 50% US kids and 50% international (some from the country in which the school was located and, in the case of one boarding school, from all parts of the world). Kids tended to rely on the library more heavily than they do in the US and appreciate the resources available to them more. The challenges for me as a librarian were timely acquisition of materials and fewer back-up resources. If something stopped working, I usually had to figure out how to fix it on my own! However, my last overseas experience was in the early 1990s and I'm sure that technology has made as big of a positive impact in international school libraries as it has in the US.

  4. Thanks, Megan. I also want to add that working in an international school is a fantastic experience that I highly recommend. As long as you are willing to be flexible and don't mind giving up some of the comforts of home, it is a lot easier to get a job overseas as a librarian in an American or international school than you might think. You need your master's in library & information science, a couple of years of experience and a roll-with-the-punches attitude. You do not necessarily need to be certified. There are three major organizations that I know of that match teachers and librarians with positions in other countries: International School Services (, Search Associates (, and the Department of Defense Education Activity ( The first two organizations hold recruiting fairs, usually on both the west and east coasts but not anywhere in between, starting in January. I got both my overseas jobs through personal connections but the majority of people use one of these agencies. Many countries have limits on the number of years that nationals from other countries will be issued a visa to teach, which is why you will meet people with experience teaching all over the world in these international schools. Certain countries are in greater demand than others but no matter where you go you will learn so much more about that country by living and working there than you would as a tourist.

  5. Hi Liz. Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I am very interested in working overseas in a library. There is a program at the University of North Carolina that offers a 2-week summer study in Europe. Here is the link if you are unfamiliar with it: Do you think that this would be beneficial or a worthwhile investment?

    Also, thank you for those websites. I will be looking at those!


  6. Hi, April. I am not familiar with the UNC programs, but after looking at the material on their website (especially the sample daily schedules) the programs strike me as more like tours with a few library visits than in-depth examinations of libraries and librarianship.

    Coincidentally, this past summer I attended a program at Oxford--"The Library and the Academy"--that is offered through the Oxford Teacher Seminars We visited 14 libraries (including the Bodeleian) over the course of a week and also heard a variety of lectures on a wide range of topics. The cost is half that of the UNC Oxford program and they also offer a few fellowships each year. Jim Basker, the man who founded and runs the program, is at Columbia and I'm sure there's a way you could get graduate credit for participating. I learned a great deal about the Oxford University library system and saw some incredible old books! I highly recommend this program if you're looking for something focused (we only looked at academic libraries) and intensive, with the opportunity to visit lots of libraries.

  7. Anonymous4:56 PM


    Hi Megan Bell again!!!! Thanks for your wonderful response. I often wish I had started my MLS venture earlier in life so I could spread my wings a little more. As it is I am happily married to my husband and comfortably settled into our home in Fort Wayne. If things were more flexible for me I would be all about librarianship overseas. I love discovering new places. Anyways I see that timely acquisition of materials and fewer back up resources were your biggest challenges. I was wondering why those were such challenges. What factors created those issues? Why did it take so long to acquire those materials and why did you have fewer resources? Thanks again for answering our questions!!! I really appreciate it!!

  8. Hello Liz,
    Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. I read where you provided workshops for public and independent school teachers and I wanted to know, what are some ideas you can give on successful programming in the high school setting? Do you think it’s important to collaborate with teachers and local public libraries systems?
    Where do you see the future of public library planning (children & teens) in the 21st century? Also can you give any tips on successful collection development in the school setting for first year Media Specialist?
    Thanks again for your time,

  9. There are three factors that affected the particular situation in my most recent overseas position, which was in Italy.

    First of all, we're talking about 1991, which was a whole different world as far as information access and technology goes. There was no internet, so book and supply orders were placed by fax or snail mail. Weekly news magazines were mailed from the US to the Netherlands and then shipped to Italy; by the time they hit the library, the news was three weeks old!

    Secondly, I was in Italy, a country not known for its bureacratic efficiency. Postal and other strikes are a fact of life. The pace of life is also considerably slower than in the US, which has its good points and its bad points. For people who are used to operating at a high level of efficiency the slow pace is at first incredibly frustrating. After a while, however, you start making lemonade and focusing your attention on what you can do. My cataloging improved and I cleared up a huge backlog, and I also spent a great deal more face-to-face time with students.

    Finally, in an international school the staff is usually smaller and you are dependent on your own resources to solve problems. For example, I was cataloging using DOS and a pin-feed printer. When I had a software or mechanical problem I had to troubleshoot it myself or scrounge amongst my colleagues for assistance. Today that school probably has a tech person but I wouldn't be surprised if the do-it-yourself mentality still prevails in many areas.

    After you spend time overseas, you realize how much we have here—everything from opportunity and freedom to space to great customer service to grocery stores with variety that boggles the mind. What we don't have is time to savor it all, fresh and unprocessed food as the status quo, and the ability to see the big world picture. We are so big and so affluent (yes, even given our current financial woes) that it is often hard for us to see beyond our borders.

    I'm settled in my life here now too but I would go back overseas given the opportunity, even if just for a semester or a year. You learn so much!

  10. Hello Liz,
    I saw on you info page that one of your interests is "Art in Libraries". I am a great fan of art, especially painting. How do you incorporate art in your library? How can I incorporate art into my school media center?

    Thank you!

  11. Hi, Kristin. I am passionate about collecting cool pieces of art for my library. I think art personalizes a space and makes it come alive and that students respond to examples of creativity around them. The art work in my library includes pieces created by students or faculty (one of our middle school classes created a large bust of the artist Camille Claudel), pieces that relate to books or words or knowledge (a student took three black and white photos of old books that I had matted and framed), and some unique pieces that fit perfectly in certain areas (a large colorful quilt made by an artist who exhibited in the school's gallery). One of my favorites is a series of framed prints of people reading in lots of different places. I saw postcard-sized versions of these prints in a public library bookstore in Portland, Oregon and contacted the artist to get larger versions. Her name is Deborah Dewit Marchant ( and she also has a book and a calendar that focus on her love of words and reading.

    Only a small percentage of the art work in my library was expensive and all of it was purchased over a 15-year period. If your budget is small or non-existent, you can either laminate or inexpensively frame posters—there are many amazing ones from which to choose, including the freebies handed out by publishers at conferences. Student art work is also often beautiful AND you can commission it; I have several pieces in my own home that I purchased from students (who are usually stunned that someone is willing to pay them for their work!).

  12. Wow, LaKea, those are some big questions! I'll touch on a few points in each area but I'm sure I'll barely scratch the surface.

    There are many possibilities when it comes to programming but the most successful efforts grow out of collaborations with teachers and connections to student interests. Some examples of programming that have worked well for me are author visits (if you live near an independent or big bookstore, you can often partner with them to host an author for free in exchange for giving the bookstore the opportunity to sell copies of the author's books), book clubs or advisory groups focused on specific genres or topics (we just started a graphic novel/manga one), sponsoring something related to poetry (a few years ago I did a modified version—one poem a week instead of one a day—of the Library of Congress Poetry 180 program, an annotated summer reading list for students in grades 6-12 that includes both required and recommended books, and an annual book fair in May where all the summer reading is available. The book fair also generates quite a bit of revenue for the library every year (we get to keep 25% of everything we sell).

    I do think it's essential to collaborate with teachers, particularly on curriculum projects that involve the library and its resources. I don't have time to collaborate with the local public library; however, I do make sure that all my students know about and use it when appropriate. If the library was physically closer to me I would certainly consider a more active collaboration. I also clue my students in to all the free digital resources available to them through the Boston Public Library, which is the library of last resort for Massachusetts, and through our regional library system. I have no idea about the direction of local public library planning for children and young adults, but I sure hope it includes reading!

    Collection development is both an art and a science to me. First and foremost, you want to add materials that tie in with your school's curriculum and that appeal to your student population. Buy for specific kids—your big users—once you see what they enjoy reading. Since you have to work within a budget, stretch those dollars as far as possible. See if you can join a local, regional or state purchasing cooperative so you qualify for the biggest discounts possible. Accept gifts but write a gift policy first so that you maintain control of what is added to the collection. Write a collection development policy too, even if it's a bare bones one at first, so that a clear rationale for your acquisitions exists. Don't forget to weed, weed. weed—outdated or unattractive materials keep users from seeing all the good stuff in your collection. Finally, advertise your acquisitions so that everyone can see what you're buying. If you don't have room for a display area, put new titles face out on the ends of shelves. Advertise virtually too, using a web resource like Library Thing or Shelfari.