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Tuesday Tech Tips – Merge Ahead! September 2, 2014

Posted by Brooke Ahrens in Check this out!.
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I sometimes say that I love technology because I am lazy.  What I really mean is that technology that saves me time, or automates repetitive tasks gives me more time to do more important things.  The mail merge feature in Excel and Word was one of those technologies. I had to invest time initially to learn to use mail merge, but after I had learned how to use the feature it saved me countless hours of time. Over the past 12 years, I’ve used mail merge to make certificates, mailing labels, letters, emails, postcards, file labels and more. If I needed to create something to be used more than twice, I usually incorporated a mail merge.

My school recently transitioned from Outlook email to Gmail, and while we still have access to MS Office products, I wanted to learn how to perform a mail merge using Gmail and Google Drive.  When I researched how to perform a Gmail mail merge, I had to sift through a huge variety of options available. Keeping in mind the abilities of my staff, I focused on finding a program to share that was easy to learn, easy to use, and functioned in a way that was familiar to the the MS Office mail merge. autoCrat  is a Google Sheet add-on that fit all of those needs.

I found several great YouTube video tutorials on how to use autoCrat, including this one: autoCrat: Document Merge in Google Drive, as well as this one: autoCrat Mail Merge. autoCrat is easy to use, and fairly full-featured,  however there were certain aspects that challenged me. Here’s what I learned:

  • The autoCrat I used is a add-on in Google Sheets. This means that your Google Sheet needs to be relatively new for the Add-Ons menu item to appear, and that many of the available autoCrat tutorials are for an older version.
  • Much like MS Office, autoCrat requires 2 files to create a merge: a data source (this is your Google Sheet), and template (a Google Doc or a Google Sheet). I discovered that while you can use same the data source over and over again, it’s best to create a new template for each merge you perform, because your merge is associated with your template. Even if you are using the same data and the same layout or information, make a new template or a copy of your template, it’s easier.  It’s also best to keep all of your files in one folder in your Google Drive.
  • While you can use a data source that has been shared with you, you must be the owner of the template for autoCrat to make a merge. Shared files are not accessible during the merge set-up, so saved a copy of a shared template to your own Google Drive before you start.
  • It’s easier (and faster) to use the same headings in your Google Sheet as the tags used in your template, but it’s not required.
  • It took me several attempts to figure out how to email the new merged documents to individual recipients. The 3rd screen of the merge set-up does include an option to email documents, but I was puzzled by the To: field. The help text indicated that “Addresses must be separated by commas” and I initially read this as I need to insert all the email addresses I would be using. It’s not that complicated.  Instead, you can simply use a $tag for an email address. For example in my merge, I had a tag for $studentEmail.  I simply entered the $tag and the merged documents were automatically emailed!

I’m excited to share autoCrat with my staff, and I am sure they will be happy to have a replacement that works in Gmail. I’ve also got a few ideas in mind for how I can incorporate the use of Google Forms to generate my data source and have staff self populate their own tech integration reports.

Have you tried the autoCrat add-on? Do you have other tips or tricks to share?

Monday Means Leadership: Blogs to Follow September 1, 2014

Posted by Deanna Harris in Check this out!.
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Leaders learn from others, recognizing their strengths and weaknesses and looking to improve and connect with those in their field.  As school librarians and teacher leaders, we have a number of  nationally known leaders among us , school librarians and educators that provide insight through their blogs.  Here are a few blogs to check out:

School Library Journal blogs: SLJ hosts blogs about award-winning books, graphic novels, adult books for teens, book reviews, and literacy.

The Unquiet Librarian:  Buffy Hamilton’s blog provides insight into literacy, technology, and professional issues.

The Daring Librarian: Gwyneth Jones blogs about tech issues in the school library on her blog.

Blue Skunk Blog: Doug Johnson shares information about technology, librarianship, and professional issues on his blog.

Kathy Schrock’s Kaffeeklatsch: Schrock provides entries on the latest educational technology.

Checkout the 100 Helpful Blogs for School Librarians (and Teachers) and let us know which other blogs you follow.

Friday Finds August 29, 2014

Posted by Judy Deichman in Check this out!.
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If you are anywhere near Washington, D.C. this weekend, you need to check out the National Book Festival conducted by the Library of Congress!  It is the most awesome book festival and it has a new location this year.  Instead of being held on The Mall, it will be inside, at the Washington, D.C. Convention Center.  There are authors representing all genres and something for everyone.  This is a festival for all ages and a librarian’s paradise.  I have attended the festival and took my children.  They loved it!  You can hear authors speak, purchase books and attend author signings.

If you can’t make it to D.C. this weekend, no worries.  All you need to do is subscribe to the LOC’s website and you will receive all kinds of great links to podcasts, webinars, and information that is delivered this weekend.  I highly recommend both the festival and the LOC website.  It is an awesome resource for librarians.

Check it out!


Let’s Get Together Thursday – Collaborating with Your Local Public Librarian August 28, 2014

Posted by Jennifer Laboon in Check this out!.
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Today’s guest blogger is Joann Absi, Media Coordinator at Eugene Ashley High School and President of NCSLMA, posting on behalf of the AASL/ALSC/YALSA School/Public Library Cooperation (SPLC) Interdivisional Committee.

SPCL Collaboration

A new school year is about to begin and as you start to get your library organized, get updates on the students you will have this year and reconnect with your faculty, don’t forget to touch base with one more person – your local public librarian. She or he can be a great asset in helping you to develop programs during the school year, meet the afterschool needs of your students and with coordination provide extra resources for your teachers. Set aside some time to discuss each other’s collection to see what resources you both have to offer your students and faculty, what types of programs you would like to collaborate on to enrich your students learning experiences, and the type of services the public library is interested in providing.

The North Carolina School Library Media Association (NCSLMA) and the North Carolina State Library Commission’s Youth Services Advisory Committee conducted a joint survey for school librarians and teachers to find out which types of services we were interested in having provided. We did one survey for elementary librarians and one for secondary librarians. We received many good suggestions which we have made available to both public librarians and our school librarians to make use of during the school year. You might consider doing this in your state or county to get things moving.

Here are a few ideas to suggest to your public librarian to begin the year:

  • Parent information session during open house or a parent night
  • Teacher information session during the beginning work days about services available for them
  • Elementary level: Story time or book talk event to begin the year with and introduce the public librarian to the students  (Book talks are great at any level!)
  • Middle School level: Assistance with Battle of the Book programs
  • High School level: Senior/Capstone Project information session to introduce seniors to the resources available at the public library
  • Discuss major topics or events that your teachers cover during the year and see how each of you can address these topics
  • Look into grants that you can jointly apply for
  • Library card promotion program in September

If you haven’t worked with your public librarian before, this might be one of the strongest new collaborators you can have. Share some ideas that you have found successful.

Tuesday Tech Tips – Snappy snag.gy August 26, 2014

Posted by Brooke Ahrens in Check this out!.
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Yesterday was the first day of school for students, and although I’ve been on campus for 2 weeks I still didn’t feel like I had enough time to get everything just the way I wanted.  Time is always in short supply between trainings, teaching, meetings, committees and work,  so I’m always looking for more efficient ways to complete tasks . One program I return to again and again is snag.gy because it saves time and works great. Snag.gy is a simple website that allows you to copy images from your web browser or your computer,  and then edit or share them. You don’t need an account to use snag.gy or an account to retrieve the image.  Images added to snag.gy can easily be cropped, or annotated with text or drawings.  Once you’ve edited your image,  it can easily be shared via many social media sites, or via URL.  As faculty were preparing for the new school year, I used the following image to help them remember how to set their course passwords in our learning management system.   I have both Jing and Snagit installed on my computer, but I use snag.gy more often than their full-featured cousins.  Why?  Because I can quickly take, annotate and share a screenshot without having to download and then re-upload the altered image.  If I am working in a web-based environment it feels counter-intuitive to have to download an image or screenshot in order to edit or annotate, and then upload again in order to share the image. Snag.gy eliminates these steps so I can help faculty and students more quickly.  If you haven’t tried snag.gy you should!

Monday Means Leadership: Defining Leadership August 25, 2014

Posted by Deanna Harris in Check this out!.
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Businessman in Cubicle Raising Foam Hand

For a while now, Mondays here at the AASL blog have been all about advocacy: promoting connections with partners, tooting our own horns, collaborating and sharing with colleagues, communicating our mission and vision with others.  All these aspects of advocating for school librarians and school library media programs are really just part of the bigger picture: LEADERSHIP.

Often we assume that leadership must mean taking on a title, a new role, in our school or district or even within the committees and boards of AASL and ALA.  But leadership is much more than the new hat that we wear or a title that defines us for the moment.  True leadership encompasses all those everyday moments (remember Drew Dudley’s TED talk?).  A leader embodies honesty and integrity, commitment and good character.  A leader is confident and effective.  A leader is a strong communicator, a decision maker, and a problem solver.  Sounds like the work we do every day as school librarians!

As we move forward in our journey to promote strong, effective school library media programs and to become confident, effective school librarians, we must accept our leadership qualities and our roles as leaders in our schools, districts, and states.  We hope that Leadership Monday will provide inspiration, support, and resources to embrace our roles as school library leaders.

Friday Finds August 22, 2014

Posted by Judy Deichman in Check this out!.
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Ever wondered how to introduce poetry to your students?  Or wondered where you could obtain additional poetry resources or ideas?  Well, I have a Friday Find for you.  The Poetry Foundation website is a wealth of information for both teacher librarians and students to utilize.  There are audio and video podcasts available. You can search by poem or author.  They also publish a Poetry magazine. They even have an app that you can download.  The resources are Free and Excellent!


Check it out!



Tuesday Tech Tips – Making Noise August 19, 2014

Posted by Brooke Ahrens in Check this out!.
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I recently had the good fortune to move into a new office. My new office space is larger, much easier for our students to find, and I will be sharing the space with a wonderful colleague. The one downside? Our new office is located next to the server room which creates a consistent and audible buzz. So, we began looking for an ambient noise generator to decrease server noise in our new office.

An article posted on last week on Lifehacker.com about ambient noise and productivity caught my attention.  The article mentioned that studies have found the ambient noise of a coffeehouse might actually help increase creativity and productivity. The article highlighted a Chrome App called Elmnts, as well as the web-based ambient noise Noisli.  Both noise generators feature a simple to use interface, that allows you to select and combine several noise types to create a custom ambient noise creation of your choice.

After investigating several other website based noise generators, we also discovered Ambient-Mixer.com which features user created ambient noise recordings in a variety of catagories, including a Harry Potter category that includes the ambient noises of each of Hogwarts common rooms! This site was great fun to explore, and allows you to adjust various elements of each of the created soundscapes.  I can’t wait to share the site with students, I’m sure they’ll enjoy exploring the different sound elements used to create fictional locations, and our PE and Religion teachers will enjoy the variety of creative background soundscapes available for use in their classes.

In my office, we have opted to use Noisli because no browser or account login is needed, so we can run it on a student designated computer we have in the office. We’ve been using a combination of forest, coffee house, and stream sounds to create a soundscape I’ve dubbed “National Park.”  I wasn’t familiar with the research on coffeeshop noise, but I know that I personally work better in an environment featuring a low level of noise, instead of silence, or the buzz of a server room.  I’m curious to know if other librarians have experimented with the use of ambient noise to inspire creativity with their students or as a way to manage noise levels.

What to Read Wednesday – FREE AUDIO BOOKS August 6, 2014

Posted by Karin Perry in Check this out!.
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cropped-SYNC-WEB-Header-GrapheneThere is one week left of the Sync YA Free Audiobook Summer program. If you hurry, you can still download this week’s selections.

July 31 – August 6
DIVIDED WE FALL by Trent Reedy, Narrated by Andrew Eiden (Scholastic Audio)
THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE by Stephen Crane, Narrated by Frank Muller (Recorded Books)

The last two will be available starting Thursday, August 7th.

August 7 – August 13
LIVING A LIFE THAT MATTERS by Ben Lesser, Narrated by Jonathan Silverman and Ben Lesser (Remembrance Publishing)
THE SHAWL by Cynthia Ozick, Narrated by Yelena Shmulenson (HighBridge Audio)

Tuesday Tech Tips August 5, 2014

Posted by Judy Deichman in Check this out!.
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Here is a brand new resource for you to try before the school starts this year.  As you can see, it was created by Blackboard and is a free online class platform. You can choose you own URL and determine how much or little you put on the internet.  It has all the attributes you would expect of a online classroom and is easy to navigate.

It is very powerful and it is free! Check it out!