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Check It Out: February 2021

Your monthly news from the OPS Library Services Staff

"Check It Out" Welcomes Inspiring Guest Contributors

In January, we introduced a new monthly format to the newsletter with some editorial and design changes and even a revolving editorial staff! Each month, new contributors will look at literacy, diversity, and libraries, with an overarching focus on community building.

This month we welcome two uber-creative middle school librarians, Doug Keel of Marrs Middle School and Michele Mulder of Monroe Middle School, who share several outside-the-box inspirations, including re-thinking your book displays and sprucing up your library clubs. Of course, as all librarians do, I'm always looking for new perspectives from my colleagues, so please send your fabulous ideas my way when they strike!

-- Beth Eilers, School Librarian at Omaha Central High School,

Clubs, the Library, and You!

Many of us are looking to stay connected and networked with our students and staff but find it difficult given the amount of time spent sanitizing, distancing, masking, and just generally dealing with the pandemic, especially if your library is not open to the public. But there are still ways to connect your patrons with great literature and have fun doing it.

One option is to consider hosting an online book club through Teams. After sending out a school-wide announcement about your club, (along with a terrific book trailer) students can opt-in joining a Library book club that you set up via Teams. Just add your members and let the fun begin! You can start with some fun icebreakers, establish some rules, and get going. Have some pre-reading discussion questions ready to go, show an author video, and dive in.

In other meetings, you can play review games about the books, have them take pictures of items in their house that remind them of the book (this can lead to great discussion), go with study questions, and so much more! The sky’s the limit!

Another online club you might consider doing through Teams is an anime/manga club. Even if you are not an experienced “Otaku,” (a person who is CRAZY for manga) your students will help guide the way. Many educators will suggest giving the students some time to socialize and just shoot the breeze. Other fun (and easy) activities include showing student artwork, watching a popular anime, learning a little Japanese, doing crafts . . . your club members will let you know!

And don't forget your staff!

Another fantastic way to show your students the importance of literacy is by starting a staff book club and letting the students know about it. Post pandemic, your book club might include gathering at someone’s house with food aplenty, friendly conversation, and lots of fellowship. Send out the invite with the theme of the book and you are sure to attract a lot of interested teachers with many different backgrounds.

And like the students, you can hold your meetings virtually! Technology is a wonderful thing... right!? -- Doug Keel, Marrs Middle School



For further reading

SLJ Article – How to Run a Virtual Book Club with Middle-Schoolers

Virtual Displays

The way that we have approached getting our students into books and our offerings has evolved.  We can no longer just create great bulletin boards and have students walk by and become interested.  We now interact with our students more virtually than we do in person, which requires that we create displays that are virtual.

Virtual displays can be just as vibrant and engaging as our traditional displays- more so even because you can easily add an interactive component.

One way to implement a virtual display is to create a Virtual Teams background.  You may have noticed that Teams gives you the option to choose one of their backgrounds to use when you are presenting but did you also see that you can upload your own background?  It is this background that you are going to create your first virtual display on! 

The easiest way to do this is to use a program called Canva because it has sample backgrounds that you can modify and personalize to make your virtual bulletin board.  Canva gives free accounts to educators. See “Canva Pro Account for Free!”

Virtual backgrounds are a fun way to still show off those new books, diverse books or books that relate to what’s happening in the classroom and as an added benefit. In addition, you can always add them as an image to your Libguides or social media pages.  -- Michele Mulder, Monroe Middle School

Click here for more great ideas about resources!

How to Create a Virtual Background

  1. Login to your new free Educator Canva account. (See box with details on this page!)
  2. Type “Zoom” in the Templates search bar and select “Zoom Virtual Backgrounds”.
  3. Choose a pre-created template or click “+ Create a Blank Zoom Virtual Background”. Note: Teams does NOT allow you to create an animation/video background. 
  4. In Sora, right-click on a book cover you want to feature and “save image as.”
  5. Click Uploads on the left menu in Canva and upload your images.  Click to add or drag them onto your canvas.
  6. Organize, resize and make beautiful – just keep in mind, they need to be fairly large so students can read on the iPads. 
  7. All done? Download to your computer (select transparent background when prompted)
  8. Add your background to Teams.  Click on any current class as if you plan to join.  With your camera on, click the “Background filters” button below. 
  9. Click “+ add new” at the top of the Background Settings box.
  10. Find your downloaded virtual background and select it. Your virtual display is now your background. Note: Don’t panic, your background will be reversed, but others will see it correctly. 

Step-by-Step Virtual Display Video

School Librarian Spotlight

Each month "Check It Out" will briefly spotlight an OPS School Librarian to help you discover the diverse interests and perspectives of your far-flung colleagues. This month we are featuring Michele Mulder, who is a guest contributor for January's newsletter.

Michele Mulder (the 1980s edition)  from Monroe Middle School

Passion, excitement, and creativity combined with loads of lit and tech expertise are a few words that begin to describe this librarian extraordinaire! With humble beginnings in Papillion, Michele Mulder discovered the world of library in the third grade after learning to read. She spent countless hours at the library with her grandmother, where she could be found reading Nancy Drew and Campfire Girls books. As one would imagine, it was difficult for her to select just one favorite book, but if she had to list a few, they would include, The Secret Garden, Lord of the Rings (which she has read countless times) and Stephen King’s, The Stand.

Great strategies: Michelle is excited about being able to bring lots of digital content to her students in a variety of ways. One of her strategies for sharing enjoyable books with kids is to create book trailers with different grade levels and send them out monthly! It has been a terrific way to get involved with what is happening in the classroom!

Favorite moments: Some of her favorite moments in the library are when she can connect with her students about great books! Her favorite right now is Truly, Devious, especially since it is one that she and the students are excited about! -- Doug Keel, Marrs Middle School

Sign up for a free Canvas Educator Account

  1. Go to 
  2. Create an account 
  3. Verify that you are an educator
  4. Make awesome stuff for free


Looking Ahead

Valentine's Day Today, January 15
Abraham Lincoln's Birthday  Friday, February 12
Presidents Day -- No School Monday, February 15
Mardi Gras Tuesday, February 16
No school for high school students. Half building-based professional learning and half teacher planning day. Tuesday, February 16
High schools transition to five days in-person per week. Wednesday, February 17
Middle school conferences Thursday, February 25
Middle school teacher planning day Friday, February 26
National Read Across America Day Tuesday, March 2
National Grammar Day (This one spoke to me. How about you?) Thursday, March 4
Elementary teacher planning day/conferences Thursday, March 4
Elementary teacher planning day  Friday, March 5
Spring break March 8-12


Just for fun:

Omaha Public Schools does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, age, genetic information, citizenship status, or economic status in its programs, activities and employment and provides equal access to the Boy Scouts and other designated youth groups. The following individual has been designated to address inquiries regarding the non-discrimination policies: Superintendent of Schools, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531-299-9822).

Las Escuelas Públicas de Omaha no discriminan basados en la raza, color, origen nacional, religión, sexo, estado civil, orientación sexual, discapacidad , edad, información genética, estado de ciudadanía, o estado económico, en sus programas, actividades y empleo, y provee acceso equitativo a los “Boy Scouts” y a otros grupos juveniles designados. La siguiente persona ha sido designada para atender estas inquietudes referentes a las pólizas de no discriminación: El Superintendente de las Escuelas, 3215 Cuming Street, Omaha, NE 68131 (531-299-9822).