Category Archives: Activities

Black History Month Ideas: African American Spies, from the Revolution to the CIA

The CIA has an incredibly interesting article available on their site titled Black Dispatches: Black American Contributions to Union Intelligence During the Civil War

It provides details about African-American spies and the work they did to provide intelligence for the Union.

Spies ranged from Harriet Tubman, better known for her work in helping escaped slaves find their way to freedom on the Underground Railroad to William A. Jackson – a slave in the Confederacy’s presidential household who provided invaluable information to his northern contacts. You can find out about more Civil War spies here.

Still with the CIA, they have a list of operatives who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country:

Other agents include James Armistead  a slave of William Armistead in New Kent County, Virginia, he volunteered to spy for the Continental army commander General Lafayette. James became a servant to British general Lord Cornwallis, who asked him to spy on the Americans! As a double agent, James gave unimportant information to Cornwallis, while keeping Lafayette informed about British troop strength and positions. James Armistead remained enslaved after the war. In 1784, Lafayette wrote to theVirginia General Assembly, describing his valuable service and asking that he be freed. In 1786, he was freed—and from then on, he called himself James Lafayette.

Born into extreme poverty in St Louis Missouri Josephine Baker went on to become a vaudeville star, was recruited into an all black dance troupe and went to Paris. In 1940 she became a spy for the French Resistance, while she picked up intelligence at parties, her fellow secret agent Jacques Abtey, masquerading as her assistant, recorded the information in invisible ink on her sheet music.

On her return to the USA she fought segregation across the states and ended up on an FBI watch list.

Activity Idea:

There are several methods one can use to make invisible ink:

  • Lemon juice & water – made visible by heating paper
  • Baking soda in water – made visible with dark fruit juice concentrate
  • Write with white crayon – made visible paint over with watercolors

    Once you have decided which technique to use encourage attendees to choose a spy, or more than one if they are feeling adventurous and create an invisible drawing of the agent or write a secret message to a friend hidden in another message.

    They could even create a cipher and make an invisible, encoded message.

  • Black History Month Ideas: The Tuskegee Airmen

    The Tuskegee Airmen were African American pilots who fought in World War 2. They flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. Their impressive performance earned them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and helped encourage the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces.

    This event will give participants the opportunity to learn about the airmen and create and decorate a paper model Mustang with the colors the 332nd Fighter Group used on their aeroplanes.

    The Kid Scraps Mustang model is available here 

    The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum has an online game that allows you to act as a flight leader for the Tuskegee Airmen, you can play the game here:

    Books about the Tuskegee Airmen

  • Who were the Tuskegee Airmen? By Sherri L. Smith
  • The Tuskegee Airmen by Sarah E. De Capua.
  • You can Fly: the Tuskegee Airmen by Carole Boston Weatherford
  • Red Tail captured, Red Tail free : memoirs of a Tuskegee airman and POW by Alexander Jefferson
  • The Red Tails : World War II’s Tuskegee Airmen by Steven L. Jones
  • Tuskegee Airman : the biography of Charles E. McGee : Air Force fighter combat record holder by Charlene E. McGee Smith 
  • Tales of Famous Heroes by Peter and Connie Roop
  • Black Wings : courageous stories of African Americans in aviation and space history by Von Hardesty
  • Black Knights: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen by Thomas Reilly & Lynn M. Homan
  • Dreaming Eagles by Garth Ennis & Simon Coleby (graphic novel / fiction)
  • DVDs

  • The Tuskegee Airmen
  • Red Tails
  • The Tuskegee Airmen

  • Crafty Scotsman Activity

    An activity for Burns Night or just any time you would like to colour in and dress up a burly Scotsman in a range of exciting outfts.

    Download (PDF, 3.49MB)

    Mobile Library Library Mobile

    Just over two years ago I created a Mobile Library Library Mobile for my daughter’s bedroom, I always meant to make it available on here but with one thing and another I never got round to doing that. Today that has changed, you may now download the mobile below the two pics of the original in action.

    This is an A3 version and is slightly changed from the original design. Early tests showed that while creating a mobile using standard photocopy paper is doable, for a more long-lasting version card works better. Please feel free to add additional library-related things to hang from the mobile and if you do please feel free to share pictures.

    Download (PDF, 669KB)

    Library Lessons: What is a Word?

    A discussion on words and the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year leading into creating emoji book reviews

    Inside the Teenager’s Brain: CPD on stress and teens’ well-being


    Huey, Louie & Melvil Dewey in: the Quest for the Missing Duck an Introduction to Using the Library

    Many of you may recognize this slide presentation as it was originally an introduction to using the Dewey Decimal Classification System, but owing to a lot of feedback I received I decided to redo it as a general introduction to using the library as it was too cumbersome and complicated in it’s original form.

    So with a few tweaks, language and slide changes may I present:


    An Intro-duck-tion to Using the Library


    Activity Idea: Library Myth Busters

    This event can be run by following the Myth Busters format of having small teams investigating various Library Myths and then presenting their findings to the entire group or class. If permission can be obtained for filming, a short DVD could be made of the proceedings. This could tie into a larger media and film-making programme that can be run over half-term or summer holidays. It is fun and educational – teenagers learn how the library works and what the staff do all day as well as debunking misconceptions they may have on what goes on in libraries.

    Here are a a list of library myths that can either be debunked or confirmed:

    • Librarians have lots of time to read on the job
    • All librarians are fast readers
    • Public libraries are only busy during the school year
    • Public libraries are only busy during summer holidays
    • Libraries are used only by those who cannot afford to buy their own books.
    • Librarians have no stress
    • Librarians have read every book in the library.
    • Librarians know the answer to everything
    • Everyone who works in the library is a librarian
    • Libraries are just about getting books
    • Libraries aren’t necessary because everything’s available on the internet
    • Libraries have plenty of money because they get so many donated books and charge so much in fines
    • The librarian can be held responsible for everything that kids check out because they work for the government and must protect young people from bad things
    • School libraries aren’t needed because kids can get everything they want at the public library or online
    • Librarians wear their hair in buns, have wire-rimmed glasses, and say shhhhh! all the time
    • Librarians only issue books
    • Everything in the library is free
    • You have to know Dewey to use the library
    • Libraries are serious and quiet all the time
    • It is difficult to get a library card
    • Libraries are for English readers only

    The list is by no means complete and if anyone would like to add library myths in the comments you are most welcome.

    Jonas Herriot – My day at YLG London Unconference

    The YLG London Unconference was the first conference I have been to not just as an attendee, but as one of the organisers. As such my experience of the event started well before the actual day, with helping the other more experienced Committee members get the event ready, and giving my input where I could. Watching the event develop, seeing the session proposals get added to the event page, and talking to other students/colleagues/librarians about attending certainly got me in the mood for when the day actually came.

    Turning up to the venue nice and early so that I could help set up and prepare the goody bags (and get a few cups of coffee in!) meant that I was well situated to watch as the hall turned into an event space, and then see as it slowly filled up with keen faces as my fellow librarians arrived. The actual unconference kicked off with a brief introduction from the committee, and then we were straight into getting peoples sessions proposed and sign up sheets created. Seeing all the great ideas that people wanted to talk about, and then watching as others displayed the same passion as they signed up for, and debated the sessions was very interesting mainly due to the fact that it showed that we all had very similar interests.

    We then had an excellent introduction talk from James Dawson where he discussed his experience of growing up and using his school library as a place of refuge and calm. I have to admit that listening to that reminded me of my secondary school where I also spent as much time in the library as possible. Unfortunately I could only drift in and out of his talk, as we had to draft the days timetable, but what I heard was not only interesting, but also very inspiring.

    The first session I attended was based on coding, minecraft and teaching kids. This session weaved in and out of various tech related subjects and the practical applications for libraries. The attendees was a lovely mix of experts and novices, and was for me probably the best session of the day. It allowed those with no experience of this subject to be given advice and ideas from those who had tried out games and tools which included: minecraft, raspberry pi’s, titanpad, coding basic fighting fantasy programs, gimp, smartphones as stop motion picture creation devices, scratch, linux, and using USB sticks to run external programs. Very interesting to hear how each of these had been used by libraries, and how they had surmounted the various problems they had encountered along the way.

    The next session was the one I had proposed, dealing with graphic novels and the levels of access various libraries ascribed to them. We discussed what restrictions various services (both school and public) placed on this format of book, ranging from no age restriction, through to all but the most sanitised and tame being available only to over 15s. I have to admit that the main reason I ran this session was to help inform my upcoming dissertation project, and the responses I got will prove very helpful to me. While it was a relatively small session, the knowledge of those attending was good, and I came out of it keen to run more sessions in the future.

    We then broke for lunch which as well as providing a chance for something to eat, also allowed us to mingle with others from different sessions and discuss what we had learnt, and pass on any helpful snippets we had gleamed to others. Following this we were back into session 3, which was how to successfully run teen reading groups. I chose this session as it is something I will be setting up this year, and listening to what had worked for others would prove invaluable. Ideas such as running Manga groups which didn’t just read the books, but which also did drawing is a good example of what was discussed here; the idea to make the groups about more than reading, and thereby keeping teens interested. Others ideas included using stupid activities to draw them in and break down barriers, as well as making your face known and accessible to them. The idea of rewards not bribes to keep them coming, and using your current readers as ambassadors to reach out to those who may not be current readers were also very good. Also mentioned was the amount of resources such as Carnegie/Greenaway which you can find, and how to build your sessions around you. Once again I was impressed with the passion, ideas, and resourcefulness of those who I was sat with.

    The last session dealt with the afore mentioned Carnegie/Greenaway, and what went on behind the scenes, and how the award was ran and judged. This highlighted all the hard work which took place each year and left me impressed with those involved. Less interactive than other sessions but equally enjoyable, I left this session with a far greater understanding of the award, and a strange desire to one day be more involved. I should also mention that this session stood out as we got to try kangaroo, crocodile, buffalo, and ostrich meat, which is quite unusual for a conference. The reason for this though, was showcasing how you can take a book (in this case about cannibalism) and create activities you can then use with children to pique their interest, and create talking points.

    The day then finished with everybody coming back into the big hall and a closing talk to end the day, before people started the journey home. As with all conferences I left feeling more involved in the profession, and more connected to the larger community we are in. There is also a tinge of regret about those sessions I couldn’t attend, but this is dealt with by speaking those who had attended and swapping stories and notes. I was very impressed with the professionalism and knowledge of my colleague who helped run the day and was grateful to be able to spend the time with them, and all of the delightful and interesting librarians who attended. We also started making plans for the next one, so watch this space…

    Group Idea: STEM Cell

    I had this idea ages ago and I promptly wrote down then got on with doing other things and it soon faded into the low murmur at the back of my mind. It popped up again this morning as I was reading an article about building Lego robots and I thought that it be a fantastic basis for an engineering club, that jogged my memory and the STEM Cell idea bubbled up again but with new pieces added to the mental framework.

    A cell can be many things, two of which are:

    the functional basic unit of life


    a unit of a clandestine cell system, a penetration-resistant form of a secret or outlawed organization


    A stem cell has the remarkable potential to develop into many different cell types in the body during early life and growth. In addition, in many tissues they serve as a sort of internal repair system, dividing essentially without limit to replenish other cells as long as the person or animal is still alive. When a stem cell divides, each new cell has the potential either to remain a stem cell or become another type of cell with a more specialized function, such as a muscle cell, a red blood cell, or a brain cell.

    STEM stands for Science, Technology Engineering Maths

    The STEM Cell will be a group dedicated to experimenting with each of the four disciplines by using practical and creative activities and experiments to create or enhance an interest in one or more of the subjects. Much like a covert cell the can be copied and used anywhere and the experience enhanced by communication with other cells and information exchanged about experiments that have been conducted. Similar to stem cells themselves, a group such as this will allow its members to use what they learn to become anything as they grow and develop.

    This type of group would by its very nature be cross-curricular and run in conjunction with the Science, Mathematics, ICT and Design & Technology Departments but organised by the Library.

    Activities can include:

    The Mentos and Diet Coke experiment

    Raspberry Pi & programming

    Code making & breaking – this one can be used for intergroup competitions

    Mathematical Origami

    Building Robots from Lego

    Activities can be set up to run on a termly or half-termly basis depending on the length & complexity of the activity and the capability of the young people involved in the group.

    At present I am still working on ironing out all the details but if anyone has ideas please feel free to leave them in the comments field below.