Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Janus-faced

Posted by lpearle on 14 October 2014

One part of my job description is to take care of the school’s archives.  Now, I should start by confessing that while I’m good at organization and have a decent idea about how to preserve things, I am not, nor have I ever been, trained as an archivist.  Beyond working at my last school to start making sense of their history and one course in graduate school, I’m totally dependent on the advice and guidance of archivally-trained peers.

So, confession over.  Moving on.

The school I’m at now is heading rapidly towards their 175th year (hemisesquicentennial?  anyone know if there is a word for that?) and the archives are in a mess.  They used to be organized, albeit not necessarily in the best fashion, but a couple of years ago they were moved from an old building (dating from the 1700s) to a new building (est. 2001) and then moved three times within the new space(s).  There used to be an archivist, but no longer and for the past several years it’s been either completely ignored or part of someone’s non-academic duties.  So I’m starting not from scratch but from a position of trying to make sense of what’s there (the box labels don’t always reflect the insides), keeping things ticking, weeding the dross and trying to plan for the future.

Wait! Weeding? Dross?

Yes.  If you are a school archive, there’s a good chance that you will be considered the dumping ground for all the stuff that someone doesn’t want.  It takes discipline on the part of the archivist to not accept things like art and other gifts that were given to the Head/a teacher/coach/school nurse by grateful students and parents, and while appreciated, not quite appreciated enough to go along with the person when they moved offices or left the school.  Knowing that the athletics department should give you a team roster, team schedule/results and photos for every team but perhaps not the play sheets for every game, or that the airline tickets from the admissions departments travel aren’t really necessary seems “duh”-ish, but you’d be surprised!  I’ve seen all that and more in the archives in two schools that I’ve worked with.

Anyway, back to the situation at hand.  One of the things that needs to happen is a reorganization of the boxes, decisions about how to preserve some of the artifacts (some clothing, a lot of scrapbooks and notebooks, ledgers and other written works, etc.) need to be made and maybe we can reopen the archives to researchers.  More important, maybe we can consider updating the book that was written in time for the 150th.  In the intervening 20 years there have been a lot of changes in the school, some unique to the institution and some familiar to anyone working in independent schools, or all-girls schools, but our archives haven’t kept up.

It’s interesting to be thinking about looking forward, to updating this book and protecting the future history while at the same time I’m looking backwards at what was in the archives, what should be there and how we can best preserve that past.

More thoughts to follow.

 

Posted in School Libraries, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Saturday Spam

Posted by lpearle on 20 September 2014

Cleaning out my spam filter and saw this:

spamTorn between guilt that a spammer can no longer find good information and not caring.  Leaning more towards the latter.

Posted in Metablogging | Leave a Comment »

Student Choice

Posted by lpearle on 15 September 2014

In independent schools we talk about students and education, about how our mission (overall, not just the specific school mission) is all student-centered.  We also talk about being college preparatory, trying to ensure our students will succeed (not just succeed, but excel) in their next academic experience.

So when I see schools issue technology mandates (iPad, laptop, whatever) I wonder about how student-centered that is.  For some students – heck, for me! – reading on a device is not the best choice.  I do my best, deepest reading in print, not to mention being able to find my notes easier, get back to an interesting passage quicker and flip between charts/maps/lists and text with more fluidity.  When taking notes, it’s always better for me to scrawl paper/pen and then to type them up – the meaning really sinks in that way (and let’s not forget my Cornell notes obsession). Why should either be different for students?

But this isn’t just about a mandate, it’s about choice. When we tell students that a school is going 1:1 (laptops or tablets) are we allowing them to choose the technology tool that works best for them, or are we saying “we expect you to bring [vendor/specifications]“?  And in our role as a college preparatory institution, have we surveyed the places our students will go next to see what they will be expected to use there?  My hope is that we would do that before making any decisions, using College X’s entry-level curriculum, research expectations and technology tools as a baseline goal for all of our graduates.  My fear is that few schools do that.

And then there’s the curriculum itself.  Over the years I’ve spoken with many, many students about their current classes, their current class choices and their goals for the future.  All too frequently I see art students told to take fewer art electives and to take an AP math or science course instead (colleges apparently love – LOVE! – those AP credits).  The push for STEM credits and students is denuding schools of humanities and arts electives, forcing students who would truly excel as a historian or creative writer into AP Biology or something.

Back in the dark ages (aka late 1970s) when I was in high school, the curriculum was, to put it politely, eclectic.  The requirements were 1 year of science, 3 years of math and foreign language, and something like 2 arts credits. History and English were combined into one department, Humanities, and I forget what the credit requirements there were.  No AP classes, although students who wanted to take the exams could. As a result, I haven’t taken a lab science since 9th grade, and only grudgingly took calculus in college (NOTE: if you have to take a placement test and test into calculus without having taken pre-calc, do not accept that placement!). Instead of Chemistry, I took Philosophy.  Instead of Biology, I took Acting.  Etc..  When I got to college I was more than prepared not only for the rigors of the college experience (mixing living away from home with studying and hanging out with friends) but also for the freedom of choice allowed in choosing my courses.

Does telling students that they have to take AP this and that, fewer electives (limiting them to perhaps a senior year) and pursue a relatively rigid path help?  I would argue not (as would the constructivist school). Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need a good underlying understanding of things and serious basic skills in math, science, grammar, etc..  But once we’re in high school, why force a school of round pegs into square holes?  Another friend of mine, currently Head of Modern Languages at a school, in charge not only of running the department but also approving and researching foreign travel (student trips to China, Spain and France) and managing the departmental budget, stopped his math and science courses earlier than I did.  Neither of us has suffered appreciably.

So here’s what I’m pondering: if our schools truly believe in being student-centered environments preparing those in our care for their next academic experience, why are we so afraid of student choice?

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

What if?

Posted by lpearle on 8 September 2014

Three things came together this past week and got me thinking about the “always on” culture.  The first was a blog post about a distraction-free iPhone, the second an announcement at school’s first Morning Meeting in which the girls were reminded that while texting/checking the phone discretely in the dining hall was ok, actually taking/making a call was rude and unacceptable.  The final piece was at my Quaker Meeting, where one of the members said that she had never really seen a smartphone in action and didn’t know that there was a phone “app” so that you could make calls; she also mentioned that her home internet connection was out and had been for a week and she didn’t mind it, while her husband (writing three books) couldn’t do his work so wasn’t happy.

At first I was a little surprised: how has anyone missed seeing the face of a smartphone at this point in time?  They’re ubiquitous.  And one week without home internet? Yikes!

Then, on my drive home, I started thinking about it and realizing how calming.  How nice to not have websites to check, an RSS feed piling up, many many e-mails waiting for a response.

At one of my former schools the Head has declared weekends to be e-mail free.  Obviously if there’s an emergency, that’s one thing.  But no one, from the Head on down, is expected to check – much less answer – e-mail over the weekend or during a school break (for teachers; year-round employees don’t have to during their vacation time).  At another school, there has been a stream of complaints from faculty about administration checking e-mail continuously during meetings and events (sometimes the complaints lead to a lessening of the problem, but it soon is back to previous levels).  Faculty there who do not check their e-mails over the weekend (or even at night, when they’re at home) are frequently reminded that they need to do so and respond in a timely fashion.

My current school is a boarding school, and we function in loco parentis so completely turning off overnight or on weekends is not going to happen. But what if we did limit that to emergencies only?  What if we go back to The Good Old Days, like when I was at boarding school, when communication was mostly by letter or postcard, and only occasional calls to/from home?  Often we send off an e-mail in the heat of the moment, while having to reflect on “is this an emergency?” might be a better tack to take.  Students would voluntarily put their phones in their backpacks and not check them until the school day is over.  Parents would know and respect those limits, teaching students some measure of independence from their parents.

One school I know is starting to look at those communications and considering how to best work with/educate both parents and students so that the appropriate separation happens.

What if we all did that?

Posted in Life Related, Musings, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | 2 Comments »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 1 September 2014

(more from the vault – next month, fresher stuff!)

Books, Reading, Etc.

School Stuff

Etc.

  • I don’t use Pocket (yet?) but am a fan of Readability.  Which do you prefer?
  • Great playlist of TED talks on Our Digital Lives.
  • Over the years I’ve scooped, livebindered, diigo’d and been delicious… should I now flip?

Posted in Books, Pedagogy, Privacy, School Libraries, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Changes. Always changes.

Posted by lpearle on 28 August 2014

If you work in a school, you know that each year will bring changes – different students, different research needs, different teachers, surprising events, etc..  They’re the type of things you know are coming and yet can do very little to prepare.  For me, there’s no dread involved, just a sense of fatalistic anticipation.

Sometimes, though, there are even bigger changes afoot.  It may be a new job.  Or new library coworkers/colleagues. Maybe you’ve got a new facility.

The other day I was having lunch with Katie Archambault at Emma Willard and she mentioned another change, one we don’t really talk about at conferences or help prepare people for: going from being a part of a library team to being a solo librarian.  She’s right, we don’t often talk about that change.  Nor do we talk about the change from being a solo librarian to being part of a team.  Or being a part of a team to being the Team Leader.  There’s lots out there on how to survive your first year at a school, but often that presupposes that you’re just new to that school, not filling a new role as well.

Porter’s is planning on hosting the 2014 New England Association of Independent School Librarians conference and this seems like a good conversation for us to have: what massive changes have you experienced?  how have you survived?  what advice do you have for others in your position?  etc..  Go ahead.  Let me know in the comments!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Fitting in

Posted by lpearle on 25 August 2014

One year ago this week I’d completed my first inventory of the collection and attended two days of New Faculty Orientation. Next stop, Opening Faculty Meetings.  I remember staring around, looking at my new colleagues and wondering who was who and how I’d fit in.  My boss introduced me, mentioning my 140-mile round-trip commute and a gasp went up from the others.  I’ve never been gasped at before.  It’s a little unsettling.

This year I (well, the library) hosted the New Faculty Orientation, and I did a little presentation on our Resource Guides.  Almost all the summer books have been processed, the magazines are all checked in, the new furniture is on its way… Monday my partner in crime and I will drive 43 boxes of books to ThriftBooks and run some other errands while planning our upcoming year. And Tuesday all those new faculty will be introduced to the rest of us – my guess is that there will be no gasps involved!

During the NFO I had the opportunity to say hello to several colleagues and catch up a little.  Two of them said the same thing, that it felt (to them) as though I’d been at Porter’s far longer, that this couldn’t be only my second year.  It reminded me of my start at Hackley nine years ago, and how similar things were said about me there.  One colleague told me that there were some faculty who wouldn’t be too friendly, on the theory that it was a waste of time to get to know the newbies before their third year (at least) because of turnover.  Those unfriendly faculty? Some of my closest friends by the end of my first year.

Don’t ask me what I did, or didn’t do, to fit in.  There are checklists and suggestions all over the web about what to do your first week/month/year at a new job (go search ‘em out yourself) but there’s nothing out there on how to fit in, how to make your new coworkers feel comfortable enough to call you colleague, or friend. At this time of year I wonder about the incoming “class” and hope their integration into the school makes them, and others, feel like they’ve been a part of the community for far longer.

Here’s to Academic 2015!

Posted in Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

The upside (maybe) and other collection thoughts

Posted by lpearle on 21 August 2014

In my last post, I mentioned that I hate shelving.  The upside, besides nice, neat shelves with books that are findable is that it’s a great way to look at your collection, particularly if there’s a research project ongoing (inventory is another great tool, and if you’re not doing an annual inventory, shame on you!).  The collections at three of the four schools I’ve worked at have been… neglected.  There are many wonderful books on the shelves, or they would be wonderful if we were still in the 1980s (or an earlier decade).

At my last school, there were a number of books published in the late teens-early 20s of the last century.  Now, that part of the  collection should be an automatic “weed” right?  Not so fast there! The 11th grade history class was entitled “The Twentieth Century World” and the initial focus is on the Treaty of Versailles, which essentially sets up the entire political world we now inhabit, and those books? They were written by people who were at the talks, crafting the treaty.  So while in the 90s or 80s those may have seemed outdated, by the early 00s, they were primary source materials.

Weeding, it’s tricky!

I saw this tweet a while ago,

and immediately thought, “oh my! wouldn’t that be nice…” The reality is that in a school, you can’t be quite that draconian.  You can do what we’re doing, which is replacing old versions of books like poetry – books we need, but are just so old the students don’t want to use them – and really evaluating the history and social sciences selections.  We did a massive weed of the literary criticism (no longer used) and the science collection already, which dropped about 6,000 volumes from our shelves.  My guess? We’ll probably weed another 3-4,000 this year.  And we’re using Thrift Books to help ease the guilt of getting rid of some of these books.

Without doing shelving, I wouldn’t really be looking at the books that we have, comparing what’s being used for research and what’s still sitting there – too old, too decrepit or just too out-of-date.  So there is an upside… maybe.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries | 2 Comments »

A love/hate relationship

Posted by lpearle on 18 August 2014

Over the past 30 years I’ve had several “careers” (in the theatre, in finance, as an office manager or a project manager, and finally as an executive recruiter before starting the librarian gig) and worked in many different environments, from small 2-person offices to multi-branch companies.  Every job I’ve had has been filled with things I’ve loved – beyond the paycheck and other benefits – and things I’ve hated.  I’ve never had a job that’s been pure love, and sadly, I don’t expect to ever have one.

It’s one of the things I think we need to teach our students: that yes, absolutely, follow your passion.  Do what makes you go to bed at night feeling fulfilled and at peace.  But – and this is important – no job is going to be 100% of that.  There will always be “lesser” days, and lesser tasks.

What I do now, for example, is a pretty good 80-20 mix.  Sadly, the past few days have been more of that 20 because I hate filing.  I hate shelving.  I hate processing books.  I hate them hate them hate them.  There.  I said it. But they’re all so very necessary if we’re to be ready for the opening of school (and by that I’m including tomorrow’s New Faculty Orientation meetings, taking place right in my library!).  Even when I’ve had an assistant, shelving and filing have been things I’ve had to do.  Oh: keeping track of statistics, like the number of questions we get asked daily or how used the databases are.  Not as bad as filing, and miles better than shelving, but not a favorite.  Yet, like a good doobie I’ve spent time this summer updating our spreadsheets in preparation for the new year.  The stuff I love – working with students and colleagues, doing Reader’s Advisory, collaborating on projects and research – has been paused as everyone scatters for the summer.

Our academic dean is a big proponent of “flow” and working with faculty help them achieve it in their practice.  In theory, that’s great.  But in reality? I’m sure that grading papers/tests is an “unflow” moment for most of my colleagues.  Necessary, but not why they got into teaching.  Dealing with parents is probably another “unflow” moment.  I could go on, but you get the point.  And then there’s the question of the outside world interfering with the work world, for whatever reasons.  That can turn any day that should be filled with “flow” into a day you’d rather not have.

A personal goal for me for this year is to create more concentrated time for the “unflow” work, getting it done promptly rather than putting it off and getting angsty about it.  Maybe, if I’m lucky, I can get that 80-20 to 85-15.  What about you?

Posted in Musings, Work Stuff | 1 Comment »

Why do this?

Posted by lpearle on 14 August 2014

Sadly, I succumbed to the Lure of Summer Vacation (June? well, I’ve had a stressful year so I deserve some time off… July? 31 days to get things done in, right?… OMG it’s AUGUST!!  how can I possibly get everything done??).  So as I’ve scrambled to Get Things Done I’ve also had time to think about why I do things both professionally and personally, and why I blog about some of it and review books publicly and submit items to school bulletins (my alma mater, my previous places of work, whatever) and post on Facebook or Twitter.  In other words, why have a public life?  Why not just do things for the sake of doing them?

Because, honestly, what does it matter? This blog doesn’t have huge readership or generate many comments or links.  I’m not going to be an L&J Mover or Shaker, and the time is long past for me to Emerge as a Leader. As I’ve pondered this, I’ve been remembering a guy I knew years ago, a coworker:

I spent a few months working for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, mostly working on the close-out of the restoration of Ellis Island.  Because it was a joint venture between the Foundation and the National Park Service, there was a ton of paperwork and part of the close-out was to ensure that the paperwork got filed and archived in the right places (including at the architects/contractors).  So I got to know the mailroom guy rather well.  He was interesting… and I mean that euphemistically.  For one thing, he was a huge sports fan.  And by fan, I mean FAN.  On the walls of the mailroom he would post the ticket stubs (with final score) for all the games (or matches) he’d attended during the season, removing them when the next year rolled around.  His sports? Baseball… hockey… NCAA basketball… NBA basketball… there may have been one or two more, but I don’t remember exactly.  He’d drive to the games, and if they were far enough away – say, Baltimore or Chicago – he’d sleep in his car either before or after the game (sometimes both) and then drive home.

One day he told me about his ex-fiance.  I forget how they’d met, but after a while they took a vacation in Florida.  The day they’d arrived was a semifinal (I think) for that year’s NCAA basketball tournament and he wanted to stay in the hotel room and listen to the game (this was pre-March Madness and hundreds of channels on tv; when he told me this story, it was pre-my having cable in NYC!) and – he didn’t understand it, even at this remove – she didn’t and was a little (ok, a lot) cranky about his wanting to do so.  They broke up and years later his college basketball team defeated her college basketball team in the NCAA finals.  He was convinced that she hadn’t contacted him because she was embarrassed by the loss.  It came as a shock to him when I mentioned that it was far more likely that she wasn’t even aware of this crushing blow, given that she didn’t pay attention to the tournament when they were together and probably still didn’t

So, why the digression?

This story is a reminder to me that what’s important to me is probably completely off someone else’s radar.  I can’t blog… or create a wonderful program… or win a trivia quiz… because I want someone else to notice.  Malcolm Gladwell talks about destroying a great friendship, a college friend whose approval he wanted – one wonders if even now he doesn’t hope that what he’s done since then hasn’t impressed his former friend.  A YA author I know was so impressed/in awe of a high school classmate (with whom she, and the school, had lost all contact) that she wrote a book with a character based on, and similarly named, this friend in hopes she’d reach out. We all have those people (a former friend or classmate, a distant family member, a former teacher) who we want to impress, whose approval we desire because – for what ever reason – they didn’t think highly of us or notice us before. Or, even worse, someone who denigrated or bullied or shamed you because, well, who cares why “because” decades later.  It still rankles, right?  However,  the reality is, they’re probably not paying attention, they’re getting on with their life.  The bullies, haters, people we put on a pedestal – they’ve moved beyond middle and high school and are getting on with their lives, not checking Google (or the alumni bulletin/local paper) for our doings.

It’s a difficult lesson to learn, that we need to do things for us and us only not for those icons whose notice we crave.  This isn’t a speech I can easily give to my students, but it’s important for them to learn this now, as they’re starting out, rather than suffer a life of unfulfillment because that person doesn’t call, writer, text (or whatever form of communication we have in the future) to say, “You’re amazing!”  We have to believe it ourselves, and do things because of us, not them.

It’s taken me years, but I’m there.  And so when I blog, or update, it’s without regard for others approval, it’s a record for me – so I can see that I’m progressing and improving my practice.  And if others care, well, that’s nice, too.

Posted in Life Related, Musings | 2 Comments »

 
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