Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

Would you rather…

Posted by lpearle on 16 July 2014

At sit down dinner, the teacher who sits at “my” table on Thursday uses this game to keep conversation flowing.  I’ve never done that, but I have been thinking about this question for a few years now:

Would you rather be liked, or respected (professionally)?

Here’s what triggered the thoughts: a few years ago I was at a gathering of work colleagues and suggested a resource to one of them.  She mentioned that I was doing a great job reaching out to the faculty and recommending resources, doing reader’s advisory, etc. and that while they (the faculty) all liked the previous librarian, she’d never done that.  I flippantly said that I’d rather be professionally respected than liked.

Over the years, that comment has stayed with me and I’ve pondered if, in fact, I’d rather.  In my many work experiences, I’ve worked for and with people I’ve liked and respected, but it’s been few and far between that I’ve done both.  That’s particularly true for administrators, in part because it’s difficult to be in that employee/administrator dynamic and actually develop enough of a relationship to like them on a personal level; having said that, there are a number of administrators I’ve worked with that I’ve liked professionally.  There are a few that I’ve become friends with, but the respect isn’t always twinned.  At this stage in my career, I’d guess that I do command a certain amount of respect, and there are a few that like me (really like me, not just professionally like me).  Do they do both?  Hard to say.  I’d rather have both, but if I can’t have that I’m still unsure which I’d rather…

I’ve also thought about which I’d rather with respect to students.  A number of my professional friends (and I) have followed librarians who have been institutions: they’ve been at their school for decades, sometimes working with literal generations of students (my high school librarian retired after 30+ years and had both my classmates and my classmates’ daughters under her care).  Are they truly beloved, a la Mr. Chips or William Hundert, or are they simply part of the institutional fabric?  And how do you follow that person successfully, particularly if you don’t know the answer? What relationship would you rather have with the students: one of respect, or one of friendship?  Can you have both?

At the end of my first year at Porter’s, this is what I’m reflecting on personally.  Professional reflections to follow….

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »

Celebrations done right

Posted by lpearle on 19 May 2014

Last weekend I had the incredible pleasure of attending the Bicentennial Celebration at Emma Willard School.  It wasn’t just the thrill of sitting in the classroom my favorite teacher used as his “home” (and where I took economics from another favored teacher), listening to a new generation of faculty and students talk about their classes, or that for the first time in over 30 years I got to see friends from the classes surrounding mine (that pesky 5-year reunion cycle).  Or the amazing  dance party – with fireworks – thrown Saturday night.

What’s difficult to do well is balance that mix of paying homage to the founder’s vision (that girls deserve the same education as boys, enabling them to transform the world), honoring the generations of alumnae (who have different memories and attitudes toward the curriculum and changes to the physical plant, traditions, etc.) and inspiring the current students.  Unsurprisingly, this weekend blended it all so well, with today’s students playing an integral part in all events, not just performing for the returning alumnae. There are things I mourned the loss of, but recognize that staying static simply to please the alumnae would do the school’s present needs a great disservice.  It says a lot about the administration and the Board that they’re able to see past the history into the future.

At the end of this month, Professional Children’s School will celebrate its centennial.  The two schools couldn’t be more different, yet I’ve been to enough PCS events to know how well they’ll blend the past and present, too.  There will be nostalgia for the past, but honoring the  students there now and the accomplishments of the alumni will predominate.

Too many schools look back at the past at these times without acknowledging the needs of the present school and students.  Winning sports teams and teachers whose careers spanned decades are recalled, without a look outside the school walls.  Alumni who have made outsized contributions to the outside world in some way are highlighted, while the more minor contributions are glossed over.  Generations aren’t blended together, with graduates from the 50s clumping together and not really interacting with graduates from the 90s or 70s.  At both EWS and PCS, that doesn’t happen.  And (IMVHO) that’s not just a credit to the schools, it’s to their benefit.

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

Not as smart as I look…

Posted by lpearle on 29 January 2014

For a variety of reasons, people seem to think I’m smarter than the average bear.  Maybe it’s because I come from an academic family, or because I skipped first grade (betcha didn’t know people did that!), or because I went to a private school and then a liberal arts college.  Or because I know a lot of esoteric minutiae and can pop out facts at bizarre moments – and sometimes when necessary, like playing as part of a trivia team.  And I do wear glasses…

Then I look at blog posts or speak with friends about professional things and realize that I’m not as thoughtful a person as they are, or as capable of expressing my thoughts in the coherent manner they do.  My love of books and ability to discuss them with students doesn’t translate into the analytical, considered words they can use with ease.  Whatever the reason, the inner stuff doesn’t come out as articulately from me as it does from others.

And then there’s the reading.  I think I read a lot, but at the recent RUSA Awards event it became clear that, well, clearly I’d been reading totally different stuff. Not that it really should matter, of course, but somehow, sometimes it does.

So am I smart, dumb or somewhere in between? More important, does it matter?

Posted in Musings | 1 Comment »

I’m looking through you… or maybe not

Posted by lpearle on 20 January 2014

“Transparency” is one of those terms that’s tossed around a whole lot these days, particularly when it comes to governance.  There’s a lot to be said for it, and most of all when a governing body makes some sort of change.  As Karen says in her brilliant take on ALA’s new Code of Conduct, some quiet calls and conversations could have gone a long way towards buy-in, even if the process didn’t seem to be transparent.  So perhaps we should add “common courtesy and sense” to “transparency” as ideals?

What follows may – or may not – apply to a few situations that have bubbled up in my worlds recently.  What I mean is, some of the things below happened longer ago than one might think but could also be taken for current events.  In every case, transparency and what Quakers call plain dealing were sorely missing.

  • In a hiring situation, opinions are solicited from a variety of members of the community – yet it’s clear that the final decision takes none of those opinions into account.
  • Management asked the office manager how to deal with an employee who clearly had addiction issues and then ignored that advice, continuing to give advances on salary and time off; the office manager was reprimanded for “attitude” when making the recommendation to stop both.
  • Someone working for a number of years on a professional publication was told – via e-mail – that their “contract” was not being renewed, while another person was given the courtesy of a conversation (they weren’t working on the same publication but knew each other).
  • Changes in organizational direction and focus are opened for “discussion” but that discussion will not lead to anything other than what the management wants the organization to do, damn the constituencies – full speed ahead!

Does any of that sound familiar?  Believe it or not, some those happened over twenty years ago.  Yet, as Wendy’s blog post points out, nothing’s changed except the names and places.  And I’m seeing it in more than just her example. Primarily, it seems to me, we have a failure to communicate.   Management needs to communicate what the agenda really is (“give me permission to keep this employee on” or “I only want to hear love for this new initiative”) rather than allowing people to give advice that is, ultimately, not going to be taken.

Another communication failure?  When, for some reason, management feels that the organization needs to shift focus or direction and the rest of us don’t.  I’ve been on both sides of that and it’s never easy.  Some times it’s because plans change – suddenly.  Trust me, nothing makes you shift direction and focus faster than having your place of work burn down.   The methodology around rebuilding the program and collection might have made for an interesting conversation but sometimes it’s just easier to say “here’s what we’re doing and how”.   What I’m seeing in a few areas is change not born of crisis but of disconnect, disconnect between management and the people on the ground, working hard at making the organization’s work happen.  What the people want is ignored, or discarded, by those in charge.  Why?  Because.  Because they can, because they have another agenda, and just because they don’t have to care about what the others want.

Just look at politicians who promise something and fail to deliver.  Of course there’s a reason (usually either they had no real power to have made that promise, or they weren’t fully informed about the situation and implications).  But is it ever explained by that person?  Did President Bush ever say, “yeah, about that No New Taxes pledge… well, here’s why there actually are going to be some”?  No.

It’s demoralizing.  It’s annoying.  Even worse, it’s treating the people without whom the organization won’t function at all as children.

As one of the many, not one of the elite, it’s difficult to know what to do to ameliorate things.  I know people who are planning to voice their opinion(s) Loudly.  Some already have, and yet… nothing changes.  Is the solution to start a new organization (that’s happened before)?  Can one work from within so that we, the people, have more say and the them, the management, is more transparent about why and how?

Thoughts to ponder as I (and you) prepare for ALA Midwinter, and the many conversations about transparency (or lack thereof) within that organization.

Posted in Ethics, Musings, Professional organizations | Leave a Comment »

The missing piece

Posted by lpearle on 8 January 2014

Just after my school went on Winter Break I headed off to my former school (easier to see everyone in one place!).  They, like several schools I know, are struggling with the question of going 1:1 with some device, as well as the question of if they do, what device should it be?  Since my school is nearly 1:1 (they did a slow phase-in, and by next year it’ll be 1:1 with iPads for all grades) some of my former colleagues asked my opinion and for my reaction to what I’m seeing now.  Some of my answer was informed by serving on the Professional Development Committee and hearing departmental responses…

Here’s the thing: yes, using the iPad can be helpful.  There are drawbacks, like thinking about privacy issues (do the apps track student use? what information is being collected and share without our knowledge?) and whether you’re being forced to change a text that works really well but isn’t available digitally  for one that might not work as well but is available digitally, and how to distribute apps/resources to a large number of people.  There are pluses, like lightening the load for students in terms of textbooks.  Cost is another issue, especially if you’re asking parents to pay for an iPad when they’ve just bought a new laptop for their child, let alone replacement/upgrade costs.  Etc.

I don’t need to cover all that here, because others have done it better earlier.  For me, the biggest challenge, the biggest “missing” has been teacher training.  It’s more than merely rethinking classroom management, keeping students engaged in class despite having a machine linking them to the world “outside”.  It’s completely redoing your pedagogy and revamping lesson plans: how does this homework assignment look if we’re using digital resources in class?  should the class “flip” and if so, how?  what multimedia resources should be integrated to best make use of the new tool?  It’s also about training teachers to help students use the new tool: if it’s an iPad, how are they taking notes (using a keyboard? with NotesPlus or Penultimate or ??)? how are they organizing their digital notebooks? how do they access your downloadables and do they really need to print them out? And finally, who is making the decisions, the tech people (deciding what they think will work best) or the teachers (which may mean more work for tech support, but would lead to better teacher experience).

The departments at school all have different approaches, with only one truly embracing the possibilities the iPad presents.  Another department is using it, but the teachers are struggling with all of the above.  Still another seems to be refusing to really use it, staying with “tried and true” for now.  Training would help – having the teacher who really rocks a specific app or process work with those who can see some way to use it but don’t know how to get started.  More than a mere introduction at the start of the year would help (Genius Hours for teachers, anyone?), and when a major application changes (as NotesPlus did just as school started) then PDO time is not just nice, it’s a necessity.

All too often I’ve seen this rollout done poorly: tech department, plus the administration, decides what device and which applications without teacher input.  Teachers don’t get the training or time to effectively integrate the new tools into their curriculum, just a mandate that This Is The Way Things Will Be and are hesitant (or resentful).  Students sense that the teachers haven’t fully embraced the tools and don’t try, either.  Result? Failure.

I’m hoping that we can change and improve what’s going on at my school, and that my experience can help others heading down that road.  Stay tuned as we move forward, finding the missing.  And, as always, if you have thoughts and suggestions, the comments are open!

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, Privacy, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

Turning off, or the dark side of social media

Posted by lpearle on 23 November 2013

One of the questions Angela Carstensen asked her author’s panel at AASL was about their use (or lack thereof) of social media in their books.  The responses were very thought-provoking and left me with much to ponder as my school shuts down for Thanksgiving Break.

The first response that made me really think was Kimberly McCreight’s (she’s the author of Reconstructing Amelia, which heavily uses social media as Amelia’s mom searches for the reasons behind her fall from the roof of her school).  At the risk of spoiling, I’ll just say that there is some bullying involved in the plot, as well as a tell-all blog.  Ms. McCreight’s response was that bullying has been intensified by social media – in decades past, home may have been a safe space for the bullied but now text messages can arrive at any time, spoiling sleep.

“Just turn if off” may be great advice, but is it realistic? The bullied know that the messages are still coming in and will be there when they wake up and turn it on.  What before used to be perhaps graffiti in the bathroom or painted onto a locker is now posted not just locally but globally.  There is no safe space, thanks to social media.

It also got me thinking about the not-quite-bullying, almost the opposite of the negative attention: no attention.  The socially insecure whose “friend requests” are ignored, the public posting of photos of parties and events that they’re not invited to, the comments on others posts and photos that are met with deafening silence or are deleted.  Yes, it’s easier to find like-minded people further from home but don’t we all really want to be known and accepted in school?  And I also thought about two kids I know, one a junior in high school the other in 8th grade (they’re siblings).  For a variety of reasons, their parents have severely limited their at-home interaction with “screens” to one hour a day (not including educational use).  The two have to make decisions about whether they want to go on Facebook or watch a tv show or play Xbox or post to Pinterest.  I’ve never asked them how they feel about this, or how it may be affecting their interactions with their peers.

One of the things I’m thankful for is that when I was growing up, during that socially awkward, personally awkward stage, broadcasting those moments and that torment was limited to prank “I’ve got a crush on you” phone calls (and laughter in the hallways the next day) and mean girl graffiti.  The parties you didn’t get invited to?  Only your classmates really knew, not their friends across the globe.  As an adult I have the strength and mental equipment to deal with anything like that that might happen, but back then?  Not even close.

As someone who works with girls going through that stage in their lives, it’s something I need to be more aware of and watchful for because it can feel so much worse now, given the reach (and permanence) of social media.

Posted in Conferences, Musings, Techno Geekiness | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

What I didn’t see at #AASL13

Posted by lpearle on 20 November 2013

This is not a “why didn’t the organizers do this??” post, it’s more of a wish list of things that thus far no one’s working on, or if they are they’re not in the school library world.

  1. I’m still not sure what the difference is between federated search and “discovery”, but why can’t all databases not only integrate but use natural language?  Information shouldn’t be that difficult for my students to find.  Plus, controlled language?  Show me a student K-12 who really cares about metadata and controlled language in databases and books and I’ll show you a very strange student.
  2. Something like that time turner device Hermione had in Harry Potter.  Seriously.  There’s no way we can keep up with the pace of technological and policy change and have anything resembling a life without one.
  3. It was great that YALSA was there, but where were ACRL, RUSA and ALSC?  There’s so much that we should be doing cross-divisions!  Having representatives showing why and how to navigate another division would be a great welcoming opportunity.
  4. Vendors who support their “booth babes” in professional development.  I think it was at either Portland or Indianapolis that I met a vendor rep in a pre-conference; they’d been registered for the conference as an attendee so that they could see what was really important and really happening, rather than living in the vendor bubble.
  5. Self-care.  At some conferences there are back massage booths – why not booths or a conference room filled with “self-care” vendors?  Learning relaxation techniques, getting stress-management tips and maybe getting one of those cards that show you how to exercize (discretely) at your desk or the proper technique for shelving/getting a cardio jolt while unjamming the copier (like the cards you see in some airline seatback pockets showing how to exercize inflight).

Perhaps next conference?

Posted in Conferences, Musings | Leave a Comment »

First thoughts, #AASL13

Posted by lpearle on 15 November 2013

Initial impressions of AASL13?  Smaller than usual in some ways (fewer than 2500 attendees, about 1/3 the size of my first AASL back in Portland) but larger in others (I’ve never seen so many people at an ISS gathering!  Good for us!).  The exhibits were sparser than the last couple of conferences, too, perhaps because of the lower attendee rate and the fact that NCTE is next week, while YALSA’s Lit Symposium was just a couple of weeks ago.

This is my 9th AASL and as much as I may pretend, it’s not all about the swag.  It’s about the opportunities to learn and grow with people in similar situations as well as learn from people in schools very different from mine.  Looking over the conference offerings and seeing new names with new ideas presenting is always such a thrill – not that the old names are bad, but isn’t it wonderful that others are sharing as well?  I know that many of my friends feel the same way as they examine the offerings, sussing out what is a Must Attend session and planning a few Fun to Attends.

So why so many fewer people?  Here’s my guess: it’s not just about the economy, or lower budgets.  It’s about a glut of PDOs (aka Professional Development Opportunities).  When I was a sweet young thing just starting out, the options were ALA and AASL, with the former very large and confusing for newbies.  Then along came the SLJ Leadership Summit, YALSA’s Lit Symposium, AASL’s Fall Forum, Computers in Libraries, ISTE and BEA.  I can reach my PLN and learn via Twitter and Facebok and Nings and Pinterest and… and… and… If I need more formal learning, there are webinars and MOOCs.  Choosing where and how to spend my time and treasure is more difficult than before due to the sheer number of choices.  That’s not a bad thing, but it does mean that we constantly feel as though we’re scrambling to keep up simply because we hear so much more frequently about the things that others are doing.

No real conclusions here, just some Friday morning musings.

Posted in Conferences, Musings | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Caveat vendor

Posted by lpearle on 11 November 2013

This time next week I’ll have been through AASL13, spending time with friends and colleagues and, of course, vendors.  As my first year unfolds and research projects starts, I’m gathering ideas about what resources we need and in what format – the trick now is to match those needs with vendors and our budget.  Other concerns are technology issues, not just in terms of whether our infrastructure can support the resource (is there room on the shelves? are there too many clicks between “need” and “resource” for students to stick with it? etc.) but also training.

Over the summer the state-run consortium changed from one vendor’s products to another vendor’s products.  Not having been asked my opinion about the products, I won’t comment on the change in terms of better or worse, but when you work in a school with teachers who have many demands on their time (in a boarding school you have weekend and evening duties, it’s more than a mere 7:30-3:30 on site job), finding the time to train and properly explain the benefits of their new resources can be a challenge.  Heck, at former schools a simple interface change for resources that teachers had used for a while could be problematic!  So that’s one more hurdle: training teachers as well as students.  For that reason alone, a transition period would have been nice.

One of the biggest problems is that when you go to conferences or vendor events, you get the sales person.  In all my years of conference going, only one vendor provided librarians for us to speak with – actual users of the product, not just the training people or the sales people.  What a difference!  When I asked questions based on how I do things, or how my teachers/students do things, or how my IT/administration want things, they were answered intelligently rather than in sales-speak.  Sales people are very good at either feigning no knowledge of the competition or at knowing everything and this is why their product is better while talking around what’s just been asked; having a user there who does know the competition and why this product is better or how it honestly compares to others is such a blessing.  My guess as to why vendors don’t embrace this?  They’re afraid of what a non-scripted librarian will say.

A while ago I was asked, by a vendor, to help the national sales staff better reach the school librarians in their regions.  One piece of advice I gave was to personalize their spiel. Granted, at a large conference/event that’s difficult to do but when you’re speaking to me at my school, or in a small group of similar schools, personalization counts.  I’m at a small boarding suburban school – don’t give me the same information you’re going to give someone in a large urban day school.  Take a look at my website and see what resources I have, or perhaps what projects are going on.  Tell me how your product compares to what I have and give me concrete examples (“when you search [product] for [topic], here’s what you get – but using our product, here’s what you’ll get”).  Don’t just dismiss the products I already have because it’s not your product, because I (or someone) has evaluated it and thinks this is what we need.  Show me why or how your product is the better one.

Vendors also need to remember that we librarians are a clubby bunch and talk to each other.  A few years ago a vendor was congratulating themselves on the work they’d done at another school, going so far as to suggest I contact them to hear additional praise.  Would you be surprised to hear that they’d gotten the wrong end of the stick?  I was surprised to hear not just that the other school had some quibbles, but that they actively warned me against using this vendor, that the work done had been seriously flawed.  Another vendor, much more recently, touted a new product and said that a school I knew well had embraced it; the librarian there (a friend of mine) said that there were problems and they might not continue to use it.  I’m sure this vendor’s tech support people have heard about the issues, but clearly the sales people haven’t been informed!

As I wander the vendor exhibits, looking for products on a select list, one of the things I’m also looking for is honest information about the produce and how it compares to the competition.  I’m also looking for real answers from real users, or the ability to contact someone about the product to get those answers.  Vendors that provide those things get my respect (and possibly my custom)… Any takers?

Posted in Musings, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

How can I help?

Posted by lpearle on 6 November 2013

School librarians talk a lot about scaffolding skills, ensuring that students have support as they learn and grow as researchers.  Many colleges and universities are creating specific first year programs so that all students have the opportunity to have a successful research experience at that educational level.

So the question arises: how can I help?  and what help is too much, too little or just the right amount?

My work on the LIRT Transitions to College Committee and what I’ve read on the ILL-I and other K-20 e-lists has shown that there is something of a disconnect between academic and school librarians not only in terminology (OPAC or catalog? in-text or parenthetical citations? etc.) but also in what skills students learn.  We’re all agreed that we shouldn’t stress the name of the database provider (Academic Search, not EBSCO, for example). We need to find more ways to crosstalk and crosswalk skills, terminology and methodology though.

Several years ago the history department at my school convinced everyone to go with Noodletools rather than having the librarians teach the minutiae of bibliography creation, using the argument that the goal should be more about the research and analysis and less about the actual process.  I tend to agree with that.  I firmly believe that we librarians should be embedded in the course, providing the skills/process piece so that the subject specialists can do their thing.  Working in a partnership with teaching faculty gives the students a better experience and leaves them well-prepared for college.  Using Noodletools or EasyBib is a great feeder into something like RefWorks or Zotero, tools our students will be using at their next institution.

The other day I learned that a liberal arts college, a very respected name, does not use a citation maker, instead preferring to teach students the painstaking process of how to create a bibliography and cite sources properly.  That raised not just an eyebrow but also a red flag: were we being too helpful?  was this what other schools were doing?  or was this one college an outlier?  And if using a citation maker is “too much”, what else should we be rethinking?

My next project?  Look at the top 10-ish schools for my students (“top” meaning “those colleges/universities at which the greatest number of our students matriculate”).  Research their first year experience in terms of library work: what projects do they get? what tools do they use? how does the librarian interact with the students and professors?  And then, having gathered all that data, try to answer the question “how can I help?”

What’s your answer to that question?

Posted in Musings, School Libraries | 2 Comments »

 
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