Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

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 | Leave a 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 | Leave a Comment »

Dream Teams

Posted by lpearle on 7 August 2014

The other day I was having lunch with a librarian friend when she mentioned the name of her new Lower School Librarian (my friend is the Director of Libraries for a K-12 school) and how she now has a dream team.  Knowing the people she’s working with, I have to agree.  Another school I know also has amazing librarians in all three divisions, and consistently “grooms” interns who then go out and Do Great Things in other libraries.

Having worked in four libraries now, three as part of a team, I know how difficult it is to craft and sustain a Dream Team.  Sometimes you get one member who, for whatever reason, doesn’t buy in to the vision you (and, with luck, the school) have for the library.  Sometimes everyone is on board with the vision, but there are external issues, like transfers or parental leaves, or something similar, that break up the team.  And for some, as Wendy says, there are external reasons why people won’t apply for  jobs that could lead to a Dream Team situation.

At the moment, I’d say I’m in a Dream Partnership – since there’s only one other librarian, and no assistant, “team” seems an overreach.  What does that look like?  It’s when everyone has a similar vision, but there’s the ability to disagree, to tweak and to continually rethink that vision.  Working as a solo librarian for eight years, I know the danger of not having that other person’s feedback and input!  It’s also an excitement, an eagerness to get things going – a reluctance to just do the job, with minimal effort.  Reading or hearing about what’s going on elsewhere and having the ability to reflect on how that could work (or wouldn’t work) at “home” is critical (I’ve never understood people who go to other schools or conferences and can’t imagine changing anything they’re doing).

It’s also important – critical, really – to have administrative support.  Some schools don’t know what they really need, or want, in a library and if you have the support to make changes that will lead to a better student experience, great.  Some schools prefer to have that traditional library program, not embracing the idea of librarians as teachers and educational partners – if that’s your school, maybe that works for you and that’s great.  But if you’re interested in innovating and changing, you may need to look elsewhere (granted, that’s not always the easy route or the most available, due to economics or family).

In my case, I have both a partner who not only supports but suggests changes and an administration that is willing to let us make those changes.  Could things be better? Sure.  We could have an assistant.  We could already be where we think we should have been a few years ago and plotting moves far beyond that.  We could have an even larger budget (we are very well-funded, but it’s never enough, is it?).  But truly, it is a Dream Partnership and I’m eager to get started on Academic Year 2015 and see where we end up in June!

Posted in Musings, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

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 »

 
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