Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Destination fatigue

Posted by lpearle on 27 November 2009

Teacher-Librarian Ning (one of the many nings I’m “supposed” to follow) is getting a makeover. I am… underwhelmed.

What I am overwhelmed with is destination fatigue. I “must” follow this blog… that twitterer… read this column/magazine/journal… participate in these forums/nings/discussions…

@erniec said “still figuring out how to make a portal to all my digital spaces – nings, twitter, FB, blogs – all of it in one place. What do I need?”

For me, it’s not just about the portal (Netvibes would probably serve Ernie’s needs, ditto PageFlakes), it’s about how many I can follow, how many I (or anyone) can effectively follow. Even more important: how many can I effectively participate in? How many of us are in that same position?

It’s not about being bad for the profession, it’s about trying to constructively use my time and efforts. It’s about not wanting to start a conversation somewhere, realize that half the participants are somewhere else, and then have several threads going on in different places at the same time. Hardly efficient, is it?

The more we add, the less time we have for ourselves and for reflection and assessment. Is it more important to follow a new “guru” and add to my PLN, or is it more important to spend time with The Boys and recharge? Is this blog going to add to my practice, and if it is, what can I delete from my RSS feed? These are choices we all need to make, and I suspect the reason why more don’t participate.

My challenge to Ernie (and all the other urging me to join/follow/participate) is: what do I give up? Tell me that first, and why yours is better than what I have. Then we’ll talk.

Posted in Rants, School Libraries | 3 Comments »

Things I hate about conference (pre-2009 conference season edition)

Posted by lpearle on 10 September 2009

Ernie asked what great conference sessions we’ve recently been to - what worked for us. I responded that what doesn’t work – really doesn’t work – is the session that is supposedly geared to the masses, to librarians of all levels. Very few really can claim that (disaster preparation and Best New ??? are the only two that really spring to mind). Most try, but they end up catering to the lowest common attendee, the one that’s never heard of even basic tools and has no idea what to do with them.

There should be a basic assumption of competence. If a tool is older than one year, presenters should aim to show what’s a new, best practice use of the tool (and refuse to answer “how do you use it”-type questions). If a topic has been covered on any blog or professional article with in the past year, ditto. It’s our obligation as professionals to stay on top of current trends and tools; there are so many ways to build your PLN that to not have one is deriliction of duty.

When professional peers say “I don’t have time to keep up”, I wonder what they’d say to their doctor, dentist, lawyer, car mechanic or other professional that tried that. This isn’t to advocate for any one way – read journals, blogs, twitter posts, join local associations, whatever. Just keep up. Split the duty between you and a friend, you and a colleague. Just keep up.

The other thing that bothers me is the use of jargon. I read many proposals for the upcoming AASL conference – too many were couched in standards-speak and incomprehensible to the uninitiated. If I were running the proposal process, I’d insist on the following:

  • state your purpose in clear English that a non-librarian could easily understand (don’t you want your school colleagues to know what you’re doing at the conference?)
  • be realistic about your audience – are you trying to dance along the cutting edge or are you helping sweep the late adopters along?
  • any presenters that use the phrases “2.0” or “21st century skills” automatically get tossed (these are meaningless phrases – especially the latter when you think about 19th century skills)

Let’s see how the programs we’ll see at the SLJ Summit, AASL09, ALA, NECC and all the others stack up.

Posted in Conferences, Rants | Leave a Comment »

Things I hate about conferences

Posted by lpearle on 29 June 2009

For years, I’ve been hearing about the annual NECC conference: all the cool people went… it is the conference to go to for computers/education… you’re going to learn soooo much at NECC… etc. Unfortunately, the timing often competes with ALA’s Annual Conference, and many of us are forced to choose between the two (not to mention forced to try to convince our schools/districts/wallets that we can afford to go to two conferences in two cities so close together time-wise). This year, ALA is later than usual, and NECC is close enough to NYC that I decided to bite the bullet and attend. Expectation levels are, of course, very high… higher than it was for ISE2006.

Yesterday was the opening event, the Member Welcome/Conference Orientation. I’d found Kristin Fontichario as I was heading in to register, and we decided to check the event out together. Luckily, we think a lot alike, so the following reflects one’s comments/thoughts as amplified by the other:

  • The set-up for the room was auditorium-style, with a Big Screen up front. On the screen was an Oscar-style card and Oscar-style music was blaring from the speakers. K and I wondered if ISTE had paid for the rights to all that… and wondered again when a StarWars theme appeared (the music, the opening crawl, the MC dressed as Darth Vader). We weren’t just being cranks, it was honest concern about copyright and fair use and the conviction that we, as leaders in our schools, should be doing the right thing, not the convenient thing. (sorry, Doug, but that’s just how I feel).
  • Unfortunately, the space was not large enough for the crowd, and the Twitter feed had a number of comments from people that were turned away at the door. This has happened at a number of different conferences and I just don’t get it. An opening event, a popular speaker, an information session for newbies (not to mention ticketed events with pre-sold tickets): how do you not plan for overflow crowds??? Organizers, listen up – you’re creating bad will from the get-go when you do that stuff.
  • One of the goals of this event was to introduce ISTE’s leadership. Great! Would it have been too much to ask that these leaders spent a little time looking at their speeches, so as to not appear to be haltlingly reading from their scripts? Or that someone coordinate the scripts so that the same information wasn’t repeated over and over redundantly? It’s a quick, easy way to lose audience interest.
  • We kept hearing about the great ISTE presence on social networking sites – but nothing that made it easy to find them. How easy it would have been to say “we’re ISTECONNECTS on Twitter”, etc.. And there was an over-heavy, over-promotion of Second Life and the ISTE Ning. Now, I’m not opposed to either of those social sites, but I’m not going to go there, either. Why? Because at some point, you have to say “enough”. I read a lot of blogs and other professional literature. I’m on Twitter and Facebook. I’m involved in my local and national associations, and I’m keeping up with the help of a great PLN. And I just don’t have time, energy or desire to add different Nings to that mix (I can think of four that I’m “supposed” to be active on, including this one). There are only so many hours in a day, and I’ve allocated all I can to this thing I call being a school librarian. If that makes me a bad person, if that means I’m not one of the cool kids, well… I’m totally ok with that.
  • While I understand that many attending a conference may not have the same comfort level that I do with technology, that they may be newbies to the conference, and that they may need a little hand-holding, there are certain limits. One basic expectation should be – must be that attendees can read and follow directions. (And don’t throw ADA at me, ok, I’m talking about the vast majority of attendees and not the few that have legitimate problems). If a group of teachers, administrators, technology personnel and librarians cannot be expected to read what’s on a slide, well, I just give up. Kill me now, ok? Yet time and time again, that’s what happens. At this event, to increase audience participation, they had remote voting devices and at several times the MC would say “pick up your response card and vote for…” and then read the words on the Big Screen Overhead. Maybe it’s me, but if the majority of people in that room couldn’t read, education is just doomed.
  • Finally, and perhaps most important, there was a lot of talk about past-tech and future-tech (eg., a few minutes spent comparing StarTrek’s technology to the stuff we used today, or asking how many remembered Atari). But there was nothing – nothing – about assessing technology, reflecting on its use. Technology is not a goal, it’s a tool. Our role is to help evaluate the tools, deciding which will work best in our particular circumstances (Kristin, for example, works with elementary students and her needs are vastly different from those of my Upper School students). To celebrate technology “just because” is doing us all a great disservice.

Ok, that’s a pretty long rant/tirade. My hopes and dreams are that the sessions I’ve planned to attend are filled with interesting ideas, provocative thinking and inspiration. One opening session does not a conference make, right?

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

Things I Hate About Conferences (part nine, I think)

Posted by lpearle on 24 June 2009

It’s conference season, and for the first time I’m off to NECC and ALA (usually the overlap and the timing is just wrong). Yes, I’m excited to see friends/colleagues and to have the opportunity to learn from experts and share with peers.

But, of course, there are downsides. Here are three recent you’re kidding me moments:

  • From a vendor wanting my business: As you may know, we are offering free access to any academic subscription database throughout the summer months when you order by June 30! The sooner you subscribe, the longer your students, faculty and staff can enjoy unlimited, multi-user access courtesy of [vendor]. You won’t be invoiced for your renewal until August 2010. Great! I’m… undewhelmed. Why? Because my faculty and students won’t be available until September. So this wondeful summer freebie isn’t helpful. At. All.
  • From one of the divisions, trying to grab members’ interest: If you’re in a session, liveblogging provides a great back channel for audience participation. Missed a great line from the speaker? Someone else in the room could be tweeting it right now. Wish you could see the video that just got mentioned in passing? Oh, look–one of the editors just plugged it into the liveblog. Thanks, but no. For me, liveblogging doesn’t work. As I said to @wsstephens, “ok – call me a Luddite – I’d rather read one good, summative post w/analysis than a bunch of in-session tweets!”
  • And from other divisions, there are book awards and summer reading programs to excite students about great new books. The problem? School librarians can’t participate. Why? Because the programs aren’t ready to go in time for most of us to start getting the word out, and they end too close to the start of school for us to really rally the troops. A great opportunity lost, if you ask me. But another example of school librarians being the redheaded stepchild at ALA.

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

What’s in a name?

Posted by lpearle on 8 April 2009

A lot, if you’re a librarian. You see, those of us that work in schools are (per AASL official language) not librarians, we’re school library media specialists. That this comes from the American Association of School Librarians is, to me, a little suspect. We don’t have a Library Media Center of Congress, and I know no academic library media specialists.

Recently, on LM_NET, I read the subject line “media cuts” – I honestly thought that we were talking about the problems the real media (newspapers, television) were having given the increase in on-line media content. No, they were talking about staffing in librarieslibrary media centers.

From Merriam-Webster:
Main Entry: 2media
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural me·di·as
Usage: often attributive
Etymology: plural of medium
Date: 1923

1: a medium of cultivation, conveyance, or expression ; especially : medium 2b2 a singular or plural in construction : mass media
b plural : members of the mass media
usage The singular media and its plural medias seem to have originated in the field of advertising over 70 years ago; they are apparently still so used without stigma in that specialized field. In most other applications media is used as a plural of medium. The great popularity of the word in references to the agencies of mass communication is leading to the formation of a mass noun, construed as a singular [there’s no basis for it. You know, the news media gets on to something — Edwin Meese 3d] [the media is less interested in the party’s policies — James Lewis, Guardian Weekly]. This use is not as well established as the mass-noun use of data and is likely to incur criticism especially in writing.

Outside our division of ALA, no one reads or hears “media” and leaps to “library”. So let’s just rejoin the other divisions, ok? After all, Rutgers isn’t dropping “media” from the name of their school.

Posted in Professional organizations, Rants, School Libraries | 4 Comments »

Back to The Future

Posted by lpearle on 23 March 2009

I’ve been reading a number of blog posts and articles talking about The Future. The Future of libraries. The Future of education. The Future of reading. Many of them start by talking about The Future as a post-literate society

Excuse me? A what?

What does “post-literate” mean? We’re all telepaths? No, apparently it means that we’re so wired, so technologically ept, so multimedia oriented that reading is, well, unnecessary (or something). Sorry, but to me that sounds like an illiterate society. It sounds like the society we read about in The Handmaid’s Tale, or what we’re trying to save those poor third-worlders from. And we this this is a good thing, why???

In Not So Distant Future and At ACRL, One Librarian Looks to the Very, Very, Distant Future (þ: Buffy) there are two different views of this Future.

In the first article, the loss of physical print is mourned – and I agree. In part it’s a health issue: we all know that computer screens refresh every so often, and that it’s done so quickly that we don’t “see” it, but it’s not the same as fixed print. Yet with more and more text going digital, we’re exposing our eyes to this and we have no idea what the long-term effects are going to be. It’s understandable why some magazines and newspapers are going out of print/out of business: the ad revenue is not there. On-line makes business sense. But this great experiment with all things digital may end up badly. Unless you’re an optometrist, in which case you’ll do quite nicely.

It’s not just a health question, it’s a digital divide question. There are those that cannot afford high-speed access at home, and who live in school districts with limited computers and limited access, and where the public libraries are either faced with budget/hour cuts or are so crowded that it’s impossible to get to their computers. How do these people stay current? Via tv only?

This takes me to the second article. In it, this post-reading society is lauded. Want to learn a language? Take a pill. This isn’t a Great Step Forward, though, is it? It’s a Great Leap Backward, to the days of Plato and hieroglyphs. An oral-based culture seems to be where we’ll head… and here’s the problem: if we rely on current trends to get us there, we’re in deep, deep trouble.

We all know that continuous partial attention is problematic. Jerry Ford famously couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time; more seriously, students cannot watch tv, text and do homework at the same time. Something (or all things) get less attention, less sinks in, less is internalized. Memorizing and internalizing information (by the now ill-favored By Rote method or otherwise) doesn’t happen if you’re continually changing your focus to another source of sensory input.

After the push to create a literate society, do we really want to go post literate?

Posted in Pedagogy, Rants, School Libraries, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | 1 Comment »

It’s just a piece of paper

Posted by lpearle on 17 October 2008

On Facebook, a friend noted that she thought McCain had said something about not requiring teacher certification. This is one of those Hot Button edbiz issues: to certify or not to certify.

Me? I’m all for appropriate training and credentials, but state certification is not one of those. I’m not a state certified librarian, and neither are the majority of my independent school library friends… or my independent school teacher friends. According to the narrow-minded thinking of the “certification or leave” people, that somehow means that we do not run good programs, that we’re incapable of giving the same quality education and having good pedagogy as our certified peers.

Nonsense. It’s just a piece of paper. In my many years of learning/working in schools, I’ve seen as many great non-certified teachers as I’ve seen bad. It’s just a piece of paper. State certification does not mean that you’re going to continue to learn and grow, to bring new ideas and methods to your work, to engage your brain as well as those of your students. It doesn’t hold magical powers… except in a public school environment, where it can lead to employment (and then difficulties, thanks to union regulations and contracts, getting rid of those that passed but simply cannot teach).

At MPOW I work with some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. I’ve listened to their students talk about their classes and I know that these students are lucky to have the opportunity to learn from these people. I felt the same way about several of my teachers “back when”. Yes, they could get state certification. But why? It’s just a piece of paper.

Posted in Rants, School Libraries, Work Stuff | 2 Comments »

Filtering Focus (part two)

Posted by lpearle on 19 June 2008

When people in my world talk about filtering, they generally mean filtering internet sites (as mandated by silly government legislation like CIPA). Recently, however, a new form of filtering has been creating a fuss: age banding.

Say what?

Age banding. It’s when you designate a specific appropriate age (or age range) for books. People are protesting (for example, here and here), but I’m confused. Many of the reviews I read, in such august publications as School Library Journal, already give an age range. Harry Potter #1 was considered appropriate for Ages 8-12 by Publisher’s Weekly. We librarians rely on this type of comment when we purchase books all the time, so how is this new “banding” different?

I’m not sure I understand.

I do know that there are issues with programs like Accelerated Reader, where students are tested and given an “appropriate reading level” from which to choose books. I hated this sort of limitation when I was in school. There were days I’d want to read Nancy Drew, and days when I read Victoria Holt, and I was in sixth grade. Being told I could only read “appropriate reading level” books would have driven me nuts! However, my parents were well aware of what I was reading and could, had they wanted, suggested I stop. It wasn’t some outsider making that decision.

There are school librarians I know that do limit their students reading to “appropriate reading level” books. If you’re in second grade, you should only be reading books like Frog and Toad, their thinking goes. Nonsense. If the child is able to read above level, and the parents are ok with them encountering material that is, perhaps, above them, fine. Let them.

And then there’s the whole genre label issue. ALA is against it, yet many of us do it. Now, I do get frustrated when a book falls into several categories (mystery and sci-fi and humor, a la Dirk Gently), but I still think there’s value to it. I don’t think it’s filtering to say “this is Christian fiction” or “this is a mystery”, although there are some that do.

Part of my job really does involve “filtering”, however gently. Collection development involves choices: which books are appropriate for my school based on interest, content, curricular connections, and myriad other considerations? Selecting Agatha Christie over Ellery Queen is, to some extent, filtering. Choosing to not purchase Academy X or V for Vendetta – filtering.

It’s a dilemma, isn’t it? On the one hand, I’m against filtering resources. On the other…

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Rants, School Libraries, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

If its broken (part three)

Posted by lpearle on 9 December 2007

(see earlier posts here and here)

Karen Schneider recently posted three great posts on how ALA’s committee/meeting structure is broken. I was thinking about those as I read Jay Bansbach’s e-mail to AASL Affiliate Assembly members, asking them to schedule time during Midwinter to attend not only the Affiliate Assembly but also the Affiliate Assembly Discussion Group.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with either – I’ve been to both and gotten a great deal from them. My concern is part of a discussion we had last year, regarding AASL membership. One perennial question/concern is about Increasing the Membership. It’s $40 to join a division in ALA, and many of the school librarians want to join AASL and YALSA and ALSC. Some may also want to join LITA or ACRL. That $40 (on top of ALA membership) starts to mount up. So then there’s the proposal that ALA make it easier in some way by allowing people to join multiple divisions, perhaps with a discount for membership in more than one. ALA’s management (both paid staff and Council) haven’t really responded positively to that.

Here’s my take on it: membership ain’t everything. I even said that at Affiliate Assembly last year. Who cares if we have 8,000 or 16,000 or 50,000 AASL members? Big whoop. What we should care far more about is gaining active members: people who are willing to give up time and money to come to conferences, to write for publication, to present and share their best practices, to get involved with running the division. The leadership is aging, and there are precious few young’uns ready to step in and lead.

It doesn’t help when the parent organization makes it so impossible for younger members to participate from afar. If I were young, newly married or newly parented, perhaps starting out in terms of position and pay scale, I could perhaps afford membership. If my school paid for it, I could maybe attend a conference (but might not be able to go far because of family). Yet I’m trying to be involved and network with peers, etc.. What are my options? In ALA, few. I can be a virtual member of a committee, but that comes with few rights and privileges. If I’m not willing to sacrifice, I don’t get to play with the grown-ups. How fair is that? How inclusive? Not very.

That’s a good way to drive away members.

Then you get divisions, like AASL, trying to drive up membership numbers (in part because we’re the bastard stepchildren of ALA), but failing to think about how that plays out except in terms of sheer numbers. Where are the plans to get more people involved? Where is the lobbying to get ALA to adopt less restrictive meeting guidelines? Where is the agitating to get official wikis and nings going so that people can participate from home in their pjs?

I’m on a couple of committees, and I’ve served on others in the past. I can tell you from personal experience that two meetings a year, and a couple of e-mails doesn’t cut it. In June, I was asked to serve on a committee this year. Last week was the first time I heard from our Chair. Yes, I’m busy with work-related stuff, but hey! I’m willing to spend a few hours on other things. Why didn’t I get an immediate “welcome to the club” e-mail? Sadly, that’s the norm on the committees on which I’ve served: the term starts immediately following ALA’s annual conference, but there’s nothing – not a peep – from the Chair or others until close to Midwinter. Six months in which I could be working for the committee, getting involved, learning and sharing with the other members so that when we get to Midwinter, we’re ready to really produce something. Now, not all committees are like that, and those are the committees on which I’d rather serve. I suspect I’m not alone in that feeling. And if I were new to ALA, or AASL, I’d be feeling a bit put-off by the lack of communication.

So here’s my challenge to Committee Chairs and AASL’s Affiliate Assembly: let’s talk about ways to increase visibility and participation, and let’s start working on practical steps that we can take to get the young’uns involved and sitting at the grown-ups table.

Posted in Conferences, Professional organizations, Rants, School Libraries | 3 Comments »

How professional are you?

Posted by lpearle on 26 October 2007

I recently (read, yesterday) had a conversation with a friend. Now, this friend is pretty involved on the state and national level and has some definite opinions about what it means to be a “real” school librarian – certification, belonging to your state/national organization, advocating for your program in the school and outside, etc.

Some of that I agree with, but some of it… not so much. Where we disagree is on certification and on involvement.

Certification means, to most, your state saying “You’ve passed a test, jumped through hoops, taken classes, and now you’re qualified to be a school librarian”. It shouldn’t mean that. I don’t have state certification. I do have my Masters in Library Science from an accredited (by ALA) graduate school. Does that make me less of a librarian? Am I somehow not “real”? Why don’t I have state certification? Because in the Independent School world, we don’t need it (just as our teachers don’t need state certification). This doesn’t mean that our schools have lousy teachers and poorly run libraries filled with idiots. Far from it. Usually – in my experience – the librarians are passionate, involved, creative and have great programs that send students to college (and beyond) well-prepared. Of course, there are some that give lie to that statement, but aren’t there equally bad, uninvolved, unmotivated librarians that do have state certification?

Let’s not assume that the one (great program blah blah blah) necessarily follows from state certification.

As for involvement, again, we disagree. I, out of my own pocket, paid for my membership in my state and local and national organizations for both independent school librarians and for all librarians (in case you’re wondering, that’d be HVLA, AISL, NYLA/SLMS, ALA/AASL/ISS). That was when I started. I’ve dropped NYLA/SLMS because I just wasn’t benefiting from it. SLMSian propaganda to the contrary, it just doesn’t speak to my needs as an IS librarian, nor do their conference programs (and I did attend two conferences). Perhaps things have changed, but I doubt it. I dropped AISL because the conference was more a networking opportunity than a real learning time – not that networking isn’t important, but I already had a local and national network. It seemed redundant. Except…

Many librarians don’t have an active local organization. HVLA is 40+ years old (approaching 50!) and is still going strong. I’m lucky like that. Those IS librarians that don’t usually belong to AISL and reap the benefits of membership and networking. Some, not all, also belong to ALA/AASL/ISS. But many don’t because of money. I understand that. If you don’t have much to begin with, the $25/year membership in AISL seems very reasonable compared with $145 for ALA/AASL/ISS. Not to mention that you know exactly what your dollars are paying for.

I’ve seen many discussions on LM_NET, AASLFORUM and other e-lists about this issue: how do you allocate (and justify) professional membership dollars? I can understand, and sympathize, with people in Texas that only join TLA or those in NY that join NYLA. It’s expensive to have multiple, at times overlapping, memberships. If you can’t afford to travel to conferences (either because of budget or personal reasons or the school won’t let you have the time off), then you can’t. There shouldn’t be any stigma or shame attached to that.

Yet there is. I hear it all the time from my friends – no certification, no professional involvement = a disgrace to the profession. Yuck. Almost makes me want to be Groucho.

Posted in Professional organizations, Rants, School Libraries | 1 Comment »

 
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