Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 18 December 2013

For those about to go on Break, some things to explore and/or ponder.

Books, Reading, Etc..

School Life

Tech Stuff

  • FlipGrid looks like an amazing tool for both reader-to-reader advisory and in class collaboration for online learning.  (via)
  • Are you Sleepless in Cyberspace?  Maybe this vacation is a good time to try to rethink things.


  • Doug ponders Age, Energy, Privacy and Morals – I’m a little more concerned about privacy (perhaps because of my age) than he is… it’s interesting to note that many of my students don’t think about it, but when you start talking about the lack they get very concerned.
  • For those of my friends traveling, some tips on how to get through the airport fast.  Bon voyage!

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Ethics, Links, Pedagogy, Privacy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

So what do I know?

Posted by lpearle on 16 December 2013

Nothing, apparently.

A couple of weeks ago I gave The Infinite Moment of Us a three-star review, in part because “The starts and stops of the relationship felt real, and Myracle has a real ear for the language real teens use.”

Then one of my hard-core readers borrowed it and completely disagreed: she felt (strongly) that the language was not authentic, that the teens didn’t resemble anyone she (or her friends) knew.  Wren seemed one-dimensional, and the relationship just didn’t work for her.

I’ve often wondered about the difference between my reading a book as an adult, with an ever-growing distance between me and my teen self, and an actual teen’s experience of that book.  Several books that have seen much critical love – being added to the curriculum or as all-school reads – from adults but from the intended audience’s point-of-view they’re complete flops with characters they don’t relate to and a message they feel stifled by.  These are readers who know that books like Gossip Girl or those by Sarah Dessen aren’t real or meant to be “good” books but they’re enjoyable reads anyway.  And they don’t expect those characters to be real, or relatable in the same way that the characters in this book are supposed to be.

How many others have had similar experiences? Or have recognized themselves in a character, only to realize that the author is closer to them in age than to the proposed age group – and that what they’re responding to is from a teen perspective some decades old?  It’s making me question many of my recent reads, and whether I am, in fact, buying the right books for this library.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries, Student stuff | 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 »

Data driven at #AASL13

Posted by lpearle on 18 November 2013

Most of us are not math people, but even the numerically challenged should question this:

But when such thoughtful and challenging speakers as Debbie Abilock and Kristin Fontichiaro are giving a presentation entitled “Slaying the Data Dragon” it’s difficult to resist going.  Trust me when I tell you they brought the awesome and then some – and at 8am, no less!  Despite my “bed head” (as Deb called it) I manged to take copious notes…

The first thing to remember is that it’s not just about collecting data, it’s about interpreting the information as well as being aware what data is being collected (by whom? for what purposes?).  Scientists and techies are not just being required to submit their interpretation of their data but all their data sets so that others can learn from and expand upon them.  Big Data builds on past experiments – but we need to always question the data we didn’t collect ourselves.

(QUERY: if that’s the case, why do we blindly accept the data and interpretation provided by the Pew Internet & American Life surveys? are any of their data sets statistically significant?)

It’s also important to remember that computers can unearth connections we don’t see (or don’t think of to look for) but that they can’t made a distinction between good data and bad data; humans also need to interpret the correlations but can’t assume they understand the causations.  Privacy concerns may be something that our students don’t share, but when our data is being tracked by the politicians, sports teams, stores, financial institutions and others in addition to the NSA, one has to ask the question, “how will we weigh the trade-off between privacy, consumerism and security?”  What are the implications for the future, both immediate and longer term?  Why do we share our data so freely?  An extreme example of the downside is the ease with which the Nazi’s identified even assimilated Jews, based on data given freely to the government decades earlier.

Private browsing?  Not so much.  Acxiom is one data aggregator tracking your movements around the interwebs.  Try downloading and using ghostery to see how many others are using trackers, monitoring your movements from site to site, feeding the data back to… whom?  Don’t want to use the download but on a PC?  Try right click / view source / ctrl F .gif to see who’s hidden trackers on the site.  You can block and control who sees what you do!

But what about apps and tools like Fitbit and Jawbone?  The data they collect from you isn’t just included in your profile, it’s shared with everyone else using those programs.  Health data is protected, but what about our other data?  Target can predict when you’re pregnant (assuming you use either an affinity card or your credit/debit card).  Is that ok?  It may be helpful to get recommendations on shopping sites, but isn’t it also a little creepy?  Here’s a new term to learn: algorithmic regulation, which is supposed to help solve public problems without having to justify or explain by using personalized “nudges”.  Some seem benign, like your doctor or dentist reminding you to come in for a check up, but what about reminders to floss, or take a walk, or purchase milk?  Not reminders you set, but those that come from “elsewhere” based on data input from you and others?  Or what about glasses that can fool you into thinking that broccoli is really cake?

The problem is that Big Data isn’t neutral, mostly because it influences policy decisions – policies made by people who, like most of us, don’t know how to interpret the data they’re given.  An example of this is InBloom, a Gates-funded organization taking data from students without their permission or knowledge.  Decision makers also need to look at both macro- and micro-levels, as data provided for a neighborhood or town may look very different when compared to larger areas.  Infographics may be fun ways to represent data, but we need to learn how to read them.  A good start are the ACRL visual literacy standards, which can be walked down to K-12.  Working with teachers to create lessons that incorporate data interpretation also helps.  We were left with a number of sites that either have collected data or are still doing so, good places to start with both colleagues and students:

Reading List:

Posted in Conferences, Privacy, Techno Geekiness | Tagged: | 3 Comments »

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 »

Hartford here I come…

Posted by lpearle on 13 November 2013

It’s not that far down the road (or perhaps slightly up? slightly east?) from where I am now, making it one of the very few conferences I’ve been able to attend while sleeping in my own bed.

Besides vendors, the opportunity to meet with friends and like-minded colleagues will be refreshing.  Not that the teachers here are a problem, but they’re not librarians so having certain discussions is not an option.  Nearly three months in I’ve got a decent grasp of what needs to happen and what the future could be both in terms of students and teacher training, resources and technology, print and digital, etc..

Over the next few days, I’m looking for solutions and suggestions to help manage that change.  Stay tuned!

Posted in Professional organizations | 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 »

What year is this?

Posted by lpearle on 4 November 2013

Growing up I lived with a college professor (aka “Dad”) who was on a similar schedule to mine, so concepts of “this year” and “next year” were all about the academic year.  Summer?  That belonged to a nether-year, an interruption of time as we knew it.  Then, at the tender age of 21, I entered the work world and joined millions of others who got only two weeks vacation and whose years followed the calendar.  It was always a surprise to my mother that I had to work the day after Thanksgiving but being young, unmarried and without children that day off was never gonna happen.  Then I went to graduate school and rejoined the academic calendar.  For me it’s completely clear what year it is (AY14) but for others in my life it’s not quite so clear.  When we talk about last year, it’s not 2012 it’s 2012-2013, and next year won’t start in January 2014 but in September.

Last night we turned back the clocks, something my father hates (he prefers it to be light later in the day).  Me?  I’m heading in to work early so sunup before I leave home is appreciated.  Then there’s the shopping season, which brought us Hallowe’en in September and has been promoting Christmas almost as long.  So for many people, the end of 2013 is nigh and they’re looking forward to the opportunities that 2014 will bring.

It’s also a time of year when catalogs arrive by the barrelful and I’m seeing an increase in vendor solicitations for purchases (there’s that annual quota to think of and a possible bonus to earn).  Yes, I’ll be at AASL and ALA Midwinter talking to vendors, but my budget for this year is set.  What I’m doing – what my friends are doing – is planning for 2015 and thinking about what we’ll need to purchase then.  Now, remember that 2015 will start in late August (I can begin ordering books and supplies in July).  So while I really appreciate the vendor cycle, it’s unlikely that there will be any major new purchases in this year.  When I go to ALA Annual and there’s a great trial offer, or discount available right now on something that might be perfect for a class project, usually I can’t take advantage of it because no one’s around to consult with or to preview and trial the resource.

School and academic libraries aren’t on the same calendar as public and special libraries.  It’d be nice if vendors acknowledge that and recognize that what I preview this year probably won’t get purchased until next… and that by “next” I may mean only a couple of months away.

Posted in Musings | Leave a Comment »


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