Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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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 »

Looking backward… looking forward…

Posted by lpearle on 1 August 2014

One year ago today was my first day at Miss Porter’s School.  As with any new job, there were fears and trepidations, not to mention excitement and that “here’s to a new adventure” feeling.  So what has this past year brought, and what am I looking forward to next year?

This past year has been one of transformation at the library, starting early when the other librarian and I moved out of the workroom and out into the main spaces, sitting where we could easily be seen (and, as my favorite sign says, be interrupted):

helpdesk_11x17_fin600

We moved furniture around, creating better comfortable seating spaces for students as well as moving an information desk to the 1st floor – what better way to reach students “at point of need”, as they do research, than to be right there, in the stacks with them?  I know that I wouldn’t want to go upstairs to ask a question then return back downstairs: why would a student? or a teacher?  Books were moved upstairs  as we updated the fiction collection, and some really creative displays were made (not by me but by Lulu; I don’t have a creative bone in my body).

Based on our analysis of a few systems, we decided to migrate from one OPAC to another and at the same time migrate from Dewey to Library of Congress.  Talk about a lot of work!  Not only did we have to add call numbers to about 3,000 items that couldn’t easily translate, we had to physically move every book and relabel them.  Oh, and continue to do all our other work, including help with a few research projects and papers.  Speaking of research, our model is that of the embedded librarian, not the Shh’er-in-Chief:

 

As I said to my boss (and several others) during my interview, the library won’t be there immediately, but if we’re not at least 50% there after two years, fire me.  Clearly I’m not doing my job.  Analysis at the end of a year?  We have one department’s buy-in and a few other teachers are interested.    So progress is being made!  The Research Guides have been hugely helpful, and now that Springshare has updated the LibGuides platform, they’ll help us help students and teachers even more.
There was so much “good stuff” to share this past year that our Annual Report is kind of stunning, and I was there!
Outside the shelves, this is a 1:1 iPad school and that’s been a real transition.  No one here believes that simply because there’s this powerful tool in students hands there’s no need for a librarian or a library (whew!) but learning how to use one in the most efficient way possible is still a struggle.  Which stylus should I use?  What’s the best way to collect stuff: Evernote or Pocket Informant (or both, or something else)? What about NotesPlus?  How can I use iBooks to “sell” the library?
So, on to Year Two.  To be honest, I’m a little afraid of Sophomore Slump… but we’re already starting strong.  Upgrading the Guides from v.1 to v.2, working with EZProxy to eliminate off/on-campus database access issues (and multiple logins/passwords issues), even more furniture moving around (new projection devices in the Periodicals Room and the stacks, plus more tables in the stacks for students to use with classes)!  Getting the Archives Club and the Varsity Reading Club running effectively, not to mention creating even more opportunities for “non-traditional library programming” are other challenges/opportunities.
Luckily, I’m not alone.  After one year I’ve made some good connections with my colleagues (some of whom are now friends), the other librarian and I make a great team, and the students seem to be enjoying our innovations and changes.  Stay tuned for more library goodness in the months ahead – I know I’m looking forward!

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 28 July 2014

I promise: this blog will be better attended in the coming weeks and months.  In the meantime, enjoy these links and ideas that I’ve tucked away since, oh, January…

Books, Reading, Etc.

School Stuff

  • We bought Twitterature for work, and I’m hoping that some of our English teachers take on the challenge (perhaps not Beowulf, but other books?).
  • Joyce highlighted Buncee a few months ago; maybe for tutorials or resource guides?
  • We’re going to create a writing table in the library, encouraging students to write notes and letters.  I picked up some great paper in Montreal, and these formal sets are piquing my interest (so do the ideas in the post).
  • Trying to figure out ways to introduce these Super Searcher Tips to students, since we have no real class time with them.
  • I’m sharing this article, What do College Professors Want from Incoming High School Graduates, with my faculty. And, with luck, we can do a Professional Development session using this quiz so they understand the students take on research.
  • I used an Office template for our annual report, then published to Issuu.  These look like some great alternatives.
  • Is anyone using Postach.io with Evernote? Wondering if that would be a good way to push content to the school.

Etc.

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

Words from the wise

Posted by lpearle on 21 July 2014

Posted in Life Related, Techno Geekiness | 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 »

The end is nigh…

Posted by lpearle on 17 May 2014

Every so often I think, “you are seriously neglecting your blog!” and immediately feel guilty – all those posts I meant to do that simply don’t get posted because “they” haven’t perfected thought-to-text blogging yet.  I do have an excuse, an oldie but goodie: I’ve been incredibly busy.

Working in a boarding school brings about a special time commitment.  There are the obvious ones, like long open hours (8-5:30 M-F) and sit-down dinners.  Add in weekend duty, evening study hall supervision, plus required attendance at various events… Some weeks, it’s a 7-day workweek with days that stretch from 8am to 9:30pm.  So you can see where “busy” comes from.  Lucky for me, I don’t coach a sport! Towards the end of the year there are even more traditions taking place (all schools have them, to one degree or another), all leading to the passing of the school’s leadership to another group of students, ensuring continuity of programs and activities and Tradition and school ethos.   This is my fourth school, so I’m used to much of this, but each school requires a certain learning curve.

My goal for this first year was to take things somewhat easily, starting to create an embedded program and assessing the collection.  Well…. that didn’t exactly happen.  In addition to that, and creating opportunities for students to use the library that aren’t study related or class related, we embarked on a very ambitious project: changing from Dewey to Library of Congress.  The reality is that as a college-preparatory school, we needed to do this.  It’s also given us the opportunity to weed nearly 8,000 volumes already, with more to follow next year.

Graduation is in three weeks (well, a little less than that) and between now and then we have to finish the changeover and find the missing items (“missing” meaning “we printed a new spine label but the book’s not on the shelf… yet”), prepare the suggested summer reading Resource Guide, prepare summer book and supply orders, attend the final Convocation, year-end performances and Traditions, tidy the workroom and get things ready for the summer break.  Oh, and did I mention that the library is now handling the online book ordering site for textbooks?

I’d blog more, but I have three classes worth of bibliographies to assess and an ereader textbook to create for an English teacher.  Before Monday.

The end is truly nigh… and getting nigher.

Posted in Books, Life Related, Student stuff, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Six degrees…

Posted by lpearle on 6 March 2014

My life is incredibly crazy right now and I’ve been neglecting things like this blog – right now we’re on Spring Break at work and I’m hoping to not only catch up but get ahead!  Fingers crossed, etc..

If you ask some of my friends, they’ll tell you that I know everyone.  It’s not completely true, but I do have odd connections to people that may make it seem as though I know everyone.  And when I say “odd connections” I mean odd.  Example? My first après-college job was at the New London Barn Playhouse, a job I got in part because their Marketing Manager was an alumna of Emma Willard (my alma mater years later); I worked in the box office with Richard Lederer‘s first wife, DeeDee.  Now, I can’t claim to know him but there is a connection!

Several years ago I got an e-mail that could easily have been spam, but something told me to open it instead of automatically sending it to trash.  It was from Karen, my BFF when we were in grammar school (grades 3-7, after which she moved).  It’s been great having her back in my life!  Anyway, a few days ago she wrote to tell me that she’d been reading Grace Lin‘s The Ugly Vegetables to her second grade class and realized, from reading the biographical information, that Grace’s parents had bought Karen’s house from her parents: in  other words, Grace grew up in a house I knew very well, one easy to walk/bike to from my parent’s house, and quite possibly in Karen’s bedroom. Connection!!

I’ve hung out with Joyce Valenza on occasion and know Gwyneth Jones, and follow both on twitter.  A few months ago I saw a response to harbeckc on one of their feeds and thought, “hmmm… how many Charity Harbeck’s can there be in this world? Surely this is the one I went to school with, doing gymnastics before school and hanging out in the art room during lunch with?”  Sure enough, it was that Charity Harbeck.

So, when I posted how cool the connection between my BFF and Grace Lin was, Charity responded… which led to a fun three-way chat about former teachers and whom we might know in common.  Charity turned this into a great blog post about standardized testing, but I’m way shallower than that!  Again, it’s all about connection.

My point isn’t how wonderful I am (although I do have an Erdos number, thanks to my father, and I know someone who is good friends with Kevin Bacon, and I worked with a guy who sat on Stalin’s lap so… I am pretty wonderful) but that it’s these odd connections that weave us into a great web.  You may not be able to leverage those connections all the time, but you can sometimes.  And “leverage” doesn’t always mean “exploit”.  It more often means making even more connections, making for more interesting discussions with students or leading to deeper understanding of someone/something, making it not just dry information for them to remember and regurgitate when necessary.

What are your Six Degrees moments?

Posted in Life Related | 1 Comment »

#YALSA and the badging program – #ALAMW14

Posted by lpearle on 3 February 2014

Linda Braun made it clear – this is a work in progress: testers are needed.  Just go to yalsabadges.ala.org

So what do we need to know beyond that?  Badges are a serious learning process, more about the learning than about the badge.  These are tied in to YALSA’s Core Competencies, with the idea that they will help people get the skills they need to be successful.  The following are about YALSA’s badges (my thoughts on this and some badging takeaways will follow):

  • These badges are “crowdsourced” – once someone has completed the work, it becomes open to the public, who can then comment and either approve (“thumbs up”) or disapprove (“thumbs down”) for their work.  In other words, earning the badge is contingent not only on completing the various steps and requirements but on peer approval of the work you’ve done.
  • The exact number of thumbs up is unknown, it’s based on an algorithm.  There is the danger of someone doing the work and then waiting… and waiting… and waiting… for approval.  Community buy-in is critical, as is community participation.
  • The system is (as of right now) a Pass/Fail system, so you could be 100% on several steps but still not “badge worthy”; once you do get approval, you cannot lose it.
  • Badges can be exported to Mozilla’s Backpack, which will enable people to show a variety of professional development badges as part of their online portfolio/resume.
  • Obtaining badges demonstrating competency is gaining acceptance in the military and at colleges.  They demonstrate actual skills, much more clearly than a grade on a test does.

They are still working on the badges, with only three available right now.  The format for each is Overview -> Goals -> Technology Requirements -> Steps (what you need to do) -> Rubric and screencasts on how to do things like set up a Google Form are included.  An online forum may be set up so that those working towards their badge can communicate with others in the same position as well as with people either already badged or those who are experts/mentors.  Notifications for new content need to be created so that people don’t have to log in daily (and see nothing there).

Linda stressed that this is a soft opening, reminding us that Gmail was in beta for five years (but YALSA’s working on a faster timeframe than Google).  She also recognized that there is work to be done on providing administrators and supervisors with information on the rigor required and the skills learned, so that people recognize this as a credential.

So, my thoughts about these badges specifically:

  • The skills skew heavily to the public librarians and their needs; school librarians might not be able to see a need or value to the work needed to complete a badge.  School librarians have the NBPTS for Library Media/Early Childhood Through Young Adulthood and AASL’s NSLPY Award to help them focus their programs and skills. YALSA is going to have to make a really strong case for the school librarian contingent to make this a valuable professional development tool.
  • There’s a w whiff of “checking in” here, like Foursquare or Get Glue.  This may skew the process towards younger librarians, or those who want to become a librarian, while those in the middle or further in their careers will not see them as necessary.
  • Many school librarians are required to get CEU’s and without getting state buy-in to make a badge the equivalent of a certain number of hours of learning, again, there won’t be as much buy-in from school librarians.  Some states won’t accept CEUs from outside their state, again limiting the desirability of this program.
  • While I understand why YALSA feels the need to provide interesting ways to provide professional development tools, particularly those that allow for self-paced, reflective learning, this feels as though YALSA is trying to be LITA Jr.  Perhaps a partnership with LITA to create badges for all ALA members would work better?
  • At Midwinter, the Board approved the creation of a badge for Literary Evaluation.  One supposes that this is so that the President-Elect has better information when considering appointments to the various selection and awards committees – but murmurs I’ve heard are fears that this won’t be objective, that people “on the outs” with YALSA’s Board or VIPs won’t get fair treatment even if they have the badge.
  • The badge that was used as an example, Leadership and Professionalism, struck me as problematic on two levels.  The first was that there are suggestions of library and related twitter feeds to follow – granted, I didn’t ask how that list could be updated by people, but I suspect that newbies might only follow the ones already listed and thus lead to a privileged echo chamber while interesting, outsider voices go unheard.  The second was that once the badge is earned, what mechanism is in place to ensure that the badgee(?) continues to keep up with this newfound PLN?  Maybe I’m jaded from working with students who tend to forget things quickly after the test, but…

On the other hand, the idea of badging is one that has interested me for a while.  I love the idea of creating skills-based badges so that students can demonstrate their ability to do things like cite a source, find information in our catalog or a database, and format a paper.  Teachers planning to do a research paper could mandate that the students complete certain badges by a specific time so that they (and the librarians) know what, if anything, is needed in the way of instruction on basic skills.  There were several things mentioned in this session that were very helpful as I think about how best to create a badging program:

  • Make the look of the badge simple – not childlike, just simple
  • Beware of complexity (perhaps break up a larger piece into smaller elements) and the time it will take (boredom or frustration can prevent completion
  • Start small, figuring out what’s most important/needed now and then build
  • The LMS needs to be really, really robust (YALSA is using Drupal) and that you have lots of tech support and training on how to use it
  • Test, test, test and retest
  • Ask the community experts how to assess the “win” and provide peer review

I’ve done one badge on information literacy and it was time-consuming and kludgy.  Not to mention the fact that there were two questions I got right but were marked wrong by the system (luckily I took screenshots of the “wrong” answers and successfully got the grade changed). I can only imagine the work it must take to keep them up-to-date and smooth-running so that students don’t have technoangst on top of everything else!

Posted in Conferences, Professional organizations, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

Maker/Create/Collaborativespace pre-conference – #RUSA #ALAMW14

Posted by lpearle on 31 January 2014

I was fortunate to get off the waiting list for the RUSA MARS/RSS pre-conference and see what public and academic librarians think about the maker/create/collaborate space trend.

The overwhelming message was the “maker/createspace” was not just about 3D and Audino, it was anything that isn’t reference or readers advisory.  You don’t need to be a coder to be a creator, you can be a knitter, calligrapher or a rubber stamper (or another type of creator).  This is a message that we need to remember as we create our spaces: it’s about the creation, not the tools.  At bottom, doesn’t “maker” meet our mission as librarians, helping people explore their passions?  In schools especially we’re supposed to help students create new things with the knowledge they acquire – and a maker/create/collaborative space does just that.  Thinking about the space is a great way to start the strategic planning process, too, as it will involve people from different constituencies.

One important thing is to not be a closed shop: be open to all platforms (iOS, WinTel, Chrome, Lynix) and allow people to use all those during the programs.  A diversity of experience and resources can spark really interesting ideas.  It’s also critical to remember that not everyone can afford the tools necessary (it’s also important not to go broke providing for people using the space – finding that happy medium can be difficult).

How should you start? Ask the community what they want, and what they can bring to the space.  Consider an Idea Studio (a la Warwick PL). NCSU’s Hunt Library has a 270o Visualization and Teaching Lab (home of the Virtual Paul’s Cross Website).

Final words: balance what the users really do want and need with what they’re told they want and need (by the media, the library administration, etc.).  It’s a difficult process, and an on-going one, but very worth it.

Other pearls of wisdom:

  • outside funding, but BYOP[roject] is also good
  • Facebook and Twitter are great sources of ideas for what other libraries are doing – see how you can re-purpose their ideas
  • helping people with digital curation is as much “maker” as it is “archivist”
  • consider putting large windows in the space, so people outside can see what’s inside and get inspired
  • students like whiteboards, flexible seating and furnishings

Resources:

Posted in Conferences, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

 
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