Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Bubble Bursting

Posted by lpearle on 16 February 2017

I could swear that I’ve blogged before about bubbles and how excited one of my graduate school professors was about how in the then-near future, we could drive across country listening to “our” radio station, rather than continually trying to find a station that played music we enjoyed.  It worried me then, this bubble, and it continues to worry me today.

A few weeks ago, one of my cousins and I were speaking and she was expressing sorrow and confusion that a friend of hers had said that they couldn’t be friends because my cousin had voted for Trump.  (perhaps I should mention that most of my family are Republicans, adhering to those oft-forgotten New England Republican ideas)  This past weekend I had dinner with another group of cousins and one of them said “[your father] is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met – how can he be a Democrat?”  Of course, my father would ask the same, in reverse, about this cousin.  Most of my cousins are appalled at what’s currently going on in Washington, and while they may have voted Republican in November, they are not fans – or supporters – of the current president.

My point being, not every Republican supported the presidential candidate.  Just as many Democrats didn’t support that party’s presidential candidate.  But… do we really know that?  understand that?  My first cousin’s friend feels – as so many others feel, and have expressed on Facebook/Twitter – that simply being Republican and voting that way means that you are evil and responsible for all the proposals being mooted now (eg., rolling back environmental protections, changing or repealing LGBTQ legislation and so much, much more)  Why would otherwise intelligent, nice people vote that way?

screenshot_2017-02-14-06-35-55.

It’s not a new observation, but the problem is that we live in increasingly narrow bubbles and echo chambers, relying on confirmation bias only rather than exploring the subject and making up our own minds.  With that in mind, I was interested to read Joyce Valenza’s column about Allsides.com. While I don’t pretend to understand their crowd-sourcing of “left”, “right” and “center” or agree with all their rankings, I do think that it’s interesting as a source of different viewpoints on a topic.  David Wee then started an email conversation about the use of this site (he’s doing great work teaching about “fake news”), and Tasha Bergson-Michelson recommended Burst Your Bubble.  The problem with the Guardian site is that it presupposes you’re liberal – where’s a similar site for conservatives?

At my school, there’s a definitely hostile attitude towards conservatives.  Some are upset that the school hasn’t officially come out against recent executive orders and policies, much less against the president.  What if, instead, we tried to understand why people voted the way they do, or the why they have the opinions they do about issues that don’t conform to our opinions?  I’ve read many articles recently trying to understand why people voted for Trump (here’s one) because I understand what was appealing about Clinton and Sanders.  Have you?  Do you assume that everyone you know feels the same way you do about issues and candidates?  Or do you know that there are some who don’t share those opinions, and do you try to understand what they’re thinking?

We have another year, perhaps, before the midterm election campaigns start up.  Trump 2020 is actually a thing.  What is your commitment to getting out of your bubble before then?

Posted in Musings, School Libraries, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Not quite a day off

Posted by lpearle on 13 February 2017

When you live in the Northeast, you get used to snow.  Lots of snow.  I grew up in Central New York’s snow belt and have spent my adult life in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.  And – no surprise, I’m sure – snow days are as exciting for teachers and librarians as they are for students.

Except…

February is when our students do their US History paper.  That’s 7 – 12 classes a day, 170+ students.  Some periods, we have three classes in at once.  Luckily, we have a large enough space for them to spread out and do research in (book sharing is a must on a few topics, but for others, we have more than enough).   We already lose a day to President’s Day, a week before the paper is due.  Then we had a snow day last Thursday, and a delayed opening/shortened classes on Friday.  The weather forecast for today wasn’t heartening.

But this is the 21st century, right?  So when the email/text/phone call (I get all three) stating school was cancelled today, I – and the other two librarians – was prepared.  This morning, I sent out an email to the USH students and teachers, offering online reference help.  Just to be sure people saw it, I sent out a photo on Instagram:

 

snowday instagram

Yes, I could be sleeping… reading books for Alex or the SF award… but instead, I’m online, waiting for students to ask research/reference questions.  Thus far, one student has contacted us – but we were able to help.  And that’s the important thing, isn’t it?

What do you do on your snowdays?

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

Best. PD. Ever.

Posted by lpearle on 6 February 2017

I’ve had a lot of professional development over the years, in a variety of industries (there was a 12 year gap between college and getting my MLS).  A few times I’ve felt as though I should demand a refund for hours of my life absolutely wasted.  Most of the time there’s been something I can take back to my work, sharing with others or simply using in my own practice.  Then there was last summer and the AISL Summer Institute at Emma Willard School.  Katie has already blogged elsewhere on the overall experience, so I won’t cover everything.  And I’ll be part of a panel presentation at the upcoming AISL Conference in NOLA in March.

What made this the best PD I’ve done in memory (I’ll stipulate to getting old and perhaps not remembering how wonderful I thought something was at that time) was not just the setting – although I am partial to my alma mater – was what we refer to these days as the takeaway.  And OMG how useful it has been and will continue to be.  After introduction and discussion about what design thinking is and how to do it, we divided into groups linked by common problems and began to brainstorm.  My  group decided to focus on how we, as librarians, can help panicked students do research.

When I introduce students to research, even during a 10-15 minute rushed talk, I mention that I understand their plight (as I’ve blogged before, we often forget what that’s like). The problem then becomes how do they remember what I’ve gone through as they work on their projects? Many are afraid to disturb us, particularly when they see we’re busy processing new books or working on other stuff – all stuff we’re happy (eager?!) to put aside to help them.  And teachers frequently don’t emphasize our role as partners or resources, so… Luckily, my AISL group all felt my pain.  And we decided to come up with an infographic that helped the students go from stressed to successful.

I brought that infographic home with me, and we created bookmarks from it.  Those bookmarks went into each teacher’s mailbox at the start of the year and are now being handed out to our US History students as they begin their Big Research Paper.  But bookmarks alone aren’t good enough.

For each project we use Springshare’s LibGuide’s platform to create a Resource Guide and each year we update it.  Here is this year’s guide.  Notice that right column!  Yep, we took the infographic, added live links and posted it on the guide (full size version here).  And we’ll be adding it to our other guides.

It’s too early to figure out how successful this will be.  But I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to help students stress less, succeed more.  And that’s what makes for good PD: something you can use immediately, something you can customize to your situation easily, and something that will have a positive effect on your students.

 

Posted in Conferences, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

It all comes down to these…

Posted by lpearle on 30 January 2017

After thousands of reading hours, hundreds of books read, and over 24 hours of discussion, the 2017 Alex Award Top Ten was announced last Monday:

2017 Alex Top Ten

And because we couldn’t leave it there, there’s also a vetted list of 50 great titles (not live yet, but will be here).

What’s next?  I, and others on the 2018 committee, have already started reading and thinking about this year’s books.  Who knows what will rise to Top Ten, or vetted, status?  Watch this space…

Posted in Books | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 23 January 2017

I’ve been busy planning for ALAMW and the YMAs – while I usually avoid the crowds, this year I need to be there as part of my Alex Award committee work.  So here’s a little something to think about and explore while I finish the 2017 award work (feel free to get ready for the Big Reveal!).

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Links, School Libraries, Student stuff, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Ego, checked

Posted by lpearle on 17 January 2017

31 years ago, We Are the World was released as a response to both Band-Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and the Ethiopian famine.  One of the stories about that recording session was that artists were told to “check their egos at the door” (to ensure that, the solos were recorded after the chorus).

Ten years later, I sat in a class discussing collection development and got (in different words) the same message:  the collection I would be creating, or helping to create, was not mine, it was the institution’s and the community’s.   A strong collection development policy needed to be in place, one that covered acquisitions and weeding.  Without one, accusations of bias could arise and challenges could be made.

It’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart.  If you were to come to my house, you would see my carefully curated collection, one that reflects my personal tastes and interests.  Entire genres are missing.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, only one city’s sports teams are mentioned.  And while it can be fun to play “guess Laura’s college major”, there are gaps – big ones – in the non-fiction section.  I feel free to remove entire swaths (cozy mystery series and a certain eight volume set about a boy wizard with the initials H.P., I’m looking at you!).

But that’s at home.  At work, my responsibility is to what might interest students and faculty when reading for pleasure, no matter how much I might dislike the genre or author.  It’s to supporting and enhancing the curriculum, whether or not I care about the subject. And it’s to adhere to the collection development policy guidelines already set out.  In 20 years, there have been two challenges – both settled with a degree of sensitivity on all sides.  A friend, semi-seriously, suggested that I was censoring when I refused to purchase Madonna’s Sex for my 4-12 school (I’d previously weeded Total Woman – WTH was that doing on our shelves to begin with???); I responded by saying that a $50.00 book that fell apart after one read was not an effective use of my budget, no matter what the content.

So, why all the lead up?  Because within the past few weeks, two issues have arisen outside work that may affect our curriculum.

Issue One: The book deal that Simon & Schuster made.

Issue Two: The incoming president and any books about his presidency and history. (no link because it was a query on a closed elist)

What to do, at my library, about both?  My school is committed to diversity and inclusion.  As a librarian, I have to support that by providing books that might not agree with my personal political beliefs.  I can’t assume that everyone agrees with me (here, here and here for more).  A number of years ago, I had a colleague who would, on dress down days, wear a t-shirt that read “Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot” – this in a school with students who were conservatives, Republicans and even included some relatives of the then-current president.  Years earlier, another colleague said, in a faculty meeting, that she really liked two students, but they were… you know… Republicans. Which apparently made reading their English papers and fairly grading them difficult.  To be honest, I’m embarrassed that nothing was done about either.

Back to the books.

Over the years, I’ve tried to not purchase quickie books about current events and popular figures.  During the seemingly endless 2016 campaign season, we did purchase as many of the candidates’ books as possible, on the premise that knowing what they believed (in as much as they put that into the book) was important for potential voters.  Only one of those books, The Art of the Deal, is still on our shelves.  Should any of those candidates run in 2020, they’ll either write an entirely new book or update the old, so no need to retain it.  Beyond that one book, however, I doubt we’ll be purchasing anything about President Trump until at least 2020 and even then I’ll be looking for perspective, analysis and a relatively neutral tone (memoirs and autobiographies are a different matter, for obvious reasons).

As for the S&S book, it’s not the type of book that we would purchase no matter the author.  There are many similar books that aren’t on the shelves.  We’re a school library serving grades 6-12 and students might hear about these books from parents, but they can get them from the public library.  Faculty can do the same.  As the wonderful Barbara Fister says,

For librarians, it’s a case study in how to interpret what we value and how we enact those values in practice. It’s not all that difficult a dilemma for academic librarians; we can buy a copy and assume people will accept that it’s okay to spend a few bucks on a book that will serve as a primary source for understanding trolls; even if what the troll says is offensive, it’s documentation of our contemporary culture. Books are rarely challenged in academic libraries, but in public libraries, it’s another story. If there’s a demand for a book, they may buy dozens of copies to avoid having hold lists running into the hundreds, so we’re talking about more than a few bucks. We’re also talking about money that, once spent, can’t be used to make the library shelves more diverse, less dominated by the latest celebrity thing. People have a tendency to think that if a public library buys a book, they endorse what it has to say. And everyone feels they have a say in how their local tax dollars are spent. It’s a real dilemma, if possibly short-lived. Books like this tend to end up in the book sale bin when interest wanes, as it will.

We don’t teach political science.  My history teachers are lucky if they can get the US History class into the 1980s (none, to my knowledge, have managed to get to this century).  We’ve got time before we have to purchase books on the 45th President – we barely have anything on the 44th!

So, my advice?  Remember it’s not about you and your personal preferences.  Support diversity and inclusion for conservative points of view as well as liberal. Adhere to your collection development policy regarding rigor and purpose.  Relax.

Posted in Collection Development, Ethics | 1 Comment »

Not paperless – paperMORE

Posted by lpearle on 8 January 2017

I’ve been hearing about the “paperless” office (and, by extension, paperless school) for nearly 40 years. Doug even talks about it in his recent The Next Big Thing(s) post.

To which I say, HA!

Here’s the reality: we’re using more paper.  Vast quantities of more.

Example?  Teachers are encouraged to create a syllabus and post it online (in addition to adding assignments to the LMS, but that presents problems for those trying to plan forward as those only go assignment by assignment without providing an overview).  So, they post it as a .doc or .pdf, or include it in a class online folder.  So far, so good.  But… many students want to see it in paper, or to add teacher comments about assignments.  So they print it out.  Then they lose that copy.  Solution?  Print another copy.  Etc..

Example? Teachers find an article, essay, short story or something similar and (as with the syllabus) post it online so students can read it for class discussion.  Guess what?  Yep.  Multiple printings.

We have a print management system at Milton.  And it works… sort of.  The problem comes when the student doesn’t see the document in their print queue immediately, assumes it never got there (there’s a delay, sometimes of about five minutes) and sends it again.  Rather than deleting the duplicate, they Print All.  Or it takes forever to actually download and print, so they leave and print elsewhere (we had a 100+ page document print that way).

At my last school, students would send a document to print and when it didn’t, send again.  All too frequently, the printer had run out of paper.

Back in the Dark Ages, when I was in school, we got one copy.  One.  And we took care not to lose it because there was no way to get another one (copiers were scarce, so often it meant hand copying the original).  I suspect that if you looked at school paper budgets over time – even the past decade, as more schools have gone to laptop or tablets for everyone – you’ll see an increase.

The reality is that students don’t want to read on their screen (for longer pieces) or it’s cumbersome to access the document/information.  Teachers, encouraged by their schools, post more and more because, hey, it’s online and they’re not printing.  But that just moves the cost of paper and tone and time onto families and students.

I’m not recommending a return to those Dark Ages.  But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we’ll ever be paperless in the way Doug means – paperLESS would be nice,  PaperSAME perhaps achievable.

Posted in Rants, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | 1 Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 3 January 2017

Wow.  It’s been a year since I did one of these!  I’ve been squirreling away links and things to share, and using Schoology at work to share them with my team.  Now, here’s some sharing with you…

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

  • Thought-provoking post about deciding if traveling for PD has a good ROI.  Networking isn’t covered, but should have been.
  • This is the second school I’ve worked at that touts the presence of Harkness tables, yet no one has been trained in the method.  I suspect that many schools are in the same position.  So here is one way “to Harkness” (hint: it’s not about the table!!)
  • Why streaming music (I may be one of the few who refuses to) is going to harm music creation.

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

My year in reading

Posted by lpearle on 31 December 2016

challenge

As you’ve read in previous posts, I’m on the 2017 Alex Award committee.  Any adult book published in 2016 is eligible, and YALSA’s policy is that we (the committee) can’t publicly talk about what we’re reading .  But because I work in a MS/US school library I have to keep up with what’s going on in YA, and because there are genres and topics I’m not thrilled with, I have to have “comfort” reads.  So, being practical, I thought I’d get through about 75 non-Alex books… then perhaps 100 would be ok… and finally, 125 was my challenge goal.  Reader, I surpassed it.  Per Goodreads, here’s what my year looked like:

reading2016

My “Alex eligible” reading reached 214, for a total of 345 books read in 2016.  Not my best (that was 399) but not bad either.  And while I can’t talk about the Alex books, I can tell you that between non-eligible (books published pre-2016, or those for children and young adults) my requests, committee nominations and personal “I really want to read that, whether or not there’s teen appeal” the genre breakdown was:

  • Biography/Memoir – 26
  • Children’s / Young Adult – 124
  • Fiction / Literature – 76
  • Horror – 7
  • Humor – 7
  • Mystery – 29
  • Non-Fiction – 32
  • Science Fiction/Fantasy/Speculative Fiction – 31
  • Suspense – 13

I’m on the 2018 Alex Award committee, so the same rules will apply.  I’m wondering if I’ll read as many next year, either on my own or for the award.  Stay tuned!

 

(oh, and if you’re wondering about what happened to the books, many were donated to my school, my friends and a local charity shop – lucky them)

Posted in Books | Leave a Comment »

Existential Angst, part two

Posted by lpearle on 14 December 2016

Sometimes, life isn’t fair.  Things this year have been going so well: the new library staff has become an amazingly tight team, teachers from math and science(!!) are coming to us for help teaching citations and working on projects, the changes to our physical plant and collection have been well-received.  And we made two great videos:

and

Reason to celebrate, right?

Life’s funny. Because, no celebration. Last Sunday, I woke up with blurred vision in my left eye. It was worse Monday. My usually wonderful 20/15 (with corrective lenses) vision was 20/50 in one eye. Two days later, it wasn’t even measurable. The good news – the only good news – is that I’m not going blind and that this should clear up… sometime. The bad news is that only 50% of the time is optical neuritis idiopathic. The other 50%? Serious. Very serious. And I don’t know which it is.

I can still read. Watch tv. I’m even driving during the day. But to me, reading is my life. It’s my supertalent. And even though I can read, it’s difficult when all you have is one eye to go one (the left is regaining peripheral vision, but s.l.o.w.l.y.). So who am I if I can’t ever regain my eyesight?

I’ve never been one to identify completely with my profession. Come retirement time, buh-bye. Unlike many others I know (and a current problem with the Democratic leadership, where average age is 70+ and the entire group have been leading for 20+ years, completely losing a generation of leaders in the process, much like AASL) I’m not convinced school librarianship will fall apart without me. Others can lead.

But here I am, 10-15 years from that time, wondering what’s going to happen. And dreading it.

Posted in Life Related | 1 Comment »