Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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  • May 2020
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Cataloging is FUNdamental

Posted by lpearle on 20 May 2020

Seriously?  How is ALA not requiring this?

When I went for my MLS there were four required classes at the Palmer School and (you guessed it) cataloging was one of them.  My professor was the man who literally wrote the chapter of AACR2R on music cataloging, but friends who had other professors learned just as much.

Yesterday, I and the other librarians met with the librarians from another local school about how we’ve approached revamping our catalog and collection.  We talked about the history of the cataloging projects (including 2005’s recataloging of the microfiche collection), our rebarcoding on the outside of books to make inventory easier, and how we’d approached both moving books around (like the 300s junk drawer and the yes… but no piles), plus how we went about weeding old, duplicate and unneeded books.  We also talked about creating norms for DDC cataloging (eg, books about genocide in general go in 364.151, while books on, say the Rwandan genocides go in 967.571) and how we’re starting to create the same kind of norms for subject headings.

It’s also given us a great, in-depth idea as to what is, and what is not, in our collection.  Not each book, but each subject area.  We know where we need to add books, and where maybe we have have enough (or too many).

Without understand how cataloging works, we’d have a collection that varied greatly from Dewey (not that I think Dewey is the be-all and end-all, but it is what most of our students will use in public libraries). Ours meets DDC, but not always where the catalogers think it should go.  And — no surprise — our students are finding books easier and making better choices.  Isn’t that the real goal?

Posted in Collection Development, Professional organizations, Rants, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Finding my happy place

Posted by lpearle on 15 May 2020

Week I’mNeverGoingToBeAbleToLeaveMyAparementAgainAmI wasn’t been too bad. There was an AISL Boarding School Librarians chat on Monday, and I’m joining in a Mussar study group in Brooklyn (along with my father and an aunt). The sun is shining and it’s getting warmer – maybe we won’t see snow again until fall?

But then there’s the political and health news, increasingly weird and frightening, and the announcement that Milton would not reopen the campus for the rest of the year.  How will students celebrate their great work this year?  How will we say good-bye to seniors and colleagues, all of us sharing in that bittersweet moment when they depart for the next chapter in their lives?

When I find that I’m spending too much time obsessing about the politics of the moment, the latest pronouncement or set of numbers, I have to stop and go to my happy place.  There are a few such places in my life, like curling up with one of my cats and listening to the purr or reading a book and forgetting where I am.  And then there are a number of Twitter feeds that make me smile – I’m sharing them with you hoping that they also bring a smile into your life, too:

The Cute Plug: @TheCutePlug
Forgotten Bookmarks: @ForgottenBkmrks
Haggard Hawks: @HaggardHawks
Jonathon Owen: @ArrantPedantry
Laurence Brown: @LostInThePondUS
Lynne Murphy: @Lynneguist
Moose Allain: @MooseAllain
The Museum of English Rural Life: @TheMERL
Nat’l Cowboy Museum: @ncwhm
Nathan W. Pyle: @nathanwpyle
Nick Heath: @nickheathsport
Room Rater: @ratemyskyperoom
Shedd Aquarium: @shedd_aquarium
Sherlocution Holmes: @sherlocution

The other thing that’s bringing a smile to my face?  Knowing that it’s Friday.  It may not feel like one, but it is.  Have a good weekend.

Posted in Life Related, Metablogging | Leave a Comment »

I’ve been thinking a lot about this

Posted by lpearle on 8 May 2020

The other day, I saw this tweet:

Milton has a strong academic integrity policy, so clearly any students that got caught with this would face consequences.  Hamilton College (where I was a student) also had one so strong it led to the resignation of a President.

There’s a response to the tweet, that contrasts this with a letter from a Brown professor.  This second professor takes the position that in this particular moment, we’re all stressed and that students should just do their best.  Here’s what I think is being missed: you can have both approaches.

If your goal is to encourage students to do their best and not worry about their classes, to breath and try for some calm, you can still do that and expect your students to complete their work honestly.  I’m not saying that I would create a deliberately unsolvable problem, but submitting a wrong answer to a site I was fairly sure that students were using to cheat doesn’t feel like entrapment.  However, it does feel like too much of a gotcha moment, not a teachable one.

Much of what students do in our classes will have no practical application in the “real world.”  Finding a shortcut and cheating?  That can – and frequently does – have negative consequences “out there” and students do need to learn that lesson.  I’m just not sure this was the best way to have done it, particularly given the added stress of this moment in history.

Posted in Ethics | Leave a Comment »

At the halfway point

Posted by lpearle on 6 May 2020

It’s been over one month since we “came back” from Spring Break and started classes online.  Milton chose to ramp up slowly: the first day of class was April 1, with a first assignment due no earlier than April 6.  Then we added in office hours.  Then one synchronous meeting per week.  When you have (as one colleague does) students in Asia and Africa and America, finding common time is… difficult.

That common time is why we have the library’s digital portal open from 5:30am – 9:00pm ET.  It’s why the National Library Week quizzes were not judged on a “first correct answer” basis but “one of the top ten highest will be randomly chosen” basis.  Having said that, those problems only really exist in our upper school; our middle and lower school are all day students, so more synchronous activities can happen.  There is a Wednesday Book Chat, several fitness opportunities, American Sign Language classes, plus advisory, assembly and other gatherings.

For those of us who work in the library, it’s been a great time to work on some of those projects where having concentrated time is great, like cleaning up MARC records or adding 655 tags for genres and affinity groups.  We’re still working on standardizing subject headings and reassigning DDC numbers for some sections.  It’s also been a good time to up our game on social media and student outreach.

And in six weeks, it’ll all be over for this academic year.

Unsurprisingly, what happens next weighs heavily on my mind.  Stay tuned for what we’re thinking and planning, as best as we can.

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

You’re important, too

Posted by lpearle on 17 April 2020

What We Will Be Remembered For When This Moment is Over

Answering, “How are you?” honestly and giving others permission to answer honestly, too.

How we didn’t say yes to every Zoom call, napped, meditated, read fiction, got outside every day, for how we gave ourselves what we needed and could, in turn, give others what they need.

We will be remembered for the ways we showed up for each other with the most honest love we could offer.

As I navigate the needs of work and home, professional meetings and family gatherings, students, teachers, colleagues and friends, these are the things to remember.

One of the big dangers of this time is that we neglect self-care because so many others need us to be on this Zoom meeting or working on that project, helping students with research or finding reading books, etc.  And we librarians are afraid that our work will not be visible to others and so we’re doing even more.  I have a spreadsheet going for me and my staff so that we can track our daily shift’s reference chats and projects, some of that information will go into our year-end report.  The Zoom meetings with AISL librarians give me ideas to add to our Instagram feed or ways to do better outreach.  And I’m still not sure that it’s all effective or helpful.

During the normal day (or week), I feel very comfortable saying that my day is over and reading or otherwise taking care of me.  But during this unusual time?  I feel invisible, sitting here at home working, so obviously my work is invisible, right?  Admit it: you feel the same.

Then I read Lightning Notes and am reminded that if I don’t take care of me, I can’t take care of my staff, students, colleagues and family.  You’re no different.

Take care of you, ok?

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

Let’s take action

Posted by lpearle on 13 April 2020

Over the weekend I saw this tweet amid all the news about the US Postal Service possibly running out of money:

Of course I retweeted it.

So, let’s all do this.  I have some people in mind to write to, but I’m sure there are others out there who would love some real mail.  Leave a comment or send me message and I’ll send you a hand written note.  Promise.

Posted in Life Related | 1 Comment »

Two weeks in

Posted by lpearle on 10 April 2020

It’s been two weeks since the end of Spring Break.  Two weeks since this great Remote Learning adventure started.  Two weeks of a new kind of normal.

It’s also been two weeks of Zoom meetings and chats and working from home.  One thing I’ve been grateful for is knowing that my librarian friends and colleagues are in this exact same situation, and our ability to share resources and ideas.  One thing we talked about in a gathering of those of us with supervisory or director responsibilities was how we kept our administration and faculty up-to-date on what we’re doing as we work from home.  It’s important for many reasons, including the fact that few ever really learn about the library, even in those administrative training courses.

There was a list floating around years ago about what people thought librarians did all day. Of course reading was on the list.  So was shhing.  Shelving.  Maybe tending cats and plants. Today, that list might include teaching a class in research or helping with citations.  The important thing is, people think 99% of our job requires us to be in the library.

The reality is that maybe 10% of our job requires that (less if there’s great access to ebooks in all genres).  So what are we doing all day?  We set up a digital portal and encourage students and faculty to use it.  We’re adding non-fiction ebooks to help students do research.  In lieu of displays we’re upping our outreach on Instagram, email and our LMS.  We’ve updated our Resource Guides to highlight remote learning.  We’re helping students with citations and finding resources, and requesting articles for teachers.  We’re still looking at what new books we would like to order just before we return.  We’re updating our records to help students search, adding summaries and Tables of Contents to the MARC record.  We’re tagging our fiction with diversity tags so students looking for books with certain types of experiences or characters can easily find them.  We’re also pre-processing new books so all we have to do is stamp them and relabel (if necessary) when we return. Yes, we’re still recommending reading for pleasure books, hoping that students have a library card from a system that has the book.

And that’s just within the past two weeks.  Who knows what we can accomplish by the end of the month?

Posted in Collection Development, School Libraries, Work Stuff | 1 Comment »

Hi ho, hi ho…

Posted by lpearle on 1 April 2020

No, I’m not exactly off to work – it’s more like making a strong cuppa, turning on the tv and my laptop and opening our library portal for the day. Earlier this year I shared a day in the life, and I thought it might be interesting to do an update on this, my students’ first day “back”.

As a faculty, we prepared for this with training on Zoom and Screencastify. We talked about meeting the students needs, recognizing that they might not be in the ideal situation regarding school work (some may have parents working with COVID-19, others helping take care of siblings, and others literally on the other side of the planet, among other social and emotional challenges). There are also technology challenges, with wonky wifi or older machines for some; one colleague and his teacher wife are sharing two laptops with their three children, getting all of them online appropriately will be interesting! Unlike some schools, we are trying to mitigate the stress by lowering the load from our normal F2F classes and homework while still continuing to teach.

Today, being our first day, will be an adventure into the unknown. Join me…

05:00 – Alarm goes off.  Turn it off, roll out of bed, go to the bathroom and do my ablutions.

05:13 – Turn on my laptop, open LibApps and go to LibGuides, hide our “our of office” message and unhide my profile box; go to LibAnswers and log in to chat.  Our digital portal is now live!

05:20 – Tea arrives, as if by magic.  Turn on the tv and start checking email, morning websites, etc. as per usual.

05:21 – Learn that my father texted last night, saying a close friend’s father died from this coronavirus.  

05:44 – Completed the NYTimes Mini Crossword in 30sec (I think it’s my best time yet!)

06:16 – Sent an email to all faculty and US Students saying hello:

06:30 -Learned that the wife of a friend died, not from the virus but from complications due to a double lung transplant done just as the virus hit.  R.I.P. Mrs. T.

06:35 – Helped a student sign up for a BPL ecard.  I’m feeling useful!

07:00 – I’m going to start compiling the monthly database usage statistics.  I’ve never understood why some database providers can give me stats on the first of the month while others can’t for 30 days.  Anyone? 

08:10 – Read emails regarding Department Chairs meetings (now on Zoom; is anything not on Zoom these days?) and watch two videos from our Academic Dean, including on with a great April Fool’s Joke.

08:30 – Join the Upper School Faculty Morning Coffee Zoom.  Since we can’t see each other during the school day at meetings, in the hallways, at lunch, etc., it’s nice seeing at least a few of my colleagues online.

09:00 – Join an Edupuzzle training Zoom led by a colleague.  This might be fun to add to our “find time to relax” offerings if we can figure out a great use for it (maybe a treasure hunt?  choose your own library adventure? hmmm…) and it’s definitely a great way to teach students how to search and cite.  

09:41 – Download MARC records for our LS Libraries.  We provide clerical service for the LS Librarian because she does not have a workroom or an assistant.  These books were ordered before we decided to close so the boxes will be waiting for us when we get back to work – having the records uploaded will make life easier!  I’ll start processing now and finish tomorrow.

11:00 – End of my first day online.  The next librarian on shift has arrived, logged in and I’ve handed the chat baton over.

Later today I’ll join an AISL Zoom for MS/US Librarians, read, mourn, nap, etc., and get ready to wake up tomorrow to do this all over again.

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

Current mood

Posted by lpearle on 27 March 2020

Anyone else feeling this way?

Usually at this point in Spring Break, I’m starting to feel as though it might be time to go back to work.  I miss my colleagues and students, and wonderful as my cats are they simply do not care that I’ve just read a great book (nor do they want to read it).  I’ll check my email… maybe do some desultory work on a project or two… and then worry that I haven’t finished my Spring Break To Be Done list and rush to finish that.  Then, the night before classes start, I’ll toss and turn because school.*

This year is different, though.  We had a “COVID-19” day for the last day before Break, which meant that seven scheduled classes did not begin to explore their research topics.  The pandemic means that no one will be returning to campus until early May (maybe), so there will be 350 students doing their research online only – and those students will be spread out around the world.  We’ve created a digital portal for the library and are holding “office hours” from 5:30am-9:00pm ET (don’t worry, we’ll take turns).

So far, so doable.

Between now and Monday, we need to finish a generic Resource Guide that will walk students through online research and prepare to customize it based on the class or course group need.  We need to create discipline specific resource folders in our LMS so that teachers will have “one stop shopping” for access to what we can do to help.  Preparing for students to “return” on Wednesday entails ramping up our marketing content, making sure they know what online resources we can provide as well as promoting books and ways to take a mental break during this difficult time.

How close will we get to finishing the now seemingly endless list of things that need to be done before then?  We’ll see.  I’m so grateful for my AISL and ISS colleagues, all struggling with the same questions and problems and all sharing resources and ideas via Zoom and other platforms.

Stay tuned.








* despite not currently being a student, I still get that sleepless night just before school restarts after a break – many teachers, including my father and a recently retired colleague, also have had that feeling 40 years into their careers.  Must be a school thing.

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

Maybe it’s just me

Posted by lpearle on 19 March 2020

I tend to find words and grammar interesting.  It might be because my uncle was a sociolinguist, it might just be because I’m an odd duck.  But the following amused me and I hope it amuses you, too:

(thanks to my sixth grade teacher, this actually makes sense)

Of course, that led to


And then there was this:

For more grammar fun:

followed closely by


(yes, I’m against the long book subtitle trend)

Posted in Life Related | Leave a Comment »