Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Is it October already?

Posted by lpearle on 2 October 2016

My acedia has returned, I think.  Or maybe I’m still exhausted from the summer work.  Or my EBV is acting up.  Whatever.  Anyway, saw this on  Quo Vadis’ Writing Wednesday and decided to use some of it as an opportunity get caught up.

1: What are your goals this month? What actions do you need to take to work your goals?  Trying to stay organized (ok, ok,  get organized), being less aggressive with my Never Ending To Do List, catching up with friends, and keeping on top of both Alex reading and other reading.  The actions are pretty self-explanatory.

2:  What are you excited about in the coming month? We have two long weekends this month!  During the first, I’m heading to a friend’s house and hanging with some friends from high school; during the second, I’m reading reading reading.  Both will be very necessary to accomplishing my month’s goals, beyond being necessary to my mental health.

4: Close your eyes and imagine your ideal ending for this year. What have you accomplished? Where are you? What were the best things you did this year?  This summer’s weeding and rethinking the space and program were probably my biggest accomplishments – it’s a little early to say if they were good, bad or need serious tweeking.  Hiring the right people for our two job openings has been a huge help with rethinking how the library approaches research needs and reaches out to the larger school community.  And personally, getting my life somewhat together in terms of clutter, maintaining friendships and reading for Alex all fall into “best” territory.

6: In the northern hemisphere, days are getting shorter and leaves are turning. What do you love about autumn? Crisp apples… snuggly sweaters… hot cups of tea.

19: Write a list of things that bring you joy: your family, your pet, a favorite book or movie, sitting with a hot beverage in a cozy spot, etc. Look at the list often.  See number six, and add discovering a great new author… casual conversations that lead to really great friendships… cuddling with my cats… helping a student or colleague and getting a heartfelt “thank you”… getting a spontaneous, genuine smile from a someone…

25: What is something new you learned this month? A new skill, new information, a new point of view?  Not sure it’s something new, per se, but the resources my staff and I are sharing fill me with hope regarding changing our practice.  Watching Resource Guides change and grow to better fit student needs has been great, and I love having experienced colleagues to bounce ideas off of and build great projects.

28: List 5 things you’ve been procrastinating. What steps can you take to get these things done?  Tweaking our new OPAC, updating our Resource Guides, creating a better Reader’s Advisory program, organizing our storage room, working in our archives creating finding aids.  What can I do?  Figure out a sensible plan for spending a few hours a week on each of them.

30: What good things happened this month?  Getting our new cafe tables and watching the positive reactions to them.  Despite some concern about the weeding and space reorganization, most students seems to like what we’ve done.

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It’s all worth it

Posted by lpearle on 2 September 2016

Years ago, at another school,at a difficult time professionally, I led a Mock Newbery group for some interested Middle School students.  The excitement (literal jumping up and down in the dining hall) when the winner was announced puzzled those not involved with the reading, but I knew these kids had had a great experience.

Flash forward to last night, when I got this message from the mother of one of the girls in the group:


What a wonderful message to start the school year: no matter how difficult it may be in the moment, ultimately, it’s all worth it.

Posted in Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

What I did on my summer “vacation”

Posted by lpearle on 29 August 2016

Wow.  I know I promised to post when life calmed a little – guess what, it didn’t.  While my position is on the teachers schedule, this summer we had a major project going on.  In the space of seven weeks, I and two recent graduates worked hard to weed books, reshelve them in a better order, move furniture and really start the process of creating a 21st century library space:

There’s still much to do, but at least the pace will be a lot slower.   I won’t promise to blog more, because that hasn’t worked in the past, instead I will promise to try to blog more.

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

From the sublime to the…

Posted by lpearle on 27 June 2016

The past week I attended a workshop on Design Thinking in libraries at my alma mater, Emma Willard School (currently referred to as Hogwarts by students):

EWS Quad

And immediately after, I headed South to a city I never thought I’d visit (Orlando) for ALA’s Annual Conference, where I stayed in the Castle Hotel:

Castle Hotel

Of course, I’ll be blogging more about those two experiences (and much more) once real life has reasserted itself.


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Difficult year

Posted by lpearle on 21 June 2016

I know, I know: I disappeared.  Because reasons.  One reason, one I’m still struggling with, is that there was a lot of death in my professional circles this year – and when you have to go in every day, not allowing the outside to influence how you are interacting with  students and your colleagues…

Last year I mentioned a former colleague who had passed.  His memorial was the second or third weekend of school.  A couple of weeks later, there was a memorial for  a woman I’d worked with at PCS.  Then I heard about the very unexpected death of a tech guy whom I’d never worked with but who was an integral part of the NYCIST group and a man I greatly admired for his sense of humor, sense of decency and his approach to technology. This gentle man had just retired, was on vacation with is family (including young children).

A few months later, another tech guy died.  Here was someone whose ideas were not mine, but whose passion and commitment I admired greatly (and he was a serious Red Sox/Celtics fan – always a plus for this Boston-born gal!).  Mother’s Day Weekend I read (on Facebook, of course) about the death of a beloved teacher of mine, one who helped make me who I am.  And then, last week, came news of the death of the Head of Hackley School.

As you can imagine, my heart has been very heavy this year.  There’s a lot of good to share, and starting today I’ll be with friends and mentors at the AISL Summer Institute and ALA Annual.  So stay tuned.  But while you’re waiting, tell the people in your life that you admire, that you love, who have changed you in some way how much they mean to you.  Before you can’t.

Posted in Life Related | 2 Comments »

Getting my Alex on

Posted by lpearle on 9 March 2016

In addition to getting to know a new collection and a new school’s way of doing research, I’ve been working on the 2017 Alex Award Committee.  If you’re not looking at adult reads being published in 2016, you’re missing out (trust me on this).

The charge of the Alex Award is to find books with teen appeal, something that is at times difficult for me to suss out.  As someone in her second half-century, putting myself in the mindset of a teen isn’t always easy!  There have been occasional meme-based responses to our Instagram posts and, well… luckily I have staff who are much closer to that age group and get memes.  With Alex, I’m looking for a plot that might interest them – even in non-fiction, as I learned working on the ENFYA Committee and as I’m telling our sixth graders, there can be a narrative arc! – with characters that make sense.  That doesn’t mean I’d expect them to “relate” to Hannibal Lecter, but so many teens love to read Silence of the Lambs thanks to the horror and “creep factor” that it’d probably have gotten the Alex, had it existed when the book was published.

A few weeks ago I booktalked some recently published novels by American authors to an American Lit class.  We came up with twitter “reviews” to pique their interest (eg, “Orange blossoms mean fascination. Chrysanthemums mean you’re a good friend.  More subtle than emojis, flowers speak volumes” for The Language of Flowers, a 2011 nominee)   and they were asked to choose one, read it and then present (to the class and others) on how that book mimicked or expanded on themes in the books they were reading for class.  Talking with them as they chose these books was interesting, with many excited to read something new and not being taught in class.  One or two have even asked for more by that author, or in that genre.

Our fiction collection here was not necessarily bought with teens in mind – Ferrente’s Neopolitan novels, for example – but traditionally we have had a lot of faculty who use our collection for their pleasure reading.  As I continue to read for Alex, I’m wondering about that “teen appeal” part and reflecting on some of the books I’ve read in the past, like Millay’s Sea of Tranquility, which (to my mind) had little adult appeal but was not published at a YA book and thus won the award in 2014.  It will definitely guide my purchasing for our collection in future, as we try to balance “adult appeal” with what will actually appeal to our students.  It will also be interesting to see how we can market these books to both faculty and students without one or the other feeling as though their needs are not being met.

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My Kanye moment

Posted by lpearle on 29 February 2016

No, I’m not going to interrupt someone – I’m talking about this moment:


Research season (part one) hit us, and once again I thought about how difficult research is for students.  As we’ve been weeding the print collection and bulking up the digital offerings, it’s been interesting to watch how students interact with what we have.  Much of their research has been what I’d call “cherry picking” research: find a fact here… find a fact there… find a quote somewhere else… repeat.  The great narrative nonfiction we have doesn’t get used to their fullest extent, in part because they (the students) don’t really have time to delve into their topics.  Of course, that hasn’t changed since I was in high school!

Over the past few years, I’ve regretted the loss of those Time-Life book sets.  Remember them?  So many of them were great resources for research, perfect for a quick read and cherry pick information, much as they do with Daily Life series.  But, sadly, T-L has ceased publishing (before completing This Fabulous Century!) and what we have is falling apart from use.

Years ago, the Marvelous Marion and I dreamed up a business idea: Sugar Daddy Press (because we’d need a sugar daddy to get things going).  We’d buy the rights to those series and create wonderful reprints, even extending them.  Example?  The Library of Art would move into other arts, giving us The World of Mozart and The World of Bronte in addition to The World of Van Gogh. We’d also take on those Jackdaws, only now they’d be online (Rosen, please get on this ASAP!).  There were so many other books that we found – and I still find – missing from our shelves, if by “missing” you mean “never published” or “out of print”.

Hence my Kanye moment.  Much as I love my job, if someone invested in Sugar Daddy Press I’d leave this one in a second to start getting things moving.  Because Research Season (part two) is about to hit.

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More testing thoughts

Posted by lpearle on 9 February 2016

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting with a friend about my job and recent developments in library land, and the topic of testing arose.  As always, I’ve been very happy to not be working in a public school with all that mandated testing, but we still do see students studying (and taking classes) for AP exams.  Only one school I’ve worked at had a full compliment of AP courses, while the others have had more or less depending on their focus.  Hackley, for example, had gotten rid of the humanities AP classes but still had science and math courses (although that was under discussion); PCS only offered an AP for Calculus, but didn’t classify the course as AP.  My current school has many “honors” and “advanced” classes but nothing called AP (which is a designation that only those who submit a curriculum for approval can use).

I’m of two minds about the AP.  As my British and French friends have repeatedly said, having some sort of national test allows universities to determine the academic readiness of the student.  That’s a fair point: knowing that someone in rural Kansas has the same knowledge as someone at an elite East Coast prep school does help in the admissions process.  But… it bothers me no end that while we’re all too ready to decry Common Core or No Child Left Behind, we’re also all too ready to give millions of dollars to a company (College Board; not-for-profit, but still!) to not only test our students but to approve our curriculum!

Following on that conversation, a colleague told me that he had to submit his curriculum to the College Board but hadn’t quite followed their rules and guidelines.  He’d learned that they’d sent it back unapproved and so, over a long weekend, he’d spent about 30 hours dotting ever i and crossing every t they required… submitted it late Sunday and got approval early Monday.  So clearly “they” didn’t even really look at what he’d done, just made sure that the ‘tasks’ had been completed.  Says quite a lot about the company that also administers all the SATs, doesn’t it?

Over the next week or so students are going to start thinking about their courses for next year.  Some will have to take required classes to meet graduation requirements, most will have some leeway with electives.  The advanced and honors classes will be filled with those who are thinking about taking the AP in April, looking to prove their academic worth to college admissions counselors.

I wish that weren’t the case.  I wish that one company didn’t hold so much power over our students academic careers.  I also wish there were some way we could come to a consensus that would take their power away while still allowing for some sort of level playing ground in terms of education, so all students have an equal chance to prove they know US History or Biology, or whatever.


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Testing… testing…

Posted by lpearle on 27 January 2016

This is my fifth school and the fifth iteration of EXAMS.  Each school has done things differently, but somehow the student stress remains.  Even though my own school days are very far behind me, my memories of exams (trisemester or semester) are that there was less stress, less sense of impending doom.

Of course, “everyone” says that students today are overstressed, overscheduled, overwhelmed, etc.  Schools have started to try to ameliorate the scheduling and the stressing, and sometimes that has an affect on testing.  For example, Hackley School decided to do away with finals and moved exams to March.  Reason?  Having midterms in January, so close to Winter Break, meant that students didn’t truly get a break because they knew that those tests were looming.  Having a final in June meant that students took a test and then got it back on “Class Day” and then told, essentially, ciao.  Got an F? Ciao.  Got an A? Also ciao.  No way to celebrate and build on your expertise and no way to recover from a disaster. March, prior to APs, gave students an alternative that meant they could practice for an AP or have a final project that gives them an opportunity to prove themselves in a different way than by taking a test.

That seems sensible and after a year’s worry (OMG!  This is 2/3 of the way through the year?  how will I remember the ‘extra’ information??) students and faculty seem to have a good feeling about all this.

When the test happens aside, I wonder about the why of having a final (or midterm).  Why don’t we just have a regular test in class?  One of the people who works with me teaches Chinese when she’s not in the library (ok, it’s really the other way around but I like to think she’s primarily “mine”) and she’s giving an exam.  But why couldn’t it just be a regular in-class test?  What difference does the extra hour make?  Isn’t language cumulative, so each unit builds on the previous one, which means that if you do a regular test (or one over a two day period to encompass written and oral) you know whether or not the student is learning the material .  Why do you need to give one two hour exam that explores… what?  What more can you ask, beyond simply asking for more?  The same holds true for other subjects, not just languages.  And for subjects that are unit based, why, once you’ve moved on from a unit that you covered in, say, October, do students need to recall the information in January or March if they’re never going to use that information on any other assessments that year?

This week is Exam Week which means the library is filled with students madly trying to cram information in (or back in) before sitting down for two hours to prove their knowledge.  We have students working in groups, in pairs and as solo studiers.  We’ve purchased coloring books and Crayons to create a #nostresszone feel in some places.  Today bags of candy were handed out to give students something to keep them going during their tests.  That hasn’t stopped the stress and as the day wears on it’s worse as they finish one  and anticipate the next.

I get having students write essays to showcase their immediate writing skills (as opposed to the edited and thoughtfully considered essays they’ve handing in as homework).  I get quizzes and tests.  But the need for one exam?  or two? that totally disrupts the flow of school and adds so much stress to the system?  No matter when we hold them, it seems odd.  We’re talking a lot about teaching the essentials and about changing how we teach. Maybe a good start would be to change how we test.

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Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 15 January 2016

Some things to think about while I digest ALA Midwinter and hiring new staff…

Books, Reading, etc.

  • While I’d love to teach this exact class, since I’m on the Alex Committee for the next couple of years it might be possible to figure out a way to create something similar with those books.
  • More Shakespeare thinking (this time from JSTOR and the Folger)
  • This year we’ve been working with the 6th grade English class and creating book recommendation materials.  Here’s an idea. And another one for increasing vacation reading from Katie: bring the books to the kids.
  • Don’t you love year end lists for personal and professional collection development?  I do.  Here’s stuff from The Hub, Semicolon

School Life

Tech Stuff


Posted in Books, Collection Development, Links, Musings, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »