Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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How happy are you?

Posted by lpearle on 23 November 2015

Several years ago, Michelle Obama said that she’s only as happy as her unhappiest daughter… at a recent department chairs meeting, a department chair said that she was only as happy as her unhappiest department member and opened a conversation about what that means.

In every school I’ve worked in, and at most of the schools my friends/peers work in, we have conversations about student stress and what we can do do alleviate that.  Does that mean changing the schedule, building in more “down time” during the day? Does that mean creating customizeable experiences, allowing for them to pursue a passion rather than the cookie-cutter graduation requirements?  Does that mean designing workshops that teach them time-management and stress-reduction techniques?  What about working with parents to help students find a schedule that both “builds the resume” for college and gives them
time to relax?  Or convincing students to unplug before bed?

At MFPOW there was talk about teachers finding Flow – those moments when a class is going really, really well, when you know that this is what you were meant to do.  The question of how to increase those moments is a difficult one to resolve, as into every job a little boredom must fall (personally, I hate shelving – I think I’ve mentioned that before).  In some ways it reminds me of my response to a question while on a job search.  I was asked “is this the perfect job for you?” (trying to assess my interest in the school, etc.) and I immediately said, “nope!  The perfect job would pay me about three-four times what you’re going to pay me, ask me to work only 10-20 hours/week helping students do research, and give me the rest of the time to read… but since that’s incredibly unrealistic, this job will be a good substitute.”  As far as I know, no one can be “in flow” all the time, but can you have a life that is more “flow-focused” than it is?

So, let’s get back to that unhappy department member.  What is making them unhappy?  The reality is that we, in schools and particularly in libraries, are not good at saying “no” to add-ons.  In September, everything is cupcakes and unicorns, but by November we’re too busy to pee.  Our “free” prep periods are filled with getting ready for a new class or helping students understand past material or grading.  After school there might be coaching or club advising responsibilities.  In independent schools we often advise students, acting as filters/buffers/facilitators between teachers, parents and students.  Grades are often far more than just computing an average, they’re comments and explication (and if you teach and advise, you’ve got those comments to create after reading all the teacher comments). Committees – check.  Department meetings – double check.  Cover class for a sick colleague? Oversee recess or dismissal?  Teach an extra section?  check check check.

Where are the conversations about teacher stress? Yes, students are important and helping them manage their stress is important.  But isn’t it equally important for us to work on how to be less stressed?  isn’t it critical that we model good habits for our students?  If we don’t know how to say “no” and work ourselves into an exhausted frenzy each year, are we really doing our students any favors?

What pleases me inordinately is that MPOW is willing to talk about this – perhaps we won’t come up with any real solutions, or perhaps solutions will differ per department and grades taught.  But opening the conversation, recognizing that there are stresses on faculty that need to be addressed and examined is a great place to start.  One challenge for all of us is finding time to learn something new in terms of pedagogy or technology, integrating it into our classes and practice, and that contributes to the stress.  Another is all the “outside” stuff (the things we don’t learn in professional training or aren’t explicitly in our job descriptions) and finding ways to do a good job at those and at our “real” jobs.

I’m struggling with this – who isn’t?  And as a department chair/library director, I’m also “unhappy.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if, by the end of this academic year, there was a clear way forward and an end to the cycle?

Posted in Life Related, Student stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Where I am… and where I’m not

Posted by lpearle on 6 November 2015

Many of you are in Columbus, enjoying all the #AASL15 has to offer.  I’m still here, at work, because – for me, I do not claim to speak for anyone else! – that conference has lost its meaning and it felt like an unnecessary expense for me or MPOW.  Instead, I’ll be at ALAN in a couple of weeks, getting one last blast of YA literature goodness before starting on …. drum roll please… the Alex Award Committee.

We’re busy weeding and discarding (NYT Indexes, anyone?  What about some Reader’s Guides? no? no takers?), rethinking what needs to be on our shelves and where collections are placed.  We’re also establishing our Instagram and Twitter presence (follow us!), in part with the help of one of our community service volunteers.  Resource Guides are being built as a few research projects trickle in.  Luckily, we have until January before they really need to be 100% there.  Students considering Senior Projects are also a focus, and I really need to create a spreadsheet or database to help them find places that they could intern or volunteer or research at or in or with (yes, that’s a lot of prepositions at the end of that there sentence).

In between working on all of those, the life of the school goes on, with assemblies and student productions and other events.  I’ve done one of my chaperone duties (a fact of life in boarding schools, and this is far less onerous than MFPOW’s was) with another on the horizon.  Plus reading!  According to Goodreads, I’m 15 books behind schedule so either I lower expectations for this year or I get back on that couch and read read read (you know which one I’ll be choosing, right?).

Finding that life/work balance is important, and I’m seeing my younger staff members do a much better job of it than I did at their age and stage in my career.  It’s inspiring that they get how important family, friends and outside-of-the-bun interests are, and how they consciously make time for that.  Despite all the work stuff on my plate, I’m not taking work home with me as much (reading does not count!).  That’s the lesson I think we all need to learn: when to work, when not to work and how to find a balance between the two.

Posted in Life Related, School Libraries | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

What’s on your shelves?

Posted by lpearle on 26 October 2015

With one exception, the school libraries I’ve worked in have needed some serious collection pruning; MPOW is no different.  Usually it’s the problem of having a lot of stack space and not enough time/staff to really weed what’s there.  I’m of the firm belief, however, that pruning and judicious deletions are an absolute necessity!

Why?  Well, if you’re researching a topic and go to a shelf that is completely packed with books, many of which are old, possibly out-of-date, and look as though they could fall apart as you’re reading them, you’re less likely (as a high school student) to use that resource.  And finding those “gems” that actually will help you with your project can be a real challenge.  My goal, as a school librarian, is to have students spend some time doing the finding but to be able to spend most of their project time reading, reflecting, synthesizing and then presenting a cogent argument.  Often, because of the state of the collection, the finding takes more time than it should, compressing the reading/reflecting/synthesizing time.

There’s also the problem of old sections that were incredibly useful that are no longer.  One school had a major project that asked students to imagine life as Jew during the Nazi era or as someone hiding the Jews.  So the shelves were filled with memoirs and biographies that met that need.  However, by the time I arrived, the project was long gone (over ten years) and the students were researching other things.  We needed to choose the best of the books from the previous project, get rid of the rest and collect resources that would meet their current research needs.  I’ve worked in schools that have changed the foreign language offerings, dropping German and Italian in favor of Chinese.  Do we really need a lot of dictionaries in those languages, or do we need more Chinese-related materials?  The sea change I’ve seen in how my English departments are approaching their work also affects our collection; none of the departments in my past four schools has asked students to use literary criticism or reviews – yet the shelves were filled with Twayne’s, Bloom’s and those Gale “[genre] Criticism” books.  That’s an easy weed, particularly since they’re now available on-line should we need to add them back into the collection.

Our on-line resources also need to be reviewed.  At each school I create a database spreadsheet, monitoring the ROI on our subscriptions (ROI = $ per search).  The goal, for me, is under $5 per search.  One database, requested by the department chair, was nearly $70/search.  After two years, I was able to convince the department that it wasn’t fiscally prudent for us to continue subscribing.  What that means is that we (the librarians) have to know what else is out there, looking for resources that will enhance our print collection – not, as some fear, replace it! – as well as meet the needs of students outside the library.

I’ve often said that there’s a middle ground between the school library with tens of thousands of books that never circulate and gather dust (so the school can brag about sheer number of volumes) and the school library that is purely digital (which can seriously limit student research using current, non e-available resources).  My hope is that at MPOW we’ll successfully get there.

But that’s just for the non-fiction books, right?  Well… no.  We also need to look at the fiction.  For the first time, I’m working in a school where the adults are just as engaged with the fiction collection as the students, perhaps more so!  That’s great, and gives us a great incentive to ensure we’re buying adult titles (like the NBA and Carnegie longlists for literary fiction, or the Reading List for genre fiction). We also have to ensure we have great YA and MG fiction for our students.  One problem I’m seeing right now is that while we’re a library serving grades 6-12, we’ve mostly collected for grades 9-12.  Whoops!  So this year, the focus will not only be on pruning, but also adding great books for our younger students.

Again, stay tuned for more on how it’s all going.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 16 October 2015

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff


Posted in Collection Development, Life Related, Links, Privacy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

What do you call it?

Posted by lpearle on 15 October 2015

Over the past few years I’ve been thinking about names – names of resources, names of facilities, titles, etc..  It seems like we all do, in one way or another, and now that we’re redesigning the library website and rethinking the facility, it’s time to do even more thinking.

Resource names are easy, right?  Well… maybe not so much.  For years now I’ve heard many academic librarians complain that students come to them asking for EBSCO or ProQuest, not GreenFile or American Poetry.  At one session, when the question was raised, the academic librarian was shocked that the only databases the school could provide were those that came free from the state, and that there was only one EBSCO database (probably some version of Academic Search).  So why, though the school librarian, should one differentiate?  And then there’s the thing we used to call a pathfinder.  Most of us now use Springshare’s LibGuides platform (let’s not discuss the Team Lib and Team Libe issue!) and refer to them as LibGuides, which seems to me to be like making every tissue a Kleenex.  After all, some schools use Haiku or Moodle or WordPress to create similar objects.  So at MPOW and at MFPOW, we call them Resource Guides.  And catalogs!  Are they OPACs?  Are they still “card” catalogs (as many of my older colleagues call it)?  Do you give it a feline-related name, like NYU’s BobCat, or NYPL’s LEO?  Decisions… decisions…

What we call the space we work in is also fraught.  Many politicians, donors and parents want students to have a library (in theory – funding can be another matter).  But what about the far sexier “information commons” or “learning commons”? Or the still popular “library media center”?  And should it include a makerspace?  At one school with a primarily digital collection, it’s still called a library.  Another school is considering building an athenaeum.  Within the space, do you still have a periodicals or reference room?  Are they still used for those purposes?  I’ve worked in libraries that have donor-designated names for spaces, some of which are flexible (great for when you move things around or repurpose spaces) and some of which require asking if the Shakespeare Nook can now be used for graphic novels.  It’s also complicated if there’s a major renovation in a space which has already been named, because you can’t just cross out the old and bring in a new one.  One school has three named spaces in about a 1,000 square foot library!

If you work in a library, are you a librarian?  What about Director of Research?  or Information Specialist?  or Chief Information Officer?  or Library Media Specialist?  I’ve seen all of them on business cards and in e-mail sig files.  As with the name of the facility, is it confusing for others?  If I were a parent, would I know what my child was doing if they came back from the learning commons having had an hour of media literacy?   Perhaps to the Higher Powers that run our schools, that matters less than having the “in” title or facility name, no matter what the actual contents are or instruction delivered.  It seems that in the race to show relevancy, comprehension can get lost.

As for me, I’d love to work as the Resourceress in an Infomatorium, showing students how to look for resources by asking our Online InfoCat.  You?

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

Setting Priorities

Posted by lpearle on 13 October 2015

When you start a new job, there are always moments when you wonder, “what am i doing?” It can be somewhat frustrating to be hemmed in by corporate policy (there’s little room for innovation working in a fast food restaurant, for example) or to experience a steep learning curve of what’s expected or to feel like an outsider because everyone (just like when you go to a new school) already knows each other and has their own clique. Starting a new job in a school brings on all of that, and then some.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been feeling my way, setting priorities for the work we (the library department) need to do.  Part of the problem is, as in many libraries, the inertia of longevity.  I know – I’ve been there!  You create rules for collection development, with a goal of deaccessioning fiction (for example) that hasn’t circulated in 3-5 years, but then you get to that point and think, “but I loved this book… maybe if I did a better job of promoting it?” Etc..

Several years ago I was on an accreditation evaluation committee at a school whose founding Head had left after several decades.  The Head of our committee pointed out that longevity in Heads wasn’t always a good idea, that (in his opinion) after 8-10 years you “remake the mistakes you made when you first started.”  Now, I’m not sure about that, but I do think there’s a comfort level that comes with a long tenure that may make people change averse. So when you’re the new kid, the one without the attachments or the history, you see all the possibilities and are chomping at the bit to get started.

The problem right now isn’t a lack of willingness, it’s time and manpower (peoplepower?) and strategic thinking.  What I’m thinking now is what’s best to work on this year, and what’s best to put off for a year or two.  Staffing is important because we’re down a person – what structure would be best for the library, and how can the current staff be part of that structure now while we wait to hire for next year?  Collection development (print and digital) is critical, largely because that will help us create a reading culture and improve our research capabilities, as well as allow us to rethink space usage.  My goal of working on a strategic plan, based in part on the past accreditation report and a recent library study, can wait until we have the full staffing we need.  My other goal of improving programming will be a slow crawl, doing as much as we can this year (engaging students with our social media presence and contests) to create awareness, but beyond that we’ll wait for a year.  Reaching out to my new colleagues, showing them possibilities and ways we can really partner with them is an obvious priority.

Ambitious, right?  Well, it is only early October.  Stay tuned for updates and how it’s all going – things may change.

Posted in Collection Development, Musings, Work Stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

What’s your corporate message?

Posted by lpearle on 9 October 2015

One of my colleagues was talking about corporate messages, the subtle ways in which schools (and corporations, obviously) show what they really believe and value – not always the same thing as what they say they believe and value.  For example, a school that says that it values diversity, but has an all-white faculty.  Or a says that it prizes honesty, but doesn’t act in a transparent manner.  This has resonated with me as I’ve thought about two former colleagues and the messages given at their memorial services (one I attended, the other I’ve only heard reports about, although I’ve also seen many comments on social media about both).

The first, whom I’ve written about before, had a very clear message.  Eulogy after eulogy spoke of the simplicity of his life, how he didn’t spend frivolously, how much he cared about others, and that to him, good friends and a good time with those friends were prized above all else.  There was nothing hidden about him: what you saw was what you got.  The second was also not interested in “things” and “stuff” – she lived for her school and her students.  Despite having her own children (and, eventually, grandchildren), every student at the school was, to her, “her child”.  In the moment, they may not have realized how much she cared, but after a few years being away from school, they certainly recognized how special that feeling was.  Whether or not you agreed with her, you knew that the school, and the students, was of paramount importance to her and the only motivation she had.

The other day a friend mentioned that she had just been to kiddie storytime at the local library and that the librarian there was “exactly what you’d imagine a librarian to be” – I jokingly mentioned the cardigan and bun, and her response was “no, OLD.  Like, 100”  My guess is that there may have been some shh’ing going on, and perhaps this librarian wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as my friend would have liked.  To be honest, it’s been so long since I’ve seen one of the “real” librarians in the wild that it took me aback!  But it did make me think: what is the corporate message I’m sending?  Do my staff know who I am, and what I stand for?  Do they know my values and ethics?  Can the students sense those things?

Bigger picture, can I convey them in such a way as to create the “right” corporate climate here in the library?  What messages does the library send?  We’re hardly a warm, fuzzy space (seriously, that 70s dressed concrete architectural style has a lot to answer for!), and the collection is on the aging side.  We do allow food and talking, but not full meals (yes, I’ve kicked out both salad eaters and Domino’s delivery men; we’re open during dinner hours) and because of the acoustics, the noise needs to be kept to a dull roar.  Will having an Instagram and Twitter account help connect the community to the library?

What about you, and your message? Do they mesh, or is there a disconnect?  And if there is, how do you overcome it (or doesn’t it matter)?

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

Seeing beyond the blur

Posted by lpearle on 7 October 2015

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meeting new people, finding my way around a new campus and generally figuring out what’s what in this new phase of my life.  In real life, those that know me are often surprised that I wear glasses (I’m nearsighted, but mildly so and since I can’t read with glasses on, I rarely wear them… except to drive, or when I’m meeting new colleagues for the first time).  Maybe they think I have contacts?  Anyway, this is important because I usually rely on the “blur” of the person to tell me who is walking towards me.  When people with a distinctive look, for example, really long hair or a comb over, change that look I can be confused and not recognize them from a distance.

When you’re new to a place, it takes time to learn the new names and faces.   On one of my first days here I had a lovely conversation with a woman who had a greying, shortish hair.  The only problem was that I’d met several others with similar hair coloring and styling, and she was a real blur (even with my glasses on!).  A month later, I know who she is and who most of the others are.  Every day it gets a little easier to say “hello [name]” with confidence.

And then there are the students: so many girls with straight long hair… boys with the “in” haircut… athletes in the same uniform… that clump of sixth grade girls who always come in at the same time to borrow books… I could go on.  And slowly they, too, are becoming less of a blur.

Each year there’s a new crop of students to get to know.  This year, being new myself, I can understand how intimidating it is for them to learn new faculty names, and figure out what the difference between gyms or auditoriums is, and what the unspoken rules of the community are, all in addition to learning new curriculum.  What role does the library play in helping them “see beyond the blur”?

Is it familiar books, old favorite reads that let them know that here are librarians who understand them?  Is it being able to help them troubleshoot printing and other technology problems?  Is it learning their name quickly, so there’s another adult around who asks how their day is going?  Is it creating programs that build on, but don’t feel like, classwork (like poetry slams or guessing first lines of books)?  Is it having a personal librarian program, so that first Big Research Paper isn’t as frightening?

This year is the perfect time to think, ponder and explore all of the above, so that next year, when things are no longer blurry for me, I can help others find clarity more quickly.

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

Where to draw the line

Posted by lpearle on 17 September 2015

If you work in a school you are a mandated reporter: you must report suspected child abuse or neglect.  Many schools include students drinking in that definition, even if the parents are aware and supporting.  Now, many time the parents are trying to be the “cool” parent and allowing a kegger in their home.  But many Jewish families allow their children to drink wine on Shabbat or Pesach.  Many French and Italian families allow their children to drink wine as part of dinner.  So, the question is how do you draw the line as a mandated reporter?

Here’s the scenario some of us face: we’re at an event – say, a family wedding or a gathering of old friends – and see underage drinking.  It’s not our house, it’s not our event, but is it our responsibility?  Some schools would say yes, others take a more nuanced view.

It comes into play when we’re on social media, too.  MPOW’s rule is that we cannot connect with students until they’ve been out of school for five years.  MFPOW had no rule beyond “use your common sense” (assuming, of course, we have some).  But what if you have a teenager and their friends want to connect with you?  Or you’re friends with your nieces and nephews, or the children of friends?  Or you’re abiding by that five-year rule and those new former student/friends have younger siblings… And there, in a post or tweet or pin or something else, you see something you would, in the normal course of your work, have to report.

It’s a tricky line.  Do you decline invitations to events where you know (or strongly suspect) that underage drinking will take place? Do you just bite your tongue, knowing that it’s not your event or responsibility?

Just a little something to think about as the Jewish holidays pass, as families and friends start to talk about winter gatherings, and possibly even plan for the spring and summer.

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Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 11 September 2015

Still digitally decluttering…

Books, Reading, etc.

  • One challenge at MPOW is getting the middle school students into the library (time, distance, lack of discrete space are issues).  So we’re thinking about the pop-up library.

School Life

Tech Stuff

  • This was done with sixth graders, but could easily scale to any middle or upper school class.
  • This is of Allentown, but imagine creating a history or English class project (I know I’ve suggested this before… hoping this year a teacher takes me up on it!).  And how cool it would be to integrate the Newseum into your resources? or a Digital Timeline?
  • MPOW is a GAFE/Schoology school, and looks like it would be a great tool to use!
  • Right now, we’re BYOD (so have computer labs) – Doug has great ideas about 1:1.
  • This list of tools is a great starter toolkit!
  • It’s the start of a new school year.  Why not declutter your laptop before things get crazy?


And, as always, Will Richardson has some great ideas about trends we should be watching.  Something to ponder as the school year starts.

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


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