Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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The average day, fall version

Posted by lpearle on 25 October 2019

Last October, the AISL blog had a post called What do you do all day? (sort of similar to the Library Day in the Life posts I did years ago).  I thought it might be interesting to share what an average day in my library looked like but quickly realized that we have two very different “average” days, first in fall when there is little going on and then in spring when Research Season hits.  Lucky you, there’ll be an update in March!

Usually I arrive at work around 7:30 (depending on traffic it can be 7:45).  Two mornings a week I have a meeting, either all school or just Upper School Faculty.  The school day starts at 8:20 and ends at 3:30, with the library open until 6pm and then again from 7pm – 9:45pm.  Here’s what yesterday, October 24th, looked like.

05:00 – Wake up, take my “pre-breakfast” pills, watch some tv I’d recorded yesterday, check email and news sites

06:00 – Breakfast, continue to read/watch, get dressed, etc.

07:20 – Leave for work.

07:45 – Arrive at work, check in with my assistant.  The Middle School Librarian has two “trivia question of the day” calendars and we usually try to answer those questions at this time.

08:00 – Time for the Upper School Faculty meeting, where we had a discussion about an academic issue.

08:20 – The school day starts.  I have bills to pay and our budget to reconcile and cataloging to do so I’m holing up in the office where I will be less disturbed than if I’m out on the desk.

09:10 – The advisor for the Conservative Club asks about what books we have from that perspective.  I said that we’re interested in presenting different points-of-view, and if there’s a list that she can recommend we’ll buy whatever we don’t currently have.  And if the club wants to put together a display we would be happy to make that happen.

09:35 – Our sixth grade has a reading buddy program with the first and second grades.  Today we got photos to post to our Instagram feed.

09:50 – Over the past few years we’ve been working on our collection and the second pass is almost done.  I spent Sunday through Tuesday at the NELA19 conference and attended this session from Brookline Public Library.  

It was really affirming to see that others are struggling with some of the same issues we have been (cataloging not consistent, or in areas that don’t make sense, or made up Dewey numbers).  Today we’re finishing moving the 973 books into “correct” shelf positions (I’ll have to change call numbers  in the catalog and relabel the ones that have moved).

12:15 – Done with the move!  Lunch time!

12:45 – On to the next bit of the project, working on the 974-999 books.  First step, download the accession list for those books.  Next I’ll sort by copyright, highlighting the books more than 20 years old (we’ll see if they need to updated or weeded when we get to those books).  Then I’ll sort by call number and start to see what needs to be moved/changed.  Tomorrow we will move all these books, and I’ll do the changes/relabeling for 973-999.

16:00 – Each of us take one night as a late night, and tonight’s my night.  I help a teacher prepare a display for tomorrow’s Upper School Parents Weekend.  She’s part of AWARE (Alliance of White Anti-Racist Educators) and we bought a number of books to supplement the books we already had to help support their work.

17:45 – Let students know that we’re closing in ten minutes (there are several people who come in at 7pm and staff the library during evening study hall, so the boarders and day students who want to study here at night can).

18:00 – Walk out the door.

18:30 – Get home.  Time for dinner, relaxing (with a new book), cuddling with the cats.  Lights out around 8-8:30.

Tomorrow, as a wise fictional character once said, is another day.




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

He cares!

Posted by lpearle on 22 October 2019

At our last meeting of the academic year, our IT Director told us that he had a new toy: a tool that lets him create phishing messages and then track what we do with that email.  Over the past few days the other librarians got emails that made them go “huh?” and today I got this:

To be honest, I’m disappointed.  Unlike one of my colleagues, I didn’t get the “Inappropriate Instagram content” message.  Or the password check message.  I got one that could be something to do with my health (mental or physical) but I know, really, really know, what those bills look like thanks to my ongoing eye issues.

His reason for doing this is that some are very clever and far too many otherwise smart people click on those links.  Trying to trick people and show them how they were fooled is a great idea: he cares!  It’s just in this case, he didn’t care enough to send me the very best.

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

Creative Paper Writing

Posted by lpearle on 8 October 2019

This tweet caught my eye:

It reminded me of when I was a junior in high school, taking a philosophy class.  One of my friends chose “silence as a means of communication” for her paper topic and at the end, she handed in ten blank pages (plus a full bibliography and cover page).  She did have a real paper ready, but the teacher loved what she’d handed in and didn’t ask for anything more.  Because it was a pass/fail class the grade didn’t matter but if it had, she’d have gotten a very high grade.

We tell students to take risks, to not be so grade driven that “failure” is an A-, to care less about the college they’re getting into but to find the right school for them.  What if a student handed in this type of paper?  What if they did all the other steps, the outline and note cards and research, but their paper was more creative?  Sadly, few – if any – teachers would appreciate it.  So when we talk about taking risks, do we really mean it?

Posted in Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Difficult Discussions

Posted by lpearle on 24 September 2019

At one school I taught a storytelling class to the 4/5 grade.  It was a combined grade and so I had to rotate between Cinderella stories and something else, usually fractured fairy tales.  One year I did trickster tales with them and after trying to read the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus stories decided instead to show Song of the South.  Before we watched the film I talked with them about the problems in the movie and said that any time anyone felt uncomfortable, they could just tell me (or leave the word STOP in a note on my desk), and after we talked about what they’d seen.  They understood why people were uncomfortable with the movie but thought that the way we’d approached it helped and that others should do the same.

Apparently others agree, as in this article talking about why SotS shouldn’t be destroyed.  That it should be shown as part of a larger conversation about problems in older films (see: Gone with the Wind), giving context to what we see on the screen.  Or maybe  along with a discussion about To Kill a Mockingbird‘s racism.

I’d like to suggest that problem isn’t just with the film or book (or, in the case of Little House on the Prairie, the tv series and the books). It’s with our distaste for having those difficult discussions about what’s wrong with them, to show other points-of-view and to accept that sometimes a childhood favorite presents problems for others (Reading While White is a great resource).  Banning, or removing, these cultural artifacts doesn’t help, because it creates an air of mystery about it.  Teaching them in addition to other materials that show other points of view or what the reality (vs. the fictionalized version) looked like would go far further, in my opinion.

It’s Banned Books Week and it’s a great time to start these difficult discussions.  I know I am.

Posted in Books, Musings, Student stuff | 1 Comment »

My annus horribilis

Posted by lpearle on 26 August 2019

While the fiscal/academic year ticked over on July 1, today is my first real day back at work.  We’re getting set up for AY20 by creating displays, getting ready for new student orientations, shelving books and all that fun stuff, plus first department and division meetings.   Before Summer Vacation started we worked on a To Do List for the next year, giving us a path forward that will ease the start of the year.

For me, that guide is deeply appreciated as last year was truly an annus horribilis for me.  Physically I was still dealing with the effects of CRION and the drugs I’m on to keep things stable.  That particular cocktail made me very, very tired, although going off one drug meant the “puffy” (aka swelling due to water retention) went away.  There’s that old saying that as you age you have a doctor for every body part.  Me?  I have three doctors for one very small body part, my left optic nerve.  Go me?!

And on more of a personal note, my mother’s health, which was declining fairly rapidly over the past three years, failed completely.  It’s was difficult watching that but losing her in the middle of the year was even more difficult.  I’ve always tried to keep my personal emotional stuff away from work and I know that I wasn’t able to do that.

Luckily, this summer was the first in many that I haven’t had to work or had a major project to complete.  So instead I took to my bed for a couple of months of reading, napping, binge watching tv and cuddling with my cats.  I could use more time for those but as we start to edge in to the new year it’s enough to regain some sense of equilibrium and calm.  Plus, AY20 can’t be worse than AY19, right?  RIGHT????

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

Learning from the past

Posted by lpearle on 25 February 2019

The other day a friend at work was sitting in our conference room reading about creating an educational biography.  What was that, I wondered?  It’s a summary of the influences your teachers and other educational experiences had on making you “you”. Here’s one way to approach one, and here’s another version.

By coincidence, there was a tweet the next day I responded to:

It’s probably no surprise to anyone that it centered on reading, right?

What I didn’t add in that tweet was that this was a contest where we logged the number of pages we read each week (newspapers counted for a certain number of pages, as did comic books).  The top four readers would get lunch at a restaurant across the street from the school. The first week, the teacher accepted my tally.  The second week, she was a little suspicious.  It was either the third or the fourth week when we had a snow day on a Friday and I read all 1,365 pages of The Count of Monte Cristo (yes, the number of pages stuck with me and that might also be the long weekend I ate a bushel of apples.) That’s in addition to my other reading that week.  My mother got a phone call then, and confirmed that yes, indeed, I had read all those pages.  Because I’d won four weeks in a row, and not just won but read more than several classmates combined, this teacher decided to cancel the contest as she couldn’t prevent me from entering.

What I also didn’t add was how that made me feel – that somehow reading was wrong, or at least reading fast was wrong, or reading that much was wrong.  And somehow, I was wrong.

Clearly, 40+ years later, that memory stuck with me.  It didn’t stop me from reading, or feeling somehow wrong for reading the amount I read (although I’m currently 9 books behind my goal for 2019 so I’m not reading as much as I should).  If I were writing my educational biography, that’s one of the things that would go in.

Over the weekend I’ve been thinking about my effect on students.  I know one parent who feels that her daughter benefited from my being her librarian (she even reached out on Facebook to tell me).  I know that many appreciate help on research projects or finding their next read.  Conversely, I know that there are some who feel that asking them to treat the library and others in it with respect by keeping their voices down (we have a cement building that amplifies noise) and not running or throwing things is a problem.

There are a few I’m pretty sure would include me in their educational biographies, both positively and negatively.  I can only hope that it’s more of the former than the latter.  And going forward, it’ll be in the back of my mind as I work with them.


Posted in Books, Life Related | Leave a Comment »

My Year in Reading

Posted by lpearle on 31 December 2018

Not a bad year, reading-wise, especially given what else is going on (more on that later).

The best books of 2018?

Posted in Books | Leave a Comment »

Treasure Found

Posted by lpearle on 15 November 2018

Several years ago, I posted the following on Goodreads:

One poster suggested Stars Under the Tent; I bought it and, well, it wasn’t the book I remembered.  Earlier this year I read about The Crack Squad of Librarians Who Track Down Half-Forgotten Books and thought about the book again.  What I didn’t say on Goodreads was that this was one of many books I’d read at my grandparents’ house, books that belonged to my father and his sister, published in the 1920s and 30s (or earlier) and lost to me when we sold my grandmother’s house in the 70s.  Some of the books did make it to my parents’ home but this was clearly one of my aunt’s and I thought only my father’s had been retrieved.  We, living in a home in central New York, had far more room than she did, living in an apartment in New York City.

Last Friday, there was a minor emergency with my mother, so I left work early and raced there.  Luckily, everything was ok.  Even more lucky, Saturday was my mother’s 81st birthday and the trip saved me from sending a belated card and gift: I could hand deliver.  My father, who has been gently downsizing (among other items leaving their house, in August I drove 29 boxes of books to my work, where we sorted and then sent most to our reseller) seized the opportunity to pack three boxes of children’s books that I’d loved and get them out of the house.  Some, like Hans Brinker or the Silver Skates and Treasure Island (which my father stopped reading to me three chapters before the end, and no, I’ve never finished it, yes, it’s been 49 years and I probably should get over my snit) he still wants to keep.

Did you know that Pollyanna was the first in a series?  Ditto Mary Poppins.  And the Five Little Peppers.  Those books, plus several in the Marjorie Maynard series and “my” copy of Good Night, Moon are among the treasures now on my shelves.

But wait!  There’s more!

Among the books was one entitled The Secret Spring.  By Emma Atkins Jacobs.  And, well… it was the book.  The New York Times even reviewed it.  While I rarely give in to my urge to re-read favorite books (Robertson Davies, I’m looking at you!) I just might have to make an exception.  Anyone want to bet on that?

Posted in Books | 1 Comment »

Time to breathe

Posted by lpearle on 13 November 2018

Because second semester is essentially Research Semester, with three months of classes (often 15-20 classes a day), we tend to tackle major projects in first semester.  Perhaps not the smartest idea, given the exhaustion I and the other librarians face by, well, now.  Luckily Thanksgiving Break is just around the corner, and then it’s a short time to Winter Break… and after that, we’re setting up for Exam Week and hurtling into Research Season.

  • For example, last year we tackled the junk drawer, and this year we’re continuing looking at the collection – thus far we’ve done the 500s, 600s and 700s (with luck we’ll get through the 800s before second semester; the 900s will wait until next year).  The past two years have brought up some humorous cataloging oopses.  I’ve already mentioned that at PCS I found “The Wrath of Grapes” miscataloged as “The Grapes of Wrath”.  What we’re finding now are more problems either as the Library of Congress is creating the CIP information or in-house as things were cataloged:
      • The Rape of Nanking was found with other books on sexual assault
      • The section on population control contained a book on the Holocaust
      • Among the books on stores like Wal-Mart was a book on slavery
      • The Bone Woman, about a forensic anthropologist working on mass graves, was in the anthropology section
      • Going Dutch: how England plundered Holland’s glory is about the rise of England as a world power, not about art theft and belongs in history, not art

    Each of these books gets a “yes… but NO!” from us and we move it to where it will be found and useful to our students.  There are, of course, many more that are reasonably in one area of the collection but we feel belong elsewhere.  Still, it’s these gems that keep us going.

  • We’re also moving books around physically.  Thanks to this rethinking project, there are shelves we don’t need in our library and would really be helpful for our Art Department library, so we’re rearranging things to free up a bookcase that will be moved over Thanksgiving Break.  It’s also a great opportunity for us to rearrange some of the second floor tables (oddly enough, neither we nor the administration feel that a group “hiding” in a corner playing Fortnight is a group best using the library’s resources and that a rearrangement might help them see the error of their ways).
  • Our Resource Guides are being revised and added to, including one on Violence in America and one designed to provide resources for the recent visit from the Defamation Project. Thanks to our History Department teachers helping assess the utility of a discovery service, EDS will join our offerings – leading, we hope, to better searching during Research Season.
  • The Greater Boston Cooperative Library Association is hosting this year’s AISL conference and Milton will be hosting one morning (during the start of our Intro History classes doing research); I’ll be reprising The What If… Scenario with my two co-presenters and “hosting” a Dinner with a Local Librarian.
  • I’m still reading for the Excellence in Children’s and Young Adult Science Fiction award… a little behind on that, but I can catch up, right?

While it’s not quite an official honor, I was interviewed by one of our Spanish classes (I’m guessing they translated my English answers into Spanish for a class presentation) and our photography teacher asked if I’d sit for one of his advanced students who was being assigned to take a mere 15 minutes for the photo shoot and to turn it around the next day, mimicking some of the realities of being a professional photographer.  The student and I chatted while he was shooting, and this was the final photo:

Next week I’ll be at the ALAN Workshop then away for Thanksgiving Break.  With all that’s going on, it’s good to have time to breathe!

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

And we’re off!

Posted by lpearle on 13 September 2018

The school year officially started on Tuesday.  The seniors processed in to Convocation, there were speeches, and then classes began.  To be honest, I could use another week to get ready but, well, that’s not happening.

Also on Tuesday, we created a calendar to highlight potential displays (no to “National Popcorn Day”, yes to “Centenary of Armistice Day”) and used last year’s calendar to pre-prepare for classes coming in.  One of those classes, working with a teacher of Class IV Physics (we’re a physics first school, and Class IV = ninth grade) has already reached out, saying that his students found our NoodleTools lesson very helpful.  I then emailed the other physics teachers, asking if they’d like a similar lesson and as of this morning, three have already said they’d love it!  Yay!!

Yesterday was our Department Chairs meeting, and we discussed the book Meeting Wise.  Now, some of our departments have 20 members… the library has five.  Two of them are part-time (one 25 hours/week, the other 10).  So our meetings are a little different from most, as it’s easy to have discussions with everyone’s voice is heard.  And, like other departments, we see each other all the time.  But there were a few take aways from the book that I’m going to try.  For example, each week we start with a One Minute Debrief, so we’re all aware of what’s going on in our daily professional lives.  It’s turned into a laundry list of “I shelved… I watered the plants… I worked on a Resource Guide…” and this year, I’m going to try to get that to morph into more of a “I’ve been working on [larger project]…. I’ve been thinking about how we’re teaching [skill] for [class]…”  We’ll see how that goes.

We also talked about departmental goals for the year.  For me, those include continuing to “rightsize” and “right place” the collection – are the books in the best place for students to find/use?  do we need these books (eg, do we have the right books on the shelves)?  – by both looking at each book on the shelf and asking departments to come in and look at “their” collections to advise on areas of growth or shrinkage.  Another goal is to broaden our range in terms of classes and departments, trying to build bridges to teachers who have never used the library’s resources or departments who never come in.  Of course, thinking about the new library we’ll be in (in 3-4 years) and what that will look like physically is important, so we’ll visit several new (or newly renovated) libraries.  And then there’s the “yes, I am crazy enough to try to pull this off” thing I’m not going to talk about just now… but stay tuned.

I was joking with two high school friends about how the year had just started and that I was counting the days (then 271, now 269) until graduation.  It feels like it’s forever away… and right around the corner.

Posted in School Libraries | 1 Comment »