Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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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 »

What really matters when reading

Posted by lpearle on 16 March 2020

I’ve written before about why there’s a problem with reading levels and lexiles.  We all know, sadly, that they’re still a thing, despite authors and librarians pleas:

I’ve read so many books that are published with a recommended age, or grade, and I know that those are more a marketing thing from publishers and essentially meaningless.  Some 12-year-olds are ready for much higher material and some 14-year-olds aren’t, but the publisher needs to recommend some general age so that bookstores and AR quizzes and librarians know how to deal with each book.

Many years ago I helped create some curriculum units and one of the requirements was the the readings be at (or above) certain Lexile levels.  There are websites you can use to tell you which level a book is, but as we all know, sometimes simple books contain very deep thoughts.  In one case, the group needing these units asked for us to change readings because they were too simple (yet the “appropriate” age group would not necessarily understand the context or content) and in another, they wanted to change a reading because the students wouldn’t understand the context (yet that reading appeared in 7 of 12 previous year’s state tests in another subject on a different topic).

My point is, I get the marketing aspect.  I understand parents wanting guidance.  I don’t understand why the level or grade or age is taken as having the weight that we might give to Holy Writ.

Posted in Books, Musings, Rants | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 13 March 2020

It’s been well over a year since my last one of these. Let’s see what I’ve found since then.  For many schools in the Northeast, there’s the approaching Spring Break in which to explore.  And yes, there’s more to follow.

Books, Reading, etc.

Library Links

Tech Stuff

Student Centered

  • My seniors are learning where they’re going to be next year, and Stephen Bell has a list of the things they’ll need from their next librarians.  How can we help them bridge that gap?
  • Along with that, we need to remember that school libraries are continuing to evolve.
  • For far too many students, studying history is just another box to tick for graduation.  This History 101 class (and rationale) is something every history department should read about.
  • This walkabout is something I’d love to try during orientation/the opening of school (for faculty and students!)
  • IMVHO, ninth graders should do a serious annotated bibliography instead of a research paper.


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

When you’re the boss…

Posted by lpearle on 9 March 2020

Last week the other librarians and I had a real case of the Friday’s.  I’d been a little inspired by Sara at Thayer, but then I saw this twitter thread and, well… to help us get over our Friday’s, I thought it might help for us to create the following:


DISCLAIMER: We are not responsible for any earworms.

Posted in Life Related, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Not a fan

Posted by lpearle on 3 March 2020

There are words that we, in polite society, don’t say.  Some of those words have been claimed, or reclaimed, by the group intended to be insulted by that word (eg, queer).  And some are supposed to be used only “in group”.

I raise this because one of our popular databases here is the online OED.  It’s used heavily in the ninth grade English classes, and I suspect many adults use it to find etymologies of words (or alternate spellings).  So imagine my shock when I read this on LanguageLog, that the “Y-word” has been repurposed and defined:

2. British. In extended use: a supporter of or player for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club (traditionally associated with the Jewish community in north and east London). Originally and frequently derogatory and offensive, though also often as a self-designation.

Even the football club is asking for people to stop using That Word.

At MPOW the English Department has established the norm that while they may have texts that use certain language, in reading aloud or speaking about it “n-word” is to be used. That makes sense because there are many works that use that word that are still worth reading.  But there are many other words that do not need to be written or read, and this is one of them.

While looking through our language/grammar section, I and a colleague found a book listing ethnic and other slurs.  It’s now gone, despite it possibly having value in a linguistic setting.  Why provide even more ways to spread division and cruelty?


Posted in Books, Collection Development, Ethics | Leave a Comment »

The art of “yes… but no”

Posted by lpearle on 25 February 2020

One of the big project we’ve undertaken has been to go shelf by shelf, moving books to better fitting DDC numbers so our students can find what they need more easily.  Sometimes the error was a simple transposition of the numbers, with something belonging in 973 ending up with 937 on the spine label.  Some, well… let’s just say there’s been a lot of “yes… but no” regarding the decisions either in house or at LoC.

If you don’t know how DDC numbers get assigned, here’s the short version: publishers provide the Library of Congress with information about an upcoming book, including a brief summary and subject headings.  The LoC staff then translates that into a DDC number.

Yes, that’s the very short version.  The problem comes when either the publisher or the LoC staff don’t quite know what to do with a book.  For example, years ago I found The President’s Position series split between 320 and 973 (per LoC) which meant I had to figure out which place was better for my students.

This collection is no different:

  • A heart for freedom : the remarkable journey of a young dissident, her daring escape, and her quest to free China’s daughters was, as expected, in religion (248) but our students would find the author’s time during the Tiananmen uprising more interesting so we moved it to China (951).
  • Another book,  Who will shout if not us? : student activists and the Tiananmen Square protest, China, 1989 was moved from education (378) to 951 for the same reason.


It’s the head scratchers that keep us amused, though. For example:

  • One humorous in-house shelving oops was finding The Rape of Nanking with the other books on sexual assault.  Yes… but no.
  • A book on the Holocaust had a LoC assigned number that placed it in population control.  Yes… but no.
  • A book on slavery had an LoC assigned number that would put it on the same shelf as books on Wal-Mart and other retail institutions.  Yes… but no.
  • The award for What Are They Thinking went to the book Ties that Bound; three of the four First Ladies owned slaves, and there was a subject heading for each that went Washington, Martha — 1731–1802 — Employees.  Not even close to a “yes”, just  really no.  We changed that “employees” to “slaves”.

We think we’ve found all of those surprising cataloging decisions.  We hope.  It has made us much more conscious of new books and how they’ve been cataloged, however.



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

No time

Posted by lpearle on 18 February 2020

One of the blogs I follow, Being More with Less, had a post recently called 9 Things I Refuse to Make Time For Anymore. Now, most of these are self-care things, like not rewriting the past or guilt and resentment.  I wholeheartedly endorse those, but that’s not what I want to talk about just now.  What I do want to talk about are those professional things I refuse to make time for – some long term, some more recent.

About a year ago, there was a discussion on the AISL elist about where we placed book stamps/labels.  Waaaay back when, before barcodes, it made sense to place stamps in multiple places.  Maybe.  Some people still do, with a stamp on the top of the book and one on the title page and one on some supersecret place inside.  When I started at Milton, they also stamped the acquisition date on the back inside cover and put in a bookplate.  We no longer do that: a stamp with the library’s name, school and town on the title page, a barcode and a spine label are fine.  I refuse to make time for something that’ is taken care of by our catalog (acquisition date) and the barcode label (indicating which library owns the book).

It’s research season again, and we have many students needing help and guidance finding appropriate resources.  As I’ve blogged before, I refuse to make time for angst about students not using the best resources.

As a corollary to all that, many colleagues believe that they can best guide their students through the process and to the best resources, despite not knowing what we have that’s new or improved.   Some are still asking students to do things on paper notecards or not requiring a citation manager, despite our telling students that this is something they’ll need to use in college.  And most believe they understand how to cite, but aren’t able to figure out the information necessary from a website or database (or fully believe that an ebook is the same as a print book in content).  I refuse to make time for anger about teachers not wanting to collaborate on this, thus hurting their students research capabilities in the future..

Long before my MLS, I started in the business office of a theatre company.  We used CalcStar to do the books, actually running manual books alongside because the technology was so new we didn’t trust it.  At my next job, we migrated from manual to electronic books.  Once I became a librarian, it was difficult getting reports from the business office, so I started running QuickBooks to manage the budget and library finances.  At MPOW I have access to their financial system whenever I want (I can look, but I can’t “touch”).  It’s been a great lesson in  library management: I refuse to make time for duplicating the efforts of others.

Over the years I’ve developed a bit of a problem with elists and enewsletters and blogs.  It took 50 years to stop being a “clean plate” reader, and I’ve mastered the art of skimming the headlines and deciding if this article or that post is worth the investment of my time.  I refuse to make time for every post and every message.  Many just aren’t that interesting or necessary.

It’s a perennial issue for librarians: what do you do with the teacher who breaks copyright laws with excessive copies or streaming videos in class from their private accounts.  Most schools prize academic integrity, and yet look the other way when it’s clear that a teacher is creating a private course reader without checking to see if they can make copies year after year of the same short story or article or poem.  Most have no way to stop the streaming, grown even worse now that laptops aren’t equipped with DVD trays.  At two previous schools I waded into that frey, getting streaming licenses and checking copyright/creating legitimate course packs.  I refuse to make time at MPOW for that argument; there are other hills to die on.

What are you refusing to make time for?




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

History repeats itself

Posted by lpearle on 3 February 2020

The consternation and fear over the 2019-nCoV virus (I know that “Spanish Flu” is politically incorrect these days, but can we all agree that this new thing needs a snappier name) has been interesting for me to watch for two major reasons – two major intellectual reasons, that is. I’m immunocompromised so emotionally I’m not interested, I’m terrified.

The first thing I’ve been looking at are a couple of my elists, where there’s been talk about how to deliver an academic program should a school be closed or quarantined. Several learned techies have weighed in, referencing their online learning management systems and the ability to have webinar/online meetings, etc.. Reading this reminded me of something I’ve posted before, about the NEIT conference in 2007:

This type of quarantine/closing would only last a couple of months at most – what’s the harm in letting students have a vacation? why not let them play and enjoy, rather than forcing them to “do school”?

It was nice to read this comment

And when I’m sequestered in my apartment with my four year-old, who also cannot attend his NYC Pre-K, I am supposed to continue working as if everything is normal? Does the need for “delivering our product” as educators/technologist supersede our schools’ ask to operate in a healthy manner during a pandemic?

I would argue that technology does not save us from our selves. 

reaffirming what my group said 12 years ago, and confirming what I’ve been thinking as I’ve read these threads.

The second thought has been about what I would call the Best Research Lesson. Ever. One of my go-to phrases is that research is for life, not just the particular academic class torturing you with a project. Back in 2007, I taught research skills to the Middle School using Alice Yucht’s FLIP-IT method.

Sadly, much of that class was taught in isolation from any research the students were doing and, when it had been linked, only half the class got instruction. Still, I persisted. Then the 2007 H1N1 virus appeared. And voila, I had a great lesson plan. I arrived in class telling students that I’d just had a phone call from my mother – she could be a little nervous about things, and given that one niece had been in the area of Mexico where the virus started and was now under quarantine and that a school 12 miles away was closing for two weeks, shouldn’t I also be staying home? (I didn’t make any of that up, btw) So we, as a class, we’re going to focus on what we really needed to know about this virus, locate as accurate information as we could and interpret what we learned. The final presentation would be one of two things:

  1. I would call my mother, explaining that I was a [then] fortysomething librarian who had researched this and was in no danger, or
  2. My mother would write a note to the Head of School excusing me from work while the virus was a problem.

Reader, the students loved the assignment. They immediately got the connection between Research and Real Life.

And here we are, twelve years later, having the same discussions. I’m not belittling the concerns, but source evaluation is a lifelong skill and this is a great moment in which to drive that message home.

Posted in Life Related, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Renewing Resolutions

Posted by lpearle on 21 January 2020

It’s about this time of year that most people recognize that their well-intentioned resolutions aren’t going as well as they’d hoped or planned.  If you’re one of those people who planned to read more this year than last, here are some challenges to inspire you  (since my only goal is to read the same as I did last year, I’m thinking about my student readers).

Last year (seems so long ago, doesn’t it?) Betty had a series of strips about reading.

(it starts November 20 and runs through December 7)

Then there are all the programs your local library sponsors.  Examples?  Louisville PLs Books and Brews and Kitsap’s Books on Tap.  I’m trying to think of ways we can do this (minus the alcohol) at school to inspire our student’s reading. Ideas? Please share!

Posted in Books, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »