Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Book-based thoughts about #alaac15

Posted by lpearle on 2 July 2015

I have so much more to write about, but just don’t have time right now to digest and properly reflect on the sessions.  So instead, here’s the “easy” post, all about the books!

ARCs to savor – look for these books soon! (ok, I haven’t read more than one or two… yet…):

  • Slade House by David Mitchell (huge surprise, given the appearance of The Bone Clocks earlier this year)
  • Worlds of Ink and Shadow by Lena Coakley (historical fiction about the Brontes)
  • The Trouble in Me by Jack Gantos (no one does fictional autobiography like Gantos.  No one).
  • Most Dangerous by Steve Sheinkin (about Daniel Ellsberg, maybe helping students understand why what he did was such a Big Deal Back Then)
  • Untwine by Edwidge Dandicat (need I say more?)
  • The Year of Lear by James Shapiro (maybe understanding the historical setting around the writing of the play will help students appreciate it more?)
  • We Believe the Children by Richard Beck (looking forward to revisiting the hysteria)

For the record, I got nearly 70 books at ALA, all of which I’m hoping I’ll truly enjoy.  These just seemed to be the most universally interesting.  Or not.

A few years ago, Wendy introduced me to the joy that is the Best Fiction for Young Adults teen feedback session.  If at all possible, I try to go and hear what the teens really think (because as a 50+-year-old, sometimes I just don’t think like a teen).  The following is a list of the books that got Much Love, Some Love and Mixed Love from the group that spoke, and one or two that they didn’t seem to like as much as the committee did:

  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (Becky Albertalli) – some love
  • The Tightrope Walkers (David Almond) – some love
  • Infandous (Elana Arnold) – mixed love
  • The Doubt Factory (Paolo Bacigalupi) – no real love
  • Silent Alarm (Jennifer Banash) – some love
  • The Darkest Part of the Forest (Holly Black) – mixed love
  • The Game of Love and Death (Martha Brockenbrough) – mixed love
  • The Bunker Diary (Kevin Brooks) – mixed love
  • Alex as Well (Alyssa Brugman) – mixed love
  • Audacity (Melanie Crowder) – some love
  • Death Coming Up the Hill (Chris Crowe) – some love
  • I’ll Meet You There (Heather Demetrios) – some love
  • Eden West (Peter Hautman) –  some love
  • Poisoned Apples (Christine Heppermann) – much love
  • Little Peach (Peggy Kern) – much love
  • Read Between the Lines (Jo Knowles) – some love
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas) – some love
  • All the Bright Places (Jennifer Niven) – much love
  • Vanishing Girls (Lauren Oliver) – some love
  • The Boy in the Black Suit (Jason Reynolds) – mixed love
  • Bone Gap (Laura Ruby) – mixed love
  • The Winner’s Crime (Marie Rutkoski) – mixed love
  • Fig (Sarah Elizabeth Schantz) – some love
  • The Ghosts of Heaven (Marcus Sedgwick) – mixed love
  • X (Ilyasah Shabazz) – much love
  • Challenger Deep (Neal Shusterman) – much love
  • The Walls Around Us (Nova Ren Suma) – mixed love
  • All the Rage (Courtney Summers) – much love
  • In Real Life (Laurence Tabak) – mixed love
  • An Ember in the Ashes (Sabaa Tahir) – mixed love
  • The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B (Teresa Toten) – mixed love
  • Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go (Laura Rose Wagner) – some love
  • We All Looked Up (Tommy Wallach) – mixed love
  • My Heart and Other Black Holes (Jasmine Warga) – mixed love
  • This Side of Home (Renee Watson) – some love

There were 59 books on the list, so that “only” 24 were left off during a whirlwind 90 minute session isn’t bad.  For me, the surprises were that Mosquitoland (David Arnold), Saint Anything (Sarah Dessen), The Girl at Midnight (Melissa Grey), Razorhurst (Justine Larbalesteir), Hold Me Closer (David Levithan) and Black Dove, White Raven (Elizabeth Wein) were not mentioned at all.  That might not mean anything… or it might.  What I do know is that I’m going to use the much loved and some loved books in a Welcome Back display in September, asking our students to weigh in.

Now I’m off on a brief vacation (and some reading of the new books).  More on ALA when I return.

 

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

Learning to let go

Posted by lpearle on 15 June 2015

Before I became a school librarian, the end was easy: in the corporate world, you handed in your two week’s notice, possibly trained your replacement, and moved on, and in the theatre world the production ended and you moved on.  Easy.  But in schools, things aren’t quite so cut-and-dried.  I know at least one Head of School who announced retirement in April of one year, looking at leaving in June the following year.  If you get a new job, you might know as early as January but again not leave until the end of June.

My first library job was a one year position, and even so I wanted to do the right thing and make sure everything was finished before leaving.  At one point in early June the other librarian said, “I think Friday should be your last day.”  She was right: there would always be something more to do.  The next job lasted longer, and as faculty I wasn’t expected to set foot in the building from the day after graduation in June until the opening faculty meeting in September. However… there were always magazines to check in.  And I couldn’t place the summer book and supply orders until July 1, when the fiscal year ticked over.  And then there was making sure that what arrived got paid for in a timely manner.  And maybe creating some displays of the new books.  Working as an administrator over the summer meant that got done, but also other projects.  It was (as Roseanne Rosannadanna said) always something.

I’m back to being faculty now, with summers off.  And yet… Still, I’m staying strong.  There are a few advisor reports I need to write, some books to shelve and the big summer book order to prepare.  The goal? Letting goof it all by tomorrow.    What doesn’t get done by tomorrow afternoon can wait, or wasn’t important after all. It’s time to step back, to take time to relax and recharge.

I suggest you do so as soon as you can, too.

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

The value of hoarding

Posted by lpearle on 11 June 2015

My father’s family seems to have the packrat gene.  Maybe it’s a “we escaped the shtetl and feel safe enough to acquire stuff” mentality, or the Depression Era mentality, or truly a genetic thing, but they’re packrats.  Wait!  This is relevant!!  My grandfather was a tax attorney who managed to acquire – as payment – goods from clients.  When he died in the early 1970s, we had the Smithsonian and the George Eastman House asking about some of the old photographic equipment he’d stored in his garage for decades (it should be noted that the car didn’t fit into the garage).  By the mid-70s, all the bits had been disbursed… or so I thought.

Early in his career, my grandfather clerked and later partnered with a lawyer whose father was a law partner of President Arthur (pre-Presidency).  The father married a woman whose family had lived in Litchfield, Connecticut since the 1700s and somehow he ended up with a packet of legal documents: deeds, debts, wills, etc..  And that packet was left to his son, and eventually my grandfather got it when the partnership ended in the 1950s.  After his death, it went to my aunt, then to my cousin and last month my father got it while helping my cousin do some work on her house.  It’s not a large packet, about 6″ high, filled with old-fashioned, handwritten deeds and IOUs and so forth from the 1700s to the Civil War era.  None of it has to do with my family, so I grabbed it and volunteered to take care of them.  Take care how? By donating them to the Litchfield Historical Society.

Why this long digression?  Because I’ve worked in four schools where the archives could have significant value to current and future researchers, if only… If only people were intelligent packrats, saving just what is relevant to the school and its history.  If only they preserved those items and remembered to send them to the school, which had space in which to store them and staff to process them.  If only they could be made available to the outside world.

Now, that’s not to imply that those schools aren’t doing what they can.  Far from it!  But it does take more than just collecting posters and programs and transcripts and yearbooks from inside the school, it takes alumni and others not throwing away the important things.  Just this year I’ve acquired an old school ring, photos of a dorm room from the late 1890s, theatre programs from the 1960s and other items.  There’s a ton of work still to be done in terms of organizing and indexing so we know what we have and what’s missing, but that’s part of the fun of archives.  Then there’s the transcription and digitization of documents, or establishing connections with outside organizations (like the David Davis Mansion, as the daughter of Gov. Davis attended Porter’s in the 1800s; their archivist has been very generous sending us links to letters they’ve transcribed that mention the school and Sallie’s time here).

This may be too late for some, but if you’re going through your old stuff and come across anything from your high school or college days, don’t throw it away until you check with your school.  They may just want what you’ve saved.

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

Bad trends

Posted by lpearle on 1 June 2015

One of the hats I wear is that of Online Bookstore Manager, which means I corral the textbooks our teachers are requiring, uploading the information into our online bookstore, and monitoring for problems (for example, out-of-print materials). The adjunct part of that is that parents contact me about what their child will be required to read/use next year so that they can get tutoring over the summer – I know, from speaking with colleagues at other schools, it’s the same where they are.

My problem is two-fold: one, what happened to letting the teacher teach the subject?  and two, what happened to working or enjoying your summer, free from school?  I know that many parents (particularly those in competitive schools) worry that their child won’t get into the Best Possible School if they don’t have extra help and coaching, so summers are spent learning next year’s materials so that tests and quizzes are easier and grades higher.  But does that really help the student?  What happens in college, when they might have to take an internship in their field rather than getting a jump on their classes?  Maybe they find lectures boring, because they’ve just spent two months cramming the information in, so it’s not new and thus attention wanes.   Why not wait to see if they really do need the extra boost and get tutoring during the school year, possibly even asking the teacher to go over the example or topic one more time?

I also know that many are concerned about Building the Resume, so jobs that teens took when I was in school are not open for consideration (jobs like working at a fast food restaurant, or painting houses, or landscaping, or being a chambermaid).

Some of the change comes from parents wanting better for their children than they had (so no child of mine is going to repair roofs because I did), but some comes from the race to keep their child college ready.  As a country we’ve lost manufacturing jobs, and many that remain are computer-based and require different skills than before, but not everyone needs college.  Not every job requires a BA – I prefer my electrician to have proper job training than to be able to read Proust in the original, for example.  There’s honor in those jobs, and honor in hard work.

There’s also nothing wrong with enjoying a summer, or working and learning the life skills of being on time, doing a good day’s work, learning to work with people who might be different from you.  As summer approaches, why not give kids a break?  All too soon they’ll have a mere two weeks off (if they even take it, given current pressures to never take a break).

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

What if there were more like him?

Posted by lpearle on 28 May 2015

Nearly 10 years ago I started working at Hackley School.  As is customary when at a new place, it took a while before I settled in and found my place, my “peeps”.  For me, it was all about the Breakfast Club, a group of some of the smartest people I have ever met, let alone worked with. The Club was from virtually every department in the school, and our conversations ranged from the latest episodes of House and Downton Abbey to politics to religion to students (current and former) and on to academic topics, jokes: you name it, we talked about it (and yes, I’m sure we offended some – there were no sacred cows in the Club).  People were a little in awe of us, but one student reported that he always got a chuckle out of the collective brain power at the table discussing something as mundane as the weather, and that the two women were the biggest sports fans.

One of the Club was a math teacher named Stephen Frauenthal.  He had retired from the Chappaqua public schools and come to Hackley, bringing with him an amazing skill for drawing geometric figures on the board and an enthusiasm for teaching (and math) and his students that was contagious.  He’d seen many educational fads come, and many educational fads go, and was less and less impressed with newer iterations of older fads.  He bemoaned the loss of his blackboard, because chalk came in far more colors than dry erase markers.  He refused a SMART board not because it was New Technology but because he’d tried it, and knew that it couldn’t do what he needed it to, thus not benefitting his students.  It was always about the students for Frau.  He’d give extra help, but not become a crutch.  He’d use technology when it enhanced, but not when it detracted.

Far too many teachers (and administrators) fail to think of that when they’re forging ahead with the Next! New! Thing! and rush to adopt without really considering the impact on pedagogy, whether it is in fact better than what is being used now, and whether the teachers can embrace and integrate it into the curriculum. Doug Johnson writes about the $3400 Piece of Chalk, and I’m sure Frau would have agreed.

But he was more than “just” a math teacher.  He’d worked for, and led, a summer camp in the Adirondacks for decades and was just as inspiring to his campers as he was to his students.

As I left Hackley, it became clear that Frau was ill.  Soon, he retired (again) and Hackley declared a Stephen Frauenthal Day.  This week he went into hospice, then yesterday he died.  The outpouring of emotion on Facebook has been inspiring, with students and campers from years ago remembering the man who shaped their lives.

What if we had more Fraus in our schools?  What if instead of rushing towards something bright and shiny we looked at what we do exceptionally well and evaluate the new thing against that?  What if we took the time to get to know our students and figure out what was best for them, what would inspire them, and what would stick with them years later?  A school full of Fraus would be an amazing place to teach and learn.

Posted in Life Related, Musings, Pedagogy | Leave a Comment »

Summer Learning

Posted by lpearle on 19 May 2015

One of the biggest complaints others have about those of us who work in schools is that we get this really long summer vacation, so why do we need to get paid a reasonable wage? While it’s true that we get that vacation (and part of me says the haters are just jealous), the reality is that few of us use it for Vacation and more of us use it to revamp lesson plans, to learn new tools and skills, and to learn from each other.

My plans, in addition to revamping and trying new tricks, are:

If I had the time/money, I’d also be attending

Between now and then, however, I have time to go through my archived tweets and blog posts, pulling out great ideas to try for next year and tools/tricks/tips to share with you, my faithful readers.  And after, more time to play and explore, not to mention get caught up on all the wonderful summer book releases and getting ready for fall.  Sadly, Faculty Orientation and Student Orientation in August will be upon us far too soon…

What will you be doing?  where?

Posted in Conferences | Leave a Comment »

Obituary vs. Eulogy

Posted by lpearle on 12 May 2015

Last week a F/friend recommended the book The Road to Character by David Brooks, and mentioned that there was going to be a discussion on Book-TV (aka “C-SPAN 2″ on weekdays).  I taped it but didn’t have time to watch until this weekend.

Book TV

One of the things that stuck with me was the difference he draws between building your obituary (or resume – they’re virtually the same) and building your eulogy.  It made me wonder which we’re stressing for our students.

We do a lot of talking about building a resume or portfolio for college, stressing that students need to think about community service and volunteering, doing that service trip to some poverty-stricken area, considering some foreign travel so they have cross-cultural experiences, perhaps getting a summer internship, or taking a leadership position within the school,  in addition to doing well on APs and other tests.  The more “unique” your profile, the better it is for college.   And once in college, there are internships and more, all to make you desirable to an employer.  Since few of them will stay with one company, in one position, for their entire work career, continuing that resume building is critical.  And then there’s civic engagement, joining the PTA or Lions, becoming a volunteer EMT or running for local office.  It’s all about a list of accomplishments that can lift them to the next level until, finally, it’s a list of what they did that can be printed in a newspaper (assuming that newspapers are around at that point).

But what about teaching them to build their eulogy?  Were they kind to strangers? Do they seek out new students to show them how to fit into their new environment?  Do they radiate love for others? Are they honorable? Trustworthy?  What will people say about them at their funeral/memorial service? Or, even closer to their lives, what do their teachers and friends say about them when creating a recommendation or speaking about them at an awards ceremony or other event where they are being honored?  Are they living lives that inspire others to be like them? (Forgiving, of course, those moments when they have a bad day, or makes mistakes – as we all do.)

Mr. Brooks makes the point that we rarely have conversations or use language about morality and creating that moral compass.  Our lives, and those of our students, should be less about Facebook “likes” and more about real life appreciation and admiration.

In our conversations and teachings, especially when the topic is digital citizenship, we often stress the importance of not bullying, or trolling, or building our self-esteem on what people say or post about it.  How often do we turn that to non-digital citizenship?  How can we start having those discussions without sounding overly moralistic, preachy or like an old-fogey?  And what books can we put in our collections that inspire these qualities without being overly moralistic, preachy, etc.?

Posted in Musings, School Libraries | 1 Comment »

Fitting in

Posted by lpearle on 5 May 2015

The NEAISL15 conference is over, and it seemed like everyone had a good time and got a lot out of it (whew!).  Several members were heading to Tampa for AISL15, a conference I haven’t attended since 2001’s Library Space Odyssey (don’t ask).  In two months, I’ll be in San Francisco for ALA Annual, but in between I could to ACRL NEC.  Looking ahead, there are AASL, YALSA and other conferences, symposia and workshops I could be considering… but beyond having limited professional development funds and not wanting to be away from “home” all the time, what conferences (and what organizations) are really going to give me and my school the most bang for the buck?

When I first started my library life, it was clear that joining AASL was necessary.  After all, working in a school library = joining the national school librarian’s association, right? Imagine my surprise when many of my colleagues didn’t belong!  They were members of other ALA divisions, or only joined the state organization, or only the local one.  Did.Not.Compute.  But as time has passed, I, too, have dropped or changed memberships based on what I need and what the organization is giving me.

This is one of those “where do I fit in” moments for me: who will give me the greatest learning opportunities?  where can I make a difference?  That’s not to say that there needs to be a clear path to leadership on a committee or overall, but can I contribute in some way?  Even more important is the learning.  I stopped going to one conference because it was too much money for too little learning.  As a newbie, it was great but in the middle phase of my professional life, too much was geared to those newbies, or to people who weren’t reading blogs and professional magazines and keeping up with trends and tools.  One conference session touted iPhones as the Next Great Thing (remember when Palm Pilots were?), but two years after they’d been introduced. Granted, conference proposals are due so far in advance that sometimes things are outdated, but maybe then the presenters should have upped the game, shown new things and not given a basic intro?  All too frequently, the sessions are geared for the newbies, the beginners, and there are few that are for “advanced” people.

Which leads me to continue to ask, “where do I fit in?”  AASL doesn’t speak to me any longer, YALSA is – after a few years of seeming like a home – really more interested in public librarians than schools, ALSC is for a population younger than I serve.  Reaching up to ACRL makes sense, as does continuing with AISL because of our shared independent status, and then there’s RUSA for reference and RA.  And maybe, after years of joining and joining, that’s enough…

How many of you are feeling the same?  What are you doing about it?

Posted in Professional organizations | Leave a Comment »

What am I missing?

Posted by lpearle on 30 April 2015

Recently there was a report that proved that having a certified teacher-librarian in a school leads to higher student achievement.  Of course this was met with much elation and excitement: look!  we do matter!!

Leaving the question of title and certification (I am not state certified, nor do I call myself a teacher-librarian) aside, I feel like this study – and many of its predecessors – are missing something.  Something like context, or the bigger picture.  Here’s what I don’t see when looking at the survey:

  • what’s the student/teacher ratio?
  • what’s the annual expenditure per student overall, not just in the library?
  • does the library provide access to state purchased databases?
  • what’s the average income level in the school?
  • how many students get free or reduced meals?
  • how involved are the parents in the life of the school?
  • what is the attendance rate?

Here’s one example: my nephew works in an inner city middle school where many students are eligible for free meals.  Despite this, he frequently (ok, daily) brings in fruit and a few candy bars because there are students who are literally crying from hunger after having no food at home for dinner, and then not making it to school in time for breakfast.  Guess what? That school has a state certified librarian in its library.

One of my library friends said this about the study:

What a weird mish-mash of data that is. And can we talk about the fact that so many schools didn’t respond to the survey? And this paragraph, which is exactly the opposite of the basis of so many federal reform efforts, “Overall, smaller schools tend to lag behind larger schools in academic achievement, as do schools located in more rural areas with higher rates of poverty.”

I guess this is the “money” graph, but still, this is sort of sketchy. I agree that there are many factors that we aren’t getting at here, including ” controlling for school size and student income level” which I don’t see anywhere in Appendix C. 

The fact is that there are many factors, that schools where there are smaller classes, teachers who spend extra time with students who are struggling, budgets that support a strong library collection (print and digital), parental involvement, high attendance rates, higher overall income bases providing good salaries and faculty retention have higher student achievement than those that have large, overfilled classes and schools, with old, outdated equipment and supplies, with teachers who just. don’t. care.  As much as I might want to believe that it’s all about the librarian (or teacher-librarian, or media specialist, or whatever the title), I just can’t.

So here’s the challenge we face: there are many studies out there, all saying it’s about us and our presence, our program, in a school.  Can these studies be replicated (I know of a few that cannot be)?  Do they hold up to outside scrutiny?  And if not, why aren’t we demanding better studies?  Why are we staking our professional reputations and advocacy programs on questionable data?

 

Posted in School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Reclamation

Posted by lpearle on 25 March 2015

Recently, there have been discussions (both at school and in popular culture) about who gets to use “the n-word” – the Oklahoma SAE “chant”, LiLo’s tweet are among the conversation starters.  I recently watched Pride, and there is a scene where some bystanders call the activists “queer” and the response is that there is a history in the LGBTQ community to “own” the word by using and thereby decreasing its power to hurt (remember the We’re Here, We’re Queer chants during the early days of AIDS?).  Last week a F/friend gave a presentation about the “Disorderly [Quaker] Women” who led the abolition and suffrage movement and asked the question, “where did ‘Quaker’ come from?” (it was deragotory; the founders, and the followers, called themselves Friends but now both are acceptable).

There is – obviously – a long history of groups taking an insulting word or phrase and using it themselves.  So why is this word different? Why haven’t other words been reclaimed (for a list of some of those words, see the Scrabble banned words list)? My theory is that it’s about the leadership of the group taking ownership, or not, of the word/phrase.  Yes, some of these words are out in popular culture, leading to some confusion among non-members of the group (the “if [singer/actor/comedian name] uses it, why can’t I?” complaint).  But are the leaders using it?

Aside: leaders is the wrong word, admittedly, but it’s standing in for “elders, respected members of the group, activists, etc.”

In the case of the word first mentioned, do we hear people like President Obama using it? Congressman John Lewis? Henry Louis Gates? Even Richard Pryor stopped following his trip to Kenya. Rabbis and Jewish leaders don’t use the words and phrases that denigrate them.  Ditto Italians, Chinese, etc. leaders.

So, how do we have those uncomfortable conversations about words that are unacceptable, when for some, using that word is empowering, or reclaiming, the word?  What is the role of the library, beyond ensuring that if the resources we have contain those words, they do so for defensible reasons?

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

 
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