Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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My reading journey

Posted by lpearle on 16 August 2018

Last week I had an upsetting exchange with two friends on Twitter that I have to share because school’s starting and this nonsense will start again.

But first, some background.  Most people know I read quite a few books in a year (I also read magazines and newspapers).  I’ve never understood people who say “I don’t read” because I’m reasonably certain they’re not actually illiterate.  What they mean is they don’t read books (or as many as I do) or they don’t read novels or something.  I also doubt those Pew surveys that say that people don’t read books after they leave college: how are they defining books?  Are they including graphic novels or audiobooks?  Anyway.

My mother has an MEd and for a few years before I entered her life, she taught Kindergarten and first grade.  She’s an incredibly smart person and yet, somehow, the idea that there were developmental differences between a toddler and one of her students didn’t quite sink in, so when I was 2 1/2 years old, she started to teach me to read by placing labels on things all over the house (so the table had a big label that said, you guessed it, table on it, etc.).  By the time I was in Kindergarten I was reading above my age group so my teacher gave me additional reading; when we moved from Ohio to Central New York, it was clear that between that and my father’s teaching me basic math (and my grandfather teaching me cursive!) first grade would be boring, so I moved up to second grade.  Dad used to read to me, really bringing his favorite childhood stories to life with voices and inflections; when I was seven, he started <i>Treasure Island</i> and for some reason never got through the last few chapters – to this day, I don’t know how things end.  He’s still around and I live in hope he’ll finish.

The next year, a babysitter gave me her old Nancy Drews and I read <i>The Clue in the Dancing Puppet</i> one night – it gave me my one and only wake up screaming nightmare.  My parents suggested that perhaps I not read any more of those. At nine, I read <i>The Hobbit</i> and by ten I’d read <i>The Lord of the RIngs</i>.  Then we moved to Geneva and I discovered Enid Blyton and Elinor M. Brent-Dyer… and Victoria Holt’s <i>The Mistress of Mellyn</i>.  My school librarian realized I was a reader, but when I concentrated on the Blytons and rediscovered Nancy Drew, she spoke with my mother about how I could be reading better (or more difficult, or something like that) books.  Mom apparently told her I was fine.

Back in the US, in eighth grade, two things happened.  The first was we spent part of our year in English doing minicourses.  Somehow, I didn’t get my first three choices so they put me in a speed reading class.  At the start of the class we took some test to determine our starting speed and I tested at 1000wpm.  The teacher left me alone after that.  The second was a standardized test that determined your reading level, and for some reason we graded each other’s tests before the teacher asked “how many got xx wrong? you’re reading at y level. how many got xx-1 wrong? you’re reading at y+1 level” etc.  She stopped when they got to those who had 10 wrong, then counted.  After double counting, she asked who was missing… and the person grading my test said, “Laura got none wrong” which apparently meant I was reading at a college or above level.

None of this made a difference to my reading – I read what I wanted, when I wanted.  Rereading things like <i>Mistress of Mellyn</i> as a later teen made me realize how much of that book I’d missed at age 10.  As an adult, I read a wide range of books, from picture books to learned tomes.  I’m not saying this as a humblebrag, just as information.  And over the past few years, I’ve been increasingly grateful that back in the 60s and 70s we didn’t have programs like AR and F&P, and no one cared about lexiles.  I’m astoundingly unatheletic, nor am I interested in crafts like scrapbooking.  If I’d been born in the 90s or later, who knows how my teachers and librarians might have killed my love of reading and how unhappy I’d be with nothing but tv or videos to keep me occupied.

So, with all that as background, here’s part of the conversation last week:

Um, excuse me?  Please tell me this was misheard, or misunderstood.

And here’s Angie, with the perfect response.

We have some amazing readers at my school.  Last year, one high school student borrowed a bunch of classics (including <i>Moby Dick</i>, which was handed back with a DNF comment) as well as the latest in YA.  Imagine if we’d said that something was above or below her AR level or Lexile level?  It’s not just about the incredible waste of money paying for these programs, nor the time spent managing the programs.  It’s about loving reading and encouraging reading at all levels, in all genres.  Who knows where this student’s reading journey started, or where it will end?  My only goal is to make sure it doesn’t end too soon.

And if we’re being honest, isn’t that the goal of all school librarians and English teachers?  If it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?


Posted in Books, Links, Rants, School Libraries, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

I’m so excited!

Posted by lpearle on 14 August 2018

Not by the fact that in less than two weeks I’ll be sitting in Opening Meetings for the year, talking about our focus for the year and how we’ll move forward on several initiatives.  And certainly not by the fact that I’ll have to be up all day, with no nap time.  What’s exciting me is this email from one of our Class IV Deans (that’s ninth grade to most schools):

[W]e will be launching the Class IVs and their advisors onto a Quest Challenge. As part of this challenge, we have included the library as a destination where these advisory groups will need to complete a challenge in order to earn a set of points. The goal is to get the Class IVs to become familiar with the library… You can come up with a bunch of fun things and rotate them through with different advisory teams. We will have roughly 15 teams of two advisories each. So you can have them look for different books, or find different things all around the library. If you and the librarians are willing to hand out the tasks and then mark them and award points, then you can make the tasks as fun and varied as you wish. I really want to kids to know how great our library is and who the librarians are right off the bat. Just remember that they each will only have a max of 10 minutes to complete their library challenge.

So excited!

Two years ago we tried to do an introduction challenge for the students (all of them) and that didn’t work for a wide variety of reasons.  This isn’t we librarians doing it on our own, it’s part of the orientation for new students (and advisors will be there!  many of whom never come to the library!).  That we only have 10 minutes isn’t great, but it’s enough to give them a little taste.

Excuse me while I start to think about what we can have them find.

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

Future work

Posted by lpearle on 9 August 2018

At AISLNOLA Courtney provided inspiration to once again dig into the high school-college skills continuum (something I’ve been thinking about for over 20 years).  Following up on the research she and Sarah did with First Year Experience Librarians, I and one of my librarians created a survey for independent school librarians to give us all some benchmarks; we then created infographics condensing that information.

Survey of Independent Schools

Survey of First Year Experience Librarians

Need more?

Ok, so, now what?  Well, we’re going to reopen the survey (maybe tweak a few questions) to collect more data to share with others.  I’ve also shared what we know now with our History Department Chair and am hoping to have conversations with that department and the Academic Committee about what we (as a school, and as librarians) can do to best prepare our students for their next academic experience.

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 6 August 2018

As promised, here are more of those links I’ve collected.  Helpful tip: if you’re saving things as Twitter bookmarks, you can access them on your laptop by changing from to

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff


  • As a lifelong Red Sox fan, it’s fun checking out the Library of Congress’ Baseball Archives.  It’s probably fun for fans of other teams, too.
  • Timesuck, but in a good way: GeoGuesser.
  • When I attend conferences (in person or virtually) I take notes longhand and then transcribe into a blog post (or other document).  NPR on why it helps me learn.

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

Getting started (again)

Posted by lpearle on 1 August 2018

For the 38th year in my life, it’s time to start over.  Again.

The academic year started on July 1, when I placed orders for new books and some supplies.  There’s more to order and a lot of planning to be done.  I’m starting to think about my priorities and goals for the year and just purchased my new notebook for the year (the Leuchtturm 1917 in Anthracite).

The end of last year was filled with research projects (we added two math projects – yes, math) and continuing to work on the collection.  We’ve looked carefully at everything from the 000s – 400s (especially the 300s), and this year plan to get up through the 800s done, leaving the 900s for next year when we’ve done an even better job of looking at research papers and the materials students are using.

One of the exciting things that happened last year was working with Courtney Lewis and Sarah Kelley-Mudie on a presentation during ALA Annual (we may reprise it at AISL’s conference in April):

I’m also starting to plan the LIRT Liaison Committee’s work (I’m Chair for the committee) and continuing to read for LITA’s new Science Fiction Notables list.

And with all that… *poof*… summer’s gone. Almost.

Posted in Professional organizations, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 30 July 2018

Summer break is the perfect time to get my personal life in order, including some summer cleaning, digital style. The below is what’s been languishing my Feedbin Starred Articles (still need to tackle the Twitter bookmarks, so stay tuned!)

School Life

  • We teach students to use the CRAP Test as they review websites (if I could insist they use it for all resources, I would!) and then this link floated across my Twitter feed and I’m reassessing the checklist approach to evaluation.  It’s also important to have conversations about what news is supposed to do.
  • One of our teachers had his students do a project commenting on the various art pieces around campus and then attaching the videos to a GMap.  What if the had done something like this, a virtual reality tour (not of UNESCO Heritage sites but campus)?
  • Years ago I’d add websites to the online catalog, but checking that those links worked was challenging; now we use LibGuides to create Resource Guides for classes and projects.  These “magical portals” are definitely getting added! I’m also pondering ways to convince students to use these alternative search engines, instead of automatically going Google.
  • If you’ve worked at a school long enough, you’ll realize that some student has become famous (or, occasionally, infamous).  Does the fact that you knew them “when” mean you should talk about them?


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

Think before you write

Posted by lpearle on 25 July 2018

Yes, this is about that Forbes article, the one about libraries and Amazon.  I’m not linking there  (YALSA has a version if you must read it), but there is great analysis over on Wonkette and Quartz among others. Quartz also mentions that Forbes actually took the article down, because “…This article was outside of this contributor’s specific area of expertise, and has since been removed.”

Perhaps you’re now asking what was this contributor’s specific area of expertise?  He’s Chair of the Economics Department at LIU’s CW Post campus and an author (contrary to one twitter rant, he’s not a libertarian, although his co-author appears to be one).  And this is where my heart sank: LIU is also the home of the Palmer School of Library and Information Science.  If you go over to my cv, you’ll see that I got my MLS there in 1996.  While most of my classes were held in their outpost at NYU’s Bobst Library, I did take three classes on the Post campus.  In their library.

So not only is the author outside his area of expertise, he’s insulting colleagues who are working to train new librarians.  In an attempt to change the narrative when “library twitter” started to react (spoiler alert: we weren’t pleased), the following was added:

To be fair, library surveys do not seem to confirm the idea that public libraries don’t have the value they used to. A Pew Research Center survey finds that Millennials are the most likely generations to use public libraries. Though it isn’t clear whether “public libraries” are community libraries or school libraries.

Let’s ignore the fact that he’s trusting Pew (statistical accuracy is questionable) and focus on the fact that, despite working at the same institution that trains librarians, he clearly doesn’t understand the difference between a “school” library and a “community” library (what most of us call a public library).  Millennials are, according to Pew,  “[a]nyone born between 1981 and 1996 (ages 22 to 37 in 2018)” or, in the author’s professional life, those in graduate school and older.  In other words, not in K-12 education as a student.  And while there are some school/public library combinations, the vast majority of school libraries are not open to the random public member (I’ve had to stress this to several people over the past year, including the gentleman looking for tax forms, something the public library virtually around the corner does provide).  A simple email to someone at Palmer, or a stroll across campus, would have clarified things for him.

While I agree with Justin the Librarian’s Hot Take Opinion Fatigue, this really got my aging goat.  Waaaaay back in 1995, when I was starting my MLS degree, I had to take one of those general Intro to Librarianship classes.  One of the difficulties of this type of class is making it applicable to everyone, because while there were some who knew which specialty they wanted to pursue, some of us did and if you were interested in law librarianship, why did you care about academic or public library issues? The was a fall class, and the final for this class was a take home essay in which we were asked to think into the near future where we were seeing family and friends during the holidays and, when we told them about our studies, they would respond, “but with the [seriously limited, back then] internet and databases, why libraries?”  What would our answer be?

At first I was tempted to mimic what a high school classmate did for her philosophy research paper.  She studied silence as a means of communication and turned in a cover sheet and full bibliography* that surrounded nine blank pages (reader, she got what would have been an A had the class not been pass/fail).  My idea was to do the same, only on my inside pages type WHY NOT? in incredibly large font, one letter per page.  I didn’t, but oh was it tempting!

That ignorant opinion pieces like this get written (especially by someone who works where I got my degree!) this many years later really, as Lanford Wilson wrote, gripes my ass.


  • I know she cited John Cage‘s 4’33”: I don’t remember if Sounds of Silence was also on the list.

Posted in Rants, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Appreciating a teacher today

Posted by lpearle on 9 May 2018

It’s Teacher Appreciation Day, apparently, and while I think it’s great that we’re encouraged to thank the teachers who meant a lot to us when we were in school (even if we didn’t know it then, but on reflection we recognized their kindness, support or influence) I would love to think that any day is a good one to show that appreciation. As research season ended, several students thanked me for my help with their papers; I know that the other librarians have also heard that from students. A few times I’ve seen former students and they’ve told me that I helped or encouraged or influenced them in some way, all without the reminder that it was the Official Day to show/share their feelings.

That’s not to sound ungrateful! It’s just a concern that when there’s an Official Day, it makes it seem as though not saying something then is wrong, and that saying something any other time is also wrong (just as I’d much rather get random flowers and dinners just because, instead of a Valentines Day mandatory gift).

Having said that, here’s a link to my comments from October 2004 about a teacher whose influence on my has stretched over 40 years. And maybe, just because, I’ll write about some of the other teachers whose influence has lasted a lifetime (well, as much of a lifetime as I’ve had until now).

Posted in Life Related, Student stuff | 1 Comment »

My next career

Posted by lpearle on 4 May 2018

No, I’m not planning on retiring or leaving my job in the very near future, but a lunch conversation with some colleagues this week got me thinking.

We’d been doing the “what did you do this past weekend” thing, and I mentioned that last Saturday was Independent Bookstore Day – professionally obligated blah blah blah.  One person mentioned a bookstore in Chicago she particularly liked, and I said that I’d heard about (but hadn’t visited) a book bar in Denver.  Apparently I wasn’t speaking clearly, because another person heard “book barn” and when we corrected that, the conversation turned to what a book bar might be like.

For example, do you sort the books and beverages by country of origin?  Do you pair things, as in “Scotch and Rebus” or “Maigret and Merlot”? Do you give a discount if a person purchases a series and a case?  Would book recommendations come with beverage recommendations? Could you do a book-n-beer flight?  LFPL is doing a few books and brews events that might provide more inspiration.

All of which got me thinking about my next career… I like to read.  I’ve been known to imbibe.  Why not combine the two professionally?



Posted in Books, Life Related | Leave a Comment »

Tis the [research] season

Posted by lpearle on 17 April 2018

One of the things that I truly enjoy about my job is helping students do research.  It’s not just the variety of topics, it’s watching a student learn how to turn something they care about into a research paper.  Of course there’s the boring stuff, like teaching them how to cite in the proper format, but into every job a little boredom must fall, right?  And I know that the students don’t believe me, but in all my years of working with them on research, in all the papers I’ve read, I’ve always learned something.

This year has been no different.  One of our US History papers was done by a student who confessed that history wasn’t his favorite subject.  He was hoping to play D1 sports and was able to do a paper on the history of the NCAA’s rules for students and how colleges were making millions off this unpaid labor.  When I checked in with him after, he’d gotten a great grade and told me that this was one of his two favorite projects in his time at the school.  I don’t need to tell you how happy that made me!  (Because, of course, it’s all my doing, right?)

It’s also fun watching a student really get into the research piece.  One of the reasons I love research is knowing that there is a resource out there and then hunting it down.  A few years ago, a student was quoting a poem written by Baldur von Schirach in honor of Hitler – but who had translated the poem?  Over thirty minutes later, we had an answer and she later said, “that was actually fun!”  I’ve had other students get equally determined to find a source, quote or resource.  My hope is that they continue to have that type of fun as they do other research, either academic or personal.

The unfortunate thing is that Research Season here means nearly three months of non-stop classes; last week we had between 20 and 23 classes in during our 8 period day.  That means we don’t get to spend as much time with each student, that the shelves are amazingly out of order, and that by the end of each day we’re exhausted.   Having lived through this last year and the year before, I know that come early May, when all the papers are finished, we’ll be able to breathe again.  And by next February we’ll have forgotten and actually be looking forward to it starting all over again.


Posted in Work Stuff | 1 Comment »