Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for March, 2012

It’s not just about the awards

Posted by lpearle on 26 March 2012

Perusing my twitter feed today, I saw this from @TheDaringLibrarian:


My response was that J.K. Rowling isn’t American, thus her work is excluded as per the Newbery rules, and that it was too bad that some parents see award-winning books as automatically being better reads than those that haven’t won awards.

@Sophiebiblio then added:


And that’s the problem, isn’t it?  Books that are popular (Hunger Games, the Harry Potter series, Twilight, Percy Jackson series, etc.) are often discounted by parents simply because there’s no award attached to the book but – and this is really important – often the rules mean that really great books aren’t eligible or are considered and set aside for various reasons (like the consensus rule, or the limits on numbers allowed to be nominated/named).

As a librarian, I get to read Booklist and School Library Journal and VOYA and other review sources and see starred reviews.  As someone interested in finding great books for my students, I read book blogs (like the SLJ Newbery and Printz blogs, as well as others devoted to great YA reads) so I can get different opinions about the various books.  It’s difficult keep on top of all this, because over 4,000 YA books were published in 2010 alone (the exact number is in dispute), so I need help.

Parents need help, too.  Too often I’ve had parents tell me that their child isn’t ready for [genre or title], when I’ve seen that the child really is ready for it.  Or that the parent would prefer that their child stay away from [genre or title or series].  Or that the child should only read “award-winning books” because clearly those that have won awards are better than all the others that haven’t won an award.   While it’s not my place to tell them that their child has the freedom to read anything they want (ALA’s Rights aside, it is not my place to overrule a parent!) it is my place to help parents understand the collection and that an award – or lack of an award – doesn’t determine what books go into the collection.

Every January we do big displays of that year’s award-winning books… we do Newbery and Printz and Caldecott units… we run mock award groups.  We purchase those books we don’t already own that are on the various awards lists.  Perhaps it’s time to stop doing that?  Maybe we’re contributing to the problem by highlighting all those past award winners and stressing the criteria and the potential winners for the upcoming years.

And maybe we need to be more proactive about promoting the idea that it’s not all about the awards.


Posted in Books, Collection Development, Pedagogy | 1 Comment »

Thoughts on Recent Reading

Posted by lpearle on 22 March 2012

I’ve been reading for the YALSA Non-fiction Award and for pleasure, and the following thoughts have cropped up.

Non-fiction for Young Adults
I’ve read about 15 books for this committee thus far, on a variety of topics. A few books are what we think of as “normal” size for a paperback or hardback. But most seem to be what publishers think of as appropriate for this genre, 9.4 x 7.4 (or close to that). Those books are an interesting mix of text and photos/timelines/pull quotes, etc., which a smaller size would not serve as well.

Here’s my problem/question: when did the em dash become a major punctuation mark? What’s an em dash? — (in other words, an extended hyphen). In formal writing, it’s pretty rare to see em dash use, unless of course you’re reading something from a previous century, where being coy about names and places and dates was the norm (“Mr. — , of L— , was my host”). Somehow, though, young adult fiction has become em dash happy. One book had at least one per page, and often there were two standing in for parentheses. Parentheses are the rarity, and finding a colon or semi-colon is more difficult than finding the Higgs boson!

Adult Fiction
This trend has yet to trickle down to young adult fiction, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t ever. Which trend? The “: a novel” subtitle. I’m seeing more and more of them and I’m completely at a loss to understand why. This past January at the Random House Book Brunch, of the 40 books highlighted, 17 were “[title]: a novel” and of the remaining 23, 3 were “[title]: a memoir”, 5 were graphic novels and 10 were non-fiction (often with their own subtitles). That leaves a mere 5 that were not subtitled.


I’m trying to be charitable and not think that this is because stockists are now so illiterate that the only way a book will go in the correct section is if the letters N O V E L tell them that it goes in the section that’s labeled F I C T I O N. Or that people “browsing” an on-line bookstore aren’t savvy enough to look at the plot summary and can’t distinguished between fiction and non-fiction. Subtitling non-fiction makes sense, if only because there’s usually a short, punchy title that needs a description (for example, Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World or Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families). But fiction? Not so much.

Oh, I know that was a popular thing in the Olden Days (Fanny Hill, Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure, or Agnes; or, the Triumph of Principle or The Metropolis; or, a Cure for Gaming). But just think about this: War and Peace: a novel. Better yet, A Tale of Two Cities: not a travelogue but a fictional account of the French Revolution. Because otherwise we might get confused, right?

Back to the books…

Posted in Books | 1 Comment »

Vote! It’s #ALA Election Time

Posted by lpearle on 20 March 2012

One of the frequent rants here is how the youth services divisions don’t vote in ALA Elections. One of our own, Barb Stripling, is running and she’s not there just to fill the ballot. There are many wonderful ALA Council candidates from AASL, ALSC and YALSA.

This year so many of us are getting involved with the national election, and we’d consider it a dereliction of our duty if we didn’t participate by voting. So why not make this the year that proves ALA’s received wisdom wrong and prove that AASL, ALSC and YALSA members not only vote, they make a difference?

Posted in Professional organizations | Leave a Comment »

The Gift of Cite

Posted by lpearle on 5 March 2012

This is one of those “just publish already” posts, one that’s been sitting in Draft status for a while.

Let’s start with two posts that my friend Chuck pointed me to, one by Kevin Marshall and one by Kristi Gustafson Barlette.  Kevin’s came first, Kristi’s a few days later.   Coincidence?  Possibly… except they know each other, and the former probably influenced the latter.  Notice there’s no mention of any influence, no citing of the original source for the second post.   Is it plagiarism?  By the standards we teach our students, the answer is a resounding YES.

But… what about in our own lives?  I’ve posted on a number of topics and then seen friends/peers/colleagues posting similarly themed posts without suggesting that they’d perhaps read mine and been influenced.  Do I go after them and say “hey! cite your source you plagiarist you?”  No (quiet steaming and perhaps a pointed comment to someone else, on the other hand…).  I do remind myself to not fall into that trap in my own posts.

Posting is one thing, but what about tweeting?  There’s the obvious RT, which clearly “cites” the source.  On the other hand, I see a link… I click on the link… I like the link… I tweet the link (knowing that many of my followers won’t have seen it; sometimes I check Is It Old first). When I’m tweeting directly from the website, using Add This or some other widget, perhaps I want to add my own comment or highlight a phrase, or I’ve simply forgotten who sent me to this page in the flood of tweets received.  It’s not intentional, but I’m not citing my inspiration – according to what we teach students, this is plagiarism.

The same applies to anything added to LiveBinder,, Delicious, etc.   Even more dangerous is Pinterest, which is facing some real copyright issues.

In many of the conversations, seminars and workshops I’ve attended that deal with the K-20 continuum (or some portion thereof) one of the biggest concerns the academic librarians have is students ability to synthesize information and to cite their influences.  Paraphrasing is a skill that many students don’t have.  Knowing that if they got information from another source is another skill they seem to lack.  There’s a great tutorial that I’m going to incorporate into my teaching of research skills.  Academic librarians seem to think these skills are “writing skills” to be taught in the classroom (per the ILL-I discussion on “Citation Instruction and Mission Creep” – archives here); at a K-12 school they should be co-taught by teachers and librarians.

But what about the ways in which I teach students to collect information using curation tools?  Do we need to worry about this?  Isn’t it important for us to start that conversation with our students, and to catch ourselves when we fail to live up to the expectations we have for them?

There’s also an on-going discussion about how to cite, which I’ve already covered here. Suffice it to say, with all these new tools the ways in which we cite information are constantly changing and – in my opinion – getting obsessed with the exact format is detracting from the need to cite. The more complicated it is, the less anyone will want to teach it, learn it or do it. At all, let alone “properly”.

Posted in Ethics | 1 Comment »

The Death of Imagination?

Posted by lpearle on 1 March 2012

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In the second and tenth of Time’s 10 Ideas That Are Changing Your Life, Joe, Mika and the crew talk about cloud computing and stress. Joe’s comments about the value of serendipity when doing research in law school vs. Google’s giving you the exact answer, and Mika’s about stress and always being on really struck home with me.

Over 10 years ago I remember a conversation with some techies who were bemoaning the growth of Lego kits that were “something” (car, house, rocket, etc.) and the paucity of those that were just “make it yourself”. One person said that he’d seen children upset because they couldn’t exactly replicate the image on the box: somehow they’d failed. I remember buying one Barbie and then adding outfits, today it’s many Barbies with one outfit each. Where’s the imagination or sense of play?

Many people declare a “cyber Sabbath” or vow to turn off during their vacations. Then I see them still “on”, or hear that they read/saw/blogged something during this downtime. While I understand the addiction and the fear that by being “off” you’ll miss something big, I’m less and less worried about that. As educators, one of the things we must teach students is the value of quiet, reflection, concentration and the ability to be alone with an idea. Modeling that is critical – yet I fear many of us are failing to do this. How can we shift our culture and practice?

Even more important, what harm are we doing our children by not highlighting the importance of these things?

Posted in Life Related, Musings | 1 Comment »