Since the lockdown started, I’ve spent most Tuesday nights attending a Mussar class run by Congregation Beth Elohim. This week’s middot is simplicity, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how that plays into my role as a librarian/teacher.
The first thing that jumps out at me is the collection: weeding, updating, making things more accessible to others (e.g., adding Tables of Contents, cleaning the junk drawer). We’ve noticed that more and more students are finding good resources that help their research, rather than flailing around looking to find something relevant. After five passes of reorganizing and weeding, the next project is to look at the cleaned up sections and decide exactly how many biographies of [famous person] we need, or whether the huge section on [topic] accurately reflects our curriculum/student interests.
Second, I’ve been thinking about our language and resource guides. Do students understand what an OPAC is? Can the average student easily navigate our guides and get the information or skills we’re trying to impart? It’s a difficult line to navigate because there are things I don’t know how else to say, but it’s clear that students don’t understand. For example, I just got an email from a student asking for directions to “enter his account on the library website” – does he mean our catalog? our databases? NoodleTools? He can’t possibly want to get into the actual website and play with WordPress (not that the guy who runs the Milton Academy website would be happy about that!). There’s one colleague who doesn’t understand the difference between a database and a website and you know what? It can be difficult to tell: just think about the New York Times website vs. the New York Times database.
Third, I’ve been thinking about the language we use in our professional lives. How many acronyms can we come up with? What professional jargon will we sprinkle into our presentations and writing? One of my current complaints is that the new(ish) AASL standards are so jargon-heavy that they’re difficult to understand even within the profession. It would be great to have non-librarians/non-teachers re-write these so that everyone can understand.
Finally, simplicity of program. I frequently send ideas to my staff, because when I see what peer libraries are doing I get program envy. But… do we need to do everything? They don’t feel the need to do the same things we’re doing in the way we’re doing them. If you read all the things that school libraries are supposed to do and be, there’s no way any one program to do them all equally successfully and satisfy the faculty and administration and student expectations.
As we approach one year of lockdown, paring back makes ever more sense. We’re hitting the wall. We don’t yet have vaccines. Nothing is or feels normal. In my personal and professional lives, it’s the simple(r) life for me.