Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Getting my Alex on

Posted by lpearle on 9 March 2016

In addition to getting to know a new collection and a new school’s way of doing research, I’ve been working on the 2017 Alex Award Committee.  If you’re not looking at adult reads being published in 2016, you’re missing out (trust me on this).

The charge of the Alex Award is to find books with teen appeal, something that is at times difficult for me to suss out.  As someone in her second half-century, putting myself in the mindset of a teen isn’t always easy!  There have been occasional meme-based responses to our Instagram posts and, well… luckily I have staff who are much closer to that age group and get memes.  With Alex, I’m looking for a plot that might interest them – even in non-fiction, as I learned working on the ENFYA Committee and as I’m telling our sixth graders, there can be a narrative arc! – with characters that make sense.  That doesn’t mean I’d expect them to “relate” to Hannibal Lecter, but so many teens love to read Silence of the Lambs thanks to the horror and “creep factor” that it’d probably have gotten the Alex, had it existed when the book was published.

A few weeks ago I booktalked some recently published novels by American authors to an American Lit class.  We came up with twitter “reviews” to pique their interest (eg, “Orange blossoms mean fascination. Chrysanthemums mean you’re a good friend.  More subtle than emojis, flowers speak volumes” for The Language of Flowers, a 2011 nominee)   and they were asked to choose one, read it and then present (to the class and others) on how that book mimicked or expanded on themes in the books they were reading for class.  Talking with them as they chose these books was interesting, with many excited to read something new and not being taught in class.  One or two have even asked for more by that author, or in that genre.

Our fiction collection here was not necessarily bought with teens in mind – Ferrente’s Neopolitan novels, for example – but traditionally we have had a lot of faculty who use our collection for their pleasure reading.  As I continue to read for Alex, I’m wondering about that “teen appeal” part and reflecting on some of the books I’ve read in the past, like Millay’s Sea of Tranquility, which (to my mind) had little adult appeal but was not published at a YA book and thus won the award in 2014.  It will definitely guide my purchasing for our collection in future, as we try to balance “adult appeal” with what will actually appeal to our students.  It will also be interesting to see how we can market these books to both faculty and students without one or the other feeling as though their needs are not being met.

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

My Kanye moment

Posted by lpearle on 29 February 2016

No, I’m not going to interrupt someone – I’m talking about this moment:

Kanye

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/698926987281371136

Research season (part one) hit us, and once again I thought about how difficult research is for students.  As we’ve been weeding the print collection and bulking up the digital offerings, it’s been interesting to watch how students interact with what we have.  Much of their research has been what I’d call “cherry picking” research: find a fact here… find a fact there… find a quote somewhere else… repeat.  The great narrative nonfiction we have doesn’t get used to their fullest extent, in part because they (the students) don’t really have time to delve into their topics.  Of course, that hasn’t changed since I was in high school!

Over the past few years, I’ve regretted the loss of those Time-Life book sets.  Remember them?  So many of them were great resources for research, perfect for a quick read and cherry pick information, much as they do with Daily Life series.  But, sadly, T-L has ceased publishing (before completing This Fabulous Century!) and what we have is falling apart from use.

Years ago, the Marvelous Marion and I dreamed up a business idea: Sugar Daddy Press (because we’d need a sugar daddy to get things going).  We’d buy the rights to those series and create wonderful reprints, even extending them.  Example?  The Library of Art would move into other arts, giving us The World of Mozart and The World of Bronte in addition to The World of Van Gogh. We’d also take on those Jackdaws, only now they’d be online (Rosen, please get on this ASAP!).  There were so many other books that we found – and I still find – missing from our shelves, if by “missing” you mean “never published” or “out of print”.

Hence my Kanye moment.  Much as I love my job, if someone invested in Sugar Daddy Press I’d leave this one in a second to start getting things moving.  Because Research Season (part two) is about to hit.

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 15 January 2016

Some things to think about while I digest ALA Midwinter and hiring new staff…

Books, Reading, etc.

  • While I’d love to teach this exact class, since I’m on the Alex Committee for the next couple of years it might be possible to figure out a way to create something similar with those books.
  • More Shakespeare thinking (this time from JSTOR and the Folger)
  • This year we’ve been working with the 6th grade English class and creating book recommendation materials.  Here’s an idea. And another one for increasing vacation reading from Katie: bring the books to the kids.
  • Don’t you love year end lists for personal and professional collection development?  I do.  Here’s stuff from The Hub, Semicolon

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

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

Diverse Diversity @ #ALAN16

Posted by lpearle on 5 January 2016

Diversity was a minor theme for the various professional development opportunities I had during the month or so before Winter Break.  I’m always mindful of the fact that “diversity” doesn’t only mean “skin tone”; when I was co-chair of my school’s accreditation self-study, we tried to think about all of NYSAIS’ definition of diversity when discussing the school’s culture:

How does the school officially communicate its policies and practices with respect to differences in ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, socioeconomic level, physical ability, and learning styles?

Sometimes we do better at one, sometimes better at another.  When I hear #weneeddiversebooks I think about the diverse diversities and what books are doing to address them.  How does this relate to ALAN?

Last year there was a lot of discussion about “boy books” vs “girl books” and that carried over to this year.  One panelist asked why no one asks where are the strong boy characters, simply because strong boy characters are the norm.  Why can’t we have a world where that’s assumed equally for boys and girls? When one voice (male, or white, or Christian, or whatever) is always the authority/norm in books, it starts to carry over into real life because that’s what readers internalize.  Protagonists are protagonists, period.  Why don’t we say, “the protagonist” rather than “the girl protagonist”?  Because if it’s a girl (or not white or poor or some other diverse subset) that’s what we notice.  And isn’t that a shame?

The myth of diverse (by ethnicity or race) books not selling was also addressed.  They do sell, but part of the problem is that the publishers are small presses without the big ARC/promotion budgets of the big houses.  Why are so many English books translated into other languages, and not vice versa?  What about diverse authors, and getting their story out?  We were reminded that diversity is not all conflict, it can just “be” and still make for an amazing book.  Just look at science fiction/fantasy/speculative fiction: they write around diversity and outside themselves all the time and no one questions those authors about using an authentic voice (and it was repeated: did not being a wizard make JK Rowling’s world less authentic?).  The big takeaway was that maybe we should promote diverse books by not framing them as diverse, but as being about the story, as in “this a coming-of-age story” or “this is about first love”.

We were reminded that there were other diversities (see, it did all tie in!) that aren’t being as discussed, and where are the authors who are writing about these issues? Poverty, the not-college-bound, the disabilities (cancer, something other than OCD/ASD, a physical limitation), teens in prison, etc. are also missing from our shelves.  The reality of these lives is that they’re not easy, not everyone accepts them and sometimes, life hurts.  We need books that also say that while we may have depression, asthma, grief, etc, we aren’t depression, asthma, grief, etc., we’re human.  Let’s remember that, as Laurie Halse Anderson said, adults know how to handle “dark” while teens are turning to fiction to learn how to cope.  And Margi Preus eloquently said that every student reading is doing research into their future lives, books are a door to that life.  So let’s open up the canon, add some new books that maybe weren’t taught (or published) back when we were in high school!

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 22 December 2015

The past couple of months have been filled with work stuff and some interesting (read: thought provoking) professional development.  As I digest all of that and distill into posts, here’s a round-up of other things catching my eye.

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

  • Carol Dweck on how her research is misused
  • Is your school talking about equality and diversity? Read this.

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

What’s on your shelves?

Posted by lpearle on 26 October 2015

With one exception, the school libraries I’ve worked in have needed some serious collection pruning; MPOW is no different.  Usually it’s the problem of having a lot of stack space and not enough time/staff to really weed what’s there.  I’m of the firm belief, however, that pruning and judicious deletions are an absolute necessity!

Why?  Well, if you’re researching a topic and go to a shelf that is completely packed with books, many of which are old, possibly out-of-date, and look as though they could fall apart as you’re reading them, you’re less likely (as a high school student) to use that resource.  And finding those “gems” that actually will help you with your project can be a real challenge.  My goal, as a school librarian, is to have students spend some time doing the finding but to be able to spend most of their project time reading, reflecting, synthesizing and then presenting a cogent argument.  Often, because of the state of the collection, the finding takes more time than it should, compressing the reading/reflecting/synthesizing time.

There’s also the problem of old sections that were incredibly useful that are no longer.  One school had a major project that asked students to imagine life as Jew during the Nazi era or as someone hiding the Jews.  So the shelves were filled with memoirs and biographies that met that need.  However, by the time I arrived, the project was long gone (over ten years) and the students were researching other things.  We needed to choose the best of the books from the previous project, get rid of the rest and collect resources that would meet their current research needs.  I’ve worked in schools that have changed the foreign language offerings, dropping German and Italian in favor of Chinese.  Do we really need a lot of dictionaries in those languages, or do we need more Chinese-related materials?  The sea change I’ve seen in how my English departments are approaching their work also affects our collection; none of the departments in my past four schools has asked students to use literary criticism or reviews – yet the shelves were filled with Twayne’s, Bloom’s and those Gale “[genre] Criticism” books.  That’s an easy weed, particularly since they’re now available on-line should we need to add them back into the collection.

Our on-line resources also need to be reviewed.  At each school I create a database spreadsheet, monitoring the ROI on our subscriptions (ROI = $ per search).  The goal, for me, is under $5 per search.  One database, requested by the department chair, was nearly $70/search.  After two years, I was able to convince the department that it wasn’t fiscally prudent for us to continue subscribing.  What that means is that we (the librarians) have to know what else is out there, looking for resources that will enhance our print collection – not, as some fear, replace it! – as well as meet the needs of students outside the library.

I’ve often said that there’s a middle ground between the school library with tens of thousands of books that never circulate and gather dust (so the school can brag about sheer number of volumes) and the school library that is purely digital (which can seriously limit student research using current, non e-available resources).  My hope is that at MPOW we’ll successfully get there.

But that’s just for the non-fiction books, right?  Well… no.  We also need to look at the fiction.  For the first time, I’m working in a school where the adults are just as engaged with the fiction collection as the students, perhaps more so!  That’s great, and gives us a great incentive to ensure we’re buying adult titles (like the NBA and Carnegie longlists for literary fiction, or the Reading List for genre fiction). We also have to ensure we have great YA and MG fiction for our students.  One problem I’m seeing right now is that while we’re a library serving grades 6-12, we’ve mostly collected for grades 9-12.  Whoops!  So this year, the focus will not only be on pruning, but also adding great books for our younger students.

Again, stay tuned for more on how it’s all going.

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 11 September 2015

Still digitally decluttering…

Books, Reading, etc.

  • One challenge at MPOW is getting the middle school students into the library (time, distance, lack of discrete space are issues).  So we’re thinking about the pop-up library.

School Life

Tech Stuff

  • This was done with sixth graders, but could easily scale to any middle or upper school class.
  • This is of Allentown, but imagine creating a history or English class project (I know I’ve suggested this before… hoping this year a teacher takes me up on it!).  And how cool it would be to integrate the Newseum into your resources? or a Digital Timeline?
  • MPOW is a GAFE/Schoology school, and Videonot.es looks like it would be a great tool to use!
  • Right now, we’re BYOD (so have computer labs) – Doug has great ideas about 1:1.
  • This list of tools is a great starter toolkit!
  • It’s the start of a new school year.  Why not declutter your laptop before things get crazy?

Etcetera

And, as always, Will Richardson has some great ideas about trends we should be watching.  Something to ponder as the school year starts.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Conferences, Privacy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 27 August 2015

Books, Reading, Etc..

  • I’ve done something similar with Google Maps, but this?  The Obsessively Detailed Map is truly obsessively detailed.  Ideas for additional “value added content”? TSU has some great Immersive Experience ideas.
  • This might just be my new favorite book blog: Oh, the Books! (via)
  • The Book Riot Quarterly box might be a good way to get students excited about reading.  BookOpolis looks to be a good way to introduce younger students to online reviewing/reading communities.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera…

Most important: 120 days until Christmas.  Shop now. Avoid the rush.

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

Watching the Watchman

Posted by lpearle on 6 August 2015

Many years ago, Harper Lee wrote a book she called Go Set A Watchman, submitted it to her publisher and hoped for the best.  The best was that the publisher liked parts of the book and recommended she go back and write another book about those parts, the parts when Jean Louise looked back on her childhood.  And thus was born To Kill A Mockingbird.

Years ago I heard Naomi Shihab Nye talk about her first publishing experience, when a poetry publisher told her that only seven lines of a much longer poem were “worthy”, thus forcing her to revise her poem. She talks the process of revision here in much the same way she did then:

 

See where this is going?

When the news came out that Ms. Lee had not destroyed the book but had kept it, and HarperCollins had the unedited, unpublishable first draft and was, in fact, publishing it, there were two reactions: one, why now? and two, what did Ms. Lee think?  After all, that’s the hope of all readers when a favorite author dies, that there will be more coming because there were manuscripts hidden.  Salinger must have written something amazing all those years he was in Vermont, right?  It’s like Tupac recording from the grave.  So the “why now” gets answered by “because now is when we found it” but the second question goes unanswered because no one can talk with the author unless they go through her lawyer, who swears that she’s happy about it all.

Maybe I was alone in this, but I never expected this to be a Great Read.  If anything, it was a first, very rough look at the story and out of all the dross, the gold of Mockingbird arose.  Many early readers and reviewers were shocked and dismayed to find that Atticus was a racist – it’s like finding out that Superman’s ability to leap tall buildings didn’t include the Empire State Buildings.  This despite some scholars bringing out this aspect of Atticus for years already.  Some refused to read it (my friend Chuck included).  And now a bookstore is offering refunds for those who didn’t quite understand what they were getting when they purchased the book. It could be worse: it could have looked like Finnegan’s Wake!

Mockingbird was not a required read for me (I read it on my own, not for a class), so I don’t hold it in the same reverential light as (perhaps) those who studied the book do.  My personal reading plans do not include reading Watchman. My professional collection development plans might include it, if (after conferring with the other librarians and our English teachers) they think it would add to our student’s understanding of the rewriting process and/or the themes in Mockingbird.  That seems to be the reasonable thing to do.

Posted in Books | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 4 August 2015

It’s summer – a major move (personal and professional) is in process, so why not declutter a bit and share links and ideas I’ve been hoarding all school year?  Regular posts to resume by the end of August, I hope!

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

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

 
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