Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Collection Development’ Category

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if you’re researching a topic and go to a shelf that is completely packed with books, many of which are old, possibly out-of-date, and look as though they could fall apart as you’re reading them, you’re less likely (as a high school student) to use that resource.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.

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Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 16 October 2015

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff


Posted in Collection Development, Life Related, Links, Privacy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

Setting Priorities

Posted by lpearle on 13 October 2015

When you start a new job, there are always moments when you wonder, “what am i doing?” It can be somewhat frustrating to be hemmed in by corporate policy (there’s little room for innovation working in a fast food restaurant, for example) or to experience a steep learning curve of what’s expected or to feel like an outsider because everyone (just like when you go to a new school) already knows each other and has their own clique. Starting a new job in a school brings on all of that, and then some.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been feeling my way, setting priorities for the work we (the library department) need to do.  Part of the problem is, as in many libraries, the inertia of longevity.  I know – I’ve been there!  You create rules for collection development, with a goal of deaccessioning fiction (for example) that hasn’t circulated in 3-5 years, but then you get to that point and think, “but I loved this book… maybe if I did a better job of promoting it?” Etc..

Several years ago I was on an accreditation evaluation committee at a school whose founding Head had left after several decades.  The Head of our committee pointed out that longevity in Heads wasn’t always a good idea, that (in his opinion) after 8-10 years you “remake the mistakes you made when you first started.”  Now, I’m not sure about that, but I do think there’s a comfort level that comes with a long tenure that may make people change averse. So when you’re the new kid, the one without the attachments or the history, you see all the possibilities and are chomping at the bit to get started.

The problem right now isn’t a lack of willingness, it’s time and manpower (peoplepower?) and strategic thinking.  What I’m thinking now is what’s best to work on this year, and what’s best to put off for a year or two.  Staffing is important because we’re down a person – what structure would be best for the library, and how can the current staff be part of that structure now while we wait to hire for next year?  Collection development (print and digital) is critical, largely because that will help us create a reading culture and improve our research capabilities, as well as allow us to rethink space usage.  My goal of working on a strategic plan, based in part on the past accreditation report and a recent library study, can wait until we have the full staffing we need.  My other goal of improving programming will be a slow crawl, doing as much as we can this year (engaging students with our social media presence and contests) to create awareness, but beyond that we’ll wait for a year.  Reaching out to my new colleagues, showing them possibilities and ways we can really partner with them is an obvious priority.

Ambitious, right?  Well, it is only early October.  Stay tuned for updates and how it’s all going – things may change.

Posted in Collection Development, Musings, Work Stuff | 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 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?


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 »

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 »


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 »

The upside (maybe) and other collection thoughts

Posted by lpearle on 21 August 2014

In my last post, I mentioned that I hate shelving.  The upside, besides nice, neat shelves with books that are findable is that it’s a great way to look at your collection, particularly if there’s a research project ongoing (inventory is another great tool, and if you’re not doing an annual inventory, shame on you!).  The collections at three of the four schools I’ve worked at have been… neglected.  There are many wonderful books on the shelves, or they would be wonderful if we were still in the 1980s (or an earlier decade).

At my last school, there were a number of books published in the late teens-early 20s of the last century.  Now, that part of the  collection should be an automatic “weed” right?  Not so fast there! The 11th grade history class was entitled “The Twentieth Century World” and the initial focus is on the Treaty of Versailles, which essentially sets up the entire political world we now inhabit, and those books? They were written by people who were at the talks, crafting the treaty.  So while in the 90s or 80s those may have seemed outdated, by the early 00s, they were primary source materials.

Weeding, it’s tricky!

I saw this tweet a while ago,

and immediately thought, “oh my! wouldn’t that be nice…” The reality is that in a school, you can’t be quite that draconian.  You can do what we’re doing, which is replacing old versions of books like poetry – books we need, but are just so old the students don’t want to use them – and really evaluating the history and social sciences selections.  We did a massive weed of the literary criticism (no longer used) and the science collection already, which dropped about 6,000 volumes from our shelves.  My guess? We’ll probably weed another 3-4,000 this year.  And we’re using Thrift Books to help ease the guilt of getting rid of some of these books.

Without doing shelving, I wouldn’t really be looking at the books that we have, comparing what’s being used for research and what’s still sitting there – too old, too decrepit or just too out-of-date.  So there is an upside… maybe.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries | 3 Comments »

I read…

Posted by lpearle on 11 August 2014

Ok, to be honest, I almost titled this post “iRead” but I don’t want to jump on any bandwagons!

So, yes, I read.  A lot.  It’s one of my few real talents – reading, reading, reading.  Since January I’ve read 180 books (well… started 180 books.  some were so bad I couldn’t finish) in a variety of genres and for a variety of audiences.  Format, on the other hand, was limited to print and ebook.  Frankly, I prefer print but for ARC/ARE books, I’ll accept (grudgingly) the e version.  When I left my last school, several friends banded together and bought me a Kindle, making it easier to get e books.  At my current school I have an iPad (there’s a 1:1 program) but I never read on that.

Here’s the thing: there’s something wonderfully immersive about a print book.  I open the book up… dive into the world the author has created (that’s true even for non-fiction books)… and woe betide any animal, human or feline, who disturbs me.  When I’m reading on my Kindle, I don’t feel as immersed.

Last year I was given a copy of the recent Brown/Haverford/Trinity/a few other schools e-book survey.  The results didn’t surprise me, but I suspect they surprised the administrators: students don’t want to go e: they prefer print for both research and pleasure reading (sorry, no link).  The Chronicle reported something similar  in 2013, and Publisher’s Weekly  and the Financial Times did the same in 2014.

And in a completely unscientific survey of 100 students at Porter’s (nearly 1/3 of the student body), the girls said the same: give us print, please.

As mentioned earlier, we have a 1:1 program, with a mandate from the administration that if a textbook is available in e format, that’s what the students should buy.  I’ve heard from some parents, and not a few students, that it works for them with math and science texts, but for their English books?  Please, can we have print?  Some are buying two versions, the e and the print, so that they can read in their preferred format and still comply with school requirements.

How has this affected our collection?  We subscribe to Credo Reference and EBSCO’s Academic E-books, giving the students a wide range of books for research.  They’re pretty heavily used, which is great because we certainly couldn’t keep that many books on hand! It’s also allowed us to remove older books from the collection, knowing that the information is covered in the online collection (and eliminating the “wow – this book might just fall apart in my hands” factor).  But in terms of the fiction collection, we’re still going strong with print.

Last [academic] year I was a panelist for a conference discussion on ebooks.  One of the other panelists uses Axis 360 at her school and has great success; part of that is because she has a co-ed population and it’s a great way to get sensitive books into the hands of readers (by “sensitive” I mean GLBTQCA* books, or books about health/emotional issues… and quite possibly “girl” books being read by boys).  If I had that population, it might work better at Porter’s.  The previous librarian subscribed to some Follett shelf books, and there are six Kindles with books loaded (we even borrowed the themed Kindle idea espoused by Courtney Lewis at Wyoming Seminary.  They’re a hard sell here!

Still, as we move forward into AY15, we’ll be thinking more about this question and trying to see what combination works best with our students.  Note: our students.  As the previous paragraph illustrates, YMMV when introducing ebooks into your collection.  Some schools just force them down students throats (Cushing Academy, I’m looking at you!) but to me, that feels wrong.  Far better is to keep taking the pulse of the students, seeing what they want and what’s out there (devices, programs, availability, etc.).

How are you dealing with this issue/conundrum?  And how do uRead?

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries, Work Stuff | 2 Comments »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 30 December 2013

Now that I’m tidying up from a year-end reading binge, it’s time to clear out some of my saved links on Twitter and in my RSS feed.  Lucky you!

Books, Reading, Etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff


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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 18 December 2013

For those about to go on Break, some things to explore and/or ponder.

Books, Reading, Etc..

School Life

Tech Stuff

  • FlipGrid looks like an amazing tool for both reader-to-reader advisory and in class collaboration for online learning.  (via)
  • Are you Sleepless in Cyberspace?  Maybe this vacation is a good time to try to rethink things.


  • Doug ponders Age, Energy, Privacy and Morals – I’m a little more concerned about privacy (perhaps because of my age) than he is… it’s interesting to note that many of my students don’t think about it, but when you start talking about the lack they get very concerned.
  • For those of my friends traveling, some tips on how to get through the airport fast.  Bon voyage!

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


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