Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category

Ego, checked

Posted by lpearle on 17 January 2017

31 years ago, We Are the World was released as a response to both Band-Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and the Ethiopian famine.  One of the stories about that recording session was that artists were told to “check their egos at the door” (to ensure that, the solos were recorded after the chorus).

Ten years later, I sat in a class discussing collection development and got (in different words) the same message:  the collection I would be creating, or helping to create, was not mine, it was the institution’s and the community’s.   A strong collection development policy needed to be in place, one that covered acquisitions and weeding.  Without one, accusations of bias could arise and challenges could be made.

It’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart.  If you were to come to my house, you would see my carefully curated collection, one that reflects my personal tastes and interests.  Entire genres are missing.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, only one city’s sports teams are mentioned.  And while it can be fun to play “guess Laura’s college major”, there are gaps – big ones – in the non-fiction section.  I feel free to remove entire swaths (cozy mystery series and a certain eight volume set about a boy wizard with the initials H.P., I’m looking at you!).

But that’s at home.  At work, my responsibility is to what might interest students and faculty when reading for pleasure, no matter how much I might dislike the genre or author.  It’s to supporting and enhancing the curriculum, whether or not I care about the subject. And it’s to adhere to the collection development policy guidelines already set out.  In 20 years, there have been two challenges – both settled with a degree of sensitivity on all sides.  A friend, semi-seriously, suggested that I was censoring when I refused to purchase Madonna’s Sex for my 4-12 school (I’d previously weeded Total Woman – WTH was that doing on our shelves to begin with???); I responded by saying that a $50.00 book that fell apart after one read was not an effective use of my budget, no matter what the content.

So, why all the lead up?  Because within the past few weeks, two issues have arisen outside work that may affect our curriculum.

Issue One: The book deal that Simon & Schuster made.

Issue Two: The incoming president and any books about his presidency and history. (no link because it was a query on a closed elist)

What to do, at my library, about both?  My school is committed to diversity and inclusion.  As a librarian, I have to support that by providing books that might not agree with my personal political beliefs.  I can’t assume that everyone agrees with me (here, here and here for more).  A number of years ago, I had a colleague who would, on dress down days, wear a t-shirt that read “Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot” – this in a school with students who were conservatives, Republicans and even included some relatives of the then-current president.  Years earlier, another colleague said, in a faculty meeting, that she really liked two students, but they were… you know… Republicans. Which apparently made reading their English papers and fairly grading them difficult.  To be honest, I’m embarrassed that nothing was done about either.

Back to the books.

Over the years, I’ve tried to not purchase quickie books about current events and popular figures.  During the seemingly endless 2016 campaign season, we did purchase as many of the candidates’ books as possible, on the premise that knowing what they believed (in as much as they put that into the book) was important for potential voters.  Only one of those books, The Art of the Deal, is still on our shelves.  Should any of those candidates run in 2020, they’ll either write an entirely new book or update the old, so no need to retain it.  Beyond that one book, however, I doubt we’ll be purchasing anything about President Trump until at least 2020 and even then I’ll be looking for perspective, analysis and a relatively neutral tone (memoirs and autobiographies are a different matter, for obvious reasons).

As for the S&S book, it’s not the type of book that we would purchase no matter the author.  There are many similar books that aren’t on the shelves.  We’re a school library serving grades 6-12 and students might hear about these books from parents, but they can get them from the public library.  Faculty can do the same.  As the wonderful Barbara Fister says,

For librarians, it’s a case study in how to interpret what we value and how we enact those values in practice. It’s not all that difficult a dilemma for academic librarians; we can buy a copy and assume people will accept that it’s okay to spend a few bucks on a book that will serve as a primary source for understanding trolls; even if what the troll says is offensive, it’s documentation of our contemporary culture. Books are rarely challenged in academic libraries, but in public libraries, it’s another story. If there’s a demand for a book, they may buy dozens of copies to avoid having hold lists running into the hundreds, so we’re talking about more than a few bucks. We’re also talking about money that, once spent, can’t be used to make the library shelves more diverse, less dominated by the latest celebrity thing. People have a tendency to think that if a public library buys a book, they endorse what it has to say. And everyone feels they have a say in how their local tax dollars are spent. It’s a real dilemma, if possibly short-lived. Books like this tend to end up in the book sale bin when interest wanes, as it will.

We don’t teach political science.  My history teachers are lucky if they can get the US History class into the 1980s (none, to my knowledge, have managed to get to this century).  We’ve got time before we have to purchase books on the 45th President – we barely have anything on the 44th!

So, my advice?  Remember it’s not about you and your personal preferences.  Support diversity and inclusion for conservative points of view as well as liberal. Adhere to your collection development policy regarding rigor and purpose.  Relax.

Posted in Collection Development, Ethics | 1 Comment »

Existential Angst, part one

Posted by lpearle on 12 December 2016

For years librarians have planned lessons around digital literacy, hoping to teach students how to evaluate resources they find online.  We share sites like Facts About Dioxygen Monoxide, All About Explorers and the Tree Octopus (and my personal fave, The Pomegranate Phone). We caution them that just because it’s online, or in a database, they need to use the CRAP test before using the information for research.  And they get pretty good at that stuff.

But then, this past election.  All that training, all those lessons – gone.  Vanished. Ignored. And not just by our students.

Far too often professional friends passed along articles from organizations that appear on this now-infamous list of fake news organizations.  Why? Because confirmation bias.  Because echo chamber. Because it’s so easy to click and share, not check sources.

Last week they showed Screenagers to our Middle School, and we created a Resource Guide on Digital Citizenship. But how frequently do those parents, so concerned about the digital lives of their children also pass along these types of stories?  The ones where [someone] destroys [rival]? The ones where candidates, past and present, allow surrogates to smear and spread semi-truths? The ones with easy-to-agree-with memes or “share if you agree” links?

Several times I recommended that these professional librarians check their source (ditto personal friends, many of whom read a headline and ignore the actual content – clickbait at its worst). Some did, some argued.  But what gives me angst is how we can consider ourselves “experts” when we are guilty of just the same things we try to impress on students are “don’t dos”?

If you’ve done this sort of sharing over the past few months, how are you planning to change?  or aren’t you?  And if not, why not?

Posted in Ethics, Musings | 1 Comment »

Rethinking School

Posted by lpearle on 7 January 2016

While students were wending their way back to school post-Thanksgiving Break, we faculty were doing “professional development”, in this case, the first of three sessions with Charles Fadel. The big question posed for this particular session was “what is the implication of technology on already stressed minds?” particularly since our world is increasingly interdependent (and fragile: just look at Ebola or IS as “stressors”).  Much of what we spent the day on made me think and question to the point where I felt it was necessary to take a step back to see if my questions were relevant later on.  And you know what, some of them were/are.

First, the takeaways.  Aka “the good”.

Fadel asked us to think about the word relevance with respect to education.  What is relevant today?  Can we still teach the way we did and the things we did? Can “old” still be relevant? Looking at different subjects, we need to do a deep dive into them and ask what about each subject actually matters?  why does it matter?  And – most important – who determines this? students? faculty? parents?  So much of our lives is now automated (eg, Google Translate, or other translation apps making foreign language acquisition irrelevant, or easier, but perhaps leading classes into deeper dives into cultural understanding or the literature written in that language) it’s worth thinking about what we’re doing in a school.

We’ve been told that virtual reality is the Next!Big!Thing! but what does that mean?  Do we need it?  Can we integrate it?  and why would/should we?  When we take our cues from tech leaders we need to remember to have thoughtful discussions about exploration and integration, not just expeditious implementation. If we don’t address the negatives, we give ammunition to the naysayers!  We also need to remember that much of what’s being developed is by ASP boys/men and Silicon Valley startups, not by people who work with a diverse population of students.

So, our mission as an independent school with resources should be to buck the system and to teach students that it’s ok to not always do things, to not always buy into prevailing wisdom but to question things and find new ways to make things relevant, useful, worthwhile, even if it means sticking with the old.  Fadel acknowledged that all this tech is a vast social experiment and we don’t know what the end results will be, if this will ultimately be a good thing or a bad thing.

At bottom, we need to determine what are the essentials:  what do students really need to know? and then ask how we can best teach those essentials.

Now, the questions.  Aka “the bad/iffy”.

I’m always curious about so-called education experts who have little to no experience in a school as a teacher or administrator, or whose experience predates the rise of the internet.  Fadel falls into the former category, and his first few slides, in which he cited PISA as an area for concern (yes, but… we’re not a small, homogeneous country with a mandated unified curriculum and the results are an amalgamation of every school in the US, from high achieving independent schools costing thousands in tuition to low income public schools with students who may not even speak English as a first language or who may have learning issues independent schools can turn away) and VUCA as our “watchacronym” (we’re an independent school, not central command at NATO!) didn’t allay my concerns.  It was also curious to me as a librarian that he never cited his sources or research, even when alluding to the work of Alan November or danah boyd.  When consultants come to say Thou Shalt, my response is Why?  Shouldn’t change be part of a collaborative community conversation?

That aside, the bigger question for me was what about the ethics of all this: are we perpetuating privilege when we talk about these things?  just because we can do something does it mean we should?  There’s a digital divide (read this!) and experiential divide that is widening – I think of the students my nephew and cousin teach, students virtually given up on by society and hoping to avoid jail/irrelevance/hopelessness by getting at least a high school degree or GED, and then I look at the students I work with and wonder what we really mean when we talk about educating students for the world to come.  Will my cousin’s students get in to college, something my students take for granted? And if not, will exploding the curriculum, teaching the “essentials” and then deep diving into other topics help them as they work in relatively menial jobs? Or are we mandating for the type of education where a segment of  HS students take basic classes and then do vocational training the rest of the day while the rest get to get a “real” education?  And what about the sustainability of all this?  Shouldn’t we think about climate change, resource limitations and energy issues before considering implementing technology programs that have equipment that require updating/upgrading every few years?

What the next two sessions will look like is unknown.  They’re in June, and until then, I’m suspending judgement about whether this was useful for long term change.  The questions that he asked and that he (unintentionally?) raised will perhaps be answered before then.



Posted in Ethics, Student stuff, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

I’m looking through you… or maybe not

Posted by lpearle on 20 January 2014

“Transparency” is one of those terms that’s tossed around a whole lot these days, particularly when it comes to governance.  There’s a lot to be said for it, and most of all when a governing body makes some sort of change.  As Karen says in her brilliant take on ALA’s new Code of Conduct, some quiet calls and conversations could have gone a long way towards buy-in, even if the process didn’t seem to be transparent.  So perhaps we should add “common courtesy and sense” to “transparency” as ideals?

What follows may – or may not – apply to a few situations that have bubbled up in my worlds recently.  What I mean is, some of the things below happened longer ago than one might think but could also be taken for current events.  In every case, transparency and what Quakers call plain dealing were sorely missing.

  • In a hiring situation, opinions are solicited from a variety of members of the community – yet it’s clear that the final decision takes none of those opinions into account.
  • Management asked the office manager how to deal with an employee who clearly had addiction issues and then ignored that advice, continuing to give advances on salary and time off; the office manager was reprimanded for “attitude” when making the recommendation to stop both.
  • Someone working for a number of years on a professional publication was told – via e-mail – that their “contract” was not being renewed, while another person was given the courtesy of a conversation (they weren’t working on the same publication but knew each other).
  • Changes in organizational direction and focus are opened for “discussion” but that discussion will not lead to anything other than what the management wants the organization to do, damn the constituencies – full speed ahead!

Does any of that sound familiar?  Believe it or not, some those happened over twenty years ago.  Yet, as Wendy’s blog post points out, nothing’s changed except the names and places.  And I’m seeing it in more than just her example. Primarily, it seems to me, we have a failure to communicate.   Management needs to communicate what the agenda really is (“give me permission to keep this employee on” or “I only want to hear love for this new initiative”) rather than allowing people to give advice that is, ultimately, not going to be taken.

Another communication failure?  When, for some reason, management feels that the organization needs to shift focus or direction and the rest of us don’t.  I’ve been on both sides of that and it’s never easy.  Some times it’s because plans change – suddenly.  Trust me, nothing makes you shift direction and focus faster than having your place of work burn down.   The methodology around rebuilding the program and collection might have made for an interesting conversation but sometimes it’s just easier to say “here’s what we’re doing and how”.   What I’m seeing in a few areas is change not born of crisis but of disconnect, disconnect between management and the people on the ground, working hard at making the organization’s work happen.  What the people want is ignored, or discarded, by those in charge.  Why?  Because.  Because they can, because they have another agenda, and just because they don’t have to care about what the others want.

Just look at politicians who promise something and fail to deliver.  Of course there’s a reason (usually either they had no real power to have made that promise, or they weren’t fully informed about the situation and implications).  But is it ever explained by that person?  Did President Bush ever say, “yeah, about that No New Taxes pledge… well, here’s why there actually are going to be some”?  No.

It’s demoralizing.  It’s annoying.  Even worse, it’s treating the people without whom the organization won’t function at all as children.

As one of the many, not one of the elite, it’s difficult to know what to do to ameliorate things.  I know people who are planning to voice their opinion(s) Loudly.  Some already have, and yet… nothing changes.  Is the solution to start a new organization (that’s happened before)?  Can one work from within so that we, the people, have more say and the them, the management, is more transparent about why and how?

Thoughts to ponder as I (and you) prepare for ALA Midwinter, and the many conversations about transparency (or lack thereof) within that organization.

Posted in Ethics, Musings, Professional organizations | 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 »

When you have a bully pulpit

Posted by lpearle on 11 July 2013

A few things have happened recently that left a semi bad taste in my mouth – they revolved around someone using their bully pulpit for what I can only call personal gain.

Without giving away names or exact details, here’s what’s going on: creators advocating for their product, which is completely understandable, but not being open about it.  It’s as thought some guy named Henry Ford is railing against the mess, odor, cost of upkeep and unsightliness of those horse-and-buggy things without mentioning that, oh yeah, he’s manufacturing the Model T.  Legal, yes.  Ethical? Probably.  Smarmy?  Definitely.

Years ago a professional organization I belonged to created tiered membership.  Vendors were welcome to join, but they were not allowed access to the elist.  This was all done because one vendor in particular had been advocating for their services in such a way as to stifle discussion about those services in general.  Again, using the Ford example, every time a colleague asked about purchasing a car, Henry jumped in to the discussion and made it clear that you couldn’t begin to consider any other cars because Ford was The Best and The Only.

The current examples are not that egregious in nature!

If you’re an author and your books are not on selection lists, winning awards or getting big buzz, perhaps the problem isn’t with the committees, it’s with your books.  Maybe what your writing somehow misses the criteria and you should look into that rather than complaining about the lists and awards.  As a former member of the YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults award committee, I can testify to the depth of our discussions about the merits of the books we were asked to consider. There were wonderful books on important topics that didn’t cite sources or fictionalized dialog.  There were books on lesser topics that nailed those.   As a voracious reader, I see wonderful fiction books that I really hope win the Printz/Newberry/Alex/Pulitzer/NBA or Carnegie and, well… not every book makes it.  I’m not in those conversations and I don’t know what the  committees saw that I missed.

If you’re a software creator and you don’t have Google, Microsoft, Facebook or Yahoo pounding on your door asking to make you an instant multimillionaire, perhaps the problem is that there are other programs do the same thing only better, or more intuitively.  Perhaps you do have the best program out there, but it doesn’t play well with IT departments.   Sadly, most IT people don’t want to deal with a newcomer – they want the 800lb gorilla who can provide better support.  Or there are so many other, similar products that yours is getting lost in the crowd.


The thing is, that it’s absolutely understandable that creators advocate for their products.  What’s not cool is when they have a bully pulpit – a professional space in which to talk about issues, a column where they professionally review similar products, whatever – and they use that to promote their product and/or bash those who aren’t using it, raving about it or giving it awards.  I have a friend who writes operas and books – he’s also a professional critic and has a popular blog.  Not once have I seen him use his bully pulpit to complain about the way his products are received.  Yes, he promotes them (usually via updates on the works-in-progress) and is grateful for good mentions, but I’ve never heard him say anything like “I can’t believe that the committee ignored my work” or complaining that a major opera company won’t consider his work.

Very professional.  Wish others would be the same… especially when they have a bully pulpit.

Posted in Ethics, Musings | 1 Comment »

Lessons Unlearned

Posted by lpearle on 24 April 2013

Like so many of us, I was shocked and horrified about the events in Boston last week – Monday, I worried about friends and family who might have run in/been supporting those running the Boston Marathon, and Friday I worried about all of them simply living in Boston and environs.  Having lived through Sept. 11, with good friends (and family) who worked near the World Trade Center, I was terrified.  That day, thanks to a friend in an Alabama militia and another in the Canadian Army, I was able to keep current via AOL Instant Messenger (the school didn’t have good tv reception, and the news websites were unable to keep up with the demand on their servers).  It became part of my job that day to relay information that was as accurate as possible to the students and my colleagues, all of whom were stunned and shocked.

Flash forward to this day of Twitter, Facebook and texting and the ease of sharing information, accurate or not.  As this BBC article points out, the citizen investigators “helping” the FBI got the photo ids wrong. Very wrong. (to its credit, Reddit has apologized for its role. damage is still done, though.)

It’s gone beyond sharing faked photos after Hurricane Sandy to potentially destroying a person’s life.  The 24-hour news channels don’t help, either.  The ratio of real news and information to speculation, outside “experts” (those nowhere near the actual events) and people-on-the-street interviews is increasing, all because the moment something like this happens we Must.Drop.Everything and watch.  Obsessively.

Compare that to this clip from ABS’s coverage of the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan.  It’s clear that this is raw footage, with nothing really known beyond the shooting and some people being injured.  They cut into programming for nearly 10 minutes, then signed off until they knew something more:

And CNN was actually being responsible in their reporting, not wanting to spread inaccurate information.

When we have events like what happened in Boston last week, what message are we sending our students when we obsessively narrate the coverage, asking all and sundry to comment, whether or not they know anything (like the doctors serving in Congress who did a long-distance diagnosis of Terri Schiavo)?  We spend time teaching about digital literacy, showing how to evaluate resources and find quality information.  But do we also take the time to say “just because [news channel/reporter] says something, doesn’t mean you can check your skepticism at the door”?

Imagine how proud I was when one of my students tweeted the following:

Twitter / JohnDemar: Thought I saw the September …

Ok, maybe some of his classes as a journalism student at Emory also had an effect, but still, I got to him first!  My hope is that more people question what they hear during these events, when information is so fluid and our knowledge of the people supplying the information is minimal

Let’s go back to the 1980s, where there still was some sense that important events needed fact-checking and gravitas, not non-stop talking heads.   The way we’re going, lynch mobs attacking innocent people based on false/erroneous information and guesses will become a common event.

Posted in Ethics, Musings, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Speaking Up

Posted by lpearle on 21 February 2013

A couple of weeks ago, there was a huge uproar about a teacher’s decision to make every student in her class participate, regardless of whether they were an introvert or extrovert. SLJ has a good round-up of the various posts and thoughts. I’d been discussing this (in a way) in my class on instructional design, so I posted the link to see what others in my class thought.  This week, we’re talking about engagement and again, I’m pondering the question of how to ensure engagement across age groups and personality types.

The difference is that my class is focused on online instruction, where engagement and “speaking up” is an entirely different thing.  There’s a lot of evidence that those who don’t speak up during face-to-face classes will often be very engaged in an online situation – a time where they can really think and ponder their responses, choosing the exact words they want, ensuring that their message is not overwhelmed by the more extroverted in the class.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Ethics, Musings, Student stuff | 1 Comment »

A lesson to be learned?

Posted by lpearle on 17 December 2012

On Friday, as the news reports from Connecticut continued unabated, I turned off my tv.   Because I was working on a project that required internet research, my access to twitter and Facebook was still there and I read people’s reactions and thoughts as I continued to do my research.

One student (well, former student; she graduated high school in 2002) had two posts on FB that drew my attention: one was to a photo of a class leaving the school, the other was a link to a FB profile that was the shooter’s profile.  My reaction to both was horror, but for different reasons.

The photo made me wonder why the children’s faces weren’t blurred out.  Why were reporters (I use that term loosely) interviewing children, getting their reactions?  Was there no decency any more?  I recognize that many schools now have policies that inform parents that their children may be interviewed and their photos may be posted on-line.  But at a time like this?  Surely there’s a time… and a place… and this wasn’t it.  This wasn’t a sporting event, or a class play.  This was exploitation and just wrong.

The second link was premature.  I suggested that perhaps she should wait until all the facts were out before posting this.  She responded that she was merely reposting from a reliable source (Russell Simmons – not quite as reliable as, say, CNN, but to her, this was ‘reliable’).  I reminded her that earlier this year, ABC News incorrectly identified the Aurora shooter, and that at the time of her posting, no one had officially named the shooter (as it turned out, the name/profile were wrong).  She took down her post.

We all know how difficult it is to determine rumor from truth on the web at the best of times (Gay Girl in Damascus, anyone?).  And during Sandy, there was as much information as misinformation shared on FB and Twitter. But at a time like this, a time of shock, horror and distress, shouldn’t we take an extra few minutes to sort out truth from rumor?  So often the media got it wrong – and then the errors were shared on social media.

I thought about September 11, 2001, and how two friends (one in Alabama, hooked in to militia networks, the other a major in the Canadian army) kept me informed that day with real information (for example, that we’d closed US airspace to all but our military and that the jets we were hearing overhead were ours, not an invading armies or more hijacked planes).  I passed that along to others at the school, knowing that this wasn’t speculation.  What if we’d had social media instead of AIM?  I wonder what I would have passed along then, and how correct that information would have been.

If nothing else, these are teachable moments for ourselves and our students.  The former in decency, in respect.   The latter in holding off, in searching for the facts inside the rumors (often difficult to discern ‘in the moment’). Digital literacy is so important, and we need to teach students the value of turning off the supposed news and searching for verification and multiple confirmations (an AP report on several websites doesn’t count!).  That’s not to diminish the events – far from it – but to perhaps bring something positive out of what happened.

Posted in Ethics, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 9 September 2012

Books, Reading, Etc.

School Life

Tech, Tools and Other Stuff


And finally, I just loved this quote from an interview on Powells:

Straub: I had to do so much research. I had no idea how much fun research could be. It turns out, to my great delight, that if you write a book about something that is really fun and interesting, research is also fun and interesting. [Laughter] (Emma Straub on Laura Lamont)


Posted in Books, Ethics, Musings, Pedagogy, Privacy, School Libraries, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »