Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Life Related’ Category

How happy are you?

Posted by lpearle on 23 November 2015

Several years ago, Michelle Obama said that she’s only as happy as her unhappiest daughter… at a recent department chairs meeting, a department chair said that she was only as happy as her unhappiest department member and opened a conversation about what that means.

In every school I’ve worked in, and at most of the schools my friends/peers work in, we have conversations about student stress and what we can do do alleviate that.  Does that mean changing the schedule, building in more “down time” during the day? Does that mean creating customizeable experiences, allowing for them to pursue a passion rather than the cookie-cutter graduation requirements?  Does that mean designing workshops that teach them time-management and stress-reduction techniques?  What about working with parents to help students find a schedule that both “builds the resume” for college and gives them
time to relax?  Or convincing students to unplug before bed?

At MFPOW there was talk about teachers finding Flow – those moments when a class is going really, really well, when you know that this is what you were meant to do.  The question of how to increase those moments is a difficult one to resolve, as into every job a little boredom must fall (personally, I hate shelving – I think I’ve mentioned that before).  In some ways it reminds me of my response to a question while on a job search.  I was asked “is this the perfect job for you?” (trying to assess my interest in the school, etc.) and I immediately said, “nope!  The perfect job would pay me about three-four times what you’re going to pay me, ask me to work only 10-20 hours/week helping students do research, and give me the rest of the time to read… but since that’s incredibly unrealistic, this job will be a good substitute.”  As far as I know, no one can be “in flow” all the time, but can you have a life that is more “flow-focused” than it is?

So, let’s get back to that unhappy department member.  What is making them unhappy?  The reality is that we, in schools and particularly in libraries, are not good at saying “no” to add-ons.  In September, everything is cupcakes and unicorns, but by November we’re too busy to pee.  Our “free” prep periods are filled with getting ready for a new class or helping students understand past material or grading.  After school there might be coaching or club advising responsibilities.  In independent schools we often advise students, acting as filters/buffers/facilitators between teachers, parents and students.  Grades are often far more than just computing an average, they’re comments and explication (and if you teach and advise, you’ve got those comments to create after reading all the teacher comments). Committees – check.  Department meetings – double check.  Cover class for a sick colleague? Oversee recess or dismissal?  Teach an extra section?  check check check.

Where are the conversations about teacher stress? Yes, students are important and helping them manage their stress is important.  But isn’t it equally important for us to work on how to be less stressed?  isn’t it critical that we model good habits for our students?  If we don’t know how to say “no” and work ourselves into an exhausted frenzy each year, are we really doing our students any favors?

What pleases me inordinately is that MPOW is willing to talk about this – perhaps we won’t come up with any real solutions, or perhaps solutions will differ per department and grades taught.  But opening the conversation, recognizing that there are stresses on faculty that need to be addressed and examined is a great place to start.  One challenge for all of us is finding time to learn something new in terms of pedagogy or technology, integrating it into our classes and practice, and that contributes to the stress.  Another is all the “outside” stuff (the things we don’t learn in professional training or aren’t explicitly in our job descriptions) and finding ways to do a good job at those and at our “real” jobs.

I’m struggling with this – who isn’t?  And as a department chair/library director, I’m also “unhappy.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if, by the end of this academic year, there was a clear way forward and an end to the cycle?

Posted in Life Related, Student stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Where I am… and where I’m not

Posted by lpearle on 6 November 2015

Many of you are in Columbus, enjoying all the #AASL15 has to offer.  I’m still here, at work, because – for me, I do not claim to speak for anyone else! – that conference has lost its meaning and it felt like an unnecessary expense for me or MPOW.  Instead, I’ll be at ALAN in a couple of weeks, getting one last blast of YA literature goodness before starting on …. drum roll please… the Alex Award Committee.

We’re busy weeding and discarding (NYT Indexes, anyone?  What about some Reader’s Guides? no? no takers?), rethinking what needs to be on our shelves and where collections are placed.  We’re also establishing our Instagram and Twitter presence (follow us!), in part with the help of one of our community service volunteers.  Resource Guides are being built as a few research projects trickle in.  Luckily, we have until January before they really need to be 100% there.  Students considering Senior Projects are also a focus, and I really need to create a spreadsheet or database to help them find places that they could intern or volunteer or research at or in or with (yes, that’s a lot of prepositions at the end of that there sentence).

In between working on all of those, the life of the school goes on, with assemblies and student productions and other events.  I’ve done one of my chaperone duties (a fact of life in boarding schools, and this is far less onerous than MFPOW’s was) with another on the horizon.  Plus reading!  According to Goodreads, I’m 15 books behind schedule so either I lower expectations for this year or I get back on that couch and read read read (you know which one I’ll be choosing, right?).

Finding that life/work balance is important, and I’m seeing my younger staff members do a much better job of it than I did at their age and stage in my career.  It’s inspiring that they get how important family, friends and outside-of-the-bun interests are, and how they consciously make time for that.  Despite all the work stuff on my plate, I’m not taking work home with me as much (reading does not count!).  That’s the lesson I think we all need to learn: when to work, when not to work and how to find a balance between the two.

Posted in Life Related, School Libraries | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Who’s your lollipop?

Posted by lpearle on 4 September 2015

Yesterday, our Dean of Students met with the new faculty and started by showing this TEDx talk:

I’ve seen it before, but now, as then, I thought about my lollipops and whether I’ve actually thanked them.  There are a few I plan to reach out to and thank in the near future… there are others who, sadly, cannot be thanked.

Go thou and do likewise.  And be aware how you, too, might be someone’s lollipop.

Posted in Life Related | Leave a Comment »

Not leaning: standing tall

Posted by lpearle on 14 July 2015

When I interviewed at Porter’s I was asked if I’d read That Book, the one where we were told to “lean in to [discomfort, opportunity, the struggle, whatever]” and I responded that I’d read excerpts, but not the whole thing.  My overall sense was one of dismay, that a book like that was so popular because when I was at an all-girl’s high school, that message was simply there – we knew we were strong, powerful, ambitious and capable and that we could do anything with our futures.  Anything.  Where did that message fail?  Or maybe… just maybe… it took being in a place where we were encouraged to be what I guess we can call  “leaners” that it never occurred to us to be anything else, but for those in less supportive places, well… perhaps they need to hear the message?

Last week I was back at Emma Willard for a Wonder Woman workshop led by Leadership + Design.  Imagine my sorrow at hearing That Book referenced several times.

My biggest problem is that “leaning” implies that either you’ll fall over or you have something supporting you.  What’s wrong with standing tall?  Why is “leaning” the action of choice?   Add to that the questions about exactly to whom the book is addressed, versus the numbers who are being told to embrace the message.  NPR does a good job on this, The Week has a good round-up of responses, and The Feminist Wire says what I want to say, only better.

“Leaning in” seems to be one of those catch phrases that won’t go away, but as much as we embrace the message do we really understand what was written?  Do we understand the limitations of the author’s message?  And how do we move forward to a place where we’re standing, not leaning?  That is the message I want my students to hear.


Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

Learning to let go

Posted by lpearle on 15 June 2015

Before I became a school librarian, the end was easy: in the corporate world, you handed in your two week’s notice, possibly trained your replacement, and moved on, and in the theatre world the production ended and you moved on.  Easy.  But in schools, things aren’t quite so cut-and-dried.  I know at least one Head of School who announced retirement in April of one year, looking at leaving in June the following year.  If you get a new job, you might know as early as January but again not leave until the end of June.

My first library job was a one year position, and even so I wanted to do the right thing and make sure everything was finished before leaving.  At one point in early June the other librarian said, “I think Friday should be your last day.”  She was right: there would always be something more to do.  The next job lasted longer, and as faculty I wasn’t expected to set foot in the building from the day after graduation in June until the opening faculty meeting in September. However… there were always magazines to check in.  And I couldn’t place the summer book and supply orders until July 1, when the fiscal year ticked over.  And then there was making sure that what arrived got paid for in a timely manner.  And maybe creating some displays of the new books.  Working as an administrator over the summer meant that got done, but also other projects.  It was (as Roseanne Rosannadanna said) always something.

I’m back to being faculty now, with summers off.  And yet… Still, I’m staying strong.  There are a few advisor reports I need to write, some books to shelve and the big summer book order to prepare.  The goal? Letting goof it all by tomorrow.    What doesn’t get done by tomorrow afternoon can wait, or wasn’t important after all. It’s time to step back, to take time to relax and recharge.

I suggest you do so as soon as you can, too.

Posted in Life Related, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

The value of hoarding

Posted by lpearle on 11 June 2015

My father’s family seems to have the packrat gene.  Maybe it’s a “we escaped the shtetl and feel safe enough to acquire stuff” mentality, or the Depression Era mentality, or truly a genetic thing, but they’re packrats.  Wait!  This is relevant!!  My grandfather was a tax attorney who managed to acquire – as payment – goods from clients.  When he died in the early 1970s, we had the Smithsonian and the George Eastman House asking about some of the old photographic equipment he’d stored in his garage for decades (it should be noted that the car didn’t fit into the garage).  By the mid-70s, all the bits had been disbursed… or so I thought.

Early in his career, my grandfather clerked and later partnered with a lawyer whose father was a law partner of President Arthur (pre-Presidency).  The father married a woman whose family had lived in Litchfield, Connecticut since the 1700s and somehow he ended up with a packet of legal documents: deeds, debts, wills, etc..  And that packet was left to his son, and eventually my grandfather got it when the partnership ended in the 1950s.  After his death, it went to my aunt, then to my cousin and last month my father got it while helping my cousin do some work on her house.  It’s not a large packet, about 6″ high, filled with old-fashioned, handwritten deeds and IOUs and so forth from the 1700s to the Civil War era.  None of it has to do with my family, so I grabbed it and volunteered to take care of them.  Take care how? By donating them to the Litchfield Historical Society.

Why this long digression?  Because I’ve worked in four schools where the archives could have significant value to current and future researchers, if only… If only people were intelligent packrats, saving just what is relevant to the school and its history.  If only they preserved those items and remembered to send them to the school, which had space in which to store them and staff to process them.  If only they could be made available to the outside world.

Now, that’s not to imply that those schools aren’t doing what they can.  Far from it!  But it does take more than just collecting posters and programs and transcripts and yearbooks from inside the school, it takes alumni and others not throwing away the important things.  Just this year I’ve acquired an old school ring, photos of a dorm room from the late 1890s, theatre programs from the 1960s and other items.  There’s a ton of work still to be done in terms of organizing and indexing so we know what we have and what’s missing, but that’s part of the fun of archives.  Then there’s the transcription and digitization of documents, or establishing connections with outside organizations (like the David Davis Mansion, as the daughter of Gov. Davis attended Porter’s in the 1800s; their archivist has been very generous sending us links to letters they’ve transcribed that mention the school and Sallie’s time here).

This may be too late for some, but if you’re going through your old stuff and come across anything from your high school or college days, don’t throw it away until you check with your school.  They may just want what you’ve saved.

Posted in Life Related, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Bad trends

Posted by lpearle on 1 June 2015

One of the hats I wear is that of Online Bookstore Manager, which means I corral the textbooks our teachers are requiring, uploading the information into our online bookstore, and monitoring for problems (for example, out-of-print materials). The adjunct part of that is that parents contact me about what their child will be required to read/use next year so that they can get tutoring over the summer – I know, from speaking with colleagues at other schools, it’s the same where they are.

My problem is two-fold: one, what happened to letting the teacher teach the subject?  and two, what happened to working or enjoying your summer, free from school?  I know that many parents (particularly those in competitive schools) worry that their child won’t get into the Best Possible School if they don’t have extra help and coaching, so summers are spent learning next year’s materials so that tests and quizzes are easier and grades higher.  But does that really help the student?  What happens in college, when they might have to take an internship in their field rather than getting a jump on their classes?  Maybe they find lectures boring, because they’ve just spent two months cramming the information in, so it’s not new and thus attention wanes.   Why not wait to see if they really do need the extra boost and get tutoring during the school year, possibly even asking the teacher to go over the example or topic one more time?

I also know that many are concerned about Building the Resume, so jobs that teens took when I was in school are not open for consideration (jobs like working at a fast food restaurant, or painting houses, or landscaping, or being a chambermaid).

Some of the change comes from parents wanting better for their children than they had (so no child of mine is going to repair roofs because I did), but some comes from the race to keep their child college ready.  As a country we’ve lost manufacturing jobs, and many that remain are computer-based and require different skills than before, but not everyone needs college.  Not every job requires a BA – I prefer my electrician to have proper job training than to be able to read Proust in the original, for example.  There’s honor in those jobs, and honor in hard work.

There’s also nothing wrong with enjoying a summer, or working and learning the life skills of being on time, doing a good day’s work, learning to work with people who might be different from you.  As summer approaches, why not give kids a break?  All too soon they’ll have a mere two weeks off (if they even take it, given current pressures to never take a break).

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

What if there were more like him?

Posted by lpearle on 28 May 2015

Nearly 10 years ago I started working at Hackley School.  As is customary when at a new place, it took a while before I settled in and found my place, my “peeps”.  For me, it was all about the Breakfast Club, a group of some of the smartest people I have ever met, let alone worked with. The Club was from virtually every department in the school, and our conversations ranged from the latest episodes of House and Downton Abbey to politics to religion to students (current and former) and on to academic topics, jokes: you name it, we talked about it (and yes, I’m sure we offended some – there were no sacred cows in the Club).  People were a little in awe of us, but one student reported that he always got a chuckle out of the collective brain power at the table discussing something as mundane as the weather, and that the two women were the biggest sports fans.

One of the Club was a math teacher named Stephen Frauenthal.  He had retired from the Chappaqua public schools and come to Hackley, bringing with him an amazing skill for drawing geometric figures on the board and an enthusiasm for teaching (and math) and his students that was contagious.  He’d seen many educational fads come, and many educational fads go, and was less and less impressed with newer iterations of older fads.  He bemoaned the loss of his blackboard, because chalk came in far more colors than dry erase markers.  He refused a SMART board not because it was New Technology but because he’d tried it, and knew that it couldn’t do what he needed it to, thus not benefitting his students.  It was always about the students for Frau.  He’d give extra help, but not become a crutch.  He’d use technology when it enhanced, but not when it detracted.

Far too many teachers (and administrators) fail to think of that when they’re forging ahead with the Next! New! Thing! and rush to adopt without really considering the impact on pedagogy, whether it is in fact better than what is being used now, and whether the teachers can embrace and integrate it into the curriculum. Doug Johnson writes about the $3400 Piece of Chalk, and I’m sure Frau would have agreed.

But he was more than “just” a math teacher.  He’d worked for, and led, a summer camp in the Adirondacks for decades and was just as inspiring to his campers as he was to his students.

As I left Hackley, it became clear that Frau was ill.  Soon, he retired (again) and Hackley declared a Stephen Frauenthal Day.  This week he went into hospice, then yesterday he died.  The outpouring of emotion on Facebook has been inspiring, with students and campers from years ago remembering the man who shaped their lives.

What if we had more Fraus in our schools?  What if instead of rushing towards something bright and shiny we looked at what we do exceptionally well and evaluate the new thing against that?  What if we took the time to get to know our students and figure out what was best for them, what would inspire them, and what would stick with them years later?  A school full of Fraus would be an amazing place to teach and learn.

Posted in Life Related, Musings, Pedagogy | 1 Comment »

It’s the little things!

Posted by lpearle on 4 March 2015

In the midst of change, and stress and angst, it’s the little things that make what we do bearable.  Before I went back to school and got my MLS, there were only a few of those times – I can count them on one hand, I think.  That’s not to say I didn’t make friends or have fun, but those surprising rays of sunshine seem to happen more frequently now that I’m working in a school.

For example, the reason I’m on Facebook is that a former student e-mailed to ask for personal reading suggestions even though she was still at school (her librarian apparently didn’t read much YA fiction, and never really tended to that part of the collection), and she also complained that she’d had to e-mail – why wasn’t I on Facebook, where she could reach out far more easily.  The first friends I had there were former students, all of whom reached out to me.

One of those students, a girl who’d graduated several years before, sent me a personal message apologizing for giving me a hard time one day.  Honestly, I didn’t even remember it but apparently she’d felt guilt about that for a while and this was her chance to get rid of it.   She’s not the only student who has reached out to apologize for being a teen.  And each time, they’ve mentioned that I’d been gracious about their behavior, which was what had stuck with them.

Another former student, from my first school, turned up as a teacher at my last school.  We’d bonded back them, even though I was only there for a year, and during the time we worked together he would occasionally come to the library for some “Laura time” – in part because not only had we bonded, but in the intervening 10 or so years I’d remembered him and the things he was interested in.  It’s those little connections that matter to students.

At my current school, we have Weekend Duty for about five weekends in the school year.  Duty can range from chaperoning a dance to driving students to the mall to a pizza making party.  One weekend, a colleague who was supposed to stay in one of the dorms while the housemother had the weekend off couldn’t make it.  So in addition to my other duties I was scheduled to stay in the dorm from 6pm – midnight, making sure the girls were ok.  This was in my mailbox a day or so later:


Just for doing my job!

And then there are the students.  They’re all very polite, thanking me for proctoring study hall or for driving them somewhere.  But as at all schools, there are some who stand out, who become “library groupies”.  There’s one, a voracious reader, whom I’m convinced is the daughter I’m pretty sure I never had.  There’s another who has come to me with some problems and asked for advice.   When new books come in, there are a few I know will be in soon, perusing the display and choosing what they’ll read over the weekend or during a Break (or, as I did as a student, instead of doing homework).  Some feel comfortable enough to joke with me.  Last week, three of them gave me hugs during study hall (for three different reasons).  Talk about the little things!

Finally, there’s Jenna.  Apparently one of her goals is to be mentioned in a blog post (yes, I’ve spoken with her about raising her aspirations and goals… still, who am I to deny a lifelong dream).  And I’m happy to do it – not just because of the wish-fulfillment, but because she’s one of the ones who in some ways reminds me of me, back when I was in high school.

I don’t think she’ll do what I did with my high school librarian, with whom I became professional colleagues years after working in the library as part of my community service.  One day I called her from work, saying, “Barb, I’m going to say something to you that no former student has probably ever said to you before, nor will in the future.  Thank you for teaching me how to cover books, because that’s one of those things they don’t teach in graduate school – and it’s so necessary to know!” When I next saw her, she handed me some mylar in celebration.

Those connections, those random acts of kindness and hugs and smiles and “thank yous” make the larger job so much easier.   It’s nearly spring, a time for hope and warmth.  We’re also rushing forward to the end of the school year.  As you reflect on the year past, the successes and failures, don’t forget to count all those little things.

Posted in Life Related, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »


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