Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

  • Tag This!

  • July 2015
    S M T W T F S
    « Jun    
     1234
    567891011
    12131415161718
    19202122232425
    262728293031  
  • Prior Posts

  • Copyright

Archive for the ‘Life Related’ Category

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 | Leave a 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:

cupcakes

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 »

Where have I been?

Posted by lpearle on 25 November 2014

It feels like just yesterday I was planning my school year, promising I’d be better about blogging and staying in touch.  HAH!  The past few months have been overwhelming:

  • weeding (my personal goal? getting our average collection age up to the mid-1990s) and updating the collection (if nothing else, getting a copy of Helen Keller’s memoir that was published this century, not 1931!);
  • emptying out the former archives space, and trying to organize the new space(s) while also weeding out non-archives materials that have been dumped there;
  • updating our Resource Guides (not using LibGuides as the term any longer, on the Kleenex/tissue theory) as we complete the shift from v.1 to v.2; and
  • trying for even more integration and pushing into “new” classes, like English and Biology.

Then there’s the professional development piece, with visits to a local independent school (so inspiring to see their renovated space and hear their weeding story), the Bank Street BookFest, and finally the ALAN workshop (more about that later).  Reading blogs and saving links and ideas… but lacking the time to really figure out ways to integrate them into the program. And reading books, trying to keep up with what should be on the shelves and how we can get them into the hands of more students.

The thing is, working in a boarding school is exhausting.  There’s evening study hall, sit-down dinners, weekend duty, advising, late hours (we’re open 7:am-5pm every day), committee work and evening committee meetings.  In this, my second year, time management is still a struggle.  That’s not to say that it’s not also fun and has incredible rewards (the student who is so happy you found just the right resource, or that you came in on the weekend to see them in a play, or a game, or that you’ve baked something for your advisory meeting… and the student who trusts you enough to share their life with you, the good and the bad, whispering a secret hope or fear…).  But it is exhausting and even in a day school there’s never enough time to get it all done.

So have patience!  This blog will get updated.  Information gleaned elsewhere will be shared.  It’s just that for the past few months, I’ve been elsewhere.

Posted in Life Related | Leave a Comment »

What if?

Posted by lpearle on 8 September 2014

Three things came together this past week and got me thinking about the “always on” culture.  The first was a blog post about a distraction-free iPhone, the second an announcement at school’s first Morning Meeting in which the girls were reminded that while texting/checking the phone discretely in the dining hall was ok, actually taking/making a call was rude and unacceptable.  The final piece was at my Quaker Meeting, where one of the members said that she had never really seen a smartphone in action and didn’t know that there was a phone “app” so that you could make calls; she also mentioned that her home internet connection was out and had been for a week and she didn’t mind it, while her husband (writing three books) couldn’t do his work so wasn’t happy.

At first I was a little surprised: how has anyone missed seeing the face of a smartphone at this point in time?  They’re ubiquitous.  And one week without home internet? Yikes!

Then, on my drive home, I started thinking about it and realizing how calming.  How nice to not have websites to check, an RSS feed piling up, many many e-mails waiting for a response.

At one of my former schools the Head has declared weekends to be e-mail free.  Obviously if there’s an emergency, that’s one thing.  But no one, from the Head on down, is expected to check – much less answer – e-mail over the weekend or during a school break (for teachers; year-round employees don’t have to during their vacation time).  At another school, there has been a stream of complaints from faculty about administration checking e-mail continuously during meetings and events (sometimes the complaints lead to a lessening of the problem, but it soon is back to previous levels).  Faculty there who do not check their e-mails over the weekend (or even at night, when they’re at home) are frequently reminded that they need to do so and respond in a timely fashion.

My current school is a boarding school, and we function in loco parentis so completely turning off overnight or on weekends is not going to happen. But what if we did limit that to emergencies only?  What if we go back to The Good Old Days, like when I was at boarding school, when communication was mostly by letter or postcard, and only occasional calls to/from home?  Often we send off an e-mail in the heat of the moment, while having to reflect on “is this an emergency?” might be a better tack to take.  Students would voluntarily put their phones in their backpacks and not check them until the school day is over.  Parents would know and respect those limits, teaching students some measure of independence from their parents.

One school I know is starting to look at those communications and considering how to best work with/educate both parents and students so that the appropriate separation happens.

What if we all did that?

Posted in Life Related, Musings, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | 2 Comments »

Why do this?

Posted by lpearle on 14 August 2014

Sadly, I succumbed to the Lure of Summer Vacation (June? well, I’ve had a stressful year so I deserve some time off… July? 31 days to get things done in, right?… OMG it’s AUGUST!!  how can I possibly get everything done??).  So as I’ve scrambled to Get Things Done I’ve also had time to think about why I do things both professionally and personally, and why I blog about some of it and review books publicly and submit items to school bulletins (my alma mater, my previous places of work, whatever) and post on Facebook or Twitter.  In other words, why have a public life?  Why not just do things for the sake of doing them?

Because, honestly, what does it matter? This blog doesn’t have huge readership or generate many comments or links.  I’m not going to be an L&J Mover or Shaker, and the time is long past for me to Emerge as a Leader. As I’ve pondered this, I’ve been remembering a guy I knew years ago, a coworker:

I spent a few months working for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, mostly working on the close-out of the restoration of Ellis Island.  Because it was a joint venture between the Foundation and the National Park Service, there was a ton of paperwork and part of the close-out was to ensure that the paperwork got filed and archived in the right places (including at the architects/contractors).  So I got to know the mailroom guy rather well.  He was interesting… and I mean that euphemistically.  For one thing, he was a huge sports fan.  And by fan, I mean FAN.  On the walls of the mailroom he would post the ticket stubs (with final score) for all the games (or matches) he’d attended during the season, removing them when the next year rolled around.  His sports? Baseball… hockey… NCAA basketball… NBA basketball… there may have been one or two more, but I don’t remember exactly.  He’d drive to the games, and if they were far enough away – say, Baltimore or Chicago – he’d sleep in his car either before or after the game (sometimes both) and then drive home.

One day he told me about his ex-fiance.  I forget how they’d met, but after a while they took a vacation in Florida.  The day they’d arrived was a semifinal (I think) for that year’s NCAA basketball tournament and he wanted to stay in the hotel room and listen to the game (this was pre-March Madness and hundreds of channels on tv; when he told me this story, it was pre-my having cable in NYC!) and – he didn’t understand it, even at this remove – she didn’t and was a little (ok, a lot) cranky about his wanting to do so.  They broke up and years later his college basketball team defeated her college basketball team in the NCAA finals.  He was convinced that she hadn’t contacted him because she was embarrassed by the loss.  It came as a shock to him when I mentioned that it was far more likely that she wasn’t even aware of this crushing blow, given that she didn’t pay attention to the tournament when they were together and probably still didn’t

So, why the digression?

This story is a reminder to me that what’s important to me is probably completely off someone else’s radar.  I can’t blog… or create a wonderful program… or win a trivia quiz… because I want someone else to notice.  Malcolm Gladwell talks about destroying a great friendship, a college friend whose approval he wanted – one wonders if even now he doesn’t hope that what he’s done since then hasn’t impressed his former friend.  A YA author I know was so impressed/in awe of a high school classmate (with whom she, and the school, had lost all contact) that she wrote a book with a character based on, and similarly named, this friend in hopes she’d reach out. We all have those people (a former friend or classmate, a distant family member, a former teacher) who we want to impress, whose approval we desire because – for what ever reason – they didn’t think highly of us or notice us before. Or, even worse, someone who denigrated or bullied or shamed you because, well, who cares why “because” decades later.  It still rankles, right?  However,  the reality is, they’re probably not paying attention, they’re getting on with their life.  The bullies, haters, people we put on a pedestal – they’ve moved beyond middle and high school and are getting on with their lives, not checking Google (or the alumni bulletin/local paper) for our doings.

It’s a difficult lesson to learn, that we need to do things for us and us only not for those icons whose notice we crave.  This isn’t a speech I can easily give to my students, but it’s important for them to learn this now, as they’re starting out, rather than suffer a life of unfulfillment because that person doesn’t call, writer, text (or whatever form of communication we have in the future) to say, “You’re amazing!”  We have to believe it ourselves, and do things because of us, not them.

It’s taken me years, but I’m there.  And so when I blog, or update, it’s without regard for others approval, it’s a record for me – so I can see that I’m progressing and improving my practice.  And if others care, well, that’s nice, too.

Posted in Life Related, Musings | 2 Comments »

Words from the wise

Posted by lpearle on 21 July 2014

Posted in Life Related, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

Celebrations done right

Posted by lpearle on 19 May 2014

Last weekend I had the incredible pleasure of attending the Bicentennial Celebration at Emma Willard School.  It wasn’t just the thrill of sitting in the classroom my favorite teacher used as his “home” (and where I took economics from another favored teacher), listening to a new generation of faculty and students talk about their classes, or that for the first time in over 30 years I got to see friends from the classes surrounding mine (that pesky 5-year reunion cycle).  Or the amazing  dance party – with fireworks – thrown Saturday night.

What’s difficult to do well is balance that mix of paying homage to the founder’s vision (that girls deserve the same education as boys, enabling them to transform the world), honoring the generations of alumnae (who have different memories and attitudes toward the curriculum and changes to the physical plant, traditions, etc.) and inspiring the current students.  Unsurprisingly, this weekend blended it all so well, with today’s students playing an integral part in all events, not just performing for the returning alumnae. There are things I mourned the loss of, but recognize that staying static simply to please the alumnae would do the school’s present needs a great disservice.  It says a lot about the administration and the Board that they’re able to see past the history into the future.

At the end of this month, Professional Children’s School will celebrate its centennial.  The two schools couldn’t be more different, yet I’ve been to enough PCS events to know how well they’ll blend the past and present, too.  There will be nostalgia for the past, but honoring the  students there now and the accomplishments of the alumni will predominate.

Too many schools look back at the past at these times without acknowledging the needs of the present school and students.  Winning sports teams and teachers whose careers spanned decades are recalled, without a look outside the school walls.  Alumni who have made outsized contributions to the outside world in some way are highlighted, while the more minor contributions are glossed over.  Generations aren’t blended together, with graduates from the 50s clumping together and not really interacting with graduates from the 90s or 70s.  At both EWS and PCS, that doesn’t happen.  And (IMVHO) that’s not just a credit to the schools, it’s to their benefit.

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,148 other followers