Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

You’re important, too

Posted by lpearle on 17 April 2020

What We Will Be Remembered For When This Moment is Over

Answering, “How are you?” honestly and giving others permission to answer honestly, too.

How we didn’t say yes to every Zoom call, napped, meditated, read fiction, got outside every day, for how we gave ourselves what we needed and could, in turn, give others what they need.

We will be remembered for the ways we showed up for each other with the most honest love we could offer.

As I navigate the needs of work and home, professional meetings and family gatherings, students, teachers, colleagues and friends, these are the things to remember.

One of the big dangers of this time is that we neglect self-care because so many others need us to be on this Zoom meeting or working on that project, helping students with research or finding reading books, etc.  And we librarians are afraid that our work will not be visible to others and so we’re doing even more.  I have a spreadsheet going for me and my staff so that we can track our daily shift’s reference chats and projects, some of that information will go into our year-end report.  The Zoom meetings with AISL librarians give me ideas to add to our Instagram feed or ways to do better outreach.  And I’m still not sure that it’s all effective or helpful.

During the normal day (or week), I feel very comfortable saying that my day is over and reading or otherwise taking care of me.  But during this unusual time?  I feel invisible, sitting here at home working, so obviously my work is invisible, right?  Admit it: you feel the same.

Then I read Lightning Notes and am reminded that if I don’t take care of me, I can’t take care of my staff, students, colleagues and family.  You’re no different.

Take care of you, ok?

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

Current mood

Posted by lpearle on 27 March 2020

Anyone else feeling this way?

Usually at this point in Spring Break, I’m starting to feel as though it might be time to go back to work.  I miss my colleagues and students, and wonderful as my cats are they simply do not care that I’ve just read a great book (nor do they want to read it).  I’ll check my email… maybe do some desultory work on a project or two… and then worry that I haven’t finished my Spring Break To Be Done list and rush to finish that.  Then, the night before classes start, I’ll toss and turn because school.*

This year is different, though.  We had a “COVID-19” day for the last day before Break, which meant that seven scheduled classes did not begin to explore their research topics.  The pandemic means that no one will be returning to campus until early May (maybe), so there will be 350 students doing their research online only – and those students will be spread out around the world.  We’ve created a digital portal for the library and are holding “office hours” from 5:30am-9:00pm ET (don’t worry, we’ll take turns).

So far, so doable.

Between now and Monday, we need to finish a generic Resource Guide that will walk students through online research and prepare to customize it based on the class or course group need.  We need to create discipline specific resource folders in our LMS so that teachers will have “one stop shopping” for access to what we can do to help.  Preparing for students to “return” on Wednesday entails ramping up our marketing content, making sure they know what online resources we can provide as well as promoting books and ways to take a mental break during this difficult time.

How close will we get to finishing the now seemingly endless list of things that need to be done before then?  We’ll see.  I’m so grateful for my AISL and ISS colleagues, all struggling with the same questions and problems and all sharing resources and ideas via Zoom and other platforms.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* despite not currently being a student, I still get that sleepless night just before school restarts after a break – many teachers, including my father and a recently retired colleague, also have had that feeling 40 years into their careers.  Must be a school thing.

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

What really matters when reading

Posted by lpearle on 16 March 2020

I’ve written before about why there’s a problem with reading levels and lexiles.  We all know, sadly, that they’re still a thing, despite authors and librarians pleas:

I’ve read so many books that are published with a recommended age, or grade, and I know that those are more a marketing thing from publishers and essentially meaningless.  Some 12-year-olds are ready for much higher material and some 14-year-olds aren’t, but the publisher needs to recommend some general age so that bookstores and AR quizzes and librarians know how to deal with each book.

Many years ago I helped create some curriculum units and one of the requirements was the the readings be at (or above) certain Lexile levels.  There are websites you can use to tell you which level a book is, but as we all know, sometimes simple books contain very deep thoughts.  In one case, the group needing these units asked for us to change readings because they were too simple (yet the “appropriate” age group would not necessarily understand the context or content) and in another, they wanted to change a reading because the students wouldn’t understand the context (yet that reading appeared in 7 of 12 previous year’s state tests in another subject on a different topic).

My point is, I get the marketing aspect.  I understand parents wanting guidance.  I don’t understand why the level or grade or age is taken as having the weight that we might give to Holy Writ.

Posted in Books, Musings, Rants | Leave a Comment »

Difficult Discussions

Posted by lpearle on 24 September 2019

At one school I taught a storytelling class to the 4/5 grade.  It was a combined grade and so I had to rotate between Cinderella stories and something else, usually fractured fairy tales.  One year I did trickster tales with them and after trying to read the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus stories decided instead to show Song of the South.  Before we watched the film I talked with them about the problems in the movie and said that any time anyone felt uncomfortable, they could just tell me (or leave the word STOP in a note on my desk), and after we talked about what they’d seen.  They understood why people were uncomfortable with the movie but thought that the way we’d approached it helped and that others should do the same.

Apparently others agree, as in this article talking about why SotS shouldn’t be destroyed.  That it should be shown as part of a larger conversation about problems in older films (see: Gone with the Wind), giving context to what we see on the screen.  Or maybe  along with a discussion about To Kill a Mockingbird‘s racism.

I’d like to suggest that problem isn’t just with the film or book (or, in the case of Little House on the Prairie, the tv series and the books). It’s with our distaste for having those difficult discussions about what’s wrong with them, to show other points-of-view and to accept that sometimes a childhood favorite presents problems for others (Reading While White is a great resource).  Banning, or removing, these cultural artifacts doesn’t help, because it creates an air of mystery about it.  Teaching them in addition to other materials that show other points of view or what the reality (vs. the fictionalized version) looked like would go far further, in my opinion.

It’s Banned Books Week and it’s a great time to start these difficult discussions.  I know I am.

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

My annus horribilis

Posted by lpearle on 26 August 2019

While the fiscal/academic year ticked over on July 1, today is my first real day back at work.  We’re getting set up for AY20 by creating displays, getting ready for new student orientations, shelving books and all that fun stuff, plus first department and division meetings.   Before Summer Vacation started we worked on a To Do List for the next year, giving us a path forward that will ease the start of the year.

For me, that guide is deeply appreciated as last year was truly an annus horribilis for me.  Physically I was still dealing with the effects of CRION and the drugs I’m on to keep things stable.  That particular cocktail made me very, very tired, although going off one drug meant the “puffy” (aka swelling due to water retention) went away.  There’s that old saying that as you age you have a doctor for every body part.  Me?  I have three doctors for one very small body part, my left optic nerve.  Go me?!

And on more of a personal note, my mother’s health, which was declining fairly rapidly over the past three years, failed completely.  It’s was difficult watching that but losing her in the middle of the year was even more difficult.  I’ve always tried to keep my personal emotional stuff away from work and I know that I wasn’t able to do that.

Luckily, this summer was the first in many that I haven’t had to work or had a major project to complete.  So instead I took to my bed for a couple of months of reading, napping, binge watching tv and cuddling with my cats.  I could use more time for those but as we start to edge in to the new year it’s enough to regain some sense of equilibrium and calm.  Plus, AY20 can’t be worse than AY19, right?  RIGHT????

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

Future work

Posted by lpearle on 9 August 2018

At AISLNOLA Courtney provided inspiration to once again dig into the high school-college skills continuum (something I’ve been thinking about for over 20 years).  Following up on the research she and Sarah did with First Year Experience Librarians, I and one of my librarians created a survey for independent school librarians to give us all some benchmarks; we then created infographics condensing that information.

Survey of Independent Schools

Survey of First Year Experience Librarians

Need more?

Ok, so, now what?  Well, we’re going to reopen the survey (maybe tweak a few questions) to collect more data to share with others.  I’ve also shared what we know now with our History Department Chair and am hoping to have conversations with that department and the Academic Committee about what we (as a school, and as librarians) can do to best prepare our students for their next academic experience.

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

New motto

Posted by lpearle on 18 October 2017

For some reason, when I was a young child, someone gave me this doll:

I can’t say that I turned it on a regular basis to tell my parents (or anyone) how I was feeling.  To be honest, I think I may have been a teen – or nearly – before I realized that it read “I am” not “Jam”.  And yes, I proudly claim to be a reader.  Anyway…

The idea that you can telegraph, via doll or button or bumpersticker or t-shirt or choose-your-manner-of-expression, your mood or goal is interesting.  Just look around you the next time you are out in public.  And we also love to do this as librarians.  For years I had this sign near my desk, and I’m waiting to redesign our desk at work so that I can redisplay it:

 

So, my point?  Well… not really sure there is one.  It’s just that the tenor of the times, politically, and the wave of news about natural disasters (fires, floods, hurricanes, potential supervolcano eruptions, etc.), and trying to get things organized at work as we begin to prepare for a new library and next semester’s Research Season (4 months of 14+ classes/day coming to do research), and personal travel/conferences has led me to think about what I want to display to others.  What’s my motto, my t-shirt slogan?

Luckily, the incredible Sarah Kelley-Mudie came to my rescue.  Several years ago, at another school, she coined the phrase Relentless Optimism.  And it became a movement.  And the other day I saw that there was this sticker on her cellphone:

Now, I’ve tried, over the years, to display just that type of attitude.  After the fire at Hackley, my go-to response was one of humor, of trying to let others in the community know that it was really ok: no one was hurt, we could rebuild, and honestly, if 35,000 books and any number of computers and metal shelves and office supplies were burned it wasn’t the worst thing in the world.  Six years earlier, I’d seen students at PCS wondering when they could go back to having “normal” lives as the adults around them continued to struggle with the events of September 11th and our response to those events.  So the idea of “optimism” isn’t foreign.  My goal is to focus on the relentless part.

Watch out!

Posted in Life Related, Musings | Leave a Comment »

Taking the initiative

Posted by lpearle on 26 September 2017

At the start of the school year, many Heads (of School, Division or Department) start to talk about the initiatives that will be undertaken in the upcoming year.  Some are mild, some are school changing.  Some are internal, some have a more external focus.  And over the years, I’ve watched, participated and developed a kind of cynicism about the process as a whole.  Whenever I hear words along the lines of “this year, we will…” I begin to wonder, “why? where is this leading? and what’s next?

NOTE: What follows is not about my school (only), it’s about the schools I’ve worked in and those my friends have worked in and schools I’ve been part of in some way.  Perhaps you’ll recognize your school in this, but there’s a good chance what you’re seeing isn’t about your school, it’s more universal!

Internal Initiatives can be anything from we’re restructuring the school (lines of communication, reporting structure, titles) to rethinking grading to changing the program to a technological change to… you name it.

  • I’ve seen schools jump on the technology bandwagon (“we went 1:1 iPad so we’d stand out” is not a good reason to embrace technology) without thinking through the implications: there’s a myth that students, being so-called digital natives, will know how to use the technology without training, and that teachers will somehow figure it out.  Rarely is there time for teachers to properly learn to play with the new tool/LMS/program to become familiar and comfortable with it before students begin to use it, and equally rarely is there a really thorough orientation that ensures that students can use it properly.
  • Changing the calendar or exam structure may seem like an easy thing to do, but there’s a whole educational piece that gets left out.  Moving from a January midterm/June final is a great idea (seriously, who wants to take a final exam, do poorly and be told “have a nice summer” immediately after?) but how do teachers figure out how to restructure their exams to reflect that change?  What assessments are truly necessary at the end of the year to ensure that someone moves up to the next level? And if that can be done in one or two class periods, why disrupt the entire school with an Exam Week?
  • Many schools, post-AP Exam period, give their seniors the opportunity to do some sort of Senior Project.  And why not?  I’ve never worked in a school where a senior in good standing has had to take a June final, and let’s face it, once APs are over they have no need pay attention.  Some schools graduate their seniors before giving a final, another good idea.  The Senior Project idea has, in some schools, morphed into an All School idea, call it January Term (as we did in college) or MayMester or whatever – a few weeks of a deep dive into something that could be a personal interest or an all school exploration or structured by grade level or whatever.  Honestly, I love the idea and can think of several projects I’d love to work with students on.  But… if you’re an English teacher, it’s easy to drop a text.  Not so easy if you’re teaching another subject where you’re expected to cover a certain amount of material (in 20+ years, I’ve never met a history teacher teaching the US History survey class that’s gotten to really teach current history, “current” being Reagan-2000, let alone this century).  Teachers may be given time to think about their projects and the new initiative, but the time to rethink their class? to determine how best to squeeze in or excise a tense, era, experiment or function?  Rarely happens.
  • Changing the grading from A-F to 0-4.0 or including comments, going from twice a year to four times, or something like that also requires training and thought.  I’ve seen teachers who simply cannot write personal comments about their students, preferring to cut-and-paste from a list of phrases.  I’ve seen teachers who do it well, really recognizing each students’ strengths and weaknesses.  More development and time training?  Never happens.  It’s maybe one meeting as a group in the start of the year, then perhaps the first set of comments is shared with a mentor.  Then… nothing.
  • Exploring the pedagogy, diversity and inclusion work, All Faculty Reads?  Again, great ideas.  But what’s next?  Once we’ve gone from Good to Great or learned about A Whole New Mind, what’s next?  Is it a one-year thing, or will we continue to do that work, revisiting what we learned over the previous year and figuring out how to change in the upcoming?

And then there are the External Initiatives:  rebranding the school.  getting rid of AP classes.  creating a symposium.  etc..  One school changed its reunion structure to include a lecture series that was supposed to be about empowerment – it was great, for a few years.  Like any series, though, it became stretched and then thin.  Then it disappeared without a word.  Next?  A Global Imitative that drew a lot of attention and Big Names.  One year and done.  No word about why it was dropped without a word if anything had come of it.  Here’s the problem: when you go that public, you invite attention.  And questions.

This isn’t to denigrate initiatives, internal or external.  It’s just… we’ve got a few going on at work, and friends have shared some that are going on at theirs.  Maybe I’m getting old, but in all my years of doing this, of being involved with schools (remember, I grew up in an academic family, so it’s been a lonnnnng time) it’s rare that I see them carried out to anything more than a bright flashy idea, or that teachers and students are given enough time to truly prepare and do it well.  Sometimes it’s difficult to take them seriously as a result.  And I want to!  I really do.  So please, inspire me.  Give me your tricks to get through the “this is a great idea” phase into the “wow, this really made a difference long term” phase.

Posted in Musings, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

The Art of Not Caring

Posted by lpearle on 24 August 2017

Many years ago as a newly minted school librarian I had the incredibly great fortune to work with and learn from an English teacher who’d been working in schools longer than I, a sort of informal mentor. The school we were at, Professional Children’s School, is a bit of a weird place, having been established over 100 years ago to provide an academic education for children already working in the arts (founding myth). It’s frequently confused with what was once Performing Arts and is now LaGuardia (aka “the Fame school”) or Professional Performing Arts, the NYC public version of PCS. Over the years, the school had become an amazingly diverse place, with a wide range of socioeconomics, religions, ethnicities, talents, learning styles and other things.

In order to make the academics work for students with professional lives, there is a program called Guided Study. Using email and other technologies, teachers and students can work together at a distance; when I was there, that was more difficult as email wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, but I did institute after hours reference sessions using AIM. If you were out on Guided Study, you got a two-week extension, starting on your return to class, for your assignments. Sweet, right? And without going into the stereotypes of which students were more (or less) driven, we all knew than when Student A was on GS, they’d come back to school pretty much on schedule and caught up while Student B would take longer than the permitted extension.

And that’s where my friend’s sage advice came in: I can’t care more than they do. If she assigned an essay on the role of the landscape and snow in Ethan Frome, Student A would come back with a nearly perfect rough draft, while Student B would still need to purchase a copy and figure out how to open the book. Some teachers – at PCS, at every other school I’ve worked in or heard about – would expend a lot of energy working with Student B, cajoling and nudging and bending over to help them “succeed”. Not this teacher. She cared… enough. If the student was willing to do the work, make appointments or stop by to talk and get advice, ask questions, etc., she was 100% with that student and bent over backwards to help. But if that student didn’t care, didn’t put forth any effort and worked the system’s loopholes, she found other ways to occupy her mind and time.

Over the years I’ve had students who are seriously lost doing research. If they ask me for help, I’m happy to do what I can, sharing resources and shortcuts. But I’ve also had students who have – quite literally – asked “will this topic get me an easy A?” (actually, it’s the paper, the finished product that will get grade, but hey, I’m just the librarian so maybe I’m wrong!) or otherwise made it clear that they wanted me to do the research work for them because it wasn’t their priority. And remembering that I can’t care more than they do, that if this isn’t a priority for them, it can’t be a priority for me, helps.

As the school year starts (today is Day One of New Faculty Orientation), and new research projects are discussed and my department begins to work with new students and teachers, I have to remind myself not to care more than they do. It’s not just students, it’s teachers: it may be my goal to have every student graduate with great research, analysis and information/data literacy skills. But if it isn’t my teacher/colleagues goal, too, I can’t care more than they do.

Posted in Musings, Student stuff | 1 Comment »

Some random thoughts on books and reading

Posted by lpearle on 1 August 2017

For a variety of reasons, I’ve been home alone this past week and have had far too much energy for my own good. Which, of course, means that Things Are Getting Done: organizing, mostly, but reading and writing letters and blog posts (lucky readers!) and cleaning. Don’t judge, but when I moved my books from CT to MA two summers ago, they were still in boxes from my previous NY-CT move and while I did get them on to shelves in general categories, they were not properly organized on those shelves. As of today, that’s not the case. As I rearranged the collection, I weeded enough books to empty a 7′ x 30″ bookcase, although I’m going to keep it because Alex and other things.

Also as I arranged and weeded, I thought about a few book related conversations I’ve had and one twitter rant I read in the past couple of years.

The first is actually two conversations, one with my mother and one with a colleague. A couple of years ago, I was having a Very Bad Day and called my mother to complain. As a native of Newton, she was raised with the idea that the Fluffernutter is a cure-all for bad days/bad moods and as a good mother, she’d passed that idea along to me. This was a two Fluffernutter Bad Day, and even then I wasn’t feeling better. Hence the call. I mentioned that it was being a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and after sympathizing, she asked if she’d read that book to me when I was a child. My response? No. Because I was nine when it was published and both parents had stopped reading books to me many years earlier. Flash forward to this past February, when a colleague shared how excited she was that Book of Dust was being published and asked if His Dark Materials had meant as much to me as it had to her. Well… no. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the trilogy. I enjoyed the trilogy. I was upset the movie didn’t do the book justice. But because it was published when I was in my 20s and there were many other books before that were formative and intensely personal and meaningful, this didn’t rise to the level of foundational reading as it did for her.

The second is a twitter comment/rant by the incredible Angie Manfredi. She is an amazing advocate and ally and her commitment to diverse books, libraries and the kids with whom she works is inspirational. So when she speaks, I think.

Manfredi tweet

I see her point… somewhat. My favorite authors do, in fact, happen to be white people. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just fact. It doesn’t mean I don’t read diverse authors, or that I don’t appreciate their work, it does mean that when I’m scanning the Pre-Pub Alerts and I see certain names I get excited and put them on a To Buy list. But – and this is a huge BUT – professionally? It’d be malpractice if the books I put on displays or recommend to my students and colleagues were only by and about white people and their experiences. When scanning those alerts and looking at other collection development tools, I actively look for diverse authors and diversity of experiences and when planning displays I add as many of those as possible (usually sneaking them in, so that it normalizes – and boy do I hate that word! – both because there’s no reason why someone reading speculative fiction or history or romance or whatever wouldn’t enjoy a well-written book no matter who wrote it or what the characters and plot were about). If a librarian can’t separate their personal lives and preferences from their professional, that’s a problem. And one we, as a profession, need to worry about.

As an aside, I did note that many of my favorite authors are not only white, but have last names that begin with B, among them:

Barnes (Julian), Burgess (Thornton W.), Byatt (A.S.), Banks (Ian), Blyton (Enid), Brent-Dyer (Elinor M.), Booth (Stephen), Billingham (Mark), Bradley (Marion Zimmer), Boston (Lucy), Baum (L. Frank)

Weird.

Finally, two nights ago I was chatting with my cousin and mentioned that I was about to start Book 190 for the year. She said that she doesn’t really read books, unlike her husband and son. I’ve blogged about this before, and it still puzzles and amuses me. I’ve never felt the need to apologize to friends who are artists or athletes or knitters or, well, anyone who does something that I think it neat or could be fun but that I don’t actually do. Why people feel the need to apologize for not reading is something I just don’t get. My sister and her son prefer audiobooks to print books. Great! Someone reads newspapers and magazines, not books. Perfect! Someone else watches movies and listens to music for relaxation. Hooray! If no one ever says “I’m sorry, I just don’t read” to me again, I’ll die a happy woman.

Now, back to Book 190. By an author whose name begins with K, not B. So there.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, Ethics, Musings | 3 Comments »