Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

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.

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

Bubble Bursting

Posted by lpearle on 16 February 2017

I could swear that I’ve blogged before about bubbles and how excited one of my graduate school professors was about how in the then-near future, we could drive across country listening to “our” radio station, rather than continually trying to find a station that played music we enjoyed.  It worried me then, this bubble, and it continues to worry me today.

A few weeks ago, one of my cousins and I were speaking and she was expressing sorrow and confusion that a friend of hers had said that they couldn’t be friends because my cousin had voted for Trump.  (perhaps I should mention that most of my family are Republicans, adhering to those oft-forgotten New England Republican ideas)  This past weekend I had dinner with another group of cousins and one of them said “[your father] is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met – how can he be a Democrat?”  Of course, my father would ask the same, in reverse, about this cousin.  Most of my cousins are appalled at what’s currently going on in Washington, and while they may have voted Republican in November, they are not fans – or supporters – of the current president.

My point being, not every Republican supported the presidential candidate.  Just as many Democrats didn’t support that party’s presidential candidate.  But… do we really know that?  understand that?  My first cousin’s friend feels – as so many others feel, and have expressed on Facebook/Twitter – that simply being Republican and voting that way means that you are evil and responsible for all the proposals being mooted now (eg., rolling back environmental protections, changing or repealing LGBTQ legislation and so much, much more)  Why would otherwise intelligent, nice people vote that way?

screenshot_2017-02-14-06-35-55.

It’s not a new observation, but the problem is that we live in increasingly narrow bubbles and echo chambers, relying on confirmation bias only rather than exploring the subject and making up our own minds.  With that in mind, I was interested to read Joyce Valenza’s column about Allsides.com. While I don’t pretend to understand their crowd-sourcing of “left”, “right” and “center” or agree with all their rankings, I do think that it’s interesting as a source of different viewpoints on a topic.  David Wee then started an email conversation about the use of this site (he’s doing great work teaching about “fake news”), and Tasha Bergson-Michelson recommended Burst Your Bubble.  The problem with the Guardian site is that it presupposes you’re liberal – where’s a similar site for conservatives?

At my school, there’s a definitely hostile attitude towards conservatives.  Some are upset that the school hasn’t officially come out against recent executive orders and policies, much less against the president.  What if, instead, we tried to understand why people voted the way they do, or the why they have the opinions they do about issues that don’t conform to our opinions?  I’ve read many articles recently trying to understand why people voted for Trump (here’s one) because I understand what was appealing about Clinton and Sanders.  Have you?  Do you assume that everyone you know feels the same way you do about issues and candidates?  Or do you know that there are some who don’t share those opinions, and do you try to understand what they’re thinking?

We have another year, perhaps, before the midterm election campaigns start up.  Trump 2020 is actually a thing.  What is your commitment to getting out of your bubble before then?

Posted in Musings, School Libraries, Uncategorized | 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 »

More from the mailbox

Posted by lpearle on 28 November 2016

Part of reenergizing the program at work has included purchasing the LibGuides platform to create what we’re calling Resource Guides (it’s the Kleenex/tissue issue – who knows if we’ll stay with the same platform, so why confuse students with a brand name?).  This is the third school I’ve used these guides in, and they’re an amazing way to collect resources and guide students to them, as well as teaching them how to do research.  The usual sequence is: teacher approaches us with a topic, we create the guide, we meet with the class, and then we forget about it until the next year or next time the project is done.  So imagine my surprise when I found this in our mailbox the other week:

Crucible thankyou

Here’s a guide I whipped up in a few moments, presented and hadn’t thought about in several months that has had an impact on someone completely unrelated to our school!  I’m… pleased.  Stunned.  Thrilled.

Here’s proof that what we do matters in ways we don’t always anticipate or see. And proof that adhering to our mantra of sharing resources (via ILL, online, etc.) is one that serves us well.

So here’s what puzzles me: why do school libraries keep their resources hidden?  Why aren’t all school libraries easily findable on the school’s homepage?  If you’re using the LibGuides platform, why aren’t your guides public (there are ways to hide database passwords and login information that still make the rest of the guide public)?  It’s such a surprise to me when I look for a friend’s website, attempt to search a catalog or try to see what databases a peer school has and I can’t find more than a publicity page created by the communications people.  It saddens me that all that’s available to the public is a few facts, maybe a photo.  Allowing others to see what’s going on and what you have is such a help to those of us looking to find books on a topic that work for a certain education level (“will this work with our 7th grade?”) or ways to present information for a research project.  And it’s free pr for your school and its program.

We’re considering a third revamp of our website in two years, asking students for input on usability and comparing our page to peer schools and colleges.  Are we using similar language? What’s important to share, and what can be hidden? One thing we know for sure is that links to our Resource Guides, our catalog and our databases will be available (we use EZProxy, so you can’t access our database content without being a member of our community).  We want to share that with anyone looking because we know how important that can be.

And if anyone asks why, that email is response enough.

Posted in Collection Development, Musings, Rants, School Libraries, Student stuff, Work Stuff | 1 Comment »

Is it October already?

Posted by lpearle on 2 October 2016

My acedia has returned, I think.  Or maybe I’m still exhausted from the summer work.  Or my EBV is acting up.  Whatever.  Anyway, saw this on  Quo Vadis’ Writing Wednesday and decided to use some of it as an opportunity get caught up.

1: What are your goals this month? What actions do you need to take to work your goals?  Trying to stay organized (ok, ok,  get organized), being less aggressive with my Never Ending To Do List, catching up with friends, and keeping on top of both Alex reading and other reading.  The actions are pretty self-explanatory.

2:  What are you excited about in the coming month? We have two long weekends this month!  During the first, I’m heading to a friend’s house and hanging with some friends from high school; during the second, I’m reading reading reading.  Both will be very necessary to accomplishing my month’s goals, beyond being necessary to my mental health.

4: Close your eyes and imagine your ideal ending for this year. What have you accomplished? Where are you? What were the best things you did this year?  This summer’s weeding and rethinking the space and program were probably my biggest accomplishments – it’s a little early to say if they were good, bad or need serious tweeking.  Hiring the right people for our two job openings has been a huge help with rethinking how the library approaches research needs and reaches out to the larger school community.  And personally, getting my life somewhat together in terms of clutter, maintaining friendships and reading for Alex all fall into “best” territory.

6: In the northern hemisphere, days are getting shorter and leaves are turning. What do you love about autumn? Crisp apples… snuggly sweaters… hot cups of tea.

19: Write a list of things that bring you joy: your family, your pet, a favorite book or movie, sitting with a hot beverage in a cozy spot, etc. Look at the list often.  See number six, and add discovering a great new author… casual conversations that lead to really great friendships… cuddling with my cats… helping a student or colleague and getting a heartfelt “thank you”… getting a spontaneous, genuine smile from a someone…

25: What is something new you learned this month? A new skill, new information, a new point of view?  Not sure it’s something new, per se, but the resources my staff and I are sharing fill me with hope regarding changing our practice.  Watching Resource Guides change and grow to better fit student needs has been great, and I love having experienced colleagues to bounce ideas off of and build great projects.

28: List 5 things you’ve been procrastinating. What steps can you take to get these things done?  Tweaking our new OPAC, updating our Resource Guides, creating a better Reader’s Advisory program, organizing our storage room, working in our archives creating finding aids.  What can I do?  Figure out a sensible plan for spending a few hours a week on each of them.

30: What good things happened this month?  Getting our new cafe tables and watching the positive reactions to them.  Despite some concern about the weeding and space reorganization, most students seems to like what we’ve done.

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 15 January 2016

Some things to think about while I digest ALA Midwinter and hiring new staff…

Books, Reading, etc.

  • While I’d love to teach this exact class, since I’m on the Alex Committee for the next couple of years it might be possible to figure out a way to create something similar with those books.
  • More Shakespeare thinking (this time from JSTOR and the Folger)
  • This year we’ve been working with the 6th grade English class and creating book recommendation materials.  Here’s an idea. And another one for increasing vacation reading from Katie: bring the books to the kids.
  • Don’t you love year end lists for personal and professional collection development?  I do.  Here’s stuff from The Hub, Semicolon

School Life

Tech Stuff

Etcetera

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

Setting Priorities

Posted by lpearle on 13 October 2015

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Collection Development, Musings, Work Stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

What’s your corporate message?

Posted by lpearle on 9 October 2015

One of my colleagues was talking about corporate messages, the subtle ways in which schools (and corporations, obviously) show what they really believe and value – not always the same thing as what they say they believe and value.  For example, a school that says that it values diversity, but has an all-white faculty.  Or a says that it prizes honesty, but doesn’t act in a transparent manner.  This has resonated with me as I’ve thought about two former colleagues and the messages given at their memorial services (one I attended, the other I’ve only heard reports about, although I’ve also seen many comments on social media about both).

The first, whom I’ve written about before, had a very clear message.  Eulogy after eulogy spoke of the simplicity of his life, how he didn’t spend frivolously, how much he cared about others, and that to him, good friends and a good time with those friends were prized above all else.  There was nothing hidden about him: what you saw was what you got.  The second was also not interested in “things” and “stuff” – she lived for her school and her students.  Despite having her own children (and, eventually, grandchildren), every student at the school was, to her, “her child”.  In the moment, they may not have realized how much she cared, but after a few years being away from school, they certainly recognized how special that feeling was.  Whether or not you agreed with her, you knew that the school, and the students, was of paramount importance to her and the only motivation she had.

The other day a friend mentioned that she had just been to kiddie storytime at the local library and that the librarian there was “exactly what you’d imagine a librarian to be” – I jokingly mentioned the cardigan and bun, and her response was “no, OLD.  Like, 100”  My guess is that there may have been some shh’ing going on, and perhaps this librarian wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as my friend would have liked.  To be honest, it’s been so long since I’ve seen one of the “real” librarians in the wild that it took me aback!  But it did make me think: what is the corporate message I’m sending?  Do my staff know who I am, and what I stand for?  Do they know my values and ethics?  Can the students sense those things?

Bigger picture, can I convey them in such a way as to create the “right” corporate climate here in the library?  What messages does the library send?  We’re hardly a warm, fuzzy space (seriously, that 70s dressed concrete architectural style has a lot to answer for!), and the collection is on the aging side.  We do allow food and talking, but not full meals (yes, I’ve kicked out both salad eaters and Domino’s delivery men; we’re open during dinner hours) and because of the acoustics, the noise needs to be kept to a dull roar.  Will having an Instagram and Twitter account help connect the community to the library?

What about you, and your message? Do they mesh, or is there a disconnect?  And if there is, how do you overcome it (or doesn’t it matter)?

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

Seeing beyond the blur

Posted by lpearle on 7 October 2015

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meeting new people, finding my way around a new campus and generally figuring out what’s what in this new phase of my life.  In real life, those that know me are often surprised that I wear glasses (I’m nearsighted, but mildly so and since I can’t read with glasses on, I rarely wear them… except to drive, or when I’m meeting new colleagues for the first time).  Maybe they think I have contacts?  Anyway, this is important because I usually rely on the “blur” of the person to tell me who is walking towards me.  When people with a distinctive look, for example, really long hair or a comb over, change that look I can be confused and not recognize them from a distance.

When you’re new to a place, it takes time to learn the new names and faces.   On one of my first days here I had a lovely conversation with a woman who had a greying, shortish hair.  The only problem was that I’d met several others with similar hair coloring and styling, and she was a real blur (even with my glasses on!).  A month later, I know who she is and who most of the others are.  Every day it gets a little easier to say “hello [name]” with confidence.

And then there are the students: so many girls with straight long hair… boys with the “in” haircut… athletes in the same uniform… that clump of sixth grade girls who always come in at the same time to borrow books… I could go on.  And slowly they, too, are becoming less of a blur.

Each year there’s a new crop of students to get to know.  This year, being new myself, I can understand how intimidating it is for them to learn new faculty names, and figure out what the difference between gyms or auditoriums is, and what the unspoken rules of the community are, all in addition to learning new curriculum.  What role does the library play in helping them “see beyond the blur”?

Is it familiar books, old favorite reads that let them know that here are librarians who understand them?  Is it being able to help them troubleshoot printing and other technology problems?  Is it learning their name quickly, so there’s another adult around who asks how their day is going?  Is it creating programs that build on, but don’t feel like, classwork (like poetry slams or guessing first lines of books)?  Is it having a personal librarian program, so that first Big Research Paper isn’t as frightening?

This year is the perfect time to think, ponder and explore all of the above, so that next year, when things are no longer blurry for me, I can help others find clarity more quickly.

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