Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Musings’ Category

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.

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

Where to draw the line

Posted by lpearle on 17 September 2015

If you work in a school you are a mandated reporter: you must report suspected child abuse or neglect.  Many schools include students drinking in that definition, even if the parents are aware and supporting.  Now, many time the parents are trying to be the “cool” parent and allowing a kegger in their home.  But many Jewish families allow their children to drink wine on Shabbat or Pesach.  Many French and Italian families allow their children to drink wine as part of dinner.  So, the question is how do you draw the line as a mandated reporter?

Here’s the scenario some of us face: we’re at an event – say, a family wedding or a gathering of old friends – and see underage drinking.  It’s not our house, it’s not our event, but is it our responsibility?  Some schools would say yes, others take a more nuanced view.

It comes into play when we’re on social media, too.  MPOW’s rule is that we cannot connect with students until they’ve been out of school for five years.  MFPOW had no rule beyond “use your common sense” (assuming, of course, we have some).  But what if you have a teenager and their friends want to connect with you?  Or you’re friends with your nieces and nephews, or the children of friends?  Or you’re abiding by that five-year rule and those new former student/friends have younger siblings… And there, in a post or tweet or pin or something else, you see something you would, in the normal course of your work, have to report.

It’s a tricky line.  Do you decline invitations to events where you know (or strongly suspect) that underage drinking will take place? Do you just bite your tongue, knowing that it’s not your event or responsibility?

Just a little something to think about as the Jewish holidays pass, as families and friends start to talk about winter gatherings, and possibly even plan for the spring and summer.

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Creating Communities

Posted by lpearle on 7 September 2015

The past couple of weeks (ish) I’ve been immersed in New Faculty Orientation and Opening Faculty Meetings, getting to know my new colleagues and new environment.  Each school is different, obviously, and getting to know and appreciate the culture and the traditions can take time.  In part that’s because there are unwritten rules, and in part it’s because every time people leave and new people arrive things change.  At MPOW there’s a special position (an endowed chair, actually) with the responsibility for helping new faculty socialize and get to know colleagues and each other outside the confines of the classroom and dining hall – that’s never happened at my previous schools, although some have had similar unofficial “ambassadors”.

I’ve been thinking a lot about corporate culture at schools and how that can shift over time.  Whenever there’s a large change in faculty, that culture shifts.  There’s also a shift when a division head or head of school changes: I’ve worked with heads who have a very open door policy and those who are virtually never available without an appointment.  I’ve worked with touchy-feely heads, and those who are more reserved.  One had a great in person manner but on paper was far sterner.  Of course that head’s style then trickles down, and a head who hides and is less than transparent in how things are decided and done usually hires or promotes people who follow that methodology; when that head leaves and a new, more transparent outgoing head arrives is usually the start of others finding a good reason to perhaps explore other career paths.

We spend a lot of time as faculty talking about blended classrooms and individual learning styles and diversity.  So many schools have alliance or affinity groups (or whatever the terminology is) and carefully create “safe spaces” for all.  And many have ceremonies or convocations that start the year as a united community. At my last school, we celebrated those still at school for their accomplishments, giving both new faculty and new students a sense of the community they’re joining. But when all that is over, what happens? At least one quarter of every high school is new every year – and yes, some may know each other from previous schools or groups, but as a unified class they’re new.  How do we get them to see each other as a group when we’re also teaching them to celebrate their differences?

Just something to ponder as the school year commences.

(apologies for the rambling – this was so much clearer and coherent when I thought it out late last night…)

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Setting Limits

Posted by lpearle on 1 September 2015

As the school year starts, many of us will be having conversations with our students about setting limits and making choices: no, you can’t take 6 AP level classes… if you’re going to be a 3-season athlete, maybe playing the lead in the school play isn’t going to happen… practicing piano 8 hours a night might cut into your homework time… etc. (all conversations I’ve had with students over the years).  We do a great job at working with them on self-care, on learning how to identify relationships that aren’t healthy, how to start to manage their time and commitments well.

But what about us? I’m something of a believer in “when many people are mentioning something, pay attention” and over the past few months I’ve read more about the book Essentialism, so I placed a hold on it from my library.  One of the criticisms I read was that it is a bit heavy-handed in terms of its examples and solutions, but that beneath that it has some pearls of wisdom.  We’ll see.  I’ve read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which provided a lot of inspiration for cleaning out my home, and I’m hoping that this can give me ideas for how to deal with what’s essential in my life (ok, I know what is, but sometimes we all need ideas for how to explain why this is, and that isn’t).

Starting at a new school, with new staff, faculty and students to meet and get to know, with new curriculum to deal with, with new committees on which to serve, plus a new town and area to explore (and in which to find a new butcher, baker, candlestick maker, among others) means that there will be a lot of pulls on my time.  At my last school, there were also demands on my time and I’m not sure I handled them well – the goal is to do better now.

Saying “no” gracefully but firmly is a skill that we need to teach ourselves and model for students. After all, can they really take us seriously if we keep saying, “you have to set limits” but never seem to do that for ourselves?

Posted in Musings, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Je ne regrette rien… mostly

Posted by lpearle on 20 August 2015

This is the time of year when students start school, comparing schedules and teacher assignments.  Most don’t have any control over which teacher they have for various subjects – if you’re taking Freshman English or US History, you just get placed in a section and good luck to you.  Sometimes, though, you do have control and can either steer towards or away from a particular teacher (a few years ago, I had a rising senior who said that for English, he wanted “anyone but [teacher name]” and, luckily, his schedule worked out so that he did avoid that teacher).

When I was in high school, back in the day when the Emma Willard curriculum truly was more college prep than it is now: no AP classes, and a trimester schedule that allowed teachers and students to explore a niche topic for the 11(?) weeks.  For example, I took British Poetry and European Fiction and Modern Asian History while others took Government and Russian Literature and the Civil War Era.  With the exception of math and languages, we were in mixed grade classes based on interest rather than ability or grade.  Teacher chose whether they would assign grades or if the class would be Credit/No Credit, creating an egalitarian system that didn’t allow for a GPA or class ranking, because really, how do you assign a ranking to someone who took Economics and got “credit” vs. someone who took Spanish Dancing and got a B+?  It was perfect prep for the college experience, where you can take classes that are of interest and really explore your passion rather than taking AP classes to impress an admissions officer.

That was one aspect of the experience, and for me a great one.  The other aspect, one that shocks my current students, was that I could avoid classes I really didn’t want to take and so, I adhered to their graduation requirements and stopped taking science after 9th grade and only got to Algebra 2 and Trig in math.  Another friend, raised and educated in England, stopped both at age 13 and concentrated on languages and history.  Given our current lives, I’m not sure we missed out… most of the time.  I would like a greater basic knowledge of, say, chemistry or botany, but I am managing without it.  It wouldn’t hurt students today if they were allowed to have the type of educational experience I had, and it might create better students as they focus on what they really enjoy rather than adhering to an imposed curriculum.

At every school in which I’ve studied or worked there are iconic teachers.  Some achieve that status by pure longevity – a 4o+-year-career, for example.  Some achieve that by their demeanor in the classroom, connecting with students in incredible ways.  When I’ve gone back to Emma for reunions and talk with my friends, and meet people from other classes, we often talk about classes we took, teachers (and housemothers) we loved and those we avoided.  And that’s where the regrets come in: some times, because I was so busy pursuing my passions, I missed taking classes or having teachers who had conflicting classes.  It’s those times I think, “oh, if only I’d taking [class name/teacher name]” because the love my classmates have for that teacher or class is so intense.  I wish I could actually sing because the choir teacher was one of those icons… I regret never taking Chemistry or Latin because those teachers were icons.

My hope for my students is that they don’t have those regrets, but the reality is that the nature of education now is that they will simply because they aren’t allowed to go outside the norm, they must take an AP math and science course in their senior year (but can drop history to get even more STEM education).

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What are you doing with your summer?

Posted by lpearle on 24 July 2015

I’ve already posted my early-summer PD schedule and a few “if only…” options.  Then I read this on Twitter:

and Wendy posted about her Walden experience.

Both put me in mind of a friend (a librarian friend) who worked in a school that gave out summer sabbatical travel/learning grants.  No librarian had ever gotten one, because why do we need to travel/learn?  She applied and got a grant to learn to paint in Tuscany.  The rationale?  She was a very linear learner and thinker, not at all artistic.  Learning to paint would be out of her comfort zone.  Even more out of that comfort zone would be living and learning in a language she didn’t know.  Why was this important?  Because she was very comfortable (as I suspect most librarians are) doing research and speaking the language of information fluency/skills, etc..  Putting herself in those uncomfortable shoes would mean she could, for a few weeks, walk in her students’ steps as they began to learn the process of finding, evaluating and interpreting information while they did research.  She argued, convincingly, that her experience would make her more empathetic to them and help her be a better librarian.

I’ve never worked in a school that’s had that kind of program (or, if they did, I wasn’t eligible) but it’s something to consider for next year, even if it’s out of my own pocket (as Doug says, it’s good to have skin in the game).  Imagine how your program could change and improve if you did the same.

Posted in Conferences, Musings, Pedagogy | 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 »

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 »


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