Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

I wish it were this easy!

Posted by lpearle on 30 October 2013

In a few weeks many school librarians will be congregating in Hartford (CT) for the biennial AASL National Conference.  I’ve been faithfully going since 1997 (Portland OR) but this time I was on the fence about attending.  That it’s now about 10 miles from where I work made the decision easier, ditto the fact that it’s a new school and thus a renewed need to meet with vendors to see the Neat! New! products they have on offer.

As has happened at more than one conference I’ve attended in the past few years, there’s a One Book/One Conference event.  Last time it was Quiet and after reading it I had a few reservations but overall, it seemed a good thing for us to at least have a familiarity with.  This time it’s 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done and I have even more reservations.  Granted, I haven’t read it but I have to ask:  who in the conference committee thought this was the best read for us?  The author writes a column for the Harvard Business Review and probably has never had a schedule quite like the ones I’ve had since making the move from corporate life to school life (in my per-librarian days I attended a few of the GTD-type programs and they do work… in that world.  not in this one).  Just look at the Library Day in the Life Project and ask yourself, how many of these people can truly plan their days?

The days I find easiest to plan are those where I have classes booked in all day.  Then I know it’s Africa periods 1 and 5a, International Human Rights period 3, Foundations of Western Civ periods 2, 4, 5b and 7, and Economics period 6.  From 3:20-5:30, I may be able to get to the other stuff (cataloging new items, shelving, ordering, dealing with e-mail, planning a new project with a colleague, update LibGuides and check student bibliographies and notes on Noodletools).  Maybe.  That’s if someone doesn’t come in and ask for personal time with me.  If I don’t have classes scheduled, well… the time does get frittered away, what with helping students and colleagues, meetings with administrators, and all the other stuff (see above).   One of those famous management tricks is to schedule when you’ll check e-mail.  I could do that.  I could also miss a colleague asking for help finding a resource five minutes before their class begins, or a student asking for help with their research project, or a request for Inter-Library Loan, or an invitation to a meeting that will plan a new curricular initiative.  Should I tell a tutor or someone searching for the computer science teachers not to bother me, I have to focus?

Librarians with fixed schedules may wonder why I’m ranting, but I suspect those with flexible (or fix/flex) understand what I’m saying.  I work in a two-story space, and the other librarian and I change floors daily.  That much I can plan.  And yes, 18 minutes could probably get carved out of my day so I can focus on “actionable” tasks (although taking anyone who uses “actionable” in any sense other than legal risks not being taken seriously).  The problem isn’t that we’re supposed to now treat our work in a school library the way I used to treat my work as an executive recruiter, it’s that the book so clearly lacks real relevance to our lives (at least we weren’t asked to read From Great to Good!) and the committee, rather than choosing something that might enrich my practice has chosen something that is one more indication that a group of non-building-level librarians (as Wendy calls them, “school librarian types“) is running the school librarian’s association.

Posted in Professional organizations, Rants, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Reading Reading Reading

Posted by lpearle on 31 January 2013

It’s interesting to see that one of the most popular posts on this blog is The Role of Reading – none of my other posts comes close. I suspect that’s to do with the fact that we do, as a country, value reading. More important, we value the idea of reading.

Here’s what I mean. In the past week alone here are two comments about reading (specifically my reading) that I’ve received:

I try to check out your blog from time to time; 400 books in 2012? I’m in awe. (Of your top selections I only read Gone Girl and The Night Circus. But then again, I only read about 20 books in the whole year!)

I, too am an avid reader, or so I thought with my 132 books last year, but 400 – WOW! Makes me rethink the definition of avid, for sure.

The problem isn’t with them and their reading, it’s with a perceived need to apologize for not reading as much as someone like me (not working full-time with an already high WPM reading rate). I often find myself trying to mitigate their comments with the explanation that in addition to those two facts, I read a lot of YA, murder mysteries, regular fiction and in general not delving into Deep Important Tomes By Weighty Authors. In other words, I don’t read the books that often gathered dust on my school library’s shelves (the so-called Canon) but instead I read less important, more fun reads.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Books, Rants, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Finding the sweet spot – customer service

Posted by lpearle on 26 November 2012

Recently I had a Close Encounter of the Smarmy Kind with a salesman.  A friend and I walked into Men’s Warehouse to buy a new suit (for him) and suddenly – there he was.  Our new BFF, joking about Brooklyn and missing the Good Life in the Big City.  And during the upsell, the whispered “just go along – my manager is right over there” and louder, “So, Sir, you’re sure I can’t find you a new shirt?  Of course you need a new tie with your lovely new suit!” The suit needed alteration, and the sports jacket we wanted wasn’t in stock so we were to come back later when the tailor had worked his magic; then the jacket needed alterations when it arrived.  Again, our BFF salesperson was smarming all over us, urging us to look at these leather jackets… that vest. I picked up the jacket in August and thought it was all over.  Then in October, there was a phone call asking when we were picking up the jacket.  Several conversations later, it turns out that the jacket there was the ‘placeholder’ in the wrong size.

Bear with me – this is connected to libraries!
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Posted in Musings, Rants, School Libraries, Work Stuff | 1 Comment »

Not Drinking the Kool-Aid

Posted by lpearle on 10 November 2011

While at the recent AASL National Conference I had the pleasure of spending time with several people new to the World of AASL. They weren’t new to “Big ALA”, but they’d spent time in other divisions despite being school librarians (I know so many others that belong to ALSC or YALSA and have little to do with AASL, too).

While they enjoyed the presentations and the opportunity to see their peers outside the large ALA conference, they didn’t enjoy AASL. I understand why, but what saddens me is that so few others seem to – or if they do, they’re not interested in changing things. So, why?

  • AASL encourages a Cult of Personality in a way that other divisions don’t seem to.  There are a group of Big Names who are definitely deserving of their fame, as they are often sources of inspiration and new ideas.  But there’s a sense that you cannot disagree with them and that citing others doing similar things is somehow disloyal.  Disagreement and some dissension is good for an organization, let alone for humans.  If you can’t take questioning about your ideas, methodology or pedagogy, isn’t that a huge problem? Other division have their Big Names, but the veneration isn’t there.
  • AASL is not that welcoming to newbies and outsiders.  I’ve often decried the age issue at AASL’s All-Committee sessions: I should not be one of the youngest in the room.  One of my dining partners said that she’d joined an AASL committee after years in another division and at her first All-Committee session had been soundly ignored by the other, older (both in age and in AASL activity) members.  How is this helping with outreach to other divisions or encouraging new leaders?
  • AASL is not growing new leaders.  Despite the wonderful leadership panel, very few of the AASL leadership is actively mentoring and sponsoring younger members, encouraging participation, committee work and leadership.  So few of the Emerging Leaders have actually emerged, and I know at more than one person who is giving more time and attention to another division despite being really good leadership material for AASL.   When I served on the mentoring committee, nothing was accomplished in part because the act of mentoring is difficult and while many members have had great mentors that helped them, they’re not interested in paying that forward.
  • AASL is an echo chamber.  I’ve seen it on so many different social media platforms (especially twitter) and in presentations: I cite you, I applaud you, and you return the favor.  Publicly.  One recent tweet wasn’t even responding to Tweeter A’s comments, it was Tweeter B applauding that Tweeter A was tweeting so thoughtfully. And that comment got retweeted!  Why wasn’t that a DM?  Because in AASL, you need to be seen to be following and appreciating the Big Names.

I could go on, but those are the biggest gripes I’ve heard from people who would make great, insightful, productive, innovative, engaging members and leaders of AASL, but they feel so unwelcome in the association that they prefer to spend their time and energies in other divisions (or in some cases, other associations entirely).  That’s really too bad, but they’ve told me they’re not willing to drink the AASL Kool-Aid, to be ignored and discounted by the Big Names and leaders.  At least two won’t attend AASL13, even to present.  The problem isn’t that it’s just a few unhappy voices, it’s that these voices are being heard by others in the other divisions.  That is a huge image problem for AASL, when people other divisions consider to be Names (or even just names) can’t be positive about their experience with AASL members and conferences.

And sadly this lack of caring is institutionalized in the “home office”, which in this case equals those employed by ALA as well as those serving on the Board and in Affiliate Assembly.  There are a few who buck this trend, but when year after year social gatherings (like the ISS Networking Social) are ignored by the current President and when at the National Conference the President doesn’t make the rounds (ok, greeting 3000+ people can be difficult, but so many people have never spoken with the President up close) I can’t help but wonder what’s going on.  I’ve blogged about this before, written e-mails to friends that have been President (or Past, or Elect) and nothing changes.

Will this new post change anything?  I doubt it.  My voice within AASL is too small, and those with bigger voices won’t care.  My hope is that those outside AASL see this and realize that not everyone inside has drunk the Kool-Aid.

Posted in Professional organizations, Rants | 2 Comments »

#AASL11 reflections: technotreats

Posted by lpearle on 5 November 2011

I’m always interested in how others are using technology (and technotools) intelligently in their schools – after all, we know that technology is only a tool, it’s not the answer to our pedagogical/programatic problems. Right? Here are some of my takeaways (and one rant) from the conference.

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Posted in Conferences, Rants, School Libraries, Techno Geekiness | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

“I should just retire”

Posted by lpearle on 22 July 2011

I’ve been hearing that, or versions thereof, for the past few years and recently it seems that every group of librarians I’m with includes one that is just giving up.  What’s causing this epidemic?  They’re feeling unappreciated and unwanted not by their schools or students, but by their own profession.

Yes, by their own profession.

The constant bombardment of “if you’re not keeping up with the leaders in the field you’re not pulling your weight so get out” messages (we all remember the things that kept Joyce and Doug up at night) doesn’t help.  Some are simply overwhelmed by the pace of change in tools and resources – they’re just getting into Twitter and all of a sudden there’s Google+ to master.  They update their websites and integrate blogs only to be told that they need to master Glogs and Prezi.  Blogging’s over, it’s now about vlogging.  And so on.  Administrators are asking them to cull carefully selected collections and to go digital, sometimes without understanding that what’s in print is not always in e-format.  After all, it’s all out there on the web, right?  And after fighting for flexible scheduling and integration/collaboration with the curriculum, they’re tired of fighting, particularly after this many years of service.

I also think about one of my high school friends.  When we had our 30th reunion last year, she talked about how she cared for her in-laws, going to their house a couple of times a week to clean and cook, managing the other caregivers and organizing their finances, etc..  She’s also taking care of her middle school daughter and her high school son, who is starting the college selection process.  Oh, and her husband “commutes” between Nashville TN and New Jersey.  This being part of a sandwich generation has been draining on her, and it’s no wonder she was slightly depressed. Luckily for her, she didn’t have to work a full-time job.

Now, imagine you’re a school librarian *and* you’re doing what my friend is doing.  Or that you have a special needs child.  Or maybe you have health issues.  Perhaps it’s not that complicated – maybe you volunteer somewhere, or are simply taking care of your family.  There are a million reasons why some of us leave the librarian part of our lives behind at times, and yet to keep up with all the changes and to stay relatively close to the movers, shakers and doers means that you can’t afford to do that.

What message are we sending our peers if we make them feel that they can’t possibly have a vibrant program without racing from one technology to another, reading every YA book out there so that the shelves have the hottest/latest reads, ensuring that you move from being the librarian to being an embedded member of the faculty and on and on?  Why can’t we applaud those that are doing the best they can with the resources and funding they have, changing at a pace they find comfortable?   Why do we all need to be like – well, you know the names as well as I do?

We need to make it a point to celebrate all our peers doing their best to make their programs rich, vibrant and student-centered. We must to encourage them not to retire but to try just one new thing, because one thing is doable, and to forget about the rest for now.  And all this “if you’re not doing all these things, we don’t want you here” must stop.  Now.  Before it’s too late.

Posted in Rants, School Libraries | 4 Comments »

Going GaGa

Posted by lpearle on 17 July 2011

A recent post by The Daring Librarian, entitled Lady GaGa Librarians Unite, has gotten a bit of notice.  Gwyneth is also one of the members of the Geek Squad/Geek Tribe, about which I’ve posted before.   As luck would have it, I spent the other evening with one of my former students, a classical musician, and the topic came up.  It also came up in two conversations I’ve had, one with a librarian/mentor and the other with an academic librarian (who actually knew the Lady in question pre-title).

At the dinner, we were talking about another violinist, one that also attended the school.  My companion said that she found his look distracted from his music, and compared him to pop musicians like Lady GaGa: the look, the flash and antics are as much a part of the act as the music (sometimes more so).  Classical music, she said, was more subtle and emotional, with a longer-lasting impact on the senses.

Then in the other conversations, this comparison of librarians to Lady GaGa arose.  The more I think about it, the more I agree – gasp – with the Annoyed Librarian, who wrote that videos aren’t going to save libraries.  Neither will dressing in costumes, touting our tattoos or claiming that we’re like Lady GaGa.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with the initial premise:

We need to establish a clear, pervasive, vibrant, and involved presence in their school, community, and on the web. The more visible librarians are the less likely that they’ll be taken away. Those teacher librarians who are hiding their brilliant programs under a bushel, that’s when they’re most likely to get cut. We need to stay positive, be proactive, and always be professional!”

But nothing there says “be Lady GaGa” to me.  Going for flash, for style over substance won’t help, it’ll hurt.  What we need to do is to embrace our inner classical musician – reach for that emotional connection to our students, our communities.   All the self-promotion and self-advocacy and “watch me! watch me!” antics in the world don’t help if they alienate people or overshadow our message.  The close connections, that “clear, pervasive, vibrant and involved presence” will help because those in the community will advocate for us, because the community will know how important we are to their student’s success and their teacher’s practice.

Furthermore, the more we ally ourselves with that type of image, be it Lady GaGa or a Geek Tribe member, the more we alienate librarians who aren’t, for whatever reason, interested in claiming those identities.  As one of my conversation buddies said, it smacks of an exclusive circle showing how exclusive they are by pretending to be inclusive – choosing different language that doesn’t have such an in-your-face effect will attract those who are taking baby (or toddler) steps towards vibrant, indispensable programs and those who are already quietly there.

(And for the record, Lady Bird Johnson did leave an impressive legacy to emulate: just as she taught us that “beauty is not a luxury”, we need to teach our communities that libraries and librarians are not a luxury.  Now that message I could go gaga over.)

Posted in Musings, Rants, School Libraries | 1 Comment »

It’s still broken…

Posted by lpearle on 5 August 2010

I’ve blogged about the ways in which I think ALA is broken (not to mention one division to which I belong, AASL).  Then along comes Will Manley, with a wonderful addition to this theme.  As the Quakers say, he speaks to my condition.  Oh, and check out his recent posts on political correctness and blogging/commenting in the workplace.  Well worth the time spent reading.

Posted in Professional organizations, Rants | 2 Comments »

Vaguely insulted

Posted by lpearle on 14 April 2010

Yesterday, as I was presenting “at” the Alabama Library Association’s conference, someone called me at work.  The message was there when I got back, and it was clear that it was a wrong number… ish.

The call was from a salesperson, and was for a James Smith.  Yet this salesperson had clearly listened to my voice mail message, as he started with “Hello, Laura” before launching into his spiel.  ooookay.  I chose not to respond, because I’m not James Smith.

Later in the afternoon, the salesperson called back.  After we’d established that I was not James Smith, nor did one work at Hackley at my exact phone number, he said “well, as long as I’ve got you on the phone…” At that point, I cut in and said that I’d heard his message earlier, that I was quite happy working in a school as the librarian and thank you very much.  He then said “well, perhaps you’re only a school librarian because you’re not an entrepreneur.”

First of all, duh.  I’m also a school librarian because I’m not a veterinarian, a lawyer or any other profession.  Second of all, “only”. ONLY????  That’s the part that insulted me (I admit to snippily saying ‘I find that offensive.  Good bye.”).  I’m not ONLY anything.  This is a choice that I made, and one that I’m very happy and content to have made.

No, I’m not making tons of money.  I think even Donald Trump and Bill Gates and their billionaire peers would like to make more.  And no, my job isn’t perfect, but then, whose is?  There are good days and bad days, and parts that I love and parts that, well, not so much.  Bottom line?  I wouldn’t trade it to be something else, and I’ve never felt like I’m only a librarian.

Still, it’s rankling.  There’s a part of me that would like to call him back and ask if he’s only an idiot phone salesman.

Posted in Rants | Leave a Comment »

Missing the point?

Posted by lpearle on 20 January 2010

During the ISS meeting during AASL’s All-Committee, the resolution on changing our title back to “school librarian” was read.  The entire table cheered  (although, as Kristin says, “It feels like a visit from Obviousman”).

So why are Diane and others upset?

I have no idea.  Seriously, you’d think they didn’t like the idea of reclaiming a title (and a space designation) that ties us in with every other MLS in our profession.  I mean, where was the Library Media Center of Congress*?  Go to any major university and find the Library Media Specialist on the faculty listing.  Go ahead. I’ll wait.


All those complaining that it brings us back to an old stereotype, that it reinforces our status as “staff” not “faculty”, blah blah whiny blah – get over it.  Talk with any tenured librarian at Harvard (or Penn State) and they’re not all angsty that they’re not “Professor”.  It’s up to each of us, in our buildings and with group advocacy, to make sure our schools, parents and students know our true worth.

Trust me, they’re applying old, outdated stereotypes to all of us, from law to corporate to archives to school to public.  It’s not about where, it’s about how.  Would being a “teacher-librarian” be better?  Only if we don’t want to have to spend time explaining that we aren’t a librarian for teachers only.  Only if we once again want to separate what we do from what others in our profession do.

Providing excellent service, being as forward thinking and moving as possible, keeping up with the profession (but remember, it’s ok to have an outside life, too), and creating links to the community so that you have their support during difficult times is the way to change those stereotypes.  I’m betting that in mk‘s school, or Liz‘s school, or Jen‘s school (and I could go on and on) there isn’t a population that thinks “librarian = bun, sensible shoes, lipstick on the teeth, sweaters and ill-fitting skirts”

Obsessing about a name change is missing the point.

Besides, it lessens the confusion when you look at a school’s website and find this.

(*sorry, can’t claim credit for that one, it’s been around for a while)

Posted in Professional organizations, Rants, School Libraries | 5 Comments »


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