Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘School Libraries’ Category

Cataloging is FUNdamental

Posted by lpearle on 20 May 2020

Seriously?  How is ALA not requiring this?

When I went for my MLS there were four required classes at the Palmer School and (you guessed it) cataloging was one of them.  My professor was the man who literally wrote the chapter of AACR2R on music cataloging, but friends who had other professors learned just as much.

Yesterday, I and the other librarians met with the librarians from another local school about how we’ve approached revamping our catalog and collection.  We talked about the history of the cataloging projects (including 2005’s recataloging of the microfiche collection), our rebarcoding on the outside of books to make inventory easier, and how we’d approached both moving books around (like the 300s junk drawer and the yes… but no piles), plus how we went about weeding old, duplicate and unneeded books.  We also talked about creating norms for DDC cataloging (eg, books about genocide in general go in 364.151, while books on, say the Rwandan genocides go in 967.571) and how we’re starting to create the same kind of norms for subject headings.

It’s also given us a great, in-depth idea as to what is, and what is not, in our collection.  Not each book, but each subject area.  We know where we need to add books, and where maybe we have have enough (or too many).

Without understand how cataloging works, we’d have a collection that varied greatly from Dewey (not that I think Dewey is the be-all and end-all, but it is what most of our students will use in public libraries). Ours meets DDC, but not always where the catalogers think it should go.  And — no surprise — our students are finding books easier and making better choices.  Isn’t that the real goal?

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

At the halfway point

Posted by lpearle on 6 May 2020

It’s been over one month since we “came back” from Spring Break and started classes online.  Milton chose to ramp up slowly: the first day of class was April 1, with a first assignment due no earlier than April 6.  Then we added in office hours.  Then one synchronous meeting per week.  When you have (as one colleague does) students in Asia and Africa and America, finding common time is… difficult.

That common time is why we have the library’s digital portal open from 5:30am – 9:00pm ET.  It’s why the National Library Week quizzes were not judged on a “first correct answer” basis but “one of the top ten highest will be randomly chosen” basis.  Having said that, those problems only really exist in our upper school; our middle and lower school are all day students, so more synchronous activities can happen.  There is a Wednesday Book Chat, several fitness opportunities, American Sign Language classes, plus advisory, assembly and other gatherings.

For those of us who work in the library, it’s been a great time to work on some of those projects where having concentrated time is great, like cleaning up MARC records or adding 655 tags for genres and affinity groups.  We’re still working on standardizing subject headings and reassigning DDC numbers for some sections.  It’s also been a good time to up our game on social media and student outreach.

And in six weeks, it’ll all be over for this academic year.

Unsurprisingly, what happens next weighs heavily on my mind.  Stay tuned for what we’re thinking and planning, as best as we can.

Posted in School Libraries, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

Two weeks in

Posted by lpearle on 10 April 2020

It’s been two weeks since the end of Spring Break.  Two weeks since this great Remote Learning adventure started.  Two weeks of a new kind of normal.

It’s also been two weeks of Zoom meetings and chats and working from home.  One thing I’ve been grateful for is knowing that my librarian friends and colleagues are in this exact same situation, and our ability to share resources and ideas.  One thing we talked about in a gathering of those of us with supervisory or director responsibilities was how we kept our administration and faculty up-to-date on what we’re doing as we work from home.  It’s important for many reasons, including the fact that few ever really learn about the library, even in those administrative training courses.

There was a list floating around years ago about what people thought librarians did all day. Of course reading was on the list.  So was shhing.  Shelving.  Maybe tending cats and plants. Today, that list might include teaching a class in research or helping with citations.  The important thing is, people think 99% of our job requires us to be in the library.

The reality is that maybe 10% of our job requires that (less if there’s great access to ebooks in all genres).  So what are we doing all day?  We set up a digital portal and encourage students and faculty to use it.  We’re adding non-fiction ebooks to help students do research.  In lieu of displays we’re upping our outreach on Instagram, email and our LMS.  We’ve updated our Resource Guides to highlight remote learning.  We’re helping students with citations and finding resources, and requesting articles for teachers.  We’re still looking at what new books we would like to order just before we return.  We’re updating our records to help students search, adding summaries and Tables of Contents to the MARC record.  We’re tagging our fiction with diversity tags so students looking for books with certain types of experiences or characters can easily find them.  We’re also pre-processing new books so all we have to do is stamp them and relabel (if necessary) when we return. Yes, we’re still recommending reading for pleasure books, hoping that students have a library card from a system that has the book.

And that’s just within the past two weeks.  Who knows what we can accomplish by the end of the month?

Posted in Collection Development, School Libraries, Work Stuff | 1 Comment »

Hi ho, hi ho…

Posted by lpearle on 1 April 2020

No, I’m not exactly off to work – it’s more like making a strong cuppa, turning on the tv and my laptop and opening our library portal for the day. Earlier this year I shared a day in the life, and I thought it might be interesting to do an update on this, my students’ first day “back”.

As a faculty, we prepared for this with training on Zoom and Screencastify. We talked about meeting the students needs, recognizing that they might not be in the ideal situation regarding school work (some may have parents working with COVID-19, others helping take care of siblings, and others literally on the other side of the planet, among other social and emotional challenges). There are also technology challenges, with wonky wifi or older machines for some; one colleague and his teacher wife are sharing two laptops with their three children, getting all of them online appropriately will be interesting! Unlike some schools, we are trying to mitigate the stress by lowering the load from our normal F2F classes and homework while still continuing to teach.

Today, being our first day, will be an adventure into the unknown. Join me…

05:00 – Alarm goes off.  Turn it off, roll out of bed, go to the bathroom and do my ablutions.

05:13 – Turn on my laptop, open LibApps and go to LibGuides, hide our “our of office” message and unhide my profile box; go to LibAnswers and log in to chat.  Our digital portal is now live!

05:20 – Tea arrives, as if by magic.  Turn on the tv and start checking email, morning websites, etc. as per usual.

05:21 – Learn that my father texted last night, saying a close friend’s father died from this coronavirus.  

05:44 – Completed the NYTimes Mini Crossword in 30sec (I think it’s my best time yet!)

06:16 – Sent an email to all faculty and US Students saying hello:

06:30 -Learned that the wife of a friend died, not from the virus but from complications due to a double lung transplant done just as the virus hit.  R.I.P. Mrs. T.

06:35 – Helped a student sign up for a BPL ecard.  I’m feeling useful!

07:00 – I’m going to start compiling the monthly database usage statistics.  I’ve never understood why some database providers can give me stats on the first of the month while others can’t for 30 days.  Anyone? 

08:10 – Read emails regarding Department Chairs meetings (now on Zoom; is anything not on Zoom these days?) and watch two videos from our Academic Dean, including on with a great April Fool’s Joke.

08:30 – Join the Upper School Faculty Morning Coffee Zoom.  Since we can’t see each other during the school day at meetings, in the hallways, at lunch, etc., it’s nice seeing at least a few of my colleagues online.

09:00 – Join an Edupuzzle training Zoom led by a colleague.  This might be fun to add to our “find time to relax” offerings if we can figure out a great use for it (maybe a treasure hunt?  choose your own library adventure? hmmm…) and it’s definitely a great way to teach students how to search and cite.  

09:41 – Download MARC records for our LS Libraries.  We provide clerical service for the LS Librarian because she does not have a workroom or an assistant.  These books were ordered before we decided to close so the boxes will be waiting for us when we get back to work – having the records uploaded will make life easier!  I’ll start processing now and finish tomorrow.

11:00 – End of my first day online.  The next librarian on shift has arrived, logged in and I’ve handed the chat baton over.

Later today I’ll join an AISL Zoom for MS/US Librarians, read, mourn, nap, etc., and get ready to wake up tomorrow to do this all over again.

Posted in Life Related, School Libraries, Student stuff, Work Stuff | 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 »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 13 March 2020

It’s been well over a year since my last one of these. Let’s see what I’ve found since then.  For many schools in the Northeast, there’s the approaching Spring Break in which to explore.  And yes, there’s more to follow.

Books, Reading, etc.

Library Links

Tech Stuff

Student Centered

  • My seniors are learning where they’re going to be next year, and Stephen Bell has a list of the things they’ll need from their next librarians.  How can we help them bridge that gap?
  • Along with that, we need to remember that school libraries are continuing to evolve.
  • For far too many students, studying history is just another box to tick for graduation.  This History 101 class (and rationale) is something every history department should read about.
  • This walkabout is something I’d love to try during orientation/the opening of school (for faculty and students!)
  • IMVHO, ninth graders should do a serious annotated bibliography instead of a research paper.


Posted in Books, Links, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

The art of “yes… but no”

Posted by lpearle on 25 February 2020

One of the big project we’ve undertaken has been to go shelf by shelf, moving books to better fitting DDC numbers so our students can find what they need more easily.  Sometimes the error was a simple transposition of the numbers, with something belonging in 973 ending up with 937 on the spine label.  Some, well… let’s just say there’s been a lot of “yes… but no” regarding the decisions either in house or at LoC.

If you don’t know how DDC numbers get assigned, here’s the short version: publishers provide the Library of Congress with information about an upcoming book, including a brief summary and subject headings.  The LoC staff then translates that into a DDC number.

Yes, that’s the very short version.  The problem comes when either the publisher or the LoC staff don’t quite know what to do with a book.  For example, years ago I found The President’s Position series split between 320 and 973 (per LoC) which meant I had to figure out which place was better for my students.

This collection is no different:

  • A heart for freedom : the remarkable journey of a young dissident, her daring escape, and her quest to free China’s daughters was, as expected, in religion (248) but our students would find the author’s time during the Tiananmen uprising more interesting so we moved it to China (951).
  • Another book,  Who will shout if not us? : student activists and the Tiananmen Square protest, China, 1989 was moved from education (378) to 951 for the same reason.


It’s the head scratchers that keep us amused, though. For example:

  • One humorous in-house shelving oops was finding The Rape of Nanking with the other books on sexual assault.  Yes… but no.
  • A book on the Holocaust had a LoC assigned number that placed it in population control.  Yes… but no.
  • A book on slavery had an LoC assigned number that would put it on the same shelf as books on Wal-Mart and other retail institutions.  Yes… but no.
  • The award for What Are They Thinking went to the book Ties that Bound; three of the four First Ladies owned slaves, and there was a subject heading for each that went Washington, Martha — 1731–1802 — Employees.  Not even close to a “yes”, just  really no.  We changed that “employees” to “slaves”.

We think we’ve found all of those surprising cataloging decisions.  We hope.  It has made us much more conscious of new books and how they’ve been cataloged, however.



Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries | 1 Comment »

No time

Posted by lpearle on 18 February 2020

One of the blogs I follow, Being More with Less, had a post recently called 9 Things I Refuse to Make Time For Anymore. Now, most of these are self-care things, like not rewriting the past or guilt and resentment.  I wholeheartedly endorse those, but that’s not what I want to talk about just now.  What I do want to talk about are those professional things I refuse to make time for – some long term, some more recent.

About a year ago, there was a discussion on the AISL elist about where we placed book stamps/labels.  Waaaay back when, before barcodes, it made sense to place stamps in multiple places.  Maybe.  Some people still do, with a stamp on the top of the book and one on the title page and one on some supersecret place inside.  When I started at Milton, they also stamped the acquisition date on the back inside cover and put in a bookplate.  We no longer do that: a stamp with the library’s name, school and town on the title page, a barcode and a spine label are fine.  I refuse to make time for something that’ is taken care of by our catalog (acquisition date) and the barcode label (indicating which library owns the book).

It’s research season again, and we have many students needing help and guidance finding appropriate resources.  As I’ve blogged before, I refuse to make time for angst about students not using the best resources.

As a corollary to all that, many colleagues believe that they can best guide their students through the process and to the best resources, despite not knowing what we have that’s new or improved.   Some are still asking students to do things on paper notecards or not requiring a citation manager, despite our telling students that this is something they’ll need to use in college.  And most believe they understand how to cite, but aren’t able to figure out the information necessary from a website or database (or fully believe that an ebook is the same as a print book in content).  I refuse to make time for anger about teachers not wanting to collaborate on this, thus hurting their students research capabilities in the future..

Long before my MLS, I started in the business office of a theatre company.  We used CalcStar to do the books, actually running manual books alongside because the technology was so new we didn’t trust it.  At my next job, we migrated from manual to electronic books.  Once I became a librarian, it was difficult getting reports from the business office, so I started running QuickBooks to manage the budget and library finances.  At MPOW I have access to their financial system whenever I want (I can look, but I can’t “touch”).  It’s been a great lesson in  library management: I refuse to make time for duplicating the efforts of others.

Over the years I’ve developed a bit of a problem with elists and enewsletters and blogs.  It took 50 years to stop being a “clean plate” reader, and I’ve mastered the art of skimming the headlines and deciding if this article or that post is worth the investment of my time.  I refuse to make time for every post and every message.  Many just aren’t that interesting or necessary.

It’s a perennial issue for librarians: what do you do with the teacher who breaks copyright laws with excessive copies or streaming videos in class from their private accounts.  Most schools prize academic integrity, and yet look the other way when it’s clear that a teacher is creating a private course reader without checking to see if they can make copies year after year of the same short story or article or poem.  Most have no way to stop the streaming, grown even worse now that laptops aren’t equipped with DVD trays.  At two previous schools I waded into that frey, getting streaming licenses and checking copyright/creating legitimate course packs.  I refuse to make time at MPOW for that argument; there are other hills to die on.

What are you refusing to make time for?




Posted in Collection Development, Ethics, Rants, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Renewing Resolutions

Posted by lpearle on 21 January 2020

It’s about this time of year that most people recognize that their well-intentioned resolutions aren’t going as well as they’d hoped or planned.  If you’re one of those people who planned to read more this year than last, here are some challenges to inspire you  (since my only goal is to read the same as I did last year, I’m thinking about my student readers).

Last year (seems so long ago, doesn’t it?) Betty had a series of strips about reading.

(it starts November 20 and runs through December 7)

Then there are all the programs your local library sponsors.  Examples?  Louisville PLs Books and Brews and Kitsap’s Books on Tap.  I’m trying to think of ways we can do this (minus the alcohol) at school to inspire our student’s reading. Ideas? Please share!

Posted in Books, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Feeling vindicated

Posted by lpearle on 15 January 2020

I know that there’s been very little blogging here the first half of the academic year.  In part it’s because of a massive project we’ve been working on for the past two years that needed to be finished by the start of Winter Break.  Well… ok, part one of the project needed to be finished.  There are still two more parts, with a final end goal of June 2021.  I’ll explain about them later.

Let’s start with this tweet and my response:

When many librarians were getting their cardigans in a twist over the idea of doing away with Dewey, I didn’t understand the fuss.  After all, isn’t DDC simply a numeric representation of a subject heading?  Ok, sometimes it’s a very complicated, very specific subject heading, but still. What’s so sacred about 398.2 over Folktales?

Still, we’re a school so we need to use a system that our students will be finding elsewhere.  We could use LC but that would confuse our younger students more than DDC does.  The problem is that the numbers are assigned by humans, and humans are fallible.  We found that biographies of Marcus Garvey were in several different sections, depending on the person looking at the synopsis provided.  And then there’s The President’s Position series, cataloged into both the 900s and the 300s, asking librarians to choose where it all belongs.  There are other books, like the one about a Chinese convert to Christianity who, being persecuted in China, comes to the US – but before that, was a leader in the Tienanmen Square uprising.  My students won’t care as much about the religious aspect as they will about the Tienanmen one.

Over the past two years we’ve slowly gone through the collection and had conversations about where certain books belong.  Sometimes we’ve moved them to entirely new sections of the collection.  Sometimes we had to reorganize a section because previous cataloging had either expanded or truncated them so that books weren’t necessarily next to each other when they needed to be.  At the same time, we’ve looked at the age of the books and figured out if we needed to update or replace them.

Was it worth it?  We’ve seen students finding better resources because the collection now flows.  Just last month, three students told me that they didn’t know that we’d had so many books on their topics – few of the books were new, but the way we now shelved them meant it was easier for them to find.  And now we know what gaps there are in the collection and can start filling them.  Of course, we also know how many books we have that duplicate others (as in, how many biographies of [world leader] do we really need?), and that’s part of the next phase.

This fall I attended NELA’s conference and one of the sessions was about something very similar.  Turns out, Brookline PL is doing the same, leaving me feeling rather achy from all the books we moved but also really validated.


Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »