Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘School Libraries’ Category

Aspirational Librarianship

Posted by lpearle on 27 February 2015

In the September/October issue of Knowledge Quest, Buffy and Kristin coauthored an article that suggested that there was a widening gap between the standards and expectations AASL promotes and the reality many of us face in our schools (even those of us in well-funded independent schools not tied into e-rate funding/filtering, with 1:1 iPad programs and not required to undergo state testing).  As I read it, my head nodded as I recognized challenges that I and others have experienced.

Let’s look at the first question they pose, “What does it mean to be great?”  By AASL’s standards, the programs I’ve worked with are failures.  Collaboration and co-teaching with every teacher hasn’t taken place.  Even worse, I don’t insist that teachers work with me on every project!  Of course I’m open – but if they can’t, or if a project gets cancelled (for example, due to too many snow days) or truncated, I do the best I can and move on.  Those projects may not be as deep and inquiry rich as they’re supposed to be.  Sometimes students graduate without having done any deep research at all.  And then there are the non-integrated information/research skills classes, ones that may tie in with an ongoing project but are fix-scheduled and year-long, so the content doesn’t always have a curricular match. I take on non-library related work (like overseeing the online bookstore set-up, or proctoring lunch in the cafeteria while leaving the library unattended).  Leadership in tech?  That might step on our computer science teachers and tech integrators toes, let alone the Director of IT’s position on where the school is going.

Do I feel like a failure? No.  I aspire to what AASL considers “excellence”, keeping that as a potential goal while looking at the reality of the situation on the ground.  Only one or two projects that go further than a 3-5 page paper with bibliography?  Great.  Bring it.  I can work with that and aspire to building a stronger connection with others in that department or in the school that lead to deeper inquiry.  Need me to take on a fixed scheduled class?  Ok.  Let’s see what I can do to bring skills into the class even if there’s nothing curricular to work with, like evaluating information about current events or finding credible resources on topics of personal interest.  I can aspire to moving to a flexible schedule, or to integrating (slowly) with what the classroom teachers are doing.

Then I read Judy Moreillon’s response to the article. I think she missed the point.  My reading of the article wasn’t, “let’s get rid of the standards and the expectations and the high bar, instead let’s focus on how to help librarians in schools do the best possible job with their situation.” She’s dead right about the fact that for some, meeting with every class, every student for deep inquiry-based projects is simply impossible due to the student/librarian ratio (at my school, it’s 160:1; at my cousin’s selective high school, it’s 450:1; and at another NYC highly selective high school, it’s 1506:1).  But this paragraph made me cringe:

Working with these educators and students should be a priority for school librarians who will continue to serve other students on an as needed basis and work with teachers who engage in cooperative planning and schedule the library in open times that are not being used for in-depth learning. (If the library is large enough, multiple classes can use the library space at one time, but only those teachers who have planned with the librarian and scheduled the librarian’s time as well will have the benefit of her/his expertise.)

Really?  Maybe in a public school where the union can protect you but at my school?  If I told teachers that they could come in, but I was only going to work with the ones who have collaborated with me beforehand on the project creation?  I’d be looking for a new job, not to mention having an incredibly empty library space as the teachers stayed away in droves.  Last year we had one week where we had 10-13 classes in every day (there are only 7 periods in a day) and we worked with every one of them as the teacher needed – none of them did the level of collaboration that I aspire to, but hey, maybe next year.  Let me build the relationship, slowly showing them how I can add value to their projects and becoming a partner with them.  I’d rather be overwhelmed with students asking me questions despite a lack of integration into the class than sitting there at the information desk listening to the crickets.

I could go on, but you get the point.

Here’s the thing about aspirational librarianship: we know where the goal posts are, and we hope to some day get there.  But for now, in the real world in which we work, we need help and guidance on how to do our jobs better without alienating teachers and without insisting that if we’re not adhering to what AASL says we should be doing/being we’re just not being valued or doing a good job.  To my mind, it feels like the equivalent of being the old-fashioned shh’er: my way and only my way in my library.   Thank you Buffy and Kristin for raising the question.

So, what answers do you have?  To what do you aspire?

 

Posted in Musings, Professional organizations, School Libraries | 6 Comments »

The care and feeding of librarians

Posted by lpearle on 23 February 2015

Last week I was sitting in a faculty meeting, getting ready to leave to proctor evening study hall, when suddenly a group of students came running into the building exclaiming, “There’s a gas leak in the library!”  Needless to say, my feet were running as I phoned our security office.  The sirens were blaring, lights flashing and of course we were not allowed into the building to see what, in fact, was happening.  So I went home, study hall cancelled for the night.  Soon after I got a text asking me to return, to help save the materials in the Archives (housed in the library).

What I found when I got there was a broken pipe flooding the ground floor, creating a sodden carpet and destroying several outer boxes of archives materials.  Thanks to the quick thinking and work of our maintenance people and a few faculty members, we were able to get everything off the floor and rebox most of the items.

However, before all that, when we didn’t know what was happening, I had a few flashback moments to 2007, and the Hackley School fire. Could I really do another complete reconstruction?  Could I really do a partial one?

And I realized that despite the presentations I’ve given on disaster recovery, I wasn’t paying attention to one of the most important pieces of advice I gave others: take care of yourself.  In the midst of the crisis moment and during the recovery/repair phase, self-care is critical.  Not just when lightning strikes (or a pipe bursts), but when ever there is a huge change in your professional circumstances. Most – many? all? – of us want to be seen as professional, as having the proverbial stiff upper lip and just getting on with the job, no matter what’s going on outside.  And that’s all well and good, because being that oasis of calm, of dispassionate information, of normalcy can be invaluable to your community.  When September 11th was ongoing, I was lucky enough to have outside sources of information who let me know what, exactly, was happening (one was a major in the Canadian Army, getting realtime accurate information, the other was outside NYC and able to get through when local information sources were failing).  It helped the school know what not to believe.  And that’s the same attitude I took post-fire, to not show panic or despair, but to get on with it.

That was at work.  But at home I took care to do things that comforted me.  And slowly, given the pressures of work and new jobs and moving and life, I’ve gotten away from that.

This is important because I suspect I’m not alone.  The “always on” nature of life now, barely imaginable in 2007, doesn’t lend itself to down time away from whatever the situation is.  We’re pressured to do more with our time, to be more available professionally and personally, and not to seek things that might take us away from that to a place where we can find peace and time to do serious self-care.

At the upcoming NEAISL conference, and at this summer’s ALA and other conferences, meetings, leadership summits, etc. I hope we pay more attention to this.  Yes, it’s important to learn about new tools and to share tips and techniques, but it’s critical to learn to take the time for ourselves.

Posted in Musings, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Change, or thinking the unthinkable

Posted by lpearle on 10 February 2015

“Life is change”, we’re told. And we need to “lean in” to the discomfort (a real misreading of That Book) or recite the Serenity Prayer or do yoga or something. But change is stressful, no matter how we try to deal with it.

There’s a very loosely connected group of librarians who meet once a year at a day-long conference (the group is called the New England Association of Independent School Librarians, or NEAISL, and has no elist, no website, nothing more than this moveable conference) and this year, Porter’s is hosting that conference.  Our metatheme is change in all its permutations and instead of presentations we’re having facilitated conversations.  I know, from personal experience, that those conversations we have amongst colleagues are incredibly valuable – going to a conference presentation may lead to a new idea or two, or give an overview of a new tool, but for help with real change, real problems, it’s that interpersonal piece that works best.

So what kind of change?  As a librarian, I know that our programs have changed radically over the past couple of decades.  The school library my parents had looked very much like the one I had, but the one my nieces and nephews had has undergone so much change that they wouldn’t recognize mine!  Gone are the micro-format machines and drawers of film/fiche, ditto the card catalog, the LP collection, etc. and instead there are computers and databases and possibly makerspaces, and no shelves of encyclopedias with annual updates.  Do we stay with Dewey, or go with Metis or BISAC or Library of Congress?  What is the right size to the collection?

And then there are professional changes, like a shake-up in school or library administration.  Sometimes it’s a redistribution of duties or divisions, based on staffing changes.  What do you do if you have to change divisions, moving from your Middle School comfort zone to working with Upper School?  Or losing your K-12 range to go K-4 only?  Maybe there’s been a reduction, where your clerk has been “reassigned” (or someone without any training has been assigned!).  And if you’re new to a school, how do you fit into that team – if there is a team; sometimes you’ve gone solo and are suddenly everything from the Head Librarian to the occasional volunteer.

For some people, and I’ve heard from a number, these changes are too much.  They’ve gotten that one straw too many and it’s time to think about What’s Next.  Years ago, a colleague at another school sent out an email describing a situation at her school, where the new Head was radically changing the program and essentially turning it into a non-library space with a non-library focus.  This distress call got back to the school and a few days later, What’s Next became What Do I Do Now?  Some of us are trying to prevent that from happening to us, but the strain of keeping up with the changes is difficult to deal with.

It’s my hope that instead of thinking the unthinkable, we’ll be able to band together and share resources, share tool and share our stories, bolstering each other so that we can deal with the stress and the change.  What are we doing, and where are we going is relevant to everyone – so here’s your opportunity to vent, share and help.  I look forward to your comments!

Posted in Conferences, School Libraries, Work Stuff | 2 Comments »

Ever changing landscape

Posted by lpearle on 24 November 2014

I’m a list maker.  I like checking off that To Do list, getting organized and Getting Things Done.

Being a school librarian is not the best profession for anyone who likes that!

My Big To Do List for this school year has changed, morphed, been ignored and resorted over the past few months… and even after 18 years in schools I’m still not totally ok with that. I keep thinking that we should be further along with the weeding project.  The Varsity Reading Team should be meeting.  Updating the library blog and twitter feed needs to be more frequent. Our Resource Guides aren’t exactly where I want them.  Etc. Etc.

So why aren’t we there? Because of the constant interruptions: helping students find books to read for pleasure… working with them on how to cite a source… ordering new books for the collection… chatting with the student needing an adult ear to listen and shoulder to cry on… And, sadly, neither I nor my Partner-in-Crime are good at being in two places at once.

We’re hosting this year’s New England Association of Independent School Librarians conference, and change is our metatheme.  The programmatic changes when your school goes 1:1 with laptops or tables, or decides to go more (or totally) digital, or the research focus moves more online and in class than before.  The personal changes when you move from being a team member to a solo librarian (or the reverse), or become a department chair, or are asked to move from your division of comfort (K-4, or 9-12) to another division, or are suddenly losing staff and being asked to take on more.  The organizational changes when the school’s Head or other administration changes, or the school drops AP exams, or joins the IB program.  And thoughts about retirement and/or career change.

Those are conversations we need to have, and have needed to have for years.  Decades maybe.  I can’t wait to share stories with my peers, and to feel a little less alone with these questions and fears and issues.

I think about my high school librarian, who ran a program relatively similar to the one my parents would have had.  She was at the school for over 30 years and saw a hugely shifting landscape (where did that wonderful room of LPs go? what about the microfilm/fiche room?).  In my time things have moved from databases on CD-ROMs to “in the cloud”, for example, and movies are not on VHS (or laserdisc) but streamed.  Keeping up with those changes is exhausting!  What makes the perfect program?  How has that perfect program changed since what it was last year?  or last month?

I’m grateful that I now have a week to think about those things, to reassess the To Do List and to regain my footing on the ever-changing landscape I call “my” library.

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

Janus-faced

Posted by lpearle on 14 October 2014

One part of my job description is to take care of the school’s archives.  Now, I should start by confessing that while I’m good at organization and have a decent idea about how to preserve things, I am not, nor have I ever been, trained as an archivist.  Beyond working at my last school to start making sense of their history and one course in graduate school, I’m totally dependent on the advice and guidance of archivally-trained peers.

So, confession over.  Moving on.

The school I’m at now is heading rapidly towards their 175th year (hemisesquicentennial?  anyone know if there is a word for that?) and the archives are in a mess.  They used to be organized, albeit not necessarily in the best fashion, but a couple of years ago they were moved from an old building (dating from the 1700s) to a new building (est. 2001) and then moved three times within the new space(s).  There used to be an archivist, but no longer and for the past several years it’s been either completely ignored or part of someone’s non-academic duties.  So I’m starting not from scratch but from a position of trying to make sense of what’s there (the box labels don’t always reflect the insides), keeping things ticking, weeding the dross and trying to plan for the future.

Wait! Weeding? Dross?

Yes.  If you are a school archive, there’s a good chance that you will be considered the dumping ground for all the stuff that someone doesn’t want.  It takes discipline on the part of the archivist to not accept things like art and other gifts that were given to the Head/a teacher/coach/school nurse by grateful students and parents, and while appreciated, not quite appreciated enough to go along with the person when they moved offices or left the school.  Knowing that the athletics department should give you a team roster, team schedule/results and photos for every team but perhaps not the play sheets for every game, or that the airline tickets from the admissions departments travel aren’t really necessary seems “duh”-ish, but you’d be surprised!  I’ve seen all that and more in the archives in two schools that I’ve worked with.

Anyway, back to the situation at hand.  One of the things that needs to happen is a reorganization of the boxes, decisions about how to preserve some of the artifacts (some clothing, a lot of scrapbooks and notebooks, ledgers and other written works, etc.) need to be made and maybe we can reopen the archives to researchers.  More important, maybe we can consider updating the book that was written in time for the 150th.  In the intervening 20 years there have been a lot of changes in the school, some unique to the institution and some familiar to anyone working in independent schools, or all-girls schools, but our archives haven’t kept up.

It’s interesting to be thinking about looking forward, to updating this book and protecting the future history while at the same time I’m looking backwards at what was in the archives, what should be there and how we can best preserve that past.

More thoughts to follow.

 

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 1 September 2014

(more from the vault – next month, fresher stuff!)

Books, Reading, Etc.

School Stuff

Etc.

  • I don’t use Pocket (yet?) but am a fan of Readability.  Which do you prefer?
  • Great playlist of TED talks on Our Digital Lives.
  • Over the years I’ve scooped, livebindered, diigo’d and been delicious… should I now flip?

Posted in Books, Pedagogy, Privacy, School Libraries, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

The upside (maybe) and other collection thoughts

Posted by lpearle on 21 August 2014

In my last post, I mentioned that I hate shelving.  The upside, besides nice, neat shelves with books that are findable is that it’s a great way to look at your collection, particularly if there’s a research project ongoing (inventory is another great tool, and if you’re not doing an annual inventory, shame on you!).  The collections at three of the four schools I’ve worked at have been… neglected.  There are many wonderful books on the shelves, or they would be wonderful if we were still in the 1980s (or an earlier decade).

At my last school, there were a number of books published in the late teens-early 20s of the last century.  Now, that part of the  collection should be an automatic “weed” right?  Not so fast there! The 11th grade history class was entitled “The Twentieth Century World” and the initial focus is on the Treaty of Versailles, which essentially sets up the entire political world we now inhabit, and those books? They were written by people who were at the talks, crafting the treaty.  So while in the 90s or 80s those may have seemed outdated, by the early 00s, they were primary source materials.

Weeding, it’s tricky!

I saw this tweet a while ago,

and immediately thought, “oh my! wouldn’t that be nice…” The reality is that in a school, you can’t be quite that draconian.  You can do what we’re doing, which is replacing old versions of books like poetry – books we need, but are just so old the students don’t want to use them – and really evaluating the history and social sciences selections.  We did a massive weed of the literary criticism (no longer used) and the science collection already, which dropped about 6,000 volumes from our shelves.  My guess? We’ll probably weed another 3-4,000 this year.  And we’re using Thrift Books to help ease the guilt of getting rid of some of these books.

Without doing shelving, I wouldn’t really be looking at the books that we have, comparing what’s being used for research and what’s still sitting there – too old, too decrepit or just too out-of-date.  So there is an upside… maybe.

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries | 2 Comments »

I read…

Posted by lpearle on 11 August 2014

Ok, to be honest, I almost titled this post “iRead” but I don’t want to jump on any bandwagons!

So, yes, I read.  A lot.  It’s one of my few real talents – reading, reading, reading.  Since January I’ve read 180 books (well… started 180 books.  some were so bad I couldn’t finish) in a variety of genres and for a variety of audiences.  Format, on the other hand, was limited to print and ebook.  Frankly, I prefer print but for ARC/ARE books, I’ll accept (grudgingly) the e version.  When I left my last school, several friends banded together and bought me a Kindle, making it easier to get e books.  At my current school I have an iPad (there’s a 1:1 program) but I never read on that.

Here’s the thing: there’s something wonderfully immersive about a print book.  I open the book up… dive into the world the author has created (that’s true even for non-fiction books)… and woe betide any animal, human or feline, who disturbs me.  When I’m reading on my Kindle, I don’t feel as immersed.

Last year I was given a copy of the recent Brown/Haverford/Trinity/a few other schools e-book survey.  The results didn’t surprise me, but I suspect they surprised the administrators: students don’t want to go e: they prefer print for both research and pleasure reading (sorry, no link).  The Chronicle reported something similar  in 2013, and Publisher’s Weekly  and the Financial Times did the same in 2014.

And in a completely unscientific survey of 100 students at Porter’s (nearly 1/3 of the student body), the girls said the same: give us print, please.

As mentioned earlier, we have a 1:1 program, with a mandate from the administration that if a textbook is available in e format, that’s what the students should buy.  I’ve heard from some parents, and not a few students, that it works for them with math and science texts, but for their English books?  Please, can we have print?  Some are buying two versions, the e and the print, so that they can read in their preferred format and still comply with school requirements.

How has this affected our collection?  We subscribe to Credo Reference and EBSCO’s Academic E-books, giving the students a wide range of books for research.  They’re pretty heavily used, which is great because we certainly couldn’t keep that many books on hand! It’s also allowed us to remove older books from the collection, knowing that the information is covered in the online collection (and eliminating the “wow – this book might just fall apart in my hands” factor).  But in terms of the fiction collection, we’re still going strong with print.

Last [academic] year I was a panelist for a conference discussion on ebooks.  One of the other panelists uses Axis 360 at her school and has great success; part of that is because she has a co-ed population and it’s a great way to get sensitive books into the hands of readers (by “sensitive” I mean GLBTQCA* books, or books about health/emotional issues… and quite possibly “girl” books being read by boys).  If I had that population, it might work better at Porter’s.  The previous librarian subscribed to some Follett shelf books, and there are six Kindles with books loaded (we even borrowed the themed Kindle idea espoused by Courtney Lewis at Wyoming Seminary.  They’re a hard sell here!

Still, as we move forward into AY15, we’ll be thinking more about this question and trying to see what combination works best with our students.  Note: our students.  As the previous paragraph illustrates, YMMV when introducing ebooks into your collection.  Some schools just force them down students throats (Cushing Academy, I’m looking at you!) but to me, that feels wrong.  Far better is to keep taking the pulse of the students, seeing what they want and what’s out there (devices, programs, availability, etc.).

How are you dealing with this issue/conundrum?  And how do uRead?

Posted in Books, Collection Development, School Libraries, Work Stuff | 2 Comments »

Looking backward… looking forward…

Posted by lpearle on 1 August 2014

One year ago today was my first day at Miss Porter’s School.  As with any new job, there were fears and trepidations, not to mention excitement and that “here’s to a new adventure” feeling.  So what has this past year brought, and what am I looking forward to next year?

This past year has been one of transformation at the library, starting early when the other librarian and I moved out of the workroom and out into the main spaces, sitting where we could easily be seen (and, as my favorite sign says, be interrupted):

helpdesk_11x17_fin600

We moved furniture around, creating better comfortable seating spaces for students as well as moving an information desk to the 1st floor – what better way to reach students “at point of need”, as they do research, than to be right there, in the stacks with them?  I know that I wouldn’t want to go upstairs to ask a question then return back downstairs: why would a student? or a teacher?  Books were moved upstairs  as we updated the fiction collection, and some really creative displays were made (not by me but by Lulu; I don’t have a creative bone in my body).

Based on our analysis of a few systems, we decided to migrate from one OPAC to another and at the same time migrate from Dewey to Library of Congress.  Talk about a lot of work!  Not only did we have to add call numbers to about 3,000 items that couldn’t easily translate, we had to physically move every book and relabel them.  Oh, and continue to do all our other work, including help with a few research projects and papers.  Speaking of research, our model is that of the embedded librarian, not the Shh’er-in-Chief:

 

As I said to my boss (and several others) during my interview, the library won’t be there immediately, but if we’re not at least 50% there after two years, fire me.  Clearly I’m not doing my job.  Analysis at the end of a year?  We have one department’s buy-in and a few other teachers are interested.    So progress is being made!  The Research Guides have been hugely helpful, and now that Springshare has updated the LibGuides platform, they’ll help us help students and teachers even more.
There was so much “good stuff” to share this past year that our Annual Report is kind of stunning, and I was there!
Outside the shelves, this is a 1:1 iPad school and that’s been a real transition.  No one here believes that simply because there’s this powerful tool in students hands there’s no need for a librarian or a library (whew!) but learning how to use one in the most efficient way possible is still a struggle.  Which stylus should I use?  What’s the best way to collect stuff: Evernote or Pocket Informant (or both, or something else)? What about NotesPlus?  How can I use iBooks to “sell” the library?
So, on to Year Two.  To be honest, I’m a little afraid of Sophomore Slump… but we’re already starting strong.  Upgrading the Guides from v.1 to v.2, working with EZProxy to eliminate off/on-campus database access issues (and multiple logins/passwords issues), even more furniture moving around (new projection devices in the Periodicals Room and the stacks, plus more tables in the stacks for students to use with classes)!  Getting the Archives Club and the Varsity Reading Club running effectively, not to mention creating even more opportunities for “non-traditional library programming” are other challenges/opportunities.
Luckily, I’m not alone.  After one year I’ve made some good connections with my colleagues (some of whom are now friends), the other librarian and I make a great team, and the students seem to be enjoying our innovations and changes.  Stay tuned for more library goodness in the months ahead – I know I’m looking forward!

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 28 July 2014

I promise: this blog will be better attended in the coming weeks and months.  In the meantime, enjoy these links and ideas that I’ve tucked away since, oh, January…

Books, Reading, Etc.

School Stuff

  • We bought Twitterature for work, and I’m hoping that some of our English teachers take on the challenge (perhaps not Beowulf, but other books?).
  • Joyce highlighted Buncee a few months ago; maybe for tutorials or resource guides?
  • We’re going to create a writing table in the library, encouraging students to write notes and letters.  I picked up some great paper in Montreal, and these formal sets are piquing my interest (so do the ideas in the post).
  • Trying to figure out ways to introduce these Super Searcher Tips to students, since we have no real class time with them.
  • I’m sharing this article, What do College Professors Want from Incoming High School Graduates, with my faculty. And, with luck, we can do a Professional Development session using this quiz so they understand the students take on research.
  • I used an Office template for our annual report, then published to Issuu.  These look like some great alternatives.
  • Is anyone using Postach.io with Evernote? Wondering if that would be a good way to push content to the school.

Etc.

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

 
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