Venn Librarian

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Archive for the ‘Student stuff’ Category

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 »

History repeats itself

Posted by lpearle on 3 February 2020

The consternation and fear over the 2019-nCoV virus (I know that “Spanish Flu” is politically incorrect these days, but can we all agree that this new thing needs a snappier name) has been interesting for me to watch for two major reasons – two major intellectual reasons, that is. I’m immunocompromised so emotionally I’m not interested, I’m terrified.

The first thing I’ve been looking at are a couple of my elists, where there’s been talk about how to deliver an academic program should a school be closed or quarantined. Several learned techies have weighed in, referencing their online learning management systems and the ability to have webinar/online meetings, etc.. Reading this reminded me of something I’ve posted before, about the NEIT conference in 2007:

This type of quarantine/closing would only last a couple of months at most – what’s the harm in letting students have a vacation? why not let them play and enjoy, rather than forcing them to “do school”?

It was nice to read this comment

And when I’m sequestered in my apartment with my four year-old, who also cannot attend his NYC Pre-K, I am supposed to continue working as if everything is normal? Does the need for “delivering our product” as educators/technologist supersede our schools’ ask to operate in a healthy manner during a pandemic?

I would argue that technology does not save us from our selves. 

reaffirming what my group said 12 years ago, and confirming what I’ve been thinking as I’ve read these threads.

The second thought has been about what I would call the Best Research Lesson. Ever. One of my go-to phrases is that research is for life, not just the particular academic class torturing you with a project. Back in 2007, I taught research skills to the Middle School using Alice Yucht’s FLIP-IT method.

Sadly, much of that class was taught in isolation from any research the students were doing and, when it had been linked, only half the class got instruction. Still, I persisted. Then the 2007 H1N1 virus appeared. And voila, I had a great lesson plan. I arrived in class telling students that I’d just had a phone call from my mother – she could be a little nervous about things, and given that one niece had been in the area of Mexico where the virus started and was now under quarantine and that a school 12 miles away was closing for two weeks, shouldn’t I also be staying home? (I didn’t make any of that up, btw) So we, as a class, we’re going to focus on what we really needed to know about this virus, locate as accurate information as we could and interpret what we learned. The final presentation would be one of two things:

  1. I would call my mother, explaining that I was a [then] fortysomething librarian who had researched this and was in no danger, or
  2. My mother would write a note to the Head of School excusing me from work while the virus was a problem.

Reader, the students loved the assignment. They immediately got the connection between Research and Real Life.

And here we are, twelve years later, having the same discussions. I’m not belittling the concerns, but source evaluation is a lifelong skill and this is a great moment in which to drive that message home.

Posted in Life Related, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »

The average day, fall version

Posted by lpearle on 25 October 2019

Last October, the AISL blog had a post called What do you do all day? (sort of similar to the Library Day in the Life posts I did years ago).  I thought it might be interesting to share what an average day in my library looked like but quickly realized that we have two very different “average” days, first in fall when there is little going on and then in spring when Research Season hits.  Lucky you, there’ll be an update in March!

Usually I arrive at work around 7:30 (depending on traffic it can be 7:45).  Two mornings a week I have a meeting, either all school or just Upper School Faculty.  The school day starts at 8:20 and ends at 3:30, with the library open until 6pm and then again from 7pm – 9:45pm.  Here’s what yesterday, October 24th, looked like.

05:00 – Wake up, take my “pre-breakfast” pills, watch some tv I’d recorded yesterday, check email and news sites

06:00 – Breakfast, continue to read/watch, get dressed, etc.

07:20 – Leave for work.

07:45 – Arrive at work, check in with my assistant.  The Middle School Librarian has two “trivia question of the day” calendars and we usually try to answer those questions at this time.

08:00 – Time for the Upper School Faculty meeting, where we had a discussion about an academic issue.

08:20 – The school day starts.  I have bills to pay and our budget to reconcile and cataloging to do so I’m holing up in the office where I will be less disturbed than if I’m out on the desk.

09:10 – The advisor for the Conservative Club asks about what books we have from that perspective.  I said that we’re interested in presenting different points-of-view, and if there’s a list that she can recommend we’ll buy whatever we don’t currently have.  And if the club wants to put together a display we would be happy to make that happen.

09:35 – Our sixth grade has a reading buddy program with the first and second grades.  Today we got photos to post to our Instagram feed.

09:50 – Over the past few years we’ve been working on our collection and the second pass is almost done.  I spent Sunday through Tuesday at the NELA19 conference and attended this session from Brookline Public Library.  

It was really affirming to see that others are struggling with some of the same issues we have been (cataloging not consistent, or in areas that don’t make sense, or made up Dewey numbers).  Today we’re finishing moving the 973 books into “correct” shelf positions (I’ll have to change call numbers  in the catalog and relabel the ones that have moved).

12:15 – Done with the move!  Lunch time!

12:45 – On to the next bit of the project, working on the 974-999 books.  First step, download the accession list for those books.  Next I’ll sort by copyright, highlighting the books more than 20 years old (we’ll see if they need to updated or weeded when we get to those books).  Then I’ll sort by call number and start to see what needs to be moved/changed.  Tomorrow we will move all these books, and I’ll do the changes/relabeling for 973-999.

16:00 – Each of us take one night as a late night, and tonight’s my night.  I help a teacher prepare a display for tomorrow’s Upper School Parents Weekend.  She’s part of AWARE (Alliance of White Anti-Racist Educators) and we bought a number of books to supplement the books we already had to help support their work.

17:45 – Let students know that we’re closing in ten minutes (there are several people who come in at 7pm and staff the library during evening study hall, so the boarders and day students who want to study here at night can).

18:00 – Walk out the door.

18:30 – Get home.  Time for dinner, relaxing (with a new book), cuddling with the cats.  Lights out around 8-8:30.

Tomorrow, as a wise fictional character once said, is another day.




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

Creative Paper Writing

Posted by lpearle on 8 October 2019

This tweet caught my eye:

It reminded me of when I was a junior in high school, taking a philosophy class.  One of my friends chose “silence as a means of communication” for her paper topic and at the end, she handed in ten blank pages (plus a full bibliography and cover page).  She did have a real paper ready, but the teacher loved what she’d handed in and didn’t ask for anything more.  Because it was a pass/fail class the grade didn’t matter but if it had, she’d have gotten a very high grade.

We tell students to take risks, to not be so grade driven that “failure” is an A-, to care less about the college they’re getting into but to find the right school for them.  What if a student handed in this type of paper?  What if they did all the other steps, the outline and note cards and research, but their paper was more creative?  Sadly, few – if any – teachers would appreciate it.  So when we talk about taking risks, do we really mean it?

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Difficult Discussions

Posted by lpearle on 24 September 2019

At one school I taught a storytelling class to the 4/5 grade.  It was a combined grade and so I had to rotate between Cinderella stories and something else, usually fractured fairy tales.  One year I did trickster tales with them and after trying to read the Joel Chandler Harris Uncle Remus stories decided instead to show Song of the South.  Before we watched the film I talked with them about the problems in the movie and said that any time anyone felt uncomfortable, they could just tell me (or leave the word STOP in a note on my desk), and after we talked about what they’d seen.  They understood why people were uncomfortable with the movie but thought that the way we’d approached it helped and that others should do the same.

Apparently others agree, as in this article talking about why SotS shouldn’t be destroyed.  That it should be shown as part of a larger conversation about problems in older films (see: Gone with the Wind), giving context to what we see on the screen.  Or maybe  along with a discussion about To Kill a Mockingbird‘s racism.

I’d like to suggest that problem isn’t just with the film or book (or, in the case of Little House on the Prairie, the tv series and the books). It’s with our distaste for having those difficult discussions about what’s wrong with them, to show other points-of-view and to accept that sometimes a childhood favorite presents problems for others (Reading While White is a great resource).  Banning, or removing, these cultural artifacts doesn’t help, because it creates an air of mystery about it.  Teaching them in addition to other materials that show other points of view or what the reality (vs. the fictionalized version) looked like would go far further, in my opinion.

It’s Banned Books Week and it’s a great time to start these difficult discussions.  I know I am.

Posted in Books, Musings, Student stuff | 1 Comment »

Time to breathe

Posted by lpearle on 13 November 2018

Because second semester is essentially Research Semester, with three months of classes (often 15-20 classes a day), we tend to tackle major projects in first semester.  Perhaps not the smartest idea, given the exhaustion I and the other librarians face by, well, now.  Luckily Thanksgiving Break is just around the corner, and then it’s a short time to Winter Break… and after that, we’re setting up for Exam Week and hurtling into Research Season.

  • For example, last year we tackled the junk drawer, and this year we’re continuing looking at the collection – thus far we’ve done the 500s, 600s and 700s (with luck we’ll get through the 800s before second semester; the 900s will wait until next year).  The past two years have brought up some humorous cataloging oopses.  I’ve already mentioned that at PCS I found “The Wrath of Grapes” miscataloged as “The Grapes of Wrath”.  What we’re finding now are more problems either as the Library of Congress is creating the CIP information or in-house as things were cataloged:
      • The Rape of Nanking was found with other books on sexual assault
      • The section on population control contained a book on the Holocaust
      • Among the books on stores like Wal-Mart was a book on slavery
      • The Bone Woman, about a forensic anthropologist working on mass graves, was in the anthropology section
      • Going Dutch: how England plundered Holland’s glory is about the rise of England as a world power, not about art theft and belongs in history, not art

    Each of these books gets a “yes… but NO!” from us and we move it to where it will be found and useful to our students.  There are, of course, many more that are reasonably in one area of the collection but we feel belong elsewhere.  Still, it’s these gems that keep us going.

  • We’re also moving books around physically.  Thanks to this rethinking project, there are shelves we don’t need in our library and would really be helpful for our Art Department library, so we’re rearranging things to free up a bookcase that will be moved over Thanksgiving Break.  It’s also a great opportunity for us to rearrange some of the second floor tables (oddly enough, neither we nor the administration feel that a group “hiding” in a corner playing Fortnight is a group best using the library’s resources and that a rearrangement might help them see the error of their ways).
  • Our Resource Guides are being revised and added to, including one on Violence in America and one designed to provide resources for the recent visit from the Defamation Project. Thanks to our History Department teachers helping assess the utility of a discovery service, EDS will join our offerings – leading, we hope, to better searching during Research Season.
  • The Greater Boston Cooperative Library Association is hosting this year’s AISL conference and Milton will be hosting one morning (during the start of our Intro History classes doing research); I’ll be reprising The What If… Scenario with my two co-presenters and “hosting” a Dinner with a Local Librarian.
  • I’m still reading for the Excellence in Children’s and Young Adult Science Fiction award… a little behind on that, but I can catch up, right?

While it’s not quite an official honor, I was interviewed by one of our Spanish classes (I’m guessing they translated my English answers into Spanish for a class presentation) and our photography teacher asked if I’d sit for one of his advanced students who was being assigned to take a mere 15 minutes for the photo shoot and to turn it around the next day, mimicking some of the realities of being a professional photographer.  The student and I chatted while he was shooting, and this was the final photo:

Next week I’ll be at the ALAN Workshop then away for Thanksgiving Break.  With all that’s going on, it’s good to have time to breathe!

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

Be not afraid

Posted by lpearle on 11 September 2018

Last year one of my colleagues told me that her students just couldn’t face coming in to the library.  They’d just finished an intense three week “research season” where they created a 5-7 page paper, and even though this was a n entirely different project in an entirely different field, the very idea of coming in again was traumatic.  Reader, my heart sank, but in many ways I understood.

Thing is, we (librarians and teachers) don’t always do a great job of convincing students of the joy of research.  We may be fantastic in many ways, sharing our love of books and teaching the steps/skills of research and conveying tips and tricks to become information/data literate.  But do we really convince students that research can be fun?  That the be-all and end-all isn’t necessarily a perfectly formatted paper-and-bibliography, but the hunt for information that you, the researcher, synthesize and analyze?  That you, the researcher, are teaching me, the reader, something new about a topic?

I’ve always loved the hunt. Even today I do it – just the other day, reading a book about Paris in the age of Louis XIV, I spent a lot of time going down rabbit holes online and in other sources to find information about palaces and locations (does this street still exist? I’ve never heard of that town, where is it?  how bad was the Chateau d’If? etc.). Yes, that slowed me down.  And I’d bet that many students do the same on their own when they find something that interests them.

That’s the key, though, isn’t it?  It needs to interest them.  I’m pretty good at helping students take a passion and finding a way to turn it into a research topic that fits the parameters of the paper.  But the compressed time frame, the insistence on meeting the deadline of xxx notecards and yyy sources (and limiting how many of which type of source), the persnickety nature of bibliographic format (even when they use Noodletools to help them with that), and all that process stuff can turn them off.


This year there’s at least one teacher who wants to work throughout the year to help dribble out the skills and steps so the actual research season isn’t as stressful and as traumatic.  My fingers are crossed that more teachers will also want to do this, and that the message to all our students is that when they’re doing research, they should be not afraid.  And that should those students be in this other class, when the teacher says they’ll be working on a project and they’re going to come to the library, they’ll convince their classmates that it’s not traumatic and (perhaps) actually a little fun.

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Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 20 August 2018

One final round-up before school begins.

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

  • Do you have students who study architecture or the classics or ancient history?  This twitter thread on ruins might give them some interesting resources.  And then there’s Tutte le opere from the Museo della Civilta Romana
  • LGBTQ issues (especially Stonewall) are always popular research topics at my schools.  NYPL has great online resources to help.

Tech Stuff


  • The larger site deals with NYC’s grid but there are maps of other grids – perfect for thinking about city planning, urban life, etc..


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