Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Student stuff’ Category

What’s your corporate message?

Posted by lpearle on 9 October 2015

One of my colleagues was talking about corporate messages, the subtle ways in which schools (and corporations, obviously) show what they really believe and value – not always the same thing as what they say they believe and value.  For example, a school that says that it values diversity, but has an all-white faculty.  Or a says that it prizes honesty, but doesn’t act in a transparent manner.  This has resonated with me as I’ve thought about two former colleagues and the messages given at their memorial services (one I attended, the other I’ve only heard reports about, although I’ve also seen many comments on social media about both).

The first, whom I’ve written about before, had a very clear message.  Eulogy after eulogy spoke of the simplicity of his life, how he didn’t spend frivolously, how much he cared about others, and that to him, good friends and a good time with those friends were prized above all else.  There was nothing hidden about him: what you saw was what you got.  The second was also not interested in “things” and “stuff” – she lived for her school and her students.  Despite having her own children (and, eventually, grandchildren), every student at the school was, to her, “her child”.  In the moment, they may not have realized how much she cared, but after a few years being away from school, they certainly recognized how special that feeling was.  Whether or not you agreed with her, you knew that the school, and the students, was of paramount importance to her and the only motivation she had.

The other day a friend mentioned that she had just been to kiddie storytime at the local library and that the librarian there was “exactly what you’d imagine a librarian to be” – I jokingly mentioned the cardigan and bun, and her response was “no, OLD.  Like, 100”  My guess is that there may have been some shh’ing going on, and perhaps this librarian wasn’t as warm and fuzzy as my friend would have liked.  To be honest, it’s been so long since I’ve seen one of the “real” librarians in the wild that it took me aback!  But it did make me think: what is the corporate message I’m sending?  Do my staff know who I am, and what I stand for?  Do they know my values and ethics?  Can the students sense those things?

Bigger picture, can I convey them in such a way as to create the “right” corporate climate here in the library?  What messages does the library send?  We’re hardly a warm, fuzzy space (seriously, that 70s dressed concrete architectural style has a lot to answer for!), and the collection is on the aging side.  We do allow food and talking, but not full meals (yes, I’ve kicked out both salad eaters and Domino’s delivery men; we’re open during dinner hours) and because of the acoustics, the noise needs to be kept to a dull roar.  Will having an Instagram and Twitter account help connect the community to the library?

What about you, and your message? Do they mesh, or is there a disconnect?  And if there is, how do you overcome it (or doesn’t it matter)?

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

Seeing beyond the blur

Posted by lpearle on 7 October 2015

The past few weeks have been a whirlwind of meeting new people, finding my way around a new campus and generally figuring out what’s what in this new phase of my life.  In real life, those that know me are often surprised that I wear glasses (I’m nearsighted, but mildly so and since I can’t read with glasses on, I rarely wear them… except to drive, or when I’m meeting new colleagues for the first time).  Maybe they think I have contacts?  Anyway, this is important because I usually rely on the “blur” of the person to tell me who is walking towards me.  When people with a distinctive look, for example, really long hair or a comb over, change that look I can be confused and not recognize them from a distance.

When you’re new to a place, it takes time to learn the new names and faces.   On one of my first days here I had a lovely conversation with a woman who had a greying, shortish hair.  The only problem was that I’d met several others with similar hair coloring and styling, and she was a real blur (even with my glasses on!).  A month later, I know who she is and who most of the others are.  Every day it gets a little easier to say “hello [name]” with confidence.

And then there are the students: so many girls with straight long hair… boys with the “in” haircut… athletes in the same uniform… that clump of sixth grade girls who always come in at the same time to borrow books… I could go on.  And slowly they, too, are becoming less of a blur.

Each year there’s a new crop of students to get to know.  This year, being new myself, I can understand how intimidating it is for them to learn new faculty names, and figure out what the difference between gyms or auditoriums is, and what the unspoken rules of the community are, all in addition to learning new curriculum.  What role does the library play in helping them “see beyond the blur”?

Is it familiar books, old favorite reads that let them know that here are librarians who understand them?  Is it being able to help them troubleshoot printing and other technology problems?  Is it learning their name quickly, so there’s another adult around who asks how their day is going?  Is it creating programs that build on, but don’t feel like, classwork (like poetry slams or guessing first lines of books)?  Is it having a personal librarian program, so that first Big Research Paper isn’t as frightening?

This year is the perfect time to think, ponder and explore all of the above, so that next year, when things are no longer blurry for me, I can help others find clarity more quickly.

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 11 September 2015

Still digitally decluttering…

Books, Reading, etc.

  • One challenge at MPOW is getting the middle school students into the library (time, distance, lack of discrete space are issues).  So we’re thinking about the pop-up library.

School Life

Tech Stuff

  • This was done with sixth graders, but could easily scale to any middle or upper school class.
  • This is of Allentown, but imagine creating a history or English class project (I know I’ve suggested this before… hoping this year a teacher takes me up on it!).  And how cool it would be to integrate the Newseum into your resources? or a Digital Timeline?
  • MPOW is a GAFE/Schoology school, and looks like it would be a great tool to use!
  • Right now, we’re BYOD (so have computer labs) – Doug has great ideas about 1:1.
  • This list of tools is a great starter toolkit!
  • It’s the start of a new school year.  Why not declutter your laptop before things get crazy?


And, as always, Will Richardson has some great ideas about trends we should be watching.  Something to ponder as the school year starts.

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

Setting Limits

Posted by lpearle on 1 September 2015

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

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

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

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

Posted in Musings, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 27 August 2015

Books, Reading, Etc..

  • I’ve done something similar with Google Maps, but this?  The Obsessively Detailed Map is truly obsessively detailed.  Ideas for additional “value added content”? TSU has some great Immersive Experience ideas.
  • This might just be my new favorite book blog: Oh, the Books! (via)
  • The Book Riot Quarterly box might be a good way to get students excited about reading.  BookOpolis looks to be a good way to introduce younger students to online reviewing/reading communities.

School Life

Tech Stuff


Most important: 120 days until Christmas.  Shop now. Avoid the rush.

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

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 4 August 2015

It’s summer – a major move (personal and professional) is in process, so why not declutter a bit and share links and ideas I’ve been hoarding all school year?  Regular posts to resume by the end of August, I hope!

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff


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

Help Yourself – personalized learning at #alaac15

Posted by lpearle on 9 July 2015

(another program that will be posted online – check here)

Many schools and libraries are starting to embrace personalized learning, blended learning, the flipped classroom or whatever new buzzword appears.  At the Online School for Girls, they’re talking about “competency-based instruction” that puts learners at the center, meeting their needs and goals (in other words, it’s not teacher or student driven, it’s learner driven).  This approach allows teachers to work smarter.

Projects are remapped to put the student learner at the center, allowing for deeper engagement with the materials :

  • what major competencies are desired?
  • what is the individual student profile (what type of learner are they? what do they already know?)
  • what “pathway options” are there to get the student to understand the material?
  • what operational elements need to be designed?

remember: the pathway is less important than the competencies

You can build units in your LMS – Haiku, Schoology, WhippleHill, LibGuides, Moodle, etc. – chunking competencies and building in the pathway options.

Personalized learning is data-driven: always assign what students are learning and circle back if necessary.  In other words, assess assess assess (not necessarily formal assessments!).

In order to do this, you need to think about the school climate and have conversations about pedagogy.  For this to work, creating a climate of personalized learning needs to be a strategic intention, with an evaluation of space and investment in infrastructure for what the student’s needs are. Does the school’s mission have learners at the center?

The next speaker was from SFPL, highlighting their new literacy and learning center, a place where all kinds of learning can take place.  They’ve relabeled their classroom the Learning Studio/Learning Theatre, giving it flexible furnishings that can be positions to best assist what the program is.

Other ideas:

  • develop a public instruction plan
  • create a collection of resources and programs
  • instructional materials and tools are important (use YouTube for a tutorial collection, create handouts as take-aways)

Most learners want hands-on help! Make that happen with drop-in classes, 1:1 tech help (20 min sessions), online course instruction and meet-ups.

Finally, we heard from VATech, which has created a program that stresses empowering students by partnering with faculty – to do this they’ve developed programs and tools.

Good place to start: check with the first year experience librarians at schools popular with students and build down from that

One thing they’ve created is an iPad tour of the library: auto-generated, outcome based tour (there are also auto-graded assessments).  They’re now thinking about beacons, QR codes and apps to provide the same opportunities.

It’s important to train the trainers: creating lesson plans and activities that teachers can use/drop-in to their classes.  Your role is that of coach/consultant, not teacher. Example? their Working with the Library toolkit. The anecdotal evidence is that this works, freeing the librarians to do 1:1 assistance.

VT has also created an Instructional Learning Community with the assumption that all librarians are learners.  It’s open to anyone who wants to talk about teaching and includes a Read/Lead group who read and discuss a book that deals with learning, pedagogy, schools, etc.

Tool to check out: EDpuzzle (allows students to insert questions they have about the video tutorials they’re watching)


Posted in Conferences, Pedagogy, School Libraries, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Big Data and danah boyd at #alaac15

Posted by lpearle on 8 July 2015

danah boyd’s research and work has been fascinating to follow – this was less “It’s Complicated” and more “it’s problematic” (if you’re an ALA member, the presentation will probably be posted here). This marks a shift from watching how teens use social media towards the idea of big data (and metadata) as a whole; essentially, she takes issue with the idea that big data collection can somehow solve all of life’s questions – it can’t because tech is not neutral, it takes on the bias of the creators/manipulators.  She then went on to talk about three things:


  • social media is a relief valve (boyd blames helicopter parents who give their children no down or alone time to just hang with friends – my problem with that is that these parents are my age, and we had plenty of this time and we managed to survive!)
  • as a result, public spaces are now networked online (check out Youth Radio)
  • privacy no longer means “control of information”  – it means “control of social situation” (agency is important); context is important and learned (another way to think about it is “code shifting“)
    • the skills to interpret context and how to navigate online social dynamics are emerging – adults and teens need to learn them
    • the big challenge is that real life requires constant code shifting, but online is soooooo different (esp. for teens) – check out the social stenography post danah did in 2010

Making Meaning of Data

  • some teens have learned to put random brand names into their email posts (esp. gmail) to provoke those brand ads that accompany “free” email
  • the lesson? who interprets, collects and provides data matters

Just because it’s a machine doesn’t mean there are no politics involved: there are usually more!

Networked Data

  • who has control? our usual models break down online (23andme gives your consent now and in the future for you and your family; LAPD’s “spit and acquit” program)
  • we now live in a world of predictions that can be used to discriminate (“legal” is another issue) and raises questions about fairness (equality, equity and economic)

So, where does Librarianship fit into all this?

  • ALA’s Core Values take these things into account
  • question license agreements, hours of access, technology equity – push for open access, push back against information lock-up
  • there’s a new literacy: data literacy – we need to educate our users about this

we tell students that Wikipedia is BAD, but why do we also say that Google is GOOD?

  • question everything: push levels of thinking, teach students to do this so they can see bias and better determine who to trust online
  • social responsibility: more of us (librarians) need to speak up!
  • privacy: we need to talk more and teach more about the cultural consequences of Big Data (the NSA is the tip of the iceberg)

There are three types of data collection (for more about some of this, see my post about Debbie and Kristin’s program at #alaac13:

  1. data by choice (eg., Fitbit)
  2. data by coercion (the LAPD)
  3. data by circumstance (using Facebook)
  • why is ALA so afraid to be local? we do a great job of taking national (and international) positions, but local? rarely.

This documentary was not mentioned during ms. boyd’s talk, but I highly recommend watching/showing Terms and Conditions May Apply.  Scary, provocative and perhaps a catalyst for change.


Posted in Conferences, Privacy, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | Leave a Comment »

Pausing to reflect

Posted by lpearle on 11 March 2015

It’s Spring Break and actually about time for Spring, Break or no.  Afterwards comes the incredibly hectic run to the end of the year, a time filled with angst for the students (APs, finals, leave-taking) and faculty (planning for AY16 while finishing AY15).

For us, too, it’s a time to plan next year (did that research project go as well as it could? are the teachers open to more collaboration? if not, what can we still do to support the project/students/teachers? what new needs to be added to the collection so that we’re ready to go in September? etc.) as well as supporting what we can over the next couple of months.  One of the things I’ll be thinking about is what happened earlier this year, during a program we call InterMission.

The program is akin to a January term, or Winterim, where students forgo academic classes in favor of a mini-term.  We had something like this when I was at Emma Willard and when I was at Hamilton, although the Emma courses were two weeks at the end of December.  What was/is wonderful is that the students have the opportunity to really delve deeply into something for a period of time, knowing that there’s no graded outcome (like Emma, unlike Hamilton).  There were many courses where you could feel the excitement and engagement on the part of the students, something that doesn’t always feel as though it’s happening when they come in to do research.  There were also several seniors doing “capstone” projects that allowed them to really engage with a topic on their own, touching base with their faculty advisor early each day then going off to do research, think, program or whatever.

The question for me is how do we get the students that excited about research overall?  Not just when they get to pick the topic, but when they’re assigned something by their teacher.  When they sign up for an elective, they must have some interest in the topic – so why don’t I see that translated into their research projects?  Is it because of the way it’s approached, in terms of timing and expectations?  Is it because they have never really experienced the joys of research before?  Is it me?  For me, knowing how to cite sources accurately is the least exciting part of the process – the most exciting is the time spent searching for the resource, the answer to the question or some obscure piece of information that will make it all perfect.  The actual writing comes somewhere in between those two poles.

Last semester, a student was quoting an English translation of a German poem.  Because time was tight, I told her to watch what I was doing as I looked for (and ultimately found) the original English translator and publication information.  She was amazed at the tricks I was using to find the actual source, jotting down some hints for future reference.  We talked about how much fun that can be, knowing the answer is there and not stopping until it’s found.  If only we could build in time for them to just play with finding these things, but on topics they choose not proscribed topics based on the course they’re taking.  If only we could do this early on in their careers here, so that they could – as they progress through the years – have one such moment during each project.

How to make that possible, given time and curricular restraints, is what I’ll be thinking about over the next couple of weeks as I wait for the Mad Dash to the End to start.

Posted in Musings, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

It’s the little things!

Posted by lpearle on 4 March 2015

In the midst of change, and stress and angst, it’s the little things that make what we do bearable.  Before I went back to school and got my MLS, there were only a few of those times – I can count them on one hand, I think.  That’s not to say I didn’t make friends or have fun, but those surprising rays of sunshine seem to happen more frequently now that I’m working in a school.

For example, the reason I’m on Facebook is that a former student e-mailed to ask for personal reading suggestions even though she was still at school (her librarian apparently didn’t read much YA fiction, and never really tended to that part of the collection), and she also complained that she’d had to e-mail – why wasn’t I on Facebook, where she could reach out far more easily.  The first friends I had there were former students, all of whom reached out to me.

One of those students, a girl who’d graduated several years before, sent me a personal message apologizing for giving me a hard time one day.  Honestly, I didn’t even remember it but apparently she’d felt guilt about that for a while and this was her chance to get rid of it.   She’s not the only student who has reached out to apologize for being a teen.  And each time, they’ve mentioned that I’d been gracious about their behavior, which was what had stuck with them.

Another former student, from my first school, turned up as a teacher at my last school.  We’d bonded back them, even though I was only there for a year, and during the time we worked together he would occasionally come to the library for some “Laura time” – in part because not only had we bonded, but in the intervening 10 or so years I’d remembered him and the things he was interested in.  It’s those little connections that matter to students.

At my current school, we have Weekend Duty for about five weekends in the school year.  Duty can range from chaperoning a dance to driving students to the mall to a pizza making party.  One weekend, a colleague who was supposed to stay in one of the dorms while the housemother had the weekend off couldn’t make it.  So in addition to my other duties I was scheduled to stay in the dorm from 6pm – midnight, making sure the girls were ok.  This was in my mailbox a day or so later:


Just for doing my job!

And then there are the students.  They’re all very polite, thanking me for proctoring study hall or for driving them somewhere.  But as at all schools, there are some who stand out, who become “library groupies”.  There’s one, a voracious reader, whom I’m convinced is the daughter I’m pretty sure I never had.  There’s another who has come to me with some problems and asked for advice.   When new books come in, there are a few I know will be in soon, perusing the display and choosing what they’ll read over the weekend or during a Break (or, as I did as a student, instead of doing homework).  Some feel comfortable enough to joke with me.  Last week, three of them gave me hugs during study hall (for three different reasons).  Talk about the little things!

Finally, there’s Jenna.  Apparently one of her goals is to be mentioned in a blog post (yes, I’ve spoken with her about raising her aspirations and goals… still, who am I to deny a lifelong dream).  And I’m happy to do it – not just because of the wish-fulfillment, but because she’s one of the ones who in some ways reminds me of me, back when I was in high school.

I don’t think she’ll do what I did with my high school librarian, with whom I became professional colleagues years after working in the library as part of my community service.  One day I called her from work, saying, “Barb, I’m going to say something to you that no former student has probably ever said to you before, nor will in the future.  Thank you for teaching me how to cover books, because that’s one of those things they don’t teach in graduate school – and it’s so necessary to know!” When I next saw her, she handed me some mylar in celebration.

Those connections, those random acts of kindness and hugs and smiles and “thank yous” make the larger job so much easier.   It’s nearly spring, a time for hope and warmth.  We’re also rushing forward to the end of the school year.  As you reflect on the year past, the successes and failures, don’t forget to count all those little things.

Posted in Life Related, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »


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