Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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Archive for the ‘Work Stuff’ Category

What do you call it?

Posted by lpearle on 15 October 2015

Over the past few years I’ve been thinking about names – names of resources, names of facilities, titles, etc..  It seems like we all do, in one way or another, and now that we’re redesigning the library website and rethinking the facility, it’s time to do even more thinking.

Resource names are easy, right?  Well… maybe not so much.  For years now I’ve heard many academic librarians complain that students come to them asking for EBSCO or ProQuest, not GreenFile or American Poetry.  At one session, when the question was raised, the academic librarian was shocked that the only databases the school could provide were those that came free from the state, and that there was only one EBSCO database (probably some version of Academic Search).  So why, though the school librarian, should one differentiate?  And then there’s the thing we used to call a pathfinder.  Most of us now use Springshare’s LibGuides platform (let’s not discuss the Team Lib and Team Libe issue!) and refer to them as LibGuides, which seems to me to be like making every tissue a Kleenex.  After all, some schools use Haiku or Moodle or WordPress to create similar objects.  So at MPOW and at MFPOW, we call them Resource Guides.  And catalogs!  Are they OPACs?  Are they still “card” catalogs (as many of my older colleagues call it)?  Do you give it a feline-related name, like NYU’s BobCat, or NYPL’s LEO?  Decisions… decisions…

What we call the space we work in is also fraught.  Many politicians, donors and parents want students to have a library (in theory – funding can be another matter).  But what about the far sexier “information commons” or “learning commons”? Or the still popular “library media center”?  And should it include a makerspace?  At one school with a primarily digital collection, it’s still called a library.  Another school is considering building an athenaeum.  Within the space, do you still have a periodicals or reference room?  Are they still used for those purposes?  I’ve worked in libraries that have donor-designated names for spaces, some of which are flexible (great for when you move things around or repurpose spaces) and some of which require asking if the Shakespeare Nook can now be used for graphic novels.  It’s also complicated if there’s a major renovation in a space which has already been named, because you can’t just cross out the old and bring in a new one.  One school has three named spaces in about a 1,000 square foot library!

If you work in a library, are you a librarian?  What about Director of Research?  or Information Specialist?  or Chief Information Officer?  or Library Media Specialist?  I’ve seen all of them on business cards and in e-mail sig files.  As with the name of the facility, is it confusing for others?  If I were a parent, would I know what my child was doing if they came back from the learning commons having had an hour of media literacy?   Perhaps to the Higher Powers that run our schools, that matters less than having the “in” title or facility name, no matter what the actual contents are or instruction delivered.  It seems that in the race to show relevancy, comprehension can get lost.

As for me, I’d love to work as the Resourceress in an Infomatorium, showing students how to look for resources by asking our Online InfoCat.  You?

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

Setting Priorities

Posted by lpearle on 13 October 2015

When you start a new job, there are always moments when you wonder, “what am i doing?” It can be somewhat frustrating to be hemmed in by corporate policy (there’s little room for innovation working in a fast food restaurant, for example) or to experience a steep learning curve of what’s expected or to feel like an outsider because everyone (just like when you go to a new school) already knows each other and has their own clique. Starting a new job in a school brings on all of that, and then some.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been feeling my way, setting priorities for the work we (the library department) need to do.  Part of the problem is, as in many libraries, the inertia of longevity.  I know – I’ve been there!  You create rules for collection development, with a goal of deaccessioning fiction (for example) that hasn’t circulated in 3-5 years, but then you get to that point and think, “but I loved this book… maybe if I did a better job of promoting it?” Etc..

Several years ago I was on an accreditation evaluation committee at a school whose founding Head had left after several decades.  The Head of our committee pointed out that longevity in Heads wasn’t always a good idea, that (in his opinion) after 8-10 years you “remake the mistakes you made when you first started.”  Now, I’m not sure about that, but I do think there’s a comfort level that comes with a long tenure that may make people change averse. So when you’re the new kid, the one without the attachments or the history, you see all the possibilities and are chomping at the bit to get started.

The problem right now isn’t a lack of willingness, it’s time and manpower (peoplepower?) and strategic thinking.  What I’m thinking now is what’s best to work on this year, and what’s best to put off for a year or two.  Staffing is important because we’re down a person – what structure would be best for the library, and how can the current staff be part of that structure now while we wait to hire for next year?  Collection development (print and digital) is critical, largely because that will help us create a reading culture and improve our research capabilities, as well as allow us to rethink space usage.  My goal of working on a strategic plan, based in part on the past accreditation report and a recent library study, can wait until we have the full staffing we need.  My other goal of improving programming will be a slow crawl, doing as much as we can this year (engaging students with our social media presence and contests) to create awareness, but beyond that we’ll wait for a year.  Reaching out to my new colleagues, showing them possibilities and ways we can really partner with them is an obvious priority.

Ambitious, right?  Well, it is only early October.  Stay tuned for updates and how it’s all going – things may change.

Posted in Collection Development, Musings, Work Stuff | Tagged: | 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 »

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 »

The value of hoarding

Posted by lpearle on 11 June 2015

My father’s family seems to have the packrat gene.  Maybe it’s a “we escaped the shtetl and feel safe enough to acquire stuff” mentality, or the Depression Era mentality, or truly a genetic thing, but they’re packrats.  Wait!  This is relevant!!  My grandfather was a tax attorney who managed to acquire – as payment – goods from clients.  When he died in the early 1970s, we had the Smithsonian and the George Eastman House asking about some of the old photographic equipment he’d stored in his garage for decades (it should be noted that the car didn’t fit into the garage).  By the mid-70s, all the bits had been disbursed… or so I thought.

Early in his career, my grandfather clerked and later partnered with a lawyer whose father was a law partner of President Arthur (pre-Presidency).  The father married a woman whose family had lived in Litchfield, Connecticut since the 1700s and somehow he ended up with a packet of legal documents: deeds, debts, wills, etc..  And that packet was left to his son, and eventually my grandfather got it when the partnership ended in the 1950s.  After his death, it went to my aunt, then to my cousin and last month my father got it while helping my cousin do some work on her house.  It’s not a large packet, about 6″ high, filled with old-fashioned, handwritten deeds and IOUs and so forth from the 1700s to the Civil War era.  None of it has to do with my family, so I grabbed it and volunteered to take care of them.  Take care how? By donating them to the Litchfield Historical Society.

Why this long digression?  Because I’ve worked in four schools where the archives could have significant value to current and future researchers, if only… If only people were intelligent packrats, saving just what is relevant to the school and its history.  If only they preserved those items and remembered to send them to the school, which had space in which to store them and staff to process them.  If only they could be made available to the outside world.

Now, that’s not to imply that those schools aren’t doing what they can.  Far from it!  But it does take more than just collecting posters and programs and transcripts and yearbooks from inside the school, it takes alumni and others not throwing away the important things.  Just this year I’ve acquired an old school ring, photos of a dorm room from the late 1890s, theatre programs from the 1960s and other items.  There’s a ton of work still to be done in terms of organizing and indexing so we know what we have and what’s missing, but that’s part of the fun of archives.  Then there’s the transcription and digitization of documents, or establishing connections with outside organizations (like the David Davis Mansion, as the daughter of Gov. Davis attended Porter’s in the 1800s; their archivist has been very generous sending us links to letters they’ve transcribed that mention the school and Sallie’s time here).

This may be too late for some, but if you’re going through your old stuff and come across anything from your high school or college days, don’t throw it away until you check with your school.  They may just want what you’ve saved.

Posted in Life Related, Work Stuff | 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 »

Keeping up – a how-to guide

Posted by lpearle on 2 December 2014

Despite being very busy, I do try to keep up (catching up is an entirely different matter!).  As a public service message for those also looking for ways to stay somewhat current, here’s my routine:

Blogs: I use RSSOwl to read my over 150 RSS feeds.  No I won’t list them here, because I don’t want to get into the “why this blog and not that”discussion, suffice it to say that I read a variety – personal interest, friends, humor and professional.

Tweets: Some twitter feeds I get via RSS, but the rest I really only read from 5-6:30am and possibly from 6-7:30pm.  So people posting frequently throughout the day, whose feeds I can’t capture otherwise, well, I just don’t see those tweet.  And that’s ok.

News: In my email, each morning there’s The Daily Skimm and So What, Who Cares? (despite it’s name JSTOR Daily is a weekly update).  I also get updates from the NYTimes, Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor, and check the BBC, Globe & Mail and Guardian websites.

Books: In addition to the book-related blogs, there’s the daily (or more than daily) Shelf Awareness email.

Misc. Professional Stuff: The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Academe Today and Wired Education are great daily newsletters.

Just for Fun: MyComicsPage and Delancy Place.

Looks like a lot, right?  But much of it can be skimmed, and for those long-form articles I would love to read later, there’s Readability (I know, I know, there are a lot of Instapaper fans out there but… Instapaper doesn’t appear to work offline, and Readability sends stuff to my Kindle, which does work even without a wifi connection).   It takes 90min to get through it all, if that, and I can start my day (and end it, sometimes) feeling as though I have some awareness of what’s going on out there, professionally and politically (and personally).


Posted in Techno Geekiness, Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »


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


  • 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 »

Fitting in

Posted by lpearle on 25 August 2014

One year ago this week I’d completed my first inventory of the collection and attended two days of New Faculty Orientation. Next stop, Opening Faculty Meetings.  I remember staring around, looking at my new colleagues and wondering who was who and how I’d fit in.  My boss introduced me, mentioning my 140-mile round-trip commute and a gasp went up from the others.  I’ve never been gasped at before.  It’s a little unsettling.

This year I (well, the library) hosted the New Faculty Orientation, and I did a little presentation on our Resource Guides.  Almost all the summer books have been processed, the magazines are all checked in, the new furniture is on its way… Monday my partner in crime and I will drive 43 boxes of books to ThriftBooks and run some other errands while planning our upcoming year. And Tuesday all those new faculty will be introduced to the rest of us – my guess is that there will be no gasps involved!

During the NFO I had the opportunity to say hello to several colleagues and catch up a little.  Two of them said the same thing, that it felt (to them) as though I’d been at Porter’s far longer, that this couldn’t be only my second year.  It reminded me of my start at Hackley nine years ago, and how similar things were said about me there.  One colleague told me that there were some faculty who wouldn’t be too friendly, on the theory that it was a waste of time to get to know the newbies before their third year (at least) because of turnover.  Those unfriendly faculty? Some of my closest friends by the end of my first year.

Don’t ask me what I did, or didn’t do, to fit in.  There are checklists and suggestions all over the web about what to do your first week/month/year at a new job (go search ’em out yourself) but there’s nothing out there on how to fit in, how to make your new coworkers feel comfortable enough to call you colleague, or friend. At this time of year I wonder about the incoming “class” and hope their integration into the school makes them, and others, feel like they’ve been a part of the community for far longer.

Here’s to Academic 2015!

Posted in Work Stuff | Leave a Comment »


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