Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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No Fire This Time

Posted by lpearle on 14 June 2017

It’s been a long, grueling semester (made worse by my ongoing eye issues – don’t ask) and now that we’re nearly done I can finally take time to think about past PD and look forward to next year’s opportunities.

About a month ago, I got an email from the Head of Upper School asking for a meeting.  He’d email me with a topic later.  You all know what that means, right?  G.U.L.P.  We’re being downsized… the letter of agreement for next year was a mistake and I wasn’t being invited back… someone had filed a complaint against me… G.U.L.P.  And, even better, it took 10 days before we actually met.  Best yet, when I got to the meeting, our Chief Financial and Operations Officer was in the room.  G.U.L.P.

Over the past two decades (give or take) and in four schools I’ve accomplished the re-envisioning of library collections and programs.  At one, we migrated from DDC to LC.  At another, I automated our catalog and determined that many copies included in the shelf list were, in fact, repurchases of older materials.  I’ve weeded literally tens of thousands of books, upgrading the resources to more up-to-date ones that tied into current curricula rather than supporting classes and areas of study that were taught long ago.

At Milton, that’s one of the reasons I was hired: an in-depth departmental review encouraged just such a weed/update.  The message was clear, the facility and the collection (not to mention our program) needed to be brought into the 21st century.

With the help of my staff, that’s what we’ve focused on over the past two years.  And, despite some grumbles, it’s worked.

So, why this meeting?  G.U.L.P.

For the past month, I’ve carried this secret with me and now I can reveal it publicly: given the departmental review and the school’s master plan, we’re moving the library.  It won’t be now, it won’t be for a few years, but starting next year we’re going to plan, fundraise and build a new library facility in an older building.  One that wasn’t built to essentially be the end of campus (currently this is the only building perpendicular to the road, with an entry on one side – built that way because it was where campus ended and who needed to have access on the other side?  since then, two buildings have been built beyond that point!).  One that isn’t a dressed concrete and plate glass, open plan space that encourages sound to travel up and down three stories and has no climate control.  One that meets the needs of the early 21st century school library and has the flexibility to continue to meet the school’s needs as “best practices” evolve due to changes in technology and pedagogy.

That’s what the meeting was about.  Not a reprimand, not bad news.  Instead, the school is reaffirming and strengthening its commitment to the library, its resources, staff and programming.  We’ll be in the middle of campus, close to the History and English Departments.  We’ll be a showcase and destination, not an afterthought.  And all this without a fire to force the issue.

Excuse me while I happy dance.

Posted in School Libraries | 1 Comment »

Semi-obligatory #AISLNO17 food post

Posted by lpearle on 25 March 2017

(note: some of the below was eaten by others, and unfortunately not all food photos got saved)

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Why is AASL going back to a middle school mindset?

Posted by lpearle on 24 March 2017

Ok, to be fair, it might have been a high school mindset when the Social Media Recognition Task Force came up with the Social Media Superstar program.

When I started seeing tweets and comments about it my first thoughts were that it was interesting that AASL, which has (IMVHO) spectacularly failed to use social media well, was recognizing “superstars” in the profession.  Who were these “superstars”?  So I followed the link to see the list.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait.

See how many familiar faces are on it?  Ok, so that’s one question answered: for the most part, “superstar” equals people we’ve known and have followed for years.

Then see how we’re supposed to get from “finalist” to “winner”?  Yes, it’s a popularity contest.  Like in middle school, how many Valentines will each finalist get?  Or maybe it’s more like the high school so-called superlatives – which of them has the Best Hair or is part of the Cutest Couple?  Seriously?????  THIS is how we recognize excellence: by asking which contestant gets the most/best “endorsements” from their peers?  I’m…. remarkably unsurprised and at the same time incredibly disappointed.

Instead, what if AASL had sought out newbies?  People 1-5 years (do tiers: 1-3, 3-7, 8-10 years) into their library professional lives who aren’t commonly known names?  People who are doing really interesting things that may have originally been suggested or modeled by others, but with a fresh twist?  People who are deserving of recognition by being potential new leaders in school librarianship.  And what if AASL didn’t make it a contest, but sought out private nominations and then the task force evaluated them, announcing “We recommend you follow/friend/pin/whatever” these people because we see great things here and you need to see them, too?  What if they weren’t names we already knew, but were exciting new discoveries?  Not the over-hype of being a Mover & Shaker, but the recognition of being a fresh new voice?

I write this as someone who knows and counts as friends several of the contestants.  And as someone who got the semi-embarassed email saying, “As some of you know I have been nominated for this aasl recognition. Apparently the way it works is folks leave comments in this post. If any of you are so inclined to leave some comments regarding my use of social media in the realm of librarianship, I’d certainly appreciate it!” I love this person’s work and would happily comment away, but the idea that people have to beg to get AASL’s imprimatur?  Oh hell no.  I just can’t.

Far be it from me to recommend a course of action, but perhaps a few “aren’t we all grown-ups here?  why make this a beauty/popularity contest?” comments – which will get stopped by their moderator queue but they’ll still have to read – will convince the task force to rethink their tactics for 2018.  Or even (a gal can dream) stop this year’s and declare it an amazing tie.

Posted in Professional organizations | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 20 March 2017

Winter hit.  More accurately, a winter cold hit.  And wouldn’t let go.  But luckily things are back to normal and I’m able to enjoy our Spring Break (two+ weeks in March, unlike public schools nearby that get a week in February and a week in April).  There’s the AISL conference in NOLA later this week and a Faculty Forum when we return – stay tuned for things learned from the amazing people at AISL as well as the library department’s Fake News presentation for my colleagues.  Until then…

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

Miscellany

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

Bubble Bursting

Posted by lpearle on 16 February 2017

I could swear that I’ve blogged before about bubbles and how excited one of my graduate school professors was about how in the then-near future, we could drive across country listening to “our” radio station, rather than continually trying to find a station that played music we enjoyed.  It worried me then, this bubble, and it continues to worry me today.

A few weeks ago, one of my cousins and I were speaking and she was expressing sorrow and confusion that a friend of hers had said that they couldn’t be friends because my cousin had voted for Trump.  (perhaps I should mention that most of my family are Republicans, adhering to those oft-forgotten New England Republican ideas)  This past weekend I had dinner with another group of cousins and one of them said “[your father] is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met – how can he be a Democrat?”  Of course, my father would ask the same, in reverse, about this cousin.  Most of my cousins are appalled at what’s currently going on in Washington, and while they may have voted Republican in November, they are not fans – or supporters – of the current president.

My point being, not every Republican supported the presidential candidate.  Just as many Democrats didn’t support that party’s presidential candidate.  But… do we really know that?  understand that?  My first cousin’s friend feels – as so many others feel, and have expressed on Facebook/Twitter – that simply being Republican and voting that way means that you are evil and responsible for all the proposals being mooted now (eg., rolling back environmental protections, changing or repealing LGBTQ legislation and so much, much more)  Why would otherwise intelligent, nice people vote that way?

screenshot_2017-02-14-06-35-55.

It’s not a new observation, but the problem is that we live in increasingly narrow bubbles and echo chambers, relying on confirmation bias only rather than exploring the subject and making up our own minds.  With that in mind, I was interested to read Joyce Valenza’s column about Allsides.com. While I don’t pretend to understand their crowd-sourcing of “left”, “right” and “center” or agree with all their rankings, I do think that it’s interesting as a source of different viewpoints on a topic.  David Wee then started an email conversation about the use of this site (he’s doing great work teaching about “fake news”), and Tasha Bergson-Michelson recommended Burst Your Bubble.  The problem with the Guardian site is that it presupposes you’re liberal – where’s a similar site for conservatives?

At my school, there’s a definitely hostile attitude towards conservatives.  Some are upset that the school hasn’t officially come out against recent executive orders and policies, much less against the president.  What if, instead, we tried to understand why people voted the way they do, or the why they have the opinions they do about issues that don’t conform to our opinions?  I’ve read many articles recently trying to understand why people voted for Trump (here’s one) because I understand what was appealing about Clinton and Sanders.  Have you?  Do you assume that everyone you know feels the same way you do about issues and candidates?  Or do you know that there are some who don’t share those opinions, and do you try to understand what they’re thinking?

We have another year, perhaps, before the midterm election campaigns start up.  Trump 2020 is actually a thing.  What is your commitment to getting out of your bubble before then?

Posted in Musings, School Libraries, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Not quite a day off

Posted by lpearle on 13 February 2017

When you live in the Northeast, you get used to snow.  Lots of snow.  I grew up in Central New York’s snow belt and have spent my adult life in New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.  And – no surprise, I’m sure – snow days are as exciting for teachers and librarians as they are for students.

Except…

February is when our students do their US History paper.  That’s 7 – 12 classes a day, 170+ students.  Some periods, we have three classes in at once.  Luckily, we have a large enough space for them to spread out and do research in (book sharing is a must on a few topics, but for others, we have more than enough).   We already lose a day to President’s Day, a week before the paper is due.  Then we had a snow day last Thursday, and a delayed opening/shortened classes on Friday.  The weather forecast for today wasn’t heartening.

But this is the 21st century, right?  So when the email/text/phone call (I get all three) stating school was cancelled today, I – and the other two librarians – was prepared.  This morning, I sent out an email to the USH students and teachers, offering online reference help.  Just to be sure people saw it, I sent out a photo on Instagram:

 

snowday instagram

Yes, I could be sleeping… reading books for Alex or the SF award… but instead, I’m online, waiting for students to ask research/reference questions.  Thus far, one student has contacted us – but we were able to help.  And that’s the important thing, isn’t it?

What do you do on your snowdays?

Posted in School Libraries, Student stuff | 2 Comments »

Best. PD. Ever.

Posted by lpearle on 6 February 2017

I’ve had a lot of professional development over the years, in a variety of industries (there was a 12 year gap between college and getting my MLS).  A few times I’ve felt as though I should demand a refund for hours of my life absolutely wasted.  Most of the time there’s been something I can take back to my work, sharing with others or simply using in my own practice.  Then there was last summer and the AISL Summer Institute at Emma Willard School.  Katie has already blogged elsewhere on the overall experience, so I won’t cover everything.  And I’ll be part of a panel presentation at the upcoming AISL Conference in NOLA in March.

What made this the best PD I’ve done in memory (I’ll stipulate to getting old and perhaps not remembering how wonderful I thought something was at that time) was not just the setting – although I am partial to my alma mater – was what we refer to these days as the takeaway.  And OMG how useful it has been and will continue to be.  After introduction and discussion about what design thinking is and how to do it, we divided into groups linked by common problems and began to brainstorm.  My  group decided to focus on how we, as librarians, can help panicked students do research.

When I introduce students to research, even during a 10-15 minute rushed talk, I mention that I understand their plight (as I’ve blogged before, we often forget what that’s like). The problem then becomes how do they remember what I’ve gone through as they work on their projects? Many are afraid to disturb us, particularly when they see we’re busy processing new books or working on other stuff – all stuff we’re happy (eager?!) to put aside to help them.  And teachers frequently don’t emphasize our role as partners or resources, so… Luckily, my AISL group all felt my pain.  And we decided to come up with an infographic that helped the students go from stressed to successful.

I brought that infographic home with me, and we created bookmarks from it.  Those bookmarks went into each teacher’s mailbox at the start of the year and are now being handed out to our US History students as they begin their Big Research Paper.  But bookmarks alone aren’t good enough.

For each project we use Springshare’s LibGuide’s platform to create a Resource Guide and each year we update it.  Here is this year’s guide.  Notice that right column!  Yep, we took the infographic, added live links and posted it on the guide (full size version here).  And we’ll be adding it to our other guides.

It’s too early to figure out how successful this will be.  But I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to help students stress less, succeed more.  And that’s what makes for good PD: something you can use immediately, something you can customize to your situation easily, and something that will have a positive effect on your students.

 

Posted in Conferences, Student stuff | 1 Comment »

It all comes down to these…

Posted by lpearle on 30 January 2017

After thousands of reading hours, hundreds of books read, and over 24 hours of discussion, the 2017 Alex Award Top Ten was announced last Monday:

2017 Alex Top Ten

And because we couldn’t leave it there, there’s also a vetted list of 50 great titles (not live yet, but will be here).

What’s next?  I, and others on the 2018 committee, have already started reading and thinking about this year’s books.  Who knows what will rise to Top Ten, or vetted, status?  Watch this space…

Posted in Books | Leave a Comment »

Minor Musings

Posted by lpearle on 23 January 2017

I’ve been busy planning for ALAMW and the YMAs – while I usually avoid the crowds, this year I need to be there as part of my Alex Award committee work.  So here’s a little something to think about and explore while I finish the 2017 award work (feel free to get ready for the Big Reveal!).

Books, Reading, etc.

School Life

Tech Stuff

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

Ego, checked

Posted by lpearle on 17 January 2017

31 years ago, We Are the World was released as a response to both Band-Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas and the Ethiopian famine.  One of the stories about that recording session was that artists were told to “check their egos at the door” (to ensure that, the solos were recorded after the chorus).

Ten years later, I sat in a class discussing collection development and got (in different words) the same message:  the collection I would be creating, or helping to create, was not mine, it was the institution’s and the community’s.   A strong collection development policy needed to be in place, one that covered acquisitions and weeding.  Without one, accusations of bias could arise and challenges could be made.

It’s a lesson I’ve taken to heart.  If you were to come to my house, you would see my carefully curated collection, one that reflects my personal tastes and interests.  Entire genres are missing.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, only one city’s sports teams are mentioned.  And while it can be fun to play “guess Laura’s college major”, there are gaps – big ones – in the non-fiction section.  I feel free to remove entire swaths (cozy mystery series and a certain eight volume set about a boy wizard with the initials H.P., I’m looking at you!).

But that’s at home.  At work, my responsibility is to what might interest students and faculty when reading for pleasure, no matter how much I might dislike the genre or author.  It’s to supporting and enhancing the curriculum, whether or not I care about the subject. And it’s to adhere to the collection development policy guidelines already set out.  In 20 years, there have been two challenges – both settled with a degree of sensitivity on all sides.  A friend, semi-seriously, suggested that I was censoring when I refused to purchase Madonna’s Sex for my 4-12 school (I’d previously weeded Total Woman – WTH was that doing on our shelves to begin with???); I responded by saying that a $50.00 book that fell apart after one read was not an effective use of my budget, no matter what the content.

So, why all the lead up?  Because within the past few weeks, two issues have arisen outside work that may affect our curriculum.

Issue One: The book deal that Simon & Schuster made.

Issue Two: The incoming president and any books about his presidency and history. (no link because it was a query on a closed elist)

What to do, at my library, about both?  My school is committed to diversity and inclusion.  As a librarian, I have to support that by providing books that might not agree with my personal political beliefs.  I can’t assume that everyone agrees with me (here, here and here for more).  A number of years ago, I had a colleague who would, on dress down days, wear a t-shirt that read “Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot” – this in a school with students who were conservatives, Republicans and even included some relatives of the then-current president.  Years earlier, another colleague said, in a faculty meeting, that she really liked two students, but they were… you know… Republicans. Which apparently made reading their English papers and fairly grading them difficult.  To be honest, I’m embarrassed that nothing was done about either.

Back to the books.

Over the years, I’ve tried to not purchase quickie books about current events and popular figures.  During the seemingly endless 2016 campaign season, we did purchase as many of the candidates’ books as possible, on the premise that knowing what they believed (in as much as they put that into the book) was important for potential voters.  Only one of those books, The Art of the Deal, is still on our shelves.  Should any of those candidates run in 2020, they’ll either write an entirely new book or update the old, so no need to retain it.  Beyond that one book, however, I doubt we’ll be purchasing anything about President Trump until at least 2020 and even then I’ll be looking for perspective, analysis and a relatively neutral tone (memoirs and autobiographies are a different matter, for obvious reasons).

As for the S&S book, it’s not the type of book that we would purchase no matter the author.  There are many similar books that aren’t on the shelves.  We’re a school library serving grades 6-12 and students might hear about these books from parents, but they can get them from the public library.  Faculty can do the same.  As the wonderful Barbara Fister says,

For librarians, it’s a case study in how to interpret what we value and how we enact those values in practice. It’s not all that difficult a dilemma for academic librarians; we can buy a copy and assume people will accept that it’s okay to spend a few bucks on a book that will serve as a primary source for understanding trolls; even if what the troll says is offensive, it’s documentation of our contemporary culture. Books are rarely challenged in academic libraries, but in public libraries, it’s another story. If there’s a demand for a book, they may buy dozens of copies to avoid having hold lists running into the hundreds, so we’re talking about more than a few bucks. We’re also talking about money that, once spent, can’t be used to make the library shelves more diverse, less dominated by the latest celebrity thing. People have a tendency to think that if a public library buys a book, they endorse what it has to say. And everyone feels they have a say in how their local tax dollars are spent. It’s a real dilemma, if possibly short-lived. Books like this tend to end up in the book sale bin when interest wanes, as it will.

We don’t teach political science.  My history teachers are lucky if they can get the US History class into the 1980s (none, to my knowledge, have managed to get to this century).  We’ve got time before we have to purchase books on the 45th President – we barely have anything on the 44th!

So, my advice?  Remember it’s not about you and your personal preferences.  Support diversity and inclusion for conservative points of view as well as liberal. Adhere to your collection development policy regarding rigor and purpose.  Relax.

Posted in Collection Development, Ethics | 1 Comment »