Venn Librarian

Reflections about the intersection of schools, libraries and technology.

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The care and feeding of librarians

Posted by lpearle on 23 February 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Musings, School Libraries | Leave a Comment »

Change, or thinking the unthinkable

Posted by lpearle on 10 February 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally, new content

Posted by lpearle on 6 February 2015

This is Winter Long Weekend, and a good time for me to start catching up – getting organized with my taxes, updating all sorts of information and generally recovering from the blizzards/a four-week (and counting) cold/ALA Midwinter.  While I’m doing this, I’m “multitasking” by watching/listening to tv while doing all the data entry stuff.  One of my favorite tv shows is C-SPAN’s Q&A, which replaced Booknotes (another long-time favorite).  This past week’s show is worth watching for anyone working in a school:

http://www.c-span.org/video/standalone/?323965-1/qa-dr-frances-jensen

There’s also a TEMED talk given by Dr. Jensen:

Working in a school with teens means you see some of these behaviors (the stress, the texting) and know all about the development of the brain from external evidence.  This is some of the clearest explanation of the actual science I’ve seen yet.

Posted in Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

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 »

Where have I been?

Posted by lpearle on 25 November 2014

It feels like just yesterday I was planning my school year, promising I’d be better about blogging and staying in touch.  HAH!  The past few months have been overwhelming:

  • weeding (my personal goal? getting our average collection age up to the mid-1990s) and updating the collection (if nothing else, getting a copy of Helen Keller’s memoir that was published this century, not 1931!);
  • emptying out the former archives space, and trying to organize the new space(s) while also weeding out non-archives materials that have been dumped there;
  • updating our Resource Guides (not using LibGuides as the term any longer, on the Kleenex/tissue theory) as we complete the shift from v.1 to v.2; and
  • trying for even more integration and pushing into “new” classes, like English and Biology.

Then there’s the professional development piece, with visits to a local independent school (so inspiring to see their renovated space and hear their weeding story), the Bank Street BookFest, and finally the ALAN workshop (more about that later).  Reading blogs and saving links and ideas… but lacking the time to really figure out ways to integrate them into the program. And reading books, trying to keep up with what should be on the shelves and how we can get them into the hands of more students.

The thing is, working in a boarding school is exhausting.  There’s evening study hall, sit-down dinners, weekend duty, advising, late hours (we’re open 7:am-5pm every day), committee work and evening committee meetings.  In this, my second year, time management is still a struggle.  That’s not to say that it’s not also fun and has incredible rewards (the student who is so happy you found just the right resource, or that you came in on the weekend to see them in a play, or a game, or that you’ve baked something for your advisory meeting… and the student who trusts you enough to share their life with you, the good and the bad, whispering a secret hope or fear…).  But it is exhausting and even in a day school there’s never enough time to get it all done.

So have patience!  This blog will get updated.  Information gleaned elsewhere will be shared.  It’s just that for the past few months, I’ve been elsewhere.

Posted in Life Related | Leave a Comment »

Ever changing landscape

Posted by lpearle on 24 November 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Janus-faced

Posted by lpearle on 14 October 2014

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

So, confession over.  Moving on.

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

Wait! Weeding? Dross?

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

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

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

More thoughts to follow.

 

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

Saturday Spam

Posted by lpearle on 20 September 2014

Cleaning out my spam filter and saw this:

spamTorn between guilt that a spammer can no longer find good information and not caring.  Leaning more towards the latter.

Posted in Metablogging | Leave a Comment »

Student Choice

Posted by lpearle on 15 September 2014

In independent schools we talk about students and education, about how our mission (overall, not just the specific school mission) is all student-centered.  We also talk about being college preparatory, trying to ensure our students will succeed (not just succeed, but excel) in their next academic experience.

So when I see schools issue technology mandates (iPad, laptop, whatever) I wonder about how student-centered that is.  For some students – heck, for me! – reading on a device is not the best choice.  I do my best, deepest reading in print, not to mention being able to find my notes easier, get back to an interesting passage quicker and flip between charts/maps/lists and text with more fluidity.  When taking notes, it’s always better for me to scrawl paper/pen and then to type them up – the meaning really sinks in that way (and let’s not forget my Cornell notes obsession). Why should either be different for students?

But this isn’t just about a mandate, it’s about choice. When we tell students that a school is going 1:1 (laptops or tablets) are we allowing them to choose the technology tool that works best for them, or are we saying “we expect you to bring [vendor/specifications]”?  And in our role as a college preparatory institution, have we surveyed the places our students will go next to see what they will be expected to use there?  My hope is that we would do that before making any decisions, using College X’s entry-level curriculum, research expectations and technology tools as a baseline goal for all of our graduates.  My fear is that few schools do that.

And then there’s the curriculum itself.  Over the years I’ve spoken with many, many students about their current classes, their current class choices and their goals for the future.  All too frequently I see art students told to take fewer art electives and to take an AP math or science course instead (colleges apparently love – LOVE! – those AP credits).  The push for STEM credits and students is denuding schools of humanities and arts electives, forcing students who would truly excel as a historian or creative writer into AP Biology or something.

Back in the dark ages (aka late 1970s) when I was in high school, the curriculum was, to put it politely, eclectic.  The requirements were 1 year of science, 3 years of math and foreign language, and something like 2 arts credits. History and English were combined into one department, Humanities, and I forget what the credit requirements there were.  No AP classes, although students who wanted to take the exams could. As a result, I haven’t taken a lab science since 9th grade, and only grudgingly took calculus in college (NOTE: if you have to take a placement test and test into calculus without having taken pre-calc, do not accept that placement!). Instead of Chemistry, I took Philosophy.  Instead of Biology, I took Acting.  Etc..  When I got to college I was more than prepared not only for the rigors of the college experience (mixing living away from home with studying and hanging out with friends) but also for the freedom of choice allowed in choosing my courses.

Does telling students that they have to take AP this and that, fewer electives (limiting them to perhaps a senior year) and pursue a relatively rigid path help?  I would argue not (as would the constructivist school). Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that we need a good underlying understanding of things and serious basic skills in math, science, grammar, etc..  But once we’re in high school, why force a school of round pegs into square holes?  Another friend of mine, currently Head of Modern Languages at a school, in charge not only of running the department but also approving and researching foreign travel (student trips to China, Spain and France) and managing the departmental budget, stopped his math and science courses earlier than I did.  Neither of us has suffered appreciably.

So here’s what I’m pondering: if our schools truly believe in being student-centered environments preparing those in our care for their next academic experience, why are we so afraid of student choice?

Posted in Musings, Pedagogy, Student stuff | Leave a Comment »

What if?

Posted by lpearle on 8 September 2014

Three things came together this past week and got me thinking about the “always on” culture.  The first was a blog post about a distraction-free iPhone, the second an announcement at school’s first Morning Meeting in which the girls were reminded that while texting/checking the phone discretely in the dining hall was ok, actually taking/making a call was rude and unacceptable.  The final piece was at my Quaker Meeting, where one of the members said that she had never really seen a smartphone in action and didn’t know that there was a phone “app” so that you could make calls; she also mentioned that her home internet connection was out and had been for a week and she didn’t mind it, while her husband (writing three books) couldn’t do his work so wasn’t happy.

At first I was a little surprised: how has anyone missed seeing the face of a smartphone at this point in time?  They’re ubiquitous.  And one week without home internet? Yikes!

Then, on my drive home, I started thinking about it and realizing how calming.  How nice to not have websites to check, an RSS feed piling up, many many e-mails waiting for a response.

At one of my former schools the Head has declared weekends to be e-mail free.  Obviously if there’s an emergency, that’s one thing.  But no one, from the Head on down, is expected to check – much less answer – e-mail over the weekend or during a school break (for teachers; year-round employees don’t have to during their vacation time).  At another school, there has been a stream of complaints from faculty about administration checking e-mail continuously during meetings and events (sometimes the complaints lead to a lessening of the problem, but it soon is back to previous levels).  Faculty there who do not check their e-mails over the weekend (or even at night, when they’re at home) are frequently reminded that they need to do so and respond in a timely fashion.

My current school is a boarding school, and we function in loco parentis so completely turning off overnight or on weekends is not going to happen. But what if we did limit that to emergencies only?  What if we go back to The Good Old Days, like when I was at boarding school, when communication was mostly by letter or postcard, and only occasional calls to/from home?  Often we send off an e-mail in the heat of the moment, while having to reflect on “is this an emergency?” might be a better tack to take.  Students would voluntarily put their phones in their backpacks and not check them until the school day is over.  Parents would know and respect those limits, teaching students some measure of independence from their parents.

One school I know is starting to look at those communications and considering how to best work with/educate both parents and students so that the appropriate separation happens.

What if we all did that?

Posted in Life Related, Musings, Student stuff, Techno Geekiness | 2 Comments »

 
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