Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
As a preface, I would like to note that when I first started telling people I was going to become a librarian one of the most common responses I got was, "But you're kinda loud." 'Cause, you know, the ability to speak in soft tones is pretty much the only requirement of the job.
1. Do you think there are librarian stereotypes?
Of course there are librarian stereotypes. There are stereotypes for almost any profession. And you would think that librarians—who, more than almost any other group of people, embody the inclination to group and categorize information—would understand the impulse people have to stereotype groups of people. Stereotypes are a shorthand that we use to try to make sense of the world. So librarians are stereotyped as tight-lipped, mousy, control freaks. And lawyers are assholes. And investment bankers are heartless bastards. And so on. If you think about it, we come out looking pretty good, professional stereotype-wise.
What I do think sets us apart (and I’m going to talk about it even though it’s only tangentially related to your question, ‘cause it’s a pet peeve of mine) is the amount of worrying and hand-wringing we do about how we’re stereotyped. I can’t 100% guarantee it, but I’m pretty certain that there aren’t any classes in law school where they talk about lawyer stereotypes and how to overcome them. And I understand that--given that we work with the public directly--how we’re perceived may matter more. But I’m tired of the “how do we change our image?” melodrama. You can’t force people to have a different perception of you. These stereotypes came from somewhere—a lot of people grew up going to libraries that were staffed by tight-lipped, mousy control freak librarians who shushed them. Many members of newer generations of librarians are not like that, so when this younger generation grows up they will likely have a different impression of librarians. But you can’t just tell people you’re different; you have to show them. Stop spending so much time talking about how libraries are new, different, dynamic places, and just work on being new, different, dynamic places. People will figure it out. But it won’t happen overnight, so we may just need to chill the fuck out.
2. Do you think they are valid?
I think I kind of addressed this above, but I’ll elaborate. They are valid in that they came from somewhere. No one started a smear campaign about librarians. I think the profession does attract people who are generally more introverted, and I think it’s fair to say that people who devote their professional lives to organizing and accessing information may have some control issues. I wish we would stop being ashamed of these characteristics. Yes, we value space for introspection, and intellectual pursuits, and an organized world. These are not bad things.
I think it’s also worth pointing out that while many people probably have a stereotypical image of librarians as a group, they feel differently about their librarian. I get variations of “you’re not like other librarians” all the time. And I think this speaks to what I was talking about above—we change our collective image by our individual actions.
I’m going to use a potentially bizarre analogy here. Leaders in the gay rights movement urge closeted gays to come out because it’s been shown time and again that knowing an out gay person changes a person’s view of gays more effectively than any public service announcement ever could. “I don’t like gay people—but you’re okay” is generally how the sentiment goes. And the more gay people that person knows, the more their overall image of gay people changes. So the more librarians who don’t fit the old stereotype a person meets, the more their stereotype of librarians in general changes. I’m here. I’m a librarian. Get used to it.
3. Do you think they are harmful?
I think what’s harmful is getting caught up in trying to change, en masse, everyone’s opinion of every librarian. It makes us lose focus. But I do see the point of people who worry about librarian stereotypes—people who have negative stereotypes of librarians are less likely to come into libraries. However--as the recent economic unpleasantness has shown--when people need libraries, they will come. And that’s when we have a chance to change their perceptions going forward.
Friday, December 11, 2009
I'm not going to go in to all the good and bad parts of Wikipedia--as I have neither several hours or an elephant handy--but I have been thinking and talking about Wikipedia this week, as we spent a day talking about it in the class I'm teaching. I think Wikipedia does a great job of encompassing a number of the Web 2.0-related issues I wanted to talk about--participatory media, trust, authority, etc. (etc., in this case, being an abbreviation for "I know there's other things I want to mention, but I am functionally brain dead and can't think of them).
The one point I do want to make about Wikipedia, which I don't see made nearly often enough, is that we send a really awful message to students when we say it's "untrustworthy" because, "anyone can edit it--even you."
Why not, instead, teach students that their voice is a valuable part of the conversation? Why not tell students that the work and research they're doing has some relevancy, and that instead of vandalizing Wikipedia they could contribute to the world's largest encyclopedia? But no, instead many teachers emphasize vandalism and denigrate their students' voices. By "teaching" Wikipedia in this way we basically tell students, "go ahead and vandalize Wikipedia, 'cause there's no way you could add something of value to it." No wonder many students think most school work is pointless, when we tell them that their voice has no place in the conversation.
Sure, Wikipedia has articles like this table of vampire traits, (and thank you, Joelle, for pointing it out) which is rather silly and, it could be argued, "pointless", and probably prone to vandalism and error. But check out Count Chocula's weaknesses. And then check out the citation for it. I dare you to find an academic source that takes citation nearly that seriously.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
1) For the past week or so (which has lasted at least three months), I've been teaching an intensive course on Web 2.0 (a term I continue to dislike, but which continues to be a convenient and often--though not always--understood shorthand. Though the people who don't understand the term "Web 2.0" are unlikely to understand any other term I use either). It's going well, but it's exhausting, as we meet all day, and I meet with them two nights a week, in addition to having to create assignments for them the other two nights. In addition to finding time to do my, you know, full-time librarian job (ordering and processing books, managing ILLs and subscriptions, writing my budget, a grant application, continuing to convert paperbacks to mp3s. . . you know, the kinds of tasks it's totally easy to accomplish having gotten little to no sleep for over a week. I should also mention that I've been fighting some sort of nasty bronchial infection that is making sleeping and breathing at the same time tricky at best. Also, the meds I'm taking to help are made of the stuff they use to make meth. My sleep patterns are, to say the least, erratic, which may explain why I feel a bit brain dead. All of this was way too much for a parenthetical aside, but it's too late to turn back now).
As I was saying, the class is going well, but it's one of those things that makes me feel totally inadequate. I always feel like there's a million tools out there that I'm not using and not promoting and not taking advantage of. For every blog or wiki I help a teacher create, there's a Glogster or an Animoto that I'm not even familiar with. I find all this so overwhelming. But the weird thing is that even though I feel totally uninformed, most of my colleagues think this stuff (which I think of as "basic") is cutting edge. Which, in some ways, it is. Not the tools themselves, necessarily, but using them in the classroom. It's not unusually noteworthy, but it's definitely not the standard (yet). I think this is one of the problems of trying to stay professionally current--often there's just enough time to find out all the things you don't know, but not enough to actually learn about them.
2) I desperately want a Smartboard in my library. But I have no place to put one, as I have no walls. Lots of great windows, but no walls. I don't have space to hang a poster, let alone a Smartboard. I was talking to a vendor on the phone on Monday, and he was giving me options, but seemed unable to comprehend that I do not have wall space--which is a reasonable thing to be incredulous about. He asked about putting a piece of plywood on one side of a shelf and mounting it there, but a) I don't have enough shelving as it is and b) none of my shelves are situated in such a way that the board would even be visible if that were a possibility (that is a grammarfuck of a sentence, but I lack the wherewithal to fix it. Sorry).
During my first year I met the architect who designed the renovation of my library. He said to me, directly, "Well, no one uses the library anyway." Which probably explains why the space is so unusable.
Saturday, November 21, 2009
As you know, earlier this week I turned a paperback book into a series of mp3 files. Then, again with the help of my amazing IT department, we posted it on an internal webpage (thus avoiding those pesky copyright issues), meaning that students would be able to download it to their own computers before leaving for Thanksgiving. Meaning that in less than 36 hours the answer to the question, "Is this available as an audio book?" went from, "No" to, "Sure. Here are the instructions for downloading."
I think this is one of those, "It's amazing what one can accomplish when one doesn't know what one can't do" situations, as even a week ago I didn't think that this would be possible, and certainly not so quickly.
The response from the teachers teaching this book, other teachers who've wanted to see this happen, learning specialists (including two people who are, allegedly, in charge of implementing assistive technology), the head of school?
Which was annoying and frustrating and (at the end of the semester when I'm over-tired and burnt out) actually kind of upsetting. After finishing the project for the person mentioned in the earlier ark-themed post and not even having it acknowledged, let alone getting a thank you, I was also feeling extra-sensitive to issues of gratitude, and gratitude-denied. I wasn't looking for a ticker-tape parade (though, honestly, I wouldn't turn one down), but the 30 seconds necessary to hit reply on an e-mail and say, "Thanks for your work on this" would have been nice.
To be fair, my immediate supervisor, the assistant head of school, gets it and was just as excited as I was. She is, for the record (and I'm saying this even though I'm fairly certain she doesn't even know this blog exists) an amazing, inspiring woman and one of the main reasons I work here and will continue to do so. I went to her on Thursday to talk, in part, about how frustrated I was that this thing I'd done that was, for me, a major accomplishment had been greeted by such thundering silence.
She pointed out that yes, we'd built this ark, but now we need to build a ramp up to the ark. If all your life you've been able to easily access information in print (or—and this is where our conversation got sort of confusing—been able to use stairs and not needed a ramp to gain access to a building) you don't necessarily get what a difference something like this can make.
If it's not raining where you are, it's hard to see the point of building an ark.
Which makes sense to me. 'Cause even though the "powers that be" seem underwhelmed, students—who have been standing at the bottom of that ramp for years, waiting for someone to build the ark—have sought me out to tell me how cool it is that they'll be able to download the book. Two of the students I talked to directly about the book and how to download it hugged me. One girl said, "Wow. You must really care about us."
Which, when I take a step back and get some perspective, I remember is why I really do what I do.
This is not, technically speaking, library-related, and, blogospherically speaking, I am super late to this story, but for the record:
1) Kids like this are why I became an educator. Not just because his politics happen to align with mine, but because he is thoughtful, passionate, and articulate about his beliefs. Here is a kid who—despite some of the cutesy smirking on behalf of the anchors—demands to be taken seriously; he believes in what he's doing, and has come to those beliefs after consideration of the facts—which is more than you can say about a number of people on either end of the political spectrum.
2) "What's a gaywad?" is, quite possibly, the dumbest question in interview history. And I love how this kid was able to make it clear that this was a stupid question without having to say that it was a stupid question. Despite his suggestion that the teacher jump off a bridge, Phillips is far more diplomatic than most people I've seen interviewed on CNN.
3) His dad rocks my socks. That look of pride on his face is unmistakable.
4) His t-shirt. I want it.
Monday, November 16, 2009
I understand that undertaking a project like deciding to do in-house conversions to e-text and audio files is not a task to be taken lightly, and that it's necessary to establish a system and do it in a deliberate way. I understand that making such a shift in how we do things is a big change and requires thinking differently about our jobs and how we do things. I understand that taking on a task is not a small thing (despite how underwhelmed the headmaster seemed to be when I told him what I was working on). I understand that the technological hurdles can seem daunting.
But there's a point at which talking about how you're going to approach a task has to turn into action; sometimes the only way you can figure out how to do something is to just go ahead and do it.
Today, I turned a paperback book into a series of mp3 files.
It wasn't exactly seamless. I spent quite a while scanning (and a bit more time re-scanning). Getting Kurzweil to recognize the mp3 encoder was a longer process than one might have liked it to be (and I am indebted to the amazing IT department for making that happen). Organizing the files, determining a structure for the saved files, deciding which file formats to save the book as for optimal accessibility (.kes, .rtf, and .mp3, for the record), figuring out how to get these files to students before they leave campus (a still-unfinished project, but should be taken care of tomorrow morning)—all of this took time, and all decisions are the result of previous training and discussion. Completing this project would not have been possible without all of the conversations leading up to it.
I have been up a long time. I spent entirely too much time staring at a computer screen today, often squinting in either concentration or confusion. My level of exhaustion could best be described as "skull-crushing."
I am not the type of person who does things for the recognition. Generally speaking, I'd much rather not draw attention to myself; I am happy to do my job and let the results speak for themselves.
But today, I turned a paperback book into a series of mp3 files.
And that's pretty fucking cool.
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Only the book isn't available in audio. Not just at my library. Anywhere. No one has made an audio version of this book.
But no worries! Kurzweil (and perhaps another program I've been playing with) will convert electronic text to an mp3.
Only this book is also not available electronically. Anywhere.
The only version it is available in is traditional print. Which, at most schools, would probably be fine. But at a school for LD students? Not so much.
We're in exams now, so it is likely too late for the senior English teachers to change their plans; if anything, they would have to scrap this plan entirely, which I don't want them to have to do. But I've already had two requests for the book in audio, and those demands (from students and parents) are only going to increase as students actually start reading.
So it would appear that the answer to the question, "How long does it take us to take a paper book, convert it to electronic text, and then convert that to mp3?" is "by Wednesday."
Saturday, November 14, 2009
No more prizes for predicting rain.
Prizes only for building arks.
It has been a hard week at work. It is the end of the semester and many of us are tried and overwhelmed frustrated and burnt-out. The minor annoyances of September, when repeated often enough, become the stuff of squid-like ranting. It is so, so easy to fall into negativity, as predicting rain is much easier than building an ark (what the hell is a cubit, anyway?), particularly when so many of the people around you are not only predicting rain, but bemoaning the quality of the available umbrellas.
One of my informal professional goals for the year has been to avoid the negativity that can run rampant here. And I don’t think that that negativity is necessarily an indicator that this is a negative place or that I work with a lot of negative people. But the ark builders are usually so busy building arks that you don't hear from them much. So I’ve been avoiding conversations with some colleagues, and keeping others short and to the point, as I am tired of talking about the rain.
We are preparing for our first-ever Winterim, which will take place during the academic no-man's land between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. In the interest of professionalism (and not getting myself all worked up again), I will simply say that the leadership on this project has been less than inspiring. . . and far, far less than clear.
The person in charge of Winterim is one of the most frustrating kinds of rain predictors, going on and on about his vision and how incredible this all will be, but providing little in the way of direction and clarity. He reminds me of something I read in one of Doug Johnson’s recent columns for Library Media Connection. In response to Peter Drucker’s oft-repeated aphorism, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things” he writes, “You can’t do the right things unless you know how to do things right.” I appreciate vision. One of the things I love best about professional conferences is that I leave them feeling energized and inspired by others’ vision and ideas. But that needs to translate into real action and forward motion. If I wanted to spend my career prattling on about ideas without having to figure out how to actually execute them, I would have become an academic.
I am trying to create something meaningful and worthwhile and relevant for the Winterim course I’m teaching, but all I have to work with is a vague vision; even Noah knew how many days it was going to rain for. And it is so, so frustrating. But I’ve been doing my best and trying to design this course with the information at hand—when the “leader” of this project dumped a major project on my lap on Monday, simply expecting (once again) that other people would take care of his ark-building while he prattles on about how amazing the rain will be. Which, I think it’s fair to say, is neither leadership nor management. It’s just annoying.
I don’t think that predicting rain is necessarily rooted in negativity or in a lack of interest in doing the work yourself. I spend a lot of time talking about rain. We have to. In order to build the ark properly, you need a blueprint.
But at some point you have to stop talking about the damn rain and just start building the ark.
Friday, November 13, 2009
In the card I give to students I let them know that they will have the first opportunity to check out a book, and I have the books in a special display at the circulation desk. The vast majority of students, however, have not even come in to see the book, let alone check it out. When I hand-deliver the cards students often act as if I have just handed them an envelope full of anthrax; they repeatedly demand to know what's in the envelope, and act skeptical of my assurances that once they open the card, they will know what it says. I think I need to come up with a better way to advertise what's going on to students--in part so kids will get excited about it, but also so they stop treating me like a terrorist.
There has one notable exception to the typical series of events, which gives me hope that things might turn around. I had put a birthday card in a girl's mailbox while she was home sick (this may be another part of the problem; a lot of kids have been home sick for their birthdays lately). Shortly after she returned to school she was in the library with her Geography class, and we were in the middle of discussing something else completely, when she said, "Hey, didn't my parents donate a book?" Which made her, officially, the first student to come seek out the book that had been donated in her name. So I got the book to show her and she was so excited. When she opened up the book and found the bookplate with her name she just lit up, and started showing it to her friends. When I told her she could check out the book and keep it over Thanksgiving break so she'd have time to read it. . . I don't think she actually, technically, squealed for joy, but it was close. It made my whole day, and most of the next day, too.
There have been other positive outcomes from this whole project. When I went to get the mail on Wednesday there was a check from a parent who had donated a book for the Birthday Book Club, and who I'd spoken to over Family Weekend. She said that she was going to make an additional donation in support of the library, but that was almost a month ago, so I assumed it was an idle offer (or, that if she did make a donation, it would be for $100 at most). But when I opened the mail on Wednesday I found a check from her for $1,000. Which I know, in the grand scheme of money, is not a lot. But it is the equivalent of 10% of my annual budget. And while the money is, obviously, a huge gift, the bigger message there--that this parent, and her daughter, believe in the library and support what I do--is what I am overwhelmingly grateful for.
These are the types of things I need to remind myself of when I get squid-like with frustration.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Me: Yes, but only on VHS.
Student: Ooh! Is that DVD?
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I've put the e-text battle on the back burner for a while, and today decided to turn my attention to the myriad other things I need to be doing: all my shelving, designing the course I'm teaching next month, writing an article, developing a research manual. . . .
I got none of that done.
But I did re-arrange my office. And it felt good.
I love my office. It's huge. It gets great light. But there are no cabinets or cupboards and the only shelves I have are. . . oddly shaped for lack of a specific term. And there are lots of windows and multiple doors, which means little usable wall space. In addition to being my office it's also my workroom for processing books and other such things. So it's a hard space to arrange in any workable way. But the chaos in there had gotten kind of epic, and I decided I needed to tame it, thinking that it might make it easier for me to work in there.
Up until this afternoon my desk had been in the middle of the room, and office space and workroom space kind of blended together. Which was good in that I could wheel my chair from desk to worktable without standing up, but bad in pretty much every other way imaginable. I had no walls or shelves near my desk, and the chaos in each area easily infiltrated the other area. So I moved my desk into a corner and pulled some shelves around so now a) there is a distinct difference between office space and workroom space and b) I have shelves! Near my desk! Where I can put things!
Before moving furniture (and as I continue to put things in their new places) I've also been purging and sorting. I found a file I've been looking for since June, so that was nice. I also found a copy of the AACR2—and bunch of papers rubber banded together which appeared to be the revisions to the AACR2. Which just highlights how painfully out of date my professional reference collection is. I don't even want to think about what version of the DDC I'm using.
I also now have one giant "to be filed" pile, as opposed to five separate, smaller "to be filed" piles. When that filing will happen, I have no idea. I'm saving the cleaning and re-organization of my filing cabinet for the next time an office-related nesting instinct takes hold.
I have been trying to think of some way to say the above without it being so nerdtastic, but I am up to my proverbial elbows in e-text and have a hard time talking about it in any other terms. Besides the technical terms, the only other words I can think of when dealing with accessible e-text are, generally speaking, profanities.
People who are all excited about e-text being easy and accessible and act like anyone who still reads on paper is clearly a technophobe refusing to drag his knuckles into the 21st century (most of their gushing confuses me a bit, as they seem excited about getting rid of paper books because we now have e-books that. . . look like paper. I already have something that looks like paper. It's called paper. Google it) are rarely, if ever, talking about truly accessible e-text. They are talking about e-text that is available to non-LD readers who only want to read commercially popular text. Which is nice and all, but if you really want me to be excited about e-text in needs to be more than just a different format for the same people to read the same things. The (as yet unrealized) promise of e-text is that it can provide access to people who—due to physical or cognitive differences—have difficulty accessing traditional print. And that's a lot more complicated than making it possible for you to easily carry the collected works of James Patterson in your carry-on the next time you go on vacation.
I believe that access to e-text should be seamless for the students who need it. They shouldn't be the ones downloading extra software and conversion programs and text-to-speech programs and troubleshooting and solving issues (never mind having to scan the books themselves). Yes, these are great things for students to learn and know how to do in order to learn independence and self-sufficiency. But asking a student to do that in order to read a novel for English class is equivalent to asking a non-LD student to build a printing press before she can do her reading. It's a completely unreasonable barrier to access.
Which has me running between multiple computers on two different floors and keeping so many different tabs open in my browser that I swear I heard Firefox sigh with relief when I finally closed it. And the only thing I'm trying to figure out is how to easily make a novel accessible via a text-to-speech program with curricular reading supports. A simple novel—one that's already been scanned and converted to DAISY, even, which is the hard part (and a feat I'll be attempting soon). We're still many, many hurdles away from easily providing access to textbooks electronically (one of the biggest of those hurdles being textbook publishers).
It feels like this should be easier than it is. When I read about e-books (which I’ve been doing a lot) people mention again and again the potential e-text has for providing access to people with disabilities. But they’re rarely talking about cognitive disabilities, and they’re almost never talking about curricular access.
My boss keeps telling me that once we've really got this figured out we'll be able to publish and present at conferences. Conferences that are some place a lot more glamorous than Hartford. And if we do get this process anywhere near seamless, it would be very exciting and definitely put us at the forefront of this issue. But as I’m working on this it’s not so much “one step forward, one step back” as it is “one step forward, unscalable brick wall."
Tuesday, October 27, 2009
In case you can't tell by the fact that this post is not about me freaking out about my presentation, my conference was yesterday. After getting up at the aforementioned 4am I drove to Hartford--very little traffic that time of the morning, for those of you looking for an easier commute. Getting set up was a bit nerve wracking, as the projector was not exactly the most intuitive system I've ever encountered, and the microphone from the next room over was somehow feeding through the speakers in my room. But I figured it out (partially by begging for help from the guy in the next room).
By the time 7:30 came there were six people in the room waiting for me to present, which is two more people than I thought would be there, so that was cool. And then as I started another person came in. And another. And then more. Eventually there were about 20-25 people there, which is WAY more than I anticipated (and if any of those people are now reading this blog: Hi! Thanks for coming!). And it went really well. People were nodding along, and smiling, and they all clapped at the end!
The response, overall, was really amazing. I had several people tell me that it was helpful and informative and that there were things that they could bring back to their schools and put to use, which was really gratifying. I love going to conferences and workshops that are inspirational or aspirational in tone, but a) I don't think I'm really at that level quite yet and b) the best workshops I've ever been to give me something based on those aspirations I can put into practice. My greatest hope in doing this was that I would be able to give the participants something--an idea, a tool, a new understanding--that they could take with them. To be told that I've done that. . . wow.
Giving back professionally is far more energizing than I anticipated it would be. It's a total high, and I'm hooked. For the rest of the day yesterday I was thinking about what else I could do--whether it be more presenting, or writing, or even developing more of an online presence to share the work I'm doing.
The rest of the conference was great, too. I'd been so anxious about my session that I'd forgotten how much I love being able to spend a day with my peers getting that inspiration (I was able to spend two sessions with Jamie McKenzie, who is amazing and gave me a lot to think about--much of which I may write about later), as well as generating ideas that I can bring back and put into use. Given that I don't work with another librarian, it's nice to be able to spend time with other people who know what it's like to do what I do. Also, free pens!
We were supposed to give our name badges back at the end of the day, but I kept mine. If anyone from CASL/CECA is reading this, I'm sorry, but this is my first ever presenter badge and I couldn't help it. I promise I will give back all of my badges for any future conferences I present at. Unless they're really cool.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I know I work in a private school (which I often refer to as an independent school, as it feels less weird to say), but I believe passionately in the fundamental importance of public education. I went to public schools. My dad, the most amazing teacher I have ever known, teaches at a public school. I taught at a public school. Some of my best friends are public school teachers.
Also, I don’t think all charter schools are, by definition, bad, but I certainly don’t see them as a cure-all for our public school system—particularly when a charter school, by its very existence, undermines the education public school students are getting. It’s like blaming someone for having a broken leg when you’re the one who pushed him down the stairs.
Since I’m not a lawyer and am not intimately familiar with New York’s education laws, I won’t mention the fact that what they’ve done here is pretty much illegal.
And what of library services for the charter school students? This could have been an amazing opportunity to make that space the center for these schools that—due to poor planning—are sharing limited space. What a squandered opportunity.
I have an inkling as to how the library blogosphere will react to this—it just shows that we as school librarians need to be better at promoting what we do and how important it is and blah, blah, blah. But I don’t think for a second that that’s what’s going on here—look at how lovingly that library was renovated, with all sorts of support from people from within and outside the school; that is not a librarian with weak PR skills. This was a decision made by shortsighted idiots who aren’t going to be convinced by research, or arguments, or evidence, since they operate on the assumption that everything they do is Right.
The fact that this beautiful library is now being used, in part, as a Teacher’s Lounge has, I’m relatively certain, raised more hackles than if it were being used as a teaching space. And I get that. But I’ve worked in schools with and without a dedicated space for teachers, and the availability of a Teacher’s Lounge makes a difference in the attitude and energy of the faculty, and the overall climate of the school. I get that Teacher’s Lounges are important, and are far more than a place to drink a cup of coffee in quiet (not that that’s not important), but I can’t imagine being able to use that space as a lounge in good conscience.
More here: Stephen Krashen at Substance News and here:School Library Journal
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I wish I had a real live person to practice in front of, as I think I would feel less awkward talking to a person rather than my furniture. Or should I try talking to my couch rather than my table?
I am generally pretty confident when presenting to faculty at school--and rarely even practice beforehand. But in presenting to other school librarians I'm worried I'm going to get called out on not knowing or doing something that a "good" librarian would be doing; I'm worried I'm not going to make a good enough case for what I do and why I do it.
Monday, October 19, 2009
Also, after what could accurately be described as a minor meltdown last night while trying to find suitable images for my presentation (go ahead, you try and find copyright friendly images that accurately represent the idea of "learning differences"), I am 90% of the way to a working draft. So I feel a bit less like throwing up.
Also also, I was informed during study hall tonight that I am wearing "fresh kicks." Which I'm going to go ahead and assume is a good thing.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
I think this is the clearest my subconscious has ever been in translating whatever is stressing me out into a dream. I don't even have to pretend to try to interpret this one.
Next Monday (as in a week from tomorrow) I am presenting at the CASL/CECA conference. And I am, to put it simply, not prepared. I have a folder of photocopies and scratch paper and books full of sticky notes and—finally—five pages of notes that will be turned into a storyboard of my presentation today (I swear, really, it has to happen today. Because I'm supposed to submit a final version of my presentation tomorrow) and a vague sense of what I'll be talking about and I know, somewhere in my brain, that this will come together and it will be fine and my presentation is at 7:30 in the morning so it's distinctly possible I'll be the only one in the room, but here is what I comes down to and what—besides everything else I'm behind on—is keeping me from working on this: I am terrified.
There are a few reasons for this. First, I read too many library blogs, and there is a lot of confidence and certainty and "vision" in the library blogosphere, and I feel none of those things. And I don't know if that means I'm more realistic, or completely inept. Second, I'm presenting on learning differences in the library, which is not an area for which a lot of material and information exists—which I know from trying to do research when I first got this job. So I feel this pressure to be authoritative, but on the other hand a lot of what I'm talking about is based on my own work and experience, and I'm not sure I feel like an authority. I am taking a lot of work about LD and UDL (Universal Design for Learning) and translating it into the library environment, but the simple fact is that I don't think there's really anyone who is an authority on the specific issue of learning differences in the library, so I kind of feel like I'm working without a net. Third, I live and work everyday with LD students; I'm pretty familiar with this issue and believe passionately in the importance and relevance of what I do—I worry, alternately, that the other people in the room won't buy in to what I'm saying, and also that I'll inadvertently talk over the heads of everyone who doesn't do this stuff day to day. What if I accidentally start gushing about the possibilities of downloading DAISY books for the Kurzweil? Most people I work with understand that and get excited about it, but I feel like the rest of the world probably doesn't.
The other thing is that I know that the only place I'll be able to practice this presentation is in my apartment, talking to a wall (or, if they come out from under the bed, my cats), and I know I'm not good at rehearsing without an audience. I'd like to have at least one run-through under my belt, but I'm not sure how to make that happen at this point. Which is another reason I should have gotten my act together on this before now, I know.
So I guess I'm looking at a week of dreams about me performing ineptly in talent shows. Which is one of many reasons you should be glad you're not in my subconscious.
Friday, October 16, 2009
I first tried to adopt a cat through a local shelter. I went and visited and found a cat who clearly loved me; even the shelter volunteers remarked upon how much this cat loved me. Completed an adoption application. Waited. And was ultimately rejected because I could not produce vet records from the last time I owned cats. Which was, for the record, five years and at least three moves ago.
Having failed to keep what ended up being necessary records makes me feel like a Bad Librarian. During my first year at my current job I purged the file cabinet; I purged the crap out of those files. And even though every logical fiber in my being tells me otherwise, every once in a while I still wonder if I made a mistake in tossing library accession records from 1988. I know, logically, that they're not even close to being an accurate reflection of my current collection, and that with an automated catalog accession records are, at best, redundant. But finding myself in a position where I had gotten rid of records that were, apparently, more useful than I realized, I found myself questioning my willingness to purge; what if tomorrow someone comes through the door and offers me a million dollar grant--but only if I can produce library accession records from 1988? What then, I ask?
Then nothing, really. 'Cause when I think about it, anyone who has such a ridiculous, rather arbitrary, mostly meaningless standard for giving me a million dollar grant is probably going to have other ridiculous, unreasonable demands, and is definitely crazier than average. And after talking with some people about how ridiculous this shelter was being I discovered that they had more than once adopted out pets without disclosing health and behavioral issues. And if I get either cats or a million dollars from someone, I want the person I'm dealing with to judge me--as either a pet owner or a librarian--by who I am and how I do my job, not on my ability to keep outdated paperwork around.
So I went to a different shelter, staffed by sane people enforcing reasonable standards. And now I have two cats who are, naturally, named after characters in my favorite book. I am, however, still waiting for someone to offer me a million dollars.
Friday, October 9, 2009
Anyway, you can read what he has to say here: Library Update from Headmaster Tracy
I would like to address a few points from this section in particular:
At the same time, we are adding to the staff of librarians and transforming the library into a dynamic, interactive learning center that includes monitors that provide students with real-time interactive data and news feeds from around the world, state-of-the-art computers with high-definition screens for research and reading, a larger and more centralized circulation desk, quiet cyber-carrels, open classroom space, a faculty lounge, and a cyber-café in a convivial setting for formal and informal student and teacher interaction.
1) I am "transforming [my] library into a dynamic, interactive learning center", and it has nothing to do with the format in which I make information available. Though my collection is already smaller than Cushing's; maybe those extra books get in the way of the dynamism.
2) I'm having a hard time envisioning "monitors that provide students with real-time interactive data and news feeds from around the world" as anything other than a bank of TVs tuned to CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and maybe the Food Channel.
3) "state-of-the-art computers with high-definition screens for research and reading" read: kick-ass monitors
4) "a larger and more centralized circulation desk": I am pro-centralization of the circulation desk. As for the size. . . as long as it's big enough to get the job done, larger does not necessarily mean better. I'm just sayin'.
5) What the hell is a cyber-carrel? Is it a study carrel where you can use your laptop? If so, how is that substantively different from any other kind of carrel? And isn't "cyber" as a prefix sort of dated? Shouldn't it be Carrel 2.0?
I am not a fanatic when it comes to books; I don't believe that individual books are sacred. I do think the knowledge and the wisdom found in books is sacred, and it makes no difference to me if that information is displayed on printed paper or a computer screen. But as someone who spends a fair amount of time trying to provide electronic access to books, I know better than most that all books are not available in electronic format--particularly older titles and books used for class study--and the ones available in e-text are not necessarily accessible for LD students (it's distinctly possible that Cushing is not concerned about the LD accessibility issue. But they should be).
E-text is where we are, almost inevitably, headed. And in terms of the possibilities for making information universally accessible, I think this is a good thing. But we are not there yet. I think of the print/e-text issue--as I do with so many things--as a Venn diagram, with print being one circle and e-text being the other. The area of overlap keeps getting bigger and bigger, but it is not one circle yet. And until it is, I fail to understand why increasing access to electronic text means it's necessary to decrease the number of print books.
Sunday, October 4, 2009
Him: Hey, guess what I can say to you now?
Him: Shit. Douchebag. Penis.
Me: I figured you were just going to call me by my first name.
Him: No way, I couldn't do that. That'd just be weird.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
I feel like I do so much halfway. I never seem to have the time to devote enough attention to any one task, so I give half my attention to tasks, and feel guilty, and know I could be doing things better if there were just, somehow, more time. And then I doubt myself, and feel guilty, and am paralyzed by how massive the tasks ahead of me are.
I got an e-mail today asking me to send any documents for the presentation I'm giving at a conference in less than a month. And I haven't even started creating the presentation. And I don't know where I find the time. I need uniterrupted time to focus and think and read and write, but my job is a series of interruptions, interrupted by interruptions. And every day I seem to fall farther and farther behind.
I want to take this program to where I really think it needs to be. But how do I do that when I can't even manage the day-to-day tasks of my job?
Higher-ups tell me how impressed they are with how together I am and how much I get done, and don't believe me when I tell them it's all a clever facade. And I wonder if I'm actually undermining myself by making it seem like I can do it all. 'Cause I can't.
It is late. And I am so, so tired. And even thinking of my 'To Do' list makes me want to cry. I don't know how to do everything I need to do.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Okay, so here's where I need your expert advice and your permission to use you as a source for my research. My professor wants an explanation of my 200 book/item core collection including percentages. I'm finding a couple of collection percentage sources, but not many, and not many that actually make sense to me. Tell me if this is too much of a pain in the ass to provide: What do you think the percentages of your library are? Fiction, non-fic by dewey section, magazine, reference, audio/playaways, online resources? A general guess would work just fine. Any idea would be fine. Second question (similar to the first, in fact, only slightly rephrased to get your personal opinion): If you had to create a core collection of 200 books for a general small high school library, how would you divide up your collection according to the above categories? I love, love, love you if you can provide any thoughts! Thank you! Am sure I'll be bugging you again soon!
First, just so you know, these are the types of questions that make me worry I'm going to be exposed as a fraud, as there are—I'm sure—widely divergent views on this subject, and the school library world can be shockingly judgmental and cut-throat. Okay, not really. But I do worry about being judged because of how I build a collection—in part because even after two years I still have yet to come up with a collection development plan, even though a collection in a shape such as mine badly needs such a plan. But I never even wrote a collection development plan in grad school, and writing one in the midst of day-to-day "I need this now and by the way can you do a million other things" nonsense is almost too overwhelming to contemplate. So, if you ever need to write a collection development plan for a "hypothetical" library, let me know.
I don't think there's an "ideal" balance for a collection, as it really depends on the needs of your users. For example, my library is going to have a much larger circulating audio and video collection than many school libraries, because non-print sources are more of a focus given our population. And depending on the curriculum and which departments do the most research, you're going to weight your collection differently. Or, in the case of my library, there are a lot of history books at yard sales, so you end up with a lot of those (don't put that in your paper).
All that being said, here goes:
Fiction: At least 25%, possibly more. While a lot of research material is available online and through databases—and many students prefer using online sources for a lot of their research—pleasure reading is one of the things that remains primarily an off-line activity (at least for now). I think the world will, eventually, go e-book, but the technology and other issues are still troublesome and there is still a significant "digital divide" issue. Books require no additional technology or user manuals (unless, of course, you are foolish enough to read Ulysses).
I'm not going to distinguish between reference and circulating for the non-fiction breakdown, in large part because I spent a couple weeks earlier this summer interfiling the two collections. I could talk at length about the reasons I believe interfiling reference is a good thing to do (and will if you want me to), but for right now let's leave it at that.
000s—7%: Focusing primarily on "ready reference" and encyclopedic works. Good sources for general background information before delving into more specific research.
300s—8%: An area often used for research. Also, a great deal of educational and professional reference material would be in this section. A fair amount of high interest non-fiction as well.
600s—6%: I think the 500s and 600s are better represented in database sources, which are generally more current. Students will generally be doing research on contemporary issues, and by the time a book on climate change reaches my shelves, it's already outdated. It's still important to have solid reference sources in this section, however, as well as foundational materials.
700s—8%: Art books. Pictures. Also, sports and graphic novels fall in the 700s, which provide a lot of material for reluctant readers.
800s—7%: Assuming that you don't take "more important" books and classify these books in the 800s instead of fiction.
900s—10%: Generally, history does a lot of research, and currency is not as much of an issue as it is with Science materials.
I can't figure out how to include online resources, but I will say that a library should have, at minimum, access to a) a general online encyclopedia b) a science database c) a history database, and d) a general "liberal arts" database or databases that cover arts, literature, religion, etc.
As I look back over what I wrote, I'm not 100% confident that my answers are "right." I find purchasing decisions overwhelming, and I really wish I did have a collection development plan to give me some guidance. But the idea of coming up with a collection development plan is overwhelming, especially on my own. As much as I like being a one-librarian shop, sometimes I wish I had someone else who knew my collection and my curriculum and my school to help me make these sorts of decisions.
Sunday, September 20, 2009
Monday was the first day of my third year at this job; this means that I have now, officially, been here longer than the previous librarian. Which, I suppose means I need to officially stop thinking of myself strictly in terms of how I'm trying to repair the damage done by a long-neglected program. The previous librarian was, as far as I can tell, a good librarian—she was just not a very good school librarian, and there is a significant difference. Even before she was here, the library and library program had, clearly been neglected for many years (and I have a collection full of books from tag sales to show for it--really, what teen doesn't want to read a political biography from 1982? And yes, I'm weeding, but the conflicts inherent in weeding such a badly outdated collection are too much to get into in a parenthetical aside. Some other post). One of the things that quickly dawned on me when I started this job was that in addition to rebuilding a neglected program, I needed to pay some serious attention to changing how people viewed the library--and how the librarian was likely to treat them.
Now, two years later, it's finally starting to dawn on me that I don't have to constantly prove to everyone that I'm approachable, and helpful, and good at my job, and unlikely to shush them. It helps that at least a dozen faculty members and probably about half the students have never known a different librarian here; there are fewer and fewer people for whom I have to counteract negative memories of the library. But repairing attitudes towards the library is still a major part of my focus--in part because a lot of new students do not come in with positive associations with the library. (As a side note: One of our new faculty members--a graduate of the school--told me that after knowing me she had shifted her entire view of librarians as being cold and intimidating. Which kind of almost made me tear up.) Sometimes I worry, however, that by spending so much of my energy there that I end up neglecting the less visible parts of my job. Like cataloging and processing and curriculum development and my own professional development--the kinds of things that if I let slide too much or for too long will become visible parts of my job, but not in a good way.
As I was saying:
Monday was the first day of classes; Tuesday was the first day I had classes in the library for info lit sessions. I've been pushing the "get kids into the library early" agenda for a while, but was kind of unprepared to have someone take me up on it. I had played with the idea of having a formal library orientation through classes, but I think it's important to teach these skills in some sort of context--and not to overwhelm students with information that they're not going to be able to put to immediate use. Also, my students come from all sorts of educational backgrounds, so I like to get a sense of what students are and aren't comfortable with when researching, and I have yet to come up with a general orientation that lets me assess that as well as an assignment that's integrated into a content area class. It's a question I go round and round on--I want to be sure I see all new students (and even returning students) at the beginning of the year, get a sense of their abilities, and start teaching as soon as possible. But in order to do that I need teachers to bring their classes in, and most don't want to do research that close to the beginning of the year. They have a lot of assessing and reviewing and introductory material to cover as well.
Also, as someone working without a para or or any clerical support, I count on the beginning of the year to be quiet so I can get caught up on cataloging and processing and organizing and curriculum development and all the other things that fall by the wayside once things get busy. If things get busy on day two, when are those other things supposed to happen?
But here's what it all comes down to, and what I've been trying ineptly to say throughout this entire post: there are ups and downs and conflicts and confusions and crazy hours and constant demands and often more things to think about and consider and weigh than I can even conceive of (seriously, this post doesn't even cover the half of it), but despite all of that and more, I really, truly love my job and can't imagine being happy doing anything else. And if that means a life of falling asleep on the couch while writing navel-gazing blog posts, so be it.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Sunday, September 13, 2009
* Three spare shelves that I removed while shifting this summer
* A dust mask I wore while cleaning after the flu outbreak last winter
* Two defaced lampshades (one has "I'm on drugs!" written on it. The other has "I [heart] [phallic image])
* A Page-A-Day Origami calendar. Current date: February 27,2007
* A giant plastic container full of yarn, fabric, and knitting needles
* An unused newspaper rack (essentially a table without a tabletop)
* Several empty boxes that I refuse to get rid of, because as soon as I do I will need an empty box
* Two spare trashcans and a sheet of plastic in case the roof starts to leak again
* A laptop cooler. Or warmer. It has to do with temperature and your laptop; it came with the donation of ten boxes of musty, moldy books.
* A beading kit
* A toaster oven
Given all this, it's kind of amazing that my office isn't any more of a disaster.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
I do think we are slowly and most likely inevitably moving towards a world in which most information is accessed electronically, and we're not going to get there if we keep waiting for the "just right" moment to make a switch.
I don't think a $50,000 coffee shop—complete with $12,000 cappuccino machine—is necessarily indicative of a desire to be on the forefront of electronic access to school library material.
Electronic text has a lot to offer—one of the reasons I find it so appealing is that it is much easier to make electronic text accessible to students with print-based disabilities. But physical books still have their place, and we are still a ways away from having everything available electronically. I think moving towards increased electronic access makes sense, but making that move simply because books take up "too much space" seems short-sighted to me.
The most depressing part of this story for me is how sad the librarian is about the change. I can't imagine being in her position. If you're going to move this significant, the librarian should be completely on board—if she's not, I have a hard time believing that the change is in the best interest of the school.
A library is much, much more than its books. Just because the library has gone digital it doesn't mean that students and teachers will all of a sudden understand how to navigate all of this information; I would argue that information literacy instruction is even more important in after such a radical shift in how students and teachers access resources.
It may be possible to have a library without books. But this doesn't sound like a library without books. It sounds like a coffee shop.
I have approximately 511 linear feet of books in my library. While giving a presentation to teachers at my school last week I was reliably informed that this is not, technically speaking, a "fun fact."
I know that I have 511 linear feet of books because I measured—and, more specifically, because I handled every single one of them this summer. Actually, by the end, I probably had less than 511 feet, as I did some weeding as I shifted. After two years in my library getting to know how my students and colleagues approached the library and the task of research, I decided to interfile the Reference collection (I am never sure whether or not to capitalize that) with the Circulating collection. And while I was at it, why not do an inventory as well, given that I'm fairly certain the collection had never actually been inventoried.
I know there is much (occasionally heated) debate about the decision to interfile, but I've never really understood why the Reference section was separate in the first place—it seems to go against everything I know about collocation and making resources accessible to the user. I did keep a small (about one shelf's worth) collection of "Ready Reference" for quick facts, but my Reference Collection is most often used for in-depth research rather than looking up quick facts. I understand why we wouldn't want to check out books that are either frequently used or difficult or expensive to replace, but I don't understand why that means we have to shelve them in a separate place. Yes, I know that some people won't understand why some books can't be checked out even if they're all shelved together, but a significant number of people don't understand why they can't check out Reference books even when they're shelved separately, so that is not a compelling argument for me. What I've most often seen is that by shelving them separately students don't look at Reference books unless they are explicitly directed to them—which means some of the best resources frequently go unused.
This strikes me as similar to what we do when we classify some literature in the 800s rather than in the fiction section—a decision which often seems arbitrary to me. What is it about a book that makes it literary enough to qualify for a Dewey classification rather than a 'Fic' on the spine label? And given how rarely students browse for reading material in the 800s, these books—presumably ones we would like our students to read— are both out of sight and out of mind.
In the end, the books we deem "important" become the books that are most often overlooked.
As part of the shifting/interfiling process I, of course, also had to create all new signs for the endcaps (is endcap the preferred library term? That's what we called them when I worked at Barnes and Noble, and I can't think of anything else to call them). I remember when I first made signs indicating the Dewey range on each section of shelves. It was my first year at this school, and my first job as a librarian. I agonized and deliberated for hours about fonts, size, spacing and myriad other details. This time? Type, print, laminate, done. And it's not that I had more time my first year—there was the matter of the Reference section that sill needed to be cataloged and processed—but I think it is a small indicator that my confidence has grown. Well, maybe not that my confidence has grown, but that I'm freaking out about big important things, rather than small cosmetic things.
That's progress, right?