Sunday, January 31, 2010

Seeking subtitle

As I referred to in an earlier post, and as most of you know (thought it's recently been brought to my attention that people who are not friends and family have actually read this blog on occasion. Which is I suppose is part of the whole point of writing publicly, but it still feels weird), I have recently been promoted, in a manner of speaking. I wrote out a new job description and everything, which is quite long; I realized, however, that it doesn't include much in the way of new responsibilities--there's just a lot of different aspects to my job. It was oddly comforting, however, to see them all written out concretely--this is why I often feel overwhelmed.

The big additions to my job responsibilities include writing and implementing a research curriculum for the school. It's now currently possible--depending on the classes and teachers a student has during their time here--for a student to avoid doing any significant research until they are seniors--or possibly at all. While it's clearly needed--you can't really have a good library program without a clearly articulated curriculum--it's also a rather daunting task, and I'm still wrapping my head around it, but you can expect to hear more about as I figure it out. But this post is not about that--this post is about my job title.

My "official" title is now Director of Library Services and Research Instruction, which I'm somewhat conflicted about, as I believe that one's grasp on reality is inversely proportional to the length of one's job title. I still haven't changed the signature line on my e-mail, and I can't decide if I want to. I know I came up with the title and all, but it just seems so. . . pompous (and while I have an inkling what Clay Shirky might have to say about that, I am really okay with not coming off as a self-aggrandizing jerk). And part of me feels like a job title this long deserves a subtitle--ideally one that can be turned into an acronym. I'm more than open to suggestions.

I do, however, really like the idea of being a library director, particularly because my very first professor in library school made it abundantly clear to my class that a) none of us could ever be school librarians, and b) none of us would ever be library directors. Someday I hope Greg Byerly Googles his name and learns how very, very wrong he was, as I am a school library director less than three years after getting my degree. So there. And I will freely admit that part of the reason that I wanted the word "Director" to be part of my job title was because of him. Spite can be an excellent motivator.

I am, apparently, not the only one thinking about job titles. After Midwinter, AASL issued the following press release: AASL votes to adopt the professional title school librarian. While such an announcement is doubtlessly greeted by a mildly confused 'duh' by anyone outside the world of libraries who might be paying attention, I'm glad that the American Association of School Librarians has decided that its members should be referred to as. . . school librarians.

I am hoping the title "Media Specialist" dies a quick, quiet death. I understand the intention behind the title, but it's meaning was lost on me, and on most of the general public. I've been reading discussions on LM_Net, with some arguing vehemently on behalf of the title, saying it makes it clear to people that librarians are adept at using technology. I've stayed out of the discussion, because my only response is, "No, it doesn't." It makes us sound like some weird hybrid between librarians and the anchorman on the evening news. I'm pretty adept with a lot of different technologies, but I would never consider myself a "media specialist"; I'm an information specialist, regardless of the medium. And we already have an excellent title for people who are information specialists--librarian.

The services offered by and roles played by public library has continued to change as well, but they have not insisted on being called "Public Media Centers", nor are public librarians being called "media specialists." If part of what we're doing in school libraries is trying to create lifelong library users (which, I think it can be easily argued, it is), it makes sense that we share the same name as the libraries we hope our students will someday use.

For me, it comes back to sounding too self-important. The title "Library Media Specialist", like my new official job title, just sounds pompous to me--more about perception than action. Which is why, no matter what job role or title I take on, I'll always simply want to be known as a school librarian.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Today's lesson

Just because you've finally convinced a teacher who used to always bring her class to the library unannounced to sign up for info lit sessions in advance does not mean she will actually show up for the time she scheduled. Or for the time she re-scheduled after missing the first class.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

My first book trailer!

The author's coming here in April--and she loves the book trailer and wants to use it!

I used Animoto, which is one of those things I kept meaning to learn about; then a student came in and showed me exactly how easy it was.

Today's lesson

If you go to a kid's wrestling meet, he will bring back the book that's been overdue since December.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Are you %&*@ing kidding me? Redux

Banned dictionary to return to Riverside County school

Apparently the Menifee Union School District came to their senses and realized how ridiculous it was to pull dictionaries from classrooms. The dictionaries are back in the classroom and students are free to use this most basic of reference tools.

If they have a signed permission slip.

I would say that words fail me, but that's not exactly true. However, many of the words that come to mind are the kind of words that get dictionaries pulled from classrooms, and my mother has asked me not to swear so much on my blog.

Here's the thing: I am all about parents being involved in their child's education--in fact, I think it's crucial. But requiring a permission slip to use a dictionary is micromanaging your child's education, which is wrong. Educators are professionals, capable of making decisions about how to teach the students in their classrooms. They deserve to be treated as such. I could go into a much longer rant about this, but it would involve several of the words my mom doesn't like.

On the upside, students who aren't "allowed" to use these dictionaries will probably become fascinated by them, reading them by flashlight under the covers at night. I hope they learn all sorts of wonderful new words--and I hope they save the best ones for Thanksgiving dinner.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We already have a format that's inaccessible to LD students--it's called a book

Justice Dept. Settles Kindle-On-Campus Cases

This is an "old" story by now, but one that's been on my mind. There's a lot of buzz around various e-readers, and people inside and outside of school often ask me about Kindles, Nooks, and, recently, something called Blio (which hasn't been released yet, so I feel better about the fact that I know nothing about it). Because most e-readers have a built in text-to-speech function, a lot of people see them as a natural fit for students who need reading supports. And I agree that they have the potential to be incredibly useful.

Inevitably, of course, people ask if we have/when we will have/why we don't have Kindles/Nooks/e-reader of the moment in the library (which means I'm soon going to have to answer questions about the iPad with a straight face). I always feel oddly pressured in these moments--like I'm not doing something I really should be doing--but when I'm not on the spot, I do feel 100% confident in my decision not to purchase e-readers for the library. First, I don't feel like hitching myself to a particular wagon, especially when proprietary formats and digital rights management stuff is miles away from being figured out. What if I invest thousands in a collection of books for the Kindle, only to have the next great e-reader come out six months later? Will my collection transfer? Doubtful.

Also--as the above news story illustrates--while e-readers have the potential to be very useful for students with learning differences, they're not exactly designed from a universal design/assistive tech perspective. AT applications happened more by accident than by design. I also can't figure out if these e-readers support the file formats that are designed to be accessible to students with learning differences--whether that be DAISY, or Kurzweil, or whatever new program may be developed. All of the commercially viable e-readers I've seen have been designed with pleasure reading in mind, not curricular reading, and those are two different types of reading. Again, there may be features that support curricular reading, but they're not being designed with such features in mind. I am interested to see the results of these studies, as I think they will provide a baseline as e-readers inevitably make their way into the classroom.

There are a lot of interesting and exciting things happening in the development of both e-reader technology and making text more accessible to those with learning disabilities; they are, however, separate trajectories for the time being. But when that changes, I'll be first in line.

Are you %&*@ing kidding me?

'Oral Sex' Definition Prompts Dictionary Ban

a) Really? Seriously?

b) "'It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature,' district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus told the paper." Yeah, 'cause that seems like a productive use of everyone's time.

c) Really? No, I mean, really?

Looking up dirty words in the dictionary is a time-honored tradition. Heck, it's the only way some kids even become familiar with dictionaries. So for fear of a few "naughty" words, you're going to deny children access to this resource in the classroom. Yes, there are online dictionaries but:

a) you can just as easily--even more easily--look up forbidden knowledge there, and I doubt this district can purchase a classroom set of computers as easily as it can purchase a classroom set of dictionaries.

b) one of the things I love about print dictionaries, and why I still use them even though it is so easy to look up words online, is their serendipitous nature; it's so easy to discover new words that you would never have come across looking up words online. That act of discovery is, in my opinion, particularly important for younger students who are still expanding their vocabularies.

Dictionaries--dirty words and all--belong in classrooms. I know no one from the Menifee Union school district reads this, but if you happen to come across it my advice to you is to use one of those forbidden dictionaries to look up the word "bowdlerize"--and remember that we don't remember Thomas Bowdler as a hero of education.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Reference Question of the Day

"Ms. K-M, is it true you can dunk a basketball?"

A sea of matching totebags

I am extremely conflicted about the ALA. Yes, I work at an American library, and I frequently associate with others who do so as well, but beyond that I've had a hard time seeing how the ALA benefits me--particularly as a school librarian, but even more so as an independent school librarian. Yes, AASL did just put out the Standards for the 21st Century learner, but the full documents are kind of pricey (even if I were a member), which is an interesting choice on the part of an organization that purports to prides itself on transparency. They also have a tendency to substitute letters for words (aka Learning4Life), which I find antithetical to education.

The ALA also tends to take positions on issues that have less than nothing to do with American Libraries. Look, I'm against the genocide in Darfur and the Iraq War, and I'm in favor of gay marriage and a public option in health care. But none of that has anything to do with libraries. When the ALA spends its time on such topics, it dilutes the main issue they should be working on--American Libraries. This lack of focus has consequences, and the ALA has not been particularly effective public policy-wise. Politicians love to show themselves as being pro-education, yet years of effort have not resulted in anything about school librarians (despite plenty of studies showing how we help increase standardized test scores) being including in education reform. And while I have decidedly mixed feelings about national education policy, not being able to jump on that bandwagon is just. . . weak.

However, the ALA Midwinter meeting was in Boston this year, and such events tend to have a few good speakers and plenty of free stuff, so I went.

The first event I went to was an author forum called "Page to Screen" or something like that, about the process of having a book turned into a movie. I found the real-time close-captioning more interesting than the actual discussion for a few reasons:

a) I only knew of two of the authors, had read none of their books, and hadn't seen any of the movies.
b) Real-time close-captioning is hard, and it was fascinating to watch--how quickly, it happened, the mistakes that were made, the sometimes instant corrections. It's really interesting from a Universal Design perspective, and I was trying to imagine what it would be like to only be able to read what was being said, without the benefit of hearing some of the things that were mis-represented in print.
c) Because I got there super-late it was easier to see the giant close-captioning screen than even tell there were people at the front of the room.

After that I hit the Exhibitions Hall. I should not be allowed in a room full of free books. I exercised little to no control (thanks again, Jen, for lending me a suitcase)--but, I managed to score ARCs of the third book in Michael Grant's Gone series, Christopher Moore's new book, and the new book co-authored by John Green and David Levithan. I also spent some money by signing up with the Junior Library Guild, which will probably get me in trouble with the CFO, but I should be able to smooth that over, as signing up there meant 24 free books.

Because I'm not an ALA member, and therefore not a member of committees or round tables or action squads or whatever else the ALA forms, I had nothing I *needed* to be at, which was nice. It also meant I was able to be near the front of the line, and get a seat third-row center, to see Al Gore speak. 2000 was the first presidential election I was able to vote in, and I voted for Al Gore. While the way that election played out was a little disillusioning, I have become an even greater admirer of Gore's and the work he's done since then. He's an excellent speaker, very funny, very engaging. And, he was signing books after his speech, so I:

a) got a book signed by Al Gore.
b) was standing within three feet of him
c) oh-so-suavely replied "Thank you," when he said, "How are you?"

Right after the signing I met Sara Kelly Johns, the former AASL president who's running for ALA president; this kind of pales in comparison to an Al Gore-encounter, but she actually knew who I was! Kind of. Obviously our names are very similar, but when she saw my name tag (we were both digging in our bags at the time) she said something along the lines of, "You're the other Sara Kelley! I see your name all the time!" Which is weird, and cool. Clearly the similarity in our names means she was more likely to notice it, but I didn't realize my name was out there enough for anyone to notice it at all.

Which--at the very real risk of making this post even more ridiculously long--brings me back to Friday night, when I ran into a colleague from CASL on the Exhibition floor. She's encouraging me pretty strongly to run for VP Intern of CASL (a position I would pretty much be guaranteed to win, as they can't find anyone else to run). As VP Intern they pay my way to all the national conferences--and I am expected to become VP and then president of CASL. While I like the idea of being president of a state-wide organization before turning 35, I'm nervous about taking such a task on. I'm going to be writing and implementing a new research curriculum next year as part of my new job description (more on that in another ridiculously long blog post to come, I'm sure). My full-time job keeps me pretty busy as it is. Is it reasonable to think I can take this on?

On the other hand, I think being a leader in my field is important--not so much in the sense of being on the cutting edge of everything and saying "this is how you do it," but in the sense of helping shape the direction my field goes in and bringing colleagues together in order to make that happen. CASL is in need of leadership, and I'd feel like something of a hypocrite if I didn't step up to the plate. The colleague I was talking to--a former CASL president--was very encouraging; she said that she thought I'd be great at it, and that I had an "aura" of a leader about me. Which is pretty awesome, if overwhelming.

I'm leaning towards taking this on. It's something I wanted to do eventually, but it's also one of those things that there's always a good reason to put off--next year when it's not so busy, in two years when things have quieted down, in X years after X, Y, and Z projects are done. There's never a perfect time.

I have more thoughts on this, but I'll spare you. For now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

And by "library" they mean "me"

We had a professional development on our first day back from Winter break, and as part of it we all filled out a survey in which (in part) we ranked different departments in the school as Poor, Mediocre, Average, Good, or Excellent. Today at the faculty meeting the head read aloud the departments who had a significant majority of rankings that were Good or Excellent.



So that's pretty cool. I know (because I asked) that 93% of people ranked the library as Good or Excellent. And, of course, because I'm me, the only thing I can think is "What's up with the other 7%?"

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I mean, like, really stupid

This is another thing I've unearthed from my feed reader:

There's a lot I could think to say about this, but most of it's covered in the post itself, and I'm currently so deep in work that I'm breathing through my eyes, but I will add this: Our current copyright laws are stupid.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

A librarian by any other name would still smell as. . . do librarians have a distinctive smell?

I've been attempting to catch up on my listserv messages and feed reader this week (a potentially futile effort--we are quickly approaching the point where I simply mark all as read and move on with my life). Shortly before Christmas there was a flurry of messages on LM_Net with the subject "slap in the face", and despite the knowledge that the messages were probably not crucial to my professional development and that it might be better to instead focus my limited time on other messages, I am helpless to resist when it comes to slappin'.

The upshot of the original message was that a student (elementary-aged if I remember correctly) came into the library and told the librarian that her (the student's) mom said she wasn't going to get the librarian a Christmas gift, as she was doing for other teachers, because she wasn't a "real teacher." Which sucks, yes. The discussion from there went in several directions: people who had been similarly insulted, to people who had gotten nice gifts, to other types of teachers in schools who are often neglected, to people who recognized that this was not actually about getting a gift but more about feeling unrecognized as an important part of a student's education.

The thread I found most interesting/annoying was about the things we could do to "make" people recognize that librarians are also teachers. Several people suggested that librarians should display all degrees and credentials, which just strikes me as not the ideal way to make people understand what you do and why you do it. The ideal way, in my opinion, is to actually be good at your job. People will notice that far more than they'll notice that you have a bunch of degrees hanging in your office. And I say this as someone who was publicly thanked in a faculty meeting this morning, yet has only a vague idea as to where one of my diplomas is (I think it's in a box. Probably under some other things. The other one might be on top of a bookshelf? Maybe?).

I know which degrees many of my colleagues have, but there are also several whose educational backgrounds I am unfamiliar with. I could easily find out all of them, as they're available on our website. But I don't look, and I don't care. Because I have much more crucial information about all of them--I work with them. And if I can't get the information I need about them as educators from seeing them in action, I'm not going to get a lot of useful information from a piece of paper on their office wall.

The other thread I found interesting was about what we ("we" being school librarians) should be called. I've been giving some thought to titles lately, as mine is about to change significantly (more on that later). I like school librarian or even just plain ol' librarian, and I know people who insist on library media specialist, and many who prefer teacher librarian, and I think they're all fine. Though, ideally, I just want the teachers and students I work with to simply know me as "Ms. K-M." My title should be strictly secondary. I get that a job title--and my credentials--can be a useful shorthand when communicating with people who don't work with me regularly, but I don't see the point of being insistent about it when dealing with people I work with on a daily basis.

Since I'm trying to cultivate a reputation for bizarre analogies, I'm going to go ahead and use one here. Every once in a while I'll come across a discussion about last names--specifically, whether or not women should change theirs when they get married. Without fail, some troglodyte will argue that a woman needs to change her name because otherwise how will people know that she's his wife. And the children. Won't someone think of the children? Because if everyone's last names don't match, people won't know that the kids are his. Whenever I come across this argument, I can't help but think that if the only way people will know you're a family is if everyone's last name is identitical you have larger issues than mis-matched monograms.

I don't care if my colleagues know what degrees I have. I don't care what they think my job title is--if they even think about it at all. I just care that they think of me as knowledgeable, effective, and passionate about what I do.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Seriously, if it's still snowing, how is it "spring" semester?

Spring semester starts tomorrow, though the weather is making it difficult for me to think in terms of "spring semester." The second half of the year is when most research gets done (I've already fielded a couple of scheduling requests); it's also right around the time most people have forgotten everything I presented during my PD workshops at the beginning of the year. I'm trying some new things this year--including a Collaborative Planning Form--that will hopefully give some focus and direction to the research process here, though I'm also prepared to hit some of the speedbumps I've hit time and again.

No matter how excited or informed people are about the library at the beginning of the year, it's hard to maintain that over the course of a school year (never mind the people who never seemed to get the message in the first place). In an effort to a)remind people what goes on in the library and b)show off some of the new things I'm doing, I put copies of the following poem (I got the idea off LM_Net a while ago) and a homemade chocolate chip cookie in everyone's mailbox in the faculty room.

If You Give a Teacher a Cookie
(with apologies to Laura Numeroff)

If you give a teacher a cookie,
Chances are, she’ll stop by the library to say, “Thanks.”
While she’s there, she’ll probably look at all the magazines we have.
She’ll want to check some out,
And maybe grab some back issues.
Then she’ll see the shelves of videos,
And the section of professional reference books.
She’ll ask about putting some books on course reserve,
And about making articles available electronically.
She’ll probably look around and notice books about everything!
She’ll want to know about the library catalog, and the databases, and
Setting up a class blog or wiki, and scheduling classes to come into the library.
All that discovering will make her hungry,
And when she goes to the desk to check out her books,
She’ll probably ask if you have any more cookies.

People will either find this endearing or obnoxious. We'll see how it goes.