Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Today's Lesson

Even if you obsess over where to put your barcodes, you will still forget where they are when checking out new books. You will also forget five minutes later when you have to do it again.

Effect and Cause

I finally took the time to watch PBS's Digital Nation this weekend; I chopped vegetables and folded laundry while doing so, in a semi-deliberate attempt to totally miss the point about multi-tasking. It's well worth the 90 minutes--lots of thought-provoking stuff. They offered more questions than answers, which is only appropriate for an area in which we don't have a lot of answers yet.

Near the beginning Sherry Turkle (who was talking about student multi-tasking in class) said, "They need to be stimulated in ways they didn't need to be stimulated before." Which is a line of thinking I've heard before, and one I don't really buy 100%.

We seem to allow ourselves and others get really casual about proving causation when it comes to the use of new technologies, particularly by students. Just because students are adapting (sometimes somewhat obsessively) to new technologies, it doesn't mean that the technology created the need for stimulation; it seems more likely that the technology filled the need for stimulation. If you've been even casually aware of educational trends for any length of time, you'll realize that the need for stimulation is not new. Heck, if you've ever been a student you'll realize this. I remember zoning out in boring classes in high school, spending time doodling in my notebook, or doing work for other classes. I remember one girl who regularly spent class time painting her nails. Sure, these were less obvious distractions than more contemporary technologies, but you can't convince me that students' desire to occupy their brains in some way during classes that don't stimulate them is somehow a new trend.

The other, similar argument I hear regularly is that kids today are "wired differently." Until I'm shown actual brain scans that show that today's students have made sudden, drastic evolutionary leaps, I refuse to believe that students are actually "wired" differently. The way they meet the need for stimulation is different, but the need is the same as it has always been.

One of the things that struck me as I watched Digital Nation is that they were using shots of students fooling around on their computers during class to show how distracted students were during class. Only all of these shots were taken in large lecture halls, where students were expected to be passive. I've sat in those large lecture halls. Some of you have sat in them with me. And I guarantee you that even though I was a good student who was frequently interested in the topic, if I'd had a laptop in class I also would have been distracted by it. Because large lecture halls and classes that don't actively engage students in their own learning are boring.

The need to actively engage students in their own learning has always been there--but the introduction of new technologies into the classroom has made it more urgent. Many teachers seem to be looking for a way to "change" students, to make them put down the electronics and go back to being "good students." But the students haven't changed; they need the same things they always have, that we haven't been giving them for ages. So we, as teachers, have to be the ones who change.

Which is not to say I think we need to be all stimulation all the time. The other part of the series that really resonated for me was from the extended interview with Sherry Turkle, called The Need for Stillness. I believe that as librarians we are in a unique position to help provide the space and structure for quiet reflection--which is vitally important to the process of both consuming and producing knowledge.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Technology Tip: Don't use school-issued laptops to spy on kids at home

First, from boingboing: School used student laptop webcams to spy on them at school and home
(pay special attention to the last paragraph.)

Next, from CBS: Suit: Schools Spied on Students Via Webcam

And also from SafeKids.com:
Suit claims school used webcams to spy on students at home

Now, from me:
For. The. Love. Is there some sort of megalomania screening tool we can use when hiring school administrators? Or really anyone? I've never really listened to any of the "nanny state" ranters, but things like this make it seem like those people make some sort of sense, and that's annoying.

The thing that I think I find most frustrating about this is that people will point to it as being an example of why "technology is bad" and how we should be wary when letting students use computers in school (or out)--a line of argument that shows a real lack of critical thinking (or basic literacy) skills on the part of the person making that argument. The technology didn't DO anything here; it was the PERSON using the technology that created was spying on students and their families and invading privacy.

Technology is neither good nor bad. It simply IS. Until we have fully sentient computers, you will not convince me that there is anything inherently "bad" or "wrong" about using technology. The bad things that happen are the direct results of the people using the machines, and they are the only responsible parties. Which is yet another reason why--rather than sticking our fingers in our ears and saying "lalalala-technology-is-bad-lalalalala" we need to educate students in how to be responsible, ethical, and adept users of technology.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Today's lesson

A book of Zombie Haiku can be a fast and effective means of calming anxiety.

She is still begging
But no longer for my help.
She wants her nose back.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Speaking of librarian OCD

When the library was automated, the way the videos were cataloged was. . . odd. Videos were separated by broad Dewey ranges, and then just assigned a number in order. So, for example, the first history video that was cataloged was given number 900; the second was 901, and so on. Only there were more than 100 history videos, so the overflow went in the 200s. Which was one of many problems. It was impossible to find things, and browsing didn't work at all, even though the collection was pretty small. I might have two really excellent videos on a topic, but odds are they were nowhere near one another. And, as I believe I've covered, I'm a big believer in collocation.

And, as you can probably tell, it drove me crazy.

"Re-classify the video collection" has been on my list of projects since my first year here, but it always seemed like a daunting task, as I'm not super confident in my ability to assign Dewey numbers, and finding good MARC records for videos is not always as easy I'd like; I could find other libraries that had these videos, but the call numbers would usually be assigned based on some bizarre local system, and not Dewey.

I started small, as I have with my recent shift in where I put the barcodes. New videos that came in got a Dewey number, everything else stayed as is. Which basically took the problem I had before and made it worse. Now videos on a topic could be in any one of three places.

But changing it seemed overwhelming. There were A LOT of videos. And then I had one of those brilliant-yet-completely-obvious ideas--I could just get rid of a bunch of the videos.

So that's what I did. I weeded mercilessly, which the section desperately needed anyway. Most of the videos were on VHS, which is an obsolete technology. There are, maybe, a handful of VCRs on campus, and none will be replaced as those wear out. Also, the videos themselves were OLD, and had not been stored in a way that would make them last (i.e., they were usually kept in direct sunlight, as I don't have any sort of window coverings or climate control). So I did "The Great VHS Giveaway of 2010" and many have found their way to new homes where they will actually be put to use (the rest go to the great VCR in the sky.

After purging over half the collection, reclassifying seemed less daunting. I wasn't super-exacting with the Dewey numbers, focusing mostly on getting the videos classified in a way that it would be possible for teachers to easily find what they're looking for. The numbers are accurate--just not to every last decimal place, which I'm okay with.

Because just having them with Dewey numbers at all and organized in a way that makes sense makes me feel so much less crazy when I look at them.

Today's lesson

Just because you keep your overdue library book for two extra months, and then send a teacher to return it rather than bringing it back yourself, does not mean I won't notice how badly you damaged the book. 'Cause dude, the pages aren't connected to the spine at all; I'm going to notice something like that.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Front left horizontal? Back right vertical? What's a girl to do?

I received my most recent book order yesterday. And as I went to catalog them today, I was faced with the question I try to avoid every time I add new books to my system: Where should I put the barcode?

When my library was first automated, the barcodes were placed on the endpaper of the book. (Usually. Sometimes it was a page or two in, sometimes it was on the inside of the book cover. But mostly on the endpaper.) This is a minor pain when checking books out, but not a huge deal. When I did an inventory this summer and had to scan every barcode, which meant taking every book off the shelf, opening it, finding the barcode, and scanning it? It was a GINORMOUS pain.

Since doing the inventory (well, before that, but particularly since that), I have been thinking about changing the barcode placement on my books. But my deeply ingrained need for consistency made it hard for me to change. I have A LOT of books with barcodes on the end paper--if I change now it will be YEARS, maybe even decades, before all of my barcodes are in a consistent place. This has serious potential to drive me crazy.

So when I started processing my new book order today I grabbed the first book at put the barcode on the endpaper. And looked at it. And realized, in one of those crystallizing moments they use an example when teaching about epiphanies, that I was being an idiot.

So I grabbed the next book, and placed the barcode vertically on the upper right hand corner on the back of the book. And it makes so much sense. It's the easiest location for inventory, it rarely if ever obscures important information, and will also make checking books in and out easier.

These little shifts can make a huge difference, but they seem like an overwhelming undertaking, because--if you're anything like me--you feel the need to change everything all at once. And, ideally, I would love to move all the barcodes on my books, but that is nowhere near being realistic. So I make an incremental change, and wait for the rest of the library to catch up. I have to start somewhere. It will take time, but it's the right thing to do.

It's still going to drive me slightly crazy, though.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Thank you in advance

If you care about school libraries at all--and if you're friends with me, you better care at least a little, or we're in a fight--please take the time to write President Obama and your Congresspeople to ask them to restore funding for school libraries to the FY2011 Budget. You can read more about the story here: President Obama Proposes Eliminating Federal School Library Funds

Buffy Hamilton, the Unquiet Librarian, responds quiet eloquently here: An Indecent Proposal

My letter to President Obama (which I adapted from Hamilton's letter) is below.

Not sure what to write? Feel free to copy either my letter or Buffy Hamilton's.

Not sure where to send your letter? Find out here: Contact Elected Officials


Dear Mr. President:

Recently I learned through the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians that your FY 2011 education budget does not include any additional specific funding for school libraries, additional school librarians, or statues mandating certified school librarians for every state. Equally disappointing is the news that the Improving Literacy for School Libraries grant program has been all but put out of reach for school libraries with the FY 2011 budget proposal that will absorb this grant program into a variety of other Department of Education programs.

When you delivered the keynote at the ALA Conference in Chicago in 2005 you said, "At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. It's an enormous force for good." For many children the library that "hooks" them is the school library. Many young children don't have ready access to their public libraries, for any number of reasons--and often those libraries are also inadequately funded, or may not have programs that specifically meet the needs of younger children. School libraries, however, are always accessible to the students they serve, and are designed to instill in them a love of learning and reading. Without well-funded, professionally staffed school libraries, those students may never have that transformative moment you spoke of.

In October of 2009 I was heartened to read your official proclamation for National Information Literacy Awareness Month. I, and many other school librarians, cheered your recognition of the importance of information literacy--and what seemed to be your recognition of the crucial role libraries and librarians play in teaching students to how to find and evaluate information. You privilege information literacy as being equally important to the traditional literacies and mathematics, yet you are providing no additional funding to provide all schools the primary teachers of information literacy, school librarians. Why are you providing funding for additional resources and teachers to support reading, writing, and mathematics, yet you ignore funding for the experts who are most ready, willing, and able to teach information literacy to our nation’s students in grades K-12: school librarians. Are you aware that not all states legally mandate a fully certified school librarian? Did you know that many school libraries do not have a full time certified school librarian? Do you think students can become informationally fluent in the absence of rich, current, and diverse collections in their school libraries or appropriate access to digital content? How can we as a nation provide students the instruction needed to help students cultivate “the ability to seek, find, and decipher information” without fully funded libraries staffed by highly qualified, certified school librarians?

As an independent school librarian, I am less directly affected by these funding decisions. But making students--students who will one day join the work force, and vote, and run for public office, and are the next generation of this country's leaders--information literate citizens is in everyone's best interest. Finding information and separating, as you said in your proclamation, "truth from fiction and signal from noise" will become an increasingly more complex skill. But the life decisions we make using that information will become no less crucial. We need citizens who can find and evaluate the information needed to make those decisions.

I became a school librarian because I believe, passionately, that these skills are vital to both our individual and collective success. These skills have the most resonance when taught in the overall context of the school curriculum, and driven by students' own inquiry and desire for knowledge. If you say you support information literacy as the cornerstone of a democratic society and informed citizenry, then you must not marginalize school libraries and librarians, and consequently, the students we serve.

We are already dealing with the aftermath of a financial crisis that was brought about, at least in part, by an inability to effectively evaluate information, to separate truth from fiction and signal from noise. Our collective ability to avoid and navigate future crises--of all kinds--will depend upon our having the skills that school librarians teach.

There is still time to restore and increase funding for school libraries. We will pay to prepare students to answer the questions of tomorrow, or we will pay when they don't have the answers. And the price tag for the latter is much, much larger.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My Second Book Trailer!

I finished my second ever book trailer this morning (for the book by the other author who's coming in April). These are really hard for me, as I don't really think in images; I'm a text kind of girl. But I'm pretty happy with how this one came out.

I'm embedding the YouTube version of this one--did I mention I have a YouTube channel now? I don't know how I feel about that. Right now my two book trailers are the only videos there, but if I keep doing book trailers (which I hope to do) I will probably develop that a bit more.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Reference Question of the Day

Student [pointing to a passage in which a grandmother explains to her granddaughter that her breasts are still round and perky because she soaks them in ice water every night]: Ms. K-M, is this true?