Sunday, May 30, 2010

Conversations I couldn't make up if I tried

At the Senior Dinner tonight I was explaining to one of my advisees that later in the evening a faculty member would be roasting the Senior class.

"You mean they're going to cook the Seniors?!"

Later, as we were sitting the auditorium waiting for the ceremony to begin he asked, "When is the barbecue happening?"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Clearly, the best part of summer

I have officially(ish) launched the Summer Reading program. The video below played at morning assembly yesterday (without sound, which I'm trying very hard not to be bothered by, but being largely unsuccessful; I have, however, made it a solid three days without crying at work, and I'm not willing to break that streak quite yet).

I'm really excited about the Summer Reading program this year, for a few reasons. The main reason is because I'm a big nerd, which probably goes without saying (as I start to wrap things up in the library for the end of the year, I've started a shelf of my own summer reading, which has now grown beyond any sort of realistic expectations. But I will probably still add to it).

The other big reason I'm excited is because of how the Summer Reading program is changing and growing. I've been lucky in that the English department chair here not only humors all of my ideas, but encourages them. My first year here we re-did the Summer Reading list in order to fill it completely with high-interest young adult titles; now, when I work on the list I'm able to fill it with the best things I've read over the past year (along with some older titles and suggestions from faculty); my summer reading often becomes a large part of the following year's Summer Reading list.

This year we're changing it even more. When Reading Rainbow was canceled (which I found really upsetting, despite not knowing it was actually still on the air) I heard someone on NPR talking about the difference between Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow; Sesame Street was about how to read, while Reading Rainbow was about why to read. That really resonated with me, and I started thinking about how a Summer Reading program is the why to the regular school year's how; so I went to the English department with an idea about how we could change how Summer Reading is assessed. This year, instead of writing an essay, students will have several options, including writing a book talk, creating a book trailer, making a poster, or creating a work of art that reflects the book they read in some way. We pick the Summer Reading books because we want students to like them and be excited about the books and about reading; what better way to capitalize on that excitement?

The final reason I'm excited--and the thing my mother thinks I've spent too much time on, but I don't care--is the Summer Reading promotional. . . stuff. The past few years I've done recorded book talks with Audacity and posted them on the library wikispaces page. After seeing the success I had with the book trailers I created for the author visit in April, I decided I wanted to do more of them. Initially, my plan had been to create book trailers for all the books, but in the end it ended up being about half, because a) it's hard to think in images for all these books and b) there are only so many hours in a day, and I got started way too late. I did step up my game on the book talks, adding in music I found on Jamendo (which I am now completely in love with, by the way). I would like to learn more about video creation and editing, so I could make some non-Animoto trailers, but that's a project for another day.

The whole list and all the book talks and trailers are here, should you care to humor me and check some of them out: Summer Reading 2010

There are a couple book trailers I want to highlight, because they're for two of my favorite books on the list, and I'm really happy with how they came out.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reference Question of the Day

Why is it that trees don't make noise when they fall if no one's around?

Apparently, a lack of planning on your part does constitute an emergency on my part

I know it's been a while since I've written a post with much substance--there are many reasons for that, of varying levels of validity. It's been "research season" at school, which means I'm busier than usual (and more brain dead than usual when I do have down time). I've also been putting together a presentation for a grant proposal I wrote about increasing the availability of assistive tech on campus; that happened on Tuesday, and I should know the final decision on it in mid-June. And I've been working on the Summer Reading program (which I will write more about later). So it's not that I haven't had anything to say; it's just that--as anyone who's talked to me in real life in the past few weeks can tell you--sentence formation has not been my strong suit.

There is one significant issue I've been grappling with, and it's one I'm regularly confronted with, particularly when there are a lot of research papers and projects going on; I've resisted writing about it for many reasons, but mostly because not only do I not have a sense of what the right answer is, I'm not sure I know what my right answer is.

One of my guiding principles is that I won't do research for students. I will show students where to search. I will help students devise search terms. I will guide them in effective database usage. I will try--and mostly fail--to clearly explain the difference between keywords and subject headings. I will resist the urge to wail and gnash my teeth (at least openly) when a student refuses to believe me when I tell them that search engines and databases don't understand natural language (and remain patient when a student asks why I just don't invent one that does, as it would make life easier). I will sit next to a student as long as necessary to help them find the sources they need and cite them properly. I will keep my hand off the damn mouse and let them do the work.

But I will not do the research for the student.


All of my principles and beliefs work just fine when students start the research process when they're supposed to, and come for help (for which I am readily and frequently available, and routinely rearrange my schedule to provide), and ask for help once they're run into a dead end. None of my principles and beliefs work at all when a student (or, a couple times this semester, their parent) comes to me less than 24 hours before a paper is due, hopelessly lost about what they need or where to find it.

I want to do exactly what I do with other students--sit them down at a computer, put their hand on the mouse, and walk them through the research process. But that whole process takes time. And when a student is in the middle of a full-scale-freakout, the last thing they have is the time or patience needed to do research. And so that is the point at which I often end up taking over the mouse and finding resources for (or, I like to delude myself, with) a student. I say "click here, click here, print this, here's the source you need." I try and throw in some incidental instruction, but I know none of that sticks. And it drives me crazy.

In those moments I want to be able to say, with a clear conscience, "I'm sorry, but you've waited too long." It hardly seems right that the students who didn't plan and didn't make the effort get the most research "help." And I know, in the long term, that the students who plan properly and start early and actually learn research skills will be better off, academically, in the long run. And I know, in the long term, that students who don't develop these skills in high school will reap the consequences of poor planning and researching skills. Or they won't. 'Cause chances are there will always be someone like me who is willing to compromise their principles in order to help students find information. Because that is, after all, another core principle of librarianship.

Trying to hold the line between teaching students and doing the research for them becomes infinitely more difficult any time the process involves a) tears b) irate parents or c) both. And anything I can do to neutralize tears or parents is, in that moment, the right choice. Because as much as I would like to be able to tell students that they've waited too long and will need to throw themselves at the mercy of their teachers, that is not a viable option.

But here's the thing that I think rankles most about this whole issue. The students who wait to the last minute and come to me in a panic? The students who demand resources--usually late at night--immediately if not sooner? The students who, by some measures, get the most help? Also the students least likely to say thank you.

If I'm going to compromise my principles for you, the least you could do is show a little gratitude.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Reference Question of the Day

Student: Ms. K-M, Do you *mumble mumble* nine *mumble mumble* currency *mumble*?

Me: What?

Student: You know, in Europe.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Today's lessons

1) Putting "Could you help a brother out" as the subject of your e-mailed request for research help gets your question answered first.

2) On crappy, stress-filled days (er, weeks), seeing this:

helps a lot.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Today's lesson

Referencing the title of a 13-year-old rap song at a vaguely appropriate moment will give you mad street cred amongst upper-middle-class white boys in Connecticut. Yo.