Monday, June 28, 2010

I know I said I didn't want to check any luggage. . .

I’m still thinking and writing about ALA (more posts coming soon. Ish.), but am now in Denver at ISTE for the second leg of this whirlwind conference tour of mine. Got into Denver late last night and was immediately overwhelmed this morning upon walking into the Convention Center. ALA was, I thought, huge, but it was child’s play compared to this. So many people, and the Exhibits Hall is total sensory overload.

I’ve only made it to one formal session so far—a very cool workshop on National Geographic’s new map tools. Very cool, very user friendly way to look at multiple layers of geographic data. I can’t wait to play with it some more. There’s also a very techie “poster session” area which is absolutely littered with portable interactive whiteboards. There have to be hundreds of the things in this building. I doubt anyone would notice if I just took one. . .

Saturday, June 26, 2010

You Shall Know Us By Our Totebags

I spent my first day at ALA doing a lot of non-ALA type things. I decided not to do the Independent School Tour (it was more than I wanted to spend), and instead spent some time at a couple Smithsonian museums. I did come back in time for the “Conference 101” session run by the NMRT (New Members Round Table; on a related note, there are two solid pages devoted to deciphering acronyms in the Conference Planner. Just sayin’). It was good, but not exactly what I was hoping it would be; I wanted some real strategy-type tips, not just “yeah, there is a lot to do” speeches. However, given that the session is for so many different types of librarians looking for so many different types of things, it does have to be rather general. Perhaps there should be opportunities for one-on-one (or small group) guidance for new conference attendees; I know I got my best information from my colleague/roommate, a conference veteran.

After the NMRT session (which I left a little early), I headed over the Convention Center in order to get a good spot in line for the opening of the Exhibits Hall. Wow. I’d spied on the Exhibits Hall under construction the day before (which was sort of like seeing how food is made) in order to attempt strategy development. My colleague told me to head for Random House and Harper Collins first, as they typically did the best giveaways; I also looked up the publishers for two books I was interested in, so I could be sure to get my greedy little hands on the Advanced Readers Copies if they were available. It’s all about strategy. And throwing elbows.

This ended up being a good plan, since right as I walked in to the Harper Collins booth I saw someone I thought I recognized, though his face was obscured by a video camera, so it was hard to be sure. But as I got closer, I was sure: it was John Green! I would like to say I was super smooth in introducing myself and talking to him, but I think it would be more accurate to report that I was a stammering fangirl. Still, it was pretty awesome. He has several readings happening over the course of the weekend, all of which are happening at times I have to be somewhere else, and I was bummed that I wouldn’t get to see him. So meeting him in person worked out pretty well.

All in all I collected about 18 ARCs, including Patrick Ness’s Monsters of Men, which may or may not have made me squeal for joy. I also scored E. Lockhart’s new book, Real Live Boyfriends and Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares, the new book by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan. I am beyond excited about these books, but I know I can’t start reading them until after I get back from Denver, because if I start them I won’t want to put them down.

I do need to go back to the Exhibits Hall and really check out the vendors; by the time I’d gathered all my ARCs (and, thankfully, a couple more totebags) I was suffering from a severe case of Totebag Shoulder and was in no condition to have productive conversations with vendors. Mostly I would talk to them just for the opportunity to put my bags down for a while; I should be able to go back during lunch tomorrow while I am slightly less weighted down by stuff.

After that it was off to Affiliate Assembly, which I am still trying to get a handle on. I didn’t participate a whole lot, but I’m still just trying to get the lay of the land. I did go out for drinks with a couple of my fellow Region 1 school librarians afterwards, which was great. The whole evening (and being in here in general) has me thinking a lot about leadership and involvement and state-level vs. national-level involvement in a way I can’t really articulate this late at night after a couple glasses of wine, so I’m going to hold off on that for now. I have a long day lined up for tomorrow, so I really should get some sleep.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


I wrote the previous post while on the train on my way to DC for ALA, and from there on to Denver for ISTE; I have (I hope) everything I will need for the next seven days packed into a carryon suitcase and my shoulder bag. I packed my clothes based on the assumption that I won’t, at any point, spill something on myself and need to change mid-day; we’ll see how that plays out.

I'm psyched about the next six days; these two conferences combined promise to be pretty geektastic. And, of course, many of the things I want to see and do are happening at the exact same time. I just checked in and picked up the conference program, which is not helping, a) because I'm finding even more things I don't have the time for but want to do and b) it is very big, and sort of confusing. Also, I checked in too early, and the totebags haven't arrived yet. What's a library conference without a sea of matching totebags?

We're (me and two colleagues from CASL) staying at the Renaissance Hotel, which is only a block from Convention Center. This is especially convenient because I was able to come here and use the wireless rather than being charged $13/day at the hotel.

I don't have much going on tomorrow until late in the day; I was going to go on the school tour being hosted by the Independent School Section, but I wans't interested enough in the schools on the tour to justify the cost. I'm going to spend some time at the Smithsonian and National Portrait Gallery instead. I lived in DC my first year out of college, and remember how to get around remarkably well for someone with my sense of direction. It would be even easier getting around if it weren't 8 bajillion degrees outside.

My plan is to write/blog throughout ALA and ISTE, rather than try and remember and summarize after it's all over. I know I'll be taking in a lot over the next several days, and I know taking the time to write and reflect while it's going on will help me remember more of it. I will try to only post things that might of interest/are coherently written, but I make no guarantees.

I'm going to go explore the Convention Center and see if I can get the lay of the land; it spans three city blocks, so I hope they don't mind if I leave a trail of breadcrumbs.

I’m not going to go for the completely obvious gardening analogy

I spent the first couple days of this week weeding my fiction collection; initially my plan was to weed fiction and 700s (arts) and 800s (literature) , but the fiction collection took a while—and produced a large number of discards—so I haven’t tackled the other sections yet. I’d like to get to them before the end of the summer, as it would mean that I would have weeded my entire collection in the last two years. From there, I would really like to write some sort of general collection development plan, but I feel like I need to have a better sense of my current collection before I can do that. Also, I have little to no idea about how to actually write a collection development plan, and I’m hoping to find a graduate student in need of a project before I get around to doing it myself. Which is unlikely to happen, but a girl can dream.

In any event, I did weed my fiction collection. When I started I had 1669 books (according to my last collection analysis; it was probably a bit higher than that in reality, as I’d done some purchasing since then). I weeded 612 books, which is about 36% of the collection. Which is, you know, a lot.

There are a lot of librarians who have a hard time weeding; they can’t bear the thought of parting with their books. Not me. I am rather merciless when it comes to weeding. I have very limited shelving, and no room to put in new shelves; it’s either weed or stop purchasing. And now that I’ve removed so many old, yellowing titles, the collection looks so much more inviting, and is far more browsable.

One of the biggest challenges in weeding is not which books to weed (yellowing paperback that crumbles when you touch it? Weed it. Book donated in 1967 and not checked out since? Weed it.), but what to do with the weeded books. Not having an idea of what to do with the books kept me from tackling this project for a long time. I hated the idea of just throwing the books away to become landfill fodder, but I also didn’t know how to go about recycling them. And some of the books would still probably be wanted by somebody, but totally didn’t fit my collection.

And so, I’ve come up with a multi-tiered plan. I’m lucky enough to have a friend at a public library that does a book sale; the top tier books will go to her. My school’s bookstore manager and I team up to give books to a company that will either sell or recycle them; the second-tier books go to them. And for this most recent round of weeding, I’ll be re-purposing about a quarter of what was weeded for dorm and classroom libraries.

Now why, you may reasonably ask, would I take books from the collection, only to put them elsewhere at the school? The year before I started here we won a large grant from YALSA, in which they gave us a ton of books. It completely revitalized our fiction collection; however, we also got multiple copies of the same books (in some cases we got multiple copies of the second or third book in a series; I feel it goes without saying that in most cases I did not have the first book in the series). For a lot of libraries having multiple copies of the same book makes a lot of sense, and there are some books for which I like to have multiple copies; however, that is not, by and large, how my collection is used. And four copies of a 250 page book takes up quite a bit of shelf space.

But these books are still very good and, particularly given the spirit in which they were donated, I would like to keep them. And after reading The Power of Reading by Stephen Krashen last year, I’ve become more and more convinced of the importance of having reading material widely available to students in places beyond the walls of the library. I created dorm libraries last year, and have managed to get enough donations to seriously up the quality of books that will be available next year; these books will serve to improve not only the quality but also the quantity of books available, increasing the odds that students will find something they like. I’m working on some ideas for promoting these “libraries outside the library”, but right now they’re still in the disjointed sentence fragment stage, so I’m going to wait before sharing.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Widget workshop on a Wednesday, and other non-alliterative thoughts

I went to a workshop on widgets today, taught by the wonderful Polly-Alida Farrington; if you work in a Connecticut library and haven't taken advantage of one of her workshops, you're missing out. I took her podcasting workshop my first year as a librarian, which is what got me started on creating recorded book trailers, and really helped me shape how I do reading promotion.

Today's workshop was also excellent, and still has me thinking of new ideas; this is one of the things I love most about Polly's workshops--in addition to feeling like I have a really solid of how to do something, you get a million reasons why you should do it. I keep a notebook open next to me throughout the workshop--not to take notes on what I'm learning, but to jot down ideas for how I can apply my new knowledge after the workshop.

I currently have a wikispaces page for my library's web presence, but I am growing increasingly fed up with its limitations. Up until now it's been where teachers posted homework assignments, but my school is getting a shiny new web portal for homework and other such things, meaning there's no real reason for me to maintain wikispaces. I'm not sure what the library presence will be like on the new site, or how much control I'll have over what it looks like (though I'm taking part in the training this summer--I'll be one of the "train the trainers" type people, which means I'll get a thorough look at the behind the scenes stuff. Given that, and given that my IT department knows I'm capable, I'm hoping I'll be able to have a fair amount of control when it comes to adding and manipulating library content).

But I know no matter how much I can do, there will still be some limitations. And given that I'm trying to become more professionally active outside of my school and do more presenting (hopefully even beyond the CASL Conference, though that first step was huge for me), and maybe even publishing (the first part of that would, of course, be writing something to submit for publication), I'm thinking more and more about creating my own website outside of my school's site. You know, in my spare time.

There are, of course, limitations to any free site, which would mean ponying up some cash. Which, no matter how little cash it actually is, feels like a commitment. Which could be a good motivator for working towards doing more presenting and writing. And I know some of this is just part of the post-workshop high, but the more I think about it, the more I like this idea. Once I learn what the library's presence will be like on my school's website, I'll be able to come up with a plan. If I can do most of what I want, this project moves to the back burner; if not, it gets moved up the list.

If and when I decide to go ahead with this plan, I can, of course, draw upon the wisdom of Hank Green. And, of course, sign up for Polly's Wordpress workshop.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Some good news, and some bad news

First, the bad news (if you're one of those people who prefers to get the good news first, you can skip to the second part of this post):

I don't think I've mentioned it here before, but I've spent a lot of time this year working on a grant application which would greatly expand access to assistive technology on campus. The overarching idea of the project (which started before I started working here) is to make the resources of the library universally accessible, regardless of learning disability. The big idea of the project was that we were going to make text-to-speech programs available on the network, rather than on stand-alone machines. There are, obviously, a lot of licensing and infrastructure costs involved--as well as training to do--but this project would have been a huge step forward for us, and I was really excited about it.

I found out on Friday that our grant request was denied.

I'm way less upset about it now than I was on Friday, but I'm still frustrated. The organization we were applying to had funded the early stages of this project, and--especially given that they also came for a visit to the school, for which I prepared a rather elaborate presentation--I felt fairly confident that we would at least get some, if not all, of the money we asked for. Based on their previous funding of the project, the fact that they'd invited us to apply, and their response during their actual visit, I don't think my optimism was unfounded. So mostly I was just shocked. Especially since one of the reasons they gave for not granting our request was that they're moving away from funding technology projects.

Which is fine, and their prerogative and all that, but it would have been helpful information to have a little earlier in the process. I feel like I spent six months barking up a non-existent tree. And it's not like all of a sudden the need for these funds has disappeared; we still need to move forward--though mostly likely more slowly than originally planned--with this project. So now begins the process of looking for other funding.

This whole "love your project but it's not the type of thing we're looking to fund" thing has got me thinking about mission statements. While mission statements can easily become vague and empty, well-written mission or vision statements provide a certain amount of clarity. The group we applied to funds all sorts of projects, which I think is great, but the general direction of their funding has shifted over the years, particularly as the membership changes. Having a well-crafted mission statement would provide clarity and focus not only to the work that they're doing, but to the people who they work with. Which would be nice.

Now for the good news.

My school did recently get a grant that would, amongst other things, send three teachers to the ISTE Conference in Denver at the end of the month. A math teacher, a science teacher, and a player to be named later. I am, of course, neither a math nor a science teacher, but they were looking for the third person to be someone with experience both as a leader and with technology. And my headmaster suggested me. Which is pretty awesome.

So, on the 24th I will head to DC for ALA, and then right from there to Denver for ISTE. I've been geeking out on the online conference planners for both, and am kind of ridiculously excited.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The problem with "no problem"

I delivered a speech to during the dinner the night before graduation here (the reason why I was the one giving the speech is a long but not particularly interesting story). Even though it's not, technically, library related, I thought I'd share it here. I did edit it to remove individual's names.


By looking at my family tree it’s hard to tell where my compulsive reading habit came from, but it’s no mystery where my obsession with language comes from. For that, we have my father to thank. Every once in a while—usually at the beginning of a school year—my dad will hone in on a word or phrase that has become overused to the point of meaninglessness—or was meaningless to begin with--and commence a quiet campaign to mock it out of existence. Think “think outside the box.” Think “issues." Think “robust” used to modify nouns and actions it has no business modifying. Think—and this isn’t one of his, but one I’ve learned from all of you--“legit.”

Inevitably, as soon as he points out these words or phrases to me, I see and hear them everywhere. And it starts driving me crazy, too. We share particularly egregious examples or new pet peeves as a father-daughter bonding ritual.

The first phrase I remember getting the Mudie treatment is “no problem.” And while many of the phrases my father has campaigned against have fallen by the wayside—people so rarely specify where they are in relation to the box when they do their thinking these days—“no problem” has staying power. “No problem” has become so ingrained in our speech patterns that I doubt you even notice it anymore.

Before I talk about “no problem,” I want to talk about the phrase that it has so unceremoniously replaced. "You're welcome." Even when it was more commonly used I'm sure most people didn’t give much thought to its meaning, but it's really a succinct expression of a really amazing idea. You are welcome. You are welcome to my time. You are welcome to my energy. You are welcome to my efforts, my thoughts, my emotional engagement—whether or not it's a problem.

When you say “no problem” you are, in a sense, implying that the thing you did might actually have been a problem. Everything from “can you hand me that pencil?” to “Thanks for staying up all night with me as I was having a nervous breakdown.” While I’m having a hard time concocting a scenario in which handing someone a pencil creates a problem, the big things like staying up with someone, helping someone move, taking care of someone when they're sick might not be actual, technical “problems”, but they certainly fall under the umbrella of things that are not always 100% easy or convenient. To brush such things off with a “no problem” is to dismiss not only your efforts, but yourself.

And therein lies the problem with "no problem." By saying "no problem" we are, in a sense, indicating that we wouldn't have helped if it had been, in some way, a problem; that you wouldn't, really, be welcome to our efforts.

And that attitude is part of an aggressively passive culture where pointing out problems is becoming the national pastime, but fixing them is considered, well, someone else's problem. Glenn Beck and Keith Olberman did not gain center --or right or left--stage because of their solution-oriented ranting.

Which leads me to The Noah Principle-- an idea I came across when working on what seemed like an unsolvable problem.

This was last fall, and I and others had been working for a while on how we could make more of the books taught at Forman easily accessible in digital and audio formats. There were questions around if we could get files from publishers, could we do the conversion in house, and if so how, and what would that require, and who would be responsible, and how would we distribute files, and what would be the copyright implications, and I could go on but this is your night, so I’ll spare you. It was, in short, easy to see the problems and hard to find the solutions.

And then you were all given "Nip the Buds Shoot the Kids" to read. And we knew that there was no commercial version of the audio book available, but that many of you would need or want the book to be available in audio. This was, maybe, a week before Thanksgiving break. And so, all of a sudden, the answer to the question, “When are we going to be able to convert books to mp3 format in house?” became “by next Tuesday.”

And I kind of freaked out a little. While many of the pieces we needed were in place, my first instinct was to think of all the problems that would, potentially, get in the way.

Those of you have seen my office know that it could charitably be described as “messy.” What you don’t know is that the dozens of scraps of paper on my desk actually contain important information. Often, when I come across a quote or an idea that resonates with me, I will write it on one of those scraps, meaning to do something with it. And then it gets buried under new scraps. But that afternoon, as I was at my desk thinking of all the problems that would keep us from converting a book to audio, one of those scraps made its way to the surface. And it said simply this: “The Noah Principle: No more prizes for predicting rain. Prizes only for building arks.”

No more prizes for pointing out problems. Prizes only for finding solutions.

That idea tipped the balance for me. Within 36 hours we had scanned and converted the book and made it available for download. Turns out, when you stop being distracted by the rain, it’s easier to find an ark.

And I would like to say a very public thank you to the IT department for removing technological roadblocks as quickly as I could run into them, and to colleagues who cheered us on and believed in what we were doing. And to all of you who made it a point to come up to me and say "thank you." Never underestimate what a powerful impact those two words can have. I could do a whole other speech on "thank you", but I'll leave it at this: the world would be a much better place if we all said thank you a little more often.

But back to the rain.

Too many people look at students with learning disabilities as simply just a "problem" that needs to be fixed. Or, sadly, as a problem that can't be fixed. They can only talk about the rain. They have no idea about the arks you can become. They have no idea.

And this, really, is what I love so much about here; I am surrounded by people who, no matter how much it rains, keep building the ark. People who, in turn, make all of you builders of your own arks. And if you don't feel ready to be an ark builder, I want you to remember this: the ark was built by amateurs. The Titanic, on the other hand, was built by professionals. Don't sell yourself short.

It's here. In less than a day you will be done with high school. It was not a short journey. Nor was it always an easy one—40 days and 40 nights of rain are a walk in the park by comparison. But you—and your teachers, and your advisors and your coaches and your family, and your friends—built that ark. And I'm going to go ahead and speak on behalf of all of us and say that you are entirely welcome.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I feel like this job requires a hat

I know I mentioned something way back when about considering taking on a leadership position in CASL, but can't remember if I made any further reference to that decision. Well, I decided to run for Vice President Intern (which puts me in line to become VP and then Pres).

The election was just held, and in an uncontested election in which surprisingly few votes were cast, I won!

The role of Vice President Intern is fairly undefined; basically, it's a learning year. I do get to go to all national conferences (which CASL pays for).

I also--and this is a new task for the VP Intern--act as Parliamentarian. Which means I need to learn Robert's Rules of Order. Which means I've been trying to read a (thankfully abridged) copy of Robert's Rules of Order. Given that it's a set of rules that's supposed to make meetings clear and efficient, you'd think the rules might be a little more. . . clear and efficient. Holy passive voice, Batman.